094) The Möbius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone, finished November 2
The Möbius Strip Club of Grief itself is a nice conceit. It's a play on another poem's title, the author of whom's foundation Stone now runs. In the Möbius Strip Club of Grief, the dead do the entertaining. Most of the poems that explore this place are quite good, though a couple approach fillery.
It was also a surprise to have a Mormon poem:
Back during our brief Mormon days
Mom wouldn't let us go to temple
out in Utah and baptize the dead.
"But I can baptize your father," I insisted,
who'd hanged himself all those years ago.
"He was a Jew," Mom said. "He doesn't want
to be baptized into the three Mormon heavens."
And that was that.
Soon after, we stopped attending, and really
I was glad. I didn't want to baptize the dead so much
as get into a swimming pool and be held down
by a gentle hand of the priesthood.
"Your brother got too serious," Mom said, smoking
in the car in her wool jacket with the elastic loops for
and the flannel insert and loose M&M's in the pockets
(I loved her coat). "He said I was sinning for
drinking coffee." (59)
This is a bit of the third part of "Blue Jays," a paean to Stone's mother. Some of the collection's best lines are in this poem, but, like all of the longer poems, it also has patches that reveal Stone's distinct need for a limiting (and thus liberating) form. By the end of the book, her poetic techniques at times feel like poetic crutches. And the longer poems, in general, come off more as lazy prose than poetry. The reason I quoted only a bit of III from "Blue Jays" is because the rest of it didn't feel that connected. Not lazy prose, in this case, but disconnected. And that might be the same problem---an unwillingness to trim. Use of form would help.
That said, back to the Mormon bit, pretty good, right? Clearly she wasn't an attending Saint for more than a few months, but it's a good poem.
095) Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters by Ted Cohen, finished November 7
I'm fascinated by the science and philosophy behind humor. I love this Wired article, I love Asimov's musings, I love what the Whites have to say. And now I'm charmed by Ted Cohen, philosopher.probably two years
Like Asimov (relevant fact: a fellow Jew), Cohen muses at length at the traits and uniquenesses of Jewish humor. On the one hand, is this just because it is their native waters? Or is there really something different? I'm coming to believe there is. I'm a bit unsold by all the reasons proposed, though that soup of reasons is probably more or less accurate. With a book only sniffing a hundred pages to dedicate more than twenty to this question is fine as a case study, but I'm ... I don't know. It's hard, in American culture, in which we are simultaneously aware of these things and attempting not to be to know how to juggle the two demands.
Cohen's arguments regarding jokes (that they signify community, create intimacy, etc) and compelling and he is a jolly host. I'm not interested in reading his book on metaphor and, at least, the essays on baseball and Hitchcock here. Off the library!
096) Sunday Funnies by Gahan Wilson, finished November 9
Gary Groth wrote a brief afterword and from it we learn that Wilson doesn't really remember how he started drawing this newspaper strip, which newspaper took it, how many papers carried it, or why he quit. How about that?maybe a week
The strip is a collection of gags. Some are better than others, a couple are repeated. The strip works best later on as he started matching the gags thematically---sign painters, optometrists, hats. Sentient furniture. Often the final gag is either Future Funnies (a space-themed strip that tells us more about the '70s, naturally) or The Creep (a spy/vampire/weirdo being over-the-top macabre). This strip makes Wilson's role as missing link between Charles Addams and Gary Larson is clear.
Another thing revealed by this collection: that tired gag style of shoulda-been-retired strips still appearing in papers? Either Wilson is satirizing that gag style or it was popular then even when it's grotesque rather than cute.
097) Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, finished November 15
At BYU, I started hearing about the movie. Which I finally saw circa 2001 but barely remember. Mostly Stephen Fry talking about whether or not women have souls.maybe two weeks
Some years later I started hearing about the book. With at least the enthusiasm with which the movie had once been discussed. And I developed an interest and a must-someday-read opinion. Well, that day has come. The Relief Society's ancient but unofficial book club selected it and read along with them. And I'm so glad I did.
As a comic writer myself, I don't laugh at books often. Instead, I appreciate them. I see the joke, I nod with professional respect, I mumble things like "Well done" or "What a clever way of doing that" or "Yes, quite funny" and then I move on. I rarely actually laugh. I envy people who laugh at books.
I laughed frequently at Cold Comfort Farm.
One unexpected blow hit me at the end of chapter three as I was walking home. I immediately stopped walking beause it is unsafe to laugh as I was laughing and walk simultaneously. I cried out to the empty air around me such things as "What the---" and "How did she---" and "I can't even didn't---" and other such unprofessional nonsense.
For those who are familiar with the book, I am referring to a certain bovine ailment.
It is a brilliant piece of comedy. So brilliant I, like most readers of comic art, am barely aware after first read of the art. I can smell it under the surface, but I barely noticed it, to be frank. I was too busy trying to marshall all the funny. Which is no easy task, believe me.
The aspect of Cold Comfort I was most looking forward to is that it takes place in the near future. I'm quite fond of near-future fiction. That's largely why the final season of Parks & Recreation might be my most believed final season of a television show. The weird thing was, everytime I mentioned this aspect of the book to its fans, they all told me I was wrong. But then I started reading and a clear announcement that the novel is near-future was in large letters right below the epigraph! What the heck!
The near-future aspect is not glaring, as it ends up. Rich people own personal aeroplanes and you can go in town to use the television-enhanced telephone, and you get details of future history like an annual Spanish Plague and the Anglo-Nicaraguan wars, but it's not much. And the details of life feel, from here, honestly, pre-1932 if anything.
Still. One more thing I like about it.
I reread so rarely I don't want to make a promise, but Cold Comfort is a book I hope I'll reread someday.
098) Green Monk: Blood of the Martyrs by Brandon Dayton, finished November 15
This volume picks up long before the original independently published version---it's an origin story, really. (Upon finishing Blood of the Martyrs, the first thing I wanted to do was reread that first book, but ... I can't find it. Dang it, Theric.) How the orphaned child was raised by monks. How, when he came of age, he first joined the monastery, then had to leave in order to redeem his sins. I loved the in media res-ness of the original, but this is a lovely and moving origin story. I hope it sells well and we get to hear many more tales of the Green Monk in years to come.
(In the meantime, you can read a related story I commissioned for Sunstone 160.)