2018-09-12

Hella comics and the biggest Mormon book ... ever?

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074) My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris, finished August 29

Drawn entirely in ballpoint pens (Bic-style) with the occasional colored pencil and seemingly on notebook paper complete with blue lines and binderholes and metal coiling, this is supposed to be a sequence of notebooks by an elementary-school girl. She's a helluvanartist for her age, let me say.

This is multilayered comics on the level of Chris Ware or Duncan the Wonder Dog. Although it begs us to ask how autobiographical it is, I'll avoid that topic. There's enough without it. We have monster movies/magazines; we have childhood cruelty; we have mob violence; we have all kinds of sex; we have family dynamics; we have the Holocaust; we have a mysterious murder; we have questions of sexuality; we have human duality; we have fine art---

All these pieces click together nicely. It might be hard to imagine all those things coming together without becoming either maudlin or oppressive, but no: Ferris shows real skill in balancing all this stuff. It's a heavy read, but not at all unpleasant. The only awful thing about it is the likely wait we have in front of us before the story will continue.

two weeks or so


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075) The Customer Is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond, finished August 30

Another enormous comic book! This one is a much quicker read, but it's remarkable how much they have in common. This takes place in the late Seventies rather than the late Sixties, but Madge is about ten years older than Karen, so I suppose they're still contemporaries.

We're in a different American city now (Oakland rather than Chicago) but we still get to see much of the seedy underbelly---only now we're a bit more involved as our protagonist is an adult.

Madge is working at a cafe, saving her money so she can move to New York and pursue her dreams of being a cartoonist. Her boss is Lazlo (imagine Scott McCloud in a trilby), a well meaning would-be poet. Everyone is doing alcohol and/or coke and/or speed and/or "Persian" and/or mj and/or tobacco and/or heroin and/or methodone etc etc etc. It's not a life I'm interested in, but Pond's look is kind without being romantic and truthful without being vindictive.

Although it's born of her actual experiences, Pond's ficionalization is very satisfying as fiction. The story is well organized and structured. It's a great piece of writing and it works well as a novel.
two days


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076) Bandette: Stealers Keepers! by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, finished August 30

This picks up where volume one dropped off and provides a satisfying conclusion. There is a third volume, but it seems likely that it will take a new direction. I hope so as this volume, while wonderful, couldn't match the bright delight of newness we encountered in volume one.

All I really really want to do now is show my kids Charade....
afternoon


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077) You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld, finished September 6
078) Baking With Kafka by Tom Gauld, finished September 7
079) Mooncop by Tom Gauld, finished September 7
080) Goliath by Tom Gauld, finished September 7


The first two volumes are collections of his short comics, mostly originally published in the Guardian as part of his literary series. They're good. They have the heightened starkness of Jason and the deadpan intelligence of Edward Gorey.

The latter two are booklength narratives that excel in quiet. Silence is one of the great powers of comics, and Gauld has almost weaponized it. These odes to loneliness, to being an outsider, to calm consideration---they're peaceful even when they are wrought.

I'm fond of his work.
evening, day, afternoon, afternoon (respectively


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081) Educated by Tara Westover, finished September 12

I can't think of a "Mormon book" that's made this big of a splash. Maybe ever. Amazon's top recommendation? President Obama gave it a recommendation? That never happened to Scholar of Moab.... So I suppose I was in some sense obliged to pick it up. But if Lynsey hadn't read it as part of an online book club, I would have just kept waiting for it to show up in a Little Free Library.

I think my favorite aspect of the book is how Westover made transparent her efforts to be accurate in writing the story of her childhood onward. Footnotes that lay out the variances in different character's memories give the book an honest sheen that most memoirs simply do not have for me.

One of my instinctive reactions is similar to how I reacted to Elna Baker's memoir: I'm frustrated by how a character who is growing seems to have no access to intelligent faithful Mormons in their moments of need. At BYU (and in Manhattan) there are numerous concourses of such people, yet they're just not there. In Baker's case, she seemed to avoid Mormons when she was shaky; Westover, on the other hand, having had such a "conservative" upbringing had already drawn her to people who were likely to tell her unhelpful things. Given the ties she had to cut, however, it's hard to imagine there were many pathways where the Church did not become collateral damage.

The writing itself is simple, clean, and readable. I don't know how natural it is for her to write this way, but she and her team put together some wonderful prose.

On a personal note, this book hit close to home. I don't know anyone quite like her family, but she's local to me. Franklin County is next door to Bear Lake County---the Bear River runs right past her homestead. The nearest town was the same town Napoleon Dynamite lives in (although Westover kindly refers to it by a historical name), and we all know how much I identify with that bit of Idahoiana.

The greatest bit of Idaho she accomplishes, however, is the dialect. I often want to write Idaho, but I can't get the words to sound right. Tara Westover nails it. That's just how my family talks.

It's also heartbreaking to see how cut off our corner of Idaho is from the rest of the world. My own hometown, when I enter it, looks essentially identical to its appearance when I left, thirty-one years ago. A healthy town changes in three decades. You feel nostalgia for what was. My nostalgia is for what does not have the economic health to grow and change. Although I never met any hardcore fans of the apocalypse and was never treated by homeopathics, it fits; it makes sense.

So I think my primary feeling is one of shared tragedy, although mine is far less violent. And I thank her for sharing.
about two weeks


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2018-08-31

20[july&augustmovies]18

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HOME
Logan Lucky (2017)

We ended June watching Ocean's 8 and Ocean's Eleven and the first hour of this movie. Finished in July. Hello, July!

One interesting thing is that it has a final-act introduction of an investigator ala Ocean's 8. I don't know if it is inherently better or worse, but it's not as strong as the rest of the movie---opposite problem of Ocean's 8. I do like the misdirection and the clever bit of twisting around at the end. The accents made it hard to understand everything that was said. Lady Steed liked the movie a lot more than I did (I'm still undecided) and is wanting to watch it again to try and decipher some pieces now that we know how it ends.

Some things definitely weren't answered. For instance, did the white gang leader get a payout? If not, why not? What about Joe Bang's brothers? I'm guessing now, but I'm not clear. Maybe only if Joe gives them some?

Maybe there's a bunch of explanatory stuff on Quora or Reddit I can seek out....

HOME
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Holds up. Caught a minor continuity error and it's much more bittersweet having seen Infinity War, but it's still charming and fun and smart. Comparing Cate Blanchett here to Ocean's 8 just emphasizes how wasted she was there.

Although Black Panther is a strong contender, for my money, this is the best score Marvel's done to date.


HOME
The Disaster Artist (2017)

So no, I have not seen The Room. But I enjoyed this movie immensely just on the knowledge I have. I like how it balanced being able to laugh at people while still making us empathize with them.

It's really terrific. We laughed a lot. And we felt some pain. I'm happy to report the most painful moment in the film (for me) was not factual, but it's a good example of why sticking straight with facts isn't always the most truthful option.

HOME
The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

I missed big chunks of this because I was doing some parenting (appropriate). Although immensely enjoyable, this is by no means a favorite Batman film of mine. However, the Nolan and Burton films do not have any lines half so hilarious as the best lines of this film. Really. Some of the best one-liners in recent history.



THEATER
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

I like so much about this movie, but it's not better than the first movie and doesn't do all that much that's new. Although Michelle Pfeiffer looks great and I would buy her toy as seen in the credits.

It was awesome, though, the audience's reaction to THAT post-credits sequence. That was great.




HOME
Finding Dory (2016)

I missed half or more, but my impressions are the same. Good with great moments, inferior to Nemo.







THEATER
Sorry to Bother You (2018)

What a great movie! And I love this new trend of Oakland starring in movies. I guess I need to go see Blindspotting next.

The film is as smart and strange and clever as its trailer promised. Actually, more so. The problem with the film is that it's got so many clever pieces it sometimes forgets about the shape of the film as a whole. Or, in other words, it's twenty-some minutes too long and has a hard time finding its ending. It took me ten minutes after leaving the theater to realize it was the correct ending, but that may be because the ending took too long coming.

Also, there's a practical effect (the mere existence of which I appreciate) which reminds me of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. And makes me realize why digital has become so pervasive. But I'm still glad it's practical. I think it's more effective than digital would be.

One way to think of this movie---much of it, not all---is Idiocracy but in the present day.

THEATER
Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

I was moved throughout. I don't really remember MisteRogers' Neighborhood that well, but because I get weepy every time he shows up on my social-media feeds, I'm sure he made a big impact on me. And I know enough about him to know that he was a swell guy. But WYBMN gives the most sweeping look at him I've ever encountered. And it's wonderful.

We took my parents and sister with us and they also left full of admiration for the man. Whoever it was that suggested this film be shown in LDS wards to teach ministering was right.

But also, we should all watch it, as humans, to become better with children, and to calm our own urges to interrupt.

HOME
The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)

Fred MacMurray is so good at stuff like this, it's impossible to understand how Double Indemnity even exists.

This film is aging just fine. My kids enjoyed it immensely. Its over-the-top slapstick that never gets old, if done well, and some of the jokes seem at least as sharp now as they ever could have in 1961: "I'm an American! See it? My credit cards!" (The absent-minded professor, however, it seems to me, should never be trusted with credit cards. Egad.)

In short, worth revisiting and passing down to the next generation.

HOME
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

I've been wanting to see this movie since it was first announced stateside and I've probably checked it out of the library at least six times, but only now did we finally watch it. And: wow.

First, the art was as lovely as I expected, but there was an unexpected effect to the simply composed art. My eyes felt relaxed. Watching films can be so taxing, but this movie allowed my eyes to settle into the whitespace and simple lines and natural compositions. They could relax.

But the film itself is not simple. It kept complicating as it betrayed my expectations. It's not a quiet or easy film. In a way, it would have been easier had my kids not watched it, but now it has left them with some heady themes to grapple with. That must be good.

It's a beautiful film, even when it is displaying ugliness. And it is a warm film even when it is wading through disappointment or error or deceit. People make mistakes. We can still love them. Or, at least, not hate them.

Incidentally, if you're liking to give a film a rich Mormon reading, try this on for size. You'll have plenty to consider.

HOME
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I had a curious reaction to this, my third viewing. On the one hand, the film felt overlong. On the other hand, all those moments that made it overlong felt layered with symbols I had never seen before. Falling phalluses, Calcifer becoming Donne's flea. And because of its length, I had time to really think about all the Miyazaki elements that recur again and again and to consider what they are doing here, this time: amorphous black creatures, cascading feathers, magical old women, flying humans, pseudo-Victoriana, flying machines, smoke and steam, beautiful androgynous men.

Both those lists can go on and on, of course. Miyazaki is a true auteur in the sense that all his work is part of one great whole.

And that whole is so great it's rather difficult to hold onto it all at once.

HOME
Dunkirk (2017)

Such an amazing movie. Amazing. I've already praised Mark Rylance who deserves special recognition in a film where everyone is excellent. This time though, let's give a nod to Hans Zimmer whose score melds so perfectly with the sound design. Sometimes it's not clear if that's orchestra or footsteps, orchestra or warship. And that pulsing uncertainty helps us feel for the soldiers.

Also, if I haven't already mentioned it already, props to the editing. This film wouldn't work without exquisite editing and that's what we have. Swish it around with the sound and we're unsettled at all times but clarity is also available around the corner. For instance the cut near the ends that seems like a dream sequence but is not. That's the result of careful coordination between seeing and hearing, knowing the history of film and understanding the film you're building.

It's a remarkable work of art.

Also worth pointing out: Lady Steed, who was utterly uninterested in this film until we saw Darkest Hour, was moved. Stunned, really, for about an hour after it ended. We haven't seen Shape of Water yet, but she's appalled it beat out Dunkirk for Best Picture.

THEATER
Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

Nonstop action, yes. Less tech but a tricky use of the classic face. The two female leads could have been more dissimilar for legibility. That would have been nice.

The politics of superagents is complicated and troubling, of course, and the MI film address that. The use of the CIA here was a hard thumb. But it was the throwaway lines about a fictional president that I found most unsettling this goround. Fictional presidents have always been an average president. But one outlier can change the nature of "average" quite a bit.

Tom Cruise is again well. At the beginning of the film, he looked my age. The film sure did a number on him though....

HOME
Porco Rosso (1992)

I wanted to revisit this on Kohl's recommendation. I had a fever as I watched it so who knows if I saw it accurately, but it doesn't make my top-five Miyazaki films.

It came out two years after TaleSpin and there are some remarkable similarities. I wonder if Miyazaki ever saw Disney Afternoon--?



HOME
Your Name. (2016)

What an amaaazing movie! I was expecting to be amazed and so, of course, at first, I was not. I liked the way it set up the situation. Then I was confused. This happened a lot. In part because this is many more kinds of movie than I expected. It kept changing on me, even restructuring the world as I understood it, which is a dangerous thing to do. Few better ways to turn your audience against you, of course, unless you are earning an extraordinary amount of respect.

One trick, I realize, is that changing the rules should explain something that previously had not made sense. You give people one card, you can take away five. It's magic and misdirection.

One of the big surprises is that, for a movie about teenagers, this film has a much broader-than-usual sense of how long life really is. And it manages to nod to many tropes while becoming something truly new.

HOME
My Neighbro Totoro (1988)

I don't think I can argue there is a movie made that is objectively "better" than Totoro. Of course, I also think that there as a certain category, GREAT, in which better/worse judgments hold no meaning, so all I'm really saying is that Totoro is a GREAT movie. But it's true: Totoro is a GREAT movie.

I wasn't watching very closely the first half, coming in permanently at the rain scene, but what other movie could make me cry is pain and sorrow and joy in such rapid succession?

It's such an honest movie, and it won't let us forget what it is to be children. Which I, for one, seem to have made a life goal.

HOME
Son of Frankenstein (1939)

I had always assumed Young Frankenstein was based on the first two Universal films, but then I read a story that said the first three and especially #3. Having finally watched Son of Frankenstein, it is certainly true.

First, although this Igor looks nothing like that Igor, this is the first time that name makes a debut and this assistant (played by Bela Legosi) is the first to play a truly major role.

Second, the Inspector finally made a distinct appearance. And I was shocked how almost directly lifted he is. My kids laughed at some of the same moments that they've never seen in Young Frankenstein but which are funny here as well, in a less exaggerated appearance.

Third, the plot is pretty dang similar. And this is the first, best I know, to address the name confusion.

As a movie, it's not bad. The creature is less sympathetic, but he's not the antagonist either. He's almost an afterthought in his own movie. HIs death is the most gruesome and the most seeming-difficult to bounce back from, but hey! He's done it before! Now: on to Ghost of Frankenstein.

THEATER
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

The new print was beautiful.

Although I was too sick to be sitting for a three-hour movie, I think I can still say it improves with each viewing.

And now I'm back to seeing it more times in theaters than without. I'm not sure I'll be motivated to watch it without again.


HOME
9 to 5 (1980)

I finally felt the need to see this because a sequel's been announced. We're talking a forty-year gap, which is crazy, but I thought I might as well finally watch it.

Of course, I know plenty about it, but it didn't play out just as I expected. But with charming leads, that hardly matters. I was along for the ride.

The biggest surprise is now ... moderate the Dabney Coleman character is. I'm not making excuses for him, but I assumed that for a man to count as a notable cad in 1980 he would have to be much worse than the fellow here. Honestly, he's just a couple steps beyond what I would expect normal 1980 office boss to be. So good on those women for being fully aware of how lousy he is.

HOME
The Saratov Approach (2013)

It took me a while to finally see this, but now I have. And I liked it. It relied on a couple techniques I don't like, but used them well. I don't know how "accurate to the real events" it might be, but I don't care that much. I really liked the solution to the problem, which was aesthetic and apparently, the movie wants me to believe, what really happened. So that's great.

I'm still not sure, however, what the title means. I think it was just to make us imagine it was based on a Robert Ludlum novel....

HOME
Everybody Street (2013)

The Big O will be watching this film sometime this year as part of his photography class. The syllabus made it sound outre enough that we decided to prescreen it. Lady Steed found it beyond the pale. I thought it was fine. I think this largely comes of how much more time I spend at a high school than she does.

The film brought in quite a few photographers, but ultimately it was a little tired because of its New York fetishism. According to Everything Street, the only place in the world street photography can really be done is in New York City. I'm so over that attitude. Get over yourself, New York. Geez.


NOTE: I'm not sure why I included Finding Dory but not Son of Flubber (1963) or Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1992) when I probably watched/heard as much of them. Such are life's little mysteries.






Previous films watched


2018
jan feb mar apr may jun jul&aug sep oct nov dec

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2018-08-30

Unfinished Books:
Fascinating 19th-century American Women

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Mrs. Sherlock Holmes was advertised to me by my library's website. As I was at the time a bit bored in my Devil in the White City reread (a book that utterly enraptured me the first time through), I put it on hold to arrive as school ended. This move was also influenced by why I was doing the reread: Lady Steed's book group was reading Devil and one of the members had complained to us how the book treated females. One female architect who was driven insane, and most of the other women ended up murdered and melted down. Not exactly a great work of inspiring feminism. A crackerjack female detective roughly contemporary to Devil sounded like just the thing.

The book arrived and, unfortunately, I went on a poetry4567813 and comics123910111214151617181920 tear. So even though we ended up having the book for nine weeks --- practically the entire summer --- I never cracked it open. Sad face.

The second book, Trials of a Scold, was in some ways even more promising. A muckraker before there were muckrakers, a satirist in a young country, a woman without a clear place in society who decided to become a creature of letters, and who pissed off the rich and powerful in the process. She was eventually found guilty of being a "scold" using an old bit of English common law some lawyer dug up just to try and shut her up.

Unfortunatly, the book is a chronological mess and was tough to read. She's poor and unpublished then in the next paragraph she's famous and just off being convicted of being a scold. It's hard to follow and in the end, I decided the library could just have the book back. Let me know when the movie arrives. Sad face.

2018-08-29

Space Cat! Mormon missionaries! Batman! Eldritch gods!

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069) Space Cat Visits Venus by Ruthven Todd, finished August 19

Just as enjoyable as the first although, now that we are below the obstructuve clouds of Venus, Todd is happy to let his imagination run wild. HOWEVER, my mileage varied a bit. As our heroes were surrounded by sentient plants, I was hella creeped out because it does not take much in the way of willful plants to send me back to the world of Scott Smith's The Ruins.

My kids have started reading these books now too and they're digging them. On to Mars!
one day


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070) Served: A Missionary Comic Anthology edited by Theric Jepson & Mike Laughead & al., finished August 22

Yes, I've been working on this for almost two years, but this is the first time I've read the whole things straight through (including one story I hadn't seen yet in its entirety). My pneumonia worries me that I didn't do the best job proofreading (I left some of the most difficult pages for later), but even reading backwards, I laughed and cried. So that bodes well.
morning


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071) Precious Rascals by Anthony Holden, finished August 24

The last time I read this, I hid it away. I wanted my kids to read it but I also didn't want them to destroy it. Someone they found it and it's been travelling from hands to hands about the house for a while now and it's still in surprisingly good shape. And, good news, it holds up to rereading.
three days


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072) The Peanuts' Guide To Life by Charles M. Schulz (sort of), finished August 25

My mother-in-law gave me this book for my birthday from her box o' presents. You can tell it's older because it has an introduction by Bill Cosby. (Cosby and another EdD, apparently to help make sure the intro would be as boring and soulless as possible?) The new edition was given a new introduction.

These Hallmark-published giftbooks are a weird breed. A couple comics, then a lot of sentences and images ripped from their original moorings to become a "Guide to Life."

I guess it's, you know, cute. And in the tradition of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, but srsly. Don't you have the stamina to read a volume of the Complete? Give that a try!
ELAPSE


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073) Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham by Mike Mignola et al., finished August 28

Mike Mignola and his team have crossed Batman with Lovecraftian Mythos and come up with something that delivers on both counts. We start at the mountains of madness and we meet our first villain from the gallery, ol' Cobblepot who, naturally, has taken up living with the penguins. Mr Freeze is also there. Eventually we will meet Poison Ivy in a radically new interpretation, Killer Croc (ditto), Harvey Dent. Ra's and Talia are much the same.

One thing I quite liked was having all three Robins (Dick, Jason, Tim) at the same time.

Anyway, eldritch horrors are coming to Gotham and only Bruce Wayne is in position to stop them. Luckily he has Etrigan to help him, but otherwise, it's pretty much just Batman.

There's lots of good Greatest Detective stuff in the mix here, which is nice given otherwise it's a lot of supernatural whatsit---it helps the balance.

Overall, it's a pretty unsettling story, but clean and short and reasonably satisfying. I'm surprised it manages so much so well in so short a space. I think it could have been even better at 150% the length, but no complaints. Good stuff.
one sitting


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2018-08-18

ABC and 123

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064) The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg, finished August 15

So I just read another Early Earth book (which I loved), and the library provided me with another. Just like that! This, I believe, came first. But the order does not matter.

This book is primarily concerned, like the other, with storytelling. This time, our primary storyteller is a young man of Nord, the land peopled by the Nord, an Inuit-like tribe. His soul has been split into pieces and he has all but one of those pieces and sets on a quest to find it. It will be found at the South Pole, protected by the woman he will love the rest of his life.

Along the way, he passes through the rest of the world and meets people, collecting and sharing stories as he goes.

Among those are the retelling of some Bible stories, only now they are Birdman stories.

If you'll excuse a dip into the vernacular, Birdman is a dick. I like his kids, Kiddo in particular, but Birdman himself is just the worst. An awful god. Petulant and full of himself and vengeful and petty. Kid is sometimes that way as well, but it's largely to please Birdman. Kiddo is better at standing up for what she cares for. She's the god of choice, if you're given one.

For a book that is very happy being funny pictures, this godhead feels as real and true as any of classic myth---at least to meymmv. Although there are many many reasons to read these books of Ms Greenberg's, I think the religious element is foremost. Although this religion is in some sense satirical, it is also a fair and honest and truthful in ways fiction has best access to.
coupla weeks i guess


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065) The Humans by Stephen Karam, finished August 15

This is a really really good play. About free of gimmicks. All realtime, in one go, one family, overtalking and trying to be kind at Thanksgiving. It's heartbreaking because people do dumb things, but it won't let you hate anyone. No villains here. No one's even close.

The essay up front made a point I felt but don't know I would have made on my own. Because of their socioeconomic class, a mistake anyone could make become a mistake that may destroy lives. We're creating a world where one bad decision (or even one day of bad luck) can ruin everything you've built.

It's not fair.

But what can we do besides roll up our pants and keep walking?
tonight


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066) Space Cat by Ruthven Todd, finished August 16

This was pulished as the Fifties opened and includes a lot of best-guess near-future science fiction along with some over-the-top weird, made-up (fun) stuff. So you have a moon covered in fine dust and rockets that land on their ends, but you also have sentient moon plants living in caves.

Not to mention a cat almost worthy of Esther Averill who manipulates the military into making him a suit and sending him to space along with his human buddy.

I liked the book quite a bit. It has three sequels, two of which are in our library system. I don't know for sure if I'll read them, but one thing's for sure. In this case, the classic is superior.
one day


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067) Strip Search: Revealing Today's Best College Cartoonists, finished August 16

This apparently one-year lived plan involved combing the country's universities and publishing their best cartoonists. The results are nicely varied. The grandprize winner is about ready for syndication; on the other end is a proto-Wondermark panel. This being 1999, there are a couple Far Side ripoffs. One, by Tony Morris, contained two gags I know I've seen before and my guess would have been Far Side, but surely Andrew McMeel would have recognized that. Perhaps these exact strips I've seen before or later someone ripped him off. Anyway, I can't find him online today. (And he had a panel AND a strip in this book!)

My favorite was a gratesque afterlife strip by Eric Jones (who I don't think but might be this guy). In my opinion, it was the most adventurous and surprising strip in the book.

Here are the others I DID find online, starting with our grand-prize winner. Stephen Emond, Jacob M. Lightbody, Jan Thomas, Josh Rose, Matthew Wiegle, Alan Davy, David Kellett, Dan Lee (maybe), Cathy Nolan, Donny Fort, Kyle Haradedian, Victor Hernandez, Ted Dawson.

I guess that's not a bad percentage. A bit under half.
one day


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068) A Contract with God by Will Eisner, finished August 18

This is high on my list of Books I'm Embarrassed Not to Have Read, so it's nice to check it off. I'm also glad to say that this seminal work holds up excellently. Although there were precedents, the first "graphic novel" was, in a very real way, this.

Tenement stories from between the Wars. My favorite of the four is the title tale, but each includes well drawn and sympathetic characters. He's the Father of the artform for good reason.

three noncontiguous days


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2018-08-14

I like big books
and I cannot lie
although these ones are a little more
min*i*

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058) The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater, finished July 31

This is Little Hill's one-city-one-book this year and I've been asked to be on the promotional committee.

I had a hard time getting into the books. Little things that should have made it easy (short chapters, the tone) just made my skin crawl. I am so over the YA voice. If the book had been first-person I probably could not have talked myself into reading it.

Another issue I have with the book is its lack of transparency regarding how much of the reporting is accurate as reported and how much of it is capote-ized. More clarity there would have been welcome.

The biggest problem I have, however, is not with the book but with the committee. We're focused on the opportunity to open up conversation about gender nonconformers, but, having finally read the book, feel that the bigger conversation our community needs to have is about the circumstances of poor black youth. Most of us may not understand what "agender" means but we're happy while liberals anxious to prove how willing we are to make those leaps in understanding. I'm less certain we feel that way about the kids of Oakland and Richmond who are getting streamlined into a life behind bars. Or dead.

We have our second meeting tomorrow. We'll see how it goes.
four days over twenty-nine days


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059) Bandette Volume 1: Presto! by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, finished July 31

This zingy comic feels wonderfully French. But not, like actually French. But a France where the natives speak English with a French accent. Not there there is much written in an accent per se---instead, the arrangements of the words chosen simply feels French---and that's just right for a story of competing cat burglers flirting about Paris. Some of the stuff is dumb (the relationship between the detective and the theif), but largely no matter how over-the-top of silly, its just right for this heightened world.
two days


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060) Legends of Zita the Space Girl by Ben Hatke, finished August 3

Picking up where we left off, we see more real girl, fun plotting, wit on every page, and everything else I liked about #1. These are great books.

two days


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061) Darth Vader: End of Games by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca, finished August 6

There I was at the library and someone had left this book sitting out the self-check. So I self-checked it. Entirely because I had been so impressed by another Vader book. This one is not quite as awesome, but it was still a terrific way to spend an hour (or however long it took.) I'm not sure I'm reading them in order. I may need to be more deliberate about this....
an afternoon


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062) How to Read Nancy by Paul Karasik & Mark Newgarden, finished August 10

Sadly, I am dealing with flu-like symptoms right now, so I may not be able to give this book the full attention is deserves. First, bio of Nancy's creator, Ernie Bushmiller, then over forty aspects of closereading a single strip, then some apendices, then the opportunity to apply the principles taught to other Nancy strips.

I still don't like Nancy, but no question that Bushmiller was a craftsman and his work is highly skilled.

I'm especially intrigued by the notion of sticking with one small work of art and interrogating it until it gives up all its secrets.
ten days


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063) The Selected Poems of Donald Hall by Donald Hall, finished August 14

I had been reading this maybe a couple weeks before I got sick. I had but one poem left when I came down ill and poetry moved well beyond my ken. I'm not quite better, but I finished it today. Even though I didn't care for many of the individual poems, it's an extraordinary work and makes a life's work really feel like a life. And a life that feels well lived and aesthetic. It opens not in childhood (though those earlier memories will make appearances as memories). It opens with the incredible "My Son My Executioner"---and ends, in the final poem, in one stanza, with the son taking away the childhood .22 from the father who no longer can be trusted with keeping himself alive.

I'm not going to attempt to discuss the book as a whole, much, going forth, but I am going to talk about the poems that were standouts for me.

Before we start, I checked this collection out from the library when Donald Hall died earlier this year. I couldn't remember having heard of him. While his words were waiting around the house for me, he came up first in one of the Everyman collections (one of the poems was a for or to or after Donald Hall), then in Billy Collins's collection where he, suddenly melancholily for me, imagined them both turning 200. And with this, it appears, I have finished my library-provided summer binge in poetry. But don't worry about me. I have three unfinished short collections I'm now reading, as well as ongoing work on massive collections by the likes of May Swenson and Emily Dickinson.

"Self-Portrait as a Bear" is less remarkable as a poem specifically and more as a concept for poetry I can't believe we aren't all exploiting all the time. I certainly intend to steal it, although early attempts prove it's more difficult than it seems.

When he becomes old, he will write poems that fulfill the prophecy of "To a Waterfowl." The nerdy kid is now sleeping with the daughters of the cool kids from high school.

One thing I'm sure I'll mention again is the idiosyncratic way in which Donald Hall interweaves sex and death (or, often, death's body double, aging). One element of his technique is straight-up explicity to a level that I'm not accustomed to in "high" poetry. That blowjob he observes in a cemetery, for instance, is just one example. There's no blowjob quite so obvious in that 2000-page Norton I hand out to my students every semester. No way.

I'm not sure I've ever had a moment of so keenly missing being in the bishopric as when I read "Wolf Knife." The idea of coming up with a sacrament meeting topic I could introduce with this astonishing tale ... oh, it has to be done. But not by me, I guess. Some minor googling suggests C.F. Hoyt, USN, is probably made up and so this poem is not from his Arctic diaries after all, but who am I if not a supporter of fiction? Suffice it to say, this is one of the most ... bloody amazing Arctic tales I've ever heard. I'll find a way to share it with people. I want to see their faces.

"Edward's Anecdote" didn't do much for me, but the very end left me shaken. The rest of my day was terrible. Everything was terrible. I cannot recommend this poem to you, even recognizing I was particularly vulnerable, but it is great poetry.

"Fete" is just a short and perfect romantic poem. It can be done.

I chose "Ardor" because it helped me understand the large, large section of poems that came before, about the decline and passing of his wife, and his many, sometimes bacchanalian, ways of coping. The final lines here helped me understand a large section of the book that I'd not been able to align myself to.

The final poem I've already mentioned, but I'll bring it up again. "Meatloaf" touches on many of the themes and images that appeared previously in the book, throwing in a meatloaf recipe and baseball for good measure. It's an interesting piece. Preceded by an outright bit of ars poetica, this poem claims in its first stanza to have nine stanzas of nine lines of nine syllables. It has nine stanzas of nine lines of eight syllables. What do you make of that?

The final short essay on selecting the poems was wonderful and makes me want to pick up his prose next.
really who knows


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2018-07-27

High-quality reading

.

051) Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, finished July 18

Similar to We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, I suspect my experience was improved by knowing nothing before opening the first page. This was made easier by the edition I own (linked) which gives nothing away outside the novel's first sentence.

That said, like We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, this is a moving and beautiful book that I've no doubt would hold up to multiple readings. And, thus, knowing about the story before you dig in won't prevent you from having a marvelous experience. It will just take away the one specific experience of having it unfold into your ignorance, which is like a luminescent flowing blooming in darkness.

Anyway, the rest of this, in small text, is spoilery. The only nonspoilery comment I have left is this: a couple times Patchett didn't use the subjunctive and it was jarring. Her writing is so beautiful and I don't understand the choice. But that's the biggest negative I have.

Art overcomes violence, but only if you're listening.

Although time is stretched out, Aristotle's views on place are respected.

The epilogue is a bit haunting because it makes sense and is right yet is utterly wrong.

Lady Steed and I read this book simultaneously, but she missed (or forgot) the early first-chapter telling of how it would end. Her experience, thus, was quite different from mine.

This novel shows that we are all the same but our world will always keep us apart. And that's our tragedy.
maybe three weeks


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052) Hostage by Guy Delisle, finished July 21

This is an as-told-to memoir in comics form. It took the artist fifteen years to make this book, and no wonder. It's over 400 pages long, and although the art is reasonably simple and clean and single-color, it's still over 400 pages of drawings. Each of which has to be carefully blocked. When your main character spends most of his time handcuffed in place, you have to be excellent at your craft to keep it interesting and to continue building tension all the way through.

Christophe, the hostage, has to work to keep his sanity, and he makes some good decisions in that regard. I don't know how I would do in that respect---no one does, of course, not until it happens. We watch him live alone with his mind and minimal human contact. Unless you followed the story closely in 1997, you're not apt to know what'll happen next. And, of course, neither does Christophe. We at least know he will live but how is a mystery.

And thus the pages fly by, as we're trapped in the corner of a room.
three or four days


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053) The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg, finished July 22

So the world was created by Kiddo and she was pleased with her work. But her father saw it was distressed by these human things. For many reasons, but primarily because they did not know of him and his greatness and so he took over the world and took to making things right.

That's the prologue.

Now we are in this fallen world with a violent patriarchal religion. The entire book is, in some respect, simple satire of our world run by men. But its mix of over-the-top grotesquery and silliness makes the book feel less dangerous. But in fact, it's those two elements that make it so very dangerous.

The basic conceit is that of Scheherazade---women telling stories in order to save themselves. The copyright page gives credit to two of the stories as being based on folktales (I only recognized the source of one of these stories---and it wasn't either of those). At first the stories don't seem particularly connected, but as the nights go one, storytellers are found within storytellers and they all start to fit together into a larger tapestry of beauty. The finale is tragic and beautiful and hopeful and fitting and satisfying.

The art, in terms of character design and perspective, is frequently reminiscent of medieval tapestries and illuminated manuscripts, which is appropriate. Greenberg also has the interesting quirk of just smearing ink over her drawings. I don't know why it works, but it does work. The drawings and witty and correct and quite wonderful. Their simplicity of design and color make even the more horribly moments lovely and welcoming. Which is also appropriate as one of the book's messages is we can find our heroism in our tragedies. Tragedy, perhaps, is less something to fear, but a step towards a world we would wish to live in.


I have Greenberg's first book already on hold at the library.
two nights


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054) Paper Girls, Vol 4 by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, finished July 24

The hits just keep coming! This is my favorite ongoing book. (Not that I'm so well read, or anything.)

two days


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055) Chocolate: The Consuming Passion by Sandra Boynton, finished July 25

(The 2015 version, not the 1982 version.)

You'll know Sandra Boynton as the author of children's book although you may, like me, have never read one until you were wellll beyond the intended audience. And it took a few bumpings into her to arrive at the conclusion that I liked her work.

This book is a much clearer view into what makes her wit work. A nonfiction ode to chocolate, it's full of facts, but unfearful to be funny. And not stand-up funny---no, she's much slier than that. Some dumb puns, sure, but the best jokes are buried and easy to overlook. Read the recipes carefully, for instance. She'll reward you for your care.

one day


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056) [Aelian's] On the Nature of Animals translated by Gregory McNamee, finished July 27

I found this through a review in The Believer and I got it from the library without intending to read the entire thing. But I did! It was delightful! Short bursts of facts (or "facts") about animals from an old Roman's best research. Sometimes it's dead wrong (lions most certainly do NOT respect their elders), but even then there is something beautiful about the outlook we humans had in our ignorance. It gives me hope.

And while I have a couple questions about bolding choices, overall, props to Anne Richmond Boston for her wonderful design of the book. It was a please to hold, to skim, to read, to have around. Well done, Anne!

many weeks


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057) Blue Yodel by Ansel Alkins, finished July 27

I picked the book up from the library on the strength of one poem that showed up in my Twitter feed (included at the bottom of this review). I'm a sucker for good Eden poetry and this one is excellent. I don't think she's Mormon, but it definitely scratched my Mormon itches.

The collection is short but quality. Like Claire Åkebrand's recent book, I was struck by the repetition of images. Here it's wolves and corpses and a lot of other dark stuff that stick out, but hey---it works. She takes some daring chances, digging into stuff like the historical violence of American race relations, and does well, I think. I'm curious what black critics have said.

Overall, a strong beginning. I hope we keep hearing from her.

about three days


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