Eighth Five Books of 2007

Series of Unfortunate Events and Troll and Schroeder


40) Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo, finished May 31
    So! 100 years ago, Finnish scientists discovered that trolls, Felipithecus trollius, was a real animal. In 2000, young Finnish photographer Mikael "Angel" Hartikainen (one of the easier names to pronounce in the book) finds an injured cub of this exceedingly rare animal and brings it into his apartment. His new pet swiftly becomes his life. With a bit of unsolicited help from the Filipino mail-order bride downstairs and slept-for help from ex-lover/veterinarian Dr. Spiderman, he nurses the beast back to health. ¶ Pessi (the troll) is a very bright animal and his relationship with Angel is more complicated than Angel will admit--perhaps because Angel is too busy sleeping with someone between every chapter. Earlier in this book I was planning to complain about the tedium of watching slut Angel sleep with every guy he bumps into and though it was tedious, it wasn't just for fun--it served a purpose. And since the nasty generally happened off-page, I don't suppose I'll rail on and on about that now. ¶ The Troll was published as Not Before Sundown in Britain in 2003, and as Ennen Päivänlaskua Ei Voi in 2000 for the Finns. The translation is competent and the way the book is laid forth--with excerpts from Finnish legend and literature, and faux scientific articles--is great and used perfectly: enough info to sense direction, not so much the ending is revealed. ¶ Conclusion: love the concept, love the execution. The tension and tragedy is so heavy at the end it's hard to turn the pages. But it is no perfect and cannot be all that highly recommended. ¶ The cover, however, is gorgeous. Granted, it does give away an important plotpoint, but you would probably have anticipated it anyway.
    five-plus weeks

39) The End by Lemony Snicket, finished May 23
    I am not dissatisfied. I am not quite sure how I feel, but one note of it is satisfaction. I'm impressed with how a silly melodrama became rich with moral complexity and how a series of literary gags added up to more than their whole, a phrase here meaning that the clever devices used by the author were not just for fun but created something much greater. I've never seen anything like this and now I'm anxious to meet Adverbs (loved by Foxy J and enjoyed, as a single story, by myself). I'm anxious to see what else Mr. Handler has in play and regret all the more missing him. (Although, in my defense, that night I was in a fevered sleep, my face bloated like a corpse weeks afloat in a fishless sea.) ¶ I am also glad of the story behind the creation of this story as well, for it demonstrates that there is a boldness and creativity in the publishing world, if only one can tap into it. ¶ None of this has yet been about this actual book though, which is filled with horrors unmentionable. One goodthing/badthing about The End is how it reveals, slowly and under a faux veneer of humor, how much ugliness is in the world. Because the terrible lesson of these books are not that there are Count Olafs in the world, but that the people in this world who are good can have bad judgement or dark secrets or make awful mistakes and thus commit actions every bit as horrible as any Count Olaf dreams up. ¶ Count Olaf is a fiction fun to fear and easy to dismiss when the light go out at night. ¶ A paternal leader who in his need to protect his people commits them ot a horrible death; or children who destroy a structure only to discover they cannot save those inside; or a loving couple trying to protect their children only to die in a disasterous fire; or a man whose whole life is spent in pursuit of lost dreams and the stories of lost loves---these are the spectres that will haunt us long after the final page is turned. These books, for all their wordplay and overplay, are a true and honest initiation into the horrors of adulthood. ¶ Welcome, children.
    three days

38) The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962 by Charles M. Schultz, finished May 22
    After what I said last time, I suppose it may be surprising to have this book pop up so quickly, but I was swept away by it and loved every minute, from the appearance of Frieda to the appearance of Frieda's cat. In fact, I really finished it a few days ago--all I had left was the author bio...which I've already read five times, after all. ¶ If I had to make any caveat re: how much I love love love these books, I suppose it would be their sometimes odd choice for intro writers. I mean, in this set, the books are introduced by Whoopi Goldberg and Dianna Krall. Now, I like them as much as the next bloke but . . . what's their better-than-average connection to Peanuts, giving them the right to intro an entry in this very finite and holy set of books? I don't get it. ¶ But what I do get is Schultz's mastery of the form. These books are gorgeous and they have astonishing content. You don't believe me, check out a couple from the library. Then start buying them for all those people you allege to love. Because they deserve them.
    at most a week under a month

37) The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket, finished May 21
    With this volume, A Series of Unfortunate Events ceases entirely from being wickedly lighthearted children's books with a twist and becomes something entirely different--something plagued by serious moral dilemmas, a distressingly high body count, and protagonists no longer so clearly definable as heroes. ¶ The first seven volumes were a bit tiresome, as they were essentially just the same shtick transplanted from location to location. But when the Baudelaires got proactive enough to break out of the Poe-cycle, the story experienced a definite uptick. So although I'm not thrilled with everything in Snicket's chronicle, I feel that where we will end up is apt to be somewhere most worth traveling to indeed.
    seven-plus hours

36) The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket, finished May 18
    About, oh, six months ago, I read books the sixth through the tenth all in one fell swoop and then I required a break. But now I felt like setting sail with Snicket once more. Or setting submarine, rather, because in this volume I met submarines, seacave shrooms, a fearsome underwater thing, and none other than Kit Snicket. Yikes!
    two days


035) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, finished May 15
034) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, finished May 14
033) Chip Kidd: Book One: Work: 1986-2006 by Chip Kidd, finished May 9
032) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, finished May 7
031) The Complete Peanuts 1959-1960 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 25
030) Devils & Demons edited by Marvin Kaye, finished April 23
029) Talk Talk Talk: Decoding the Mysteries of Speech by Jay Ingram, finished April 23
028) Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, finished April 20
027) The Long Chalkboard: and Other Stories by Jennifer Allen and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, finished April 19
026) Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, finished April 19
025) Frank by Jim Woodring, finished April 12
024) The Complete Concrete by Paul Chadwick, finished April 3
023) The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde, finished March 30
022) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, finished March 28
021) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller et al, finished March 23
020) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, finished March 16
019) Batman: Gothic by Grant Morrison et al, finished March 13
018) Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, finished March 7
017) Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald, finished March 7
016) 50 Professional Scenes for Student Actors: A Collection of Short 2 Person Scenes by Garry Michael Kluger, finished March 6
015) Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda, finished March 5
014) Frindle by Andrew Clements, finished March 1
013) Brain Wave by Poul Anderson, finished February 27
012) The Best American Comics 2006 edited by Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore, finished February 26
011) Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, finished February 15
010) The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ edited by Mormon and Moroni, finished February 7
009) Lisey's Story by Stephen King, finished February 1
008) The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, finished January 26
007) Empire by Orson Scott Card, finished January 24
006) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, finished January 22
005) Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, finished January 17
004) Superman Adventures Vol. 1: Up, Up and Away! by Mark Millar, finished January 16
003) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, finished January 12
002) Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, finished January 11
001) Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut, finished January 10

To your left (volume five)


Tolkers's Broken Arms
    I had a dream about Tolkers last night. I dreamed he had died, and not pleasantly, while we were on the outs, just before our mutual graduation. Shortly before the ceremony, I received word that he had forgiven me so I decided to go ahead with it. But that didn't stop our fellow graduates from despising me and blaming me for his awful demise. I still feel terrible. So to make up for it, I'm sending traffic his way today.

Tolkien Boy

Earth Sign Mama's Write
    Since I first met Tolkien Boy at Earth Sign Mama's home in Vegas, one might think that, since they were both confirmed in 2005, this is when I first met her as well. Not so. I met her much earlier in Provo--possibly as long ago as 2003. But I'm not sure when we first met, so, sinning on safety's side, she's under 2005.

    Earth Sign Mama is a wonderful person and I like her so darn much. For instance, when I bruised my thigh, she let us Thteeds stay with her until we had put our car well enough to carry on. Not everyone would do that. Chickens, for instance, would probably peck you to death.


Volume One, 1990 - 1999
Volume Two, 2000 - 2000
Volume Three, 2002
Volume Four, 2003 - 2004


Return to normalcy


Apparently I have begun to develop a reputation as something of a weirdo. In order to prevent this calamity from turning into total ruination of my public character, I am now going to publish a True Story from the Hearth:
    The Big O woke up today before I left for work and after eating what was left of the peanut butter with a silicon spatula (magenta), he asked if I would play with him. I had a couple minutes, so we rolled cars back and forth at each other.

    Until we developed axle problems--that pretty much put an end to that.

    But that was okay, because it was time for me to leave.

    So I gave him a hug and left.

    When I got home, the Big O and his mother were napping.

    The end.


My Eyes


Ever had your eyes just melt, dripping down your cheeks?

Yeah. I hate that.


Axe & Svithe

Swing that gospel axe

Usually of course, in this svithes I apply artistry and subtlety, but this week I'm in a rush and so will instead follow in the holy tradition of Butch Yelton and I will swing that gospel axe!

Watch your head!


Don't kill people!

Give to the poor!

Don't steal!

Don't covet!

Including your neighbor's wife/ass!

Render unto unto God the things that are God’s!

Be nice!

Love your neighbor!

Something about fish on Fridays or something!

I'm not sure!

Anyway, no wickedness!

Righteous only!

Peace out.


last week's svithe


The Greatest Rock-and-Roll Band Ever

Star Wars! Live! In Concert!.

[Note: In order to level the playing field, Tenacious D was not invited to this soirée.]

While there are other bands worth considering, the bands I most often hear accused of being the greatest are the following: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, U2, Depeche Mode and Radiohead.

I'm going to start by dismissing U2 and the Rolling Stones. Both bands have many songs I like, can put together an album, allegedly put on great shows, and have astonishing staying power. But the Stones have the thematic variability of Howard Stern and U2 just get annoying after a while.

Depeche Mode just don't have enough musical flexibility--- Say, how'd they get on this list anyway?

Led Zeppelin, I am ashamed to admit, I just don't know well enough to judge. I only know two of their songs by ear. One I love, but "Stairway to Heaven" is an abomination that precludes this band from further consideration. We would have to go deep into the Celine Dion catalogue to find something more atrocious.

This leaves the Beatles and Radiohead which---wait a second!

This sucks!

All these bands are from across the pond! What gives?

Okay, hang on:

The Beach Boys were only good when they had a sane Brian Wilson.

Tool annoys me to no end.

The Everly Brothers never evolved enough.

I know nothing about the Mars Volta and besides: it's too soon to say.

For the Doors or the Dead it may always be too soon to say.

There never was a Motown band that truly stood high enough above the others, and---

Hang on! Where are the chick bands! This is particularly ridiculous because it's well established that nine times out of ten, I'll pick the chick-fronted band!

---Sorry: Beatles v. Radiohead

I have to dismiss Radiohead because they are only a good art band--they never were a great pop band, and rock and roll is made of both pop and art.

So. The Beatles.

That's who's left.

Do they deserve the title?

Let's start at the beginning.

Before the Beatles, rock and roll was tough to distinguish form other brands of American music. Why were Elvis and Buddy Holly rock and roll while Johnny Cash and Buck Owens country? Because they were. No other reason. Which was Jerry Lee Lewis? People still aren't sure. It took the British Invasion to cut the umbilical cord and far more than anyone else, the Beatles were the British Invasion.

Part of being rock and roll is holding the public imagination hostage, and no one has ever seen anything like Beatlemania. Now do I imagine we ever will again.

Keith Richards once told Paul McCartney that the difference between the Stones and the Beatles is that the Stones had but one frontman while the Beatles had four.

(Try asking people who their favorite member of U2 is. Dollars to donuts no one says Larry.)

And the Beatles wrote songs too--they were a huge force in creating the notion that bands should perform their own songs. All four of them wrote as well. In fact, I think the biggest problem with the band is that they did not perform more George songs.

(George is my favorite Beatle.)

George is proof that an extraordinary musician can also be humble and zen. It's hard to imagine someone that talented spending so many years in the background. But he did. And his willingness to hold back helped propel the band through their decade of greatness.

Paul may be the greatest writer of pop songs ever. If not, he's up there. Note what I say about "Yesterday" in a few paragraphs.

John was the primary mover when it came to turning pop music into high art. There are other competitors for this title, yes, but Bob Dylan isn't a band.

Paul has said that Ringo is an awesome drummer--the best. I don't know how to tell so I'll have to take his word for it. (Sure, Jack White says Meg is the best drummer he's ever worked with, but he's never worked with Ringo.)

I think influence is a worthwhile way to measure greatness. And good luck finding someone more referenced or listened to or covered than the Beatles. "Yesterday" is the most heavily recorded song of all time (a fact I have frequently read but have no idea how to track down an original source for). Even people who avoid the Beatles can't help but be influenced by bands that worship them. That's just the way rock and roll is.

It's not my favorite Beatles album (today that designation goes to Revolver), but the most important album of all time is Sgt. Pepper's. We weren't there; we can't know: but the people who were there are quick to say: Sgt. Pepper's changed everything. Sgt. Pepper's created the idea of rock-and-roll album as art just as Rubber Soul had first created the idea of an album.

Basically, everything that I could laud Radiohead (or anyone else) for, the Beatles did first--and as well. Maybe you don't like their version of it as much, but you have to admit it is excellent all the same. And in the even of a tie, I say leave the title with the old champion.

But it's no tie. I say they win straight out.