The Dominant Potato Loves the Wallflower


028) Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, finished May 24

Great title, Perks of Being a Wallflower. And it's been recommended to me a number of times, most recently and critically by Tolkien Boy, who said it had the "the Bat sensibility, but more heart" and "Even if you don't like the book, it's worth picking up on its own terms."

I'm not sure I agree with the first part of that thought, as, except for it being about kids who are a little less mainstream (in this book's case, that's more purely a mere matter of perception), I found it entirely disparate in tone. Weetzie Bat is light and airy and floats in the breeze. Perks is heavy and sad. Both books are seasoned with bits of the other and I can certainly see how they could be grouped together, but it's not a grouping that would occur to me naturally.

I do agree though that the book was worth picking up, even if I'm not completely enamored with it. I suspect many people, reading it, will feel likeit's an accurate depiction of high school. It's nothing like the life I lived in high school, but it did help me understand why so many people I knew (and know) do the things they do.

It wants to be treated as archeology of high school, 1991. And I think you'll enjoy the book more if you let it convince you of such.
nine days


027) The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan, finished May 16

I've been hearing about Levithan from friends for a while (and while I remember mostly postive, in looking for a link, I realize it hasn't always been so). Anyway, I was at the library to pick up another book recommended by another friend and I saw this on the New Books shelf and grabbed it. Even though, when I saw it was a novel in dictonary form, I had a bad reaction.

Obviously it's a gimmick and not indicative of what lies behind the gimmick, but I had a bad reaction to the last such novel I attempted (and I attempted it more than once), so I was skeptical. But I read the first couple entries and decided it was worth the effort.

I've pulled out two entries---they're less storytelling, but almost thesis statements. The first for the form, the second for the tale:
ineffable, adj.

These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how amny words there are, there will never be enough.

tenet, n.

At the end of the French movie, the lover sings, "Love me less, but love me for a long time."

People who read YA lit, serious people, explain to the skeptical that more formal experimentation---without the sacrifice of actual storytelling---happens in YA lit than adult lit. And so I'm happy to see a YA author bring that level of experimentation to adult lit. And, I'm happy to say, the book is essentially successful. He had the good sense to keep it short. He played different games with different words. He put together a cohesive story and well rounded characters.

That said, the book does have some of the flaws inherenet to experimental writing, and does have some obnoxious, deliberate ambiguities. But overall, I greatly enjoyed this read and commend it to you.

We should all write a dictionary now and then.
three days


026) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, finished May 10 (I'm astonished a month has passed since I've finished a book)

My colleague MM pressed this book into my hands and told me I must read it, which is much stronger than what she's said about other books she much liked such as Little Bee. And I can see why. This is a book which, I'm afraid, it's a crime to not to press upon fellow booklovers.

I've been aware of this book, of course. Naturally. It's been everywhere. (So I'm a little offended no one forced me to read it before.) I had not been that interested. It has a cutesy title and seemed, in appearance, too purely an example of unequivocal WOMEN's fiction. Then I took to school on Monday and read 100 pages.

I'm always skeptical of the epistolary form, but no question when done well, it is a joy. And this book is an utter joy. It's bright and cheerful and romantic and eccentric without being silly or quirky or fey or sentimental. It's a wonderful book and perfectly made a book lover to read in a day or four. Bitesize letters will keep you returning for just one more. And while you're enrapt with the charm and story, you'll also be aware of how the authors subtly narrow the points of view in order to tell the story properly. To cite a book mentioned in Guernsey, it's much like what Jane Austen did in Pride and Prejudice, starting omniscient and slowly focusing on Elizabeth.

Another virtue of this book is that it's made me want to check out some writers I've never considered before---Charles Lamb and Seneca, to name two.

Anyway, I thought it was going to be a big block of cheese, but I genuinely loved it. You should grab a copy for yourself.
four days


025) Dominant Traits by Eric Freeze, finished April 10

Read the full intereview at AMV.
two weeks or so

Previously in 2012 . . . . :

Read the reviews of 21-24.
024) The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, finished April 2
023) UNTITLED MS by Kyle Jepson, finished March 12, 2012
022) The Complete Peanuts 1981-1982 by Charles M. Schulz, finished March 4
021) The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, finished March 3

Read the reviews of 14-20.
020) Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire, finished February 25
019) Good-bye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson, finished February 26
018) Madman 20th Anniversary Monster HC by [everybody], finished February 25
017) Billy Hazelnuts and Crazy Bird by Tony Millionaire, finished February 25
016) Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire, finished February 25
015) Habibi by Craig Thompson, finished February 20
014) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, finished February 15

Read the reviews of 12-13.
013) Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, finished February 12
012) Black Hole by Charles Burns, finished February 11

Read the reviews of 6-11.
011) The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980 by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 4
010) Blankets by Craig Thompson, finished February 4
009) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, finished February 2
008) The Millstone Necklace (forthcoming) by S.P. Bailey, finished January 31
007) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, finished January 27
006) Across a Harvested Field by Robert Goble, finished January 23

Read the reviews of 1-5.
005) Hark! a Vagrant! by Kate Beaton, finished January 21
004) The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark, finished January 12
003) Bucketfoot Al: The Baseball Life of Al Simmons by Clifton Blue Parker, finished January 9
002) Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly, finished January 9
001) What of the Night? by Stephen Carter, finished January 5


"The Legend of Boitown"


"The Legend of Boitown" (under one of the many titles it's had over the years, but I can't recall which) was originally presented to Donlu Thayer as part of the portfolio for a class I was taken from her. Her note at the end was something like, "Wow! Why didn't we read this in class?" Which I interpreted to mean it was pretty good.

And it is pretty good, actually. Not bad at all.

The problem is the way it ends. Which is the whole point of the story but, as it ends up, is a bit of a cliche in literary fiction. Something I did not know in 1998.

In 2002 (this is about thirty months later) I attended Endercon. Thereat, I listened to Michael Collings, then still at Pepperdine, talk about Ender's Game as epic poetry. One of his evidences was that the book's major sections are punctuated with a particular meter.

Immediately, in my head, I reran the final line of "The Legend of Boitown" which obeys the same laws. Which I suppose is why I could remember it.

Anyway, after being rejected by, in reverse order, Cutbank, Ploughshares, The New Yorker, Renovation Journal, Zoetrope, Georgia Review, and Zyzzyva, it's finally been picked up by the lit rag Children, Churches & Daddies. It will show up there soon, but it's now available on their online sister, Scars.tv. You can read that (awkwardly formatted) version now.

It's a great relief, having that story out of the queue.

Let me know what you think.


The LDS Eros: Pornographic Dialogue


Dialogue published a letter of complaint about the fiction in Vol. 43, Num. 1 - Spring 2010 ("Straight Home" by Lisa Torcasso Downing and "Badge and Bryant, or, the Decline and Fall of the Dogfrey Club" by Levi S. Peterson). Editor Kristine allowed both Lisa and Levi to respond. Levi did, and his comments match what we would expect of him; Lisa did not, but told Kristine she "was too busy laughing . . . then begged her to please, please, please run the guy's letter."

(She told me this when I congratulated her on her new membership in the League of Mormon Pornographers.)

Lisa sent me a copy of her story upon my request, and I took so long to read it that Levi's is now available for free online.

Let's discuss them, shall we? It feels like we haven't talked about sex in literature for ages.

"Straight Home" read

For all Lisa's protestations to the contrary, the story has plenty enough sex. Especially if you include ogling naked women, which I suspect many readers will. Especially the reader ready for a pornographic event.

That said, to call the story prurient is to, sigh, dismiss sexuality as a legitimate concern of literature. Which, if you are still reading these posts, I presume you must agree with.

Anyway, a bit of SPOILERy plot to orient you, then we'll dig in.

Bart marries Natalie. She has strange "birthmarks" which end up being evidence of childhood abuse. The psychological damage leads her, later in their marriage, to engage in activities that are clear neither to the reader nor Bart (whose point-of-view we're viewing things through). She may be cheating on him, she may not, who can tell. Anyway, their marriage has been damaged enough that Bart can interpret his still being with her as evidence of his excellence of a human being. (Not to suggest he lacks self-awareness. He's aware that his feelings lean in this direction and though he agrees with them, he is not proud of them.)

Natalie spends much of the story naked or getting naked. The flashback to their post-consummation honeymoon morning. Her taking off her clothes after church in order to take a shower. The shower.

But Natalie is naked in other ways, ways her husband has forced upon her. Like her scars, her nakedness is also both physical and psychological. Her husband, through his shrink, has come to recognize her cigarrette burns for what they are; and he has told their bishop and sicced him on her.

The overlay of nakedness and pain, sex and abuse, continues throughout the story. The scars he first sees, that honeymoon morning, are placed on a "hidden, erogenous area" behind her hair (which, tellingly, has grown longer, not shorter, since first they met). But the hair that he thinks of most over the course of "Straight Home" is the hair hiding a scar of another sort.

Speaking of erogenous areas, and yes I mean Natalie's vagina, when Bart looks at her naked body now, his thoughts are not just about sex, but the emotional and physical results of intercourse:
His eyes caressed her, moving from the crown of her wet head
down to the breasts with which she had suckled their children, then on to
the abdomen that had swelled, and to the region that had delivered. Finally,
he took in the legs that once upon a time had wrapped around him and made
him believe she had wanted him.
That she has given birth is not obvious in looking at her. Those are scars she also hides.

Bart and Natlie have not been engaging in sex together, and Bart is afraid their marriage is collapsing and he fears losing their kids---he thinks is disappearing, invsible---but, at the end, when they do have sex? He is "satisfied." That is all it takes. That is all he needed. Is her surrender.

Just prior to leading him to bed, Natalie recognizes something in him and begins a seduction as she steps from the shower and sits on his lap. "Tiny dots, pin pricks, rose all along her curves." At first, before I realized I was simply seeing goosebumps, I read these pricks (advertant pun, methinks) as new, fresh cigarette burns---evidence that she has a new beau (so to speak). But no. Just the cold. Because she has left the shower still wet to please a man.

Among the things she says on his lap is "'I’ve been a very naughty girl.'" A sentence which, let's be honest, makes her sound pretty darned regressive. But is it a sign of her psychological unhealth? Is it is some sort of lolita sexplay---and if so, is it a sign that she views Bart as the latest in a line of male dominators . . . or just that she's seen enough sitcoms to know this is sexy? Or, or is she completely serious? And she does feel that "naughty" is the best way to decribe her hours-long absenses and closed legs?

And then when she says, "'Take care of me'"? Is she unable to grow up? Unwilling? Prevented by her past or by her husband?

Can she be healed?

Will Bart ever stop feeling that the scars from old abuse are eyes staring at him, no matter which way she turns?

"Straight Home" (which could be double entendre itself), for all it's naked lady sexy sex, is a complex look at the relationships between sex and power and love and abuse and commitment and marriage and children and hope. It's an ambitious story. And one that I think could provide an opening to couples with true sexual issues to discuss their own difficulties. If this is pornography, it is a moral pornography.

"Badge and Bryant, or, the Decline and Fall of the Dogfrey Club" read

Lisa's story is about sex between adults. Levi's is about kids who are just becoming aware of the eixistance of such relationships and, in connection to that, how a fourteen-year-old boy can turn a woman crossing the street into a pornographic event. It's amazing what kids can do with a small amount of information and vast stores of ignorance.

Badge is, as is incorporated into his name, the "bad" cousin. He's the one who comes up with the notion of the Dogfrey Club, the members of which are expected to swear they will get not get married unless it's a shotgun married. Then he spends the summer creating extravagent fantasies regarding that scenario. But as we slip inside his mind and view his fantasies, they don't seem to be heavy on fornication. They deal more with the girl's brothers beating him up. And after the wedding? The fantasy ends with a kiss:
Glancing piteously up at him, she obviously expected at best
a callous indifference on his part. Happily, the narrative
now called for Badge to yield to his throbbing love and allow
a warm, reassuring smile to replace his hitherto stolid,
apathetic countenance—a transmutation which the long-neglected
girl at first did not dare accept as sincere. It was not until
he took her in his arms and pressed a long, fervent kiss upon
her lips that she began to feel the first inklings of a hope
that had eluded her for weeks. Suddenly, relief and gratitude
swept her wan, fine-featured face, and her eyes welled with
happy tears. With that, this version of the saga ended.
Badge, for all his new swear words and casual knowledge of sex stuff, is still a good kid. He's learning how to navigate his knew knowledge and the approach of adulthood ("Sorting out an adult identity was perplexing, to say the least."), and that seems to mean exploring the bad as well as the good.

Bryant (with the beginnings of "righteous" hidden inside his name) has been happy to play along with Badge, but the Dogfrewy club seems to be a step too far:
. . . sex was too delicate, too problematic, too fraught with
ambiguity, to trifle with by inventing such a superf luity as a
Dogfrey Club. Sex being what it had turned out to be, as much of
a messy necessity for human beings as for animals, you shouldn’t
come to it via the back door by not even taking the trouble to
get married first when getting married was what you had in mind
all along.
Because remember---the purpose of the Dogfrey Club is not sex, but marriage. A certain kind of marriage that will spread scandle, but in the end, Badge just wants to end up with the girl he loves.
Badge had fed on lust for LillieDale without thinking of it
as lust. It was love—tender, grand, unique in the annals of
history, light-years beyond mere lust.
I'm going to leave the story behind for a second and philosophize, if that's all right. I think there's a real lesson here for adults in Levi's tale. These are good boys. They're trying to reconcile their understanding of love and marriage, received from their parents, with their understanding of sex, informed by certain Changes no one's explaining to them.
Lust was not an emotion that any Mormon male, old or young,
could easily admit to, it being generally supposed in the
Mormon world that there is no similarity between the sinful
emotion of lust and the ardor which drives a husband to beget
legitimate babies upon his duly-wed wife.
And with no one explaining it to them, they have to work it out for themselves.

This important part of growing up---how should we help our kids out with it? Or can we?

The story is third-person limited, but limited to two characters, both Badge and Bryant (which I suppose one might call omniscient, but that seems inaccurate here). Both undergo some serious bildungsroman, but Badge's change is more consscious, thoughtful, grudging, and thorough.

He grows to understand he is not only capable of recognizing a woman's sexual draw, he is incapable of not noticing it. And if that is true of him, it must be true of everyone. The Mormon men he looks up to included. And if that's true, then they must be as capable of imagining sin as he has been happy imagining sin. And if that's true, and they are adults, nothing can stop them from gross sexual misconduct. And if that's true, aren't they all guilty?

Navigating this crisis forces Badge to look for a solution that does not require relying on the evaporated good examples of his youth.

And that grappling and solving of crisis is what makes him into a new person and the demise of the Dogfrey Club.

It's a lovely story. I kind of want to slip it to the young men in my ward and see what they think. But I'm not really in a position to do that. . . . And I'm kind of too much of a troublemaker anyway, doncha think?


WARNING: This post is scatalogical in nature


The English language is the most beautiful and inclusive thing on the planet. And yet it has a serious lack---or at least my own English vocabulary does. I've brought this idea cavity to the public's attention before (including on this very blog), but everyone always thinks I'm joking around. I am NOT joking around. this problem needs to be solved.

Here's the problem. There are certain basic physiological needs that humans have. And each need can be expressed with use of a single adjective. For instance, if I am in need of food, I am hungry. I may be famished or starving or, on the other end, peckish. I am in need of food, expressed with a single adjective.

I am thirsty. I am parched.

I am tired or sleepy. Exhausted.

I am choking or suffocating. I am in need of oxygen.

I am horny. Aroused. Titillated. (I need you.)

But what if I need to expel waste from my body? What single adjective do I have to express myself? This is the great lack of which I speak.

But fear not, anglophones. I, Thmazing, have solved your linguistic abcess. And the word that the Muse delivered to me? Poopish.

It's not elegant, but I think it's clear. "Excuse me, I'm feeling poopish. I believe the others at the table will catch your meaning.

Of course, poopish is only half the story. So we need a second word. Peeish? Peïsh? No. Urinish? Eh. Even worse. Littlegirlroomish? Egad.

And then I had it:


That should do the trick.

Now, poopish and leakish are not refined, but the euphemistic tendencies of English should help us there soon enough.

But finally, this ancient weight has been removed from my shoulders.

Feel free to thank me.


"In Praise of Thmighty Theric" by D. C. Nelson


Thmighty is Theric; yes, thmighty is he,
thever and thever we'll praise him, you see.
From thheadland to valley, from thmountain to sea,
thenuthiasts gather to sound this decree:
thmighty is Theric. Yes, thmighty is he.

Tharticles he writes have a passion and grace
and thintricate working, like letter-sprung lace.
Though thmisandrists may gather his works to efface,
not one spot of his works can they find to therase.
(And, on top of all this, he has a nice thface.)

The thtories he writes are both clever and pure,
the thort of good writing we know will endure.
His thtylings of thentences have their allure,
and thalso his diction! His thtalents can blur
the fine thline between genius and the thobscure.

So, hail thawesome Theric! His writing so crisp
on many a thubject, on sparities disp,
remind us there’s thnothing, not even a wisp,
in writing that isn’t improved with a thlisp.