2013-03-30

The Svithe of Thomas

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Over the last couple days I've read the Gospel of Thomas. I've heard of it of course---since being rediscovered it's become the headliner of new old Christian texts. Although 114 chapters long, it is quite short. It tells no story. Each chapter is one saying of Jesus, most of which do not appear in Matthew or Mark or Luke or John. Some of these I share with you now.

I tell you these things that you might be troubled and perplexed. I tell you these things that you might know that Jesus who made his listeners feel I felt as I read these confusing and challenging sayings. I do not share these things you might feel comfortable with the Jesus who has been explained away over two thousand years of explaining.

Chapter 7
1 Jesus said: "Blessed us the lion which the person eats---and the lion becomes a person. And cursed is the person whom the lion eats---and the lion becomes a person."

Chapter 67
1 Jesus said: "Whoever knows all, if she still needs herself, she still needs all."

Chapter 70
1 Jesus said: "When you give birth to the one within you, that one will save you. If you do not have that one within you, that one will kill you."

Chapter 80
1 Jesus said: "Whoever has known the world has found the body. And whoever has found the body, the world is no longer worthy of that person."

Chapter 87
1 Jesus said: "Damn the body that depends on a body; and damn the soul that depends on these two."

Chapter 98
1 Jesus said: "The realm of the Father is compared to someone who wanted to kill a powerful man. He drew his sword in his house. He stabbed the wall in order to see whether his hand might hold steady. Then he killed the powerful man."

Chapter 105
1 Jesus said: "Whoever knows mother and father will be called the child of a whore!"

Chapter 109
1 Jesus said: "The realm compares to a man who had in his field a hidden treasure, but he was unaware of it. And after his death, he left it to his son. The son was also unaware of the treasure. He took the field and sold it. The one who bought the field went plowing and found the treasure. 2 He began to lend money at interest to those he loved."

Chapter 114
1 Simon Peter said to them: "Let Mary leave us, for women do not deserve life." 2 Jesus said: "Look! I will lead her so that I might make her male, which will make her into a living spirit resembling you males. 3 For any woman that makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

source
previous svithe

2013-03-29

Selections from Jews and Words by Oz and Oz-Salzberger

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A few selections from this marvelous book. Some with, some without commentary.

p26

Simply put, our thesis is this: in order to remain a Jewish family, a Jewish family perforce relied upon words. Not any words, but words that came from books.

I find this idea thrilling. And because I'll be putting an LDS spin on many of these selection, why not start here? I think the Israelite heritage Mormons inherit from scripture---but especially the Book of Mormon (see our nickname)---explains why we feel a close kinship with the Jews. We don't feel that words are too small a relationship to make us family.

That aside, I love this concept. It speaks to me as a reader. As the Ozes say later (unquoted), one could, in almost every case, substitute the word "reader" for "Jew" and still make sense of this booklength essay.


p76

By contrast [to Greek goddesses and tragic heroines], Israelite and Jewish female characters over the ages almost always choose life. They fare badly at times, but not in a tragic sense. Their heroism is almost invariably about surviving, rescuing, surmounting danger, and bringing babies to the world.

p176-177

One of the most crucial and typical Hebrew legacies is the centrality of the individual person.

We already said, in passing, that the powerful individualism displayed in the Bible and in later Jewish texts is not your mainstream individualism of modern Western theory. A deep and ancient marker of Hebrew culture is the centrality of the single man or woman, created in God's image, but at the same time belonging to several human pluralities. . . .

The Mishnah comments on Genesis crisply and lucidly:
Therefore man was created singly in the world to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul [nefesh], it counts as if he destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul, it counts as if he saved a full world.
. . . .

Now this precious idea, that every single soul is a full world, can carry two dovetailing meanings. The first is that each person's life is of tremendous importance. Indeed, since man and woman are created in God's image, each life is holy. Unlike certain Christian and Muslim concepts of the term soul, the Hebrew word nefesh is almost exclusively linked to life on earth, and not to an eternal afterlife, "for the blood is the nefesh." . . .

. . . . Almost all divine precepts can be suspended when life and death are involved. This legal tool is a fundamental law; it can push aside almost any other piece of legislation.

I did not know the Jews have made so explicit a belief that I thought was peculiarly Mormon. But the Jews take this to mean the saving of mortal lives in a much more literal way than we usually think of it. We can learn something here.

p179

The second meaning of "whoever saves one soul, it counts as if he saved a full world" is even more fascinating than the first. . . . to urge the utter necessity of personal responsibility over the lives of others.

p180

. . . every soul is "a full world," and every such world is different from all others.

This is not Western individualism but Jewish individuation. The single person is not weightier than the group, nor is the "I" more important than the "you" or the "we." Instead, every one of us must be infinitely important to the others and to the collective, because we are each a unique variant of God's image.

Which is why the Earth should be saved.

p187

No man is an island wrote the great Donne. The novelist among us adds: true, no man is an island, but we are all peninsulas.

p191

"Your children are not your children," wrote Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet. "They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself." Being stereotypically Jewish parents, we cannot concede possession of our offspring quite so easily. But we could paraphrase Gibran thus: Your ideas are not your ideas. They are the progeny of the bookshelf on your wall and the language that you inhabit.

Which is why this everlastingly extended copyright is a load of crap.

p204

Our words are not our words. They change as we utter them. They never stay long enough to "belong." A little like our offspring, in the already-quoted line of the wise Arab poet Gibran: Your children are not your children. We may wish our children to continue our words; instead, they will author the book afresh.

And we need to be okay with that. It's not what we do that's so great. It's that it's part of something that continues ever onward.

So hard to stop! But I must end somewhere and this seems as good a place as any. While I could write about every page, you should read every page for yourself.

P.S.: Don't miss my original review, or my forthcoming AMV post.

In the meantime, please feel free to comment yourself on some of the ones I skipped. They're unquestionably juicy.

2013-03-28

Cats, Feces, Zombies, Jews, Wars, Princesses, Prophets, Exes, Screenplays

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034) The New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons, finished March 24

Just what you imagine it to be.
mere minutes



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033) What Shat That? by Matt Pagett, finished March 24

I admit I did not read every word. Instead I read it using the Brother-Backman-the-Famous-Historian Method so it certainly still counts. Plus, I learned so many interesting things about goldfish poop and koala poop and wombat poop and whale poop and a hundred other kinds of poop that I'm set with cocktail conversation FOR MONTHS.
not at all long



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032) Zombies Hate Stuff by Greg Stones, finished March 22

Do you remember when things like uses for a dead cat could make for a bestselling book? Nowadays, seems more likely a project like that would end up on Tumblr yet here is a series of painting of things zombies hate in a book form, just like the good old days.

Good stuff too. Couple good gags. A pleasant way to spend fifteen minutes.

mere minutes



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031) Jews and Words by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger, finished March 22

I didn't expect this book to rearrange my thinking as much as it did. (I also didn't expect that Asimov's insanely long chapter on Jewish jokes would be my best preparation coming into this book.)

I have a couple other posts planned coming out of this book, but for now, some unorganized thoughts.

One: I suppose many Christians may agree with this notion, but as a Mormon I could not disagree more when the authors suggest that Jesus's appeal to being as a little child is a call to ignorance.

Two: I love the idea of a people being bound less by geography or genealogy or genetics, and more by the words they hand down from generation to generation---as much teacher to student as parent to child.

Three: We Mormons are terrific at sharing our Torah with each other, but lousy at passing down the full richness of our Talmud. Not that all of our Talmud-equivalent is worth knowing, but I think we let too much of our textual heritage fall away. I'm guilty of this myself.

Four: Although the authors come at this task from a directly atheistic/secular point of view, they remain fully Jewish. And, given their explanation of the history of "Judaism" as and idea and a word, that seems perfectly reasonable. And I'm let wondering again how open my own tradition is to nonbelievers of like heritage. And how open it is incumbent upon us to be.

Five: Look here for some favorite passages.
three or four weeks



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030) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, vol 3 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished March 13

When I finished the first two books,I intended to just jump right into this one. Then I didn't and I didn't then I thought, ah, well, here I am not finishing books, why bother with this one. I'm forgetting the story etc etc. But then it was late and a comic sounded just right and oh yeah! This is AMAZING stuff! So I read it and I've put the other four volumes on hold at the library.

We're doing this thing.
two days



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029) The Princess Bride: Shooting Draft by William Goldman, finished March 11

Apparently reading screenplays instead of grading is my new thing. Fwiw, the darn thing almost made me cry. Twice.
shorter than i expected



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028) The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother by Lucy Mack Smith, finished March 5

I checked this book from my ward library to carry with me as I walked to before-church meetings. Then I was released from that responsibility and only picked up Lucy Mack to read a bit every now and again.

Reading this book as a lifelong Mormon is a lot like watching Casablanca as a lifelong American parts are so familiar you swear you've seen it before, but it holds secrets you never before imagined.

Lucy Mack Smith is one feisty lady, and something of a prophetess to boot. Her perspective on her family's travails comes with the passion of a mother and the insight of a mother and the wisdom of a mother.

And it's a fun read with mostly short chapters. Check it out.
perhaps three years



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027) Scott Pilgrim vs the World by Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall, finished March 5

I read this one because I was told to think Scott Pilgrim. Which, having read it, I realize I already was. Now that I know screenplays are just lying around online, maybe I'll read more.
this evening



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026) Screenplay by Syd Field, finished March 3

I was upset when the library made me return Syd Field's Screenplay before I was finished with it. And startled that when they sent me a new copy it was the 70s version instead of the 2005 revised which I had been reading before. (And which I'll argue is superior in many ways but not all.) The two are different enough that it seems strange to claim I've "finished" reading the book when, in fact, I've read half of two quite different books.

I checked it out initially because I'm developing an interest in different ways to structure fiction. Field is the most famous proponent of structure in screenplay, but even those who resent his fame admit the point (if not the details). But a funny thing happened while I read the book. I got excited about writing screenplays.

As an experiment, I'm adapting Byuck. And I do not intend to abandon novels for screenplays. But I am enjoying my experiment and I already have another idea which I've sculpted for screenplay shape, not novel shape. So I may flirt more with this form in the future.

In fact. I would call it certain.
couple months





Previously in 2013 . . . . :

Books 22 - 24
025) Mortal Syntax by June Casagrande, finished March 2
024) The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo, finished March 1
023) Moby Dick by Herman Melville, finished February 28
022) Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos H. Papadimitriou & Alecos Papadatos & Annie Di Donna, finished February 22

Books 20 - 21
021) The Complete Peanuts 1985-1986 by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 22
020) The Princess Bride by William Goldman, finished February 20

Books 14 - 19
019) Magic Tree House #10: Ghost Town at Sundown by Mary Pope Osborne, finished February 17
018) The Report Card by Andrew Clements, finished February 17
017) Justice (volume one) by AUTHOR, finished February 16
016) The Green Mile by Stephen King, finished February 15
015) Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl, finished February 12
014) The Silver Cord: Book One ~ Nephilim by Kevin Kelly et al., finished February 7

Books 8 - 13
013) Teen Titans: The Prime of Life by JT Krul and Nicola Scott, finished February 2
012) Batman: Vampire by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones and John Beatty and Malcolm Jone III, finished February second
011) Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor by Isaac Asimov, finished January 26
010) Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, Perfect Collection 1 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished January 22
009) The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984 by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 21
008) My Letter to the World by Emily Dickinson, finished January 21

Books 1 - 7
007) Spacecave One by Jake Parker, finished January 19
006) The Antler Boy and Other Stories by Jake Parker, finished January 19
005) The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, finished January 14
004) The Crab with the Golden Claws by Hergé, finished January 14
003) The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham's Treasure by Hergé, finished January 11
002) Using the Common Core State Standards... edited by Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Ed.D., finished January 10
001) Jellaby by Kean Soo, finished January 8

2013-03-26

Laurel Wistian and the Adventure of the Dangerous Mice of Dr. Mortimus Alexander Fitzbottom, PhD, AlcD
redux

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I linked improperly last time I posted this announcement. Clicking on the picture on both posts now works.

My story's available for free but the whole thing's a mere $4.

2013-03-25

Byucky memes

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BYU Memes, the crazy-popular Facebook site, is helping me give away copies of Byuck. Get in on the action pronto.

Or, at the very least, enjoy the competition as a spectator. Me, I can hardly wait.

== == == == ==

For those looking for somewhere to start, why not with the essays that started it all?

Marital Matters --- for free, yall.

2013-03-19

2013-03-18

Unfinished Book: "The Tabernacle Bar" by Susan Palmer

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I received this novel in a big box of Mormon books from my wife's brother's wife's brother as he sloughed off the final remnants of his Mormon past. I don't know why I chose this one to start with. The box was filled with much more exciting volumes. But this one was slender and engaging and I slipped into it rather quickly.

Once I slipped out, however, I found it difficult to return.

Utah: The lapsed Mormon granddaughter inherits all her staunchly Mormon grandfather's property and takes out a mortgage on it to buy the local bar of the title. She sleeps with a couple dudes and an escaped hippie girl falls in love with her brother and this and that. The town is a sort of fictionalized Logan and, you know, everything about the book is fine. But just fine. It has that sort of snide this is what Mormons are really like tone we've grown tired of from too much use by too many exMos. In other words, as much as I liked the first half of the book, I find it impossible to believe that the second half will provide me with anything more.

Perhaps that is cynical or unkind, but---remember!---according to Tim Parks!---it's okay not to finish books.

I feel like this book and I are close enough to still hang out together on Facebook.

But I might wait for it to friend me first.

2013-03-11

Unfinished Books: "Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood" by Douglas Thayer

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I've recently started hanging with the Thayer cult, but I'll never be a full-fledged member. Because I found this book intolerably boring. I've had it since its release and I'm still not thirty pages in. So I'm calling it quits.

I'm not sure why I care so little about Thayer's childhood or the Provo of that era. After all, didn't I read and reread the Great Brain books as a child? Isn't this basically a realer and more recent version therof?

I guess. Whatever. I don't care.

It's weird though because I know it's Zarahemla's bestselling book and I know Thayer can spin a good yarn. So why do I find it so tedious and unreadable?

I don't know. And it's stayed by my bedside for years in hopes I would find the resources to give it a more serious shot.

But I have failed. So I'm going to pass on the book to someone else who may like it. My dad's the obvious choice, but the last time I gave him a book I was certain he would like, it didn't work out so well.

2013-03-07

Unfinished Book: "The Fast Red Road: a plainsong" by Stephen Graham Jones

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I'm pretty sure it's been at least two years since I've cracked FRR. And reading it, I think, made me a better reader while challenging my notions of what fiction can be. So: a perfect entry to Unfinished Books.

I've read about a third of FRR and I wish I had decided not to finish it years ago so I could say all the things I once wanted to say about it. Here are some highlights:

  • I've never read anything that made me feel that I understood the, er, mystical experience of being a Native American. Holy crap, that sounds racist. But you know what? Reading this novel is why I found The Path of Antelope, Pelican, and Moon so unbearable. The fact is, we have buried among us a rich and now alien culture. This plainsong offers a glimpse of what living with that worldview might be like. And it's disorienting and strange, but it feels honest and true. That salad-bar hallucination makes the rules of reality seem really overobserved by whitey.
  • This book is exceedingly modern. To the point that I should have rejected it long ago. But I did not. And why not? Because it's not mere gimmickry and lookatmeismry. It's capturing something strange and true that can't quite be represented in other ways. From sex to death with all the stops in-between via fast car, FRR has you covered. It's a dizzying and confusing ride, but it's an honest one.
Sadly, I only made it about a third of the way through the book. I think a more standard plot was about to kick in. I don't know if that would prove to be a good thing or a bad thing, but it doesn't matter now. I've received the gifts FRR offered me and I have no more room to receive.

May someone else glean more.

2013-03-05

From "Rejected" to "Unfinished":
An explanation and an example
(Ibid. by Mark Dunn)

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I began the Rejected Books series as a way to write about books I could not finish because they were driving me bananas. These are not books I could casually lay aside; these were books that demanded being written about but did not qualify for Five Books at a Time because I could not finish them. Would not finish them. Sometimes should not finish them.

It's a short series. Most books I don't finish it's because there was nothing to say about them anyway and I didn't care enough to complete my read before, say, the library demanded them back.

But sometimes I may not ever finish a book that I didn't dislike. And, thanks to Tim Parks, I no longer think that's a personal failing. In fact, I hope to not finish many more books in the future.

And so, from here on out, the sobriquet Rejected Books will be for books I actively despised. And Unfinished Books will be for books I did not choose to finish, but still wish to talk a bit about.

The first of which will be Ibid.: A Life in Footnotes (actually endnotes, but the protag has three legs so footnotes is funnier).

Mark Dunn is the author of Ella Minnow Pea, a truly delightful read (at least once---it's charm is sorta one-time-only in nature). Ella is only barely out of the novella range and is a vengeful lipogram, the protagonist losing access to more and more letters as she tries to communicate with the outside world.

Ibid is also constrained writing, this time consisting only of the endnotes to a lost biography. Another charming idea. This time about a hundred pages too long.

I haven't picked Ibid up in months and when I tried last night, and read a couple pages, I realized that as much as I have enjoyed the journey and the puzzles and the gimmicks and the cyphers, I was done. I did not believe the book could offer me anything greater than what it already had. It had been joyful and blithe and now it was over.

I will not finish Ibid.

But that is no reason you should not pick it up. It's a dandy read and you are certain to enjoy yourself.

Who knows?

You may even finish it.

2013-03-04

Grammar vs Moby Dick vs Math

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025) Mortal Syntax by June Casagrande, finished March 2

Maybe I should get a book like this to read with my freshmen. I'm currently sharing Elements of Style with them every Tuesday, but they just don't love it like I do. On the other hand, although Casagrande's stated goal is to save us from wrong-minded pedants, often---even when her sources determine that they are no more right than wrong---she recommends giving in to their demands just so you don't have to listen to the poor things whine.

So, in the end, not as libertarian as I would like.

But not a bad read. She's entertaining. Though it's amazing how many jokes from 2008 are already ancient.
some few weeks



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024) The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo, finished March 1

Mostly I liked it; did have some issues; expect something to show up on AMV the next few weeks.
four or five months



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023) Moby Dick by Herman Melville, finished February 28

Where to start?

The first hundred pages are a lark. Utter fun. Then they get on the boat and the story utterly changes. Actually, for most of the rest of the book there really isn't any story at all. Moments of whale killing and the final hunt at the end, but a sizable percentage of the book is taken up in behaving like a satirical encyclopedia and entrances from the Greek chorus. The novel is a madhouse. I honestly don't know quite what to make of it. As a work of fiction, he has significant problems. But it doesn't quite position itself as a work of fiction. Not in any of the expected ways. Even Les Mis, when you take out the sewers, is still a strongly constructed work of fiction. Moby Dick is pretty barebones. It's really not about the story.

Wow. Fourteen months and thinking about what I might want to say and I have no bleeding idea what to say.

Well.

I highlighted a bunch of stuff in my Nook. If I figure out how to export it, I'll write another post.

The good news is, my Nook is no longer a virgin now and I'm free to read whatever I want on it.

It's too much freedom!
fourteen months



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022) Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos H. Papadimitriou & Alecos Papadatos & Annie Di Donna, finished February 22

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. First, it's imperfect. But since it's about the necessity of imperfections, perhaps I should not fault it for that. Also, it's taken this trend in comics (which I've written about before) of layers of story (often including the comix creators as one layer) to an absurd extreme. Often it gets in the way of the story, often it the story, often it is a demonstration of the story. It would be much more difficult to tell any other way, but, frankly, they should have tried. The device of the creators arguing over the story---much like the device of Bertram Russell attempting to tell his own story---results in layers that seem to signify but really go nowhere.

I'm not surprised the book was critically acclaimed. It's terribly ambitious and anyone who hasn't been paying close attention to what comix have been up to the last couple decades might not realize how derivative and uninspired it is.

Me, I'm disappointed because it WAS ambitious in content and I wish the frame, the shape, had not been merely imitative of previous ambition. Read this after Maus and Jimmy Corrigan and Asterios Polyp and Duncan the Wonder Dog and you'll see that this is just part of a genre which has already been plied by masters. And Logicomix just doesn't hold up in comparison.

But!

All that said.

If the intersection of logic and maths and philosophy interests you and you want to read a book that often flirts within shouting distance of a brilliant dance about said intersection, try Logicomix. It only takes a day to read.
one day



Previously in 2013 . . . . :

Books 20 - 21
021) The Complete Peanuts 1985-1986 by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 22
020) The Princess Bride: S. Morgensetern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, the "Good Parts" version abridged by by William Goldman, finished February 20


Books 14 - 19
019) Magic Tree House #10: Ghost Town at Sundown by Mary Pope Osborne, finished February 17
018) The Report Card by Andrew Clements, finished February 17
017) Justice (volume one) by AUTHOR, finished February 16
016) The Green Mile by Stephen King, finished February 15
015) Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl, finished February 12
014) The Silver Cord: Book One ~ Nephilim by Kevin Kelly et al., finished February 7



Books 8 - 13
013) Teen Titans: The Prime of Life by JT Krul and Nicola Scott, finished February 2
012) Batman: Vampire by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones and John Beatty and Malcolm Jone III, finished February second
011) Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor by Isaac Asimov, finished January 26
010) Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, Perfect Collection 1 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished January 22
009) The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984 by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 21
008) My Letter to the World by Emily Dickinson, finished January 21


Books 1 - 7
007) Spacecave One by Jake Parker, finished January 19
006) The Antler Boy and Other Stories by Jake Parker, finished January 19
005) The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, finished January 14
004) The Crab with the Golden Claws by Hergé, finished January 14
003) The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham's Treasure by Hergé, finished January 11
002) Using the Common Core State Standards... edited by Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Ed.D., finished January 10
001) Jellaby by Kean Soo, finished January 8