Car books


We're hitting the road!

I spent six hours in the car with the boys and five hours by myself. On the menu?


Shortly before beginning these lists, I had been listening to audiobooks. But then my commute shrunk from seventy-five miles in car to half a mile on foot and that was the end of audiobooks. i'm not sure I've ever written about one before. But here's a handful.

066) Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, finished June 20

Did YOU know that Boris Karloff could be such a cheerful reading companion?
two days


065) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks, finished June 20

I actually started this two years ago. But I hardly ever drive by myself and in these two years I've listened to but three of the five discs. So I just started over with my drive home. Ended up, driving without kids, I don't take nearly as long. And so I got home with a disc still to listen to. Which I've now done.

Sadly, this is an abridged version of Brooks's book. Happily, it's phenomenally acted and its oral-history format leds itself to audio. In fact, I have to say that listening to this book may well be better than reading it. And now, in connection with the movie, there's a twice-as-long unabridged edition that includes not just longer versions of these tales, but left-out tales narrated by actors like F. Murray Abraham, Simon Pegg, and Alfred Molina. You should check it out.
two-plus years or one day depending on how you count


064) The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, finished June 20

This one's not an audiobook. It's the keep-in-the-car-when-I-need-a-book-in-a-pinch paperback. It's been at that job since December 2011 when it replaced this one. It's a terrific book for that job. Even when neglected for months, Tartt's writing is thrilling enough of itself that getting my paws back on the plot was never frustrating. And it's not just the lovely words---Tartt's characters are equally engaging. Each well drawn, each wholly realized, each possessing a soul.

I remember when this book came out in 2002---largely, I imagine, because of its striking cover---but never really considered picking it up until reading the cover designer's monograph on making book covers (remember Chip Kidd?). He was so enthusiastic about it that next time I was at a library sale and saw both The Little Friend and her first novel, 1992's The Secret History (both Kidd covers), I got them both. They've been sitting on the shelf since then, except this one which spent the last year and a half sitting in the car getting read and banged up and giving me the finest example of a pov filtered through meth as well as a bit role for Mormon missionaries and generally just wowing me.

If you've done the math, you may have noticed that Tartt is overdue for novel three. Not to worry. It's coming out in October.

I don't know if it, like the first two, will be a murdery mystery of sorts. The Little Friend certainly starts off like a murder mystery---it certainly starts like one with its set-up prologue reliving the past and the death of the golden child. But this book has other things in mind besides an unsolvable crime. And where does it end up? In the words of the New Yorker-born cover blurb, "somewhere worth going." I just went and read that review and it claims that the denouement forces you to revisit the entire novel and rethink everything. The manner I read it in won't allow this. And perhaps that's why I was dissatisfied by the last few pages---I felt like she made some weird copouts---but the last, say, three pages notwithstanding, I loved this book. Read it.
year and a half


063) Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues by Donald Sobol, finished June 19

Listening to this narrator made me want to get into recording audiobooks. Pretty sure I could do better. Not that the narrator was lousy; just that I could do better.

Anyway, Encyclopedia is really starting to show his age. The boys still liked it fine, but I suspect there were bits they just didn't understand. Bits I suspect may be aged out of existence in another generation.

As an adult, some of the ways the kids behave and talk is laugh-out-loud hilarious. The boys didn't get it.

This is, however, the one the newly-minted six-year-old wanted to hear twice.
just as long as it took


062) Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary, finished June 19

I probably haven't read any Cleary novels since I was a kid. I liked her then, but certainly wasn't a completist. At this remove, it's fine stuff. I enjoyed it well enough. I think the boys did too. But it made no strong impression.
just as long as it took

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


The Backslider


061) The Backslider by Levi Peterson, finished June 14

(casual spoilers)
So I finally read Levi Peterson's The Backslider. And unlike other rites of passage (I'm looking at you, Moby Dick) The Backslider exceeded my expectations. Perhaps it had an unfair advantage, given my longstanding (and well documented) ambivalence for rural-Utah fiction. But part of the reason I get frustrated with such fiction is that it's become the Mormon generic, and Mormon fiction has grown well beyond the same old same old. And I want to be clear: I'm not forgiving Levi for writing thirty years ago; I'm forgiving him because this novel is so thoroughly set in its setting that it couldn't be anywhere else with anyone else. It's not a default setting; it's a necessary setting.

Frank Windham (and I see why he's made lists of the best drawn characters in American literature) is undivorceably of early-1950s rural Utah. First, his speech patterns and behaviors and appearance and business are pure modern cowboy. I know such men---they're family. He's a few decades younger than when I knew him, but he's exactly right. Add to that type my own neurotic teenaged self and Frank Windham is someone I know intensely well. And that's ignoring how exquisitely Peterson has drawn him.

In short, the novel deserves its monumental reputation.

It has at least as much sex as you've imagined but probably less swearing, but---spoiler alert---the Cowboy Jesus (who did not appear where I anticipated him) is more redemptive than I imagined. Frank's vision choked me up.(Incidentally, I worry that along with rejecting the hellfire brand of Mormonism we've also lost the visionary aspects of Mormonism. This is not good. We should be having visions more often!) Frank's Cowboy Jesus is real. Consider what Alma says:
For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.
Only Cowboy Jesus could reach Frank, and so Cowboy Jesus is who comes to Frank. And who frees him from the horrors of his inherited brand of religion.

Cowboy Jesus, more than any other character in the novel, reflects Frank's own self.

The Backslider is more than a great novel with a bunch of sex. It's powerful theology.

May you all have a chance to meet your Jesus.

And may he save you from the hells of your own creation.
one-point-five months

click for previous 2013 books


Mostly woodcut novels.
But also a play.
And something called 'Gatsby'?


060) The City: A Vision in Woodcuts by Frans Masereel, finished June 13

This is the only one of these woodcut novels I didn't immediately read a second time. In fact, I reject calling it a "novel" at all. It's a series of vignettes at best. These looks at interbellum urban Europe don't stick with any characters and have no themes beyond poverty and debauchery and classism and bits o' violence. It's fine for what it is---and of course we owe Masereel for inspiring the work below---but let's be glad woodcut novels didn't end here.

Although, to be fair, his novel below came out before this one. Let's not knock the man for trying something new.

not long


059) Gods' Man by Lynn Ward, finished June 12
058) Mad Man's Drum by Lynn Ward, finished June 11?

These woodcut novels just get better and better. Ward, who I knew as the guy behind The Biggest Bear, has a stark and startling style no whit behind his European forebears. His characters seem at times to be tendons and bones while their clothing looks like skinless muscle---their mortality emphasized by their cadaverous appearance. Plus, the lack of words makes each simple story into layers upon layers of allegory and symbol---my ability to tell the real from the imagined is impaired. Generations pass (or do they?) and the story is another story when I read it again. I find that I have to read these books twice before I can even put them down. But to understand them? They offer enough to keep you busy for a lifetime. Which is why this is so intriguing.

Even seeming simple stories---

In many ways, Gods' Man seems to be a Faust tale. It certainly looks like one at first glance. But as I read closer, the details did not add up. You can force them into Faust, but Occam doesn't approve. However, Occam has no simpler theory lying around for the taking. I don't know what to do with it.


I'll tell you this: anyone praising the modern resurgence of graphic novels is praising a resurgence, not a genesis.

together, two nights


057) Destiny: A Novel in Pictures by Otto Nückel, finished July 8

The previous of the great early woodcut graphic novels that I read (see below) was a tale of a still-human demigoddish hero. This novel is about one woman's crummy life from alcoholic parents to dead parents to rape to prostitution to---gosh, you name it. Her life just sucks in the tradition of much other literary of the decades before and since, along the lines of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.

Like the other bit of woodcuttery I just read, it's beautiful and stark and functions just fine without words. Comics have been a legit artform than longer than I realized.

One thing about the Dover edition: they put images on facing pages. Which cuts the size of the book in half but demonstrably changes the pacing. I can see why they did it and didn't think it would matter. But it does matter. Some.



056) Passionate Journey by Frans Masereel, finished June 7

I've been wanting to read old woodcut novels-in-pictures for ages, but have been that mix of lazy and cheap that keeps me from doing many things I want to do. But then Stephen Carter decided to get rid of a bunch of his books and mailed me a stack. Huzzah!

Anyway, I started with this one about a dashing young man who comes to town to whoop it up with tech and kids and revolutionaries and whores and thinkers and nature and world travel and more more more more more. Not even death can stop his celebration of life. His love's, sure, briefly. His own? Not at all.

He finds love.

He gets metaphorical.

I read it twice last night. Lovely, stark stuff.
between midnight and bedtime


055) The Sugar Bean Sisters by Nathan Sanders, finished June 3

This widely produced play features a couple Southern ladies, recent Mormon converts, in a comedic version of Southern Gothic complete with old murders and hallelujah of a peculiar Mormon variety. The question plenty of my readers will wonder is if Nathan Sanders is Mormon.

Hard to tell from the internal text. When you have a coupla swamp broads new to Mormonism as your characters, it's hard to say "A Real Mormon wouldn't do that" because these characters are undeniably not from a Utah warehouse. So if they always put "the" before bishop, so what? The main evidence saying nay is that apparently the Bishop Crumley first came to town as a missionary and is now the bishop, but with a bit of generosity, even that can be explained away. And in the end, it doesn't matter. The book is what might be called "Swede Mormon"---neither pro not anti but neutral. (Now. Can we lay that to rest?)

Like any play, The Sugar Bean Sisters was not meant to be read. And if you read all the blurbs from the above link, you may realize that everyone seems to love it produced. (It's been widely produced all around the country.)

Maybe I would like it better with a set and brilliant actors etc etc. On paper, although it certainly had its moments, it was all just a bit too hokey for my tastes.

Someone---I believe the playwright---uploaded a slideshow from the Billings production. Maybe it will sell you or repel you.

Anyway, I didn't dislike it. I would be up to seeing it done well.

two evenings


054) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, finished May 28

I meant to read this book before the movie was to be released in December, but never got around to finding one of our copies (yes, we have multiples). The studio kindly delayed the release, but I still never bothered to look around and they said, sorry, pal, we gotta stick with the May release. Hard to blame them for that.

Anyway, I was moving some bags of uncatalogued, donated books around in my cabinets at school and a copy of the novel fell out of a Trader Joe's bag. Clearly a sign.

It's a sliver of a book (shorter than Byuck!) and so hollow.

I last read it my junior year of high school. I don't remember what I thought of it then, but I bought a copy just because at my first college book store, so maybe it left a positive impression? Anyway, this time around I just can't find anyone to like or latch onto or really care much about. Frankly, I find the whole world Fitzgerald's created pretty unattractive and pointless. A world I wish to avoid as much as possible and will find terribly simple to avoid.

I'm not sure why the kids I see carrying the book around (and this was before the movie) are so fond of it. I suppose this hollow pointless party lifestyle must still be a Great American Thing, but I don't know it and am not interested in it.

That said, can't wait to see Baz Luhrman's movie.

And it would be unkind not to note Fitzgerald's way with phrase. The man can certainly write a sentence.
four or five days

Previously in 2013 . . . . :

Books 47 - 53
053) Farm 54 by Galit Seliktar and Gilad Seliktar, finished May 20
052) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, volume seven by Hayao Miyazaki, finished May 18
051) Dark Day in the Deep Sea by Mary Pope Osborne, finished May 15
050) The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude by Carol Lay, finished May 14
049) Moonlight on the Magic Flute by Mary Pope Osborne, finished May 12
048) This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz, finished May 6
047) Blizzard of the Blue Moon by Mary Pope Osborne, finished approximately May 4

Books 41 - 46
046) The Red Diary / The Re[a]d Diary by Teddy Kristiansen / Steven T. Seagle, finished April 28
045) The Five Books of Jesus by James Goldberg, finished April 22
044) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, finished April 20
043) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Volume 6 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished April 18
042) Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game by John Sexton with Thomas Oliphant and Peter J. Schwartz, finished April 15
041) The Hand of Glory by Stephen Carter, finished April 13

Books 35 - 40
040) Leprechaun in Late Winter by Mary Pope Osborne, finished April 8
039) You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, finished April 7
038) Illiterature: Story Minutes, Vol. I by Carol Lay, finished April 2
037) "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket, finished March 29
036) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 5 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished March 29
035) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 4 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished March 28

Books 26 - 34
034) The New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons, finished March 24
033) What Shat That? by Matt Pagett, finished March 24
032) Zombies Hate Stuff by Greg Stones, finished March 22
031) Jews and Words by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger, finished March 22
030) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, vol 3 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished March 13
029) The Princess Bride: Shooting Draft by William Goldman, finished March 11
028) The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother by Lucy Mack Smith, finished March 5
027) Scott Pilgrim vs the World by Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall, finished March 5
026) Screenplay by Syd Field, finished March 3

Books 22 - 25
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 some Ed.D., finished January 10
001) Jellaby by Kean Soo, finished January 8