Things I didn't like, things I sort of liked, some navelgazing—
—a term, incidentally, I do not like


082) Gone Fishing: A novel in verse by Tamera Will Wissinger, finished July 31

Same opinion as last time.
in the afternoon


081) Making Money by Terry Pratchett, finished July 30

First, I must say Stephen Briggs is a wonderful reader. We only started this book because Large S really really liked the sound of a novel called Making Money (suggesting a different future for him than the one his parents have followed). Lady Steed and I had checked out it along with two others for ourselves during a series of long drives. One we fit in, one we sadly returned untouched, and one was Making Money.

Pratchett was the only one of the two remaining we expected to be childsafe so we gave it a go. And even though they had a hard time following the story, Briggs's reading was so enrapturing that it hardly mattered. Frankly, the grownups in our family have a hard time following audiobooks, but Pratchett's enough fun that moments of fuzziness hardly seem to matter.

This was our first Moist von Lipwig novel and he was quite endearing. I shall finally have to read more than the preview of his novel of first appearance.

Anyway, a terrific thing for the car. And the kids were unable to catch the innuendos Pratchett employed when the characters uncover a dead man's sex dungeon. So that was good.
has it been a month yet?


080) F-Stop by Antony Johnston and Matthew Loux , finished July 29

What a load of crap. Now, I like Loux's visual style as much as ever, but it works much better on boyish exuberance in a fantastic setting than it does in world-weary fashion. But the real problem is Johnston's script. It's loaded with cliches, and skips over the difficult spots of character development forcing us to accept changes on faith. The skinny: untalented photographer's lack of skill misinterpreted as genius, making him hugely successful and model-dating until his ego starts believing what he's been told. But don't worry: there's a wise old man who shows up in order to be insulted by our young ingenue only to later teach how to really shoot.

It's that sort of book.
a week


079) Almina by Nephi Anderson, finished July 29

This bitty novella for reason took me almost three months to read. I think largely because I read it on my Nook and reading things on an edevice is simply less compelling to me. I can forget about something because there's no distinct physical reminder.

Anyway, Almina plays with tropes Anderson pioneered and have been with Mormon lit ever since. Scott Hales spoke about these in the most recent issue of Irreantum, specifically the single Mormon woman who has to choose between the nice Mormon boy and the more exciting but likely dangerous nonMormon boy. Almina is the girl and thus she must choose.

The novella is both more and less moralizing than I expected. It's early Anderson so I expected it to be clearly didactic. It was, but not always as directly as I'd expected. It's also a nonshortstory of Anderson's and so I expected more nuance. And there was, but with a sharper edge than I expected.

Upsettingly, I have no idea how to download/extract my comments and highlights from the Nook onto my computer, so that's about as specific as I'm going to get. Sorry.
almost three months


078) Creature Feature 2 by TW Brown, finished July 28

I don't know what to say about this. If I'm totally honest with my thoughts, I'll come off like a total bastard.

Here's the [bastard] thing: I'm kind of sick of being in anthologies where my contribution is, unquestionably, either the best or one of the best. This particular story still has an ending I'm unsatisfied with! But I suppose when I looked at the proof and noted to the editor that he'd spelled FOREWARD wrong---and that correction did not make the print edition---that I should not have been surprised to see many rough-draft-style errors in the book's stories. Even those that had brilliant moments or concepts were flawed in ways that simple rewriting/editing could have repaired.

Here are the stories worth reading: "Palmetto" by Suzi M and "Billy" by Michael James McFarland.

Prepare for more bastardly navelgazing.

I'm ready to see my work in higher tiers of publication. I want to read an anthology I'm in and, seeing the other stories, be amazed that they let me in too. Of course, that means I need to stop submitting elsewhere. And tell fewer stories about lycanthropy. . . .
a couplish months

Previously in 2013 . . . . :




077) Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas by Matthew Loux, finished July 25

Reread to Largesse.
just a bit


076) Doing Time by Kazuichi Hanawa, finished July 24

A surprisingly prosaic look at prison life. And I have to say: the Japanese prison shown here looks nothing like American prisons of movies and tv. Oppressively calm and controlled, but utterly safe. A gentle, human, peaceful horror story.

about a week


075) Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, finished July 23

For this year's summerly Vonnegut I read a novel I'd been meaning to read for a while. Since I teach Slaughterhouse-Five almost every year and the pov of this novel makes a cameo, I've felt obliged to know more about him. But I keep reading some other novel instead. But now I've done it and I'm glad.

It's a fine book. Vonnegut has not yet reached the power he'll finally find in his next novel, Cat's Cradle, but he's getting close. In fact, if it were not for the cheap, out-of-character, cop-out ending, I might be willing to say he had essentially arrived.

All the same, I enjoyed the read. It is nevertheless a pretty good book.
two or three weeks or so


074) Treasure Fever! by Andy Griffiths, finished July 22

The Big O read this and loved it and pressed it on me and so I read it. And it was funny, I'll admit. A couple of jokes even a jaded old guy like myself laughed at. But what I find most interesting is the characters' names. For instance, a pair of teachers: Mrs Chalkboard and Mr Brainfright. Such names seem overly ridiculous to me, but I remember writing a puppet show when I was a teenager for the Primary about the stripling warriors. I don't remember much about it other that it was funny and well received and that one of the stripling warriors was named Peanut Butter. That still made sense to me then. I don't think I could write something like that (like this) now. Peanut Butter? Mrs Chalkboard? That's supposed to be funny?

Now I have to decide if I'm going to take the follow-up invitation and read the sequels as he takes them out of the library. . . .
while at the park


073) Salt Water Taffy: The Legend of Old Salty by Matthew Loux, finished July 19

Though not nearly as funny as the second book in the series, just as delightful.
afternoon delight

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


Fiction from the last two Sunstone issues


March 2013

Suffrage: A Play by Jenifer Nii
Sometimes it's difficult to read a play and see how successful it will be onstage. (Which may explain why I never made an attempt to do theater professionally.) So let's start my noting the volume of positive reviews this play has received: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Here's a fun historical fact for you: At one point, Congress proposed a law giving Utah women the vote, assuming that would destroy polygamy. The bill's author was shocked and confused by how enthusiastically Utah's congressional contingent supported the bill, and thus immediately abandoned it.

That fact doesn't show up in Suffrage, but it's a good example of how complicated the relationship between polygamy and suffrage was in those days. The play has only two on-stage characters, sister wives Frances and Ruth, and follows them through a good many years, including the Edmunds-Tucker Act, the Manifesto, etc. Stuff you'll know if you have the historical basics in your mind and plenty of stuff you'll only know if you've done as much research as Nii did.

The reason I started with the links to the reviews is because I found the structure of the play a bit boring. Starting with much interaction between the two character and moving to them engaging with invisible character while a spotlight dancing back and forth between them. Although the characters felt honest enough, the artificiality of the staging struck me as, potentially, horrendously boring. So I'm glad to hear that wasn't the case. Get the right director and dramaturg and actors and just about anything can make for riveting theater, though. A good actor is a powerful force. And a good reason not to judge a play based on what you see on paper. Without the alchemy of the stage, it's not a play. Without a view through a proscenium, it's just a rough draft.

So I'm glad the performances were successful. It's a fascinating and undertold bit of history. Just, it would seem, been waiting for the right actors to act the right words.

Singer and Saint: An Interview with Jeevan Sidhu by James Goldberg
I had a deal with James that I would tear his book apart for its failures and he would tear mine apart for its failures. The problem was, I really liked his book. So deal off. (I'm planning on reading it aloud to my kids after we finish Mrs Frankweiler; maybe a second, slower read will reveal its grotesqueries.) So maybe I'll work on this one instead. But before I get into it, a letter published in the subsequent issue:

I too wish Jeevan were a real version, but I wasn't fooled. I'm up with James's shenanigans. In part because I've read similar works he's penned and in part because I enjoy writing this sort of thing myself. Nonnonfiction is a lovely thing to write---you get the advantages of truth and the freedom of fiction. And, if you're smart about it, you use a setting that you know more about than the average duck, letting you get away with more without disrupting the suspension of disbelief. I know very little about the current Indian poetry scene and only slightly more about Bollywood musicals, so without research I can't really critique the accuracy of Jeevan's world. And as the letter above suggests, he's such a real-seeming character that Jeevan himself is hard to critique as well. He feels real---isn't that all we want from a character? To believe in their reality for the duration of the story?

I'm getting further and further away from an actual review of this story, but it's because I love this artform so much. I once conducted a couple hundred hours of fictional interviews for a book project called The New Male Standard of Masculinity. (The interviews remain in handwritten form filling several notebooks and I never did write the book. So it goes.) My point is, it's an enormously fun exercise and I don't understand why we don't do more of it. Could make for a pretty cool anthology. I wonder if James would be interested in editing one . . . .

Anyway, back to Jeevan Sidhu. I think what I liked most about this piece is how James uses the character of an artist coming from a tradition quite alien to my own and exploring how Mormonism can fit into his milieu. This workshopping of both religion and art strikes me as a useful exercise. Both religion and art should have the capacity to reach beyond a single culture. Sure, they'll be transformed as they enter that new cultural space, but the human/spiritual essence will remain if the---let's stick with religion---has truth and value. Since Mormons are constantly arguing that the faith is greater than just Utah culture, it's useful to see how someone in other culture sees and feels and understands and lives and creates within its doctrines and principles. Jeevan offers that sort of window. That he's a smart and articulate poet certainly helps. That he quotes poetry certainly doesn't hurt.

In the end, I suppose you could say that Jeevan exists solely for James to explore these questions important to him as a modern, cosmopolitan Mormon. But like all great characters, Jeevan has much more depth than can be expressed through a simple high-school essay on theme. When he laughs, it's the laugh of a real person. And, fictional or not, we need real people---not constructs who exist merely to promote a viewpoint---as companions as we explore our bright and growing world.

June 2013

Expiation by Richard Dutcher
In many ways this story is an utter cliche. It's a found document. It's the gay Mormon artist who can't find happiness. It's blood atonement. In other words, given the public image Dutcher has been working very hard to develop, it's exactly the sort of story you would expect him to write.

But all that said, it's pretty good. It didn't really read as a cliche. Largely that's because it's quite well written on the sentence level (never mind, for a moment, that such lovely writing is rather out of character for this found document)---beautiful sentences can cover a variety of ills. But it's also because even with the inclusion of blood atonement, the pov's journey of ignorance to having a gay friend reflects a pretty common journey over the last decade as many (most?) American Mormons have learned that it's not that they don't know any gay Mormons, it's that they did not know they knew any gay Mormons.

The story's a bit ambiguous in whether the pov ends up accepting his friend or not, but it's not at all ambiguous in its description of the Church as an institution designed to condemn rather than forgive. I imagine Dutcher means that quite sincerely but the author is dead and so you the reader are free to interpret this as ironic or as a warning, if you prefer. The story can handle a variety of interpretations.

Honorable mentions

Though not fiction, I want to briefly mention two essays from this truly excellent issue:

"A Modern Conceit: The Separation of Religion and Politics" by Frances Lee Menlove: Some of the best writing on Mormons and peace I've ever read. And memorize this from J. Reuben Clark: "What has our apostasy from peace cost us?"

"On Gratitude" by Stephen Carter: That gratitude to God should result in a lifestyle rather than a thank-you note should not be a radical notion, but I sure hope Stephen's was the last talk in his sacrament meeting. I wouldn't want to follow this reimagining of how to be grateful.

"Scripture Notes: Unearthing Abinadi’s Genealogy" by Roger Terry: Though speculative, this is some killer reasoning behind Abinidi's history. I give it high odds on being correct.

"Arriving Where I Started: Disassembling and Reassembling a Testimony" by Boyd J. Petersen: If the Ensign were really interested in reaching a broader audience, they should have published this essay. I really, really wish they had.


Travails of the single Mormon woman


072) Diary of a Single Mormon Female by Aleesa Sutton, finished July 17

Aleesa sent me an ecopy of her book because I had proposed doing some joint marketing. I intended to read through it very quickly, but I was a bit no- so-fast, I'm afraid. Largely because I found reading about her as a teenager a bit brutal. Once she got to college, I enjoyed the book a lot more.

The length of those early chapters is one of a few aesthetic missteps, but as a whole the book can coast past any such issue on the strength of Aleesa's voice and character.

The story is essentially of her neuroses, successes, and failures in love and marriage. As per the title, she ends the book as singly as she started. Which is a massive and growing demographic in the faith and a group those outside are not working hard enough to understand. And so Aleesa's at times painful honesty is a great service. But I kind of hate describing it like that because it makes the book seem like homework. And it's not. No matter who you are---no matter your sex, orientation, or marital status---I doubt you'll read this book without a least twice wanting to marry her yourself.

And yet, this world we live in . . . .

Aleesa's is a book that fills an insufficiently filled niche and it has the potential for broad appeal.

I do suspect that some women will feel she has given away secrets held too close to share much as my wife feels that Katie Thompson's "Do You" is a betrayal against womankind. But sometimes secrets need to be shared that we may understand one another. And Aleesa's openness is a beginning to understanding.
two-plus months

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


67, 68, 69 ,70 ,71


071) Gone Fishing: A novel in verse by Tamera Will Wissinger, finished July 12

Some of the types of verse are clearly made up (switcheroo poem?) and sometimes she fails to capture a poetic type (her limerick fails rhythmically) but the kids liked the story well enough and I suppose it would be a good way to teach some basic poetic facts to fourth graders.

Me, though, I was underwhelmed.
bedtime storytime


070) Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas by Matthew Loux, finished July 12

These kids comics aren't new, but they're immensely fun and I'm so glad to have bumped into them. They're charming and, quite literally, made me lol. Numerous times.

And I just love the inkwork and the lines. Simple, expressive.

Check your local library. Or just buy them. Whatever. They're not expensive.
three weeks


069) The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, finished June 29

[read ably by Tim Curry, though once one has become accustomed to Handler's mannerisms, it's hard to leave them behind]
Having purchased the entire unfortunate series, it's kind of a bummer that our family's first reader has nearly no interest in the books. So we decided to listen to this with them on the way back from grandparents'.

No dice.

Ah well.

One thing you should know, though, is that the interview with Daniel Handler following the reading is an utter delight. He can never remember whether he and Snicket are the same or different people and all that witty wordplay and phraseology is on full display. Interesting to get an early sense of how he was developing the dual characters of self. Thus I highly recommend the final cd even if you already have the book memorized.

Incidentally, did you know they're finally releasing these books in an official paperback? with new subtitles? with a comic in the back? and an old tale by Leacock? which story incidentally I recently read and quite enjoyed even if I thought it went on a bit long?
a few hours in the car


068) Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg, finished June 28

[audio version, abridged; read by the author who, let the record show, did a wonderful job]
A long long time ago, before we were married, my wife read a Fannie Flagg novel or two and loved it/them. We've had a couple kicking around the house all these years, but I've never picked one up. So when we chose audiobooks to listen to over our upcoming hours and hours of car time, I was all for this one. Didn't read the back or anything.

And what a nutsy book it was! Great characters, interesting situation (I mean---we got the afterlife here, folks), and absolute chaos.

The entire story is overwhelmed with developed characters and snippets of life that sometimes have no real connection to the plot (though this claim should perhaps be tempered by the fact that I was listening rather than reading and that the book was abridged). Generally, I did not mind this sloppiness, because the book's argument to the reader is that life is meant to be enjoyed in its sloppiness. And that's a cheerfully humanist, blatantly optimistic, shamelessly cheerful sort of message, and a sloppy messy explosion of scenes and characters and life only help to further the point. If it seems like Clarence is trying to make a point, but can't remember what the point is, you may be in the right book.

Mrs. Elner Shimfissle, pretty much the best person ever according to the novel's nontheology, has died. And if I write more about it, that writing may appear on AMV.
four days


067) And Now We Shall Do Manly Things by Craig J. Heimbuch, finished June 27

When this book started out, I loved it. Loved it. I felt like the author and I were simpatico. I knew what he felt, being frustrated with starting a family and never having money (or the right skillsets to get money). And I understood the notion that hunting might be a path to becoming a full man. I was gungho. But a few things kept me from finishing the book as quickly as I had started it. The first was his modern American notion that accepting a brand's image and then buying that brand's products makes you into a new person with that image. Seriously. I hope Land's End keeps Heimbuch in gratis nice boots the rest of his life. The second was Sandy Hook. Unlike Heimbuc,h who had always had a good relationship with guns, I've never been better than ambivalent. I may have as many hunters in my family as he does, but I don't think I've ever shot a .22 in my life. Nor do I desire to start. And his gun fetishism juxtaposed with stark tragedy pushed me far away from the text. In the end, I knew the Heimbuch at the beginning of the book, but I was never able to believe in his transformation. And since the transformation is what the book is all about, the book did not succeed for me.

And although the bagging a pheasant may have Made Him a Man, I suspect seeing this book sell a million copies would have made him feel twice as much a man. And the pathos of his character makes me feel bad that I won't be helping this dream come true.

/free copy received for review/
most of a year

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


Athletics at Pirates


Since my return to baseball fandom, the A's and the Pirates have not played each other.

Some background:

I grew up a Pirates fan. The Pirates near misses at a World Series berth in the early 1990s is the reason I despise the Braves.

A few years ago Lady Steed and I moved to the East Bay and unexpectedly conceived a baseball team. Since then, I have listened to so so many A's games on the radio.

What I don't know is if I have, as Sexton describes, fully converted from my old faith. And if interleague play didn't exist, I would still be waiting.

I wish I were.

The boys and I went to Grandpa's house yesterday to watch the first game in this three game series.

I was conflicted the entire game. I was always cheering for the team that seemed to be slightly less advantaged in the moment or cheering for the team that was making an amazing play (eg). I didn't know how I wanted the game to end until the end of the eighth and the Pirates were down by one. I wanted Balfour to break the record and keep his streak intact so, sorry Bucs, the A's needed to win.

You may have noticed that I've linked to more A's stuff and dropped more A's names. With no Pirates games on the radio around here, I just know the A's players better than the Pirates crew. And so it's just easier for me to cheer for Sogard than Marte.

But both teams are at the top of their divisions! They both need to stay there! But even splitting the games (were that possible in a three-game series) isn't good enough to stay there: they both need to continue their wellll above-500 winning ways.

So right now, as I type, Gerrit Cole. Love that rookie. And Dan Straily sits waiting to stand back up. They're both pitching so well.

I swear.

If they meet in the World Series, I may end up getting institutionalized.

At least, either way, I know to wear yellow.

I got to stop typing and start listening.

There will be no rewriting today.

Oh! Hey! Moss just put the A's ahead. Cool. Darn it.


Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.