Svithe: Ten Lepers and Me (Luke 17:11-19)

And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.

And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:

And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.

And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,

And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.

And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
I didn't address the assigned scripture at all in my introduction to the talks last Sunday. Instead, I said something like this:

I don't remember ever being a baby but I have it from people I trust that once I was one. And if that is true, then I have to believe that I, like any baby, was given love and care and sustenance. I'm alive today, aren't I? And I rather suspect that---especially as a babe---I rarely if ever showed gratitude.

Similarly, throughout my life, I often have been guilty of the sin of insufficient gratitude. Particularly, I should admit, to my Savior who deserves recognition at all time.

previous svithe


Multiple perspectives


115) Every Day by David Levithan, finished November 25

Something I admire about Levithan is his willingness to tell strange stories or to tell stories strangely. In other words, I admire that he takes chances. That he does hard things.

This particular novel could easily have been one of those ambitious failures we all enjoy shaking our heads at sadly. And, indeed, in many ways it does fail. But mostly it succeeds.

Here's the conceit: Our protagonist wakes up every morning in a different person's body. This has always been so. He has no body-based identity of his own. And so, although I'm using he and his, he technically has no sex or gender. He only has whatever the body he's borrowing has.

He is able to access the body-of-the-day's memories and thus is able to fake the day as [person] quite well. Of course, when he was little, it took him awhile to realize that people were serious when they made plans for the morrow---that not everyone started each new day in a new body, in a new town, in a new life.

But now he's sixteen and he's used it it.

He can only enter the bodies of people his same age. He has no choice over whose bodies he enters. He finds himself in a new body within about a hundred miles of his previous body.

One thing to know about this novel is that it is an extremely political book. Not political like The Jungle or Nineteen Eighty-four where the entire novel is thrusting at one particular agenda---but rather each day is the opportunity to thrust at a new agenda (though they all come down to live and let live, love everybody, every one is okay).

For instance, when in a transgender body, the book is teaching that it's just the way some people are. When a character has mental illness, it teaches that people can't just cheer up. When a character is an illegal immigrant, the book teaches that it's a rough life. Other lessons dispensed include how to deal with strict homeschooling parents, how to treat those you love, how to deal with those who are unkind, and so on. Lots and lots of lessons. And even though there is a through-plot, at times Every Day does read a bit like a morality primer.

Let's get back a moment to my use of male pronouns. Even though the book goes to great efforts to establish a character utterly without his own body-based characteristics, I don't think it succeeds. I can admit this might be to me giving it a white, heteronormative reading. Could be. We'll need other readers to triangulate this. But the protagonist's voice is very white, very educated (code for not poor), and, sorry, very straight. He often says things that aren't straight, but underneath always appears a straight foundation. I welcome proof I am wrong. (Levithan himself, of course, is not straight.)

Anyway, part of this bias on my part may be that our bodiless protagonist falls in love with a straight girl. Poor silly straight girl has a hard time loving him when he's in a girl's body or a transgender body or a really really fat body, but she does come to believe that it really is him, no matter the body. And the protag starts breaking his own rules and messing up others' lives in order to pursue a relationship. The novel's end is heroic---our hero is a hero---and sweet and redeems many of my complaints.

Besides. It's an ambitious novel. I would forgive a novel this ambitious of much more than my minor tiddles with this one.
a couple weeks at most


114) Boxers by Gene Luen Yang, finished November 21

Now that I've read both, it's hard to say what I think the preferred order should be. Boxers is quite a bit longer even thought the two stories are exceedingly parallel. Both characters are well developed which means the reader ends up with plenty of empathy for both sides of the conflict. (I wonder how successfully this could be accomplished with a conflict we're more familiar with, say, Nazis/Poles or Union/Confederacy?)

Anyway, just by virtue of being longer, this story feels more fully developed. But that's not a slight against Saints---just an observation that her story is a novella and his a novel. So to speak.

Anyway, they're terrific books.
since finishing the last


113) Saints by Gene Luen Yang, finished November 15

This book is half of a nonordered series by Yang and might be the best thing of his I've yet read. It is the tale of a young Chinese girl finding Catholicism. Like many comics these days, there is a layering of narrative, but even though Joan of Arc appears to her, these layers seem more inherently grounded in reality as compared to, say, Yang's own American Born Chinese (another great book).

Having her take on the name of Saint Vibiana was a nice move as well. She begins life with no name, and then chooses a life with a nobody's name. And that made all the difference.

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


Byuck vs. Hunger Games vs Twilight vs Harry Potter


Did you see this fascinating article on Slate? Textual analysis. Cool stuff.

Anyway, one wouldn't expect those lists to have the most stellar sentences of their respective novels. These are sentences that appear over and over and over again. They'll be simple.

But still. Interesting to see what pops up and what impression it gives, eh?

Happily, Recession Cone offered to set his mad Python skillz to the task.* He tested it on War and Peace (1. Yes. 2. All were silent. 3. All right. 4. Yes yes. 5. She paused. 6. I can't.), then ran Byuck through the machine.

My top five most-common sentences (with number of occurrences):

Yeah. : 20
Thanks. : 17
Right. : 16
I know. : 13
Okay. : 11

Hmm. On the one hand, I'm with Tolstoy: "Yeah" makes more sense to frequently repeat than, say, "My name is David Them"---but this isn't a particularly evocative top five.

Six through eleven?

Dave nodded. : 9
Phyoo. : 9
Yes. : 8
Sorry. : 8
I'm sorry. : 7
Great. : 7

Ha ha! Much better. Thank you, Waxboy! I'm so happy to see "Phyoo" up there.

Anyway, this is fun. How about everything else that appeared at least three times?

Sure. : 6
Good. : 6
Dave smiled. : 6
Well. : 6
Hi Dave. : 6
Nothing. : 5
Thanks Dave. : 5
Wow. : 5
Exactly. : 5
Curses nodded. : 5
Amen. : 5
Ref laughed. : 5
He did. : 4
I don't know. : 4
Of course. : 4
Huh. : 4
That. : 4
Hang on. : 4
Crap. : 4
That's right. : 4
Wait. : 4
Please. : 4
Hi Peter. : 3
Benson. : 3
Perfect. : 3
You're welcome. : 3
Dave laughed. : 3
Hey Dave. : 3
The phone rang. : 3
Ref. : 3
Cool. : 3
She laughed. : 3
Ref sighed. : 3
Dave. : 3
Fine. : 3
my nose. : 3
Back and forth. : 3
He is coming. : 3
Maybe. : 3
Gross. : 3
Duh. : 3
Dave frowned. : 3
Hey Curses. : 3

Hey yourself.

of course, many of these are featured on byuckfrags: fairly fun and frequently free


* Recession Cone invites you to crunch your own numbers. It's just a little thing he threw together for my benefit, but still. THIS IS FUN.


Chipotle, huh?


So. Chipotle. Making all kinds of money, spreading all over the country, turning out great commercials. Personally I wasn't interested until I saw a poster at the BART station saying they serve---I forget---three acres of cilantro a day or something. That sounded good.

But still. I have Gordo and Cactus and Picante and Talavera and a million other local places. Why would I go to Chipotle?

Well, a reason arrived in the form of a fundraiser. Half the money I spent tonight (I'm writing this on the 20th) goes to my kids' elementary school. Good enough.

First, the good news. The chips! Holy smokes! What great chips! I don't know what sorta grease they cooked them in, but mmmwa! And the salt! Seriously. Among the best chips I've ever had.

Now, the bad news. Everything else.

I'm sorry Chipotle fans, but really? Really? What do you see in this place? It's a chain, but it's not cheaper than the good places. And it's not better than, say, Cafe Rio or Rubio's. The carnitas is simply bad and everything else ranges from the flavorless to the off. Honestly. I'm utterly mystified what people see in this place.

I mean---if the rest of the country is that desperate for a burrito, okay, but why are there two within a couple miles of my house? Can anyone explain this to me? The burritos aren't even wrapped well! The employees were nice enough (though between my head cold, their music, and some noisy fans, we could barely communicate) and the menu was reminiscent of burger places that know what's up (In-N-Out, Five Guys), but that stuff's mere trappings. The real test is the food and no matter how free-range their chickens or organic their tomatoes, their food just ain't good.

Now. Who wants to make a Gordo run?


"Do Not Open Until Christmas"


My friend T, last Christmastime, did a lovely rendition of Alabama's "Christmas in Dixie":

Her voice got me to thinking about the Christmas anthology I was then reading---in which each tale was inspired by a Christmas carol---and when its editor announced a second collection, I set to work on a Christmas tale set in Dixie.

Happily, Tyrah, an Alabaman herself, helped me get my Southern straight (though I rush to point out that I will still fool no Southerners) and, as we talked about grandpas, I felt a kinship to her in that her Alabama grandpa and my Idaho grandpa share a lot of similarities.

And both are now gone.

I dedicate this story to both.

May they share a lovely Christmas with the babe himself.


“Being grateful for
God's hand in
a world I understand
through science.”


Note: One of my favorite parts of my current calling is the opportunity to sculpt the spiritual aesthetics of sacrament meeting. Deciding on topics, choosing the best speakers (those two items vary in order), making sure the meeting remains Christ-centered, introducing the topic in a few words before passing the mike to the speakers---it's a challenge I relish. In part because it affects so many people immediately and directly, and in part because the effect is inherently---or should be---spiritual.

August was my first time doing this and it didn't occur to me until the month was over that my little intros could make for nice little svithes as well. Starting this month, I will post versions of my intros, bringing quarterly life back to svithery. I'm not pretending this is exactly what I said, but it's based on the same notes.



Not just a time for writing nonce novels and growing nonce beards, but---and more importantly, I think---a time to bend our souls towards gratitude. Thanksgiving.

In my case, I twice had pneumonia when I was a kid. I likely would have died had I been born two hundred years ago.

After my mission I came down with a nasty case of mono. Full-body rash from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head, nasty fever, dehydration. My liver shut down; my eyes and skin turned yellow. If I'd been born two hundred years ago, I likely would have died.

And before my mission I got the mumps! This was before they were recommending an MMR booster for adolescents. And if I'd been born two hundred years ago, I likely wouldn't have died, but infertility would've been pretty likely.

So, the recap, if I'd been born two hundred years ago, not only would I be dead, but the Big O, Large S, and Little Lord Steed wouldn't even exist.

As I've been talking, I'm sure you've all thought about how you would be dead. When I first had it suggested to me, I scoffed at the notion, but no. The more I thought about it the more I realized it's true. I could well be kaput. (Leave in the comments what illnesses or injuries would have done you in.)

Of course, science is not just saving-lives practical. It also provides a sense of wonder. The cosmos! The microcosmos! The intricate microscopic miracles of life, growing and changing and developing and becoming!

I imagine the closer one looks at Creation, the more sublime the experience. The more thanks we know to give.

Today we'll hear from three who look close . . . .

previous svithe




Because we had no school Monday, my classes didn't extract new vocab from reading (they vote on the words to be studied) so this week's quiz is just a review of the 80 words previously chosen.

Normally, for the example sentences, I find examples from the last couple day's news. This week, I responded to a request that I make up sentences. So from the 57 words not used on the front side of the quiz, I made this:

[note: the two words cut off on the left side are akin and larceny]

How'd you do?


The Redemption of Orson Scott Card


It might surprise you that my almost seven-year-old post "The Damnation of Orson Scott Card" has nothing to do with how the lgbt community feels about him. Less surprising will be that my eight-plus-month-old two-part series "The Orson Scott Card Stigma" (one, two) has a great deal to do with that.

Anyway, I'm just back from seeing Ender's Game. My primary reactions to the film (other than my actual reactions to the actual film) are, in order of relevance to this post:
1. I would love to see a Shadow of the Hegemon movie or tv show. In part because wouldn't Hailee Steinfeld be sweet as Petra in that story?

2. I know it's by far the Orson Scott Card book I'm most familiar with, but I really ought to reread Speaker for the Dead.

3. There's some real-world irony out there, given the emphases Ender's Game places on Ender's character.

(Note, I'm not interested in debating the validity of anyone's take on the specific issue under discussion, or even one closely related. So for purposes of this post, we're going to say that Orson Scott Card has a popular YouTube channel in which he drains and drinks the blood of kittens. Kitten killer!)

A lot of ink has been spilled about how ironic it is that a book like Ender's Game was written by a kitten killer in the first place. After all, isn't what makes Ender special his empathy? How can someone who created a superhero powered by empathy kill kittens?
“I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” *
This is the irony everyone's been talking about. How can the man who created Ender kill kittens? What is wrong with Orson Scott Card?

Well, besides all the trite things I could say about how Ender also doing some killing or about Orson Scott Card also creating the mass of humanity who rejects Ender and views him as a monster---besides all that, this irony can be turned either direction.

If Orson Scott Card is the enemy (if), and if (if) you feel he must be quote-unquote destroyed, then:
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.”
If you want to "destroy" Orson Scott Card, if you take Ender so seriously that it makes Orson Scott Card that much more monstrous, then you need to take Ender seriously enough to understand/love Orson Scott Card.

But the fact is, most of us aren't Ender. Whether it's hideous space bugs or a man with kitten blood dripping from his goatee, we're not willing to look that enemy in the face and love them.

No matter how you feel about the kitten killer himself, I think thirty years has proven enough time to prove Ender's Game a great book (personally, I prefer Speaker, but I don't think thirty years have been enough to prove that). And someday the storm that is apparently going to be the rest of Orson Scott Card's life (kitten killer!) will end. And even the way we feel about the kittens being killed today will soften with time. And what will be left is the people of the future (kittens inclusive) and Ender Wiggin.

If we insist on conflating Orson Scott Card with Ender Wiggin then we have two options. First: stop it. Second: if we respect the book so much that we can't pretend Ender doesn't matter, then we have to try to be like Ender.

Because here's the thing: you can never make someone else as empathetic as Ender (kitten killer!).

Empathy is not a thing you can force on people.

Nor is it something I'm comfortable judging the health of in other people.

However: Empathy is something we can strive to develop in ourselves.

We can't make Orson Scott Card Ender Wiggin. But we can make ourselves Ender Wiggin.

Is anyone up for the challenge?

[note: images from here and here]


It's a shame the aliens didn't just dingo a cat instead.


112) Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros and illustrated by Ester Hernandez, finished November 9

This book is attempting to be mythic in some way. It doesn't succeed.

The bulk of its playtime is spent caught in a---to mix my transmedial metaphors---broken-record picture book trope. And the deliberately mythic part is grandiose and obvious. Even when the cat show up, it's after three days in a cave.

I also am confused by the relationship between the words and the pictures. Sometimes they simply are not talking about the same thing. Given how closely they apparently worked together on this book, I am confused.

Anyway, if you haven't heard: Cisneros is a genius. So my bad for not loving it.



111) Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaud, finished November 9

The Big O found this book gripping. And terrifying enough that at times he seriously considered abandoning it. The final scene got to him so much he threw the book to the ground.

So of course I had to read it.

Personally, I found the baseball scenes more gripping than the hauntings. Some nice bits of characterization and some silly shortcuts.

Overall, a book, were I the O, I would have read over and over as a kid.
from about six to a few minutes after midnight


110) Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck, finished November 8

Really, one could write a book as long as this book about this book and not run out of things to say. Happily, most of that copy would be positive as well. It's a pretty great book. Even when the town goes mad (as, say, in Rift), it's somehow believable, even though their particular madness is about as mad a madness as any I've seen.

The central conceit is that <Redactor> has come into a pile of papers relating to the curious life of one Hyrum Thayne, a young man of Moab who leads quite the Dickensian life. Although he never comes into riches (or even true scholarship, his believing to the contrary), comes into a position of power or equality or simple nearness with poetry, entymology, extraterrestrial life, dicephalic men, a mysterious painting, a wild-woman poet, and Gadianton Robbers.

One advantage afforded Peck through his use of <Redactor> (who never shares his real name) is that it allows a hidden, presumably rational point-of-view to organize and present the novel while generally avoiding making direct observations on the story. In other words, <Redactor> is Mormon (the man, not the people). He sculpts the text and controls the reader's experience while only occasionally dropping in as a voice of reason and sense.

Hyrum's own belabored writings emphasize this comparison. The first words of his journal are, "I Hyrum having been born of goodly parents am from Moab." And his attempts at educated verbage are heavily influenced by scripture throughout, including a pages-long passage he says he delivered to his local congregation as part of his accidental leadership to rid Moab of Gadianton Robbers.

Hyrum's life is a series of good intentions going awry in an endless variety of ways. He's not a bad man, but he's weak, liable to take the route of glory rather than the route of stability which leads him to an explosive death (though the comics-reader in me rushes to point out no body was ever recovered) and a statue that soon becomes the victim of another generation of smalltown kids apt to take the route of one moment of glory over a life of safety and stability and sensibility.

Perhaps the most stable characters in the book (until one goes mad) are the two-headed man. Peck's drawn this pair with such clarity and compassion that I'm wrought with guilt knowing I would have a hard time meeting such men and seeing past their otherness.

Every character in the novel is loved, by the end, by <Redactor>. He is a man of compassion---but aren't we all when we fully know another's story?

My docket is overfilled at the moment, but I hope to write more about this novel in the future. I may need to reread it first though, and you know how likely that is.


109) Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen, finished November 4

You have to wonder what's going on with a YA book that includes the phrase "this brilliantly observed novel" in the flap copy. That's not gonna sell kids on it, I'm pretty sure. It's an empty phrase we adults like to throw around, but kids see through that crap.

Anyway. I'm not reviewing the flap copy.

Structurally, this is about as generic a novel as I've read lately. This isn't a complaint per se as an observation that the details and execution will need to provide the originality. Generally, they succeed. It's not a mind-bending reinvention of the outsider-kid-finds-salvation-through-outside-adult genre, but the Scrabble angle is fun and provides some nice design elements. Plus, all the women seem to have breasts, so that's nice.

I always thought it was only gay men who are mystified by breasts' appeal but given Ms Nielsen's attempts at eroticizing breasts, I think straight women may have the same problem.

I'm sorry. This is all coming off very negative. I picked this book up on a whim from the library and it's due soon. I didn't have to read it. I didn't have to finish it. I did both. And I enjoyed it. Had some decent jokes, some decent pain. No, it's not a great original work, but it's a well written version of a story we've always loved. Props for that.
two days

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


These are the books over one hundred



108) We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Jay Fowler, finished November 3

I read this book on the recommendation of Wm Morris. He, unlike most of the reviews I've been glancing at lately, does not give away the big reveal just before page 80. And, frankly, NO ONE SHOULD KNOW THIS before reading the book. I think spoiler warnings, overall, are overrated, but this is a book which is doing something genuinely remarkable---something I've never seen before---and can only accomplish that to its full exquisiteness if you don't know much going in. Just experience it.

One reason spoiler avoidance is problematic is that right now you're wondering what the heck this book is even about. And I don't know how to tell you and make it interesting. It's about . . . a family? Now do you want to read it? Probably not.

So I'm asking you to take it on faith. I recommend it. William recommends it. Countless other reviews you should not read recommend it. Read it before it becomes an American classic and it becomes henceforth and forever impossible not to know what it's about.

Which may well be as soon as it's released in paperback and it gets some garish new cover.


Without successfully saying anything, this is one of the best books I've read in a while.

Read it while it's still fresh.
about two weeks


107) The Dark Wood by Christine Weston, finished October 23

a month or two


106) Sunshine and Shadow by Lynn Johnston, finished October 18

I'm much older now that when I was last reading For Better or for Worse and I'm coming at it from a totally different direction now. I can empathize with both Michael (the oldest son, who about shares my birth year) and his parents (whom I'm now as close to in age as I am to Michael in this volume). This collection deals with young love and deaths of parents and kids and all sorts of thing I've recently come out of or about to head into or in the middle of right now.

Darn right I laughed and I cried.

Lynn Johnston is right up there with Charles Schultz and Bill Watterson in that rare category of people who made great art one small daily strip at a time. But she did it in her own completely personal way.
afternoon and evening


105) Scarecrow by Michael Connelly, finished October 18

Potato chips.

My friend Recession Cone has described his manner of reading flimsy-but-fun genre fiction as eating potato chips. They're not good for you but they're delicious and it's hard to stop. I need to take a lesson from him.

I tend to treat all literature with the same amount of space to fill, but some literature can't fill very much space.

I was administering a standardized test and had forgotten my intended reading material as I sat on my stool officiating so I was forced to pick up this book. With its large text and wide margins, I had managed to get about seventy pages in while making copies one or two days a week. Like most bestselling thrillers, I didn't find it very engaging. The writing itself is pretty flat and the book projects pretty clearly which little details will prove Very Important later on. The use of the killer's point of view is a storytelling shortcut and he's horrible in stupid ways that don't match what he ultimately supposed to be.

But! Once I stopped leaving myself time to think about it and just started reading it through? Potato chips. I just kept eating one more page and enjoying every moment. When I stop to think about it after the bag is empty and my fingers are greasy, I'm a bit grossed out but man: potato chips. Delicious.
about a month


104) Third Helpings by Calvin Trillin, finished October 16

My cousin the spy lent me a copy of Alice, Let's Eat when Lady Steed and I were first married. It was hilarious and certainly propelled us in a more foodie direction. Also: it taught us Alice's Law of Compensatory Economics which has guided many decisions since that time.

And I've been a Trillin fan ever since.

This volume I found on a shelf at our school library. I had been attracted by the books surrounding it, primarily 1960s publications about how to be a working gal and still keep your man happy with meat and clean shirts. I can't believe we have a whole shelf of these things. Or that Calvin Trillin is shelved with them. Clearly we need more books featuring food.

Anyway, I think I must have started this book at some point in the distant pass because the first two or three essays were familiar.

The book's classic Trillin, sure, but there's nothing like your first time.
under a month