Lo-cal (though not local, sadface, nor particularly affordable, sadface) sodas


A review of three low-calorie, "natural" sodas.


In third place . . . :

Natural Jones Soda is lucky I only tasted three sodas for this contest because it's kind of awful. I mean---tasting it Andronico's it was fine, but when you have more than a single ounce? Uck. The salesman talked me into the purchase. Besides being a natural low-calorie soda, he told me, it has fiber! Well! I bought it! Didn't think to check the ingredients for myself. Added caffeine? I feel betrayed. Not cool, soda salesguy. Not cool. Plus, it's too sweet in that icky nonsugar way and just doesn't taste very good. Currently only available in California.

In second place . . . :

Q is terrific. We picked this one up at Andronico's in the same visit we got the Jones. We only tried these two flavors, but they were wonderful. Just carbonated high-end juice, really. You can't go wrong with Q's citrus, clearly. I'm anxious to try their ginger. And maybe I'll finally get around to trying tonic water in Q's capable hands.

And our winner . . . :

DRY Soda manages to be all things I want. A soda that's as good at room temperature as cold. Comes in interesting flavors and comes at them from an interesting direction (once you've tasted one, you can recognize them all). Sadly, no store near enough sells them (we happened to be in Pinole when we bought them), but I'm fond. I want to try rhubarb! I want them to make celery! DRY is the right brand to finally produce a basil soda (I really really want a basil soda). But it's not just for flavors I've imagined that I choose DRY. Blood orange was a bit dull, but those other three flavors are clear winners. Buy DRY.


Coupla kids books, a screenplay, some Ian McEwan


009) Heat by Mike Lupica, finished January 22

Big O expressed interest in this book years before he was capable of reading it, but I bought it and stashes it in the closet and we finally got around to giving it to him this Christmas. He read it, thought it was terrific, handed it off to me.

Though I can make complaints about the couple times it pointlessly broke pov etc, I agree: this was a pretty terrific book. The lead character is super likable even though he runs a constant risk of turning Mary Sue (I mean: greatest pitcher, greatest center fielder, greatest catcher, greatest batter). The crisis he and his brother are thrown into it instantly gripping, and that's channeled into the baseball story and baby we're off.

I also liked it's metareferences to film and happy endings in the closing chapters because the story definitely heads that direction---though props to Lupica for finding a better ending spot than the Little League World Series. Heroes win, villains lose, friends remain true, beautiful girls share sexless 12-year-old crushes, miracles happen. Baseball, fathers and sons, hope, forgiveness. It's an epic at 240 largeprint pages.
six days


008) Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel, finished January 21

Best use of second person ever! Combining heavy illustrations (parts of the book certainly count as comics) with a friendly forbearance of voice combine to an approachable narrator and a close identification with the surly (but recognizable) protagonist. Fun book to read to small kids (but not so small that they can't stick with you for over a hundred [very speedy] pages).


007) Impasse by Kohl Glass (story by Jason Conforto), finished January 16

Shot right, this has potential to be a killer (and supercheap) little indie film. Think Lifeboat. Underground.


006) Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, finished January 16

At this near remove, I'm not sure if I like this book more than I am annoyed by it, or vice versa. Let's start with the annoyances, shall we?

Page 82: "In a sense, this was when the story began. . . ."

This is so so true. I almost I almost put this book down and wrote it up as unfinished many times. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BOOOOOORING. Nothing nothing nothing then more nothing. And this a spy novel!

Anyway, I stuck with it and the story began. McEwan is as good with sex and relationships as ever but we'll get to that later.

Next annoying thing: the final 28 pages. In which the curtain is pulled back and we see the entire thing's just been an elaborate metafictional setup (#spoileralert). What? Are you playing games with me, McEwan?

But here's where we'll start seguing to what I like, because I pass through anger to grudging acceptance to pleasure over the course of those 28 pages. I'm still pissed off to have been played, but it was all to such nice ends! 'Tis no mistake the word "sweet" is in the title.

I also love how this spy novel is actually about literature and, specifically, a moment in literature---one I don't know well---1970s England. And it's drawn so lovingly and perfectly. It's an attractive time to show up.

So cut the beginning. Seriously reconsider the ending. I don't know what I think about it. Not as good as my favorite McEwan novels, but no slouch of a novel either.

In the end? I dunno.

Other McEwan novels:

On Chesil Beach
The Black Dogs
three or four or more weeks

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


First books of ’Fourteen!


0##) The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen, finished January 12

At first, I didn't know how to take this book. How deliberate were the variations in character appearance? Is this intentional or just bad drawing? In other words, is he doing something really strange but worthy like David Mazzucchelli, or is he doing something crap like (in my unpopular opinion) Gary Panter? It wasn't easy to tell. But by the end of this collection, I'm leaning to the former.

These surrealist tales are connected by characters or visual motifs or other little doodads, but they don't make sense together until the end. The final three stories each offer an explanation for the weirdness of the preceding tales and provide a viewpoint from which to understand the collection as a whole. I didn't realize this was happening as I read the first of the three until I finished the book, but the mythic recreation of an artist who invents the world provides one framework to consider these tales.

The next story is about the interior fantasy of a paralyzed man unable to communicate with the world around him. At first, as he rewrites his fantasies on the go, I was about to declare the whole collection sloppiness disguised as art, but as I came to understand the conceit, I finally came around and began to consider the possibility that Schrauwen really was up to something impressive.

The final story is a science-fictive explanation, in ways both the most confused and more clear of all the stories. Looking back, other stories (the comics business, for instance) also are explanations for how a world and its art can become the same.

Anyway. Not bad. I'm not totally converted, but certainly worth a looksee.
three or four days


004) Pokémon Black and White, Vol. 1 by Hidenori Kusaka and Satoshi Yamamoto, finished January 10

How I came to read this book is a boring and abysmal story, but suffice it to say that this book is a mess. Like, say, a Scooby-Doo book I recently read, it doesn't seem to have anything going for it beyond its audience's enthusiasm. Which is apparently enough. Because everything else about this book is stupid. Add to that the lame (and faulty) shortcuts it takes which work even less with those unimmersed in manga. Let's just hope I never have to read another one.
five or six days


003) Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hick, finished January 7

We are truly in a golden age of comics. This is a beautiful piece of work, and my patience for high-school stories is generally pretty thin.


The drawing is terrific. The way the characters hold themselves---I know these people. And family members look alike without looking the same.

And the telling is literary. For instance, the ghost and the mom are obviously parallel, but the meaning of that pareallelism is far from obvious. And the same could be said of the haircuts. So many examples.

Hicks also balances humor and pathos like a champ. In all, one of the easiest to recommend comics I've read. Who wouldn't be able to enjoy this?

Incidentally, long ago I started reading this online, but like many great reads, the upload pace was slow and I forgot about it. So thanks to Jeff Smith for returning me to it.

Also, Hicks is the author of Superhero Girl, another online I loved then lost.

You should really check her out.
less than two weeks, probably less than one


002) The Drop by Michael Connelly, finished January 7

I got both Connelly books at the same time, and until the last one got more fun at the end, I thought I wouldn't read this one. But it did and I did and I'm glad because this book was much, much better. Largely, I think, because he stuck with one pov. Still not Great Literature, by any means, but both of the protagonist's victories are tainted and in quite different ways. This is, in other words, a very high-quality potato chip indeed.
over a month


001) The Rejection Collection, Vol. 2 edited by Matthew Diffee, finished January 6

Such a lost opportunity. And don't get me wrong. It's not that what's here is inherently dissatisfying---it's just so paltry. Thirty-eight New Yorker cartoonists who, according to the math suggested by the introduction, get rejected about 450 times a year. Some of them have been submitting for decades. Which suggests mountains of old panels lying around unused. Yet on average, each toonist has about five. Plus a page of photographs and two pages of a fun little fill-in-the-blank form (that gets endlessly repetitive as many low-hanging jokes get picked over and over). Only after which we get to three to maybe seven pages of cartoons, one per page.

Compare this to the 1950s-era NY collection I read last month which varied cartoon sizes, often fitting several to a page. Frankly, this wasted space is absurd and would make me feel pretty ripped off.

The other issue (of sorts) is that Diffee's editing seems to suggest a desire to prove that the best gags left out of The New Yorker's pages are generally a bit gross in some way. Probably this reflects his own tastes, but when you consider how many cartoons they reject each year, it wouldn't be hard to currate a rejection collection that suggests any other theory as well.

So overall, a cool idea for fans of the cartoonists, but undernourished in many ways.
a week or so


Overheard on Facebook


although this is funny since, you
know, who these people are will
hardly be secret among those who
are likely to see it here


Getting God a Christmas Present (a svithe)


Today was the first week with Joseph Fielding Smith and the first lesson included this correlation-written section heading (JFS was huge into correlation, so I'm sure he supports this):
To . . . worship [God], we must have an understanding of His characteristics.
We crazy old high priests debated just how true this was (or, if you prefer, just how we should understand this) and many useful insights were shared. I liked my metaphor, so I'm recording it.

Worshiping God is kind of like getting a Christmas present for a family member. You love them and you want to get them a Christmas present as a symbol of your attachment, but you don't really see them as much as you used to, you don't really know what they do with their spare time anymore, you don't know what they're into. So you get the present for God and he appreciates the thought but it's really not what he wanted but he says thank you and smiles and you feel appreciated. But giving God what he really wants would be worshiping him in the way President Smith means.

I dunno. What do you think?

previous svithe


This post is a post.


This is where I post the post when I post a post. Which I post whenever I post a post.


Crazy, Stupid, Love.
a spoiler-rich list of reasons not to like this movie I liked


In my regular movies posting, I'll have my single paragraph about how much I liked this movie. But now that twelve hours have passed, I've started to be irritated by more things. Which is a shame because so much of this movie is so excellent. For instance, the dialogue between Steve Carell and Julianne Moore does a fantastic job of showing their long and loving history even at their lowest moments. That's pretty exquisite stuff. And did you see how the filmmakers set an entire character up just by the way she placed her thumb on a photograph? Or how they set up the big surprise honestly yet without ever tipping their hand? These are the elements that suggest you're in the hands of great filmmakers.

Which is why, I suppose, the film's failings are bothering me as much as they do.

But it might also be the nature of this particular failing.

But before we go further, perhaps you want to watch it? (Netflix)(Amazon)(iTunes)(WB)

Pretty great movie, right?

So let's talk about the reason it's not great. Which is that the filmmakers have an almost toddler-like solipsism. Characters without names aren't real---and some characters with names are only real when they're being addressed.

Let's take an obvious example.

Remember the scenes at the restaurant when Emma Stone (correction: Hannah---I'm switching over to character names now that you've seen the movie) is with the other lawyers or protolawyers or whatever they are? First, we don't know what they are. In the fist scene I assumed they were all law students as I assumed Hannah was. Ends up Richard at least is a lawyer---and maybe all those besuited nonpersonalities were. Doesn't matter. The filmmakers don't care who they are so why should we?

They're not even true human beings. Consider that they can't hear any conversation between Hannah and Liz even though Hannah is the focus of attention. They can't hear a conversation between Hannah and Richard even though that conversations is the focus of their attention. These aren't human beings. They have no interior life. They are convenient bodies taking up space so the frame looks populated. That's it.

The same issue occurs is the movie's Big Moment (the only thing I complained about in my original, yet-to-be-posted review), the eighth-grade graduation. Never mind that this is obviously not enough eighth-graders for how big the school has been shown to be in previous scenes, consider the fact that everyone is politely silent clear through the entire awkward mess. What? What? No nervous twitters? No shuffling of feet? No nothing? Just people sitting absolutely still and, when their faces are shown (rarely), smiling. NO ONE would be smiling. Certainly not in that polite way. And you know who disappears once Cal shows up? Ms Taffety. That's who. As soon as Cal starts Inspiring Everyone, she disappears. Conveeeenient.

Again when Cal and Emily are at the parent-teacher conference. How in the world are these things structured that they get to be alone in an empty hallway? Apparently the only other person in the building is Ms Taffety, sitting alone in her room for no known reason. Convenient for the storytellers, but also reveals contempt for everyone other than the currently necessary characters.

And this is the one failing of Crazy, Stupid, Love.: These exquisitely drawn characters live in a world without other human beings. Take David Lindhagen. Barely sometimes human. Take the bar. How are we supposed to believe that both Cal and Jacob are there every night yet never run into the same woman twice? The only woman ever upset by the casual lays is the one who upset is plottily convenient. The world only exists where the camera is. Only the camera exists, the camera and what the camera sees.

The solipsism of the camera.

The real question I suppose is whether this single (but soaked-in) sin is enough to keep me from enjoying the movie a second, third, fourth, fifth time.

Answer: I don't know.

But I'm sure I'll watch it at least a second time. Maybe I'll let you know.