098) The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, finished November 28

I can see why Sir Arthur felt the best thing to do was to kill off Holmes at the end of this sequence of stories. He was sleepwriting through most of these stories---even given the creation of important characters to the mythos such as Mycroft and Moriarty, these tales just weren't as developed as the first collection's. Largely, they consist of a summing up of past events rather than a reliving thereof. And while some of this disconnect can be attributed to Watson's marriage, that's hardly excuse sufficient.
about six months


097) FF - Volume 2: Family Freakout by Matt Fraction & Lee Allred & Mike Allred & Joe Quinones, finished November 26

This charming fan favorite is filled with metacomic humor and charming kid supers and gives Mike Allred everything he needs to be at his best. Plus, because it's meta, we get to see how he draws himself and the missus. And brother Lee, when he comes in to take over writing from Matt Fraction, not only nails a seamless transition but excels.

All good stuff. Probably even better if you've been baptized into the Marvel ethos.
two or three or four days


096) A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo and Kris and Vincent Bailly, finished November 24

I'd never heard of the original memoir, but the comic adaptation is a compelling look at French Jews staying alive under the Vichy, specifically two boys. They through in a bit about marbles on the first couple pages, but otherwise I have no idea why Joffo named the book what he did. I am glad however to have bumped into his story. It's simple but moving and very very different from other WWII-Jew stories I've read. Adventure and running and the worst of annihilative dangers.

One detail I admired. After a full book of denying their Jewishness, one of the boys, upon the end of the war, cops to his Jewishness to save a Vichy a*****e who had protected him and housed him and fed him---in ignorance of his Jewishness. And so, even after all this denial of self to save A from B, he returns to his identity to save B from A. Fascinating bit of parallelism.

Also interesting to see how secular Jews of the time didn't have a clear definition of what a "Jew" was. I wonder if WWII's ugliness had the silver lining of saving an ethnic identity. I mean---I know people have written about this, but seeing it in story made it live.
three days


095) Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd, finished November 23

There're other books on graphic design for kids, but I hadn't read them. So I have no basis for comparison when I say this is by far the best design book for kids I've ever read. It was a good design book for me. Frankly, you should buy this book for every ninny who's making their own book cover.

Kidd's inspired me before and I hope this time I can get him to inspire my kids. (So far, kids not cooperating....)
about a week

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Some white guy's thoughts on Ferguson


First, feel free to ignore me.

Second, I'm not going to say what the grand jury "should" (or "should not") have decided. They had more information than me and anyway that part of all this is over now.

Third, I'm not going to tell people to be civil. That's way too easy for me to say. I don't live in a city where people my color make up 70% of the population---and 0% of the city council and 0% of the school board.

I will say that once the passion has burned off, I hope we see fewer white folk running unopposed for public office in Ferguson.

Also, I hope that we'll see more of the whole pushing-for-equality thing here in America. And, historically, the only way that works is when we're mobilizing economic power. So consider Hands Up Don't Spend. Yeah. You can do it. Take a breath. It's possible not to spend money this weekend.

Look: America has gotten a lot better over the last couple hundred years. But we're not done yet.

The flag we fly is more a symbol of what we aspire to than, I hope, what we now are. But sometimes we get complacent and then we need to reconsider. And don't forget: the flag is also just a piece of cloth. It doesn't hurt you if someone sets it on fire in the middle of the street.

But hey: If someone is burning a flag? The flag is still a powerful symbol and they are thus engaging in powerful symbolic speech. So don't just get mad. Ask yourself if that symbol you love is failing someone. Ask yourself if it's become a symbol of our lazy satisfaction instead of a symbol of American aspiration.

Anyway. That's what I'm thinking about. You?

Read any good books lately?


084) Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, finished November 22

A short and charming folktale about a boy and the Nordic pantheon. I've not much else to say about it.
an evening


083) The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, finished November 20

I'm of two minds. On the one mind, it's great that we're getting as many Pratchett books as possible before his mind is completely melted away On the other mind, these cowritten books just aren't as good as pure Pratchett goodness. I know nothing about this Baxter guy, but I don't even think Good Omens is all that great and people love that book. Anyway.

The Long Earth, even though I found it generally tiresome and frequently outright boring, is still one of the most interesting looks at parallel worlds I've ever seen. And although I found the implementation troublesome, I still think the vocabulary's pretty great as well.

Ultimately, it's sort of like the Long Earth is supposed to kind of a more serious, realistic Discworld. I'm guessing Pratchett and Baxter planned together then Baxter executed, trying to capture Pratchett's capacity for scattered madness without much success. Pratchett can transcend reason. That's a remarkable skill. But the scattered glimpses through the Long Earth just don't work here.

And frankly I don't care about the next four books in the series.
i thought like a month but according to the receipt in the book it's been over three


082) Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean by Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle, finished November 20

I love how the Center for Cartoon Studies includes publishing books as parts of its mission, but I'm rather happier when it's student work rather than faculty work. That said, this is a nice little look at Earhart starring (I think) a fictional teenage journalist in the small Newfoundland town that Earhart flew out from when she crossed the Atlantic. It's a smart choice, both in terms of keeping the story small and providing an outsider's perspective.

This is a good book but unlike, say, the Center's Helen Keller book, not a great one. Honestly, the intro affected me more emotionally than the comic itself. But still a good book and made me really like ol' Amelia.
under twelve hours including a night's sleep


091) Space Usagi by Stan Sakai, finished November 17

Although I could not enjoy it quite as much as feudal Usagi, this volume too represents some serious storytelling chops from Sakai. And---can't help but to notice such things these days---this one uses its female characters a little better.
three days


090) Clear the Decks! by Daniel V. Gallery, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), finished November 7

This WWII memoir started flat-out hilarious and never left off the funny though it also dipped into the tragic, the exciting, the surprising, the human, and the moralistic (mostly about the boneheads who would dismantle the US military after the end of each war---a policy I don't quite agree with and his reasoning at time seemed a bit paranoid . . . but then again, he has some good examples which kept me humble). I'm sad these memoirs aren't still in print and I hope to hope that some enterprising company gives them a big push at an upcoming significant WWII anniversary. They're too good to be forgotten.
many months---maybe a low number of years---as it was my in-the-car book

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Some tragically lost memories


Boy, I sure wish I could remember when I first had Nutella. I know the story of the first time my wife had Nutella---easily a decade before we met---but I don't remember my first time!

I guess you just don't know which food you're trying for the first time will be a memory worth preserving. Which foods will matter more and more? Which will be one and off? Which will be delicious but never revisited?

I remember my first time having falafel---at a San Jose dive my mother-in-law saw on Food Network. I didn't like it. I've had good falafel since then, but it's certainly not anything I seek out. Hummus however has become an absolute staple of my diet.

Yet I have no idea when I first tasted hummus nor what I thought.

Stupid brain.

That reminds me.

I haven't tried brain yet.

Maybe on a burrito---?


I'm not Sir Paul and neither are you


For fifty years now, Paul McCartney has had time to come to grips with the fact that someone, somewhere (probably manyones manywheres) is singing a Beatles song or listening to a Beatles song or picking out a Beatles song on the guitar or talking about a Beatles song. In fact, this is probably true of "Yesterday" all on its own.

But what about us little people?

I think about this now and then, most recently as I was falling asleep with "Stupid Things" playing in my head. When I woke up with "Watching Goonies at My House" (another Sarah Dooley song) I figured I should write about it.

We all know that people talk about us when we're not present---just as we talk about people when they're not present---and we will never know more than a fraction of what's said. So in a way, what people think about art is more likely to be discovered, but at the same time, you never know if when how, and what does come out might be hard to predict. And will only ever be a small percentage of the total.

We all get thought about sometimes. Someone may be remembering a bonmot of yours right now.

At core, I think we're all solipsists.

So really: isn't this fact the weirdest the universe has to offer?


Pulp Literature


I became aware of the rag Pulp Literature shortly after their first Kickstarter campaign and was immediately intrigued by their positioning and decided I would subscribe as soon as my Ploughshares subscription died. (I only allow myself so many litrag subscriptions at a time. As it ended up, I accidentally let One Story lapse [bummer] and so I picked up Pulp Literature when I realized. When Ploughshares finally quits coming, I'll pick One Story back up.) In the meantime though, I've been following their Twitter feed, reading their blog, and generally being impressed by the brand and the women behind it.

Anyway, my first issue came and I am happy with it. It's classy. Lots of white space. The illustrations are great too (though a few reproduced too lightly). Some of my favorites among the writing:

Soldier, Wake by Susanna Kearsley:
Mythic redemption, beautifully writing, pure and simple horror. Also, Scotland.

Blackthorne and Rose: Agents of DIRE by KG McAbee:
Terrific steampunk/zombie/romance/adventure novella with diction that won't let you read it out of a proper English accent. (Author's giving away a lot of her other work for free right now.)

Below the Knee by Susan Pieters:
Delicious little story mining the same vein as "The Lottery"---but more modern in a way as it ends with an emotion rather than an action. Also, the smallness of it feels appropriate for 2014, just a girl and her leg.

The Death of Me by KL Mabbs:
Time-travel stories are tricky and I'm not going to parse this sentence by sentence trying to catch the author in error. In the end, this story kept coming to mind for days and each time I reevaluated it---each time at a slightly higher valuation. It twists and it circles and it asks more than answers.

intimacy requires more by Daniela Elza:
In appearance, seems to be the sort of poetry I have very little patience for. But some of the lines are just incredible.

Granted: my primary response to Pulp Literature's tagline "Good books for the price of a beer" is to be glad I'm a teetotaler. But I'll tell you what else: the fourth issue was well worth each Canadian penny I sent them. Part of their success no doubt comes from their Kickstarter beginnings, getting enough money to pay their contributors right. As a general rule, you get what you pay for. And a publication that pays, gets offerings worth paying for.

So my recommendation is to head over to Kickstarter and subscribe now to the coming year---or pick up last year's offerings. (Some of the deals on offer seem a bit too generous.) Either way, if we can generalize from 25% of their total output so far, you'll be glad you did.

And today's their halfway point---if you subscribe via Kickstarter now, you get a free novella from the twisty time-travel author mentioned above.


Yeah, yeah. More books.


089) Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World edited by Monte Beauchamp, finished November 4

Sounds like a great idea, talented comic artists writing short in-comics biographies of luminaries (an all-male list consisting of Charles Addams, R. Crumb, Walt Disney, Edward Gorey, Hergé, Hugh Hefner, Al Hirschfeld, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Winsor McCay, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, Joe Shuster, ‎Jerry Siegel, Osamu Tezuka, Rodolphe Töpffer, Lynd Ward). But, sadly, most of them fall flat. Just a bunch of exposition. And, frankly, if you know much at all about one of these people, you're unlikely to be surprised. And although I love Edward Gorey as much as the next person, seems odd he beat out, say, George Herriman. And considering how many times Fredric Wertham came up, maybe he should have just had his own story?

I get how these things work. You have an idea. You get people involved. You hope for the best. You can't know ahead of time that it'll be two chickens walking in the rain, one of them reciting an encyclopedia article. You hope for the best, put it together, send it out. If you're interested and are starting from scratch, this is a good enough place to start.
over a week


088) The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison, finished November 2

Pretty terrific book. Expect more than one post on AMV.
under a week


087) Fences by August Wilson, finished October 31

Sure, it's a bit obvious in places, but it's obvious in beautiful and poetic ways.

My students loved this book. I'm just glad to finally get around to reading it.

Terrific look at American culture---midcentury, black, sports, work, family, you name it. Simple---follows Aristostle's unity of place---but layered. Great book for kids to write about. I'll be teaching this one again.
three days


086) Richard III by William Shakespeare, finished October 18

What I know about Richard III before beginning to read it is that he's the evillest guy out there (save Iago), and at the end of the story, he'll be desperate with regret and mortality, willing to trade everything for a horse. As it ends up, I'm not convinced that latter bit is the best interpretation of his kingdom for a horse, but your interpretation works just fine, sweetie. I'm not here to say you're wrong.

I do think Richard is a more complex character than he's often given credit for as well. Sure, he's a scumbag and a megalomaniac and a machiavellian pile of crap, but . . . is he really that much worse than other people in the histories? I mean---all other characters say he is, but of course they would say it. Take the interesting arguments Queen Margaret has with people, telling them how awful Richard is---which they don't disagree with--while simultaneously having them remind her how awful she is. Or take Anne, who begins one scene hating on Richard for killing her family only to end it thinking, well, he does think I'm pretty and that would make me queen. . . .

They all walk his talk.

And take the final speeches on the field of battle. Both were good, but Richard's was better. In part because it was more honest. Not completely honest, but more honest. Richmond's is wholesome and cheery, but by putting Richard's second, he shows the holes in Richmond's argument.

I suspect Shakes was annoyed at how poorly people had uncovered irony in the St Crispin's Day Speech and didn't want his audience to pretend any of these royals were that much better than any others. Richmond's and-now-we-shall-live-happily-ever-after speech is half ironic commentary on what didn't happen next and half political argument for acting as we pretend we should.

Anyway. It's a swift play, hollow in sections, demands a lot of previous knowledge to get the nuance, etc etc, but it starts out craaaaazy and keeps things happening all the way to the end. That's Shakespeare, baby.
over a week


085) Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, finished October 16

I picked this book up with the idea that it would hold my attention and distract me from my upcoming surgery. Good job, book. But then it grasped onto my fevered recovery mind and that was less good job. The novel's tightly constructed though it did a bit too much explaining for my taste and pulled a double-twist at the end I found a bit cheaty. But it was a quick read and the monsters felt real. That's the best thing a monster book can do.
one week

Previously in 2014 . . . . :