Unfinished Books Bonanza


I'm giving up on a couple books I don't dislike but am willing to admit I will never finish. In the order of when I began them:

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (begun ~8 months ago)
Alternating points of view. All beautifully written. All artificial. I hate to say this, but if it would just get to the killing instead of all this avoidance---well, I would probably have kept reading it. I enjoyed it while it was in my hands and under my eyes, but never think of it if it's anywhere else. Atwood is a terrific stringer of words, but sometimes she forgets the soul.

So yes: the interior life of the convicted murderess was exquisitely drawn. On the other hand, so much of her thinking was hidden for plotting reasons that it was, frankly, cheaty.

And yes: the doctor was a fun character as well. But I didn't see a lot of proof he was much more than a plot device.

And the locations! and the time period! and the cultures! All wonderful.

All a bit soulless.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior (read during weeks with long interruptions)
I've heard Senior interviewed about this book(here for instance) and found a lot of meat and a lot to interest. Lady Steed read the book and absolutely loved it. I started it when she finished, but couldn't get it read before the library wanted it back. So I got in a 200-person line and waited, then checked it out again. I'd loved what I read in the first go. Not so much what came next. I'm afraid I'll never get to the joy part.

I think the problem is severalfold. But probably the big one is that although the book was sold as a digestion of the best new science available, like, say, NurtureShock, in fact science is more the color of the book than the content. It's largely anecdotal and citing who said it most interestingly. So while I don't mind all the quotations from essayists and memoirists and Margaret Mead, I thought this was supposed to be about, you know, the best new science available. It's not.

And now I have to return it again and I'm only halfway through and I don't think I'm going to get back in line. I enjoyed the book, sure, but it;s not nutritious enough to eat the whole thing. It's like . . . two liters of Reed's Ginger Beer. Closely related to real food, but still soda. Really great soda that I might well drink two liters of. But I really don't need to drink two liters of it. The interviews and the original NYTM articles be enough.


Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed


For reasons I am much too innocent to comprehend, the "Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" section of Perky Erect Nipple's seems to be peopled with porn. The good news is that the porn peopling it is in constant flux. Which means that no one bit of pornography is clearly attached to PENny yet. Implication: what is in the "Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" section is still manipulable.

May I enlist you in removing the pornography from my book's page? That's right folks: it's time to gentrify!

So here's what you do: First click HERE to see PENny on Amazon. If you're late to the party, the "Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" section may already may already be filling with nonpornographic suggestions. If so, click them!

If not, please come back and click some of these links which I think make fitting replacements for pornography . . . and fine companions for my PENny:
Byuck (because byuck)

The Sun Also Rises (because wine)

Adverbs (because it was good and it's like other thbooks if not this one)

A Good Man Is Hard to Find (because a good man is hard to find)

The Great Mormon Novel of the 21st Century (because it's an even shorter thAmazon offering)

The Scholar of Moab (because manchild)

The Death of a Disco Dancer (because coming of age)

Lucky Dumpling (because brightly colored)

A Century of Holiness Theology: The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene: 1905 to 2004 (because the protag girl is a Nazarene)

Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips (because save the boobies)

Cats are Weird and More Observations (because PENny's about a cat---read the first paragraph)

Cat Versus Human (because it's not reeelly about a cat)

Romy And Michele's High School Reunion (because high-school reunion!)

Grosse Pointe Blank (because high-school reunion!)

The Fob Bible (because you might need a palate cleanser)


Oscar nominees: Best Live-Action Short


Ranked in my preference:

La Lampe au Beurre de Yak
I know making this my top choice will prove what everyone already thinks about my taste in short films: that I'm contrarian and intentionally weird. But I really did love this film. I loved that the camera never moved. I loved the simple series of teeny tiny family portraits. I loved the indirect sketching of a world far away, Tibet, and its collision with modernity. I loved how understated it was. I loved every detail of this film and I could go on and wax analytic about why these elements were good and how they combined into a wonderful whole. But it would all be nonsense, because I really believe what makes this film excellent is ineffable. It's wonderful simply because it is wonderful. That's it.

This Israeli woman is one of the most complex and inscrutable characters I've seen in film for a long time. But though I can't quite find my way inside her, somehow I understand her all the same. Understated writing and acting and direction---simplicity throughout---change a sitcom situation (a woman picks a random someone up at the airport by masquerading as his driver) into a character study with depth and breadth and earned pathos.

Boogaloo and Graham
This was Lady Steed's favorite and I loved it as well. This story to two boys' love for their chickens and their father's love for them is beautiful. Setting it against the chaos of the recent past's Northern Ireland made those moments more precious because more fragile. Lovely bit of family comedy.

The Phone Call
Sally Hawkins's performance is amazing, and as long as it's her on the phone, the film is strong strong strong. But then the phone call ends and the film has a LOTR3-like string of codas that convolute what had been pure. I understand the impulse to give both characters happy endings---and I'm all for that sort of counterprogramming against the theme of suicide---but it didn't work.

Well acted---especially by the title character---but ultimately confused as to what it's trying to be. It's a quest story, but it's hard to tell how better off our heroine is upon the completion of her adventure. Are we supposed to be happy, for instance, that she's stopped wearing her scarf? Is that a sign that she's gained something or lost something? I'm not sure the film knows. Ambiguity's fine. Having no idea what the crap you're on about ain't.

So what will win? Well, "Boogaloo and Graham" is the most crowdpleasing. "The Phone Call" has the most Oscar-clip acting (from an actress nominated for an Oscar last year). "Aya" and "Parvenah" both feature trendy Middle Eastern / Central Asian ethnicities but the latter is better developed. "Butter Lamp" is probably too darn weird---I'm just happy it was nominated. If I were a betting man . . . . "Aya"? Sure. Let's go with "Aya."


The Far Side of the Other Side of the World
(and some plays)


015) The PreHistory of The Far Side: A 10th Anniversary Exhibit by Gary Larson, finished February 18

This is a book I've been eyeing for over twenty, picked up in stores and read a bit and placed back on the shelf. And now I've finally read Larson's seemingly mostly accurate explanation of how The Far Side came to be. I mean---I don't buy the part about his mom having him play in the street, but I do believe the part about the San Francisco Chronicle. More or less. And the sections on, say, what offended people, were fun and, frankly, enlightening. This is not just a book for completists. I would particularly recommend it to anyone interested in the craft of cartooning.

Incidentally, anyone else's kids not appreciate The Far Side as much as they obviously should? Are mine just defective?
month and half


014) Nation by Terry Pratchett, finished February 16

Before we get into how much I liked this book (a lot), I want to talk about how we consumed it.

I wanted to get the latest Moist von Lipwig book on cd as we've enjoyed listening to his previous adventures during car trips so very much. But alas. Our library has not picked it up. I decided to see if they had it over the Internet instead and since Our library offers e- and audiobooks via Overdrive, I checked it out. It didn't have Moist, but it did have this one so we installed the app on Lady Steed's tablet and listened to it on our recent drive to and from Idaho. Overdrive was convenient and easy. The selection's not massive, but it had plenty of stuff I want to consume (though not much I would like to consume with my kids. Recommended!

One of the cruelest things a book can do to me is present a world so close to ours, but better. I wish Nation were a true story. Not because the horror of a tsunami killing so many people is charming to me, but because how it resulted in a changed modern world---how it offered a path to redemption from many of 19th-century Europe's imperial sins.

But that's a minor point. The important part of any work of fiction, for me, is its characters. And leads Mau and Daphne are strong and interesting and change so much.

Mau's entire society is wiped out by the tsunami that deposits lone survivor Daphne's ship on his island. Pratchett slides from one point-of-view to the other with fluidity as these children become adults.

And they do become adults. Lots of fiction is about adolescence, but these kids don't have that luxury. The time for adulthood arrives and they must accept that, no matter how poorly it may fit.

The extended coda's a curious choice I'm not sure I agree with, but the rest of the novel is a mix of disaster and humor and respect and growth and heroism and faith that will inspire anyone. Marketed as a YA novel, but don't let that limit its audience.

four days


013) Fences by August Wilson, finished February 10

I love how much my students love this play. Reading it with them will prove a highlight of this year.
under a week


012) Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, finished February 6


Previously in 2014 . . . . :




Today's the last day for voting in LDS.net's first poetry contest. You can vote for as many poems as you want, and none of them are "50 Shades of Jesus." One is from me though.



Vote your conscience


The LDS.net poetry-contest finalists are up. I quite liked some of them.



Mostly Adverbs (but also some chocolate)


011) Adverbs by Daniel Handler, finished February 4

I've bumped into Daniel Handler on a number of avenues including SoUE Street, Some Wrong Questions Stretch, Latke Lane, Orchestra Overpass, and Wholphin Way, and I am a great fan of his. Largely because I feel he is a fellow Baizerrist and unlike some others encroaching on territory I thought I discovered as a teenager, I feel like he's playing the game at the level I intend to.

Now, working as I am on the Curses & Llew novel and the Personal Progress screenplay, I finally took this book from next to my bed where it has sat for literally years waiting patiently, knowing I was looking forward to someday reading it. (According to this, incidentally, although I had forgotten, I've read one of these stories before.)

Anyway, whatever. The point is I wanted to read a novel that would do interesting things with language as I am trying to do interesting things with language and I wanted to be challenged by someone I thought would do it well. Handler delivered.

Being more familiar with his work for young readers, I was mostly struck, language-wise, through the first portions of the novel, how he's taken the games he plays as Lemony Snicket and sometimes refined them, sometimes grotesqued them---altered them in many a ways---and created an adult book. The same reliance on repetition and refrain, for instance. The same talking about words and phrases as living, potent things. The same quoting of outside texts, some real some not with no clear distinction between the two. The same living narrator whose omniscience requires the reader to grapple with his role (with a decidedly more postmodern conclusion demanded in Adverbs). In other words, I had a hard time placing Handler's work here in any tradition other than the one he coöpted and recreated from children's lit for the Series of Unfortunate Events.

Let's pause for a moment to talk about the structure of the novel. After the first few chapters, I thought that the "A NOVEL" label was a feint to force me to line up unrelated tales. Yes, as it progressed the overlaps became more clear, but I found it certainly---at least through the first 75%---as much a short-story collection as a novel.

What finally makes it unquestionably a novel is also what threw me out of my lazy consideration of it as Unfortunate Events: The Adult Version with a Penis or Two.

The 13th of 17 chapters is TRULY (each chapter is titled an adverb) which begins "This part's true." And, sure, okay. True like fiction is true, but something else as well. This self-designated essay is written wholly from the narrator's point of view who is Daniel Handler, I suppose, though he remains unnamed, though he's as Daniel Handlery as someone else might be Kurt Vonneguty, you bet.

I make this comparison intentionally. Prior to TRULY, I had been thinking of this novel's intention as an artistically equivalent sidestep from the Series of Unfortunate Events. Thanks to TRULY, I now see how Handler is a descendant of Vonnegut, which understanding gives me a better sense of the novel as a whole. Starting with seeing it as a novel as a whole.

The stories have characters named Joe and Andrea and Eddie and other names that repeat that repeat that repeat and are they the same person or are they not? Questions of identity swirl about and refuse to land as volcanoes and unnamed catastrophes destroy or don't destroy San Francisco or Seattle and magpies appear here and there and everywhere or maybe they are parakeets.

A reasonable person might suggest that an essay three-quarters of the way into a novel telling the reader what to think is a terrible idea and put that way I would agree with you. But TRULY doesn't tell you what to think at all. It may make some points regarding, say, magpies or what fiction can do, but most of what I took from this essay was a sense of the tradition Handler was working from and my own application of this knowledge is what brought the whole thing together for me. That and this one sentence that should perhaps offend my sense of figuring-things-out-for-myself but which I found too appropriate to be annoyed by and which I am giving to you without sufficient context:
It is not the diamonds or the birds, the people or the potatoes; it is not any of the nouns. The miracle is the adverbs, the way things are done. It is the way love gets done. . . . (194)
Love stories are as common as spit on the sidewalk, alas to how special your own love story seems to you. Love isn't that special. What's special is how you do love, how I do love, how we do love, how this love does this love. The adverbs.

A couple more side notes on the book.

First side note: BARELY, the penultimate story, stars Sam, a name that threw me as I did not think I had seen it before. And her friend falls in love with someone else and, inevitably, they will someday leave her life and forget her and that will be that, and Sam has no love story of her own waiting for her, and this is a book of love stories, and when she delivers the missing beloved bird to the woman across the street and the woman is so happy we learn that Sam, "somebody help her, this is the only story she is in" (258), a line that broke my heart. At first because this suggested that in her life, Sam will never be a vital part of anyone's story. She doesn't matter much to anyone in the long run. And then, I was a tad stunned to realize that it also meant that Sam is a name I had not seen in this novel before and would not see again. Artificiality enforcing realism.

Second side note: Listen to this and tell me if you don't hear the ghost of Vonnegut. A big breakfast weighs you down in the United States, not what you want to eat if you're going to work at stopping a disease. Nonetheless, Joe had eggs. He worked at a place called Stop AIDS Now, a political and/or social organization the aim of which is to stop AIDS, a terrible disease that has killed millions of people and which is spread through two acts much associated with love:having sex and having babies, now. At the time of this writing, lets' face it, nobody knows what to do about this. There's drugs but they don't work, and there's bigotry which for some reason works real well at the job of making everything worse, and people keep on performing acts of love and they dying, all over the world, all over the place. Joes' job thought that enough was enough, among other strategies. It was a worthwhile job and so paid not that well, but Joe told himself he didn't need much money, which is a common and surprisingly not-that-difficult thing to do. Eggs are cheap. Joe tried to stop AIDS now Monday through Friday except when he was sick or really wanted to go to a movie instead of to work, or was called---summoned, they call it, for jury duty. What happens with jury duty is, for a week maybe you get to be one of the twelve people who decides if someone's a criminal, maybe nothing happens. Neither is really that taxing. Thus eggs. (259-260)

Anyway, Vonnegut didn't really have it in him to write a love story, did he? Thanks goodness, then, for this collection of adverbs.
twoïsh weeks


010) Death by Chocolate: Redux by David Yurkovich, finished February 3

As I read the stories in this collection, I wasn't sure Yurkovich realized what the strengths of his concept was. Then I read his note in the back and I was convinced of it.

Here's the set up:

Vacationing chocolatier visits a Swiss chocolate factory and gets separated from his tour group. He overhears employees talking about how they've imprisoned an alien consciousness and trapped it in their machines, forcing it to make chocolate. They spot our hapless hero who tries to escape, ultimately plummeting into a vat of boiling chocolate. He becomes pure chocolate and is controlled by the vengeful alien. Eventually the alien leaves him---and leaves him with the power to change anything into pure chocolate. That's your origin story.

As a send-up of superhero stories, this origin cannot be beat. It is pure ridiculous. And the first story just grows in absurdity, making it a nice critique of superhero stories generally.

The further stories vary in success. Sometimes it ceases to be a joke at all. I can accept all these stories as long as we all remember that what we're reading is absurd. But at times the comic forgot how silly it was and wanted to be taken seriously. And that's when I stopped taking it seriously.

So overall? Some great concepts, some fun, some disappointment.
most of a week

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


50 Shades of Jesus (Christian Rock Anthem)


Note: I've been unable to find a top Christian-rock band to record this song in time to make a viral-YouTube-hit parody/protest against that certain-to-be-popular bit of modern-day Gomorrah, Fifty Shades of Grey. So I'm just putting the lyrics online (and promoting them on social media every day between now and the movie's release) in hopes some amateur hard-rocking Christians will make this happen. Anyone can have this for free (and rewrite as they like), but if you make over a thousand dollars, you have to give me half.


50 Shades of Jesus
(Christian Rock Anthem)

Whip me as you were whipped
Bathe my sinful flesh in
...your blood sweat and tears
Rock my tabernacle
...my body of flesh and clay
Punish my inner sinner
...love away moral decay

Crown my thorn with your crown of thorns
Thorn my crown with your love
When push comes to shove
...and pain turns to love
Keep me up all night
...with these feelings too right
Tie me down with your care
...make my soul pure and bare

...I'll be your slave
I'll be a slave for Jesus
...I was once a slave to sin
But now I'm yours

I've known the whips and chains of Satan
...and the whips and chains of sex
But the whips and chains of Jesus
...oh, I do love his the best
Let me into your house, oh Jesus,
...yes, your mansions above
Let me into your dungeon,
...your dungeon of love
...love, sweet, godly love

...I'll be your slave
I'll be a slave for Jesus
...I was once a slave to sin
But now I'm yours

The abuse you took
...is the abuse you take
From those whose
...wills will break
Oh lift me up and place me
...next to you upon your cross
Then take me down and love me
...my kindest cruelest boss

Beat damnation! Save me!
...is what the faithful cry
Beat damnation! Save me!
...is what we all should cry
My BDSM Jesus
Now never will I die

...I'll be your slave
I'll be a slave for Jesus
...I was once a slave to sin
But now I'm yours