This time around


073) Dial H: Exchange by China Miéville et al, finished July 27

This one added too many characters and covered too much time, making it less fun than the first volume. I still appreciate what's being attempted, but the pacing was off and so much is going on, it's tough to juggle in the confines of the pages alotted to a monthly comic. So it goes.
a few days


072) Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman, finished July 24

My son checked this out (they've all been big fans since we celebrated the Little Tramp's centenniel in a movie theater) but I don't think he's going to read it. I've been picking it up though and reading it now and then. It's great! Sure, it's for kids, but it's detailed and I certainly learned things I did not know. And it doesn't hold back when our hero's a cad either. Some parents might find this book too honest, too detailed.

I however hope one of these kids actually picks it up and gives it a go.

In the meantime, we're working our way through this: http://www.openculture.com/..free_charlie_chaplin_films...

Join us!


071) "C" is for Corpse by Sue Grafton, finished July 22

I had an interesting experience with my third dip into Kinsey Millhone's world. This book projected its solution much more clearly. I don't try to crack mystery novels as I read them, but elements of the solution here were so obvious I couldn't not predict them.


This was the first of the novels to keep me up late, tense, working my way to the finish.

Dramatic irony is the best path to suspense. But too much and the protagonist just becomes an idiot and how is she a detective? Kills my ability to care.

This novel teetered on that line, dangerously.

Can't wait for "D"!
ishly, two weeks


070) Isle of 100,000 Graves by Fabien Vehlmann and Jason, finished July 19

This nutty look at a young girl whose quest to find her father takes her to a school of executioners is nutty fun and suitably European in direction.

Writer Vehlmann has written a very Jasonian book. I would be happy to see them work together again.
not long

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Funny pictures and scary pictures and thoughty Mormons


069) Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, finished July 17

This is the first of the City Guard books and, of the ones I've read, the least. That said, it was still smart and funny. No one can turn a phrase like a Terry Pratchett character. No one. And it did make me want to plow through the rest. I started with a mediocre short story in his short story collection (he wasn't joking when he said he's less good at short stories; the quality varies, but has not yet reached the level of his novels), and we have a couple more in our collection I haven't gotten to yet. But I'm making a possible error and instead of making the next in-the-car book another Pratchett, I'm trying on something very very different.

I'll miss you, Discworld.
just over three months


068) Dial H: Into You by China Miéville et al, finished July 15

Dial H is based on one of the hokiest concepts in DC Comics history. And that's saying something. But it's been recreated here with intelligence. Yes, the hokey aspects remain, but somehow Miéville found a way to bring it up to the "normal realism" of superhero books. (Whatever that means.)

Must be a fun book to write (and draw), being able to make up new characters---as absurd as you like---for each issue. Some are pretty great and I can imagine fans demanding to see more of them. Others are . . . hokey. And they do seem to run out of ideas now and then (the number of characters that, instead of arms, have everyday objects is striking), but still. It's fun.

One thing I like about this particular collection, is that after the first story ended, it included two other stories with very different flavors. Sure this happens a lot in The New 52, but these ones actually function to build the world rather than feeling like the writer needed a week off. The final story in particular, sending the Dial far back in time and introducing a sensible explanation with accompanying threat for those who use it, raises the stakes in a reasonable, manageable way. In short, pretty good stuff. One of the better New 52s I've read.



067) Benny Breakiron: The Red Taxis by Peyo, finished July 15

I've never read anything by the creator of the Smurfs, as I recall. This book is sort of a cross between Superman, Tintin, and Richie Rich. I think that's the best way to describe it.

Fun book. Very midcentury European. Very kid.

New to the U.S.



066) Bossypants by Tina Fey, finished July 14

If you love Tina Fey as we love Tina Fey, you will love this book as we love this book.

(Lynsey read it when it was new, then returned it to the library instantly, before I could touch it. So we got to have Tina read it to us over a couple long drives instead.)
a week


065) Liberating Form: Mormon Essays on Religion and Literature by Marden J. Clark, finished July 12

I received a copy of this as part of the booty (or pretty much "the booty) with my AML Award and have picked up another copy since. They seem to float around Mormon arts circles.

Anyway, it was great. You can get a taste of what it's like by reading this abbreviated form of the title essay as published in the Ensign, 1977. It leaves out Flannery O'Connor, but includes the sonnet. That part of the essay I often share with my AP classes. It's good stuff.

Anyway, having taken so long to finish the book, I've forgotten most of what I wanted to say about it. Which was a lot. He talks about literature and religion and society and specific works of art and life and academics and . . . he talks about a lot of stuff. But it all centers around the paradox hinted at in the title: how limiting forms set us free.

It's a wonderful book and I commend it to you. In fact, if you want to swing by, I'll give you my extra copy.

The only sad thing about this book is that it's barely aged at all. Published in 1992, collecting essays that go back decades, and still very much the conversation we're having today.


Well. At least we can still read what the best minds have had to say. Let's start there.
maybe five years


064) The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope and J. T. Petty and David Rubín, finished July 12

This is a prequel to Battling Boy (see below) starring that novel's other young hero. As a prequel, I would call it a great success. It connects to book one in useful, intelligent, unexpected ways. In other words, it's not gratuitous.

We meet Aurora's parents in more detail. And if her father is "Batman without the baggage," well, Aurora's mother was killed and her father will die in Battling Boy. She gets to bring the baggage.

Pope only wrote this book. The art apes Pope's style ably, but it does feel like an aping---character's eyes are misplaced, but it doesn't feel like Pope's chaotic, black-smudged impressionism. It feels like a knockoff.

Still. It was pretty great. I'm looking forward to an addition to this series come October (a sequel to this book, not Battling Boy).

two days


063) Battling Boy by Paul Pope, finished July 11

I read this a year ago. It totally holds up.

I love the humanity of the monstrous villains, how prosaic the edges of their lives.

I love the youthfulness of the young heros

Man is Pope something.
one day


062) The Last Days of Video by Jeremy Hawkins, finished July 6

(Awesome cover, right?)

It's 2007 and the college-town video store is unwittingly being hunted by Netflix and the obsolete-itself behemoth Blockbuster. But it's a great place to work if you love movies and have a tough time with people. And after the novel has ended, its some of those employees that are what linger. I had some issues with this novel, but I did love some of these stuck souls.

Plus, the references they provide the reader to film would certainly fill your summer schedule.

The novel is a bit sloppy at times---for instance, we're told that one character talks "like a smoker" then, at the bottom of a page, he smokes. Suddenly his voice is a lot less mysterious. This "like a smoker" this is less a simile . . . and more like . . . a fact.

That example comes from the final third of the novel which is the sloppiest. It feels insufficiently redrafted, almost as if the original was trashed late in the process and this was rushed in to fill its space. That final third is also the most self-aware though that's largely redeemed as things continue to move forward.

The epiloguey final pages revealed to me something I had not realized tho this point---what I mentioned above---that Hawking had introduced me to people I'd thought I'l known but hadn't, not really. And now I did. Now I did know them. This section went on a bit long, but I can forgive it. It took me this long to build sufficient empathy. It must have been hard for Hawkins to let go.
a small number of weeks


061) Arabel's Raven by Joan Aiken, finished July 3

[Note that my judgment of this book might not be fair. I slept through the middle half as it ran through our car's speakers.]

With a cover illustration by Quentin Blake, you have to assume the publisher's trying to sell us some substitute Roald Dahl. And a lot of the basic traits are the same. Young protagonist. Over-the-top adults. Fantastic situations. But (at least in the first story) these elements do not congeal. For instance, Arabel's mother is not internally consistent. You can be absolutely insane, larger than life, ridiculous---but you need to be consistent within thyself, O character.

Some elements work great (the raven eats stairs! meat-colored tiles! another example I've forgotten!) but ultimately it's just not magic. I think the primary problem is that Arabel's not an important character. The story abandons her for long stretches, she never actually does anything, she's not connected to the resolutions, she has very little character or personality. Yet we're supposed to care about her because, being the only child in a children's story, she's the nominal hero.

And somehow this merited a dozen sequels? Did they get better?
during our drive south


060) Templar by Jordan Mechner and Alex Puvilland and LeUyen Pham, finished July 2

For a book with wonderful action sequences and breakneck pacing and interesting characters, I found myself bored silly. Then I read an essay by Mette Ivie Harrison and it explained to me exactly the problem with this graphic novel. In fact, it predicted who would die in the penultimate scene.

The moral of the story is plotting according to preordained rules results in something a bit lifeless, no matter how well it's constructed.

There was a lot to like here, but your time's better spent with Mette's essay.


059) Heaven Knows Why! by Samuel W. Taylor, finished June 26

When Taylor's novel was first serialized in 1948 as The Mysterious Way in Collier's (see the layout of parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), it passed before the eyes of millions of Americans. This was the first nonpioneer Mormon-charactered (contemporary) novel published for a national audience. The action takes place a long-day's drive from Salt Lake City and when it first came out, its geography became a matter of some debate among the Saints as to who was whom and where was where. Taylor, of course, rolled his eyes and happily defined the word fiction for any who asked.

Anyway. Millions of readers did not translate into bestseller status when it was rereleased under the "improved" title in book form (though it did fine and got good reviews). It would be republished a couple times over the decades. My copy (pictured) is a 1994 Aspen Books rerelease which Taylor says he was talked into by Richard Cracroft (though I suspect his intro was originally penned for a c. 1980 publication). Cracroft called it "the best Mormon comic novel to date" and he says that it's still the only humorous Mormon novel. (This claim is why I think the intro is older than the publication date. By this time Curtis Taylor's The Invisible Saint was out not to mention Joni Hilton's Relief Society novels and Orson Scott Card's Hatrack River was publishing stuff like Paradise Vue. So 1994 would be a crazy time to make that claim. But whatever.)

The important question though is this one: Does the novel hold up, almost seventy years later?

The story has a brilliant bit of innovation by starting with a deus ex machina, then having the characters work through the mess that engenders. Old Moroni Skinner is up in heaven (heaven, incidentally, is a satire of midcentury American capitalism and has not aged as well as the rest of the novel) concerned with his grandson who's grown up to be the valley trash. He files the paperwork to make a visitation and so he does, making it up as he goes, dropping in on the town apostate and telling his grandson to marry the bishop's daughter (who is engaged to be married the very next day, unbeknownst to Moroni). And this descends chaos in the form of crazy and coincidence, capturing the very best elements of the comedies of Dickens and Shakespeare. It is exquisitely engineered. The characters are sharp and tear off the page in into the imagination. The hurdles to our protagonist's success just got greater and greater. And somehow---comedy!---it all works out in the end. (Unless you include the final chapter which returns us to heaven and adds on a painfully heavy dose of predestination to the mix.)

In short, this is a terrific look at midcentury Mormon-corridor Mormonism with its uncertain relationship with the Word of Wisdom and heldover pioneer-era Churchhierarchies and living breathing human beings.

Sp does it hold up? Yes. Most certainly yet. I may not have laughed on every page like Cracroft, but it was a fun, fun ride.

originally posted on motley vision
five days

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Feature films 2015: second quarter


In theaters:

Romeo Is Bleeding (2015): This is a powerful film about kids in Richmond applying the Bard to themselves through the trauma that is everyday life in Richmond. We watched the world premiere of this doc in the theater where their play was originally produced and many of the people filmed and their families were present. And they felt the film even more than we did. They laughed harder and they sobbed---I've rarely heard sobs like these from adults. And sure, that enhanced the experience, but this film is moving and important and you shouldn't miss it. Look for screenings near you. (One postscript: watching the film and seeing how people react to poet Donté Clark, I could see his ability to communicate through words was real and community-changing. And I felt him as a fellow traveler. But hearing him wing responses live in the Q&A made me feel what the people around him already knew. He's an incredible talent. And if the culture's just different enough from mine that I can't feel it, that's on me to learn that culture. I mean---haven't I had to do that with Shakespeare?)

Tomorrowland (2015): I wanted to love this movie. I appreciate its optimistic goals and alleged worldbuilding and, come on, its Brad Bird. Not every movie has a Brad Bird. So I'm sad to say that even with George Clooney and Hugh Laurie and this crazy awesome little British girl, not with standing some cool visuals and futurey conceptions etc etc, ultimately the film does not quite work. Largely because it spends a lot of time undercutting its themes. For instance, we have to have big fights and kill innocent people and blow things up to make a happy future. And I can't remember the last time I was so browbeaten with product placement. Sigh. Still. I'm glad I voted with my dollars and by no means do I feel my day was wasted. I just wish I'd been given more. And not in a consumer way. In a philosophical way.

Inside Out (2015): How could was it? I was spontaneously weeping an hour after we left the theater. I may still spontaneously weep yet. (UPDATE: nine days later, still weepy.) We're going to buy and rewatch it every year to make it part of our family's vocabulary. You owe it to yourself. It's a movie made up of perfect details, that finds the epic in the small, and the tiny in the large.

Jurassic World (2015): Look: It's not a great movie. It has it's flaws. But all I really felt I was owed was a lot of fun and not to be talked down to. I got both those. The movie was utterly and wonderfully satisfactory. Do I need to spend all summer rewatching it? No. Would I go with someone if they asked? You bet. I could talk at length about details and choices, but the rest of the internet is taking care of that. I'm satisfied. That is enough. (Although, once again, the product placement was eye-gouging at times.)

At home:

Edge of Tomorrow (2014): When Lady Steed and I saw the trailer for this movie in theaters, it was probably one of the best trailers I've ever seen, from an advertising perspective. It sold the movie absolutely, gave nothing important away, and drove the title into our minds where we've never forgotten it: LIVE. DIE. REPEAT. Only . . . then it displayed the real title, Edge of Tomorrow---utterly forgettable and generic. I have a feeling it was a title the studio had owned for years and just slapped it on this film because it sounded cool. Generically cool, but cool. Marketing knew better, but couldn't shake it. Ah well. As for the movie? It's awesome. Don't dismiss it as Groundhog Day with guns and aliens, because it's more than that. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's "better" than Groundhog Day, but I would also say it's a dumb argument. They're both very good and they are utterly different save in one central conceit. One fascinating thing about this film is how it plays with sound design and score. When we first see battle with the aliens, it's that uberdramatic KwAHHHng! stuff with sweeping orchestration and so forth, telling us how to feel. Then he dies. And the music switches subtly to comedy and the over-the-top SFX go away. And as the move delves further away from "reality" the music becomes more of a partner in storytelling rather than a bully. Anyway, good movie. I would watch again with you right now were you here.

The Boxtrolls (2014): I'm not sure we're watched a movie before that had my five-year-old drawing me pictures of the characters before bedtime before. And rightly so. I'm not sure if this is the "best" Laika movie to date, but it's probably the one I enjoyed the most and the one I'm most looking forward to enjoying again. I thought I was in for a Jungle Book. It was more.

Freetown (2015): I expected to be more thrilled than moved. In fact, I was more moved than thrilled.

Chef (2014): The cast is incredible and a joy to watch. The food is incredible and a joy to watch. Who cares if the frame's a bit pedestrian? Who cares? Have you seen this cast? Have you seen this food?

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990): I've been aware of this movie for 25 years but I've never really been interested in seeing it. I can't remember why. But I was just reading about it in The Best Film You've Never Seen which tells me it was a flop. But I remember hearing about it more than the Tom Hanks hits mentioned (I don't remember hearing about Punchline as a kid at all)---certainly, other than Big, this was the film my friends talked about. But I was never sold until now. I'm so sad I waited so long. I loved the heightened reality and sense of play and seriousness within madness. And Meg Ryan playing three roles (which I didn't know before) is, as the book says, her Peter Sellers (or, as I would have it, her Alec Guinness role). I could dedicate a whole post to this movie, but I don't want to. So just one more observation, about the islanders. Although arguable racist, they sidestep the issue in an interesting way by their ancestry and by their being steep in Hollywood faux-island culture (eg, King Kong). I don't know what Polynesians think, and the islanders weren't my favorite part of the film, but if anybody cares what whitey thinks, I would give it a pass. Anyway. The film was great. Like a Coens comedy cranked up one more notch.

Wadjda (2012): For a look into another portion of the modern world, this film is invaluable. To see the life of a young Saudi girl and her school and her mother is pretty great. To see how the fundamentalist fear of sexuality leads to hypersexuality is insightful (note: not the point of this movie, but there whether it's meant to loom or not). But I'm pretty sure that some of the things I did not understand weren't cultural. For instance, the occasionally confusing chronology. Still though. Even when turns in the plot were obvious cliches, they worked. This is a charming film. Though I have a hard time imagining my kids sit through it. Definitely not paced rat-a-tat-tat.

Groundhog Day (1993): I haven't seen this movie in a long, long time. I'm so happy it holds up. It's still a great movie. And Edge of Tomorrow did not suffer in the comparison. Which is impressive. Because this film is an acknowledged classic.

Under the Skin (2013): This is a strange, strange film. Short-film strange, blown up big. It's a bit like THX 1138 (scroll down) at moments and a lot like Eraserhead in the middle. It reminded me more and more of Cat People as it went along and the way the shots lingered forever like sitting in front of a painting makes me think of what I imagine 2001 is like. I've never seen a monster quite like this one. So human and so alien. So impossible to fathom. And so predatory. What to make of it? I don't know. Filming in Scotland with amateurs wearing astonishingly opaque accents helps us understand some things. That the accents get more transparent as the film goes on is telling. The fades are so patient as to be poems in themselves. So much to say. So little to conclude.

Jurassic Park (1993): Holds up. Always always always holds up.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011): A pretty good movie, but the real key to why the movie isn't all it could be is contrasting the development of the Matt Damon character to the Emily Blunt character. He is very well developed. She is not. She doesn't even get to share a childhood story of her own. And her fiance? That poor guy is a 100% disposable nonhuman entity. Sigh. It was ambitious and new! If only the Pixar Braintrust had had a chance to give some feedback just before production started....

Godzilla (2014): Yeah, I suppose it deserved the hype. It was certainly awesome (not in the "good" sense but in the "awesome" sense). It was visually impressive and it's monsters were pretty terrifying (that spider-ape female thing!). The characters were a bit cliched but generic in a way that made them a bit more relatable. And not everything worked out the most obvious way (the Only Man Alive Who Can Help doesn't get to help . . . twice!). And the way the film dealt with the classic Godzilla themes of nuclear arrogance was way more timely and on-point than I had expected. Although it certainly was disaster porn, it wasn't ignorant of the millions of should-be-meaningful casualties. It's funny how weird things can throw you out of a movie (I can buy an absurdly tall monster, but he standing up in the Golden Gate? That's the deepest part of the Bay! And the Bridge is tall! And those currents! or: They're flying that warhead right over the City? Are you kidding me?) but whatever. Maybe I've lost my sense of wonder or something. In short, a dumb monster movie, but a really really good dumb monster movie.

Marwencol (2010): I learned of this from a This American Life episode but have only now finally got around to watching it. It was a pretty great movie. I think part of the reason is, as an arts-mag editor observes, Mark Hogancamp is utterly absented of irony. He means everything. That's pretty rare these days. And it can't be faked.

American Movie (1999): I remember reading about this film in Newsweek while in a doctor's waiting room. I've never forgotten about it, and always intended to someday watch it. Now I have. And although Milwaukee is pretty different from Montpelier, I think some of the pathos I felt came from the similarities that do exist. Anyway, it's about a dirt-low indie filmmaker trying to follow his muse, and the people who surround him. It's a mix of funny and horrifying and heartbreaking and hopeful.

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011): I usually watch foreign-language animation dubbed (I have my reasons, haters), but never have I been so sure that the story was taking a beating because of the translation. Still, I enjoyed the film and it earned a tear.


Looking for Richard (1996): Showing this alongside teaching Richard III is kind of great. It tells the story well while modeling actors and scholars struggling with the text's complexity. It's a fun watch. And I love the line by (I think it was) Barbara Everett, molaq, "Irony is just hypocrisy with style." What a great line. But is it true???

V for Vendetta (2005): Besides being a crowdpleaser with an easy-to-grasp theme, V holds up very well to repeat viewings. They really layered it in here, some obvious, some subtle, always something new to find. A great little flick to introduce film analysis.

THX 1138 (1971): A horrific future created mostly by the color white and sound design. And, for unfathomable reasons, now fiddled with by its creator with CGA add-ons that don't add on.

Casablanca (1942): Perfect films don't grow old. They grow richer.

Psycho (1960): Honestly? I don't think I'll ever tire of it. Though I think Ebert is right regarding cutting down the psychologist's scene. But I don't think he would have been right in 1960. Hitchcock himself told the actor he'd saved the movie. It was a different time. I can respect that.

The Iron Giant (1999): I think I've passed peak-cry for The Iron Giant, but I still certainly cry.

Spirited Away (2001): I agree with Roger Ebert that this is a film made with generosity and love.

Bambi (1942): Beautiful movie with one of my alltime favorite soundtracks. But it's such a weird movie. See 1 2 3 4 5.

Dazed and Confused (1993): A friend's every-year-last-day-of-school movie. And I can see why. But I just have a hard time relating to kids want to get drunk/stoned/laid. Parts of the Universal Human Experience ring true, but not enough. On the other hand, it's a picaresque and my understanding is it gets better each time as you pick up more details. That I can believe.

Previous films watched