Stuff you didn't know about me


086) A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales edited by , Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, finished August 31

I forget why I ran this book down. Perhaps I just saw Neil Gaiman's name then noticed Gregory Maguire and Patricia McKillip's names as well and thought, hey, why not? Dunno. The point is that I'm glad I picked it up and I quickly switched from planning to read a couple stories from names I know to eagerly reading one after another.

For a YA collection, the variety was terrific. From retellings that stayed very classic to modern settings to postmodern deconstructions. A little bit of everything. Some of my favorites were from writers I didn't know (and one was from a writer I only knew from her introduction to book #085).

Frankly, the best book of fairy tales I've read in some time.
over two weeks


085) Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, finished August 30

I loved the for-a-buck Castle Waiting novel I picked up at Escapist. When I learned more was available, I availed myself of the library. This volume includes a prologue, then what I had already read, then more. (I've put volume two on hold and am eagerly anticipating volume three.)

Having just read the Castle Waiting I own, I had planned to skip those chapters during this read. But the writing and art (and thus the characters and scenes) are so friendly and likable and inviting that I couldn't say no to an invitation to travel old roads with them again. And I'm someone who pretty much never rereads anything any more.

The charms of Castle waiting are largely mundane, domestic. People about their daily lives. And yes, this is a fantasy novel so everyday life includes sprites and golden eggs, but these aren't great heroes about derring-do. These are people. People so richly drawn that they feel like friends. An afternoon at Castle Waiting would rank high among my travels were I Thursday Next and tired of Jane Eyre.
maybe two weeks


084) An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell by Deborah Levy, finished August 30

This is a novel in verse, I suppose, in dialogue form, "He" and "she" taking turns speaking. "He" is a mortal man and "she" is an angel. Eventually they get on each other's nerves. She gets most of the best lines. Ultimately, however, it's pretty hard to tell what this is all about. Maybe this is a Poe issue. Although short enough to be read in one sitting, I'm not sure I was able to cram the whole thing in my brain at once. I could blame this on it being too literary, but I don't think that was the problem. The fact that sometimes I would forget who was talking was a bigger problem---only two characters? They should be more distinguishable. Anyway. Complaints aside, if you're looking for a manageable bit of book-length poetry, you could do much worse. Plus, it'll look cool on your shelf.
one morning and afternoon


083) Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact by Neylan McBaine, finished August 30


Neylan McBaine's name seems to be a bit like Joseph Smith's---known for good and evil (though without the same kind of among-all-people reach). It's fascinating how to some she is Moses come off the mountain and to others she's Uncle Tom. I think she's sensible enough to reject both those labels, but if those were the only two options, I would choose the former. But if she is Moses, she's more of a Greek Moses, not with anything written in stone, but with a wandering series of questions and reasonable answers and followup questions that lead to a seemingly inevitable conclusion.

Here I jump in and wonder if audience bias plays a role in how things "seem." Do I, Theric, find McBain convincing because I already assume that part of the Restoration is ever greater equality of the sexes and surely excerpts from the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book will be added to the D&C any Conference now? If I were one of those Twitter Stake trolls who make fun of the women giving talks during #ldsconf, would this book help me see past my sociopathy? Or, more importantly, if I were a well meaning bishop to whom it's simply never occurred to ask a woman for feedback on my Mother's Day plans, could this book increase empathy and lead to openings in my ward's spiritual growth? Or would I nod wisely and wink at my counselors and just keep on keepin' on? Buy one for your local chicken patriarch and let me know.

Regardless, this is a valuable book---and I think most people desire to see the Church grow in the direction of inclusion. Wily as she is, McBaine has grounded her discussion in what is currently allowed by the Handbook of Instructions, those blue and red books leadership is obliged to follow. Her strict adherence to these rules---even though they are merely temporarily immutable---makes her ideas both immediately implementable and, presumably, less horrifying to the conservative.

That she is swearing by the book as currently constituted brings her credibility that gives her ideas weight they can gain in no other way. Thus, when she screws up her following-of-the-book, she risks damaging her credibility. Here's an "unimportant" example---indeed, the only one I noticed:
...a ward council meeting officially includes ten men: the bishop, his two counselors, the executive secretary, ward clerk, high priests group leader, elders quorum president, ward mission leader, Young Men's president, and the Sunday School president. Three women are included: the presidents of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary. Priesthood executive council (PEC) consists of all ten men from the ward council, with a potential invitation to the Relief Society president. The Young Men president is a permanent member of the priesthood executive committee, but the Young Women president is not even on the list of potential invitees.... the presence of twenty male voices in the two meetings is counterbalanced by the voice of three female voices (maybe four if the Relief Society president attends PEC). [43-44]
McBaine's point is that men have far more representation in ward-level councils than women. It's an important point that deserves discussion. And so she does. Here's my problem with what she's said (and note I already know I'm being persnickety): Aaaactually, the Sunday School president isn't invited to PEC either. Not according to the Handbook. So it's reeeeally 19:3.

That doesn't change the nature of the problem at all. Not at all. The problem is that if someone's reading this book under duress and looking for reasons to dismiss McBaine's arguments, this sort of petty mistake can lead to all sorts of uncharity.

Another mistake that threw me out was the story of a young Primary girl who wants to sing about the Armies of Shelaman. It's a charming story about a young Provo girl who was sick of being just a girl in a room overwhelmed with stories of boys and who carved herself a place. She's just a kid but she feels neglected, and the story is powerful proof that we need to lengthen our cords.

My problem this time? That story didn't happen in Provo. It happened right here in good old Berkeley.

Now look: I believe these were simple, editorial oversights. And they're the only two such errors I noticed. But the fact I found any makes me wonder how many I missed and any errors---but especially Handbook errors---damage McBaine's grounded-in-the-Handbook ethos. In fact, someone more cynical than me could think of reasons why those errors might be intentional (19:3 might be bad but 20:3 is worse and everything must sound as awful as possible) (this story works better in Provo---admit it was Berkeley and most saints will reject it as hippy nonsense), and the fight against any perception that she's manipulating facts is absolutely vital to the book's success.

But enough about that. Let's speak of the book's successes.

The first and greatest success, I think, is simply the massive collection of stories. We learn from each other, and if a woman would like to participate in her child's name and blessing but has never seen a mother do so before, how will she know she can ask? who to ask? what to ask for? Women at Church shares several different ways women have already participated in this event. Suddenly we have options.

The same can be said of past successes at getting women's voices heard in councils, finding equal(er) footing among their priesthood leaders, supporting women in their stewardships, empowering women to use their strengths within the body of Christ, etc. The book is loaded with useful tales. And some cautionary ones as well.

Stories are vital for building empathy, and empathy is the only way out of this rut we're in. Only by loving our neighbor as ourselves can all of us become one. Jesus didn't teach with stories by accident, you know.

I don't want to get into the (in my opinion) frustrating history of the Relief Society, nor do I want to debate the ultimate value of Correlation---even though both these stories are fascinating and vital---but I do think it worth mentioning that McBaine touches on both. She's not controversial---she more relays the facts than comments upon them---but, even without moralizing, that history helps us understand that our latter-day trajectory is sending us towards women with authority and power, rib-cracking hiccups notwithstanding. I can only believe that Women at Church is best understood as a helpful reminder of where we're headed and a kindly suggestion of where to step next.

This might be the historical "moment when [we] have gone to the edge of the light" and must step "into the darkness [only] to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two." Our wards and stakes might be stumbling forward at different paces, but we can all make sure that the direction is, in fact, forward. And this little book can help.

two-plus months


082) The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball's Forgotten Heroes by Gary Cieradkowski, finished August 25

This is one of the best collection of nuggets I can remember reading. Every story fascinates and Cieradkowski's art is terrific. I just got distracted after that last sentence, adding things I learned to Wikipedia. It's an hour later.

Each story is bitesize---some nibbles, some a full box of nuggets---and all are worth reading. Whether its players everyone knows like Babe Ruth and Roberto Clemente, classic Negro Leaguers like Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson, nobodies you'll never hear of anywhere else, and people you know better from somewhere else---like an Eisenhower or a Bush or a Kerouac.

Man it was fun.

Read it slow though---no reason to speed through it and realize that some of these legends collide uncomfortably against each other.

Or that one out of every four greats was called the Babe Ruth of X.

Anyway. Don't wait for the book! Start now by perusing the original website!

over a month

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Saint Cole and some other stuff


081) Saint Cole by Noah Van Sciver, finished August 20


Noah Van Sciver is doing remarkable work right now. This story about a midtwenties screw-up derailing his life with every choice he makes is heartbreaking. Joe's not a bad guy. He's just not equipped to make good choices, and his burgeoning awareness that he's an alcoholic isn't helping.
It's impossible not to feel for Joe, even as his id takes charge. He means well, he just can't hang on to a clear sense of what is best in this world. What his right. And his choices are spiraling downward---every good decision is outweighed by half a dozen bad.


You know when you're in an awful moment of your life, so bad the thought that hey---if only a truck would kill my boss, things would work out for me seems totally reasonable? Joe's deep into that realm. And he gets his wish. And for a moment we think, hey! yeah! That solves his problem! And then we remember...all his other problems. His deus ex machina might solve as many as two of his problems. It might make that many more. And one thing's for sure: it won't take the booze away.

The title is a fascinating choice. It reveals that the entire world we see isn't some omniscient narrator, but Joe's consciouness's filter. It starts and ends us with a sense of the holy---of pending deus---but is really no more than a cheap gag.

Where does this leave us?

With ambiguity. Life too real to be embraced. Art too powerful to be ignored.

One last comment: On one page, Van Sciver abandons the gutters and just rams the frames together, a sign of Joe's instability more subtle but just as effective as the wobbly thoughtboxes or concentric dark circles. The experimentation level is high, but it's kept entirely under control. Man knows what he's doing.
two nights


080) That A Guise, John? by Brace Pannier, finished August 19

Screenplay. MS POLICY enacted.


079) A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett, finished DATE

The primary impression of this book is that Terry Pratchett was not beset with false humility when he claimed he wasn't a strong short-story writer.

Don't get me wrong. The stuff he wrote when he was a teenager was precocious---on the par with the best student stuff of my career. But still only really worth reading from a scholarly perspective.

That his short stuff is good but not as great as his long work is true. And I suppose that's why it's not surprising that the best work in this collection is the longest: a 48-page Granny Weatherwax story.

That said, as I read on, I stopped skimming the occasional paragraph and just read the whole thing. No one made me. I was simply enjoying it.

(Final note: As a Pratchett fan, interesting to see the primordial versions of Truckers or The Long Earth.)
less than a month


078) Revival Volume Four: Escape to Wisconsin by Tim Seely and Mike Norton, finished August 16

Starting in the middle is unnecessary in this day and age, but I picked this up from the library's NEW shelf and hey, why not? So I don't have a clear sense of everything that's going on, but basically: the recently dead arose and are now immortal---but only in one small Wisconsin town, and naturally everyone (worldwide) is a mix of freaked out and jealous. Add noir, add sex and violence---it all makes for a nice package. (The kid, however, is written terribly.)
over two weeks

Previously in 2014 . . . . :




My superpower is being so sensitive to temperature change that a sudden drop gives me diarrhea. Not sure how this helps me fight crime....

Mostly vacation books, but also some sexy poetry


077) Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, finished August 15

Not hard to see how this became a classic. We enjoyed listening to the audiobook very much on our trip, and my boys don't even know who Cinderella is.

In an audiobook, the space Levine spends on her made-up languages gets a bit long, but ultimately Ella is a fun and interesting hero who earns her release from a fascinating curse. I think the boys choice this one because they expected more slapstick, but they still enjoyed the story.
six days


076) Happy Birthday, Wanda June by Kurt Vonnegut, finished August 6

This is an excellent big of Vonnegut. The ending (which in the intro he admitted was reworked over the entire run of the play) doesn't quite land, but as a whole it is sharp and clean and smart and funny and thoughtful. And it's reliance on the Odyssey as source material makes it an excellent book to teach alongside Greek myth.

In short, Harold Ryan crashes in the jungle and seven years later returns to find his wife engaged. His wargoing ways are expired in a new era of aspirational peace (his sexism isn't so hot either). It's satire of course, and aged satire at that, but it nreveals both how far we've come and how far we've yet to go.
three days


075) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, finished August 4

Our latest adventure into audiobooks comes on a to-and-fro trip to San Jose and one way to Bear Lake, Idaho. Yes, Tom Sawyer is that long. I think we're all surprised.

Although some of the satirical stuff got boring for the boys (Exhibit A: poetry recitals), the Great Boys Tale is a fun and exciting as ever. And it gave us lots of opportunities to parent (eg, rage and tobacco). In the end, it's a fine book. And the sequel's finer. Which is what makes the further sequels so absurd.

Anyway, it's hard now to imagine Tom's world, the newest town impossibly far and the children free. A lost world. Largely for better but also for worse....

UPDATE: Not just because we visited a cave while in Idaho, Tom's adventures came up quite often in conversations with our kids over the following week or so.
four days


074) The Erotic Spirit: An Anthology of Poems of Sensuality, Love, and Longing edited by Sam Hamill, finished July 28

I didn't have high expectations for this book so I'm delighted to say it was pretty dang good. Plenty of things I personally would have left out and how can there be no John Donne??? but as a whole, I quite liked it. To my greatest surprise, most of my favorites were in fact the work ancient poets, many of whom I was utterly unfamiliar with. The poems I jotted down to revisit were by Anakreon, Asklepiados, Praxilla, Ovid, "Anonymous Japanese (10th century)," Liu Yung, Jelaluddin Rumi, John Keats, Carolyn Kizer, and Dorianne Laux.

I'll let you look up the actual poems yourself.
two weeks max

Previously in 2014 . . . . :