Mostly good comics, but also Fences


0108) Gast by Carol Swain, finished September 19

This book is wonderful. It reminds me of Duncan the Wonder Dog---and not just because this is a world as normal as ours exept the animals talk, although that's an obvious point.

Largely, what makes this book great is its quiet. It doesn't rush. It's not anxious to prove anything. It just presents the days of this eleven-year-old girl and allows her to live them.

Here's the basics: she moves to Wales with her parents. Shortly thereafter she learns that her neighbor recently killed himself and she undertakes learning all she can about him. She learns plenty, but what she comes to understand hasn't much to do with the facts uncovered.

My favorite characters are the dogs. The way they look at each other. The way they talk does, I think, better catch the way dogs would talk, could they talk,
than, say, Up. My favorite dog bit is when they're leading the girl somewhere and one of them keeps biting her ankle and she keeps complaining and the dog says, "Sorry, I keep thinking you're a sheep." and I love that.
two days


107) Paper Girls Volume One by Brian K Vaughan et al, finished September 16

Brilliant! I don't know what the what's going on, but every new layer to the mystery makes me more excited for the eventual conclusions (which there had better be). I can't remember the last first-collection I was this exited about.

The art, with its line style, dynamism, faces, religious allusions, and colors, looks like Mike and Laura Allred's work much of the time---which is just the right homage to make with this madness.

So we have time travelers and ancient reptiles and the '80s and more, and I've already put the next two volumes on hold.



104, 105, 106) Fences by August Wilson, finished September 15

I'm not sure there's any play I more enjoy reading in class with my students.
a week


103) Drama by Raina Telgemeier, finished September 11

This is my first full book of Telgemeier's and I have to say I like her long. I get why the kids like her. And if this is typical, it's probably a very good thing for America that the kids like her. This is just straight up middleschoolers being decent human being as they try to figure themselves and each other out. And although these kids are putting on a grotesquely more complex show than anything I did in middle school, it still felt real. And I love that kids taking on big tasks could feel real.

I suppose, maybe, this book is aspirational. But what, pray tell, is wrong with that?

an evening

Previously in 2017


Dialogue: Vol. 50, Num. 2 – Summer 2017


I've had an electronic subscription to Dialogue a few times, but reading pdfs on my laptop sucks. So I almost never read anything. I would love to subscribe to the paper, but it ain't cheap and my subscriptions budget is, shall we say, already rather full. And so most of the Dialogue I've read over the last ten years has been the gratis copies received when they've published my writing. I'm a bit ashamed to admit this.

But every time a new issue comes out, I always look over the table of contents and sigh and moan over the fiction I want to read and the poems I want to read and probably another thing or three I wish to read. But I never actually buy the issue.


And, weirdly, although it was the poetry and fiction that first caught my eye, it was a pair of book reviews that got me to plunk down five bucks for the Kindle edition. Specifically, reviews of The Garden of Enid (or, rather, the new collected volumes) by two of my favorite people, Brittany Long Olsen and Stephen L. Peck. Since I'm supposed to be an expert on such things, I had to read these. And I did. And while I'm tempted to review the reviews, I'm not sure that sort of metarecursion is really what America needs right now.

Instead, here are some brief looks at some of the issue's artsy writin.

Personal essays:
Lon Young, "That’s Where the Light Enters" — I learned a lot about leprosy from this essay. And about living abroad, far from certain internet and casual cultural assumptions. The alchemy that turns these things into spiritual metaphors is rather lovely and moving.

Gail Turley Houston, "Dreaming After Trump" — It's crazy to me how close the September Six brouhaha is to my own BYU experience and how little I was aware of its aftermath at the time. Laying that chaos under the chaos of Trump's election certainly makes for something to talk about.

C. Dylan Bassett, "True Ideas" — Couple fun bits of wordplay.

R. A. Christmas, "Not the Truman Show" — Always glad to see Christmas still publishing. I'm hot and cold on his work, but I like how this one is filtered through its title. Completely different work without that title.

Joanna Ellsworth, "Averted Vision" — This poem's placement next to Christmas's makes for a fun juxtaposition. They both are interested in the cosmic and in overlaying science with art.

Ronald Wilcox, "The Grammar of Quench" — This poem has a thrusting rhythm that adds a vital sense to its destructive suggestions.

Darlene Young, "Echo of Boy" — This story of a deacon becoming an adult during his freezing fast-offering route is the only thing in this issue I quoted on Twitter. It also ends with the very nice "contrail of boy."

Erika Munson, "What Happened Sunday Morning" — I suspect this tiny piece started life intended for Everyday Mormon Writer's Lit Blitz. There is so much excellent Mormon flash fiction these days. Anyway, this is short and ambiguous. Don't expect utter clarity on just what epiphany the p-o-v was supposed to've experienced.

Heidi Naylor, "The Home Teacher — This does a nice job weaving together the story of a missionary's success with a ruined human being and his later, less successful, experiences with another. For me, it had a lot to say about the heights missionary work provides for missionaries and the sometimes ambiguous effects memories of that single-minded devotion can have later in life.


Unfaithfully Yours is ... wow


Unfaithfully Yours (1948) is a Preston Sturges film. And so I had a Preston Sturges experience.

I knew coming in that contemporary audiences were thrown by this movie, confused by its shifts in tone. But you know what? I was still thrown by this movie, confused by its shifts in tone. I laughed a lot, especially in the final act.* Perhaps because I spent the middle of the film ... engaged in all other human emotions.

At one point I covered my face in horror, aghast at what I was seeing. I now realize the Dali painting should have warned me that what I was seeing was only real for a certain value of real. Instead, when I realized this routine was about to recur, I cried aloud, "No, Preston! No!" But this time, instead of anger and vengeance, I was treated to delicious self-pity. Which was ... funny, I guess. And then the third time---

So yeah. It's ... a comedy. It almost becomes a tragedy along the lines of Othello or a weeper along the lines of [tip of my tongue] or a freaking farce of particularly vicious vintage.

This is a whole lotta movies crammed into one perplexing space.

So it's funny kind of like, say, Burn After Reading is funny. I mean, that's funny, right? I remember laughing.

It's a funny movie. Is it?

I don't know. Burn After Reading is funny, but is it a funny movie? Great scott, the blood in that film!

Yeah. Once again, the only movies I can find to compare Sturges to are those of the Coens. At least this one obeys the rules of comedy in its final moments. But every moment up to then is steadfastly engaged in breaking rules galore.

Hoooolee, what a movie. I'm dizzy. I need to lie down.

Lost Songs: Break My Stride


I don't have anything, really, to say about this, but I'm glad it turned up on the radio this morning. What a great song!


Clean Room


102) Clean Room Vol. 3: Waiting for the Stars to Fal by Gail Simone et al, finished September 9
101) Clean Room, Vol. 2: Exile by Gail Simone et al, finished September 7
100) Clean Room, Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception by Gail Simone et al, finished September 7

Gail Simone is such a big deal whom I hear about so often that I was surprised to look through my records and see that I've never read any of her stuff (other than a single story here). I suppose a completely original work is a worthy entrypoint.

In short, this is the story of people who are saved from being dead by medical science and then can see the demons (if you will) all around us. One of them starts a Scientology-like organization. Although it's arguable that she is the series' protagonist (ultimately, I would say yes, though it takes a while for it to resolve around her story), the culty leader is certainly the key visual used on the covers:

At first, she seems to be the villain. Slowly she moves to being a villain who is the hero of her own story. By the second volume, she appears to be not evil in nature, but forced to be evil in order to stop the evil around her. By the end, she is a tragic figure who has sacrificed herself and her humanity in order to save the world.

One interesting aspect of this story is that she is but one of at least three Christ-figures, each of which competes, shall we say, for the true Christ-like role within this cosmology and within this moment of time. Which is an ugly and evil moment in time. Some people are good, but many are bad---and it doesn't help that the world is filled with things that are not, after all, hallucinations of the mad, but real evil come from elsewhere and looking to ... play with us, shall we say.

Here I enter true end-of-the-story spoilers territory.

The three volumes tell one coherent story, but the end bothered me. First, there were a couple sloppy bits that didn't make sense but were projected beyond the crisis (the Suddenly bisexual! storyline is the best example), but the primary issue, to me, was the great resolution itself. Our redhaired cult leader, having succeeded at destroying the enemy's invisible city in the sky AND their leader, arranged to have herself completely discredited---her entire organization dismantled and disgraced---all so people will not be forced to believe in this evil she successfully destroyed.

EXCEPT. Sure she destroyed the city and the leader, but untold numbers of these monsters are already living elsewhere on the earth and the alien pipeline that brought the demons here in the first place has not been destroyed. So, although the ending makes a certain emotional sense, it's utterly absurd in terms of good common sense.
And that means I was not, in the end, satisfied.

All that creative violence for nothing.
two days and one day and two days respectively

Previously in 2017


I have 99 books and A Bitch ain't one
(I don't even own that book)

gee whiz
I wrote that title before
I knew what the top book
would be and now
I feel terrible

I am definitely going to hell


099) Title by Rachel Hunt Steenblik, finished September 7

Read my full review here.

And shoot. I just remembered that I said I was going to buy another BCC Press book after I read this one. Hmm. Maybe Mel's should be next....


098) “L” Is for Lawless by Sue Grafton, finished September 6

I saw that “Y” advertised in the new Costco mag and I realized I have fallen behind pace to be ready to buy “Z” when it comes out.
Egad! The problem is: Kinsey isn't all I want to read.

That said, “L” was a lark. Crosscountry treasure hunt with cons charming and evil. In some respects, I worry though. Either this book was a bit more straightforward than some of the others, or I'm just getting better at cracking the code. I don't read mysteries much, but when I do, it's not because I want to outsmart the novelist---I want to be surprised! I solved this book a few steps ahead the whole way.
And sometimes I noticed dangers that didn't come to pass. I'm not sure if those were intentional on Grafton's part (and thus unintentional on the part of her otherwise quite competent detective) or errors. I don't like wondering this. Mysteries are not my genre. I should never worry that I'm smarter than my guide.

But: as I said. A lark. I shall continue onward.
a couple weeks


097) How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff, finished September 2

I try to pay attention to how numbers are used, but I'm often not careful and can get distracted by something that's more exciting than certain. Reading this brief and fun 63yrold book makes it much easier (still!) to sort through the garbage. As I was reading this I wanted to believe the world changed. Then I sat down and read this and saw all the same tricks employed. (And that's journalism! Not advertising or politics!)

Props to my Economics Professor Friend for the free copy, and I might as well pass along the warning he gives his student: This book was published a long time ago. It might not be as PC as you're used to. But it makes its points ever so well.
about ten days


096) Flight, Volume 4, finished August 30

Remember when Flight changed the world? Each one singlehandedly demonstrated to an amazed public the breadth and depth of comics possibility.

This, of course, is also why my kids were largely mystified by this book when I brought it home from the library. They wanted story,
in the way they were used to, from every single entry. But that's not what Flight offers.

For that, maybe check out Flight Explorer?
two or three days

Previously in 2017