Final movies post of 2018


Turbo Kid (2015)

This is a bit of nostalgia porn for people who loved BMX bikes and bad apocalypse and gory horror films. I ... don't much care about any of those things.

At first, watching this, I thought it was crassly mocking its ancestry. The love didn't come through until about the halfway point. Then it became obvious. And it was all love from there on out.

I will say: granted I don't watch gore-fun movies so this may not mean much, but I don't think I've ever laughed so much at gore. It was ... pretty darned creative.

My Neighbor Totoro (1998)

This is film group's selection for December and so I chose to finally watch the new dub. It has a lot of advantages over the old Fox dub, but it's not better in every way. I'm also curious if the rest of the film was merely remastered and remixed or if much of the sound and score were rerecorded.

Even though the old Fox dub has many flaws, I'm so familiar with it that even its problems are charming and comfortable. Still. Distractions from the new voices didn't prevent me from crying.

I love this movie so, so much.

The Comedy of Errors (1983)

It wasn't too bad, I guess. I didn't like it. But I've thought a lot these past couple weeks about Comedy of Errors and how I should think it should be staged. And Under an Hour is my primary decision.

But were I to put it on, I would prefer to turn it into a twenty-minute animated short. Sort of in this style. Adriana is a blubbering mess, always wailing and moping and making eyes at a framed image of her husband she carries around. The Ephesian Antipholus is hyperviolent while the Syracusian's violence is minimized.

I have other ideas. No one cares.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

I absolutely love this movie.

Which probably means it will go down as a lesser Coens film as my opinions don't usually coincide with the orthodoxy.

But I stand by my claim.

North Avenue Irregulars (1979)

This was one of my childhood-favorite slapstick live-action 1970s Disney comedies. I probably have not seen it since the previous century and I've been a tad nervous to see how it holds up. After all, some others have not (Gus, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again...).

The good news is, it's still a fun watch. That helps when you have a cast like Barbara Harris, Cloris Leachman, and Edward Herrmann. They make the places where the writing is lazy slide by fairly easily.

That said, the writing is hella lazy. Lady Steed and I spent a chunk of our six-hour drive two days later discussing how the film could be updated. The concept has potential and this is the sort of film Disney should be revisiting instead of @#$%$#ing Lion King....

Spider-Man (2002)

I probably haven't seen this since the first time, in my father-in-law's mancave.

It holds up pretty well. It's an easy argument to make, that the superhero renaissance began with this film. And I sort of remember it being a soft open to #2's excellence, but watching them back-to-back, it's hard to argue that one is better than the other.

Let's skip ahead to that one, shall we?

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

The effects in this film hold up better than those in #1, but for films well on their way to twenty-years-old, they hold up fine. It's also nice to watch them together because the real story here is that of Peter and MJ and it takes two films for them to have a satisfying arc.

This film too I have not seen but the once, this time in-theater, just before we moved back to California. It blew me away and, in my mind, has always been one of the greatest superhero films. On rewatching I still consider it quite a good superhero film, but there's so much more competition now, it's a harder claim to justify. Largely because what a superhero film can be has grown so much. It's happy, in other words, that I'm not sure I still find my old opinion justifiable.

One thing about watching these films? How young everyone looks. Time, it seems, has indeed passed.

One last comment, this about Kirsten Dunst (who, it would seem, has aged the least, which may be more a comment on Hollywood's expectations upon women than anything else). Isn't she great? And I'm not saying that because her nipples get cameos in both films. She manages to be a damsel in distress while remaining strong. She gets her Fay Wray on while seeming fully modern. And Sam Raimi's horror bits throughout the films are never better served than when Kirsten Dunst gets to play the scream queen.

Weirdly though, seeing her here most makes me want to finally watch Melancholia, just to catch some more of her range.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

It's been far too long since I've revisited this film. My kids had never seen it. Now they have. And a thousand parodies now make sense to them. And they thought it was a good movie.

But only their parents wept throughout and sobbed at the end.

This is a movie you admire and are moved by as a child. But it's something else entire when you grow up to be some mix of George and Mary yourself.

This should be the movie we watch every year. It has so much to give.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

This is the greatest of all (known) New Year's Eve films and if you watched something else, you must justify yourself to me. It's perfect.

I cannnot understand anyone who declares this lesser Coen. Have you even seen this movie since 1994?

Come over any December 31st and share in the joys!


Previous films watched







Final books post of 2018


116) Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man" by Carl Barks, finished December 31

Although I enjoyed this book very much, I'm particularly grateful for the little mini-essays in the back. They're not much (note: mini), but they're enough to help me, a newcomer, see why Barks is so well regarded among his peers and fans and descendants.

As further evidence, let me mention that this was a rare occasion where all three of my boys (ages fifteen to nine) asked if there were more of these and please let us get some. That much mean something.
maybe two weeks



Connecting today to a Christmas
a quarter-century ago....


115) The Witching Hour by Anne Rice, finished December 23
My sister gave me this book for Christmas about twenty-five years ago---somewhat begrudgingly, from the inscription. I guess me being hard to buy for is a longstanding trait. She gave it to me and I was excited to have it, but I had other Anne Rice books in my collection to tackle before beginning this 1000+page monstrosity.

I had already read and been delighted by Interview and The Vampire Lestat. But then I read the third vampire book, Queen of the Damned, which was terrible. As was The Mummy. I don't know what order these disappointments happened in, but add in the extreme discomfort that came from reading the first half of the first Beauty book as well.

Anyway, The Witching Hour went into storage. But I never forgot about it. And I pulled it out to read this fall as my Halloween book.

I have mixed feelings.

Much of the novel was excellent, although it did rather feel like more than one novel cobbled together. And then, towards the end there were literally hundreds of pages of stalling. And then, instead of properly ending, it just sets up for a sequel.

I know!

There are, Wikipedia tells me, two sequels, each shorter than the one that preceded it. Which is not how these things usually work. And which might make them sufficiently tempting. Although who would buy them for me? And would I live long enough to read them both?


In brief, an otherworldly creature has been breeding witches for twelve generations, all with some great plan in place. (Much of the spiritual whatnot, incidentally, sounds strikingly Mormon, which is rather bizarre as it clearly is not.) There is terrible violence and exotic sex and---

Oh, yes. I just remembered. Part of the reason I became leery of reading the book was because one of its main themes that reviews at the time dwelt on was incest. And yes: certainly plenty of that. I guess you can fit a lot of anything into 1000+pages if that's what you want to do.

I guess I just have a hard time believing this book will stick with me. Which is disappointing, given how much time I gave it. And, given how long it's been since I read her, I can't well say how it compares to her other books. Who knows what I would think of any of them were I to read them again?

Anyway, Merry Christmas!
eighty-four days



I may not be doing much for my intellectual reputation, but some!


109) True Grit by Charles Portis, finished December 9

We found this audiobook in a Little Free Library earlier this year and we finally took a trip wherein we could fit in, no problem, its Six hours.


It's still awesome. And even though I had forgotten how violent it is, I'm very pleased my kids got to experience it.

A great, nearly lost, American classic. And short. You have no excuses.
friday and sunday


110) The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, finished December 11

This was nominated for a National Book Award and somehow it caught my attention. The library hooked me up and I'm so glad it did.

The book alternates between three points of view: that of an omniscient narrator, a series of letter from the head of intelligence to the Elfin king, and a series of images, the provenance of which is not immediately clear; at first I thought they two were "omniscient" (pictures feel that way), but they most certainly are not.

In short, this book lied to me. And it did so remarkably well. At first I was confused by the lies, thinking there was a flaw in the craftsmanship. How did this get Nation Book Award notice, I wondered. Then the pieces began to fit together. And I began to realize I was being lied to. Not all these characters are who they seem---sometimes because they are lying and sometimes because they are being lied about.

I highly recommend this book if you want to see a genuinely innovative mix of words and images. I recommend this book if you would like to examine bias and prejudice and propaganda. I recommend this book wholeheartedly do your children. But I'll bet you have the more thought-provoking experience.

One last note: I don't have any idea how this novel could be turned into a film without simply throwing out all the elements that make it remarkable. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it was would take a dedicated (and brilliant) creative team. I would love to see what such a team would come up with. I would not love to see the lazy version of this book-as-movie which would feel derivative and pointless and boring, even if done excellently. Brangwain is a terrific example of how using the form of a medium well can make a work of art unique and wonderful.
almost three weeks


111) Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight by DeConnick/Soy/Rios, finished December 11

I think this might be my favorite of the Carol Danvers books I've read recently. It's got a bit of time travel, a bit of vintage girl power, a bit of true dialgue between characters....

Reading (most of) the small-time bio in the back of this volume helped me get a sense of the character's in-universe history which is long and complex and richer than I had known. Fine stuff.

But, all that said, I think I'm done reading Carol comics. I'll just wait for the movie now.
a few days


112) Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag, finished December 13

I think I picked this up, for some reason, because I was disappointed in Witch Boy. Now I'm disappointed because my library does not have volume two.

Although I love me a good Batman movie and much of Marvel's recent movie run, the fact is that what I really want is a superhero movie that does not obey the rules. I want an Iron Giant or an Unbreakable or a Chronicle. Something new and fresh. I also really want more media that explores the lives of regular people in a world with superheros.

This book gives me both. Although it's painted in Marvel/DC colors, it has some smart thinking about what a superhero world might really be like and it's found some new and startling issues I've never seen dealt with before. The book's art and writing get better as it goes along (the erstwhile mouseover text does not). Man. I hope someone makes this movie.



113) Why Art? by Eleanor Davis, finished December 18

To look at the title of this book, to look at its cover, to read its backcopy or reviews, you might expect a manifesto of some kind. And that's what it is, yes, but it doesn't take that many pages to lose the form of your typical manifesto and to then dissolve into something metaphorical and mad. Which may well make it all the more effective, but which does make it much more difficult to effectively quote in your own dissertation.

I'm still puzzling over just hat this manifesto has manifested to me. And, if I had figured it out, putting it into my own words to tell you would be a lie and a misrepresentation. To know just why art, according to Eleanor Davis, you would have to read the words and look at the pictures yourself.


114) Captain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight by Fazekas/Butters/Anka/Smith, finished December 22

Found another from the library lying around. It would be top half Captain Marvel-read.
maybe three days



Lotta Marvel comics, mindbending French kids books, our old pal Willie Shakes


099) The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, finished November 19

My nine-year-old read this five times and loved it. Keep that in mind.

This is a nice book. It has pretty decent characters and the worldbuilding is fine. The story is a solid metaphor for LGBTQery. My problems with it are very adult in nature. I just don't like how it is not, in fact, merely metaphorical, merely symbolic. Nope. This has crossed the line into straightup allegory. And while there's nothing wrong with allegory, per se, it is by its nature simplistic. I want a little bit more.

But remember my son, the targeted age for this work, liked it very much.
not long


100) Vacation by Blexbolex, finished November 20

This beautiful wordless book kept startling me. It's a young child's vacation with the choas of love and violence and jealosy and fear and bliss inherent with being a child.


101) The Mighty Captain Marvel: Alien Nation by Stohl/Rosanas/Garland, finished November 20

The Big O, allegedly to prepare for the movie, checked out a Captain Marvel volume one. Of which there are several. This didn't seem to be the best as there's a lotta balls in the air when it begins. Regardless, it's full of the worst kind of comics pseudoscience and the jokes are pummelly (thus unfunny) and ... while not by any means terrible, this is not the book to convince your friends comics can be literature.


102) Rocket Raccoon & Groot Vol. 1: Tricks of the Trade by a hole slew o' guys, finished November 28

I first started buying these a year or two ago when my buddy Jake Parker took over art duties on Rocket Raccoon. Biggo checked this collection out of the library and says it's his favorite of the superhero collections we've had around of late.

It as pretty good.

The Skottie Young influence is deep (I mean, he did write every Rocket and draw a good chunk of them) which I find a bit exhausting, but enough voices show up in the collection of a whole that I feel we get a bit of triangulation on these characters. Groot really comes out as the most interesting character overall.

But enough about them.
a few days


103) Ballad by Blexbolex, finished December 2

Okay, Blexbolex, you wild and crazy (*checks with Google*) guy, you did it again. Lulled me into a pleasant little story for children then proceeded to shock and startle me for a couple hundred pages.

You have to check this Blexbolex guy out, everybody. He is something.
not long


104) Seasons by Blexbolex, finished December 2

This one, like the first I read by Blexbolex, are catalogued in the JUNIOR PICTURE BOOK section of my county's library system. Yet they qualify for this list.

Alos, I've never read something from the picture-book section quite like these. Of course, there are many wondeful picture books written by incredible writers. But Blexbolex is really changing the rules. Take this book, for instance. It's not that different from any picture book taking us through the seasons. One word per picture per page. Very simple. But this book takes us through many years and it finds the beauty even in the weird and ugly attributes of the seasons. The facing pages hitting DROUGHT and BLAZE certainly caught this Californian offguard.
also not long


105) The Comedy of Errors by Wm Shakespeare, finished December 4

This play is straight-up bonkers. No wonder it's Shakespeare's shortest! Any longer and it would completely fall apart. It already strains credulity, but it moves quickly enough that I can see how, staged properly, the audience would never get a chance to notice.

Really, some dang funny lines though. It's easy to imagine a hilarious production.


106) Spider-Gwen: Greater Power by Latour/Rodriguez/Visions, finished December 4

I've been hearing about this for a long time, but unlike other recent female-led titles (eg, Ms Marvel or Squirrel Girl), this volume one is very in media res. And although I largely caught up to the story, it was complex and required a lot of Marvel knowledge. My kids "liked" it but they don't feel like they understood it. And I'm only a couple steps ahead of them here.
a week


107) Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More by DeConnick/Lopez, finished December 6

This one was much easier to drop into and enjoy. And this Carol Danvers is a very easy Carol Danvers to like. It's clearer why she's a beloved character.
two days maybe


108) Legendary Star-Lord: Face It, I Rule by Humphries/Medina/Williams, finished December 6

I like Peter Quill as much as the next guy but Kitty Pryde deserves someone way, way better.
two days maybe



Mov[i]ember 2019


Modern Times (1936)

The baby and I came home from the park (the nut thinks she can do the climbing wall---and she darn near can*) and the two younger boys were watching an excellent print of Modern Times they'd found on YouTube. We'd missed the first twenty minutes, but who cares? It's Chaplin! (I imagine the impetus for this viewing decision was the elder of the two dressing as Chaplin for Halloween [the younger went as Harpo] and thus developing a Jones to revisit his work.)

The movie's terrific. Although some parts I had forgotten so thoroughly as to doubt I had seen the movie before, other parts were as familiar as any film I'd watched twice yesterday. I will admit that sometimes it's hard to focus on the story because Paulette Goddard is just so stunningly beautiful. This is not something that happens to me often in film and movies are chockfulla beautiful women, but Paulette Goddard in Modern Times is just astonishing. It's like being in love.

A side comment: watching Modern Times so close upon finishing Player Piano emphasized to me just how awful Vonnegut's world would be and exactly why it would be so tempting.

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

I haven't seen Singin' in the Rain for over a decade which is a shame because I love it (I discovered it in high school and made all my friends watch it for my birthday either just before or after senior year). My mother gave me this deluxe dvd also over a decade ago and it only tonight came out of the plastic so I could show it to the boys. I'm glad to report they enjoyed it. Of course, they loved Cosmo the most.

After my second-ever viewing, the the sunset and modern dance numbers grew tiresome and it wasn't until my most recent viewing that I began to appreciate them. Tonight was the largest screen I've ever seen the film on and it (well, the screen and maybe age?) gave me a much greater appreciation for the modern number.

On the special features (which I've been drooling over for over a decade but, well, you know), I've just paused the series of film clips showing where the songs originated after Broadway Rhythm. It's weird, but I had always thought of the songs being from long before Singin' in the Rain, but Broadway Rhythm was released only eight years earlier---that's the distance we stand today from Scott Pilgrim! So, for all I know, that might still have been the freshest looking thing around.

I'm hardly musical educated. But I know what I like.

And I like this jukebox musical. Somehow, this film that should not have been good, was. And just like Casablanca, a movie that had no right being better than mediocre became one of the greatest of all time.

Sing it.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

It's been a long time since I've seen this movie. And the only part I really remember finding funny the first couple times is Keenan Wynn shooting the vending machine. I found it much funnier this time around, but it's still not a film of hilarity for me. I can see how, at a time of ultimate tension, this would have been just the right film. I think had I been around in 1964, yes, funniest film ever.

One thing I find interesting about the film is how the structure of it. The stuff on the plane, for instance, is set up as a traditional will-our-boys-pull-it-off war film. Yet simultaneously, we want them to fail. We want them to both win and die. That's an additional tension to keep things tight and let the jokes ricochet off.

Okja (2017)

The first half of this movie I absolutely loved. The actors are great, the direction is energetic, the film is dripping with fun and just enough style. A corporation has bred superpigs and ten are being raised by farmers around the world. The pig on top of a remote Korean mountain grows up with a little girl and they spend their days together. Okja (the pig) is clearly intelligent---far more than even a regular pig---and their relationship is sweet and strong.

Then the film gets into satire. It's satire of corporate greed seems pretty spot-on. Its satire in science is embarrassingly simpleminded and, frankly, kind of ruins the movie for me. I still like it, but before recommending it I would have to apologize in advance for the dumb way it gets into GMOs and suchlike. It's ... sad.

But it's probably worth it for the sheer joy of those moments unsullied by hamhanded attempts at satire.

The Dark Knight (2008)

It's been a long time since I've seen this film. The Joker and Two-Face interpretations remain excellent. I find though, hearing my kids watch Christian Bale parodies for literally years, has made, at times, Batman himself unintentionally kinda silly. Frankly, this pisses me off.

One thing I love about this film is the ferries scene. It's one of the most optimistic and beautiful things said about people in movies in many a film---and certainly in superhero film. And by people, I don't so much mean individuals, but people.

I did think Ramirez was Renee Montoya, so the turn of her character was a bit of a shock....

Anyway, I miss this movie being new. I miss it filling the air and making us think and feel and fear in new ways.

It's a shame the finale can't compare. I wonder if, with Heath Ledger's survival, that might have been the case.

Paddington 2 ()

I've seen bits (sometimes most) of several movies this month that I haven't recorded---Infinity War, Back to the Future III, Dr Strangelove again), but even if I had seen less of Paddington 2 I might have included it, because it is beauty and joy and it makes me cry. These films are among the best "family" films there are. I rank them with Babe and Pixar's top-enders. They're just dang good. And such terrific casts. And such fine use of CG. You can't say that about every movie, you know. You really can't.

Metropolis (1927)

In its newly-restored-with-lost-footage edition, this is still a long movie. Over two and a half hours. But riveting throughout. Brilliant. I wish the still-missing pieces were intact!

I didn't know it as well as I thought. (Like many old movies, it's one I'd thought I had seen before but clearly had not.) And what I love most is the poetry of the imagery. Fritz Lang is an artist. And while I imagine that silent film, perhaps by its inherent visualness and irreality, is more able to showcase "art," it may actually be that this is the time Modern Art was at its peak. Frankly, although abstraction is shorthand for art today, we're not that bought into it. You can't make this movie today. Even directors with a strong visual style from Wes Anderson to Zach Snyder can't do what Lang is doing.

One interesting thing: the mad inventor has a prosthetic hand. I don't know a tradition from, for instance, Greek myth, for the robot-handed person, but it's huge in film. Did it start here? Both Luke and Anakin Skywalker have a false hand. The burgermeister in both Son of and Young Frankenstein. Dr Strangelove. The villains of both Inspector Gadget and Pound Puppies. It's everywhere!

(Oh! One more! The bands over the lady in the lab are reminiscent of both the monster and the bride of Frankenstein and Leeloo of Fifth Element!)

My favorite actor is Brigitte Helm. Playing both Maria and the robot lets her inhabit completely opposite characters in identical dress and near identical makeup. She's amazing.

Anyway. Nice to have a masterpiece live up to the name!

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

We had to rush out to see this before Netflix pulls it into their prison forever. And I'm so glad we did. Each story is wonderful, and although they are tied together by violence and death and are set in the Old West, otherwise they are startlingly different. Although I probably enjoyed the title story best, I think my favorite tale was that of Alice Longabaugh. And (indirect spoiler alert) I thought for certain we were finally getting a happy ending.

About halfway through, the ending of each story felt like the right way to end the film. But the final story, when it finally arrives, ties them all together quite nicely. It'll unsettle you. You'll want a firm answer as to whether these people are even alive. Are they even alive? You'll want to know.

If Netflix ever lets it out of prison, I'll hope to see it again.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

I've only seen this once, maybe twice, nearly twenty years ago. It's good. I still don't enjoy it as much as I once enjoyed Flying Circus, but that's okay. I don't have to enjoy all things equally. It is time for me to watch some of the other movies, however.

One great thing about the Holy Grail, however, is that it is the one Python event practically everyone can swap quotes from. There are plenty of good ones and sharing is fun and thus they are reason enough to priority this movie over all other Python stuff.

Baby Mama (2008)

Lynsey and I were pumped for this movie ten years ago. Then the reviews were not so shiny and we passed. Until today.

The film's fascinating from a character-development angle. The moments characters' relationships are static moment are excellent---well rounded and believable. But the moments of transition from one type of relationship to another are terrible. Just: really, really bad. Not good.

But most of the movie is pretty great. It helps that Tina Fey and Amy Pohler and Steve Martin and Greg Kinnear are four of my favorite actors, of course. And Sigourney Weaver is great. But if we're counting percentages, most of this movie is good. Only the most pivotal moments tend to fall flat. And really, it's just lazy screenwriting. Although not an example of what I'm talking about, the twist in the last ten minutes works as a twist only because it was so, so, so much lazier than I ever imagined this film would be, even after all the sloppy relationship transitions.

From a writerly perspective, I highly recommend this film just to watch the great and the terrible sit side by side. Entertainmentwise, you could do worse.

The 'Burbs (1989)

I finally got around to watching this movie because two avid movie watchers a decade-plus younger than me love it. Love it! A movie from my childhood which I have no clear memories of people talking about! So, clearly, it was time to watch it.

I started firing it up on Prime and watching it in twenty-minute increments. When Lynsey caught me, she couldn't believe it was watching it without her! She'd always intended to see it. So tonight we started back at the beginning and watched it together.

It's a great movie. The use of sound (effect, music) and the camera are brilliant, hilarious. I need to watch more Joe Dante movies.

(I mean, this shouldn't be a surprise. He is the director of Gremlins 2.)

WarGames (1983)

Believe it or not, I've never seen this movie before. But unlike Cloak & Dagger (which was a bigger deal to my friends at the time), people still talk about WarGames. In fact, the reason I'm seeing it now is because Son #2 is in love with Ready Player One. So why not?

Lady Steed and I missed the first little bit as we were at a high-school play, but I feel like the kids caught me up pretty well. (And I wonder if I have seen the beginning before---that grade-altering scene sounded very familiar. But I suspect that's so because I'm pretty sure the same thing happened in Sneakers ... and maybe Ferris Bueller too?

Anyway, the one thing I knew for sure coming in to WarGames is probably the same thing you know about WarGames: The computer's famous line at the climax of the film. But you know what? Even missing the first half hour, even knowing that line was coming and roughly how it would get there and what would come next---even knowing all these things? It was still a terrific moment of movie magic.

I didn't expect much from WarGames even though it's a well loved film. Lots of films from people's childhoods are well loved. But this was a pretty good movie. And my kids dug it. I finally made them go to bed, but they're planning to get up early tomorrow to finish the special features. That's not something they often do.

So. Does this mean I watch Cloak & Dagger next?

(Aside: Dr Strangelove has been sitting around all month and my kids have expressed some interest in seeing it. WarGames owes a lot [a lot] to Dr Strangelove so maybe I should stoke that interest again and show it to them. I doubt they'll like it as much, but maybe it'll be a nice thing for them to have seen.)


Previous films watched








Nod then laugh/nod then laugh then really laugh then stroke thy chin


094) The Möbius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone, finished November 2

The collection's split into two parts. I is entirely about the titular club save the final poem. II is not about said club until a couple near the end.

The Möbius Strip Club of Grief itself is a nice conceit. It's a play on another poem's title, the author of whom's foundation Stone now runs. In the Möbius Strip Club of Grief, the dead do the entertaining. Most of the poems that explore this place are quite good, though a couple approach fillery.

It was also a surprise to have a Mormon poem:

Back during our brief Mormon days
Mom wouldn't let us go to temple
out in Utah and baptize the dead.

"But I can baptize your father," I insisted,
who'd hanged himself all those years ago.
"He was a Jew," Mom said. "He doesn't want
to be baptized into the three Mormon heavens."

And that was that.

Soon after, we stopped attending, and really
I was glad. I didn't want to baptize the dead so much
as get into a swimming pool and be held down
by a gentle hand of the priesthood.

"Your brother got too serious," Mom said, smoking
in the car in her wool jacket with the elastic loops for
      shotgun shells
and the flannel insert and loose M&M's in the pockets
(I loved her coat). "He said I was sinning for
      drinking coffee." (59)

This is a bit of the third part of "Blue Jays," a paean to Stone's mother. Some of the collection's best lines are in this poem, but, like all of the longer poems, it also has patches that reveal Stone's distinct need for a limiting (and thus liberating) form. By the end of the book, her poetic techniques at times feel like poetic crutches. And the longer poems, in general, come off more as lazy prose than poetry. The reason I quoted only a bit of III from "Blue Jays" is because the rest of it didn't feel that connected. Not lazy prose, in this case, but disconnected. And that might be the same problem---an unwillingness to trim. Use of form would help.

That said, back to the Mormon bit, pretty good, right? Clearly she wasn't an attending Saint for more than a few months, but it's a good poem.


095) Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters by Ted Cohen, finished November 7

I'm fascinated by the science and philosophy behind humor. I love this Wired article, I love Asimov's musings, I love what the Whites have to say. And now I'm charmed by Ted Cohen, philosopher.

Like Asimov (relevant fact: a fellow Jew), Cohen muses at length at the traits and uniquenesses of Jewish humor. On the one hand, is this just because it is their native waters? Or is there really something different? I'm coming to believe there is. I'm a bit unsold by all the reasons proposed, though that soup of reasons is probably more or less accurate. With a book only sniffing a hundred pages to dedicate more than twenty to this question is fine as a case study, but I'm ... I don't know. It's hard, in American culture, in which we are simultaneously aware of these things and attempting not to be to know how to juggle the two demands.

Cohen's arguments regarding jokes (that they signify community, create intimacy, etc) and compelling and he is a jolly host. I'm not interested in reading his book on metaphor and, at least, the essays on baseball and Hitchcock here. Off the library!
probably two years


096) Sunday Funnies by Gahan Wilson, finished November 9

Gary Groth wrote a brief afterword and from it we learn that Wilson doesn't really remember how he started drawing this newspaper strip, which newspaper took it, how many papers carried it, or why he quit. How about that?

The strip is a collection of gags. Some are better than others, a couple are repeated. The strip works best later on as he started matching the gags thematically---sign painters, optometrists, hats. Sentient furniture. Often the final gag is either Future Funnies (a space-themed strip that tells us more about the '70s, naturally) or The Creep (a spy/vampire/weirdo being over-the-top macabre). This strip makes Wilson's role as missing link between Charles Addams and Gary Larson is clear.

Another thing revealed by this collection: that tired gag style of shoulda-been-retired strips still appearing in papers? Either Wilson is satirizing that gag style or it was popular then even when it's grotesque rather than cute.

maybe a week


097) Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, finished November 15

At BYU, I started hearing about the movie. Which I finally saw circa 2001 but barely remember. Mostly Stephen Fry talking about whether or not women have souls.

Some years later I started hearing about the book. With at least the enthusiasm with which the movie had once been discussed. And I developed an interest and a must-someday-read opinion. Well, that day has come. The Relief Society's ancient but unofficial book club selected it and read along with them. And I'm so glad I did.

As a comic writer myself, I don't laugh at books often. Instead, I appreciate them. I see the joke, I nod with professional respect, I mumble things like "Well done" or "What a clever way of doing that" or "Yes, quite funny" and then I move on. I rarely actually laugh. I envy people who laugh at books.

I laughed frequently at Cold Comfort Farm.

One unexpected blow hit me at the end of chapter three as I was walking home. I immediately stopped walking beause it is unsafe to laugh as I was laughing and walk simultaneously. I cried out to the empty air around me such things as "What the---" and "How did she---" and "I can't even didn't---" and other such unprofessional nonsense.

For those who are familiar with the book, I am referring to a certain bovine ailment.

It is a brilliant piece of comedy. So brilliant I, like most readers of comic art, am barely aware after first read of the art. I can smell it under the surface, but I barely noticed it, to be frank. I was too busy trying to marshall all the funny. Which is no easy task, believe me.

The aspect of Cold Comfort I was most looking forward to is that it takes place in the near future. I'm quite fond of near-future fiction. That's largely why the final season of Parks & Recreation might be my most believed final season of a television show. The weird thing was, everytime I mentioned this aspect of the book to its fans, they all told me I was wrong. But then I started reading and a clear announcement that the novel is near-future was in large letters right below the epigraph! What the heck!

The near-future aspect is not glaring, as it ends up. Rich people own personal aeroplanes and you can go in town to use the television-enhanced telephone, and you get details of future history like an annual Spanish Plague and the Anglo-Nicaraguan wars, but it's not much. And the details of life feel, from here, honestly, pre-1932 if anything.

Still. One more thing I like about it.

I reread so rarely I don't want to make a promise, but Cold Comfort is a book I hope I'll reread someday.
maybe two weeks


098) Green Monk: Blood of the Martyrs by Brandon Dayton, finished November 15

I preordered this book shortly after I learned Image was publishing it. I had been trying to follow it online, but it wasn't getting updated regularly and I kept forgetting to seek it out. I was also stoked that Image picked it up. I love Brandon's work and I want it to find a larger audience.

This volume picks up long before the original independently published version---it's an origin story, really. (Upon finishing Blood of the Martyrs, the first thing I wanted to do was reread that first book, but ... I can't find it. Dang it, Theric.) How the orphaned child was raised by monks. How, when he came of age, he first joined the monastery, then had to leave in order to redeem his sins. I loved the in media res-ness of the original, but this is a lovely and moving origin story. I hope it sells well and we get to hear many more tales of the Green Monk in years to come.

(In the meantime, you can read a related story I commissioned for Sunstone 160.)