Books, books, the magical fruit


006) SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, finished January 8*

Sony's put out the final script for Spider-Verse, one presumes as part of its awards-push. And so I read it.

It's so good, guys. Reliving it on the page was nearly as emotional as watching it on screen. It's a fine piece of writing. I wish I knew more about the process, as I doubt it was just assign writers who show up at studio with original completed unchanging script. But it's smart and well written and seems more manageable on paper. A lot of creativity followed this step, that's for sure. But this in and of itself is good stuff.
two days


007) Latter-day Laughs by Stan and Elly Schoenfeld, finished January 16

This was originally published in 1963. Mine's a seventh printing, 1970. And it belies the claims that Pat Bagley and Cal Grondahl showed up like Venus in the foam and made a new world. That's a fine article, don't get me wrong, but it overstates the miracle of their arrival.

These Schoenfeld cartoons are softer, sure, but they're doing the same thing. It's even the goal (or, more likely, preemptive excuse) as stated on the copyright page:
Latter-day Saints are a happy people, ad good humor has always been enjoyed as a part of our lives. Many of our best loved Church leaders have used bits of humor to encourage us or to effectively illustrate a point.

As Matthew Cowley said on one occasion: "In my life, the people who have done me the most good and who have done more to inspire goodness in me have been those who have had a sense of humor rather than those who have depressed me."

By being able to smile at our own mistakes and at some of the problems experienced by us all, we can maintain a healthy outlook on our work and association together in the Church.
Incidentally, here's where the Schoenfelds lived, via Google Street View:

My favorite thing about this book, however, is its dated elements, which are legion. We no longer have building funds, and there are multiple jokes about these. And it's general midcentury Americana is charming and gone gone gone.

I'm glad to have found this book. If you're a Mormon-comics scholar, you should have one.
not much more than moments


008) All We Ever Wanted: Stories of a Better World edited by Miner, Palicki, Chin-Tanner; finished January 19

A recent issue of Wired included some short fiction intended to imagine the future of work.The stories were high-concept and interesting in terms of their ideas, but with one exception, they weren't very good. The one that was good takes place in a universe already invented in novels---which gets to why the others were lesser. Trying to make a short-short carry ideas better weighted for a novel is a surefire path to bad fiction.

The same thing often happens in comics anthologies. I bought this collection on Kickstarter because I'm pro-utopian fiction and would like to see more positive futures explored. I have lucked out on Kickstarter before, but plenty of this worlds' comics anthologies are more like that Wired issue: underbaked ideas painted in the colors of fiction.

All We Ever Wanted is a particularly egregious example of that kind of bad anthology. It's largely a mess of hippie propaganda without much story to go along. Even the ones that start promising often self-destruct in search of a moral. Three of the best stories appear near the end. In the spirit of positivity, I'll talk about them.

Good Time (words: Vasilis Pozios | Pictures: Zakk Saam)
One of the secrets to getting across an idea in the story is to let the story lead. And you let the story lead by letting the characters lead. Let them be themselves. Many of the AWEW stories have characters saying things it makes no sense for them to say just so we the audience can be persuaded to think the thought the authors want us to think. This story avoids that trap by having the only explanations given to a character who genuinely needs them.

The story begins in prison. A man who has lost thirty years of his life to the crime he committed. He is aging. He is regretful. His sins have been burned away.

And then he awakes. In one half hour, he has lived a virtual sentence of thiry years. Those years will always be with him---the memories, the suffering, the regret, the self-discovery. But instead: he has paid for his sins and then is reunited with his wife and daughter as a new and better man. It's high-concept; it's six pages, it's honest and true. It's good comics not because of its utopian ideas but because of its stellar storytelling.
Day at the Park (words: Eliot Rahal | pictures: Jason Copland)
This one also wins by being simple. A girl and a robot fly a kite together. No attempt to squeeze in a manifesto. Just a spot of joy.
Two Left Feet (words: Eric Palicki | pictures: Eryk Donovan)
Although the landing stumbles a bit (though I do think it is the correct landing), this is one of the most original superhero concepts I've seen in some time. I would love to see this expanded. I'm not sure what makes it utopian other than lesbians (many of the stories seem to think that a same-sex couple is sufficient to qualify a work as utopian), but it's hella cool.


009) Daytripper by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, finished January 19

I suppose I saw this on some best-of list, but the memory is lost. Anyway, the library got it for me and I have read it. And I am glad I did.

Here's the conceit: each chapter is about Brás and in each chapter he dies. perhaps in his thirties, perhaps in his childhood. The final two chapters disrupt this pattern a bit, but they remain true to the greater shape of the novel.

Visiting Brás at these different milieus of death means seeing how one life matters as seen at different angles. Sort of like multiple versions of It's a Wonderful Life.

While I didn't land as ecstatically as some of the blurbs (including from such luminaries as Terry Moore, Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, and Craig Thompson), I can recommend this book without hesitation. Were I a poster guy, I might put the letter from the final chapter on a poster. It's a thing of beauty.



010) Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist by Steven L. Peck, finished January 20

Blair sent me a copy of this before it came out, with the hopes I would review it for Motley Vision, speaking more of its literary merits than feeling obliged to debate its science and philosophy. I happily agreed.

The book came out in October 2015.

AMV's blog shut down two years later.

And only today am I finishing the book.

(Sorry, Blair.)

My intention was to read it quickly, followed by Steve's short-story collection, which I had recently purchased, then write about both together. (Cue laughter.)

The thing that went wrong is that I just do not often read nonfiction quickly. I don't. I take my time. So Evolving Faith was consumed in bursts. Sometimes I was in over my head, sometimes not. I was always impressed and always walked away with things to talk about and share. Sometimes it affected Important Stuff I was writing or thinking (example). It was always provocative and wise, and Brother Peck is a kindly guide. As soon as I finished, I handed it over to the Big O who intends to follow a path in the sciences something along the lines of Professor Peck---only almost certainly without the professor part. I hope he reads it. In the essay-writing group I'm starting in our ward, I've already slotted on of the essays from this book.

All this and good writing too.

In other words, it gave me everything Blair hoped I would find. I'm just a little let sharing the good word.
over three years


The other books of 2019

001) Thornhill by Pam Smy, finished January 2
002) How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis, finished January 3
003) Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, finished Janaury 4
004) Third Wheel: Peculiar Stories of Mormon Women in Love by Melissa Leilani Larson, finished January 6
005) Fox 8 by George Saunders, finished January 6

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