Don't judge me; judge the book


028) Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs, finished March 20

Since the last two Briggs books I've written about, I've read two shorter ones. And now I've read this, his first nonfictional book, a loving look back at his parents' married lives. They are clear models for other married couples in his work---but these two are probably the easiest to love. And perhaps the easiest to understand.

He takes us through their lives, decade by decade, as they experience Depression and War and modernization---joy and sadness, the growth of their child, the mysteries of today confounded through the lens of the past with the future relentlessly pressing on.

I found these people, his parents, easy to know. They remind me in some ways of my grandparents, but they are not my grandparents. They are Ethel and Ernest.
three or four days


029) Let's Go Exploring by Michale Hingston, finished March 20

This is (at the moment) the last in a terrific-seeming series of books providing serious but friendly consideration of "pop classics." I enjoyed reading it and am considering making a pitch myself. I have a book I think they would be interested in and I know I could write it---but should such a book be my priority? That's what I'll need to consider. (I'm having the same internal debate re an LDS Eros book.)

ANYWAY, this one's about Calvin & Hobbes, described on the cover as "North America's last great comic strip." Which is arguable, but this equivocation from near the end seems much more inarguable: "if not North America's last great comics strip, then the last one with the power to unite readers around the world, across cultural and generational lines, and to serves as the kind of artistic and intellectual totem that millions of parents will reverentially pass on to their own children when the time is right" (121, the antepenultimate page).

Hingston makes some solid arguments about what makes the strip work so well, but analysis of the strips per se is maybe 60% of the book. Other chunks are about Watterson and his famed battles with fame and the syndecate. Peeing Calvin gets consideration, as well as other knockoffs including some good ones like Hobbes & Bacon and (so I've heard) Calvin.

Recommended if you love Calvin & Hobbes and palmsized paperbacks. (Buy the paperback and the publisher gives you the ebook free!)
perhaps two weeks


030) Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs, finished March 20

A little short for this list, but it demands inclusion.

While this book stars the "same" couple as When the Wind Blows, in this earlier book, they're hapless to the point of near-absurdity. Having also now read E&E (see above), I feel like I have to break my own rules and talk about the author.

It seems to me that Briggs, roughly forty when Gentleman Jim was released, was ready to tackle the spectre of his now-dead parents. An earlier book, if it existed, may have been more cruelly satirical. This book, though I guess I can agree it's "funny," is loaded with pathos. It relentlessly reveals the characters' ignorance, but I don't think it's that easy to laugh at them. They are too earnest, to sincere. The author holds us in his hand and invites us to examine them. And the cruel among us, if we desire, can laugh them to scorn. But it does require cruelty. I don't see how you can blame them for the situation they are in. Society made them this way. Made promises they can't understand. Took possibility from them.

Lady Steed called it a sad book.

I can't disagree.

feeling really nervous i've left something out

031) The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, finished April 2

I'm a bit embarrassed this is only my second Michael Lewis book the first) just because I've gotten to know the man a bit and he doesn't just write great books---he's a solid human being (and fine Little League coach). But this one is closely connected to Moneyball. Check out what I said when writing about it:
In other news, this book made me think a lot about how to apply math to improving [anything]. Because everyone from Bill Gates to Arne Duncan thinks we should do it. And maybe [they're] right. But what do we measure? And how do we do it? And what would those numbers then mean? And how would we go about acting on them?

We. Don't. Know.

And frankly, I doubt we ever will. Unlike stocks and baseball, we don't have decades of data measured in the same or similar ways over decades and zillions of incidents with tons of observers. I don't know how we can reproduce that.

So many variables. The mind boggles.
What did I learn from The Fifth Risk? That the government of the United States of America has unfathomable amounts of data on many, many things. And when attacked by math, amazing things happen. The improvement of weather forecasts? Thank you, federal government. The discovery of the opioid epidemic? Thank you, federal government. Enough food to let us live in cities? Thank you, federal government. And on and on and on.

Most of the book is really just a biography of the government bureaucracy, filled as it is with do-gooders and scientists. The deep state, if you will.

But the impetus and ever-hanging black cloud of the book is presidential transitions. Excellently well prepared-for transitions are messy and complicated and highly problematic. Then Coach Michael shows us what a completely disinterested (when not outright hostile) transition looks like and you have to wonder. After another term and a half or so of intentional dismantling, aggressive neglect, and prioritizing commercial concerns over human concerns, suddenly Republican's threats of us looking like Venezuela seem pretty plausible.

I was especially struck by how little people (me included) understand about what the federal government does for them. Take this guy: from Montana. Thinks his taxes are paying for California's illegal immigrants. Has no idea the federal government is propping up his state.

Coach Michael tells story after story about the federal government serving and supporting rural America without letting the people being helped that they are doing it. In some cases, they are forbidden by law to tell people they are being helped.

And the ubiquity of government assistance is such that we don't realize how much we need them until something goes wrong and we blame them. Our lives would be much, much more prearious without the Deep State making sure geese don't fly into airplanes and that chickens aren't giving us salmonella. But you can bet that when those budgets are cut (drain the swamp!) and more geese hit airplanes and more chickens send you to the hospital, the bureacrats will take the blame.

One thing that was particularly interesting is learning how little many capital-d Departments reflect their name. Commerce, for instance, does the Census. This I knew. But it also does a huge percentage of the government's data collection on any and all topics. Astonishing amounts of data about astonishing amounts of things. Data the new administration has been working to conceal and hide since they arrived. Data hidden can't help anyone.

I also knew a bit about the varied missions of Energy and Agriculture, but I was still in a constant state of amazement, reading this book. If I really wanted to help people, maybe I should have entered government.

If you really want to help people, vote the bums out.
about a week


032) No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay, finished April 8

I had this Barnes & Noble gift certificate, so I went to Barnes & Noble and went through their poetry section. This is the book I purchased, but several also-rans were picked up at the library and, therefore, read much more quickly, including (I think inclusively) later year's #45, #46, #48 & #49, and #65. Did I pick right? Who can say.

I did like the book, make no mistake. My only run-in with Kay prior to this was a poem about her elementary-school principal, that I saw illustrated online, somewhere. Not sure, where, but I'll guess it was the same illustrations now in a book. Dunno.

Anyway, it's pretty typical of her work (read it here). Everyday language, slightly heightened. It has the simplicity and easytofollowness required to be a big spoken-work success, but it's much better than properly maligned Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur. At times she's quite transcendent, but it's hard to judge if her work will outlast her generation. Sometimes that y/n feels obvious. Not here.

The manner is largely confessional and feels autobiographical. It's a good book. I liked it. Rare is the friend, however, upon whom this books would I press.
at most nine months but somewhat less than that


033) Letters to ta Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, finished April 9

I found plenty of wisdom in this book, but what surprised me was the endnotes---which revealed Rilke was quite the young poet himself when he wrote this stuff.

It's quite a brief read and thoughtful and contains no prescription.
possibly two years


The other books of 2019

001 – 005
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

006 – 010
006) SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, finished January 8*
007) Latter-day Laughs by Stan and Elly Schoenfeld, finished January 16
008) All We Ever Wanted: Stories of a Better World edited by Miner, Palicki, Chin-Tanner; finished January 19
009) Daytripper by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, finished January 19
010) Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist by Steven L. Peck, finished January 20

011 – 015
011) Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, finished January 22
012) Huck by Mark Millar et al., finished January 24
013) Marketing Precedes the Miracle by Calvin Grondahl, finished January 30
014) Uncle Scrooge:The Seven Cities Of Gold by Carl Barks, finished January 31
015) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, finished January 31

011 – 015
016) Snotgirl: Green Hair, Don't Care by Bryan Lee O'Malley and Leslie Hung, finished February 16
017) Ghost of the Grotto by Carl Barks, finished February 20
018) When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs, finished February 22
019) Temple and Cosmos by Michael R. Collings, finished February 23
020) The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, finished February 23
021) Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs, finished February 24

022 – 027
022) One Dirty Tree by Noah Van Sciver, finished February 25
023) Snotgirl: California Screaming by Bryan Lee O'Malley & Leslie Hung, finished February 28
024) Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, finished March 7
025&026) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished March 14
026) Fences by August Wilson, finished Ides of March
027) N Is for Noose by Sue Grafton, finished Ides of March

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