Books Iz Books


038) Draft No. 4* by John McPhee, finished May 22

I would have finished earlier, but I was screaming through it so quickly, I forced myself to slow down. it's one of those books, the ending of which is too painful to contemplate.

It really was one of the most compelling and propulsive books I've read in some time. And it's all about writing! I want to steal from him in my teaching, but then I remember that his great ideas are for students of the craft---not people who need to be convinced to be students of the craft. Frustratingly, I always have plenty of the latter. Still. Lots to consider both as a writer and a teacher.

I had a Barnes & Noble giftcard to spend and I spent easily forty minutes wandering around, no book calling me with sufficient volume. But no way was I coming back, and the blurbs and simple cover called out to me and I ended up getting this one. (No way was I going through that shopping hell again.) Did I remember he wrote longform nonfiction when I made my choice? I don't know. It was a disappointing discovery as I opened it up for this read, but his bounty of startling real-life examples, his tales of The New Yorker, and the broad applicability of his wisdom made our different tasks immaterial.

(I do wonder about writing longform nonfiction, however. Nonfiction is a different set of muscles, muscles I rarely exercise, but some of my favorite own-works are nonfiction. And I wonder what the removal of deadlines and the support of editorial could have turned me into....)

Anyway, I absolutely loved this collection and heartily recommend it to you. You'll be forced to think about structure in new ways; you'll get to feel deep envy of having access to The New Yorker's factcheckers; you'll simply revel in the good company.
under ten days, probably under a week


039) Salt by Susan Elizabeth Howe, finished May 25

Terrific collection, as everyone's been saying for seven years. Not hard to see why it has become the defacto standard all since-published Mormon collections are measured against.

I wanted to just take one poem---one I particularly loved and was available online---and share it here with discussion. But frickin Quarterly West doesn't have its full archive online. Quarterly West....

And now I've spent so long looking that it's after eleven and I'm tired.

Thanks a lot Quarterly West!
under two weeks, maybe under one


040) Endless Night by Agatha Christie, finished June 5

When I started reading this novel, I was surprised to find I wanted to prioritize it. Not because it was startling me with plot twist after plot twist, but because I found its first-person narrator so compelling. If I hadn't known by the author's name and the blurbs on its back that it was a murder mystery, I never would have known.

And then, on page 173 of 191, the book betrayed itself and, thus, me. I can see how this twist might work better in a movie or even with a third-person narrator, but as written, this twist was a dirty trick. The ''Scotsman'' blurb on the back refers to "the shock revelation. Solutionists be warned, you'll have to work very hard at this one."

Well, yeah.


Happily, there were twenty pages after the twist where she tried to redeem herself. And maybe she did. Maybe if I reread the novel, I could see the honestly all along. But ultimately, the twist is based on a lie. And I just do not care for this.

I've never read an Agatha Christie novel before---and one can imagine me giving her another chance---but at the moment? I just feel betrayed.

UPDATE: writing about the movie adaptation it occurred to me she may have been aiming for a Humbert Humbert-type experience; I will accept that as an excuse but it doesn't make me any more forgiving


041) A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle, finished June 8

I guess I started reading these books to prepare for the movie (which got rather panned and which I still have not seen)? But also because A Wrinkle in Time is a classic I have never read (although it was read to the class by my teacher in, I believe, fifth grade---elements of that reading stick with me). And also becuase this volume was on my personal bookshelf as a kid and I read it several times. It was one of the stranger books I owned and I don't think it would be fair to say I loved it. And what it left me with was more a feeling than precise memories of plot or character.

Anyway, I read Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door, then finished Many Waters over two years ago, which is when my reading ground to a halt. Not because I did not like Many Waters---it might be my favorite of the series---and not because I didn't have a copy---I had picked up a free copy reproducing the original cover---but because I really wanted to read my childhood copy. I knew I had it somewhere. And I would occasionally go to the garage to look.

Eventually I found it but by then I had lost any sense or momentum, and so both copies sat on my nightstand for months. Probably over a year. Certainly, the prettier copy was on my nightstand at or before my finishing of Many Waters.

But now I have read it! There is a pleasure in reading a book you knew well but really do not remember at all. I suppose I understood better what I was visiting by virtue of having read the other three books first, but the sense of familiarity came largely from deep within my subconscious.

And the novel is strange. Time travel and meldings of souls and this and that.

I have one major complaint. Rise of Skywalker has been dropping in my estimation since I last saw it, largely because I have less and less patience for The Great Families theory of history. And this is an idea Swiftly Tilting Planet goes all-in on. There are great families and the march of history depends entirely on who marries whom creating what sort of babies. It's all malarkey of a form I haven't much patience for.

That said, L'Engle writes beautifully, and I'm sure reading this book multiple times as a child gave me more capacity to read the poetic and the marvelous. Everything is metaphor and subtlity, and even with unicorns and magic words and uncountable generations and dramatically omnipresent good and evil larger than this universe yet smaller than an atom (see Wind in the Door for more on the latter), ultimately A Swiftly Tilting Planet relies on personal relationships, leaving most of the story unsaid, and seeing people for who they are---or might have been---or once were---rather than the simple shells we misjudge by.

So I liked it. Even if I fundamentally disagree with it.

Now the question is this: Am I done?

There is one Time book left, but it follows a slew of books from a different series. If I keep going, do I start reading those books or do I just skip ahead?

Well. Regardless. It sounds like a job for libraries and the libraries are still all closed.

So I'll just sleep on it.
under two weeks


042) Caldera Ridge by Jack Harrell, finished June 10

I am a noted fan of Harrell's short fiction, but this is my first time reading one of his novels, even though I've been hearing good things about them for almost two decades.

Caldera Ridge's attitude and strengths are much like what we see in his short stories, but the shorts generally work better. He has an idea, he tells his story, he gets out. Here, he has time to spend dozens of pages of his main character asking the same questions seventy-five "different" ways. It can get tiresome. It's not precisely TSTL territory, but sort of the masculine, philosophical equivalent.

Then the book took a surprising turn about a hundred pages in. It made more and more sense as the book continued (and wasn't so late as to become Endless Night-like unforgivable), but it did through me, and it took a while to get my feet back.

As time went on, I saw that a Cormac McCarthy-esque sequence of violence and ugliness. It did find a way out of one horror I expected, but the violence did come---and from even more angles than expected. And then it settled into a resolution of the questions through a sequence that aspired to but failed to reach The Backslider's Cowboy Jesus.

Still! Props for ambition.

Ultimately, I think the power this book carries depends a lot on how much you personally are distressed by questions of fate versus agency. I certainly recommend it, but I don't want to promise a particular experience. After all---you have some say in that.
under two weeks


books from the recent and distant past

books one through five
001) Titiana in Yellow by Dayna Patterson, finished January 1
002) The Tree at the Center by Kathryn Knight Sonntag, finished January 5
003) After Earth by Michael Lavers, finished January 12
004) Monstress, Volume One: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, finished January 15
005) The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford, finished January 17

books six through eleven
006) The Marriage of the Moon and the Field by Sunni Brown Wilkinson, finished January 25
007) My Parents Married on a Dare by Carlfred Broderick, finished January 26
008) The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl (volume one) by Scott Hales, finished January 26
009) The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl (volume two) by Scott Hales, finished January 27
010) Solid State by Coulton / Fraction / Monteys, finished February 9
011) Into the Sun: Poems Revised, Rearranged, and New by Colin B. Douglas, finished February 16

books thirteen through sixteen
012) Wag the Dog: A Study on Film and Reality in the Digital Age by Eleftheria Thanouli, finished February 17
013) Flaming Carrot Omnibus: Volume 1 by Bob Burden, finished February 17
014) The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag, finished February 22
015) The October Faction Vol. 2 by Steve Niles and Damien Worm, finished February 24
016) Minus by Lisa Naffziger, finished February 26

books seventeen through twenty-two
017) Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks, finished February 29
018) Calexit by Matteo Pizzolo | Amancay Nahuelpan | Tyler Boss, finished March 7
019) Emma by Jane Austen, finished March 8
020) Animal Man by Grant Morrison, Book One, by Morrison and team, finished March 14
021) The Chuckling Whatsit by Richard Sala, finished March 16
022) Gloriana by Kevin Huizenga, finished March 18

books twenty-three through twenty-seven
023) Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive by an Allred-led team, finished March 20
024) Homespun and Angel Feathers by Darlene Young, finished March 25
025) Jinchalo by Matthew Forsythe, finished March 28
026) Lost Dogs by AUTHOR, finished March 28
027) The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism's Most Controversial Scripture by Terryl Givens with Brian M. Hauglid, finished March 29

books twenty-eight through thirty-two
028) If Mother Braids a Waterfall by Dayna Patterson, finished April 2
029) Witchy Kingdom by D.J. Butler, finished April 11
030) Prayers in Bath by Luisa Perkins, finished April 14
031) On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, finished April 22
032) Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher by Jake Parker, finished April 22

books twenty-eight through thirty-two
033) Irreversible Things by Lisa Van Orman Hadley, finished April 27
034) Pillar of Light: Joseph Smith's First Vision by Andrew Knaupp and Sal Velluto, finished May 3
035) Hermana by Becca McCulloch, finished May 13*
036) Best American Comics 2017 by Ben Katchor, finished May 19
037) "Q" is for Quarry by Sue Grafton, finished May 22


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    [EDIT: I corrected a coding error and an erroneous link.]