Sex may be necessary but maybe less violence?


031) Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do by James Thurber and E. B. White, finished April 1

I don't know when I first became a James Thurber fan---I remember reading a thing about commas as a kid from some Reader's Digest book about Thurber and Ross battling each other. In high school, I picked him for some author project and checked out so many books from the library. So many books.

Some stuff never made sense, even if it showed up in more than one collections (example), and some stuff became embedded in my DNA, such as the cartoons or Fables for our Time or "The Catbird Seat."

But I've written about Thurber before, in 2016 and in 2009 and in 2015 and in 2008. For instance.

But I'm also an admirer of White (2011, 2012, 2016). I suppose I bumped into him first via Charlotte's Web? But it hardly matters.

The point is I've never read the book that launched both their careers. (They were both working at The New Yorker at the time, yes, but they were not names. Ross still refused to publish Thurber's cartoons.)

The book needs to be read as a document of its time and as such most of the jokes are just out of reach. You can't have the 1929 experience. But you'll still get some laughs. And you'll have an occasional sense of pride in how far we've come.

And, if you're like me, you'll also recognize that another significant book from the basement of my life,  Dave Barry's Guide to Marriage and/or Sex, has finally found its parents.

monthish if that


032) Boys Who Became Prophets* by Lynda Cory Hardy, finished April 11

I read this book many times as a boy. Stories in here were pretty influential in forming my Mormon identity. Spencer W. Kimball is why I spent high school reading the Bible instead of whatever the assigned seminary reading was.

Anyway, the little girl liked it, more or less. Some stories captured here. Many, I think, did not.

Me, for all its failings (and it has some), I still like it. The illustrations by Paul Mann still thrill me. I love his use of ink---line and shading.

If anyone knows whether the books with chapters post-Kimball wee also rewritten, I would love to know.

some months

033) George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall, finished April 12

James Marshall is a comic genius. That is all.

a month or so

034) Stuart Little by E.B. White, finished April 14

This took us much longer to read than I expected, with the baby's new interest in reading multiple books at once. I'm not certain I've read it before. I feel I must've but no real memories rose to the surface as we read.

And the ending is so peculiar and ambiguous for a children's novel.

But it's sweet and it's melancholy and it must feel very grown up if you are seven.

It's a wonderful fantasy. Although the invisible-car scene should have been edited out. It seems to've come from another novel altogether.

well over a month

035) Achilles by Elizabeth Cook, finished April 15

After finishing Cook's Lux, I wanted to read more by her. Specifically, her only other novel, the twenty-year-old Achilles. Luckily, my library had one copy. I put it on hold. Began reading it. Promptly lost it. I searched my classroom over and over, totally mystified how it could have disappeared. Tried to pay the library for it, but they refused to take my money until the pandemic's over.

Then, on Monday, through a peculiar set of circumstances, I found myself passing through the boys' locker room AND THERE IT WAS.

I am no less mystified now than when I originally lost it.

So I skimmed the pages I had already read, reading some portions more carefully, and worked my way through it.

This is a much shorter book than Lux and more deliberately poetic/artistic in its prose. But the basic shape is the same. The bulk of the books is a story from antiquity (this time, the story of Achilles) and then the final portion stars and English poet (in this case Keats) for barely coherent reasons. (Keats reads about Achilles in The Inferno and The Iliad but that's hardly a major part of his section. He muses on mortality and bones and such. If it were a film, the connections would probably be stronger as they could be visible.

It's a fascinating book. I liked Lux much more, but this is much (much) shorter and it has a unique set of appeals. The violence and sex (although there is rarely sex without violence, there can be violence without sex) (arguably) are lived-in rather than remembered, for instance. And it is awful stuff. I know the ancient world was a different place, but I've never seen such grotesque variations on rape. And it's weird to have this beautiful language describing the rape of a shape-shifting goddess and a ten-year-old girl and everyone inbetween. I suppose that allows the novel to say things about stuff other than the rapes themselves, but, you know, it's still rape. The morality of the book itself is just...complex.

The characters of the novel, particularly in the Greek half, are brilliantly drawn. Simple strokes creating complex people. All of them sympathetic. All of them marvels and horrors both.

It's quite the book and very short, but if you only read one, Lux is better.

Cool thing about that image on the bookcover:

That gate is "The Gate of the King" and it is in Madagascar. It is opened every seven years. Within the stockade behind this gate is a hut containing golden urns filled with the ashes of kings.

I don't think I've ever read such an interesting photo note on the back of a book before.

a couple months


036) Have It Your Way, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 15

Another fine collection. This one's all Sunday strips. The baby's favorite part of the book was the leaf that looked like Charlie Brown Hilarious.