124) Royal City: Next of Kin by Jeff Lemire, finished on December 15
125) Royal City: Sonic Youth by Jeff Lemire, finished on December 16
126) Royal City: We All Float On by Jeff Lemire, finished on December 16
It's no secret I think Jeff Lemire is one of the best things we have going. Since my first gush, I've been a serious fan. And I love it best when he does his own work, words and pictures. His art is painful and his words draw blood and the combination is deadly. And he navigates so cleanly from realism to magic—he may be the greatest North American realist I know. (We can debate this later. The short list is long.)
This is the story of a family shattered twenty years ago by the death of the youngest child. They all find themselves back in town when dad has a stroke. (Only one, it's worth mentioning, ever managed to leave.) And they navigate their depressed hometown and radio signals and the many ghosts of their brother. It's a story of healing and growth. And whatever the opposite of cloying is.
Not much happens. And everything happens.
And the character design—these people are a family. And, by the end, for all their failings, you'll wish them well.three days but the first was a week before the other two
127) Everything but Money by Sam Levenson, finished on December 16
The book is a mix of small comedic pieces published in places like TV Guide, Parents, Collier's, and newspaper syndication; and some preachy bits that appeared in the same places. How much where versus how much otherwhere versus original to this book, who can say. The book as a whole holds together. Let's talk about it!
I : Sweet Horseradish (pp 1–125)
II : "Look, ma, I'm middle class!" (pp 126–168)
III : Off My Chest (pp 169–238)
IV : "My dear children" (pp 239–243)
The first thing you'll notice is that over half the book is part one. It goes on long enough, it's a shock when it ends.
"Sweet Horseradish" is about growing up poor, the children of European, Jewish immigrants. It's packed full of wonderful stories about a disappeared world. Games in the streets, dealing with relatives, living in packed spaces, what school was like, what holidays were like—it's a mix of absolutely real moments and delightfully comedic hyperbole. I imagine this must be what Levenson's comedy schtick was like. (I can't say for sure—I've only seen him guest on What's My Line.)
Then his childhood ended and I was shocked to realize the book continued onward! I'd been reading it, like, twenty months at that point!
Anyway, he grows up and goes to college and moves to the suburbs. Works fifteen years as a high-school Spanish teacher. Later moves into entertainment, though that's less grounded and so gets less play.
Part II starts off a bit preachy about How Things Have Changed, but happily digresses into more comedy bits now and then. "Off My Chest" more directly deals with patching up society, but it also loses its way now and then with bits that feel like they've already been workshopped on stage. Certainly, they seem to require an oral delivery. Or maybe it's just that fifty years have passed.
That final tiny section is just his last plea for goodness.
Some of the things he worries about can seem snobbish (kids need classical music, not British rock bands) or quaint (maybe schools could provide lists of educational tv progams?), but he seems like a genuinely decent human being. Although some of his phrasing is, ah, rather midcentury, I don't think it would be absurd to call this book the antiracist bestseller of 1966.
(I used a part near the beginning of III to suggest a reimagined classroom with my sophomores. They weren't as enthused as me.)
He's a charming host and he has the sugar to help the medicine go down. Plus, it's just a terrific bit of time travel.
Click this image to read the book at the Internet Archive:
128) Chip Off Olympus by Jules Tasca, finished on December 17
You know that brand of liberalism that proves how not racist/sexist/etcist it is by making racist/sexist/etcist jokes and daring you not to laugh? From All in the Family (from which this play takes its epigraph) to South Park, this aliberal liberality has broken open conversations and made a new generation think racial epitaphs are okay to laugh at. Sort of a mixed victory, you ask me.
Chip Off Olympus dives right into this. I'm honestly not sure from fifty years later how likable these characters are supposed to be. What remains real is the seeming betterthanness they have over other races, poorer people, religious people, fans of lowbrow television, and so on.
I can imagine laughing at about half the jokes, but the other half would leave me feeling so dirty, I wouldn't have a good time.
Here's the set-up: Three grown kids (one a famous heart surgeon, one a failed writer, one with stigmata) and their mother cope with the legacy left by their bit-player father, an absolute saint, who, it ends up, "dorked" absolutely every leading lady he ever worked with. Which was pretty much all of them.
I mean, it could work. The set with all the props from all those movies is visually fun. The kids have a decent dynamic. Mostly, the jokes, in their attempt to be cutting edge and modern, have aged very very poorly.
Ah, comedy, thou dangerous lover thou.a week or two
129) Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke, finished on December 21ish
Less a meditation on loneliness and more an address to mortality, this nonfiction look at dying relationships, people, and places is a tighter construction than her second book.
I loved it.
Radtke's style—realistic but simple, monochome with washes and stark lines—backs up the themes of her book. It's a terrific fusion of form and function.
And someday, no one will remember it.
130) Thurber & Company by James Thurber, finished on December 27
Thurber drew compulsively which is why he can do so many things. Sure, sure—it all looks the same, and he was, as is mentioned int his wife's intro, "pre-intentionalist . . . finished before the ideas for them had occurred to me," but he's playing with variations on his themes and each is unique and does something new. I admire that. And it let's me know my compulsions aren't so powerful and don't push me as far.
131) The Spirit of the Season edited by Curtis Taylor, finished on December 29
After getting to tell Curtis Taylor how much The Invisible Saint meant to me at a virtual Sunstone thing summer of 2020, he invited me to submit to this collection. Which was flattering—and great to add another holiday story to my collection.
I had my wires crossed on some of the details, as it ends up. Mine is perhaps the shortest story in the book and it might be the only one without Mormon content. But hey! I got to write a Christmas story in a genre I'd long wanted to. (I won't say more because I don't want to ruin it for you. Pick up a copy to prep for next Christmas).
I saved my story to read last and Orson Scott Card's to read second-to, since I'd read it before. My memory of that read (although the two sentences at the link aren't enough to be certain of my opinion) is that it's well below my expectations for a Card story. Some of his short fiction is among the best I've read, after all. But I did find the story emotionally moving, even if I do find somewhat unpleasant the the story's theme, viz. Redemption of the Wealthy Capitalist Who Was Actually a Really Good Person All Along.
One funny thing about that story is it still takes place circa 1991, but for this publication, Card (or Taylor?) updated "home teaching" to "ministering"; add this to your collection of mildly amusing anachronisms.
My two favorite stories are probably the first I read (Taylor's "Mavericks" which takes place near my wife's hometown and features one of the best renditions of powerful spiritual influence I've ever read) and the third-to-last, Ann Dee Ellis's "A Christmas Story" which is tight and beautiful and sad and witty and manages to be full of style without ever once seeming like it's showing off. I don't think I'd heard of Ann Dee Ellis before, thought she has multiple books out. I've mostly sworn off YA and MG books, but maybe I'll make an exception. Anyway, I've put the two at my library on hold.
A few thoughts on some of the other work:
Darlene Young is represented, including her dirty shepherds poem, which I love.
Several of the stories I thought were very close to being excellent and just needed a sterner final edit. I feel pretty safe saying that not just because a couple of my favorites should have been a couple pages shorter but because the brown M&M's were still in the bowl: when a word started with an apostrophe, it curled the wrong way. I believe every time. I noticed.
Anyway, stories I thought were great but should have been a hair tighter include Donald Smurthwaite's "The Greatest White-Flocked Aluminum Artificial Christmas Tree That No One for Miles Around Ever Came to See" (which felt even more true when I visited my parents and saw their spinning tree) and Stan Zenk's "The Wenceslas Papers" (a comedic noir).
That latter story took place in San Francisco, which merits mentioning that most of the stories are set either in Utah or Northern California. There are a few exceptions: Southern Idaho which might as well be Utah (the reason people from southern Idaho resent people saying this is because it's true) and England (though with a strong Utah tie). Makes me feel even more out of places for setting mine in the Midwest. Vive la différence!
Some of my other favorites include those from the big names, the people who make the cover: Dean Hughes (his story, along with Card's originally appeared in Aspen Books' Christmas collection of three decades ago) and Susan Easton Black (whose essay appeared in a Deseret Book collection two and a half decades ago).
In short, even though I feel justified complaining about the polish of about half the collection, I still enjoyed it mightily. And I know that anyone even a hair less persnickety than me is apt to have no complaints at all. Make it a gift for the better-than-Theric person in your family.
Previously . . . . :
books from this year
002) You're a Pal, Snoopy by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 4
004) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished January 9
005) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished January 17
006) Shem in Zarahemla by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 19
iPlates: Zerin's Sacrifice by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 21
008) iPlates: Alma in the Wilderness by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 24
009) Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, finished January 27
010) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished February 4
011) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, finished February 4
003) Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, finished January 6
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, finished February 5
013) My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, finished February 15
014) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, finished February 16
015) Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, finished February 18
016) A Desolating Sickness: Stories of Pandemic edited by D.J. Butler, finished February 21
017) Nothing Very Important and other stories by Béla Petsco, finished February 22
Muppets Present "The Great Gatsby" by Ben Crew, finished February 24
019) Uncanny Avengers: Counter-Evolutionary by Rick Remender and Daniel Acuna, finished February 28
020) Guts by Raina Telgemeier, finished March 2
021) The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by D. Manus Pinkwater, finished March 4
022) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeieir, finished March 5
Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of You by Rachel Brian, finished March 11
024) Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint, finished March 12
025) Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh, finished March 20
026) The Invisible Saint by Curtis Taylor, finished March 25
027) Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, finished March 25
Scrap Mettle by Scott Morse, finished March 26
029) Dugout: The Zombie Steals Home by Scott Morse, finished April 1
030) The Barefoot Serpent by Scott Morse, finished April 1
Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do by James Thurber and E. B. White, finished April 1
032) Boys Who Became Prophets by Lynda Cory Hardy, finished April 11
033) George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall, finished April 12
034) Stuart Little by E.B. White, finished April 14
035) Achilles by Elizabeth Cook, finished April 15
036) Have It Your Way, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 15
037) The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne, finished April 21
038) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished April 22
039) The Garden of Enid—Volume One by Scott Hales, finished May 2
040) Tiny Writings by Danny Nelson, finished May 5
041) Whispering Death! by R.A. Christmas, finished May 6
042) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, finished May 9
043) T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton, finished May 14
044) Sweet Tooth – Volume 1: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
045) Sweet Tooth – Volume 2: In Captivity by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
046) Sweet Tooth – Volume 3: Animal Armies by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
047) Sweet Tooth Deluxe Edition – Volume 2 by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
048) Sweet Tooth Deluxe Edition – Volume 3 by Jeff Lemire, finished May 23
049) A Book of Lamentations by James Goldberg, finished on May 23
050) How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, finished on May 25
051) We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, finished on May 26
052) Vertigo CMYK, finished on June 5
053) Plutona by Jeff Lemire and Eme Lenox and friends, finished on January 5
054) The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael edited by Sanford Schwartz, finished on June 9
055) Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, finished on June 11
056) American Cult edited by Robyn Chapman, finished on June 12
057) Messages on the Water by Merrijane Rice, finished on June 14
058) Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen, finished on June 16
059) There There by Tommy Orange, finished on June 19
060) The Shakespeare Stories by Andrew Matthews and illustrated by Tony Ross, finished on June 19
062) The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part Two by Scott Hales, finished on June 20
063) Do the Movies Have a Future? by David Denby, finished on July 14
064) The Child Buyer by John Hersey, finished on July 14
065) Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, finished on July 15
066) Dani and Ramen: A Nomad's Tale, volume one by Jake Morrison, finished on July 17
067) Dani and Ramen: A Nomad's Tale, volume two by Jake Morrison, finished on July 17
068) The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, finished on July 23
069) Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier, finished on July 23
It's a Magical World by Bill Watterson, finished on July 29
071) Future Day Saints: The Gnolaumite Crystal by Matt Page, finished on August 1
072) Dutch House by Ann Patchett, finished on August 5
073) Long Walk to Valhalla by Adam Smith and Matthew Fox, finished on August 7
074) House of Women by Sophie Goldstein, finished on August 10
075) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, finished on August 10
The House by Paco Roca, finished on August 11
077) Are Comic Books Real? by Alex Nall, finished on August 13
078) Top Ten by Alan Moore and Gene Ha, finished on August 16
079) Baby-sitters Little Sister: Karen's Roller Skates by Katy Farina, finished on August 17
080) Lulu Anew by Étienne Davodeau, finished on August 17
081) The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees by Douglas W. Tallamy, finished on August 24
082) Thor: The Goddess of Thunder by Aaron/Dauterman/Molina, finished on August 24
083) Pashima by Nidhi Chanani, finished on August 25
Now We're Getting Somewhere by Kim Addonizio, finished on August 27
085) I Am Young by M. Dean, finished on August 30
086) The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye presented by Sonny Liew, finished on August 31
087) The Oven by Sophie Goldstein, finished on August 31
088) Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky, finished on September 3
089) Loverboys by Gilbert Hernandez, finished on September 3
Apocalypse Taco by Nathan Hale, finished on September 4
091) In by Will McPhail, finished on September 4
092) Deadpool Does Shakespeare by Gerry Duggan and Ian Doescher, finished on September 4
093) WE3 by Grant Morrison, finished on September 4
094) The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, finished on September 21
Deeper Thoughts by Jack Handey, finished on September 23
096) Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert, finished on September 23
097) Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, finished on September 28
098) My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones, finished on September 29
099) Anne of Green Gables by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler, finished on September 29
100) The Grownup by Gillian Flynn, finished on October 1
The Glass Looker by Mark Elwood, finished on October 3
102) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness after Siobhan Dowd, finished on October 6
103) Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket, finished on October 12
104) Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, Ryan Estrada; finished on October 13
105) Romance or The End. by Elaine Kahn, finished on October 14
106 & 107) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished on October 18
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, finished on October 29
The Book of Mormon, finished on October 19
110) As You Like It by William Shakespeare, finished on November 8
111) Premonition by Michael Lewis, finished on November 8
112) Tuki: Fight for Fire by Jeff Smith, finished on November 12
113) A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk, finished on November 13
114) The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, finished on November 17
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, finished on November 26
119) Clockwork Curandera, Volume I: The Witch Owl Parliament by David Bowles & Raúl The Third, finished on November 26
Stretching the Heavens: The Life of Eugene England and the Crisis of Modern Mormonism by Terryl L. Givens, finished on November 21
116) Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke, finished on November 24
117) Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue, finished on November 24
120) The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard, finished on November 27
121) "Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?" by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell, finished on November 30
122) City of Saints by Andrew Hunt, finished on December 4
123) The Deadliest Bouquet by Erica Schultz and Carola Borelli, et al.; finished December 11
final posts in this series from
2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012
2013 = 2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020
* the most recent post in the books-read series *