Books: extralong edition


This post went a little long as I kept adding to it while I hoped to get my computer back. This is impossible—and has been for a while—but maybe I could at least get it into a stage where I can start putting it back into it's original form? Not so far. But, I suppose, life must go on. Rackin frackin.

So here we go. Books read:


046) Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On A Feline by Leth/Williams/Allegri, finished April 9

Somewhere I picked up a postcard advertisement for this volume before it was released and I dug its vibe and always intended to pick it up and then over half a decade passed and here we are. Life may be short, but it can also run long.

(Incidentally, the back of the card advertised this book, which my library owned much earlier but still not immediately.)

Anyway, Hellcat is part of a . . . shall we say feminist? shall we say diversification? near-revolution at Marvel that brought us Ms Marvel and Squirrel Girl. It shares a lot of DNA with both books, but it is so much like Squirrel Girl sometimes you wonder if Patsy is a shadow or echo of Doreen. It looks the same, it sounds the same, it plays many of the same games. Just not as well.

I mean it's fine but I enjoyed it more in anticipation.

under half a week

047) The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner, finished April 11

I don't remember how I heard of this book but I added it to my Amazon wish list on July 13, 2016. Last week it was on display at the library for, I don't know, national poetry month or something so I checked it out (even though I said I wouldn't). I'm glad I did!

It's an eighty-page essay on why hating poetry is inextricable from poetry itself and largely it's wise and fun. The general angle of the essay is chronological starting with Plato's nuttery and taking us all the way up to Citizen. Then there's a mini-obit and the last few pages are at best tangentially connected. But they did have this wonder within them:

If you are five and you point to a sycamore or an idle backhoe or a neighbor stooped over his garden . . . and utter "vanish" . . . you will never be only incorrect; if your parent or guardian is curious, she can find a meaning that makes you almost eerily prescient—the neighbor is dying, losing weight, or the backhoe has helped a structure disappear. . . . To derive your understanding of a word by watching others adjust to your use of it: Do you remember the feeling that sense was provisional and that two people could build around an utterance a world in which any usage signified?" I think that's poetry. And when I felt I finally mastered a word, when I could slide it into a sentence with a satisfying click, that wasn't poetry anymore—that was something else, something functional within a world, not the liquefaction of its limits.

That's very nice, isn't it? Very nice indeed.

No wonder we hate poetry. It was taken from us by our own selves. 

under half a week

048) Weird Al: The Book by Nathan Rabin with Al Yankovic, finished April 11

I am not a Weird Al scholar. I am a fan. I am not rabid. I know a lot of songs and videos and some albums. But I don't know everything. I do not consider myself an expert.

If you do consider yourself an expert, I imagine you would enjoy this book well enough but not as much as I did who was able to learn stuff. A lot of stuff. More than I knew before.

Plus, like Al, the book is both wholesome and funny. It's a delightful combination a surprisingly large number of people don't believe can exist.

It is a bit of a bummer than it stops moving forward over a decade ago. It doesn't get to his final album (which goes number one! and has a video for each song!) or explore his post-albums career, which I would have loved.

Maybe it's time for a second edition?

under half a week  

049) My Year of Flops by Nathan Rabin, finished April 16

Yep, same author. I decided to just put all his books on hold and see what intrigued. And I love film criticism. And I love bad movies. And I love discovering hidden gems. So not too shocking that when I picked this up to sample, I ended up reading the entire thing.

Ends up I've read at least one of these before. The first essay, on Elizabethtown, is the essay that coined the term manic pixie dream girl, a term we'd been needing and Rabin provided.

I know I've read that essay and it's hard to imagine that, discovering an essay series called "My Year of Flops," that I did not go on to read several more. That said, I didn't remember any of them. Not even the one I know I've read. He's an entertaining writer, but he's not the reason I now want to watch Pennies from Heaven (that would be Pauline Kael and the 80s All Over guys) and I'm not sure I will remember much from this book. I don't think he changed my mind on anything. Even though he's come around on it, I don't want to watch Freddy Got Fingered. he got closer to convincing me to try Heaven's Gate but . . . maybe if it were shorter.

Before we move on, he has a grading system: Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success.

Here are the movies in the book I've seen, his take, and my opinion:

The Cable Guy: Secret Success (I honestly can't remember my opinion)

Hulk: Secret Success (Failure, but I'll note that the tiny screen on which I watched it may hold some of the blame)

The Rocketeer: Secret Success (agreed)

Ishtar: Secret Success (agreed)

Psycho: Fiasco (I would say Failure, but I'm excited to sometime watch this)

Joe Versus the Volcano: Secret Success (agreed)

Waterworld: (this appeared as an ungraded appendix feature, but he didn't like it and neither did I)

The book also brought up some movies I'm not interested in seeing that he was willing to call a secret success, including those I've never heard of before (O.C. and Stiggs) or barely heard of before (The Apple), and he didn't dissuade me (and in some cases made me want to see more) some flops I might not anticipate much from but still want to see (The Great MomentBreakfast of Champions, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Southland Tales, Last Action Hero, Howard the Duck).

I am not antiflop. I mean—I am the guy who loves Radioland Murders, The Hudsucker Proxy, Rubin & Ed, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Intolerable CrueltyGentlemen Broncos, et cetera. Who knows what dismal flop may be my next favorite? Bring them on!

Incidentally, I believe all these essays (and more besides) can still be read at The A.V. Club.

under half a week  

050) The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet, finished April 19

Why isn't the novella our dominant form? It is fully long enough to explore something in depth and short enough to read, as I did, in under twenty-four hours.

After watching The Lady in the Van, I read about some of his other works and, charmed by the conceit of this one and discovering it at my local library, I checked it out.

Here is that conceit: the Queen of England (Elizabeth II), discovering a mobile library at the edge of her grounds, checks out a book and becomes a reader.

The book is charming and so, so British. And the development of a person into a reader (and beyond) is just that. Even when that person is older. Even when that person is Queen.

And did I mention it is short?

under half a week

Here, I had intended to post the latest batch of books, but for technical reasons (NOTE: This bit was added before I knew just how bad it would get.), it is inconvenient for me to access Thubstack for the next week or so, so on we go!

051) Beast of Burden: Occupied Territory by Dorkin & Dyer & Dewey & Piekos, finished April 16

Nothing special. Dogs who can talk to humans, humans who can talk to dogs, both engages in the occult, out there protecting us from bad things.

I take it each volume in this series is a short, stand-alone tale. This one takes place in Japan following World War II and features a great deal of Japanese folklore and mythology. It's fun! The dialogue is good and the art is clear and I had a good time.

But I doubt I'll remember it next week.

over an hour (which is to say: under half a week)

052) Building a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies: Dogbert's Big Book of Business by Scott Adams, finished April 22

I'm at my inlaws who are midmove and this is literally the best thing I could find to read. Scott Adams has revealed himself as a . . . something unpleasant anyway over the last decade, revealing that he wasn't just observing and mocking douchey behavior but, frankly, mocking and reveling in it. Which is easy to see now.

It's likely I've read this book before, perhaps twenty years ago. The book itself dates back to 1991, back before the pointy-haired boss had pointy hair and before Alive had gelled into an actual character. I think, at that point, Dilbert was not really on my radar, though he would be a strip I admired through much of the 90s.

I will say, when I have thoughts of going corporate and making money, Dilbert helps in the same way spraying cayenne on your peas helps with deer.

a morning

053) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder, finished April 27

I've been reading this book with my AP Lang students and they've written a response of one kind or another to each lesson. It's been provocative and useful.

The book is small (roughly 4⅜ × 6¼) and the type is large and it's compelling. By the end, they students were a little tired of examples from the 1930s, but hey.

The book came out in 2017 and is an obvious response to Donald Trump, but Snyder never refers to him by name (when he must make a direct reference, he calls him "the American president"). Often, if you haven't been following the news the last seven years, he could be speaking hypothetically. And so the moments where he's really leaning on Trump really stick out. One expects those moments to age the book considerably over the years, but its value should maintain.

I remember the first time the class read a passage they recognized as directly addressing "the American president" how startled they were. Even though we started off by noting the publication date and talking about the book's exigence, they were startled to realize how contemporary it was. I wonder how long that experience will last?

My primary advice to Snyder, had I been asked an opinion prepublication, would be to ax the epilogue. Or at least reduce it greatly. The antihistorical argument is made earlier and fits better there. The pitch to young people is good but the balance is off.

Regardless, the twenty lessons themselves are terrific and I recommend them to each of you. Read them and then look inside yourself; consider your role in our society; stand for the right things and the needed changes. Let's learn something here.

maybe two months, maybe less

054) Salt Magic by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, finished May 5

I'm not certain why I checked this out. By the time I got it home, I was certain I wouldn't like it and had decided I would probably never read it.

But then: I did.

And while my bad attitude prevented me from seeing it right away, this is a pretty bold book doing some darned interesting things in a book aimed at kids. This isn't a Disney fairy tale, by any means. Things get nasty and unfair in ways I did not see coming. You might argue my bad attitude made it possible for the book to all the better undermine my expectations.

In short, a girl has to go on a quest to save her family from a vindictive witch and she ends up paying dearly in her adventure.

Personally, I prefer good witches ala Tiffany Aching, but the witches here are so ambivalent about their evil it's hard to call them evil at all.

three or four days

055) Star Wars Adventures: The Weapon of a Jedi, finished May 6

Eventually, every moment of Luke's life will be accounted for.

two days

056) Hemingway in Paradise and Other Mormon Poems by Scott Hales, finished May 8

Scott's poetry is deceptive.

By which I mean it seems so simple at first glimpse in language and concept that it cannot possibly be any good winkwink.

But in fact, it is possessed of the simplicity that is key to excellence. Like Darlene Young or William Blake.

I've previously read a hefty percentage of these poems before, one place or another. And several of them are in fact important to me. Poems I am grateful to reread. And some of them, though I could easily summarize them for you, still manage to surprise me.

The books is split in half: "Afterlives" and "Lives"; the first half covers his series of poems discussing folks in the afterlife (such as Hemingway) and the second half covers the living—himself, his contemporaries and those from long ago when they too were alive.

The poems range from achingly personal (the volta in "Lucy") to the faux-serious absurd (finding the nudists at "Muir Beach, 2013") to the powerful metaphors found in simple moments ("Brother and Sister")—and those are just within the contemporary poems!

Scott has no problem dancing away from reality, either. One of the poems new to me was a telling of one night at the Nauvoo Relief Society's Dungeon & Dragons club (Lucy Mack Smith is dungeonmaster). To come back to my thesis, each sister mentioned has an appropriate character (of course Eliza is a changeling bard), but upon reflection, none of the women are quite one-to-one with their character. There are details to puzzle out. What seems like a simple metaphor—or even a joke—in fact has much, much more to offer.

Hemingway in Paradise is a friendly volume that will be fun to pick up and read any page from at any moment. But it's sticky. And the ideas it presents and the questions it asks also a reward more measured and thoughtful visit.

If you haven't purchased any poetry in a while (or ever), start here.

three Sundays

057) Romeo and Juliet: The War by a team assembled by Stan Lee, finished May 10

This is part of one of Stan Lee's attempts to create new comics in his later life. And it's . . . fine. Just fine.

It's clear the team (writer Max Work?) knows the play well. This future-set version plays with the text sometimes in interesting ways, sometimes in convenient ways.

The future is pretty mid-century. I don't know whether this is Stan Lee's fault or the rest of the team's or the 400yrold original text, but the story (for instance) ignores women. Juliet's mother is dead and the nurse barely makes an appearance. And that's it.

But don't worry! Juliet's breasts get a lot of play. And, when she slumps over in grief, the shot is artistically cut to erase her entire person except for some upskirt. So that's good. We do love pale women's digitally-painted flesh, don't we, gents?

The book feels very filmic—the oversized pages are widescreen shaped so the splashes feel blockbuster-ready. And when someone yells NO! or, even better, NOOO!, you really get to see the inside of their mouths.

I'm making fun (and it is by no means great) but I did enjoy many aspects of the adaptation. If you're into unusual Shakespearean adaptations, it's worth checking out. Also if you're into digitally painted women in very small dresses.

Sunday and Tuesday

058) The Dark Horse Book of the Dead edited by Scott Allie, finished May 14

I put this on hold because I read something about Gary Gianni and this was the only thing at my local library. His portion of this collection is illustrations to the Robert E. Howard story "Old Garfield's Heart" which I read not so long ago when I checked out an enormous Howard collection—if I remember correctly, because I had read somewhere that that specific story was great.

It is pretty great, incidentally.

The rest of this collection is more typical Dark Horse fair about zombies and such from the likes of Mike Mignola and Jill Thompson and the variety that implies. Some good entries here!

a few nights

059) A Little Lower than the Angels by Virginia Sorensen, finished May 15

And now we get to why I decided to finally publish this post, even though I'm still mad at Costco (which is to say, because my computer is still a shallow shell of its once-self): I have a lot to say about this excellent book—maybe the best Mormon novel I've ever read. I plan to write two essays, at least one of which will appear here. Look forward to it!

two or three weeks or so

Previously . . . . :

Previous Posts

001) U Is for Undertow by Sue Grafton, finished January 4
002) Far Sector by N.K. Jemisin et al, finished January 7
003) Joseph Smith and the Mormons by Noah Van Sciver, finished January 7
004) The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, finished January 11
005) The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani, finished January 11
006) Bad Kitty Goes on Vacation by Nick Bruel, finished January 12
007) Remina by Junji Ito, finished January 15
008) The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill, finished January 15
009) The Tea Dragon Festival here by Katie O'Neill, finished January 15
010) A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, finished January 18
011) Diana: Princess of the Amazons by Shannon & Dean Hale and Victoria Ying, finished January 26

012) Just Julie's Fine by Theric Jepson, finished January 28
013) The Art of Description by Mark Doty, finished January 28
014) Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Lê and Andie Tong, finished February 5
015) Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope, finished January 9
016) The Art of Mystery by Maud Casey, finished February 11
017) The Art of Bible Translation by Robert Alter, finished February 13
018) No Longer Human by Junji Ito, finished February 15

019) Zatanna and the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody and Yoshi Yoshitani, finished Febraury 17
020) Fuzz by Mary Roach, finished February 19
021) Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection by Junji Ito, finished February 25
022) You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis, finished March 4
023) Audience-ology by Kevin Goetz, finished March 4
024) The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, finished March 7

025) Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, finished March 8
026) The Croquet Player by H. G. Wells, finished March 11
027) Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It by Michael J. Trinklein, finished March 12
028) Nightwing: Leaping into the Light by Bruno Redondo and Tom Taylor, finished March 13
029) Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion, finished date
030) Invisible Ink: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist by author, finished date
031) Ghosts of Vader's Castle by a slew of folks, finished March 15
032) The Flintstones Volume 1 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh, finished March 16
033) The Flintstones Volume 2 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh, finished March 16
034) The Jetsons by Palmiotti/Brito/Sinclair, finished March 16
035) Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan, finished March 18
036) Ballad for Sophie by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia, finished March 19

You tell me whether it's garbage-in or not

037) Bride of the Far Side by Gary Larson, finished March 23
038) Batman: Night of the Owls by the entire DC bullpen, finished March 23
039) The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, finished March 25

040) The Pocket Book of Ogden Nash, finished March 25
041) Slaugherhouse-Five or the Children's Crusade: a Duty Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut / Ryan North / Albert Monteys, finished March 28
042) The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith, finished March 28
043) Jem by Frederik Pohl, finished March 31
044) The Mundane Adventures of Dishman by John MacLeod, finished March 31
045) Because Sometimes You Just Gotta Draw a Cover with Your Left Hand by Stephan Pastis, finished April 4

final posts in this series from
  2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013
2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020 = 2021

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