V is for verrry fine literature


077) V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton, finished July 7

One fun puzzle to work out in any of these books is just what the title is in reference to. This one has layers. So many vengeances!

Organized crime and people connected in so many different ways. If ever there was a Grafton novel to break out the red yarn and corkboard over, this is it. It was also intensely satisfying. Even though I've decided I miss the old days when the entire novel was from Kinsey's perspective. It did provide the unusual perspective of seeing Kinsey from another character's point of view. It also provided a different sort of morality in that one of the final thrills is a bad guy getting away with it. These are not books that allow you to cheer for bad guys.

Which makes me excited for X. (And even more disappointed over Z.)



the first chapter months ago the rest in about a month

078) Spin by John Bennion, finished July 10

This was the third of three books I ordered on April 6 (!) and when it arrived I was stunned by how long it was. I was expecting a slim lil volume and it was not that. Heike's Void was longer than I expected but Spin was, like a dozen Hemingways in Paradise!

I figured it was entering the realm of Books I Own But Who Knows If or When I'll Ever Read Them. There are already a couple Bennion books in that category, to be honest.

But I was intrigued by the concept and it kept staring at me from the shelf and it felt paired to Heikie's, which I had loved, so one Sunday afternoon I stood from the couch and took it down. Glad I did.

I'm a little hesitant to talk about the novel as most of what I want to say will sound like the sort of stuff that might keep me from reading it, had I known ahead of time. So be warned of spoilers—not spoilers of plot! but spoilers of theme and tone and form and narration.

The "concept" I referred to above was that the main character's daughter is taken from her in a divorce. She grabs her and runs off and manages to stay ahead of her pursuit by delegating her decisions to an "executive decision maker."

On page 48—much later than I would have expected from, say, Vonnegut (as in Slaughterhouse-Five or Timequake)—Bennion steps out from behind the curtain and just starts talking to us with no warning about swimming in the faculty pool and imagining being a pregnant woman. It's startling. Then he's back to the story.

It takes a few of these visits before we can figure out what he's up to.

And what he's up to is plural, but I only wish to discuss one.

Bennion has broken fiction in a manner I never imagined it could be broken.

He tells us that his heroine's journey isn't just fictionally determined randomly. No, the author himself is using random methods to determine what happens to her next.

I never realized how much, in fiction, we count on the guiding hand of the author, that such a hand exists, to convince us to keep reading. We trust the author. And John Bennion has rejected that stewardship.

It made for a disorienting experience. It made me wonder if the book I'd picked off the new shelf at the library, read chunks from, then tossed away in anger and disgust, was right: storytelling, fiction—these things are terrible and we should just stop. Spin made me question the entire enterprise of fiction.

But as his intrusions into the text become longer and more frequent, we entered on a journey with him, discussing how much responsibility writers even deserve.

And thus, I believe, we come to the title's primary meaning—not spin as in the tool poor Lily uses to design her life, but spin as in doctors. Bennion explores is own politics and artistry and feelings and wonders how well he is doing expanding beyond all the privileges he has inherited to really imagine the Other.

En route, he quotes numerous thinkers (especially Levinas). And, perhaps, presents an argument against the fiction-hater whose book I still intend to leave at the library.

I rush to assure you that this second layer of the book (the essaying, he calls it) does not prevent the fiction from working. This film gave me one of the most upsetting moments I've had in some time as well as some successful thrills. The oppression Lily undergoes in this book, the powerlessness, is heavy. And the book supplies no easy wins in the end. It may turn out well, but it'll take thirty years.

Let's also point out that the Lily-drawn illustrations (actually by daughter Amy Bennion) are excellent and thought-provoking and mysterious. We don't know what they are until near the end of the novel, not long after a long gap without any at all.

It's hard to say whether this book is a "success" or a "failure" because those terms hardly seem the point. The etymology of the word "essay" is to try and that of "fiction" is to form. The book does both these things with aplomb. And it rather forces us to as well.

Certainly, it's not an experience I've had before.

a hair over a month

079) The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker edited by Robert Mankoff, finished July 11

Let me make clear I read the paper. the book comes with two cds that contain the complete 68, 647 cartoons that have appeared over the years. Haven't hit that yet.

But it's a hefty collection all the same! Over 600 pages with short essays on each of the first eight decades (it was released in 2004) and bitty essays as well on certain themes and cartoonists.

If you know what to expect, you will be correct.

coupla weeks

080) The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett, finished July 23

This is the final Tiffany Aching book (1, 2, 3, 4) and also the final novel of Sir Terry's career. It's astonishing how much he accomplished in the seven, eight years he had between diagnosis and death, but it still came to an end.

This one felt a little . . . less . . . and the afterword by the author's factotum reveals why. And it wasn't because his brain was decomposing. Or at least, not much.

Terry Pratchett would write important chunks of the book, assemble them, then add and refine until his publisher took it away from him. This makes me feel good because this is how I wrote Byuck but it also explains why this book wasn't up to his normal standard of excellence. It was in full form, but he died before he could finish it. And that's sad, but this is still a wonderful book. Geoffrey is an excellent addition to the cast; the some of the side witches are developed in interesting ways; the final line is absolutely perfect; et cetera. But other bits (the development of Nightshade, the shape of the final battles) are not up to par. And you have to imagine, with a few more months, they would have been.

Anyway. Thank you, Terry Pratchett. Each of your books is a gift and we are grateful.

under a month

081) W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton, finished July 25

What a thrilling conclusion! Sue Grafton at her best builds everything into astonishingly tense conclusions.

There's no doubt that's she's abandoned all pretense of the alternate p-o-vs being some creation of Kinsey's. Kinsey's purely a fictional character, I guess.

But it's hard to see how you recreate this story through just one character's point of view. You lose something but you gain something. Who am I to say all twenty-five books have to play by the same rules? I'll try not to mention this again.

The book opens with two bodies appearing at the same time and Kinsey, of course, getting involved with both. Hijinks ensue, including a trip to Bakersfield down down roads and even in a building I know well. Maybe she'll get to the corner of Shaw and Fowler—or even Tehachapi!—before she's through!

A lot of new issues are introduced in this novel—cats, wealth, a new set of family dynamics, new varieties of forgiveness. I was all ready to complain that it had been too long since Kinsey had connected with her extended family, but waaaaay more happened there than I expected!

As always, since 2017, I'm sad we'll never get all the way to Z. I genuinely believe she had the conclusion planned out. I would take a coffee-table book of her notes.

i guess eighteen days

082) How About Never—Is Never Good for You? by Bob Mankoff, finished July 28

Mankoff has been the cartoon editor at The New Yorker since the Nineties and this memoir is about his journey, but it's also a mini-history of drawings at the magazine from before his time and into the present (2014; he retired in 2017; some things have changed since then—for instance, he recommended submitting at least ten a week and now you can submit no more than ten a month which, let's face it, is more manageable for the hobbyist).

Anyway! Bob is a wonderful host and the book is loaded with cartoons new and old. It's a wonderful read. One of the books Lady Steed stole from me and read first and actually finished and returned because she wanted to talk about it. I know you don't sleep in our bed, but that is high praise indeed.

since before the other new yorker book

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 LĂȘ 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

Books: extralong edition

046) Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On A Feline by Leth/Williams/Allegri, finished April 9
047) The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner, finished April 11
048) Weird Al: The Book by Nathan Rabin with Al Yankovic, finished April 11
049) My Year of Flops by Nathan Rabin, finished April 16
050) The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet, finished April 19
051) Beast of Burden: Occupied Territory by Dorkin & Dyer & Dewey & Piekos, finished April 16
052) Building a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies: Dogbert's Big Book of Business by Scott Adams, finished April 22
053) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder, finished April 27
054) Salt Magic by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, finished May 5
055) Star Wars Adventures: The Weapon of a Jedi, finished May 6
056) Hemingway in Paradise and Other Mormon Poems by Scott Hales, finished May 8
057) Romeo and Juliet: The War by a team assembled by Stan Lee, finished May 10
058) The Dark Horse Book of the Dead edited by Scott Allie, finished May 14
059) A Little Lower than the Angels by Virginia Sorensen, finished May 15

060) Irredeemable by Mark Waid, et al., finished May 20
061) Stanslaw Lev's The Seventh Voyage by Jon J Muth, finished May 23
062) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Simon Armitage, finished May 28
063) Heike's Void by Stephen L. Peck, finished May 30

064) Night Weather by JS Absher, finished June 2
065) Will Eisner Reader, finished June 2
066) Pen Pals by Aaron Cometbus, finished June 4
067) I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, finished June 6
069) Pluto: Urusawa × Tezuka 001 by Naoki Urasawa et al, finished June 16
070) The Gadget War by Betsy Duffey, finished June 16

071) Sensational Wonder Woman, finished June 22
072) Ain't Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin, finished June 27
073) 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) by The Oatmeal, finished June 29
074) Socks by Beverly Cleary, finished June 29
075) The Ultimates Volume 1: Super-Human by Millar/Hitch/Currie, finished June 30
076) In China with Green Day by Aaron Cometbus, finished July 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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