No more books in 2022, I'm afraid


How about four comics to end the year? Something forgettable, a new old favorite, a serious note from an old friend, and something pleasant yet nutritious. 

And then we're done for 2022. I consider it unlikely I will finish any other books in the next 10 hours and 55 minutes. I could, if I really wanted to, but I don't think that's my plan. So happy new year, fellow readers!

(And brace yourself the year's-end deluge—yesterday was state of the newsletter, today is final books of the year, today or tomorrow is final movies of the year—but I think I won't be returning to a year's-end best-comic-read post; in part because I can't decide between this one and this one.)


142) Last Night at Wyrmwood High by Kathleen Gros, finished December 23

Last week-of-school prank at a high school for magical creatures, and a curse, and everything resolved, and no one hurt, like an old sitcom, with commas filling the roles of true beats.

lying in bed one morning

143) Garlic & the Witch by Bree Paulsen, finished December 27

I love how gentle these books are. They do all the things good-for-you books are supposed to do but without forcing anything down your throat or drawing big ugly arrows at the morals.

This was even pleasant to read out loud which is not always true of comics.

Big changes happen in this one! What looks like a metaphor for adulthood becomes literal adulthood. I'm not sure there can be a third book aimed at this audience, but I'm open to finding out!

one sit

144) Ducks by Kate Beaton, finished December 28

Kate Beaton's been working on this for years and while it is good, it also feels like something she had to do before she could get on to what's waiting for her.

In short, before during and after starting Hark! a Vagrant, she was working the Alberta oil sands. Desperate for money and stuck putting up with all the crap you can imagine, she spends two years bluecollaring in nowhere.

Stuff you hope won't happen, happens.

A lot of us come from places you can't stay in. And while the pull home is weaker with each passing year, it never leaves.

two days

145) The Holy Ghost by John Hendrix, finished December 31

A friend of mine recommended Hendrix's picture books about Jesus (1 and 2) which I now also recommend to you. They are excellent. The art is wonderful, their relationship with scripture is intelligent, and although they're a bit wordier than I like my picture books, they are a pleasure to read.

They also led me to this book, a series of standalone comics—sorta like Sunday strips—about the Holy Ghost, largely in conversation with a skeptical squirrel. Some of them are dumb, some of them are just-so, some of them are heavy, some of them lean so hard into doubt its hard to see the Holy Ghost comeback meaning much.

In the author's note Hendrix says

I do not understand faith without doubt. The laments and questions in these comics are my own.... they are expressions of a mind wrestling with the alternating seasons of faith and doubt that are familiar to any person of faith, no matter the belief system....

In the end, the effect is one of peace and hope and charm.

The intro is by Patrick McDonnell, and Hendrix's style in Holy Ghost reflects his more than anyone else's (although it's Watterson and Schulz he shouts out as inspirations).

The universe is a monster, an engine running on chance and death, it's so beautiful.

a couple weeks

What else was read this year:

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

Comics (not that comical) and a novel (pretty comical)

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

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

077) V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton, finished July 7
078) Spin by John Bennion, finished July 10
079) The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker edited by Robert Mankoff, finished July 11
080) The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett, finished July 23
081) W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton, finished July 25
082) How About Never—Is Never Good for You? by Bob Mankoff, finished July 28

083) Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less by Leidy Klotz, finished July 29
084) Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, finished July 30
085) Urban Legendz by Paul Downs / Nick Bruno / Michael Yates, finished July 30
086) The Best Film You've Never Seen by Robert K. Elder, finished August 1
087) It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken by Seth, finished August 4
088) Spencer Kimball's Record Collection: Essays on Mormon Music by Michael Hicks, finished August 7

089) The Last Man by Mary Shelley, finished August 11
090) Funny Business by Revlio, finished August 13
091) The Sopratos by Stephan Pastis, finished August 15
092) Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, finished August 16
093) Best Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, finished August 16
094) Friends Forever by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, finished August 16
095) The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard, finished August 20

096) One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale, finished August 20
097) My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long, finished August 22
098) Chivalry by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran, finished August 23
099) Chouette by Claire Oshetsky, finished August 25
100) Weiner Dog Art by Gary Larson, finished August 26
101) A Bestiary of Booksellers by Aaron Cometbus, finished September 2
102) Slaughterhouse-Five, or. the Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut, finished September 9

103) Long Live the Pumpkin Queen by Shea Ernshaw, finished September 10
104) Bug! The Adventures of Forager by a trio of Allreds, finished September 22
105) The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, finished September 24
106) Fangs by Sarah Andersen, finished October 2
107) The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, finished October 3
108) Brindille by Frédéric Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci, finished October 5
109) Shelterbelts by Jonathan Dyck, finished date

110) The Complete Peanuts: 1961 – 1962 by Charles M. Schulz, finished October 9
111) Theseus: Volume One by Jordan Holt, finished October 19
112) Over the Garden Wall by Pat McHale and Jim Campbell, finished October 20
113) Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel, finished October 20
114) A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, finished October 21
115) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Amazing Adventures: The Meeting of the Mutanimals, finished October 22
116) Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, finished October 26
117) Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, finished October 27
118) Love by Frederic Brremaud and Federico Bertolucci, finished October 27

119) What If? 2 by Randall Munroe, finished October 28
120) The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber, finished October 28
121) Disquiet by Noah Van Sciver, finished November 3
122) Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo: The Road to Epoli by Ben Costa and James Park, finished November 3
123) 2 A.M. in Little America by Ken Kalfus, finished November 8
125) The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin, finished November 16

126) The Darkest Abyss: Strange Mormon Stories by William Morris, finished November 18
127) Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt, finished November 22
128) Ramona and Beezus by Beverly Cleary, finished November 24
129) The Love Map: Saving Your Love Relationship and Incidentally Saving the World by Carol Lynn Pearson, finished December 1
130) Gardener by Matt Emmons, finished December 1
131) My Wife Wants You to Know I'm Happily Married by Joey Franklin, finished December 2
132) Earthborn by Carl Dennis, finished December 8
133) Fantastic Four: Road Trip by Fraction | Bagley | Araújo, finished December 10
134) The Complete Peanuts: 1963 – 1964 by Charles M. Schulz, finished December 10

135) Garlic & the Vampire by Bree Paulsen
136) Patrik the Vampire by Bree Paulsen
137) Harbinger by Shelley Puhak, finished December 16
138) Sheets by Brenna Thummler, finished December 17
139) Marcus King, Mormon by Nephi Anderson, finished December 18
140) Mormon Lit Blitz Anthology: 2012–2016, finished December 19
141) The Longest Journey by E.M. Forster, finished date

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



Thtate of the newsletter


(Crossposted, naturally, on Thubstack.)


When I announced Thubstack two Aprils ago I listed what I had done over at Thutopia since the start of 2020 as a way of suggesting what might appear here. I also wondered what might happen now that I was shooting things directly into people’s inboxes.

Which, if that’s not you, then

I figured it would result in my doing more promotion, perhaps of Face in Hat. Since then I have not mentioned Face in Hat once on Thubstack even though it’s among the more consumed things I work on.

(Find Face in Hat here and here and here and here and here and here and here. Lot of positive feedback on 5.4 if you’re looking for somewhere to start.)

But I did manage to self-promote seven times which is incredible. Well done, Theric!

So this is what I did in 2020 and the first bit of 2021:

Regular book-review posts: 27
Posts on unfinished books: 2
Other posts on literature: 8
Regular film posts: 17
Posts about me (eg, publications): 4
Svithes: 3
Other posts: 8

And this is what I’ve done since then:

Regular book-review posts: 38
Posts on unfinished books: 2
Regular film posts: 20
Additional writing on the arts: 8
Self-promotion: 7
Holiday notes: 1
Svithes: 4
Dreams: 2
About consumer experience: 2
General culture or education: 2
On Irreantum: 1
On Peculiar Pages: 1
On Thubstack: 2

People talk about how great Substack’s text editor is, but I don’t feel that way. It’s entirely linear, and so my consistently formatted posts (the regular book- and movie-review compendiums) I still compose in Blogger and copy over. With the result that errors in that transposition often escape my notice.

And since I do those at Blogger, it’s easier to keep all the other long-time-to-finish posts there as well.

Quick one-offs I often do compose in Substack, and that includes the (by far) most popular post I’ve written since transitioning to Thubstack being my most public-facing outlet: “Atheists are the new Christians.“

Substack sends me an email saying who’s opened email within, I don’t know, 48 hours or something. The numbers go up and down. The review posts tend to be lower, which I don’t blame you. The quality varies and you are busy. And since 58 of the 90 Thubstack posts so far are review compendiums, that is the bulk of what I send. I’m no Meg Conley, folks!

But coming up on two years does suggest reason enough to consider what I’ve done so far. If you did open this and you have read this far, please! shoot me an email. What should I be doing here? Republishing old stories? More Mormon-arts stuff? Werewolf pornography? I can’t promise I’ll provide what you want, but I’m open to suggestions all the same. No one bothers with this sort of thing without hoping to please.

Anyway. Happy almost new year.

Here’s a picture of Bjork and Byuck:



Not the end of the year yet
(just the end of these books)


We're approaching the end of the year folks! So it's easy to make vampire metaphors or talk about short books or books I've been reading far too long.

I'm just happy that I like all these books. Even the last one. Which kept losing its grip on me and then started to anger me and then came together and won be over in the final pages. Maybe I like that metaphor for the end of the year best.

Anyway. Books.


135) Garlic & the Vampire by Bree Paulsen, finished date

What a charming little book this is! Little Garlic confronts the new vampire in the neighborhood. Her agender bestfriend Carrot believes in her but Celery's a real jerk. The witch who I assume made them is a lovely human being. Sort of like Tiffany's mentors only with all the rough edges ground off.

I'm delighted a second volume exists. What a pleasant world to spend time in.

before and after dinner

136) Patrik the Vampire by Bree Paulsen, finished date

The author bio in the previous book mentioned she had also done vampires for adults. I expected something more divergent from Garlic's story but this isn't at all, really. It has the same sweetness, the same vampire-gone-straight, the matter-of-fact reality of varieties of queer. Just with more blood and deep conversations about heavier topics.

As I was approaching the end of its web run (longer than the kickstarted book) I started to realize that, in a way, Bree Paulsen is the opposite of Anne Rice. I haven't read all of the Vampire Chronicles (I loved the first two, but the third outraged me with its stupidity and that was that), but they are largely about indulgence. Devouring the world. Seeking and taking physical pleasure. A fantasy of no regret. Which makes them sound simpler and more pornographic than is fair, but as a summary, that stakes it.

Patrik's story is about platonic friendship and controlling your urges and respecting other people's space and hoping others can be their best selves and discovering your were wrong when you thought otherwise.

And she does it while juggling multiple time periods.

That the story remains light and hopeful and charming while jumping to topics like abuse and suicide and (etc) is a pretty firm signal that she knows what she's doing.

That said, kids comics pay better once your crack into the great field of effort Raina hath forged. So I imagine this story's kaput. Enjoy what's there.

before and after bedtime

137) Harbinger by Shelley Puhak, finished December 16

Each poem in this collection is titled similarly to every other. Behold Part I:

portrait of the artist as Cassandra
portrait of the artist in labor
portrait of the artist in the NICU
portrait of the artist as a twelve-year-old girl
portrait of the artist as a squirrel
portrait of the artist speaking Viking
portrait of the artist's ancestors
portrait of the artist with the family dog
portrait of the artist as a dud
portrait of the artist as a mommy
portrait of the artist telling a bedtime story
portrait of the artist as a 100-year-old house
portrait of the artist as anonymous

Anyway, I liked it. I suspect some poems were retitled in order to become part of the collection but that often created a new layer of pleasure. And although there are moments the collection dragged for me, it always returned to sparkling life. It's good stuff.

three months

138) Sheets by Brenna Thummler, finished December 17

I didn't pick this because her work was so great with Anne, but if I'd made the connection, I would have. I also didn't make the connection to a book I've had on my list at Hoopla for ages because this is the collector's edition and has a different cover.

Anyway, it comes off like something that will be as popular as it became. But it really wasn't that good. Some lazy character development, plot points that happened because it was time and not because they worked, et cetera. It's an immature work.

But enough small pieces work well enough that I would be interested in reading her work again. I'm not going to bother with the sequel but in a few years, some new thing she does, why not? She has potential. Let's assume she'll develop it.

one day

139) Marcus King, Mormon by Nephi Anderson, finished December 18

This is a short novel about 130 little pages. And not his strongest work. Although there are solid elements, the whole thing is haunted by a budding polygamist apologiam that Nephi never quite commits two. The two ladies are okay with both being married to Marcus but one dies and so they're never married to him, in this life, simultaneously. In other words, I'm not sure Nephi could convince even himself, not quite. Which means the books comes off not quite right. The pov twist in the final pages is cute and underscores what does work in the book, but ultimately I think we have to call this a failed experiment.

maybe three weeks

140) Mormon Lit Blitz Anthology: 2012–2016, finished December 19

I loved it. I love it for the breadth it presents and for the many moments of excellence. An excellent place to start. Keep it in the bathroom.

almost a year

141) The Longest Journey by E.M. Forster, finished date

If you'd asked me ten pages before the end I would not have believed I would say this, but I loved The Longest Journey.

It didn't seem to be going anywhere. Every good-seeming thing was followed by a pile of much worse-seeming things. And then (spoilers) the main character DIED!!! He just—he was there one sentence, then he lost his legs in the next sentence, and he was dead in the third! The heck!

And then the final chapter, which should have been the world's grossest epilogue, managed to recast everything through it's precise language and excellent details. It went from being petulantly nihilistic to beautiful and meaningful.

If the first five pages make you want to throw the book away, don't bother. But if you find them at least 40% intriguing as you find them irritating, it's likely worth the journey.

  year and a half


Previously . . . . :


Two Christmas Suppositions (a svithe)


Two Saturdays ago, we were reading Matthew 2 as part of our Christmas advent and read about the Wise Men:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he that is born "King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him."

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, "In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, 'And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.'"

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also."

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

That last bit got me singing a line from this excellent Low song:

Lady Steed was startled, having thought the song was about a different bit of the Christmas story. I thought we were both right, there being more than one verse. (In being nice, I became wrong also.)

Anyway, the song played on the car stereo as we drove to church the next morning and I pointed out the Wise Men.

THEN, at Sunday School, we read the Micah scripture quoted above:

But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

That same Saturday, because we were behind on our advent reading (already! on December 3!) we also read about the shepherds. I paused to read Darlene Young's "Shepherds" (not our first poem introduced into scripture study that week; I'd also read one from here).

And after we read Micah we read Matthew again. Then, that evening, during the Christmas Broadcast, Elder Oaks talked about the shepherds and how they "made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child."

And I realized: the elites of Judean society never heard what the shepherds "made known abroad." And how unsurprising this is. And how the humble are rarely listened to, even when their information is enormously important. What a start to the Christian era.

That supposition is mine.

Then Elder Oaks went on to make one of his own (I assume; I doubt either of these are original; no doubt both our suppositions are old hats to scholars of Christmas scriptures):

The lavish gifts the magi bestowed upon the Christ Child may well have funded his family's subsequent flight into Egypt.

Which makes sense.

Anyway, it's fun to connect pieces and richen stories. Do you have any Christmas suppositions of your own?

previous svithe on thutopia
previous svithe on thubstack


Nine swell books (most in the good sense, some in the bottom-of-the-bog sense)


I kept delaying posting this because I was posting about Byuck (1,2) and didn't want to get annoying, and now it's really long and so annoying. Yrwelkm.

Anyway, three extreeemely different works of Mormon literature, plus a memoir, poems, comics. Hooff. Such a smorgasbord! Definitely take at least one of these recommendations.


126) The Darkest Abyss: Strange Mormon Stories by William Morris, finished November 18

Not easy to overstate how successful William was with this project. He's been saying, for what seems like y e a r s, that his new collection would do things we hadn't seen before in the Mormon arts.

At first I was skeptical. Although the first story is terrific and unique, I, ah, had read it before. But let's talk about the collection's penultimate story for a moment: "Certain Places."

In short, a person loses their self and appears in another person making them the same self even though they both existed separately and maintain those memories. And then they both become a third person, while ceasing to be what once they were.

Besides being quite the concept, he plays it very Mormon. For instance, you could interpret the story being about polygamy and/or sealing. Or you could say it is a commentary on the Church's contemporary sexual politics. Just for two examples. But to reduce the story to such commentary is to fight against its core strangeness, and the experience the characters are having. They are living these impossible lives and the "moral" is not their concern. They are motivated by their hopes and their regrets and not by what message we might take from their decisions.

The story that follows it, the collection's closer, "A Mormon Writer Visits Spirit Prison," started out rather annoying, to be honest. The form struck me as needlessly complex (and it did require flipping pages all the way to the end) but it did pay off. This is a writer you can trust, even when he seems just to be messing with you.

Which gets to his commentary on "A Ring Set Not with Garnet but Sardius." He posted this shortly before I read the tale and I was glad, because when I got to the end of the story it made a clear allusion by which I mean it clearly was an allusion, but I had no idea as to what.

But reading of his process was great anyway. Largely for its intended purpose (to expose his process), sure, but also because reading once through for pleasure does not reveal as many details as this sort of story can provide. A few things came up which I had only vaguely noticed.

Which is to say two things:

Chris Ware said it takes a thousand times as long to make a comic as to read one. This ratio may or may not apply to Darkest Abyss but it should remind us to slow down. Waterskiing over the surface is delightful, but the fish! the fish!

And this is unquestionably a volume that will reward rereading.

a month

127) Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt, finished November 22

I guess this is the perfect book to read when waiting for an oil change or a smog check or anything car-related, or while taking one's daughter to the park, as that is how I read this book.

It's the story of the author's practically clinical four-year addiction to movies or, on a deeper level, how a person finds a passion and then turns it into either a life or an obsession.

He's good company and the book moves quickly. I really didn't plan on reading it—I somehow picked it up and the library and started by reading the appendix of the films he read—but it was the right book to fit the shape of the times I had to read and I'm glad I did.

It's funny how it served as both a dire warning and an intensely attractive way to spend your time.

Which, maybe this is typical of addition memoirs?

a couple weeks or more

128) Ramona and Beezus by Beverly Cleary, finished November 24

The 5yrold's intended next book had not arrived from the library so I grabbed this off our shelves and, no surprise, she loved it. So now Ramona the Pest is on hold at the library. I suspect we'll read them all.

And why the heck not?

almost two weeks

129) The Love Map: Saving Your Love Relationship and Incidentally Saving the World by Carol Lynn Pearson, finished December 1

The Love Map is of that tradition that are technically novels but are just as likely to be shelved by your local library in nonfiction, perhaps under philosophy or self-help, alongside books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or The Greatest Salesman in the World. When Carol Lynn sent me a copy, that’s how she pitched it, as “a very intriguing look at love. Short. Fiction. True—like Jonathan Livingston Seagull is true.”

It’s one of those books that can be dull if it’s not the right moment for you to read it. But if it does happen to be the exact right moment for you to read this book, it’ll be the exact right moment for you to read this book.

In brief, it is the story of a marriage on the rocks. One of these sad people goes on a mystical journey with her “Self with a capital S.” The self keeps the name Joanna and gives her Self the name Sylvia, who then takes her along seven steps through the Four Kingdoms: Survival, Joyous Sexuality, Blast Furnace, Through the Eyes of God. Along the way, Joanna—like all of us—will save the world. 

I'm glad I read it when I did! It'll make a nice addition to a little project I'm working on....

coupla weeks

130) Gardener by Matt Emmons, finished December 1

This was perhaps the comic I was most excited about of all the comics I purchased on Kickstarter during my covid madness. And perhaps that's why it took me so long to start reading it.

The text has a few grammatical errors and the Big Ideas in the plot didn't really sing for me, but certain characters and scenes and moments were absolute wonders. If we judge a book by its highest point, this is excellent.

And I really dug the stuff at the end about him developing the story and the world and the characters. He worked hard on this and that suggests to me he's someone to watch, that he will only get better.

In short, we're on some other planet. Humans arrived here centuries ago and everything's gone to hell since. But, um, there's hope . . . or something . . . or is by the end? I don't know. But when it was good it was great.

maybe a month

131) My Wife Wants You to Know I'm Happily Married by Joey Franklin, finished December 2

My general experience with personal essayists is similar to Lemony Snicket's with poets (scroll down to where he's talking about Campbell McGrath). I rarely finish single-author collections, that is to say, unless I own them and spend years reading them. So. Doesn't happen a lot.

But I've been wanting to read this one for a while and when I discovered that my library had it, well!

I've read Joey before (but none of these essays) and each of these essays on its own is an excellent piece of work. But read altogether, well, you say motif, I say this again? But that's my bad attitude. And I was able to tamp it down every time it arose and that meant I kept being delighted.

Essays on kissing and cockroaches and the name Joey and hyperbole. The sort of polymathic everyday eclecticism you expect from the modern creative-nonfiction professor. Fun stuff to read.

But better read over a coupla years.

  let's guess two weeks

132) Earthborn by Carl Dennis, finished December 8

I read this on Darlene Young's recommendation. I forget what she said exactly, something something Billy Collins but different. That seems like a good enough description. That's certainly how I felt in my first burst of reading.

In my final burst of reading, I noticed he has a couple favorite themes. One is his brother and, although they are all admiring, he finds sufficiently numerous ways to address his thoughts on his brother that each felt fresh.

His relationship with atheism is a bit more monotone. He feels a need to address faith and the tools of faith but he's riddled with fear that you might see him as a believer. He can't even talk about a Muse without emphasizing that he does not speak of her "to pretend / To believe in a dead mythology." Protest too much, maybe?

Anyway, I did like the poems.

a couple months maybe three

133) Fantastic Four: Road Trip by Fraction | Bagley | Araújo, finished December 10

Unsure how I came to put this on hold at the library; my best guess is someone on Twitter suggested that this would be an ideal source text for the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, but who knows.

Anyway, I didn't like it. The kids weren't kids; the story had chunks missing because they appeared on contemporaneous titles; full understanding required too much understanding of Marvel lore. It's very much an insider's book. And I am not an insider.

But one thing I did like was it's attempts (occasionally successful) at capturing the family aspect. Mr and Mrs Fantastic have a marriage that could make them the Nick and Nora of the MCU. I hope so. And while I hope they capture the pathos of Grimm's fate, that's probably something to save for the second movie.

under a week

134) The Complete Peanuts: 1963 – 1964 by Charles M. Schulz, finished December 10

Truly great stuff.

One thing I was struck by in the closing pages is that characters twice broke the fourth wall—not a technique I think of as Schulzian, really, with the exception of Snoopy, I suppose. So check it out:

December 16, 1964 (100%)

October 29, 1964 (final 25%)

(note: these are screenshots from the website; in the book it is art-only, neither the frame nor the pasted-in syndicate information appears)

Of course, Charlie Brown (etc) often make an aside in the final panel, but they more usually look off to the wide or roll their eyes. This is different.

(Previous time read.)

two months


Previously . . . . :


Byuck: the true tale of the mysterious 40


This tweet perhaps deserves a bit of context:

Chapter 40, aka "An Expiration Date," is the Billy Joel chapter. The chapter that makes such an impression on people the rerelease's marketing campaign includes stuff like this:

(The full list.)

But what I say there is true. The Billy Joel chapter is what people most often want to talk to me about. So the fact that it is the largest difference between the 2012 publication and 2022 publication deserves some comment.

Comment One : Backstory

The year is 2003 or maybe 4. I'm making good progress understanding Byuck's shape but there's one plot point I can't make work. My protagonist is pretty dumb when it comes to certain aspects of life and I can't see how to shake him from his torpor. Lady Steed and I are shopping at Macey's when they begin playing the solution to my problem, one of Billy Joel's best. It all falls in place for me instantly.

And then we leave the store and I promptly forget the solution. I know I had one but I cannot remember what it was.

Then: we need groceries. Once again, Macey's plays the song and this time the solution becomes permanent. Thank you, Macey's!

Writing the chapter is difficult. Not because I don't know what to do or because the characters are fighting me, but because I want the song to be timed to the conversation in a completely realistic way. Each pause in conversation needs to naturally last the correct length yet end at just the right lyric. When people talk, it needs to cover exactly that many lyrics. I obsess, playing the song over and over, acting the chapter out as I  make sure everything is just as it should be. How long would it take Dave to do this? What part of the song would be playing when he finishes? Et cetera. I may have spent more time finetuning 40 than I did the rest of the book put together, even though I already knew the more important beats and even some of the lines my characters would say.

Comment Two : 2012 and a new 40

Strange Violin publishing Byuck after years of Beckett-level absurd correspondence with Deseret Book, a powerfully unpleasant moment from another MoLit publisher, and absolute silence from everywhere else was huge for me. Seeing Byuck in print made it possible for me to move on to other projects. I was free!

But something they wanted me to do was rewrite 40 so as to quote waaaay less Billy. They were worried I'd left fair use behind and they'd get slapped with a lawsuit. I was resistant. I had worked so hard on this chapter and I did not want it changed. But: I did it. Byuck needed to be in print and I wasn't letting 40 stop me.

I found narrative solutions to make things shorter and Byuck moved into physical reality.

Comment Three :  2022 and a new 40

When BCC Press agree to take Just Julie's Fine they also agree that it would be a good idea to republish Byuck since its 2012 rollout was rendered lackluster as its publisher plywooded its windows just before releasing my novel. It would be, that's right, synergistic if both books were available from the same publisher. Matching covers and so forth.

But I also saw a chance to pitch the original, longer 40. BCC legal looked and it and said, yes, sure, no problem. But then I reread it and . . . was the 2012 version actually better? I couldn't tell. Some BCC people gave me feedback and, in the end, 2012 became the skeleton with some original 2004 flesh grafted back on. Thus, 2022 has a new 40. Similar to its parents but not the same.

I'll admit I didn't agonize as much this go-round about getting the timings right, but I like to think all that effort poured in almost twenty years ago is part of the reason the chapter still has such a big impact. It is the right way for old Dave to become new Dave, and the honesty of his epiphany is part of what makes his journey worth reading.


I'm looking forward to many more Billy Joel conversations in the future.

So, when you're ready, tell me about it.


Finally reading the Apocrypha: Svithe #1—Tobit


I first heard of the Apocrypha while reading the D&C as a teenager. That served to entice me but it also kept me away from reading it myself all these years. It sounded awesome and interesting but to read it was essentially saying to God that I knew all there was to know about the Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, and the Pearl of Great Price. Which, at minimum, was arrogant.

However, I was reading plenty of other nonscriptural stuff. The idea that I can read Piers Anthony but not Apocrypha because I don't fully understand Isaiah yet is the sort of broken thinking that can happen when you only engage with your religion so far.

I still don't know the canon as well as I could (not shall I ever) but, for some reason, today, December 4, I decided once again to start and, because I was not trying not to annoy my wife, I sat and started reading it. Then the 5yrold asked me to read to her and, as Lady Steed finished her task, I read the first half of the first book of my Apocrypha outloud.

This is the version I'm reading.

Note: I'm not really doing research here, other than finding a painting of Tobit. Just reacting to ancient tales. This is one in a probably superoccasional series. But someday I will have read the apocrypha!

The Book of Tobit

What a fun story! Sort of a fairy tale, really. It starts with Tobit telling us about all the righteous stuff he does, but one of the righteous things (burying his fellow countrymen—they are in exile, in Nineveh—whose bodies have been thrown outside the city walls) gets him in trouble more than once. Eventually, he even goes blind and gets grumpy, even accusing his wife of stealing a goat, until he cries out in the darkness to God.

Then we switch to an omniscient narrator who quickly tells us about this woman Sarah who has been married but, each wedding night, when her husband comes unto her to consummate, a demon kills him. She lost seven husbands this way and it's making her hella depressed and the same moment Tobit is crying to God, she is too, begging for death. And, the narrator says, they both get blessed by God.

I was a bit thrown by suddenly Tobit being blind again (?) but he was. Ends up, this is the story of his and Sarah's miraculous savings and, in other words, this is where the fairy tale begins, and the hero is not Tobit but his son Tobias who has nothing but a name in common with Mr Fünke.

One day, Tobit, being blind and broke, deciding he needs the fortune he left in another city long ago, decides to send his son to pick it up. First Tobias needs a traveling companion, so he walks outside and there's this dude there who knows the way and is even related to the guy keeping Tobit's money. Fun fact: this guy is actually the angel Raphael. But the humans don't know this.

Anyway, Tobit gives Raphael a job interview and send them on their way.

One day, this fish leaps out of the water and almost eats Tobias's foot. He's scrambling to get away but Raphael tells him to catch it. Ends up, the heart and liver, when you burn them, can cast out demons. And the gall, when smeared in someone's eyes, will cure the exact form of blindness Tobit has. This is very lucky! They toss the fish's intestines, but the book doesn't state what they do with the rest of the fish. I hope they at least got a meal out of it.

They continue traveling and Raphael introduces Tobias to Sarah's parents, explaining that they're his relations and Sarah needs to get married and Tobias has the right by blood and he'll end up inheriting everything.

But, even more importantly, get this:

Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world was made. You will save her, and she will go with you. (Tobit 6:18)

Okay. That is remarkable. If Tobit were in the Old Testament proper, Saturday's Warrior would still be the law of the land. Did you know this was in the Bible? Preexistance and romance both in a single verse? Hooza.

Anyway, they show up, the marriage is on, the fish's heart and lung give them a jolly wedding night with prayer and sleeping (and, one imagines, sex), Raphael goes and picks up the rest of the money himself, eventually they head home, Tobit is healed, they try to give Raphael a ton of money and he reveals himself as an angel (ends up he never actually ate or drank, that was just a tricksy vision you were seeing!) and ascends to heaven. All the principals live to be over a hundred. It's great.

The fairy tale aspect could have been over in half the time except for the characters' prayers of lamentation and thanksgiving, and the times Tobit or Raphael preach good old-fashioned gospel principles like giving alms and taking care of people. Although they also own slave so, you know.

Fun story though. Not really like anything in the Bible as I inherited it. But the preaching was on point and the characters were likable. As fiction goes, I think I liked it better than Jonah or Job. But it's risky canonizing fairy tales.

Recommendation: Read for pleasure and edification but do not treat as literal history.

Painting: Tobias and Sarah pray on their wedding night while Raphael binds the demon. (Jan Steen)

previous svithe on thutopia
previous svithe on thubstack