Paddle to the Sea and other things to do during the shortest month of the year


The list itself is short, but quality must count for something, yes?


library dvd
Paddle to the Sea (1966)

According to my self-set definitions, this film is two minutes two short to be included here, but I'm adding it anyway because it's a stonecold classic and I wanna.

I saw this movie as a child, perhaps more than once, who knows, and it has never left. Me. I guess I knew it was a movie, though when a screenplay I was working on included basically this film as its opening sequence, I did not know what I was referencing. And I think it's appearance in the first episode of Tales from the Loop snuck by my self-conscious. (But when we watched that episode again, I for sure saw it. But that takes place after the following paragraph.)

So when I was glancing at the kids dvds while my daughter was coloring in the library and picked this spine thanks to its intriguing title, I was so excited to check it out and bring it home. Then I renewed it. Then I renewed it again. And nine weeks to the day after bringing it home, I finally watched it with the 6yrold and—I really liked it.

It's pretty 1966 in just about every way, but there's something greater about it, something more, something mythic and heroic and timeless. Something metaphysical and honest and true.

And it's only 28 minutes, folks. Just go to YouTube (AND DO NOT SPEED IT UP) and just luxuriate.

Prime Video
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020)

I love this movie! It scratches so many of my limitation itches: ten-person cast, just a few connected sets, (apparent) one shot. And I have to tell you, as someone who, in fact, doesn't know that much about moviemaking, there were times I couldn't see how they did it other than the explanation the movie provides: that they have a pair of monitors that are separated in time by two minutes.

The movie is funny and trippy and startling and engages with big ideas (including time travel's raison d'etre: free will) without ever losing its sense of just being a grand lark.

THIS is pandemic filmmaking!

library dvd
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

I remember when this came out. Everyone was praising it as a masterpiece of kung-fu comedy, greater even than Stephen Chow's preceding Shaolin Soccer, which I found astonishing. We didn't get around to watching it until 2013 and I was underwhelmed. Perhaps because it wasn't what I was imagining. Perhaps because it wasn't the greatest movie I had ever seen. Perhaps because the cg was already quite aged. I dunno.

Anyway, I was on the library website and happened to notice a way to see the latest-purchased dvds and took a looksee. And what do you know, but Chow's Mermaid—his followup to Kung Fu Hustle that as far as I'd been able to ascertain never made it to America—was there on a doublefeature with Kung Fu Hustle. I put it on hold. There was no competition. It came right to me.

Lady Steed's out of town and so the boys and I watched it tonight. And I don't know if it was lower expectations or better watching-partners or the bigger screen or what, but I loved it.

I do think it's worth mentioning that the hokey cg has, in its lifetime, moved from not-quite cutting edge to cringily out of date to delightfully oldfashioned. But I also think I was in the mood tonight to accept Chow's unapologetic nonsense. He's taking tropes from kung fu and superheros and kaiju and things like Pirates of the Caribbean without any of that American neurosis that things need to "make sense" or "be realistic" which, the more you think about it, are stupid goals indeed.

It can't replace Shaolin Soccer in my lifestory, but it's just as much fun now, in 2023.

And seriously: props to Chow for finding the weirdest looking people in all of China. Especially in this nonsensical paeon to old Hollywood.

our dvd
Les enfants du paradis (1945)

One of the great films they say and they're probably right. So many excellent bits and plenty to talk about. But such ambiguity at the end. Feels like a movie that would reward multiple rewatchings and might demand that to feel you truly understand.

Really made me nostalgic for the great (and mostly lost) pantomime tradition. There really was no way to preserve such, was there, before the advent of cinema?

Of course, the stories of them making the film under Vichy noses are fun, but if you didn't know you would not be able to tell. The movie stands on its own merits and not just as a historical marvel.

LINK+ dvd
Zardoz (1974)

What a weird movie.

Based on the little I knew (basically, Sean Connery's costume+++), I figured this was an R-rated Star Wars knock off, but no. First of all, it came out three years earlier. Secondly, it's much more interested in being the next 2001. It's loaded with portent and philosophy and arthouse filmery and a bunch of nonsense. In short, it is dumb.

But I don't regret watching it! The opening was one surprise after another and although the film eventually threw out pacing and thinks it's much more intelligent than it is, it never stopped being a wild document of its era.

Who knows. Maybe in 20 years it'll be a classic. I doubt it, but you never can tell.

our dvd
Bringing Up Baby (1938)

It's been well over a decade since I first saw this and . . . I still don't like it. I don't know why. I love the cast; I'm pro-nonstopmayhem; it has dinosaurs.

I think it just bumps into a couple things that make it hard for me to suspend my believe. Little things. Like—that's not how dinosaur bones work (times two). Or wondering how the animals were treated on set. And while I'm all for screwball ladies getting their man, this one really pushes what's possible. And the film's neglect of Woman #1 really makes me wish Nora Ephron had taken a pass on the script.

So while I laughed at times, this just hits the unsweet spot for me between the further lunacy of the Marx Brothers and the more grounded nonsense of Preston Sturges.

I certainly hope your mileage will vary.

(Aside: We watched this because a friend told the 6yrold that when her daughter was six, this was her favorite movie and she would watch it over and over. But the 6yrold didn't laugh. And I realize she hasn't been trained on the classics as were her brothers. We'll need to remedy this.)

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (2022)

This is my first time watching one of Richard Linklater's rotoscoped movies, but it's not my first time watching one of his coming-of-age movies. I guess this would be my second favorite, after Almost Famous, but before Boyhood or Dazed and Confused. One thing that surprised me, given the early set-up and what the trailer promised, is that the first half of the movie is 100% nostalgia. Being a kid in the late Sixties was like this and it was like this and it was like this and it was like this. Oh, and it was like this too. And frankly, it's charming and fun and makes me too feel nostalgic for an era I never knew, but it doesn't seem to have a point. Isn't this whole thing about a kid who gets sent to the moon because they accidentally built the first lunar module too small? That's a great concept! WHY ARE WE STILL NOT GETTING TO THE POINT OF THIS WHOLE MOVIE, TO ITS ACTUAL STORY?

The movie does a lot of things well (beautifully observed moments, well realized relationships, capturing of a lost world) and I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more had I known what it was going to be. I am glad I watched it on my own though. If I do watch it with my kids, I'll pitch it differently to them than it was to me (or how I had intended to pitch it to them).

In the end, kids may enjoy this movie but it is certainly aimed at adults. Adults whose daily requirement for nostalgia demands a whole lotta narration.

Enchanted (2007)

First time seeing this for me. And although I have a couple issue with the pacing and imagery, and a couple questions about its feminism, I found it delightful and funny and just enough moving to roll my eyes at myself because really—it's so corporate.

library dvd
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

This is pretty good but, as is often the case having just read excellent source material, the adaptation pales. I'd probably have liked it more if I hadn't been debating the film over its every alteration as it progressed.

Part of what it changed though just feels very Forties. Lana Turner was dressed too well and her hair was too done, and the strange violent sexuality of the leads was largely absent. Somehow I imagine that gap is what Jack and Jessica sought to fill. Maybe I'll find out.

library dvd
History of the World: Part I (1981)

I recently saw a teaser for the upcoming Part II (here's the trailer, too) and, for the first time, it made me want to see Part I. Because here's the thing: I don't really like Mel Brooks.

I mean—I love Get Smart and I like the 2,000-year-old man fine. I like Young Frankenstein, mostly. But I did not enjoy at all Blazing Saddles or SpaceBalls, and The Producers was barely fine, imo. I'm just kind of mystified adults find this stuff funny.

Anyway. It had some funny bits. I laughed a few times.

And only 92 minutes long!

Previous films watched


jan feb














So a young widower in my parents’ ward recently remarried. The wedding happened in Cedar City and then he and she and his (now their) kids came to my parents’ ward the following Sunday. It was a Fast Sunday and so my dad, predictably, stood and bore his testimony. It’s what he does.

Now, this new couple happened to be sitting just in front of my parents and, as my dad spoke, she started texting furiously. And when sacrament meeting ended, she rushed to my father and wanted to tell him she had told all her friends that Paul McCartney was in her new ward and she was so excited to talk to him!

My dad’s insistence that he was not Paul incognito was received with skepticism.

A month later, talking to my mom, she told her that she’d been asking my dad a bunch of questions and while most of them checked out, she was deeply shaken to learn he was right-handed.

All the same, did my mom think he would mind if she called him Brother McCartney? And what if I call you Sister McCartney? Mom said that would be fine.

Now that it’s been pointed out to me though, yeah, I can see it. He’s nine years older than my dad, but as they’ve moved into old age, they’ve started to look much more alike.

Enough so—and here’s your evidence the Beatles are not dead—that he’s getting the comparison from high-school students when he subs, as well. And apparently even at the store a couple times as well.

So: Paul McCartney is secretly Mormon and he lives that life a couple hours from L.A. in a small mountain community where he can maintain his anonymity (almost) while remaining within range of the jetset.

Tell your friends.

This important information also available on Thubstack.


If it weren't for a friendly sex talk, everything here would be miserable


So James M. Cain is now may favorite. Write that down. James M. Cain is Theric's favorite. And then I read a book that I found fascinating and fun but also deeply angering and irritating. Great combination? Probably not. And inbetween, a new BCC Press book I highly recommend to all you sexual creatures out there.

Let's dig in!


015) Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, finished February 10

After being blown away by Postman (every day that passes, the more highly I think of it) I decided to get the one based on a movie I have seen (albeit twenty years ago—all the same, great movie; although I think it wasn't quite exactly what I just read; but then: twenty years ago).

And it too was incredible—what a writer!

Cain can make a novel-shaping metaphor in a two-sentence paragraph—or even a two-word paragraph. It's amazing to watch. And amazing that it works.

I love the twisted messes of humanity he presents, and his view of a relentless justice pressing down on his do-badders is relentless. And all along we are propelled forward. I know they're short books, but I wasn't even trying to read this one quickly. It was quick all on its own.

Anyway, James M. Cain, every body. I should maybe read something else before picking up another, but I dunno. I might not wait....

three days

016) Sex Educated: Letters from a Latter-day Saint therapist to her younger self by Bonnie Young, LMFT, finished February 13

Good book. I appreciate the angle and the information. I hope it gets a wide audience. Too many minor errors (eg, a missing space; thinking her friends made up something Judy Blume made up; two endnotes at the same location, the second of which reads "Ibid."; which reminds me that sometimes it likes "Ibid" and other times "Ibid."—stuff like that), but they don't get in the way of the book's value.

The book has twelve letters to her younger self, one each for when aged 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 26, and 28. The conceit is solid. The execution varies at time but since, at it's core, this is an exercise in practical advice for an external audience and not actual letters sent back in time, the shaky literary choices that would get her eaten alive by an audience neck-deep in time-travel novels hardly matter and I'm ashamed of myself for even bringing them up. I should work on my self-control, I suppose. See the letter to sixteen-year-old Bonnie.

I do love the concept and execution, though, make no mistake. I read things and thought, oh yeah, that would have been helpful at the time, even with the later letters. And she makes a few points later on that I'm not sure I'd had articulated for me before and, frankly, I appreciate that they now have been.

It's not a long book. You can read it in a day or a week or six months, as you please. Although in the opening letter to the reader, she says, "despite the fact that the first few letters of this book address a child, this is not a children's book." I've been thinking about that—just when is the right age to leave it lying around for a kid to find? When you've read it, I'd be interested in your opinion.

four or five days

017) Unmask Alice: LDS, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson, finished February 20

I had a wide variety of reactions to this book. Let's see if I can get them to cohere into one thing in one draft. Ready, go.

The book is super-readable. Maybe an eighth-grade reading level in terms of vocab and syntax, with supershort chapters, often a bit cliffhangery. I zoomed through this book. It's like potato chips.

I've never read Go Ask Alice or Jay's Journal or any other of Beatrice Sparks's books. My primary memory of them is me age . . . eight? (so years after Jay had been released in 1978) at my aunt's house, she and my mother having a whispered conversation about Jay's Journal. I don't remember details, but satanicpanicesque rumors swirled through the 80s and I knew Jay's Journal was connected. (We also weren't allowed to watch Dungeons & Dragons on Saturday morning. Though I snuck it in a few times anyway.) The book stayed at our house, while my mom was reading it, with a strict warning not to touch. Even today, when you enter my aunt's house, the first thing you see is her bookshelves, and so that haunted hardback's spine would look at me every time I entered.

Go Ask Alice I was less aware of, though I knew it was controversial. It never attracted my interest to actually read and I didn't know the two books were connected by the same serial hoaxer. Or, if you prefer, the same liar. And I didn't know she was LDS until just a few years ago. As was the nonSatanist kid she based Satanist Jay on.

In an early footnote on the word "Mormon," Emerson says this:

* Officially "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," a bulky phrase I don't wish to type nine thousand times. In daily life—and despite the Church's best efforts—it typically gets shortened to "LDS," but given this book's frequent mentions of "LSD" (the drug), that seems like asking for trouble and/or inadvertent hilarity. For clarity's sake, I'm sticking to "Saints," "Latter-day Saints," "Mormon," and other casual terms. No disrespect is intended.

No disrespect may be intended, but it's hard not to be disrespectful when you have genuinely zero idea why anyone might be religious. The book's vibe on religion can be summed up as "crazy-stupid shit we have to respect for some reason" and it shines through.

Now, look—midcentury LDS culture had plenty flaws I've no interest in defending, but when religion is defacto crazy-stupid to you, so are its adherents. Every Mormon in this book is, on some core level, a fool and possibly a dangerous fool. And details that emphasize that thus get more light shined on them than any that might mitigate.

Unmask Alice opens with an author's note that essentially says—I am not exaggerating—don't check but I have sources for everything and you can trust me.

I decided to go ahead and take him at his word but when I came to the second author's note at the end of the book, I was shocked to see that his sources consist of 1) things you can check yourself so I didn't put them in the book, 2) other things you can check yourself if you really want to, and 3) "Things that aren't public and, for reasons of privacy, aren't currently checkable."

The last few chapters of the book consist of research that largely falls into #3, and he does say when he's doing it as he's doing it, which is a great way to build trust (suspiciously great, a cynic might say, being a tool Sparks also used). He says, for instance, that one of three librarians he's talking to will not be named at her request as her brother also committed suicide (like "Jay").

Emerson works to assure us he's naming his sources whenever he can. But at one point he slams an HBLL program that works on Wikipedia articles by quoting an anonymous "BYU researcher." He later gives a generous thank you to the HBLL in his final acknowledgments, but that anonymous BYU researcher remains anonymous. Why? Did his brother commit suicide too?

Even more startling to me was something thrown into the appendix. After three scans of Library of Congress records (to demonstrate how inconsistent they are describing Sparks's work and how library records are, essentially, entirely whatever an author/publisher claims—he spent pages complaining about this system earlier in the book), he includes a scan from his own contract that "stipulates that fact-checking is my responsibility, and that I solemnly swear not to lie" (all captions were italicized)—which I found shocking because, given his trust-me form of sourcing, I was really counting on assurance that the publisher provided some New Yorker-level factchecking. They did not.

Look: The book largely rings true. But given my own knowledge about some aspects of what he talks about, I know he's not playing totally straight, even if he thinks he is. Plus, he just takes so much (perhaps justifiable) delight talking about historical panics over LSD and marijuana and (nonexistent) Satanic cults. At one point, he blames his style on his experience in talk radio, and honestly that does feel explanatory. But no sources, no index—in the end, this does not feel like a work of scholarship. It's a fun read and I believe it is mostly true, but the deeply disturbing irony of a book about someone who failed to source anything failing to source turns Unmask Alice into a work of popular entertainment. I would like to update several Wikipedia articles using his research, which seems good, but his assertion that his sources are out there should I too wish to search the Nixon tapes or Pleasant Grove High School yearbooks or the historical rosters of UCLA is weak. It's just incredibly, embarrassingly weak.

It's hard for me to understand why someone would do all this work and then get so lazy at the end. I suspect it's because the publisher told him to do it himself. There's a lesson here for authors and publishers alike. (Sadly, that lesson might be you can cut corners and sell the same amount of books, but I'd rather not consider that lesson.)

Finally, Rick Emerson is just kind of a jerk. And while he's usually a good host, his willingness to take cheap shots now and then did not inspire my trust. I penciled "What a dick." at the bottom of page 334, and I'm leaving it when I return it to the library. Let the rest of Contra Costa County know my opinion. I stand by it.

five days


Previously . . . . :


HOW many times?


The best book in this set, unquestionably, is The Postman Always Rings Twice which gets better every time I remember it. More Cain in my future, for sure. A couple of first novels of varying quality and, as per 2023's apparent rules, lots of comics.

And that's not even mentioning American's favorite kindergartner!


008) Maddy Kettle Book: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch by Eric Orchard, finished January 24

This is a very cool-looking, charming little descendant of Wonderland. It came out eight years ago and has no sequel—and I hope that's intentional and not due to poor sales, but the ending is soooo far from feeling like an ending that I fear that may not be the case. I don't mind endings in media res, but this one was startling.

I am curious, though. I went to his Wikipedia page and it said he was currently working on this (again, eight-years-old) book. I fixed that, but his personal website is gone (or moved, rather; I fixed that too) and the page promoting this on the publisher's site is also gone.

It's weird. I randomly found this at my usual library and last week I saw it on display at another local library. What happened?

Apparently he's fine (he posted on Facebook an hour ago), but one can't help but to wonder if timely or ancestral reasons might have affected the trajectory of his career. Regardless, this is the only work of his listed under his author page on Amazon and that seems a shame.

two extremely noncontiguous days

009) Fantastic Frights: A Beginner's Guide to Scary Stories, finished January 24

A siamese cat is our guide through these progressively more frightening tales. It's comics. It's for kids. It's debatable whether the later ones are scarier than those in the middle, but it's a fun little book. Just right for just the right kid.

probably over a month

010) Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, finished February 2

It's funny, reading this 1968 book with its 2020 illustrations that sometimes . . . do not quite match.

But what I really liked about this one was the last two chapters, as new kindergartner Ramona's life reaches new heights only to crash to the lowest of lows and then stay low. Redemption arrives of course but this is a true trough she falls into and so her eventual redemption has real value, real meaning.

about ten weeks with the kindergartner since we spent more time reading books she can read

011) Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, finished February 3

A student of mine that I taught all four years of high-school English to gave me copies of her two very favorite books on her last day with me, earlier this month. It was the perfect gift, really. The right sendoff.

Anyway, Eleanor Oliphant was a big hit half a decade ago and is one of the bestselling audiobooks of all time, so perhaps you already know about Eleanor and her separation from all of humanity and why and how she came to make friends and to let other people into her life.

The book is pitched as humorous and I did laugh, but it is also deeply sad. I totally get why it might be someone's comfort book, a book they read over and over. She's a character who undergoes enormous growth and whom we easily come to love. It's centered in a true place (Edinburgh) such that it feels like visiting. It was wonderful highs and lows.

I was caught entirely offguard by a late surprise that I wager surprises very few people. I'm not sure if I like the choice, that will take more mulling, but I understand the choice. I'm not opposed to it. I also appreciated the restraint Honeyman employs. Lots of opportunities to go big and flashy but she held off.

In short, thank you, I liked it.

couple weeks

012) The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, finished February 4

So I knew it was a noir. I think I knew there was a femme fatale and perhaps the involvement of another man in her husband's murder? I figured one of those men might be the eponymous postman and, therefore, that we were probably in suburbia. I think I must've also figured the story's more or less over once we get a murder.

Wrong on most counts, as it ends up. I mean—I still don't know who the postman is. I'll do some searching after writing this, but what the heck does the title mean?

All that said, what a book! I loved it. I didn't realize Cain also wrote the source material for Double Indemnity (great movie; haven't seen Postman). The voice is impeccable and the most noir I've read. The setting, nowhere California in the Thirties, is alive and dangerous. The plotting was sharp and surprising. The characters are deeply attractive and deeply horrifying. Really, this novel is everything I could have wanted. And just over a hundred pages. More novels should be published at this length.

two days

013) Is that all there is? by Joost Swarte, finished February 6

Underground comix, Nederlands style.

Joost is an incredible draftsman and his stories are, on average, better entertainment than those of his America peers. The translation work was pretty great too, though I had no idea people like Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly and Kim Thompson could translate Dutch. 

Should I learn Dutch?

I liked the anecdotes from Chris Ware's intro, and I couldn't tell how much of the untoward material (esp. racist tropes) were intended to be shocking versus just Europeans stealing from Americans without realizing the baggage that comes along with it.

Anyway, historical research complete!

a few weeks

  014) Edge Case by YZ Chin, finished February 7

This is the last of 2021's B&N books and the first disappointment.

This is a first novel and I want to applaud the publisher for developing new talent. According to the acknowledgments, this book had "numerous early reincarnations" which sounds like working with an editor, but the flaws in Edge Case are so numerous and obvious that, if this is true, I am depressed about the state of editing in these united states.

Here's the thing. The book is loaded with great ideas. And Chin writes like she needs to make sure they're all in these pages, just in case this is it. The problem is that they don't all fit. And it results in her characters occasionally contradicting themselves in weird ways, in character traits or traditions appear for a moment then disappear because really it was just cool and it sorta fit so in it went.

What I think happened is that Chin wrote the book with a bunch of short notes and ideas that gradually coalesced around the plot. All those darlings were given homes, even when they worked against the book as a whole. Which made Edge Case a frustrating read. And disappointing. Because the characters were people I hadn't met before—a Malaysian couple working in the New York tech scene, hoping to score green cards. And that's just the set-up. There were so many ways this book should have worked! But then it does dumb things, like a late "surprise" that the entire novel is just a series of messages sent on a dating app. Why? What does that add? I can guess what it was supposed to add, but it did not. It did not.

I really wanted to like this book, but it's only adequate at best. Not a disaster, but surprising for a big publisher. Might make a cynic thing Harper Collins was just trying to prove how diverse their bullpen is. And the fact that the cover designer and all the blurbs are written by folks with the family names of Kim, Kitamura, Chang, Nguten, and Lin only gives such cynics more ammunition.

Not that those were wrong marketing decisions. Quite probably that's how books sell. Me, I learned blurb skepticism long ago, and I don't think I read these before buying the book. Instead, I read the front flap and the opening paragraphs and a few paragraphs from the middle of the book. I was intrigued by the promised tale and the voice it was told in.

I hope Chin gets another shot.

But the fact that it's still not in paperback doesn't fill me with confidence.

Editors of America, rise and do your jobs!*

*Publishers, pay for editing!

maybe a month?


final posts in this series from
  2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013
2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020 = 2021 = 2022

Earlier in 2023

001) The Dark Room by Gerry Duggan & Scott Buoncristiano, finished January four
002) The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander, finished January 6
003) Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess, finished January 10
004) Acting Class by Nick Drnaso, finished January 10
005) Red Scare by Liam Francis Walsh, finished January 11

006) The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck, finished January 18
007) Filmish by Edward Ross, finished date