From Lolly to Elias


Two novels, an epic poem, three kinds of comics. Variety is the spice of life? Perhaps. But it is the core nutrient of reading life.


038) Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, finished April 17

I'm glad I held of off reading my copy's introduction until after finishing the book because it spoils everything I'm about to spoil here, now. So if you too don't like things spoiled, leave after the following paragraph. (Unless you are as forgetful as I am. Recommended this book by a friend, I read enough of its Wikipedia page that much of the book should have been ruined but luckily I either forgot it all or mixed it up with the other two recommendations.)

Laura Willowes begins as a young lady of privilege and the countryside and book calmly, pleasantly allows us to explore that world over the first few dozen pages of the book, even though the opening pages told us this time in the country would come to an end. Thus, the rest of part one and most of part two are of her role as Aunt Lolly, live-in aunt, useful to her brother's family.

After which something sets her free and she sets back to the country alone.

The back of the book suggested that a supernatural element would eventually arise but given how calm things were, I expected something barely there. Like spooky ghostly things that probably aren't anything at all—that sort of thing. But then the book did go quite supernatural and somehow, even though we are deep in the book once stuff starts to happen, it all makes sense.

In short, without fully realizing she is doing it, Laura sells her soul to the devil and becomes a witch. And every time you wonder if it's all in her head, the book suggests it is not. It is not. And the whole thing is a powerful metaphor for what society is doing to women. Not just women, but especially women.

Satan, at least as Laura sees him, is not so much an embodiment of evil as a someone benign, moderately trickster, nature god. A Pan or something, just without all the rape. At least, without the rape in the 1920s.

It's a thought-provoking book and a lovely read. And short! All notes in its favor.

just over three weeks

039) The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, finished April 19

Yes it's fifty pages shorter and the type is bigger, but I did not anticipate reading this book so much more quickly than Lolly Willowes. Data point!

I've felt a mild obligation to read Brandon Sanderson for a while, but he just keeps cranking out books (many of which are very long and part of very-long-book series) and plenty of other people dig him, so he hardly needs me. But when Liz Busby and William Morris both agree that one novella is the right novella for me, well, I owe them to get it at the library.

When I started reading The Emperor's Soul, I could feel my bad attitude creeping in, the same bad attitude that made it impossible for The Shining to impress me and that makes me leery of liking possible things. I think it's an instinct to reject popular opinion and to see a thing as it really is, but it's a difficult instinct to calibrate and can result in me disliking things like a hellbound hipster.

I'm relieved to say the book did win me over. I can't call it a masterpiece or anything, but it was a solid piece of entertainment threaded with strong ideas about art and honesty and creation and purpose and self-image and relationships and politics and ethnicity. Which is a lot for a little book with not-small type clocking in under 200 pages.

Does it make me want to read more Sanderson?

I don't know.

We have two of his novels lying around (Elantris and The Alloy of Law) and they're not huge, but they're not short either. Gimme another novella maybe, then we'll talk about breaking the 300-page barrier.

two days

040) Beware the Eye of Odin by Wager/Odland/Madsen/Dukeshire, finished April 19

I only heard about this after it was nominated for an AML Award, but I know Tim Odland from past projects (his piece in Served is a kid in my ward's favorite) so for two reasons I was eager to check it out.

And it is brilliant fun. Norse myth pushed all the way to absurdity to make it funny but without compromising its adventure or sense of consequence. I got it on Hoopla so if your library plays along, you can read it without any risk!

Click the image to read an interview with the writer and artist. It'll give you a sense of what you're in for. (Although, Tim, you have done comics before!) His description of the trolls is right on. They reminded me of the cancerous messes from Treason, just hungry for human flesh.

one evening

041) The Complete Peanuts: 1965–1966 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 20

Great, as always. Peppermint Patty and Woodstock both make their appearances.

Incidentally, I just read (probably reread) this great defense of Snoopy. In case you need it.

(When I read it in 2008.)

Oh: and only a couple more incidences in this volume (what I'm talking about). So no great new trend, or anything.

about four months

042) A Wealth of Pigeons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, finished April 22

Mostly one-panelers, but a bit of the authors as in their next book.

part of an afternoon

043) Elias: An Epic of the Ages by Orson Ferguson Whitney, finished April 23

I read another booklong poem by Whitney in 2009, 122 pages in four days. This one? 144 pages in nine months. Yowza. Have I gotten lazy in my middle age?

Anyway, they are quiet different books. The different cantos sometimes are written in different meters (though mostly iambic pentameter, sometimes rhymed, sometimes not). And each canto takes us through the entirety of history write up to waiting for the Savior's return.

Unfortunately, I did not take notes as I read. Which is a shame because I had lots of thoughts. Many of which are contradictory. For instance, there were times when I thought, Wow! Whitney's a proto-anti-racist! And other times I thought, Oo, boy. Now that's some bonafide racism.

Which is great, really, because it just goes to show how complex people are and how we can have blind spots right next to our clarities.

I'm charmed by Whitney stating clearly that one of his goals was to write a textbook for schools. The explanatory endnotes are meant to help students grow their knowledge by explaining bits of history or scripture to those who cannot understand his allusions. I was mystified, at times, how he selected just what and what not to note, but whatever. It's your book, Orson!

While there are some marvelous moments in the book, most of it feels like a theological tome filtered through an attitude of isn't-it-so-wonderful-this-is-so-obvious, which has to be one of our worst traits as a people.

As a historical curiosity, or to get a sense of Latter-day Saint theology and ethnicity back around 1900, you can't do better.

As an entertaining Sabbath read, it ain't for everybody.

But I do wish it were for more of us. Just because we've evolved doesn't mean we can't appreciate what we were.

[Additional notes for convenience elsewhere:

[The term Elias is used to its full flexibility within the text.

[The forms of the cantos are as follows:

P,2,6,10 Spenserian stanza(s)
1,4,5,8,E — Blank verse
3 — Doubled common meter
7,9 — Heroic couplets

[It cool.]

nine months


Previously . . . . :

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 circa January 20

HOW many times?

008) Maddy Kettle Book: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch by Eric Orchard, finished January 24 
009) Fantastic Frights: A Beginner's Guide to Scary Stories, finished January 24
010) Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, finished February 2
011) Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, finished February 3
012) The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, finished February 4

013) Is that all there is? by Joost Swarte, finished February 6
014) Edge Case by YZ Chin, finished February 7

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

015) Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, finished February 10
016) Sex Educated: Letters from a Latter-day Saint therapist to her younger self by Bonnie Young, LMFT, finished February 13
017) Unmask Alice: LDS, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson, finished February 20 

A Bookful Bounty for thee and thine 

018) I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jeannette McCurdy, finished February 27
019–21) The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kershl, finished March 6
022) Displacement by Kiku Hughes, finished March 6
023) The Many Deaths of Laila Starr by Ram V and Filipe Andrade, finished March 6
024) The Homeland Directive by Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston, finished March 7
025) Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, finished March 14
026) Last West: Roadsongs for Dorothea Lange by Tess Taylor, finished March 15
027) 22 Young Mormon Writers edited by Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft, finished March 19
028 & 029) Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, finished March 23 & March 27

Literarily solving for X

030) X by Sue Grafton, finished March 28
031) Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary, finished April 5
032) Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century by Dana Stevens, finished April 5
033) Abe Lincoln in Illinois by Robert E. Sherwood, finished April 8
034) Theology of Play by J├╝rgen Moltmann, finished April 12
035) The Male Animal by James Thurber and Elliott Nugent, finished April 12
036) Bluffton by Matt Phelan, finished April 16
037) Number One Walking: My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, finished April 15

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