Less than fifty hours left in the year so this could very well be it


And by "it" I don't mean the end of all things, though with a couple exceptions, this is a pretty solid final grouping of books, and were I to perish tomorrow, at least I don't need to be embarrassed (except, perhaps, by the amount of cannibalism herein).

December has treated me well.


130) Mr. Boop by Alec Robbins, finished December 9

I read about this in the Fantastic Comics newsletter and ended up reading the whole thing. I'm not totally convinced by the praise, but for as largely dumb as it is, it did end up being better than I expected most of the way through.

I'm also glad I read it online as it would've been sad to miss the videos.* Those might be my favorite part.

* Although I may be wrong.

before really starting my day

131) The Unseating of Dr. Smoot by William Morris, finished December 10

It occurs to me as I sit to type this that, like it or not William and I are probably tied together for good. We're about the same age. Both Mormon writers. We've worked together on A Motley Vision, multiple books, AML. We have similar interests and although I wouldn't call our aesthetics that similar, the categories in which our aesthetics are likely to be placed heavily overlap.

This came to mind because this novella (and the two predecessor stories included) all star Mormon women. And I too am deeply interested in using fiction to understand women, as my recent novel attests.

Anyway, Dr. Smoot (whose last name otherwise does not appear in the tale) spends a few days in Utah Valley, the novella beginning and ending on her plane ride from/to Madison, Wisconsin, where her tenure has just been delayed two years.

The time in Utah will allow her to reconnect with friends, observe the passage of time in her niece's adulthood, consume nostalgia and debate whether a diet of nothing but may be healthy, delight a BYU audience of a hundred or more and a UVU audience of one room of peers.

One thing I find remarkable about this novella (perhaps especially since I was just at BYU a couple weeks ago) is how perfectly William (who is not an alumnus) has captured the ambivalence of loving BYU. Of feeling deeply attached and happily separate—the pull it has on you, and how that seduction is both deeply desirable and frankly terrifying, almost abhorrent.

It's a very byucky feeling (one might say), and I grew up with a father who abhorred BYU and yet let me drive around Provo one middle-school summer when we really needed to return to California as I hunted for just the perfect BYU baseball cap.

(Didn't find one. Ended up wearing a Yale cap from a Clovis mall.)

BYU doesn't have the religious significance of Mecca but it has a weirdly similar pull anyway. One might say the same of Utah. Now, I don't know that this is a universal fact about Latter-day Saints, but it is real and the gravity is captured better in Unseating than just about anything else I've read.

The ending of the novella is must more short story than novel and I resented it a bit for that, but that will pass. It will be the sticky milieu that remains with me. Not the physical setting, nor the characters that inhabit it, nor the conversations which were lovely, but the feeling. A feeling I associate with a place and with a people and with language, but it is feeling first. And that is what The Unseating of Dr. Smoot delivers best of all.

two days for the novella, a day off, two days to reread the two stories

132) Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, finished December 13

I loved this book. I didn't expect to end feeling that way as the first half was dreary. It's famously an example of every-first-novel-is-autobiographical and in the first half I wasn't sure the author was aware of her protagonist's failings. Agnes, in her first job as a governess, is simply no good. In fact, she is bad. And sure, much of that is due to external constraints, but still.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sympathetic. One reason so many teachers leave the profession early is because for all the lauded enthusiasm of young teachers, we do most everything wrong. Moving after my first year to a new school was a great relief, frankly.

It's remarkable to me that early critics failed to see the cutting societal criticism in Agnes Grey even as they recognized the depth of accurate observation that informed the novel.

I had thought, perhaps because of the stereotype of Anne, perhaps because of its early trajectory and the protagonist's own expectations, that I knew what shape the novel would take.

I was wrong.

But I wasn't sure I was wrong for a long, long time. And this caused me great worry.

It doesn't help that Agnes is one of the most accurately anxious characters I've ever read.

But Anne does something with a dog that I absolutely loved (and is so much better than the horrors inflicted on just about every other animal) and it allowed me to embrace the novel's new destination, which filled me with deep joy.

AND the book's under two hundred pages. So there.

I read the Barnes & Noble Classic version which was an excellent size and shape with readable typography etc etc. But many of the notes by Fred Schwarzbach were asinine. The one that went to the bottom of the page were fine but most of the ones that went to the back of the book, excepting those that noted parallels between the lives of Anne and Agnes, were notably stupid, such as explaining something that Agnes herself had just explained. C'mon, man. Your notes need to add value or why bother? I did enjoy the other added features, although reading Charlotte's take on her sisters it's hard not to feel that she didn't really get Anne's work even as she lifted from it wholesale. (Which is not to say she did not love her.) But skip Schwarzbach's "introduction" until you've finished the book. One of the pleasures of a classic most of us know so little about is getting to read a classic without knowing it's major turns or conclusion. Preserve that for yourself.

i suppose a bit over two weeks

133) Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Adventures (volume one) by Evan Dorkin, et al.; finished December 18

It starts with an adaptation if Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and then continues the story from that point. I'm happy my 16yrold loved this (and the follow-up volume) but I found it exhausting. They're always yelling and the madness never stops.


a few weeks

134) Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (translated by Sarah Moses), finished December 23

I think what we have here is a literary emperor's-new-clothes. This books is so foul, so disgusting, so appalling, that people are somehow tricked into thinking it's saying something interesting. But that's a stretch.

I was hesitant to add this to the list of dystopias my students can choose from but I was talked into it by a student who had read it. And since then, three or four groups have used it for their project and found interesting things to say about the book and the world we live in. But that's because the readers are clever, not because the book is. It's like—and I mean this as pejoratively as possible—torture-porn YA.

If you don't know, here's the set-up. A virus (which may be real or, more likely, was a government conspiracy) has led to all animal flesh being poisonous which led to a market for cannibalism which led to humans being raised for slaughter.

About forty pages in, as I was hating the book's endless gruesome descriptions, I realized that my complaint could be made about the opening of Brave New World as well—characters explaining things to people who probably don't need it explained so we the readers can be impressed with / horrified by the worldbuilding. Brave New World goes on to do interesting and provocative things with those opening pages of exposition. Tender Is the Flesh gives us a not-rape-but-very-rapey blowjob in a butcher's shop as human blood drops onto our protagonist's penis.

That was the scene where I decided that I was unlikely to find anything so excellent as to overcome my qualms about serving this special meat to high-school students.

And nothing in the last half of the book made me think otherwise.

So even though every student who has read the book has said, in more or less the same words, "if people can get over their disgust, they'll find lots of good stuff here to discuss," I'm cutting it.

I already know what's taking it's place. (Hopefully it doesn't disappoint me a few years from now.)

a couple weeks, maybe three

135) The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Cary, finished December 28

First, I loved it. It's four hundred pages of nonstop fun. Plenty of intrigue and danger and mystery. It's been a while since I ran through a book this quickly and while there were some external reasons I wanted to finish this before the new year, it wasn't a hard ask. I just kept reading. Pages piled up the way they did when I was a kid.

Melanie is our primary protagonist. She's, ah, different from most kids. As becomes clear immediately, as she's locked in a chair and wheeled from her cell to her classroom and back, five days a week. That ain't normal. But why this is takes a while to resolve. I'm glad I didn't know any more about the book than when I started. Somehow. It's a bit amazing, considering the book's been on display at my local Barnes and Noble for a decade.

Anyway, I really liked it. And great cover! I'd picked it up so many times. I finally bought it a year ago. And now I've read it. I can't mind that it took so long.

(And compared to the last book I read, this one deserves all the highfalutin blurbery on its cover.)

four days

136) Fragments of the Cross by Scott Hales, finished December 29

While a little short to technically qualify for this list, it was too large an experience to be left out. Thirty-three short poems (frangments) with evocative illustrations and thoughtful pages of postscript. Scott's playing with things that approach and veer away from traditional forms, tossing in some internal rhyme and other fun things as he goes, but the poems themselves stop a mere delighted running on to the next poem. Several I needed to reread, sometimes more than once.

A moving work of devotion.

Sadly, unavailalbe for purchase. Though many of the pieces appear in places like this.

one unstoppable burst


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 Jürgen 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

From Lolly to Elias

038) Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, finished April 17
039) The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, finished April 19
040) Beware the Eye of Odin by Wager/Odland/Madsen/Dukeshire, finished April 19
041) The Complete Peanuts: 1965–1966 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 20
042) A Wealth of Pigeons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, finished April 22
043) Elias: An Epic of the Ages by Orson Ferguson Whitney, finished April 23

Old Hollywood & Olden Times

044) Straight Lady: The Life and Times of Margaret Dumont, "The Fifth Marx Brother" by Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian, finished April 25
045) Voices from the Radium Age edited by Joshua Glenn, finished April 26
046) The Ballad of YFB by Aaron Brassea, finished April 28
047) Reynaud's Tale by Ben Hatke, finished May 3
048) Superman: Up in the Sky by Tom King and Andy Kubert, finished May 5
049) Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary, finished May 5
050) Resurrection Row by Anne Perry, finished May 6 

Saying good bye to our friend Kinsey

052) More Gross: Cartoons by S. Gross, finished May 9
053) I Am Blind and My Dog Is Dead by S. Gross, finished May 9
054) Batgirls: One Way or Another by Becky Cloonan / Michael W. Conrad / Jorge Corona / Sarah Stein, finished May 11
055) Batgirls: Bat Girl Summer by Becky Cloonan / Michael W. Conrad / Neil Googe / Robbi Rodriguez / Rico Renzi, finished May 11
056) Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton, finished May 12 

The tyranny of getting stuff in the right order

051) On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder, finished May 8
057) Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Guruhiru, finished May 13
058) Four in Hand by Alicia Mountain, finished May 17
059) The Glob by John O'Reilly and Walt Kelly, finished May 20
060) Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities by John Warner, finished May 24
061) Less by Andrew Sean Greer, finished May 25
062) Children of the Woods by Ciano/Hixson/Stevens/Otsmane-Elhaou, finished May 27
063) The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks, finished May 29

Such quality. Such excellence.

064) Here by Darlene Young, finished June 1
065) Theseus Volume 1 by Jordan Holt, finished June 1
066) Theseus Volume 2 by Jordan Holt, finished June 1
067) Reviews for Non-Existent Movies by Eric Goulden Kimball, finished June 5
068) The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, finished June 6
069) Anne of West Philly by Ivy Noelle Weir and Myisha Haynes, finished June 10
070) Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary, finished June 10

 Books read: a forensic investigation

073) These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, finished c. June 17
074) Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, finished c. June 19
075) The Burning Book: A Jewish-Mormon Memoir by Jason Olson and James Goldberg, finished c. June 21
076) The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, finished June 23
From prehumanity to eternal destiny

077) Tuki: Fight for Fire by Jeff Smith, finished June 28
078) Tuki: Fight for Family by Jeff Smith, finished June 29
079) The Writer's Hustle by Joey Franklin, finished July 8
080) Future Day Saints: The New Arrivals by Matt Page, finished July 16
081) Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, finished July 18
082) Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary, finished July 19
083) Just One More by Annette Lyon, finished July 20
084) The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl, finished July 22
085) Somewhere Out There: My Animated Life by Don Bluth, finished July 22

Two women, in comics form

085) Beast by Marian Churchland, finished July 24
086) Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow by King/Evely/Lopes, finished c. July 28

The sex-and-metaphysics Venn diagram

087) Banana Sunday by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, finished August 2
088) Falconer by John Cheever, finished August 3
089) Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, finished August 3
090) Homunculus by Joe Sparrow, finished August 5
091) Cuckoo by Joe Sparrow, finished August 9
092) Fatal by Kimberly Johnson, finished August 16
093) The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier, finished August 17
094) The Infinite Future by Tim Wirkus, finished August 22
095) Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell, finished August 23 

What, is this nothing but comics?

096) The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon by Aaron Renier, finished August 24
Just Julie's Fine by Theric Jepson, finished August 26
098) Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith and Boulet, finished August 28
099) Assassinistas by Tini Howard / Gilbert Hernandez / et al., finished August 31
100) Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons by Kelly Sue DeConnick / Phil Jimenez / Gene Ha / Nicola Scott, finished August 31
101) The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman et al., finished September 6
102) Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! by Kurt Vonnegut, finished September 11

We got mysteries, we got apples, we got St. Paul. . . .

103) The Sandman: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman et al., finished September 14
104) Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie, finished September 2023
The Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman et al, finished September 27
Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty, finished September 29
Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time by Sarah Ruden, finished October 1
108) Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, finished October 5
109) The Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman et al, finished October 5

Coupla classics et al.

110) A Cluster of Noisy Planets by Charles Rafferty, finished October 6
111) Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary, finished October 7
112) The Mysteries by Bill Watterson and Bill Kascht, finished October 10
113) The Sandman: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman et al, finished October 12
114) The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, finished October 13
115, 116) Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, finished October 16, 17
117) Kaya: Book One by author, finished October 21
118) White Noise by Don DeLillo, finished October 23

Lots of unicorns here

119) The Sandman: Fables & Reflections by Neil Gaiman et al., finished October 27
120) The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, finished November 3
121) Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, finished November 3
122) The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey by Peter S. Beagle, finished November 5
123) Have Spacesuit–Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein, finished November 14
124) Romney: A Reckoning by McKay Coppins, finished November 16
125) The Sandman: Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman et al., finished November 21

Evil Smiley Face, et al.

125) The Sandman: Worlds' End by Neil Gaiman et al, finished November 28
126) Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky, finished November 29
127) Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, finished December 15
128) Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary, finished December 6
129) A Child's Anthology of Poetry edited by Elizabeth Hauge Sword with Victoria Flourney McCarthy, finished December 7

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