A few of my favorite things


Clearly, I like comics and I like religion and I like the intersection of comics and religions.


011) Roaming by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, finished February 3

This is a very quiet book. I sat it down and it got covered by other books and I completely forgot it existed until I was looking at my library account and saw it was still checked out.

It's the story of three friends* (asterisk intentional) taking a five-day trip to New York City. Three college-age girls having good times and falling outs. Their unfinished personalities go in and out of sync like three cars wait at the light in a left-hand-turn lane.

It's a very real-feeling slice-of-life circa 2009 with occasional moments of real beauty.

And I'm not sure I'll remember reading it.

over a month

012) The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, February 9

Satisfying enough conclusion to the trilogy. The 7yrold is making plans for a Zita Halloween costume.

one sit

013) Things in the Basement by Ben Hatke, February 10

Lot less words in this one.

I've been making the 7yrold do her best to "read" these at least a couple times before I read them to her. We also have a rule that I only ever read a particular comic out loud but once.

Storywise, this is a lot like Zita: kid enters a strange new world makes strange new friends becomes a hero and returns home changed. Can't really go wrong with that story, I suppose. And the art is charming and guileless.

I can see why our daughter loves it.

one sit

014) A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz by Stephen J. Lind, finished February 10

Look what I read!

(By the way, don't love the cover. I did at first, but as it continued to hang around the bedroom, I soured on it. It's pleasant to look like, but the font, while Schulzian, is much harder to read than his actual handlettering (especially at smaller sized at the top of each page). And what's with the kites? What to kites have to do with God? Let alone the entire Trinity. Also, the Trinity seems a tad too . . . theological for Schulz's own taste. I think what happened here was they were looking for something simple and they came up with one element of this concept and the more they thought about it the cleverer they thought they were and the cleverer they got until they ended up with this cover which is fine to look at but, the more you think about it, the dumber it gets.)

This is a deeply researched book. Lind has done so much reading and notetaking and organizing and networking and interviewing and and and and and, resulting in an important, well researched, and very readable book.

It's part biography, part literary analysis, with chapters covering some of the more obvious moments such as A Charlie Brown Christmas. The pacing is good and the depth is appropriate for a work of popular scholarship. I don't mean that as a knock. The book is solid work and covers a lot of ground and has a lot of depth. It is, in my opinion, the final word at this moment and will remain so indefinitely.

I found it helpful in organizing the information I already had. I've read all the strips and lots about Peanuts, and clearly Schulz had a strong religious feeling but it's not like its easy to nail the man down. He worked on the strip fifty years and no one remains static that long. And plenty has been written about him, as various factions in American religious discourse strove to claim him. Lind makes strong arguments (thank you, evidence!) to understand Schulz a certain way and until persuaded otherwise, so I shall.

I feel my own religiosity is developing along Schulzian lines, although I feel much more strongly about the importance of Church as community and aligning myself as I do with the Saints definitely puts air between us. In fact, one chapter is largely about his daughter Amy's conversion to Mormonism and his reasons for distaste as it comes to our tradition. But simultaneously, shared faith brought them closer together, even for all the differences. Lind quotes extensively from the letters Schulz sent Amy on her mission, for instance, and that's the kind of personal touch this book provides.

Incidentally, Lind switches between calling him Schulz and calling him Sparky even though they never met.

I kinda feel like all of us, once you spent enough time in the man's world, should get to call him Sparky. I call no foul.

The book, as mentioned, is deeply sourced. A couple interviews in particular I want to run down. The Gary Groth interview appears in a very cool-looking (but expensive) issue of The Comics Journal; the other appeared in Penthouse, which, um. Luckily, Fantagraphics made the Groth interview easier to find (bs, am). The other I found on the Internet Archive and I'm happy to say no naked ladies before the first page of the interview. (Well. Almost.)

The other source it made me hunt down I have already read.

two or three weeks


015) 1st Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction by Joseph M. Spencer, finished February 10

So I have finally dived into reading these books and the first one was a delight. I have been coming around on Nephi and trying to like him more and Spencer provides strong insights into Nephi's rhetorical strategies and the choices he's appears to be making that make that an easier prospect. But it also doesn't paper over his flaws. Although brief (as promised) I especially appreciated the looks at the book's three main problems: the killing of Laban, the fraternal issues, and the visibility of women.

For instance, in the latter one, Spencer notes a clear parallel structure between Sariah's complaining and the daughters of Ishmael's later complaining. In the first story, Sariah is rhetorically adept and the story ends with a reconciliation (I'm simplifying). In the latter, the women's complaints are turned into fodder for the men's ongoing argument. Spencer then convincingly ties that to Jacob's later teaching about Nephites and women and proposes that things were going wrong clearn back before they even got on the boat.

In his conclusion, Spencer namechecks Nibley's Lehi in the Desert, which I have and have been wanting to read, but now's not the time. Onward into the Brief Introductions!

seven days

016) Dendo by Brittany Long Olsen, finished February 11

It's been a while since I last finished Dendo; this time I read it Sundays with the 7yrold. Not every Sunday, so it took a long, long time. I mean—it's a daily comic covering eighteen months. So it took us longer than that to read it. I think we began it after finishing Enid, though it was certainly in response to the love she had for Served. I doubt she remembers reading them anymore. Back then, I was still referring to her as "the baby."

Dendo didn't so long because she didn't like it (though early on, she didn't care for its blackandwhiteness) but because it was "the Sunday book" and not always did we get to bed early enough to read from the Sunday book. Often it was just a poem then bedtime. Or she wanted Mom to read to her. Anyway, it took a long time but she loved watching the sisters serve and it gave us lots of opportunities for worthwhile conversations.

I still hold that Dendo is a book every Latter-day Saint household should own. And I think I have proven the rightness of my stance once again.

almost three years

017) The Ten Winners of the 2023 Whiting Awards, finished February 12

Everything in this slim volume is good. The writers features are Tommye Blount, Mia Chung, Ama Codjoe, Marcia Douglas, Sidik Fofana, Carribean Fragoza, R. Kikua Johnson, Linda Kinstler, Staphania Taladrid, and Emma (in the book, Milo on the Whiting website Wippermann. Each selection is brief, just enough to get a taste. The Whiting Awards are for "emerging writers" but, as you can tell from the links I've provided, it's not clear exactly what they mean by that. I think, for most of the ten (and historically, glancing at their full list of recipients), "emerging" means already successful but not famous yet.

That said, I hope the little guys do do good things with their fresh $50K.

There are a couple books I'll be looking for.

a friday and a monday

018) The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life edited by Andrew Blaune, finished February 17 

This is a strange collection. Based on the copyright notices, it appears that most of the essays here were written for the collection. But at least a few more than listed were not. One is an adaptation from a Complete Peanuts introduction, for instance. And some necessarilies are included such as Umberto Eco's famous (and disappointing, though I guess it gets points for being early) essay. Yet even those written for the book don't always make sense. For instance, Maxine Hong Kingston's is only barely and tangentially related to the work of Charles M. Schulz. In one sequence, a trend breaks out among the high school kids she's teaching: they're all drawing the same image of a pregnant Lucy Van Pelt. The illiterate kid the essay is about doesn't get the joke. It was a good essay—one of my favorites in the book—but I'm not certain it belonged in the book. Space was limited. So let's limit ourselves to more relevant essays, mm?

If I get my Peanuts unit put together in time for my own high-school students, the only essay I'm hoping to track down and be able to include is the one by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell. That one is both entirely relevant, a perfect mix of analysis and the personal, and accessible. Trifecta, baby.

The thing that you can see over and over in the essays is people's absolute confidence that the Peanuts when they discovered it was the comics' peak. Sadly, after 1965 or 1975 or whenever, it got redundant and dumb. The jokes were all Woodstock falling of the doghouse or whatever. Only one of these writers showed a glimmer of self-awareness as they made this claim.

These claims (which generally praise the strips of the '60s and '70s) even got to me, who only read fresh Peanuts in the paper starting c. 1988, and although there were favorites I was looking forward to I was terrified I would agree with those old Boomer / early Xer viewpoints and find my Charlie Brown and Snoopy an inferior Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Happily, I did not. While people are free to argue that the World War I Flying Ace is simply superior to the Valley Forge Soldier, I do not agree. And in the final years, Sparky's sparkly innovations with Rerun alone should have earned him another decade or two of life.

Now I grant my own bias here, and it's the next couple generations that'll really decide this, but we're poisoning the well against them. I need to write my own essays about the strengths of later Peanuts to even things out.

Anyway. I should admit I skimmed essays that had less to say or said it less well or were on less relevant topics. I mean—I liked the essay on Vince Guaraldi, but it also probably belonged in another book. But as an amateur scholar of the field, I still count this book as a must read.

a couple weeks or something


019) Do Not Disturb Any Further by John Callahan, finished February 17

I don't think I've read him before (not sure I'd heard of him before the movie) and he's  just as shocking/funny as I'd been told. One of the blurbs says if you laugh and then say that's not funny, that's Callahan.

I get it.

waiting for my kids in the car

020) Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, finished circa February 19

We have to read these because in volume three he has a crossover with Zita the Spacegirl!

It was more Ben Hatke and Ben Hatke is good at what he does. Another fun read.

one sit

021) 2nd Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction by Terryl Givens, February 24

When students ask me the difference between AP Lang and AP Lit I sometimes explain it this way:

In an AP Lang essay, you gather in sources on your topic and assemble them. Breadth is the key. In an AP Lit essay, you only use the one source but you dig deeper and deeper and deeper until you have uncovered all there is to say.

The first two books in the Brief Introductions series reflect these two angles.

In 1st Nephi, Spencer explicitly stated that the work of theology is to read a text very very very closely. And that's exactly what he does.

Givens however is magpieing sources from all over the Book of Mormon, other scriptures, ancient Christians, early Latter-day Saints, et cetera. This too is an insightful and eye-opening approach but it's quite a different approach. The two books are distinct, to say the least.

While Givens approach provides more Fun Facts, I do prefer Spencers—at least in terms of what I wanted from these volumes. However, arguably, Givens methodology does make a lot of sense for Second Nephi as magpieing is rather what the bulk of Second Nephi is, Nephi collecting and rearranging work from his father, brother, and scriptural heroes.

But this is the upside to the whole series, right? A whole lotta different perspectives.

Onward to Jacob!

two weeks


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the first ten books of 2024
the first ten books of 2024

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