40 Tiger Cubs


40 Tiger Cubs

1. This one is Terry

2. and this one is Ted.

3. This one is Betty

4. and all of them dead.

5. No matter whose immortal eye

6. framed their symmetry,

7. Edward and Stanley and Felix and Tom

8. today have mouths crusted in the same stuff

9. that makes me wonder if maybe

10. just maybe

21. I should throw my ice cream away—

22. that stripe of REAL FUDGE notwithstanding

23. it's not going to cure your little man's

24. incapacity to knock up

25. your Chinese wife, haha.

26. Grab Hobbes
27. inbetween
28. inbetween. . . .

29. Vaghadeva! When my own child sucked milk

20. from my wife's breast

31. and we lay there a bit too warm

32. with the windows cracked,

33. California summer,

34. sweat evaporating, these

35. problems .35 Earths away
36. yet to be born.

37. This one is Theo

38. and this one Shun Gon.

39. And this is the last one,

40. the. . . . 


These are some of those book things you've been hearing about


030) Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, finished May 30

My latest Eisner Excuse, this charming and moving book from the brother/sister team that does Babymouse and Squish features a human, ten-year-old protagonist, but instead of the silly, madcap funfests I associate with them, this is about a little girl coming to grips with her brother's addiction while visiting her grandfather in Florida. It's subtle and patient and darn good.

one sitting


029) Best American Comics 2015 edited by Jonathan Lethem, finished May 30

Although he acquitted himself fine, don't you think Lethem is a weird choice for this gig? I mean, come one.

Anyway, I did enjoy a greater-than-average percentage of the work this year. Books I need to seek out and finish:
Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple
Woman Rebel bt Peter Bagge
Little Tommy Lost by Cole Closser
Mimi and the Wolves by Alabaster Pizzo
INFOMANIACS by Matthew Thurber
I may start with Closser....that one was genuinely terrific.

If they ever pick someone as obviously as wrong as Lethem again, say, me, I'll tend to select whole pieces rather than excerpts. As usual, reading a complete piece was always better than reading a piece of a piece. Which only makes sense.
six months


028) G Is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton, finished May 21

The experience surrounding a reading of a book can really influence the experience of reading a book.

I had to read the climax and conclusion of this novel in tiny interrupted pieces and so the ending, which, as I postmortem it, seems perfect, came off sudden and weird. Shame. I like these books. (See below.)
i dont even know like a week i guess


027) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North & Erica Henderson, finished May 20

This volume was even better at getting me to laugh aloud. So: win.
maybe three days


026) "F" Is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton, finished May 12

One of the reasons behind the first exception to this year's no-new-books-started rule was to let me keep working my way through these Kinsey Millhone books. And here's my first fo the year.

I haven't put a lot of thought into why I like these books enough to want to read them all (not a normal feeling for me, to be sure), but here's a couple observations from this sixth entry.

1. Kinsey's very normal. And while she's more able to talk to people than me, she just keeps plugging along until things make sense. And they don't until they do. That's pretty real. And it makes her more fun to spend time together with than my nonbuddy Sherlock Holmes.

2. This one surprised me near they end by getting emotional about father-daughter relationships. I didn't see it coming and so my defenses were down.

Which might be a way of saying that these are some of the meatiest potato chips I've ever eaten.

(But I also recognize that I don't eat a lot of potato chips, so what do I know?)

Previously in 2016


PULP Literature – Spring 2016


What I love about Pulp Literature is its melding of the literary with the genres. This issue took a long time to meld, however---the literary wasn't genre enough and the genre stuff wasn't literary enough. That said, three stories struck me as rather wonderful.

Soul Making by Sarina Bosco
I love fairy tale retellings. Another Beauty and the Beast I frequently use in my classes, and this one too flips the script (as people say) in interesting ways. Beauty seeks out the beast, beauty chooses the beast, beauty prefers the beast as a beast, and as he begins to change (which is gradual here), their implicit deal is cast in shadow. It's a lovely rendition.

Two Twenty-two by Stephen Case
What if moments were incarnate? What would they want? What would it mean to know one?

Black Blizzard by Emily Linstrom
This time, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Told by a girl as the origin story of her family during the Dust Bowl, this one too Flips! the Script! by changing what the story's basic assumptions are. Who, for instance, says that Beauty is the greatest possible outcome for Prince Charming? Are we sure, for instance, that comfort and luxury are life's highest calling?


Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo


(my bar had slightly different packaging)

11 G. of PROTEIN
Net Wt. 1.5OZ. (43G)
EST. 19617
*made with 100% grass fed bison

eaten February 26, 2015

Upon opening the wrapper, I found myself impressed with the juiciness of this bar. Upon first bite, I was startled by how dry it was---the word that came to mind was "powdery", but only metaphorically.

Of course, bison is a very lean meat, and I've never had it served this way before so, this being the first bar, I can't say if this is necessarily the nature of a bison bar.

What I can say is that the last few bites were much juicier than the top. Not sure what the explanation is.

This was meat, folks. I ate meat here. It didn't seem like anything else. And I even got a few big chunks of sinew to emphasize this. And although I love all things cran and do not believe in Enough Cran, I did appreciate how the cran here was a usually subtle undernote. When I hit an actual berry, sure, cran!, but most of the time it was deep in the distance. Same with the bacon---it took the back seat. This just tasted like straight meat for the most part.

Did I like it? Yes. Would I buy it again? Mm. I don't remember how much it cost... It would really depend on how much it cost. But did I like it? You bet.



(my bar didn't have that Amazon thing on it but did have a best-by date)

eaten  [date]


Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 bar (28g)
calories: 70
Calories from fat 25
*Percent Daily Values are based 
on a 2,000 calorie dieet

Total Fat 1.5g  2%
Saturated Fat  4%
Trans Fat 0g  0%

Cholestoral 15 mg  6%
Sodium 260mg 11%
Total Carb 7g  2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 6g  

Protein 7g

Vitamin A  0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron  4%

INGREDIENTS: Buffalo, dried cranberries (cranberries, sugar) sea salt, encapsulated lactic acid, celery juice, black pepper, spices, garlic, onion powder, red pepper.

[missing punctuation all sic]

eaten May 20, 2016

Hopefully the long delay between these purchased-the-same-day bars doesn't result in an unfair comparison. And I certainly hope it doesn't explain the unpleasant gray tint.

On first bite, I'm amazed by the overwhelming umami. Past the halfway point this one two begins to seem dry. The cranberries have very little noticeable affect on the eating experience. The pepper and garlic and onion are much more present.

For meat, this is a surprisingly light eat. At one ounce, it's just not enough. I'm not in love. I wouldn't buy it again, but if you gave me one I would enjoy it.

It's been waaay too long for a clear comparison, the original point, but I think it's safe to say I'm still looking for my favorite bison-based energy bar.


In the Classroom with Mr Thteed


Years ago, some students kept a list of funny things I said and gave them to me at the end of the year. In this era in which there must be hours of me floating around on Snapchat, the simple phenomena of someone making a list of things I said---which it one of the kindest gifts anyone could give an egoist such as myself, remains unrepeated.


These were given me by a kind soul from last semester (I can't explain all of them):

Lit Burns & Miscellaneous Quotes

"It's all fun and games until you're in an urn."

"YOPTRO---you only play the record once"

Thteed: "What's the legal definition of a genocide? How many people have to die?"
Student 1: "A lot."

"All good things come to an end. The universe... And this class."

"There are worms that live in bedsheets, and when you're lying flat they crawl out of your anus and lay their eggs and then crawl back in. And they fall off the bed and onto the floor, and they get into you by crawling into the soles of your feet and up the inside of your legs until they reach your digestive system and the circle of life begins again. And that's my sequel to The Lion King that Disney did not accept."

"When you get to the top of Mount Everest, there is so little oxygen that you're literally dying. You have to get to the top and get back down before you finish dying, or you're dead."

Student 1: "Hope is following your heart when your brain tells you no."
Student 2: "Like if you have a heart attack and your brain says 'stop dying' but you're like 'nope.'"
Thteed: "Your brain says 'wait for me let me catch up' and then you have a stroke at the same time."

"Mustard gas smells a little like... mustard. You know how mustard kind of burns your nose? It's like that but it kills you."

"We don't know what Vonnegut believes because we can't be inside his head, and even if we could we would find mostly worms because he's dead."

Student 1: "This essay would be a good back cover for the book."
Thteed: "Because it doesn't give anything away."

"Othello is a really good example of 'people should just talk to each other.'"

Student 3: "Maybe Troy is his own Trojan horse, destroying himself."
Thteed: "Well if he'd used a Trojan he wouldn't have this problem."


The Eisner Excuse


Most of the books in this post will be filed under a new exception I just created called the EISNER EXCUSE. Basically, I read an article about Eisner nominees and put a whole bunch of the kid and young-adult nominees on hold at the library. I have no regrets. A few of those books were too short to included here, but there's been some excellent reads among them.

Meanwhile, I'm still posting way fewer books than normal, largely because Don Quixote is very very very very long.

No excuse, incidentally, for this first book. It's legit according to the rules of 2016.

025) Soldier Dog by Sam Angus, finished May 6

Boo hoo. Sad boy, sad dad, great dogs. This one starts out like it intends to be the worst of dead dog books. My oldest son has owned this book for years and took that long to start it then finish it. This is a World War I novel and it doesn't quite find its legs until it finds the trenches. From that moment on, however, it's pretty darn great.

One of the things I liked the most about this novel is how it reimagines the obligation to kill the dog. I'm going to give a bit away here, but Angus kills dogs early and often in order to avoid killing them at the end. The dog I thought the book was about dies early. Then the dog I thought the book was about died. Then the third dog (MAJOR SPOILER) ends up being the first dog. Which sounds like a cheap play, but Angus makes it work. She's really found a clever way to a happy ending---even in a Great War / dog book. Rather astonishing when you think about it.

So yeah, it drags and most of the human characters are impossible to remember, but it's also pretty awesome.
six or seven months


024) Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll, finished May 1

Another winner from the Eisner nominations! This is a coming-of-age story that refuses to take either obvious path. It helps that its milieu is similarly cake-and-eat-it-too---it's both modern times and fairy-tale times, and negotiates that duality calmly, without need of amazement or comment. It just is. Similarly, our plucky heroine gets to walk to paths to adulthood simultaneously without having to choose---or rather, she gets both by virtue of having to choose. But even saying that much is too spoilery for a tiny little here-on-Thmusings review.
two noncontiguous days


023) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, finished April 30

Okay, um. I can't remember if this was nominated for an Eisner or not.... Probably. Or maybe getting Eisner books reminded me I'd been wanting to read this. Hard to say.

Anyway, it was hard to finish because, like Roller Girl (below), it kept disappearing as the boys snuck away with it to try and read it before someone else snuck off with it. So it was a big hit.

And I liked it too. It was very much the sort of smart-fun I would like to share with my kids. Go Marvel! This is a win.
possibly two weeks


022) Little Robot by Ben Hatke, finished April 26

This book is crap. It's a string of cheap tricks executed poorly. I cannot believe this got an Eisner nomination. Cliches in the correct order plus cute drawings do not a story make.
a matter of minutes


This next book does not qualify for the Eisner excuse. I actually checked it out because I'm planning on sharing an excerpt with my classes and wanted to see if more of it would be applicable to our discussion. Ended up reading the whole thing.

021) What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsun, finished April 26

I'm returning this to the library and I am buying my own copy. In part because I want to figure out how to incorporate some of these ideas into my teaching and in part because I couldn't highlight the words I didn't know, so I need a copy where I can do that. I haven't felt so obliged to read with a dictionary in years. Years.

Mendelsun discusses what is actually happening inside our skulls while we read. He's thought about this question more than I have which means he's arrived at more conclusions than I have---some of which I knew instinctively, some of which I had sorta figured out, some of which were previously unthought of. That's a fun thing to do.

Like his colleague Chip Kidd, Mendelsun has turned book design into a prophetic calling---or more like, a seerlike role, an ability to understand literature and to explain it in new ways, incorporating visual elements into the text and bandying them against each other.

Pretty terrific stuff.
under a week


020) Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, finished April 23

This might be the best book about being twelve I've ever read. It was hard to get away from my boys (ages 12,8,6) to read for myself. But I did and it was . . . it was so good. I honestly don't know if a comic book has ever made me cry. Literal tears. On my cheek.

It's the tale of young Astric, twelve with all that entails.

Flat-out one of the best books you'll read this year, whether your category of choice is adolescent-themed, sports-themed, family-themed, friendship-themed---even Hugh Jackman-themed.

You can check out the autobiographical comics she made to get her comics feet under herself (recommended) or the making-of she made for interested kids (also recommended---it's a very generous gift to young readers, and teaches as much about hard work as the novel itself).

Anyway, I don't want to talk a lot about the story. All I want to say is that I grew close to these characters and I'm a grown man, dammit! If you've done anything right in your life, reward yourself with Roller Girl.
three days


019) The Only Child by Guojing, finished maybe April 21

This is a lovely book. I would describe it as wordless in the tradition of Chris Van Allsburg or David Wiesner, but not a picture book---a true comic---and longer than their books tend to run.

It's about a small Chinese child who leaves home to visit Grandma on his lonesome and travels to a fantasy world.

The story is quaint and fun and sweet enough, but what makes it a remarkable reading experience is the prose introduction where Guojing describes growing up an onlychild in a nation of onlychilds and how intensely lonesome it was. That personal experience colors the reading of the 100+ wordless pages that follow. I don't know what it would be like to read the book without reading that intro first. If you try it, let me know.
one evening

Previously in 2016


Poetry and things


Lots of breaking the no-starting-new-books rule this episode, I'm afraid. Largely because of my local library's excellent poetry display for Poetry Month and my renewed feelings of obligation to read more poetry. Besides the ones I finished, know that there were unfinished volumes from Claudia Rankine and Dorothy Parker and . . . others as well.

018) 77 Love Sonnets by Garrison Keillor, finished April 21

Although the types of love celebrated is broad (love for Obama, love for radio audiences, love for a daughter), most of the poems touch on or dive into romantic love. (And something strange, I must say, about reading Keillor on giving oral sex.)

The book is ridden with wonderful lines, but I'm not sure there's a single wonderful poem among the 77. Frequently that's because he can't resist silly rhymes and sillier allusions as they occur to him, but regardless of reason, it's a volume of great lines buried in this and that and th'other.

The type of sonnet varies much as well. 14 lines is strictly adhered to, but good luck finding iambic pentameter---line length and rhyme scheme are loose rules to be reinvented page by page.
about a week


017) Fidelity by Grace Paley, finished April 20

I don't know her, but she's been around a long time and this was her last book. Appropriately, much of the poetry is about being old and having outlived the known world.

Some poems were excellent, some I didn't make friends with, but her voice was infectious throughout. I was taken by her use of gaps within lines, something I've never liked until now.

I would certainly pick her up again, should I see her on library display.
about a week


016) The Jam Jar Lifeboat & Other Novelties Exposed by Kay Ryan, finished April 15

This slim volume of poems was published near the beginning of Ryan's term as U.S. Poet Laureate. I almost wonder if it was published be make a quick buck at that moment until her next full collection was ready. Which isn't a knock on the poem itself, which is a serious of poems inspired by quotations from Ripley's. It's as fun as it sounds, but only fifteen poems total which runs a dollar a poem, and seems rather a lot, even if it is illustrated.

[Incidentally, I was right and wrong. Yes, this was released to capitalize on her new job. But it started life as a collector's-only hardback, so. . . . At any rate, she's written hundreds (hundreds!) of these poems, so fifteen still feels stingy, even if it started life a a beautiful handcrafted object.]
maybe a week


015) Work & Days by Tess Taylor, finished April 1

Always read a neighbors' book. That's my motto. (Not one my neighbors share.)

This is the second of Tess's books I've read (the first) and although, like the first, her work is heavy on both bluster and guilt, the proportions have changed. The bluster is in greater supply while the guilt has slipped to the periphery.

I use the word "bluster" hesitantly as it has some negative connotations that might lead you away from what I precisely mean. Words can be funny that way.

Here's the press release. And here are three lines out of context that I thought were topnotch:
flavor is the artifact of light.

We hadn't seen it, hadn't tried, had been asleep.

removing, removing the stones from our soil.
And, if you're counting down, my two favorite poems were "Hung with Snow" and "Last Hay."

1. The overriding conceit of fertility presents itself in many different contexts.

Like her last book, this book suggests it will reward rereading. I think I am more likely to address my attentions to her less bucolic book, but nevertheless: this one is good too.
four days

Previously in 2016


Nonce poem of the week


Every week the poem is supposed to be about what's happening now and to include an accompanying explanation thereof. (And links, which I failed to do this time.) Although it doesn't follow, I'll choose to assume that the rejection coming eight hours later than usual means I last longer in the bracket.

Here's this week's accompanying explanation:
For twenty years now I've been meaning to watch Ghost in the Shell, recognizing that, until I do, I can't pretend to know anything about anime. I still haven't watched it, but soon the live-action version will be out, starring Scarlett Johansson. The first image of her in the role was released this week and internet-rage over Hollywood whitewashing is once again in the news. In my own feeds, it has overwhelmed little things like the earthquake in Japan. The title of this poem comes from a student's notes on Brave New World. I was taken with the phrase, and in googling it was reminded that an Indonesian pop star died in front of her fans last week after dancing with a cobra. Her opinion on ScarJo as Major Motoko Kusanagi will go unshared.
Aspects of this poem's style were inspired by my reading of Grace Paley's final book.

while collapsing between snakes

The main thing I know about Asian girls is their hair is black          and they’re hot
he said          knowing at least the difference between their
and they’re          So what if it’s a white chick in a wig          black hair
is black hair          is black hair          My own mother was Asian
when she had me          he said          at least to see the photos
lol          But you get me. And when walls collapse          it doesn’t matter
if the hero is white in a wig or yellow or green or          (the favorite color
of the colorblind)          purple. Doth the baby care          who doth lift it
from the rubble? Course not, bruh.          No more than a cobra cares if you’re passing
as blonde          on stage          in front of all your fans          you’re very best friends.



NSFW Poetry this week


Yesterday a student shared with me a video just now going viral. And I ended up writing my poem this week based on that video and its . . . comments. (An example newer than the poem appears below the video.) It's legit. The previous purchased poem, for instance, was inspired by this. Oh, and the bombings in Brussels.

Order of consumption doesn't matter.

Rechtmäßigen Persiflage

We may have moved from fricasseed baby
to vegan sausage but
the YouTube comments remain
unchanged, denying potatoes
to Irish and supplying pork
to Mohammedans.

No matter the friendly fucking,
the fuckyouüping
remains, and so as lions
lie with lambs,
the groyners lift back up
frozen boulders spilled in sun.

Righteous rammsteins may don sandals
over socks, yet unlost
Teutonic expertise
exports to abattoirs abroad,
blueprints shared by
sadomasothebest and Sletvard Juice.

And this is their white flag:

Dear pro-immigrant Germans. I just hope, I am wrong, and You are right. But i wish to see, You will weak up in time, and Your stupidity will not force Your children and grandchildren in the future to look for asylum…because they will be not safe in own country… We, Europeans must stick together, or We will be in next century only a memory. Wishing You best luck.


First-quarter films


In theaters:

Zootopia (2016): Almost all our going-to-see-a-movie plans have fallen apart this quarter, but I don't regret making it to Zootopia which, I suspect, will be everyone's second favorite movie. (Their firsts will differ, but everyone gonna like Zootopia.) And rightly so. It captures better than any other movie I've seen our mobile world, and it's very funny at times and genuinely moving at others. Its central metaphor also succeeds, although it has to break the central mystery slighlty awkwardly in half to really fully accomplish that aim. In fact, my only real complaint with this film is its mystery---the engine of its plot---which has no real twists because said reveals project themselves a few scenes ahead of time. This damages a first watch, but the value of a mystery film has more to do with all the non-reveal aspects---after all, the second through nth viewings all begin with the ending already clear. Too soon to say if those aspects will hold up to repeated viewings. They seem great, but they all hang off the arms of a plot that's a bit lacking in rigor. So: time will tell.

At home:

Wonder Boys (2000): A colleague was shocked a couple weeks ago when I admitted that I had never seen this movie. As an English teacher and especially as a writer I was guaranteed to love it. Um. Hmm. In fact, I don't even really get it. A bit of thinking tells me it's because I really don't understand any of the relationships in this movie. None of them ring true to me. Lady Steed and I even laughed some times when the narrator talked about how important other people were to him. I don't think the movie was joking though....

Mystery Men (1999): I've been wanting to rewatch this movie for so long and now I finally have and guys! guys! guys! It's so good! It totally holds up! Sure, the effects are a tiny bit dated and sure it's responding to mid90s Batman movies, but it's totally now! This is the comic-book era and this movie has a strong claim on the Best Superhero Comedy prize. It's parody and satire and absolutely earnest and real. And it dates back to that moment when both it looked like Hank Azaria was going to be a big movie star and Ben Stiller was becoming one. And the latter's interaction with Janeane Garofalo's never been better. And William H. Macy's stolid, downhome performance is amazing. And it has one of the most shocking midmovie turns since Psycho (though that shock might be less now than it was a decade ago). Mmmmmm. Any chance we'll finally get a Flaming Carrot movie on the 20th anniversary?

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): Well. It's not as good as the first one. Some of the wit feels a bit forced and no matter how hard movies try, I'll never believe Jeremy Renner's anything but a tool. Plus, the CG was grotesque. Nothing about that first fight scene felt part of the real world. (And don't get me started on the use of breasts in this movie.) Even the parts of this movie that felt honest in the moment, in retrospect feel a contrived and manipulative and frankly a bit dishonest. I think part of the problem is the weight of juggling so many characters and ongoing storylines. Ant-Man was more focused and I think that's part of the reason it succeeded. All that said though, it did a good job setting up the next Captain America and I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

Help! (1965): This is the kids' first Beatles movie and it's certainly easily accessible madcap nonsense with vocal work that will recur in Terry Gilliam animations for Python. It might be a bit projective of me, but one of the things I find interesting rather than headshaking is the whitewashed acting of a nonsensical Eastern . . . thing. Is it a people? Merely a religion? How many of those white Easterners are maybe known to be white? The film feels like a parody of all-white casts of people of color. The only actual people of color are the Bermuda police---who, it might be pointed out, are by far the most competent people to help the Beatles in their hour of need. (And this is without mentioning the satirical barbs at 1965 Britain.) At any rate, it's one of the high points of 60s film-comedy madness. I would love to see this kind of creativity in current film comedy. (I'ld also love to dress as a 1965 Beatle.) (They can keep the hair.)

Inside Out (2015): Did I weep? Yes I did. Now I'm off to watch Riley's First Date and weep some more. [UPDATE: That short's not really a weeper.]

The Princess Bride (1987): First time for the kids! And it's apparently been over a decade and a half since Lady Steed's seen it as well, so she was gasping and laughing along with them. You know what for me is the most emotionally resonant line in the movie is? The last one. And knowing it's coming gets me teary-eyes in anticipation.

Seven Samurai (1954): You know, for a three-and-a-half-hour movie, this sure did not drag. It just kept on going. Even the slow and quiet moments were laden with below-the-surface action of one sort or another, whether scene-setting or character-building or what. It's beautiful and moving and even the most absurd characters are slowly invested with pathos and reality.

A Hard Day's Night (1964): Has some classic moments and captures an era and comes first, but besides those---call me a philistine but, well, I like Help! better. Probably even the music. Still. Given that I'll spend most of my time middle-aged and old , the least I can hope for is to be clean. . . .

Spy (2015): Totally lives up to the billing. A brilliant new take on the spy genre and this is the showcase Melissa McCarthy has now proved she absolutely deserves. It's also a good example of how over-the-top vulgarity can be used like a paintbrush rather than a bludgeon. Though that's hardly the correct simile for this movie.

Life Itself (2014): This life of Roger Ebert is a bit so-what in its first act, but ultimately, it finds a lot to say. It has genuine emotion and finds a way to be about love and family and friendship and kindness and art. It takes some interesting chances too, such as extended outtakes from Siskel & Ebert, that do more storytelling than, for instance, the filmmaker's voiceover that was much of the problem in the first act. But I imagine it's hard for a director who no doubt owes Ebert's love of Hoop Dreams at least in part for his career, to be dispassionate. And would you want him to be?

The Magnificent Seven (1960): Maybe it's because I just watched Seven Samurai but . . . it's no Seven Samurai. Although the individual scenes are paced much as in Kurosawa's film, those scenes are crammed together. And for a long time it has a tortured relationship, uncertain what to borrow, what to leave, and what order to put them all in. The film's strongest when it goes off to make its own path---the third act, notably. Final analysis? A bit slight in its development (perhaps the director was relying on our [formerly] preexisting knowledge of what sort of characters the bit actors tended to play?) but it ends strong---we learn more about many of the characters in their final moments of action than in the preceding ninety minutes.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008): Having been watching the six new episodes and trying to answer questions about things we'd forgotten, we discovered there'd been two movies. Two movies! Why don't we remember the second? Anyway, we'd seen it before. In fact, all our memories about the two movies were off. Me, for instance, I remember going to the theater and watching the first movie with Lynsey. But when it came out, we hadn't met yet. And no memory of having seen this one before, yet we had seen it. Maybe we forgot because it was more like an overlong episode than a movie? I don't know. I don't know. Pretty good episode, though, even if it was a bit long.


It Follows (2014): What a great movie. I was squirming in my seat the whole way through. A note on interpretation. The obvious one is that it's a commentary on modern sex culture and, you know, kids having sex too easily etc etc. That's too simple, though. Because once they have their supernatural STD, their behavioral options diverge. So I think it deserves a variety of readings. Make it about youthful error in general, for instance. Try reading this movie as a comment on student-loan debt and never sleep again.

Romeo and Juliet (1968): As I grow more and more familiar with the play, I find any given director's choices all the more interesting. For instance, why drop all references of Rosaline until Friar Lawrence? And that's not the only thing rendered nonsequitery by this script. But no matter. Yet I love it.

Romeo + Juliet (1996): I am rather predictable, am I not? Maybe if any other play had two movies so different yet so true I could make a change...?

Stranger than Fiction (2006): Will Ferrell is incredible in this movie, don't you think? And Emma Thompson! Emma Thompson, everybody! And Maggie and Dustin and Queen (do people call her "Queen"?) are no slouches either. The acting is great. It's well written. The play with image is terrific. I just tried out using it as a companion to The Princess Bride with the freshmen (metafiction, yo). I need to refine it a bit, but this trial run was a huge success.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1998): My brother has been promoting this movie to me for years. His general pitch is this: "This won't be your favorite movie, but everyone I've ever recommended this movie to found it to be time well spent." And he is right. It's not my favorite movie, but I certainly enjoyed myself. The first third was a bit slow and I saw the final reveal just before it happened, but the latter in particular I don't mind, because it had a secondary payoff that was greater than the first. I love me a good con (in film, not real life, stay away), and this one lets the matchsticks pass by each other, work together, work against each other, etc. And seriously: Michael Caine and Steve Martin? Come on!

Previous films watched




Reading books like a sloth, yo.


014) The Little World of Liz Climo by Liz Climo, finished March 29

Not my fault! Lynsey brought it home! Many of these are very very funny! Check her out!



013) Forgive me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine, finished March 26

I have gone
and checked out
some poems for kids
from the library

which were witty
and played
games with much
of children's literature

Forgive me
the concept was tempting
so clever
and bold.
two days


012) Fences by August Wilson, finished c. March 14

Any week spent reading Fences with an AP class is a week well spent.
about a week


011) The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, finished March 19

It took me a while to find our copy of this book so I could read the parts we skipped during our road trip. So I found those parts---and a few more that Lady Steed remembered but apparently I dazed through.

Some of the happiest moments of my reading life have been with Bill Bryson. I don't know if I've ever laughed harder at the printed page than at his dog story in his Australia book. While this book wasn't all that for me (because I am older?), it was a lot and a bit more.

I miss the days, sometimes, of focusing on filling in the gaps of my favorite writer's oeuvres.... is breadth all it's cracked up to be?
a month

Previously in 2016


Poetry out of the present, week 4


I haven't skipped all the previous missed weeks. I've decided that if I like a poem enough, I'll keep tweaking it post-rejection and try to place it elsewhere.

This particular poem I didn't get started on until less than two hours till doomsday. I didn't successfully juggle all the conceits I threw in the air. There's something here, but it's not here yet.


Holy Week, 4 –1

We share a national past-time–La Pelota–and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut.
Barack Obama
March 22, 2016
Havana, Cuba

Forty-one days ago, ancient cubano cars felt at peace
as their masters arrived with foreheads marked in holy ash.
We are aging and smoking and we are together,
the cars said to each other. We are Cuba!

Four days yet to la crucifixión de Jesús
and the Americans have arrived to take the field,
black paint under their eyes. Leading off: Varona,
native son, outfielder, defected, yet returned intact.

Before Movimiento cast casino-happy Americans
from the garden, gods like Home Run Johnson and
Cool Papa Bell wintered on these islands, picking up scratch
and setting records unrecorded. Jackie Robinson was here.

And once long ago, mis hijos, he took his lead from third,
believing somehow the tomb would open
and he could buy the same Ford Pilot
we are so anxious to shed.



The First Book of Samuel, chapter eight


6 ¶But the thing displeased Samuel, when [the elders of Israel] said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.

7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.

9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.

10 ¶And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.

11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.

19 ¶Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;

20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.

22 And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.


Overdue: Fringe Folk


010) Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card, finished March 9

I don't know when I first heard of this book. Certainly well after it was published. Certainly long before today. I purchased my copy new from the BYU Bookstore on some occasion . . . my graduation? last time on campus before leaving Utah? something like that. It seemed an appropriate choice given it's significance in Mormon lit. It's still, in some respects, arguably the best very Mormon book from a very Mormon writer. At least to hear people talk about it. It's part of your first $17 investment in the field, after all.

Perhaps it's the weight of great expectations that explains why I don't love it like I'm supposed to. After all, not only is this allegedly the Best Mormon Book ever, it's also short stories from one of my all-time favorite short-story writers. That's a lot of expectations to be saddled with.

Anyway, I don't have specific complaints. Stories range from the thrilling to the provocative to the familial, and Card's evocation of character and place are as strong as ever. Were I to write a serious review, I would mostly discuss what what great about these stories. But this isn't a review I'm writing---it's a personal response, and that response is disappointment in not being blown away.

Perhaps this feeling is representative of how far the field has come in 30 years. Perhaps 30 years ago, being unprecedented, this book stood so far above its (nonexistent) competition that it was like Chimney Rock. Now it's more like Bryce Amphitheater.

Again: I'm not knocking this book at all. It's only failure is not being as unique as once it was. Perhaps that should be chalked up as another of its successes.
about nine months

Previously in 2016


Doing great, thanks.


Before we get into the books I've read, let's review this year's goal of not starting new books:

Sorrrta good. Although I've found new categories of exceptions, I've overcome to start new books in the manner in which I usually start them. And I think there's some evidence that I'm not setting aside books that take longer to finish (this time last year, I'd finished 18 books---double this year's number).

The first book you'll read about (#9) I picked up from a wee free library during a long walk home. I was without anything to read while walking and this fit the bill. I had intended only to read an essay or two during my walk then put it back in a box, but Beck's writing is too compelling to just put down, and the importance of listening across cultural boundaries is just as important now as it was in the early '70s.

Then: two books we listened to during a drive to Utah. Then: two books I read because I'm reviewing them or interviewing the author. So: zero of this books were started prior to January.

I'll get better!

009) The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim by Robert Beck, finished February 29

Throughout my white Mormon upraising, I have never met anyone like Iceberg Slim. His best known book is Pimp: The Story of My Life, in which he lays out how he ended up in that life. The book I read is a collection of essays, many mere vignettes, ranging from forgotten friends to why only people who hate women get into the pimp game, to the problems with being black in "racist America." It's difficult to read about, say, police shooting down unarmed black men, and argue that we've come that far. On the other hand, I can't read his words and really believe it's quite where we are today. Although parts of America are as far apart as ever, I think a serious percentage of us are finding middleground.

Still: I certainly know young black men as angry as Iceberg Slim. Both Ice-T and Ice Cube named themselves after him; I'm not sure how directly he's influencing the current generation, but indirectly he's still with us.

I highly recommend checking him out. His language is not my language, but his anger and pain and fatigue are honest. And current.

eight days


008) Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer, finished Feb 20

This was the third audiobook from our trip (we skipped a few parts of book two, which I'll be finishing in paper form as we have a copy around here somewhere).

This is what I expected from Colfer, only without any fantasy. But it doesn't need to be fantastic. It takes it's hero seriously enough (and puts him into serious enough situations) that reality holds as much weight as a dwarf who rockets dirt out his butt.

The kids dug this even though we were listening to it long past the time they would normally sleep---they didn't sleep as much as they should have.

In short, this is Encyclopedia Brown if his life were more like Sam Spade's. It made the kids laugh and it kept the energy and tension high and although it was a bit overlong, no one thought to complain except the 36-year-old woman.
a long slog all the way from midnevada to home


007) Bless this Mouse by Lois Lowry, finished February 16

This was the first of three audiobooks we listened to on our drive to Utah. I haven't read any Lowry besides her dystopian fic and this is not that. This is a charming story about mice living in a Church who have adopted the religion but still must fear the day the priest calls an exterminator.
basically nevada


006) Dendo by Brittany Long Olsen, finished February 14

I loved this book. Long Shimai's daily comics journal is a wonder. I've never read a missionary story that successfully built a new human from the mundane moments of a mission. Even the marvelous amazing moments are shown clearly in their mundanity. And that is one of the most honest things a missionary memoir can do. Expect more from me about this book in he future.
about two weeks


005) Dream House on Golan Drive by David G. Pace, finished February 5

I'm writing a serious review of this for Dialogue, so nothing much from me here. Just know it will be largely about a symbolic feedback look. Tempting, eh?

couple weeks

Previously in 2016


Svithe on Wards


Today's sacrament-meeting topic was
The ward's role in bringing me to Christ.
My role in bringing the ward to Christ.
The following is (roughly) my opening remarks.
[having dismissed those who presented the sacrament to the congregation]

The sacrament, of course, is the reason we come here, the most important thing we do each week, as we've been told.

When asked however, what the most vital thing to do is if we're feeling spiritually worn, the most common correct answers are daily individual and family prayer, daily individual and family scripture study. No one suggests that before brushing your teeth and crawling into bed that we pause a moment to bless an individual dose of bread and water for ourselves.

Consider the prayers we hear each week. The bread for instance is blessed for "all those who partake of it"---not for me. as I partake of it.

Clearly there are some things we must do together. Somethings that gain value by being done by a community, by a ward family, rather than by individuals....

previous svithe


Should Obama pull a Reagan here?


So Scalia is dead, darn it. And now President Obama has the Constitutional responsibility to nominate a replacement and the Senate has the constitutional responsibility to advise and consent. Shockingly, Republicans are promoting a bonkers notion that Obama should just let the next president make the nomination. Cruz at the debate claimed that it's been eighty years since the Senate's confirmed a Supreme Court nomination during an election year---which will make his next Reagan Cult meeting pretty embarrassing when they remind him about 1988.

I was not a SCOTUS fanboy in 1988, but I imagine that no one suggested Reagan should just wait for the next president to nominate someone. The last Justice who died while still serving on the Court was Rehnquist, and Bush made a nomination and saw it consented upon in, like, a month. But let's pretend the Senate didn't want Reagan to nominate someone before he left.

I don't think that's true, but it's easy to pretend because before the Court voted in Kennedy, they voted down Bork. This is where we get to Obama's opportunity to go full Reagan (although, given what we know now about Reagan's mental state during his waning presidency, if this was anyone's actual plan, it maybe wasn't his).

Obama could this Tuesday nominate a wildly unconsentable candidate like Pam Karlan. She will get eaten up and spat out then run over a few times with an old garbage truck. Then Obama can nominate someone like Sri Srinivasan or Jane Kelly who were, at their previous Senate advise-and-consents, voted in with 97-0 and 96-0, respectively. Maybe it's not putting someone as liberal on the court as Scalia was conservative, but it's likely enough to tip the Court and hard to imagine the Senate being able to call that second nominee unacceptable after beating Obama down publicly the first time.

Anyway. It's an idea.


Poetry out of the present, week three

The realtor failed to mention the spiritual sinkhole beneath our home
before we signed here and here and there and once more on this one
to trade one third of our income these next thirty years for a home
surrounded by the dying and the absent. Someday we we’ll no longer be
the youngest couple on this street and the land shall flow
with milk and honey and, more to the point, wifi, letting evil find easier passage
through our lives rather than taking up residence a thousand feet
from our front door, signaling the lost and the angry of our wired world that
here is the hell from which thy demons came.