2014-08-22

Aliens, monsters, tigers, convicts

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076) Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock, finished August 20

I've used the parody of courtly-love romance to teach courtly love. I've used the utopian parody to talk about the history of utopian literature. I'm considering how best to employ the Xmas-story parody. And don't forget the parody of Horatio Alger! Or od detective tales!

I can't remember anymore how I came to download this, but I'm glad I did. Some of the stories don't keep their quality or consistency throughout (and some moments have not aged well), but all of them have genuine lol moments. Emphasis on the latter L. "What are you reading, Theric?" people ask. Stephen Leacock, I answer when I stop laughing.

(Since I began reading, one of the stories has been included with the new Lemony Snicket reprints, and a confused person wrote the introduction to a recent reprint of this volume?)
many months maybe over a year or maybe even two years



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075) Yukon Ho! by Bill Watterson, finished August 16

This is the only one of the square Calvin & Hobbes books we didn't own when I was a kid; we got this copy for Little Lord Steed's birthday last week. I've read them all before, but doesn't matter. Best strip of its decade. One of the best of all time. The only strip I would definitely place above it is Peanuts. Lofty company, that.

For the record, I read Calvin & Hobbes all the time, but rarely do I sit down and read a full book cover to cover. It's pages here and there of whatever's been left out by my kids. Good taste, them.
two days



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074) Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, finished August 16

I got talked into reading this again. Same complaints as last time, but I think I actually liked it more.
morning



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073) Dangerous by Shannon Hale, finished August 11

I've heard mostly terrible thing about her adult novels and mostly ecstatic things about her YA novels. Since I"m trying to get a jump on the Whitney's and she seems like a sure bet, I picked up her new novel.

I found the first ninety pages utterly tedious. Were it not for the Whitneys, I would have quit around page forty. I kept going because in the 90s I found something to write about (see AMV), but I never did fall in love with the novel. Which makes me sad. I really thought I was going to like it. Maybe I'll still pick up Goose Girl or Princess Academy one of these days, but I'm not feeling the drive I once did.

Anyway. Click on the AMV link.

Here are some things that didn't fit in that review.

So many YA books feature multiple characters who quote great poetry. I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS IN REAL LIFE. GIVE IT UP, YA AUTHORS! Not that I don't frequently enjoy it, mind, but please. It's absurd. In this case, it's three of five. That's not realistic.

She does this weird thing where she's skip the expository dialogue only to have characters who BOTH heard the expository dialogue sum it up for each other. This makes no sense.

The suicide in the novel was a bit frustrating for me even though I think the ultimate reasoning all made sense, I was awash with skepticism through the whole thing. A shame, really, because it could have been the novel's great shock.

The book had some nice lines: "Are you only capable of talking to me as if an audience were listening?" (40) Shark! . . . Then I remembered who I was. And I ate it. (177)

Why aren't the aliens interested in, say, dogs? Or salamanders?

At times, the comedic aspects of the aliens reminded me of Smekday.
two or three weeks



Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-08-21

Fiction from Dialogue 47.1 (Spring 2014)

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"Acute Distress, Intensive Care" by Karen Rosenbaum
This slice-of-life is perhaps more painful in its matter-of-fact sadness while observing loss of faith than in its observation of death and interfamily failure. Which is interesting because the narration certainly does not judge or condemn those who have lost their faith. And it's doesn't make the faithful seem more happy or full or honest, with the possible exception of an autistic teenager who encounters the sublime while saying the sacrament prayer for his congregation.

Whether faithful or faithless---whether seeing answers where they might not be or failing to see answers where they might be---each of us has some untouchable core of isolation and sadness and decay as entropy slowly claims us all.

Which sounds like a downer, but Karen's work always maintains a certain beauty and purity no matter how uncheerful it's subject or execution.

"Two-Dog Dose" by Steven L. Peck
A technique I'm losing patience with in general is the in-media-res-then-let's-go-back-and-surprise-the-beginning-was-actually-near-the-end. I can't deny that Peck uses it to terrific effect here, but I think that's largely due to how dang corporeal and shocking it is rather than any need for the story to have had that shape. Not, anyway, if it had had a different title.

(Incidentally, what is it with Peck and killing canines?)

Anyway, story is a powerful one about the decline of age and the decision to choose one's own moment of death and friendship and love and trust and faith. As in Rosenbaum's story, the p-o-v has lost his faith while remaining close to those who remain close to faith. And both story's share redemptive elements for the faithless character, without returning them to the community of faith.

Anyway, it's a moving tale and an significant addition to those keeping a lists of Mormon stories about male friendship.

2014-08-18

Heading back to the old alma mater

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I need 13.4 upperclass or postgrad credits to get to the highest paygrade with my district. The pay difference will pay for itself in about half a school year (based on BYU Independent Study costs) so it would be foolish not to plow through. Here are the classes I'm considering, ranked in two categories (an * notes classes I have [or may have] taken before and thus might not be eligible to take---excepting, of course, R[etakable] classes):

My Personal Edification / My Students' Edification

Persuasive Writing*
ENGL 312
••••••••••

Writing about Literature*
ENGL 314
•••••••••

Writing Poetry
ENGL 319R
••••••••••

Writing for Children and Adolescents*
ENGL 320R
••••••••••

The Bible As Literature*
ENGL 350
••••••••••

American Literature 1865–1914*
ENGL 362
••••••••••

American Literature 1914 - 1960
ENGL 363
••••••••••

Studies in Poetry
ENGL 366
••••••••••

British Literature 1789 - 1832: The Romantic Period*
ENGL 374
••••••••••

British Literature 1603-1660: The Late Renaissance*
ENGL 385
••••••••••

Modern American Usage*
ELANG 322
••••••••••

The Grammar of English*
ELANG 325
•••••••••

Writings of Isaiah
REL A 304
••••••••••

The Pearl of Great Price*
REL A 327
••••••••••

I have decided, selfishly I suppose, to take the poetry-writing class first, and use that as a gauge for future decision-making. Thoughts and advice welcome.

2014-08-14

Where is 2014's Alfred Hitchcock?

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I'm not talking about Hitchcock the film auteur or television fantabulist. I'm talking about Hitchcock the literacy promoter.


Before I ever saw my first Hitchcock film (which, incidentally blew me away---scared the crap out of me in broad daylight), before I had any idea who Hitchcock was, I was reading books with his brand. I've since read several and have just begun another. In general (maybe always), Hitch's involvement in these book projects was minimal to the point of nonexistent. But hey---his name and face and imprimatur sold books and got people to read.

So here's my question: What celebrity could recreate this in 2014?

Honestly, I don't know. Steven King comes to mind, but choosing an author seems a bit cheaty. Who from another field could sell books? I don't think Spielberg could do it. Wes Anderson maybe but not to mass audiences. I wonder of Abrams or Whedon . . . Nah.

Obama, after he leaves office, could sell some copies of interesting collections no one would read.

Really. I can't think of anyone who, by virtue of saying This Is Good could sell a jillion cheap volumes.

Can you?

2014-08-12

So many pictures in so many panels

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072) Tale of Sand by Ramón K. Pérez from the screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, finished August 9

Pérez was given the challenge of adapting a screenplay that has the same sort of visual chaos seen in Henson's Oscar-nominated (and really truly terrific and really truly strange) Time Piece. One method he employs is bringing in parts of the screenplay's actual printed and scribbled-upon pages. The story is wild and wonderful and nutty. It ends in a loop just after pulling the kind of prank I used in Armageddon Burning and Hell or that you see at the end of V for Vendetta.

It's fun and dreamlike and nonsensical---sort of an Alice for grownups---and I'm absolutely unsurprised it never got funded. But we now have the next best thing. We have the comic book.
evening



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071) The New Yorker Book of Literary Cartoons edited by Bob Mankoff, finished August 9

This 2000 volume has some real gems that made me laugh out loud, but the more trendy cartoons have not aged well. Even for a collection from 2000, some of the gags seem based on a literary world that barely existed then, if, indeed, it ever existed. But the gems, man. Worth it for the gems.
five days



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070) Liō: Making Friends by Mark Tatulli, finished August 9

Liō is better is small doses. The repetitious nature of the gags gets obvious in collected form.
out for ice cream



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069) Paying for It: a comic strip memoir about being a john by Chester Brown, finished August 9

This is the great thing about libraries: I never would have bought this book. Probably no one would have ever lent it to me. I've read some Chester Brown and been underwhelmed. I didn't really care for the subject matter. But it sits next to other books I'm checking out and it ends up coming home with me. (And, unexpectedly, ends up being the fourth book with prostitiution from that pile.) And I read it. And if I had an audience who cared more about my opinions on this particular topic, I could write a long time about this book.

The first thing to say is that other people who've said this book is not erotic are right. For a book entirely about sex and which features the depiction of lots and lots of sex acts, this comes as a bit surprising, perhaps, but it's true. I did not find Paying for It to be at all erotic. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's manifesto as much as memoir? I don't know.

Anyway, the main point of Brown's book is to convince you that prostitution is better for humanity than marriage, which he calls evil probably four or five times. His tirades against romantic love provide my main issues which I'll get into in a moment (but not in great detail because, as I said, I don't think my audience cares what he thinks), but his arguments for prostitution are actually pretty compelling. Prostitution fits in the category of Things I Don't Like But Will Always Exist. That category breaks into three subcategories and currently prostitution is in the subcat with murder (things we try to stop and punish) instead of sharing space with alcohol (things we regulate in order to minimize the damage) or flipping people off (we support your right to be a knave). Brown is for no regulation of prostitution at all and I think he may have convinced me. Although he also thinks prostitutes shouldn't have to pay money on their earnings which is stupid. If someone makes their living that way, then income is income. Tax it like my freelance editing is taxed. But I'm not getting into that.

Brown's philosophy is grossly materialistic, by which I mean that he thinks the only things that matter are property and that all things that exist are property and the only meaningful definition of morality is respecting other people's property. That's important to know, but I'm not going to engage with that philosophy. Just know that's where he's at.

When it comes to longterm relationships, Brown believes that entropy is inevitable. That shared experiences don't lead to deeper love. That all relationships gradually lose their frequency of sex which leads to resentment which leads to fighting and bitterness and breakup. Needless to say, I find that cynical and immature. But I do suspect that our serve-me-first culture is moving in that direction sexually. In the appendix he describes a utopia in 2080 (assuming prostitution is decriminalized posthaste) where people have kids if they feel like it and no one's trapped in exclusive relationships and people charge for sex or give it away as they please. I imagine he's like my students who find Brave New World a utopia as well.

Brown's spent a lot of time honing his arguments and I would no doubt lose a public debate with him, but he's not logically or philosophically consistent. He has his conclusions already and fits the evidence to them. For instance, he finds an Asian culture that looks like his utopia and uses it as proof that he's right. But cultures that don't match his ideals (say, mine) don't have anything worth thinking about. He behaves similarly toward historical evidence. This wouldn't bother me so much if he wasn't so quick to call things he disagrees with "evil." I have one of these religious backgrounds he's so disapproving of, and I'm much less likely than he is to whip out the e-word. His property-based libertarianism seems a bit evangelical in that it provides him somewhere to stand as he preaches to and condemns the world around him.

Anyway, it was an interesting book. Certainly loosened up my own thinking on the subject, though I'm not about to encourage you to get (or become) a hooker. So don't ask for my approval. Brown would call me puritan no doubt, but we're not even starting from the same axioms, so whatever. We can be civil.
midnight and morning



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068) Richard Stark's Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke, finished August 9

Cooke is a fascinating artist. This book is black and white and orange and he exploits the full potential of that simplicity. One example: an explosion. The next page hurt my eyes as the black disappeared and the splash was nearly all white with just enough orange to delineate the basics of what was happening. Astonishing bit of art.

I also like how this is essentially an Ocean's 11 story, but the inherent risk of violence is more real. That's crime, buddy. It feels more honest because it's less fun. It's a darker look at that great American antihero, the outlaw.
one night



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067) Ghosts and Ruins by Ben Catmull, finished August 8

This Goreyesque collection of drawings and words about haunted spaces is a delight to peruse. And it reminds me of a project I never got around to executing a few years ago. Now it's resurrected that idea in my mind and set it off in a new direction. Thanks, Catmull!
one day



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066) The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion by Will Eisner, finished August 7

I never thought about the Protocols before. I mean: I knew they were crap and had caused some problems. But I didn't realize how their falseness and their evil were so casually intertwined. If people can deny the Holocaust, of course they can believe in this nonsense.

This is a comedy of horrors.

Eisner did an adequate job of balancing his goals of teaching and stretching out the yarn. Ultimately, his simple characters can carry you through even the long sections of textual analysis (though I did do a bit of skimming). He was a master. I don'n know if this is his best work, but it certainly must be one of his most important.
two days



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065) Unterzakhn by Leela Corman, finished August 6

I knew Unterzakhn when I saw it because of BAC2013. The excerpt there wasn't really enough to catch my attention, but when I saw it on the shelf at the Berkeley library, I grabbed it as part of my large stack comics I was taking. (It also ended up being the third of the first three we read which featured prostitution. I certainly have a type.)

The story of two sisters (twins as it ends up, though this is not clear until the final pages) in early 20th-century New York City---the children of Jewish immigrants (the story of their father is told in an extended flashback that should have been cut) who take different paths through the backwaters of sexual mores and the hypocrisy of others.

This book, like Grandville below, does a good job of casually complicating characters. I'm reading another book that fails even when using seemingly identical techniques. I need to think more about this.

The ending is suitably tragic and understated.
two days



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064) Grandville Bête Noire by Bryan Talbot, finished August 5

I knew I recognized the author's name, but couldn't place it until the story ended and his bio identified him as author of the punchlineless joke, Alice in Sunderland. This story too, "A DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR LEBROCK OF SCOTLAND YARD SCIENTIFIC-ROMANCE THRILLER, plays fast and loose with history, but its anthropomorphic animals remind constantly that this is a work of fiction. Even if that chimp is clearly Toulouse-Lautrec. But fiction or not, the story is clearly against robber-baron capitalism. But it's just as clearly against abstract-impressionism as a tool of the rich to control the rest of us. And I don't know whether I'm meant to take that argument as seriously. It seems like it. But am I really?

Anyway, what I like most about this book is its casual character development. I didn't know until I sat to write this review that this is the third in a series, but it didn't even matter. The variations in the protagonists' backgrounds and bearings and attitudes and reactions simply felt developed and real. Not explaining properly is a task many writers never master. This book teaches how it's done.

On top of all that are the little gags (a Q-like scientist saying "This is not a pipe"---a drunk Paddington staggering down a Paris street) that add pleasure to the reading. To say nothing of Roderick's terrific slang.

(Roderick is Watson to LeBrock's Holmes---except their relationship is much more evenly balanced.)

two days


Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-08-04

Hemingway and Dave Barry do not write about travel in the same ways.

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063) Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, finished August 4

I can see why people like this. On the surface, it pretty much appears the same as any fantasy/scifi hybrid. But somehow it tastes entirely different. I wasn't excited or impressed enough to run down What Happens Next, but it was good.
at library and a couple parking lots



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062) Bubbles & Gondola by Renaud Dillies, finished August 4

Cute and symbolic, but not very deep. In fact, it's that pseudo-arteest bull#### about the tortured soul needing to chill out so he can make great art. If that's something you need, you might actually be better off reading Dave Barry's really terrible advice to aspiring authors listed below.
at library



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061) You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About by Dave Barry, finished August 3

Dave Barry is to prose what Calvin & Hobbes is to comics: the most enjoying and inspiring things in the newspaper during my boyhood. This book was a blast of that pure Barry wonder. Moments of absolute hilarity and excellent execution of the tricks ever humor writer since is trying to emulate. One of America's great humor writers. Though the Israel section, though frequently brilliant, ultimately shied away from importance. So it goes.

But you can take his how-to-be-a-professional-writer advice straight to the broker.
three days



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060) We Were Gods by Moriah Jovan, finished August 1 or 2 (it was midnightish)

I have a LOT of thoughts about this novel, but they're not really congealing into anything like coherency:

Etienne gets two monomythic journeys in the first hundred pages, before even meeting his Penelope---and their meeting is this novel's real story.
"Tess!" he croaked. "Don't you see? We have to be gods together. That's the goal of this life, right? To become gods in the eternities. We can't do that separately, but look---we were there As mortals. And our work will stand for generations, making us immortal before we die."
My reading of this novel ultimately was so personal it's difficult to write about without talking about my own marriage and perhaps making things public that, for sake of my marriage, should not be.

Architecture in Jovan's universe demands consideration of Randian ideals. But this time it adopts them and shatters them simultaneously.
He changed from a roll to a thrust, to fill and then empty her, to stroke her the way his engines stroked her buildings, to draw the wind and collect the sun, converting it into energy that would light her body up bright against the night and heat it up warm against the winter.
Sex used for important plot and character-building purposes. But weird third time just after realizing the first two not legitimate.

The good and bad from their own lives repeated in the lives of their children.

Allllll the Labyrinth quotes.

Variants in What's Important to Mormons differ so much from character to character, book to book, that she seems to capture something of the real variety in Mormonism that I'm becoming more aware of all the time.

Chad:
"I know that," he answered crisply. "And that's okay because I did the right thing. The only approval I need is mine. And the Lord's." He paused. "Crap. Should've put him first."
Chapter with motherly flashbacks overdone. Falls into caricature and melodrama. Or maybe my complaint is that the explanation for Tess's issues do not quite match those I would expect were she based on my own wife and so I am dissatisfied from the turn away from my autobiography.

A very familial and warm and satisfying ending which may not have been possible without so many books, giving us close looks to so many characters. Valedictory. Almost don't want her to keep writing any more. We have a happy ending now! Look away! Look away!
under a month



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059) The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, finished July 27

I can see why the Lost Generation is romantic and attractive to so many people. Read in large chunks, this book is romantic and attractive as well. But it's impossible to escape the ultimate hollowness of these people and their lives. Midnight in Paris is lovely, but night is enough. Wouldn't really want to live there.

Hemingway's prose is everything everyone says it is, but when I wasn't reading it in large enough chunks to get swept away in it, it read like self-parody at times.

For as much as Moriah's characters knock Hemingway, one thing he is unquestionably superior at is helping us see the bull as beautiful and magnificent and worthy of idolatry.

Ultimately, that Jake's genital injury---the thing preventing him from fully moving ahead with Brett---is ultimately the only thing that keeps her his, is a beautiful, romantic bit of horror and disappointment. And that's a feeling the never-quite-fully-adult will always need literature that speaks to.
two weeks



Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-07-30

More fun with musical sexism.

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A few months ago I looked at the balance of male and female voices at a local radio station and was disappointed. I thought that maybe one of the other radio stations I listen to might have better stats. So this time, I pulled the information from 8am to 2pm on July 29 from Live 105 and KFOG (but not BIG 103.7, which only tells you the last twelve songs---they did have 25% female voices though which makes them above address). I also added Alice which Top Hat suggested might do better. I don't listen to Alice all that often because it's on the second layer of the car's presets and because the music just ain't as good as KFOG. You'll see.

First, just the overall numbers (percentages rounded to the nearest half percent):


(All these can be clicked on if you want to view them more legibly.)

As you can see, Top Hat was right. They play lots more women as a percentage. Still not near half, but, you know, closer. As you can see however, they tend to play the same people over and over again. Here are the actual artists (first chart is total songs by artist, the second list is simply artists played regardless of repeats):


KFOG and Live 105 had virtually the same male/female breakdowns, but the variety of women played by Live 105 is laughable. Let's look at Live 105's charts first:


KFOG, by my reckoning, has the most listenable mix. And unlike Live 105 they even play women back-to-back sometimes. But it's still pretty pathetic. Does the average radio listener really have that low a tolerance for the female voice? Frankly, I doubt it.

Anyway. Let's look at their breakdown:


And here I thought HAIM was supposed to be the next big thing.....

2014-07-11

Rachel Rising × Three

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058) Rachel Rising Vol. 4 : Winter Graves by Terry Moore, finished July 10

Though it would be gorier than most movies I sign up for, I would love to see this as a film. It's reliance on women characters, the smartness of the dialogue, its ambivalence in defining good and evil people (its people never being that simple)---this is what we need in film, methinks.

Anyway, volume four ends this story arc. Not everything has been quite explained (which is fine) and some major things remain unresolved (a second story arc has begun, so that's fine too), but I am utterly satisfied. My worries in volume two that it might fall into old storylines proved unfounded. This is a book that just kept on giving. Can't wait for volume five so I can read them all again.

two days



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057) Rachel Rising Vol. 3 : Cemetery Songs by Terry Moore, finished July 9

It's getting more complicated and further away from expectations. It might be messing with chronology which is throwing me a bit, but I'm excited to see what happens next. This is great stuff.

officially three days



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056) Rachel Rising Vol. 2 : Fear No Malus by Terry Moore, finished July 8

This second volume is every bit as perfectly crafted as the first although I'm a bit bummed to see the strangeness of it all normalize a bit into demons and witches and Lilith. That said, it's still unlike anything I've ever read before and I admire how normalized everyone is. The quirks of each person exist without comment. This may be a world of fantasy, but the people are as human as any I've seen. This is must-read comics.

one night


Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-07-08

LDS Eros: Mo' Moriah, mo' Jovan

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055) Paso Doble by Moriah Jovan, finished July 7

If you're not familiar with Moriah's work, you might check out my reviews of The Proviso or Magdalene. Paso Doble shares their DNA. As with all the Dunham books, the lead characters are enormous, godlike figures who tower over the landscape. Victoria is a Dunham cousin and 1) a multilingual polymath and a leading scholar of ESL, 2) a wildly talented lounge singer, 3) the most beautiful woman in Europe. Emilio is a close friend and mentor to a Dunham cousin and 1) the greatest matador of his generation, 2) an exquisitely talented lovemaker, 3) a genius chemist. These are the sorts of things we expect from Jovan protagonists. But they are difficult characters to hate because they are also deeply flawed---and their flaws flow from their godlike attributes.

Victoria, aware is a genius and beautiful, pushes everyone's buttons. She can't get tenure and no man can put up with her. Especially since, as a devout Mormon, she's keeping her garments on until marriage. Most guys can't put up with her nearly long enough for that. Plus, she has very little patience for other people and, being incapable of taking offence, can very easily offend. She's become emotionally distant from just about everyone.

Emilio is also emotionally distant---he's as desired by the opposite sex, but his distance comes from frequent partaking. He has not room for emotional depth because he gives a little to so many. Plus, he's a natural introvert and finds people exhausting. His reputation as a notoriously sexed-up tabloid-popular matador gets him blacklisted from university jobs and he can't stand working as an assembly-line chemist. And so he's trapped in a glamorous career he's grown out of.

So these two sad and lonely gods must collide.

I've labeled this post part of the LDS Eros series because what I'm most interested in from a Mormon-literature standpoint is Moriah's navigation of this relationship between a "manslut" and an "ice-vagina." Or, more importantly, someone for whom sex has been cheap and someone who holds it so dear she demands another's life in exchange for access. (That might sound melodramatic, but I think it's a fair description of how it seems on the outside to many people.)

It's a clash of sexual cultures---and cultures that are diverging at speed. People embarrassed to be virgins at 20 are written about with the same bemused pity as those who choose virginity until marriage at age 29. We have two soulmates and the rules state they must get together. But in addition to the little navigations every relationship must make, they have a massive gulf between them called divergent sexual norms. And that's the most striking element of their story.

Additionally, speaking as a male writer, Moriah's descriptions of Victoria's (female) sexual need and confusion provide me with vocabulary I would not otherwise have. I know her work is too explicit for many Mormon writers, but I think you shoudl read her anyway. We need to deal with sexuality more as a people and reading her work is a great place to consider how it can be done. Even if most of us will not show her happy delight in the word cock.

So how does Paso Doble stack up against her other works? I've read the first three and (I'm well into the fourth and will start the sixth [about Victoria's twin] before the week is out) and I would rank the one's I've read this this (in terms of IMPORTANCE):
1. Magdalene
This is simply great literature. In my opinion, one of the most important Mormon books in recent memory.
2. The Proviso
A flawed novel, but massive in scale and quantity of ideas. My least favorite, but you can't deny its ambition.
3. Paso Doble
Charming fun. Interesting work with sexuality but clumsy in the penultimate chapters and while a delightful lark, not IMPORTANT.
3 (tie). Stay
Equal to Paso Doble, though cleaner in execution. More ideas here, less there. It's a wash.
In the end, Paso Doble is a fun read, especially if you like to laugh at the foibles of gods---while falling in love with them yourselves---and a useful read, if you want to think about ways to attack sex from a Mormon standpoint.
two months



Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-07-05

Through fifty-four

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054) The Best of Connie Willis by Connie Willis, finished July 4

I love Connie Willis. More than any other SF writer, when I read her, I want to return to the genres I imagined spending my writing career in. I love her nearly-now worlds and her thoroughly recognizable human characters, and the transparency of her sentence-level art. She's something.

This new collection includes all the stories that won Hugos and/or Nebulae, along with comments on the stories and three speeches (one never delivered). Reading those too make me view her as the best possible model for aspiring writers. Just love her.

You won't have the context of just reading the book, but this comes after the book's final story, which takes place in a world in which dogs---and, nearly, RVs---have gone extinct, and covers almost everything I had planned to say in this review:

about three weeks or so



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053) Battling Boy by Paul Pope, finished July 27

This book is awesome! I suppose it treats the Greek gods slightly like the Nordic ones are treated in Marvel's Thor, but somehow this is just a thousand times better and aimed at a kid audience. And because it's Paul Pope, the writing and art are both excellent. I'm glad to hear a couple prequels have been released, but I want to read on with the story! At least, I suppose, at least I'm so excited to read on I can't yet be heartbroken that reading on is impossible.

Srsly. The writing is sharp, the characters are drawn instantly---both good and bad---and it's awesome and scary and inviting all at the same time.

two days



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052) Prophet Volume 2: Brothers by Brandon Graham, Fil Barlow, Giannis Milongiannis, Simon Roy (Contributo, Farel Dalrymple; finished June 26

If I had known this was volume two, I wouldn't have taken it home from the library. Not that I think it would have made much difference. The book has the sense of being of being enormous and universal and mythic in a way that beginning at the beginning or ending at the ending don't really seem like meaningful concepts.

Prophet was one of the Image comics I remember seeing on the shelf back in the '90s. And like most of those Image comics, they were ugly (even though I knew enough to say the art was "good" and "super realistic") and unwelcoming. The art in this new version is much more compelling. I'm surprised this character was resurrected after under twenty issues more than twenty years ago, but this version's massive mythic scifiness was apparently not part of the original run. In other words, this is pretty much whole cloth. I won't be picking it up again, but I enjoyed the trip.

weekish



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051) Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach, finished June 26

Mary's on top form here. I loved this book as much or more as any of her books (and I've read all of her noncollections save Packing for Mars, but only Spook and Bonk since beginning the five-books project). This one takes us from food's entrance to our body along its exciting journey to the toilet. The intestines seem a bit neglected, but along the way we learn why fat Elvis wasn't exactly fat and why not being exactly fat was what killed him. We learn that sticking dirty fingers in your mouth isn't what gives you a cold---it's sticking them in your nose. We learn that if you eat enough organs, you don't need fruits and vegetables (making my regret growing out of a willingness to eat cow liver and chicken hearts).

Mary Roach is one of the most witty writers we have going (and she shares my love of unnecessary but fully delightful tangential minutia) and if you haven't read her yet, chastise yourself the way you would if you'd never read Bill Bryson or Calvin Trillin. And maybe add her to your any-five-people tea-party list.
coupla weeks



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050) Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets by Dav Pilkey, finished June 24

This is an early book. The good captain can't even fly yet!
about an hour






Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-07-03

Single paragraphs on flicks flicked during the second quarter of 2014

.

In theaters:


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): As visually arresting as anything Wes Anderson has done, though I found the story less riveting. In part, I think, because the the nature of its violence threw me out of the story. It was sudden and horrible, and vague and distant. Which may be like real life, but I never had a sense of what was what. No doubt I will like it better should I watch it again with adjusted expectations.

Muppets Most Wanted (2014): Not to the level of excellence at the reboot, but still a top-half Muppet movie. I laughed quite often and quite loudly even if ultimately it wasn't quite as satisfying as I would have liked. Nice that Sam finally got a starring role. Far overdue. Nice to see old 70s Muppet acts come back, even if some of my favorite minor characters barely made appearances. Bummer to learn about Jerry Nelson's passing from closing credits, though. . . .

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): I love the first movie and I hoped for the best here. I was not disappointed. I don't know much about this Dean DeBlois guy, but I'll be trying to remember his name going forward. One thing I love about this movie is it didn't just pick up where the last left off. The kids are twenty now and the town has changed and they have changed---their relationships have changed---nothing's the same as we left it. Take the development between hero Hiccup and father Stoick---it's not as we last saw it, but the script doesn't pander to us or explain every new nuance. It doesn't need to because the nuances are there to be seen. (Though maybe they were covered in the tv show?) I hope in 3 we see more change. I would love to see Hiccup and Astrid married and so forth. I'll bet I would end up crying even more than I did in this one. By the way, fun fact, Cate Blanchett didn't do her own singing.


At home:


Babe: Pig in the City (1998): I haven't seen this movie since the first time I saw it. That time, I thought it was better than Babe. I may have been right. This is a beautiful movie both as written and as executed. Visually, it reminds me much of the late lamented Pushing Daisies. (and Nazi horror films). As for the writing, the use of the Greek (mouse) chorus is not as impressive as the first movie, but otherwise, this is in no way inferior to Babe. Astonishing, really, that out of such piling horrors so much joy and humanity can be found. Catharsis is a marvelous thing. In other words, though the visuals are clearly aging, they will remain timeless. (We miss you, Rhythm and Hues.) This must be one of the greatest duologies of all time.

Heathers (1988): I love how artificial this movie is. And while it could never be made today, I'm glad it exists. I laughed a lot and was appropriately horrified by the real life that followed.

Damsels in Distress (2011): Can't remember the last time I laughed so much during a movie. I loved it. This is the kind of movie I want to write: intricate dialogue delivered without affect, and bad tap dancing. Heaven.

Super 8 (2011): First, since most of what I know about JJ Abrams can be summed up in the phrase "lens flare" let me say that even so, at time I felt like I was watching a JJ Abrams parody. So many lens flare. It was absurd. Story? Adequate. Monster? Eh. But what makes this movie worth watching anyway is the actors, especially Elle Fanning. Those Fanning girls can really act. Her sister seems to have reached adulthood relatively mentally healthy and I hope the same fate awaits Elle because I want to keep watching her emote on screen. She's the real thing. And the other young actors are pretty good as well. The plot and adult characters are a half-baked macguffin. The kids are what matter. And they come through.

Moneyball (2011): This stupid bootleg copy is all screwed up. I probably spent thirty minutes trying to skip twenty minutes. Upsetting. Every moment in this movie's worth watching. It's great stuff. Guess I just need to get my own copy. In other news, could this be the year Billy wins the last game of the season? It's looking like a strong maybe.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004): Little Lord Steed was anxious to share this movie with his parents, having seen it at his grandparents'. I haven't seen this since it first hit dvd so I had forgotten most of the gags, and was thus able to enjoy it as he hoped I would. It's not one of the All Time Greats or anything, but it's fun and manages to find a movie-length story which so many cartoons never pull off.

The Last Unicorn (1982): I haven't seen this movie for about 27 years. Certain images from it have stuck in my mind after all this time, but little else. I can see why now. There's little else to recommend it. With the exception of Alan Arkin, the rest of the cast never gets it together. Most of the jokes probably weren't good in 1982 and are bad now. The animation is both static and herkyjerky at the same time. The songs kill forward momentum (and the one sung by the unicorn is bad in a Miss Piggy way without Miss Piggy's ironic intentionality). Almost every scene takes unjustifiably long to fruit. Even the moments I remembered (the red bull pressing forward, the unicorns disappearing into the sea) have less weight than they seemed to have when I was a child. I'm utterly mystified how it's still finding new audience.

Eraserhead (1977): This is one of the finest works of surrealism I've ever seen. It's all about the taboo fears connected to love, marriage, and parenthood, but it only deals with them in images. It never says outright what it means. So all the spermatozoa and vaginas (which things traveling both in and out, sex and birth) are there to be missed if you're so inclined. Really, I can't think of a horror film that deals as well with the hidden terrors of parenthood. I'm still a bit mystified about the title and I'm still surprised the film ended in redemption, but now that I've finally seen it, I'm off to the internet to see what else has been said about the movie. For me, I noticed distinct connections to silent comedy (the early shots felt like humorous yet funniless takes on the Little Tramp), early Corman films---and a bunch of other stuff. I should have been taking notes. If I had intended to write more than one paragraph, I would have paused it about ninety seconds in and grabbed a pen and pad. Lots of stuff here. Lots of stuff.

Frankenweenie (2012): Even though I'd heard good things about this movie, it was Tim Burton. Disappointment is par. So I'm delighted to say this movie is crazy enjoyable and fun and even a bit scary. Scary enough it's good my older two weren't home. My only real complaint is there's some thematic confusion---is it pro-science or anti-science? The film is utterly confused on this point. But ultimately it's all about heart or something anyway so whatever.



Elsewhere:


Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977, 1997): Due to DVD difficulties, they switched from the new to the old halfway through (not to my complaint though I did have to see Greedo shoot first before teh switch was made). This time my thoughts were filled with how nearly the movie came to being a B-movie disaster. It's success is more than slightly amazing in that light. Still. I know I love it.

V for Vendetta (2005): Refreshing to watch a blockbuster-intended superhero film that is really only interested in playing games with symbolism. Sure, it can be a bit heavyhanded, but the editing and acting keep it fresh and interesting. Rewards multiple viewings.

Rushmore (1998): I've long noticed the Peanuts connection, but I think this was the first time I noticed the Christmas special's "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" playing in the barbershop at the moment of reconciliation. Love.

Idiocracy (2006): Question---are we being encouraged to laugh at dumb people and then fight against them . . . or to realize we are them?

Duck Soup (1933): I didn't feel this way when I first watched it, but I'm now in the camp that calls Duck Soup the greatest of the Marx Bros movies. It's more chaotic and less sensible, but it's a satire of war. It's Beckett, it's Vonnegut, it's madness. It's war. Plus, it's hilarious. Even nonsense adds up eventually. If the final picture's a mess, that doesn't make it any less a picture. It might make it more of one.

Casablanca (1942): Heroism. I can't remember if I've ever had a class clap at the end of a film before. What a movie.

Spirited Away (2001): Miyazaki has a gift. He represents children such that those of us who have forgotten can remember. This film may be fantastic, but it is also closely observed realism. That is, methinks, part of its magic.

The Iron Giant (1999): I can't remember crying in class before. Nor seeing so many red-eyed kids. And the applause was even better than for Casablanca. And afterwards they had so many smart observations. If you're doing a writing-about-film unit, consider throwing this on your syllabus.

Jurassic Park (1993): Although the class made snide comments all the way through (some of which we're smartly analytical, eg noting that Grant's seatbelt problems were caused by nothing but females yet life found a way), they still jumped at appropriate points and clapped at the credits. They did not, however, by the T. Rex's final appearance. Fascinating.

Citizen Kane (1941): Sure, sure, sure. But I just don't like it enough to watch it enough times to really appreciate that it's THAT great.

The Muppet Movie (1979) and Monsters, Inc. (2001): While babysitting at a Relief Society function, I was in the movie room for the first half of the former and the second half of the latter. And I was singing Rowlf's number, that I had left just before, the entire interim. Plus, Frank Oz stars in both movies so they're practically the same anyway. And I love them both.

2014-06-24

Telling the truth about sports and monsters.

.

049) Big Nate: In the Zone by Lincoln Peirce , finished June 23

I'm not sure I've ever bumped into Nate in the newspaper funny pages, though he's been there for over two decades. Anyway, if I have, he didn't make an impression. These books though, beloved by my kids and amusing to me, have made an impression. I find the packaging interesting. Instead of booking the strips chronologically, year by year, they're thematic. This one is sports-themed. The first section is basketball, the second baseball, the last soccer. In true Charlie Brown fashion, their baseball team is the most hapless.

I was going to post a strip from the book here, and I've found quite a few sports-themed strips at gocomics.com, but none from the book. Looks like it could have been twice as long. And you'll just have to look for yourself.
two days



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048) Lying by Sam Harris, finished June 23

I haven't read much by the New Atheists (occasionally bumping into them in online videos is grating enough), but Harris's arguments against lying are some of the best reasoned and replicable I've read. This is a terrific book I highly recommend. It's crazy short (you could easily read it in an afternoon) and inspiring. I've been moving away from justification of white lies for a long time and I'm now going to redouble my efforts.

If you feel that lying to get out of engagements or to make people feel better or to avoid conflict is justifiable, I encourage you to think again. Let Harris take a crack at your antipathy.
just over a week



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047) Donald Duck Adventures 17, finished June 23

Three stories which lack much sense but succeed as goofy tales.
a couple nonconsecutive days



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046) Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, finished June 22

I bought this book for the middle child, in hopes that townspeople delighted to be scared would give him some tools for dealing with his anxiety. In fact, the better lesson was from the hapless monster, overcome with feelings of inadequacy who has to find his inner monsterness in order to reach his heroic potential. He likes the book. I hope it will be good for him.

As for me, I enjoyed it. Bright art, attractive lines, witty wordplay. I was startled by the bad language (I'm using this gterm very liberally---it wasn't awful or anything, but I'm not used to seeing bloody hells in a children's comic) and the use of colors in the word bubbles seemed to have no consistent reasoning. They don't identify characters and that inconsistency is confusing. Plus, sometimes they're just regular white for pages. I have no idea what the thinking was here. And there are no female characters to speak of.

But all that said! Fun book.
one sitting



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045) Swamp Thing (the New 52) Volume 1: Raise Them Bones by Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy, finished June 21

I'm also reading the Snyder-penned Death of the Family (it's okay) and have read the first many issues of American Vampire (which I really liked, though that started off being cowritten by Stephen King, worth noting). This first collection of his Swamp Thing is good, but just a taste of where things are going. In true superhero fashion, our hero is battling the end of life, the universe, and everything. With a love story thrown in. Of course, he's in love with the enemy. It's pretty good, but impossible to judge just yet.

It's a horror title, and it is certainly horrific---the amalgamations of dead bodies is something to see. Some tropes I hate though. For instance, the child who seems like a child until it's revealed he's a supervillain then talks like he's been hunting Bond for decades. What's up with that? Can't the devil be a child? It would be more interesting, possibly more terrifying, and feel less manipulative.

The layouts are at times impossible to follow. I can't decide if that's more the penciler's fault or the colorist's, but they really need to work that out.
through the day



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044) The Antler Boy and Other Stories by Jake Parker, finished July 19

Having been hit in the head with a rock, Little Lord Steed just wanted to hold ice to his bandaid and be read to after we got the bleeding stopped. And this is what he wanted to read. And he would like more Lucy Nova and Hugo Earhart, please.
all at once





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-06-23

ULTRAVIOLENCE: A Return to the Ambivalence of Lana Del Rey

.

I'm only listening to her new album through for the first time now as I'm writing this post (correction: the first song's just begun again). Spotify's got the version with the badwords blanked which I find more distracting than salving, but what do you know.

Last time Lana was promoting pedophilia and this time she's glamorizing domestic abuse. Last time I excused her as a satirist; this time I'm not sure. I suspect there's at least an emblem of satire, but she plays it so straight it's hard to be sure. Lorde, love her seventeen-year-old self, paints pretty clearly in satirical colors. So she's not dangerous. We can nod our heads and feel cool as a Kiwi. Lana never tilts her hand and so, well, how do we know if she's the hero or the villain? Whatever she's doing, it's more complex than either plain glamorization or straight satire.

I hadn't intended to write about Lana Del Rey again, but today's story on NPR got me thinking about her in new ways. In fact, I came to see her, at the end of the story, as a bit of a soulmate. Even if I find Ginsberg practically unreadable and am always giving his last name a soft g. She embraces her subject matter as worthy of attention, however she gives it, and views her work as coming from a position of spirituality. Which I find delightful and I'm sure enrages right-thinking people everywhere. Good for her. As someone who spends most of my time thinking about religion in fiction yet publishes largely gory murders of Santa Claus and homo-erotic piranha stories, I feel simpatico with her sentiments.



Anyway. Some early thoughts about the new album:

1. Her voice gets almost uncomfortably vulnerable in "Pretty When You Cry"---the title of which is intriguing as she actually sings "I'm pretty when I cry" in the chorus. This sense of identity displacement seems to suggest something worth suggestion, don't you think?

2. This album's less hiphoppy than Born to Die. Which means you can't count on the bass drawing you in as quickly as it did last time. But once drawn in, I'm finding as much to like.

3. I'm still thinking about how to read influence into the fact that she's been produced this time by one of the Black Keys guys.

4. "Money Power Glory" gets into the old courtesan career path. "F****d My Way to the Top" seems to have a more obviously ambivalent take on the same ideas. I'm interested in how she's directly addressing the historical and current fact that sex is coin of the realm.

5. Before I even heard it, thanks to this article, I was looking for a song taking melodic points from the Nina Rota theme for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. It includes lines like "the power of youth is on my mind" and phrases that could well be from an older and wiser Juliet. Should such a Juliet ever have existed. Rota's melody is one of the 20th-century's best, but Lana's version takes from it its high points of pleasure and redemption. Last time Lana referenced Romeo to talk about the downsides of youth and wealth and passion. This time she's doing something similar, though less explosive, more inclusive.

I've now found and switched over to the deluxe version of the album which includes bad words and more songs.



6. "The Other Woman"---I don't remember this from the other album so I'm wondering if this is a different production thereof or perhaps I was just distracted. I'm not checking. Sounds like a ballad from the late Sixties or the Seventies---the sort of torcher I would sneak out of bed to listen to when it came up on the radio and my parents were sitting in the kitchen doing whatever it was they did back then.

I'm now headed into the extra cuts, songs I haven't heard before. So I'm going to floss and to listen to them.

I encourage you to do the same.

And I encourage you to engage with Lana Del Rey with the same seriousness we generally save for fiction and poetry not set to music. Let's stop dismissing music either because it's pop or because it's not pop. That's a pretty thorough dichotomy. But hey---Lana Del Rey manages to be both.

2014-06-17

So a dead girl, an evil empire, a mouse,
and a miser walk into a bar . . . .

.

043) Rachel Rising 1: The Shadow of Death by Terry Moore, finished June 16

Praise BAC for introducing me to another marvelous comic! Beautifully drawn, smartly written---Rachel Rising is topnotch stuff. I suppose it's "horror" but it feels like everyday life. And if it is horror, what subgenre is it? Zombies? Witches? Ghosts? I really couldn't say. It's that unique. Combine excellence with the unique and what do you get? Something to read, that's what. Buy this comic so Moore will have the money to keep making it.
two days



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042) Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World by Carl Hiaasen, finished June 9

What's great about this book is not that contains any surprises regarding what makes Disney rather awful and terrifying and so so so compelling. What's great about it is the details. In just eighty-three pages, Hiaasen shares the native Floridian's view of what it's like to be invaded and have an enormous Stepford corporation take over. Disney is both dystopian and charming, and Hiaasen's view from inside Florida---remember he started life as a topnotch journalist---is insightful and focused and, even though sixteen years old, highly recommended.
couple weeks though most of those I did not have a copy



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041) Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher by Jake Parker, finished June 8

Although Lord Steed has been "reading" this book pretty much every day, today he asked me to pick up where we'd left off a few weeks ago and read the last hundred pages.

Epic stuff. I don't understand how gravity works in space, apparently, but the tale is mythic in scope.
two nights about a month apart



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040) Silas Marner by George Eliot, finished June 5

I've never really thought much about George Eliot until recently. Then a read a reminiscence on Middlemarch that placed it atop my must-read list, then I learned that writers I admire admire her (most emphatically Steve Peck---ask him about her). Then I read a clip from an anonymous novel on an old AP test that delighted me. Ends up it too is George Eliot. As these things are happening, I pick up an old paperback of Silas Marner which is slender, large-print, unabridged, and slender. An obvious place to start.

I'm not ready to pass judgment on Eliot regarding her greatness yet, but no question: Silas Marner is great. It started slow and frankly unpleasant. But she somehow took these unpleasant people and, though their unpleasant humanity, redeemed them. And before I knew it, I loved them. It was . . . magic. And so many bits of wisdom hidden within.

I'll have to finally open Middlemarch up on my Nook. After all, it's been there since I first time I added anything to it.

under two weeks





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-06-16

The good old TSA

.

TSA: Turn on your laptop.

Fellow: Can't. It's broken.

TSA: Why would you fly with a broken laptop?

Fellow: My brother fixes them. Told me to bring it along.

TSA: And what's that attached to it?

Fellow: Cooling fan.

TSA: No such thing.

Fellow: Dude. This is one right here. It's see-through. You can see the blades.

TSA: Blades---?

Fellow: Fan blades.

TSA: I'm afraid I'm going to have to break these things with a hammer.

Fellow: What?

TSA: Don't worry. I'll give you a receipt.

Fellow: But why? If you seriously think there might be a bomb in there, how is hitting it with a hammer making anyone safer?

TSA: Hey, Jim? Can you tase this guy? He said bomb.

2014-06-12

Sarah Dooley is my new favorite person

.

I heard a snippet of Sarah Dooley on NPR one morning as I was lying in bed still grasping sleep with both hands. But what I heard was so good I googled the NPR story when I got to school and added her album to my 2014 Spotify list. I've been listening constantly since then. It's now the first album of new music I've purchased for myself since Spotify arrived in these United States.

I bought it for two reasons:
1. To make a copy for listening in the car.

2. To get the lyrics.
But she pulled a Sunfall on me and the lyrics were not included.

Darn you, Dooley! I need those lyrics! (For a screenplay I'm working on, I'm secretly imagining "Teenage Elegance" over the closing credits*, but before I get too attached or take any signals from it, I should know what it's actually saying. And I never know what songs actually say.)

Anyway, she's aesthetically a bit like Regina Spektor though she isn't Regina Spektor (which doesn't mean the similarities are accidental). With imagination, you can see the Fiona Apple comparison also. I think I smell some TMBG as well, but that remains undocumented.

Here's her kickstarted video to give you an introduction:


But it's not just music. Her promotional videos are painfully delicious as well (1 2 3). And her old web series about college gets better each awkward minute.

I don't know if she'll make her living as a screenwriter or a songwriter or a performer of some sort or, most likely, a 21st-century alchemical mixture of all, but she's going to be part of our lives going forward. Get to know her now.

2014-06-10

Introducing heterosexuality

.

Back in 2005, back when this blog was still called the apparently inscrutable Tehachapiltdownman, I posted this:

There is something I would like to tell you all about, something I would like to get off my chest, something I don't want to pretend about anymore.

I like girls.

I remember when I first discovered I liked girls. It was early 1999, shortly after I had moved to Provo, Utah. I had volunteered to give a girl a ride in my automobile and after she got into my car and put on her seatbelt, I turned on the car and prepared to back out of my parking space.

"You like girls, don't you?" she said.

"What?"

"You like girls."

She gestured to my cd player which was, I believe, playing K's Choice, a Belgian band fronted by a woman.

"Everytime I get in your car, there's a girl singing."

I thought back and realized she was right. Moonpools & CaterpillarsJuju ClubNatalie Merchant. Even aLilith Fair cd! How could I have been so blind! 

I was stunned and could give no answer but this:

"I guess you're right."

And it's been downhill from there.
Since that point, I've linked to this post endless times as I've been writing about women who sing (next in this series coming Thursday). Today I'm taking a moment and marking as many of these posts as I can find with the new tag heterosexual. Because let's face it:

Women who sing are the very purpose of my meager life. And I am totally okay with that. I mean: The Sundays. Amirite?