Sunday, March 27, 2011


My roommate Dan has started a new tumblr for Peanuts cartoons minus the last frame. It's a great premise; sorta like the hilariously-altered Garfield minus Garfield, the abrupt end of 3eanuts strips highlights existential undertones that may more accurately represent Schultz's take on the world.

Here are some examples:

Friday, March 25, 2011


Hey homies. So I haven't posted anything in a while, and it's because I've been writing like crazy for a job application I've had in the works for a couple months. Thankfully, the results are finally in. Sorry about the formatting; I couldn't figure out another way to put up this screenshot.

So I guess this makes me, well, a professional writer, I guess. Heh. Stay tuned for further updates. Hopefully, I'll also be posting more content soon.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Misuse of Two Important Permissions

I received two important permissions when I was six or so: the first permission was to use the word "heck," and the other permission was for spitting. Significantly, the latter permission was implicit; I assumed, since my parents had probably seen me spit at some point, that they condoned it, provided I didn't spit on other people. Both of these allowances, to say "heck" and to spit, were important to me for being in line with an idea I had of a grown-up tough-guy, which was then a projection of future self-image. I actually asked them specifically, "well, can I say it like, what the heck, or, oh heck, or in other ways too?" They were confused, as anyone would have been, because they didn't have a view of the mental movie playing itself out as I asked, in which a man wearing jeans and a leather jacket strolled down between two rows of RVs, spitting in between puffs on his cigarette and saying "what the heck, oh heck" just before breaking into a full run and disappearing offscreen. Even so, they permitted a whole spectrum of inflections, so long as I did not use the word against another person. I was not yet ready to pick up smoking; however, I figured "heck" and spitting were within the domain of viable action as demarcated by my extra-sensitive conscience, even if "heck" and spitting were pushing the envelope more than any prior choices of personal behavior. 

The implicit aspect of the second permission, to spit, got me into trouble not long after I believed myself to have received it, in an event that produced a crucial explicit modification. We were at a furniture store in a nearby town, and a salesperson was talking to my parents about dresser options. I was in a rebellious mood. I strutted around the store, believing myself to be above the conventions that apparently had my parents and this salesperson by their throats. To demonstrate my sense of superiority, I walked up to where they were talking, looked at both parties, looked at the dresser, and finally, after mumbling something with "heck" in it, I spat on the floor. 

My parents were shocked. "Martyn Wendell! Why did you do that?" "I needed to spit. I had something in my mouth." Wry shrug. "I want you to apologize to this man, and never do that again. Spitting inside is offensive. You should only ever spit outside." "Okay. Sorry sir." Smirk. As I walked away, I'm sure I mumbled something ending emphatically in "heck."

Knowing I was in view of my siblings, I maintained my tough-guy exterior, but inside I was torn up over the possibility of having offended or harmed someone. The shame made my face hot and I kept my arms crossed for the rest of our visit to the store. There was no reason to have acted out in the way that I had, but my pride prevented me from offering an apology that was anything but ironical to the man in whose store I had impertinently spat. And it did my soul no good to think back on all the allusions to eternal judgment that I had casually cast about the place, as though making glib predictions about the ultimate state of the salesperson's soul. 

Because of the relative triviality of the incident, it was not brought up again by my parents. In some ways I wish it had been, because without a chance to talk about it, I was unable to unravel the twisted knot of my motivation; the memory of it became a slimy black stone that weighed down my opinion of myself in moments of real moral reflection. I would think: "I'm not really a good kid, I'm a kid who spits in well-meaning furniture makers' stores while needlessly consigning them to infinite torment, all in the name of a grown-up version of myself I wouldn't feel safe to be around were that character to approach me now."

Where does one go from there? Towards a different future, one would hope, and hope does not disappoint. Seeing as I currently do not smoke, rarely use "heck," categorically avoid leather clothing, and have never visited an RV dealership, I think it's safe to say that my early prophecies did not culminate in self-fulfillment. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Top Five Novels of 2010

By this, I mean the top five novels I read in 2010; only one of them was actually published during the year. Fiction became an important refuge for me from the freaky new adult world after my sort-of graduation from college last May, and while I don't believe I made any particularly bad book choices, some novels made more lasting impressions than others. Seeing as good fiction has the power to help us to see and understand ourselves and our humanity better, it is for your edification, and for the sake of holding on tightly to the imago Dei, that I present to you my top-five of twenty-ten list, with an honorable-mention addendum at the endum.


1. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan 

This book blew me away. Remarkably, Egan manages to craft a deeply felt story out of unpretentious prose that nonetheless sparkles with intelligence. The structure is subtly profound, the characters are sympathetic, endearing, and relatable almost without exception, and the eschewing of temporal linearity (which could have torpedoed the whole story) in the end only serves to deepen our emotional bond to the various inhabitants of Egan's complex world, by bringing the scattered roots of their personalities to light in such a way as to make even their most selfish actions intelligible to us as the actions of deeply flawed, deeply human people. I read it in the two days after Christmas, picking it back up at every opportunity like an addict. "Time is a goon, isn't that the saying?" Even if the delivery elicits continuous laughter, the content is serious; my experience with A Visit From the Goon Squad was emotionally rich and multifaceted. Few books are able to get at the mystery of time's erosive passage like this one does. 

2. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I read Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin on the recommendation of my friend and roommate Dan during the middle of the summer. It's a post-9/11 love song to New York, but set in the seventies, in the days and weeks surrounding the audacious spectacle of a french funambulist who danced across a line stretched between the towers of the world trade center. Like Egan's book, it's a tightly wound, character driven story that stretches and grows like ivy vines around the central edifice of the high-wire act. The primary theme is connection; all twelve characters, with disparate but totally convincing voices, are given space for their stories to unfold, and it becomes clear with each addition to the swelling ensemble that every character's life touches the life of every other character, even if only in some fleeting or glancing way. McCann is a talented stylist to boot; portions of the book drove me to tears with their urgent and desperate lifting up of love and the possibility of love in a cold, unfeeling, and violent world. 

3. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Certain of my friends, whose opinions I esteem, don't like this book. I don't care. Simply put, Gilead is beautiful and profound. Written as the "endless letter" of elderly congregationalist minister John Ames to his seven year old son, whose adolescence and adulthood he will never see as a result of his old age and declining health, this book quietly takes on depth and weight as our narrator directs a steady procession through a century of struggle and defiant hope in a remote Iowa town. I had to read sections out loud to myself to better appreciate Robinson's florid diction. Out of necessity, several times - looking out over a lake in northern Wisconsin just before the setting of the sun - I had to put the book down, take in the view, and try, unsuccessfully, to articulate the powerful new feelings it had evoked in me. Gilead will not leave a sensitive and open reader unchanged.

4. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

After familiarizing myself with Walker Percy's nonfiction, particularly his thorny and befuddling anti-self-help book Lost in the Cosmos, I picked up The Moviegoer to see if he had anything important to say through fiction. I was not disappointed. Percy's real strength in my eyes is his psychological acuity; he just understands why people do the things they do, and he uses this special prescience to great effect in telling the story of a cool, classy, and privileged son of New Orleans who is on "the search." Percy leaves a residue of his insightfulness on Binx, his protagonist, whose struggle for meaning reflects, somewhat deliberately, the presence of several of Percy's intellectual and literary forebears, among them Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard. While it's undeniably heavy most of the way through, The Moviegoer is also steeped in hope and a special kind of humor; I laughed out loud through three pages dedicated to a carefully implemented program of flirtation just because it was so experientially accurate. 

5. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

I'm a sucker for whimsy, off-kilter humor, and verbal dexterity. Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel Everything is Illuminated does magnificent work in each of these categories. Told in alternating narrative halves dedicated to, on one side, a Jewish writer (also named Jonathan Safran Foer) on a search in the Ukraine for information about the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis, and on the other side, his grandfather's shtetl community through centuries of its wacky communal life, Everything is Illuminated is the kind of book that can kill you with laughter just before reducing you to abject grief over the fact of human wickedness and brutality. Foer adroitly uses whimsy and irony to create opportunities for his characters to obliquely and unexpectedly hit his readers right in the heart, and they do it again and again. By the way, have I made it sufficiently clear that this book is hilarious?

Honorable Mentions (not ordered):

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Toibin's straightforward and unadorned prose tells the story of Eilis, a young Irish woman who immigrates during the 1950's to New York City primarily because she has no reason not to when given the opportunity. Her life is hard, but she grows up, learns how to make choices for herself, and gradually takes her place in the world. Through her, Toibin speaks clearly, directly, and reassuringly to those who find themselves similarly caught in a murky transition into adulthood. 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
The second book of Chabon's for me after The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay presents the exciting, expansive, and quirky journey of two misfit Jewish kids to the heights of the 1940's comic book industry and back. The writing is lush, the characters are unique, and the momentum of the completed story left me feeling as though I was still rolling along with Kavalier and Clay after I'd closed the back cover for the last time, like a kid in bed at night who feels like he's still on a trampoline. 

Home by Marilynne Robinson
A slower moving book than Gilead, Home is also less ornate and self-conscious; fortunately, in many ways, it is just as rich. Written as a kinda-sorta sequel, Home is primarily concerned with Jack Boughton,  John Ames's perceived young antagonist. Jack is one of my very favorite characters in literature for, among numerous traits with which he is skillfully endowed, his wry perspective, his enigmatic comportment, his unmediated love for the few good things in his life, and his lifelong acquaintance with shame. He, his father, his sister, and their attempts at living together in a spiritual dusk compose the central cord of strands woven through the book. Their story ends up being a small, but meticulously definite, good thing. 

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
This is one of those big important books. Franzen is a talented writer; he can be psychologically insightful like Walker Percy, but generally operates on a bigger scale, enmeshing a dysfunctional midwestern family in contrasting layers of familiar familial hurt and pettiness, bizarre international intrigue, and constant anxiety and insistently spiritual questioning. It ends on a redemptive note that justifies most, if not all, of what precedes it. Franzen's characters are some of the most substantial and well-defined of any that reside between the covers of books on this list.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
It's as brutal and dark as everyone told me it would be; it's also so compelling that I had to stay up all night to finish it in one drawn-out, frightened reading. A father's love for his son and will for him to live is made manifest in the starkest of circumstances so as to set it in high relief; the relationship between them is Platonically simple and pure as a result. McCarthy is kind enough to allow the macabre beckoning of despair to abate once in a while, and these little gifts of momentary well-being to his characters are made all the more meaningful and significant by the otherwise unrelenting grind of their plight. 

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Murakami's most well-known novel is charming and immersive. Kafka, the Japanese teenage protagonist, is a precocious runaway whose flight to an old, mysterious library involves him in an unfolding chain of events destined to produce enormous cosmic and metaphysical consequences. It is by turns sensual, dramatic, thoughtful, exciting, funny, and horrifying; it ends in esoteric mythological obscurity, but the collective journey of its various characters makes the weird ride worth it. This book may bend your mind and even your heart around like telekinetically animated spoons. I mean that in a good way.


Ah, I love me some books. I hope you treat yourself to one or two of them, and that they bless you abundantly for it.