An Anabaptist Jólabókaflóð: Science Fiction

“Did anyone expect the flowering of non-realistic fiction by Mennonite writers? Suddenly, it’s a thing, and as a lifelong SF fan I’m delighted,” writes poet Jeff Gundy, who joins us today at Sixoh6 in our promotion of reading and books this month.

Jeff Gundy’s seven books of poems include Abandoned Homeland (Bottom Dog, 2015) and Somewhere Near Defiance (Anhinga, 2014), for which he was named Ohio Poet of the Year. His most recent prose book is Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace (Cascadia, 2013). His essays and poems appear in The Georgia Review, The Sun, Kenyon Review, Christian Century, Image, Cincinnati Review, Artful Dodge, and many other journals. He teaches at Bluffton University in Ohio and spent a recent sabbatical at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

Here are his picks:

Stephen Beachy, Boneyard. Craftily written, sometimes surrealist narrative about a gay Amish boy. Brilliant. And Zeke Yoder vs. the Singularity. Amish science fiction with a lovable grandmother bitten by a mutant rat, and multiple adventures.

Keith Miller, The Sins of Angels. Mystery begins with badly wounded angel discovered by detective—fascinating complications and characters in a densely imagined world, full of surprising turns. His earlier fantasy novels The Book on Fire and The Book of Flying are also rich and rewarding.

Christina Penner, Widows of Hamilton House. Set in an actual Winnipeg landmark, a ghost story and memorable love story with a twist that I didn’t see coming. No spoilers here!

Jessica Penner, Shaken in the Water. Magic realist family saga set among Kansas Mennonites, featuring a ghostly, talkative tiger and several generations of memorable characters.

Corey Redekop, Husk. The very best Mennonite zombie novel I’ve read—also the only one. It is a great read, though not for the faint of heart.

Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories. Linked epic fantasies on the imagined world of Olondria. Subtle and searching explorations of love, war, writing, gender, and religion, and swirling, lyrical prose to boot.

Andre Swartley, The Wretched Afterlife of Odetta Koop. Mennonite-flavored horror with a social conscience. The haunted house is based on the author’s childhood home in Hesston, Kansas, which he is firmly convinced is indeed haunted.



Above, books recommended by Jeff Gundy. If you’ve read them, tell us what you liked about them! 

An Anabaptist Jólabókaflóð: Graphic Novels, Comics, and Illustrated Books

Artist Jesse Graber is the perfect candidate to share books with great pictures. A freelance illustrator living in Kansas City, Kansas, he has illustrated for McGraw-Hill, Scholastic, Oxford University Press, and Highlights for Children. He recently collaborated with Bethel College emeritus professor of physics Don Lemmons to illustrate Drawing Physics: 2,600 Years of Discovery from Thales to Higgs from MIT Press, which reviewers have called “a gem,” “delightful,” and “brilliant.” In addition to being a gifted artist, Jesse plays the fiddle and banjo (as you might be able to guess from some of his selections).

Jesse kicks off our month-long series of book recommendations from friends who read, write, illustrate, edit, publish, and promote literacy as part of their work.

Here is what Jesse is recommending and reading right now:

Drawing Is Magic by John Hendrix
A sketchbook with incredibly fun and compelling prompts. Good for a lifelong artist or someone who wants to start drawing. Beautiful to look at before and after you draw in it.

What it Is by Lynda Barry
This profoundly changed how I think about creativity, art, and inspiration, and is just about the most amazing thing ever. I’ve given this to lots of people.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1-6 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
“I’m here to eat nuts and kick butts, and we’re all out of nuts.” More often than not, she just talks it out with super villains, but there is plenty of butt kicking. Wonderful storytelling for all ages. Just get it already.

Sundays With Walt & Skeezix by Frank King
Huge and expensive and beautiful. Gasoline Alley started as a wonderful midwest slice of life comic, not ha ha funny, but quiet, gentle humor and reflections on life. This collects Sunday strips from the 20s and 30s and prints them at their original size (BIG!) which allowed for some amazing layout and design that modern newspaper comics don’t have space for. It won’t fit anywhere in anyone’s house.

The Skeleton Keys by Spencer and Rains
This is a booklet with a CD of 17 traditional tunes and songs played by Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains. Each tune has a history and an illustration by Rains. Old-time music, not bluegrass. Any music lover would appreciate this, unless they’re a monster.

Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow by Anders Nilsen
This is a sad one, folks. Give it to someone who’s heart you would like to break. Also funny and beautiful and life affirming.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
A middle school girl coming of age story done so perfectly. All of her books are great for middle grade kids.

The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb
Straightforward comics adaptation of that crazy first book of the Bible by one of our greatest pen and ink artists. As it says on the cover: “Adult supervision recommended for minors!”

Saga Book One: Deluxe Edition by Brian Vaughan and‎ Fiona Staples
Space fantasy for adults is an inadequate way to put it, but that’s what I’m going with.

How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green
Holy cow. Ridiculously charming and delightfully poignant children’s book for all ages.

Fowl Language: The Struggle is Real by Brian Gordan
Super funny and sweet and explicit comic about being a parent, but ducks.

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
A rare gem of a book dealing with the loss/absence of a parent. You wouldn’t think a beaver could make you cry, but you’d be wrong.

Above, Jesse’s suggested books. If you’ve read them, tell us what you think!


Unreasonable, Unbelievable, Unconscionable: The 2018 Tax Bill

Hi Joel,

Like a lot of us, I imagine, I’ve been wrung out these last few weeks following (or trying to follow) tax bills in Congress. Since no one really knows what the Senate bill contains, it’s not possible to offer commentary confidently, but that itself is a fact worth talking about: We have a Congress that is so disrespectful of us that it refuses to let us read the laws that will govern us.

In the viciousness, cruelty, and disdain for everyday people and hostility to the democratic process we saw over the weekend, there might be some reasons to feel hope.

The middle-of-the-night GOP vote is an act of cowardice, and cowards are people who know that they will lose in a fair fight. This is also why the GOP suppresses votes and gerrymanders. Their bad ideas can’t win unless Republicans cheat. They know it. We can make them stop cheating.

Secondly, the GOP had no reason to compromise. Sure, there were lots of good ideas for tax reform that could have been supported by people of both parties, but the GOP went for none of them, and it pursued a process dismissive of constituents. This is because Congressional Republicans don’t answer to voters. (They hate voters, because voters do not chose their bad ideas. This is why some of them call for a repeal of the 17th amendment.) They answer to donors. At the midterm elections, the anti-Republican wave is going to be strong, as this past November’s statewide elections suggested. A reasonable tax bill would not persuade those voting for Democrats to stay home, but it would have angered donors. In other words, the GOP is on the run, and the only place it can go is into the pocket of rich donors.

Those of us who respect democracy need to change the narrative about who the GOP is for. Wealthy people are smart to vote for the GOP, in the sense that their own short-term interests are best served by GOP policies (that is, if they don’t mind, long-term, living in nation in which the future isn’t educated or employed or has roads or fire stations or advancement in medical treatments or all the other things taxes fund). But for those poor and middle class people whose Trump votes continue to confound common sense, we can remind them of the real life consequences for them. Indeed, their H & R Block consultant soon will.

Image result for mitch mcconnell

Above, Mitch McConnell wears a shit eating grin. 

I don’t want to overstate the case, particularly because white people will self-inflict a lot of wounds in order to protect their whiteness. But I think more public discussion, especially at the state level, can help. Local and state Republicans will have to explain how the national party’s choice to end the state tax exemption hurts people they have to look at face to face. In Kansas, that’s about 26% of voters; in Utah, it’s 35.4%.

Whatever is in that piece of garbage that the Senate passed this weekend will eventually have to be explained, and, in all likelihood, it’s unbelievable.

Like, literally. In the 2012 election when a PAC supporting Obama’s re-election campaign explained to the proposed Romney-Ryan budget plan that would dramatically reshape (and reduce) Medicaid in order to give tax cuts to the rich, people didn’t believe it. Why would a politician seek to serve the interests of the rich, who don’t need help, at the expense of the most vulnerable?

Yeah, like our incredible wealth gap, it’s unbelievable, except that it’s true.

The Republican plan is such an assault on the basic American value that people who work hard should get ahead and those who are already head don’t need extra help that everyday Republicans just can’t believe it. So they don’t.  Democrats need to remind them that, no, this is true.

It’s also unconscionable. The Wex Legal Dictionary defines unconscionability this way:

A defense against the enforcement of a contract or portion of a contract.  If a contract is unfair or oppressive to one party in a way that suggests abuses during its formation, a court may find it unconscionable and refuse to enforce it.  A contract is most likely to be found unconscionable if both unfair bargaining and unfair substantive terms are shown.  An absence of meaningful choice by the disadvantaged party is often used to prove unfair bargaining.

What Congress did these last few weeks was abusive of the process of democracy; the formation of the tax bill in the Senate, in particular, occurred under unfair bargaining terms.

It’s unreasonable, unbelievable, unconscionable. Here’s hoping that Republican voters will figure that out sooner than later.








An Anabaptist Jólabókaflóð

Dear Readers,

We’ve got a special series happening at Sixoh6 this month: guest posts by poets, historians, memoir writers, and other book lovers sharing their recommendations for you.  It’s on our kind of Jólabókaflóð–the Icelandic tradition of a year-end “book flood” in which people buy books to enjoy over winter.

All our guests have some connection to the Anabaptist tradition, though their recommendations vary widely. We hope you take some time to learn about our friends who are sharing their ideas and find some some great reads for yourself or to give as gifts this holiday season.

Painting of the Week: 42

Above, Pietro Rotari’s Girl With Book

Rebecca and Joel



Can Congress be held in contempt of the American people?

Hi Joel,

As when they chose their candidate for the fall 2016 election, Republicans early this morning chose to follow extreme bipartisanship and polarization rather than seek consensus on a tax bill. Why? Because they are not concerned about representing their constituents. (Maine Senator Angus King (R) said that calls to his office about the matter were 50:1 opposed to it. He said calling the process of the vote a circus would be an “insult to circuses.” And he voted for it yesterday.) They are not concerned about caring for the average American, and they actively despise poorer Americans. Budget and tax plans are outlines of our priorities, and they, unlike Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, do not lie. The Senate had to pass its bill in a hurry, writing it as they voted on it, because they know it is an accurate snapshot of their values, and they don’t want anyone else to know it. As Kansas governor Sam Brownback said about the tax plan that has gutted Kansas: it worked for the people it was intended to work for.

Here is my own Senator, Mike Lee, a Republican, explaining why it’s wrong to vote on massive bills that restructure financial life for lots of Americans:

“[T]he thieves in Washington… seem to think that if they steal from the American people at night while they are sleeping that they will get away with it…. I ask you to help me shine a light on what Washington has tried to hide from you in the darkness of night….Just remember, a vote… in the middle of the night in a desperate attempt…. It is a sign of weakness.”

Lee said that in October 2015 in response to a middle-of-the-night vote on Social Security. Last night, he voted with almost every other member of the despicable, cowardly GOP to pass financial ruin on to millions of Americans now and even more in the future.

Lee’s actions tell us he is one of the many thieves who aren’t just stealing money–they are showing utter contempt for the democratic process and the American people. But, in his words from 2015, we might find some encouragement:

“As someone who has been fighting for years to reform our broken government in Washington, I know it is exhausting, I sympathize with your frustration, and I understand your impatience. But don’t give up. Washington wants you to give up.”

Above, a pitchfork. You can’t wear shirts or buttons promoting a particular candidate when you enter the voting booth. Can you carry a pitchfork, though?

Congressional Republicans want us to give up, and when we don’t, they try to suppress votes and gerrymander their way to power. The idea that good ideas and solutions to our common problems could be found through collaborative, democratic efforts is odious to them. If that weren’t the case, they would have an open debate and allow their readers to read their legislation. They don’t serve, and they don’t deserve to be in office.




The lesser of two evils is still evil, right?

What does Flight 93 have to do with this? Click the link below.

Dear Rebecca:

It’s unseemly of me to promote my writing from other venues, but my column at THE WEEK this week gets at some of the themes we deal with here: Conscience, compromise, and politics.

I have a lot of friends who dismiss the idea of, well, standards when it comes to politics. The other side is so nasty, they tell me, that to refuse to get down in the mid is tantamount to disarmament. I’ve disagreed with that, but particularly in the Trump Era, I find I don’t get many takers for my views.

The recent spate of sexual harassment stories has offered us a chance to see this dynamic in action. Unsurprisingly, in politics, there are folks who are ready to give guys on “their” side a pass.

The problem, as I see it, is we’re so used to seeing the other side as the Ultimate Representation of Evil — sometimes with reason, sometimes because we don’t do the hard work of trying to see how the world looks to them — that we can justify anything.

The problem is that there are never any end of reasons to defer principles for the sake of power. When that happens, the end result is precisely the same as if we had no principles at all — we fill Congress with lecherous old men whose values and actions we despise, and then we convince ourselves we did it for reasons both realistic and noble.

Which means, ultimately, that “The Flight 93 Election” logic is self-fulfilling. Treat every election, every political decision, as if civilization-ending disaster is imminent, and you can justify all kinds of bad actions. That confirms to the other side that we really are as bad as they think we are. And that, in turn, lets them justify actions that we despise. Round and round we go in a never-ending spiral, until pluralism dies and the disaster we were trying to avoid finally arrives

I’m reading Stephen Carter’s 1998 book “Civility” right now. Which has related themes. I’ll be writing more about that soon.

Be well,

Who Should be Time’s “Person of the Year”?

Dear Joel,

It’s barely news any more, but Donald Trump told a totally unnecessary, easy-to-disprove lie in order to bolster his own esteem and denigrate a reputable journalistic outlet. He claimed that Time was interested in naming him the magazine’s “Person of the Year” for the second year in a row. Had this lie been true, it would have put him in company with Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, FDR, Eisenhower, LBJ, Reagan, Nixon, Winston Churchill, and Mikhail Gorbachev (and Stalin). Without family money, someone as stupid  and untalented as Trump wouldn’t have made Sales Team Leader at your local Chevrolet dealership, but, alas, in a living argument for an estate tax of 100%, here we are.  In terms of making an impact “on the events of the year” (the magazine’s criteria for selection), Trump has done very little except hurt people, which was why he was elected. Thankfully, his ineptitude, a public hostility toward the Republican majority in Congress, and the thoughtfulness of our judges have kept him from enacting major policy changes.

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 4.01.17 PMScreen Shot 2017-11-26 at 4.01.23 PM

Above, responding to Trump’s lie that Time contacted him to tell him that he was “probably” going to be Person of the Year, politely calls Trump “incorrect.” 

Which doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous. He is, and we should interpret his lie as mere vanity. Trump is undermining the First Amendment and journalism as key parts of democracy. True dictator behavior. We need to keep a careful eye on Trump’s interference in Rupert Murdoch’s apparent attempt to buy CNN and the Koch brothers’ effort to get Time,* a magazine that Trump is weirdly obsessed with, especially given that the only reason most people I know read Time is because their dentist is running late.

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Above, Trump makes it clear in a tweet dated November 25 that he expects US news organizations to serve as propaganda outlets. CNN corrected him with the reminder that it is HIS job to represent the US to the world, not theirs. Imagine what our politics will look like if net neutrality isn’t protected and ownership of CNN is transferred to Rupert Murdoch. 

So, if it’s not going to be Trump, who should be Time’s Person of the Year? Some suggestions:

  • Rose McGowan, for her persistence in calling out sexual abusers in Hollywood
  • Leila de Lima, a human rights lawyer and a Filippino Senator now in prison for her critique of President Rodrigo Duterte
  • Jordan Peele, for forwarding the genre of the social horror
  • Doug Jones, who helped bring one of the bombers in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing to justice and is calling for a new vision of Southern politics
  • Sally Yates, whose integrity gives me hope for politics
  • Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, whose work there has saved lives
  • Heather Heyer. Tear down every statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest and raise one of Heyer in its place.

Who is on your list?