Book Report: The Sheep’s in the Meadow, the Raccoon’s in the Corn by Marguerite Hurrey Wolf (1979)

Book coverThis book is a collection of essays about country living from a woman in Vermont (sometimes). Let me explain.

The author and her husband bought a farm in Vermont in 1948 and spent summers there for a number of years while living elsewhere. They lived on the farm full time while her husband, a dentist, worked at the University of Vermont, but his work took the family to Boston and Kansas City for a number of years, but they retired to the farm in 1978. The essays in this book come from throughout the time period, and they’re not in chronological order, so sometimes their children are children and sometimes they’re married adults. Sometimes, the author is an older woman talking about how farm work is getting harder as she gets older, and sometimes she’s talking about closing the house up for the winter. It’s a little jump-cutty in the gestalt.

But the individual essays are amusing and entertaining little vignettes. She talks about being a woman driving a pick-up truck back in the day when that was out of the ordinary (or maybe it still is in some places and I just live somewhere where it is not). She talks about the swimming hole on the farm, she talks about giving talks as an author and the strange situations that arise there. The essays are all self-contained and pleasant, but sometimes she uses the same turn of phrase or metaphors over and over again. She’s clearly well-read–a college educated former teacher after all, and her vocabulary and allusions sent me to the dictionary more than once. But I suppose they could have been written years apart, so this is forgiveable.

According to the essays and the about the author section, she has written many other volumes of such Rural Living stories and whatnot. I’ll keep an eye out for them, but I might be challenged in this regard if they did not disseminate much outside of Vermont and New England.

Book Report: Training African Grey Parrots by Risa Teitler (1979)

Book coverYou’re probably wondering why I picked up this book. Well, that’s easy: It was on my to-read shelves. No, no, you say; why did you buy this book, Brian J.? You’ve got a house full of cats! Well, gentle reader, twenty-some years ago, when I was a young man who planned to be a novelist, I thought it would be cool to have a main character who has a pet African grey parrot (kind of like Baretta; I don’t know why I am so fixated on Robert Blake allusions lately). I was so interested in it at that time that the girl I was seeing even bought a monk parakeet, which is a low-end mimic of a bird. But that’s been decades, so today I cannot even think of the character or the conceit of a plot I was planning.

So I saw this book inexpensively, I picked it up, and since I was in the mood for some light non-fiction, I picked it up.

So the book talks about how to pick out a good young parrot, how to work patiently with it to teach it how to come out of its cage, step on a stick and then your finger, how to maximize training it phrases and best use its mimicry, and to teach the bird tricks like climbing a ladder and ringing a bell. The book also goes into some trainer-esque things like trimming the bird’s claws and beak and clipping its feathers; I can’t imagine trying to do these things as a beginner, but I suppose it’s good to have them in there for completeness.

So am I tempted to get such a bird? Well, some of the things that turned me aside from getting one of my own back in those days are still true. They’re fairly expensive. They will, in all probability, outlive me (easier now than then, but these birds have a life span of 50 years or so, and I didn’t think so then and know so now). I could probably afford one, expensive as it is, and I do spend more time at home than I did in my middle 20s, but I also have cats who would agitate at the least and eat at the worst the expensive bird, so it’s probably still not for me.

But if I remember the plot and character of the book, I know more about training the birds, so I can deduct the couple hours I spent reading from my taxes someday.

Somewhere around here, I have a book on having rabbits as pets, too; although I have yet to read that book, you might remember a character in John Donnelly’s Gold has a pet rabbit.

Back to the Future III: A Personal Timeline

I watched Back to the Future III with my children yesterday. We started watching the trilogy two years ago while on vacation, and it took us this long to get to the end of it. Which is less time than it took us in the 1980s, but it was long enough that they had forgotten parts of the earlier films that were relevant to the third.

But it got me to thinking about when I’d watched the film before.

I saw it in the theater in 1990. It was the first of the series I’d seen in the theater, and it was my one and only date in high school. I’d initially wanted to ask the young lady, a junior to my senior, to the Richard Marx concert (the Repeat Offender tour, using tickets I won on the radio), but when I asked a mutual friend if she was in a relationship, he said, “She would like to be.” I took this to mean she had someone in mind, but I guess it could have been anyone, even me. However, the mutual friend and I went to the Richard Marx concert instead, and some months later, I got up the nerve to ask the girl directly, and she said yes. So we went, and although I was smitten, she was not. Which has worked out all right in the long term.

When the DVD box set was released in 2002 (I remember because of the recall issued because of the framing issues), I got a set–this very set. I watched it with my beautiful wife in our home in Casinoport.

Now, it’s almost fifteen years later, and I watched it again with my children.

In none of the previous viewings did I imagine where I’d be the next time I saw it. Now, I cannot imagine where I’ll be the next time I see it. With grandchildren? Re-watching it with my children when they’re older? Or is this the last time I will see the film?

Actually, I guess I am imagining just a little bit.

What Sets English-Speaking Women Apart

In many languages, when a woman gets married, her honorific title gets shorter:

In German, Fräulein becomes Frau.
In French, Mademoiselle becomes Madame.
In Spanish, Señorita becomes Señora.

But in English, Miss becomes Mrs. (missus), which means it goes from one syllable to two.

Only in English does the honorific become longer.

All of the aforementioned foreign language equivalents, the “Miss” form means “Little Woman” (sort of) and the married equivalent is “Woman,” so to speak–that is, the Miss form is a diminutive form of the married equivalent. But both English forms come from abbreviating the same word, mistress.

I suppose one could launch a thousand college papers on this full of baseless speculation that reflects your position on gender bias or the meaning of marriage in personal fulfillment.

Me, I just fill my head with this nonsense throughout the day.

Book Report: Baby, Would I Lie? by Donald E. Westlake (1994)

Book coverI bought this book shortly after Christmas, when I took my children to ABC Books so they could spend the gift cards I bought for them the week before Christmas. Honestly, it’s an inefficient system if you think its purpose is to get gifts for my children. If you realize it is instead a system for getting me to ABC Books as often as possible so I can pick up one or two or five books each trip, you’ll see its genius.

At any rate, this Donald E. Westlake novel was in the Missouri section as it takes place in Branson. Since I was going to a near-Branson location this weekend, I picked it up.

It was not a very quick read. Unlike a plot-driven book like, say, a Parker novel (not Robert B. Parker, but a Richard Stark Parker book a la Lemons Never Lie). Instead, it focuses on a number of characters with their points of view intersecting on an event.

This event is the murder trial of a country and western star, Roy Jones, with his own Branson theater. He stands accused of the murder of one of his theater’s young lady employees amid other problems, including negotiations with the IRS to recover some owed back taxes numbering in the millions. The media descends upon Branson, including an intrepid reporter for a New York weekly and her lover/editor and former co-workers of theirs at a Florida-based tabloid. The tabloid reporters will stoop to great lows to uncover dirt on Jones, and the editor from the New York weekly wants to do a story on the depravity of the tabloid. His replacement at the tabloid is a nervous, high strung man with a wife and kids he’s not fond of, and he has the closest thing to scruples of anyone at the tabloid.

Jones himself picks the woman reporter to spend time with his entourage and get the inside view of the defense and trial, but he’s playing his own game, as the reporter will learn.

As I said, it’s more a study of these characters and their interplay than a plot-driven piece–as many subplots play out with almost equal weight. Instead, the focus is on the characters. The telling and brushing of them is humorous and slightly askew–less than you get in Hiaasen and Barry, but still not straight on and serious.

It’s a sequel of sorts to an earlier book with the same main characters (and a different event), but it does not depend upon familiarity with the earlier events nor does it really nod to them. It is contained in its own right.

The characterization of Branson is pretty good; although 20 years have passed since the books publication, the vibe of Branson is correct. Although some of the characters look down on the people who come to Branson, the intrepid reporter main character comes to see us sympathetically, so it’s not condescending.

It’s a fun book, and I should probably pick up some more Westlake elsewhere when I can.

Book Report: Wisconsin Place Names: A Pronouncing Gazetteer compiled by Harold A. Engel (1968)

Book coverThis book is a collection of Wisconsin place names with pronunciations for each. It has been published in three editions starting in the 1930s; this edition is from 1968, and it’s a product of the University of Wisconsin Extension Office. So it’s not unlike the provenance of David Burton’s A History of Rural Schools in Greene County, Missouri.

At any rate, I flipped through the book while watching a Packers football game, and I tried to say the names before I read the pronunciations, and I did fairly well, I think. Of course, the names are all said relatively like they look (and I’m steeped from my youth in saying Native American Indian place names). So it’s quite unlike Missouri place names, where even when you think you should know how to pronounce it, you’re wrong (see Boliver, Cuba, Nevada, and so on).

I did have a couple of disputes with it, though. Here’s a sample page, by the way, with one of the disputed pronunciations:

Wisconsin does not have an O sound in it; it is wisKHANsin. Also, there is no L in Mi’WAHkee.

But a quick and interesting flip through during the football game, as I said.

Leftover Christmas Humor

A couple years back, I was given an Elf on the Shelf for Christmas because my mother-in-law had some extra Green Bay Packers fabric, and she fashioned Packers apparel for it.

This year, instead of moving it around, I hung it on the Christmas tree.

Jeez, do I have to explain it?

It’s the Elf as Odin on the Tree of Life.

It’s less funny when I have to explain it. Which is probably not that funny to start with.

The Outer Provinces Must Send Their Tribute

Here we go again: Milwaukee leaders call for more state shared revenue:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Monday that he wants the Legislature and state residents to know that Wisconsin’s largest city is not a drain on state resources but is instead a major contributor to state coffers.

City residents and businesses sent $1.37 billion to Madison in 2015 from all income, sales, utility and other taxes while the state returned only $227 million in the form of shared revenue payments, a difference of more than $1.1 billion, Barrett said. He spoke to several dozen corporate leaders Monday at a meeting of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

I get to run this bit every couple of months when an elected official in a heavily populated governmental unit points out that a higher unit that collects taxes does not return more money to the lower unit than it collects. Sometimes, it’s California complaining that it’s not getting its fair share of Federal money. In this case, it’s a city saying it should have more money from the rest of the state. That is, Menomonie and Iron River should send their tax dollars to Milwaukee.

Generally speaking, it’s elected officials who think you should take from the rich and give to the poor, too, but that’s because they’re the ones who think in those terms instead of that the government should take tax money to do government things (plow the roads, protect the citizenry, and so on).

You Might Think They’re Doing It Wrong

An article about the principals, past and present, of Lululemon, an athletic apparel manufacturer and retailer, delves into their Objectivist-themed principles:

Potdevin has created a fiercely loyal group with virtually no ties to the founder. The only thing that’s the same: Wilson’s insular culture (Atlas Shrugged still adorns company bookshelves). The new human resources chief, Gina Warren, a whispery-voiced ex-Nike executive, likes to refer to the staff as a “collective.”

You might think it poor Objectivism to call your brain trust a “collective.” As you know, gentle reader, Ayn Rand was an individualist of the first order and railed against altruism and collectivism in everything she wrote–for Pete’s sake, in the middle of her signature, on every check she signed in her life, it says Ayn Collectivism is for Sissies Rand.

But what only real serious Objectivist students and excommunicants such as your humble narrator know, Ayn Rand referred to her circle of students in the 1960s and 1970s as "The Collective".

So the HR Chief at Lululemon is a serious Objectivist indeed, whether the Forbes writer knows it or not.

Full disclosure: I own Lululemon stock. Not so much because I like Objectivists, but I do like yoga pants and wish my beautiful wife would buy more. For our future.

Book Report: Beyond the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson (1974)

Book coverAfter reading The Cross and the Switchblade, I picked up this book right away because I didn’t imagine a situation where I’d be more primed to read it than right after the first. The effect is a little like reading Jerry Kramer’s books (Instant Replay, A Farewell to Football, and Distant Replay) in short order as I did in 2015: You get autobiographical glimpses of a person doing something and getting note for writing about it, and then you leap forward quite a ways and see not only the aftermath of it, but where the person is now and how hopes and disappointments accrued after the Big Book.

At any rate, this doesn’t have the narrative first half that its precedent did. Instead, it takes a bit of topical look at how things have gone in the interim. Teen Challenge, the thing that Wilkerson started in New York, has gone international, and he’s gotten to be a popular speaker and crusader, but he steps back from it because he wants more one-on-one contact. He learns about the rise of drug use among suburban teens and starts drawing attention to them; he tries to motivate them with some serious eschatology (which might have later been broken into another book). His wife and he grow apart, partly because he’s so busy and in demand and partly because they both have some trouble dealing with her bouts with cancer in the early 1970s.

It’s a bit shorter and less focused of a book, but it does lead one to understand some of the challenges of being a prime evangelist back in the day. Wilkerson lived into the 21st century, so he had a Web site and everything, which is odd to think about when you read his earlier book from times of the Sharks and the Jets (allusion footnote for you damn kids).

I’m glad I read it when I did, because as a stand alone book, it’s thin gruel, but as a companion to the earlier piece, it’s interesting and engaging. Well, for someone who can allude to 50s musicals easily, I suppose.

House Votes To Remove Redundant Government

The headline and lede are written to get your attention and to slant your response to the story. Headline: House GOP Guts Ethics Panel

The lede:

House Republicans voted 119-74 Monday night in favor of a proposal that would gut Congress’ outside ethics watchdog and remove its independence.

But if you go past this, you get:

Republican Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s proposal would place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics — an initial watchdog for House members but without power to punish members — under oversight of those very lawmakers.

. . . .

The proposal would bar the panel from reviewing any violation of criminal law by members of Congress, requiring that it turn over any complaint to the House Ethics Committee or refer the matter to an appropriate federal law enforcement agency. The House Ethics Committee would also have the power to stop an investigation at any point and bars the ethics office from making any public statements about any matters or hiring any communications staff.

So violation of criminal law will be passed onto actual, you know, law enforcement for investigation, and ethical violations will be sent to the organization that sets up the “ethics” rules?

Honestly, I don’t see the problem here. What this is designed to do is to eliminate an avenue for hounding Congressional members, creating press leaks, and providing veracity for claims in political ads that “Congressman Smith is under investigation by an independent ethics board for franking violations” that run on a loop in political advertising.

I’m all for ethics in government and in personal lives, but this thing looks like it was ripe for abuse in making the process of investigation a weapon. After all, it had no power in its own to punish. All it could do was make recommendations and noise in the papers.

Another Christmas Gift I Made

I gave another cousin this bird tray thing:

I bought the wood on sale at the thrift shop, so it’s marked .99 but crossed out and has a .49 written in red next to it. I think it was a little tray of some sort, as it had some deep cuts in the surface that I mostly sanded smooth. I liked the dark frame affect on the Make It Happen plaque I made before Thanksgiving, so I colored the rim and put a couple of birds on it from a stencil. I used the narrow tip again on the woodburning iron; I guess this marks growth as an “artist” to do something other than the biggest, fattest crayon available.

I did even out the bottom before I gave it to her and added some hanging apparatus on the back.

I think I might have another of these trays about, or I might have already burned a ship onto it. At any rate, I find it best to scour garage sales and thrift stores for wood to use instead of going to the craft store and buying blanks of some sort. It’s generally less expensive and more unique. It does not, however, lend itself to an assembly line style of production that would make this sort of thing efficient for profitable craft show item. But I get the sense should I do a craft show, it will be all about getting as close to breaking even on materials and cost of the table as possible.

The Best Christmas Gift I Gave Out This Year

I have a cousin who listens to a lot of hard rock and heavy metal, so this year for Christmas, I gave her a framed hard rock album since I couldn’t find a different one at the thrift stores before Christmas.

I put it in a frame and put some text on a label, and

You know, I could make a bunch of these for craft fairs inexpensively. The album itself was a buck at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. The frame was $7.49 at Hobby Lobby during its frequent half off frames sales. The label’s cost was negligible as I already had the label maker. So for roughly eight and a half bucks, I could make a bunch of these and try to sell them for, what, $20 or $25?

Assuming I could part with them, of course. It was hard to give this particular article away.

Book Report: The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson (1962, 1970)

Book coverI bought this book last fall in Clever. I’ve recently spoken with my wife in the merits of the parish model versus the congregational model, and I talked about a whole genre of books where the parish priest takes on crime in his neighborhood (maybe I’m just fond of Robert Blake’s series Hell Town). The edition of The Cross and the Switchblade is the movie tie-in edition, so I thought it might be the font from which the genre sprung. But the pastor in the book is Pentacostal, affiliated with the Assemblies of God. So his is also a congregational model.

At any rate, the book tells the story of Wilkerson, a pastor from the country, who sees an article in Life about several gang members on trial for murder, and he is moved to go minister to them in New York City. So he hops into his car, essentially, on a day off from his church and goes to try to see them. He tries to approach the judge in the courtroom and makes a nuisance of himself and gets ejected before the cameras of the press, so he becomes a bit notorious in his own right. He can’t see the boys on trial, but he keeps returning to New York without a definite plan and finds that young people, especially gang members, are willing to talk to him because he was in the newspaper.

The first half of the book deals with this fish-out-of-water story as he makes his forays into New York, especially Brooklyn, to minister to the gang members and the drug addicts there. The first half culminates in a revival at an arena where he has an altar call, and several gang members come forward, including one who started out particularly hostile but ends up a minister. From what I can see in the photos included from the movie, the film covers this first half of the book with some dramatic revisions. Confession: Erik Estrada stars in the film, so when I read his bio mention it in TV Superstars ’81, I decided to pick up this book next.

The second half of the book is a little less focused as Wilkerson builds up his ministry and creates a center for at-risk youth. He discovers the dangers of drug addiction, particularly heroin, and that’s about the size of it.

It’s an interesting book for many reasons. It has an interesting and adventuresome narrative in it. It’s an interesting look at the dangers of the bad part of New York City in the late 1950s. It’s also an interesting look at the Pentecostal way of doing things: it’s decentralized to a high degree (certainly compared to the Catholic church and the more conservative Lutheran denominations) and features things like altar calls and speaking in tongues, which is not something you see at my church. So, interesting all around.

Unfortunately, it’s still all-to-timely, as heroin is making its big comeback and violence in our cities is reaching a crescendo even as people become even less interested in the eternal than they were in 1960.

Guess Brian’s Favorite French Singer

As you may know, gentle reader, I have a growing collection of Spanish songbirds, including classic artists like Rocío Jurado, Rocío Dúrcal, Claudia Acuña, and others as well as pop equivalents Shakira and Paulina Rubio. I’ve also picked up a small collection of singers in Portuguese, such as Astrud Gilberto, Beth Carvalho, and Gal Costa, amongst others.

So, Brian J., you ask, what about women who sing in French? Who is your favorite French songstress?

Well, gentle reader, you know I like the breathy styling of Erin Bode, and I’m also a big fan of Herb Alpert. What about Claudine Longet, whom Alpert signed to his A&M Records back in the day and who married Andy Williams in the 1960s?

Well, not really. French is a breathy language, and the breathy singing amplifies it instead of complementing it.

What about the new hotness Alizée?

Well, it’s the same breathy vocals atop a breathy language, but this time laid over more modern pop vocals.

No, friends, my current favorite French artist is Mirelle Mathieu, who can be breathy at times but mostly sounds folk rockish, like a 70s era Linda Ronstadt or Olivia Newton John, but in French.

Which is a good thing, since I bought a bunch of her records two weeks ago. Also, she is the last French singer I have purchased, and I tend to regard the most recent shiny object most highly.

All right, you probably never wondered who my favorite French singer is, but there you go.

What, I’m leaving you hanging on the Spanish and Brazilian singers? It’s because I cannot decide.

2016: The Year’s Reading in Review

Well, here is the list of books I’ve read this year:

  • The Sea Wolf by Jack London
  • Life Is Simple: First Cutting by Jerry Crownover
  • Art Treasures of Seoul by Edward B. Adams
  • The Hero by John Ringo and Michael Z. Williamson
  • Rogue Warrior: Green Team by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman
  • Dead Street by Mickey Spillane
  • Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed
  • GI Joe: The Story Behind the Legend by Don Levine with John Michlig
  • Changdeog Palace
  • Toulouse-Lautrec: Painter of Paris by Horst Keller
  • Carolingian Chronicles by Translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Walters
  • Doomsday Disciples by “Don Pendleton”
  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
  • How to Live Like A Lord Without Really Trying by Shepherd Mead
  • Vulture’s Vengeance by “Don Pendleton”
  • Down the Wire Road in the Missouri Ozarks and Beyond by Fern Agnus
  • Tuscany Terror by “Don Pendleton”
  • Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby
  • Life in the Age of Charlemagne by Peter Munz
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • Bad Publicity by Jeffrey Frank
  • So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane
  • Reinhold Niebuhr by Bob E. Patterson
  • Invisible Assassins by “Don Pendleton”
  • Down with Love by “Barbara Novak”
  • Mountain Rampage by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Greek and Roman World by W.G. Hardy
  • The Joy of Hate by Greg Gutfeld
  • Paradine’s Gauntlet by “Don Pendleton”
  • Island Deathtrap by “Don Pendleton”
  • Take It Off, Take It All Off! by David Riitz
  • The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family by Edited by Ray Richmond
  • Ambush on Blood River by “Don Pendleton”
  • Kierkegaard by Elmer H. Duncan
  • Love’s Legacy by Stephanie Dalla Rosa
  • Yo, Millard Fillmore! by Will Cleveland & Mark Alvarez
  • John Donnelly’s Gold by Brian J. Noggle
  • Holes in It by Todd Tevlin
  • The Normlings by Todd Tevlin
  • Frik in Hell Vol 3 by Todd Tevlin
  • Crude Kill by “Don Pendleton”
  • Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
  • Starcraft Archive by various
  • Sold for Slaughter by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Most of George Burns by George Burns
  • Fishin’, Huntin’, Travelin’, and Ozark Memories by L.B. Cook
  • The Weapon from Beyond by Edmond Hamilton
  • Slam the Big Door by John D. MacDonald
  • Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein
  • The Roman Holiday of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams
  • A Brief History of Sanibel Island by Marya Repko
  • The Sanibel Sunset Detective by Ron Base
  • The Last Paradise: The Building of Marco Island by Douglas Waitley
  • The Know It All by A.J. Jacobs
  • Insane City by Dave Barry
  • Wicked Springfield Missouri by Larry Wood
  • Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
  • All Madden by John Madden with Dave Anderson
  • Wolverine: Weapon X by Marc Cerasini
  • Kilroy Was Here by Charles Osgood
  • An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists by Dave Letterman
  • The Drawings of William Blake by Sir Geoffrey Keynes
  • Paper Lion by George Plimpton
  • K-PAX by Gene Brewer
  • The Forbidden City
  • 12 Monkeys by Elizabeth Hand
  • Wars of the Ancient Greeks by Victor Davis Hanson
  • New York City of Dreams by Bill Harris
  • Dead Man Running by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Ballad of Ethan Burns by James D. Balestreiri
  • Monet by Alberto Martini
  • Peter Paul Rubens Medaenas
  • Lightning Fall by Bill Quick
  • The Official Jewish Joke Book/The Official Irish Joke Book by Larry Wilde
  • Orbiting Omega by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Eight-Seven by Ed McBain
  • Camille Pissarro: A Medaenas Monograph by Anne Schirrmeister
  • Kierkegaard: A Biographical Introduction by Ronald Grimsley
  • The Experience of Nothingness by Michael Novak
  • The Courtship of Barbara Holt by Brian J. Noggle
  • Back Roads of the Ozarks by Wayne Sullins
  • Let Us Go Quietly Together For A Little Way. Let Me Talk To You by Charlotte Osborn
  • Women the Children Men by Roberta Metz
  • Rogue Warrior: Task Force Blue by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman
  • The Peter Principle by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull
  • Beirut Payback by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Lessons of History by Will Durant
  • Advanced French for Exceptional Cats by Henry Beard
  • Hiroshage by Sebastian Izzard
  • RoboTech Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming by Jack McKinney
  • Desperate Measures by Joe Clifford Faust
  • Cry Hard Cry Fast by John D. MacDonald
  • A Bullet for Cinderella by John D. MacDonald
  • Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton
  • Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb
  • Ginger Snaps by Compiled By Dian Ritter
  • Prairie Fire by “Don Pendleton”
  • Living a Mother’s World by Mary Jane Rerucha
  • Skysweeper by “Don Pendleton”
  • TV Superstars ’81 by Ronald W. Lackman

Okay, so a full fourteen percent of the books I read were Executioner novels. I read a couple of film books (12 Monkeys and Down with Love among them).

On the other hand, I read some theology and philosophy, including a primary text by Kierkegaard (Fear and Trembling), a couple books about Kierkegaard, a book about Niebuhr, and so on. I read six books by people I know (three comics by Todd Tevlin, a book by Stephanie Dalla Rosa, and my two books). I mixed nonfiction with fiction pretty well, and I mixed genres in the fiction along with a couple classics (The Sea Wolf and Gulliver’s Travels). I even read poetry for pleasure. So not bad.

Unstated in this list is books I started and didn’t get through. Two come to mind: The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I started reading them as my carry book, got halfway through them, and then lost the train of thought in them. I expect I’ll revisit them in 2017.

Hopefully I can get near 100 again next year, which would mean I’m only acquiring a handful more books than I’m reading annually. Just in case I live to a time when books are not cheaply available on the second hand market (or new for that matter). It might happen.

From the “If It Helps One Person” Files

Whenever talking about fiscal outlays for the impoverished, I often get “cut down to size” with the “if it helps one person, it’s worth it!” rejoinder, such as discussing this chart with a warm-hearted, caring doctor of comic books:

Sure, the amount spent has gone through the roof. But if it has helped one person! Or a small number of people.

In that vein, we have an excited story in the Springfield News-Leader about a change to a government program in Springfield: New city agreement could help more subsidized housing residents get off welfare.

People who receive federal housing vouchers are eligible for the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, which aims to help them get off welfare. Through an annual grant, the housing authority employs a coordinator who helps people set goals and connects them with resources, like job training programs or tuition assistance.

Since 1992, only 21 individuals have successfully completed the program, according to Erma Owens with the housing authority.

For the love of Pete, fewer than one person per year has successfully completed the program. That sounds like an ineffective program if you ask me. But I’m just a taxpayer.

The partnership the article speaks of is that the city will share an employee with the program.

This has definite benefits.

Adams said working at both places helps streamline the process for clients seeking help because she can tell them exactly what to expect from each office.

“Instead of me just saying ‘Go to the career center,’ I can tell them who to talk to. (That way they can) make a better connection with community resources and the career center,” Adams said.

That is, the benefits are facilitation, communication, and improved processination.

On the plus side, at least it’s not the city or the federal government throwing more money at the program hoping to get it up to 1.25 or 1.4 people per year.

“If it helps one person…” mostly helps one type of person: government or Near Government Organization employees.

Book Report: TV Superstars ’81 by Ronald W. Lackmann (1981)

Book cover“Verily, verily,” you say, “This is about the lowest one can go to reach 100 books in the year.” Well, gentle reader, I’d like to point out that Advanced French for Exceptional Cats has even less substance than this Weekly Reader book. Besides, I’ve already read TV Superstars ’82 and TV Superstars ’83. So I’m not just running up the score here. The score, by the way, is 100 books read this year with this title.

At any rate, as with the other (later) books, it features brief biographical sketches of stars from contemporary (then) television shows grouped by the show. So you get the stars of The Dukes of Hazzard together, the stars of WKRP in Cincinnati grouped together, and so on.

The book reuses (or the later books will reuse) bios from those whose programs are on the air, so I’d already read Tom Wopat and John Schneider’s bits from the ’82 edition (’83 has the scab Dukes). The differences in the books’ contents, though, illustrate the fleeting nature of “superstardom” as the shows come and go. For example, Eight Is Enough, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and B.J. and the Bear on television until 1981, so the actors in it are superstars in 1981, but mostly forgotten by 1983 (according to the book).

This book has, unlike the others, animal star bios: The dog who played Boomer (a dog named Johnny) and the Bear (a chimp named Sam). I don’t remember seeing those in the later books, but animal sidekicks seem to have passed out of fashion in the 80s.

The main bit of trivia I got from the book was reminding me of House Calls, a medical show with Gregory Harrison and Lynn Redgrave. It kind of got lost in the blur of the medical shows of the era, from Trapper John, M.D. to St. Elsewhere (which did not air concurrently, but they did in the era known as “my childhood”). So I’m ready if it comes up in trivia nights or on Jeopardy!, but it probably won’t since the window of viable trivia only extends back thirty years, apparently.

It is also a quick reminder, reading these books, how something that seemed to always be when you’re young might only reflect a couple of years. But a high percentage of your life in your youth, so it seems more permanent than it is.

Book Report: Skysweeper by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverYou might be saying to yourself, “Is he reading more of these Executioner novels to pad his annual total to 100 books read?” Gentle reader, you might not be far from the truth. However, I’d like to point out I’ve read over a dozen Executioner novels this year, so the padding started early.

This book finds Bolan on the West Coast, looking into a Soviet cell looking to steal or disrupt a laser-based missile interceptor program. He’s got some help from the inside, so any infiltrating he needs to do comes with an authentic security badge. He discovers that a former Vietnam POW, now the head of the program, was brainwashed while captive and is programmed to aid the Soviets when activated by following any instruction he’s given. In this case, it is to steal the Skysweeper and deliver it to the Russians. Except Bolan objects.

The structure of the book differs from the others in the series as the book makes a bit of a nod to the technothriller, but sometimes the loss of the earlier simplicity pushes Bolan into doing things that defy the suspension of disbelief. Of course, if I’m into these books for realism, I’m in the wrong place.

At any rate, the conceit of the book is more memorable than the actual book. I just had to crack it open to review how it ended since I actually finished the book last week. Spoiler alert: Bolan wins. Further books are not, in fact, a gritty reboot where The Executioner has been replaced by a fourteen year old minority girl. Well, at least, not the next one. Maybe.

Belated Holiday Wishes

Carol of the Old Ones:

Via Hell in a Handbasket, whose proprietor is a Call of Cthulhu game master from back in the day. I did a couple games of that back then, too, including one that took place in an insane asylum, where everyone was already crazy. Also, I corresponded a bit with Lynn Willis at Chaosium, and he wanted to use a scenario I sent in in the core rules for the sixth edition. But that didn’t come to pass. After I said Chaosium should reprint some of the old Lovecraft stories, he sent me a copy of The Hastur Cycle. But I’ve probably hammered that story from those days where I fancied myself a writer over and over again.