Book Report: The Greek and Roman World by W.G. Hardy (1960)

Book coverThis book is a sociological anthropological look at the Greek, particularly the Athenian, and Roman civilizations. It takes the point of view of an average citizen and describes what the world might have looked like to them, from going to the Forum or the market to participating in the democracy or republic of the time. As such, it’s not a history per se, as it does not recount historical dates and actions, but instead describes how people would have lived and how society, the government, and commerce would have looked.

The book is very brief–120 pages roughly–so it’s not a long read, and you might learn something. I learned how Athens divided itself into ten entities for the purposes of government, and that every entity was not a contiguous region but instead had land and citizens in each of the three topographies of the area so that the miners, the fishers, and the farmers would be equally represented. That’s interesting. But unlikely to show up as a question on trivia night.

But the book supplements some of the other reading I’ve done in ancient history and philosophy lately, so I’m glad to have read it.

Book Report: Take It Off, Take It All Off! by David Ritz (1993)

Book coverAs you can guess, I selected this book from amongst the thousands of others from some past book fair because its title is a cat call for a stripper to remove all of her clothing. Or it was. When I was a boy, my brother and I would occasionally say that to each other when changing clothes or something. Given that we hadn’t been to many strip clubs by the time we were ten, I would have to guess we picked it up from cartoons.

At any rate, this book is about a stripper. In the first chapter, she finds that a younger woman whom she’s been teaching the stripping world to has been brutally murdered, and the main character wants to find out who. So you think it’s a murder mystery, but that’s just a MacGuffin. Instead, it’s a book about a woman who fancies herself world-wise discovering she’s not so world wise at all.

Set in 1945, the book spends a lot of time on the stripper’s Jewish family whom she shocks with her profession. Her father lost his clothing store in the Depression and hopes to get it back; her mother likes the nice things she can buy with her daughter’s unsavorily acquired funds; and her brother is gay. Turns out the young, innocent girl from the small town who got murdered wasn’t so innocent at all–she was seeing a lot of men and hoping to take over the main character’s star slot. And she might have been going with one of the main character’s boy friends, a minor league ball player. To get insight into the murdered woman, the main character goes to the dead girl’s home town, talks to some people who knew her, falls in love with the drunken editor of the local paper, and is heart broken when the man dies in a drunken smash-up. Then she goes to sojourn in California with her uncle and his girlfriend, and they treat her nicely until they’re rubbed out in a mob hit when she’s not with them. So she returns to New York, briefly reunites with her family–she’s out of work as a stripper, you see, because of an, erm, over the top performance one night. But she can’t settle down, so she strips again and finds her baseball player boyfriend has been arrested for the murder, so she investigates and finds he has a twin brother rapist in Buffalo, so she leads police to him and they arrest the twin brother, but he was in Buffalo at the time of the murder. Then she takes up with the saxophone player in the band, who is black and a jazz maestro, and then he arrested for the murder, which leads her to suddenly discover that the boyfriend of the original murderee was killed in the same fashion, which leads her back to the home town to find the real murderer–the crossdresser who had been the inn keeper for 25 years. And the stripper and the jazz player move to Paris. The end.

You know, it works slightly better in the book, but the murder is just a pretext for the rest of the story which is a bit outlandish in its retconning of contemporary social mores and laxness into 1945, but it does pretty well at peeling the main character’s veneer of mistaken worldliness. I’ll be honest, as I read it, I wondered if it would end up with the same twist as Magic, but instead it’s a tacked on Psycho.

So would I recommend the book? Well, if it sounds interesting to you, I suppose. Billie Holiday makes multiple appearances and is a minor character in the book, so it’s got that going for it. But it’s not a murder mystery, and it’s not great literature.

Book Report: Island Deathtrap by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverI read this book right after Paradine’s Guantlet because the teaser in the back of the book made the plot look interesting and it looked like the books were going to take on a new direction with Mack Bolan operating more alone.

This book is definitely a more complicated plot: A remote island in Maine is being used as a delivery point for people and things being smuggled into the United States, and hard men have cowed and impressed locals into helping out. One man contacts Washington for help, and they send Bolan. When Bolan arrives, he finds his contact dead and a teen relative out for revenge. The teen’s girl has been kidnapped to compel her father’s help, and they together invade the island.

Instead of straight dot-to-dot connection of the set pieces, though, we have some people working at cross-purposes and some turns that add a bit of depth to the proceedings. So I enjoyed the book more than it its immediate predecessor, and I’ll eventually get used to the up-and-down nature of the series after Pendleton.

Book Report: The Joy of Hate by Greg Gutfeld (2012)

Book coverI bought this book earlier this year when my children were expending Easter gifts at the local Barnes and Noble. This autographed copy was on the discount table way in the back, so I picked it up.

Written during the run-up to the 2012 election, the book talks about how ‘sensitive’ people are getting and how to not get caught up in it. Just kidding: It’s mostly pointing out and mocking people who have taken it upon themselves to monitor our thoughts and behavior, often with the coercive power of the state.

It’s only gotten worse in the interim, of course.

It’s a political book, so I don’t get much more out of it than I get out of my too-steady daily diet of political blogs except for an autograph which I’m practicing forging to complete my dead-on impersonation of Gutfeld. Once I do that, I can take over his life, which has been my lifelong dream since I just wrote that sentence three seconds ago.

However, the zany comic asides that mark Gutfeld’s on-screen persona carry over well into the written work, so it makes the book more enjoyable to read than more earnest commentators.

So if you’re jonesing for some sadly undated commentary on the modern left, you could do worse.

As I Predicted….

Some time ago, I predicted that Disney would someday buy Nintendo. I’m pretty sure I mentioned it on Facebook and have brought it up in conversation from time to time, but a quick search does not show any results on this here blog thingy. But I’ll go ahead and say it again.

There’s news today that proves it: Nintendo will start producing its own movies over the next few years:

After plummeting revenue, Nintendo is looking into new avenues to generate income, including expanding into producing its own feature films.

I got a better idea:

Disney.

Book Report: Paradine’s Guantlet by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThis book is one of the underperformers in the series. In it, a planeful of diplomats is captured by a terrorist who wants Mack Bolan to deliver a briefcase full of diamonds as ransom. However, the kidnapping and ransom are merely a pretext to draw Bolan into a trap so a survivor of one of his earlier exploits can get revenge. However, news of the content of the suitcase leaks, which means that a number of European groups want it for themselves.

The book features the debut of a new RV with weaponry like the one immoliated at the end of the Pendleton-authored books and the return of April Rose to the field; when she gets wounded, I figured she was a goner as she does eventually die in the series, but it’s not this one.

You know, I’ve read five or six of these this year. On one hand, it seems like a waste of reading time. On the other hand, I do have the goal of reading all the ones I have before I die. So my continued efforts on this series will likely go in fits and starts for years to come with brief recaps like this one to keep the blog going.

Good Album Hunting April 28, 2016: Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale

The Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library moved the semiannual book sale from a location about fifteen minutes from me to a location about forty-five minutes away, plus or minus fifteen minutes with traffic. So I’m only going once this year, and I made a beeline to the record albums. I knew I was going to be in trouble when the second album I touched was Eydie Gorme and The Trio Los Panchos More Amor.

So I bought a lot of LPs.

Don’t bother counting. That’s sixty albums. They had a large number of Brazilian albums, mostly samba and MGB, so I ended up with a pile of them now.

Here’s what I got:

  • Angela Bofill Angie
  • Artie Shaw Tiara Spotlight Series
  • Bent Fabric Alley Cat
  • Beth Carvalho Sentimento Brasileiro
  • Beth Carvalho Suor No Rosto
  • Billy Ocean Love Zone
  • Boots Randolph Plays the Greatest Hits of Today
  • Burl Ives Christmas Album
  • Burt Bacharach Bacharach Baroque: The Renaissance
  • Charlie Barnet Presents a Tribute to Harry James
  • Chick Corea Touchstone
  • Clara Nunes Sucessos de Ouro
  • Dean Martin Favorites
  • Dean Martin Welcome to My World
  • Donna Summer Bad Girls
  • Eartha Kitt The Fabulous Eartha Kitt
  • Elba Ramalho Coração Brasileiro
  • Elis Regina Nada Será Como Antes
  • Elis Regina Vento de Maio
  • Eric Gale Touch of Silk
  • Estela Núñez Uno…
  • Eydie Gorme and The Trio Los Panchos More Amor
  • Gal Costa Fantasia
  • Gal Costa Baby Gal
  • Ginny and the Gallions The Two Sides Of
  • Grover Washington, Jr. Baddest
  • Grover Washington, Jr. Skylarkin’
  • GRP Live In Session
  • Harold Gomberg The Baroque Oboe
  • Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Going Places!!
  • Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Summertime
  • Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass What Now My Love
  • Herbie Mann Waterbed
  • Hiroshima Third Generation
  • Jackie Gleason The Best of Jackie Gleason Volume 2
  • Jean-Pierre Rampal Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano
  • Johnny Mathis and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra Live It Up!
  • Kiri and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra Blue Skies
  • Leny Andrade Leny Andrade
  • Les Elgart Half Satin Half Latin
  • Linda Ronstadt and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra Lush Life
  • Maria Bethânia Alteza
  • Nelson Ayres Mantiquiera
  • Pete Fountain Salutes the Great Clarinetists
  • Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 Herb Alpert Presents
  • Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 Look Around
  • Simone Amar
  • Stargard Stargard
  • The Commodores Midnight Magic
  • The Commodores Natural High
  • The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen
  • The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen Volume II
  • Tony Bennett The Many Moods of Tony
  • Tony Bennett Who Can I Turn To?
  • Toshiko Akiyoshi Notorious Tourist from the East
  • The Baroque Trumpet
  • Baroque Fanfares and Sonatas for Brass
  • Voices of the Middle Ages
  • Sucessos Inesquecíveis Da M.P.B.
  • A&M Records Million Dollar Sampler

I got three albums (Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Going Places!! and What Now My Love and Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 Look Around) because they had better covers than the ones I already have. I got two albums (Blue Skies and Live It Up!) because of the “and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra”.

And I’ve got a couple weeks worth of listening for about $60.

I got three books, too, as you can see. And my children found a Perry Como title in the CDs for me, but when I got home, I discovered it was a copy inside, so I discarded it. I try to be careful about that, but I was too busy worrying about the records to check the CD I guess.

Also, I tested my beautiful wife’s love as never before as I brought in this ten inch stack of records. Followed soon by the greatest test ever of my furniture making skill as I try to create a storage solution for my hundreds of LPs.

Book Report: Mountain Rampage by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThis book is definitely a better entry in the series than The Invisible Assassins. Bolan doesn’t light a cigarette.

What he does do, however, is infiltrate a terrorist compound in the Colorado Rockies where an assortment of international bad guys are working on chemicals that will make people crazy hyperactive and self-destructive and also a chemical that turns them essentially into controllable zombies. Bolan infiltrates the compound, blows things up, rescues an attractive young lady, and then the book ends 20 pages earlier than I expected because the samples from other novels at the end have the title of this book in the header.

It’s very straightforward: Bolan comes and the assault begins rather straight away. There are cut scenes to Stony Farm which add nothing but padding. I can almost imagine adding them and the sample pages for four other Gold Eagle books to get this volume to fighting weight.

However, in context of what it is, thinner and straightforward works. And although there’s not a lot of reflection, no Bolan War Journal entries, the book does have a bit of that flavor the previous installment lacked. It’s almost as though the author might have read one of the Bolan books before reading it.

Although if they could stop switching semi-automatic pistols to single fire, that would be nice.

Book Report: Down with Love by “Barbara Novak” (2003)

Book coverI bought this book at an estate sale nine years ago, and it’s often been in the front ranks of a bookshelf when I’m looking for something to read. A couple of times I picked it up and thought about reading it, but put it back. Well, gentle reader, I have finally read it.

The book, if you cannot tell from the cover, is a movie tie-in for the film with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. Remember it? Without the book, I wouldn’t know of it, either. At any rate, it’s a romantic comedy set in the 1960s where a farm girl from Maine has written a female-empowering book that takes the world by storm. Some finagling by her editor gets her an interview in the hottest magazine, written by the womanizing ace reporter nicknamed “Catch.” Hijinks and shopping ensue as they discover eventually that they’re perfect together. All according to her plan. Spoiler alert, retroactively.

At any rate, it sure must have relied on the actors and the filming for the humor, for I didn’t see much. To add depth to the book, the author adds a bunch about clothing, outfits, and shopping. I wonder if that’s the influence of Sex in the City or something. I dunno, although I have a Candace Bushnell novel around here someplace and maybe I’ll eventually be able to briefly compare the two in my own mind.

At any rate, it was a quick, forgettable read. Now I’ll have to find something else to pick up and put down without reading for a decade.

Book Report: So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane (1983, 1996)

Book coverA month ago, I mentioned Diane Duane, so when I soon thereafter came across this book on my to-read shelves, I picked it up.

Now, I’ve never read the Harry Potter books because I tell people I don’t read young adult books or something. Nobody’s asked me in some time, come to think of it. Harry Potter is so 20th century. But I invented a loophole for this young adult fantasy book: See, it’s from 1983, so the twelve year olds within are my age or a little older. Or something.

At any rate, in the book, a New York girl who is bullied hides in the library to escape her tormentors and comes across a book patterned on career books; this one, however, is about becoming a wizard. She reads the first part of it, says the oath, and she’s suddenly aware of some magic she’s always known about but didn’t know it was magic. She’s also thrust into a plot by the ultimate bad guy to destroy the universe when she goes looking for a missing pen. So she and another young wizard travel to an alternate reality along with a small, sentient wormhole sidekick to try to find a magickal book that can protect the world (all worlds) from destruction.

It’s the beginning of a series, so it must have had some success. Back in the day, I read some fantasy–Jack Chalker comes to mind, and Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series. But by the time I was the age of the protagonists, I’d bypassed the young adult fantasy in favor of adult books. Which is why I hadn’t heard of this series until now. It must have been a pretty good run, as this book was still in print thirteen years later.

It wasn’t my bag, baby. So I’ll probably not look out for the rest of the series. I’ll probably pass this copy onto my young adult reader and perhaps he’ll enjoy it more.

Book Report: The Invisible Assassins by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThere’s generally a tip-off that an Executioner book is going to be sub-par for the series: Mack Bolan lights a cigarette. Bolan doesn’t generally smoke throughout the Pendleton books and into the New War period; if one of the house authors has him lighting a cigarette (see also Return to Vietnam), you can assume the author has no familiarity with the series outside the outline handed to him. Mack Bolan lights a cigarette in this book. So the character does uncharacteristic things.

These books really jump into the 1980s action pop culture zeitgeist; we have Harriers and Uzis in previous books and ninjas in this book. In it, Bolan is called in to watch over a computer expert who is then killed right before Bolan’s eyes. He starts to investigate, and wouldn’t you know it, the trail leads to Japan, ninjas, a wealthy man who fancies himself a samurai warlord, and a plot for World War II-era vengeance via biological warfare. Which Bolan disrupts of course.

But the character is out-of-character in torturing and then killing someone offhandedly. The book also lacks the reflective self-consciousness present in other books and focuses on the gore and two-fistedness, so it’s a lesser entry in the series that might have been better in the Nick Carter or Death Merchant series.

A couple of moments of unintended levity: In one scene, Bolan is talking to the head of a martial arts school that teaches an advanced Ninja class which he says is not for beginners, and the sensei gets a phone call during his conversation with Bolan. The guy on the phone wants to know if he can take the ninja class, and he’s got two years of Tae Kwon Do experience. So the sensei agrees he’s ready for the Ninja class. Gentle reader, I can assure you that two years of Tae Kwon Do does not make you ready to be a ninja. At best, it makes you ready for a third year of Tae Kwon Do.

And ahead of the climax, Bolan picks up a gun and a sword and enters a corridor where he see the Ninja at the end. Instead of, I dunno, shooting or stabbing the ninja, he goes hand-to-hand. How cinematic it would have been were it filmed. On the page, though, it was underwhelming as was the climactic sword fight while in hazmat suits in the biochemical lab.

At any rate, if I space these books out, I can kind of forget that their plots are very similar. However, I must read them closely enough together so that I know that the worst of the series is the worst of the series, not the entire series. Otherwise, my children will inherit dozens of unread Bolan novels. I’m hoping they’ll inherit read books.

Book Report: Reinhold Niebuhr by Bob E. Patterson (1977)

Book coverThis book is the first in a series, Makers of the Modern Theological Mind, and it’s a summary view of Reinhold Niebuhr’s work and through for forty or fifty years in the middle of the 20th century. I don’t know where I bought the book, but I know why I picked it up: I’ve been seeing Niebuhr’s name in First Things magazine and some other things I’ve been reading, and I remember from my collegiate studies that he and his brother were considered important thinkers in the middle of the 20th century. So I gave it a go.

The book is a thematic study of Niebuhr’s thought. That is, it is grouped by them, not chronologically. It’s broken into chapters on Sin, Grace, and Love and Justice along with a chapter on his biography and some groundwork for his thought. It’s not a long book, 162 pages with citations and bibliography, so it’s something you can read relatively quickly and feel a little confident you know a bit about where he’s coming from.

Niebuhr’s concept of sin is heavily informed by the Existentialists of the era (and Kierkegaard, which precedes the era). The nature of man is that he is physical, material, and natural and he is self-transcendent and can recognize where he falls short of the ideal (which is Christ). This contradiction leads to the original sin and the knowledge of God. Man has free will, but he will always ultimately fall short and will know it. So I really understood this bit.

In the concept of grace, to make a short summary of Niebuhr’s though shorter, Niebuhr thought the crucifixion provided initial, justifying grace to man and the grace (or Holy Spirit) acting through a justified person was sanctifying. Niebuhr is trying to balance here between faith and works in other words.

Where I really dispute Niebuhr is his concept of Love and Justice. Justice flows from love, and eventually he gets to political institutions as countervailing blocs fighting for their rights. But in his ideal, the people in the blocs are sanctified and justified by grace, so they’re doing the right thing. Which is not where we’ve ended up. As the book is sectioned thematically and not chronologically, as I mentioned, it’s not one hundred percent clear from the text of this book whether Niebuhr evolved to or evolved from this position.

One thing the book does make clear is that Niebuhr’s thought evolved over the decades that he taught and wrote, so sometimes some of his work tighens, refines, or seems to contradict his earlier positions.

So I enjoyed the book, and I’m going to keep my eye out for some of Niebuhr’s primary works.

How To Tell What Brian Is Listening To

At the gym, I’ve finally entered the late 20th century and got myself one of these new Walkmans that play computer files, so I’m always jacked in to something playing at a level too high for my ears.

In case you’re wondering what I’m listening to, here’s a cue:

If I’m turning my head side to side while mouthing the lyrics, it’s Billy Joel’s “I Go To Extremes”:

I fancy myself to be Liberty DeVitto in those moments, I guess.

Jesus Would Like To Have A Word With Ra

Every week, our church has a Children’s Bulletin with puzzles aligned with the message to preoccupy young people in the service.

This week, children were invited to help align the Stargate so Jesus could go free the Israelites from their slavery under the space-god Ra:

Well, that’s what it looks like to a certain kind of science fiction fan/fellow who always wanted to be more like James Spader.

I guess in reality, the children are supposed to skip to every something letter to spell out a bible verse.

Dr. Johnson Not Cited

Internet hoaxers aren’t even trying any more.

An article on the Daily Mail (UK) Web site linked by Instapundit bears the headline Women DO judge men on their penis size: Researchers say it is ‘as important as a man’s height’.

However, one the Internet one should be skeptical of everything, especially those sourced like this:

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (a journal commonly known by its initials as PNAS), Brian Mautz, Bob Wong, Richard Peters and Michael Jennions use a clever experimental manipulation of computer-generated imagery – CGI – to test the effects of variation in penis size relative to height and torso shape (shoulder width relative to waist width) on the attractiveness of male bodies to women.

This cannot be real, can it?

I’ve looked at the universities listed with the authors, and only Richard Peters actually is at the place where it says he works (but he’s not in the Department of Zoology).

However, the study (and the news article) are three years old. So perhaps they moved on. If they ever existed.

You’re saying to yourself, Brian J. sure is working hard to discredit this study. Does it make him feel bad about himself?.

I’m not going to dignify that with a response.

Old Timey Brian J.

Mr. Hill just celebrated 20 years of blogging. Me, I’ve only been at this stream for 13 years, but I’ve appeared online for almost twenty years myself.

Here are a couple of early bits elsewhere:

Role Playing Research in the newsletter of the Central Nebraska Writers Network.

Meeting Robert B. Parker at Bullets and Beer, a Spenser fan site from way back.

After almost 20 years of working on the Internet and blogging and whatnot, anyone who Googles me is going to find a lot of feldercarb out there.