Book Report: The Use and Abuse of Books by Leon Battista Alberti (1999)

Of course, this work was originally entitled De Commodis litterarum atque incommodis before Renée Neu Watkins translated it for us. I picked this book up over a year ago at the Carondolet YMCA Book Fair for fifty cents. Even though it’s only 54 pages, it has taken me this long to power through it.

Apparently (the introduction tells us), Alberti wrote this tract early in his Renaissance career as a scholar because his wealthy family was begging for him to produce something to justify his existence as a freeloading scholar. This is his defense of freeloading: in it, he outlines that someone dedicated to books should seek only the higher knowledge and truth within and should not expect to get chicks, money, power, or reknown. Let’s face it, a real scholar hits the books for 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, in ill-heated Renaissance apartments wearing rags–because all of the scholars meager moneys go into books.

The book reads as though it was written by any stereotypical scribe from a fantasy novel, but it was written by a young man romanticizing the hair shirt he’d chosen for his wardrobe and trying to lower his family’s expectations. The prose is flowery and meandering, even where the text continues to say that the author is glossing over many things and is getting back to the point.

Still, the rhetoric comes from a different time, where arguments are advanced by reason without the intrusion of actual data points (although Alberti offers anecdotes, often at hearsay distance, to illustrate) or invective (which is the contemporary practice).

The book did not give me any advice on how to wean myself from book abuse, and it was my 50th book completed this year. I obviously need help.

Books mentioned in this review:


Man Wastes Valuable Fuel

Mo. Man Burns Books as Act of Protest:

    Tom Wayne amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero’s Books. His collection ranges from best sellers like Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October” and Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” to obscure titles like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910. But wanting to thin out his collection, he found he couldn’t even give away books to libraries or thrift shops, which said they were full. So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books protest what he sees as society’s diminishing support for the printed word.

He certainly drew attention to his store, which probably boosted traffic, and that, ultimately, was his point. But Wayne is a foolish wastrel.

Not that I am paranoid, gentle reader, but I do have a plan B for my extensive library. Not only do the books have excellent insulation properties, but they are a handy fuel source for fires should civilization collapse.

It’s not that I expect civilization to collapse that abruptly, but should it do so, I’ve got the books.

You can probably guess what Plan B is for the cats.

Thousands Protest Unequal Proportion Of Women

Oh, sorry, no; since it’s a bad thing for a particular woman, society should perhaps take extra steps to not do it: Texas woman on death row still represents rarity:

    A neighbor in a suburban Austin neighborhood appeared to be the perfect babysitter for Eryn Baugh’s infant son and his 2-year-old sister.

    “She’s the most sweet, endearing person in the world and put forward this good Christian front,” Baugh said of Cathy Lynn Henderson, who lived two blocks away. “She could sell snow to an Eskimo.”

    But just weeks after Henderson started working for the Baughs, 3-month-old Brandon was dead and Henderson had fled the state. The infant’s body was found buried 60 miles away with his skull crushed, wrapped in his yellow-trimmed white blanket and stuffed into a box that previously held Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers.

    Henderson, 50, is set to die in less than three weeks for the 1994 slaying that made her one of the most hated women in Texas. She would be just the 12th woman among the nearly 1,100 convicted killers executed since capital punishment resumed in the United States in 1977.

Where are the people who complain about the fact that most corporate structures at the top favor men? For consistency, shouldn’t the underrepresentation of women on death row also be protested?

Silly boy; those who protest in their hearts of hearts often misquote Emerson: A consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Bring Back "Finders Keepers"

Oh, no; a dispute over a sizeable sunken treasure find could derail the EU and cause Spain to send a vast armada–both of its remaining warships–up the Thames in an all-out war to break the backs of the English sea dogs: Deep sea treasure trove launches trans-Atlantic dispute:

    Odyssey has insisted it found the wreck in international waters in the Atlantic but has kept the exact site secret, but Madrid suspects the ship was discovered in Spanish territorial waters and a Spanish newspaper reported the vessel itself belonged to Spain.

    “What we’re seeing here is a presumed incidence of plundering,” First Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Friday.

    Spain opened a probe into the exact location of the wreck last week after the culture ministry became suspicious of the circumstances in which the cargo, worth an estimated 400 million dollars, was found.

Yeah, Spain, who probably minted the coins from stolen Incan or Aztec gold, is on record accusing the American treasure hunting company of plundering. But that’s apparently how it goes in 2007; any possession that was previously owned by someone from another country belongs to the previous owner as long as it’s old.

Bonus additional snark: Iranian officials also claim that the Odyssey was in Iranian national waters and regrets missing the opportunity to seize it.

Book Report: The Watchman by Robert Crais (2007)

This book is another Joe Pike book (like L.A. Reqiuem, I think). As you know, gentle reader, I have read and reported upon all of Robert Crais’s work on this blog. I started out liking him with his early stuff, but later got a little bored with the “World’s Greatest Detective” schtick of Elvis Cole. Crais must have, too, since he’s veered off series, mostly, with some of his other books, but many of them set in LA return to Cole and Pike.

This book centers on a bodyguard gig that Joe Pike, the Hawk to Cole’s Spenser, gets. He brings Elvis Cole into it, of course, but most of the book is from Pike’s point of view, with flashbacks interspersed and other characters getting their chapters to show their emotional evolution.

Pike has to guard a Paris Hilton knock off who’s in danger of getting knocked off after accidentally hitting a Mercedes on an after-club drive. The Mercedes contained two local real estate developers and a gopher for a South American cartel. The girl goes into protection, but someone inside is tipping off the bad guys, so a consultant goes way outside and gets Pike. Pike determines the best way to prevent anyone from harming the girl is to kill those persons first.

As a matter of course, lies are told to the protagonists and are investigated. The layers of the onion are peeled back, resulting in a climax that explains why I keep getting Google hits for robert crais republican.

A decent book, but Crais relies on a certain familiarity with Cole and Pike and might just play too much with shifting point of view.

Books mentioned in this review:


Book Report: Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad (1969)

I must have bought this paperback more than a decade ago, probably during college or immediately thereafter. It’s been hanging around, and I’ve even tried to start it once or twice before, but I stalled out before passing through the narrative frame (introduction of Marlow relating the story while on a boat in the Thames). This time, though, it was the time to read it, and I made it through both the novelette (“Heart of Darkness”), the short story (“The Secret Sharer”), and the introduction/critical materials (and in that order).

“Heart of Darkness” is only 120 pages, but it’s dense Victorian English. As some of you know, the movie Apocalypse Now was based on this work, and the three or four nights I spent reading it seem shorter than watching the movie. The plot varies in that Marlow is going to meet Kurtz, and Martin Sheen is going to kill Marlon Brando. So one almost wants to comment on the differences in the plot and how, thematically, the producers of the two works were talking differently and speculate as to why. But I have a real job, almost, so I won’t waste too much time on it. I did get some of the thematic points of man versus himself at the same time as man versus nature and man versus primitive man. More than half the story spends its time getting up river, and the appearance, retrieval, and death of Kurtz happen very quickly, so if I find a hardback copy of Conrad’s work, I would welcome an excuse to read it again.

“The Secret Sharer” is shorter and more straight forward, although the first pages set the scene and don’t jump right into the action. However, I kind of got the point here, too.

Then I read the critical essays and the introduction to learn a little more about Conrad and such. Wow, I hearkened back to my university days with the critical essays, which were people saying in nonfiction what the author meant in his fiction. The essays confirmed some of my takes on the stories, but my goodness. Somewhere in the world, people make a living explaining largely underread literature to each other and to their students. I am glad I didn’t stick in the academy.

Books mentioned in this review:


Good Book Hunting: May 26, 2007

This weekend didn’t really yield any good book fairs, but I got some books anyway. We started the day by hitting some garage sales that boasted books. In 2007, a garage sale apparently boasts books if it has two books, one of which is a self-help book and the other is a microwave cookbook from 1987. However, Christ the King church was boasting a deal that you could get anything you could fit into a grocery bag for $1.00. I couldn’t find a bag full of books I wanted, but I found three that looked interesting, which left room in the bag for a Kodak Brownie movie camera circa 1966 and a Molecular Visions Organic Model Kit.

We did survey a “book fair” at the Book House, a used book store I vowed some time ago to avoid since it was pricey and smelled of incontinent cat. Since, it was a book fair, though….

Well, it looked as though the “book fair” was regular Book House stock with a tarp tent outside. I guess some bit of it went to charity. I actually had three books in my hands before realizing that the books were priced as marked, and that roughly-used Dilbert book really was supposed to cost $7.50. I looked around a bit, but didn’t get anything; Heather picked up one book. We decided to go to Patten Books up Manchester and tell Mr. Patten we were there buying because we had been to the Book House looking. But he wasn’t in; however, five John D. MacDonald paperback originals that I didn’t own were, so I dropped $15.00 and change on them. Patten also had some later Gor books, as he often does, but I’m not far along enough to drop $20 on a paperback just yet. Maybe in a couple years.

So here’s our take:


May 26, 2007 acquisitions

Titles include:

  • The End of the Night by John D. MacDonald
  • April Evil by John D. MacDonald
  • Deadly Welcome by John D. MacDonald
  • On Monday We Killed Them All by John D. MacDonald
  • S*E*V*E*N by John D. MacDonald
  • A collection of columns from the Lake Superior Journal
  • Around Africa in 99 Beds by Dottie Miller, a sequel to the book I almost bought in March entitled Around the World in 99 Beds. This book had its title page and inscription intact.
  • Two Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America, a scholarly-looking thing about how paperbacks influenced America

Heather got a book entitled The Great Compromise. Brownie and model kit not depicted.

So I was a bad boy by price ($16 for 8 books!) but a good boy by number, as I only increased my backlog by 8.

Snarkical Indecision

When presented with a story like this:


    A truck driver hauling more than 17 million bees was killed in an accident on Interstate 55.

I am torn as into which direction I want to snark.

Do I wonder Is this part of the great bee assassination conspiracy that’s killing all the honey bees, or do I wonder Whom will the bees sue? and make a list that includes the truck company, the makers of the guard rail, the family of the dead truck driver, and the makers of Honey Nut Cheerios just because General Mills has deep pockets?

The possibilities are endless.

Book Report: Outlaw of Gor by John Norman (1967, 1982)

As you know, I bought Tarnsman of Gor and this book so that I would have read the first pentagor of the John Norman fantasy series before I lit into the last half of the first 10. Here, I read #2, the Gor book for 1967 (although my copy is a later reprint with cover by Boris Vallejo).

In this, Tarl Cabot returns to Gor after seven years on Earth to find his home city of Ko-ro-ba destroyed and its citizens scattered–including his father and his love Talena. He also finds himself in unheralded armor, meaning he’s an outlaw. He ends up going to Tharna, a city where women rule, and leading an uprising.

The book is the weakest of the first five, clearly a setup for the longer story lines that took place after the first one succeeded. Still, it’s short and it’s still a neat piece of fantasy. I articulated to my wife that good fantasy is very different from suspense/crime/mystery fiction in that when you want to find out what’s coming next, you really don’t have any idea. These books are like that; they contain enough detail into the world that you know Norman isn’t making it up as he goes, but as you go, you’re learning something about the setting and the laws that govern it. You really can have a sense of wonder you don’t get from other kinds of fiction.

So I’m ready for the sixth book in the series one of these days.

Books mentioned in this review:


Obvious Restraint

So the family of the Cardinals pitcher who died while driving while intoxicated have announced its lawsuit pantheon:

    The suit seeks unspecified damages “over $25,000” from Mike Shannon’s Steaks and Seafood, the owner and driver of a parked tow truck that Hancock hit, and the driver of a car the wrecker had stopped to help.

Over at Overlawyered.com, David Nieporent does my schtick and helpfully identifies some other lawsuit targets:

    * The cell phone manufacturer; Hancock couldn’t have been talking on the phone if they hadn’t been so negligent as to invent it, or if they had placed warnings on the side of the phone about not using it while driving.
    * Hancock’s girlfriend — she was on the other end of the phone. Plus, he was driving to meet her.
    * The owners of the bar he was driving to in order to meet his girlfriend. If they had been closed, he wouldn’t have been driving there; if they were easier to find, he wouldn’t have had to give his girlfriend directions.
    * The car rental company; Hancock was driving a rented SUV… because he had just had an accident in his own car. If they hadn’t rented him the SUV, he couldn’t have been driving it.
    * Anheuser-Busch, it goes without saying; no alcohol, no accident.
    * The Cardinals, for not trading him to another team; if he hadn’t been in St. Louis, he couldn’t have crashed.

Leaving aside that Mr. Nieporent missed some of the obvious big laffs (Missouri Department of Transportation, for building/maintaining the road, and the legacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower, for passing the Interstate thing in the first place), I am not going to participate.

For although the family and their helpful attorneys deserve all the scorn and ridicule we can muster, one suspects that their threshold for slander–at least enough to threaten a lawsuit–is probably very low indeed.

Your Rights Today

Because one’s inalienable rights fluctuate daily here in America, I thought I’d provide a quick cheatsheet of what is or is not allowed today, May 25, 2007. Please, go by the cheatsheet and do not try to reason out what the authorities will let you do from day to day nor try to apply common sense, as these two mechanisms will lead you astray.

  • Your dog pooping on the lawn: CRIME.
    If your dog evacuates itself outdoors, as animals are known to do, you could be cited and given a ticket for it. In some areas, you can go to jail for not having a pooper scooper when you walk your dog.

  • Leaving dog poop on a political opponent’s doorstep: LEGAL.

    Seriously. So dog poop is a bad thing, a health or aesthetic hazard when a dog leaves it behind as a matter of its lifecycle, but it’s not art. Or political metaphor. That, my friends, trumps health or ethical concerns regarding feces and urine.

  • Flyers with, you know, words on them: CRIME.
    A felony, no less. Sure, the circumstances of the case are off-putting; it was a vendetta, and it expressed a moral sentiment that our revered betters in the government don’t often believe, but the girl is probably going to get jail time for pamphleteering.

Perhaps if you’re walking your dog, you will not be in trouble if you bring political flyers for it to poop on, or perhaps you’re protected from sensationalist hate speech prosecutions if you poop on your pamphlets before passing them around. Regardless, proper poop application seems to be the determining factor here.

Poop is protected speech, but words are not, except in those cases where poop is not protected speech. Ladies and gentlemen, the first amendment of your constitution as it stands today, May 25, 2007.

(One link seen on Instapundit.)

Satan Worshippers, Metal Heads Suddenly Flush

If you’re hoping to buy the latest Slayer CD this morning, forget it; it’s going to be And you wondered sold out before today is done, as will a lot of Jack Daniels and black candles:

    For the second time in a week and the sixth time in the past seven months, triple digits have been drawn in Pick 3. The numbers 6 – 6 – 6 were drawn in the May 22 evening Pick 3 drawing. This is the second time this combination has been drawn in the past two months. The triple 6 combination was drawn in the March 22 midday drawing.

Jeez, it’s bad enough that I have to worry about fools and the corrupt in the world. I’d rather those with demonic powers not revel in their power so obviously.

Book Report: Certain Prey by John Sandford (1999)

Well, that’s what I get for having too many books on my shelves. I read the sequel to this book in February, completely unaware that I could have read them in order were I more organized.

This is the book that introduces the elite assassin Clara Rinker into Lucas Davenport’s life. An attorney hires her through an intermediary to kill the wife of the man she wants. When the intermediary tries to blackmail the high-powered attorney, she calls the assassin back. They develop a friendship based on being sociopaths who happen to be women, and that’s all spoiled when Davenport investigates the growing number of dead bodies.

The book is paced better than some Davenport novels, since it moves quickly throughout instead of a leisurely pace and then a hyperkinetic last hundred pages. However, the story does hinge on some coincidences and leaps of faith that made me go, hmmm. And contrary to what I said in previous book reports, there is a “hum” spelled out in this book, so the introduction of the aside utterances began and evolved gradually, I guess.

Still, a good enough read.

Books mentioned in this review:


Fearing The Converse

Well, that’s a relief, almost:

    A big rig whose trailer was stolen was actually hauling 28 pallets of commercial “shop vac” style vacuum cleaners and not five tons of fertilizer as authorities had announced, police said Monday.

Until one begins to wonder how many shipments of bad things haven’t bothered the authorities because they only thought the criminals had gotten shop vacs.

Sweet Home Missouri

It wasn’t me, it was my evil twin brother:

    Twin brothers Raymon and Richard Miller are the father and uncle to a 3-year-old little girl. The problem is, they don’t know which is which. Or who is who. The identical Missouri twins say they were unknowingly having sex with the same woman. And according to the woman’s testimony, she had sex with each man on the same day. Within hours of each other.

Double ew.