Brian J. Versus The Internet

I’ve read a couple of things on other blogs recently that I’ve disagreed with. So, here, let me briefly note them:

  • From Hoosier Boy, we get a rip on the classics:

    To the meat of the matter: Catch-22 is drivel; unreadable schmaltz. So is From Here to Eternity. In fact, many of the so-called classics are crap, Moby Dick first and foremost. Joyce, Cervantes, and Milton all are impossible to read. Hawthorne I can manage, but why would I want to? Bunyan, blah. I will take bawdy Moll Flanders over The Vicar of Wakefield any day.

    The blogger wants entertainment with his classics.

    You know, he’s not far off in deriding more modern classics–particularly the stuff that comes out of the 20th century. Classics before that are generally popular. I mean, Shakespeare wasn’t high-faluting. The novels of Austen were popular and entertaining to their set. Hemingway, sure. Faulkner–well, that’s 20th century academic classics talking.

    With a lot of things in translation, what’s ‘classic’ is what’s based on an academic’s taste and inclination in translation as well. I always assign an asterisk to what I read in translation anyway. And the aforementioned Indianan made it through War and Peace but I didn’t. I can tell you why: It’s keeping the characters straight. It’s bad enough when it’s a big cast in a broadly focused saga; it’s far worse when each character has multiple appellations depending upon who’s talking to him.

    Popular classics from yesteryear become less approachable when the argot and manner of expression changes, whether across cultures (such as War and Peace and other Russian classics) or centuries (one can appreciate Shakespeare’s occasional turn of phrase without getting the jokes). To really grok the works like that, you really have to dive into them and read a bunch from the era or culture. Then you’ll be steeped in it and might even get the jokes without the footnotes. Back in college, I did get the jokes in Shakespeare because I was concurrently reading Jonson and Chaucer and contemporary poets, so I was conversant in Middle English. But I’m not that way now, and it’ll take a little work to get back to that.

    But it does take a little effort to really get into those classics, and they’ll be more entertaining if you’re so inclined. I am, mostly because I’m pretentious and want to read the classics.

    But it’s a matter of taste, and not everyone is going to like everything.

    But, yeah, James Joyce’s work might be the last couple of things on my shelves that I would read should medical science make us virtually immortal.

    (Link via Dustbury.)

  • In a book report for the tome The Joy of Not Working, I questioned whether the book was relevant in the 21st century:

    Perhaps the message was on-point in 1997, but we’ve got a couple self-actualizing generations that have sought meaning outside work (or meaningful work instead of careers) since then. So many of the lessons aren’t applicable to more modern readers.

    Kim du Toit would probably disagree based on his post Working Dogs:

    I took an older guy somewhere during my early-morning Uber shift, and we got to chatting about retirement. He was in his early sixties and was thinking about retirement in the next couple of years or so — he’d reached all the retirement “qualifications” in terms of his age, length of service, and so on — and when I asked him what he was going to do after retirement, he said quite simply, “I don’t know.” He had no outside interests other than his work, he said, and had no hobbies or anything to keep him occupied when he would quit working.

    This set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head, because I’d confronted the very same thoughts when I planned on retiring back in 2016 on reaching age 62 (which seems to be the “killer” age discovered by the researchers).

    Worse than that, I either know men personally or have heard of many instances of men who have died soon — very soon — after retiring early. (When men retire at a later age, they paradoxically seem to live longer, as the study shows.) Sometimes, men die within six months of getting their gold watch, after many decades of working with little or even no time off for illness. Where I differ from the study is that I think I know the real reason why this happens.

    We’re working dogs.

    Perhaps I’m a little closer to the millenial mindset than I like to admit, or perhaps I’m just laid back, but their experience differs from mine.

    On the plus side, people in my line die at sixty, give or take, so I won’t have to worry about dying after I retire.

  • As you know, gentle reader, I have been known to read comic books even though I’m ::cough, cough:: nearing fifty years old (see Personal Goal Reached, Revisited and Things To Do In Tampa While Traveling For Business).

    Kim du Toit probably would not approve:

    Whenever I’m asked why I haven’t seen the new Masters of the Galaxy (or whatever it’s called) movie, I simply reply that I quit reading comic books at about age 11*, as should every adult. The storylines are boringly repetitive, the action equally so, and the characters’ emotions are, well, set at comic-book level (which is what’s required for a preteen audience who don’t have the mental software to appreciate or even recognize complex emotional issues). It’s fine for kids, in other words; but if someone age 50 tells me he’s still seriously into comic books and/or their movie derivatives, I actually start to wonder about his mental maturity.

    You know, I sometimes wonder about what it says about me that I still pick up comic books from time to time. I do prefer the ones from my youth, though; stuff that I have seen from this century, if you can believe it, is more simplistic as the focus has shifted from the story and the writing to the pictures, as though the pictures themselves are the worth of the thing. No, not really. The stories are.

    But as far as being repetitive, you might recall that I’ve noticed how much Shakespeare mixes and matches the same elements in his plays. And, to be honest, is an issue of Jennifer Blood: Born Again that much of a step down from men’s adventure paperbacks? Probably not.

    Suddenly, I’m all defensive about my reading habits. Aw, who cares, read what you want. Classics, comic books. Just have something interesting to say about them.


Oh, Poems, No Less. Poems, Everybody!

So I have released my infrequently threatened/promised collection of poems.

Entitled Coffee House Memories, it contains just short of 100 poems that I wrote mostly in my college and immediately post-college life. I spent a lot of evenings at coffee houses and their attendant open mic nights.


Man, I wrote a lot of sonnets, and some of them are pretty good, I still think. But some of them are a little, erm, saucy? Not bawdy, but they’re clearly about making love. So this, like John Donnelly’s Gold, is not something my children can take to school for show and tell. It’s funny; I used to perform said poems in coffee houses in front of dozens of people, but it’s been a while. I’m pretty sure I’d feel like a creepy old man reading one of them out loud now. And/or I’d blush furiously. But I’m convinced they’re good poems, so they’re in the collection.

Also in this volume:

Not included: “Springfield Panera Bread BDU”, although I did include a number of other haiku. And pantoum or two. And a couple villanelles, I thing. I did write a couple bits of free verse, but I always favored more structured forms, like the sonnet.

The book includes two chapbooks I released in the middle 1990s, Unrequited and Deep Blue Shadows. The latter is named for a poem inspired a bit by a song by the band Lillian Axe.

It might be the only poem inspired by anything by Lillian Axe.

In my defense, the book also features three poems inspired by “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” by Edmund Spenser. So clearly, my influences are varied.

At any rate, it’s available for Kindle now for 99 cents, and hopefully will be available in paperback in a week or so.

So if you’ve got a buck and a Kindle, grab one now.

In related news, I guess I still have four or five ISBNs left, so perhaps I should write something else.

Good Book Hunting, February 16, 2018: ABC Books

Of course, yesterday’s post needs to be followed up by a But I Really, Really Need To Buy This One post.

Yesterday, we headed up to ABC Books to get some gift cards for the coaches of my oldest son’s basketball team for the thank you cards he’ll give them at the end of the season (or sometime–he’s been known to forget such cards for up to six months when they’re exhumed from his desk or backpack and given to the recipient). And we couldn’t just get gift cards (although I must have done that on one or two occasions last year). So I brought home a couple things to read someday.

I got:

  • The Celts, a history of the Celts which was in the World Religions section for some reason. Strangely, I might already have a copy of this floating around somewhere.
  • Virtue and Happiness by Epictetus. Wait a minute, I thought this was Epicurus. Since it’s Epictetus, I might have already read it. Ah, well, I’ll read it again, expecting Stoicism now that I look at it more closely.
  • The Beauty of Gesture, a book that equates Tai Chi with playing the piano or something. It looks interesting.
  • The Tao of Christ. In my reading of the Tao, I’ve noticed some similarities to the parables of Christ. This looks at it in depth.

Prediction: I’ll read The Tao of Christ first. If history is any guide, I’ll read one of the four this year, although the Epictetus might also make its way into my annual reading.

Amateur Hour

So ABC Books posted this on their Facebook timeline:

Of course, I think 20 unread books in a home means that nobody lives in the home and it’s being staged for sale by a realtor.

For the record, I have almost 20 unread books that I bought at ABC Books last year.

They include:

From May 5:

  • Makers of the Modern Theological Mind: H. Richard Niebuhr
  • Understanding Zen
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  • The Search for Satori and Creativity

(In my defense, I did read The Tao of Elvis from that trip, and I started but put down The Search for Satori and Creativity.)

From September 29:

  • Strength Finder 2.0
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible
  • The Rights of Man
  • Everyday Zen
  • The Analects of Confucius

(From that trip, I did read Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus.)

From November 28:

  • Makers of the Modern Theological Minds: Martin Buber
  • Makers of the Modern Theological Minds: Teilhard De Chardin
  • Makers of the Modern Theological Minds: H. Richard Niebuhr
  • Don’t Know Much About the Bible

(Yes, that is the second copy of the book on the other Niebuhr that I bought; once I realized it, I gave one away as a Christmas gift.)

From December 31:

  • The Sword of Genghis Khan
  • Of Reading Books
  • Murder in the Catherdral
  • A collections of Aristophanes
  • A collection of Euripides

(I did, however, read Killer Mine.)

Frankly, I’m stunned that I’ve only been to ABC Books five times in the last year. And what restraint!

But, yeah, Nogglestead has a couple of unread books, but that does not stop me from buying more.

I Buy My Swords And Trucks, Thank You

So many people across Springfield saw this story and thought of me: Man Steals Truck, Swords then Flees Police:

Police in Springfield are looking for a man who stole from items from Vintage Stock, including display swords.

Store employees say the swords are not made to be weapons, but could potentially be used as such.

Police say prior to the theft at Vintage Stock, the suspect stole a Dale’s Roofing truck, which hit a Pontiac Grand Am at the intersection of Glenstone and Barataria as he fled the Vintage Stock store.

To be clear, I’ve bought all the bladed weapons I own except for the halberd, which was a very nice gift from a D&D friend who asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said, “A halberd.” Because polearms don’t get enough attention in role-playing games and film, if you ask me.

Thesis: Refuted

You know, sometimes, when listening to a contemporary pop song on the radio, I will tell my boys that the latest Chainsmokers or Shawn Mendes ditty is a vapid collection of unconnected lyrics, drum machine beats, and canned musical chords. Unlike the songs that I grew up with, which were one harp or viola short of being a symphony, dammit.

Then this came on the radio yesterday:

Never mind.

Book Report: The Cotswolds by Robin Whiteman and Rob Talbot (1987)

Book coverLike the book on Raphael, I hoped to read this book during football games. I picked it up last fall after reading two books with Cotswold/Catswald in the title (Cotswold Mistress and The Catswald Portal). But, as I mentioned in the report on the book on Raphael, I didn’t end up watching a lot of football last autumn, so this book, too, got pushed off but now serves as an interlude between the Shakespeare plays I’m working on.

The book suffers from a similar malady to the Raphael book: A high prose to image ratio, and that the captions beside each image go beyond what you’re looking at in the picture itself. An image of a cottage or a landscape with a distant mill in it will mention the region’s history and role in the wool trade in the Middle Ages (hint: almost whatever the village, it was probably involved).

That said, I really enjoyed the book. The sense of old one gets from European cities definitely trumps the 200 years, maybe, you get out here in the Middle Western and Western parts of the United States. Combining this book with the travelogue of Kim du Toit, who spent part of last year in England, and I might someday be tempted to leave the relative safety of the middle of this country for England. I’d better hurry while there’s still an England, though.

At any rate, a cool book. A step up from the normal tourist takeaway books I read about different regions or the coffeetable photography books about San Francisco or New York.

Grilling Tips from Brian J.

As you know, gentle reader, the Internet and newspapers last year wrote a flurry of articles–well, someone wrote an article, and the rest of the twenty-three-year-olds in professional journalism copied it–about the dangers of using wire brushes to clean your barbecue grill.

The story goes that a bit of the wire from the brush might fall out, stick to your grill, get stuck in your meat, you might eat it, and it might upset the stomach of a shark that eats you or something.

Gentle reader, I heartily agree with everything I read on the Internet, and don’t think you should use a grill brush to clean your grill!

Instead, use steel wool. The smaller metal fibers will have a more pleasant mouthfeel and texture when they get stuck in that meat that the Internet thinks you shouldn’t be eating anyway since it takes fifty acres of land better suited to sustenance-level farming with no herbicides and only cutesy little signs with emoji to keep the animals away to produce four ounces of round steak. Or so I read on the Internet when previewing this post.

A little bit of rust on the steel wool will also provide a little bit of umami–without the urban legendary dangers of Madison Square Garden.

Book Report: The Library of Great Masters: Raphael translated by Paul Blanchard (1991)

Book coverAs you know, gentle reader, I sometimes like to page through books of poetry, art, or photography whil I watch a sporting event such as a football game or a baseball game, where I can browse a small chunk, watch a play, peruse a bit, watch a play, and then ingest a bit more during commercials. But, Brian J., you did not do that much this past football season! What gives? Well, gentle reader, this was not a good year for the Green Bay Packers, as you know, so I did not stick with football games for the full three hours. Also, some of the books I picked out had pretty high text-to-image ratios and required a bit more attention than I could muster during football games.

This is one such volume. It’s a collection of paintings done by Raphael accompanied by a biography. The text did not lend itself to easy perusal for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s a pretty detailed art history piece, where we learn about with whom Raphael worked in his youth and the influence that myriad Italian Renaissance painters had on him and in which of his works. As I have no idea who any of these guys were, I did not get much from that. Secondly, the book talked about paintings whose images were pages away, so by the time I got to the painting, I’d forgotten what I’d read about it.

So I couldn’t read it during a football game. So I read it as part of my breaks from the volume of William Shakespeare that I am reading currently. The book still had the same drawkbacks to reading at lenghth, but I got through it.

I want to flip through these books to get a sense of what the author’s work looked like and maybe so I can say something intelligent about it. I’m not sure I could tell a Raphael from another Renaissance painter, but I can tell one from a Rembrandt, although this book says Raphael used chiaroscuro as well–but to be honest, Rembrandt used the effect better. Also, although they must have been getting better by the time the cinquecento rolled around, the proportions of the bodies are still a little off. You look at some of the shoulders on the people relative to their necks and heads, and you have to wonder how their eyesight was.

At any rate, I’ve learned the difference between the quattrocento and the cinquecento from this book, so I’ve got that going for me. For those of you who don’t watch football and thus are not exposed to Renaissance art, that’s the 1400s and roughly 1500-1530 in Italian art.

Worth a browse, but probably better if this is not your first exposure to Renaissance art.

Scandinavian Teens Circa 1965

As I mentioned, I picked up a Scandinavian gospel album from a band called the Teen Tones. The album itself is called, simply, From Scandinavia.

My Internet research doesn’t give it a specific year. Discogs recognizes the album but doesn’t give it a release year. The back of the record says the band formed in 1962 and has gotten popular because they could play in clubs and evangelize to the kids dancing the Frug. Or something.

But take a look at those “teens”:

Are those really teens? I suppose they could have Dominican birth certificates attesting to it. Or a couple of years have passed (remember, the Swedish Gospel Singers released their album Take a Little Time To Sing in 1966, so it’s fair to guess that this album came out right around that time. So it’s feasible that these “kids” were actually over 20 by the time the record came out.

But look at them. They look so much older than that. I figure they’ve got these things going for them to make them look older:

  • They’re dressed like adults, unlike twenty year olds from today.
  • They’re dressed like our grandparents looked (or your great grandparents if you’re under 20) in old photographs.
  • They’re Europeans, who tend to look older than Americans anyway.
  • Also, they’re not twenty year olds from today, who tend to look younger than their counterparts ha’centuries ago. This is not just dress (See the first bullet point above), but also in skin and general health. Better nutrition, I guess.

Does it matter? Not really. Did they take the world by storm? Apparently not. It’s a pleasant record for a Sunday morning, though. That’s about the state of all my records: They’re pleasant to listen to as background music.

Also, note that the album’s label, Word Records, was associated with A&M Records for a long time and remains a going concern with a lot of contemporary gospel acts. Also note that my research has lead me to a Web site called On A&M Records that is apparently not affiliated with the label but has an extensive history of the label, including year by year recaps from 1962 until today and bios on lots of its recording artists. So the rest of my Sunday is spoken for.

Portents of Van Peebles

Today, as I was leaving the YMCA, I looked down and saw a toddler’s spoon lying in the parking lot.

Then, I went to Sam’s Club, where I saw a plastic spoon lying in the parking lot as well.

Clearly, these are signs that I will binge watch Sonny Spoon sometime soon.

I must have been the only one who liked this show when it aired, since it lasted only fifteen episodes. But it’s the character I associate with Mario Van Peebles, not Kane from The Highlander III.

Musing on Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

I’ve started to read the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and instead of writing one book report at the end, since this could take years, I’ve decided to post my thoughts on each play as I finish it. Of course, it will still only count as one book on my annual reading count in 2020 because I’m silly that way.

This play brings a number of the Shakespearean tropes into high relief, and we can see how he swapped the parts into his plays. The high level plot is that a duke likes a lady who is in mourning for her brother’s loss, and she’s not into the duke. A young lady is separated from her brother in a shipwreck, falls in love with the duke, and dresses like a man to be his embassy to the woman the duke loves. The woman falls in love with the lady posing as a man. We’ve got a subplot about a relative of the lady and his friends who trick a servant into thinking the lady is in love with him; and the brother lost in the shipwreck shows up just in time to take the sister’s place as the woman’s husband.

I mean, it’s an amusing scramble, but you can see the shipwreck motif; the woman dressing as a man as helping the man she loves pitch woo to another; and so on. I’m pretty sure if I studied more deeply into sixteenth and seventeenth century drama, I’d really see how often these same themes were mashed up. What, I’m not already that big of a student of this era? Hey, man, I’m a reader, not an academic.

It does make me want to break up the comedies with a tragedy or two, but one of the things I do is read books in the order in which they’re presented. I don’t read the last page first, and I don’t read the prophets before the chronicles of the kings. Which is why it often takes me a long time to get through things.

On the Internet, Solutions Present Themselves

Today, I read a disturbing article on the Internet that indicates that, after the fall of civilization, it will only be the Noggle Library that lifts mankind from its new dark ages. The article: A library without books? Some universities purging dusty volumes:

A library without books? Not quite, but as students abandon the stacks in favor of online reference material, university libraries are unloading millions of unread volumes in a nationwide purge that has some print-loving scholars deeply unsettled.

Libraries are putting books in storage, contracting with resellers or simply recycling them. An increasing number of books exist in the cloud, and libraries are banding together to ensure print copies are retained by someone, somewhere. Still, that doesn’t always sit well with academics who practically live in the library and argue that large, readily available print collections are vital to research.


At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the library shelves overflow with books that get little attention. A dusty monograph on “Economic Development in Victorian Scotland.” International Television Almanacs from 1978, 1985 and 1986. A book whose title, “Personal Finance,” sounds relevant until you see the publication date: 1961.

With nearly half of IUP’s collection going uncirculated for 20 years or more, university administrators decided a major housecleaning was in order. Using software from Lugg’s group, they came up with an initial list of 170,000 books to be considered for removal.

Fortunately, an email I received later offered a link to a solution: 15 Brilliant Ways to Repurpose a Pile of Old Books:

If you’ve got shelves or boxes of old books hanging around your home, don’t toss them! Repurpose them into something grand with these 15 fantastic ways to repurpose them.

The burden of the future is partially lifted from my shoulders. Between the Noggle Library at the end of my retirement (projected to be somewhere over 20,000 books, some 15,000 of which I will not have read) and the random crafters making pleasing arrangements of books with pleasantly colored spines, certainly we’ll do what the monasteries did a thousand years ago.

Now, to start a nonprofit that accepts donations from these universities to turn actual academic work (and “academic” work of the latter half of the 20th century) into the 21st century equivalent of macrame instead of cat litter.

Full disclosure: I once tested the first version of the Yesterday’s News cat litter Web site. Also, the remainder of the books left over from the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale, twice a year, are ground into cat litter for Yesterday’s News. So I’m not joking about actual books being ground into stuff for cats to pee on.

Book Report: Naked Blade, Naked Gun by “Axel Kilgore” (1983)

Book coverI was surprised to see I owned another in this series, which I now recognize (last year, I read Slave of the Warmonger, the seventh book in the series). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since I bought them together along with a pile of Executioner novels in Clever in 2013. This volume is the 13th; the series itself only ran 18 volumes in the early 1980s (according to Fantastic Fiction).

This book is a bit more amateur than Slave of the Warmonger. The dialog is clunky, and there are extraneous bits of activity and interactions that don’t add to the story.

In this book, The Mercenary is reuniting with his gal when he recognizes a killer from Vietnam and pursues him through the airport, but the fellow escapes when the Mercenary is waylaid by airport security. His girlfriend, a reporter, is doing a piece on cults, so The Mercenary tags along and finds a cult that is killing experts on the cult. However, the cult is really a front for a KGB operation that’s kidnapping scientists, and the head man of the Russians is posing as a Christian preaching the evils of cults. Along the way, there are action set pieces and places where this hard-core killing machine acts very, very dumb to further the plot.

So this is probably my last foray into this series. I’m sad to learn (also via Fantastic Fiction) that this is the same author behind The Survivalist series, which I’d hoped to snag a few of somewhere. But you don’t tend to see them at book sales. Which is just as well, since I’m nowhere near finished with that stack of Executioner books that I picked up along with this book back in 2013.

Book Report: The Joy of Not Working by Ernie J. Zelinkski (1997)

Book coverThis book joins The Ruins and the complete works of Horace Algernon Blackwood as a volume that goes from my to-read shelves to my “read” shelves (which, you can see now, is all a lie) without me finishing it. I mean, sometimes I pick up a book and read a bit of it only to decide I don’t want to read this right now, and I put it back on my to-read shelves. Few are the books where I decide I will never want to finish reading this. This book is in rare company.

This book was written after the author ran a series of seminars and workshops on what aging members of the World War II generation should do as they retired and suddenly did not have a job to define them. So, somewhere in it, perhaps there are lessons in identity and establishing multiple facets of one’s own identity to account for a time when a job will not tell you and other people who you are.

But it’s hidden among a bunch of meandering and repetitive prose. I made it 56 pages, which is further than the two bookmarks I found in the book (a snippet of the job want ads from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a return address label). The book itself is only 203 pages, including big sidebar cartoons and quotes about employment and leisure. I carried it to a number of my reading locations, and I had to force myself to open it. Sometimes, I found staring at a cinderblock wall more rewarding than reading the book. I came to a list of things that might indicate your life was not in balance and you might have the wrong job, and I applied them to the time I spent reading this book. So I’m done with it forever.

Perhaps the message was on-point in 1997, but we’ve got a couple self-actualizing generations that have sought meaning outside work (or meaningful work instead of careers) since then. So many of the lessons aren’t applicable to more modern readers. Or they’re covered in the contemporary mindfulness movement, often more concisely.

I see it’s been updated for the 21st century; I hope the later edition has been significantly been rewritten. But I’m not risking it.

The Song Can’t Remember When

The song “What’s Up?” by 4 Non-Blondes starts:

Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
for a destination

I don’t want to make you feel old, old man, but that song itself is twenty-five years old.

The album was from 1992, but the single was released in 1993, so lie to yourself if you have to.

Me, I got the song. On a cassette single. Twenty-four years ago.