Book Report: How to Get Into Debt (2007)

Book coverThis book is a scientifically funny book. You can take a look at it, and you can see the satire within it and the quips and the proven turns-from-reality that make for humor.

However, it is also almost 200 pages of the same gag. Granted, it’s double-spaced and has a lot of sidebars with quotes about debt and financial definitions.

At any rate, the gag itself is that getting into debt is good, all-American, and fun. It talks about how best to get as deeply in debt as you can and how to strategically manage your debt so your credit limits go up without actual default. Until it all does collapse, which might not even be until you’re dead.

It might have made–and probably has–made a humorous essay, but stretching it into a book really thins out the actual funny.

A little bit of wry retrospect, though: the book was published in 2007. A year later, its tenets would become very unfunny indeed.

Unfunnier still are places where I find myself recognizing my own rationalizations and patterns of spending, such as buying expensive coffees and pastries because I was making more than the $20 a day I spent on them.

At any rate, a quick read, but probably not worth your time.

Apparently, this is part of a series of books whose titles are wry satires on self-help books. But I’m not seeking them out.

Book Report: On the Pleasure of Hating by William Hazlitt (2005)

Book coverThis book was in the Bookmarx philosophy section, and I didn’t know why when I started. I bought it because I’ve been reading some philosophical material of late, and this book is pretty thin, so it would be (I hoped) a quick read in that line.

Well, Hazlitt is an English essayist from around the turn of the nineteenth century, and the events rather capture the spirit of the immediate post-American and post-French Revolution era in England.

The book contains six essays:

  • “The Fight” which details a long trip to a boxing match out in the countryside. Hazlitt discusses his friends who like boxing, some of the people he meets, and the spectacle of his first fight. It’s not a very philosophical essay at all, but it does describe the event and the countryside in great detail.
     
  • “Indian Jugglers” which starts off discussing jugglers that he appreciates but then goes into how long it takes to learn things and how certain physical skills–like juggling–will give you immediate, concrete feedback as to whether you’re doing it wrong or not.
     
  • “On the Spirit of the Monarchy” and “What Is ‘The People’?” are both anti-aristocracy pieces. The first focuses on humans who seem to need some leader over them to enjoy the pomp and circumstance, but that the people who end up ruling by hereditary succession are less good than perhaps a random person. The second talks about styles of government (see this The Wisdom of William Hazlitt post for a taste. He’s spot on about how the self-appointed elites react to having power (or just seeking it) and how governors become self-serving, but he lionizes “the people” a bit too much, not recognizing how important it is to restrain their/its passions and mob-potentiality in government (which the structure of the early American Republic did well).
     
  • “On Reason and Imagination” talks about philosophy qua philosophy and takes to task systems built entirely on abstraction and without recognizing the role that passion plays in ethics (as well as a man’s innate sense of right and wrong). He’s retreading some Hume here, but it’s funny that he’s all Good Natured and Frans de Waal in this essay, but….
     
  • The essay whose provocative title, “On the Pleasure of Hating”, is all Dark Nature and Lyall Watson. This essay talks about the innate badness in people and how they like to do bad things and hate on people, especially former friends. It’s a bit of a whip-saw, and I get the sense he was growing disappointed in his fellow man for whom he had such high hopes.

The style is lofty, and the essays are chock full of quotations, some of which I knew but many more of which I did not. He drops them in without attribution, so he expects his contemporaries to get them.

I enjoyed it, even though it was not as quick of a read as I’d expected. I prefer Hazlitt to Montaigne, and I’d be interested in reading more, but I think most of Hazlitt is way out of print (whereas you can find Montaigne easily, especially the Classics Club edition).

Book Report: We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist (2014)

Book coverAs I mentioned, I picked up this book last week in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The books are all jumbled together on the discount shelves/carts, so I did not realize this was a young adult book until I looked at the back flap and the book’s publisher URL is a youth imprint.

I did look at the front flap before I bought it, and the content there didn’t indicate it was for young people. The author, at all of 25 years old, determines he has never had a girl friend, so he’s going to go back and talk to girls he was interested in from middle school through college and see why they were not interested in him. As a fellow who was also a little thin on the girlfriend department in my youth, I thought it might be an interesting read.

The flap alludes to it obliquely, but the author has only one leg. In the text of the book, he’s very upfront about it, telling the story of his bout with cancer at age 9 and losing a leg from the hip down. I bring it up here not because I want to diminish the author in any way–hey, my best friend lost an eye to an aggressive cancer in his early adulthood before later succombing to a recurrence when he was in his 40s, so I know cancer sucks and it leaves challenges for its survivors–but because it was a bit of a surprise in the book (since I didn’t read the back flap and did not know the author’s story) and, sadly, because early on in the book, I thought that it could easily explain his difficulties in finding girlfriends. I mean, kids and young people and older people can be shallow and not see beyond that. But.

As he starts recounting his youth, and the girls he met and was interested in, it became clear it wasn’t they were nice girls who weren’t (at least in the recounting) put off by his disability. He spends a lot of time with some of them, getting pretty close as friends, but never really becoming girlfriend/boyfriend. As such, I looked past his disability and thought that it was because he was unsure of himself and inexperienced with girls, a bit of a ditherer when it comes to making a move on girls who might be interested in it. So I understood. My problem, in addition to being unsure of myself, was that I would focus on inattainable girls so much that I’d not see other girls who were interested in me.

At any rate, I was very sympatico with the author’s story until toward the very end. He has reached out to these young ladies, and they told him years later that they were actually interested in him back then, and the author breaks down and says that he never got the nerve to press the issue because he was unsure of himself because of his disability.

I don’t know–I certainly didn’t have that disability, and I’m sure a number of young people today who might read the book only have their own uncertainties and insecurities to deal with. Somehow, circling back to it at the end of the book kinda weakened the message, which I assume is that everyone has self-doubt in relating to others, especially girls. However, if you’re lacking in self-confidence to go talk to that pretty girl who is really nice, finding someone else worse off than you are also has a problem with being unsure of one’s self, it might not boost your confidence.

I dunno. I think it could have been a better message without the last bit focusing again on the loss of the author’s leg.

So it was very readable (it is addressed at young adults, after all), and it’s chock full of hand-drawn humorous (that is, not statistically or scientifically supported) graphs –the influence of modern children’s books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid on the canon, no doubt. I liked it, but not as much as I might have.

Jeez, I feel like I’m picking on the author for his missing leg, but I hope it doesn’t come across quite like that. I’m trying to discuss it dispassionately as part of the book, but I’m never sure how this sort of thing comes across. Which is another thing that kept me from really wowing the ladies: I have a tendency to come across as a jerk when I’m not intending to be offensive.

Book Report: Every Time I Find The Meaning of Life, They Change It by Daniel Klein (2015)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I read Klein’s Travels with Epicurus earlier this summer and enjoyed it. So I found myself at a different library branch a couple weeks ago, and I was in the philosophy section, and I saw a book that looked like it was a Klein, but it was a different author with a different spin on it. But a couple letters later, I found an actual book by Klein, this volume, from 2015.

The jumping off point for this book is a collection of quotes that Klein collected during his youth and then later. He had a notebook where he copied “Pithies” as he called them, and he reprints them with a couple pages’ reflection on each. You’ve got your Epicurus, of course, and you’ve got your Neitsche, Russell, Emerson, and whatnot. Each quote he selects is a complete jot of philosophy, a koan of sorts to muse on, and he does so.

It’s an entertaining read, a bit of a stroll through philosophy and modern life. It’s accessible and proper old school philosophy, something you can read and think about. It’s funny as I read philosophy these days, the tiers of books you find. Original sources, especially pre-20th century primary texts, are generally readable and digestible in their original form. But when you get to some stuff in the late 19th century, some of the more self-consciously philosophical in the 20th century, and especially the commentary on primary text from the 20th century written by academics, you get incomprehensible mash-ups of academic speak. Pop philosophy books, which I think are a 21st century inventions (but I could be mistaken), offer a return, almost, to the readable primary texts, but these are commentaries and not primary texts themselves. They’re like written forms of the conversations I had when I was younger (and sometimes still do now that I’m reading and listening to philosophy lectures regularly).

At any rate, I enjoyed most of it, and I didn’t disagree vehemently with any of it. There’s a bit in it where he quotes a philosopher who was born after I was, an ethicist and psychologist who explains how we treat those in our tribe differently from those outside our tribe, and how we should work to bridge the gap between the instinctive, immediate moral judgments placed on our tribe with the reasoned ones applied to others outside the tribe. That is, we should treat everyone as compassionately as we treat those inside our tribe. This is descriptive and not really prescriptive as one who is a deontologist would hope for. A proper deontologist would recognize we’re more instantly forgiving of those like us, but we point out that a standard that we apply to both those like us and unlike us would be an objective standard. Too often in the modern era, the prescription based on this position is to apply a standard of forgiveness and non-judgment to people who would not apply the same standard to ourselves. While this is very Christian (and, indeed, as modern life shows us, also post-Christian), I am not eager to forgive those who would do me harm and to invite them to dinner.

This description, this bit of anthropology, meshes with a modern drive to equate psychology and philosophy that I don’t embrace.

Also, it adds one to my list: Persons I don’t trust immediately if they are younger than I am: Doctors, clergy, and (NEW!) philosophers.

At any rate, I enjoyed it and should probably consider buying one of his books new so he can get paid for my enjoyment instead of me continuing to freeload from the library. I’ll look for his next book (or something off of his backlist) the next time I’m at Barnes and Noble or some other bookstore on vacation.

Oh, and I would be remiss in not bragging about how much the reading of philosophy and whatnot has made me recognize things and the names of the people in the book. To whit: The title is a quote by Reinhold Niebuhr. And in a section riffing on a comment by A.J. Ayer, a British atheist, he mentions that Ayer debated and later consulted with Frederick Copleston, a clergeyman. But the Klein does not mention that Copleston, S.J., wrote a long series of books called The History of Philosophy. I know this because I have the series and actually started on part 1 of Volume I last year. I AM SMAHT!

Book Report: Death Has A Name – The Executioner #96 (December 1986)

Book coverAs I mentioned in my most recent review of an Executioner book (Shock Waves, #81 in the series), the numeric gaps between the series books in my collection grows. This one, #96, skips ahead fifteen from the last one I read (although only twelve from Missouri Deathwatch which I read in 2009, right after I moved to Nogglestead).

The changes between the earlier Bolan books and this one are stark: At almost 250 pages, it’s a third again as long as the earlier work, and the writing style is not as terse. It’s as though the writing has shifted from copying 1960s paperbacks (themselves owing a great debt to the proper pulp stuff of the 1930s and 1940s) and more copying the then-current thrillers of the day. So the writing is a little more flowery and less punchy.

In this book, Bolan is about to kill a Mafia figure at his daughter’s wedding, but holds up because he’s in a church. But an Israeli agent jumps up and starts spraying with an Uzi, and Bolan tries to help her escape only to discover that she’s part of a shadowy Israeli group that is working to break up a Mafia-Palestinian arms connection that will arm the Palestinians with enough weaponry to seriously challenge Israel’s statehood. So Bolan travels to Israel with his brother Johnny and works with the team of Israeli commandoes.

To be honest, I was less than impressed with this outing. In addition to being 50% longer than previous works, it features such bits as describing the baddest of the Palestinians as rich from oil money, poor squad-level tactics, and some gun buffoonery. It also features head scratchers such as the leader of the Israeli commandoes shooting a bad guy as Bolan says “We need him for intelligence” followed not too much later by a reversal where Bolan is going to shoot a bad guy and the commando says “We need him for intelligence,” and this complete reversal is for nothing more than giving the bad guy time to detonate a suicide backpack.

Ay, I am likely to less enjoy these books as they get longer, as the authors will likely just add more of the bad padding parts to the books to make the new page count.

Book Report: This Old Dump by Laura Jensen Walker (2004)

Book coverThis is a mild little humorous book about renovating or doing projects about your home with your spouse. Basically, the author recounts stories from friends and her own life, sometimes in a manner of paragraphs and sometimes just a sentence or two. The anecdotes are grouped in chapters by renovation and project type, like painting, wallpapering, plumbing, working with contractors, and so on.

The book is amusing, sometimes, but it doesn’t really rise to the level of Erma Bombeck or Jean Kerr. The author must have a following, though, as she mentions once or twice that she had to push off this book because her publisher wanted her to write or collate a couple of other books first. So she’s got that going for her.

But it’s not especially relatable to me even though I did just (with my beautiful wife) paint our living room (after having bought the paint a year ago for the project–like my sainted mother, I don’t like to rush into anything).

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Book Report: The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman (2014)

Book coverI picked up this book at the Fair Grove branch of the Springfield-Greene County Library. You’re saying to yourself, “Hey, has he run out of books to read in his own library and the more local branches of his local library so that he has to drive almost an hour to find something new?” No, gentle reader; this summer, my boys and I are trying to visit each branch of the Springfield-Greene County library, and when we got to the Fair Grove branch (a small room off of the Fair Grove City Hall), I spotted this book in the one shelf of philosophy/religion/magick whilst my children were picking out books of their own. As I’m interested in learning more about how the Bible was compiled over time, I thought it would be a great place to start.

The book starts out pretty scholarly (but eminently readable). It talks about the history of Jerusalem around the time of Christ with some mention of the various tensions between Rome and the peoples of that area, including the Syrians and the Jews. It then talks about the Dead Sea Scrolls and what they might mean and the intersection of those texts with the Bible. It talks about the Septuagint, why it was created, and the intersection between its texts and what later appears in the Bible. It discusses Josephus, a scholar that documented history of Judea around the time of Christ and where that intersects with the Bible.

Then the book takes a turn toward parables. Well, not parables; the book recounts apocryphoral stories such as Adam and Eve after their banishment from Eden; the apocalypse of Abraham, which is a bit of a prequel to his portion of Genesis and some visions he had; and the books of Enoch, father of Noah and a bit of an interesting but underreported figure in the Bible. He mentions very briefly the source text of these stories, and then spends their respective chapters telling the stories and a bit of what we can learn from each story as a lesson. He then wraps up with a short chapter trying to tie it all together with a message about Biblical and related textual scholarship.

I enjoyed the first chapters the most and got a bit from the last of it–particularly a familiarity of some of the Apocrypha–but the shift in its focus sort of turned from what I wanted to learn to something else.

At any rate, it’s a readable bit of popular Biblical scholarship. The author has written a number of other titles of the sort, and if I run across them (perhaps an hour away at the library branch in Strafford), I’ll give them a read. It’s the sense I got from the author of the pop philosophy book Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein–I’ll pick them up if I see them, but I’ll not actively seek them out.

CORRECTION: Originally, this post referred to the Ash Grove branch of the library. Silly me! The Ash Grove branch is a shotgun shack of a two-room library in downtown Ash Grove right off of the train tracks. The boys and I were there earlier in the year. I got this book at the Fair Grove branch. Fortunately for me, Fair Play is in Polk County, and I won’t be able to confuse it with anything.

Book Report: The Art of Thank You by Connie Leas (2002)

Book cover

This book is not an art book even though it says so right in the title. Instead, it’s almost 200 pages talking about etiquette for thank you notes, including numerous examples. The examples make up a quarter to a third of the page total, actually. I suppose I could count them for you, but I’m inherently too lazy to do so.

I’m a little surprised that the author could get so many pages out of the topic, but she’s an old technical writer. Basically, it boils down to write thank you notes and use nice stationery if you can, but the little folded Thank You cards are all right for less formal occasions. Also, send thank you notes for job interviews.

You know, I’ve been pretty dilligent for writing thank you notes for gifts I have received, which is not had since I don’t get that many gifts. My brother and I wrote out thank you notes after my mother’s funeral to everyone who came or sent flowers. So I’m already up on the basics of thank you writing.

But perhaps I could up my game by getting some custom letterhead and writing out thank you notes to people who have done nice things for me, nice things I’ve seen, or things I’ve enjoyed. I understand that gratitude is one of the self-help trends of the day–along with mindfulness–but I really could be better in perhaps brightening someone’s day with a little thank you note.

If they could even read it. Perhaps I should work on my penmanship first.

At any rate, this book is a bit long for the topic it covers–you could get the gist of it from an article in a women’s magazine–but it didn’t take too long to read.

On the other hand, this book makes an excellent gift if you’re passive-aggressive.

Book Report: Supervillainous! by Mike Leon (2011)

Book coverThis is the other book I bought by Mike Leon when I bought Rated R. Upon further reflection, I did not buy the books because I saw them on a blog; I bought them because a fellow I know from my martial arts school (the same fellow who briefly turned me into a Sinophile) posted a link on Facebook to one of Leon’s frequent book giveaways. The strategy worked, as although I didn’t win a free copy of the book, I bought two at full price.

In the book, a magazine reporter (“Mike Leon”) is writing an article on super villains, and he embeds with a minor league bad guy calling himself Hammerspace because he does the trenchcoat schtick (a term I myself learned five years ago). As Hammerspace teams up with other villains to fight the bad guys, he climbs the ladder of villany because he is direct and evil, unlike some of the other bad guys who only want to look good in beating the bad guys and maybe, just maybe, earning a cross-over, where super heroes team up to fight them.

The book is a fun through-the-looking glass parody of common comic book tropes, and it’s fresh even though parodies of comic books are a genre onto themselves. I enjoyed this book better than Rated R, as it better suits my tender sensibilities. I, Brian J. Noggle, author of John Donnelly’s Gold, do solemnly swear or affirm that this book is better than the Selected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Which is less of a quotable blurb than the one I gave for Rated R, so it’s unlikely Leon will put it on the Amazon page for this book as he did with my favorable comparison of Rated R to The Grapes of Wrath. But after a months-long slog through the Poe, I tore through this quickly.

I’ll probably even pick up another copy of the book (at full price, no less) for my nephew for Christmas. Let that be a testament.

Book Report: Selected Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (1927, 1943)

Book coverThis book does not actually contain The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym of Nantucket, no matter what I said in May, which is just as well. I started this book in April, and it took me two months to finish it.

The book collects a number of Poe’s poems in the beginning of the book and then a bunch of his short stories at the back. All the best known works are in it: “The Bells”, “Annabel Lee”, “The Raven” among the poems and “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Gold Bug”, “The Black Cat”, “A Cask of Amontillado”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Pit and the Pendulum” among the stores. It also includes a number of scenes in verse (and in prose) from Politian, Poe’s unfinished play.

The aforementioned pieces are the best of Poe, which is why they’re often unanthologized. The other poems and stories are a mixed bag; although they feature the rich, textured learned language of the nineteenth century, sometimes the prose does not serve the narrative (or the poem belabors and loses the point).

It is pretty learned stuff, and Poe engages some of the intellectual and philosophical trends of the time. For example, the beginning of “The Imp of the Perverse” is thus:

IN THE consideration of the faculties and impulses — of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason, we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses, solely through want of belief — of faith; — whether it be faith in Revelation, or faith in the Kabbala. The idea of it has never occurred to us, simply because of its supererogation. We saw no need of the impulse — for the propensity. We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand, that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself; — we could not have understood in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that phrenology and, in great measure, all metaphysicianism have been concocted a priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs — to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed, to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind. In the matter of phrenology, for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of the Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of alimentiveness, and this organ is the scourge with which the Deity compels man, will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly, having settled it to be God’s will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of amativeness, forthwith. And so with combativeness, with ideality, with causality, with constructiveness, — so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the Principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors: deducing and establishing every thing from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the objects of his Creator.

It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?

Induction, a posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable, but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more certain that I breathe, than that the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution. Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is a radical, a primitive impulse-elementary. It will be said, I am aware, that when we persist in acts because we feel we should not persist in them, our conduct is but a modification of that which ordinarily springs from the combativeness of phrenology. But a glance will show the fallacy of this idea. The phrenological combativeness has for its essence, the necessity of self-defence. It is our safeguard against injury. Its principle regards our well-being; and thus the desire to be well is excited simultaneously with its development. It follows, that the desire to be well must be excited simultaneously with any principle which shall be merely a modification of combativeness, but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only not aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists.

An appeal to one’s own heart is, after all, the best reply to the sophistry just noticed. No one who trustingly consults and thoroughly questions his own soul, will be disposed to deny the entire radicalness of the propensity in question. It is not more incomprehensible than distinctive. There lives no man who at some period has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases; he has every intention to please, he is usually curt, precise, and clear, the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue, it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences) is indulged.

We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, — of the definite with the indefinite — of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest have proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails, — we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer — note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies — it disappears — we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a Plunge. To indulge, for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

Examine these similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the Arch-Fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.

Throughout, he takes shots at Kant and other men of the mind. I can recognize a bunch of it as I’ve been going through a history of philosophy lecture series concurrently, so I feel SMAHT!

As to the poems, the best of them (and even some of the lesser amongst the pieces) have something so often lacking from the other poetry I read (such as Friendly Fireside Poems, a book whose reading overlapped with this): mouthfeel. This is the word used by food and drink makers to describe how the product feels in the mouth. Some poems have it: They are fun to read aloud and to feel the words in the mouth. Shank had end rhymes and good rhythm, but no mouthfeel. I’d like to think some of my poems have it, but that’s up to the (aloud) reader to decide. It’s also why I tend to move my lips when reading poems. Which doesn’t make me look SMAHT at all.

At any rate, comparable to the experience I had reading The Complete Fiction of Lovecraft. I enjoyed bits of it, but overall, I was reluctant at times to re-engage with it, which lead to a long reading time.

I did read the complete stories of Poe when I was younger, so I must have seen all of them before, but the ones that stick with me will definitely be the same ones that did in the first place: the best-known. For a reason.

Book Report: Four from Planet 5 by Murray Leinster (1959)

Book coverThis book is a 1959 paperback. I initially thought it was by a British author because of some of the conceits and spelling (and a spot where Britain comes off a little better than the United States), but the author is an American.

At any rate: An American scientific research station records an odd event, and when investigating, the scientists (and a reporter for a women’s magazine) find a presumed spacecraft with four teenagers in it. As they begin to assemble gear to contact where they come from, a scientist destroys the equipment because he’s sure that the world does not want people from an advanced civilization showing up, what with the Cold War and all. The book then is a number of episodes where the US Government takes charge of the kids and hides them from the world, getting more and more impatient with the kids who cannot answer the questions they have because they don’t speak English well (as they learn it after they’ve arrived).

The book is padded out by the scientist protagonist updating and revising his theory about their origin and purpose as well as the government’s plan for them. Books with hard scientists as the protagonists can be risky, especially if the academic parts of science take up a lot of the novel (see also The Forge of God).

It’s not a particularly compelling book, and I enjoyed it mostly for its historical perspective as a piece of speculative fiction written in the late 1950s.

The copy I have belonged to some kid, apparently, as there’s some scrawling of–crayon? in various places, and it’s missing the title page and probably first two pages of the book. Since it was just the beginning of the setup, I went ahead with reading the book anyway, hoping that random pages would not be missing. In retrospect, that probably wouldn’t have been as bad as it might have been in other books.

Book Report: Thundering Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh (1993)

Book coverThis book is an actual Buddhist book. Unlike Hanh’s own Peace of Mind, Start Here Now by Susan Piver, or Zen Mind, Beginner Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, this book presents a Buddhist Sutra–a teaching of Buddha–and offers exegesis and commentary on it.

The sutra in question is Sutra On Knowing The Better Way To Catch A Snake. In it, a monk/teacher has been telling everyone that Buddha says sensory pleasure does not dissuade you from your practice, and he is brought before Buddha to receive some correction. He does, in a form of some parables, including a better way to catch a snake (spoiler alert: use a stick). Then Hanh steps in with some history about the monk in question and teasing out some meanings about the parables in the sutra. The biggest point, though, is that Buddha wants you to know that his teachings are a tool to use on the way to enlightenment, and somewhere along the way to enlightenment, you should abandon his teachings because they are only a tool. You’ll have to let go of things to get to nirvana.

The book does delve into some of the Numbered Lists of Buddhism, but not deeply; they expect you to know it. It also refers to the cycle of birth and rebirth that is Buddhist religion. Which the aforementioned other books, with their focus on meditation and mindfulness as part of Buddhist practice, do not go into. Which makes it easier to be a Buddhist, I imagine, not having to knowingly embrace the whole meaning of the sutras.

I’m interested in reading more of the sort, if only to sound wise when I whip out something from a Buddhist sutra in conversation sometime.

Book Report: Kung Fu #3: Superstition by Howard Lee (1973)

Book coverWith all the Buddhism I’ve been reading lately, it only makes sense to go back to what might actually be the source of my interest in it of late: reading books based on the television show Kung Fu. Imagine my surprise that my research indicates it’s been two years since I read one. Maybe it’s not the source of my recent (and recent means “within the last year”) reading in the philosophy/religion. Or maybe these things are slow percolating for me.

At any rate, this book is the third in the series. In it, Caine is railroaded in a small town, charged for a crime he did not commit, and is sentenced to labor at a local silver mine. In a related thread, a gunman seeks vengeance for some bad hombres who killed his brother and kidnapped his wife. It turns out that they have bought a mine with the ill-gotten gains, and that the woman went willingly. So as Caine tries to Buddhistically manage himself at the mind under a sadistic overseer and to show the near-beaten other ‘inmates’ how to buck up but not necessarily rebel, the gunman meets up with a couple of women from a travelling show going to the mine to find the fiance of one of the women.

So that’s your setup.

It’s a fun read, quick, laden with Buddhist pop sayings instead of bullets ripping meat. I’m afraid I only have one more of these from whatever book sale I found them, so I’ll run out of them before I run out of Executioner paperbacks. And that makes me a little sad. But, on the other hand, I have another yet to read. Soon, or in two years.

Book Report: Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein (2012)

Book coverI picked this book up from the library because I again forgot a magazine to thumb through while my children did their library things and because the philosophy lecture series I’m listening to took Epicurus beyond the word “epicurean.” The library doesn’t often carry the complete works of Epicurus, so I made do with something with Epicurus in the title.

The author of the book has a dental issue, and his doctor offers implants. The author is in his early 70s and considers how long implant treatments will take compared to how long he might live—hey, my family lost their teeth in their 30s, so I’ve been thinking like this for every dental appointment since I was in my twenties (which explains why I didn’t get braces twenty years ago). Instead of spending two years or so going through the painful treatments, the author decamps to an island off of the coast of Greece with a couple of philosophy books to learn what the old philosophers had to say about aging gracefully as contrasted with the modern imperative to try to stay young into your old old age.

The author, who has written many books on pop culture philosophy, goes through Epicurus and other philosophers including the Existentialists and whatnot, as he sits in his rented digs or in the local tavern where the other old men hang out. It is a bit of a ranging discussion, with lots of quick flourishes of explanation as to what other philosophers were about. I’d like to think I could hold a conversation like this: It’s a summary instead of a deep academic dive into the individual philosophers.

Basically, the right way to age is to accept the slower pace afforded the elders and to enjoy the breadth and depth of your memories. This is old age, contrasted with old old age, which is that period of assisted living and dementia immediately preceding death. He is in favor of suicide and assisted suicide because he has determined that that sort of life is not worth living, and that life is only worth life if it is lived well.

So I have a difference of opinion with the author in a couple things. One is growing old gracefully—instead of his approach, I’ll probably be on the side of those who continue starting new things and whatnot (although I’ll probably skip the plastic surgery in pursuit of a youthful appearance). I’m also against the thought that life is worthless unless it’s lived well, since that principle leads one onto a slippery slope where the well can be adjusted to different levels according to one’s desired outcome, and the option to end one’s own life can easily become society’s prerogative to end the lives of those who are not living well but might not know it. Perhaps my resistance comes from a sneaking suspicion that I’ve not lived my life well and my hope I’ll do better now. Or perhaps it’s a principle that life is better than not-life.

At any rate, it was a fun and engaging read. Perhaps I’ll look for the author’s other works at book sales since I didn’t see others next to this one at the library.

Book Report: Shock Waves by “Don Pendleton” (1985)

Book coverDo not confuse this book with the John Sandford novel Shock Wave. I didn’t until I was looking at the names of books I’d already read and thought perhaps I’d read this novel before and mistyped it.

At any rate, this book is a bit of a skip from the earlier ones I’ve read: The last, The Bone Yard was #75, and this is #81. As I get later into the series, the numbers skip by higher increments. I wonder if the books lost their popularity after the middle 1980s enough that there aren’t a lot out in book sale circulation (or if the covers changed colors enough so that I don’t recognize them). So I’m likely to miss some series business, such as changing the focus from the Mafia (again) to aliens or something.

Within it, Bolan travels to New York (Long Island) to rescue an informant who has been captured from the witness protection program by the mob. He finds a local boss has called together a klatsch of capos to crown himself the boss of all bosses. One of the Ranger Girls has accompanied a West Coast capo to the meeting, and her attempt to communicate intel blows her cover. So once Bolan starts shooting, he has to watch out for a couple of friendlies.

The book is a bit talky: Everyone gets a chapter to think about Bolan and what he’s doing. Although there are interesting elements to the plot–one of the West Coast capos calls in reinforcements who arrive just as Bolan sets it off–they’re not handled very deftly. And the book climaxes quickly with the big shoot-up set piece.

So it’s a basic Bolan book: A hard site, a soft penetration, a hard invasion, finis. With a lot of extra talking instead of suspense or tension.

Perhaps it’s best that I not find too many of the later books in the series (by later,, I mean “the back three quarters”) as they’re keeping me from reading important books that make me feel smaht. On the other hand, they do break up the smahtness. So I’ll continue reading a dozen or so of these a year. Almost like I had a subscription!

The end material of this 1985 book is also interesting. In addition to the subscription offers (with free bumper sticker), Gold Eagle has a tease for its Automag magazine about men’s adventure fiction (which must have flopped, as I can’t find anything about it on the Internet, although the people who named the magazine certainly picked a name that would yield search engine results for actual semi-automatic magazines and gold coins in the 21st century–but then again, SEO in 1985 was very primitive indeed). There’s also a contest for a Jeep CJ and a Gun Data Sheet for some obscure rifle.

Also, the book uses the phrase the war on terror to refer to Bolan’s earlier exploits in attacking terrorist groups. Which made it seem a little more contemporary than the book is, but when I was reading those books (in the middle 40s to, what, late 60s? #70?), the same terrorist organizations and countries remain hotbeds of terrorist activity today. So the books remain too timely in that regard.

These books are not only quick and sometimes interesting reads, but they’re wonderful bits of 80s nostalgia.

Book Report: Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present by Thich Nhat Hanh (2013)

Book coverI forgot to bring a magazine with me one day while taking my children to the library, so I picked up this book by a prolific Vietnamese monk.

The book focuses on the mindfulness aspect of Buddhist practice. Basically, the book is 150 pages of reminding yourself to take a breath and focus on your body and your mind in the moment. Which is not unhelpful, of course, as that’s pretty good advice. The book contains a couple bits on other Buddhist practices, but it doesn’t delve too deeply into the pure philosophy of Buddhism (the ontology, epistemology, or theology). It’s not even as focused on sitting technique as, say, Start Here Now.

So, basically, it’s take a deep breath and be aware of yourself in the present moment.

For 150 pages.

Although I’m not interested in Buddhism as a pure philosophy, I like reading about the practical applications, such as the mindfulness and a bit of the meditative aspects of it. So I’ll probably pick up books like this from time to time to remind me to take a deep breath and to be mindful. But then I’ll get sixty pages into them and think they’re being repetitive. When they’re probably just trying to be reinforcing, mantra-ish, and perhaps a bit hypnotic.

Book Report: Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes translated by Donald A. Cress (1637, 1998)

Book coverI’ve been listening to a lecture series on the Great Ideas of Philosophy, and as we’ve gone along, I’ve recognized the many of the seminal works mentioned as items on my to-read shelves. So I picked up this book because it’s not very long. Also, it’s at a turning point in history, right as the Middle Ages are ending and the Enlightenment is about to begin (although you could dispute with me the dates where this occurs, but I’m having none of it: this is my blog, and if I want to make interpreted remarks, I will, thank you very much). Also, it is only 44 pages, unlike, say, Being and Nothingness.

At any rate, the book includes the two big things one remembers from Descartes: I think, therefore I am (Section 4). That animals have no souls (Section 5).

Actually, while reading this, I had a brief conversation with a high school student who told me he didn’t like Descartes because Descartes said animals had no souls. I’d just finished the section, so I could explain in greater detail. Basically, it’s that you can build machines that will behave according to their parts, but humans are something else, as we can do things and communicate things that are outside of the physical parameters of our bodies. Animals, on the other hand, cannot. I conflate Descartes’ argument with something I recently read on the Internet about the language of animals, which says that animals can communicate through sounds, but they cannot create complex sentences that indicate conceptual thought.

I felt smart, anyway, being able to explain in more detail the argument. Without the pages and pages of explanation on the then-latest science of heart surgery prefaced with:

I would like those who are not versed in anatomy to take the trouble, before reading this, to have the heart of some large animal that has lungs dissected in their presence (for such a heart is in all respects sufficiently similar to that of a man), and to be shown the two chambers or cavities that are in it.

Well, I didn’t have advanced biology class, but I did see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so I was ready.

A lot of the discourse his explanation of what he’s done so far, and it ends with his talking about how he has not published a longer work after Galileo’s troubles, but he hopes that others will take what he has written and carry on other experiments according to his musings and using his method.

I’m glad to have read the discourse. As the conversation with the young man and the lecture series shows, it’s best to read the primary sources instead of relying on the summation of a thinker passed onto you by someone else. Also, the course helps put Descartes in context of when he wrote so that you’re not reading the book thinking it’s primitive and people have said this for centuries without focusing on when this was said and in what context.

So I’m pleased to have read it, and I feel smaht.

Book Report: Friendly Fireside Poems by Lloyd Carleton Shank (1957)

Book coverThis book is a nice collection of poems from the middle part of the last century. The author has a pretty good sense of rhythm, the poems have end rhymes, and they’re nice short bits of Americana with an especial Christian sensibility. They cover things like the seasons, special events like Inauguration Day (Eisenhower, probably), and holidays. They’re about being neighborly and looking to God. The kind of thing that got published in newspapers in a bygone era, but never made it to the slicks or the anthologies.

They’re better than some of the chapbooks I read, but unfortunately, they suffer in comparison to the better of Edgar Allan Poe’s work which I read concurrently. The Poe poems are fun to say aloud, whereas these are just words.

So it’s okay if you’re going deep into the poet bench, but there’s a lot of better poetry out there. On the other hand, the poems are nice and short, and I’m learning just how much aversion I have to long poems.

Book Report: Shopping Smart by John Stossel (1980)

Book coverYou know I’ve read some of Stossel’s more libertarian current events (then current) books like Give Me A Break and Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. This book is not in that vein: Before he was a correspondent on 20/20, he was a local consumer reporter in New York City, and this book stems from those reports.

Its subtitle is “The only consumer guide you’ll ever need.” Spoiler alert: It is not.

I used to say that the Internet really hasn’t changed things all that much, but I stand corrected. I came of age as the Internet did, so all the adult things I’ve had to do, I’ve had to do in the Internet age (although I have typed college papers on a typewriter and used a card-based library catalog). Chapters on buying a house and buying a car illustrate how much these things have changed. I generally know what I want before I go to the dealer or, although I tend to retain a realtor, I do a lot of looking myself through the MLS on Realtor.com to get a sense of prices and whatnot. So just from the research elements alone, consumers are already ahead of where they were 40 years ago.

So the book is more relevant as a historical document than anything else: You can look at it to marvel at the $5,000 cars and the 10-12% interest rates. The charts that have nine or ten major national carriers and their customer satisfaction rates (spoiler alert: The ones with the lowest survive the best). The appreciation of the new stuff that is old stuff by now (Tylenol, before the taining scare, as better than aspirin).

You probably have to have been there, alive and partially cognizant, in 1980 to really appreciate how much buying and selling has changed in the interim. Otherwise this book is nothing but one of those 1800s medical texts that people buy to decorate their homes with old books. With a disco-era pictures of John Stossel as the main decorating point.

Book Report: The Tao of Elvis by David Rosen (2002)

Book coverI got this book at ABC Books about a week ago, and I jumped right on it. I read it quickly because there’s not a lot of text to it, although perhaps more than in the actual Tao Te Ching.

The author is a Taoist Jungian psychoanalyst, so you can probably expect what you’re going to get: Presentation of Elvis as an archetypal Taoist king. The book consists of an introduction that stresses this, followed by 42 “chapters” (one for each year of Elvis’s life). Each chapter consists of a theme title page with an epigram, three or four quotes from the Tao Te Ching or other Taoist thinkers, three or four quotes from or about Elvis, and a couple paragraphs expounding on the theme. Themes include things like Knowledge and Wisdom, Home (Graceland), Innocence and Play, Work, and Success and Failure (see how important the serial comma is in that list, people?).

At any rate, it’s as much a book about Elvis as it is the Tao, really. Most of the bits of Taoism are taken out of their context, but after reading the Tao Te Ching, I can say they’re probably more appealing and understanding that way, without the next line that doesn’t really follow. That is, I read it more to see what Elvis said that the author of this book pulled out more than I read to see what the Taoist thinkers said.

I think the author tried a little too hard to tie the concepts together, and given the publication date (2002), I can’t help but wonder if he missed the sweet spot of capturing an audience with relevant knowledge of and appreciation of Elvis. Even my friend who used to be an Elvis impersonator is past that now, and he held on into the early part of the century (although living near to Branson, I know there is still some need and draw for them). And about the cover: Is that a yoga (Hindu) pose?

Which is not to say there aren’t lessons in the book: It introduced me to some Taoist thinkers beyond Lao Tzu, so it’s worthwhile in that regard, I suppose.

In other news, this book quotes the one book I have ever read on Elvis, Caught in a Trap by Rick Stanley. Although not as cool as when one philosophy book I read refers to another I’ve read, the cross-reference in my head is still somewhat cool.