Book Report: Cat Fear No Evil by Shirley Rosseau Murphy (2004)

Book coverI read an earlier fantasy novel (The Catswold Portal) wherein a portal leads to a world of shapeshifters who can turn into cats and their relatives above ground. In researching the author, I learned she also had a mystery series with a talking cat. The Joe Grey series. This is one of the books, the ninth in the series, published 12 years after The Catswold Portal. And instead of looking like the latter was a standalone book, some of the mythos from it are creeping in.

At any rate: Joe Grey nominally belonds to a guy who lives in a small town in California, and Joe has been helping the police solve crimes because he and a couple other cats in the area can talk and reason like humans. In this case, they look into a case of identity theft and some very particular burglaries up and down the coast where a specific collectible item was taken while many other valuables are left behind. Then, a bad cat from previous books comes around without his former human accomplice. With whom is the giant black tom working now?

That’s the setup, and as the book goes on, we discover there’s a shapeshifting cat woman in the stories as well as lore, mysterious jewelry, and research done at the Cat Museum. So perhaps the series started out independent of the fantastic elements from The Catswold Portal, but by book 9, they’re working into the mythos.

The book carries a lot of series business, with subplots unrelated to the main plot of this book but continuing the story arcs of people in the books. And the writing is not high fantastic as the pure fantasy novel, but it has tendencies to be especially lush in places. Particularly in the description of what everyone is wearing in every scene.

There’s a lot of jump cutting and time shifting in the book, where one scene picks up a little earlier from the last but from a different person’s perspective. This narrative style combined with the series business and the overdone descriptions and conversations make this book longer than it should be, but if you’re really into the series and the characters, perhaps it’s just what you want.

But it’s not really what I’m looking for in genre fiction, so I’ll probably leave it alone. Unless I find a trove of them at a book sale, cheap. In which case I will forget my reservations and buy them for a time when I don’t remember that I didn’t like book 9. Maybe reading them in order would build it up more. I dunno.

Book Report: Pocket Quips by Robert C. Savage (1986)

Book coverThis book is a small collection of quips, anecdotes, and aphorisms collected by a pastor, presumably for sprinking in sermons and whatnot. As such, it’s chock full of faith-based meditations, brief meditations, on grace, hope, love, and morality, but it also has some secular bits, too. It’s not Poor Richard’s Almanack, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a step up from Hallmark compilations, but that’s it.

Strangely enough, though, the Grain of Salt (GoS, a term I shall use henceforth) is high, as one of his entries on Kindergarten is “(A child’s definition.) Kindergarten is ‘a garden full of children.'” Maybe not everyone is from Milwaukee, where the first kindergarten was formed/held/enschooled, or fluent in German, but kindergarten literally means the children’s garden. I used to say this in a dramatic voice when dropping my children off when my youngest was in kindergarten.

Man, that was a long time ago.

Book Report: The Beauty of Gesture by Catherine David (1994)

Book coverThe subtitle of this book is The Invisible Keyboard of Piano and T’ai Chi, and it’s a mindful meditation on, well, being mindful. The author is an expert pianist and long time t’ai chi practitioner who explains the subtleties in each that one gains through experience and through focusing very hard on every aspect of each action involved in either. Or in everything we do. Then we can improve upon the subtleties to get closer to impossible perfection in music or kata.

The style of the book is very meditative, often poetic in its prose, and a bit meandering. I suppose that the process of reading the book, much like the process of writing it, was to be enjoyed for its own sake qua reading. Not just to glean the message from terse prose. However, it meandered a little much for my particular taste. A little richer and deeper than more contemporary mindfulness reading, it doesn’t linger too much in one’s consciousness with a definitive message that sticks.

I actually completed the book two weeks ago, but I haven’t written a report on it because I wanted to say something deeper about it, but most of it’s fallen away but the impressions I’ve left above. I’ve approached the book as someone who’s studied martial arts for a couple of years (how good I am at them depends upon your perspective–if you see what I’m doing right, I might be okay, but if you focus on where I need to improve in those subtleties–I’m not very good at all) and I’ve just started guitar lessons with my martial-arts-gleaned appreciation and patience for gradual, subtle improvement over a long period of time (longer than a couple of months, anyway). But I really don’t have much to add. Be mindful, I guess.

Oh, and on a trivial note: This book was my carry book for a while until I set it on my chairside table to finish it off, and I replaced it with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (no longer my carry book, but now on my chairside table to finish off). As I finished this book, I found a reference to the Pirsig book. So thematically, they share something in common, and David knows it.

Book Report: The Best of Wheat and A Little Chaff by Leah Lathrom (?)

The Best of Wheat title page

Instead of the cover of the book, I’ve posted here the title page of it, which includes a photo of the author. A brief preface tells you about her life, and it reads like it was put together by her preacher. Born in the 1800s, Mrs. Lathrom grew up in parts of the Middle West (and lived in a sod house for a time), married, raised some kids, and then went blind. As she did so, she wrote poems. Most of these are from later in her life. She dedicates some to family members to celebrate their graduation or to memorialize them. Many are of her relationship with God and hoping to inspire others to get to know Him.

Overall, some good moments, but the real strength of them comes from the fact that normal people, especially older women, expressed themselves in poetry and shared them with others (see also Ideals magazine). Clearly, we’ve lost something in transitioning from ordering thoughts in lines and rhymes to putting a little text on a picture.

At any rate, it did take me a couple runs to get through the volume. I had it on the table for football game browsing, but that tailed off. I had it on my dresser for evening reading-on-the-deck-at-sunset sessions. But what finally helped me push through it was bringing it along with a fairly dense carry book (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) to my boys’ basketball practice. Two carry books might become my new standard practice. Maybe a little cart with a couple dozen selections that I can wheel wherever I go.

Oh, and one more thing about this book: I went looking for a link online, and I learned there is also a Volume II.

Book Report: Iroshi by Cary Osborne (1995)

Book coverI bought this book a couple weeks ago with the others in the trilogy and got right on it. It’s a short book (216 pages, which is short for modern books, and I do tend to think of this pre-turn-of-the-century book as modern), so it wasn’t daunting as far as reading it (sometimes, I admit, I pick up a book and think, do I really want to spend the next couple of weeks reading this?).

All right, then. The book is about a swordswoman trained in Kendo and some other martial arts. The book starts with her arriving at an out-of-the-way planet and looking for ruins, and then it delves into her past in flashbacks: She’s from a poor family whose father abandoned the them, she went to Earth, the nominal center of a fraying empire, to study with a master. The master was attacked by ninjas as the result of an old mysterious conflict, and when he could teach her no more, he sent her on her way with a sword, and she became a mercenary and a bit of a legend. Now, she finds ruins and finds the spirits of an alien race, and they offer to ‘join’ with her in building a guild to help humanity keep from destroying itself.

Then we fast forward ten years, and the guild is established, and she heads back to Earth to keep the government from moving its seat to the planet with the ruins. There, she discovers the old master’s quarrel was with his own sons whom he disowned because they got involved in organized crime. And they begin their final assaults. Which Iroshi defeats, and part one of the three books ends.

It’s a rather scattershot affair. It’s broken into several parts, with the first being her search for the temple punctuated by flashbacks; then, Part II jumps ten years into the future when she’s been building up this guild of fighters (called the Glaive). There’s sword-fighting, there’s politicking and intrigue, there’s a brief reunion with her father, and then there’s a large ninja assault and some space battles. I don’t think it hangs together all that well.

And it’s the beginning of a trilogy.

I’ll have to jump on the other two books soon so I can sort of remember what’s going on in them and because it’s probably not something I’ll return to after a couple of years with any eager anticipation.

Book Report: Vendetta in Venice Mack Bolan/The Executioner #117 (1988)

Book coverI decided to break up the serious reading with my first Mack Bolan book of the year. It’s been almost six months since Vietnam Fallout. This book, the 117th in the series, is only four later, but their increased girth means they’re no longer quick reads to pick up when I’m in between other lengthier works. They are the lengthier works.

In this book, Hal Brognola is in Amsterdam for a conference when he goes on a bit of a walkabout and ends up getting mistaken for a customer in a person smuggling ring. He taps Mack Bolan to investigate it. Bolan does and discovers it’s really one guy, mostly, and some time later he breaks it up and gets the girl.

The book differs from other characterizations of Bolan–instead of a hypercompetent wish fulfillment protagonist, Bolan here comes off as bit less competent and not necessarily even the driver of the action. He’s more passive, and there’s 250 pages of stuff happening to Bolan. The book only finishes up in Venice, so the title is a bit odd (but is alliterative).

I’d like to think I’m going to read more than two Bolan books this year–I have 72 in the Executioner and related titles to read–but unless they start getting better in the average, I might not. Especially at my galacial pace this year.

Book Report: Well, Duh: Our Stupid World, and Welcome To It by Bob Fenster (2004)

Book coverI read this Internet listicle of a book while sitting in various bleachers while my child or children practiced basketball. This has proven to be my most focused reading time of late, which is why I’ve not yet read twenty books this year, and given the locale, it’s not suited for particularly heavy reading. So Internet listicles in print fills that “I want to be reading something, but now I’m distracted” void.

This book is a collection of stories and bulleted lists about people doing stupid things. What do I remember from it? Only that you cannot trust a word of it, as it recounts the Rutherford B. Hayes knocks the telephone story that I know is not true. You know, in books of trivia, the authors sometimes insert incorrect trivia to try to catch people who violate their copyrights. I doubt this is the case here: instead, it’s just a collection of stories the author heard on the Internet.

So it killed some time for me, but that’s about it.

Book Report: And Eternity by Piers Anthony (1990)

Book coverIn my book report on Job: A Comedy of Justice, I said:

You know, trying to weave actual theological entities into fantasy novels is most often a real mess (see also Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, the for-a-while-last, but now penultimate, book dealing with God somehow–I’ve not made it through that particular volume).

Didn’t you once write a short play set in Heaven with God drinking at a bar? That wasn’t fantasy. That was supposed to be funny. But probably only was to a certain small set of collegiate drama writers, wherein that set might have been exactly one. Given how my humorous plays sell in real life probably proves the point.

At any rate, I picked this book up again and tried to power through it. The last time I got a little caught up feeling squicky with the age of consent philosophical treatise culminating in sex with an underage girl bit along with not remembering what was going on in the series business (apparently, I read the preceding volume, For Love of Evil before I started this blog, so it was some time ago indeed). Between those two factors, I put this volume down and went onto other things. But with the reading of Job, I thought it might be part of a brief theme. Not outlier sex practices, though: more “Actual theological entities in fiction.”

This book deals with the (I assume) long-running series business of a plot to unseat God by Satan. I assume it’s series business. To be honest, I read the first three or four books in the series in the middle 1990s, the fifth book a couple years later, and the sixth sometime around the turn of the century (but apparently before I began the blog–was there such a time? Was it real?).

In this book, a ghost companion of Orb, the incarnation of Nature (Book 5, read twenty years ago) and the consort of Satan (Book 6, read fifteen years ago) who is also married to Orb (Book 5 or 6, but I’ve forgotten which) has been tasked to watch over a woman who was tied to Chronos (Book 2, which I read ca 1994) who is saddened when her baby dies. She commits suicide, and starts to sink to Hell until the companion of Orb (Jolie) catches her and keeps her from descending. The incarnation of Night (Nox, book 8 which was published in this century) snatches up the soul of the child and will return it to the distraught mother if she (Orlene) completes a quest. The two spirits inhabit the body of the aforementioned teen girl, an addicted prostitute whose mother is important to fighting Satan’s plot because MacGuffin. The now-trio must complete the quest, which is to collect something from every other incarnation.

So they do, and they must visit every incarnation in its native habitat to secure the gift, and work toward maybe thwarting Satan’s plot or identifying a candidate to replace God in case Satan’s plan gets that far. I saw the ultimate twist pretty early in the goings on in my second go-round with the book, so the eventual denoument (there really wasn’t much of a climax) didn’t surprise me much.

It wrapped up the series except for, as it became evident, the final incarnation Nox. But I’m not sure how much I liked the final books over the first couple of them. But perhaps my pleasant recollection of those book is colored by the pleasant recollection of those years themselves more than the books themselves.

Book Report: Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein (1984)

Book coverThis is a later Heinlein novel. Published in 1984, it has a heft to it that the earlier rocket jockey stuff had, but it’s a bit boggy and ends less than well from my perspective.

The story: A fundraiser from a world where religious fundamentalism has its way is on vacation cruise when he bets fellow passengers that he could walk on fire like the south Pacific natives. After he does, he faints from the fumes, and when he awakens, he is not in his own world any more. Things have changed, from the underlying technologies to the name by which his fellow passengers recognize him. He discovers that his alter-ego in this world is carrying a million dollars in cash and has been having a (sinful!) fling with an attractive ship’s maid. After a while, he professes his love for her and suddenly, both of them find themselves shifting worlds with nothing but what they’re wearing and carrying. On each, they pick themselves up and make plans, only to be thwarted when worlds shift again.

It’s an interesting conceit, but it becomes a little unfocused toward the middle, and the last quarter or fifth of the book gets a little unwound as the book, as a wise man put it in a comment on the review of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls:

…its final act falls apart when the story goes cosmic.

At the end, we have a relationship of Satan and Yahweh along with some other deities as subordinate to a still higher power (which might be subordinate to an even higher power, onto infinity). Of course, spoiler alert: They were testing this fellow, and the end takes place after Armageddon. Also, after Ragnarok. Where the world has not ended for the Norse gods somehow.

You know, trying to weave actual theological entities into fantasy novels is most often a real mess (see also Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, the for-a-while-last, but now penultimate, book dealing with God somehow–I’ve not made it through that particular volume).

Still, Job is a good read in spite of all of that. Heinlein keeps the story moving along rather well, which is a nice contrast to the other science fiction book I’ve read recently (Voyage From Yesteryear). I’m pleased to be getting to the end of the Heinlein later stuff, but I probably won’t reread it unlike some of the rocket jockey stuff.

Book Report: Weird But True by Leslie Gilbert Elman (2010)

Book coverMore interesting than the book itself is the way I ended up with it. I took my children to Barnes and Noble last week, as I was looking for a guided journal full of writing prompts to get me writing longer things again, and as a treat, I told them they could each spend $7. Which is enough for a magazine, but probably not enough for a great big Lego book with collectible mini figure or picture encyclopedia a la James Bond. So they looked for a while, which gave me time to scour the store for the thing I sought but whose genre I did not yet glean and then to choose amongst the various instances. And to browse the magazines. And to prod them. The youngest settled on an Archie comic digest, but the older dithered. We looked over the magazines. We looked over the discount books. We went through the kids’ section. Twice. He spotted a Mad magazine special edition, but it was $12, which is more than $7. So I went over to the discount books and picked up this item which was marked $6.98 because it’s kind of like the encyclopedia-type books he’s been filching from my shelves recently and stuck it under my stack to buy and present him as a fait accompli.

Well. I got into line and called them over. It turns out that he and his brother pooled their money to get the Mad magazine special edition (his younger brother rather goes out of the way to do nice things for his older brother). I didn’t have a chance to put it back, so I bought it. And I’ve read it.

It’s a listicle of a book: 200 pages with a fact presented in a sentence or paragraph, sometimes grouped with similar themes, but not always. Many of them were things I already knew, weird but true, and others were kinda yawners. I’m not sure I read anything I retained. But the giant plastic island of garbage I mentioned here appears in this book.

But it filled thirty minutes while the younger practiced basketball at a high school gym way up north, and it gives me a book to count against my anemic 2018 total.

Now it will appear on my read shelves amongst the encyclopedia-like books. From which my oldest will filch it, no doubt.

Book Report: Stories of an Outstanding Cat by Fr. Michael Sequiera (2017)

Book coverI grabbed this from the free cart at church last Sunday, and I dived right into it because it’s a short, pleasant book written by a retired priest who adopts a stray cat.

The vignettes are small–a page or two–and the stories simple, but they’re amusing, especially if you’re familiar with cats. The priest anthromorphizes the cat a bit, having conversations with it in English. The cat’s a bit of a biter–the priest says it’s to punish the priest for not doing what the cat wants. I currently have a biter, so I empathize.

It was a quick read, upbeat and, yes, full of exclamation points. This is a signed copy, and I wonder how it got from Connecticut to a free book cart in Springfield so quickly. Even Five Themes of Today took years, but it started in the UK.

Book Report: The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin (2018)

Book coverI bought this book when I saw a conservative blog I read (I forget which, but I hope it’s not the hoity-toity Ace of Spades HQ Sunday Morning Book Thread since OregonMuse posts my books) mention it and say that it was anti-Trump or something. To be honest, it’s not particularly anti-Trump: It does not mention him by name, which is refreshing in a book you’ve been told is a sucker punch hit job. It does say that The Twilight Zone told uncomfortable truths/stories (which is kind of like the Resistance, amiwrong?), but you see that sort of thing in a lot of books touting shows, both current and historical. A couple of entries have phrases of dubious provenance but that are clearly meant to refer to These Dark Times, such as mentioning jackboots returning in the 21st century and whatnot. But overall, not something that Michael Moore or–what’s that guy that was a “comedian” and then “Senator” from the state that elected that wrestler who wore feathers as governor?–would have written.

But I got it because I remember a little of the show and thought it might be interesting.

I’ll be honest; at the outset of reading this book, I could only remember one episode of the show (“A Stop At Willoughby”, which I saw sometime in adulthood, I think). As I read it, I also remember seeing “The Shelter” at some point in my youth, probably in the 1980s when another Republican was in office, and the fear of nuclear war led to great art like The Day After and Testament (not the band) as well as a whole genre of post-apocalyptic movies.

But this book is a bit of nostalgia trip in taking me back to my youth, when this program was syndicated and available for watching (although apparently I didn’t watch or remember too much) along with a lot of other old black and white programs. The book itself is entries for individual actors, actresses, producers, directors, musical composers, and other people associated with the series along with the individual episodes, themes, lots, and other markers from the series. So when running through the actors who played in this program, it listed other things they appeared in, including series like Combat!, Black Sheep Squadron, and other things that hit syndication while I was coming of television watching age and beyond. Notable actors who played in epidodes of The Twilight Zone include William Shatner, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, and others that I know mostly from other works. Still, it was a varied bunch, and their connections to old television shows that I sort of remember remind me of a time. You know.

Secondly, the list of programs that I don’t recognize humbles me a bit. I mean, many of the anthology series (Playhouse this and sponsor Theatre that) were done live, so recordings do not exist. Other shows, like Peter Gunn and so on, I recognize the names but don’t think I’ve seen. I didn’t see them on television in the day, and I’m not sure they’re easy to find on television (or other media) today. There was a whole world of television that came on before I was self aware and that I’ve never seen. Likewise, the movie credits indicate a wide world of films, including war films and detective movies, that I’ve never heard of and have never seen.

So the book rather inspired me to look for some of these things to view. And, of course, to watch the television program itself which I see is available on Blu-ray for less than $60. So I might think about that, too.

I’d say “I hope I can get some use out of this on trivia nights,” but trivia nights’ trivia tends to be more recent than this program these days.

But I enjoyed the book. And I paid full price for it and don’t regret it, which says something.

Book Report: Virtue and Happiness by Epictetus / Calligraphy by Claude Mediavilla (2003)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I bought this book at ABC Books last month because I thought it said Epicurus. I’ve already read Epictetus’s Discourses. This book is derived from a subset of the Discourses called the Manual or the Handbook or the Enchiridion (depending on who’s talking about it and the translation, I gather).

The producer of this book is a calligrapher living in Paris who presents epigrams from Epictetus, formatted like poems, with Greek versions of the same or derivatives calligraphied up on the facing page. As such, the author presents it more as a calligraphy/art book than anything else. His afterword section describes his life and technicque in greater detail than the preface described Epictetus.

Still, it was a quick breeze to read (and adding to my woefully behind annual reading count this year), and it does present some of the wisdom of Epictetus in a koan, Tao Te Ching kind of fashion.

But as to calligraphy as an art form in itself, I’m not sold.

Book Report: Of Reading Books by John Livingston Lowes (1929)

Book coverWow, Brian J., you might ask. Didn’t you used to read books? I know I ask myself that question frequently. But my reading time was curtailed the first quarter of this year. First, I didn’t have a lot of time to read a small “carry” book that I took out with me to various locations where I’d have a half hour or hour to kill. I’ve not been going to martial arts classes enough this year so far, and when I do, it’s been on days where I’ve not had to get there for my children’s classes, where I would wait for mine to begin thirty or forty five minutes later. And instead of sitting on a bench in church on Sunday mornings during the Sunday School hour, I’ve been schlepping my laptop to a local coffee shop to try to bang out the beginnings of a novel. Also, as you might recall, I’ve been working my way through some Shakespeare, and the book that I’ve picked up in the middle of Measure for Measure is long, too. So I’ve not been adding to my annual to-read list very much this year.

However, this month I have determined that the schlepping of the laptop is a lot of work compared to the actual throughput I get in writing (currently, I’m on page two of the novel, as it takes me ten minutes to get to the coffee shop, a couple minutes to eat a pastry or several, and then I have to pack up twenty minutes later to return to church to pick up my family), so I decided to return to my perch at church to do some reading.

I started with this volume that I got in December. Because it’s short, and it’s about reading books. How meta.

At any rate, the author gave this particular speech at two separate commencements to the graduating class of 1929. It’s broken into three parts. The first talks about reading at the university, and how so much of the university is designed to teach the students marketable skills and not so much about the classics and the love of learning. The second talks about how it’s important to learn to love reading when you’re young, as the things you read then you will read with relish and zeal that you lose a bit as you get older. The habit, built then, will lead to a lifetime of reading which might lack the zeal of the young but brings its own pleasure. In III, he explains the benefit of being well read, where it will lead you to make synthetic connections between things that you might not otherwise get, and that only broad reading gives you this chance to make those connections between the things you read and encounter.

The book is very literate, chock full of allusions and quotations (without sourcing) that he expected a college graduate to get in 1929, many but not all of which I recognized in spite of a twenty-some year old degree in English and philosophy and continued reading since then (he quotes Miranda from The Tempest which is fresh in my mind).

But his address really just illustrates that what goes around comes around. You find contemporary thinkers worrying about the university not teaching young people to think or read the classics and only teaching them skills for commerce. Of course, William Wordsworth talked about too much getting and spending, too, even before Lowes.

The commencement addresses were given to college students of the late 1920s, which were more hoity toity than you get today after the GI Bill and government loan programs made it available to everyone. And they hit the workforce and the real world months before the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression. So history has made itself a double-effect narrator that makes us cringe a bit for those students.

So worth an hour or so of your time if you’re into books or history, I suppose. Or if you have to start furiously padding your annual list of books read.

Book Report: Voyage from Yesteryear by James P. Hogan (1982)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I am a pretty big fan of James P. Hogan (see also the reviews for The Multiplex Man, Paths to Otherware, The Legend That Was Earth, and Martian Knightlife). However, do not let the stretches of time between those book reports diminish my claim. That I apparently haven’t read something by Hogan since 2009 more indicates how time flies when you get older.

The exposition of this book: In the near future (nearer to us than to readers in 1983), international relations are tense (the Soviet Union is still around, and the Chinese/Japanese alliance (?!) is a rising power). An international space probe is launched to a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri. At the last minute, the building blocks of human life are added with the thought that the robots and computers on the probe can build habitation and factories and whatnot that will then build human children to live on the distant planet to ensure humanity survives in case of a cataclysm on Earth. A major war erupts, and an American civilization rebuilds first and sends a generation ship to the new planet, Chiron, to enlist the residents there in the predicted war against the Eastern Asians, who send their own ship four years after the Americans. In the twenty-year journey, the Americans on the Mayflower II have developed their own politics and expectations of their first encounter with the Chironians, and they’re stumped when confronted with the libertarian utopia that has evolved in the forty years when the society with its abundant technologies build itself from scratch.

That’s the setup, and the bulk of the book describes the interaction and adjustment or lack thereof of the individuals and institutions to the Chironian way of life. About halfway through the book, I thought perhaps the book would take a twist akin to a book I’d read some time before — Code of the Lifemaker. Which, as it turns out, is Hogan’s next book. But this book did not take the turn I expected, and it was straight forward and earnest throughout.

Thematically, the book deals with how a society might build structure itself if the base understanding of life and the universe was one of abundance instead of scarcity. How would they organize politically? How would they make their lives meaningful? The book goes into some alternative science premises that Hogan used a lot. As I was reading, I was thinking the Chironian society was like something I’d seen before in The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith.

Overall, the sweeping themes and meta nature–with political subplots and chapters on quantum physics (with which I’ve tried to grapple with on numerous occasions recently) bogged down my reading of the book. I would have enjoyed it with fewer characters and sidelines, but that’s probably because my attention span has shortened over time.

Also, I think Hogan’s hopeful thesis about how people raised in abundance and without the death-focused strictures that I assume he associated with Christianity and old timey religions would behave. Forty years later, our Western society’s generations raised since this book came out, have proven to be quite petty instead of interested in all being little Howard Roarks and Dagny Taggarts.

Still, an interesting concept and a breath of fresh extraterrestrial air amid the Shakespeare comedies I have been reading this year.

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.

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 drawbacks to reading at length, 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.

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.

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.