Book Report: Great Wire Jewelry by Irene Frome Peterson (1998)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Handicrafts on December 8th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThis book describes how to make wire jewelry. As you might now, in my youth, I dabbled into beadcraft. But wire jewelry isn’t beads.

Instead, it uses a variety of stitches to weave the wire and then requires you to draw the finished knit through a series of smaller holes to tighten it into a rope.

It’s a particularly complex bit of engineering with a lot of points of failure, and it works with silver wire throughout. It looks to be a bit expensive to pick up and wrought with opportunities to fail just a little but just enough to render the whole thing ruined.

One does not simply dabble into the wire jewelry. Insert your own Internet meme here with Sean Bean.

So I don’t think I’ll pursue this particular craft. Nor even try it. But the end results look interesting.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (1974)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 7th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThere’s nothing like a Philip K. Dick book to pick you up when you’re feeling down. Personally, I picked this book up at a book sale sometime recently, as it’s an ex-library book with Christian County Library stamps on it. I’m always happy to grab a used book from this master, as you don’t see many of them out in the wild. Because they don’t want you to have them.

A popular television personality with a weekly audience of millions finds himself a victim of attempted murder by one of his lovers; the next morning, instead of dead, he finds himself in a seedy residential hotel with his roll of money but no papers, and nobody from his previous life knows who he is. He has to rely on his wits to survive, and it’s fortunate that he’s a Six–the product of a genetic experiment of some sort that makes him smarter and more charismatic than normal man. He hooks up with a document forger since he lacks papers in a totalitarian society, but the forger is an insane police informant. He then hooks up with the sister of a police detective who winds up dead while he’s drugged. Naturally, he falls under suspicion and might be used as a patsy by The Powers to spare political discomfort. And he might or might not have been given a weird drug that dilates time or warps the perceptions of space.

So, yeah, it’s got some plot holes in it. Like, many. But it’s a Philip K. Dick story, which is always fun to read because the rules don’t apply. They’re fantasy stories more than science fiction, you know. So you suspend enough disbelief that only at the end do you think, “That point doesn’t make sense.” And you don’t even mind.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: You’re Supposed To Lead, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz (1988)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 30th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThis book is not only a collection of Peanuts cartoons, but it’s a subset of a larger collection entitled Dogs Don’t Eat Dessert (1987).

It’s the story of Charlie Brown and his dog and his friends. Things you’ve seen and read before, especially if you’re old enough to have had fresh Peanuts when you were young. Which, strangely enough, means you’re older than high school.

But Schulz was pretty good at timelessness, I think, which is why, according to Forbes, his estate ranks highly amongst earnings from people who have passed away and why there’s still a major motion picture forthcoming.

I have nothing more to say except that I’ll read more Peanuts in the future. I like them.

If you’re interested in serious discussion about the themes within, see this book report from 2005: What’s It All About, Charlie Brown? by Jeffrey H. Lorria (1968). Accompanied by comments posted two years later to my old Blogspot blog by detractors of Jeffrey H. Loria.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Patchwork in Poetry and Verse by Dona Maddux Cooper (1981)
Down Home Doggerel by Miz Parsons (1996)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Poetry on November 29th, 2013 by Brian

Book covers

I bought these books, along with a couple aged literary magazines, at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale this autumn and I read them pretty quickly during football games and whatnot. After all, they’re short little chapbooks in the vernacular.

In the olden days, back when I was doing poetry at open mic nights and fresh out of college steeped in the classics and, as you would expect, the snobbishness of loving the classics and lambasting modern poetry (not just poetry in the vernacular, but tenured modern poets as well), I was a bit unforgiving in my contempt of lesser poems.

Now, I’m twenty (almost) years older than that. I’ve read more poetry, including continuing attempts to read the (as of the book’s publishing) Complete Works of Emily Dickinson. I realize that most of the poetry that is out there is not the best poetry out there, even from the classic artists. Some poems really capture something and speak to you, and some do not. And the sum of the some varies from person to person.

Is that a disclaimer, leading to the pronouncement that these poems are not good? Well, sort of, but these poems are not bad. Amidst my readings of friends’ work (sorry, Doug) and after my editorship of a fledgling literary journal in the mid-Clinton era, I’ve read some bad poetry. These are not bad poetry.

Patchwork of Poetry and Verse is the better of the two volumes. There are a lot of good moments in them. I’m not driven to own or memorize any of the poems, but I recognized and appreciated some of the sentiments within and turns of phrase spoke to me. Down Home Doggerel is more observational and does not take itself seriously–note the title itself calls it doggerel. But it’s a woman of some years expressing herself and her world around her in verse. Good for her.

I mean, twenty years from now, are you even going to be tempted to read a Twitter stream from 2013? I think not. But twenty- and thirty-year-old chapbooks? I’m all on that. They took not only the drive to put their thoughts to paper, but the drive to lay them out (in the days before Microsoft Publisher or with a crude version of Pagemaker), and the drive to spend one’s own money on publishing them. Take it from someone whose chapbooks are twenty years old these days. So I respect it, and I can enjoy it.

Book Report: War in 2020 by Ralph Peters (1991)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 27th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThis book reads like someone’s Twilight 2000 campaign. Back in 1992, when I was playing Twilight 2000, the idea of a conventional and nuclear war in Europe was at least not written out of possibility by actual events. Of course, they’re not now, but the timeline developed by Game Developers’ Workshop was proven to be inaccurate (fortunately), so thinking about the Warsaw Pact in 2013 requires a bigger suspension of belief now than then and perhaps a bit of historical perspective to remember what that was like.

Similarly, military thrillers from the early 1990s. In this book, the United States has seen the Soviet Union fall and has cut its military budget after the end of the Cold War (this actually happened, public school kids). BUT the Japan of the 1980s continued rising, and although it was not a military power on its own, it provided very advanced weapons to the Arab Alliance (this has not happened). I guess analysts missed the whole Japanese economic stagnation thing that prevented it from being a real global power (see also Debt of Honor)–however, although it has not come to pass yet, the future remains TBD.

After a worldwide pandemic, partial societal collapse in the United States, a bit of related reconquista, and some hemispheric excursions, a survivor of the first exposure to the Japanese super helicopters (who had to walk out of war-ravaged Africa, hence the early association in my mind with Twilight 2000) is the colonel in charge of a squadron of new super US weapons is staged in Russia (our erstwhile allies in this case) to stop an offensive by the Islamic Republics backed by the Japanese. They have a new weapon–The Scramblers–which disrupt human neural function, kind of a neutron bomb that leaves its victims alive and helpless. But the United States has an ace up its sleeve, too.

So it’s alt history now, and if you can read it that way, you might get something out of it. Peters is not as good as Clancy–there are too many characters just put out there in detail and then cast off–but it’s not a bad read.

It does offer a bit of optimism, though: Peters is a shrewd analyst, but he got these predictions wrong (and, in his defense, in an afterward he says he has played a lot of things up for narrative effect that were not realistic or probable). But the last 25 years have not gone this way. And whatever the shrewd and not-so-shrewd analysts in the papers and on the Internet say about our immediate future, that has yet to happen, too, and far better students of human nature have missed the mark. By that, I mean that Peters does grasp certain elemental truths about man and his relationship to other man–and power structures and tribalism that result. Unlike some who prognosticate and politic with misconceptions in mind. But the future will probably look different from all the things we see published as probable.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Death of a Hired Man by Eric Wright (2005)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 26th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThis book is a strange mixture of English cottage mystery and American police procedural. Which sort of makes sense, given that it is a Canadian mystery novel.

The plot revolves around a man found dead in the cabin of a retired Toronto detective. Is it someone who wanted the former hired man, a simple man who thought he was heir to his brother’s successful farm? Or was it someone looking for the detective for revenge?

This particular plot is spread among a couple of subplots, including a convoluted story about the detective’s allegedly illegitimate son coming from England to meet his ‘father’–convoluting the story and warranting the quotation marks is the fact that the detective, as a young man in World War II, claimed to have impregnated the English girl to take the fall as the bad guy who returned to Canada and did not cause trouble for the actual father, a man of some repute in the town. So when the not-really grand daughter visited Canada and her grandfather for a couple weeks, he enjoyed having her around. Now, he’s got to wonder whether he should come clean with anyone, including his new wife.

As a newlywed in his sixties, the detective and his wife have to deal with the disposition of their duplicate properties: His cabin in the woods that he has leased or lent to the former former hired man and her house in town. In addition, he has to deal with whether to tell her his convoluted story about his granddaughter. And he keeps his investigations into the death under wraps, lying to her as to his purpose for repeated visits to see his old friends on the force in Toronto.

Do you think my descriptions of the subplots overshadow the plot? Then I’m giving you an accurate flavor of the book. The author has at least one other series under his belt, and this particular book, the second in its series, exaggerates the flaws of a series book–too much series business, not enough book business.

Another flaw with the book, I think, might be a bit of city bias: that is, the detective comes up from the city to the back country, so I can too easily see the author doing the same. The up country characters are a bit simple (except for the cops, of course: those guys are multi-layered with their own backstories that also detract from the plot). The detective’s cabin sits on five acres along with a mobile home–and this is a lot of land. That’s city scale. Here in the country, five acres is a yard and a hundred acres is about enough room.

So, hey, maybe this blend of chatty British tea mystery / character drama with police procedural (police are involved) is your bag. It’s not mine. I grabbed the book at the Friends of the Christian County book fair sale a while back to experiment with something new, so give me just a little credit for it. But I probably won’t go back for a second helping.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: San Antonio: Then and Now by Paula Allen (2005)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 5th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverIf you like it when James Lileks takes screenshots of locations in old movies and looks up what they look like now, this book is for you. Especially if you browse picture books during sports on television, as I do.

It puts historical images from San Antonio’s past and puts the same location and/or building on the right page with a bit of history about them. Some of the sites you’ll recognize, and by some, I mean “The Alamo.” Some focus on Mexican sites (that is, locations from when San Antonio and Texas were part of Mexico), some on American sites from more recent times. They’ve got a picture of a building being moved back when the city widened one of its thoroughfares. The building, unlike its neighboring buildings, are intact.

So very cool. The images of San Antonio’s River Walk make me want to see it in person; unlike, say, Milwaukee’s River Walk, where they’ve thrown some concrete walkways beside the water and back doors on the restaurants, San Antonio’s River Walk looks to incorporate mature trees and other vegetation overhanging the water along with multi-level walkways and stairs. It looks cool.

So the book did what it is supposed to do: It made me want to visit San Antonio.

One thing about it, though: as a civic boosterism book, it features a number of then-and-nows of historic buildings turned into underpopulated (I assume) arts venues through the magic of tax credits and the like. Personally, I think this is a bad use of space, as it drains the public coffers for the good of a few people who like to go to the theatre once in a while and to be seen in the society pages of the newspaper at a fundraiser for the arts organization. But the book is not political, and it does show a number of commercial structures as well, so I’m only reading into it my own pecadilloes.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: I’m Taking a Nap by Bil Keane (1974, 1984)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 2nd, 2013 by Brian

Book coverAccording to my research, I haven’t read a Family Circus book in four years. According to my initial calculations, I thought 2009 was three years ago; however, damn, that is, in fact, four years. Where are they going? Slowly from the ever-expanding to-read shelves to the read shelves. And more, sometimes, but we’ll get to that.

This book was initially copyright in 1971, but this is a printing from 1984. In a third edition of sorts. Ponder that for a while: these books were popular enough to go through several editions. Do you see that in modern cartoons not named Dilbert? I dunno, I don’t even read the funny pages of the local paper.

This is early in the Family Circus life: you can tell because the father starts out without glasses, and there’s a gag when he gets his glasses. In all of my living memory–which is appropriate, since this book came out before I was alive–he’s had glasses. I didn’t notice until the glasses panel that the father was without, which is a comment to how closely I study the panels before reading the punchline, I suppose.

At any rate, amusing at best, but an exploration of domestic life with a family from the last bit of the middle of the last century. A worthwhile browse for me because it reminds me of my youth, when this stuff was fresh, and it filled time between plays in a series of sporting events, but I’m sure these things won’t get multiple reprintings in the future.

Although I see some of the syndicates are putting out presumably print-on-demand editions such as this and this to have one more crack at the fan base. Good on ‘em.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Danger of Peace by J.W. Allen (1915)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 22nd, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThis book is almost 100 years old; I have the original edition, not the one available on Amazon these days. Which is some testament to its content or its continued resonance in college courses somewhere.

The lecture upon which this book was based was presented at King’s College in defense of the war effort and against those who would accept a premature peace with Germany in World War I. Allen counters arguments put forward from pacifists, but agrees that most people want the absence of war. However, he recognizes that a cessation of conflict without complete defeat will lead to war in the future.

At 37 pages, it’s a quick enough thought-provoking bit of reading. If you’re steeped in Downton Abbey and are rediscovering the period, it’s an insight into the real thoughts of the era. If you’re somewhat lacking in World War I history, as I am, it’s a reminder of whole epochs with lessons still applicable and to the universal truths of human nature they can reveal and that modern thought cannot conceal for long.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Colter’s Hell & Jackson’s Hole by Merrill J. Mattes (1962, 1976)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 21st, 2013 by Brian

Book coverI had seen plenty of copies of this book locally (or at least I saw this particular copy of this book often enough at Redeemed Books), so I assumed that the Colter’s Hell and Jackson’s Hole were local landmarks. Of course, gentle reader, you probably already know what I did not when I picked up this book: These are parts of Yellowstone National Park, and this book was a souvenir to visitors to that location. I guess it was really popular a generation ago when people went places on vacations. Do people still do this? I dunno.

At any rate, the book is a history of the region in its fur trapping days in the early part of the 19th century. Unfortunately, the material is presented as a kind of brain dump of source material. Although the author collects a lot of information from trappers’ diaries and other primary sources, the author presents it in a non-narrative fashion, skipping ahead and backwards in time as he follows a trapper or whatnot for a couple of paragraphs, and then suddenly we’re a year or so back in the past. And the copious material is dumped in without a particular readability. So it’s an academic-minded book offered to civilians, which might explain why so many are available used. But not my copy, of course.

It’s the second tourist pick-up book I’ve read recently (Hearst Castle the other), and it did make me want to visit Yellowstone (but not during a government shutdown, whose antics have made me less eager to visit the location).

And the strangest takeaway from this book: just the amount of time travel took in those days. You get people spending months bringing supplies up from St. Louis and annual meetings which are the only semblance of Western civilization the trappers encounter. How lonely it must have been out there, but how beautiful and, in the case of this region in particular with its hot springs, geysers, and whatnot, how fascinating.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Texas Earth Surfaces by Jim Book (1970)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 20th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverI got this book last weekend at the Friends of the Christian County Library book fair, and last night I discovered that listening to the ball game on the radio lends itself to reading text even less than watching a baseball (or football) game on television does because you have to listen and process the words instead of having the visual shortcut of the image to keep up with what’s going on. So I learned a bit about my cognitive processes and picked this collection of photographs up to flip through while listening to the game.

It’s a collection of images of, guess what? The ground–along with some vegetation and landscape features–in Texas. That’s a twist ending, ainna?

In the middle of the baseball game, while flipping through a book of photographs, I had an epiphany that I’d probably read somewhere else before: At some point, art stopped being about depicting something and all about being Art. Hear me out:

These images were taken and selected because of the different interpositions of the textures of, say, stones and tree bark or a mushroom amid dirt and grass. Okay, that’s a nice study, but what is it supposed to mean to the viewer? Nothing more than that: What might be good practice or technique studies becomes the art itself. Unlike, say, Bittersweet Ozarks at a Glance with its pictures of people and places, this book doesn’t really give anything for a layman to grip onto except the technique. It’s art for other photographers. Kind of like modern literature is jazz improvisation without a theme or motif or modern painting and sculpture is just technique for itself. The medium is the message, kinda.

Or maybe I just don’t like landscapes particularly. Take your pick.

At any rate, this particular volume was originally $20 at Hooked on Books because it was autographed by the author, but I got it for a buck from its sale room some time after that initial decision was made. So it feels like a particular deal.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Heathcliff Round 3 and Heathcliff: Treasure Chest by Geo. Gately (1984, 1991)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 18th, 2013 by Brian

Book covers

These books come from different sources: the first, Heathcliff: Round 3, collects cartoons from the newspaper panel. In previous reviews of Heathcliff collections, I’ve mentioned that this meant that a book hit a lot of common tropes that are better separated over the weeks of a cartoon’s run in the papers.

Heathcliff: Treasure Chest, on the other hand, collects Heathcliff stories from the Marvel comic books, so each runs a couple of pages as you would expect in a comic book. There are little adventures where Heathcliff is on television or wins the lottery, and they do expand upon the humor in the cartoons, but even so, two of the cartoons collected in the book repeat a plot (Iggy and Heathcliff get locked somewhere with burglars).

Both are amusing in their way, and worth flipping through if you can pick them up for a quarter. Also, children love them.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Sire de Maletroit’s Door by Robert Louis Stevenson (1985)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 17th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverI thought this book was a novella originally based on its length, but it’s not. It is a short story printed in a hardback edition to capture the college required reading market or, nowadays, the copyright-has-expired-let’s-pour-it-in-a-hardback-and-see-who-buys-it print-on-demand market. But I got my copy for a buck, so I win.

The basic plot of the story is that a fun-loving cavalier is out on the town one night, a strange town where he’s violating a curfew, and he slips into an unlocked door to evade the night watch. But the unlocked door is really a one-way door designed to trap the paramour of the young maiden who lives in the house. The uncle of said maiden believes this fellow is the one who’s been passing her notes at church and opened the door (rimshot!) to scandal, so if the young man does not agree to marry the woman by dawn, he will be killed.

So, basically, it’s Sartre’s “The Wall” except with a comely woman from a good family as the fate worse than death.

It starts out with a very Lovecraftian feel as the town is described and you get the sense of the architecture and history looming over this stranger. But once he’s in the house, it becomes a meditation on honor and choices and what makes people compatible for life.

So it’s a nice little story, a quick read and a book to mark down on my annual list. Woo!

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: [sic] by Melissa James Gibson (2002)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 16th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThis book is a 21st century New York play. It’s not Neil Simon, that’s for sure.

It deals with three characters who share a hallway on the third floor of a New York apartment building that might or might not be owned by their mutual acquaintance Larry. Theo is a composer stuck on his maximum opus and in love, sort of, with Babette, who is working on her maximum opus esoteric book and borrowing money. Frank is a former flame of Larry and is working on auctioneering. Throughout, you hear (and in the stage version partially see) from down the air shaft a couple breaking up. And there’s Mrs. Jorgenson, who sings, is a friend to them somewhat, and who dies.

So what’s the point of the play? The play’s the thing. What gets resolved at the end? Mrs Jorgenson is still dead. The main characters are all pathetic. SO IS LIFE! I guess.

I dunno. It ain’t my bag, baby. And, unless I miss my guess, those whose bags it is lie on the island of Manhattan.

Also, the play uses a special tick of the characters speaking without punctuation, with capitalization For Emphasis, and sometimes over each other in a way to capture How People Talk, except they don’t, not That Way, and to the extent they do it’s Hard to read.

Overall, not something I’d recommend. You all know the kinds of plays I recommend (The Courtship of Barbara Holt ::cough, cough::).

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Innsbruck by Dr. Adalbert Defner (1963)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 15th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThis book report will dispell any illusions you might have had, gentle reader, that I have to actually read a book to count it as a book I’ve read over the course of a year (unless you remember Hand Shadows to be Thrown Against the Wall). This volume, unlike the hand shadows book, does have text. But it is in German. So I could pick through some of it, but not enough to get what the preface/introduction conveys. Probably something about the history of Innsbruck, Austria, which is what the book is: A collection of photographs, probably sold to tourists, of Innsbruck and its environments in the early 1960s.

So the images definitely have that going for it: Not only is it another place, but it is another time in that place. The photos include old cars and fashions, but in a foreign land. It’s like watching one of those post-World War II Americans Abroad films (such as Three Coins in the Fountain). Except with no Americans.

But the book does anticipate American or Britsh readers: Although the preface is in German, the captions for the photos are in German, French, Italian, and English. So I was able to learn what I was looking at, but not much of it was that helpful as I have not been to Innsbruck.

But, still, many old fascinating buildings in the 1960s. Mountain back drops. Actual cable cars.. How cool is that?

Someday, I might actually want to travel to Europe. I’ll have to build up some cardio-vascular super strength, though. Not because I’m afraid of the Alpine heights, but because some of these vistas are breathtaking, and too much of it, and I’ll be flopping on the ground like a fish out of water.

Oh, and check out the inscription. In German. Sentiments from Europe in 1967:

Inscription in the book Innsbruck

You’re welcome to translate that yourself; I can’t really make out the cursive German letters well enough to try to run it through the Google translator, but you’re welcome to try if you’ve got lots of time on your hands. Perhaps it’s a coded message from hidden Nazi remnants identifying where the war loot is hidden in the Alps. If so, be kind and give me a finder’s fee, okay?

Book Report: The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert A. Heinlein (1985)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 9th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThis book started out pretty good. Well, I mean, it is one of Heinlein’s adult books, so it’s very talky, with action broken up by a lot of banter and philosophizing. It starts out with a bang: A former military officer, hiding out from something in his past as a writer on a space station, has someone invoke that Dreaded Secret to get his attention at a night club. Before the man can explain what he wants beyond that the main character must kill a fellow space station resident before noon tomorrow or they’ll all perish, the man demanding the hit is killed and the hit is covered up very neatly by the restaurant staff. Then, the owners of the space station are in some hurry to push the man out or off the station, so he decamps to the moon and a series of cities on the moon just one step ahead of disaster, attempts on his life, or bandits.

Then, about 250 pages into the book, he finds his new bride (the one with him at the nightclub and with whom he banters a bunch) recruits him into Time Corps, and I thought, Here’s where the real book begins.

But it did not.

I guess I confused Heinlein with a thriller writer who amps it up and then ties it all together neatly.

Because after a hair’s-breadth escape on the moon from dark forces, he finds himself recuperating on Lazarus Long’s polyamory paradise from Time Enough For Love, and many of those characters make appearances, and then the Time Corps has to do something for some reason, and there’s a tribunal with gunslinging, and he undertakes the mission. The secret of his past? Glossed over. The stuff from the beginning of the book? The work of other forces. Are those other forces dealt with? The end.

Man, I have to stick with the old Heinlein stuff like Rocket Ship Galileo or even The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag. Or, I suppose, Job (when I get to it, John–which reading this has probably forestalled a bit).

I dunno. Maybe I’m just in a place these days where science fiction ultimately disappoints me or something.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Blondie #1 and Blondie “Celebration Edition” by Dean Young and Jim Raymond (1976, 1980)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 8th, 2013 by Brian

Book cover

I read these books over the course of a couple of football games this month. You know, I’m not by default a particular fan of Blondie, but I’ve glanced over it when reading comics in the newspaper over the years. In the past, when I was young, they really didn’t speak to me because I was young. Now, I am older, but the cartoons themselves are old, too, so they don’t relate to my current situation. Of course, my current situation–independent computer contractor working from home–does not lend itself to workplace humor or getting to the workplace humor. I dunno.

But I can appreciate them as an artifact of a simpler time. The Blondie comic started out in the flapper era, so its fifty year run (to the time of these books’ publication) has seen some changes, but a bit of stability through the middle to late part of the last century. How stable life seemed then, in retrospect, and through the representation of cartoons. Father worked, mother stayed at home (later, took some work outside the home) but the dynamic of the family and the workplace seemed so stable. In cartoons and in cartoonists’ imaginations I guess.

At any rate, that’s what I took from them: a bit of nostalgia for a time I don’t remember and that probably did not exist. Kudos on the cartoonists, though, for keeping the strip going for 80 years.

Bits of trivia: according to the Wikipedia entry, the original author claimed the cartoon was set in the suburbs of Joplin, Missouri, which is just down the road from here. And in addition to Red Ryder, Blondie spurred a series of other media, including a string of movies, television series, and books. Not to mention a series of relatively recent Dagwood Sandwich Shoppes, which has a location here in Springfield.

Do you think we’ll ever see cartoons younger than Garfield get wide media play like this? I doubt it.

Ask me in seventy years and I’ll have a better answer than my half-informed prognostications.

Book Report: Hearst Castle by Taylor Coffman (1990)

Posted in Book Report, Books on September 22nd, 2013 by Brian

Book coverWhen we went to San Francisco in May, there were two places I wanted to go: Yoshi’s jazz club and Hearst Castle. Of course, further investigation revealed that Hearst Castle is in San Simeon, which is half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. So I read this book this autumn instead.

For those of you who don’t know what Hearst Castle is (how can you live with yourselves?), it is a palace built by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s and 1930s. It is huge, it has many buildings (what modern newspapers call a compound if they don’t like the owner), and it has lavish architectural details, antiquities, and pretty much everything I dreamed about when I thought I’d earn fabulous amounts of wealth.

The book, written in partnership with the people who manage the current national park on the site, has a little bit of text about the life of Hearst but really focuses on the details of the construction of the buildings and his vision for it and how that changed over the years. Its text is very meticulous on this subject, and it straddles the boundary between a picture book and a historical treatise. Personally, I would have preferred more photos and a little less detail in the text, but your mileage may vary.

Unfortunately, it did not quench my desire to see this place in person.

You know, when faced with opulence of this nature, some people want to firebomb it and take it away from those who have it. Perhaps I was born in a different century, but I find this inspirational. Hearst came from a wealthier background, surely, but he built a publishing empire and earned the capital to build this place that he had half in mind to make a museum–which it is now, of course. Good on ‘im. Let the rich have theirs, and let us all have a system that allows us to get rich if we can.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Great West in Paintings by Fred Harman (1969)

Posted in Book Report, Books on September 21st, 2013 by Brian

Book coverThe name of the artist from this book probably isn’t on the tip of your tongue. It’s probably further from the tip of the your tongue than even Frederic Remington if you think of artists who painted the old West.

But you probably know something of Fred Harman’s work indirectly.

Fred Harman, before he took up painting seriously, was an illustrator and cartoonist who created the comic strip Bronc Peeler. Which did not get syndicated so well, but Harman moved back east and renamed it Red Ryder, and boy, howdy, it took off. The comic was carried in a pile of newspapers, and its popularity led to comic books, novels, dozens of movies, and a television show. It made its creator rich enough to retire to Arizona to paint.

Of course, in the next century, we only know the name because of the film A Christmas Story where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder licensed product.

At any rate, about the art: It’s vistas and broncos. Probably less adeptly administered than the images by Remington, but they’re okay. It ain’t my bag, baby, as far as art goes. One thing about this volume, though, is that Harman himself wrote the text about the images, so you get the voice of the artist instead of an academic, which makes the text a little less dry.

Worth a browse during a football game if you like picture books between plays.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Curious Events in History by Michael Powell (2007)

Posted in Book Report, Books on September 20th, 2013 by Brian

Book coverI recognized the author’s name, and when I Noggled him, I remembered that I his other book that I read.

But this book is different; it does not take the snark summary view. Instead, it gives a couple hundred words on individual events such as The Murderer from the Mayflower, the First Kamikaze, H-Day in Sweden, the Man Who Walked Around the World, and more. It’s like a Damn Interesting collection. (Are those guys still around? It would seem so.)

At any rate, a much better read than The Lowbrow Guide to World History, and I’m envious. I almost wish I could gather the steam to put out a collection like this. Maybe I will sometime. I still have like 3 ISBN to fill.

Books mentioned in this review: