Book Report: Yo, Millard Fillmore by Will Cleveland and Mark Alvarez (1993)

Book coverFor a second time in recent memory, my reading has been determined by a book that one of my children wanted to read from my to read shelves. First, The Simpsons: A Complete Guide To Our Favorite Family and then this book.

It’s a brief Scholastic primer on the Presidents through Clinton. Each President has a two-page spread with the left page talking about his (remember, gentle reader, that this book only includes male presidents as that is all we had for several hundred years (he added to explain for future Internet searchers)) presidency and the right continuing some mnemonic narrative that is supposed to help you remember the presidents in order. Honestly, the schtick looks more difficult than rote memorization since you have to remember the mnemonic story and then what name each pun represents.

Frankly, if I’m ever to do well on Jeopardy!, I’ll have to memorize the Presidents and their general dates, but this isn’t the book to do it.

Also, a side effect of modern life is even though the book title spells it correctly for me, the default in my brain is not Millard but Mallard Fillmore. Which probably also illustrates why I will never be a good Jeopardy! contestant.

Book Report: Love’s Legacy by Stephanie Dalla Rosa (2015)

Book coverDISCLAIMER:Of all the books I’ve reviewed on this book, this book represents the work of the author most likely to punch me in the head. She is a second degree black belt and instructor in the dojo where I train. So bear that in mind that if I have nothing but nice things to say about this book that it might only be abject terror speaking. Thank you, that is all.

This book covers the death of the author’s mother from cancer and the author dealing with her grief and her relationship with God. The first part of the book includes portions of the mother’s journal–for the mother had hoped to write a book about the experience and how God got her through it–along with the author’s recollections of the period of the illness. The second part deals with the aftermath and how the author tried to build a relationship with God but faltered for a time until finishing her mother’s book gave her some purpose.

The book made me think of identity as aspiration as opposed to authentic identity by nature. In the first part, the mother was suffering through her treatment, but her journal entries are mostly upbeat and aspirational, particularly in her relationship with God. This is what she wanted to be and how she wanted to be known and remembered. In the second, the author has to come to terms with dark hours (days, months, and years) and, by willpower and faith overcame a great darkness in her life.

The book presents a clear contrast with the Kierkegaard I’ve been reading (Fear and Trembling) and the book about Kierkegaard I’ve read recently. Whereas Kierkegaard goes on about the paradox of Christianity and reliance upon the absurd (I’ll get into that when I review Fear and Trembling, you bet), this book presents a more accessible dilemma and statement of faith. Which explains why I’ve finished it and have to one of these days push myself through the remainder of the thinner tome.

On a personal note, it was a hard book for me to read; as you might recall, gentle reader, my own sainted mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away around the same time (remember the eulogy?). So reading the book brought back memories and attendant unresolved guilt for all the things I could have done differently and might have should have. I can’t help contrast her experience with my own. It’s not so much wallowing, but more reflecting on the differences as though I might learn something from it.

So I liked the book, and I’m considering buying additional copies as gifts for my aunts, my mother’s remaining sisters, but I’m not sure whether they would appreciate it or not. Time will tell if I do that or not, I suppose. But it’s worth a read if you’re dealing with this situation or the grieving.

Book Report: Søren Kierkegaard by Elmer H. Duncan (1976)

Book coverThis book is an entry in the Makers of the Modern Theological Mind series as was Reinhold Niebuhr. On a recent trip to ABC Books, I found the Kierkegaard volume, and I picked it up and delved right in since I seem to be in a theological phase lately (well, I guess Existentialism and Thomism last January and The Screwtape Letters last July makes for a very slow moving phase, but in my defense, I’ve started a couple books I’ve yet to finish).

What I’ll take from this bit is that Kierkegaard was writing a document targetted to Danish Christians of the era and was mostly a rebuttal to Hegel. His Either/Or countered the Hegelian Thesis>Antithesis>Synthesis bit by saying that ethical choices are exclusive or (XOR, as computer folk would call them) and cannot be reconciled through creating a system or classification where both options exist and relate to one another. It’s told in two parts: the first part by The Seducer, and the second part by The Judge. These two represent the aesthetic and ethical spheres. Fear and Trembling examines the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac and explicates on the religious sphere, which Kierkegaard puts higher than the merely ethical. The book also talks about other writings, but these are the ones I was most interested in.

This book spends a lot of its few (145) pages delving into other philosophers’ and theologians’ work. We get explanations of Hegel and Plato and their systems; we get pages on the Existentialists and people in the 20th century who Kierkegaard influenced (hint: apparently everyone). We even get a whole page of defending Heidegger from his association with the Nazis in Germany. It seems like a lot of real estate on a book on Kierkegaard spent talking about others. But you can boil a lot of Kierkegaard down into pretty short sentences.

As I read it and work through Fear and Trembling, I wonder if Kierkegaard is the man who broke the Christian church. His book Fear and Trembling focuses on the religious individual experiencing something he (or she) thinks is divine and not so much on the divine. It seems a turn to the individualism that runs through Existentialism and whatnot. I’m sure there are some other revolutions and counterrevolutions that go on as well, but given how much of twentieth century thought cites Kierkegaard as an influence, I can’t help wonder if it was a bad influence.

Book Report: Ambush on Blood River by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThis book differs from the philosophy of other recent ones which rumble about Bolan going it alone again. Instead, this is a Phoenix Force book, essentially, as Bolan leads a team into the heart of Africa.

While visiting Canada, Bolan gets wind of an African job. Decades ago, a mercenary abandoned his post to rob a bank, and he hid the cache of diamonds and documents in a war-torn land. In the present day (of 1983), the Russians spring the mercenary from an Angola prison to recover the loot. The deposed leader of the African nation wants Bolan and his team to recover the loot from the mercenary and the Russians and to recover some sensitive documents that could embarrass America. So Mack gets the team together, they roll into Africa, and conduct a number of set-piece battles to recover the diamonds, incidentally kill the current deposing general, and kill the bad guys only to discover that the promised documents did not exist and were only a pretext to get the diamonds.

It’s more of a team book instead of an Executioner book; one has to wonder if it was moved over from another title to fit the publication schedule of the month’s Bolan book wasn’t ready. So it’s not really an Executioner book, and if you recognize that, perhaps you’ll enjoy it more.

This is the first I’ve seen in the line that recognizes the actual author of the book in the back in a little bit where “Don Pendleton” pens a note about the actual author. The recogniztion must have been gratifying. This book was written by Alan Bomack, who also wrote The Invisible Assassins. I enjoyed this book more than the earlier one.

I know I’ve read a bunch of these books this year. I promise I’m reading some headier work more slowly. Ask anyone.

Also, note this is an investment grade men’s adventure novel. Inside the back cover, there’s a price tag for $1, but on the back, the price tag from when my beautiful wife bought this for my birthday is $1.13. This book increased in value 13%. I mean, down from it’s original price of $2.25, but it’s rebounding, baby. I should buy a bunch of them!

Book Report: The Simpsons: A Complete Guide To Our Favorite Family edited by Ray Richmond (1997)

Book coverI don’t know where I bought this book, but I know why I picked it up recently: because my soon-to-be ten-year-old has recently acquired a taste for all things Simpsons from a couple of books he’s gotten, and he wanted to read this one, but I wouldn’t let him until I’d read it. In a manner befitting Bart and Lisa, he asked me repeatedly, multiple times daily, whether I was reading the book yet and, if I was not doing anything, whether I could not better spend the time reading the book.

It’s an episode guide to the shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show and the first eight seasons of The Simpsons. Not to make you feel old, old man, but this is a twenty-year-old guide to The Simpsons. Apparently, there has been at least one additional book for completeness’ evolving sake. For each episode, there’s a synopsis, a character highlighted, a number of jokes you might have missed, some notable quotes, ties to other Simpsons episodes, and things to identify what movies or whatnot the episode lampooned. After each season, there’s a compendium listing of things like the times Homer says, “D’oh!” or “Mmmm….” That’s about it. Much to my child’s chagrin, it took me a number of weeks to go through the complete book, as I could only make it a couple of episodes at a sitting.

Of course, what’s a good book/episode guide without double-effect nostalgia. As I read the book, I see the air date at the top and remember what I was doing around that particular time. Watching The Adventures of Beans Baxter instead of the Simpsons on Fox; graduating high school; going to college; working in a grocery after college; receiving the email from the woman who would become my wife; and so on. Additionally, I started watching the Simpsons on DVD around 2004 (as mentioned here), so some of the episodes are familiar from my pre-parental, stay up until two o’clock work-from-home days (as opposed to my current parental stay up until nine o’clock work-from-home days). So I remember watching them on the eMac in my office as I worked or after I finished work or live-blogging the Republican National Convention of the era.

The jokes, the humor, and their relevance remain but change over time. Much of the stuff lampooned still holds true, although some of it might seem dated to kids from today. But not all of it. And sometimes you can apply the gags to your own life. For example, I read Bart saying Branson is like Las Vegas if Ned Flanders ran it. I read this in Branson on vacation this week. So it’s not quite Jeopardy!-esque as the nexus of all knowledge, but.

At any rate, interesting as a fill-in reader for moments when you don’t have a lot of time for Kierkegaard. Or to educate your children on late 20th century animation.

Book Report: The Greek and Roman World by W.G. Hardy (1960)

Book coverThis book is a sociological anthropological look at the Greek, particularly the Athenian, and Roman civilizations. It takes the point of view of an average citizen and describes what the world might have looked like to them, from going to the Forum or the market to participating in the democracy or republic of the time. As such, it’s not a history per se, as it does not recount historical dates and actions, but instead describes how people would have lived and how society, the government, and commerce would have looked.

The book is very brief–120 pages roughly–so it’s not a long read, and you might learn something. I learned how Athens divided itself into ten entities for the purposes of government, and that every entity was not a contiguous region but instead had land and citizens in each of the three topographies of the area so that the miners, the fishers, and the farmers would be equally represented. That’s interesting. But unlikely to show up as a question on trivia night.

But the book supplements some of the other reading I’ve done in ancient history and philosophy lately, so I’m glad to have read it.

Book Report: Take It Off, Take It All Off! by David Ritz (1993)

Book coverAs you can guess, I selected this book from amongst the thousands of others from some past book fair because its title is a cat call for a stripper to remove all of her clothing. Or it was. When I was a boy, my brother and I would occasionally say that to each other when changing clothes or something. Given that we hadn’t been to many strip clubs by the time we were ten, I would have to guess we picked it up from cartoons.

At any rate, this book is about a stripper. In the first chapter, she finds that a younger woman whom she’s been teaching the stripping world to has been brutally murdered, and the main character wants to find out who. So you think it’s a murder mystery, but that’s just a MacGuffin. Instead, it’s a book about a woman who fancies herself world-wise discovering she’s not so world wise at all.

Set in 1945, the book spends a lot of time on the stripper’s Jewish family whom she shocks with her profession. Her father lost his clothing store in the Depression and hopes to get it back; her mother likes the nice things she can buy with her daughter’s unsavorily acquired funds; and her brother is gay. Turns out the young, innocent girl from the small town who got murdered wasn’t so innocent at all–she was seeing a lot of men and hoping to take over the main character’s star slot. And she might have been going with one of the main character’s boy friends, a minor league ball player. To get insight into the murdered woman, the main character goes to the dead girl’s home town, talks to some people who knew her, falls in love with the drunken editor of the local paper, and is heart broken when the man dies in a drunken smash-up. Then she goes to sojourn in California with her uncle and his girlfriend, and they treat her nicely until they’re rubbed out in a mob hit when she’s not with them. So she returns to New York, briefly reunites with her family–she’s out of work as a stripper, you see, because of an, erm, over the top performance one night. But she can’t settle down, so she strips again and finds her baseball player boyfriend has been arrested for the murder, so she investigates and finds he has a twin brother rapist in Buffalo, so she leads police to him and they arrest the twin brother, but he was in Buffalo at the time of the murder. Then she takes up with the saxophone player in the band, who is black and a jazz maestro, and then he arrested for the murder, which leads her to suddenly discover that the boyfriend of the original murderee was killed in the same fashion, which leads her back to the home town to find the real murderer–the crossdresser who had been the inn keeper for 25 years. And the stripper and the jazz player move to Paris. The end.

You know, it works slightly better in the book, but the murder is just a pretext for the rest of the story which is a bit outlandish in its retconning of contemporary social mores and laxness into 1945, but it does pretty well at peeling the main character’s veneer of mistaken worldliness. I’ll be honest, as I read it, I wondered if it would end up with the same twist as Magic, but instead it’s a tacked on Psycho.

So would I recommend the book? Well, if it sounds interesting to you, I suppose. Billie Holiday makes multiple appearances and is a minor character in the book, so it’s got that going for it. But it’s not a murder mystery, and it’s not great literature.

Book Report: Island Deathtrap by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverI read this book right after Paradine’s Guantlet because the teaser in the back of the book made the plot look interesting and it looked like the books were going to take on a new direction with Mack Bolan operating more alone.

This book is definitely a more complicated plot: A remote island in Maine is being used as a delivery point for people and things being smuggled into the United States, and hard men have cowed and impressed locals into helping out. One man contacts Washington for help, and they send Bolan. When Bolan arrives, he finds his contact dead and a teen relative out for revenge. The teen’s girl has been kidnapped to compel her father’s help, and they together invade the island.

Instead of straight dot-to-dot connection of the set pieces, though, we have some people working at cross-purposes and some turns that add a bit of depth to the proceedings. So I enjoyed the book more than it its immediate predecessor, and I’ll eventually get used to the up-and-down nature of the series after Pendleton.

Book Report: The Joy of Hate by Greg Gutfeld (2012)

Book coverI bought this book earlier this year when my children were expending Easter gifts at the local Barnes and Noble. This autographed copy was on the discount table way in the back, so I picked it up.

Written during the run-up to the 2012 election, the book talks about how ‘sensitive’ people are getting and how to not get caught up in it. Just kidding: It’s mostly pointing out and mocking people who have taken it upon themselves to monitor our thoughts and behavior, often with the coercive power of the state.

It’s only gotten worse in the interim, of course.

It’s a political book, so I don’t get much more out of it than I get out of my too-steady daily diet of political blogs except for an autograph which I’m practicing forging to complete my dead-on impersonation of Gutfeld. Once I do that, I can take over his life, which has been my lifelong dream since I just wrote that sentence three seconds ago.

However, the zany comic asides that mark Gutfeld’s on-screen persona carry over well into the written work, so it makes the book more enjoyable to read than more earnest commentators.

So if you’re jonesing for some sadly undated commentary on the modern left, you could do worse.

Book Report: Paradine’s Guantlet by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThis book is one of the underperformers in the series. In it, a planeful of diplomats is captured by a terrorist who wants Mack Bolan to deliver a briefcase full of diamonds as ransom. However, the kidnapping and ransom are merely a pretext to draw Bolan into a trap so a survivor of one of his earlier exploits can get revenge. However, news of the content of the suitcase leaks, which means that a number of European groups want it for themselves.

The book features the debut of a new RV with weaponry like the one immoliated at the end of the Pendleton-authored books and the return of April Rose to the field; when she gets wounded, I figured she was a goner as she does eventually die in the series, but it’s not this one.

You know, I’ve read five or six of these this year. On one hand, it seems like a waste of reading time. On the other hand, I do have the goal of reading all the ones I have before I die. So my continued efforts on this series will likely go in fits and starts for years to come with brief recaps like this one to keep the blog going.

Book Report: Mountain Rampage by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThis book is definitely a better entry in the series than The Invisible Assassins. Bolan doesn’t light a cigarette.

What he does do, however, is infiltrate a terrorist compound in the Colorado Rockies where an assortment of international bad guys are working on chemicals that will make people crazy hyperactive and self-destructive and also a chemical that turns them essentially into controllable zombies. Bolan infiltrates the compound, blows things up, rescues an attractive young lady, and then the book ends 20 pages earlier than I expected because the samples from other novels at the end have the title of this book in the header.

It’s very straightforward: Bolan comes and the assault begins rather straight away. There are cut scenes to Stony Farm which add nothing but padding. I can almost imagine adding them and the sample pages for four other Gold Eagle books to get this volume to fighting weight.

However, in context of what it is, thinner and straightforward works. And although there’s not a lot of reflection, no Bolan War Journal entries, the book does have a bit of that flavor the previous installment lacked. It’s almost as though the author might have read one of the Bolan books before reading it.

Although if they could stop switching semi-automatic pistols to single fire, that would be nice.

Book Report: Down with Love by “Barbara Novak” (2003)

Book coverI bought this book at an estate sale nine years ago, and it’s often been in the front ranks of a bookshelf when I’m looking for something to read. A couple of times I picked it up and thought about reading it, but put it back. Well, gentle reader, I have finally read it.

The book, if you cannot tell from the cover, is a movie tie-in for the film with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. Remember it? Without the book, I wouldn’t know of it, either. At any rate, it’s a romantic comedy set in the 1960s where a farm girl from Maine has written a female-empowering book that takes the world by storm. Some finagling by her editor gets her an interview in the hottest magazine, written by the womanizing ace reporter nicknamed “Catch.” Hijinks and shopping ensue as they discover eventually that they’re perfect together. All according to her plan. Spoiler alert, retroactively.

At any rate, it sure must have relied on the actors and the filming for the humor, for I didn’t see much. To add depth to the book, the author adds a bunch about clothing, outfits, and shopping. I wonder if that’s the influence of Sex in the City or something. I dunno, although I have a Candace Bushnell novel around here someplace and maybe I’ll eventually be able to briefly compare the two in my own mind.

At any rate, it was a quick, forgettable read. Now I’ll have to find something else to pick up and put down without reading for a decade.

Book Report: So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane (1983, 1996)

Book coverA month ago, I mentioned Diane Duane, so when I soon thereafter came across this book on my to-read shelves, I picked it up.

Now, I’ve never read the Harry Potter books because I tell people I don’t read young adult books or something. Nobody’s asked me in some time, come to think of it. Harry Potter is so 20th century. But I invented a loophole for this young adult fantasy book: See, it’s from 1983, so the twelve year olds within are my age or a little older. Or something.

At any rate, in the book, a New York girl who is bullied hides in the library to escape her tormentors and comes across a book patterned on career books; this one, however, is about becoming a wizard. She reads the first part of it, says the oath, and she’s suddenly aware of some magic she’s always known about but didn’t know it was magic. She’s also thrust into a plot by the ultimate bad guy to destroy the universe when she goes looking for a missing pen. So she and another young wizard travel to an alternate reality along with a small, sentient wormhole sidekick to try to find a magickal book that can protect the world (all worlds) from destruction.

It’s the beginning of a series, so it must have had some success. Back in the day, I read some fantasy–Jack Chalker comes to mind, and Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series. But by the time I was the age of the protagonists, I’d bypassed the young adult fantasy in favor of adult books. Which is why I hadn’t heard of this series until now. It must have been a pretty good run, as this book was still in print thirteen years later.

It wasn’t my bag, baby. So I’ll probably not look out for the rest of the series. I’ll probably pass this copy onto my young adult reader and perhaps he’ll enjoy it more.

Book Report: The Invisible Assassins by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThere’s generally a tip-off that an Executioner book is going to be sub-par for the series: Mack Bolan lights a cigarette. Bolan doesn’t generally smoke throughout the Pendleton books and into the New War period; if one of the house authors has him lighting a cigarette (see also Return to Vietnam), you can assume the author has no familiarity with the series outside the outline handed to him. Mack Bolan lights a cigarette in this book. So the character does uncharacteristic things.

These books really jump into the 1980s action pop culture zeitgeist; we have Harriers and Uzis in previous books and ninjas in this book. In it, Bolan is called in to watch over a computer expert who is then killed right before Bolan’s eyes. He starts to investigate, and wouldn’t you know it, the trail leads to Japan, ninjas, a wealthy man who fancies himself a samurai warlord, and a plot for World War II-era vengeance via biological warfare. Which Bolan disrupts of course.

But the character is out-of-character in torturing and then killing someone offhandedly. The book also lacks the reflective self-consciousness present in other books and focuses on the gore and two-fistedness, so it’s a lesser entry in the series that might have been better in the Nick Carter or Death Merchant series.

A couple of moments of unintended levity: In one scene, Bolan is talking to the head of a martial arts school that teaches an advanced Ninja class which he says is not for beginners, and the sensei gets a phone call during his conversation with Bolan. The guy on the phone wants to know if he can take the ninja class, and he’s got two years of Tae Kwon Do experience. So the sensei agrees he’s ready for the Ninja class. Gentle reader, I can assure you that two years of Tae Kwon Do does not make you ready to be a ninja. At best, it makes you ready for a third year of Tae Kwon Do.

And ahead of the climax, Bolan picks up a gun and a sword and enters a corridor where he see the Ninja at the end. Instead of, I dunno, shooting or stabbing the ninja, he goes hand-to-hand. How cinematic it would have been were it filmed. On the page, though, it was underwhelming as was the climactic sword fight while in hazmat suits in the biochemical lab.

At any rate, if I space these books out, I can kind of forget that their plots are very similar. However, I must read them closely enough together so that I know that the worst of the series is the worst of the series, not the entire series. Otherwise, my children will inherit dozens of unread Bolan novels. I’m hoping they’ll inherit read books.

Book Report: Reinhold Niebuhr by Bob E. Patterson (1977)

Book coverThis book is the first in a series, Makers of the Modern Theological Mind, and it’s a summary view of Reinhold Niebuhr’s work and through for forty or fifty years in the middle of the 20th century. I don’t know where I bought the book, but I know why I picked it up: I’ve been seeing Niebuhr’s name in First Things magazine and some other things I’ve been reading, and I remember from my collegiate studies that he and his brother were considered important thinkers in the middle of the 20th century. So I gave it a go.

The book is a thematic study of Niebuhr’s thought. That is, it is grouped by them, not chronologically. It’s broken into chapters on Sin, Grace, and Love and Justice along with a chapter on his biography and some groundwork for his thought. It’s not a long book, 162 pages with citations and bibliography, so it’s something you can read relatively quickly and feel a little confident you know a bit about where he’s coming from.

Niebuhr’s concept of sin is heavily informed by the Existentialists of the era (and Kierkegaard, which precedes the era). The nature of man is that he is physical, material, and natural and he is self-transcendent and can recognize where he falls short of the ideal (which is Christ). This contradiction leads to the original sin and the knowledge of God. Man has free will, but he will always ultimately fall short and will know it. So I really understood this bit.

In the concept of grace, to make a short summary of Niebuhr’s though shorter, Niebuhr thought the crucifixion provided initial, justifying grace to man and the grace (or Holy Spirit) acting through a justified person was sanctifying. Niebuhr is trying to balance here between faith and works in other words.

Where I really dispute Niebuhr is his concept of Love and Justice. Justice flows from love, and eventually he gets to political institutions as countervailing blocs fighting for their rights. But in his ideal, the people in the blocs are sanctified and justified by grace, so they’re doing the right thing. Which is not where we’ve ended up. As the book is sectioned thematically and not chronologically, as I mentioned, it’s not one hundred percent clear from the text of this book whether Niebuhr evolved to or evolved from this position.

One thing the book does make clear is that Niebuhr’s thought evolved over the decades that he taught and wrote, so sometimes some of his work tighens, refines, or seems to contradict his earlier positions.

So I enjoyed the book, and I’m going to keep my eye out for some of Niebuhr’s primary works.

Book Report: Bad Publicity by Jeffrey Frank (2004)

Book coverI read Frank’s earlier novel The Columnist in 2005; some number of years later, I picked up this book at a book sale here in Springfield, and it will take me at least another decade before I read another Frank book.

This book is billed a satire (and the book flap even compares Frank to Jonathan Swift, a fact I didn’t know when I picked up the Frank book right after Gulliver’s Travels). However, I didn’t find much mirth in the book since it, like the earlier novel, lacks a sympathetic character. It describes a number of interconnected people in Washington in late 1987 and 1988 whose lives intertwine at the end of the Reagan presidency and what most assume will be the beginning of the Dukakis era.

There’s a former Pennsylvania congressman who lost his seat after divorcing his wife for his assistant. His marriage to the younger woman ends ugly even after he’s forced out of his post-Congress job after making some overtures/compliments to a young female attorney with the firm who presses for his discipline with the firm because she’s tired of men treating her as a sex object, although it’s not as bad as she makes it out to be in her own mind. She conspires with a man whose wife works with the local news anchor who is going insane to get the word out about the former congressman and to get him denied a position in the White House. The former congressman consults with an image management firm and gets assigned to a down-to-her-last-client chain-smoking publicist whose assistant happens to be working closely with the local anchor who is going insane. There’s also an academic at a think tank who’s not working on his book on social reform and who’s been supplanted on the scene by a new expert in his subject matter and, well. Washington people and The Columnist Brandon Sladder appears in all the coolest restaurants at all the best parties.

So these people do their silly things and conjugate in their silly ways, and there’s nobody really for someone outside the northeastern corridor to identify with (and hopefully nobody that most people in the business would really identify with either). I got the sense while reading it that Frank didn’t really like anyone he was writing about, either.

So I didn’t care for it. There’s no mirth for me in laughing with the cooler-than-thou kids at schmucks, even if they’re schmucks ruining the country.

Book Report: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1948)

Book coverI found this book to be very approachable and readable for something written 50 years before the Declaration of Independence; eventually, it dawned on me to check the title page. It’s part of the Young America Classics editions, which I don’t collect. To be clear: unlike Classics Club editions and Reader’s Digest editions, I only have one Young America Classics that I’m aware of. This means I have more Young Americans than Young America editions, and I’m fine with that.

Anyway, the title page doesn’t say it’s abridged, but it is Edited, with an Introduction, by May Lamberton Becker, which looks as though it means adapted by. The book collects three of Gulliver’s travels (to Lilliput, to Brobdingnab, and to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan. It omits the fourth, the Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms for some reason. Perhaps this was a darker bit not suitable for Young America right after World War II.

I assume you know some of the story. Although, in the 21st century, perhaps that’s optimistic. Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon, is shipwrecked at various times and finds himself in a land of tiny people (Lilliput), of giant people (Brobdingnab), and a land of a floating island and strange academics (Laputa et al). The book is satire, almost 300 years later some of the elements of the satire is lost. For example, I’m not sure what elements Swift is making fun of in Lilliput, or whether he endorses or mocks the society of Lilliput where:

Whoever can there bring sufficient proof that he hath strictly observed the laws of his country for seventy-three moons hath a claim to certain privileges, according to his quality and condition of life, with a proportionate sum of money, out of a fund appropriated for that use; he likewise acquires the title of snilpall, or legal, which is added to his name but does not descend to his posterity. (p54)

I can’t tell here if he’s advocating what the contemporary left calls a living wage or if he’s making light of it.

Other lines seem completely relevant today. For example, Gulliver explains to the Brobdingnabian king how the government works in England, and the king there replies:

“My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved that ignorance, idleness, and vice are the proper ingredients for a legislator; the laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose interests and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some lines of an institution, which, in its original, might have been tolerable, but these half-erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions…”

In Lagado, Gulliver learns how everything went amok:

The sum of his discourse was this: That about forty years ago certain persons went up to Laputa, either upon business or diversion, and after five months’ continuance, came back with a very little smattering in mathematics, but full of volatile spirits acquired in that airy region. That these persons, upon their return, began to dislike that management of everything below, and fell into schemes of putting all arts, sciences, languages, and mechanics, upon a new foot. To this end they procured a royal patent for erecting an academy of projectors in Lagado; and the humor prevailed so strongly among the people, that there is not a town of any consequence in the kingdom without such an academy. In these colleges the professors contrive new rules and methods of agriculture and building, and new instruments and tools for all trades and manufactures; whereby, as they undertake, one man shall do the work of ten; a palace may be built in a week, of materials so durable as to last forever without repairing; all the fruits of the earth shall come to maturity at whatever season we think fit to choose, and increase an hundred-fold more than they do at present; with innumerable other happy proposals. The only inconvenience is, that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection; and, in the meantime, the whole country lies miserably waste, the houses in ruins, and the people without food or clothes. By all which, instead of being discouraged, they are fifty times more violently bent upon prosecuting their shcemes, driven equally by hope and despair: that, as for himself, being not of an enterprising spirit, he was content to go on in the old forms, to live in the houses his ancestors had built, and act as they did, in every part of life, without innovation. That some few other persons of quality and gentry had done the same, bute were looked on with an eye of contempt and ill-will, as enemies to art, ignorant, and ill commonwealth’s men, preferring their own ease and sloth before the general improvement of their country.

The third of these voyages seems the most readily accessible to modern audiences, especially if those people have already read Atlas Shrugged.

So it took me a while to get through it, but I enjoyed the book. I was ashamed to learn the source of the word Brobdingnabian; although I have an album by the Brobdingnabian Bards and run across the adjective from time to time in writing, I hadn’t really learned or retained its source. I have now.

Also, I learned a bit about the history of seafaring. Not so much because Gulliver travelled the seas; instead, it’s because he’s excited about the prospects of immortality when he learns of a group of immortals:

I should then see the discovery of longitude, the perpetual motion, the universal medicine, and many other great inventions brought to the utmost perfection!

Of those, we only got longitude, and not that long after this book appeared. It makes a lot more sense the conceit of a bunch of undiscovered lands when you realize that mariners for hundreds of years (by hundreds, I mean thousands, except I really only count the hundreds of years of Western voyaging out of site of land) could tell how far north and south they were, they had no real idea how far east and west they were. Whoa.

So it’s a good adventure story and classical literature, so I’m glad to have read it. I’m almost afraid to see what happens in the Jack Black movie based on it. Probably not as much satire as the original included, but I’ll understand the humor of crass 21st century better than the finer points of 18th century satire.

Book Report: Life in the Age of Charlemagne by Peter Munz (1971)

Book coverAs I just read The Carolingian Chronicles, when I saw this book on my shelves, I knew I had to read it next.

It seems almost magical that from my thousands of books, I can often find different books on the same topic if I get interested in it. However, that’s only because I tend to accumulate books in certain areas that I’m interested, and then when I get interested in them, I have a bunch to choose from. So it’s not magical, but I think it’s neat once I read a book and find a related book on the same topic.

This book, unlike Carolingian Chronicles and The Life of Charlemagne, is not a primary source; instead, it relies heavily on social anthropology to explain how these backwards people were. As such, you have to look at it as though it the prism of someone in the 1960s applying his or her own theories into the historical record. You get that with any history, of course, but in this case, the distance between then and then and then and now require a bit more distance.

Especially as this book is not narrative in nature; it does not tell the history from start-to-finish, year-to-year. Instead, the book takes different topical matters (The Rich, The Poor, Government, The Church, and so on) and then discusses that topic from a historical anthropological perspective about how they relate to one another. Here’s a hint: It was brutish for the poor and slightly less brutish for the rich. The book talks about the Christianity of the Franks, but repeatedly emphasizes that it was a cynical tool for controling the conquered people. It’s hard to get into the heads of contemporary people, and it’s probably impossible to get into the heads and hearts of people who lived over a thousand years ago, so contemporary–or fifty year old–attempts are suspect. Short of a handwritten diary, we really can’t know the interior motives.

Aside from that quibble, the book also has some repetitiveness that it should not. In a number of places, thoughts and even phrases are repeated to convey the same thing, sometimes mere paragraphs later.

So it was a quick read and reinforced some of the names and dates that I read earlier (I hope). I’ll have to sometime soon explore my stacks to see what else I have in this vein.

One side note about the book: The volume I have is an ex-library book from the Cor Jesu Academy in St. Louis, Missouri. It still has a card in the back, but the mylar dust jacket had a barcode on it. The card has stamps from 1980 to 1991. So the book itself might have resided there from about the time of my birth through at least my college years; when I was in high school, several girls my age borrowed this book to write reports. And now I’ve read it for fun and for a simple blog book report.

Book Report: Tuscany Terror by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThis book is another post-Pendleton Mack Bolan volume. In it, Bolan has to go to Italy to rescue the wife and child of an Army officer from a terrorist group holding the hostages to get the officer to falsely confess to involvement with the Mafia.

Bolan goes and shoots up a bunch of stuff, and then he infiltrates some stuff. The book is a lesser entry than Vulture’s Vengeance, but it’s not bad.

Once or twice a year, I get the urge to plow through the unread books I have in this series (and there are 93 left on my to-read shelves according to this count) minus the two I’ve read since). Then I read a bunch of them in short order and realize how similar they are to each other. Apparently, three is my limit, so I’ll probably focus on reading other things for a bit.

And hope to live another thirty-some years to make it through my Mack Bolan library at this pace.

Book Report: Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby (2013)

Book coverI bought this book at Barnes and Noble via a gift card because I appreciated the topic matter: Hornby, the author of High Fidelity and About a Boy, writes a magazine column discussing the books that he has read every month. This volume collects ten years’ worth of those columns.

Hey, for about the same period, I’ve been jotting down my thoughts into the blog here. Since I bought five ISBNs when I published John Donnelly’s Gold. I thought about collecting them into a volume and calling it The Last 1000 Books I Read or something like that (as you can see, there are well over 1000 book reports).

However, after reading this book, I have discarded that idea.

I mean, my book reports here are more about what I’m thinking about than substantive book discussions. Hornby’s columns are similar–he writes a bit about what’s going on in his life as he’s reading. His columns are monthly roll-ups of what he’s read and a bunch of banter about the magazine (The Believer). But. Reading one of the columns once a month or so in a magazine is one thing, but hundreds of pages of them is another. The columns became more repetitive than they would monthly. I can’t imagine reading 1000 of my book reports in a row would appeal to anyone.

At any rate, over the ten year period covered by the book, Hornby and I only read one book in common: Then We Came To The End. Our tastes do not run in common. Hornby favors biographies of sports and entertainment stars, literary fiction, and young adult books. Me, I read a bit of this and that with emphases on history and genre fiction.

The real gauge of a book review or column is whether one wants to go out and get the book(s) mentioned. I thought a couple might have sounded interesting, but before I bought them or even wrote them down, I was into the next column and set of books. The only one I considered getting from the library is the Motley Crue bio The Dirt, and that is because the book misspells Naugle’s (Tacos) as Noggle, and I wanted to see it for myself.

So I’m kinda glad I read the book (over the course of months or years). And as obsessive as I am, I compiled a list comparing what Hornby reports on in the ten years versus the books I’ve read in those ten years. You can review the comparative list here. Spoiler alert: I read three times as many books as he mentions in his columns. On the other hand, I’ve written and sold far fewer books and traveled to far fewer places than Hornby, so I guess we’re even.