Book Report: Lightning Fall by Bill Quick (2014)

Book coverTo be honest, this book was an add-on purchase. I’d created a CreateSpace account and added it to the cart, but I never completed the checkout process–I probably balked at the price. But when I found The Ballad of Ethan Burns on CreateSpace and put it into my cart, I found Lightning Fall already in it, so I bought it, too. Why not?

This book is longish–over 600 pages–and it reads a lot like a Stephen King book in that there are many different people in many different settings sometimes coming together but mostly dealing on their own with the fallout of multiple major terrorist attacks on the US. An EMP weapon detonates off of the west coast, leaving much of the US past the Rockies without power. A nuclear weapon detonates at ground level in New Orleans, taking out the nation’s biggest port and rendering much of the delta uninhabitable for centuries. A Mexican ‘relief’ army activates some irregulars in the United States to target military and civilian power centers and then invades under pretense of helping. Although it looks like an Islamic attack, there might be Chinese elements behind the scenes. A Hillaryesque president worries more about the party and the politics of dealing with the crises rather than the United States or its citizens.

The various peoples involved include a gay couple trying to shelter in place in San Francisco; a single mother in Indiana trying to keep her children safe; a Tea Party activist and his new beau in the Midwest; a shrimper in Mississippi and his family; a television crew from Denver trying to make their way west to report from the scene; a gang leader in LA with contacts in various foreign powers; politicos in Washington, including the President, her husband, and the Congressional leadership; a couple of military men in Cheyenne Mountain; and various others.

The book jumps between the people, focusing a lot on the San Francisco couple. Unfortunately, it jumps between the action in the affected areas and then goes back to Washington, where it works on political manipulation and, well, politicking. It kills off one of the focal characters and the whole story line is abandoned. Many of the storylines don’t converge; most of the stuff from the Midwest is just “slice of life” stories as people start to cope with the breakdown of society in the aftermath, but they do not contribute to the book’s main plot lines.

So the 600 pages of the book comprises a bit of schizophrenia (Is it a political thriller? Is it a thriller thriller?) with a bunch of extraneous matter (and I hate the Stephen Kingesque “Set up a character with a backstory and texture just to kill them off because that’s like REAL LIFE, man” thing). AND it leads up to the thrilling sequel, American Caesar, which the book claims will be available in 2015 (although I cannot find it), which means nothing is resolved at the end of this book except the political stuff in Washington.

So I am of two minds about it. I didn’t like it that much–the concept was interesting, and some of the characters were compelling, but overall the bloat and the lack of copyediting (a lot of typos throughout and calling one character by the wrong name early) diminished the book greatly. But by the time I got to the end, I bothered to look for the sequel to add it to my CreateSpace cart just in case it would become an add-on purchase sometime in the future. But it wasn’t there.

So if you’re up for a Kingesque rambling mess that clearly is self-published, you might like the book.

Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to my cat who heightened the tension of the book by knocking the cord of the reading lamp out of the wall while I was reading a book about an EMP attack, plunging the room into darkness. That added a touch too much of realism to the proceedings. As though the book’s plot wasn’t almost plausible enough.

Book Report: Peter Paul Rubens: A Medænas Monograph by Susan C. Coffey (1984)

Book coverThis book is a monograph on the work of painter Peter Paul Rubens, but it’s not a very comprehensive monograph, as it is only 30 pages followed by a dozen pages of advertising for a hypertension drug.

At any rate, as you might know, Rubens was a sixteenth and seventeenth century Flemish painter perhaps most known for his fleshy nudes. He (and his team) did more than that, of course, handling commissions for religious installations and whatnot as well as landscapes.

I know, you’re thinking, “Hey, this guy likes the Impressionists so much, what’s with the Baroque?” My friends, I try to review lots of books of art except modern stuff just to see what appeals to me. Even when I already know some of the things I like, I like to try others, you know. At least that’s how I phrase it when I try to get my children to eat something bizarre I’ve bought at the grocery store in the international aisle.

At any rate, a quick browse with a decent bio of the artist. This particular volume has the stampings and markings of the Springfield Art Museum, but no markings that say No longer property of the…. I hope it’s not stolen goods.

Book Report: Monet by Alberto Martini (1978)

Book coverThis book is an Avenal coffee table book of Monet’s work which shows his evolution from his early days to his creation of Impressionism and beyond.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like Impressionism because it not so much conveys the immediacy of a scene in a vital way (which they tell me it’s supposed to) but because it reminds me of a memory of a scene–that is, a little fuzzy around the edges.

Which is why I prefer Renoir or Manet to Monet. His work deals a lot with landscapes, and I prefer my memories with people in them. His later work gets to using larger brush strokes which make the items in the paintings less distinct, and I’m not sure how the bigger brushstrokes are better designed to capture the immediacy of light playing on water or whatnot unless you’re losing your sight.

At any rate, this was a relatively quick browse, and it reinforces what I know about Impressionists and my appraisal of them.

Book Report: The Ballad of Ethan Burns by James D. Balestrieri (2013)

Book coverThis book is a movie script turned into a short almost-novelization, so it falls somewhere between a story book and a full novelization of a film. Also, the book was written by my old drama workshop teacher from Marquette, the workshop that say the germination of The Courtship of Barbara Holt.

It’s a meta book about the film making industry: within the film adapted to prose, Ethan Burns, the son of a famous Western star, works at a cable game show after a lackluster direct-to-cable acting career as his wife and agent manage his father’s legacy. A student approaches Ethan Burns with a script for a proper Western, which Burns finances by selling his fathers famous guns to an Italian fan who agrees to finance the film. They and assorted other motley characters venture to Paintbrush Valley to film it amidst sabotage. Everyone gets a comeppance that needs one and all’s well that end’s well.

The prose starts out with a little depth and characterization that it loses as it moves. Perhaps that’s part of being very closely tied to a screenplay where the characters are established and then it rolls. I dunno. Being more of a novel reader, I thought it could have used a little more through the last half or third. Still, it’s a pleasant read.

On the other hand, it makes me wonder if I could write something like this. I’ve had a couple of ideas for screenplays in mind; perhaps I could first blat them out like this and then screenplayify them. But on the other hand, that sounds like work, and I’d rather sit down with a book.

Fun fact, maybe: The book features a bar called Hegarty’s. Is Balestrieri paying homage to Haggerty’s, a bar near the Marquette campus? Maybe!

Book Report: Wars of the Ancient Greeks by Victor Davis Hanson (1999)

Book coverI’ve tried to pick up works br Hanson before, but I’ve never gotten far into them before putting them back. I thought I’d have better luck with this book because it falls into my specific interest of Greek and Roman history. So I got a good head start and then, when I wanted to put it aside, I was able to plow through it.

It’s not a long book; it is 213 pages plus some end material. Hanson’s premise is that the Greek way of war–farmers in Hoplite phalanxes defending their land–influenced Western warfare all the way to the present day. He talks about the the early tribes of Greece, the Dark Ages in Greece, and then the high point of Greek warfare, the aforementioned farmers in Hoplite phalanxes, and then beyond through the Macedonians conquering much of the eastern Mediterranean and then the Greeks being conquered in turn by the Romans who learned the lessons of the Macedonians well.

Unfortunately, it’s not a very good book.

Hanson repeats himself a lot. In a lot of cases, the same thought will be expressed in almost exactly the same way just sentences apart.

The book lacks a narrative or thematic cohesion: It doesn’t go especially in order, and the chapters are titled like they’re going to flow thematically, but they kind of wander.

Also, Hanson interjects a lot of romanticism of the Golden Age hoplite, and he really, really does not like the Macedonians. He calls Phillip II evil and Alexander the Great an alcoholic and a megalomaniac. Over and over (the author repeats the same thoughts, as I might have mentioned).

As such, I really didn’t enjoy the book, and I’m not sure I learned a whole lot from it. Of course, these days, I wonder if I learn anything from anything I read, but I hope that reading a bunch of the same material will drum something into my head. So I guess I did learn a little about the topography of Greece and how it affected Greek warfare.

Book Report: Dead Man Running by “Don Pendleton” (Stephen Mertz) (1984)

Book coverThis book is another turning point in the continuing Mack Bolan saga.

The first thirty-some books dealt with Mack Bolan waging war on the mafia; the next thirty some up until about this book (#64) dealt with Bolan working under the government aegis as John Phoenix fighting terrorists. This book changes that.

I’ve missed a couple of books in the series. The last one I read was #59, Crude Kill. So I missed the actual death of April Rose, although I knew it was coming somewhere. This book deals with the aftermath, as Bolan hunts the people responsible for the attack on Stony Man Farm. He can’t trust his government contacts, and some of the government is ready to end his Phoenix project.

Bolan has also been framed for the assassination of a Russian, so he’s being hunted by American forces as well as the Russians. He finds a tie between the remnants of the Mafia and the KGB, so he goes on the warpath against both, exposing a high-level Soviet mole after a couple of ambushes and hitting a couple of hard sites. Then he casts off the government and his pardon with them to return to his one-man rampage against the KGB.

I enjoyed the book more than others, but that could be because I read it amongst other books instead of reading a bunch of them together, or it could be partly because it represents a shift in the story arc that promises some freshness to the continuing series. But just to be on the safe side, I’m not going to read a bunch of them in a row. It’s not like I would jump into the next one anyway; I read Cambodia Clash (#65) in 2010.

Book Report: New York: City of Many Dreams by Bill Harris (1983)

Book coverThis book is a collection of photos taken of New York, especially Manhattan, in the early 1980s. Clearly, this is a companion piece to New York At Night and, and author of the text introduction is also the author of Florida: A Photographic Journey. So it’s the same thing: A brief fluffy essay talking about the history and dynamism of New York and then a bunch of pictures of it. Or, more to the point, Manhattan.

Unfortunately, given the number of things one could take pictures of in New York, this book is a bit limited and repetetetive. We have a page dedicated to the Statue of Liberty and then other pictures of the statue and Liberty Island throughout. We have a number of pictures of Central Park from various high places. We have a page dedicated to the rangers in Central Park, which is the same four women on horseback in various poses and profiles. The same four women on horseback appear on other pages scattered around. As a result, it looks as though the book is really compiled from a limited number of photo shoots and set-ups shuffled together thickly to make it look like more than it is.

Which is a real shame, since New York and even just Manhattan are bigger places and could have included more things.

So I’ll think about steering clear of another of these books. At least until such time as I come across one on my to-read shelves or cheap at a book sale and a football game comes on. But, still.

Book Report: Drawings of William Blake by Sir Geoffrey Keynes (1970)

Book coverThis book is a collection of drawings by William Blake. William Blake, if you have an English degree, is best known for his hit Eye of the Tiger. But apparently he was also a painter and artist as well, but we didn’t cover that in my poetry classes.

At any rate, this book collects a number of sketches of his, some of which were doodles essentially and some which were studies for later paintings. Unfortunately, this is a sketchbook of raw material for those paintings, so the finished pieces aren’t actually included.

So it’s like looking at a notebook of Stephen King with a couple bits of outlines, a few phrases here and there, but nothing complete and finished. So it’s more for serious, serious fans of William Blake or artists, I suppose, that like to look at techniques from other artists. Perhaps scholars would be interested. But if you’re looking for something interesting to flip through and marvel over, this is actually less useful than Hand Shadows To Be Thrown Upon The Wall. Which, if I am not mistaken, was also published by Dover Publications.

Book Report: The Forbidden City by ? (?)

Book coverIt’s football season again, which means it’s time for the annual parade of picture books I flip through during football games. Sometimes, I watch extra football games just so I can page through picture books at the same time.

This book is a tourist take-away from the Forbidden City in Beijing. Its text comes in six or seven languages, and strangely enough the English text is often much, much shorter than the text from other languages. I have to wonder if the information is truncated for English speakers or if it really just takes that much longer to caption photographs in other languages. I mean, German, I can understand. But Spanish and French and the Asian pictogram languages?

At any rate, the book includes many full color pictures of the palaces and halls within the Forbidden City (but no terra cotta warriors, but I guess that’s a different place. The palaces look more opulent than the castles and other things I’ve seen from Europe, but the Forbidden City is a Ming creation, which means it’s a little younger and more modern than many of the medieval structures I might have previously seen. They’re still a head and shoulders above the things I’ve seen in Korean books (like this, this, or this), but China, especially Ming China, was a bigger and better empire than Korea’s kingdoms.

Also, I look at them, and I think, Man, those must be hell to heat. I’ve got a big house, and it can be expensive to keep it toasty in the winter especially if propane is expensive and the winter is cold. But, of course, these palaces did not use wasteful forced air heating. Instead of heating empty spaces, they heated the rooms where people were at any given time with fires and whatnot. So it was much less expensive to heat. But there was the risk of catastrophic fire, and one of the pictures shows evenly spaced well-decorated urns containing water to be used in case of fire.

So it was an interesting thing to look at during commercials in a football game. And, as an occasional Sinophile, I wouldn’t mind seeing it someday assuming it’s not destroyed in any upcoming military conflict.

Book Report: 12 Monkeys by Elizabeth Hand (1995)

Book coverKeeping with the “Is the person in the mental institution crazy or really a science fiction protagonist” subgenre reading I started with this book.

12 Monkeys is a novelization based on the screenplay (from the Bruce Williams/Brad Pitt film). Now, novelizations from screenplays can go one of two ways. You can get some additional depth that you don’t find in the film, or you can basically get prose from the screenplay. Unfortunately, this is the latter.

For those of you who haven’t seen the film (I had not), the main character is a convict from the future “volunteers” to collect samples from the contaminated surface and then to go back in time to find the source of a deadly virus that wipes out half of humanity and compels the remainder to hide underground in uncontaminated facilities. In the past, Cole arrives six years too early and gets taken to a mental institution where he meets a psychiatrist and the son of a famous virologist. He looks to find the source of the infection, gets yanked back into the future and reinserted in the past a couple of times, and begins to question whether he actually is crazy.

At any rate, it’s all right, but I didn’t like the ending much: I’m not sure if it was intended to be throught-provoking or was just sloppy storytelling (on the part of the screenwriter(s) more than the novelist). Actions don’t make sense, and the thoughts that are provoked try to explain the nature of the ending result in “That doesn’t make sense.” To be honest, I hoped for an ending not unlike the ending to the Kris Kristofferson film Millennium (book review here). But no.

A better novel would have explored more of the interior and back story of Cole, the convict, explaining where he came from and what he was convicted of. That’s not germane to the plot of the story itself. Also, it seems that mankind develops time travel really fast while recovering from a serious extinction-level event. So all the questions the book raises are with the story and plot itself, not with any philosophical things. Again, this is not the book author’s fault, but I wonder if it could have been handled better in the depths of a novel.

Book Report: K-PAX by Gene Brewer (1995)

Book coverThis book is about as 1990s of a book as you can get.

The cover purportedly is a stereogram, which was a fad of crazy prints you were supposed to stare at to see a three-dimensional image. They were the big thing in the early 1990s, with complete shops in the mall selling nothing but Magic Eye products. I was trying to explain this to my beautiful wife, but she’d never heard of such a thing. Coupled with the fact that the spellchecker doesn’t know the word, I’m beginning to question whether it was a real thing. But it was.

I say this cover is purportedly a stereogram, because I am too smart to see them. At least, that’s what I told my friends in that era. They could see them. So if you see something in the book cover image to the right, let me know. Or you could just make something up, and I would never know.

I felt like that one guy in the film Mallrats.

 
 
 

The struggle was real.

Where was I? Oh, K-PAX. As you might remember, this was made into a Kevin Spacey film. Which is all I knew of the Kevin Spacey film except the basic conceit. The book is better than the conceit: It tells the story of the psychiatrist, the head of a small institute in Manhattan that works with hard-to-handle cases. The case at the core of the book: a young man calling himself prot who claims to be from the planet K-PAX. The psychiatrist works with him, and the book is structured around sessions the therapist has with the patient along with the psychiatrist (named “Gene Brewer,” which is the author of the book) musing about his relationship with his father and his family. The spaceman (played in the film by the Spacey man) offers some information that supports his assertions that he is from K-PAX, including sky charts from his homeworld, that check out to be true. He gets other patients to open up and start to heal. And he’s very good with animals. But as the doctor and an interested reporter investigate, they discover the disturbing story behind the patient.

The narrative switching up between the sessions and the doctor’s life were interesting and paced the book well. The story the spaceman told had enough contradiction and ambiguity that one wondered whether it would prove to be a spaceman or just a really gifted mentally ill person. Heck, there was a similarity between the doctor’s youth and the disturbing story so that I briefly considered whether the doctor himself might be the crazy one (hey, forgive me, I just watched Fight Club for the first time, and that was the most 90s of movies). But the resolution at the end was a bit disappointing, I guess, as it tries a bit to leave the ambiguity.

I see that the author has five books in this series. Well, I enjoyed most of this one, but I have to wonder whether I would enjoy more books in the story. They cannot all follow the successful plotting and framing this book has, so I’ll probably not hunt them down. They’re not the kind of thing that you see in book sales anyway, which leads me to believe that the others were not as successful as the first.

Oh, and above, I mentioned that this was a very 90s book. That’s because the Buddhist-flavored perfect world and communist society described by prot fits with the zeitgeist of the time, with the end of history and all that, but it really doesn’t resonate in the 21st century.

So worth a read if you’re into the whole “Is the person in the mental institution crazy or really a science fiction protagonist” subgenre.

Book Report: Paper Lion by George Plimpton (1966)

Book coverI started reading this book to get ready for football season. As it was, reading the book took longer to read than I’d anticipated, and it ended up extending into the football season.

As a reminder, in this book, the author joins the Detroit Lions training camp as an old rookie quarterback. Supposedly, he’s undercover, but it comes out eventually. As such, he lives in the dorm with the players, does the drills, even participates in a scrimmage and dresses for a preseason game.

I enjoyed the book well enough, as it reminded me how complex the game of football is and how complex the individual motions of football are. Plimpton has a hard time learning how to take a snap from the center. This is something second nature to the quarterbacks who make it to the pro leagues, as they’ve done it at the very least in high school and college until the time they hit training camp. I’ve decided I want to be an athlete now that I’m too old for it, and I’m finding myself having to slow down and study very basic body movement to figure out how to stride properly while running and whatnot. So it had that going for it.

However, one knock about the book is the artificial conceit of it. In the second chapter, he’s skating with Robert F. Kennedy because he’s a friend of the family. Plimpton came from some station in New York, so he’s looking at everything with the eyes of someone from the upper West Side. It probably wasn’t so bad in 1960 something, but it’s a bit jarring in the 21st century, especially as some of the name-dropping comes off as just that. So I can’t help compare it to the Jerry Kramer books and unfavorably, as Kramer is a farm kid who’s in the NFL.

Also, I can’t help but note that the co-writer of Run to Daylight says Paper Lion is the best book about football he’s ever read. Well. He must be a Lions fan, or he must not be counting the book he wrote, ainna?

At any rate, it’s worth a read. I also have Plimpton’s Open Net about a similar stunt with the Boston Bruins. Time will tell how fast I get to it. Probably not in time for hockey season.

Book Report: An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists by David Letterman (1991)

Book coverI got this book recently for quick football season reading. I remembered reading Book of Top Ten Lists (apparently 13 years ago). However, I did not recall specifically reading this book before (which I did, about eight years ago, when before my sainted mother fell ill and before I moved to Nogglestead–was there such a time in my life?).

At any rate, I said of the first book:

The same politicians from almost fifteen years ago are the same punchlines in some cases. Al Sharpton, for instance, is a common motif in Letterman’s collection. In O’Rourke’s more serious obra, we see the same names we curse today. Diane Feinstein. John Kerry (who would almost seem to have served in Vietnam longer than in Congress based on the way he talks about it–as though the former determined his behavior and honor more than the latter–it’s almost like M*A*S*H in a way, wot?). Lt. Governor Gray Davis. O’Rourke exempts Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was 14 years ago.

It’s funny: now, it’s twenty-five years past the publication of the book, and it is lousy with Donald Trump jokes. That makes it the second book I’ve read this summer from days gone by that make light of Mr. Trump (The Know-It-All being the other). It continues to illustrate how long public figures remain in the limelight sometimes, I guess.

At any rate, to reiterate, the book works best if you were alive in the late 1980s so you can understand some of the recurrent punchlines ripped from the days’ headlines (G.E. light bulbs! Haw, haw!)

But it did give me some brief amusement again, and it did kill the time between plays in a couple of football games. So worth my time, but your mileage may vary.

Book Report: Wolverine: Weapon X by Marc Cerasini (2004)

Book coverThis book is a novelization of the Weapon X storyline from the Marvel Comics that tells the origin of Wolverine’s metal skeleton. I was most familiar with it because a spin of it was part of the material covered in the first Wolverine movie. But I’ve never been a real fan of the mutant titles, to be honest. Which is why we’re a couple or three behind in the film series as well.

At any rate: The book follows two tracks. One is Logan getting captured, which is told from his point of view until he’s rendered a test subject, at which point it becomes a story of the scientists working with him. It shifts to the point of view of some of the employees at the facility, including some almost sympathetic looks at the guards and scientists. Then it comes to the ending where, if you don’t know, gentle reader, let me tell you: Wolverine awakens and kills everyone, and the desperate fight is told in great detail, and the scientists–even the ones with the backstories that make them somewhat sympathetic–die! But, wait, there’s a twist: it’s an induced mental part of his conditioning and didn’t happen! But wait, there’s another twist: A scientist pipes up that this mental induction technique was no longer used because it was sometimes predictive of the future! Then Wolverine wakes up, and everyone is killed quickly.

Oh, yeah, the second part of the story is Logan as a special ops man going into North Korea to stop something or other, and Logan dreams the memory of it as he’s being experimented on, so that’s how it crosses over into the main plotline. One of the helicopter pilots at the end turns out to be one of the security team at the facility, and he recognizes Logan ultimately right before Logan kills him.

So I thought the ending of the story was mangled. The whole double-twist thing was stupid. And, unfortunately, the excellent work humanizing the scientists in the novelization made the ending unsatisfactory because I didn’t want them dead. Most of the book is from their point of view, as I said, so the culmination of a revenge story at the end doesn’t seem congruous. But that’s a problem of the story, not the novelization.

At any rate, Marvel did a couple books around this time of that ilk, but I’m leery of them. I’ve got some other comic book novelizations around here, and I’ll probably get to them sooner rather than later, but I’m disappointed in this story.

Book Report: Kilroy Was Here by Charles Osgood (2001)

Book coverThis book collects some humor from several World War II era sources, such as Stars and Stripes, a book called Yank, and a couple of other works. It’s grouped by topic, which allows Osgood, the editor, to shuffle material from the same sources. It includes jokes, poems, humorous anecdotes, and whatnot.

As such, it is more easily approachable, prolly, to people of a certain age who grew up with Beetle Bailey and Sad Sack cartoons or who actually served. It’s not a bad read, but it’s from a time before cell phones, Twitter, and the Internet, which probably means that kids today won’t get much of the humor.

So not a bad read, but probably not something that’s going to sell a bunch more these days.

The KC Kid saw me reading this book out in public and asked if he was going to read the review for it sometime. Well, yes, but it won’t be much of a review.

Book Report: All Madden by John Madden and Dave Anderson (1996)

Book coverI rediscovered this book as I turned around the books on the shelves in the hallway, and it’s the right time to read a book about football, am I right? After all, once September starts, all of my reading is going to be coloring books and chapbooks.

This book comes ten years after One Knee Equals Two Feet. In it, Madden talks about his all-Madden team and the beginning of some football “traditions”, such as the Madden football video game, his bus (he didn’t like to fly), and the Thanksgiving turkey awards. He also talks about players he’d include on his All-Madden team (through 1996), including Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. Because this book only precedes my football fandom by about five years, I recognize the names of more of the players than I would in a book about the 1970s or 1980s (unless, of course, it’s a book about the Packers).

Madden also talks about coaching, officiating, and even other sports. It’s a quick read built on topical chapters, and it’s gotten me revved up for the football season more than the online reporting of the training camps and preseason have been. Contemporary journalism focuses a lot on personalities and injuries, but football books remind me how complex the game is and how difficult the playing of the game is. I need a reminder like that because I tend to watch something and think I could do it as well as the people on the screen. Which is not the case (as a recent visit to a ninja warrior sports gym reminded me physically).

So I enjoyed the book. Undoubtedly, he’s got other books available, and I’ll watch for them. It’s hard to believe he’s been retired for seven years (!) already, which is apparently long enough for me to mentally envision him and then think, “No, that’s John Candy.”

Oh, and I would be amiss if I didn’t point out that he alludes to having read Travels with Charley, and that he enjoys criss-crossing the country on his bus because he gets to see the country that way. How fun.

Book Report: Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (1993)

Book coverI bought this book nine years ago because the author wrote (or continues to write) the fiction column for Writer’s Digest, a magazine I took off and on for twenty years until I realized that scanning magazines about writing was not making me write more. Later that year, I bought Opening Nights, a novel by Janet Burroway, who wrote the textbook I used in a collegiate writing class simply because I wanted to see how she, and Kress, did with their fiction since they were also instructing about it. So I’ll probably read the Burroway presently if I can find it.

At any rate, Beggars in Spain is a science fiction book set in the near to medium term future of 1993. The driving point of it is that, soon, genetic modifications before birth will become normal, and one of the strangest is preventing the need for sleep. This creates a bunch of kids called Sleepless who eventually become smarter than their peers because they don’t waste time sleeping. Eventually, it comes to light that they do not age much, either. This creates a stratified society of super-productive and hyperrational citizens who carry a heavier tax burden than others, and the stratified society leads to some enmity between members of each class. The Sleepless try to create a Sleepless-only refuge planetside and then an orbital satellite where they can work, learn, and earn free of interference from the less productive sleepers.

The book is broken up into sections, each of which takes place in a certain year, and the years are separated by decades. The sleeper children grow up, but the Sleepless do not age. The main character, if you will, is a Sleepless who had a twin sister that is a Sleeper; it starts on their relationship as children and then the Sleepless sister becomes an attorney, which gives the book an in to dwell on the legal and ethical ramifications of what’s going on. Which she does.

So you’ve got a science fiction novel with Heinlein and Rand overtones. It definitely explores some themes, and it does so kinda wordily. The action in the book is overshadowed by the thematic musings, unfortunately. One almost expects the leader of the Sleepless to deliver a long speech to the Sleepers. But the thematic explorations are thoughtful: one gets a little sense of both sides in the Sleeper versus Sleepless philosophies, and one expects the ultimate goal is some Hegelian synthesis of the two.

In researching for this book report (by that, I mean when I looked at Wikipedia), I discovered this is the first part of a trilogy. There’s no real cliffhanger at the end leading to a second book (as a matter of fact, there’s no cliffhanger at the end of each section/year in the book that leads to the next), so I’m not sure where it would go from here. Sleepless in Space? Regardless, now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity in the work of the Writer’s Digest fiction columnist, I’m not eager to continue the saga.

Book Report: Insane City by Dave Barry (2013)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I bought this book on my my recent trip to Florida. I read Big Trouble ten years ago and liked it, and, hey, it’s Dave Barry. So it should be funny and a Florida book (which I wanted to read while in Florida).

Well.

The setup is this: A young man is preparing to wed the beautiful, smart, and a bit controlling daughter of an uberwealthy man. He and his groom’s men arrive in Miami, the location of the wedding, and have a bachelor party. The bachelor passes out under the table for a bit, and his party moves on without him, and he loses his luggage with the ring in it. The rest of the book follows the zany adventures of the groom trying to retrieve the ring, harbor illegal aliens in his room, and deal with the problems of the groom’s men. Much marijuana is smoked.

Sadly, although it could have been a tour-de-force akin to Downtown by Ed McBain, but the setup of this book requires a bunch of drinking and marijuana to set up the situations. The construction of the series of events seems very artficial, as though it were crafted specifically to be made into a film akin to The Hangover and the like.

So I really didn’t enjoy it that much. It didn’t carry me along, although it did give me a new phrase to use: “Well, the ape is in the car now.” Which I use to express that something not very enjoyable is moving along a little better. Because once the ape gets in the SUV in the book, it moves along a little better. Although I still didn’t really laugh at anything after it.

Book Report: Wicked Springfield, Missouri by Larry Wood (2012)

Book coverI received this book as a Christmas present. You can find a pile of books from the same publisher in the local interest section of the book store, and I guess my mother-in-law picked it up when she bought me the new Woody P. Snow novel, which she also gave me for Christmas.

At any rate, this meticulously researched book covers crime in Springfield from its establishment as a town to the 1910s. Unfortunately, the information is presented as an era-per-chapter docket from the crime report section of the newspaper (one of the historical sources). We get a lot of citations for liquor violations, a lot of prostitution, and a little other murder and mayhem, but it’s presented very drily in a who did it and where fashion. A couple incidents, including the Wild Bill Hickoc shootout and the murder of Sarah Graham, get full chapters with a bit more flavor and narrative, but otherwise it’s just a litany in paragraphs.

It could certainly have been improved with more local flavor or more in-depth looks at some of the people involved, as the chapters that focus on the individual incidents are the best in the book.

I’ll probably steer clear of these titles and other thin roll-up local interest books from now on. Unless they’re fifty cents at a garage sale or a gift.

Book Report: The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs (2004)

Book coverThis book was the last I read completely on my vacation. It’s 360+ pages, which meant it would take some time regardless. But my interest and enthusiasm waned for the book as I went on. As a matter of fact, I found a bookmark that might have been mine about forty percent of the way through (at the start of the letter H), which means I might have already tried to read this book and then threw it back sometime in the past.

To sum up: The subtitle for the book is One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. The author decides sometime in the middle of his fourth decade (that is, about 35) to read the entire contents of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. So the thumbnail description sounds interesting. The chapters are based on letters of the alphabet, and there are “entries” with a word or phrase from the encyclopedia that leads to a paragraph, a story, or something from the author.

However, the book really is more a memoir of a yuppie editor of a magazine (Esquire), the child of well-to-do parents who lives with his wife in an apartment in New York City, during the year where he read the encyclopedia, travelled and visited his parents’ home in the Hamptons (several times), reminiscences of travel to Europe (several times), and the difficulty of having a baby and dealing with a brother-in-law who’s more talented and perhaps smarter than the author. It’s almost like reading a Woody Allen film except that there are parts where the author drops trivia into conversation (sometimes annoying the people he’s talking with). This last bit is one of the redeeming features to me.

I was getting a bit annoyed with it about the time I got to the letter H (where the bookmark was), but I powered through because I didn’t have any more appealing books (at the time) on vacation.

So the book falls deeply into the “Not my bag, baby,” realm. Which is a shame because the topic could have, but I get the sense the fellow read the entire encyclopedia to get a book out of it. I’m always a little down on books where it seems the author does something just to write the book. It’s like a literary selfie.

And on a side note, in this volume circa 2004, the author takes a number of shots at George W. Bush, of course, but also Donald Trump. I wonder what he’s made of 2016 so far, but not enough to look at what he’s written since this book.