Book Report: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (2002)

Book coverThis book is Carl Hiaasen’s first YA book. And it shows. It’s like a Hiaasen story shrunken to kid-sized, and poorly.

First, the plot: A new kid from Montana moves to Florida and sees a barefoot kid running while riding on the bus is getting bullied. He clocks the bully and runs out to follow the kid. He discovers a semi-feral runaway who’s conducting a campaign of vandalism to protect a couple nests of owls from development of a pancake house.

I’ve flagged a bunch of things in the book that don’t ring true. For example, the protagonist reads an X-Man comic. The boy is fresh from Montana, but describes the trees and flora with exactitude unbefitting a middle schooler. Twenty-first century middle school bullies tormenting the new kid by calling him Roy Rogers-hardt (who past the Baby Boomers and a couple Gen Xers know who Roy Rogers is?) A friend says the bully called in sick to school. Kids riding on the handlebars of bikes–do they do this now? One middle schooler says “Why do you care about this kid?”–what kid calls another kid a kid to another kid? “The dead man was soaked with blood and twisted at odd angles, like a broken G.I. Joe doll.” GI Joe, as you might know, was never marketed as a doll, and the action figures from the 1980s and beyond were not as articulated as the GI Joes of Hiaasen’s youth, so I’m not sure if the metaphor makes us think of what he’s thinking of.

Coupled with the simplistic environmental message with caricatures for bad guys, I didn’t care for this book that much. I’m probably not going to hunt down more Hiaasen YA books, but I’m hopeful he gets back to writing adult books. But all the thriller writers, it seems, are deep in the YA market these days. I mean, my son reads a lot of James Patterson, for crying out loud.

As to this book, it’s take it or leave it, even if you’re a Hiaasen fan.

Book Report: Down the Wire Road by Fern Angus (2004)

Book coverI bought this book at the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield shop a couple years back. I generally go to the Battlefield, just a mile away, twice a year. Once to renew my annual pass, and then once more for some reason or another, generally on a day where you don’t need a pass. Since I’m in the gift shop anyway, I look to pick up a bit of a history book to read. So I did with this book.

Since I bought it at the Wilsons Creek National Battlefield, I’d expected more of a real history book rather than something assembled by a local historical society. Although this book is not from a local historical society, it’s more of that flavor than the former, so I was a bit disappointed.

The book starts off with chapters about the stage coach / postal line that ran down this way, the creation of the telegraph line from Jefferson Barracks to Arkansas, an the Trail of Tears which followed the same route. The chapter about the Trail of Tears gives a bit of a summary and then reprints excerpts from the journals of “conductors”–guides for the marches. After that, we devolve into collections of pictures and descriptions of cemetaries, some family histories recounted by family members, Ozark stories, sayings, and “Do You Remember?” things.

So I was a little disappointed, more because I expected a more scholarly treatment and more discussion of the Wire Road. Mostly because I have lived at both ends of it: In the St. Louis area, I lived in Lemay just a couple blocks from Telegraph Road and now at Nogglestead which sits either directly on the route or a couple hundred feet from it (depending upon whether it ran along the old train route that is my neighbor’s driveway (but which I own half of) or in his pasture.

At any rate, I flagged two bits in the book:

Manley was a small man in stature; he liked to read Cappers Weekly and his Bible. He belonged to the Marionville IOOF Lodge, Chapter 210.

I know what the IOOF is because I read Lileks.

From the “Do You Remember When?” section:

Telephone lines were maintained by the parties using the line? It was a common practice for anyone to listen in on the conversation if they wished to do so. News of anything unusual, as a fire or emergency of any kind, was spread rapidly by the user of the telephone.

As I’m fond of reminding you, gentle reader, I lived down an old gravel road in a valley back in the first Bush administration, and the phone was a party line until the cable company and the phone company shared the cost of running the lines out to our house and beyond. In 1988 or 1989.

Also from the “Do You Remember When?” section:

You canned vegetables, fruits, jams, jellies, pickles, and everything you could get your hands on? Sometimes these were not used during the summer months but were put aside for winter.

I’m fond of telling the story where, when we lived in the projects, we were friends with the girl across the street who lived in the farm house whose surrounding fields became our neighborhood some decades before. Her yard had several large pear and peach trees, and one year my mother got bitten by the canning bug, so we staged commando raids on her yard to purloin some of her fruit. I hope her family wasn’t planning to use it. My mother laid up those pears and peaches and crab apple butter and sauce made from the crab apple trees in the common back yard of our apartments, and we ate them for years. I guess it was only five, but we still had shelves full of that preserved fruit when we moved to the aforementioned house down the dusty gravel road. So we moved those jars from Milwaukee to our aunt’s suburban home in St. Charles to the trailer in Murphy and then to House Springs.

You know, perhaps I shouldn’t be so disappointed with the book after all. It did remind me of some stories from my relatively recent youth.

Book Report: Chandeog Palace (1975)

Book coverThis book is one of the many I bought in Spring 2014 and that I’ve been reading through since then (see also Bomun Temple in Seoul Korea and Wonderful Korea, New Pearl of the Orient Korea, and Art Treasures of Seoul).

The books themselves are tour guides or art coffee table books, but I’m picking up a smattering of Korean history from them. For example, I can put the Koriya, Silla, and Yi dynasties in order. So I’ve got that going for me, although I don’t have the exact dates nailed down yet.

This particular volume describes the various buildings in this particular palace with full color photos and text in I assume Korean and Chinese (although the Asian languages do not all look very similar to me, I am not yet able to distinguish between them) along with the English.

And, strangely enough, the end papers have a map of Seoul, a page for written notes, and, I kid you not, pages for names and addresses. You know, why leave blank pages at the end of the book when you don’t have further installments of a pulp subscription series to sell? This is very practical, although not so much for me: I’d write an address in it and then lose the book amongst its thousands of brethren in the Nogglestead library.

At any rate, worth a browse if you’re into Korean or Asian architecture, but I wouldn’t order it from Amazon or eBay unless you’re serious.

Book Report: Doomsday Disciples by “Don Pendleton (1983)

Book coverThis book is the 49th in the Executioner series, and it came out when I was eleven years old. Its plot is topical of the 1970s, but because it was tropish in the 1970s, it seems fresher and more twisty because I’m used to twenty-first century tropes.

The Executioner is looking into a religious cult with ties to the Russians; the daughter of a Senator has joined this group, and in the first set piece, they’re about to take the young lady for the last ride before Mack Bolan intercedes and rescues her. He then proceeds to dismantle the operation of the cult which was founded by a Vietnamese Buddhist with the goal of warping the youth of America and sowing destruction in the American homeland.

So in the 21st century, when you hear about a religious cult, you’re expecting an extreme Christian sect (which, in the news, is pretty much all Christians except maybe Episcopalians). But this book capitalizes on the popularization of Buddhism in the 1970s, when it was a pretty new and fadish thing. So although a reader in 1983 would have found this to capitalize (and maybe exploit) contemporary trends and fads, in the 21st century those fads are mostly forgotten and we get something fresh.

I enjoyed the book pretty well for a post-Pendleton entry in the series.

Any time I enjoy them, I’m hopeful, because I have 61 Executioner books, 10 Stony Man, 17 Mack Bolan adventures, and 7 Able Team books from the mythos yet on my shelves. When I read one I don’t like, I think I’ll never get through them. When I read one I do, I have hope I’ll stomach it.

At least the number of them I see in the wild has tailed off so I’m not adding a bunch more to the shelves as I go (although the Spring book sales are a month away, and this assertion is subject to change).

Book Report: Toulouse-Lautrec: Painter of Paris by Horst Keller (1968)

Book coverI didn’t care for this book, but it did help me cement that I don’t care for this artist.

The book itself first: The book is written by someone who absolutely adores the artist, which I would like better if I liked the artist. The author spends a lot of time and florid prose discussing individual works, whether paintings or prints, from the Lautrec’s oeuvre, but the images he discusses are generally not close to the discussion, so if you want to look at what he’s talking about, you have to flip forwards or backwards. If the images appear at all. However, it’s definitely distracting and makes one–by “one,” I mean “me”–less likely to look at the images during the discussion. And the discussion is more complex and nuanced than the art itself.

Frankly, I have finally found a scapegoat that bridges the gap between art and comic book and such presented as art: Toulouse-Lautrec. The art is generally simple, easily changed to prints without too much loss of depth (and the prints and posters might have been why we might know of this fellow). He’s been heavily influenced by Oriental art, as was all the rage in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So although other artists of the period liked it, but he never really doesn’t mature much beyond that influence. Lautrec died young, and some of his later work started showing some depth and maturity. So maybe he would have been more of an artist that I would approve of if he’d lived longer.

So, to sum up: This is a poorly organized, overwritten art book about an artist I don’t particularly care about. Although I might pick up other books on Degas and Manet, and I’ll certainly pick up more general Impressionist and French art books and will glom onto any Renoir books I come across, I won’t bother with more Toulouse-Lautrec.

Book Report: GI Joe: The Story Behind The Legend by Don Levine with John Michleg (1996)

Book coverThis book describes the creating of the G.I. Joe action figure (the original, not the Real American Hero we grew up with in the 1980s) from its inspiration through design and the initial manufacture. It includes a number of pictures, but it’s not a picture book. It’s the story, told by the artistic director of Hasbro, along with accounts from other people in the process.

As such, it’s not so much about the stories and narratives that would become part of the comics or the television series. Instead, it’s a look inside the toy business and how something like this got built from the ground up in the middle 1960s, from pitching it to the company CEO to handling production overseas (which was a new step for Hasbro).

An interesting story, indeed. At 92 pages, it’s more of a written oral history than a scholarly work, so I read pretty quickly. I am quite disappointed, though: The book seems to indicate it was bundled with a commemorative GI Joe of some sort, and all I got was the book. For a buck, I guess I can’t ask for more.

Book Report: Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed (2009)

Book coverThis book is apparently a children’s book by the cartoonist behind “Bloom County”, “Outland”, and “Opus”. I remember him from his Bloom County work (see Tales Too Ticklish To Tell and Billy and the Boingers Bootleg). I didn’t get much into Outland, and I missed Opus, apparently. But when I saw his name on the cover of this book, I bought it. Not realizing it was a children’s book.

Not that I’m above cutesy books about dogs; see also my report on The Shepherd, The Angel, And Walter the Miracle Dog which might also double as an entry in my cutesy Christmas books list. But I digress.

This book details the story of Sam the Lion, a bred-for-showing Dachshund with an extremely rare curl of hair who escapes his designed owner and befriends a lonely orphaned teenaged girl as she moves in with her former dog breeder and shower uncle. When he’s framed by the resident poodle for a crime he didn’t commit, Sam is shot and left for dead. After this incident, Sam moves onto a series of shelters, labs, and life as a freebooter until he regains a sense of purpose: To stop the poodle from winning the Westminster dog show.

It’s whimsical, although I don’t think it’s entirely cohesive. I thought the bit about being in an animal testing lab for years was only included to remind children that animal testing is bad. It veers from the cutesy to the cartoonish, which is acceptable, I suppose, since the author is a cartoonist.

Ultimately, it wasn’t my bag, baby.

Book Report: Dead Street by Mickey Spillane (and Max Allan Collins) (2007)

Book coverThis book is a Spillane novel! From 2007! (Which mimics my reaction to Black Alley, which is a Mike Hammer book I read thirteen years ago, apparently the last Mickey Spillane novel I read).

Except this book is a Spillane book by way of Max Allan Collins. I’ve recently become acquainted with this author from his work on the DC comic book Ms. Tree Quarterly from the early 1990s, and I’d thought about reading a book of his. So it’s kind of kismet that I picked up this book and found it was a book that Mickey Spillane started or mapped out and that Collins finished.

Set in the early part of the 21st century, it deals with a police captain who retired after thirty years on the force. He gets a message that his fiance, believed to have been dead after a botched kidnapping twenty years ago, is alive and is living in a retirement community in Florida populated by former police and firemen from New York. Her savior from twenty years ago, who took her in and hid her, has recently died, so his last wish was that the police captain protect her. The kidnapping incident has left her blind and amnesiac, but when the police captain moves in next door, she starts to recognize him from his voice and his mannerisms, and along with the memories of their love comes the memories of the crime she was bringing to him when she was snatched: The theft of nuclear materials in the middle 1980s.

The books is a pretty good mash-up of modern paperbacks blended with comic book sensibility along with the old-school style of Spillane, but. It was weird to me to read about the cop retiring after 30 years on the force and how different the world was then. The difference between the 1940s and the 1970s would have been vast. Between the 1970s and 2000s a lot less vast (and me calculating 30 years from the present day takes us back to 1987, and the changes there are less vast still. Drop a mere 25 years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the world hasn’t changed that much, even with the Internet; however, I was an earlyish adopter and was on dial-up computer BBSes thirty years ago). So that motif didn’t ring as true. Also, the recurring motif of the Dead Street–where the captain and other principals of the story lived, but that is getting razed for redevelopment (the Dead Street of the title) motif was drummed a bit much, although it came to be important in the end. And all the interesting individual bits of the story didn’t completely fit together in the end–the plot might have been better treated with a different MacGuffin.

Still, I enjoyed reading it, and I’m interested to pick up a pure Max Allen Collins book somewhere along the line when I find one in the wild. And a pure Mickey Spillane–I can’t let another 13 years go by. The Mike Hammer books (boosted by the Mike Hammer television series) were a staple of my reading diet in the late 1980s. When the world was a vastly different place.

Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Green Team by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman (1995)

Book coverWhen you open a Rogue Warrior, you should know what you’re getting. A vulgar, fourth-wall-breaking, gung-ho voice that is engaging but on the edge of obnoxious; a backdrop of military political machinations; and set piece gunfights and battles. This book is no different. As the second book in the series, it would be setting the pattern yet, not merely repeating it.

In it, the Green Team, which is the current team of Marcinko’s black ops group, takes down a bad guy in Egypt; when the fellow dies in transport, Green Team become wanted by their unappreciative superior. A group assassinates high ranking military officials in Britain, and Green Team has to find out who did it and exact revenge. They find a Muslim group with inside contacts responsible, and the group’s next plans include simultaneous biological attacks across Europe.

So it’s on par with the other Red Cell/Green Team books I’ve read: It’s a lot of fun, but the political nonsense bogs it down, and it goes on just a couple dozen pages too long, usually about one set piece, where the voice starts annoying. But widely spaced, they’re good fun reads.

This book is most noticable, though, for its prophetic nature. It talks about how easily terrorists move through Europe because there are no internal border checks; it talks about a leader “leading from the front” as a contrast to a president without a military molecule in his body. Additionally, it features said President–Clinton at the time–who is sometimes reluctantly cudgeled into doing the right thing (often by his wife, who twenty years later is running for president).

It’s a pretty timeless book in that way; the president is not named, and although there’s some political stuff and bashing, it’s pretty much the individual-versus-the-system sort of stuff that has been pretty common in thrillers and paperbacks forever, without the political garbage that became commonplace in the 21st century (this book is timeless enough I forget how old it is). Also, the threat of international Islamic terror supported from inside the West is sadly contemporary as well.

A pretty good read. Better than a post-Pendleton Executioner book, for sure.

Book Report: The Hero by John Ringo and Michael Z. Williamson (2004)

Book coverI bought this book a year ago in Florida. As I was browsing my bookshelves, I told myself I was in the mood for some military sci-fi. I’ve tried some before: I picked up something by Robert Frezza, but I put it down not long into it; I tried some of David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers stories, but also put them aside. It looks as though military science fiction is not going to be my genre of choice.

This particular volume did not dispel me of that notion.

Wait a minute, didn’t I just get published in an anthology of military science fiction? Well, yes, which explains why I became interested in reading some of it. Because I’ve got a plot in mind that would take the conceit of my poem and turn it into a novel. So I wanted to do some research into the genre to see what it’s like and whatnot. Which is why I read this book.

This book, as the link below indicates, is volume 6 in a series. So immediately I’m dropped into a world with a whole back story to it. Whereas I’ve complained previously about series business taking over books in a series, it’s not so much the case in this book. However, there is a whole world/universe/mythos that has evolved and been explained in hundreds of pages prior where that information gets stuffed into a book as exposition. As it appears here. Perhaps it would be better to have been more lightly alluded to since much of the exposition doesn’t directly relate to the plot.

The plot: A deep reconnaissance team is sent to a distant planet to investigate what might be an enemy base. New to the team is an alien from a race that has manipulated mankind in the past, and the other team members don’t trust him. However, they’ll need his extra sensory perception abilities to succeed. When they get there, after their snoop-n-poop (as Richard Marcinko would put it), they find an ancient alien artifact worth slightly less than a Powerball ticket. At which point, the team’s sniper kills most of the rest of the team to steal the artifact, but the alien takes it before he can. And suddenly it’s a cat-and-mouse game as they try to reach the extraction point without getting shot by each other.

That’s the plot. That’s what the book flap says when I read it wondering what the point of the book was.

Because the plot doesn’t really start until about page 130 of about 300. Beforehand, we get a mission briefing, a training exercise, a night on the town to left off some steam and get laid, a ride to the planet, and a long walk to the alien base. The book is rich in detail. How much detail? It spends four pages talking about how the team crosses a river. Then most of them die and the chase is on.

Even then, much of the exciting chase is spent shifting between the characters viewpoints as each expresses internally how he cannot trust the others and how he’ll kill them. They traverse terrain, engage each other a bit, and then one wins. Sort of. Then there’s a wrap up epilogue.

I don’t think the plot was worth 300 pages as it was.

So I’m not sanguine that I’ll enjoy the subgenre as a whole; it seems to be written by post-military people by post-military people with a military precision at least as far as the detail goes. I’ve got a couple more Ringo books; I’ll give them a try at some point, but I’m not eager to base my forthcoming (forevethcoming is the new term for “Forever Forthcoming”) on the subgenre. It’ll be more a science fiction novel with a militaryish setting.

Of course, I’m basing my blatherings here on a novel, part of a novel, and a couple short stories’ worth of study of the subgenre. I’m open to suggestion and revising my opinion if I like the other Ringo books. Or because tomorrow is sunnier.

Book Report: Life is Simple: First Cutting by Jerry Crownover (1998)

Book coverI’ve been reading Jerry Crownover’s column in the Ozarks Farm and Neighbor for a couple of years now, and I ran across one of his books, so I picked it up. This book is an early collection–from twenty years ago–where Crownover was my age and had a couple of kids in the house. That is, these columns apply to my life a little more than his current ones do. Especially since I’m not a cattle man.

At any rate, they’re short newspaper-style columns, many of which are built around a single anecdote where Crownover encounters a neighbor, another cattleman, or a non-rural fellow and has an epiphany or can spin some rural wisdom from the experience. There are also a couple of lightly politically themed jibes (in the First Clinton Regnum), but it’s mostly lifestyle column stuff.

I enjoyed them and will pick up other books as I come across them, and I’ll continue to read the column in the OFN.

Book Report: White Night by Jim Butcher (2007)

Book coverI got this book in October, and when I was looking for something sort of escapist to work into my rotation, it was right there atop the stack.

This is the ninth book in the Dresden Files series, which is indeed about a powerful gun-toting hard-boiled wizard. In this volume, the wizard is looking for someone who is killing witches. While dressed up in his usual clothing. Some clues indicate his brother might be involved. His brother is a vampire, you see, but not a blood-sucking vampire. Instead, he feasts upon the emotions of his victims.

So the book starts out with the current crime and details and starts working us into the case, but just as suddenly it veers into Series Business. Characters from previous books and plotlines impact what’s going on. Of course, the houses of the vampires are politicking and manuvering against each other. Then there’s a mysterious figure whose identity is not revealed at the end, which means that’s something for a later book.

So it’s an interesting conceit–not unlike Hard Magic. But the Series Business distracts me and emphasizes that I’m an outsider to this series, not someone who’s been with it from the beginning. And I think it detracts from the current book’s plot some. It’s not only this book, gentle reader; as you know, I often complained about Robert B. Parker’s later books for the same reason. In the middle 1990s, I started the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton, but I dropped out after book five or six (of apparently 21 by now) because so much of the business in each book deals with characters and plots from other books. You don’t get much of that at all in classic pulp, but I guess the modern publishing world relies on the brandification of series and this sort of thing solidifies the connection with recurrent readers. But I don’t like it.

At any rate, reading Butcher’s bio indicates his path to becoming a published writer (and apparently a better-selling author than Larry Correia. He wrote and wrote and submitted and finally started doing conferences where he met…. Laurell K. Hamilton. And his career was on track. It’s pleasing to read of hard work leading to success.

But in a final reflection on the book: I’ll take others in the series if I find them easily, but I’m not going to go buy them new for myself or specifically looking for them at used book stores or book sales. I did, however, buy the first two in the series for my nephew (the same one I got the Correia books for a couple years back). So I did put a couple pennies in Butcher’s kitty which is more than I do for most authors I read these days.

Oh, and this book is the second one I’ve read this month that was originally sold at a Border’s (Blog being the other). I hadn’t thought of that book store in a while. I remember a time when there were a bunch of big book stores like that in St. Louis and here in Springfield. We’re still lucky enough to have a free-standing Barnes and Noble that’s only half-given over to Nooks and toys, and I only get in there three or four times a year. Sadly, I have enough to read without hitting a new book store frequently.

Book Report: The Circuit-Riding Combat Chaplain by Frank Griepp (ca 1991)

Book coverThis book is a self-published memoir of a man who served as a chaplain during the Korean War. It’s built from his daily journal, so each day or so we get a paragraph or two that details where he was going, what he was doing, and the services that he held. It’s a remarkable time capsule and throws light on the daily activities of a chaplain in a war zone that you don’t get from M*A*S*H‘s Father Mulcahy. I mean, he has a box he throws in his jeep, and that acts as his altar and whatnot when he stops amongst a squad or brigade to perform an impromptu service. He highlights a piece of scripture, does a short sermon, and then encourages the men. It’s remarkable; Griepp actually won a Bronze Star for performing a service calmly while getting shelled.

At any rate, I highlighted (well, flagged; I’m not the type to put my own ink in books) a couple passages for comment:

In response to a letter from his mother, I looked up Pvt Roy Hartford of the King Company, age 16, and arranged a minority discharge for him.

Can you imagine a modern 16-year-old lying to get into the military? It happened a bunch back then.

Met some of the Marines, as they are fighting right next to our troops. Good soldiers, too, neither superior nor inferior to troopers of the 7th Cavalry.

My whole line wilts a little at this thought. On the other hand, this is a chaplain, so he has to say nice things about his sheep.

May 12 is “M-Day” for Operation Mascot. All of these children had experienced abandonment, rejection, or loss of both parents. Now it was time for another separation.

Apparently, various companies adopted orphans and lost children, and it got to be such a problem that the Army had to make a concentrated effort to keep its soldiers from taking care of the weak and the unfortunate in a war zone. Contrast this with the behaviour of most armies throughout history. And make a point of it in a history class if you dare.

Our personnel officer and Lt Edward Jirikowik, the center company commander, are having a problem. The Lt is expected to locate men to fill vacancies for jobs other than riflemen. Rotation is sending the riflemen home, but leaving typists, drivers, radio operators, and wire men. Such men cannot go until they are replaced by men of like skills.

My father, fresh out of boot camp, was lined up with the others and the first ten men were sent to Okinawa for a clerical position if they knew their alphabet, and the rest went to Vietnam. Which is why my father spent his overseas time in Okinawa. I always thought he felt bad about that because it meant he was unable to fight with his mates, but he might not have liked it because it represented a lengthened committment. I’ll never know, of course.

At any rate, it’s a fast and fascinating read if you’re interested in the history of the Korean War or whatnot. As I mentioned, the book is not just a book, it’s an artifact of a man who wanted to publish it. Check out the rudimentary layout:

Dan Rather emailed me to say that was laid out using Adobe Pagemaker on an Apple II.

The book also bears an inscription to a presumed comrade (forty years after the conflict). The handwritten message is for the recipient to see page 28; page 28 is starred. I presume this is where the Chaplain and the inscribee met. I hope it’s not the first clue to a treasure hidden in the Korean wilderness since I mentioned it on the Internet and would have put myself in the crosshairs of unscrupulous fortune-seekers if I did.

Book Report: Blog by Hugh Hewitt (2005)

Book coverThis book was a mighty big deal back in the day when it came out. Bloggers were talking about it, Hugh Hewitt was talking about it. Of course, I didn’t talk about it then because I didn’t get the book fresh off the presses. I don’t tend to get my current events books new unless I get them as a gift; even then, I don’t tend to get right to them because, man, I’ve got 1960s science fiction and/or pulp paperbacks to read, man.

So, what is this book? It’s Hewitt cashing in on the relatively new blogging trend that really reached a crescendo around the 2004 election. Dude, even I was live-blogging presidential debates and nominating conventions. Although I thought blogging would be a good way to get myself writing regularly rather than a way to make money (although in those days, who knew how far you could go?) The book is pretty short; although it is 222 pages, it’s really only 156 pages of new material and then sixty pages of Hewitt’s previous columns on the topic and a number of comments from his Web site.

It’s a quick hitter “aimed” at businessmen who need to know about blogs and what they can do to a business, both positively and negatively. He thumps the washbin about executives hiring Glenn Reynolds, the Powerline guys, Ed Morrissey, and other leading lights as consultants. And it paints a fairly rosy picture of blogs.

Ten years later, most of the people he mentioned as leading lights are still leading lights, or at least bloggers I still read. There’s been a lot of consolidation in the industry, so the aggregate blog trumps individual blogging as far as the amount of noise they can raise. And the microblogging (Twitter) and social media trends quickly overwhelmed blogging, as it’s easier and more accessible to individuals to put up a pithy short sentence than to write what amounts to a short, coherent essay from time to time.

So in 2015, the book is a historical document relevant mostly for its place and moment in the history of online communication. I suppose you could read it and replace the word “blog” with “social media” and get something out of it, but there are probably more modern books on the theme all looking to make a quick two bits on explaining the current state of the Web, and they all come with an expiration date of about two weeks from now.

Strangely enough, though, I got the most out of the early comparison to the Protestant Reformation–in the early going, he likens the rise of Web logs to the changes in communication that made the Reformation possible and how the blogs paralleled it. So it has a history of the Reformation and the rise of printing in it, and I liked that.

At any rate, it might be worth your time if you haven’t read it already.

Book Report: Sunny Thoughts by Hallmark (ca. 1966)

Book coverThis book is a little Hallmark gift pick-up from the 1960s, the kind of simple gift that says I’m thinking about you but don’t know what to get you that’s more substantial. In the late 20th century, gift certificates served the same function. This particular volume was given as a Mother’s Day gift in 1966.

Unlike some books of this type, it collects poems from real poets, like Longfellow, Emerson, Wordsworth, and so on. Real poets whose works were (and still are) in the public domain, but the poems themselves had a greated depth than more recent ones. Of course, the Classics Club was popular enough to be in business in this post GI Bill world of the middle 20th century, so readers and compilers of gift volumes aspired higher than a collection of images with quips cribbed off the Internet.

And this book was not only read, but the recipient read the poems within at socials, and she noted which she’d read so she wouldn’t repeat herself, I guess.

So someone enjoyed this book more than I did, for sure.

It’s a nice, brief collection, and it most pleased me to know someone else, someone’s mother, read and appreciated the poems, perhaps even without a college degree in English.

Book Report: Impressionism by Jude Welton (1993, 2000)

Book coverAs you can guess, I flipped through this book during football games.

As a Eyewitness book, it’s a graphically designed, visually oriented work with a number of images surrounding brief text, history, and explanations. Like a lot of these survey course coffee table books, the book covers a lot of ground in the Impressionist movement, a brief history, and a bit of individual information about the artists. It has sections (two page spreads) covering some themes and practices shared by the Impressionists and reasons why they’re considered Impressionists. As survey books, it’s not bad; I also see there are titles in the series that deal with the individual authors as well.

Serious students might think these books are a waste of time, but unserious students like me can pick up some tidbits. Two I did from this book: Renoir was one of the first to prime his canvases (that is, put down a base coat of white or gesso so that colors overlaid on the base coat would pop out more) and that Renoir worked wet-on-wet (I know what that is because Bob Ross did that). So I learned something certain in addition to adding to my familiarity with the works and images.

The book also gives a bunch more depth to the non-painting work, such as the sculptures and the cast bronze of the artists. Some other books shy away from this a bit because the paintings are easier to represent two-dimensionally perhaps.

At any rate, a good book to look at for a bit. I’ll keep my eyes out for others in the Eyewitness Books series on art. I think I have one or two on other topics that I’ll have to move up in my reading queue.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Quarterback Power by Tim Polzer (2004)

Book coverOn Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law brought trinkets and gifts for the kids, and I guess I qualify since she brought this book for me. She found it at a church bazaar or something, and it has Brett Favre’s picture right on it (as did this book which is about the same thing).

This book is a Scholastic paperback aimed at grade school children. I’m not sure what sort of statement my mother-in-law was making in giving this book to me. Or was she? Did I just steal a book from my children only because it has Brett Favre on the cover? WHAT KIND OF MAN AM I? Well, it’s only fair. They steal my cartoon books.

At any rate, the book gives brief laudatory bios of good NFL quarterbacks of 2004, including Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, and Chad Pennington. The first three are creme-de-la-creme; Michael Vick played for a long time; Donovan McNabb had his day; and Chad Pennington was a quarterback in New York, which New Yorkers think is automatically worth two elsewhere before the season starts and they stink.

It was a quick read, and I was able to finish it on Thanksgiving before the Packers game which the Packers lost. I’d have been better off re-reading this book six times rather than watching that tragedy.

So it’s a bit dated, but not as dated as it will be in four or five years when all of the aforementioned quarterbacks are out of the league and some are in the Hall of Fame, including Chad Pennington if he goes to visit.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Missouri Faces and Places by Wes Lyle and John Hall (1977)

Book coverThis book is a short collection of photos and prose about the state of Missouri, but it’s published by the University of Kansas Press. So all of its information is suspect.

The prose is a bit boilerplate and rah-rah, but the photographs are interesting. They’re grouped by city or town, and almost forty years later, they’re more poingant because they’re not only a collection of images of places you might not have been (or maybe you have), but they’re historical throwbacks to the Carter years. So although I didn’t live in Missouri at the time, the types of cars and haircuts depicted in the pictures remind me a little of when I was young. Very young, I guess; I was pre-school aged when the images were taken.

A neat book to flip through during a football game. Or whatever you might watch that doesn’t require that much attention. Hey, some people knit. I flip through books to pad out my annual total.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: All Is Bright by Katherine Spencer (2014)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I like to read a Christmas-themed novel around Christmas time (see Christmas Jars, The Christmas Shoppe, and Home for Christmas). I bought this book at Christian Publisher’s Outlet this year along with a couple other Christmas novels because CPO is going out of business, and I won’t be able to go there for Christmas novels any more.

This book is one of a long series based in Cape Light, and the series is based on the paintings of Thomas Kinkade. I picked this first of the three books I bought because I just read this book based on the works of Kinkade (apparently, “just” in this context means three months ago). You know it’s only a matter of time before I have a Kinkade painting print hanging somewhere in my house.

At any rate, the book itself tells two stories in parallel: In 1978, the new pastor of a church in Cape Light prepares for his first Christmas at the church while his in-laws are up from the south to see the daughter he took from them and his new baby and must deal with the arrest of the church treasurer for business financial irregularities. Meanwhile, in the present day, the pastor’s daughter, a recent widow, deals with her children and her son’s resistance to her dating his basketball coach.

I kept hoping the two plotlines would come together, but they did not; all that they shared was Cape Light and the main characters 30 years apart.

I wanted to enjoy the book more than I did. It’s a pleasant couple of slice-of-life stories, but it was just a little off in small details that I kept getting hung up on. For example, in 1978, we have this: “As he expected, the phone rang and rang. Ben was sure it was off the hook again.” Those of us who are old enough to know recoginze that a phone off the hook produces a busy signal, not ringing. Or the turn of phrase “The trustees meeting was fairly routine. Each year the churches of Ben’s particular sect of Protestantism were bound by charter to present an annual report of all activities to their members.” The word denomination would have fit better here; sect sounds like a term a non-Protestant would use. When describing what the pastor is wearing to service, it mentions his robes and his scarf; the Lutheran word is stole. And when the treasurer is in trouble and arrested, the pastor doesn’t intrude upon him in his moment of turmoil. Now, I’ve not been to the seminary myself, but I’ve been attentively attending church for a couple years, and this just doesn’t ring entirely true.

So although I undoubtedly have destiny that includes one or more Kinkade paintings, I doubt I’ll revisit this series. This book was nice, but a bit off and a little disappointing in the Christmas payoff.

Book Report: Melk Abbey by ABT DR Burkhard Ellegast OSB (2008)

Book coverThis book is a memento/guidebook to the historic Melk Abbey in Austria. Someone got to go there, and I got their book eventually, although the book is available online.

Many of these style books have a lot of photographs and a little bit of text–this book, on the other hand, has a much higher text to photo ratio, but it is an abbey that is almost 1000 years old, so there’s a lot of history to cover. The book has two parts: A detailed history of the abbey (along with some regional detail) and a second portion that goes through the public rooms of the abbey along with their images; however, this second part recovers some of the historical ground covered in the first portion of the book. When I turned the page and was back at the beginning, almost, I was daunted. But I kept through it; the self-guided tour part is the part with the best images of the abbey.

I read this book before I read The Great Wall, and both of them have shaken my self-confidence in my knowledge of history. For although I’m probably better versed in history than most people, it’s a very localized and very high level knowledge of history. I know a bit about English history, I know a bit about American history, I know a bit about Roman history, and I know a bit about European history, at least names and countries after about 1600. But this book goes into detail about the smaller fiefdoms of Austria in the dark ages, and I don’t know anything. It’s a bit humbling (which means my knowledge is a mere half byte at this point–four bits in this paragraph, you see–it’s computer humor). But one of the things I’m really feeling acutely this year is the difference between reading widely and reading deeply–that is, to have a fine-grained knowledge of something very specific such as Austrian history 1000-1500 AD versus the overview I have, which is some specifics but large blank spaces in regional timelines. I’m still opting for broad knowledge, but sometimes books like this strike me with how little I actually know.

At any rate, for a glossy little paperback, the book does have some rather nice images of the interior of the abbey once we get to the self-guided tour part. For example, here’s the library:

I looked at it and thought I have almost as many books. Of course, I really don’t have almost that many books, and certainly not that many old books.

Also, in case you’d like some nightmare fodder, here’s a valued monstrance:

That is an elaborate tree sculpture designed to hold the purported jawbone of a saint. Which it does. I don’t mean to be dismissive of Catholic thought and the importance of saints, but the whole medieval relic worship thing. Ew.

The book was a little longer to get through than I’d hoped, and the most I got out of it was the knowledge that I don’t know much about Austrian history.

Books mentioned in this review: