Book Report: Killer Mine by Mickey Spillane (1965)

Book coverAs you know, I just bought this book a couple weeks ago. As it so often happens in the Nogglestead library, I pick up the most recent book I bought to read, and things like The Buddhist Tradition in China languish on my shelves for decades.

I started reading Mike Hammer books in high school, probably spurred by the Stacy Keach television portrayal (and the fact that I read detective novels a lot in high school), but I haven’t seen many Mickey Spillane books at book sales in the past couple of decades, so my reading of them are pretty sparse since the dawn of the new century (see Black Alley, a Mike Hammer novel, in 2003 and Dead Street, a non-Mike Hammer novel completed by Max Allan Collins, that I read last year).

Like More Good Old Stuff, this book is old school hard-boiled stuff. The book is from the middle 1960s, but it reads like 40s fiction.

“Killer Mine” deals with a cop returning to his old, rough neighborhood where some of the local hoods he grew up with are getting bumped off. The brass put him in undercover, placing him as the pretend wooer of a policewoman who still lives in the neighborhood. As he does some legwork and starts to win over the population who distrust police, he closes in on the killer. Who was obvious to a modern, sophisticated reader of detective fiction. As a matter of fact, I wondered how the detective would take 150 pages to discover what I knew from very early. Then, on page 75, he confronts the killer, and I thought, “Whoa! Now there is some twist to account for the other half of the book!” But, no, this single volume is two novellas.

The second, “Man Alone”, I had read before. I don’t remember much except they call the protagonist “The Killer Cop.” A cop beats a framed payoff from an organized crime figure and then the murder of the organized crime figure and sets out to find who framed him. Again, the answer is obvious to modern readers who’ve been dealing with these sorts of twists for decades after this was written.

But we’re not in a Mickey Spillane book for a novel twist at this point. Instead, we’re in it for the gritty, hardboiled writing style, which you get here for sure, but as I have grown older, I find it less compelling than, say, John D. MacDonald or Raymond Chandler–or even Ross MacDonald. It’s certainly above most men’s paperback fiction in consistency and punchiness, but not the top tier. Which, I’m sure, Spillane would have accepted as long as people bought his books.

Book Report: More Good Old Stuff by John D. MacDonald (1984)

Book coverThis is the second big collection of MacDonald’s pulp-era short stories. I’ve read the first, I think, sometime in the distant past. I thought I read it in the recent past, but I was thinking of End of the Tiger, which I read in 2015.

Unlike that collection, this one is a collection of pulpy crime stories that appeared in various magazines in the 1940s and 1950s. MacDonald says in his forward that he’s updated them a bit to make them more contemporary (to 1984). However, by now, they’re quite dated, but less so to someone who was sentient in 1984.

The book includes:

  • “Deadly Damsel”, a story about a woman who kills husbands, and what happens when she meets a grifter in Florida.
     
  • “State Police Report That…”, wherein an escaped convict is tripped up by a surprising twist.
     
  • “Death for Sale”, wherein a prisoner of World War II hunts a French traitor to New Orleans.
     
  • “A Corpse In His Dreams”, a successful investigative journalist returns to his hometown, haunted by the death of his girlfriend in a car accident he survived.
     
  • “I Accuse Myself”, a man recovering from emergency brain surgery remembers the murder.
     
  • “A Place to Live”, a city employee takes on the city machine with a story of corruption and finds the odds stacked against him.
     
  • “Neighborly Interest”, a trio of kidnappers hide out in a nondescript house and are tripped up by a small detail.
     
  • “The Night Is Over”, a grieving man hits bottom and is unwittingly enticed into a scheme by a con man and blackmailer, only to find himself trapped.
     
  • “Secret Stain”, a hard man plays both ends of an organized crime group against each other for his own reasons.
     
  • “Even Up the Odds”, a drunkard gets into a scrap with the local connected bully.
     
  • “Verdict”, a hard man is sent out of town to eliminate a crusading police chief but finds more than he expected.
     
  • “The High Gray Walls of Hate”, an ex-con looks to even the score with those who framed him.
     
  • “Unmarried Widow”, a woman finds an out-of-work journalist in a bar, and mistakes him for someone named Jerry. The journalist finds that some hard men are after her, and he tries to find out why. The gimmick where a mad woman calls the protagonist by another name, you might remember, was used in the film Quigly Down Under. I did.
     
  • “You Remember Jeanie”, a former cop hits bottom after his girl is killed in a bar, and he continues to frequent the bar for vengeance.

Overall, a pleasing book to read, and it’s the first book I’ve read this year (!). I might revisit the MacDonald stuff for fun some day, especially if I get to live to 200 and they stop making paper books so I have to reread what I have.

Book Report: The Tao of Meow by “Waldo Japussy” and Carl Japikse (1990)

Book coverI closed out my annual reading with this volume. After all, I’ve read books on the various Tao this year (Tao Te Ching, The Tao of Elvis). I’ve read books purportedly by cats (I Could Pee On This) and books about magical cats (The Catswold Portal, No One Noticed The Cat). So this book fit right into my annual reading selections.

The schtick is that the author’s cat wrote 81 poems just like Lao Tzu, and each talks a little about the way. And about being a cat. In the first couple dozen poems, I wondered if the author was really trying to walk a fine line between amusing and actually trying to convey serious elements of Taoism in the book, but it hits one of the poems–I forget which one–where the author basically says that this is a humor book and not to be taken too heavily.

It’s a bit of a stretch to get a full 81 poems out of the conceit, and the results are uneven. Some are thoughtful, some are amusing, and some are sort of pro forma. But I enjoyed it enough for what it is.

Now that 2017 is over, perhaps my cat book binge can be over, and I can start focusing on ferrets or pot-bellied pigs as pets, detectives, and philosophers in 2018.

Book Report: Derelict by LJ Cohen (2014)

Book coverI bought this book on the last day of the local GAME Expo in October. You’ll have to take my word for it, as I did not post a picture of the things I bought on that trip. I bought it from the author, who traipsed all the way from Boston to sit at a table in Springfield, Missouri, to sell her books. I was her last sale of the day, as she was heading out to catch a plane home as we got to the game / science fiction convention on Sunday afternoon.

At any rate, this is like, what, three in a row of self-published books that are pretty good? (Obsidian Son and The Leftovers being the others.) I’m a little afraid of delving into more self-published stuff for fear of ruining the streak.

This young adult book centers on four teens on a remote outpost. Ro, the daughter of the chief engineer of the station, is good with computers and whatnot; Jem and Barre are the children of the doctors of the station, and Jem is a good engineering student while Barre seemingly wastes his talents on music; and Micah, son of a disgraced Senator, who is trying to perfect a strain of a plant-based drug called Bitterweed to break the current cartel’s hold on the supply. Ro hopes to get to the university, and she hopes to revive a derelict crashed space transport as a project to show she’s competent. But the teens find guns in the hold with forged diplomatic seals on them and uncover a plot by the engineer and the senator to traffic the goods. A plot that requires Ro to awaken the ship’s AI and make the ship space-worthy. When she does, the confused space AI takes off from the asteroid in a panic, leaving the four teens scrambling to survive and return home even as they’re hunted by the government and the people who want their wares.

It’s pretty good. It meanders a bit, especially towards the end, but I might just get impatient with books that clock in at almost 400 pages. Also, the derelict of the title is treated as ancient, but I believe the book says it crashed forty years ago. That seems a little recent for how ancient it’s portrayed. Even today, we have almost 100 year old ships sailing the seas and some of our airplanes are forty and fifty years old. Perhaps the author is trying to convey the youngsters’ perspective here.

So I enjoyed the read, and if I catch the author at another fair, convention, or festival, I might pick up some of the later books in the series (I believe she brought four titles to Springfield, but was sold out of one of them). But I don’t think I’ll hop on the Internet and order them to catch up. That is just not my way.

Book Report: The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts (1951, ?)

Book coverThe title of this book certainly fits into the philsophy kinds of books that I might like to pick up. Its size (short and paperback) meant it would make a good carry book for me. It did. As I was reading it at the dojo, a very well-read teenager there recognized Watts’ name. After I finished it, I saw a Facebook image with a Watts quote on it. So his influence continues, some thirty-five years after his death.

At any rate, this book was originally published in 1951, so it’s steeped in the Existentialist zeitgeist, but it’s not really an Existentialist book. Watt was at one time a clergyman, but he switched over to Buddhism as a relatively early American adopter (and he knew Shunryu Suzuki). So this is a bit of a spoiler alert. I detected some of the Buddhist themes in the work along with some response and comment on other philosophers’ work, but not so much by name.

It’s a popular bit of philsophical musings. That is, it grapples with some of the main themes in life instead of being a comment on a particular school of thought. The gist of it is that life is changing and fluid at all times, and the more you try to crystallize it into something specific, you lose it. That is, defining a word takes something away from the thing being defined. Also, the early traces of the Mindfulness movement are here, he posits that only the present is real and the past and future are not. So we get into the real nub of Buddhist theory of consciousness, which ultimately doesn’t seem to work: The “consciousness” in the “present” is not the same thing as it was in the past nor is it the same thing that will experience the “present” different from this one. If you accept a certain evolution of the person, the being, the soul, you can sort of think this is right, but the Buddhist thought says, no, literally, the consciousness who came to my blog is not the same one that right now is finishing the third paragraph of this book report.

So there are lessons one can take away from the book, which are basically the things you find in Mindfulness listicles all over the Web. Try to improve your mindset and adaptability to changing circumstances; let go of the past; don’t worry about the future; enjoy the present as it is. But unlike a listicle (and contemporary Mindfulness books written by the listicle authors), the book has depth in exploring some ontology and epistemology.

So a good read, and apparently still relevant if contemporary high school kids, albeit precocious ones, talk about the author.

Book Report: The Master Mind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1928, 1962)

Book coverTechnically, the copy of this book that I read is the third book in a three-novel omnibus edition called 3 Martian Novels; however, the other two are Thuvia, Maid of Mars and The Chessmen of Mars, both of which I read earlier this year when I read the omnibus John Carter of Mars. I know my book reading accounting system is arbitrary: In my annual tabulation, the five volume omnibus is a single book, but the one novel that I read in this collection is one book instead of a third of a book, which is why my annual reading is currently at 83 instead of 87.33. But I’m accountable to no governing authority on this enumeration, so I’ll do what I want.

Where was I? Oh, yes. In this book, we have another Earthman, a WWI soldier who dies in combat, transported to Mars. He ends up in the employ of a great scientist who has learned how to transplant just about anything–including brains from one body to another. The scientist, a supremely rational being, maps out a plan where he and the Earthman will swap each others’ brains into new bodies every thousand years or so, essentially conferring immortality upon each. The plan goes awry when the Earthman meets the mind of a sweet young Martian woman whose brain has been swapped with into the body of an aged despot, and the Earthman vows to put things aright.

It’s a pretty quick little yarn; John Carter makes the obligatory appearance at the end, but Burroughs has already learned by book 4 of the series that after elevating the main character to the pinnacle of power (John Carter became the jeddak of all jeddaks in the third book) that it would be wise to focus on other, more approachable characters whose struggles would still be acute and adventurous, in the series. So many series keep heaping power, fame, and whatnot on the series characters so that they’ve continually have to find ever more powerful struggles and villains to fight, and the characters end up caricatures or so powerful that the reader cannot identify with the protagonists.

Bully on Burroughs for avoiding this trap.

Also note that my estimation of this book is probably higher because I haven’t read five or six in the series in a row. Mixing the series books in with other books helps keep them fresh, hides some of the formula, and helps each stand alone instead of being instantly comparable to the last one read. So I should take that to heart, although I’ll probably still read omnibus editions as a single book. Except maybe the Detective Book Club books.

Book Report: A Christmas Promise by Thomas Kinkade and Katherine Spencer (2004)

Book coverThis book represents my annual Christmas book, and it’s the one I bought most recently (http://brianjnoggle.com/blog/2017/10/14/good-book-hunting-friday-october-13-2017-friends-of-the-christian-county-library-book-sale/” target=”_new”>October, in fact). Although I’ve bought a couple more such books this year, they’ve hidden amongst my to-read shelves, whereas this book was still relatively front and center.

At any rate, apparently, this is the fifth of the Cape Light books; I read one from ten years later last year (All Is Bright from 2014), and I didn’t care for it. As a matter of fact, I said:

So although I undoubtedly have destiny that includes one or more Kinkade paintings, I doubt I’ll revisit this series.

Well, fortunately, I forgot that particular New Year’s Resolution, as this book was better.

A pastor visiting Cape Light while he recovers from malaria collides with a pregnant woman on the run and under an assumed name on a snowy evening. He helps her out, and they start to have feelings for each other, as she hides out in a boarding house and integrates into the friendly community until a private investigator hired by her vindictive ex-husband shows up. Side plots include one daughter of a wealthy widow wanting to marry and another daughter dealing with the lingering effects of a miscarriage and her husband’s attention paid to a needy boy at a local shelter.

Overall, a pleasant book to read. A nice bit of fiction without major crimes involved, but enough intrigue with the woman on the run story to keep a genre-fan like me engaged. Which might be what the other Cape Light book I read lacked. It has its unanswered questions: What, exactly, is the promise in the title? How did the detective find her? It rather quickly covers the whole holiday period with big gaps, and then it drills into conflicts that might have been resolved within those intervening weeks, but do not. That’s a flaw I see in some television programs, too.

Now, back to the genre fiction for me.

Book Report: Vietnam Fallout The Executioner #113 (1988)

Book coverIt’s been almost six months since I’ve read a Bolan book (Death Has A Name in July), and this book is 17 books later in the series. Thicker than the old Bolan books (a transition I noted in the previously mentioned review), this one might be a touch better, but it’s still a bit dissatisfying overall.

Within this volume, Bolan is in New York when an ambassador from Vietnam who is making back channel overtures for normalization of relations with the United States is assassinated. Bolan is riding with a cop who happened to be an old war buddy, and they pursue the assassins. The friend is cut down, which sends Bolan on a search for vengeance that leads him to Vietnam. Although this book kinda treats this like it’s a fresh return for Bolan, we who read the books instead of write them for hire recognize that he has already been back in a book entitled Return to Vietnam.

Once in Vietnam, Bolan engages in a rehash of Heart of Darkness–or maybe Apocalypse Now, the original rehash of Heart of Darkness set in Vietnam, albeit during the actual war. As he follows that plot line, he engages in some questionable decisions that seem to go against the marrow of the character for future plot twists. And then the book reaches its shoot-out climax, and Bolan wins.

The first part of the book, in New York, has a different feel from the second half. One wonders if two incomplete manuscripts were grafted together to make one longer book. Or, one fears, maybe the remainder of these books will be like this. Which would be awful, since one has a lot of these later books from scattered places in the 400 or 500 book canon.

Book Report: The Wards of Iasos Book 1: The Leftovers by J. Christopher Wilson (2016)

Book coverI mentioned in September that this local author was stalking me, appearing at different cons and festivals I attended until I bought his book (to recap: I saw his table at Library Con 2017, but didn’t buy the book because he was on a panel at the time–and I’d already bought a bunch there anyway; I saw him at the Mini Maker Faire; and I saw him at a street fair in Hollister, where I finally bought this book). Well, I hadn’t gotten to it, but I saw him at the First Lego League competition in his home element–the middle school in the system where he teaches. So he was stalking me to make sure I read his book. Although, to be honest, he is an inefficient, ineffective stalker, as he did not even notice me leaning against the wall in the corridor as he ushered teams into the auditorium.

Still, it prompted me to pick up his book. Also, note that I’ve been reading a bit of fantasy lately. See also Jules Verne (all right, not exactly fantasy, but bear with me), Obsidian Son, The Catswold Portal, and John Carter of Mars (which is an omnibus of five novels). Does back in late summer count as “lately”? I dunno. But there you go. What was I saying? Oh, yes, a book report.

You know what? This book is pretty good. I’ve lucked out with the self-published fiction this autumn. The aforementioned Obsidian Son was also pretty good.

But this book differs from that, so let’s talk about this book. It’s targeted to younger adults and is high fantasy. The book deals with a collection of outcast students at the mandatory academy for youth in the nation of Iasos. Each comes from a broken home or has been cast aside by his or her parents. We have a large half-Orc cleric type, a half-goat warrior maiden, a scarred magician who wears a hood, a young barbarian, and an empathetic thief. The house leader/teacher is a battle-weary dwarf who takes the group under his wing to teach them how to work as a team and whatnot.

The book starts running through some threads that will continue in later books, and the adventures in this book come to a head when the group travels outside the academy’s sanctuary. They encounter some mercenaries sent by a foreign power to destabilize the country, and the young charges want to fight to liberate a small, illegal community oppressed by the mercenaries. After the mercenaries kill one of the wards, a reckoning comes that sees the wards fight together for the first time.

The author’s bio says he’s a Dungeons and Dragons player, and you can see a little of that in the descriptions, particularly of the locations. The narrative stops, and we get a couple paragraphs or pages of descriptions of the building. One almost wants to check the east wall for secret doors. Also, I’m tempted to try to identify influences for the work–I remember the old Advanced Dungeons and Dragons cartoon had the smallest, youngest kid be the Barbarian, although in the cartoon, the boy was not primitive. Looking at the cover, I can’t wonder if the artist was not influenced by the Teen Titans–one of the characters looks like Raven, and the Behemoth (the half-Orc knock off with the splotches of lighter color) kinda looks like Cyborg. But it’s unfair to the author that I’m looking for these influences where they might not exist.

At any rate, that’s two for two on the self-published books I’ve read this autumn. I expect I’ll get the next installment when it comes out because otherwise I’ll see this author at all the local cons and whatnot, and he’ll not let me rest until I do.

Book Report: The Best of Jules Verne by Jules Verne (1978)

Book coverI picked up this book because I know the chicks dig Jules Verne.

Well, maybe it’s only one, and maybe she is fictional. But still.

I probably picked this up because I’ve been doing the omnibus thing this year. I’ve shortchanged my annual numbers by reading books containing multiple books all year long (Three Novels by Damon Knight; Selected Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe; John Carter of Mars). So why not another three-in-one? Besides, this book is sort of like picking up a split–I have a Reader’s Digest edition of A Journey to the Center of the Earth which I can move over to the read shelves as this volume contains that novel.

At any rate, my dear Clara, this volume contains three of Verne’s works, and we could spend many evenings by candelight discussing whether they are, in fact, the best. Before I did so, I would have to read a bunch more of what he wrote to argue intelligently, as these are the three books I’ve read.

The three books contained with are:

  • Around the World in 80 Days, the story of a reclusive and mysterious Englishman, Phineas Fogg, who makes a bet at his gentleman’s club that he can travel around the world in 80 days. He takes his new valet along for the ride and rescues a beautiful young Pharisee from sacrifice in India. A bank robbery right before he leaves London puts a detective on his tail who’s out to thwart him until an arrest warrant catches up with him.

    Of the book, this is the best–its protagonist is aloof, but the new valet, Passepartoute, is accessible, so we are rooting for them to complete their adventure in spite of the setbacks and adventures they encounter along the way. We even feel sympathetic to the detective who’s only doing his job. And the adventures involve exotic places and peoples. The other two novels included falter in comparison.

  • The Clipper of the Clouds, also published as Robur the Conqueror, starts with a duel scene. A Yankee and an Englishman argue over whether mysterious trumpet sounds coming from the sky played “Yankee Doodle” or “Rule Britannia”. The rest of the first chapter details mysterious sounds and trumpets heard from the sky around the world and the arguments as to what it might be. Then, we’re at a meeting of the lighter than air travel society, proposing to build a giant blimp or dirgible, when a stranger says that heavier than air craft ar the way to go. A ruckus and riot ensues, and the two most powerful men in the society disappear–they’ve been kidnapped by Robur, who has essentially a boat with rotary wings on the masts in addition to sails. So it can fly! He then, for reasons of his own, take the two men around the world and to different locales. Their adventures are a bit underwhelming, and then they return. I guess Verne did a sequel to this book, but I’m certainly not compelled to read it.
     
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth details a professor who finds a several-hundred-year-old coded note from an explorer who was censured and considered a heretic. The note contains the location of a secret cave that leads to the center of the earth. So the scientist enlists his nephew for a trip to Iceland, they take on a stoic Icelandic guide, a load of food, and they descend. They spend months walking through caves and having dry misadventures–running low on water, getting lost–until they find a giant underworld sea, which they build a raft and ride on for weeks, and then they find dinosaurs and evidence of humanoids under the earth before they trigger a volcanic eruption and ride it to the surface.

The second and third books in the volume have a whiff of the hard science fiction about them, where the draw is the science and the speculation, but not so much the story. Which is not what I read books for–not fiction, anyway.

So I was not, ultimately, impressed with them. Not for their lack of imagination, but rather by the execution where the speculation drove the books more than the stories based on the speculation.

I’m not sure what Clara would think of that.

The book also contains an interview with Jules Verne from The Strand magazine called “Jules Verne at Home”. This is a very nice bit capturing Verne and his wife at their estate, giving some insight into the popular author at the tail end of his career.

Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Seal Force Alpha by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman (1998)

Book coverLet’s get it right out of the way: In my book report for They Call Me Mercenary #7: Slave of the Warmonger, I dinged that volume for misspelling the name of the Browning Hi-Power.

Welp, this book:

On his thigh, I could see the butt of an old SAS-type Browning High Power pistol peeking through the ballistic nylon restraining strap.

So consider this volume officially dinged.

As with any of the Rogue Warrior novels, you know what you’re getting: A crassly composed, often vulgar voice describing a pretty tight military/suspense story. This book deals with the specialist SEAL team destroying a clandestine Chinese weapons ship only to discover that the tangos had their hands on a particularly Top Secret electronics weapon called Big Brother–which means someone in Washington has been working with the ChiComs. So Marcinko and crew have to stop a plot (dealing with the disputed Senkaku islands–here in the future, in 2017, we know all about those still-disputed islands, don’t we?).

It’s fast-paced and fun reading (if you can tolerate the voice, which is strangely part of the charm for me). Apparently, these books are still getting written and put out, and I have to wonder how they will evolve–in 1998, the main character has open disdain for the Clinton administration, for example–as history has unfolded. Sadly, they could just about recycle a number of the post-Cold War plots since the same hotspots from 1998 remain places of suspense in 2017.

Check out the foresight as to the hot things to come:

No, Dick–what you sometimes gotta do is take the Oriental approach. Use the discipline of Mindfulness. Let everything be everything, and in equal degrees of being.

In 2017, all the cool listicle and life-hack sites talk about mindfulness (as does this blog, as I end up reading a bunch of that stuff to relax).

As I have said or alluded, these books are scarily timely even after 20 years.

Book Report: Teachers: Jokes, Quotes, and Anecdotes edited by Patrick Regan (2001)

Book coverThe people behind this book built it to be a teacher-friendly gift for students to give their secret Santas and whatnot in the educational system. It collects quotes about education from a variety of classical sources, includes a jokes relating to schooling that cast teachers in a flattering light, and shares anecdotes from actual teachers about amusing incidents they encountered.

Although it’s a pretty thick little book–260+ pages–with only two short bits per page, it’s a pretty quick scan, amusing enough but not something that’s going to stick to your mental ribs.

So an amusing couple of hours of flipping, and nothing more. Unless you receive it as a gift and you’re a teacher, in which case it could be a memento.

Book Report: Wisconsin: A Picture Memory text by Bill Harris (1996)

Book coverI’ve read a number of these Crescent Books picture books with the text by Bill Harris before (New York At Night, Florida: A Photographic Journey, New York: City of Many Dreams). So when I saw a book with images from my home state last month, I hopped on it.

This volume is pretty slim–64 pages in all–which makes me question the committment of the publishers. Wisconsin has varied landscapes, and one could easily do a whole book on the north, on the lake shore, along the Missouri river, and the prairie.

However, this book gives each a nod and a page or two along with three pages of pictures of Madison, a page of Milwaukee (including the interior of a brewery, natch). I was pleased with how many sites I’ve seen–I’ve been to La Crosse, I’ve been up north, and I’ve visited the Dells and the House on the Rock. I have seen the state capitol lit up at night, but I haven’t been to Madison by day–the only time I was in Madison was late on a Friday or Saturday night for a quick trip to the Pizza Pit and back to Milwaukee, so I didn’t really even notice the birds’ eye view of its position between its two lakes.

So I enjoyed the book. Certainly more than the Wisconsin-based football game during which I flipped through the volume.

I have more of these books, I think, and I kind of look forward to them. Perhaps I should find them amid the thousands of books I’ve got on my to-read shelves.

Also, extra poignant note: The book has a little sticky note inscription in it that says To Dad From Brian. As this is a 1996 edition of the book, my own father was already but a (fresh) memory for me then.

Book Report: Zobmondo! Created by Randy Horn (2001)

Book coverTo be entirely honest, I didn’t actually read this book.

I bought it because my beautiful wife and I, when we were young, took little quiz books along on rode trips and asked ourselves the little essay questions to amuse ourselves and to learn more about our partner as the miles rolled away. So somewhere along the line, I picked up this book to amuse ourselves again when we had older children and took road trips.

Well, the children are older now, and we sometimes drive a distance with them, but when we packed this little “Would you rather?” game, it was pretty clear that I had only read the back and had not read actual questions in the book, or if I did look at actual questions in the book, I must have accidentally landed on the things that weren’t particularly odious.

The first questions in the book are:

  • Would you rather chew on a wild rat’s severed tail for a half hour or thoroughly brush your teeth with a toothbrush from a prison’s community toothbrush bowl?
  • Would you rather bite into a piece of chocolate and find it filled with maggots or filled with pus?
  • Would you rather walk around all day with a dead mouse in your butt or a dead frog in your mouth?

Well, we found something else to do on the trip

I guess the question for me is would I rather keep this book on my to-read shelves even though I won’t actually read it or put it on my read shelves even though I haven’t actually read it? Clearly, I’m migrating it to the read shelves (like I could ever give a book away!). Perhaps it will give my children some amusement someday, although given that some of the questions have sexual content and not just gross-out conundrums, I will try to keep it out of their grasps for a couple years yet.

So be warned: It’s more a book for road trips with Tom Green than with children or your sweetie.

Book Report: Awkward Family Pet Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack (2011)

Book coverI bought this book a week ago, and clearly I could not wait to get into it even though the Green Bay Packers did not actually play football last Sunday. As a matter of fact, I wanted to finish a book, any book, while I work my way through another lengthy omnibus edition and continued to toil away at a book on serious philosophy.

Clearly, this is any book, which is not to say it’s a any good book.

You know, I have bought and read books based on Internet sites before (heaven forbid, Bad Cat). Most of the Internet books I get have some textual angle, though, like The Official Darwin Awards or Jump the Shark, which fares better in book form than cat pictures with captions.

This book is a little different from that, though: It’s based on the Awkward Family Photos site, where families with odd props or out-of-date fashions post images of themselves (or get themselves posted) for the lulz. Frankly, I’ve not gotten a lot out of the site itself because laughing at pictures of other people ain’t really my bag, baby (but being amused by textual accounts of their deaths is a different thing entirely, apparently). So when the Web site operators, the nominal authors of this volume, extended the brand to pictures of people with dated fashions and pets as their props. And published at least one book of selections.

I finished the book in an hour or two of browsing, but I’ll probably forego getting others in the series or even books of this type (Internet-site photos with captions) in the future, aside from what I already own, because I don’t enjoy them and I can’t lie to myself and say I learned something from them.

But I’ll still get around to anything like this I already own. And I might revisit the proclamation if it’s coming around to football season, I’m still watching football, and I feel like I’m low on books to browse during sporting events. Because I am nothing if undisciplined.

Book Report: Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus by Karl Jaspers (1957, 1962)

Book coverThis book fits right into the reading I’ve been doing in Eastern philosophies, classical philosophy, and the Christian traditions. It is a part of a longer work (The Great Philosophers Volume I) by Existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers, whom I tend to confuse with either Karl Poppers or Karl Barth. Theoretically, I’ll get to keeping them straight as I read them individually instead of as names in summary textbooks.

The book looks at each of the four aforementioned thinkers, giving a brief biography of each and then teasing out the thinkers’ focuses. Jaspers draws certain parallels between each–for example, that the thinkers themselves did not leave behind many writings, but instead their followers produced the texts associated with the each, which does highlight that the understanding of each is tainted by a hagiographic portrayal by their partisans.

A good, quick enough read and a quick summary view–although the Confucius section bogged me down quite as the primary text did. It can be a good starting point into these thinkers and help familiarize the reader with the various things they thought.

Deeper than this book report, anyway.

It makes me consider reading the whole The Great Philosophers set someday, but to be honest, I’m like a quarter of the way through volume 1 part 1 of Copleson’s History of Philosophy, so I won’t go out and look for it. But if I see it in a book sale….

Book Report: The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton (1922, 1986)

Book coverI picked up this book because I’ve heard of Chesterton, of course, and because I’m a big fan of the Bill Murray film The Man Who Knew Too Little. So this book is a two-fer: An intro to Chesterton and the knowledge of the source of the trope. It had been facing out of my hallway to-read bookshelves for a while, and I picked it up, hoping to get through a collection of short stories quickly. Oh, but no.

This volume collects eight connected short stories. Horne Fisher is a member of a well-connected British family whose members include several high-ranking government officials. Horne is the odd duck of the family, a dilettante that knows a lot of things and a lot of things about people. In each of the stories, someone gets murdered, and Fisher gets to the bottom of it, but the murderer goes free for the greater good of the country somewhow. Fisher has a confidante in journalist Harold Marsh who hears the crime solutions but also does not take action at his friend’s behest.

The style is a bit stilted, a bit more targeted perhaps to the aristocracy or to the intelligentsia than, say Rudyard Kipling or popular translations of Jules Verne. So I found it slower to read and easier to put down, which is why it took me a while to read the whole book even though it’s only 160 pages. I’d read something else in the interim and then a story in this book. This approach kept it from becoming too tedious.

At any rate, perhaps not the best lead into Chesterton’s work. Less approachable than Christie, and given that the criminals do not receive justice, unsatisfying. I was probably hindered by not knowing the exact period in which this was going on nor the conflicts alluded to. Even watching the entirety of Downton Abbey did not prepare me adequately. And I couldn’t hear Michelle Dockery’s voice reading it aloud (unlike Cotsold Mistress, where my imagining it helped me get through the book).

Still, I can say I’ve read some Chesterton now, which probably makes it worth the fifty cents or dollar I paid for the book. You can find fairly inexpensive editions on Amazon as noted below.

Book Report: Pets’ Letters To God translated by Mark Bricklin (1999)

Book coverI bought this book on Friday, and in that very post I pointed out the lack of recent book reporting. So I grabbed one of the thin, browseable books from that stack and flipped through it even though it’s a bye week for the Green Bay Packers.

This book collects a number of little letters as though they were written by pets to God. There must be some sort of cutesy collection of children doing this sort of thing for this collection to piggyback on, but I’ve avoided it. Probably for similar reasons that I like jokes with talking dogs but not talking children. Which was true even before I had children of my own.

At any rate, the book is about what you expect: something along the lines of I Could Pee On This and with about the same amusement factor. Which is to say some things were amusing, most were not, and I didn’t get dumber reading it.

So worth your time if you’re me. Or if this is your bag, baby.

Interesting note: The author’s bio indicates he is the former editor of Pets: Part of the Family, Prevention, and Men’s Health magazines. Actually, that’s all the bio. One would think a former editor would have weightier things to write about, but I guess not. Or this fills the time and the bank account. Maybe he’s a professional. Unlike your humble host, who mostly writes this as a gift to myself in four years, when I’ll page through these posts and find them amusing in an I Could Pee On This way. If, in four years, I can still access this site given I’m not sure how to convert it to https.

Book Report: The Marriage of Bette and Boo by Christopher Durang (1985)

Book coverYou could probably have guessed after I bought a couple books while out of town for the night that I’d pick up the shortest book to read in my hotel. And you would be right.

As I mentioned, I saw this play in college. Ah, my senior year: I saw a large number of plays with a number of comely young ladies, none of whom was interested in me. Well, maybe a couple were and I was oblivious to it. I had to attend this play for one of my classes, and I sat next to a young lady who I knew from the writer’s club. After the play, we walked out together, and she straightened my tie. Did that indicate interest? I don’t know. When reading others’ emotions and acting upon them, I’m a chimp at the space shuttle controls: I know something’s happening, and I know I should do something, but I just press the wrong buttons.

At any rate, I remember the play not only because of the young lady but also because the play disturbed me a bit. It’s told from the point of view of an English student reminiscing about his family life and his parents’ marriage which ends while he’s at school. I, of course, had studied a bit of Thomas Hardy at the time (one of the devices of the play is that the narrator talks about analyzing Hardy’s works as he’s analyzing his parents and perhaps their influence upon him). As the child of a broken home (relatively fresh at that, what, with their marriage still longer than the period they’d been divorced), I felt for the kid. Who was older than I was at the time.

So I saw the book, and I remembered almost viscerally the reaction I had to the play at the time, so I bought it and read it again. As an adult (older than my parents when they divorced and almost as old as my father was when he died), I don’t get quite the poignancy that I did then when I identified with the lad, but I do still have a bit of sadness for the characters in the play. I think it’s billed as a comedy, but it’s more a tragedy than a comedy. Even though the moments from the play stuck with me–I’d forgotten a part where a priest imitates bacon, but when I got to it in the book, I immediately remembered the scene on stage.

So it’s a good play, all right.

The edition I have has a lot of end notes from the playwright (who played the main character in the big New York production of it in the middle 1980s) giving a lot of direction for the direction of the play, including some interpretations that he did not care for in some productions. I’ll be honest, that’s a bit of cheating: In my playwrighting class, the professor said to put all that in the words and stage directions, and to put only the bare minimum in to allow for as much interpretation as you can stand. So the end piece seems a little uncricket.

Also, this book is again a book club edition. Which means our parents or grandparents liked plays enough to buy them from a book club. I cannot even imagine that. There aren’t that many people who buy plays these days (or maybe it’s just me), but I don’t remember seeing many of them in the book stores or book sales I frequent–I know, as I buy them. That’s a shame, as they’re often nice, quick reads with impact beyond their word count.

Book Report: Obsidian Son by Shayne Silvers (2012)

Book coverAs you might remember, I bought this book in August at LibraryCon. You know, I like to support self-published authors whom I find sitting at tables at conventions and in the library from time to time, but when it comes time to reading the books, I tend to be a little reluctant. A couple of the self-published efforts I’ve tried have been a little lackluster (ahem), and I’ve put them back on the to-read shelves. And I picked up this one.

Well. This was pretty good.

It’s an urban fantasy book featuring a protagonist wizard, the child of great wizards who are also billionaire businesspeople. The book starts right after their murders, where the hero (Nate Temple, for whom the series is named) owns a book store but might have to take control of his parents’ company. He specializes in finding esoteric works, and he’s commissioned to find a book that is drawing a lot of interest all of a sudden. It’s tied to dragons, creatures who generally remain hidden from public view, and Temple finds himself, his friends, and a growing circle of other Freaks working to prevent a power-hungry dragon from seizing power during a solar eclipse.

It’s set in St. Louis, but it doesn’t ride that too hard (you won’t be able to, say, drive a cab based on the text). It has a couple of place names, but that’s mostly it. Not even as much as an Anita Blake novel. Well, an early one, anyway, as I abandoned that series, what, twenty years ago?

You know, I liked it better than the Jim Butcher book I read a couple years ago. Of course, as this is the first of the series, it’s fresh and setting up the urban fantasy world and the team I presume will appear in later books of the series. Which might get as bogged down in Series Business as any series does. But this is the first, so it is without that baggage. Perhaps I should stick with only the first book or two of a series to keep that freshness.

At any rate, worth a look if you’re into urban fantasy. I’ll probably pick a copy up for my nephew, so that will be two copies of this book I will have bought…. boughten? What verb tense is that?