Book Report: Magnificent Hearst Castle

Book coverThis book is a little program guide from Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Florida.

It’s a lot shorter than Hearst Castle< and probably predates it by a couple of decades–although the booklet itself does not include a copyright date. It does, however, contain the then-current prices for admission to the attraction along with parking instructions. Were I more curious and a real Hearstophile, I suppose I could look up the prices to determine the exact era of the book. But I’m not.

At any rate, it contains a number of photos and descriptions of the rooms, but none of the real detail the other, thicker hardback has. Of course, this book was probably far less expensive initially and it’s not too expensive now.

Worth a quick browse to get a quick summary of the mansion and complex, I suppose. Or to pass a part of a football game’s men-in-jerseys-walking-around and commercials bloc of time on a Sunday afternoon.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Whispers of Love by edited by Deborah Gaylord (1980)

Book cover

Apparently, the Internet does not know that this book exists. But it does.

This is a 1980 magazine or book published by Scholastic Magazines, a division of Scholastic Book Services. It is 32 pages containing a single quote about love and a large photograph of happy 1970s people, presumably in love. I mean, here’s what we’re working with here:

Apparently, this was targeted to school children. That’s Scholastic’s ballwick, isn’t it? Or did this appear on the drugstore shelves for a quick gift for a loved one? Who knows?

All I know is it took me less than an offensive series in a football game to flip through it, and I’m going to count it in my annual tally. The book is more interesting for the photographs than the quotes, and not because the photographs are spectacular. It’s because the photographs remind one of the 1970s, and I was alive in the 1970s, so I knew people who followed the fashion and tried to look like this. Because it is cool. Frankly, it’s why I’ve never followed current fashion: It leads to photos of one like these. Also, I am cheap.

Also, I can’t help but wonder how many of the people from this book went home to furniture from this book.

Book Report: Stormbreaker: The Graphic Novel by Anthony Horowitz (2006)

Book coverThis book is apparently the graphic novel adaptation of the screenplay of a young adult book (or so the Internet says). So it’s a graphic novel, but with a plot of something other than a tournament of magic, pocket monsters, or whatnot. So it’s not manga.

Alex Rider is the nephew of a secret agent, and when that secret agent dies, the controlling agency takes an interest in Alex who has been groomed as a secret agent from an early age. Out of options, they insert him into the mansion/complex of a wealthy technology entrepreneur who is offering to donate thousands of new virtual reality computer systems to schools across the UK. Although initial clues indicate each machine might include a computer virus, the plot is to release an actual virus into the schools to kill hundreds of thousands of children. Because, evil.

Alex stops the plot and gets the girl.

It’s about par for the graphic novel course, and were I inclined to share this with my children, there’s apparently a whole series of books out there with Alex Rider as the hero. Young adult books without wizards, vampires, or some other supernatural element that sets the hero apart from mere mortals? I was not sure such a thing was done in the 21st century. Maybe I will share these books with my boys after all.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: A Farewell to Football by Jerry Kramer with Dick Schaap (1969, 1979)

Book coverJerry Kramer wrote this book a little more than a year after Instant Replay. The year after that book, the first year after Lombardi (who retires from coaching at the end of Instant Replay), the Packers cratered and lost more games than they won. Kramer’s Instant Replay became a best seller and he was quite in demand as a speaker and television guest. So he decided to give up playing football and to be a businessman since he has quite a few irons in the fire already.

So this book is a bit musing along those lines and a bit more detailed biography than Instant Replay. It doesn’t hold together quite as well as the first book as it had a unifying theme, and this one does not as much. It also might have been rushed out to capitalize on the success of Instant Replay.

At any rate, as I was reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder if Kramer’s optimism in his post-football life and business dealings were a bit optimistic. I wondered whether a lot of deals and opportunities came his way simply because he was a champion professional football player. I was pleased to see toward the end of the book that Kramer himself acknowledged this doubt.

So it’s not as good as Instant Replay, but it’s a pretty quick and easy read.

The books might also explain why Jerry Kramer is not in the football Hall of Fame: both of these books have a perspective about playing football that the industry might not want expressed. Kramer sees football as a job that he knows will end someday and, honestly, might not be the job he focused on in his last years in football. That might have stung some of the league officialdom at the time who might have wanted more focus on football, if not exclusive focus on football. Oh, how they might wish nowadays that the outside life of football players merely included business deals and hunting instead of lawbreaking.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Instant Replay by Jerry Kramer with Dick Schaap (1968)

Book coverIt’s been eleven years since I read this book. I remember I took it with me over a long weekend that my beautiful bride and I took to Kansas City. Funny what happens in eleven years. Now I remember well the name of the book store in Springfield since I pass it several times a week. But I probably only go into it as frequently as I did back when it was a pilgrimage when we went to Springfield.

At any rate, this report is going to be a lot like the first one: Jerry Kramer was the left guard for the Packers in the 1960s, and the year captured in this book is the run up to the third consecutive NFL championship and second Super Bowl (although the coach, Vince Lombardi, is more concerned with the former than the latter). Kramer talks about his aging in the game, about the mechanics, techniques, and preparations involved in the game, and his outside interests and investments. It’s a pretty loose and readable style and it carries you along even if you don’t know football or the historical nature of the season. Actually, this report is going to be a lot shorter than the other because I’m just going to summarize the book and direct you to that earlier report for more depth.

I picked up this copy of the book because it had the dust jacket, unlike my other copy, and I got it with a couple of other Kramer books. So expect a couple other reviews of his works during football season interspersed among the picture books.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Shticks and Stones edited by Miriam Levenson (2003)

Book coverThis book puts me in a moral panic. Should I like it? It’s Jewish humor. Should I feel bad in singling out Jewish humor in this way? The modern world is so very confusing.

At any rate, this little McNeel book is a collection of one liners from Jewish comedians sometimes about the Jewish experience in the United States. It was amusing and very short which is its raison d’ĂȘtre.

Which is a French saying in a book about Jewish humor. Should I have said something Yiddish instead? Shtick is right in the book title so it was used already.

At another rate, I bought this book at an estate sale for a couple of bits, and it’s worth that just for the simple pleasure of a couple of good one-liners whether you have a Jewish mother or just a mother.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Don’t You Dare Throw It Out! (2006)

Book coverThis book, a pamphlet, really, but it’s football season and I read pamphlets during football season, was published in 2006. However, it strikes me that most of these tips must come from the late twentieth century or indeed the middle part of the century. Instead of an upcycling set of tips for how you can cleverly reuse things, we get a list of ways to reuse product packaging because you can’t bother to go to the dollar store and pick up a Chinese molded plastic equivalent. I mean, there is a complete section on berry baskets for Pete’s sake. Have you seen berries sold in baskets in a long, long time? I have not.

So, instead of the 301 tips, let me boil it down for you. Got a piece of refuse and you can’t afford the garbage bill? You can use it for the following:

  • Use it to organize your car trunk.
  • Make a toy with it for your child or cats, although let’s be honest: your cats will be more impressed, briefly.
  • Use it to organize your desk drawers.
  • Make it into a planter.
  • Frame it and put it on your wall.
  • Make it a gift!

I think that pretty much covers it but with fewer exclamation points.

I’m not sure I got a single idea out of this book.

I did, however, get a blog post out of it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Christina’s World by Betsy James Wyeth (1982)

Book coverThis book, on the other hand, is what I’d hope from an art book. It’s got lots of paintings, studies for paintings, and not only the story of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World but the story about the artist’s friendship with his neighbors Christina and Alvaro Olson.

As I’ve mentioned, Christina’s World is one of three prints I had on my wall in my younger years. But I didn’t really know about Andrew Wyeth or the source material, and this book gives both. The painting depicts a scene in coastal Maine, for crying out loud, and I had always assumed Kansas.

At any rate, Wyeth spent a lot of time painting and sketching his neighbors, the Olsons, and their farmhouse. This book includes a lot of that material as well as photos from the time when Wyeth was painting. And allusions to how popular the images became in his–and Christina’s–lifetime.

A very nice book. This is also a former Christian County library book, but none of the images are missing. So, yay.

If I’m going to eat up two or three of these art books a week, I’m fortunate that the semi-annual library book sales are coming up in a month.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Spirit of America by Thomas Kinkade with Calvin Miller (1998)

Book coverWhen you buy a book with an artist’s name on the cover, you might expect to get a collection of the artist’s work. This book is the exception that proves the rule in the old-fashioned meaning of the word prove, wherein it means “tests.” And in this particular case disproves the hypothesis.

Don’t get me wrong,there are a handful of Kinkade’s works in the book. But the bulk of it is about thirty small chapters wherein Pastor Calvin Miller has created the story of an American immigrant from Belgium who talks about his life coming to America at the turn of the twentieth century and the progress he sees as he lives with his father on a small town in the middle of America throughout the century. Ultimately, it’s late 1990s end-of-history pablum, and we here two decades into the future are a more feral bunch. Amid the copy, we generally get a single Kinkade painting with various closeups presented.

To make matters worse, this ex-library book has at least two of the images of the paintings missing. Someone cut them out of a library book. I hate to think that somewhere in Christian County, Missouri, there are framed Kinkade pictures from this book. Perhaps someone gave them out as Christmas gifts.

And before you get all Internet-snarky on it, I was interested in seeing more of his work. I think some of them are pleasant and nostalgic, not unlike Currier & Ives. I don’t have any Kinkade in the house, but I’ve got some Renoir, and the only thing that differentiates Renoir from Kinkade is Renoir is French and his paintings are blurry.

So I’m disappointed in the book, but not the artist.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Saltville Massacre by Thomas D. Mays (1995)

Book coverThis book might make it look as though I have undergone the fundamental shift (mentioned here) about shifting my focus from reading about classical Greece and Rome to the American Civil War. However, although it might be a sign, it might also only be a sign that I was looking for something short and informative to read on the road. Which I did; I read this in a single sitting during one of my four hour nights at the dojo.

This book focuses on a single campaign/battle, the Saltville Massacre, and describes the events leading up to it, the battle itself including maps of all the major assaults, and the aftermath. It also includes numerous sidebars with short biographies of the officers on both sides. The book is a part of a series, of course.

The Saltville Massacre was an attack on Saltville, Virginia, by a Federal/Union army trying to wrest or destroy the saltworks there. The town and works were defended by a small group of Confederate soldiers and a small group of militia. The Union forces advanced and then stalled and tried to take some ridges but failed. After they withdrew, the Confederates took to the battlefield and killed any wounded black soldiers they found; additionally, a local irregular went into a hospital to settle a personal feud and to kill a couple more wounded blacks. The irregular, Champ Ferguson, was one of two Confederates hung for war crimes.

At any rate, as I said, it was short and informative. If one chooses to study in depth, one becomes used to the conventions of military science books and reading them becomes easier. The battle reminds me a bit of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, the local Civil War battle, but since I live within sight of that battlefield, I try to work it into a lot of conversations. Another thing that struck me was the bridge between classical warfare and modern mobile warfare. Although much of the fighting is assaults on defensive positions, the book does include one mention of offering battle–that is, lining up and trying to get the other army to come out and meet you. I haven’t studied that much military science, but that does seem to have fallen quite out of favor for obvious reasons.

I don’t remember where I got this book; however, I’ll keep my mind out for others in the series and others of the kind. They’re quick reads and informative, and cumulatively they’ll make me smarter on military science and history.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign by George N. Barnard (1866, 1977)

Book coverIt’s football season, so it means it’s time here at MfBJN to start writing book reports on art, photography, and poetry books that I can read during the commercials of football games. This book should have been the first of the series, but I didn’t actually get to it during the football game.

The book is a Dover reprint of a work by a nineteenth century photographer. Dover reprints a lot of stuff that goes out of copyright and priced it at a couple bucks. So it’s the same book as appeared soon after the Civil War that was the subject of many of the images.

The photographer followed Sherman as his army moved through Georgia in the latter part of the war. The early part of the book contains images from the campaign; the latter part depicts the battlefields and landscapes after the action occurred because the army was moving too fast for him to keep up with the elaborate processes of photography.

The reason I didn’t get to the book during the football game is that the first ten pages or so are the photographer’s notes from the campaign. They vary from high-level name checking of the numerous generals and officers in the campaign to very detailed troop movements, and they’re not smoothed out or edited to a consistent level of detail. Unfortunately, this makes it tedious to follow during or after a football game. But the fellow was a photographer, not a journalist.

And the images are images of the Civil War and thereabouts in Georgia. The photography makes the war slightly more real than the Roman Civil War under Caesar or Scipio’s chasing Hannibal from Italy.

Strangely, this is a former Christian County Library book, which means I bought it instead of inheriting it from my beautiful wife’s uncle; when he passed, he left many of his books to me, and he had a lot of detailed and scholarly work on the Civil War (including a first edition of Grant’s memoirs which I’ll eventually read and probably devalue with Cheetos dust). So when I veer from my current Ancient/Classical Greece and Rome kick, perhaps I can binge read on this topic.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Option Delta by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman (1999)

Book coverIt’s been not quite a year since I reviewed Rogue Warrior: Designation Gold, and if I hadn’t re-read the report on it, I would have repeated much of the same for this book. The first person narrator is brash and vulgar, and it works okay in some spots but does seem a little much at times. The technical and tactical briefings are broken into the narrative with a certain flair that beats Clancy. And the book has aged too well; written after the “end of history,” the narrator does not think much of the then-current Clinton administration and the military draw-down it performed.

In the book, Marcinko finds that someone has been digging up and selling small pocket tactical nukes that the US cached in West Germany for use by special forces in the event of a Soviet invasion. He’s supposed to find remaining caches, but he also decides to find who’s behind it. It’s an ultra-nationalist right-wing German bent on making Germany great again, of course, but Hitler’s frozen head does not make an appearance.

The book was written in 1999, so check out this lament:

The answer lies in the real quntessence of intelligence gathering: the concept that information is the raw material out of which political power can be produced. And because political power is something that budget-intensive organizations (which obviously include all the intelligence agencies) do not want to relinquish, forgo, or sacrifice, most of ’em treat their material as wholly proprietary.

Indeed, they’re like only children who won’t share their toys in kindergarten. The unhappy result is that most intel is stovepiped. It’s kinda like all those smokestacks you used to see in the old industrial zones before the tree-huggers outlawed smokestacks. Each existed parallel to the others. Each ventred its own hot air (Now that’s an apt image, since this is intel we’re talking about here, huh).

In a couple of years, we’d hear about that, wouldn’t we? Which makes me wonder: What is Jamie Gorelick doing now? It’s been a while since something she’s touched has gone to hell, hasn’t it?

Now, did I mention it’s aged too well? Check out these quotes and see if they don’t sound like 2015 instead of 1999:

Gentle reader, welcome to the real world, where DGAS is a way of life.

Whether it’s the White House memos, State Department cables, or the Pentagon’s most secret mission profiles, materials tend to be stored on computers sans safeguards. People don’t like to have to remember passwords. Indeed, they often write the passwords down and leave ’em in their desks. Or to make things easy for themselves (not to mention folks like me), they simply disable all the built-in security devices and make their computers user (and thief) friendly.


The nice thing about the EC is that once they check your passport, you can cross borders at will.

Maybe things will be different in 2030. Perhaps I hope so. Perhaps I hope not, given that different probably means worse.

At any rate, it’s a pretty good read. Of course, it represents the closest thing to 21st century thrillers that I read. Perhaps I should try more. Also, note that Marcinko is still alive and is about 74 now. I’ll be sad when he passes. Although his (and by “his” I mean he and his co-author’s works) aren’t bad reads. You could do worse. I often do.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Pythagoras by Dimitra Karamanides (2006)

Book cover

So I tweeted:

I was referring to this book, a children’s (or young adult) book in a series on ancient philosophers that includes volumes on Archimedes, Aristotle, Euclid, Plato, and Socrates. The volume istelf is an ex-library book, which means it got cashiered from the library in under 8 years. The book is in great shape; I wonder, and fear, what they made room for by putting it in the used book sale.

At any rate, as it is a young adult book, it’s chock full of large print, maps, graphics, and tangentally related photographs. But it gives a high-level overview of the (purported) life of Pythagoras and the thought and impact of the Pythagorean society’s research into mathematics and music. It dovetails nicely with Copleston’s History of Philosophy that I’m reading.

I’m glad I read the book and wouldn’t mind reading the others in the series, but I see this particular volume goes for $30 or more on Amazon. Heavens, I think I’ll just look for more of them at the Christian County Library book sale in the coming years. I have plenty of other things to read in the interim, including eight volumes of the Copleston work.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Plague by Albert Camus (1948, 1962)

Book coverThis marks the second time I’ve been through this book; the first was in the autumn of 1994, right after I finished with the university. I remember it distinctly because I carried the book from my job at a computer seller in south St. Louis city to MoKaBe’s coffee house as I awaited a ride from my girlfriend because my Nissan Pulsar was in the shop for an electrical short that would cost it many alternators, batteries, and headlights and me many hours waiting for rides, walking, or awaiting tow trucks.

At any rate, since I have been on a recent Existentialist kick (The Fall, Existentialism and Thomism, and since I’m counting 2012 as ‘recent’ The Stranger–why not? I’m counting multiple attempts at The Myth of Sisyphus in this kick), I picked it up again. Actually, I considered reading it last summer when the Ebola scare hit, but I decided against it.

I don’t know what I thought of this book twenty years ago, but I wasn’t especially impressed with it this time around. Perhaps I just don’t dig French novels or maybe it’s more specific to Existentialist works, but although the book has a dramatic event unfolding over the course of months and the narrator (spoiler alert) is a heroic doctor working to fight the epidemic, there’s not much action involved. Instead, the book describes some events, but most of it is characters (that the narrator observed) talking or thinking about the events and then many of them die. And the plague goes away. The end.

I suppose that conveys a certain French Existentialist description of life, though.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Discourses by Epictetus (1944)

Book coverI started reading this book a couple years back (sometime after Meditations by Marcus Aurelius), but my drive through it petered out as it, like the earlier work, is thematically repetitive. However, this time I figured I’d slog it out, as I’ve learned some patience and some discipline in reading longer works. So I did over the course of many months.

The book was not written by Epictetus; instead, it was written down by one of his students and is based upon that student’s notes on Epictetus’s classes, essentially, in Stoic philosophy. This accounts for some of the repetitive nature of it and why the book is not developed as a treatise; rather, Epictetus revisits certain themes several times. One can imagine him telling the same lectures to a different group of students. At one point, he even tells the transcriber to stop writing this stuff down. Which the transcriber does not.

At any rate, I took some positive things from the book. One of the greatest Stoic themes in the book is, to Americanize it, that a man has got to know his limitations. That which you can control is not so much events, not other people, not the world around you, but your own will. You can’t even really control your own body, not completely. So don’t search for happiness in these things but only in the way you deal with things and how you live in spite of them. Okay, that’s good stuff and a valuable lesson there.

However, Epictetus extends this principle to not ascribing value to other things I consider important.

Nay, these arguments of all others make those who adopt them obedient to the laws. Law is not what any fool can do. Yet see how these arguments make us behave rightly even towards our critics, since they teach us to claim nothing against them, in which they can surpass us. They teach us to give way in regard to our poor body, to give way in regard to property, children, parents, brothers, to give up everything, resign everything: only our judgements they reserve, and these Zeus willed should be each man’s special property. How can you call this lawlessness, how can you call it stupidity? I give way to you in that wherein you are better and stronger than I: where, on the other hand, I am the better man, it is for you to give way to me, for I have made this my concern, and you have not. You make it your concern, how to live in a palace, how slaves and freedmen are to serve you, how you are to wear conspicuous raiment, how you are to have a multitude of huntsmen, minstrels, players. Do I lay claim to any of these? But you, for your part, have you concerned yourself with judgements? Have you concerned yourself with your own rational self? Do you know what are its constituents, what is its principle of union, how it is articulated, what are its faculties and of what nature? Why are you vexed then, if another who has made these things his study has the advantage of you here?

Epictetus points out that your family and your children are not your volition, so they’re not really ultimately valuable. Only your will is. In many places and in many different ways, Epictetus pledges a certain servility to the Tyrant and to nature and acceptance of whatever they decide for you. It’s like the first part of the Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,”) without the rest (“The courage to change the things I can,/And the wisdom to know the difference.”).

The book does allude to the right way to live, seeking to live according to God’s will, but it’s rather light on what that will is or what universal precepts might dictate proper action (live according to reason and within your limitations are nebulous at best).

Still, I’m glad I read it. I’ve got some additional classic literature cred, which impresses pretty much nobody I know, and it does give me some ideas and perspective to put into practice in my life. As I explained to my beautiful wife, philosophy is just self-help books with bigger words in them.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Go-Getter by Peter Kyne(1921, ?)

Book coverI selected this book as a quick little number to read on the road yesterday. It’s a touch under 60 pages, so I thought I could read it as a short story interlude amongst some of the heavier reading I’m working on these days. It doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

It tells the story of a lumber and shipping magnate, retired, who talks with the current leaders of the shipping and lumber companies about a debacle in their foray into trans-Pacific shipping. The head of their Shanghai office turned out to be a bad choice, and they need to find a replacement. They decide to send the senior fellow from the home office. Then, a disabled veteran of World War I presents himself to the magnate and explains that the magnate is going to hire him. The magnate learns that the vet had approached the two company leaders beforehand and had been rejected in both cases, but he refused to be dissuaded. The magnate hires him and presents him to the lumber manager; the manager and the magnate put the veteran on a sales route and task him with selling skunk spruce, a product that doesn’t sell well. The veteran returns having sold so much of it that corporate reined him in because they couldn’t produce as much as he sold. So the magnate thinks the vet might be the perfect man for the Shanghai office, but he devises another test for him: The Degree of the Blue Vase.

I won’t recount the whole sixty page story here. Apparently, this book is still popular somewhere in the business world as it’s rated highly on Amazon and is available in many editions. The fact that it is a pre-Mickey Mouse copyright and has fallen into the public domain probably helps with that.

As I read it, I couldn’t help but contrast it with the much bally-hooed Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Both deal with the World War I sitch and the vets returning, but Woolf’s book is so much more English, with the veteran serving only as a counterpoint to the socialite and killing himself in the end (spoiler alert). The Go-Getter is more American, sort of a pep talk for veterans of that conflict with a dash of Horatio Alger thrown in. Or maybe a heaping cup of Horatio Alger.

It was a pleasant enough read, but it didn’t make me much more of a go-getter than I already am. Which is not much, actually. For example, I only saw the film Mrs. Dalloway and did not read the book. BECAUSE I AM A SLACKER.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Book Of Useless Information by Noah Botham and the Useless Information Society (2006)

Book coverThis book is a collection of trivia one-liners such as you’d see in text overlaying images on some listicle sites. As such, it’s probably as trustworthy as the Internet.

I mean, there probably aren’t deliberate falsehoods to detect copyright infringement like you find in the old trivia books. But there are some contradictary trivium like “The leg bones of a bat are so thin that no bat can walk” followed a couple lines later by “Disc winged bats of Latin America have adhesive discs on both wings and feet that enable them to live in unfurling banana leaves (or even to walk up a window pane!).” Sure, that last can be interpreted in a fashion that’s not completely contrary to the former, but they’re not written clearly enough to be completely clear.

So if I’m ever asked the only bat that can walk, and I wrongly answer “The disc-winged bat,” you’ll know why.

But the book is a good enough way to pass the time on an airplane or something like that; you can pick it up, read a few things and go “Huh,” and put it down when needed. And just maybe you’ll have the right answer for a trivia night sometime. Or at least an answer that might be right, which is sometimes the best you can hope for.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: At The Hemingways by Marcelline Hemingway Sanford (1962)

Book coverLast year, I went to Orlando and got a book about Hemingway (The Private Hell of Hemingway). This year, on our second trip to Orlando, I brought my own volume of Hemingwayenalia.

This book was written by Ernest Hemingway’s older sister, and it’s about their lives growing up in the nice suburbs of Chicago. It starts with a bit of history about their grandparents, both sets of which became well-to-do, and runs through the Hemingways proper from the time they moved from the Hall (Mrs. Hemingway’s parents) home to their own home and through their childhoods and up, sort of, to 1962. It’s full of good period detail, discusses their interesting family history, describes the love of outdoors that the family shared and times at their home in Michigan. The book also carries forth beyond their childhood to some incidents in Hemingway’s life after he leaves home, their worrying about him when he goes to Italy in World War I and its aftermath and how he ends up writing. The book also goes on to describe the decline and suicide of Dr. Hemingway and what Mrs. Hemingway did after he did (which is develop another career as a painter and speaker). The book does not deal with Hemingway’s suicide because he probably hadn’t done so when the book was written.

Ernest Hemingway is a minor character in this book, so it’s not a biography of his except tangentally. I enjoyed it, though, but I am into turn-of-the-twentieth-century memoirs (I mean, I’ve read Clarence Day’s Life with Father twice). So I would have read it even if it wasn’t about Hemingway if it had come into my hands, but I expect it wouldn’t have been published–nor even written–if the woman had not been Hemingway’s sister.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (2004)

Book coverThis book is a neat little Barnes and Noble printing of the classic. It’s a hardback but it’s the size of a paperback, and the text size is not too small to be readable, so this fits in with my hardback snobbery but also suits my recent drive for portability and carry books. And, apparently, it’s from a series of classic titles in this format. So I might have another set to start collecting, but I don’t remember seeing many of them in the wild.

At any rate, this is the original story of Frankenstein and his monster. By original, I mean the original text; the introduction mentions that an edition in Shelley’s lifetime reduced some of the more radical elements of it; however, to a reader in the era of Obama, there’s nothing particularly radical in the text. Maybe an edition in my lifetime would remove some elements of Victor Frankenstein’s drive for knowledge and education. But I digress.

The story began as a tale Shelley told her companions while they were vacationing in Switzerland. She finished it as a book, and it was pretty popular. It’s set in the early years of the nineteenth century; that is, the early 1800s, within memory of the American Revolution and the French Revolution and the Romantic movement in literature. A frame story deals with a man writing letters to his sister in England. The man wanted to find a northern passage and to explore the Arctic, so he travelled to Scandinavia and found the heartiest travellers he could to man a ship. As they plow ahead into the northern ice fields and run into trouble, they see a guy go by on a dogsled. Then, later, another man comes along on a dogsled. This second is Frankenstein, and he’s pursuing the life he created to the ends of the earth. Frankenstein is weak, so they take him aboard the ship and he relates his story to the captain, who has longed for a companion who shares his drive for knowledge.

The tale of Frankenstein is related in the letters told in the first person as Victor Frankenstein discusses his education, his study of natural sciences, and he pursuit of lost knowledge of animating life through chemical and electrical processes. He grows haggard as he pursues his goal of creating life, and then one day in his rented rooms in a boarding house, he does so. He then becomes upset about what he’s done and swoons; when he awakens, the thing he created is gone. Frankenstein returns home to the murder of his young brother and the execution of a family ward for the deed–although Frankenstein suspects it was the monster.

The story switches to the first person account of the monster, which is bigger and stronger than a man, but ugly. When it encounters regular people, it is attacked and feared. It hides out at the farm of a down-on-their-luck family with a romantic political back story of its own. He learns language and quite a bit from watching this family and begins to help them out while hiding from their sight until he decides to approach the blind patriarch to befriend him and thus, hopefully, the family. As the monster befriends the old man, the other family members return home and immediately fall upon him. The monster flees and vows revenge upon all mankind.

The monster finds Frankenstein on one of the gentleman’s restorative hikes in the Alps and relates this story and offers to stay his hand if Frankenstein will create a mate for the creature. Frankenstein assents, and then starts his study and work to redo the processes, but at the last minute, at a remote outpost, he destroys all the work because he cannot be sure the monster will keep his word and out of fears that the monster and its mate might procreate.

So the monster takes his revenge by killing those close to Frankenstein, which leads to Frankenstein’s vow to kill the monster. And the pursuit in the Arctic.

The story is pretty interesting, although it moves at a pace slower than many modern readers would enjoy patiently. I know I looked a couple of times to see how far I was into the book and to see how much was left. The characters are pretty interesting and sympathetic–even the monster is until he starts killing people and seeking revenge for his life, but even then I could see why he was driven to it. So it offers a lot of depth to the story you don’t get on screen and in the comic books.


Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck (1962)

Book coverIt has been over a decade since I’ve been really in a John Steinbeck phase; about fifteen years ago, I read Tortilla Flat, Cup of Gold, The Winter of Our Discontent, and Of Mice and Men in quick succession. I’ve since read The Long Valley. And although there are a couple of Steinbeck books on my shelves (East of Eden and Cannery Row), it had been years since I picked up a Steinbeck, which is odd since he’s classic literature that I like to intersperse with the Executioner novels that are my normal fare. So I finally picked up this book.

This book is written twenty years after those prime novels listed above. By the early 1960s, John Steinbeck is John Steinbeck; instead of California, he lives in New York and is known about town and about the country. He decides to get into a camper and drive around the country with his dog Charley. This slender volume is the result of that effort.

On the one hand, as I read this book, I recognized the stylistic influence Steinbeck had on modern prose, including the literate pulp of the latter twentieth century. As I read, I could easily think that John D. MacDonald or Travis McGee was narrating the adventure.

On the other hand, the focus of the book and the theme are a bit underwhelming. I’ve mentioned before a couple of the things of note (Inside a Certain Mindset with John Steinbeck and Layers and Layers of Fact Checkers Circa 1962). The book has a couple of incidents where Steinbeck recounts his interaction with people–a family of French Canadian migrant harvesters in Maine, a New Englander he has into his camper for coffee; veterinarians who take care of Charley along the way. He also has a couple of places where he waxes on places he visits, including several pages of glowing on Wisconsin. However, the book itself dwells mostly on Steinbeck’s seemingly unrelated musings on Life and the Big Questions. The final segment of the journey, natch, is a journey through the South and musing on the Race Question, including a segment where Steinbeck talks to an older white man for a bit and then picks up a black man walking along the road to uncomfortably interrogate the reluctant sample of the Negro population.

So the book was an enjoyable read because of Steinbeck’s prose, but I found it head-shakingly fatuous at times. So it’s worth reading if you like Steinbeck, but it doesn’t really convey much in the sense of what America was like in the early 1960s. It’s more about what Steinbeck was like in the early 1960s.

Books mentioned in this review: