Book Report: Up in the Air by Walter Kirn (2001)

Posted in Book Report, Books on January 6th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is the source for the George Clooney film of the same name, but a quick perusal of the film’s plot indicates they differ widely.

In this book, a business consultant whose job it is to counsel laid off employees across the country is nearing a million frequent flier miles on an airline. His employer has given him pretty free rein to travel the country to meet with clients, and the consultant also travels for some pleasure and for some of his side projects. He’s left a resignation letter on his vacationing boss’s desk, so in a week he’ll be out of a job. But he should make the million mile club before then, before they cut off his company credit cards.

He’s been travelling like this for many years, and he’s got no home but the series of airports and hotels he calls Airland. He’s got his own set of rules and expectations from other business travelers, and he’s working on a book with it. He also thinks a secretive consulting company might be trying to recruit him through a series of tests and contacts with his clients and friends.

It starts out a lot like a Stanley Bing novel (see Lloyd What Happened and You Look Nice Today). A bit wry, with an obviously unreliable narrator. However, over the course of the book, it becomes clearer just how unreliable the narrator is: he’s having a breakdown of some sort, or perhaps an entire psychotic episode where none of it really happens.

Which is unfortunate: I would have preferred a better payoff for what was a pretty engaging narrative and voice.

As I finished it, I didn’t think it would be the sort of character George Clooney would play, so I’m sort of interested in seeing the film now to see how little they overlap. And it’s definitely possible I’ll like the film better than the book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Bad Cat by Jim Edgar (2004)

Posted in Book Report, Books on January 4th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverI have an embarrassing and stunning admission to make: I have readthis book twice even though I didn’t like it. Not exactly. Let me explain.

This book is based on a desktop calendar that features pictures of cats, sometimes doing things that make them look a little guilty, accompanied by qouted captions where the cat is saying something. And they include the cat’s name, age, and hobby. Here, have a taste:

Bad Cat example

Obviously, this one would have come from December in the calendar.

Most of the captions have a sexual or drug use angle, and all of them are not funny. As a matter of fact, some of them are so not funny that they’re enjoyable for the spectacular badness. Although it’s been seven years since I had the calendar, I remembered some of them.

But this collection is really the sweepings on the floor of cat caption industry. Your Facebook wall or Twitter feed have better examples of the genre.

This book was a Christmas gift, as was the desk calendar. But at least with the book, I was able to flip through it in a couple hours instead of over the course of a year, one dreadful cat sex caption at a time.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Conan: Exclusive Excerpted Edition by Roy Thomas (2006)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 31st, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI got This book at a garage sale in June, and it looked like a good short read that sums up the career of Conan.

It is indeed a chronological history of Conan taken from some comic book series or several, which means in addition to the canonical material there are some references to other stories not written by Robert E. Howard. The text is presented in a legendary history sort of fashion, with the non-Howard stories blended as more legend and the Howard stuff as more history.

This book is a smaller book of a larger work, and that leads to some unfortunate consequences, namely that the text was sometimes very hard to read. The book is by the publisher DK, who does a lot of comic book stuff, so the pages are full bleed graphics with text atop them. Sometimes, the contrast was not very good. To make matters worse, the font size doesn’t appear like it was designed for the size this book is. Instead, it looks as though they took the plates from a larger, more coffee table sized book and just shrunk everything down, including the text. Look:

The Conan interior

For Pete’s sake, I almost had to go out and buy a pair of cheaters for this book. Or an electron microscope.

At any rate, it’s an interesting and brief book on the history of Conan and features some interesting art work from the comic books, but the book’s format itself hinders it quite a bit. Go for the full-sized Conan: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Savage Barbarian instead.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Three Legions by Gregory Solon (1956)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 30th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverShortly after reading Last Seen in Massilia, I rediscovered this book on my to read shelves. So I thought I’d take on a thicker tome.

Well, if you’re classically educated and over forty, you might well know how the book turns out from its title. For those of you too young or too public school to know, the three legions were Roman legions defeated by an alliance of German tribes in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. The Romans never recovered the German territory lost.

At any rate, this book covers a couple of weeks leading up to the battle. The Proconsul is vain and overconfident. The commander of the Eagle legion is smitten with a woman captured in the raid of a small German outpost who craves to be taken care of in a Roman way. Another lesser leader craves the first commander’s position. A brutal but effective legionaire flouts the rules and rules by fear. The legions’ historian is eager to write a scholarly treatise about the downfall of the legions even though he does not believe it to be true. Then the proconsul demands the German woman and an Achilles/Agamemnon storyline breaks out as the commander is stripped of his position and his self-definition. The lesser leader takes command and leads his men into disaster, and then the army decamps into a disastrous ambush in Teutoburg Forest.

The book is deep and well-written with a lot of characterization and a lot of detail about life in the Roman legion. It was not as expository as Last Seen In Massilia, either, and the book delved into the politics of not only the Romans but also the Germans who were unsure about uniting under a leader to attack the Romans when the Romans were not actively at war with the tribes.

I liked the book a lot, and I was sad to discover that the author appears to only have written this two novels. The second is a contemporary (to its time, which is 1958) book entitled Let Us Find Heroes; I will keep an eye out for it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Washington I.O.U. by Don Pendleton (1972)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 29th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI previously read this book in May, 2011. I didn’t have much to say about it then other than it was a stock men’s adventure novel with shooting and explosions.

In it, Bolan goes to Washington and uncovers a Mafia-run blackmail ring designed to lure in important officials, elected and unelected, into a videotaped tryst and then controlling those men to the mob’s gain. Bolan rescues an attractive widow who had second thoughts about her role in the scheme and was targeted for a hit because her change-of-heart came with a plan to bust up the operation. A Bolan imposter shows to kill the blackmailees and set Bolan up for a frenzied law enforcement manhunt, but Bolan eludes capture and tracks the operation to its lair and rescues the girl, implicates a congressman, and discovers that the hidden figure behind the scheme was the “widow’s” husband.

So it’s one of the Pendleton books of the series, which puts it a cut above a lot of men’s adventure books. Additionally, as I think about it, the men’s adventure series (and comic books) paved the way for the arc of modern television storytelling. These are episodic, but with continuing plot lines that build and crest over the course of a number of books.

So while I ding modern hardback fiction for being informed by television, I have to do the opposite for men’s adventure books. They set the pace, and they’re cheap little paperback designed for quick consumption and discard. Is that a double standard on my part? I don’t think so, but I’ll have to think it over further.

So this book is worth a read if you’re into this sort of thing. You can definitely do worse with the genre.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright (2005)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 28th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I like to pick up a Christmas book now and then around the holidays to see if I can get a touch of the old Christmas feeling instead of the modern, I’m-the-adult-providing-the-old-Christmas-feeling-for-my-kids feeling. So I bought this book at some book fair in the recent past, and as it neared Christmas, I picked it up.

It’s a short little book (as Christmas novels are), and it’s blurbed by Glenn Beck. Jeez, getting your books because Glenn Beck liked them might be as risky as getting a book Rush Limbaugh mentioned it.

The story revolves around a girl who was found in a diner on New Year’s Eve. The woman who found the baby adopts her and then dies of cancer. The woman who had been the baby is now a reporter for the local paper. Her apartment gets burglarized not long after her adopted mother’s death, and a jar of coins appears on her doorstep. She investigates the jar and discovers others have received similar jars in past years. When the next recipient receives one, the intrepid reporter contacts the recipient and is given a clue to who might be behind it. She talks to a family that runs a furniture restoration business out of its garage and becomes close to them, enjoying their family occasions and traditions even as she frets about getting to know them under false pretenses–she pretended to be a college student doing a piece on small business instead of an investigative reporter. She learns the family is behind the jars and does an expose on them, and then avoids them. The father of the family dies, and she reconnects with the family just as a parade of other people who have begun filling the Christmas jars leave them with the family. Including, of course, a woman who proves to be the mother of the adopted girl.

It’s an interesting plot, good enough for a Christmas novel, but unfortunately the execution is a bit….underdone, overt, melodramatic. Something. The characters are not very deep, and the events move at a pretty quick and sudden pace. It’s not the best of Christmas novels ever, but on the other hand, Glenn Beck blurbed it and it undoubtedly sold more copies than my only published novel. So.

(The other Christmas novels I’ve reviewed over the years include A Christmas Carol, Home for Christmas, and The Christmas Shoppe.)

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Chains of the Sea edited by Robert Silverberg (1973)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 9th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book almost makes me regret saying:

It’s an interesting bit, an enjoyable little read from the era–the middle 1960s through, what, the 1980s? where the future is dystopian and overcrowded and the plots are novel and clever.

The book collects three stories, only the third of which I would call novel or clever. The other two are run-of-the-mill apocalyptic bits that put Man in his place.

They include:

  • “And Us, Too, I Guess” by Geo. Alec Effinger, which presents a scientist and a working man who wants to breed fish in parallel story lines in the near, dystopian future, when the “scientists” (who work in their own labs on simple experiments that only recreate past discoveries) discover that a single species is dying every day (and might have been for a long time). Hey, here’s the shocking ending: MANKIND DIES. Because of nature or maybe what mankind did to it.
     
  • “Chains of the Sea” by Gardner R. Dozois, in which aliens invade, but nobody can see them. A child, however, who has maintained his imagination even beyond his very early years in the dystopian near future can see the “Others” which are intelligent species that adults cannot perceive. Through them, he learns that the aliens have come to renegotiate compacts with the other species and with the new species, the artificial intelligence in human networks. In a moment of poignant coming-of-age drama for the lad, MANKIND DIES. Also, I’m not sure what the title means or how it applies to the story.
     
  • “The Shrine of Sebastian” by Gordon Eklund tells the story of a reluctant “pope” of a decadant church is tasked by the previous, newly deceased “pope” with burying her remains at the shrine of Sebastian, a future profit who convinces mankind that it should leave the wasteland of the Earth behind. Most men do, but some remained with the robots in a decaying society. Then, MANKIND DIED. Sorry, I was going on habit there. In this case, the things that thought they were human discovered they were Androids, like Sebastian. Mankind might have survived, somewhere out beyond the sky, but here on Earth, ROBOT AND ANDROIDKIND WILL DIE.

In an essay in the Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky ponders
When Science Fiction Stopped Caring About the Future

Most people think of science-fiction as being about the future; it’s a genre that explores possibilities, from Dr. Frankenstein’s invention of artificial life to Ursula K. Le Guin’s world populated by humans who have all evolved into single-gendered hermaphrodites. What might happen if? What could happen when? Sci-fi thinks about new technologies, new societies, and new ways of being, good or bad.

And then science-fiction fans turn to the new Star Wars trailer, and find, not the future, but a reshuffling of 30-year-old detritus.

Read enough of the C-List science fiction from the past, and you’ll learn that the best of science fiction sticks with you but most of it, especially the pedestrian stuff, falls away from you mostly unremembered. A lot of the old stuff retreads common tropes just as much as new stuff does; we just forget it if we even bother to read or to have read it.

So I won’t remember these stories much, but innovative and imaginative stuff from the era will still captivate me. And in time, I’ll recycle my line about how all the science fiction from the past is better than all the science fiction now. Because I’ll mostly remember the good and won’t remember this particular volume much at all.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Magic by William Goldman (1976)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 3rd, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverYou might be familiar with William Goldman for a little book he wrote and adapted for the silver screen called The Princess Bride. This book ain’t that.

Instead, this is a mid-1970s crime thriller about a magician/ventriloquist on the verge of television success who flees from New York City to his hometown upstate because he’s afraid he might be cracking up. Then he cracks up. With a body count.

I’m afraid I’ve given much of the story away, but in the book, Goldman presents it as a little bit of a mystery. He has some diary entries that are labeled as part of a police investigation; then we have some interplay between the main character and his partner; then we have a flashback to the main character’s youth and early career and how that has led him to the precipice of success and this crack-up. So there’s some suspense in what sort of crime will occur, and it’s unfortunate what does transpire.

I thought the book was okay, but it does have a 1970s feel to it in the same way that 1970s science fiction does. Or is it just me?

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor (2000)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 2nd, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverAs I mentioned in my book report on Murder for Halloween, I have a number of Steven Saylor paperbacks I picked up en masse somewhere. The short story in Murder for Halloween provided me an excuse to pick up this book.

Strangely enough, although I thought I put the books in series order on the shelf when I first put them on the shelf, when I grabbed the first book on the left, I got this volume, which is number 8 in the series, but not the first one of the series I own. Now, it becomes very clear that the books have the series number and the year in which they take place written in marker atop the pages, but I did not know this when I grabbed the book, so I got one in the middle of the pack I own.

This book finds Gordianus, the Finder, sneaking into Massilia, which is under seige by Caesar’s forces in the Roman civil war. Gordianus’s adopted son, a spy for Caesar, has disappeared in the city, so Gordianus and his son-in-law pose as soldiers entering Massilia by a tunnel. When the tunnel assault is washed out, only The Finder and his son-in-law survive and make their way into the city where they become acquainted with the Scapegoat, an outcast chosen to take on the sins of the city and who sacrifice themselves. The group witnesses a murder or suicide from atop the sacred Sacrifice Rock and are approached by a leading Massilian to search for his missing daughter.

It’s intrigue and a bit of mystery wrapped in a bit of historical research that runs pretty smoothly, but does on a couple of occasions–sentences really–come out and have the characters speaks a bit of exposition. So it’s not without a touch of that, but it does get one into the setting and the time period rather well.

It is a bit intriguey for my tastes, but not so bad that I won’t read the rest that I have, starting with the newly rearranged first I own.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Perspective text by Thomas S. Buechner (1972)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 2nd, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverAs you would expect, this book is a collection of Rockwell paintings and drawings throughout his career, including some advertising work, Saturday Evening Post covers, and work for Look magazine.

The text with the images details his career and his biography and turns attention to the evolution of his style and subject matter in a fashion I’ve not seen in other retrospectives or in the monthly feature in the Saturday Evening Post back when I subscribed (before I completely grew weary with the Government Is The Solution articles interspersed among the Rockwell retrospectives and health advice for older people).

You know, I could read books about Rockwell and look through collections of his work that just put the images in a different order every couple of months because the work hits me in a sweet spot: It’s comprehensible and figurative (literally) and it hearkens back to situations, eras, and a general zeitgeist that might never have existed exactly as depicted, but I miss it just the same even though my youth was nothing close to it.

So I enjoyed it, and I’ll pick up more of the same (and quite possible exactly the same given my book buying habits) at book sales in the future.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Time-Hoppers by Robert Silverberg (1967)

Posted in Book Report, Books on December 1st, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a short science fiction book by Robert Silverberg, whose Three Survived I have previously reviewed.

Within this book, a future cop in a distant, overpopulated future has an illicit second home in the only uncrowded part of the world and fears discovery when he’s given a tough assignment: investigate the “time hoppers,” people who find an illegal operation that sends them from the crowded present into a free past. As he investigates and worries about the political expectations. his own brother-in-law considers the trip.

The book jumps between different characters in different situations in this world, from the cop to his sister in a lower caste than he to one of the two leaders of the omnipresent government to the brother-in-law to the cop’s underling who is blackmailing his superior for his distant getaway. One would expect there might be some in-book time travel involved, but it takes place mostly in the future.

It’s an interesting bit, an enjoyable little read from the era–the middle 1960s through, what, the 1980s? where the future is dystopian and overcrowded and the plots are novel and clever. Perhaps I’m siloed a bit in reading the blogs of writers of science fiction subgenres these days, where the stories are a bit more predictable and follow the plots of something that would make a good video game. I confess I read a number of novels written from video games and movies, so my perspective is probably skewed. But I get a definite sense of a book that’s been written in the middle of the 20th century that I don’t get from novels from the 1980s on. Perhaps it’s just the length that cues me in–this one clocks in at 182 pages, half or less of a modern book. Also, the author has read other books. Allusions from classical literature and history flow throughout. They’re not necessary for the reading and enjoyment of the book, but they do serve to pat the well-read reader on the head for all his or her previous reading. I need that.

But I really enjoy this short books from the middle of the last century more than thicker later pieces. Maybe I’m just impatient.

At any rate, I liked the book and I like Silverberg.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Tiger at the Gates by Jean Giraurdoux / translated by Christopher Fry (1935, 1955)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 30th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverWhen I opened this book and saw the name plate in the front cover, I knew where I’d gotten it: an estate sale in 2007 in Old Trees. Mr. Paul, I remember your name for your excellent taste in literature and music.

At any rate, this book is set immediately before the Trojan War. Hector has returned from another war, a successful one, with his troops. His brother Paris has taken Helen and has her, and the Greek fleet has just arrived to take her back. Some elements of the Trojan populace, including the leader of the Senate and a poet, love the thought of war even though they do not fight it and want to start a new war with Greece. Others, like Hector and the women who have missed or lost their men, want peace and are willing to act without “honor” to get it.

This book was translated and performed in New York in 1955, so it’s easy to think it was a Cold War parable. However, the original French play was written in 1935, between World War I and World War II, so if you’re eager to limit its impact to its historical context, it’s about the rise of Germany perhaps. Within, though, Giraudoux explores the differences between men and women, between warmongering and peace-at-any-cost viewpoints, and between the different sensations and aesthetics of love and/or human relationships.

However, the play itself is a little wordy and not very clever; whether this is the case in the original French I don’t know, but there’s no pull real tension or drive between the scenes amid the philosophical speaking. This probably wouldn’t play so well to modern audiences.

Within the play are a couple of black and white photographs of people who appeared in the New York version on stage. In a desparate bid to tart up my book reports and to generate Rule 5 fodder, I’ve included photos of some of the women who appeared in the play below the fold. Read more »

Book Report: New Pearl of the Orient Korea by Korea National Tourism Corporation (~1980)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 19th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is one of the Korea-centric books I bought this spring in Clever. Like the first two I read, it’s a tourist-focused book. As a matter of fact, the Korean government’s tourist arm put it out. So it describes places to go and to see in South Korea and highlights some of the customs, traditions, and other cultural facts about the country that might interest a viewer, so it’s got an added dimension that the purely artifact- and location-based tourist tracts don’t.

On the one hand, the material I’ve read has covered a lot of the same ground and has been location- and artifact-based books I’ve read. But in reading similar material over and over again, I’m starting to pick up a sense of Korean history vicariously. I know when the Silla dynasty came to power, and I’ve got a sense of when the Yi (or Chosun) dynasty came to power. Although I lack detailed knowledge of the ins and outs of the history and the invasions, I’m getting a very high level sense of them. I’ve got a couple more books on Korean art to go through, and I think some of it will stick just from the repetition. Good for me.

At any rate, this book is an interesting artifact of its own in that it brags about different locations with all paved roads or mostly paved roads by 1980. I can laugh, because I live in Greene County, Missouri, one of the few counties in the state whose (public) roads are completely paved (although I’m not too far from some unpaved Christian County roads). Also, the book talks about driving four hours from Seoul to visit a location. I’m not much of a traveller, but it doesn’t appeal to me to fly some dozen hours to a destination and then drive eight hours round trip to another location. Perhaps that’s geared more toward the people who travel to Korea for a month or something.

I’m glad I’ve picked these books up and have looked through them. And I’m absolutely ready if one of the local trivia nights has a category called Korea. Well, that’s overstating it: a lot of this washes over me. But I’m more prepared than many people.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Murder for Halloween edited by Michele Slung and Roland Hartman (1994)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 18th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI started this book on Halloween, appropriately enough. Which means it has taken me over two weeks to read this one book, which hardly justifies my profligate book buying habits. However, in my defense, the short story form leads to earlier reading stoppage in the evening, as instead of maybe just reading one more chapter of a novel, I have to think, “Do I want to read a whole new story with whole new characters and a whole new narrative style and situation tonight?” Often, the answer was no.

That’s not to knock the quality of the short stories in the volume; they’re all crime stories, not all of which include murder, centered on Halloween. Most have been published before, which explains why I’d read one of them before, an Edward D. Hoch Nick Velvet story I probably caught in its first appearance in a Ellery Queen.

At any rate, the book includes:

  • “Monsters” by Ed McBain
  • “The Lemures” by Steven Saylor
  • “The Adventure of the Dead Cat” by Ellery Queen
  • “The Odstock Curse” by Peter Wimsey
  • “The Theft of the Halloween Pumpkin” by Edward D. Hoch
  • “Hallowe’en for Mr. Faulkner” by August Derleth
  • “Deceptions” by Marcia Muller
  • “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe
  • “OMJAGOD” by James Grady
  • “The Cloak” by Robert Bloch
  • “What a Woman Wants” by Michael Z. Lewin
  • “Yesterday’s Witch” by Gahan Wilson
  • “Walpurgis Night” by Bram Stoker
  • “Trick or Treat” by Judith Garner
  • “One Night at a Time” by Dorothy Cannell
  • “Night of the Goblin” by Talmage Powell
  • “Trick-or-Treat” by Anthony Boucher
  • “Pork Pie Hat” by Peter Straub

Some of them are straight crime fiction, but some slide into horror and fantasy. “One Night At A Time”, for example, deals with a vampire detective. A couple of the stories are told from the perspective of children, such as “Yesterday’s Witch” and “OMJAGOD”. Some are of the quality of detective magazine filler, such as “What A Woman Wants” which is about a police squad looking for a smash-and-grab thief that uses Oldsmobile Cutlasses in his crimes, and the antagonist has a ride along magazine writer and agonizes about how to approach a fellow cop for a date fishing.

So it was a timely read when I started it, but a time consuming read once I started it. The biggest takeaway I got was in reading the Steven Saylor story set in Ancient Rome. I have a number of his paperbacks that I picked up some time ago, and his short story here has given me the excuse to pick one of them up.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Limericks by Edward Lear &c (1980)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Poetry on November 14th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is just what it says: A collection of limericks, the five line poem type.

The book contains 212 limericks by Edward Lear, the English writer who popularized the form. His limericks are a bit of nonsence, and the fifth line pretty much just restates the first line without the clever twist that later limericks employed. So we get things like this:

There was a Young Person in Pink,
Who called out for something to drink;
But they said, “O my daughter,
There’s nothing but water!”
Which vexed that Young Person in Pink.

and:

There was an Old Person of Fife,
Who was greatly disgusted with life;
They sang him a ballad,
And fed him on salad,
Which cured that old Person of Fife.

After the main course of Lear, we get 28 limericks from Punch magazine and then 20 other limericks. These last 48 are in the contemporary form with a little more punchline to the last line, but none of them stuck with me or inspired me to memorize them and tell them to others.

I’m not really consumed with the urge to try out the form, either.

So skip this book unless you’re a real scholar on poetry forms or want something to browse through during football games and don’t mind re-reading the same limerick a couple of times because you’d forgotten you’d read it before third down.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Leif and Thorkel: Two Norse Boys of Long Ago by Genevra Snedden (1924)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 4th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a ninety year old children’s book, written when children’s books were not 300+ page fantasies part of a series for adults to read. As such, it’s a couple pages over one hundred and is, the title page informs us, designed to make children interested in history. As opposed to fantasy, magic, dystopia, and intrigue, which is what we’re teaching them now, I guess.

At any rate, this follows two young Norseboys, Leif Ericson and Thorkel. Leif has come to live with Thorkel and his family, including father Lodin and wife Astrid. The chapters of the book recapture some of the slices of life in Norway around 1000 AD: Lodin comes home from raiding England; they drive the cattle down from the mountains for the winter; they prepare for and endure winter; they prepare the cattle to go to the mountains in the spring; they attend a Thing, which is a court proceeding adjudicating a dispute among neighbors and then a duel when one party does not concede. Then, the boys go their separate ways: Leif to Greenland where his father lives and then onto the Americas briefly and Thorken as part of a war between his half-brother, who becomes king of Norway, and an alliance of other nations against him.

The book has no larger plot other than these guys growing up and becoming men. It illustrates the way the Vikings lived from the perspective of young men whom the target audience could relate to. And it leaves the reader a little smarter than when he started, even if it’s only to remind an adult of things he’d learned about the Vikings in school but didn’t have at the tip of his brain.

This 1924 book was published by the World Book Company. Later, that company would be better known for its encyclopedias.

It’s a handsome looking hardback, too. Which is a shame, though, because I’ll probably start collecting other volumes in the series in my nonchalant collecting fashion, and it’s hard for me to keep track of all things I’m nonchalantly collecting.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: As Autumn Approaches by Ronald E. Piggee (1993)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Poetry on November 3rd, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a chapbook written by a Vietnam veteran, a black father in Nebraska in 1993. The poetry within ranges through a bunch of different styles, including free verse and at least one villanelle. It’s better than a lot of chapbooks I’ve read.

The book led me to some personal musings, though. In 1993, my father was two years away from dying from cancer; he was a Vietnam-era veteran who served in Okinawa instead of Vietnam (and I think he felt a little guilty about it). It’s hard for me to imagine him writing poetry, but that was not his way. He was a hands guy: his creative hobby of the time period was building elaborate ship models that required him to tie nautical knots in thread using a magnifying glass and tweezers.

Crazy that a book of poems about growing older would make me think about my father, how he didn’t grow older, and how I will not long be older than he ever was. Or maybe not so crazy, since that’s what poetry does. So consider that an endorsement of this book: It was definitely evocative.

Book Report: No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre (~1950)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 1st, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverSince I’m apparently on an Existentialism kick (see my recent report on Camus’s The Fall. I picked up this book. I’ve read No Exit before, whether in my collegiate Existentialist reading period or my collegiate Existentialism class. I had not read the three others, though.

For those of you who don’t know, The Fall is about three people in Hell. Each of them is condemned for sins related to love, and their torment is to spend eternity with people who irritate them. It’s the source for the quote “Hell is–other people.” that American collegiate Existentialists banter amongst themselves.

The Flies is a retelling of the story of Orestes and Electra’s revenge upon their mother Clytemnestra for the killing of their father Agamemnon. In this retelling, the Orestes returns to Argos just before they ‘celebrate’ a holiday when the dead come back to remind the living of their crimes and slights against the departed. Orestes meets a disguised Zeus and then his sister, who has long hoped for her brother’s bloody return. When they meet, she does not think he’ll be the one to wreak vengeance, but he does and she has second thoughts. He kills his mother and stepfather, and the siblings hide out from the vengeance-seeking populace and Furies in Apollo’s temple, where Zeus appears to deal with them and to get them to return to his fold and to rule the people by casting off their freedom and doing his plan.

In Dirty Hands, a comrade imprisoned for killing the leader of a rival faction returns to his revolutionary compatriots to their chagrin, as he has proven to be unreliable. An old flame or crush of his secures his temporary safety while she tries to understand what went on with the assassination attempt and whether the fellow killed the charismatic and pragmatic leader for proper party reasons or in jealousy.

The Respectful Prostitute tells a short tale about a prostitute fresh in town who was the witness of the killing of a black man on a train by an respected citizen of the town and the member of a powerful family. The official story is supposed to involve the attempted rape of the young lady by two black men and her defense by the racist fellow, but she does not initially want to hew to that line and tries to resist various forms of persuasion to keep her story true.

They’re all pretty quick reads; the translations aren’t dated. Sartre’s work really draws out some of the Existentialist thoughts on freedom and what it means to be a person, and Sartre really subtlely leaves some questions for us to wonder about–particularly whether the wife of the main character in Dirty Hands got herself into a compromising position with the political figure to trigger her husband’s jealousy and compel him to complete his mission. Pretty good stuff, and reading it makes me feel deep.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Historical Tweets by Alan Beard and Alec McNayr (2010)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 31st, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book looks enough like something that Henry Beard would write that I thought maybe they were the same guy (until I looked at a Henry Beard book and saw his name was Henry and not Alan). I thought maybe they were related. It appears not. They’re only in the same vein of humor.

This book presents a series of Twitter messages–tweets– that historical figures might have sent. It’s akin to a number of lists you’ve already read on the Internet.

So it’s quick and it’s clever in places, but there’s nothing especially revelatory about history, nor does the humor last with you after you turn the page.

But it counts as a book I read this year, so there.

Worth a buck at a book fair, but please don’t give me the 2015 desk calendar for Christmas.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Longarm and the Border Showdown by Tabor Evans (1993)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 26th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI picked up this book, and I was all like, “Shazam, how different are these titles in the same series?” For lo, although the book started out with a bit of gratuitous hey, sailor contact for grandfathers everywhere, the paragraphs were longer, deeper, and richer than I could have expected. But then I realized I’d confused this, a volume in the Longarm series, with the entry in the Gunsmith series that I’d read earlier. And they’re night and day.

In this book, Longarm is a Federal marshal sent from his normal Colorado range to Laredo, Texas, to investigate a fellow Federal marshal who might have gone bad and might be helping crooked local authorities in smuggling operations. So Longarm picks up an unlucky gambler traveling partner and heads down to pose as a merchant who can happen to come across a large number of Federal weapons to sell.

As I mentioned, the book is deeper and richer in prose and its set pieces take a little work. It’s got some, er, amorous scenes, but it’s also got its limits in that area; there are apparently some women the main character won’t touch. Additionally, the book reads like a Western with its painting of frontier towns and–who would think it?– concerns about horses and transporting horses.

So I liked it as a lighter read, and its linear story telling allowed me to put it down and not have to go back to see if I’d forgotten a three page jump cut scene with important information that I’d read and forgotten the night before.

So as I get older, I’m finding myself looking forward to good genre fiction and classic literature for pleasure reading than modern thrillers and detective novels. Fortunately for me, there is plenty of both on my to-read shelves. Also, should I want to get into this series, it’s apparently still in production 20 years after the release of this book, the 174th in the series. It’s up to 436 novels done or in planning, 30 Giant novels, and 4 Double novels (according to Fantastic Fiction). So I’ll keep my eyes open for these titles at the book sales in Ozark and in Clever. And someday I’ll gut out others I own in the Gunsmith series. When I need penance for something.

Books mentioned in this review: