Book Report: Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb (2014)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I like to read a Christmas book about this time of year. This year, I chose this book because it was the first one I could find on my to-read shelves.

The bottom of the cover indicates this is a Ballad novella; the author has written many best selling books in this series taking place in the eastern mountains of Tennessee, but you don’t need intimate knowledge of them to enjoy this book.

It’s billed as a novella, but it’s really two unconnected stories in the Ballad mythos. The sheriff and a deputy are tasked with arresting a man in the backwoods on Christmas Eve for a hit and run accident that damaged the car of the wife of a Senator (hence the importance of arresting him on Christmas Eve amidst the threat of a heavy snowstorm). When they find what they think to be his home, he says he will go quietly if they just help prepare his home for his absence to make it safe for his wife. The second story deals with a couple of Floridians who have bought a second home that used to be the county’s best home, the place where an old judge and his family lived. They decide to stay for Christmas with their tacky Florida ways. When strange goings on go on, they come to Nora Bonesteel, an elderly local medium, to see if she can guess what is wrong. It seems a spirit of Christmas past is not pleased with a pink Christmas tree decorated with flamingos.

On the plot lines, it’s pretty thin gruel, but the writing is dense and pretty enough to carry you along. Thematically, it’s a little light on the Christmas spirit, too, lacking any religious element of it or particular generosity of spirit. No real changes of heart or reunions of family. But pleasant enough.

I saw one of the author’s Ballad novels on the mark down table at Barnes and Noble while Christmas shopping, and I didn’t grab one for $6. Perhaps I’ll grab one if I see it at a book sale in the future to see what happens in a non-Christmas themed novel from the author.

Book Report: Ginger Snaps compiled by Dian Ritter (1976)

Book coverThis book is a middle 1970s collection of what we used to call proverbs, but by the mid to late 20th century had to be accompanied with some wry wit. Many of them are the sorts of things you’d find on Internet memes today, if Internet memes lasted longer than it takes to scroll past them on the social media sites. No, these proverbs of the pre-computer era would be photocopied with some cartoon and pinned to a cubicle wall or taped to a the breakroom cinderblocks.

Which is not to say they’re untrue or without their wisdom. As a matter of fact, this book includes lessons from Lao Tzu:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

We have Lord Whorfin (eight years early):

Character is what you are in the dark.

Aside from these, it’s got tweetable quotes like “I wish I were what I was when I wanted to be what I am now.” and “Be satisfied enough to improve, but satisfied enough to be happy.”

Given the time from whence it came, its proverbs promote hard work, character, skepticism of government, and trust in God. Which means modern people won’t be well versed in any, which might make the contents more unapproachable and archaic than they should be.

Book Report: A Bullet for Cinderella by John D. MacDonald (1955, 1985)

Book coverThere’s no car crash in this book; instead, a Korean veteran and POW camp survivor returns to normal life a changed man. He cannot abide his former life, so he takes off to Hillston, the home of a fellow campmate who did not survive the POW camp. The dead man had told the narrator about some money he had embezzled from his brother’s business and hidden to run off with the brother’s wife, but the war intervened. The only clue he leaves as to the location of the missing money is that Cindy knows. So the narrator starts talking to people who knew the dead hero under the guise of writing a book. He finds that another person from the camp has already gotten there–a psychopathic former Marine who hasn’t found the money himself but is willing to let the narrator keep a cut if he finds it.

As the narrator digs, he finds evidence of murder, blackmail, and so forth and finds some redemption and/or clarity in falling for the dead man’s former girlfriend.

As a paperback original, this book runs about 170 pages, and none of them are wasted with convolutions, exposition, or technobabble, so it makes for a quick and satisfying little read. It holds up well, as does most of MacDonald’s stuff, if you can remember or imagine a world before pervasive computers in every pocket. Heck, I still imagine that world since I don’t have many apps on my phone and don’t feel compelled to look at it whenever I have a moment without noise.

Book Report: Cry Hard Cry Fast by John D. MacDonald (1955)

Book coverI read Slam the Big Door in August, and it features a car crash (‘slam the big door’ refers to the sound of a car crash in the night on the backroads of Florida), and this book centers on a car crash. I wondered if this was from MacDonald’s CHiPs era.

But the books were published five years apart with many intervening novels. Perhaps he wrote them close together, or perhaps he rotated back into subject matter when it seemed fresh after the passage of time.

Unlike Slam the Big Door, this book centers on a big car wreck: it focuses on the individual stories of the people and families who are going to be involved in the car accident and the immediate aftermath for the survivors. We have a recemt widower on a trip to recover from his grief (see also Slam the Big Door. We have a nuclear family with a domineering father and an attractive teenaged daughter; we have a couple trying to rekindle their marriage after the husband becomes cold and distant; we have an ace truck driver considering moving into management; and of course, we have a couple of bad fellows on the run from an armed robbery and the funtime girl they picked up at a roadside bar. It’s vintage MacDonald, slamming all these people together (literally) and seeing what erupts.

The first part of the book, before the accident, is better than the last bit after the accident, but it’s still a pretty good read.

As I mentioned, I have a number of MacDonald books on my shelves, and I’ve been reluctant to read them because once they’re gone, they’re gone. However, given my ability to re-read the Travis McGee books from time to time, perhaps I should seek more of them out since I enjoy them and I can re-read them when I’ve finished all of them. And, to be honest, finishing all the John D. MacDonald books is a better use of my time than reading all the Executioner books (that is, the Mack Bolan books, not The Executioner, which is a John D. MacDonald book).

Book Report: Desperate Measures by Joe Clifford Faust (1989)

Book coverThis book is by the author of A Death of Honor; although I didn’t like that book a lot, the author Googled himself and commented on my book report on his blog and had better things to say about my book report than I had about his book. So the author earned some respect from me, and I thought I’d give him another chance.

Which turns out to be a good thing.

Whereas A Death of Honor was similar to Casablanca, this book is similar to Firefly–except the book preceded the television series, so it’s more in line with the genre of the scrappy interstellar traders. But the protagonists often operate outside the law, and the book features a Chinese syndicate, so in 2016, that earns a Firefly comparison. Which will be a known reference point for a couple more years, anyway.

You have May, a captain of his own ship (but indebted to the aforementioned Chinese syndicate) whose co-pilot steals the ship–or takes the ship in lieu of back wages–after a barroom altercation leaves the captain laid up for a while. May makes a drunken deal with a commodities trader on the planet who sells him beef at a discount for transit. But his new untrained co-pilot only meant transit to the other side of the planet, not another planet. Also, the beef might not have been his to sell.

The book is a series of such incidents without much of an overarching story arc aside from the episodic events, much like Firefly was before they screwed it up wrapping everything up in Serenity. This book is the first in a set of three, and I’ll keep my eyes out for the others in the series and the others by the author.

Book Report: Robotech Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming by Jack McKinney (1994)

Book coverThis book contains the first three novelizations of the original Robotech cartoon series called the Macross Saga. Within it, an alien super spaceship crash lands on the earth, and the nations of Earth put aside war to study the ship and to rebuild it to defend should aliens come looking for it. When the aliens do, ten years later, the crew of the vast ship have only barely begun to understand its secrets, but they must defend against the aliens who attack with greater numbers and greater technological understanding.

The first book, Genesis, introduces the characters and some of the history of Earth and the Robotech project. We’ve got a wizened commanding officer of the ship; an all-woman bridge crew; an ace pilot; an inexperienced young pilot; a pretty girl who might be interested in the young pilot; and so on. After the alien attack, the ship lifts into the air and performs a hyperspace jump from within the Earth’s atmosphere, which carries away part of the Pacific island on which it crashed and the town that had grown up to support the research. Instead of just reaching orbit, the ship jumps to the outer edges of the solar system. The ship, the SDF 1, and its crew rescue the people that jumped with it and rebuild the city in one of the vast holds on the ship.

In Battle Cry, the alien fleet has found the SDF-1 and attack it a couple times as the ship makes its way home to earth over a number of months (as they do cannot make a hyperspace jump).

In Homecoming, the ship has returned to Earth but brought the alien fleet with them, so the leaders of Earth want the SDF-1 to leave and draw the alien fleet with them.

The first two books in the omnibus here are the better two; the third kind of leads to a continuation of the series and is not quite as self-contained.

But, you know, I have read a lot of television and movie tie-in books, and this set adds a lot of depth to a television cartoon series. They read pretty well without foreknowledge of the mythos, and they delve more deeply into the alien psychology and the motivations of the humans. Better than you can get in 20 some minutes of imported Japanese animation, anyway.

So it was a passing bit of space opera, but I’m not eager to run out and buy the rest of the series. I was disappointed, as I implied, with the end of the last book and its mere passing of the torch onto the next in the series without some sort of story arc ending and fear that the other books in the series would be more of that same.

But I’ve started to watch the cartoon series with my children, so we’ll see if it spurs us onto better shared memories.

Book Report: Advanced French for Exceptional Cats by Henry Beard (1992)

Book coverThis book is by the same author as Poetry for Cats, and it comes from the same provenance (and perhaps Provence) as the earlier volume. In turning over my library this summer, it moved to the front, so I took the opportunity to read it.

A little less creative than the poetry for cats book, this book is a phrasebook for things cats might say translated to French. So it has sections about etiquette, taste, food, and so on. An Existentialist cat might say, “Have I caught this mouse, or is not I in fact who am trapped by the obligations of my own nature?” which is, in French, “Ai-je attrape attrapé cette souris ou est-ce que c’est moi qui suis en fait pris au piège de l’obligation de ma propre nature?”

So it’s an amusing browse, especially if you have cats. Apparently, Beard, a former National Lampoon editor, has a whole line of amusing education books for cats. I’ll keep an eye out for others at book fairs because they’re short and amusing, but I’m not going to run out to a book store to stock up on them. Which, honestly, I say pretty much about any author these days at best.

Book Report: Hiroshige: An exhibition of selected prints and illustrated books by Sebastian Izzard (1983)

Book coverThis book covers an exhibition of the works of Japanese artist Hiroshige, a printmaker from the early 19th century. As I have mentioned before in reviewing architecture and culture books from Korea and China, I prefer Western art to Oriental art, but I wanted to give a try to some more Oriental art to see if my judgment changes.

Well, not so much.

To be clear, this is a book of woodcut prints, which is different from pure painting and has a commercial purpose, which puts Hiroshige’s motivations more along the lines of Currier and Ives or Gil Evgren (Hiroshige even did some bijin-ga, beautiful women prints, when they were not illegal in Japan). Not that I’m dinging the commercial motivation for art; as the book reports linked suggest, I respect it and its productivity.

Hirohinge was very productive, with a number of series of prints over his decades-spanning career. Most of them are landscapes, but they’re landscapes with human figures. As I’ve said often when reviewing Monet’s work or other artists, I prefer landscapes with figures in them. So Hiroshige should fit right into my wheelhouse.

It’s interesting art, all right, and not bad to look at. I liked the snowy landscapes well enough. I imagine it’s on the more palatable (to me) end of Oriental art. The book, unfortunately, has most of the work in black and white with text describing the colors. Some of the items at the end are just listed without images at all, as this is something you’d probably have picked up at the exhibition and could follow along with as you went. (has the audio tour replaced this convention? You can’t take that with you.) Undoubtedly, it would have been better with the color images.

As I look at it, though, I wonder if I could turn any of these images into woodburning projects. As they’re woodcut block prints presented in black and white, I could perhaps stylize something. Perhaps if I get a table at a craft fair, woodburnings of Oriental themes would be popular.

So it’s worth a browse if you find one inexpensively and are curious about Oriental art. The book also served as a little bit of a wake-up call that, although I’ve looked into Chinese and Korean history, I’ve not read much up on Japan. Which I’ll have to do sometime. I don’t remember seeing any books about Japanese history at the library except where World War II is concerned. Maybe it’s off to ILL for me.

Book Report: The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant (1968)

Book coverThis book is a tl;dr edition of the Durants’ The History of Civilization series, which was ten volumes by the time this book came out and eleven now. Apparently, people asked them the lessons to glean from their other books, so he put out this slim volume. It weighs in at about 100 pages, the length of some of the lecture collections that I’ve been looking at recently (such as The Experience of Nothingness).

Each chapter takes a topic and looks at what the Durants have gleaned for it from their study of history. “History and Earth”, “Biology and History”, “Race and History” are pretty good musings on the natural world and what role they played in history, but when we get to chapters like “Character in History”, “Morals in History”, “Religion and History”, “Economics and History”, and “Socialism and History”, the Durants’ old left viewpoint comes out loud and clear. They list 1933 as a monumental year in history on par with World War I, World War II, and the like, but this is because it’s the inauguration of FDR. The Durants believe that the Soviet Union is a competing system, but not an enemy, and the United States should have told the USSR and China that we were their friends and would never do anything to hurt them. Also, Communist systems were moving towards freedom and the Western societies were moving toward socialism, so in the end we’d all be friends.

Welp, history is sort of trending that way, but the Durants missed a lot of how history after 1968 would work out. Of course, they were old Left, and the new Left that has arisen after turning over the old, tired institutions in academia, art, and entertainment went in a different direction (and one the Durants would have disapproved of in certain elements).

At any rate, after the first third of the book, I was eager to pick up the complete History of Civilization series, but by the end, I was wondering how colored the book would be by the Old Left sensibilities. On one hand, it’s not as invective as modern books, and it’s easy to read. We even agree on some things, such as the suckage of modern art and the perspective that all societies and civilizations eventually fall. But we differ on economic and cultural things as well as whether character and morals should be relative to time and place. There’s one thing to say that historically, moral norms were different, but I lack the intellectual detachment that allows one to say this is a good thing.

I’ll have to watch for the Durants’ The Story of Philosophy and The Pleasures of Philosophy to read before I take the plunge into the eleven volumes of their popular history series.

Book Report: Beirut Payback by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverSometimes, when I finish a book and it’s time to pick out a new one to read, I already have something in mind to read next based on some recent event or thought, something I just finished reading, or something I just bought. Other times, too many times, I spend thirty or forty minutes going through my bookshelves to find something to read immediately. As I’m going through them, I often find books I want to read, just not right now. After this period of terrible indecision, it’s good that I have a series that I can just say, “Screw it, I’ll read the next Executioner novel.” At times, it’s a bit of a punt: It will take me two or three evenings to read it, and maybe then something will jump out at me.

Which is why I read this book (and so many of its predecessors and followers).

This book sees Bolan travelling to Beirut in the aftermath of the Marine barracks bombing. He’s on the hunt of a KGB bigwig, but he encounters a plan to assassinate the leader of the Lebanese government. So he navigates amongst Mossad, CIA, and KGB spies and militias of various stripes to prevent the assassination of the leader of the Lebanese government.

It kind of captures what a civil war looks like, with refugees, multiple sides, and urban warzones. Striking, because certain small elements of the American population seem to want a civil war, apparenrly thinking it might be something like a quick game of Call of Duty on the PlayStation that you’re sort of good at but you can turn it off after a couple hours. Civil war is not what’s depicted in the book, and it’s not a game. But this book serves as a bit of a reminder that it’s bloody.

Note the cover: In it, Mack Bolan carries a child while firing a gun. In this book, he does carry a young refugee through a long set piece of combat. I know it’s reinforcing the Sargeant Mercy bit, but, really? Also, as the series advances, I wonder if the authorship is passing from veterans to people who’ve never handled a firearm. They’re just that way: One bit sticks out where Mack Bolan is under fire (but not behind cover) where he holsters one weapon to draw another. What, did the book on how to write these books actually dictate how many times Bolan had to fire each gun? I’m only partly joking. Of course, the cover artist has no idea of the scale of firearms, either.

So it’s a book in the series, not one of the particularly better ones. Not one of the worse ones. In the end, it served the purpose of bridging the gap between other books I read, as I picked up something else quickly afterword to make sure I didn’t have to read two of these in a row. Just think, if I read two of these a month, I’ll complete my collection of them in a couple of years and could feasibly complete the entire series in a couple of decades.

Book Report: The Peter Principle by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull (1969, 1970)

Book coverMost of us have heard of the Peter Princple: That a person tends to get promoted to his or her level of incompetence. That is, in any heirarchy, any person who does his job well enough to get a promotion will eventually get promoted to a position above the person’s competency, where he or she will not be able to do the job. This book is the source of that idea and not only includes it, but also includes other related observations about organizations.

For example, it explains how people who get put into those positions cope with their placement in jobs they cannot do: often, they substitute some task within the function to focus on. More frequently, though, their efforts go not toward doing the work/serving the customer/making money, but more toward supporting the heirarchy.

When a heirarchy becomes too laden with people who cannot do their jobs effectively, the company folds or the government falls. You can forestall this with by shuffling incompetent people or creating new positions to fill with people who have not yet reached the level of their competency. You cannot fix the problem with computers, as computers merely do what they’re told, and you’ll eventually have incompetent people in charge of them.

You can avoid this yourself by avoiding a promotion when you’re happy with your job, but to avoid stigmatism for not being ambitious, it’s best to fake a certain amount of incompetence to avoid being offered a promotion. Even if you reach the peak of your profession, you might be tempted to move to another heirarchy where you might find your level of incompetence eventually.

How does this book compare to C. Northcote Parkinson’s Parkinson’s Law? The book actually addresses Parkinson and says he does not go far enough because work can not only expand to fit the time allotted to it, but beyond if the heirarchy is too stuffed with incompetent individuals to get the work done.

The book ends with a chapter on the Peter Principle on the scale of the human race and fits in with the Malthusian zeitgeist of the time, unfortunately, but it doesn’t detract too much from the preceding chapters.

It’s a humorous, tongue in cheek look at heirarchies and has some truths in it. It is so tongue in cheek that I wondered if it was all a put-on, but Dr. Peter actually exists and did study heirarchies with numerous other publications, so I guess he’s for realz. A good, fairly quick read and quite a best seller in its day: this book, one year after publication, is the eight mass market paperback printing after 13 other printings, and the book is still in print today. So somebody likes it.

Book Report: Women The Children Men by Roberta Metz (1979)

Book coverThis book is another poetry chapbook I picked up somewhere. It’s from 1979, so it’s old school.

The title refers to sections of the book, one on women, one on children, and one on men. Each contains poems focused, kind of, on the experiences of each, but all of them are from an older, wiser woman’s perspective, whether it’s about being a widow, about having a sexual relationship as an older woman, having children, having men, and so on. Honestly, the men come off a little bit at a loss here, although it’s not entirely male-bashing.

The poet is a more professional poet than, say, Charlotte Osborn. You can immediately tell because the language is unabashedly contemporary (to 1979) and the lines lack end rhymes. Also, the metaphor and rhythm have a certain facility with them.

So a pretty good collection, a step up from the flowers-and-life poems of the housewife set, with a few lingering ideas and images.

Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Task Force Blue by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman (1997)

Book coverThis book is ripped from the history books and Obama-era law enforcement documents. The opening bit finds Marcinko’s group storming a hijacked plane where the Secretary of the Navy is being held hostage. Marcinko shoots the SecNav’s bodyguard in the process when the bloke draws his gun during the storming, which is the thing that puts the group outside the wire in their ensuing mission.

A billionaire has drawn a following and has recruited a number of ex-military to his organization. He seems to be amassing a large amount of stolen military weapons and distributing them to a wide variety of unsavory groups, from gangs to the militia-style group that hijacked the commercial plane carrying the SecNav in the first place.

The description of the billionaire could be molded to fit Donald Trump:

LC believed we needed a chief of state who was less the poll-driven, touchie-feelie-I-will-never-lie-to-y’all politician, and more like one of those Latin American caudillos–paternalistic, tough dictators like Trujillo or Bautista. There was a part of me that agreed with him. I want a head of state who is decisive–a man who leads from the front. LC certainly did that–he ran his businesses. He didn’t leave ’em to others to run. An in many areas, our philosophies were similar. He argued that we didn’t need a Department of Defense that ran resuce missions in the Third World instead of staying ready for war. I thought so, too. He thought we should lead, not follow, in world affairs. No argument there, either. He was tough on crime, and believed in education. Right on.
Where I got uneasy with LC was in the constitutional area. He never came out and said it in so many words, but it was kind of like he hinted that we didn’t really need the Constitution. I found that downright scary.
But guess what? Current polls showed that many Americans agreed with him–felt that we needed a strong man running the gummint, and to hell with the Constitution.

Of course, in 1997, the template would have been Ross Perot. But one thing these thrillers from the 1990s shows us that the same thing we’ve got going on in the 2010s has been going around and coming around for a long time. You can’t go back as far as the 80s, though, since those were mostly the remnants of the Nazis in the post World War II fat thrillers (although the thin men’s adventure paperbacks often show themes that continue to recur, like Islamic terrorism, as they spread their villany amid those, ex-Nazis, and militia threats).

At any rate, the book does not balance the fourth-wall-breaking expositon well with the action sequences–it has more of the former than the book can bear. Also, it’s a single twist away from being really good–when the Task Force Blue infiltrates the bad guy’s inner sanctum, they find that the general who has been controlling their shots has a new agenda: not neutralizing the threat, but instead putting the threat of civil disorder under the current administration’s control, for its own uses if needed. Which isn’t that much of a twist in the 21st century, where readers kind of expect that from any administration of opposing viewpoint, sadly.

Marcinko has kept writing these books to the current day. Most of what I’ve read comes from the 1990s so far. I wonder what I’ll find once I get into the 21st century books, as I will, probably, if I find them cheap in book sales. My continued interest in the series is the best endorsement of the book that I can provide. It wasn’t bad enough to turn me off to the series.

Book Report: Let Us Go Quietly Together For A Little Way by Charlotte Osborne (?)

Book cover This book would seem to date from the 1960s, given that its proceeds would be used for the restoration of the Old Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in Chesterfield, Missouri, and I did some rudimentary research to see when that happened. The book is not available on Amazon or eBay and does not appear anywhere on the Internet, seemingly. So maybe I’m just making it up.

At any rate, it’s a short (12 poems in all), comb-bound collection of poems that are not particularly Christian nor gospel-based. Instead, they’re musings on the common poetical themes of love, the passage of time, and enjoying the fleeting present. The language is at times a bit self-consciously imitative of middle English, but not exclusively so. And the poems are not bad, but they don’t stand out.

On the other hand, it is another example of early-to-mid-twentieth-century women, generally middle aged, putting their thoughts to verse and then publishing them, which means we can still see them fifty years later. It might not be poetry to last the centuries, but it’s a literary endeavor that surpasses what many, if not most, of their contemporaries were doing and many, if not most, of their twenty-first century contemporaries are doing, me included.

So it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of minutes in between sonnets you’re writing or snarky tweets.

I wonder where I picked this up. It’s the kind of thing I get bundled at five-for-a-dollar at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale, but its origins are in the St. Louis area. Did someone bring it down here and donate it, or did I pick it up in the St. Louis area many years ago? Fortunately, although I wonder about it. I’ll be done wondering about it when I finish this post, so I can focus on proper insoluble problems, such as “Can I convince someone of something political on Facebook?” (Answer: No.)

Book Report: Backroads of the Ozarks by Wayne Sullins (1990)

Book coverThis book is a collection of Ozarks photographs, published about the time my beautiful wife was graduating from high school in the Ozarks while I was doing the same in the St. Louis exurbs and thinking about my new life in Wisconsin. Some decades later, I’m in the Ozarks, and I see things like this every day.

The photos in the book focus on wild flowers, landscapes, and old mills.

You know, I’m glib when I say I see things like this every day, but I don’t. Many days, I direct myself into Springfield and its urban and suburban environments for the business of living. I see things like this when I bother to take the back roads from my home to Republic, Clever, or Ozark and get to see the landscapes, the old barns, the livestock, and the other things that remind me of Americana and not just the narrow corridors of life.

So I browsed this book with while watching football, as you might expect, and I sometimes wonder how much more I should actually linger over a book of art or photography than to look at the image, react to it if I feel so inspired, and move on. Sometimes, I just don’t know what I’m doing with these book things.

Book Report: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff (1982)

Book coverThis book was classed, apparently, as Humor, but in reality, it is a brief introduction to some of the concepts of Taoism through illustrations and excerpts from Winnie the Pooh books.

Clearly, it’s a Chinese conspiracy to trick our children into being Taoists.

So, basically, it introduces the concepts of P’u, the simple, uncarved block, which Pooh is (according to the book). His simplicity leads him to looking at things differently than the others and to finding solutions that the other, more clever (Rabbit) or wise (Owl) characters overlook. Then there’s Wu wei, the concept of not doing much or anything and letting the simple things and solutions in harmony with nature appear. And t’ai hsu, the great Nothing where you begin your journey and in which you will find most things.

Being as I’ve been steeped in the Existentialist writings recently, I must compare the two. Within Taoist thought, the Nothing doesn’t represent the same thing as in Existentialism, as at the core of humanity and nature there’s something, a harmony that you can discover if you’re quiet, simple, and still. So instead of inventing yourself, in Taoism, you find yourself. It’s a bit more pleasant of a thought. And the thing you find within yourself is not set, as you can alter who you are as long as you work with what it is. Very Eastern, of course.

It’s about 150 pages, but it has illustrations, quotes from Pooh books, and imagined conversations with Pooh characters, so it’s something you can read in a sitting or two. I think it took me between two and three hours.

So I think I have The Te of Piglet and perhaps even the Tao Te Ching around here somewhere. Perhaps I’ll pick them up soon.

Editing a different post from way back in the day, I’m reminded of the Tao Sharks gear I made:

Tao Sharks
Tao Sharks

Strangely enough, these did not prove as popular as the Project Manager Wall Clock.

Book Report: Camille Pissarro: A Medænas Monograph by Anne Schirrmeister (1982)

Book coverThis book is in the same line as Peter Paul Rubens, but it is two years earlier, which means that it has two sets of pharmaceutical ads instead of one and the front cover does not have the artist’s name nor a sample work on it (which explains why I have two).

Instead of the Baroque work of Rubens, Pissarro falls into the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist schools of art. Like Monet, he does landscapes, but unlike Monet, he includes human figures in them. He does a lot with working people in their elements (the fields and whatnot), and he has a lot of blocky, square structure in his works as he used the palette knife before Bob Ross made it cool.

So I’ve learned more about this artist and sampled his work. I also hopefully will no longer confuse him with Bazille and think Pissarro died in the Franco-Prussian war. When they’re both covered briefly in the Impressionist sampler books, like this or this, I tend(ed) do do just that.

Worth a browse if you like art and can find it for a buck. Or if you’d like me to just send you my spare copy.

Book Report: The Courtship of Barbara Holt by Brian J. Noggle (2011)

Book coverIn my recent reading, I’ve seen the term hortus conclusus and references to Hegel and Husserl. Which immediately made me think of The Courtship of Barbara Holt, my play. So I took one of the proof copies from the shelf and read it again.

Like John Donnelly’s Gold, which I also re-read this year, the play amused me because I get all the jokes within it, and some still catch me by surprise enough to make me laugh. Although the allusions to hortus conclusus, Hegel, and Husserl did not specifically.

The plot, in case you haven’t seen it recently, is that an English major in college, Mark, really likes a girl (Barbara Holt), and when he talks to her, he spouts blank verse. Barbara’s friend Jenn likes Mark. Mark’s friend Mike likes Jenn, so he tries to get Mark to woo Barbara more effectively. Rick, another friend of Mark (called ‘Phil’ by Mike because he’s a philosophy major and hence brings the three Hs into it) thinks Mark is trying to woo Jenn, so he tries to help get them together. And so on.

At any rate, there’s some simple humor in it, and a little bit of obscure humor like I fancy in it. I’m almost tempted to release a footnoted edition just so everyone will know just how clever I am, but I’d probably sell fewer copies of the annotated Barbara Holt than the original.

Book Report: The Experience of Nothingness by Michael Novak (1970)

Book coverWell, I found this book.

It is a good example of mid-twentieth century American Existentialism. It’s like Kierkegaard put into a blender with Joseph Campbell. It’s all about the human as a deciding being creating itself every moment, but the creation also involves making myths and destroying existing myths. Pragmatism, but instead of solutions and eliminating doubt, it’s about building better myths and symbols. I’ve read a bit of Kierkegaard and of of Kierkegaard recently plus I’ve started and put down a number of books from this line of thought (including Campbell’s Myths to Live By, so I’m really, really going to read something other than Existentialism for the remainder of the year. Or at least the week.

The Experience of Nothingness at the core of the lectures this book is built on is that moment of Sartrean nausea where you see beyond the appearances of the world and into the nothingness beyond. Once you see that, you have to build yourself a world and a you to inhabit it. This self-determination aspect of Existentialism appeals to me, but when you get further into it, Existentialism and particularly mid-century American existentialism folds into an adolescent idealism, where the only thing that matters is the story and the myths you live by and toppling the Institutions’ myths that control you. Those institutions–universities, corporations, the government, man–are holding you down.

Fifty years on, we see where this gets us. The American university has been overthrown by people who think this way and are busily crafting myths, symbols, and narratives that have no bearing on reality, and reality is going to win over narrative.

At any rate, this book isn’t too hard of a read–of course, as it deals in abstract thought, it’s slower going than a paperback novel, but it’s not Being and Nothingness. Novak rails against the War in Viet Nam and the military-industrial complex a bunch, as befits the time. I understand there’s a newer edition from 1998. I’m almost tempted to read it to see what has changed in the interim, but I’m off Existentialism for the nonce.

Book Report: The Eight-Seven by Ed McBain (1965?)

Book coverThis book contains three Ed McBain novels from the 1950s and 1960s: The Mugger, Killer’s Choice, and Doll. I bought it four years ago, right after reading a paperback copy of Doll. I said I was in no hurry to read it, but I guess I was: Only four years on the to-read shelves of Nogglestead is pretty fast.

At any rate, The Mugger is one of the early ones in the series, and it deals with the primary mystery of a mugger who always thanks his victims and a secondary case of a young woman killed in a remote location attributed to the mugger. Kling is a patrolman in this book; I remember when he got promoted, and it was after this book. There were so many books in the fifties and sixties in this series that were more readily available in the 1980s that I remember reading so that it’s strange to think the recent war that Kling originally served in was Korea. In later books, it gets obscured to The War which could be Vietnam later or the Iraq Wars or Afghanistan later (although I don’t think this was emphasized in the twenty-first century books).

In Killer’s Choice, a woman who works in a liquor store is killed, and the detectives uncover multiple versions of the woman based on whom they interview. Was she a sinner or a saint, and which got her killed?

In Doll, a model is brutally killed in her bedroom while her daughter is in the next bedroom. The Kling is on the fritz after the recent death of his model girlfriend and gets suspended. Carella has an insight into the murder and gets knocked out and held by a sadistic compatriot of the murderer who gives him heroin. The doll in the title refers both to heroin and the the daughter of the victim’s doll which has a record and playback feature that picks up evidence in the murder. Four years ago, I didn’t like the book because the subplot with Carella is extraneous, but I’m in a more forgiving mood this year. As I read it with two others in the 87th Precinct series, I recognize that he’s doing something different with the books for the sake of doing something different. And perhaps trying to create a little sympathy for people who get addicted to heroin and are not vicious killers. Strange, fifty years later, that heroin addiction is a thing again.

McBain, like John D. MacDonald, is an author whose books I can read over and over again. It’s too bad that I don’t see many of the old McBain books at book sales–mostly just the hardbacks from after 1990. But this book shows how he changes with the times: the early ones are short paperback originals, but ten years later, the books are getting thicker to match the times and contemporary topics. By the end of his career, McBain’s novels matched the fat three hundred page thrillers of the present day. It’s a testament to his evolution and adaptability as a writer.

ONE MORE THING: What would McBain think of me? Well, I supported George W. Bush, so certainly not good. Also, in Doll, Andy Parker, the worst detective in the precinct, says this to a prostitute:

I’ve got a hi-fi set and also I belong to the Classics Club. I’ve got all those books by the big writers, the important writers. I haven’t got time to read them, but I got them all there on a shelf, you should see the books I got.

Brothers and sisters, I might own the largest collection of Classics Club books outside the heirs of Walter J. Black. And I read them once in a while. By “them,” I mean the ancient Greeks and Romans, and by “once in a while,” I mean every couple years.

What do you mean, I’m being defensive?