How Very Meta

Over the weekend, I was looking over my bookshelves and pulled out a volume called The Experience of Nothingness. “That’s interesting,” I thought, “I’ll read that after All Madden.”

Then, this morning, I went looking for the book on my bookshelves, and I could not find it.

Which exasperated me a bit and truly gave me the whole experience.

Book Report: All Madden by John Madden and Dave Anderson (1996)

Book coverI rediscovered this book as I turned around the books on the shelves in the hallway, and it’s the right time to read a book about football, am I right? After all, once September starts, all of my reading is going to be coloring books and chapbooks.

This book comes ten years after One Knee Equals Two Feet. In it, Madden talks about his all-Madden team and the beginning of some football “traditions”, such as the Madden football video game, his bus (he didn’t like to fly), and the Thanksgiving turkey awards. He also talks about players he’d include on his All-Madden team (through 1996), including Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. Because this book only precedes my football fandom by about five years, I recognize the names of more of the players than I would in a book about the 1970s or 1980s (unless, of course, it’s a book about the Packers).

Madden also talks about coaching, officiating, and even other sports. It’s a quick read built on topical chapters, and it’s gotten me revved up for the football season more than the online reporting of the training camps and preseason have been. Contemporary journalism focuses a lot on personalities and injuries, but football books remind me how complex the game is and how difficult the playing of the game is. I need a reminder like that because I tend to watch something and think I could do it as well as the people on the screen. Which is not the case (as a recent visit to a ninja warrior sports gym reminded me physically).

So I enjoyed the book. Undoubtedly, he’s got other books available, and I’ll watch for them. It’s hard to believe he’s been retired for seven years (!) already, which is apparently long enough for me to mentally envision him and then think, “No, that’s John Candy.”

Oh, and I would be amiss if I didn’t point out that he alludes to having read Travels with Charley, and that he enjoys criss-crossing the country on his bus because he gets to see the country that way. How fun.

Book Report: Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (1993)

Book coverI bought this book nine years ago because the author wrote (or continues to write) the fiction column for Writer’s Digest, a magazine I took off and on for twenty years until I realized that scanning magazines about writing was not making me write more. Later that year, I bought Opening Nights, a novel by Janet Burroway, who wrote the textbook I used in a collegiate writing class simply because I wanted to see how she, and Kress, did with their fiction since they were also instructing about it. So I’ll probably read the Burroway presently if I can find it.

At any rate, Beggars in Spain is a science fiction book set in the near to medium term future of 1993. The driving point of it is that, soon, genetic modifications before birth will become normal, and one of the strangest is preventing the need for sleep. This creates a bunch of kids called Sleepless who eventually become smarter than their peers because they don’t waste time sleeping. Eventually, it comes to light that they do not age much, either. This creates a stratified society of super-productive and hyperrational citizens who carry a heavier tax burden than others, and the stratified society leads to some enmity between members of each class. The Sleepless try to create a Sleepless-only refuge planetside and then an orbital satellite where they can work, learn, and earn free of interference from the less productive sleepers.

The book is broken up into sections, each of which takes place in a certain year, and the years are separated by decades. The sleeper children grow up, but the Sleepless do not age. The main character, if you will, is a Sleepless who had a twin sister that is a Sleeper; it starts on their relationship as children and then the Sleepless sister becomes an attorney, which gives the book an in to dwell on the legal and ethical ramifications of what’s going on. Which she does.

So you’ve got a science fiction novel with Heinlein and Rand overtones. It definitely explores some themes, and it does so kinda wordily. The action in the book is overshadowed by the thematic musings, unfortunately. One almost expects the leader of the Sleepless to deliver a long speech to the Sleepers. But the thematic explorations are thoughtful: one gets a little sense of both sides in the Sleeper versus Sleepless philosophies, and one expects the ultimate goal is some Hegelian synthesis of the two.

In researching for this book report (by that, I mean when I looked at Wikipedia), I discovered this is the first part of a trilogy. There’s no real cliffhanger at the end leading to a second book (as a matter of fact, there’s no cliffhanger at the end of each section/year in the book that leads to the next), so I’m not sure where it would go from here. Sleepless in Space? Regardless, now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity in the work of the Writer’s Digest fiction columnist, I’m not eager to continue the saga.

Book Report: Insane City by Dave Barry (2013)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I bought this book on my my recent trip to Florida. I read Big Trouble ten years ago and liked it, and, hey, it’s Dave Barry. So it should be funny and a Florida book (which I wanted to read while in Florida).

Well.

The setup is this: A young man is preparing to wed the beautiful, smart, and a bit controlling daughter of an uberwealthy man. He and his groom’s men arrive in Miami, the location of the wedding, and have a bachelor party. The bachelor passes out under the table for a bit, and his party moves on without him, and he loses his luggage with the ring in it. The rest of the book follows the zany adventures of the groom trying to retrieve the ring, harbor illegal aliens in his room, and deal with the problems of the groom’s men. Much marijuana is smoked.

Sadly, although it could have been a tour-de-force akin to Downtown by Ed McBain, but the setup of this book requires a bunch of drinking and marijuana to set up the situations. The construction of the series of events seems very artficial, as though it were crafted specifically to be made into a film akin to The Hangover and the like.

So I really didn’t enjoy it that much. It didn’t carry me along, although it did give me a new phrase to use: “Well, the ape is in the car now.” Which I use to express that something not very enjoyable is moving along a little better. Because once the ape gets in the SUV in the book, it moves along a little better. Although I still didn’t really laugh at anything after it.

Book Report: Wicked Springfield, Missouri by Larry Wood (2012)

Book coverI received this book as a Christmas present. You can find a pile of books from the same publisher in the local interest section of the book store, and I guess my mother-in-law picked it up when she bought me the new Woody P. Snow novel, which she also gave me for Christmas.

At any rate, this meticulously researched book covers crime in Springfield from its establishment as a town to the 1910s. Unfortunately, the information is presented as an era-per-chapter docket from the crime report section of the newspaper (one of the historical sources). We get a lot of citations for liquor violations, a lot of prostitution, and a little other murder and mayhem, but it’s presented very drily in a who did it and where fashion. A couple incidents, including the Wild Bill Hickoc shootout and the murder of Sarah Graham, get full chapters with a bit more flavor and narrative, but otherwise it’s just a litany in paragraphs.

It could certainly have been improved with more local flavor or more in-depth looks at some of the people involved, as the chapters that focus on the individual incidents are the best in the book.

I’ll probably steer clear of these titles and other thin roll-up local interest books from now on. Unless they’re fifty cents at a garage sale or a gift.

Good Book Hunting: First Christian Church Sale, August 12, 2016

On Friday morning, I sneaked off to a small local church in Republic for its annual yard sale. I know from past experience that the church’s sale has a small selection of books, so I bypass the majority of the items–clothing–and find a couple things to take home.

So here’s what I got:

  • A History of God which looks to be a textbook covering Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
     
  • The Arabs, a history/sociology/anthropology of the Middle East.
     
  • Let the Hammer Down, which might be a Christian inspirational humor book. All I know is I bought it because the author’s name, Jerry Clower, is awfully like Jerry Crownover. I’m not kidding. It doesn’t take much to convince me to buy a book.
     
  • Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutrell. It was fifty cents, kids. I had to.
     
  • Fields of Fire, a Vietnam novel by James Webb, the former Senator.
     
  • A picture book about Forest Park in case I happen to watch any football games this autumn.

I also got two CDs: The Greatest Hits of Sawyer Brown for me and something by Michael W. Smith for the family. I also picked up two films, LA Confidential on VHS and Dazed and Confused on DVD.

I feel comfortable making all these purchases since I’ve already read 40% of the books I bought a week or so back in Florida. But as you know, gentle reader, the only time I’m uncomfortable buying books is when I’m carrying one or more fifty pound boxes of them at a book sale. But that pain passes.

Book Report: The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs (2004)

Book coverThis book was the last I read completely on my vacation. It’s 360+ pages, which meant it would take some time regardless. But my interest and enthusiasm waned for the book as I went on. As a matter of fact, I found a bookmark that might have been mine about forty percent of the way through (at the start of the letter H), which means I might have already tried to read this book and then threw it back sometime in the past.

To sum up: The subtitle for the book is One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. The author decides sometime in the middle of his fourth decade (that is, about 35) to read the entire contents of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. So the thumbnail description sounds interesting. The chapters are based on letters of the alphabet, and there are “entries” with a word or phrase from the encyclopedia that leads to a paragraph, a story, or something from the author.

However, the book really is more a memoir of a yuppie editor of a magazine (Esquire), the child of well-to-do parents who lives with his wife in an apartment in New York City, during the year where he read the encyclopedia, travelled and visited his parents’ home in the Hamptons (several times), reminiscences of travel to Europe (several times), and the difficulty of having a baby and dealing with a brother-in-law who’s more talented and perhaps smarter than the author. It’s almost like reading a Woody Allen film except that there are parts where the author drops trivia into conversation (sometimes annoying the people he’s talking with). This last bit is one of the redeeming features to me.

I was getting a bit annoyed with it about the time I got to the letter H (where the bookmark was), but I powered through because I didn’t have any more appealing books (at the time) on vacation.

So the book falls deeply into the “Not my bag, baby,” realm. Which is a shame because the topic could have, but I get the sense the fellow read the entire encyclopedia to get a book out of it. I’m always a little down on books where it seems the author does something just to write the book. It’s like a literary selfie.

And on a side note, in this volume circa 2004, the author takes a number of shots at George W. Bush, of course, but also Donald Trump. I wonder what he’s made of 2016 so far, but not enough to look at what he’s written since this book.

Book Report: The Last Paradise: The Building of Marco Island by Douglas Waitley (1999, 2009)

Book coverThis book reads as a corporate history book of Deltona Corporation, a land development company run by three brothers named Mackle who cut their teeth with inland developments and then turned their attention to Marco Island, an island on the southwest coast of Florida. In 1962 (twelve years after John D. MacDonald recommended the beach there), they built a hotel and then some housing for middle income Americans with the trick that each house on the island would have its own dock. They made a good start of it, dredging canals and swamp to create a series of waterways that meant many of the houses had a street in the front and a dock in the back.

Unfortunately, the success was not to last, and the company ran into trouble. Dredging permits were only good for three years, so the company split the island into five parts and planned to get a permit for the section they were building. They got a couple permits renewed, but by time the early 1970s rolled around, the environmental movement ramped up and opposed any further development. Although Deltona Corporation had been environmentally conscious in its development, environmental groups wanted to make an example: that even an environmentally conscious and responsible corporation would be brought to heel. And so it was.

Deltona was in trouble because it had been selling undeveloped lots to fund current development, and when it could not develop those lots as planned, it had to recompense the owners. Which drove the business to sell off a bunch of profitable things to square up. One of the Mackle brothers interviewed for the book pointed out that Deltona could have declared bankruptcy, it did not because that was not the way things were done.

The book differs greatly from normal Florida reading where the land developers are greedy bad guys. This book presents them in a favorable light, if perhaps a bit creative financially. And audacious: The design for Marco Island, only partially completed, was quite a hit with the land-buying public in the 1970s, and the homes on the island still go for a pretty penny.

So I enjoyed the book a bunch and was able to relate to my family elements of the island’s history while we were staying there. So it was a good use of part of my vacation.

Book Report: The Sanibel Sunset Detective by Ron Base (2010)

Book coverI also bought this book on Sanibel Island, although this is not an autographed copy (unlike A Brief History of Sanibel Island, previously reviewed or coming soon depending upon the order in which you read these posts.

It’s the beginning of a series that goes on at least three or four more books. It deals with a retired newspaperman (there are a lot of those floating around in Florida, apparently–remember, the antagonist of Slam the Big Door was one) who opens a detective agency on Sanibel Island for something to do. He doesn’t get many clients, but a twelve-year-old boy comes in looking for his mother. He has a number of cards from her, but he’s not sure who she is. He’s living with someone else now. The boy is not very forthcoming, and Tree Callister, the Sanibel Sunset Detective, doesn’t put much stock in it. Until a local hoodlum visits because he thinks Tree knows where the woman is. Then the mess is on, as the boy is on the run and hiding from cops, Tree, and the minions of a media mogul who looks to be based on Conrad Black.

It’s a bit of a wild plot, but not bad.

At first I thought the book was going to be self-indulgent in the fashion of Roger L. Simon’s Moses Wine books (see The Big Fix, The Lost Coast, Peking Duck, and California Roll) as the detective is very self-consciously sixty years old (although he’s not courting death like Mrs. Stone), so he’s dwelling on that and the prose itself throws back to his youth with a lot of allusions and whatnot. But it improves once it gets rolling.

The book unfolds well as the dilettante detective finds himself over his head with bad guys, ex-cons, and dangerous women befuddling him. That much is relatable and good, but there’s a coincidence that the plot turns on and the narrator goes a bit Mary Sue at the end.

But I enjoyed the book enough to look for others in the series in other book stores I visited in Florida (bookstores not named “Gene’s Books” on Sanibel Island), but I couldn’t find them. So I’ll get around to ordering them online one of these days. The book is recent enough that the places that it name-checks are still around (Jerry’s Supermarket, for example–I shopped there). This differs from some books that I’ll get around to reviewing after I get around to finishing them.

So I’ll read more in the line, which is about the best recommendation you get from me.

Book Report: A Brief History of Sanibel Island by Marya Repko (2010)

Book coverThis book reads like any small town history book. It details, briefly, the history of Sanibel Island, an island in southwest Florida that is home to a number of resorts and hotels but also has many individual houses. Sixty percent of the island is actually given over to wildlife refuges and parks, so it’s more lush and green than other regions.

Sadly, though, a week after reading it I don’t remember much about it because the book focuses a lot on the different families and what properties they owned and what became of them. Which is not very narrative nor exciting enough to retain.

So interesting, I suppose, if you’re traveling to the island, but not something that will be of interest if not.

I bought this book on Sanibel Island itself, and it’s probably not available anywhere else other than online sources. And I scored an autographed copy, so I’ve added it to the Nogglestead Estate. Which leads me to wonder: Does removing the Autographed Copy sticker increase or decrease the value of an autographed book?

Book Report: The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams (1950, 1993)

Book coverThis book is the third I read on vacation. As you might remember, it is one of three books I bought at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library this spring amid oh so many albums.

It’s a short book–111 pages. It’s not a play, it’s a short novel, with dense, vivid prose that draws some attention to itself as it waxes and muses. The plot deals with an aging, retired actress who got by on her beauty rather than her acting ability, which means that she gave it up when she realized she was aging out of beauty. Her wealthy husband dies on a European trip, and Mrs. Stone finds herself in Rome, where a penniless contessa matches aging wealth American widows with young Italian men not so much for marriage as for expensive gifts. When Mrs. Stone realizes what is going on and that she is growing fond of one such young man, she invites death before the loss of her dignity.

So, basically, if you imagine a bit of a mash-up of Mrs. Dalloway–a bedraggled figure is following Mrs. Stone as the young war veteran’s story is interweaved with that of Mrs. Dalloway. However, in this book, the bedraggled figure is death in the form of a serial killer preying on wealthy American widows is following Mrs. Stone awaiting her invitation to strike–and The Awakening set in the period of Three Coins in the Fountain. Which explains why I saw all the scenery described in Deluxe color.

At any rate, the prose, as I mentioned, is deep and rich, but ultimately the book was unsatisfying because of the stylized nature of the suicide and the fact that a fifty-year-old woman was considered washed up enough to kill herself to preserve her dignity. It’s not very flattering to fifty-year-old women of the era.

Strangely, this was made into a film twice: In 1961 and in 2003. Neither of which are going onto my Amazon wish list.

Book Report: Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein (1953, 1975)

Book coverFor my second book of my vacation (the first being the last chapter or two of Slam the Big Door), I started on this book. It’s one of Robert Heinlein’s youth rocket jockey books from 1953, so it’s not as, erm, liberated as his later adult fiction.

In it, young Max Jones is a farmer in the Ozarks. He’s living at sustenance level, plowing with borrowed livestock, and providing for his stepmother and acting as the man of the house after his father passed away. His stepmother marries a man from town who then tells Max that he’s selling everything, including the farm and Max’s uncle’s books, and he threatens Max with physical punishment for disrespect. So Max lights out for Earthport. He runs across a seeming hobo who steals Max’s ID card and books and presents himself at the Astrogator’s Guild to claim a place as a trainee; however, neither the hobo nor Max can claim that position. So when they meet up, the hobo helps Max forge papers and take off in a space craft on a year-long interstellar flight.

A series of events occur that lead Max to move up from the livestock handler to, ultimately, the Captain of the ship (briefly).

It’s a quick read (even though it’s 252 paperback pages. It’s an interesting take on interstellar travel and the world where it is possible from the perspective of 1950 something. Max is an Ozarks farmer using livestock in this future, but from what I know of rural Missouri in the 1940s (see Growing Up In The Bend, for example), 1953 was not that far past draft animals and electricity in rural Missouri. The use of computers tracks perhaps with World War II naval operations but not so much with 21st century usages. So you have to have more suspension of disbelief than normal.

But if you’re looking for rocket jockey science fiction from time to time (and you should), you could certainly do worse than Heinlein.

Also, note on the cover, the dreaded Spider Puppy:

My wife and I have taken to calling it the Spider Monkey Puppy in the intonation of that obnoxious but forgotten Super Bowl commercial.

I spent the first couple of days of the vacation making up horrific facts for the Spider Monkey Puppy, but in reality, it’s a pet. But not in your dreams, gentle reader, not in your dreams.

Book Report: Slam the Big Door by John D. MacDonald (1960)

Book coverIt’s funny: I like John D. MacDonald a whole lot, and although I have a number of his paperbacks on the to-read shelves, I don’t delve into them too often–it’s been a year since I read End of the Tiger (on a different vacation, no less) and then A Tan and Sandy Silence and Two Other Great Mysteries. In preparation for my recent trip to Florida, I started this book and finished it on the plane en route to the keys of southwest Florida. Not the Florida Keys, mind you, but definitely some other cays ‘n’ bays.

At any rate, in this book, an ex-newspaperman whose wife just died from quick moving cancer visits an old Army war friend in Florida. The friend used to live in the city and was a big honcho for an advertising agency (akin to the fellow in “Hangover” in End of the Tiger, come to think of it), but he had a self-destructive urge to dissipation, which caused him to turn to drink and to a loose woman, costing his job and his marriage. After a bit of time finding himself, the friend became a builder in Florida and married into a piece of money which allowed him to try a larger development. However, a group of native businessmen want to usurp the development en media res, so they start applying different sorts of pressure to create money problems for the wartime friend. The appearance of the loose woman from New York and the trouble with the development lead the man back into a dissipation spiral.

Which the antagonist tries to stem with mixed results.

There’s not a lot of crime in the book; it’s more of a character study and a business/land development story, but it’s still told with MacDonald’s characteristic ease and comfort. The characters are believable, and the story has depth as the antagonist muses on growing old (at 40 something).

I don’t know when I’ll pick up another MacDonald book. They’re a fixed quantity, and when I’ve read them all, I shall be sad. Except there are so many, I can re-read them with some freshness. But my to-read stack does not allow much re-reading unless it’s accidental.

Toward the end of the book, someone recommends that the protagonist and a young lady visit Marco Island, which has a nice beach. I took that recommendation! What’s interesting about this allusion in this book is that the book was published in 1960, which is a couple years before the developers made Marco Island into what it is today (as we shall see later in the week or as you’ve already seen if you’re reading this blog backwards chronologically from sometime a week or so hence). So it’s written before the developers that MacDonald often lambasts had their turn at a destination he mentions.

At any rate, I recommend the book if you are old enough to understand books without cell phones and computers in them.

Good Book Hunting: Florida 2016

You might have noticed it was quiet around here for the last week or so, gentle reader. If you live in Southwest Florida, you might have noticed it was a little louder. That’s because I took a trip down to Sanibel Island and Marco Island for some important sunburn time. Although we did only found one “used book store” (actually a stall in an antique mall in Naples), I managed to pick up some Florida-themed reading at Wickham’s Books South as well as some of the other retail bookstores in the area. Most of them, actually, came from the Barnes and Noble discount rack, where I thought if a book looked interesting, it would cost more to buy on the Internet later (where it would not be 75% off), so I bought it. The thinnest of pretexts.

Here’s what I got:

  • The Optimists’ Handbook/The Pessimists Handbook, a bit of humor.
  • Beggars, Cheats and Forgers, a compendium of Beggars and Cheats and Forgers, apparently.
  • Insane City by Dave Barry. I enjoyed Big Trouble at full price because I’d run though almost my whole stack of brought and bought books by the time we got to Barnes and Noble. Of course, when I found other discounted books to read, I kept this one. Because Dave Barry.
  • I Will Fight My Own Damn War, a self-published World War II memoir by a pilot.
  • A Brief History of Sanibel Island, a book about the history of the first place we stayed in Florida. I must learn the history of everywhere I go so I can tell my children about it, even if it’s a couple hours later.
  • The Last Paradise: The Building of Marco Island, a history of Marco Island, the other place we stayed on vacation.
  • The Sanibel Sunset Detective by Ron Base, the first book in a series of mysteries set on Sanibel Island.
  • The Sanibel-Cayman Disc by Thomas D. Cochrun, the second in a series of international thrillers tied to Sanibel Island. This Sanibel Island sounds kinda dangerous. It’s a good thing I didn’t get these books before I went.
  • Garage Sale Diamonds, a book somewhere in a series about garage sales and mysteries. It was discounted.
  • Taichi: The Story of a Chinese Master in America. I’m hoping it’s a touch above the Kung Fu tie-in paperbacks, but it’s self-published.

I spent more than I normally would, but that’s par for anything on vacation. Also, note I have already read three of these books, so you’ll get them in more detail presently. Or you already have if you’re reading multiple posts in reverse chronological order.

Book Report: Starwolf #1: The Weapon from Beyond by Edmond Hamilton (1967)

Book coverThis book is the first of what would be a short series of science fiction novels akin to men’s adventure paperbacks: you have a single character, a tough guy, who gets into different missions. In this case, the Starwolf of the title is Morgan Chane, the son of missionaries who died shortly after reaching high-gravity Varna. Chane was raised there, an outsider amongst the pirates, but he grew to become an interstellar raider until a dispute over loot leads to a fight where Chane kills the leader of the space pirates. The book opens with him wounded and on the run from the other pilots. When he reaches a particular cluster, his ship is about to blow when he tries a desperate gambit to be picked up by a nearby ship. And he is. By a group of mercenaries who might need his talents. The leader knows who he is and gets Chane’s reluctant help by threatening to expose him–and Varnan spacewolves are killed on sight in most of the rest of the civilized galaxy.

So we’re off. The mercs are hired to find what weapon an opposing force in an interplanetary war is developing. They infiltrate the opposing force’s home planet, only to flee under suspicion right into the path of some starwolves searching for Chane.

It’s a pretty quick-paced action thriller kind of book; as I said, it’s akin to the men’s adventure paperbacks I tend to read, but the plot moves three-dimensionally–you never know what to expect. This book fits right into my wheelhouse–it alludes to a developed cosmological history where some group ‘seeded’ human like races in different systems, and eventually they start space travelling, albeit at different times. The warring worlds of this book, for example, have just discovered space flight, and most of their equipment is stuff they received from space traders looking for raw materials from the planets. There’s no Prime Directive here, no Terran Dominium or central government, apparently. And there are the mysteries of those who have come before (and might again).

At any rate, much like my other recent foray into science fiction (The Starcraft Archive, I enjoyed the book. The Starwolf series only ran three books, and I only have one of them. However, I have two books from the (four book) Agent of T.E.R.R.A. series also from Ace paperbacks, so I’ll probably jump onto them sometime soon.

Book Report: Fishin’, Huntin’, Travelin’ and Ozark Memories by L.B. Cook (1997)

Book coverThis book could have included Figurin’ in the title if only because someone did a quick calculation on the front of it. Clearly, someone did not think this was an heirloom quality book.

Since I’ve been reading 600- or 700-page books of late, I thought I’d take a little detour into this seventy-something book of local interest. Published at the end of the 20th century, it’s a collection of work of a local conservation-oriented fellow who previously had published a couple of the bits in newsletters and whatnot. As the actual title indicates, it’s a collection of two or three page recollections of trips taken over the course of decades by the author. Some of the shorter bits, particularly of trips to southern Texas, have the feel of a newspaper column and are the stronger of the writings in it. Advice as to how to find places to hunt in other states by mailing postmasters and conservation agents in the areas you’re interested in hasn’t held up. And some of the pieces are more like minutes to hunting trips or meetings, with a lot of name-dropping, than narratives.

Still, I laughed a couple times when the name-dropping happened. The only name I recognized was Ned Reynolds, a long-time fixture at the local television station. The stories and narratives are not often fixed into time, and putting Ned Reynolds’ name into it doesn’t help. Some of the stories were things like “Henry Schoolcraft, Teddy Roosevelt, Ned Reynolds, and I went turkey hunting….” Well, obviously not really, but the most enjoyment I got out of the book was from thinking this.

Unfortunately, it’s not a strong book in the narrative department and is probably only of interest to Cook, his family, perhaps the families of those whose name he dropped, and people like me who will read any book of local interest if it’s short enough.

Book Report: The Most of George Burns by George Burns (1991)

Book coverThis book is a collection of four of George Burns’ books: Living It Up, The Third Time Around, Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness, and Dear George. As such, it’s 780 pages, most of which I heard in George Burns’ voice as I read.

My goodness, it has been twenty years since he passed away. I guess I’d better say something about who George Burns was for you damn kids. He started out in vaudeville, and he married Gracie Allen and hit the big time. They moved from vaudeville to radio to movies and then later to television. When Gracie retired, he started a nightclub act and after a number of years, he started making movies again, including his Oscar-winning turn in The Sunshine Boys. After that film, he had a bit of a renaissance, appearing in the Oh God films and on television programs. And, apparently, writing best-selling books. When he wrote the first of these books, in 1976, he was eighty years old.

As a child of the late 1970s and 1980s, I knew of George Burns because of his aforementioned renaissance. He was a little fresher than some of the other older comedians from the radio and early television days that I saw on television like Red Buttons and Milton Berle.

Living It Up is memoir in nature and talks about his family life, his going into vaudeville, his radio program, and his television program. The chapters relay anecdotes along with jokes and a voice that isn’t taking itself too seriously. It talks about some of those early comedians I didn’t know when I was young and gives me some perspective on them. It’s written about the same time as the film starting his renaissance comes out.

The Third Time Around is another memoir, this one after he has returned to movies and has several under his belt, including the hit Oh God. He focuses a bit more on his later career and his work in the movies in the 1930s, but it’s still an entertaining look back.

Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness and Dear George are humor books written around the George Burns character after the renaissance. Both feature a lot of pictures with George Burns around attractive, eighties-styled women in various capacities and coalesce around a theme. In the first, Burns talks about what it is to be happy. Key: Get into a career, or at least work, you love. The second is a collection of ‘letters’ written to George Burns seeking advice, which he then gives in pithy one-liners. I was a bit disappointed with the last two books in the, er, book, because the first two had some weight, depth, and sense of George Burns as a person in them. These last two were George Burns, the character, instead. We never had this problem with Dave Barry, who was always Dave Barry the character (sometimes played by Harry Anderson, or Harry Stone, whichever was not the character).

The book missing within this book is How to Live to Be 100 – Or More which transits Burns from the memoirs to the humor. I’m pretty sure I have it here somewhere on the shelves. I also have the book that follows Dear George, Gracie: A Love Story. This thicker book I uncovered recently. It looks to be more memoirish, so I’m looking forward to reading it sometime. But not immediately.

I’m glad to have read this book and to have learned more about George Burns. As a product of the era of his renaissance, I have affection in my heart for the man, and I think he lived an interesting life spanning multiple eras in history–from vaudeville to radio to television to movies and to the semi-modern era (come on, at 120, Burns would be all on the Internet with help) but also through eras of personal life, from youth to time in vaudeville to the success with Gracie (across eras) to the renaissance and beyond. It’s inspiring to see that with the right attitude, sense of humor, and gag writers, one can perservere and thrive for a long time.

Hopefully, this lesson does not only apply to entertainers.

Book Report: Sold for Slaughter by Mike Newton(1983)

Book coverThis book breaks again from the terrorist angle and returns Mack Bolan to fighting organized crime, albeit with an international flavor. Mack Bolan goes looking for Smiley Dublin, one of the Ranger girls that played recurring parts in his original war with the mafia. She was investigating human trafficking, and Bolan finds her at a human flesh auction in Kansas run by a Mafioso. He frees her and then starts tracking the human trafficking (and more) back to its source in Algiers. The source is a triumvirate of stock bad guys, and Bolan works to disrupt their operations.

It’s not too bad of an entry–Bolan doesn’t smoke, so there’s that–but the books are getting to be of a stock type with name checking of currently trendy weapons, easy head shots, and action that borders on absurd, but cinematic. As I’ve said in my self-defense, the books are what they are: television episodes in paragraph form. Sometimes, they rise up to surprise you. This one only surprised me in a oh, come on fashion. The female character is treated very poorly: Although she’s supposed to be an elite secret agent, she tags along to Algiers for one reason: To defy Bolan’s orders to stay put and to get captured again transparently to be rescued again.

Ay de mi.

At any rate, if these books continue to lightly disappoint, I’ll probably slow down on them again. I’ve read about 50 of the titles in The Executioner series so far (not bad since this is #60), and I have 80 something to go in the assorted properties. To give you an idea of my pacing, I read #20 which also featured Smiley Dublin in 2011. As I’ve picked up the pace, it’s only taken me since since February to read the 1983 books in the series. So I was going for it. Now I’m going to taper off on them and work in some better books, I think.

One thing about this edition: Although the book bears no library markings, the inside of the back cover has some date stamps which would seem to indicate this was in a library of some sort at one time:

I wonder what that was all about.

Also, since “Don Pendleton” writes about the book’s author in an afterward in these new volumes, I’m starting to put the stated author’s name with the book. For completeness sake. Although for ease of searching, I should continue to mention “Don Pendleton” in each post.

Book Report: The Starcraft Archive by Jeff Grubb, Gabriel Mesta, Tracy Hickman, and Micky Neilson (2007)

Book coverThis book collects four novels set in the mythos of the Star Craft video games and novelizes elements of it but also expands on it. Apparently, Blizzard has a whole series of books based on the WarCraft and StarCraft worlds (not to mention a WarCraft movie. So they’re sure there are stories to be told in the universe, I reckon, and cross-pollinated dollars to make.

Full disclosure: Although my beautiful wife loves the StarCraft series, I only played it for a couple minutes when invited to a LAN party at my wife’s employer in 2000. It was supposed to be a StarCraft party, and I was to pick the game up in the couple of minutes while everyone got set up. I started a couple of random missions in the different campaigns but didn’t really get into it–I was steeped in turn-based games like Deadlock and Civilization. Fortunately, everyone never got set up, so we all went to dinner instead. But as I read the book, I got the StarCraft Battle Chest set out and started looking at what it would take to install it on a machine sixteen years later. A lot more hackery than I want to expend on installing it only to run it for a couple of minutes and abandon it (which is my wont for video games for the last decade). Oh, there I go, cross-platform musing. Back to this book.

The novels within run from okay to pretty good. They include:

  • Liberty’s Crusade by Mike Morhaime, which tells the StarCraft (1) story from the perspective of a news man. A rebel leader uses the arrival of the alien races of the Protoss and the Zerg to consolidate his power and overthrow the Terran Confederacy. Pretty good.
     
  • Shadow of the Xel’Naga by Gabriel Mesta, which tells the story of an ancient artifact found on a backwater human colony where substinence farming is the order of the day. The artifact beams a powerful message into space which attracts the Zerg and the Protoss who arrive even as the military of the Terran Dominion who respond to a request for help from the colonists. This is the weakest of the books, as it is the most likely to drop video game terms and units in as fan service, and the behaviour of the Terran commander is reckless and foolish, with tactics beneath me and I’m no space naval officer.
     
  • Speed of Darkness by Tracy Hickman, which takes the point of view of a confused, reconditioned Terran marine who struggles with memories and fitting into the military who is part of a sacrificial mission on Mar Sara and organizes a last stand against the Zerg. It’s a very good book, but you’d expect that from Tracy Hickman. My goodness, he co-wrote one of the geeksetting trilogies in the 1980s (Dragonlance, anyone), but he’s not George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien level famous in the 20th century. It must be the nature of the work-for-hire or a terminal lack of double R middle initials.
     
  • Uprising by Micky Neilson, which describes in detail some events in the uprising that would upend the Terran Confederacy and lead to the Terran Dominion.

Overall, the book was a pleasure to read. Although military in nature, it wasn’t so military as to exclude those of us who didn’t serve (which is the knock I have against some military sci-fi such as Drake or Frazetta–I just can’t get into them because they’re bogged in detail). It was fresh compared to all the Executioner books I’ve been reading lately, but I wonder if I read all the books in the line whether they’d all start to be formulaic, too.

Book Report: Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard (1985 edition)

Book coverI cannot remember whether I started this book or Søren Kierkegaard first. However, I sure finished the other Cliff Notes-esque summary of Kierkegaard’s thought first. Because, face it, Kierkegaard is not a quick read.

First, a note about the translation: As you know, any translated literature I find just a bit suspect because the translator makes some changes to try to illustrate the intent of the original in the second language or the translator does not and lets the idioms fall where they may. As I do not speak Danish, I have no idea what tack the translator did. It’s coupled with the almost two centuries of time that have passed. One telling word choice that jarred me was vaudeville. Certainly Kierkegaard did not use a direct translation since he preceded the American theatre form by half a century or so. Another, more important example: this book uses absurd an awful lot. I get that a lot in translations of Sartre and Camus, too. So was Kierkegaard the origin of the concept that the later Frenchmen picked up on, or was the translator aligning some word of Kierkegaard’s to the common Existentialist expression? I suppose if I had time or inclination, I could delve into it. But I don’t.

At any rate, the book is a long musing on the meaning of what it is to be truly religious. As we learned from Søren Kierkegaard, this book comes after Either/Or, and where that book identifies two spheres of man’s activity (the aesthetic and the ethical), this volume explores a yet higher sphere, the religious. It does so by musing at great length upon the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham, a good and faithful man, is told by God to sacrifice his only son. So Abraham bundles the boy up and heads to the designated spot, whereupon God stays Abraham’s hand. Abraham is beyond the ethical in this because he was going to do an unethical thing for his faith, and because he did he became the father of religions.

To make a long story short, to be religious requires one to live in the paradox, the absurd. You have to hold two things in mind and heart at the same time that cannot be true.

I was unconvinced by the arguments, and I didn’t really enjoy the book. Although there were some tweet-worthy aphorisms within it, the writing style was convoluted and wordy, perhaps on purpose. But the paragraphs were as long as a page at times, which hindered me, as I sometimes picked up the book after a couple of days away from it and then would read a couple preceding paragraphs to refresh me as to where I was. In many cases, I had to re-read several complete pages.

You know, Kierkegaard might have been a genius–he was certainly well-read, as the allusions in the book indicate. However, it’s not a fun read. It’s not a quick read. I had to gut out the last forty or fifty pages. I’ve started and gotten most of the way through too many theology and philosophy books over the last year, so I was determined to read it. And I did. But I’m not eager to delve into more Kierkegaard, which is unfortunate, because I got Either/Or for Father’s Day. And that book is twice the size of this one. Perhaps I’ll put it on the shelf, let it marinate a while, and then convince myself that the thicker volume won’t be like this one.

Now, onto finishing the Tillich perhaps.