Most of My Book Reviews Are Problematic

The Problem With Calling Something “Interesting”:

Calling something interesting is the height of sloppy thinking. Interesting is not descriptive, not objective, and not even meaningful.

Interesting is a kind of linguistic connective tissue. When introducing an idea, it’s easier to say ‘interesting’ than to think of an introduction that’s simultaneously descriptive but not a spoiler.

I often use interesting in book reports.

I suppose it’s fitting, since the book reports are the connective tissue that holds this blog together. I go periods without saying something interesting meaningful except for the book reports that I post mainly so I can look back upon them on the blog to see what I thought about this book or what else I’ve read within the last two decades by the author or on the subject.

You, gentle readers, all ten of you every day, are only along for the ride.

And by “ride,” I mean “looking for a book report on The Sire de Maletroit’s Door on Google so you can cut and paste it for a paper tomorrow.”

Book Report: The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout (1965)

Book coverThis book is the fifth, or the third, Rex Stout book I’ve read in the last fifteen or so years. The actual number is up for contention, as I read a three book omnibus edition and reviewed them separately (Too Many Clients, Might As Well Be Dead, and The Final Deduction) in addition to a stand alone book The Father Hunt. So is that two or four books? You decide.

At any rate, like the aforementioned books, this novel falls later in the Nero Wolfe canon. Stout started them in the 1930s and carried them on thirty years, so they might have seemed more antiquidated at the outset, but this book is relatively relevant to a modern reader who lived before computers. Within it, Wolfe and Goodwin are hired by a wealthy heiress who has sent copies of The FBI Nobody Knows to many influential people and who thinks she is now the target of FBI surveillance. She would like the impossible: For Wolfe to get them off her back. She offers an exorbitant sum to do it, so Wolfe accedes. As Goodwin and Wolfe try to get a handle on the problem, they find a murder where members of the FBI are suspects–and they come up with a plan to exchange the solution to that crime (and evidence of related FBI wrongdoing) to get the FBI off of their client’s back.

Even in the 1960s, as Spillaine and MacDonald were coming into paperbacks, the book is a bit of a throwback, but it’s still readable and enjoyable. As you know, I just bought this book, but it’s more a matter of last in, first out rather than my diving into this because I just couldn’t wait for a Nero Wolfe novel (although perhaps I was directed in this direction by the Wolfe entry in Madame Bovary, C’est Moi!).

It is noteworthy for its suspicion of the FBI as bad guys, though, but I suppose we were seeing the turning of the culture even then in the middle 1960s. But in a throwback novel, its presence might indicate the theme was already entering the mainstream.

Book Report: On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957, 2007)

Book coverThis book is supposedly the novel that defined a generation, but to be honest, as that generation dies off, I imagine it will be less relevant in the vast history of literature.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s the semi-biographical novel about a veteran writer who lives with his aunt, but the book itself describes several cross-country trips (and one trip to Mexico) that the narrator takes alone or with a ne’er-do-well friend. Basically, they go looking for jazz, drink-and-drugs, and chicks. They find more of the first two than the latter. They visit Denver and San Francisco and friends there. Then they go to Mexico. Finally, the narrator grows up a bit and settles down.

Honestly, I don’t know how much the book celebrates the wandering lifestyle or if it is actually saying that it’s meaningless to wander looking for thrills. After all, the stories and incidents within the book tend to get repetitious. Only the florid presentations of the jazz music have any sort of appeal.

That’s not to say it’s not an interesting book to read. The narrative voice is interesting, and it pulls one along (to nowhere) effectively. If only there was a better story to it.

In the 21st century, it’s most interesting as a document of life on the road in the 1940s. Travel bureau trips and ride sharing. The tail end of hobos and jumping trains and hitchhiking. And so on.

But as a guide to how one should live? Meh.

Book Report: Five Themes of Today by Changde Chen (2001)

Book coverThis book is an interesting proposition: It is a number of philosophical arguments presented as poems, as lyrics. Although they do not contain imagery and particularly clever turns of phrase that makes for good poetry, the line-broken and metered presentation makes for easy reading of a philosophical argument.

The main piece within the book, “On the End of Technological Civilization”, presents a mathematical argument that technology is destined to fall because, basically, in a long enough timeline, all possibilities will come true, including the fall of the civilization. I don’t buy it because every moment brings new possibilities that did not exist the moment before, so the finite infinity projected might not apply to history as it does to mathematics.

The other ‘themes’ are longer musings on the logic of love and marriage, reason and religion, the war between equality and liberty, and the dead weight of democracy. They’re followed by some shorter little riffs on more topical subjects. I found all of them engaging, but although I did not agree with much, I did enjoy the presentation of the arguments. I would have expected the bits, particularly the one on reason and religion, to be a little more informed by the Chinese perspective, but it focused on Western religion instead of the Chinese beliefs, for example.

An interesting bit about this particular volume.

This appears to be a copy inscribed by Chen to his Oxford colleague, poet Bernard O’Donoghue. The sticker indicates it was a charitable donation at some time, and fifteen or so years later it ended up in Springfield, Missouri. Man, I feel for Chen here: A personal gift of his book with an inscription put in the Goodwill pile. I remember when I saw a copy of John Donnelly’s Gold listed on Amazon by a used bookstore in Indianapolis, and I knew which copy I’d mailed off that got there. I feel you, brother.

At any rate, like I said, a good intellectual read and an interesting presentation and easily digestible presentation of the material. It led me to wonder if I could make a philosophy book completely out of bullet points or ordered lists for modern audiences to understand. Perhaps someday.

Good Book Hunting: Hooked on Books, January 31, 2017

So my oldest son had an orthodontics appointment last Tuesday, which meant I had to pull him out of school early. After the appointment, we had a little time to kill before picking up his brother, so we stopped at Hooked on Books. If you go through the annals of this blog, you’ll find a lot more mention of Hooked on Books. Every time I came to Springfield, I stopped there. Now that I go into Springfield daily, I don’t stop there quite as often. More recently, I’ve been visiting ABC Books more often because I know the owner and because I’ve been dabbling in theological books, of which they have aplenty.

I didn’t get much, but the red dot (discounted) books always seem to attract me.

I got:

  • Love by Danielle Steel, a collection of poems.
  • The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout, a Nero Wolfe novel.
  • Manifold Space, a science fiction novel by Stephen Baxter. Whom I confess I confused until just now with Steven Barnes, the Larry Niven collaborator. ONLY NOW IS THE TRUTH OF MY FOLLY REVEALED! Well, the proof of the pudding is in the reading, so perhaps it was not folly after all.

It’s not much, but if you’re keeping up with the book reports this year, you’ll see I’ve read eleven. I’ve bought three. I AM AHEAD. Until, of course, the spring book sales. But that’s a couple months away.

Book Report: Buddhism Through Christian Eyes by Alex G. Smith (2001)

Book coverThis book is a brief (64 page) primer for Christian missionaries headed to southwest Asia to try to convert Buddhists there. It was written by an Australian missionary with many years’ experience in Thailand, and many of the chapters of the book originated as articles in various religious publications in the region.

The first part of the book talks about Buddhism and how it came to predominate Asia and how it makes its inroads in the West: It does not seek to replace the native religions per se, but rather it complements and then absorbs them. The book then puts into some stark relief differences between Christian scriptures and core Buddhist doctrine (as well as Buddhist scholarship). The stark differences don’t receive a lot of emphasis when you’re reading popular Buddhist books (like Start Here Now), but, then again, you don’t get a lot of the heavy duty Christian scholarship in most church services, either.

At any rate, an informative bit of counterpoint to straightforward Buddhist-themed literature, but a bit apocalyptic on the march of Buddhism to take over the world.

Book Report: Hellbinder by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverThis book is the first Executioner novel I’ve read in 2017, and the last published in 1984. By 1984, I had recently arrived in Missouri for the first time and lived in the basement of my “rich” relations, whereas “rich” meant “richer than us” but in retrospect was not that rich at all. I digress.

This book is a bit of a globe-trotter: Bolan starts out investigating a KGB camp in the United States, but it’s just a staging area for an attack on a government chemical weapon storage facility. When Bolan gets there, he’s too late: The KGB has already hit the storage facility and steals six canisters of a deadly chemical weapon. Then, they’re off to El Salvador, where a Soviet rogue agent uses one of the cannisters on a rival guerrilla camp for a propoganda stunt that blames the US for the attack. Then the rogue agent sells the other five to a Syrian faction that’s going to use them on Israel. So we jet off to the Middle East after our excursion in Central America. In Syria, Bolan hooks up with a beautiful Mossad agent and reveals the plot to them, where he helps to neutralize the threat and helps Mossad steal the five canisters from Syria.

It’s an odd book, in that Bolan is sort of passive here. He’s late in the attack on the chemical factory, he’s tied up and powerless during the attack in El Salvador, and then he’s only part of the attack force in Syria. The globe-hopping is different, too, as many of the previous books have been limited to a single area or mission. The insertion of the standard Bolan boilerplate musings on His War and stuff are just kind of stuck in there, a bit clunky and a bit out-of-place. Although Bolan does not smoke in this book, he does carry cigarettes–just to share with soldiers he wants to talk to. So it’s a bit of an outlier–or perhaps a change in direction that I’ll see more of in the year to come.

At any rate, not necessarily a bad read, but a bit different from others that precede it.

Book Report: Madame Bovary, C’est Moi! by André Bernard (2004)

Book coverThis book is a little encyclopedic collection of main characters of novels and little vignettes about the books and how the characters came about. It talks about Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and others of classical lit along with more contemporary demi-classics like Sam Spade and the Continental Op (from Dashiell Hammett’s novels and stories).

A quick read–it’s only 135 pages with bibliography–but it’s a bit of fun. One feels a certain smug satisfaction when browsing the entry for something one has already read–in my case, the aforementioned Anna Karenina and Dash Hammett stories–and perhaps a bit of curiosity that might inspire one to read one of the novels mentioned that you haven’t read (in my case, Madame Bovary, but fortunately that inspiration is fleeting, and I can go back to reading Executioner novels). The book also has numerous sidebars, from bulleted lists collecting characters into groups (alliterative names, single named characters, and so on) to quotations from authors on other authors, their characters, or writing (C.S. Forester expresses his trouble identifying characters in War and Peace by name, which is what caused me to put the book down when I started it soon after I read Anna Karenina ten years ago (!)).

A good, quick read for the literary-minded amongst us.

Book Report: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Book coverIt seems to me that, as I was growing up in the 1970s, that allusions to this book were everywhere, but it might have been that I saw the same Bugs Bunny cartoon referring to it over and over again. It was quite a sensation in its day, spawning a movie and a Broadway play much like you get from modern pop culture forces. This book was also sent overseas with World War II veterans a bunch, too, so it was part of the Greatest Generation zeitgeist even though it was set a generation earlier.

It deals with a young girl, Francie, at age ten in a tenement neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1912. It follows her as she ages into her teen years, after the death of her alcoholic father, and into the period when the US enters World War I. So, basically, the same time as the first couple of seasons of Downton Abbey. But the Nolans are not the Crowleys. The father only works a night a week, and the mother works as a cleaning woman. The kids start out collecting junk (from the rubbish bins of the buildings their mom cleans, which gives them an advantage of other neightbor kids). Francie is a bit of an outcast, a dreamer who wants to become a writer.

I really enjoyed the book. It takes you out of the here and now and into poverty before the Great Society safety net, and it does very evocatively. Forget your Dave Ramsey University for being frugal–reading how this family stretched pennies and managed to save makes me want to nail a tin can to my closet floor and insert pennies when I can.

It’s also a mindbender to find modern themes in a book set in the 1910s that was published during World War II. We’ve got:

  • A violin teacher with a particular interest in having his young lady students take off their shoes and socks while they practice.
  • A child molestor that has the neighborhood up in arms until Francie’s mother shoots him with a gun possessed illegally.
  • A soldier passing through that spends some time with a 16-year-old Francie and tries to bed her as a one-night-stand; when Francie asks her mother later if she should have, the mother says yes.
  • Wandering gangs of disaffected young men doing bad things because they’re bored.

You might think these are all 21st century problems, especially if you were educated somewhere in the end of the 20th century or the 21st. However, the book illustrates human nature has always been human nature, and the human spirit has always endured.

At any rate, I recommend it. At the very least, when that Bugs Bunny cartoon comes on, you can tell your kids, “I read that book.”

A Question I Based A Video Game On

A book review of a new biography asks Was ‘the other Brontë’ the best of them all?:

Fans of the novels and poems written by the sibling inhabitants of Haworth Parsonage always have a Top Brontë. Fame-seeking Charlotte and mysteriously reclusive Emily usually grab the limelight. My father reread Emily’s only novel every five years, annotating his student copy of Wuthering Heights and monitoring his opinions depending on how his own love life was going. He shared his choice with the playwright and journalist Samantha Ellis, until the day she read Anne’s final letter, and was taken aback as its sudden significance ‘catches at my heart’, making her wonder about the less wowed, less known, youngest sister.

This wonderful biography begins at a disadvantage. All but five of Anne’s letters are missing. The surviving biographical facts can fit a single page. But Ellis’s first solution is to tell Anne’s story through the characters at the centre of her life. Chapters are devoted in turn to the children’s heroic mother, Maria; their selfless aunt; their bereft Reverend father; the controlling Charlotte; the uncompromisingly independent Emily; and their brother Branwell, who Charlotte says ‘thought of nothing but stunning (drugs) and drowning (drink) his distress of mind’, jointly provide a prism through which Ellis’s elusive protagonist emerges.

We all know how I feel about it, since I made her the big boss in a video game:

The game’s tag line: You always forget the last one.

Book Report: Start Here Now by Susan Piver (2015)

Book coverThis book is a quick primer on the shamatha meditation style written by a practitioner and published by an organization following the Shambhala school of Buddhism. That said, the book is heavy on the practice of meditation and thin on the philosophical tenets of Buddhism.

The early parts of the book contrast shamatha with other types of meditation and gives a quick overview of some of the schools of Buddhism, but the real focus of the book is encouraging the practice of meditation, particularly shamatha-style, which involves focusing on the breathing.

Buddhist thought aside, the book provides good insight into methods to still yourself each day. Which I’ll try to focus more on. But the author insists I should follow the millenia-old teachings of actual Buddhist masters instead of breathing according to the Relax setting on my watch. I don’t plan to set up a meditation space in my home nor conduct a meditation retreat weekend with all natural foods and lots of napping (well, I might plan lots of napping), but I’ll try sitting in better posture and focusing on my breath while trying to relax.

So it was an interesting and informative book to read, written for a quick read and, perhaps, for future reference if you become a meditator.

Book Report: No One Noticed the Cat by Anne McCaffrey (1996)

Book coverThis book is the first fiction book I’ve read in 2017. It’s a short novella with a cat on the cover. Which is probably why I bought it in the first place.

It’s a fantasy story about political intrigue. A young prince takes the throne, and his regent passes away; immediately, he must negotiate diplomatically with a neighboring king whose queen is an intriguer who has been killing people who cross her. Once the young prince takes a shine to one of the eligible royals from that kingdom, he might well be the next target, and it’s up to him, his trusted advisors, and the cat who might possess the spirit of his former regent, to keep the kingdom and the prince safe.

It’s a quick little bit of fantasy and intrigue, a pretty engaging little bit. I’m not sure if it’s targeted to adults or young adults, but, honestly, so much these days the young adults are as far as adults get, ainna?

McCaffrey is most known for her Dragonriders of Pern series, and although I’ve probably read one or two in my life, I most associate her with Dinosaur Planet and Dinosaur Planet Survivors, the latter of which I got from a summertime reading program back when I didn’t own many books at all and that mass market paperback meant something.

Book Report: The Sheep’s in the Meadow, the Raccoon’s in the Corn by Marguerite Hurrey Wolf (1979)

Book coverThis book is a collection of essays about country living from a woman in Vermont (sometimes). Let me explain.

The author and her husband bought a farm in Vermont in 1948 and spent summers there for a number of years while living elsewhere. They lived on the farm full time while her husband, a dentist, worked at the University of Vermont, but his work took the family to Boston and Kansas City for a number of years, but they retired to the farm in 1978. The essays in this book come from throughout the time period, and they’re not in chronological order, so sometimes their children are children and sometimes they’re married adults. Sometimes, the author is an older woman talking about how farm work is getting harder as she gets older, and sometimes she’s talking about closing the house up for the winter. It’s a little jump-cutty in the gestalt.

But the individual essays are amusing and entertaining little vignettes. She talks about being a woman driving a pick-up truck back in the day when that was out of the ordinary (or maybe it still is in some places and I just live somewhere where it is not). She talks about the swimming hole on the farm, she talks about giving talks as an author and the strange situations that arise there. The essays are all self-contained and pleasant, but sometimes she uses the same turn of phrase or metaphors over and over again. She’s clearly well-read–a college educated former teacher after all, and her vocabulary and allusions sent me to the dictionary more than once. But I suppose they could have been written years apart, so this is forgiveable.

According to the essays and the about the author section, she has written many other volumes of such Rural Living stories and whatnot. I’ll keep an eye out for them, but I might be challenged in this regard if they did not disseminate much outside of Vermont and New England.

Book Report: Training African Grey Parrots by Risa Teitler (1979)

Book coverYou’re probably wondering why I picked up this book. Well, that’s easy: It was on my to-read shelves. No, no, you say; why did you buy this book, Brian J.? You’ve got a house full of cats! Well, gentle reader, twenty-some years ago, when I was a young man who planned to be a novelist, I thought it would be cool to have a main character who has a pet African grey parrot (kind of like Baretta; I don’t know why I am so fixated on Robert Blake allusions lately). I was so interested in it at that time that the girl I was seeing even bought a monk parakeet, which is a low-end mimic of a bird. But that’s been decades, so today I cannot even think of the character or the conceit of a plot I was planning.

So I saw this book inexpensively, I picked it up, and since I was in the mood for some light non-fiction, I picked it up.

So the book talks about how to pick out a good young parrot, how to work patiently with it to teach it how to come out of its cage, step on a stick and then your finger, how to maximize training it phrases and best use its mimicry, and to teach the bird tricks like climbing a ladder and ringing a bell. The book also goes into some trainer-esque things like trimming the bird’s claws and beak and clipping its feathers; I can’t imagine trying to do these things as a beginner, but I suppose it’s good to have them in there for completeness.

So am I tempted to get such a bird? Well, some of the things that turned me aside from getting one of my own back in those days are still true. They’re fairly expensive. They will, in all probability, outlive me (easier now than then, but these birds have a life span of 50 years or so, and I didn’t think so then and know so now). I could probably afford one, expensive as it is, and I do spend more time at home than I did in my middle 20s, but I also have cats who would agitate at the least and eat at the worst the expensive bird, so it’s probably still not for me.

But if I remember the plot and character of the book, I know more about training the birds, so I can deduct the couple hours I spent reading from my taxes someday.

Somewhere around here, I have a book on having rabbits as pets, too; although I have yet to read that book, you might remember a character in John Donnelly’s Gold has a pet rabbit.

Book Report: Baby, Would I Lie? by Donald E. Westlake (1994)

Book coverI bought this book shortly after Christmas, when I took my children to ABC Books so they could spend the gift cards I bought for them the week before Christmas. Honestly, it’s an inefficient system if you think its purpose is to get gifts for my children. If you realize it is instead a system for getting me to ABC Books as often as possible so I can pick up one or two or five books each trip, you’ll see its genius.

At any rate, this Donald E. Westlake novel was in the Missouri section as it takes place in Branson. Since I was going to a near-Branson location this weekend, I picked it up.

It was not a very quick read. Unlike a plot-driven book like, say, a Parker novel (not Robert B. Parker, but a Richard Stark Parker book a la Lemons Never Lie). Instead, it focuses on a number of characters with their points of view intersecting on an event.

This event is the murder trial of a country and western star, Roy Jones, with his own Branson theater. He stands accused of the murder of one of his theater’s young lady employees amid other problems, including negotiations with the IRS to recover some owed back taxes numbering in the millions. The media descends upon Branson, including an intrepid reporter for a New York weekly and her lover/editor and former co-workers of theirs at a Florida-based tabloid. The tabloid reporters will stoop to great lows to uncover dirt on Jones, and the editor from the New York weekly wants to do a story on the depravity of the tabloid. His replacement at the tabloid is a nervous, high strung man with a wife and kids he’s not fond of, and he has the closest thing to scruples of anyone at the tabloid.

Jones himself picks the woman reporter to spend time with his entourage and get the inside view of the defense and trial, but he’s playing his own game, as the reporter will learn.

As I said, it’s more a study of these characters and their interplay than a plot-driven piece–as many subplots play out with almost equal weight. Instead, the focus is on the characters. The telling and brushing of them is humorous and slightly askew–less than you get in Hiaasen and Barry, but still not straight on and serious.

It’s a sequel of sorts to an earlier book with the same main characters (and a different event), but it does not depend upon familiarity with the earlier events nor does it really nod to them. It is contained in its own right.

The characterization of Branson is pretty good; although 20 years have passed since the books publication, the vibe of Branson is correct. Although some of the characters look down on the people who come to Branson, the intrepid reporter main character comes to see us sympathetically, so it’s not condescending.

It’s a fun book, and I should probably pick up some more Westlake elsewhere when I can.

Book Report: Wisconsin Place Names: A Pronouncing Gazetteer compiled by Harold A. Engel (1968)

Book coverThis book is a collection of Wisconsin place names with pronunciations for each. It has been published in three editions starting in the 1930s; this edition is from 1968, and it’s a product of the University of Wisconsin Extension Office. So it’s not unlike the provenance of David Burton’s A History of Rural Schools in Greene County, Missouri.

At any rate, I flipped through the book while watching a Packers football game, and I tried to say the names before I read the pronunciations, and I did fairly well, I think. Of course, the names are all said relatively like they look (and I’m steeped from my youth in saying Native American Indian place names). So it’s quite unlike Missouri place names, where even when you think you should know how to pronounce it, you’re wrong (see Boliver, Cuba, Nevada, and so on).

I did have a couple of disputes with it, though. Here’s a sample page, by the way, with one of the disputed pronunciations:

Wisconsin does not have an O sound in it; it is wisKHANsin. Also, there is no L in Mi’WAHkee.

But a quick and interesting flip through during the football game, as I said.

Book Report: Beyond the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson (1974)

Book coverAfter reading The Cross and the Switchblade, I picked up this book right away because I didn’t imagine a situation where I’d be more primed to read it than right after the first. The effect is a little like reading Jerry Kramer’s books (Instant Replay, A Farewell to Football, and Distant Replay) in short order as I did in 2015: You get autobiographical glimpses of a person doing something and getting note for writing about it, and then you leap forward quite a ways and see not only the aftermath of it, but where the person is now and how hopes and disappointments accrued after the Big Book.

At any rate, this doesn’t have the narrative first half that its precedent did. Instead, it takes a bit of topical look at how things have gone in the interim. Teen Challenge, the thing that Wilkerson started in New York, has gone international, and he’s gotten to be a popular speaker and crusader, but he steps back from it because he wants more one-on-one contact. He learns about the rise of drug use among suburban teens and starts drawing attention to them; he tries to motivate them with some serious eschatology (which might have later been broken into another book). His wife and he grow apart, partly because he’s so busy and in demand and partly because they both have some trouble dealing with her bouts with cancer in the early 1970s.

It’s a bit shorter and less focused of a book, but it does lead one to understand some of the challenges of being a prime evangelist back in the day. Wilkerson lived into the 21st century, so he had a Web site and everything, which is odd to think about when you read his earlier book from times of the Sharks and the Jets (allusion footnote for you damn kids).

I’m glad I read it when I did, because as a stand alone book, it’s thin gruel, but as a companion to the earlier piece, it’s interesting and engaging. Well, for someone who can allude to 50s musicals easily, I suppose.

Book Report: The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson (1962, 1970)

Book coverI bought this book last fall in Clever. I’ve recently spoken with my wife in the merits of the parish model versus the congregational model, and I talked about a whole genre of books where the parish priest takes on crime in his neighborhood (maybe I’m just fond of Robert Blake’s series Hell Town). The edition of The Cross and the Switchblade is the movie tie-in edition, so I thought it might be the font from which the genre sprung. But the pastor in the book is Pentacostal, affiliated with the Assemblies of God. So his is also a congregational model.

At any rate, the book tells the story of Wilkerson, a pastor from the country, who sees an article in Life about several gang members on trial for murder, and he is moved to go minister to them in New York City. So he hops into his car, essentially, on a day off from his church and goes to try to see them. He tries to approach the judge in the courtroom and makes a nuisance of himself and gets ejected before the cameras of the press, so he becomes a bit notorious in his own right. He can’t see the boys on trial, but he keeps returning to New York without a definite plan and finds that young people, especially gang members, are willing to talk to him because he was in the newspaper.

The first half of the book deals with this fish-out-of-water story as he makes his forays into New York, especially Brooklyn, to minister to the gang members and the drug addicts there. The first half culminates in a revival at an arena where he has an altar call, and several gang members come forward, including one who started out particularly hostile but ends up a minister. From what I can see in the photos included from the movie, the film covers this first half of the book with some dramatic revisions. Confession: Erik Estrada stars in the film, so when I read his bio mention it in TV Superstars ’81, I decided to pick up this book next.

The second half of the book is a little less focused as Wilkerson builds up his ministry and creates a center for at-risk youth. He discovers the dangers of drug addiction, particularly heroin, and that’s about the size of it.

It’s an interesting book for many reasons. It has an interesting and adventuresome narrative in it. It’s an interesting look at the dangers of the bad part of New York City in the late 1950s. It’s also an interesting look at the Pentecostal way of doing things: it’s decentralized to a high degree (certainly compared to the Catholic church and the more conservative Lutheran denominations) and features things like altar calls and speaking in tongues, which is not something you see at my church. So, interesting all around.

Unfortunately, it’s still all-to-timely, as heroin is making its big comeback and violence in our cities is reaching a crescendo even as people become even less interested in the eternal than they were in 1960.

2016: The Year’s Reading in Review

Well, here is the list of books I’ve read this year:

  • The Sea Wolf by Jack London
  • Life Is Simple: First Cutting by Jerry Crownover
  • Art Treasures of Seoul by Edward B. Adams
  • The Hero by John Ringo and Michael Z. Williamson
  • Rogue Warrior: Green Team by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman
  • Dead Street by Mickey Spillane
  • Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed
  • GI Joe: The Story Behind the Legend by Don Levine with John Michlig
  • Changdeog Palace
  • Toulouse-Lautrec: Painter of Paris by Horst Keller
  • Carolingian Chronicles by Translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Walters
  • Doomsday Disciples by “Don Pendleton”
  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
  • How to Live Like A Lord Without Really Trying by Shepherd Mead
  • Vulture’s Vengeance by “Don Pendleton”
  • Down the Wire Road in the Missouri Ozarks and Beyond by Fern Agnus
  • Tuscany Terror by “Don Pendleton”
  • Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby
  • Life in the Age of Charlemagne by Peter Munz
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • Bad Publicity by Jeffrey Frank
  • So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane
  • Reinhold Niebuhr by Bob E. Patterson
  • Invisible Assassins by “Don Pendleton”
  • Down with Love by “Barbara Novak”
  • Mountain Rampage by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Greek and Roman World by W.G. Hardy
  • The Joy of Hate by Greg Gutfeld
  • Paradine’s Gauntlet by “Don Pendleton”
  • Island Deathtrap by “Don Pendleton”
  • Take It Off, Take It All Off! by David Riitz
  • The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family by Edited by Ray Richmond
  • Ambush on Blood River by “Don Pendleton”
  • Kierkegaard by Elmer H. Duncan
  • Love’s Legacy by Stephanie Dalla Rosa
  • Yo, Millard Fillmore! by Will Cleveland & Mark Alvarez
  • John Donnelly’s Gold by Brian J. Noggle
  • Holes in It by Todd Tevlin
  • The Normlings by Todd Tevlin
  • Frik in Hell Vol 3 by Todd Tevlin
  • Crude Kill by “Don Pendleton”
  • Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
  • Starcraft Archive by various
  • Sold for Slaughter by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Most of George Burns by George Burns
  • Fishin’, Huntin’, Travelin’, and Ozark Memories by L.B. Cook
  • The Weapon from Beyond by Edmond Hamilton
  • Slam the Big Door by John D. MacDonald
  • Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein
  • The Roman Holiday of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams
  • A Brief History of Sanibel Island by Marya Repko
  • The Sanibel Sunset Detective by Ron Base
  • The Last Paradise: The Building of Marco Island by Douglas Waitley
  • The Know It All by A.J. Jacobs
  • Insane City by Dave Barry
  • Wicked Springfield Missouri by Larry Wood
  • Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
  • All Madden by John Madden with Dave Anderson
  • Wolverine: Weapon X by Marc Cerasini
  • Kilroy Was Here by Charles Osgood
  • An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists by Dave Letterman
  • The Drawings of William Blake by Sir Geoffrey Keynes
  • Paper Lion by George Plimpton
  • K-PAX by Gene Brewer
  • The Forbidden City
  • 12 Monkeys by Elizabeth Hand
  • Wars of the Ancient Greeks by Victor Davis Hanson
  • New York City of Dreams by Bill Harris
  • Dead Man Running by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Ballad of Ethan Burns by James D. Balestreiri
  • Monet by Alberto Martini
  • Peter Paul Rubens Medaenas
  • Lightning Fall by Bill Quick
  • The Official Jewish Joke Book/The Official Irish Joke Book by Larry Wilde
  • Orbiting Omega by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Eight-Seven by Ed McBain
  • Camille Pissarro: A Medaenas Monograph by Anne Schirrmeister
  • Kierkegaard: A Biographical Introduction by Ronald Grimsley
  • The Experience of Nothingness by Michael Novak
  • The Courtship of Barbara Holt by Brian J. Noggle
  • Back Roads of the Ozarks by Wayne Sullins
  • Let Us Go Quietly Together For A Little Way. Let Me Talk To You by Charlotte Osborn
  • Women the Children Men by Roberta Metz
  • Rogue Warrior: Task Force Blue by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman
  • The Peter Principle by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull
  • Beirut Payback by “Don Pendleton”
  • The Lessons of History by Will Durant
  • Advanced French for Exceptional Cats by Henry Beard
  • Hiroshage by Sebastian Izzard
  • RoboTech Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming by Jack McKinney
  • Desperate Measures by Joe Clifford Faust
  • Cry Hard Cry Fast by John D. MacDonald
  • A Bullet for Cinderella by John D. MacDonald
  • Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton
  • Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb
  • Ginger Snaps by Compiled By Dian Ritter
  • Prairie Fire by “Don Pendleton”
  • Living a Mother’s World by Mary Jane Rerucha
  • Skysweeper by “Don Pendleton”
  • TV Superstars ’81 by Ronald W. Lackman

Okay, so a full fourteen percent of the books I read were Executioner novels. I read a couple of film books (12 Monkeys and Down with Love among them).

On the other hand, I read some theology and philosophy, including a primary text by Kierkegaard (Fear and Trembling), a couple books about Kierkegaard, a book about Niebuhr, and so on. I read six books by people I know (three comics by Todd Tevlin, a book by Stephanie Dalla Rosa, and my two books). I mixed nonfiction with fiction pretty well, and I mixed genres in the fiction along with a couple classics (The Sea Wolf and Gulliver’s Travels). I even read poetry for pleasure. So not bad.

Unstated in this list is books I started and didn’t get through. Two come to mind: The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I started reading them as my carry book, got halfway through them, and then lost the train of thought in them. I expect I’ll revisit them in 2017.

Hopefully I can get near 100 again next year, which would mean I’m only acquiring a handful more books than I’m reading annually. Just in case I live to a time when books are not cheaply available on the second hand market (or new for that matter). It might happen.

Book Report: TV Superstars ’81 by Ronald W. Lackmann (1981)

Book cover“Verily, verily,” you say, “This is about the lowest one can go to reach 100 books in the year.” Well, gentle reader, I’d like to point out that Advanced French for Exceptional Cats has even less substance than this Weekly Reader book. Besides, I’ve already read TV Superstars ’82 and TV Superstars ’83. So I’m not just running up the score here. The score, by the way, is 100 books read this year with this title.

At any rate, as with the other (later) books, it features brief biographical sketches of stars from contemporary (then) television shows grouped by the show. So you get the stars of The Dukes of Hazzard together, the stars of WKRP in Cincinnati grouped together, and so on.

The book reuses (or the later books will reuse) bios from those whose programs are on the air, so I’d already read Tom Wopat and John Schneider’s bits from the ’82 edition (’83 has the scab Dukes). The differences in the books’ contents, though, illustrate the fleeting nature of “superstardom” as the shows come and go. For example, Eight Is Enough, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and B.J. and the Bear on television until 1981, so the actors in it are superstars in 1981, but mostly forgotten by 1983 (according to the book).

This book has, unlike the others, animal star bios: The dog who played Boomer (a dog named Johnny) and the Bear (a chimp named Sam). I don’t remember seeing those in the later books, but animal sidekicks seem to have passed out of fashion in the 80s.

The main bit of trivia I got from the book was reminding me of House Calls, a medical show with Gregory Harrison and Lynn Redgrave. It kind of got lost in the blur of the medical shows of the era, from Trapper John, M.D. to St. Elsewhere (which did not air concurrently, but they did in the era known as “my childhood”). So I’m ready if it comes up in trivia nights or on Jeopardy!, but it probably won’t since the window of viable trivia only extends back thirty years, apparently.

It is also a quick reminder, reading these books, how something that seemed to always be when you’re young might only reflect a couple of years. But a high percentage of your life in your youth, so it seems more permanent than it is.