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.

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

Book coverYou might be saying to yourself, “Is he reading more of these Executioner novels to pad his annual total to 100 books read?” Gentle reader, you might not be far from the truth. However, I’d like to point out I’ve read over a dozen Executioner novels this year, so the padding started early.

This book finds Bolan on the West Coast, looking into a Soviet cell looking to steal or disrupt a laser-based missile interceptor program. He’s got some help from the inside, so any infiltrating he needs to do comes with an authentic security badge. He discovers that a former Vietnam POW, now the head of the program, was brainwashed while captive and is programmed to aid the Soviets when activated by following any instruction he’s given. In this case, it is to steal the Skysweeper and deliver it to the Russians. Except Bolan objects.

The structure of the book differs from the others in the series as the book makes a bit of a nod to the technothriller, but sometimes the loss of the earlier simplicity pushes Bolan into doing things that defy the suspension of disbelief. Of course, if I’m into these books for realism, I’m in the wrong place.

At any rate, the conceit of the book is more memorable than the actual book. I just had to crack it open to review how it ended since I actually finished the book last week. Spoiler alert: Bolan wins. Further books are not, in fact, a gritty reboot where The Executioner has been replaced by a fourteen year old minority girl. Well, at least, not the next one. Maybe.

Wherein Brian Demonstrates His Familiarity With Japanese Art

So we get a Christmas card from Northern Michigan University because we endowed a scholarship in memory of my father-in-law (the James A. Igert Memorial Scholarship).

This year, we got this card:

I was able to look at it and say, “That looks like a Hiroshige.” It is: Evening Snow at Kanbara.

Apparently, the art museum at NMU has a number of Hiroshige prints.

Who knew?

Please note this post counts as my touchdown dance for recognizing a Japanese artist and the confluence of factors in my life that make my study of trivia worthwhile.

Book Report: Living a Mother’s World by Mary Jane Rerucha (1976)

Book coverThis book is a small, self-published collection of poetry by a Midwestern farm wife circa 1976. It’s on some very nice paper stock, so it probably cost a pile to print. The woman was committed.

It is broken into three sections: poems about family and motherhood, poems about landscape and the natural world, and poems about other things, like church. The poems are decent; some are rote sorts of poems like you get when someone sits down and thinks, “I should write a poem about x.” The poem celebrating the flag is like that. Others have good sense of rhythm and good rhyme schemes. The poems I enjoyed most were in the first section, poignant thoughts about growing children and looking back at them. I’ve decided I feel the same way about poems as I do about paintings: I prefer to have people in them and don’t really enjoy landscapes unless there are human figures in them. Which might be why I have so much Wordsworth around but haven’t read much of it.

As I read this, I thought about the number of magazines that I take that still publish poems. Since I did not renew National Review (too expensive), I’m down to Chronicles and First Things. The poems I see in them don’t touch me, generally, any more or less than the poems in these collections I read by unknowns.At any rate, a good collection of poems by a normal person. One or two of them might have been worth tearing from the paper or a magazine and putting on your refrigerator or cubicle wall. Which is about the best you can expect of any poet, really.

Book Report: Prairie Fire by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverThis book starts with a running man ploughing through Nebraska cornfields as professionals pursue him. Through flashbacks, we find it is Bolan, who was investigating some off-page MacGuffin that led to his capture and escape from a crew hired to hit him by the KGB. Bolan hides in a barn of a small farm, but finds himself captured by the farm owners and held until they start to believe his story that they’re in trouble with him there.

So the book turns into a tower defense story, with Bolan and the family hardening the household to withstand a nighttime assault. And so they do. Spoiler alert: Bolan lives.

It’s an interesting twist of a plot, as Bolan is usually on the offense so we get to see him build a defense. But sometimes I wonder how little experience with guns, military assaults, and whatnot the authors of the books have as they go on. When booby-trapping the house, Bolan makes a small IED with some C4 he recovered from an attempted carbomb, but he makes it so the trigger requires him to hit a small mark with a .22 shot–from a gun for which he has extremely limited ammunition instead of, I dunno, a tripwire? Also, the book describes the report of a .22 rifle as a falsetto yapping. I suppose that’s a metaphor that might work, except it doesn’t, especially when you don’t trust the author.

So it’s an interesting twist, but there are some things that give you pause. I can suspend disbelief until I start thinking I could do as good of a job as the professionals in the book. But those moments pass, and we’re through the book with some enjoyment in spite of it.

I only have 47 Executioner titles remaining on my to-read shelves, not counting the other related titles. If I keep at it at the pace I have this year, I’ll be done in under four years. Woo! Unless I buy more, which is always a risk.

Book Report: Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton (2008)

Book coverThis book is a British science fiction novel from B.O. (Before Obama). The copy I have is an Advanced Uncorrected Proofs version that I picked up some time ago at a book sale along with other ARC and proof copies of books. Which explains some of the typos I found, although fewer than one might find in John Donnelly’s Gold or the similarly self-published Lightning Fall.

At any rate, the plot of it: About 40 years in the future, the elderly inventer of the storage mechanism that allows the Internet of the future is chosen by the European Union for a revolutionary therapy that rejuvenates a human to the age of about 25. The treatment takes about a year and a half, and at the end of it he has to accustom himself to his new youth and to reconnect with his eighteen-year-old son, the product of a marriage of convenience to a much younger woman who is now older than the formerly elderly engineer. The newly youthful fellow does all of this by nailing all the young women he comes into contact with: the granddaughter of a close friend; the trophy wife with whom he’d never actually had relations; girls in his son’s circle; and finally, the son’s infatuation and something of a girlfriend.

All this boffin goes on against a backdrop of English seperatists who want the UK to break away from the EU and are becoming increasingly violent in their insistence. The pseudoclimax of the book takes place at a major right in England where the father and son end up on different sides: The father is inside a heavily guarded conference center to present a paper, and the son is carried along to the riot by peer pressure. They reconcile, and then the father dies from an unforeseen and untreatable side effect of the treatment. The End.

Well, it’s certainly got a 1970s science fiction vibe from it along with some of that later Heinlein “Ew, put it away already!” I saw on Wikipedia that there are a couple other books set in this same universe, but I don’t expect I’ll revisit it.

What did it get right? Well, people access the voice-enabled computer by saying a word ahead of it. I guess they were doing it on Star Trek, but it’s much more relevant now that every second commercial on television is people talking to the cloud. What did it get wrong? Brexit by violence 40 years from now (hopefully).

I suppose the title means it’s a commentary on misspending your second chances by wasting the time as much you did when you were younger anyway. Or maybe that’s being to charitable, but it’s certainly a theme that has resonance and is probably defendible. Maybe we’ll see in 40 years.

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.

At Nogglestead, We Have A Word For It: Saturday

There’s a Word for Buying Books and Not Reading Them:

Suffering from the condition of racking up book purchases of $100, $200 or $1,000 without ever bending a spine? There’s a Japanese word for you.

Tsundoku: the acquiring of reading materials followed by letting them pile up and subsequently never reading them

Actually, I have the intention of reading all these books. Mortality is working against me, though.