Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Green Team by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman (1995)

Book coverWhen you open a Rogue Warrior, you should know what you’re getting. A vulgar, fourth-wall-breaking, gung-ho voice that is engaging but on the edge of obnoxious; a backdrop of military political machinations; and set piece gunfights and battles. This book is no different. As the second book in the series, it would be setting the pattern yet, not merely repeating it.

In it, the Green Team, which is the current team of Marcinko’s black ops group, takes down a bad guy in Egypt; when the fellow dies in transport, Green Team become wanted by their unappreciative superior. A group assassinates high ranking military officials in Britain, and Green Team has to find out who did it and exact revenge. They find a Muslim group with inside contacts responsible, and the group’s next plans include simultaneous biological attacks across Europe.

So it’s on par with the other Red Cell/Green Team books I’ve read: It’s a lot of fun, but the political nonsense bogs it down, and it goes on just a couple dozen pages too long, usually about one set piece, where the voice starts annoying. But widely spaced, they’re good fun reads.

This book is most noticable, though, for its prophetic nature. It talks about how easily terrorists move through Europe because there are no internal border checks; it talks about a leader “leading from the front” as a contrast to a president without a military molecule in his body. Additionally, it features said President–Clinton at the time–who is sometimes reluctantly cudgeled into doing the right thing (often by his wife, who twenty years later is running for president).

It’s a pretty timeless book in that way; the president is not named, and although there’s some political stuff and bashing, it’s pretty much the individual-versus-the-system sort of stuff that has been pretty common in thrillers and paperbacks forever, without the political garbage that became commonplace in the 21st century (this book is timeless enough I forget how old it is). Also, the threat of international Islamic terror supported from inside the West is sadly contemporary as well.

A pretty good read. Better than a post-Pendleton Executioner book, for sure.

Book Report: The Hero by John Ringo and Michael Z. Williamson (2004)

Book coverI bought this book a year ago in Florida. As I was browsing my bookshelves, I told myself I was in the mood for some military sci-fi. I’ve tried some before: I picked up something by Robert Frezza, but I put it down not long into it; I tried some of David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers stories, but also put them aside. It looks as though military science fiction is not going to be my genre of choice.

This particular volume did not dispel me of that notion.

Wait a minute, didn’t I just get published in an anthology of military science fiction? Well, yes, which explains why I became interested in reading some of it. Because I’ve got a plot in mind that would take the conceit of my poem and turn it into a novel. So I wanted to do some research into the genre to see what it’s like and whatnot. Which is why I read this book.

This book, as the link below indicates, is volume 6 in a series. So immediately I’m dropped into a world with a whole back story to it. Whereas I’ve complained previously about series business taking over books in a series, it’s not so much the case in this book. However, there is a whole world/universe/mythos that has evolved and been explained in hundreds of pages prior where that information gets stuffed into a book as exposition. As it appears here. Perhaps it would be better to have been more lightly alluded to since much of the exposition doesn’t directly relate to the plot.

The plot: A deep reconnaissance team is sent to a distant planet to investigate what might be an enemy base. New to the team is an alien from a race that has manipulated mankind in the past, and the other team members don’t trust him. However, they’ll need his extra sensory perception abilities to succeed. When they get there, after their snoop-n-poop (as Richard Marcinko would put it), they find an ancient alien artifact worth slightly less than a Powerball ticket. At which point, the team’s sniper kills most of the rest of the team to steal the artifact, but the alien takes it before he can. And suddenly it’s a cat-and-mouse game as they try to reach the extraction point without getting shot by each other.

That’s the plot. That’s what the book flap says when I read it wondering what the point of the book was.

Because the plot doesn’t really start until about page 130 of about 300. Beforehand, we get a mission briefing, a training exercise, a night on the town to left off some steam and get laid, a ride to the planet, and a long walk to the alien base. The book is rich in detail. How much detail? It spends four pages talking about how the team crosses a river. Then most of them die and the chase is on.

Even then, much of the exciting chase is spent shifting between the characters viewpoints as each expresses internally how he cannot trust the others and how he’ll kill them. They traverse terrain, engage each other a bit, and then one wins. Sort of. Then there’s a wrap up epilogue.

I don’t think the plot was worth 300 pages as it was.

So I’m not sanguine that I’ll enjoy the subgenre as a whole; it seems to be written by post-military people by post-military people with a military precision at least as far as the detail goes. I’ve got a couple more Ringo books; I’ll give them a try at some point, but I’m not eager to base my forthcoming (forevethcoming is the new term for “Forever Forthcoming”) on the subgenre. It’ll be more a science fiction novel with a militaryish setting.

Of course, I’m basing my blatherings here on a novel, part of a novel, and a couple short stories’ worth of study of the subgenre. I’m open to suggestion and revising my opinion if I like the other Ringo books. Or because tomorrow is sunnier.

Book Report: Life is Simple: First Cutting by Jerry Crownover (1998)

Book coverI’ve been reading Jerry Crownover’s column in the Ozarks Farm and Neighbor for a couple of years now, and I ran across one of his books, so I picked it up. This book is an early collection–from twenty years ago–where Crownover was my age and had a couple of kids in the house. That is, these columns apply to my life a little more than his current ones do. Especially since I’m not a cattle man.

At any rate, they’re short newspaper-style columns, many of which are built around a single anecdote where Crownover encounters a neighbor, another cattleman, or a non-rural fellow and has an epiphany or can spin some rural wisdom from the experience. There are also a couple of lightly politically themed jibes (in the First Clinton Regnum), but it’s mostly lifestyle column stuff.

I enjoyed them and will pick up other books as I come across them, and I’ll continue to read the column in the OFN.

Book Report: The Sea Wolf by Jack London (1904, 1989)

Book coverIn mid-December, the head pastor of the church stopped by to tell my mother-in-law, a former English teacher, that although he had not been working on the reading list he’d provided her, he had read something along those lines. Sadly, I have already forgotten what he said he’d read, but my mother-in-law had provided him with a list of nautical-themed things to read because he’s a sailor. So I made some remark about that she should have picked him a book where the boat didn’t sink, but there are so few of them.

I mentioned this title, but (spoiler alert) there’s a boat that sinks in chapter one. So it’s a bad suggestion for the list.

At first I thought of the book as a mash-up of Captains Courageous and The Secret Sharer. A dilettante writer/academic is in a ferry wreck in the San Francisco Bay, and he’s rescued by an outgoing seal hunting ship. As the captain brutally punishes a mate that leads to that mate’s death, the captain shanghais the rescued fellow to fill out the crew. He starts as a kitchen assistant and deals with the brutality of life at sea and hardens. As he gets to know the captain better, he is surprised to learn the captain is well-read and self-taught. Together, they have many discussions, mostly about the nature of man, whether he’s a brute or not.

The captain, of course, takes the brute side and during the course of the voyage handles the crew with cruelty. After a famous woman writer is rescued from another shipwreck, the narrator decides he has had enough and takes off with the dame in one of the sealing boats. After an ordeal on the open sea for a couple of days, they find an island with a seal rookery on it and start to build a hut. So it veers into Robinson Crusoe briefly but the captain, alone, ends up beached with the disabled ship which gives them an opportunity to escape if the narrator can repair and sail a schooner by himself. And he does, but only after the cruel captain dies of some sort of brain damage or tumor.

It’s an interesting book of the era, when the first person narrator is flawed; we know he’s flawed, but the key is to determine where he is flawed and how much of the story is not true. He has nothing but admiration for the body of the captain, strong as a beast is strong and designed for its purpose of being tough and cruel. Undoubtedly, that has sparked many, many insights in undergrad papers of potential homoeroticism. Since I’m above undergrad readings of the book, I’d rather explore the relationship of the narrator with the woman: does she like like him, does she see him as the best possible way to get back to civilization? Does she prefer the brutal but more straightforwardly masculine captain? At the end of the adventure (which ends when they sight another ship after getting the schooner back to sea), do they remain together?

It’s a pretty good book. It’s a mishmash and it’s not clear where the story is going to go from the outset, but it mixes details of sailing with some earnest philosophy–argued more than it is when morals get dumped into men’s paperbacks.

On a side note, I was pleased to learn I’d not read this book before. As you know, gentle reader, I sometimes buy a different copy of a book that I’ve read previously only to discover as I read it or as I prepare the book report that I’ve read it before. Well, in high school, I read a volume of Jack London that contained The Call of the Wild and some other work, including a sailing adventure. I found the volume I read (yes, thirty years ago) and was happy to see I’d read Cruise of the Dazzler. I mean, clearly I don’t remember much from the novel (unlike The Call of the Wild where I even remember that I learned two words, wont and ecstasy, from the book).

So I’ll have to keep my eyes open for more Jack London volumes at the local book sales. Because I’m down to my last several thousand things to read.

2015: The Year’s Reading in Review

This year, I read 104 books, and I’m proud to say they weren’t all genre fiction. As a matter of fact, I’m quite proud of some of the smarter titles I’ve polished off this year, including Existentialism and Thomism; The Gallic and Civil Wars; Discourses, the collection of Aesop, The Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Anderson that I read to my children over the course of years; The Screwtape Letters; The Death of Ivan Ilyich; Travels with Charley; and Ivanhoe.

Looking over the annual list, I’m struck again (as I am annually) with that it means in the passage of the year. I can remember where I read many of the books, whether on a trip or sitting on a bench during the Sunday School hour at church. I’m also surprised sometimes that my reading of a book was just this year. On the other hand, when I look back at book reports from years passed, I think, “Wow, has it been eight years since I read….?”

At any rate, here’s the list:

  • Up in the Air Walter Kirn
  • Monday’s Mob Don Pendleton
  • Terrible Tuesday Don Pendleton
  • Wednesday’s Wrath Don Pendleton
  • Flowers of Evil Charles Baudelaire
  • Thermal Thursday Don Pendleton
  • Existentialism and Thomism Joseph C. Michalich
  • The New War “Don Pendleton”
  • The Violent Streets “Don Pendleton”
  • The Bible
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
  • The Iranian Hit “Don Pendleton”
  • Asimov’s Guide to the Bible Isaac Asimov
  • The Pocket Book of Old Masters edited by Herman J. Wechsler
  • Return to Vietnam “Don Pendleton”
  • The Civil War as They Knew It edited by Pierce Fredericks
  • Folk Lore and Fable: Aesop, Grimm, Andersen Harvard Classics
  • Kung Fu: The Way of the Tiger, the Sign of the Dragon Howard Lee
  • The Gallic and Civil Wars Julius Caesar
  • Red Water “Tabor Evans”
  • Silent Night Robert B. Parker with Helen Brann
  • Terrorist Summit “Don Pendleton”
  • Paramilitary Plot “Don Pendleton”
  • The Curse of the Gypsy Woman Lin G. Hill
  • Downton Abbey Rules for Household Staff
  • The Town Council Meeting J.R. Roberts
  • Calvin and Hobbes: The Sunday Pages 1985-1995 Bill Watterson
  • Romance Ed McBain
  • Holiday Memory Dylan Thomas
  • Kung Fu: Chains Howard Lee
  • F-15E Strike Eagle Hans Halberstadt
  • The Currents of Space Isaac Asimov
  • 25 Books That Changed America Robert B. Downs
  • The Oedipus Cycle Sophocles
  • Bloodsport “Don Pendleton”
  • A City in the North Marta Randall
  • Under the Dome Stephen King
  • This Was Cicero H.J. Haskell
  • Avengers #2: The Laugh Was On Lazarus John Garforth
  • Renegade Agent “Don Pendleton”
  • Poor Richard’s Almanack: Benjamin Franklin’s Best Sayings Edited by Dean Walley
  • End of the Tiger John D. MacDonald
  • The House on the Rock
  • Old Trails and Duck Tails
  • Mad About Town
  • Wilderness Trek Zane Grey
  • The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis
  • A Tan and Sandy Silence and Two Other Great Mysteries John D. MacDonald
  • Kickback Ace Atkins
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich Leo Tolstoy
  • Shaman King #17 Hiroyuki Takei
  • Awesome Projects from Unexpected Places Edited by Noah Weinstein
  • Dragonslayer Waylend Drew
  • Oleanna David Mamet
  • The Nitpicker’s Guide to Classic Trekkers Phil Farrand
  • Warriors: The Rise of Scourge
  • Sunset Woodworking Projects
  • Easy to Make Tables and Chairs
  • Travels with Charlie John Steinbeck
  • The Undiscovered Self C.G. Jung
  • Frankenstein Mary Shelley
  • The Book of Useless Information Noel Botham & The Useless Information Society
  • Discourses Epictetus
  • At the Hemingways Marcelline Hemingway Sanford
  • The Plague Albert Camus
  • The Go-Getter Peter B. Kyne
  • Rogue Warrior: Option Delta Richard Marcinko and John Weisman
  • Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign George N. Barnard
  • The Saltville Massacre Thomas D. Mays
  • The Spirit of America Calvin Miller
  • Christina’s World Betsy James Wyeth
  • Instant Replay Jerry Kramer with Dick Schapp
  • Magnificent Hearst Castle
  • Schticks and Stones edited by Miriam Levenson
  • Farewell to Football Jerry Kramer with Dick Schapp
  • Don’t You Dare Throw It Out! Jerry Baker
  • The Shakers L. Edward Purcell
  • Stormbreaker: The Graphic Novel Anthony Horowitz
  • Distant Replay Jerry Kramer with Dick Schapp
  • Whispers of Love edited by Deborah Gaylord
  • The Toilet Zone Dan Reynolds
  • Peacemaking: On Dusting the Wind David P. Young
  • Ivanhoe Sir Walter Scott
  • The Art of the Impressionists Janice Anderson
  • Wisdom in Rhyme Nora O. Scott
  • George Washington Carver Sam Wellman
  • How to Speak Southern Steve Mitchell
  • The Medium is the Massage Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore
  • The Story of Silent Night Paul Gallico
  • Ernest Hemingway: A Critical Essay Nathan A. Scott, Jr.
  • The Libyan Connection “Don Pendleton”
  • Worlds’ Finest: Hunt and Be Hunted
  • How To Talk Pure Ozark Dale Freeman
  • Boogar Hollow’s Scraps of Wisdom Nick n Willan Powers
  • The Art of Manet Nathaniel Harris
  • Southern Words and Sayings Fabia Rue Smith and Charles Rayford Smith
  • The Complete Jack Kirby: June-August 1947 Greg Theakston
  • Melk Abbey
  • Quarterback Power Tim Polzer
  • Missouri: Faces and Places Wes Lyle and John Hall
  • The Great Wall: China Against The World Julia Lovell
  • Sunny Thoughts
  • All Is Bright Katherine Spencer
  • Blog Hugh Hewitt
  • The Circuit-Riding Combat Chaplain Frank Griepp
  • White Night Jim Butcher

A motley collection of pulp fiction, literary masterpieces, history, biography, philosophy, humor, poetry, drama, art, and sports books.

As I mentioned, or meant to mention, I can remember what most of the books were about, but the most interchangeable and forgetable are the pulp fiction I have so much of. Perhaps I should let this inform my reading for 2016. Or not.

Book Report: White Night by Jim Butcher (2007)

Book coverI got this book in October, and when I was looking for something sort of escapist to work into my rotation, it was right there atop the stack.

This is the ninth book in the Dresden Files series, which is indeed about a powerful gun-toting hard-boiled wizard. In this volume, the wizard is looking for someone who is killing witches. While dressed up in his usual clothing. Some clues indicate his brother might be involved. His brother is a vampire, you see, but not a blood-sucking vampire. Instead, he feasts upon the emotions of his victims.

So the book starts out with the current crime and details and starts working us into the case, but just as suddenly it veers into Series Business. Characters from previous books and plotlines impact what’s going on. Of course, the houses of the vampires are politicking and manuvering against each other. Then there’s a mysterious figure whose identity is not revealed at the end, which means that’s something for a later book.

So it’s an interesting conceit–not unlike Hard Magic. But the Series Business distracts me and emphasizes that I’m an outsider to this series, not someone who’s been with it from the beginning. And I think it detracts from the current book’s plot some. It’s not only this book, gentle reader; as you know, I often complained about Robert B. Parker’s later books for the same reason. In the middle 1990s, I started the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton, but I dropped out after book five or six (of apparently 21 by now) because so much of the business in each book deals with characters and plots from other books. You don’t get much of that at all in classic pulp, but I guess the modern publishing world relies on the brandification of series and this sort of thing solidifies the connection with recurrent readers. But I don’t like it.

At any rate, reading Butcher’s bio indicates his path to becoming a published writer (and apparently a better-selling author than Larry Correia. He wrote and wrote and submitted and finally started doing conferences where he met…. Laurell K. Hamilton. And his career was on track. It’s pleasing to read of hard work leading to success.

But in a final reflection on the book: I’ll take others in the series if I find them easily, but I’m not going to go buy them new for myself or specifically looking for them at used book stores or book sales. I did, however, buy the first two in the series for my nephew (the same one I got the Correia books for a couple years back). So I did put a couple pennies in Butcher’s kitty which is more than I do for most authors I read these days.

Oh, and this book is the second one I’ve read this month that was originally sold at a Border’s (Blog being the other). I hadn’t thought of that book store in a while. I remember a time when there were a bunch of big book stores like that in St. Louis and here in Springfield. We’re still lucky enough to have a free-standing Barnes and Noble that’s only half-given over to Nooks and toys, and I only get in there three or four times a year. Sadly, I have enough to read without hitting a new book store frequently.

Book Report: The Circuit-Riding Combat Chaplain by Frank Griepp (ca 1991)

Book coverThis book is a self-published memoir of a man who served as a chaplain during the Korean War. It’s built from his daily journal, so each day or so we get a paragraph or two that details where he was going, what he was doing, and the services that he held. It’s a remarkable time capsule and throws light on the daily activities of a chaplain in a war zone that you don’t get from M*A*S*H‘s Father Mulcahy. I mean, he has a box he throws in his jeep, and that acts as his altar and whatnot when he stops amongst a squad or brigade to perform an impromptu service. He highlights a piece of scripture, does a short sermon, and then encourages the men. It’s remarkable; Griepp actually won a Bronze Star for performing a service calmly while getting shelled.

At any rate, I highlighted (well, flagged; I’m not the type to put my own ink in books) a couple passages for comment:

In response to a letter from his mother, I looked up Pvt Roy Hartford of the King Company, age 16, and arranged a minority discharge for him.

Can you imagine a modern 16-year-old lying to get into the military? It happened a bunch back then.

Met some of the Marines, as they are fighting right next to our troops. Good soldiers, too, neither superior nor inferior to troopers of the 7th Cavalry.

My whole line wilts a little at this thought. On the other hand, this is a chaplain, so he has to say nice things about his sheep.

May 12 is “M-Day” for Operation Mascot. All of these children had experienced abandonment, rejection, or loss of both parents. Now it was time for another separation.

Apparently, various companies adopted orphans and lost children, and it got to be such a problem that the Army had to make a concentrated effort to keep its soldiers from taking care of the weak and the unfortunate in a war zone. Contrast this with the behaviour of most armies throughout history. And make a point of it in a history class if you dare.

Our personnel officer and Lt Edward Jirikowik, the center company commander, are having a problem. The Lt is expected to locate men to fill vacancies for jobs other than riflemen. Rotation is sending the riflemen home, but leaving typists, drivers, radio operators, and wire men. Such men cannot go until they are replaced by men of like skills.

My father, fresh out of boot camp, was lined up with the others and the first ten men were sent to Okinawa for a clerical position if they knew their alphabet, and the rest went to Vietnam. Which is why my father spent his overseas time in Okinawa. I always thought he felt bad about that because it meant he was unable to fight with his mates, but he might not have liked it because it represented a lengthened committment. I’ll never know, of course.

At any rate, it’s a fast and fascinating read if you’re interested in the history of the Korean War or whatnot. As I mentioned, the book is not just a book, it’s an artifact of a man who wanted to publish it. Check out the rudimentary layout:

Dan Rather emailed me to say that was laid out using Adobe Pagemaker on an Apple II.

The book also bears an inscription to a presumed comrade (forty years after the conflict). The handwritten message is for the recipient to see page 28; page 28 is starred. I presume this is where the Chaplain and the inscribee met. I hope it’s not the first clue to a treasure hidden in the Korean wilderness since I mentioned it on the Internet and would have put myself in the crosshairs of unscrupulous fortune-seekers if I did.

So I Wrote A Poem….

In the middle of September, Instapundit linked to a call for submissions on Jerry Pournelle’s blog:

Accepting submissions for a new volume of the There Will Be War series. Send with cover note to submission@therewillbewar.net. Stories should preferably be 20,000 words or less. Poetry encouraged, but see the previous series; it needs to make sense. Hard science fiction mainly; urban fantasy with a military theme possibly acceptable, but mostly we want hard, realistic stories. They need not be action adventure; good command decision stories encouraged. Space opera always considered. Again see the previous nine volumes.

I was struck pretty instantly with an idea: update Rudyard Kipling’s “Tommy” by re-writing it from the perspective of a cloned cyrogenically preserved mercenary called a Canny. Okay, the name came first and the conceit almost instantly thereafter.

Man, the idea came fast, and I wanted to do it, but I was a haunted man this summer. Timing on various and sundry life activities left me little time to complete projects that I wanted to do. I’d started painting the interior of the house, but didn’t finish, leaving a room half painted; I’d meant to refinish my deck, but I’d only done the inside of the deck, where I could see it on the deck; I have a couple of items on the to-write list that I could certainly place if only I sat still long enough to write them; and so on. I wasn’t finishing anything I started. I was almost paralyzed with self-doubt regarding this idea for a poem.

I mean, in the old coffee shop days, I filled legal pads with sonnets and poems, easily scratching something out in an hour if I wanted to or felt inspired. But lately, writing something is harder than pulling middle-aged teeth as the infrequency of this blog attests. Somehow, a gap emerged between the inspiration/idea and the effort to carry it through.

I did a little research to procrastinate: I ordered one of the earlier volumes of the series to see what kind of poetry it contained. It had Kipling. I thought I was in like Dave in an emergency airlock in 2001. I mean, if I wrote a poem and it turned out any good.

So in spite of my recognition of my recent non-successes, I was determined, and I discovered a gap between determination and doing something. Probably the same gap between inspiration and doing something: laziness or disbelief in an effort resulting in the desired result. Still, I started carving out a half hour every morning. I’d drop my children at school and duck into the local coffee shop to work. I fully expected nothing more to come of it than coffee drinking. Did I mention paralysis in self-doubt? It wasn’t so much paralysis as actively working against myself.

I started out with a laptop so I could do a side-by-side comparison of “Tommy” and what I was putting down, but I quickly switched to a printed copy of “Tommy” and a legal pad. I was dismayed to find out the poem was in iambic heptameter; to someone seasoned in sonnets and iambic pentameter, that seemed a little syllablely, but over the course of four weeks, I managed to eke something out.

And then when all the lines and syllables were filled, I reached the next Hamlet moment: How much do I tweak it? Should I share it with science-fiction savvy Internet connections to see if it works? It was Hamlet and J. Alfred Prufrock time. Could my darker side dither long enough for the submission period to close while I was tweaking and transposing stresses?

Finally, one Saturday morning, I just emailed it in a moment of “What’s the worst that could happen?” By Saturday night, it was accepted.

Today, There Will Be War Volume X was released in a Kindle version.

I understand there is to be a hardcover version next year.

I wondered if the editors would recognize the source material; I expected Dr. Pournelle would, but I didn’t know if he was on the selection committee. Apparently, the source was recognized, as it is included in the introduction to the piece.

At any rate, how about that? Maybe there’s some hope for me as a writer yet if I just put my back into it.

Book Report: Blog by Hugh Hewitt (2005)

Book coverThis book was a mighty big deal back in the day when it came out. Bloggers were talking about it, Hugh Hewitt was talking about it. Of course, I didn’t talk about it then because I didn’t get the book fresh off the presses. I don’t tend to get my current events books new unless I get them as a gift; even then, I don’t tend to get right to them because, man, I’ve got 1960s science fiction and/or pulp paperbacks to read, man.

So, what is this book? It’s Hewitt cashing in on the relatively new blogging trend that really reached a crescendo around the 2004 election. Dude, even I was live-blogging presidential debates and nominating conventions. Although I thought blogging would be a good way to get myself writing regularly rather than a way to make money (although in those days, who knew how far you could go?) The book is pretty short; although it is 222 pages, it’s really only 156 pages of new material and then sixty pages of Hewitt’s previous columns on the topic and a number of comments from his Web site.

It’s a quick hitter “aimed” at businessmen who need to know about blogs and what they can do to a business, both positively and negatively. He thumps the washbin about executives hiring Glenn Reynolds, the Powerline guys, Ed Morrissey, and other leading lights as consultants. And it paints a fairly rosy picture of blogs.

Ten years later, most of the people he mentioned as leading lights are still leading lights, or at least bloggers I still read. There’s been a lot of consolidation in the industry, so the aggregate blog trumps individual blogging as far as the amount of noise they can raise. And the microblogging (Twitter) and social media trends quickly overwhelmed blogging, as it’s easier and more accessible to individuals to put up a pithy short sentence than to write what amounts to a short, coherent essay from time to time.

So in 2015, the book is a historical document relevant mostly for its place and moment in the history of online communication. I suppose you could read it and replace the word “blog” with “social media” and get something out of it, but there are probably more modern books on the theme all looking to make a quick two bits on explaining the current state of the Web, and they all come with an expiration date of about two weeks from now.

Strangely enough, though, I got the most out of the early comparison to the Protestant Reformation–in the early going, he likens the rise of Web logs to the changes in communication that made the Reformation possible and how the blogs paralleled it. So it has a history of the Reformation and the rise of printing in it, and I liked that.

At any rate, it might be worth your time if you haven’t read it already.

Book Report: Sunny Thoughts by Hallmark (ca. 1966)

Book coverThis book is a little Hallmark gift pick-up from the 1960s, the kind of simple gift that says I’m thinking about you but don’t know what to get you that’s more substantial. In the late 20th century, gift certificates served the same function. This particular volume was given as a Mother’s Day gift in 1966.

Unlike some books of this type, it collects poems from real poets, like Longfellow, Emerson, Wordsworth, and so on. Real poets whose works were (and still are) in the public domain, but the poems themselves had a greated depth than more recent ones. Of course, the Classics Club was popular enough to be in business in this post GI Bill world of the middle 20th century, so readers and compilers of gift volumes aspired higher than a collection of images with quips cribbed off the Internet.

And this book was not only read, but the recipient read the poems within at socials, and she noted which she’d read so she wouldn’t repeat herself, I guess.

So someone enjoyed this book more than I did, for sure.

It’s a nice, brief collection, and it most pleased me to know someone else, someone’s mother, read and appreciated the poems, perhaps even without a college degree in English.

Book Report: Impressionism by Jude Welton (1993, 2000)

Book coverAs you can guess, I flipped through this book during football games.

As a Eyewitness book, it’s a graphically designed, visually oriented work with a number of images surrounding brief text, history, and explanations. Like a lot of these survey course coffee table books, the book covers a lot of ground in the Impressionist movement, a brief history, and a bit of individual information about the artists. It has sections (two page spreads) covering some themes and practices shared by the Impressionists and reasons why they’re considered Impressionists. As survey books, it’s not bad; I also see there are titles in the series that deal with the individual authors as well.

Serious students might think these books are a waste of time, but unserious students like me can pick up some tidbits. Two I did from this book: Renoir was one of the first to prime his canvases (that is, put down a base coat of white or gesso so that colors overlaid on the base coat would pop out more) and that Renoir worked wet-on-wet (I know what that is because Bob Ross did that). So I learned something certain in addition to adding to my familiarity with the works and images.

The book also gives a bunch more depth to the non-painting work, such as the sculptures and the cast bronze of the artists. Some other books shy away from this a bit because the paintings are easier to represent two-dimensionally perhaps.

At any rate, a good book to look at for a bit. I’ll keep my eyes out for others in the Eyewitness Books series on art. I think I have one or two on other topics that I’ll have to move up in my reading queue.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Quarterback Power by Tim Polzer (2004)

Book coverOn Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law brought trinkets and gifts for the kids, and I guess I qualify since she brought this book for me. She found it at a church bazaar or something, and it has Brett Favre’s picture right on it (as did this book which is about the same thing).

This book is a Scholastic paperback aimed at grade school children. I’m not sure what sort of statement my mother-in-law was making in giving this book to me. Or was she? Did I just steal a book from my children only because it has Brett Favre on the cover? WHAT KIND OF MAN AM I? Well, it’s only fair. They steal my cartoon books.

At any rate, the book gives brief laudatory bios of good NFL quarterbacks of 2004, including Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, and Chad Pennington. The first three are creme-de-la-creme; Michael Vick played for a long time; Donovan McNabb had his day; and Chad Pennington was a quarterback in New York, which New Yorkers think is automatically worth two elsewhere before the season starts and they stink.

It was a quick read, and I was able to finish it on Thanksgiving before the Packers game which the Packers lost. I’d have been better off re-reading this book six times rather than watching that tragedy.

So it’s a bit dated, but not as dated as it will be in four or five years when all of the aforementioned quarterbacks are out of the league and some are in the Hall of Fame, including Chad Pennington if he goes to visit.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Missouri Faces and Places by Wes Lyle and John Hall (1977)

Book coverThis book is a short collection of photos and prose about the state of Missouri, but it’s published by the University of Kansas Press. So all of its information is suspect.

The prose is a bit boilerplate and rah-rah, but the photographs are interesting. They’re grouped by city or town, and almost forty years later, they’re more poingant because they’re not only a collection of images of places you might not have been (or maybe you have), but they’re historical throwbacks to the Carter years. So although I didn’t live in Missouri at the time, the types of cars and haircuts depicted in the pictures remind me a little of when I was young. Very young, I guess; I was pre-school aged when the images were taken.

A neat book to flip through during a football game. Or whatever you might watch that doesn’t require that much attention. Hey, some people knit. I flip through books to pad out my annual total.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: All Is Bright by Katherine Spencer (2014)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I like to read a Christmas-themed novel around Christmas time (see Christmas Jars, The Christmas Shoppe, and Home for Christmas). I bought this book at Christian Publisher’s Outlet this year along with a couple other Christmas novels because CPO is going out of business, and I won’t be able to go there for Christmas novels any more.

This book is one of a long series based in Cape Light, and the series is based on the paintings of Thomas Kinkade. I picked this first of the three books I bought because I just read this book based on the works of Kinkade (apparently, “just” in this context means three months ago). You know it’s only a matter of time before I have a Kinkade painting print hanging somewhere in my house.

At any rate, the book itself tells two stories in parallel: In 1978, the new pastor of a church in Cape Light prepares for his first Christmas at the church while his in-laws are up from the south to see the daughter he took from them and his new baby and must deal with the arrest of the church treasurer for business financial irregularities. Meanwhile, in the present day, the pastor’s daughter, a recent widow, deals with her children and her son’s resistance to her dating his basketball coach.

I kept hoping the two plotlines would come together, but they did not; all that they shared was Cape Light and the main characters 30 years apart.

I wanted to enjoy the book more than I did. It’s a pleasant couple of slice-of-life stories, but it was just a little off in small details that I kept getting hung up on. For example, in 1978, we have this: “As he expected, the phone rang and rang. Ben was sure it was off the hook again.” Those of us who are old enough to know recoginze that a phone off the hook produces a busy signal, not ringing. Or the turn of phrase “The trustees meeting was fairly routine. Each year the churches of Ben’s particular sect of Protestantism were bound by charter to present an annual report of all activities to their members.” The word denomination would have fit better here; sect sounds like a term a non-Protestant would use. When describing what the pastor is wearing to service, it mentions his robes and his scarf; the Lutheran word is stole. And when the treasurer is in trouble and arrested, the pastor doesn’t intrude upon him in his moment of turmoil. Now, I’ve not been to the seminary myself, but I’ve been attentively attending church for a couple years, and this just doesn’t ring entirely true.

So although I undoubtedly have destiny that includes one or more Kinkade paintings, I doubt I’ll revisit this series. This book was nice, but a bit off and a little disappointing in the Christmas payoff.

Book Report: Melk Abbey by ABT DR Burkhard Ellegast OSB (2008)

Book coverThis book is a memento/guidebook to the historic Melk Abbey in Austria. Someone got to go there, and I got their book eventually, although the book is available online.

Many of these style books have a lot of photographs and a little bit of text–this book, on the other hand, has a much higher text to photo ratio, but it is an abbey that is almost 1000 years old, so there’s a lot of history to cover. The book has two parts: A detailed history of the abbey (along with some regional detail) and a second portion that goes through the public rooms of the abbey along with their images; however, this second part recovers some of the historical ground covered in the first portion of the book. When I turned the page and was back at the beginning, almost, I was daunted. But I kept through it; the self-guided tour part is the part with the best images of the abbey.

I read this book before I read The Great Wall, and both of them have shaken my self-confidence in my knowledge of history. For although I’m probably better versed in history than most people, it’s a very localized and very high level knowledge of history. I know a bit about English history, I know a bit about American history, I know a bit about Roman history, and I know a bit about European history, at least names and countries after about 1600. But this book goes into detail about the smaller fiefdoms of Austria in the dark ages, and I don’t know anything. It’s a bit humbling (which means my knowledge is a mere half byte at this point–four bits in this paragraph, you see–it’s computer humor). But one of the things I’m really feeling acutely this year is the difference between reading widely and reading deeply–that is, to have a fine-grained knowledge of something very specific such as Austrian history 1000-1500 AD versus the overview I have, which is some specifics but large blank spaces in regional timelines. I’m still opting for broad knowledge, but sometimes books like this strike me with how little I actually know.

At any rate, for a glossy little paperback, the book does have some rather nice images of the interior of the abbey once we get to the self-guided tour part. For example, here’s the library:

I looked at it and thought I have almost as many books. Of course, I really don’t have almost that many books, and certainly not that many old books.

Also, in case you’d like some nightmare fodder, here’s a valued monstrance:

That is an elaborate tree sculpture designed to hold the purported jawbone of a saint. Which it does. I don’t mean to be dismissive of Catholic thought and the importance of saints, but the whole medieval relic worship thing. Ew.

The book was a little longer to get through than I’d hoped, and the most I got out of it was the knowledge that I don’t know much about Austrian history.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Great Wall: China Against The World 1000 BC to 2000 AD by Julia Lovell (2006)

Book coverI read this book as part of my recent Sinophilia kick.

This book is a bit of history and a bit of cultural psychoanalysis. Instead of a straightforward history, the book focuses on the story of wall-building in China, from the earliest walls in the Qin Dynasty through the creation of the Ming wall near Beijing called The Great Wall and beyond to the Great Firewall in the 21st century. As such, a lot of non-wall building dynasties and history is left out along with major trends in Chinese thought (Confucism vs Daoism and the import of Buddhism). The book chops around a bit, too, jumping from the early history to stories of explorers and Indiana Jones types finding remnants of the wall in the desert.

Still, it highlights some patterns and cycles in Chinese history, from where barbarian tribes overthrow a Chinese dynasty, remain vital for a while, and then become Chinese only to lose their military moxie and build walls in their decline. Whereupon another vital tribe takes over, remains vital for a while, and so on. The narrative sweep of the book isn’t compelling enough to pull you along unlike other books more biographical or focused on ascents of civilizations, and the author could have tightened in places a bit.

The author takes a couple of light shots at George W. Bush (president of the United States when the book was written) and at Israel (for building a fence of its own, the fools! The Mongols always get in!), but overall it’s not a political book nor a particularly noticeably leftist history book. It isn’t pro- or anti-China. It gets a few shots in at Jesuits, though.

So I’m glad to have read it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Complete Jack Kirby June-August 1947 by Greg Theakston (2001)

Book coverThis book is part of a greater collection, originally published in hardback no less, that collects all of Jack Kirby’s early work before he became THE Jack Kirby responsible for (with Stan Lee) Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and a variety of later things that would be important to Jack Kirby fans because they were Jack Kirby things.

This book focuses on summer 1947 and the numerous stories he wrote. He wasn’t THE Jack Kirby then; he was a contract guy for a bottom rung publisher of anthology series, so there are a lot of crime stories in here along with a romance story.

Well.

I’ve already sacrificed a lot of geek comic credibility when reporting on books that deal with Comic Art (see also Comic Art Now). Although some of the work can be elaborate, none of it really rises to the level of great paintings by, say, the Impressionists (although since it depicts things from a single point of view and is therefore comprehensible, comic art rises above Cubism, surely). The work in this book is all black and white, so it’s limited in what it can do to begin with.

So it’s worth a browse if you can find a cheap copy like I did or if you like comics. I mean, amid the history and biography of Kirby, it does have short comic stories in it. It’s definitely worth your time if you’re a real Kirby fan.

And the one thing I learned from the book: Dell and Delacorte originated as comic publishers and only then moved into paperbacks and then hardbacks.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Worlds’ Finest, Volume 2: Hunt and Be Hunted (2013)

Book coverI’ve been reading DC comic books that I bought at the most recent Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. I was saddened to find that I spent more than a dollar each on the issues on half price day (because they were priced at over $2 each inside the front cover). So I read a disconnected set of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (by John Byrne no less). Which was kind of a good primer for this graphic novel which collects six issues of recent Worlds’ Finest comics with Huntress and Power Girl.

Well. For those of us NOT keeping up: In the middle 1980s, DC consolidated its comic book universes in a limited series called Crisis on Infinite Earths. One of the net results of this was that some of the heroes from other versions of Earth were on our Earth. Or other Earths. Just not an infinite number now. Or something.

In this case, we have alternate Earth versions of The Huntress and Super Girl (Power Girl) who are looking for a way to return home. Within this set of comics, they investigate and fight the minions of a rival technology company who is supposed to be dead.

To be honest, it’s been a couple weeks since I finished this book, too, so that’s about all I remember. Except that the science minion of Darkseid makes an appearance from Apokolips. Who I recognized because I’ve been reading Fourth World.

So it’s not selling me on DC over my preferred Marvel. Of course, I didn’t really get into the X-men titles or Fantastic Four when they got to fiddling with the timeline and alternate versions of comic book heroes. I prefer simpler stories, which is why I read paperback men’s adventure novels. So there you have it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Undiscovered Self by C. G. Jung (1958)

Book coverI picked up this trade paperback because I’m running out of good, smart-looking mass market paperbacks to be my carry book. As such, I could not stick it into my pocket for easy travel, but I guess I don’t need that as much as I thought, since most of my outside-the-home reading places have places for me to stow books when not in use.

I enjoyed this book, as you might guess by my posts quoting it (here and here). It’s styled as a psychology book, but Jung really gets more into philosophy than psychology. He discusses the role and experience of the individual relative to mass movements, both the State and the Church and discusses how the individual gets wrapped up in them and how they in turn enwrapture the individual to the individual’s detriment.

Of course, I agreed with the assessments of the individual versus the State. For people of a certain stripe, like me, trends have indicated the Federal government is creeping and sometimes bolting towards an omnipresent I didn’t agree with the assessment of the Church, though. Perhaps it’s because I attend a less centralized church than the Catholic church or because I’m up close and personal with the people who make up the church that I can see the atoms in the conceptual object, but I don’t see it as monolithic as the State. I guess one could say the State is likewise composed of well-meaning individuals who sometimes go astray in pursuit of well-meaning ends, but the State and the Church are different in that the Church has to operate through spiritual and moral suasion and the State has the military and law enforcement to compel its well-meaning urges. So they are very different indeed.

It’s been a while since I actually read this book (I finished it way back in July), but I’ve put off posting about it because I took a lot of notes on it and considered writing a really long, thoughtful post on it. In addition to the wisdom of posts linked above, I took some notes like this:

  • P46 Jung contra Objectivism; he says the world would not exist without consciousness. Jung says:

    Without consciousness, there would, practically speaking, be no world, for the world exists as such only in so far as it is consciously reflected and consciously experienced by a psyche. Consciousness is a precondition of being.

    Anyone who knows his or her Objectivism (and a bit of Existentialism) knows these hold the existence of an external reality precedes the consciousness that perceives/experiences it.

  • P58 wisdom. I have no idea what I meant.
  • P81 individual slipping into purely conceptual world. Does it contradict p46 above? Jung writes:

    Nothing estranges man more from the ground-plan of his instincts than his learning capacity which turns out to be a genuine drive for progressive transformation of human modes of behaviour. It, more than anything else, is responsible for the altered conditions of his existence and the need for new adaptations which civilization brings. It is also the ultimate source of those numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties which are occasioned by man’s progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation, i.e., by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious. The result is that modern man knows himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself – a capacity largely dependent on environmental conditions, knowledge and control of which necessitated or suggested certain modifications of his original instinctive tendencies. His consciousness therefore orients itself chiefly by observing and investigating the world around him, and it is to the latter’s peculiarities that he must adapt his psychic and technical resources. This task is so exacting, and its fulfilment so profitable, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being. In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively take the place of reality.

    It highlights the dangers, but it does not contradict the assertion of consciousness preceding reality.

  • P84 reiterates the primacy of the psyche. Jung writes:

    All the same, nobody can deny that without the psyche there would be no world at all, and still less a human world.

    So he’s all in on the consciousness first.

  • P92 church attendance is an expression of faith, not the source. I think I was arguing against what he wrote on p91:

    In view of the general ignorance of and bias against psychology it must be accounted a misfortune that the one experience which makes sense of individual existence should seem to have its origin in a medium that is certain to catch everybody’s prejudices. Once more the doubt is heard: “What good can come out of Nazareth?” The unconscious, if not regarded. outright as a sort of refuse bin underneath the conscious mind, is at any rate supposed to be of “merely animal nature.” In reality, however, and by definition it is of uncertain extent and constitution, so that overvaluation or undervaluation of it is pointless and can be dismissed as mere prejudice. At all events, such judgments sound very queer in the mouths of Christians, whose Lord was himself born on the straw of a stable, among the domestic animals. It would have been more to the taste of the multitude if he had got himself born in a temple. In the same way, the worldly-minded mass man looks for the numinous experience in the mass meeting, which provides an infinitely more imposing background than the individual soul. Even Church Christians share this pernicious delusion.

    This doesn’t resonate with the experience I have in church attendance, where it’s more an expression of faith, a reinforcement of it, and a time for fellowship with others who believe similarly rather than a place for direct divine interjection. But I don’t go to a snake-handling or speaking-in-tongues church.

  • p93 The Psychological Advantage of Communism. I think I refer to this passage:

    Communism has not overlooked the enormous importance of the ideological element and the universality of basic principles. The nations of the Far East share our ideological weakness and in this respect are just as vulnerable as we are.

    Aside: I confess I’m swiping text from this translation which differs from my text; in my text, nations of the Far East appears. In the online version, it’s coloured races. A quick reminder that this is, in fact, translated text subject to all the attendant risks.

  • p107 defense of modern art. I have no idea what this means.

So where was I? Oh, yes, digressing and rambling. The notes are as far as I got into a thoughtful post.

At any rate, Jung comes at the questions as a psychologist, which means his entry point into the questions is the discrete experiences of individuals, and he conceptualizes and generalizes from their to his conclusions. So where I disagree with him on the greater meanings and movements of Modern Man, it’s from these faulty macro-level concepts and less on the experiences and recommendations made for individuals in the milieu. Well, I also reject a priori the idea that the whole of reality depends upon the psyche. No, the individual’s experience and the shared and transmitted experience relies on psyche, consciousness, and communication, but not the world itself.

So I feel smarter for having read the book even though I didn’t agree with some of it. What a difference between modern books; is it possible to read something written in the last twenty years that won’t insult people who disagree?

Books mentioned in this review: