Book Report: This Old Dump by Laura Jensen Walker (2004)

Book coverThis is a mild little humorous book about renovating or doing projects about your home with your spouse. Basically, the author recounts stories from friends and her own life, sometimes in a manner of paragraphs and sometimes just a sentence or two. The anecdotes are grouped in chapters by renovation and project type, like painting, wallpapering, plumbing, working with contractors, and so on.

The book is amusing, sometimes, but it doesn’t really rise to the level of Erma Bombeck or Jean Kerr. The author must have a following, though, as she mentions once or twice that she had to push off this book because her publisher wanted her to write or collate a couple of other books first. So she’s got that going for her.

But it’s not especially relatable to me even though I did just (with my beautiful wife) paint our living room (after having bought the paint a year ago for the project–like my sainted mother, I don’t like to rush into anything).

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Book Report: The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman (2014)

Book coverI picked up this book at the Fair Grove branch of the Springfield-Greene County Library. You’re saying to yourself, “Hey, has he run out of books to read in his own library and the more local branches of his local library so that he has to drive almost an hour to find something new?” No, gentle reader; this summer, my boys and I are trying to visit each branch of the Springfield-Greene County library, and when we got to the Fair Grove branch (a small room off of the Fair Grove City Hall), I spotted this book in the one shelf of philosophy/religion/magick whilst my children were picking out books of their own. As I’m interested in learning more about how the Bible was compiled over time, I thought it would be a great place to start.

The book starts out pretty scholarly (but eminently readable). It talks about the history of Jerusalem around the time of Christ with some mention of the various tensions between Rome and the peoples of that area, including the Syrians and the Jews. It then talks about the Dead Sea Scrolls and what they might mean and the intersection of those texts with the Bible. It talks about the Septuagint, why it was created, and the intersection between its texts and what later appears in the Bible. It discusses Josephus, a scholar that documented history of Judea around the time of Christ and where that intersects with the Bible.

Then the book takes a turn toward parables. Well, not parables; the book recounts apocryphoral stories such as Adam and Eve after their banishment from Eden; the apocalypse of Abraham, which is a bit of a prequel to his portion of Genesis and some visions he had; and the books of Enoch, father of Noah and a bit of an interesting but underreported figure in the Bible. He mentions very briefly the source text of these stories, and then spends their respective chapters telling the stories and a bit of what we can learn from each story as a lesson. He then wraps up with a short chapter trying to tie it all together with a message about Biblical and related textual scholarship.

I enjoyed the first chapters the most and got a bit from the last of it–particularly a familiarity of some of the Apocrypha–but the shift in its focus sort of turned from what I wanted to learn to something else.

At any rate, it’s a readable bit of popular Biblical scholarship. The author has written a number of other titles of the sort, and if I run across them (perhaps an hour away at the library branch in Strafford), I’ll give them a read. It’s the sense I got from the author of the pop philosophy book Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein–I’ll pick them up if I see them, but I’ll not actively seek them out.

CORRECTION: Originally, this post referred to the Ash Grove branch of the library. Silly me! The Ash Grove branch is a shotgun shack of a two-room library in downtown Ash Grove right off of the train tracks. The boys and I were there earlier in the year. I got this book at the Fair Grove branch. Fortunately for me, Fair Play is in Polk County, and I won’t be able to confuse it with anything.

My Print Credit For 2017

So I’m in the acknowledgements section of a political science/women’s studies/social movements book this summer:

To be honest, I don’t settle for just as critical. My goal is to always be more critical.

The book is Empowered By Design: Decentralization and the Gender Policy Trifecta by Meg Rincker if you’re a political scientist and are interested.

That’s the only time my name has appeared in print this year, so far. I’d better hop on my own writing sometime soon to rectify that.

Probably not a political science/women’s studies/social movements book, though.

Book Report: The Art of Thank You by Connie Leas (2002)

Book cover

This book is not an art book even though it says so right in the title. Instead, it’s almost 200 pages talking about etiquette for thank you notes, including numerous examples. The examples make up a quarter to a third of the page total, actually. I suppose I could count them for you, but I’m inherently too lazy to do so.

I’m a little surprised that the author could get so many pages out of the topic, but she’s an old technical writer. Basically, it boils down to write thank you notes and use nice stationery if you can, but the little folded Thank You cards are all right for less formal occasions. Also, send thank you notes for job interviews.

You know, I’ve been pretty dilligent for writing thank you notes for gifts I have received, which is not had since I don’t get that many gifts. My brother and I wrote out thank you notes after my mother’s funeral to everyone who came or sent flowers. So I’m already up on the basics of thank you writing.

But perhaps I could up my game by getting some custom letterhead and writing out thank you notes to people who have done nice things for me, nice things I’ve seen, or things I’ve enjoyed. I understand that gratitude is one of the self-help trends of the day–along with mindfulness–but I really could be better in perhaps brightening someone’s day with a little thank you note.

If they could even read it. Perhaps I should work on my penmanship first.

At any rate, this book is a bit long for the topic it covers–you could get the gist of it from an article in a women’s magazine–but it didn’t take too long to read.

On the other hand, this book makes an excellent gift if you’re passive-aggressive.

Book Report: Supervillainous! by Mike Leon (2011)

Book coverThis is the other book I bought by Mike Leon when I bought Rated R. Upon further reflection, I did not buy the books because I saw them on a blog; I bought them because a fellow I know from my martial arts school (the same fellow who briefly turned me into a Sinophile) posted a link on Facebook to one of Leon’s frequent book giveaways. The strategy worked, as although I didn’t win a free copy of the book, I bought two at full price.

In the book, a magazine reporter (“Mike Leon”) is writing an article on super villains, and he embeds with a minor league bad guy calling himself Hammerspace because he does the trenchcoat schtick (a term I myself learned five years ago). As Hammerspace teams up with other villains to fight the bad guys, he climbs the ladder of villany because he is direct and evil, unlike some of the other bad guys who only want to look good in beating the bad guys and maybe, just maybe, earning a cross-over, where super heroes team up to fight them.

The book is a fun through-the-looking glass parody of common comic book tropes, and it’s fresh even though parodies of comic books are a genre onto themselves. I enjoyed this book better than Rated R, as it better suits my tender sensibilities. I, Brian J. Noggle, author of John Donnelly’s Gold, do solemnly swear or affirm that this book is better than the Selected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Which is less of a quotable blurb than the one I gave for Rated R, so it’s unlikely Leon will put it on the Amazon page for this book as he did with my favorable comparison of Rated R to The Grapes of Wrath. But after a months-long slog through the Poe, I tore through this quickly.

I’ll probably even pick up another copy of the book (at full price, no less) for my nephew for Christmas. Let that be a testament.

Good Book Hunting, June 23, 2017: Lutherans for Life Rummage Sale

Yesterday, my beautiful wife and I sneaked out to the Lutherans for Life rummage sale and a spot of lunch. It was hot in the gym, and they had no LPs (well, they had four, but that’s “no” in my enumeration), but they had a couple tables of books and videos. So amid the swelter of the church gym, I picked out a few:

I got some things I’m pretty excited about.

The take includes:

  • One of the Dead End Job mysteries by Elaine Viets, Catnapped!. As you know, whenever I review a collection of Elaine Viets’ columns for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (like these), I express hope that I’d find her fiction some day. And now I have, albeit one of many.
  • Unexplained Mysteries of World War II. This looks like it could be good writing fodder for when I get back to it.
  • The Happiness Project (which my beautiful wife tells me we already own; however, “we” don’t own books in this house, property laws of the state of Missouri notwithstanding; I own books and she owns books, and they must not commingle on the bookshelves) and Lightposts for Living, a book on happiness badged by Thomas Kinkade. Because I am suddenly into self-help and happiness promotion books, I guess. I blame the Buddhism.
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m building up a complete collection of these slowly so that when I get into reading them, I can do them all in order.
  • That Should Be A Word, a book about ideas that don’t have words (except they probably do in German).
  • Samurai Cat Goes to the Movies. The cover says it’s a satire of Lovecraft and other writers. We’ll see.
  • The Poetry of Events.
  • Guide to the World’s Greatest Treasures, a Barnes and Noble book. Another collection of writing fodder, perhaps.
  • Hemingway Colloquium: The Poet Goes to Cuba. Something with “Hemingway” in the title.
  • Beijing, China, a travel/guide book.

Additionally, I got some videos I’m looking very forward to watching, including Young Frankenstein (which has been on my mind this week), Blazing Saddles, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, Xanadu (which I looked for on Netflix and Amazon a couple months ago but could not find it), Spaceballs, The Sons of Katie Elder, and a Charles Bronson movie in a thin dollar-pricing sleeve. So I my trips to the video store might abate here for a couple weeks.

The total, along with the beautiful wife’s books THAT WILL NOT GO ON MY BOOKSHELVES and a small planter was $19 somehow. But I pitched in a little extra for a good cause.

And now that I’m done with the recent Poe, I’m eager to delve into some other books, stat.

Better Than I Got In Any College Literature Course

I got 95% in this quiz: Can you name the missing word in each book title?

I’d identify the books by name and author I’ve read in a typical quiz post, but that would kind of defeat the point if you were to try the quiz yourself.

Allow me to say:

  • I have read 17 (maybe 18) of 42 on the list (most of which do not appear in book reports on this site and many of which are due to the legendary Swedish Mechanic);
  • I have started (but not finished) 3 on the list, but I might soon since my mother-in-law might be reading one of them currently;
  • Not counting those 3, I have 4 others on my to-read shelves.

2 of them, clearly, I have never heard of.

Make of it what you will, but I’d like to point out my English degree is not in literature, but in writing.

(Link via the Springfield-Greene County Library’s Facebook feed.)

Book Report: Selected Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (1927, 1943)

Book coverThis book does not actually contain The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym of Nantucket, no matter what I said in May, which is just as well. I started this book in April, and it took me two months to finish it.

The book collects a number of Poe’s poems in the beginning of the book and then a bunch of his short stories at the back. All the best known works are in it: “The Bells”, “Annabel Lee”, “The Raven” among the poems and “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Gold Bug”, “The Black Cat”, “A Cask of Amontillado”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Pit and the Pendulum” among the stores. It also includes a number of scenes in verse (and in prose) from Politian, Poe’s unfinished play.

The aforementioned pieces are the best of Poe, which is why they’re often unanthologized. The other poems and stories are a mixed bag; although they feature the rich, textured learned language of the nineteenth century, sometimes the prose does not serve the narrative (or the poem belabors and loses the point).

It is pretty learned stuff, and Poe engages some of the intellectual and philosophical trends of the time. For example, the beginning of “The Imp of the Perverse” is thus:

IN THE consideration of the faculties and impulses — of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason, we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses, solely through want of belief — of faith; — whether it be faith in Revelation, or faith in the Kabbala. The idea of it has never occurred to us, simply because of its supererogation. We saw no need of the impulse — for the propensity. We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand, that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself; — we could not have understood in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that phrenology and, in great measure, all metaphysicianism have been concocted a priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs — to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed, to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind. In the matter of phrenology, for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of the Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of alimentiveness, and this organ is the scourge with which the Deity compels man, will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly, having settled it to be God’s will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of amativeness, forthwith. And so with combativeness, with ideality, with causality, with constructiveness, — so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the Principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors: deducing and establishing every thing from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the objects of his Creator.

It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what we took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?

Induction, a posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable, but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more certain that I breathe, than that the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution. Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is a radical, a primitive impulse-elementary. It will be said, I am aware, that when we persist in acts because we feel we should not persist in them, our conduct is but a modification of that which ordinarily springs from the combativeness of phrenology. But a glance will show the fallacy of this idea. The phrenological combativeness has for its essence, the necessity of self-defence. It is our safeguard against injury. Its principle regards our well-being; and thus the desire to be well is excited simultaneously with its development. It follows, that the desire to be well must be excited simultaneously with any principle which shall be merely a modification of combativeness, but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only not aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists.

An appeal to one’s own heart is, after all, the best reply to the sophistry just noticed. No one who trustingly consults and thoroughly questions his own soul, will be disposed to deny the entire radicalness of the propensity in question. It is not more incomprehensible than distinctive. There lives no man who at some period has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases; he has every intention to please, he is usually curt, precise, and clear, the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue, it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences) is indulged.

We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, — of the definite with the indefinite — of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest have proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails, — we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer — note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies — it disappears — we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a Plunge. To indulge, for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

Examine these similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the Arch-Fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.

Throughout, he takes shots at Kant and other men of the mind. I can recognize a bunch of it as I’ve been going through a history of philosophy lecture series concurrently, so I feel SMAHT!

As to the poems, the best of them (and even some of the lesser amongst the pieces) have something so often lacking from the other poetry I read (such as Friendly Fireside Poems, a book whose reading overlapped with this): mouthfeel. This is the word used by food and drink makers to describe how the product feels in the mouth. Some poems have it: They are fun to read aloud and to feel the words in the mouth. Shank had end rhymes and good rhythm, but no mouthfeel. I’d like to think some of my poems have it, but that’s up to the (aloud) reader to decide. It’s also why I tend to move my lips when reading poems. Which doesn’t make me look SMAHT at all.

At any rate, comparable to the experience I had reading The Complete Fiction of Lovecraft. I enjoyed bits of it, but overall, I was reluctant at times to re-engage with it, which lead to a long reading time.

I did read the complete stories of Poe when I was younger, so I must have seen all of them before, but the ones that stick with me will definitely be the same ones that did in the first place: the best-known. For a reason.

Book Report: Four from Planet 5 by Murray Leinster (1959)

Book coverThis book is a 1959 paperback. I initially thought it was by a British author because of some of the conceits and spelling (and a spot where Britain comes off a little better than the United States), but the author is an American.

At any rate: An American scientific research station records an odd event, and when investigating, the scientists (and a reporter for a women’s magazine) find a presumed spacecraft with four teenagers in it. As they begin to assemble gear to contact where they come from, a scientist destroys the equipment because he’s sure that the world does not want people from an advanced civilization showing up, what with the Cold War and all. The book then is a number of episodes where the US Government takes charge of the kids and hides them from the world, getting more and more impatient with the kids who cannot answer the questions they have because they don’t speak English well (as they learn it after they’ve arrived).

The book is padded out by the scientist protagonist updating and revising his theory about their origin and purpose as well as the government’s plan for them. Books with hard scientists as the protagonists can be risky, especially if the academic parts of science take up a lot of the novel (see also The Forge of God).

It’s not a particularly compelling book, and I enjoyed it mostly for its historical perspective as a piece of speculative fiction written in the late 1950s.

The copy I have belonged to some kid, apparently, as there’s some scrawling of–crayon? in various places, and it’s missing the title page and probably first two pages of the book. Since it was just the beginning of the setup, I went ahead with reading the book anyway, hoping that random pages would not be missing. In retrospect, that probably wouldn’t have been as bad as it might have been in other books.

Book Report: Thundering Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh (1993)

Book coverThis book is an actual Buddhist book. Unlike Hanh’s own Peace of Mind, Start Here Now by Susan Piver, or Zen Mind, Beginner Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, this book presents a Buddhist Sutra–a teaching of Buddha–and offers exegesis and commentary on it.

The sutra in question is Sutra On Knowing The Better Way To Catch A Snake. In it, a monk/teacher has been telling everyone that Buddha says sensory pleasure does not dissuade you from your practice, and he is brought before Buddha to receive some correction. He does, in a form of some parables, including a better way to catch a snake (spoiler alert: use a stick). Then Hanh steps in with some history about the monk in question and teasing out some meanings about the parables in the sutra. The biggest point, though, is that Buddha wants you to know that his teachings are a tool to use on the way to enlightenment, and somewhere along the way to enlightenment, you should abandon his teachings because they are only a tool. You’ll have to let go of things to get to nirvana.

The book does delve into some of the Numbered Lists of Buddhism, but not deeply; they expect you to know it. It also refers to the cycle of birth and rebirth that is Buddhist religion. Which the aforementioned other books, with their focus on meditation and mindfulness as part of Buddhist practice, do not go into. Which makes it easier to be a Buddhist, I imagine, not having to knowingly embrace the whole meaning of the sutras.

I’m interested in reading more of the sort, if only to sound wise when I whip out something from a Buddhist sutra in conversation sometime.

Book Report: Kung Fu #3: Superstition by Howard Lee (1973)

Book coverWith all the Buddhism I’ve been reading lately, it only makes sense to go back to what might actually be the source of my interest in it of late: reading books based on the television show Kung Fu. Imagine my surprise that my research indicates it’s been two years since I read one. Maybe it’s not the source of my recent (and recent means “within the last year”) reading in the philosophy/religion. Or maybe these things are slow percolating for me.

At any rate, this book is the third in the series. In it, Caine is railroaded in a small town, charged for a crime he did not commit, and is sentenced to labor at a local silver mine. In a related thread, a gunman seeks vengeance for some bad hombres who killed his brother and kidnapped his wife. It turns out that they have bought a mine with the ill-gotten gains, and that the woman went willingly. So as Caine tries to Buddhistically manage himself at the mind under a sadistic overseer and to show the near-beaten other ‘inmates’ how to buck up but not necessarily rebel, the gunman meets up with a couple of women from a travelling show going to the mine to find the fiance of one of the women.

So that’s your setup.

It’s a fun read, quick, laden with Buddhist pop sayings instead of bullets ripping meat. I’m afraid I only have one more of these from whatever book sale I found them, so I’ll run out of them before I run out of Executioner paperbacks. And that makes me a little sad. But, on the other hand, I have another yet to read. Soon, or in two years.

Book Report: Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein (2012)

Book coverI picked this book up from the library because I again forgot a magazine to thumb through while my children did their library things and because the philosophy lecture series I’m listening to took Epicurus beyond the word “epicurean.” The library doesn’t often carry the complete works of Epicurus, so I made do with something with Epicurus in the title.

The author of the book has a dental issue, and his doctor offers implants. The author is in his early 70s and considers how long implant treatments will take compared to how long he might live—hey, my family lost their teeth in their 30s, so I’ve been thinking like this for every dental appointment since I was in my twenties (which explains why I didn’t get braces twenty years ago). Instead of spending two years or so going through the painful treatments, the author decamps to an island off of the coast of Greece with a couple of philosophy books to learn what the old philosophers had to say about aging gracefully as contrasted with the modern imperative to try to stay young into your old old age.

The author, who has written many books on pop culture philosophy, goes through Epicurus and other philosophers including the Existentialists and whatnot, as he sits in his rented digs or in the local tavern where the other old men hang out. It is a bit of a ranging discussion, with lots of quick flourishes of explanation as to what other philosophers were about. I’d like to think I could hold a conversation like this: It’s a summary instead of a deep academic dive into the individual philosophers.

Basically, the right way to age is to accept the slower pace afforded the elders and to enjoy the breadth and depth of your memories. This is old age, contrasted with old old age, which is that period of assisted living and dementia immediately preceding death. He is in favor of suicide and assisted suicide because he has determined that that sort of life is not worth living, and that life is only worth life if it is lived well.

So I have a difference of opinion with the author in a couple things. One is growing old gracefully—instead of his approach, I’ll probably be on the side of those who continue starting new things and whatnot (although I’ll probably skip the plastic surgery in pursuit of a youthful appearance). I’m also against the thought that life is worthless unless it’s lived well, since that principle leads one onto a slippery slope where the well can be adjusted to different levels according to one’s desired outcome, and the option to end one’s own life can easily become society’s prerogative to end the lives of those who are not living well but might not know it. Perhaps my resistance comes from a sneaking suspicion that I’ve not lived my life well and my hope I’ll do better now. Or perhaps it’s a principle that life is better than not-life.

At any rate, it was a fun and engaging read. Perhaps I’ll look for the author’s other works at book sales since I didn’t see others next to this one at the library.

Good Book Hunting, Monday, June 5, 2017: The Villiage Booksmith in Baraboo, Wisconsin

As I might have alluded to yesterday, we went to Wisconsin for a week. We stopped in the Milwaukee area for a night and headed out to Wisconsin Dells for a couple of days. However, Monday found the children for two few books to read, so we headed out to the local used book stores for reinforcements. And by “local,” I mean twenty or so miles down the highway.

We stopped in Portage only to find the Good Times used book and record store there was only open on Friday and Saturday, so we headed down to Baraboo (aka Burriboo) to the Village Booksmith. It’s a neat little book store across from the town square.

I think the children might have gotten something, but I sure did.

I bought:

  • Deadlands: Welcome to Hell, the first Role Playing Game (RPG) I’ve bought in maybe 20 years. It’s a futuristic addition to the original Deadlands: The Weird West RPG. It looks to be (upon further review) to be a post-apocalyptic setting with a really complicated combat system.
  • A different translation of the Tao Te Ching than I just read, but it’s now mine. As I mentioned in the book report, I might already have a copy somewhere.
  • A book of local history, A Man Called Baraboo.
  • A book about Confucius (The Living Thoughts of Confucius) and a book of Mencius’ work because I’ve not seen anything in Confucuian thought at the library.
  • Thundering Silence, a Buddhist sutra with commentary by Thich Naht Hanh (whose Peace of Mind I read last month.
  • Time Slave, a book by John Norman, author of the Gor novels (some of which I’ve read). Judging by the Boris Vallejo cover, this book is completely different because its hero is not named Tarl.

Not pictured: Two LPs I bought from the couple boxes they have in the back: Angela Bofill’s Angel of the Night and Eydie Gorme’s Tonight I’ll Say a Prayer.

It wasn’t a trip to the book sale, though, so we spent a pretty penny here. The book prices are not crazy–not even as expensive as, say, Hooked on Books. It gives me some things to read in my recent Eastern religion/philosophy concentration and things to keep me busy for the free moments of the vacation (which means book reports are on my to-do list).

Book Report: Shock Waves by “Don Pendleton” (1985)

Book coverDo not confuse this book with the John Sandford novel Shock Wave. I didn’t until I was looking at the names of books I’d already read and thought perhaps I’d read this novel before and mistyped it.

At any rate, this book is a bit of a skip from the earlier ones I’ve read: The last, The Bone Yard was #75, and this is #81. As I get later into the series, the numbers skip by higher increments. I wonder if the books lost their popularity after the middle 1980s enough that there aren’t a lot out in book sale circulation (or if the covers changed colors enough so that I don’t recognize them). So I’m likely to miss some series business, such as changing the focus from the Mafia (again) to aliens or something.

Within it, Bolan travels to New York (Long Island) to rescue an informant who has been captured from the witness protection program by the mob. He finds a local boss has called together a klatsch of capos to crown himself the boss of all bosses. One of the Ranger Girls has accompanied a West Coast capo to the meeting, and her attempt to communicate intel blows her cover. So once Bolan starts shooting, he has to watch out for a couple of friendlies.

The book is a bit talky: Everyone gets a chapter to think about Bolan and what he’s doing. Although there are interesting elements to the plot–one of the West Coast capos calls in reinforcements who arrive just as Bolan sets it off–they’re not handled very deftly. And the book climaxes quickly with the big shoot-up set piece.

So it’s a basic Bolan book: A hard site, a soft penetration, a hard invasion, finis. With a lot of extra talking instead of suspense or tension.

Perhaps it’s best that I not find too many of the later books in the series (by later,, I mean “the back three quarters”) as they’re keeping me from reading important books that make me feel smaht. On the other hand, they do break up the smahtness. So I’ll continue reading a dozen or so of these a year. Almost like I had a subscription!

The end material of this 1985 book is also interesting. In addition to the subscription offers (with free bumper sticker), Gold Eagle has a tease for its Automag magazine about men’s adventure fiction (which must have flopped, as I can’t find anything about it on the Internet, although the people who named the magazine certainly picked a name that would yield search engine results for actual semi-automatic magazines and gold coins in the 21st century–but then again, SEO in 1985 was very primitive indeed). There’s also a contest for a Jeep CJ and a Gun Data Sheet for some obscure rifle.

Also, the book uses the phrase the war on terror to refer to Bolan’s earlier exploits in attacking terrorist groups. Which made it seem a little more contemporary than the book is, but when I was reading those books (in the middle 40s to, what, late 60s? #70?), the same terrorist organizations and countries remain hotbeds of terrorist activity today. So the books remain too timely in that regard.

These books are not only quick and sometimes interesting reads, but they’re wonderful bits of 80s nostalgia.

Book Report: Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present by Thich Nhat Hanh (2013)

Book coverI forgot to bring a magazine with me one day while taking my children to the library, so I picked up this book by a prolific Vietnamese monk.

The book focuses on the mindfulness aspect of Buddhist practice. Basically, the book is 150 pages of reminding yourself to take a breath and focus on your body and your mind in the moment. Which is not unhelpful, of course, as that’s pretty good advice. The book contains a couple bits on other Buddhist practices, but it doesn’t delve too deeply into the pure philosophy of Buddhism (the ontology, epistemology, or theology). It’s not even as focused on sitting technique as, say, Start Here Now.

So, basically, it’s take a deep breath and be aware of yourself in the present moment.

For 150 pages.

Although I’m not interested in Buddhism as a pure philosophy, I like reading about the practical applications, such as the mindfulness and a bit of the meditative aspects of it. So I’ll probably pick up books like this from time to time to remind me to take a deep breath and to be mindful. But then I’ll get sixty pages into them and think they’re being repetitive. When they’re probably just trying to be reinforcing, mantra-ish, and perhaps a bit hypnotic.

Book Report: Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes translated by Donald A. Cress (1637, 1998)

Book coverI’ve been listening to a lecture series on the Great Ideas of Philosophy, and as we’ve gone along, I’ve recognized the many of the seminal works mentioned as items on my to-read shelves. So I picked up this book because it’s not very long. Also, it’s at a turning point in history, right as the Middle Ages are ending and the Enlightenment is about to begin (although you could dispute with me the dates where this occurs, but I’m having none of it: this is my blog, and if I want to make interpreted remarks, I will, thank you very much). Also, it is only 44 pages, unlike, say, Being and Nothingness.

At any rate, the book includes the two big things one remembers from Descartes: I think, therefore I am (Section 4). That animals have no souls (Section 5).

Actually, while reading this, I had a brief conversation with a high school student who told me he didn’t like Descartes because Descartes said animals had no souls. I’d just finished the section, so I could explain in greater detail. Basically, it’s that you can build machines that will behave according to their parts, but humans are something else, as we can do things and communicate things that are outside of the physical parameters of our bodies. Animals, on the other hand, cannot. I conflate Descartes’ argument with something I recently read on the Internet about the language of animals, which says that animals can communicate through sounds, but they cannot create complex sentences that indicate conceptual thought.

I felt smart, anyway, being able to explain in more detail the argument. Without the pages and pages of explanation on the then-latest science of heart surgery prefaced with:

I would like those who are not versed in anatomy to take the trouble, before reading this, to have the heart of some large animal that has lungs dissected in their presence (for such a heart is in all respects sufficiently similar to that of a man), and to be shown the two chambers or cavities that are in it.

Well, I didn’t have advanced biology class, but I did see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so I was ready.

A lot of the discourse his explanation of what he’s done so far, and it ends with his talking about how he has not published a longer work after Galileo’s troubles, but he hopes that others will take what he has written and carry on other experiments according to his musings and using his method.

I’m glad to have read the discourse. As the conversation with the young man and the lecture series shows, it’s best to read the primary sources instead of relying on the summation of a thinker passed onto you by someone else. Also, the course helps put Descartes in context of when he wrote so that you’re not reading the book thinking it’s primitive and people have said this for centuries without focusing on when this was said and in what context.

So I’m pleased to have read it, and I feel smaht.

Book Report: Friendly Fireside Poems by Lloyd Carleton Shank (1957)

Book coverThis book is a nice collection of poems from the middle part of the last century. The author has a pretty good sense of rhythm, the poems have end rhymes, and they’re nice short bits of Americana with an especial Christian sensibility. They cover things like the seasons, special events like Inauguration Day (Eisenhower, probably), and holidays. They’re about being neighborly and looking to God. The kind of thing that got published in newspapers in a bygone era, but never made it to the slicks or the anthologies.

They’re better than some of the chapbooks I read, but unfortunately, they suffer in comparison to the better of Edgar Allan Poe’s work which I read concurrently. The Poe poems are fun to say aloud, whereas these are just words.

So it’s okay if you’re going deep into the poet bench, but there’s a lot of better poetry out there. On the other hand, the poems are nice and short, and I’m learning just how much aversion I have to long poems.

Book Report: Shopping Smart by John Stossel (1980)

Book coverYou know I’ve read some of Stossel’s more libertarian current events (then current) books like Give Me A Break and Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. This book is not in that vein: Before he was a correspondent on 20/20, he was a local consumer reporter in New York City, and this book stems from those reports.

Its subtitle is “The only consumer guide you’ll ever need.” Spoiler alert: It is not.

I used to say that the Internet really hasn’t changed things all that much, but I stand corrected. I came of age as the Internet did, so all the adult things I’ve had to do, I’ve had to do in the Internet age (although I have typed college papers on a typewriter and used a card-based library catalog). Chapters on buying a house and buying a car illustrate how much these things have changed. I generally know what I want before I go to the dealer or, although I tend to retain a realtor, I do a lot of looking myself through the MLS on to get a sense of prices and whatnot. So just from the research elements alone, consumers are already ahead of where they were 40 years ago.

So the book is more relevant as a historical document than anything else: You can look at it to marvel at the $5,000 cars and the 10-12% interest rates. The charts that have nine or ten major national carriers and their customer satisfaction rates (spoiler alert: The ones with the lowest survive the best). The appreciation of the new stuff that is old stuff by now (Tylenol, before the taining scare, as better than aspirin).

You probably have to have been there, alive and partially cognizant, in 1980 to really appreciate how much buying and selling has changed in the interim. Otherwise this book is nothing but one of those 1800s medical texts that people buy to decorate their homes with old books. With a disco-era pictures of John Stossel as the main decorating point.

So, Almost 10 Years Later….

I took a quick look at an old post (Good Book Hunting: August 27, 2007, and I zoomed in on the picture of my to-read shelves in Old Trees, and I thought, Man, I need to get to reading some of those books.

My to-read bookshelves, 2007
Click for full size

I see a bunch of them on the shelves then that I have not yet read. Mostly because they’re big and colorful and draw my attention to them even today. Also, because they’re still unread. In my defense, such as it is, I have more than doubled the size of the to-read stacks since then, and most of the books I’ve read in the interim have been acquired since then.

Also, in my defense, amongst the books I bought that day, I have read:

That’s 10 of the 23 I bought that day, so I’ve got that going for me.

Amongst the things I can identify on the shelves, I know I’ve probably read most of the McBain books present; the Ogden Nash volumes of poetry; Seawitch by Alistair MacLean; The Lord of the Rings trilogy; Hannibal: The Novel; a couple of the Gor novels; and probably more.

So I’m making progress, just probably not as much as I am making the potential for progress.

How many to-read shelves do I have today? Seven full bookshelves and a small bookshelf.

Book Report: The Tao of Elvis by David Rosen (2002)

Book coverI got this book at ABC Books about a week ago, and I jumped right on it. I read it quickly because there’s not a lot of text to it, although perhaps more than in the actual Tao Te Ching.

The author is a Taoist Jungian psychoanalyst, so you can probably expect what you’re going to get: Presentation of Elvis as an archetypal Taoist king. The book consists of an introduction that stresses this, followed by 42 “chapters” (one for each year of Elvis’s life). Each chapter consists of a theme title page with an epigram, three or four quotes from the Tao Te Ching or other Taoist thinkers, three or four quotes from or about Elvis, and a couple paragraphs expounding on the theme. Themes include things like Knowledge and Wisdom, Home (Graceland), Innocence and Play, Work, and Success and Failure (see how important the serial comma is in that list, people?).

At any rate, it’s as much a book about Elvis as it is the Tao, really. Most of the bits of Taoism are taken out of their context, but after reading the Tao Te Ching, I can say they’re probably more appealing and understanding that way, without the next line that doesn’t really follow. That is, I read it more to see what Elvis said that the author of this book pulled out more than I read to see what the Taoist thinkers said.

I think the author tried a little too hard to tie the concepts together, and given the publication date (2002), I can’t help but wonder if he missed the sweet spot of capturing an audience with relevant knowledge of and appreciation of Elvis. Even my friend who used to be an Elvis impersonator is past that now, and he held on into the early part of the century (although living near to Branson, I know there is still some need and draw for them). And about the cover: Is that a yoga (Hindu) pose?

Which is not to say there aren’t lessons in the book: It introduced me to some Taoist thinkers beyond Lao Tzu, so it’s worthwhile in that regard, I suppose.

In other news, this book quotes the one book I have ever read on Elvis, Caught in a Trap by Rick Stanley. Although not as cool as when one philosophy book I read refers to another I’ve read, the cross-reference in my head is still somewhat cool.