Book Report: The Celebrated Jumping Frog and Other Stories by Mark Twain (1992)

Book coverI have this collection in the Reader’s Digest World’s Best Reading edition, which is a series I pick up when I can find them cheap. They’re nicely put together, they often come with a little biographical pamphlet about the author, and they put the academic material where it belongs–at the end of the book, not ahead of the primary material.

This volume collects a number of Twain’s short stories, including:

  • “The Celebrated Jumping Frog”
  • “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg”
  • “A Fable”
  • “The Story of the Good Little Boy”
  • “The Story of the Bad Little Boy”
  • “The £1,000,000 Bank Note”
  • “Jim Baker’s Bluejay Yarn”
  • “A Medieval Romance”
  • “The $30,000 Bequest”
  • “The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm”
  • “Was It Heaven? Or Hell?”
  • “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit To Heaven”
  • “A Dog’s Tale”

Of the stories, I especially enjoyed “The £1,000,000 Bank Note” wherein a San Francisco trader is lost at sea, rescued, and delivered to London with nothing; there, two rich men give him a very large, uncashable bank check to see if he can make it a month with them to settle a bet between themselves. The trader does with elan. I thought the story was going to lead to a situation akin to the film Trading Places, but it was different. I thought “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit To Heaven” was clever as it grappled with some questions about what Heaven, God, and the Bible might mean galactically. I was startled by non-Disney endings to “Was It Heaven? Or Hell?” and “A Dog’s Tale”. And I might remember the stories, which is about the best that one can expect over the years.

I noted with interest that the bear in “A Fable” is named Baloo, but I cannot determine if it preceded or followed Kipling’s bear from The Jungle Books. I haven’t found a date on this story easily on the Internet, so I don’t know which came first, but it’s likely a bit of tribute between the writers one way or the other.

I’ve read the longer works of Twain’s (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Prince and the Pauper), and I think I like them more than short stories. Of course, I like novels more than short stories anyway, as one does not have to shift gears as often with them, which is why it takes me longer to read short stories in a book than it does a novel of the same length.

At any rate, good stuff, a bit of fun, and it counts as a classic in my internal virtuous reading signaling.

Good Book Hunting: Library Con 2018

I went to LibraryCon at the Springfield-Greene County Library Library Station branch this year as I did last year, and in reviewing that post, I see that I did pretty well in not buying a bunch last year (and reading one of the four books I bought, Obsidian Son, in the intervening year).

This time, I went with both of my children and a wallet full of money to splurge. This year’s Library Con had a smaller number of tables but a larger number of often-cosplaying attendees.

I bought more than last year.

I got:

  • Two books by Samuel Rikard, a non-fiction account of his being a father entitled Dammit Bre! and the start of a fantasy series called Order of the Trident (the series is An Eldarlands Tale).
  • The second Nate Temple book from Shayne Silvers, Blood Debts. I also chatted with the author about his martial arts belts since I’m purportedly going to test for my second degree black belt next month, and I learned from his bio somewhere that he holds a couple of his own.
  • Enter the Sandmen by William Schlichter, the start of a science fiction series. The author also has a number of horror books, but those ain’t my bag, baby, so I went with the science fiction series. Only the first, though, in case I don’t like them.
  • Waking the Weaver, the first book in an urban fantasy series by Aaron Conaway.
  • The #0 of the Spectral Void comic series; I was specifically looking for the third one, which the author assures me will be ready by Cave Con later this autumn.
  • #1 of the Star Beasts comic series.
  • A Minyen Yidn, a collection of short stories converted to a graphical novel format. The owner of a Winnipeg press called Bedside Press came all the way to Springfield for a day.

I felt like a bit of a sexist, though, as I went through author’s row. I stopped by the first couple of authors tables in the library–authors I knew from previous trips–and passed over the two tables with women behind them. The one looked like it had love stories and stuff, and the other looked like sparkly vampire love stories, neither of which was my bag. So when we came back into the library because we had to pick up some actual books in the library, I stopped at the above-mentioned Bedside Press table to pick something. As I browsed, I wondered about the books as several mentioned Indigenous authors and one of them was a collection of love stories about some creative couplings to say the least. So I picked the title that looked least likely to be too alphabetical soupy in outlook. I mean, it’s not like anything in the books would shock me conceptually, but it’s not the kinds of things I want to read.

Kind of like sparkly vampire love stories.

I also made eye contact with Joshua Clark whose first three books I bought last year, but I haven’t read them, so I didn’t pick up the fourth which was available this year.

If I make it to the next Library Con, I’ll probably think I know everyone with a table, although they will likely not remember me.

Book Report: Me and My Little Brain by John D. Fitzgerald (1971, 1984)

Book coverI read the Great Brain books in elementary school, and when I had children, I started picking the volumes up for my boys. Apparently, I picked up two copies of this book as I found a duplicate copy on their bookshelves while helping them clean their room this summer. So I put it on my to-read shelves for nostalgia’s sake.

The copy I have is an ex-library copy in the heavy library binding, which is only appropriate. Apparently, the books are available in paperback, too, but I got them from the school or public library, so I only understand the book in library binding.

If you’re not familiar with the Great Brain series: These fictional stories tell about a Catholic family in a small town in Utah at the end of the ninteenth century. It starts as a family of five: Mama, Papa, and brothers Sweyn, Tom, and John. The middle son is a swindler who comes up with all kinds of crazy schemes to make money or trick his younger brother John (the first person narrator of the book) into doing his chores. The first books deal with this, but this particular volume details when Tom goes off to the Jesuit Academy in Salt Lake City for seventh grade. John hopes to take up Tom’s mantel and make a little coin using his own brain, but it doesn’t work out that way. The book basically has three story arcs: The first couple of chapters are John trying schemes and failing. The second deals with the family (which is just Papa, Mama, and John along with their hired woman Aunt Bertha at this point) taking in a traumatized four-year-old whose family was killed in a mudslide before his eyes. The third deals with an escaped outlaw who has come back to town to kill the men he holds accountable for his incarceration–which includes Papa.

Re-reading this as an adult, I still enjoyed it. The writing is perhaps a little simpler than you would expect for an adult book–but, honestly, the language in a lot of books these days, especially the genre stuff I tend to read, isn’t exactly Faulkner. When I compare this young adult literature to the stuff my kids favor, though, it’s quite heady literature. My boys said they’ve read them, but they’re not exactly clamoring for more, unlike the excitement they demonstrate when a new comic/novel hybrid by Jeff Kinney or Dav Pilkey appears. Which will probably make them into adults who read comic books, if at all (wait, what? I read other things besides comic books and young adult literature, but I’m in the very selective minority).

It also struck me as I researched John D. Fitzgerald after reading this book how contemporary to my childhood these books were. This particular book was first published in 1971, which means I read it when it was ten years old or less. That’s a crazy thought–they seemed so much older back then, partially because they depict life so long ago and probably partly by how worn the library books were–probably due to popularity and cheap paper more than actual age. After reading this book, I’ve thought about seeking out some of his other works, including his adult book Mamma’s Boarding House, which I tried to read at age eight or nine, but I could not because it opens immediately after Papa’s funeral, and it was too painful to imagine life without a father (spoiler alert, little me: in a year or two, you’ll get to experience it for real by parental decision instead of death). So expect me to be cruising eBay this autumn looking to fill out my personal collection (as opposed to my boys’ collection).

Also, check out the list of other books you will enjoy:

Analysis: TRUE. I did enjoy all of these books in my elementary school years along along with the Beverly Cleary books (although I thought Henry Huggins was the main character and didn’t understand until later why Beezus and Ramona got all the stories). They made me into the get-rich-quick grifter I am today.

Book Report: Emotional Memoirs and Short Stories by Lani Hall Alpert (2012)

Book coverI bought this book after I attended the Herb Alpert / Lani Hall concert last year. I didn’t have enough cash to buy it at the theatre, but I ordered it promptly after I got home.

It’s a collection of short memories from Ms. Hall-Alpert’s life growing up in Chicago interspersed with short stories inspired by some of those memories–or perhaps the recollections are prompted by the short stories.

Regardless, it’s a collection of ten short stories (“Come Rain or Come Shine”, “Standing Appointment”, “Mr. Belmont”, “Something in Common”, “The Professor”, “The Ringing Bells”, “The Cleaning Lady”, “Curiosity”, “Coonfrontation”, and “Inland”). They’re mostly mainstream, slice-of-life style fiction you used to find in women’s magazines or in Colliers and sometimes Short Story magazine. They’re not self-consciously literary, which is nice. They deal often with men’s and women’s relationships and/or a woman’s, particularly an artistic woman’s, self-doubt. They’re nice little stories, and I cannot pooh-pooh them even though I have an English Degree® because I’m not having a lot of luck in writing my own short stories these days even though I’m gathering a little box full of ideas.

So they’re worth reading, especially if you’re a fan of her music.

You’re probably more familiar with her singing “Mais Que Nada” with Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66, but she did the theme song for the Bond movie Never Say Never Again which my boys and I will watch after Octopussy which is next in our queue, so it seemed the thing to include in this book report.

Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Echo Platoon by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman (2000)

Book coverWhen I cracked open this book, I thought I’d read it before. It begins with a water-infiltration attack on an oil drilling platform. But as I went through the set piece, I thought, No, the other book included an assault on an oil platform in the North Sea, and this one is in the Caspian Sea. Completely different. So it’s like James Bond: Watching the movies rapidly in succession, one realizes how many of the set pieces are repeated, especially ski chases, SCUBA fighting, or the sudden large scale assaults of United States troops, astronauts, or ninja on the enemy compound.

At any rate, in this book, Marcinko is in Azerberjan to “train” the locals, but when his plane lands, he finds a hostage situation that requires the oil platform landing mentioned above. After the hostages are rescued, the convoy taking the hostages to safety is hit by tangos, resulting in the loss of all those the SEALs saved. So Marcinko investigates the connection between the Russians, the Iranians, and a questionable NGO and its billionaire founder. Which leads to a number of set pieces and assaults that you would expect, all told in the meta- and, erm, course style of the Rogue Warrior series.

How meta? Well, he talks about the editor telling him to move the story along, and he even admits

Now, this here book is pure fiction, but the sort of Warrior leadership I’m talking about can be found in real life, every now and then.

Like the example set by Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez. Master Sergeant Benavidez was attached to Fifth Special Forces back in Vietnam. Here, quoting from the citation for his Medal of Honor, is what he did–and how he led by example.

The book then relates the story of what he did.

So the book–and the series–blend the fiction with real actions and authentic government behavior effectively. I like the series overall.

However, this book comes at the end of the Clinton years, and Marcinko calls the former president out by name several times. I don’t like sucker punches from the left, so I rankle a bit about the ones I agree with, too. It not only can turn off half the audience–well, by then, the circles in the Venn diagram of Marcinko fans and liberals were probably far apart already–but it also dates the book. By just fuming about military cutbacks, you could imagine it in just about any Democratic administration instead of pegging it to something that kids these days won’t relate to.

At any rate, still a fun book to read while waiting for my thirst for Shakespeare to resume.

Book Report: The Devil Wins by Reed Farrel Coleman (2015)

Book coverWell, well, well. This was a pleasant surprise. I was not pleased with Blind Spot, the first Jesse Stone book that Coleman took on after the Brandman Dynasty. I knocked it for its slow pacing, for its early revelation of the bad guys, and some thick prose of the sake of thick prose.

With this book, though, Coleman seems to find his footing. In it, the collapse of an industrial building in a winter nor’easter uncovers the bodies of two teen girls killed twenty-five years ago, and Stone has to uncover the unlikely group of killers. Paradise thinks this is its deep, dark shame from the past, and it threatens to hidden secrets from people Jesse has known for a long time. In series business, Jesse is still dealing with the aftermath of Suitcase Simpson’s shooting in the last book, starts visiting the shrink again, and meets the new ME who will become his friend and maybe more. The series business doesn’t overwhelm the story of this book, though.

So, overall, not bad, although the whole “in the deep past of 25 years ago” might ring a little truer if the first Jesse Stone novel hadn’t come out in 1997, 21 years ago. Also, deep, dark past doesn’t work for me since I can remember being an adult(ish) back then.

But good enough that I’ll look for other entries in this line at book sales.

Book Report: A Nice Steady Job by Gregory Dowling (1994)

Book coverI picked this book from my to-read shelves because, whenever I turned around at my desk to talk to my beautiful wife, the red dot that indicates that it was a dollar book I bought from Hooked on Books once upon a time (probably before this blog existed, werd). I’m very conscious of the red dots these days since the current employees at Hooked on Books don’t know what they meant. So when it came time for a new fiction book, I finally settled on it, unsure of what I was getting.

As it turns out, it is a British private detective novel. For a moment, I had some reservations given how little I really enjoyed my last British mystery (Cotswold Mistress from almost a year ago already). But this book’s tone is more akin to American private eye books with a British sensibility to them rather than an Agatha Christie ministers-and-gentlemen-dying locked room thing.

The protagonist, January (called Jan) Esposito, is a bit of a ne-er-do-well loafing about in Italy and teaching English to Italian students. He’s got a hustler of a half brother, with whom he had a previous adventure that led them to believe he could be an adventure or private detective, so when the son of a gentleman goes missing, the Sir reaches out to the half brother, who enlists Jan to go to a small village in Verona to look for the young sir-to-be who is suspected of murdering a local. When Jan gets to town, he meets a young researcher who is not who she claims she is and some local toughts.

It’s a pretty good read, a slower paced book than an American detective book even of that era, but it moves along nevertheless. Of course, Jan uncovers conspiracies and cover-ups that go all the way back to The War (World War II), a partisan plan to recover a religious statue stolen by the Nazis that goes missing when the Nazis burn the house where the partisans hole up after the raid, and a plot to arm a new revolutionary group planning attacks in the modern day. It gets a little convoluted at the end, but a lot of other detective books do get into their plots.

A fun read, and certainly worth a dollar twenty years ago, although in contemporary dollars, that’s probably like $20. Probably still worth a dollar, and you could probably find it for that.

Apparently, this author wrote three books in the 1990s, of which this book is the last, and only recently returned to novels with a couple of historical thrillers set in Italy. Which probably means I won’t find a vast catalog of his other work in book sales here in town, but I will certainly keep an eye out for them.

Good Book Hunting, July 25, 2018: ABC Books

With the pretext of buying a gift card for a random stranger, I dragged my youngest son to ABC Books yesterday. I got said gift card (actually for the coach of the youngest’s spring basketball team) and bought the young son a couple of cartoon collections (Family Circus and the Far Side). I also got myself a few books.

I got:

  • Socrates: A Man For Our Times by Paul Johnson whose books I’ve accummulated but need to read. Much like so many authors.
  • What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter because I keep meaning to get back to fiction and hope writing exercises and various writing journals I buy will help me get there. Instead, though, I keep typing up brief lists of books I’ve bought for a very selective Internet audience.
  • Einstein’s Universe by Nigel Calder which looks to be based on a BBC/WGBH television series from 1979. After reading Einstein’s Universe, I was looking for something slightly meatier and less Communist. A BBC production probably fits the description (without being entirely Communism-free, perhaps).

I spent fifteen dollars on myself and about ten on the kid, so we kept it less than we spent on the gift card, so I’d like to call that restraint.

Book Report: Einstein for Beginners by Joseph Schwartz and Michael McGuinness (1979)

Book coverI bought this book in April because I’ve been trying to get my head around higher physics. I’ve picked up, over the last year, a couple books that discuss quantum theory (The Physics of Christianity) and relativity (The ABC of Relativity). I nod along through several chapters, generally less than a third of the book (maybe just the title page and table of contents, come to think of it), and think, “I get this.” And then I come to a certain point in the book, and I am suddenly off the rails and have no idea what the author is talking about.

So I thought maybe this book would help me.

Little did I know this is just a comic book Communist biography of Einstein/indictment of the capitalist system of science and engineering.

Continue reading “Book Report: Einstein for Beginners by Joseph Schwartz and Michael McGuinness (1979)”

Good Book Hunting, Thursday, July 19, 2018: Hooked on Books

I had the usual time to kill between youth activities last night, and I know where all the Hooked on Books dollar book carts are, so I picked up a couple books.

I spent six bucks and got:

Unfortunately, that only took twenty minutes, which meant we could go by Nameless City comics and games or the Ozark Treasures antique mall. I opted for the latter, as I expected I would spend less money there and could ostensibly look for Christmas gifts. As it stands, I spent two dollars on myself (I got an issue of Ideals magazine, “Liberty”, from 1984 and an LP, Eydie Gorme’ On Stage. And I did ostensibly get a Christmas gift for a cousin. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Total spent: eight dollars plus tax on myself, six dollars on the cousin, and probably that much on regularly priced books at Hooked on Books for my children. Not bad.

The real question is, which of these books will I read first (aside from Hundred Dollar Baby)? Probably the cartoons. How many will I have read by this time in 2020? Probably the cartoons.

Book Report: Border Sweep The Executioner #120 (1988)

Book coverI threatened to pick up the next Executioner novel, and, by golly, I did it. You and I must be punished!

They’ve come a long way from the Don Pendleton days. They’ve become longer. They’ve jettisoned the page-long philosophical musings. The action has gotten more movie cinematic, and the tactics have gone out the window. Mack Bolan is no longer uber-competent–as a matter of fact, he’s kind of along for the ride.

In a plot ripped from today’s headlines thirty years ago, Mack Bolan is called to Arizona to help an investigator down there who’s looking into human trafficking across the southern border, and Bolan slowly uncovers a plot where a master coyote is trying to organize both sides of the border to provide one-stop shopping for American agriculture who need cheap illegal immigrant labor and the high-tech transport to provide them.

Overall, it’s a rather amateurish effort, although I guess the author was more professional than I am because he got a paycheck for his work. But it’s padded out to 250 pages by descriptions that aren’t done well enough in their writing to merit the space and that really bog down the pacing of the plot. The number of set pieces is pretty small, and they’re pretty far apart amid the Dungeon Mastering descriptions.

And we’ve got whackiness that doesn’t ring true.

Bolan shook his head, the sprinted toward the sound of gunfire. The deep bark of a carbine gave him hope that at least one of the border patrolmen was still alive.

I’m not an expert on guns, but from my knowledge, you can tell more about the size of the hole in the barrel rather than the length of the barrel from the sound.

We’ve got some cultural misunderstandings:

Gordo wrapped a heavy arm around Roberto’s neck, hugging the much smaller man to his massive chest and rubbing his knuckles vigorously into the man’s hair. “A real tender chicken, this one.” He laughed. “You should pay me, Anna, take him under your wing. Young chickens should stick together.”

What are the odds that a Mexican prostitute would have a German name rather than a Mexican one?

We’ve got contradictions in the text:

Randy Carlton loved the desert and hated it with equal conviction. Its beauty was undeniable, but its hostility was implacable.

Page 56 versus page 167, where:

He [Carlton] had always loved the desert. Whenever he thought about it, he would smile.

And we have great trick shots:

The wispy gas coiled up in a thin stream, then vanished as it was sucked up by the whirling turbo fan. In a moment or two the bulk of the tear gas would be spewed, and the fan would be unable to handle the load. Bolan realized he had to do something, and do it fast. He brought the Skorpion around and zeroed in on the edge of the sphere, like a pool shark lining up a difficult shot. The slug just nicked the edge of the gas cannister and sent it spinning in toward Carlton. It vanished behind the turbine housing, only to come arcing back a moment later to bounce out into the hall, belching a thick cloud.

If you’re wondering whether Bolan and the infiltrators had to cinematically traverse the huge turbine blades, shut your mouth. Of course they did!

At any rate, the further I get into the series and the longer they get, and the worse the writing gets, the more I dread reading another one.

And I have 37 Executioner novels, 10 Stony Man novels, 16 Mack Bolan, and 8 Able Team books in my collection to read.

I recently picked up three books by Don Pendleton in another series he did about a guy named Ashton Ford. I’ll quite likely read these before I read another in the Gold Eagle sets.

Good Book Hunting, July 12, 2018: Half Price Books/The Book Exchange in Leavenworth, Kansas

Apparently, every time I find myself in Leavenworth, I have some time to kill, so I stop by the one used book store in the area (as I did last October). Whereas I bought four books up there last time I was in town, this time I only bought three (for myself).

This time, I got:

  • A Rocky Mountain Christmas, which is a collection of Christmas stories from the mountains. Which might be something to read for my annual Christmas book, although I’m buying so many in anticipation of my one Christmas-themed book per year that I might have to start reading more than one a year. Perhaps starting in July.
  • Next Year Country, a collection of reminisciences about a farm in Montana. Also in my wheelhouse of books about living on farms in the old days. And by “in my wheelhouse,” I mean books I like to read from time to time, but that I buy a lot more of than I read. Which, basically, describes my book buying completely.
  • Hal Leonard Guitar Method Book 1. As you might know, I bought myself a grey black guitar earlier this year and took guitar lessons for a couple months (suspending them because the instructor was moving into advanced stuff when I can’t change chords in time yet). I’ve been accumulating guitar books to work from for a while now, and I thought I had the second in this line. Turns out, I have the second book in the Fast Track Method series. I hope I don’t end the universe if I cross the streams.

I also bought a book on the television show Dallas, to give to my aunt who loved the television show. I’d put in a link to the book I bought her, but I forgot the exact title, and I’ve already wrapped it.

You know, if I held myself to a couple books at a time, I could maybe start making headway on reading my collection. I actually did have that as a New Year’s Resolution one year in the middle 1990s–that I would not buy another book until I read all the ones I owned. I had only a bookshelf or two, single-stacked, to read were I to hold the line. The resolution lasted about seven months, after which I joined a book club and bought like ten books.

How cute, my older self thinks.

Book Report: Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot (1935, 1963)

Book coverWell, after reading What If?, I did not pick up the next Executioner novel. Instead, I picked up this play that I bought at the very end of last year.

It’s a single evening play in two acts by Thomas Stearns Eliot, the man most known in these parts for “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (which I could recite and perform from memory in my Open Mic days). The play deals, as the title clearly indicates to anyone with a classical education, and oh, my God, that’s not many of us any more, is it?, the death of Thomas Becket at the purported “request” of King Henry II of England. Becket, who had been the king’s chancellor (tax collector in chief) before he became archbishop of Cantebury, opposed the king after he became archbishop.

The first act of the play covers Becket’s return from exile to Cantebury, where his mere presence lifts the spirits of the downtrodden and the clergy, but Becket predicts his own martyrdom and is presented with various temptations: sensual pleasure, power, and finally, immortality in his martyrdom. While he resists easily the first and earthly ones, the last of them tracks with his secret desire. Then, in the second, when the knights are coming, Thomas does not flee and insists upon opening the doors to those who would kill him. After they do, the knights present their cases as to who really was at fault in his death.

So I guess you’re supposed to wonder and talk about later whether Becket was doing God’s will or his own in the second act given the nature of his last temptation. But I’m a bit meh on it.

The play is mostly in verse, some rhyming and adhering to standard rhythm and some not. However, the knights present their cases in prose. So clearly this is Drama, which means you go to the play to be educated and not entertained with a side of emotional response and later musing on the big themes that entertained you while playing out.

So I liked it less than The Marriage of Bette and Boo. Or even The Oedipus Cycle or The Bird by Aristophanes because they’re old books translated from dead languages. This play is more akin to The Balcony by Jean Genet in that it’s Educational, but I forgive the Genet play more because it was in French, and Eliot wrote in English, following a rich tradition of playwrights who wrote plays enjoyable for themselves and not the IDEAS they PRESENT.

Still, probably better than “The Waste Land”.

Also, I did flag two bits of text worth something amid the rest of the versage:

What peace can be found to grow between the hammer and the anvil?


You shall forget these things, toiling in the household,
You shall remember them, droning by the fire,
When age and forgetfulness sweeten memory
Only like a dream that has often been told
And often been changed in the telling. They will seem unreal.
Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

So it’s got that going for it.

Good Book Hunting, July 9, 2018: Christian Publishers Outlet/Redeemed Books

Yesterday, my lovely young bride and I had some time to kill between errands, and since we were in the shopping center with the CPO/Redeemed book store in Springfield, I pulled into a parking space outside the shop. We only had roughly thirty minutes to kill, and I thought maybe we’d have to stop by the comic shop as well to kill all the time, but no.

She found the dollar books and went through them extensively.

Which led to a strange inversion in our book purchasing.

She found twenty-seven books (more than one a minute) to my three.

I got:

  • Broke by Glenn Beck, who used to be somebody, I think.
  • Writing with Hitchcock about a fellow who wrote for Hitchcock at the peak of his filmmaking.
  • The Search for the Authentic Tomb of Jesus which sounds like it should be narrated by Leonard Nimoy.

She bought more than I actually looked at.

She just recently clears some shelf space in her office bookshelves. I hope she was not reserving that space for knick knacks.

Book Report: What If? by Randall Munroe (2014)

Book coverSweet Christmas, this is the second book in a row that I really enjoyed. I’m wonder if I am not doing the reading-for-pleasure thing correctly this year that I’m so surprised when I really enjoy a book.

This book is a collection of crazy, mostly physics-oriented hypothetical questions answered seriously and with actual math. The author created the xkcd Web comic and includes a section on the Web site going over questions like this (and the book is a collection of things that first appeared on the Web site, likely). Things like “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?” and “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?” I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the answer to many of the questions is cataclysm.

Perhaps I enjoyed the book more than other Internet sites bound and printed that I’ve read (Jump the Shark, Awkward Family Pet Photos, and two Darwin Award books–The Darwin Awards II and The Official Darwin Awards 3) because I was not as familiar with the material. Or perhaps it was because the material and the content is a little deeper. It’s not popular culture, it’s not pictures with snarky captions, it’s science. Or at least musings therein.

I’m not qualified to judge whether the physics work out on his answers–I’m sure the Web site’s comments section are full of robust arguments about the answers–but it’s good enough for someone with a philosophy degree who just likes to speculate.

At any rate, a good, fun read. I wish I could remember on whose Web site I saw this on. I’m becoming quite the little follower, where people like Dustbury or Instapundit post links to books or music I might find interesting, and then I rush out and buy it. Perhaps I should stay off the Internet until I read some of these thousands of books I own that I have not yet read. Or maybe not.

Also, the string of two fun, enjoyable reads daunts me a bit as I look at the bookshelves trying to pick something to read now (no, not one of the books already on my side table with bookmarks in them–I want something new). I might not pick something I enjoy as much and might end up with something that remains on my side table for months (or, heaven forfend, years). The pressure can prove overwhelming. So I’ll likely pick out the next Executioner novel and slog through it.

Note this book is not related to the alternate history essay series such as What If? 2.)

Book Report: The Promise by Robert Crais (2015)

Book coverThis book has been on my to-read shelf for a while, and I don’t know why. I enjoy Robert Crais’ books more than a lot of the stuff I read. How big of a fan am I? I once spent an afternoon going through microfiche old PDFs of Spider-Man comic books to find the one with the letter from little Bobby Crais in it. I should probably jump right on new Crais books when they become available, like I used to with Robert B. Parker books, but my winding path through my library doesn’t often make sense.

Although billed as an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel, the book also features the dog handler from Suspect (and given explosives are involved, one would expect an appearance by the protagonist of Demolition Angel to make an appearance). I’m sure one could muse at length about the reasons that authors bring their series characters together with each other or their one-offs (see also Robert B. Parker). Is it because the fans want to see them together? Because authors love the characters and want to see them again? Because authors are lazy? Probably not the last in all cases, but one never knows, and one who writes this blog goes off into long enough digressions in these book reports without a lengthier musing on this topic at this time.

Cole takes a case from a corporate executive whose employee has gone missing along with several hundred thousand dollars of money and a large amount of untraceable plastic explosive. Apparently, she’s using it to try to find the terrorist organizations that blew up her son in Africa. As Cole investigates, he stumbles upon a fugitive on the run to the safe house where the woman, her handler, and their customer are planning a transaction, and Cole falls under suspicion for being involved. The big baddy targets the K9 officer who saw him there, and a twisty plot unravels over the course of the book.

Crais jumps between points-of-view throughout the book (which is the narrative style, ainna?), and the plot does come out as Cole investigates. He discovers that his client is not who she claims to be and that someone in the government might be involved. Although this is the prime way to set up a sucker punch, it’s not–the government isn’t arming the terrorists or anything like that (uh, spoiler alert). The end comes pretty quickly, and some of the resolution is just tacked on a bit at the end without needing the flow (that is, the tacked-on bit could have happened anywhere in the story or ten years later).

Still, a fun read from start to finish. Paced well (jumping points of view probably helps that), and it makes me want to go out and catch up on the series. Which might mean nothing more than searching my to-read shelves to find any other Crais books that might lurk there.

MVBs (Most Valued Books) of Brian J.

As you might know, gentle reader, I am more a book accummulator than a true book collector. I don’t go out to book shops with locked glass cases and leather chairs looking for obscure first editions, but I’ll pick some up if I come across them. Generally, to get a first edition, I’ll run across them if they’re at a garage sale for a dollar (as I did when I bought a first edition of Dune that I sold on eBay for $150–I related the story in my book report for that book). I am pretty sure most of my first editions have ex library markings on them, anyway.

That said, I do have some valuable books in my collection.

For example, I have a first edition two volume set of the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant which I inherited from my beautiful wife’s uncle. Although I’m not sure where they are on my shelves these days. I did recently buy a reading copy of the books, so I guess I can move the actual first editions somewhere safe. Like a safe deposit box or something.

As you might know, I was a fan of Robert B. Parker’s books for a long time since I started reading him in high school (the long story is in the essay “Meeting Robert B. Parker“). I picked up paperbacks and hardbacks where I could. When I started to come into some middle class money, I bought Spenser: For Hire scripts, some of the very limited edition stuff Parker published in the middle eighties such as The Private Eye in Hammett and Chandler, advanced reading copies, and whatnot. So as a collection, my Robert B. Parker stuff is pretty complete, although I stopped buying the books when his moral universe got wonky. Still, I could probably unload the pile for a couple bucks.

But I count as my most valued books my Edna St. Vincent Millay collection that my sainted mother bought me when I was away at college.

Early in my college career, I got really into the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and the Romantic poets, so I asked for some of their collections for Christmas my sophomore year.

This was in the pre-Internet days, so my mother couldn’t just order collections off of Amazon or eBay. Instead, she went way out of her comfort zone and went to various used book shops in the University City and Central West End areas, including some that had front doors locked because they were in sketchy areas (I never learned if they had glass cases or leather couches, but I assume not).

I read those Millay books immediately, and their influence eclipsed that of the Romantic poets (although my mother did get me an 1889 collection of Wordsworth poems, I have not yet read it and might not given how slowly I’m crawling through the complete works of Keats and Shelley).

Edna St. Vincent Millay (as well as structured poetry, poetry, and reading books) has kind of fallen out of favor over the years, so I don’t think they’d fetch much at a book sale. They’d probably be in the collectible books for three or four dollars each, only to linger until half price day or bag day (using the Friends of the Springfield Greene County Library Semi-Annual Book Sale as an example).

But it was quite an adventure for my mother, though, and the books mean a lot to me. So they’re my most valued books.

Book Report: The Dhammapada translated by Juan Mascaró (1973, 1975)

Book coverSpeaking of the Buddhism I’ve been reading, this book is a collection of aphorisms (as the back says) in the Buddhist mindset. Apparently, it’s just one long scroll or collection of musings or verses that the translator has helpfully broken into chapters (Contrary Ways, Watchfulness, The Mind, The Flowers of Life, The Fool, The Wise Man, etc.). You can tell that the author has broken this up because some of the content of the chapters flows away from the ascribed topic/title and then the chapter ends where a new topic begins and can be titled. So in the original, it would have been a single document just flowing. Not that I minded the chapters, though; the aphorism are in numbered verses, so it would have been like a long poem without them, and you probably know by know how I feel about long poems.

At any rate, it’s calming and pleasant to read, and the content mirrors the other things in Eastern philosophy I’ve read and is not far off from the Christian Stoicism I’m also currently reading and even the parables of Jesus: Slow down, don’t worry, help others, do good. You know, the practical aspects of many religions–that is, the pragmatic, how to live content, is similar no matter how wildly the ontology or eschatology differs. Which is why I prefer these little guides and comfort reads more than the heavy philosophy or theology most of the time.

Worth a read if you’re into this sort of thing.

Book Report: Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett (1999)

Book coverYou might think Nightmare Town is New York based on previous evidence, but no. It’s a collection of Dashiell Hammett’s short stories. I would have expected that I read them since I have a couple of different editions of The Thin Man and The Glass Key, including two volume New American Library set, but those must only be the novels.

This book collects twenty of Hammett’s pulp stories, so you’ve got detective stuff along with the occasional Western. Several feature the Continental Op, three feature Sam Spade, and the first five chapters of his first stab at The Thin Man conclude the book (a little unsatisfyingly, though, since it does not resolve, and it differs from the published version enough that I wanted to see how this book ended, too).

The stories are terse in the pulp style–fancy that!, and they’re pretty good for the most part. Some of the plots a touch convoluted, though, and a couple of the stories turn on gimmicks, both of which are also a hallmark of pulp. But you know what you’re in for if you’re reading Hammett.

I’m pretty slow at reading short stories, though, as I’ve mentioned, since each story requires a little reset time that makes stopping easy at bed time. Still, I’m glad to have read it.