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 Realtor.com 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.

A Malady I Won’t Suffer, And A Quiz!

In the April issue of First Things magazine, David Bentley Hart discusses divesting himself of an extensive library:

I knew I would never be able to amass the literally hundreds of thousands of volumes that Gladstone and Disraeli each left behind when they departed this life, but at its apogee my library was around 20,000 volumes, which in our day, and within the practical material constraints pressing on me, was a fairly estimable hoard. Some of the books were rare and beautiful, many were ordinary, a great many superfluous, but I clung to all of them like a miser guarding the heaps of gold coins kept in his vault.

. . . .

In any event, it is all gone now, except for a few jagged fragments. In 2014, a natural catastrophe of an insidiously furtive and unanticipated kind overtook both me and my library, and ultimately (though in agonizingly protracted stages) the latter had to be liquidated. The bereavement of losing nearly forty years of accumulated texts, however, was not nearly as great as I thought it would be (allowing for the possibility that I am still in a state of shock). It turns out that all those texts are still out there to be read, and that many of them I did not need anyway.

Dear me, I shall miser on.

But the bulk of the piece is a reading list recommendation for a friend based on the books he had. I’ve recreated the list here, with the usual items I’ve read in bold and items I have not read but are in my library in italics:

  • J. A. Baker, The Peregrine and The Hill of Summer
  • Sadegh Hedayat, The Blind Owl
  • “Lady Sarashina,” As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams
  • John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance
  • Ẓahir-ud-Din Muḥammad Babur, The Baburnama
  • Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Violins of Saint-Jacques
  • Robert Walser, Jakob von Gunten
  • Georges Rodenbach, Bruges-la-Morte
  • The Ramakien
  • Longus, Daphnis and Chloe
  • Frederick Rolfe, Hubert’s Arthur
  • Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Memories of the Future
  • Pu Songling, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
  • Murasaki Shikibu, The Diary of Lady Murasaki
  • A. W. Kinglake, Eothen
  • Gyula Krúdy, The Adventures of Sindbad
  • The Kebra Nagast
  • Imekanu (Matsu Kannari), Kutune Shirka
  • Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversations
  • Nguyen Du, The Tale of Kieu
  • Jan Potocki, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa
  • Kalidasa, Śakuntala (Abhijñānaśākuntalam)
  • José Maria de Eça de Queirós, The City and the Mountains
  • Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas
  • Ferdowsi (Abu’l-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi), Shahnameh
  • Antal Szerb, Journey by Moonlight
  • Edwin Muir, The Complete Poems
  • W. H. Mallock, The New Republic
  • Victor Segalen, Stèles
  • Kamo-no-Chōmei, Hojoki

That’s right: I’ve never even heard of most of the books listed, and they’re not the sort of thing that you find at book sales in Southwest Missouri (although, to be honest, you would be surprised at whose books you might find here).

The article has little tidbits about each, and although some look like they’re in the sort of vein my mother-in-law, the former English teacher, might like, only a few of them looked interesting to me. As you might expect, gentle reader, with my recent fascination with Eastern thought and history, those would be the classical Japanese works.

Book Report: The Bone Yard by “Don Pendleton” (1985)

Book coverThis book is the second in a row from the Executioner series that has an intricate plot, but this one was a bit more intricate than the writer could handle.

In it, Bolan is in Las Vegas. As he’s making a probe of a hard site, a bunch of ninja come charging out of the house carrying a woman over their shoulder. It’s ninja from the Yakuza who have come to hit the a Las Vegas mob boss, and they’ve carried away a woman reporter he was interrogating. Before they can interrogate her themselves, Bolan steps in and rescues her. She’s writing a series on the mob for the local paper, and somebody wanted to silence her. Turns out that she’s the granddaughter of the old Jewish mob boss who was neutered by the mafia but who was kept on as a hotel manager. He goes way back with the paper’s publisher, and the grandfather has plans of his own to cut down the mafia with his own imported mercenaries. And there’s the Yakuza moving in.

So there’s a pretty intricate plot going on with several moving parts, people with their own agendas, and whatnot. The author cuts between some of the players to get their thoughts on their next move, so it’s a bit more complicated than the books told solely from Mack Bolan’s point of view.

Unfortunately, the complicated build up is solved, ultimately, in a couple of basic Gold Eagle paperback set piece shoot-em-ups that really diminish what was going on and end it a bit abruptly.

The plot could have been so much more, but in the end (the abruptish end), it’s 180 pages of what it is, not what it could be.

Still, it’s keeping the series interesting.

Book Report: The Reagan Wit edited by Bill Adler with Bill Adler, Jr. (1981)

Book coverI have a bunch of Reagan-themed books in case my 1980s nostalgia kicks in. This book is one of them, and to be honest, I picked it because it’s pretty slim, and I needed a quick read amidst all the Eastern philosophy I’ve been reading of late.

Although the book proclaims to be examples of Reagan’s wit, it looks to be a quick means to capitalize on his recent election (given the publication date of 1981, it was rushed to press within months of his inauguration). So the actual wit in it is ill-considered. We get some one-liners from earlier in his political career and his governorship, but many of them fail to stand alone without the context. Some of them are not much more than “Aw, shut up.” (Reagan responds to some hecklers.)

Once we get into the presidency, though, we get fuller stories with paragraphs of setup before the wit, so they’re better. I’m not sure whether that’s because the wit was more recent or because the presidential papers are more complete. But they were better.

So it’s not like it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Or even amusing for the most part. But it does provide a bit of a reminder how tough a Republican political figure and elected official had even in the good old days of the 1960s or 1980s which lends itself to perspective on the present day’s troubles. Which is something the people of the present day often lack, perhaps by design.

(I guess my 80s nostalgia has flared from time to time already: see previous Reagania Remembering Reagan and Dear Americans: Letters from the Desk of Ronald Reagan.)

Nice Try; Now Read A Book

A sportswriter swings and misses on a metaphor:

The Packers’ running back group is packed to the brim with distinct inexperience, unmistakable intrigue and alluring potential – creating a position with more mystery than most Poe novels.

Most Poe novels? You can count the novels that Edgar Allan Poe completed on one finger: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

Can’t anyone here play this game?

That’s a quote from a sports figure, he explained to the sports journalists.

(Spoiler alert: I’m reading Poe now, so I’m likely to re-read that novel again in the coming weeks.)

Book Report: Silent Flowers: A New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems edited by Dorothy Price (1967)

Book coverThis book was published by Hallmark back in the day when your grandmother or great grandmother might pick up a little light book of poetry as a gift for someone and maybe take a little try at verse herself even though she left school in the eighth grade to take care of her younger siblings. And her poems were better than the stuff written by kids in the English program in college because sixth graders back then were better read than contemporary college-educated folk. But I digress.

The book is, as you might expect, a slim collection of haiku poems. They’re translated from the Japanese, so the actual 5-7-5 syllable count is off on many of them.

But they’re in the proper haiku style, where they provide an Eastern koan sort of thought designed to spur your musing or to trip your own experience with what they’re discussing instead of creating an experience for you.

However, it’s not best to sit down and read them all at once, as they’ll seem very repetitive if you do.

On the plus side, I can now say I prefer the haiku of Bosun to Basho, which will be nice and will impress anyone who earnestly asks.

Are there any haiku in the book of poetry I keep talking about publishing? Yes. And I’ll have to remember to add this one.

Book Report: The Upanishads translated by Vernon Katz and Thomas Egenes (2015)

Book coverI picked up this book from the library not long after reading Tao Te Ching. I mean, why not? I’ve also read a couple books on Buddhism recently (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Start Here Now, and Buddhism Through Christian Eyes) and Tao Te Ching. Why not touch on that other large Asian religion, Hinduism?

Like the Tao Te Ching, I think I might have read this book before, or at least parts of it. I did have a class on Eastern Philosophy, after all, which I denigrated at the time because Father Naus (not Nous because how cool would that have been) used to stand at the lectern, holding the texts, and saying “I don’t understand that, but maybe that’s the point.” Now that I’m a little older and have read more of them, I can understand his point of view and think maybe he’s right.

This book includes many but not all of the things called “Upanishad.” The book includes:

  • Isha Upanishad
  • Kena Upanishad
  • Katha Upanishad
  • Prashna Upanishad
  • Mundaka Upanishad
  • Mandukya Upanishad
  • Taittiriya Upanishad
  • Aitareya Upanishad
  • Shevetashvatara Upanishad

It’s kind of like reading the psalms of Hinduism. The Vedas are earlier works, I remember from my class, and these are later poetical reflections on them that are also canonical.

At any rate, many of them talk about the basics of Hinduism, including the form of Brahman, the eternal, and the Atman (the bit of eternal incarnation that is the individual self) (I think). Some of them refer to the gods lower than Brahman, but you don’t get a cohesive Western style of narrative or lyric. Some of them have a bit of it, but mostly they’re designed to spur reflection and meditation.

Reading this, one cannot help but compare the impression of Hinduism to Buddhism that I got from the other things I’ve read. Both depend heavily upon meditation to get in touch with the inner self, with the Brahman/Buddha nature that is eternal and present within oneself; however, Buddhism is very much about renunciation (Buddha’s first four thoughts are that want creates suffering, so renounce wants), but Hinduism, at least in some of the Upanishads, is about celebrating the things you eat and whatnot. Although I guess that one often thinks of Hindu ascetics, so there must be some strains of Hindu thought that talk about renunciation. That stuff must come from other writings.

Although I delved into this book with some relish, by the time I got two thirds of the way through I was pretty fatigued with reading it. Partially, that stems from reading other speculative primary texts like the Tao Te Ching and this book on Ancient Near East primary texts I’ve worked on a bit. But cumulatively, I have to wonder how many more Eastern thought books I will get through before my current interest in them wanes. I predict…not many.

Book Report: Savanah Swingsaw by “Don Pendleton” (1985)

Book coverIt seems to me that I knocked some of the non-Pendleton Executioner books recently in a book report on something else, but I can’t find it now. But I was pleased with this book because its plot differed from the simpler Bolan Invades A Hardsite plots that so many earlier, non-Pendleton books were.

In this book, Bolan gets himself thrown in jail to break out a small time crook targeted by the KGB for assassination. While inside, Bolan gets into some trouble with other inmates and gets a little help from his wheelchair-bound cellmate. A vigilante band called the Savannah Swingsaw breaks Bolan before Mack can execute his own escape plans. So Bolan has to break the targetted kid out before the assassins can get him. Once he does, he finds that the Savannah Swingsaw’s crimelord adversary has found them at last, so Bolan has to help them clean the crime syndicate up, too.

The plot, as I mentioned, was fresh and different, which made the book a better read than some of the other recent ones in the series, and I’m looking forward to picking up a couple more in the future. As in “reading the ones I have”–I have a pile enough left that I’m in no hurry to acquire more. Maybe someday.

Book Report: Perfect Dark: Initial Vector by Greg Rucka (2004)

Book coverI picked up this book after Perfect Dark was an answer to a question at a recent Geek-centric trivia night, and I did not know the answer. Of course, because I’m encountering this book as a book and not a video game, I probably won’t have it in the proper context should I ever be asked about the franchise again. On the other hand, it’s a book that I get to count towards my annual total.

I thought I recognized the author’s name. I thought perhaps he was one of the authors on the The Starcraft Archive, but I was mistaken. I remembered the name, vaguely, because he’s the comic book writer who last year said that Wonder Woman, canonically, is gay. Which is kinda overreach, if you ask me: If you’re just a small contributor to a canon, you don’t get to pronounce ex cathedra things that cover the canon which began before your birth and might well continue after your death. But I don’t tend to write in existing mythos because I’m a control freak.

At any rate, I guess this book is a prequel to the game series, but I’m less clear on the game mythos than I am on the modern DC mythos (this research notwithstanding). But as a standalone book, it’s all right. It’s set in a corporate future, the kind where the big corporations have replaced nations, have their own armies, and have re-written international law to the benefit of the corporations. One organization, the Carrington Institute, is working to expose wrongdoing among the corporations, and it has working for it a woman named Joanna Dark (of the game title). A young Mary Sue, she’s very good at fighting and shooting and whatnot.

So when one of the corporation’s CEO disappears, it triggers a race for his successor, and it comes down to a woman programmer-turned-executive and a doctor with a pharmaceutically enhanced henchman. The Carrington Institute prefers one over the other, and it looks to help her by finding a mysterious blackmailer who has information on the other candidate, who might have triggered a global pandemic.

There’s a lot of corporate intrigue going on, people not knowing what other peoples’ angles are, and so forth. Then there are some action set pieces which lack a certain amount of verisimilitude (people flipping up tables or ducking behind sofas in a firefight kinda thing).

But, as I said, it was okay.

And if you’re wondering, is there room in this other canon that the writer is working in for gay characters? Well, there is a moment where a woman touches another woman’s face tenderly, so all indicators point to yes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if you’re known more as an outspoken person than a writer, people are going to be more sensitive to your outspokenness than to your writing, and that’s not a good thing for your reputation as a writer qua writer.

So, how does it stack up on the scale of books from video games? Better than The Dig, not as good as HALO: First Strike and most of the aforementioned Starcraft Archive. There are probably more in the series, but I’m not sure I’ll run out to get them.

Good Book Hunting: May 5, 2017, ABC Books

So I accidentally, after a twenty minute drive into the northwest corner of Springfield where I had no other pressing business, wandered into ABC Books. Well, not so accidentally: it was on a pretext of picking up gift cards to include in Thank You notes that my children will write to their teachers for the end of the school year. What? ABC Books is having a 50% off sale? Brothers and sisters, that is a Buy One Get One Free sale on books, if you know what I mean.

So I got some free.

You know, I’ve been reading a lot of philosophy and Eastern religion stuff of late in addition to listening to audio courses on the same (I’ve been holding out on you, and I promise to make it up to you once I get around to it). What, you don’t believe me? See this and this and this and this. As to the Western philosophy, trust me or not.

As I’ve read some ancient texts (including the Tao Te Ching and others, I’ve started to bog down on them. So I’ve commented to my beautiful wife that I might be done with them. Just in case I am not.

However, that did not preclude me from picking up books on theology, primary texts in Western Philosophy, and secondary work.

Including:

  • Makers of the Modern Theological Mind: H. Richard Niebuhr. As you know, I read the book in this series on his brother. So why not complete the set of the brothers, but not (yet) this particular series?
     
  • Understanding Zen, a book that sounds like a contradiction. How Zen!
     
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume. I’m listening to a Great Ideas In Philosophy lecture series, and as I’ve gone along, I’ve noted how many of the primary texts I already own. Except this one, until now.
     
  • The Tao of Elvis. I read The Tao of Pooh last year. I’ll probably read this book this year.
     
  • The Search for Satori and Creativity. Honestly, I’m a bit light on what satori means. I know the martial arts school I attend considers itself a bit satori. So I’d better bone up on this before someone kicks me in the groin about it.

With the gift cards, the total was eleventy billion and nineteen dollars (including some comics and such for the children). I don’t know how fast I’ll jump on these books in my reading–I’ve quite obviously been bogged down a bit, with a number of books in the middle of completion and the number of bookmarks available for new reading reaching critically low levels. But I just feel smarter for having these books in my library.

Good Book Hunting: Friday, April 28, 2017: Friends of the Clever Library Book Sale

We made the semi-annual trip down to the fire station in Clever this afternoon to sample the book sale. This one was smaller than the one in the autumn of last year, which was smaller than book sales before it. I’m afraid it’s trailing off and might some day not be a thing. Which is fortunate: I like smaller sales because they’re more relaxed.

But I did find some things:

Amongst my gleanings:

  • A biography of Billy Mitchell, which I must read soon as he is the fellow for whom Milwaukee’s airport is named, and when we get to Milwaukee later this year, I’ll want to tell the story to my inattentive children. Which will be weird, since we’re not flying and won’t be that close to the airport.
     
  • A couple books of poetry: Silent Flowers, a collection of haiku and Mortal Acts Mortal Words, an older self-published looking collection.
     
  • Two Rogue Warrior titles, Seal Force Alpha and Echo Platoon.
     
  • A collection of Jules Verne, which includes Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Clipper of the Clouds.
     
  • Zen and the Art of Knitting. I’ve got Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance around here somewhere, and I expect this will be a good follow-up to it.
     
  • The Last Christmas Show by Bob Hope. I’ve queued up a number of Bob Hope books for when I go through a Bob Hope books phase much like I did with George Burns last year.

In addition, we picked up a couple of DVDs for a buck, including Captain America: Civil War, L.A. Story, and Short Circuit.

So that might be it for the book sales for me for the spring. I’m not sure I want to trek all the way to Bolivar (for those of you not native to Springfield, that’s an exaggeration, but only a slight one) to the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale for books (I’ve already trekked that far for LPs, but that’s another story). Which is all right: My book reading has slowed this spring for some reason, and I’ve been borrowing from the library in areas I’d like to study but that are underrepresented at book sales (the Zen of knitting notwithstanding).

Total spent, after tacking on another Friends of the Clever County Library card (which I also renew semi-annually): $18.

Book Report: Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu (2007)

Book coverI might have read this book before; there was something familiar about it. Of course, it would seem familiar, as the Dao is out there, and I’m only gleaning what already exists in all of us and the universe.

At any rate, the Tao Te Ching is a collection of 70-something short verses built for contemplation of the Tao. Like many Eastern koan-style verses, the meaning of the lines is paradoxic on a surface reading, but once you get into the spirit of the thing, you get a better idea of how the paradoxes are resolved through recognition of the universal at the root of both horns of the paradox.

So the effect is calming as you go through it a bit, relaxing, but then it becomes a little repetitive because once you grok it, additional repetitions and slight twists of the theme don’t add much. Or perhaps I’m not deep enough into it to get the subtler meanings of the repetition.

I borrowed the book from the library as part of my recent Eastern history/philosophy focus, but I wouldn’t be surpised if a closer inspection of my read bookshelves already contains a copy of this translation even. If not, I’ll think about picking one up if I can find one inexpensively (the list price is $17, and I don’t think it’s Tao to spend that much on a book).

I don’t think I could pursue Taoism as a full-time philosophy, as looking for the natural, going-with-the-current-of-life action for most situations for me would be to take a nap, and I think life requires more action than that. But it should also have a sense of peace that the Way emphasizes.

Book Report: Spiderman: The Octopus Agenda by Diane Duane (1996)

Book coverApparently, in the middle 1990s, Marvel and Byron Preiss/Putnam put out a series of novels based on Marvel properties. In hardback. These books preceded the new movies that revitalized the Marvel house, by the way. These books, it would seem, did not do it.

This book is not the first of the Spider-Man books; it mentions a couple of other adventures in the past, and they seem to be building to something, as elements of those previous books led to elements in this book.

At any rate, the plot: Spider-Man finds out that Doc Ock is plotting something, and it might have something to do with a company he’d investigated previously, including some teaming up with Venom in Miami (in a previous book). Venom (Eddie Brock) is also on the trail of the company, which seems to have supplied Doctor Octopus with nuclear material that the bad doctor is going to use to crash the world’s financial markets and then destroy some cities to purify the human race. So it’s standard super hero fare.

But, unfortunately, a Spider-Man comic (or film) might be hard to transfer over to a novel, and Ms. Duane doesn’t capture the essence and the kinetic energy of Spider-Man. It’s told a bit like a straight thriller (with Spider-Man in the center of it), but the pacing is not as fast as you would expect if you were raised on Spider-Man comics, and there’s a bit too much day-to-day interaction between Peter Parker and Mary Jane (along with their housekeeping and her modeling jobs). So it’s a bit slow.

Additionally, there are some errors and oversights in the book. If I recall, it refers to the place where the license plate attaches to the car as the fender instead of the bumper. It calls the headquarters of the Fantastic Four the Fantastic Four’s Headquarters instead of the Baxter Building. It talks about the sound of Spider-Man’s footfalls as he walks into an abandoned subway station (which sounds loud for what are essentially socks, and walking on the floor seems very un-Spider-Manish). And a couple other things that were jarring.

On the other hand, the book has moments that struck right or fit in with my worldview. When MJ takes a job doing voice work for a Captain Planet and the Planeteers style cartoon, one of the other says, “Please God, twenty years from now when everyone’s reading Tolstoy and Kipling again, all this will seem very silly.” (Spoiler alert: Twenty years later, they’re probably planning a live action Captain Planet and the Planeteers reboot instead of reading Kipling (didn’t they just do a live action Jungle Book reboot? They were rebooting the cartoon no doubt.)) In another, an elderly cell phone hacker calls a grown man Stevie, and this reminded me of an older woman I knew who called a distinguished doctor “Jeffy” and the former state legislator and current County Clerk “Shanie.” So that rang true.

Also, in 1996, we get a 21st century diatribe also from the older hacker woman:

“You’re being circumspect for reasons of your own,” said Doris. “I’m not going to pry. Let’s let it pass. But bring me your wife’s phone, all right? If your problem is solvable, I want to see if I can solve it. For one thing, if her phone has the covert chip in place, we’ll be able to see some other data–time and location information, other things–which the phone company’s own records won’t necessarily reflect. There may even be recordings of some voice material.”

Peter’s eyes opened wide at that. “Recordings? How?”

Doris smiled at him. “Our snoopy government. Peter, there are more intelligence-gathering bureaus running around in this country doing their gathering than most of the government would ever like you to know. They’d quote you ‘national security’ as a reason for it–and to some extent they might be right. But the truth is that governments are just naturally nosy, and big ones are much nosier than others, and we have one of the biggest. A lot of calls are monitored, although everyone denies it. There’s no use in them denying it, really. The technology makes it easy now, especially since our cell phones systems are still almost all analog, which any kid with a scanner can listen in on. And one of the most basic human vices is the desire to look through the keyhole and see what the neighbors are really doing. When things go digital, the monitoring may lessen a little. The signal is harder to break, and consumers are getting more sensitive to the issue. Which is as it should be. But governments will still fight back, doing their best to fight tighht voice-encryption methods. By their own lights, they’re right to do so, they feel they’re protecting their own interests.” Doris sighed a little. “The NSA in particular monitors a lot of calls all over the country. Computers do it for them, taking random samplings of bandwidth and searching for certain keywords in conversations–guns, bombs, drugs, that kind of thing. If something dangerous-sounding turns up, a little bell goes off somewhere, and a live monitor quietly comes into the circuit to determine whether the threat is real. Other countries do much the same. In fact, the NSA learned the technique from the British, a while after the troubles started in Northern Ireland. As far as I know, every call from Britain to Ireland and vice versa is still routinely computer-sampled for suspect content. And I think they do the same, just for general interest–and again, with an eye to Ireland, and their own drug-smuggling problems, and so forth–with everything that comes in from the U.S. and Canada via the transatlantic cable and satellite downlink stations on the south coast of the U.K. GCHQ passes on anything interesting that they ‘hear’ to the NSAm and the NSA returns the favor at its end.”

Peter shook his head in astonishment. “Is that legal?”

Doris gave him an excessively wry smile. “It must be, dear. They’re the government aren’t they?

My goodness, that sounds current, doesn’t it? Except for the analog bit and prediction that the digital will make it harder (spoiler alert: It doesn’t).

At any rate, it’s an okay book, more of a thriller than a Spider-Manesque story, although it has Spider-Man characters. As it deals with cell phones, it’s more current than a lot of the fiction I read and has aged pretty well in that regard. I might pick up some of the others in the line as I come across them.

(As a reminder, Ms. Duane once stopped by the comments section here (well, there on Blogspot, but this blog is here now) and discussed doing Star Trek work-for-hire in the book report for My Enemy, My Ally. Which was cool. I have a lot of respect for the work-for-hire and the dedicated couple-books-a-year people except for the people churning out most of the middle 80s Executioner novels.)

Yesterday’s Reading in Review

So, yesterday, I read the following:

  • A little bit of Plato’s Phaedo.
  • A portion of the Akkadian myth of Marduk and Tiamat.
  • The first half of the Tao Te Ching
  • Alien Legion #10, an Epic/Marvel comic book from 1985.

Geez, I feel like I am in college again.

Except I wasn’t that diligent about reading in college. A couple illustrations:

  • One semester, I tried to keep up with the reading, briefly. I was taking six classes of philosophy and English, so it amounted to about 200 pages per night. That meant I got up at five, worked a couple hours at the grocery store, went to classes, went back to work at the grocery store for a couple hours, went to a campus even sometimes, and then came home to read until midnight. I did this for two weeks my junior or senior year, and I kept up with the assigned reading. But I realized if anything made me fall behind, I would never catch up. So I went back to my normal pattern of keeping up with the classes and picking and choosing the texts to read.
     
  • One day, I was standing in the English department, leaning against a wall waiting for a meeting with a professor, when Russ Reising, the literature professor, came along. I was reading The Blithesdale Romance as I stood there, which I was supposed to already have finished for his class. I held up the book so he could see I was reading it, and he looked over the top of it to see where I was, which was not far into it indeed. “Almost finished,” I said, slamming the book closed to hide how untrue that was. Later in class, he said, “How about the ending, Brian?”
     
  • One semester, I took a course on Ben Jonson, the playwright contemporary to Shakespeare, and (predictably) I fell behind in the reading for the class, so in the week leading up to finals week, I read a play a night (which wasn’t too bad–it wasn’t 200 pages a night, but it was a bit of a slog). The last class before the final, he said anyone who had an A in the class already could skip the final, and, as it turns out, I did. The A was on the basis of comparing Jonson’s play Sejanus His Fall to Machiavelli’s The Prince and to show how many of the rules Sejanus broke. Apparently, and unbeknown to me, the professor had written a book similar to my paper, and I didn’t come across it in my research. Because, face it, my research was to take things I’d already read in other classes and apply them to topics of the current class to streamline my paper writing and research. I didn’t go looking for scholarly work on it. As it turns out, my reading was not required. But it comprises volume one of a two-volume set of Jonson I picked up later, so I only have to read the second when I find it.

Not included in yesterday’s reading: Perfect Dark: Initial Vector, a book based on the video game series that I picked up after Perfect Dark was the answer in a trivia night a couple weeks ago. My mother-in-law asked me on Sunday what I was reading, and I’d just started that paperback.

So if you ask me what I’m reading, the day that you ask me is apparently very important as to whether I give the impression of a well read scholar or a garden variety geek.

Book Report: Love by Danielle Steel (1984)

Book coverThis book is a collection of love poems written by 70s and 80s best-selling novelist Danielle Steel. It’s a poetry series of sorts, sort of a concept album of poetry describing the break-up of a relationship, the loneliness thereafter, and then the resumption of dating and perhaps the start of a new, lasting relationship.

The poems themselves are not bad–a cut above some of the things I read in chapbooks and whatnot–but the poems have a collegiate feel to them. The lyrics have a good sense of rhythm and some nice imagery, but suffer from excessive line breakery–where phrases are chopped into separate lines because that’s how one does poetry. Or did in the 1970s and 1980s and in scholastic notebooks.

At any rate, I got the book for a buck at Hooked on Books on their outdoor cart o’ cheap thrills, so it was worth my purchase. It’s still available on Amazon, though, so if you’re so inclined, you can click below. Remember, every time you purchase an item through the Amazon links I provide, I get absolutely nothing from it because Amazon had a mad-on for Missouri from time immemorial (in that I don’t remember when it started). I think it was because Missouri wanted them to collect sales taxes; Amazon does now, but it doesn’t give me a twopence for all these sweet, sweet outgoing links. And to be honest, I’m not sure if I’d want them to suddenly allow me back in the program, as I’d have to prolly manually update thousands of links on this site for a couple bucks a year. But I digress.