Book Report: The Presidents Tidbits and Trivia by Sid Frank and Arden Davis Melick (1984)

Book coverThis book is a coffee table sized book of small trivia bits about the presidents (through Ronald Reagan, although someone helpfully appended Bush, Clinton, and Bush in pen at the end of one list). The material is not sourced, and it’s not reliable–two separate vignettes give different stories about Ulysses S Grant’s name (one is that he has no middle name; the other is that he became US Grant when someone filled out his application to West Point incorrectly, not using his real name, Hiram Ulysses Grant). And this is a later edition of the book, which was first published in 1972, so some things have been updated to reflect the new presidents (Ford, Carter, and Reagan), but some of them have not.

So you wouldn’t want to cite this book in a paper (well, unless you’re a journalist working for a paper, in which case there are no consequences nor even embarrassment for getting something wrong).

But it did remind me of some of the presidents that one doesn’t think of often and made me want to read a biography of them. Polk and Taylor come to mind, actually. But the relative dearth of biographies in the places I look (book sales and church rummage sales) will ensure I don’t rush out and buy a number of these books to put on my shelves for years.

So I got something out of it, perhaps just as much as one could expect.

How To Tell What Song Just Came On Brian’s iPod At The Gym (XI)

If you see me running on the track at the gym, and if my right arm looks like it’s twirling a lever action shot gun instead of pumping, you should know immediately what song I’m listening to.

“You Could Be Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses. In addition to being on one of the Use Your Illusion albums, it’s on the Terminator 2: Judgment Day soundtrack which explains why a young(er) Arnold Schwarzeneggar is in the video linked above.

Strangely enough, this is my favorite GnR song. I mean, “Welcome to the Jungle” is okay, but it’s a little self-conscious by now. And “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” isn’t an upbeat workout song.

Good Book Hunting Saturday, September 16, 2017: Branson, Missouri

Yesterday, we found ourselves in Branson, Missouri, with a little time on our hands, so we visited:

  • Calvin’s Used Books (one of the best used book stores in Missouri last I heard), where I bought a number of books because at $2 each, that’s almost as good as $1 each.
     
  • The Shepherd of the Hills Humane Society Thrift Store, where the books were significantly cheaper. I walked out with a box full of books for a buck fifty.
     
  • The State of the Ozarks festival in Hollister, which had a couple of booths with comic book and regular book authors, and I always like to pick up some of their work, although I don’t tend to get to the books quickly.

I got:

  • Five comic books from Anthony Hunter: Two issues of Lame Brains and the first three issues of Silent Sillies. Which proves my thoughts of “Are these the last comic books I ever read?” were indeed premature.
     
  • The Proof of God by Larry Witham.
     
  • Three by the lately departed Jerry Pournelle: Janissaries (which I bought even though its front cover is almost completely detached), Exiles to Glory, and King David’s Spaceship.
     
  • Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt
     
  • Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman
     
  • The Wards of Iasos by local author J. Cristopher Wilson. I saw him at LibraryCon 2017, but he was speaking in a panel when I passed by his table on the way out, so I didn’t buy his book. I saw him and caught a little of a talk he gave at the Ozark Mini Maker Faire the next week. When I saw him yesterday at a table in Hollister, his old home town, I told him if he was going to keep following me to fairs and festivals, I’d buy his book. Now, when I see him around, I’ll remind him of that.
     
  • “A” is for Alibi by Sue Grafton. It’s an early edition, but I think it’s book club.
     
  • The Face by David St. John, a novella in verse.
     
  • Voodoo, Ltd. by Ross Thomas. I’ve already read it, but the copy I read is paperback, and this is a first printing. Note to self: Do not put this on the to-read shelves, or I will have to read it again before I move it to the read shelves. THERE ARE RULES.
     
  • Finding my Father by Rod McKuen. It’s prose and looks to be a memoir of some sort with a title Roger Waters and I can appreciate.
     
  • The Mycenean World by John Chadwick.
     
  • Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen. He takes a lot of hits from non-believers and otherly denominated Christians, but what is his theology? I aim to find out.
     
  • A companion to the television/video series Charlton Heston Presents The Bible. Without the video.
     
  • Two books of photography, both called simply San Francisco.
     
  • The World of Herb Caen by Barnaby Conrad about the legendary San Francisco columnist, and by “legendary,” I mean “mostly forgotten by the illiterate generations following ours.”
     
  • The Cotswolds, a picture and guide book to that region of England, because I haven’t read a Cotswold or similarly named book in weeks.

Someone from San Francisco (or a Friscophile) donated a bunch of books to the thrift store, as there were volumes of Rod McKuen poems along with the picture books and memoir I snagged above.

My wife got a couple of Daniel Silva books she read as library books and wants to re-read and a copy of an inspirational book, Joni, to replace a copy she recently gave away. The boys got three or four books themselves, but these are not pictured because they’ve already taken them away and probably have read most of them by now.

This should keep me in browsing and reading for a bit. Now, to get to finishing the books I have half-completed so I can get to them, maybe. Except for the Ross Thomas book. I really, really have to remember to put that on the read shelves.

They Weren’t Comic Books When I Read Them

If you’re asking what the last comic book I read was (and you might just be, or might would have been being if you read the linked post yesterday instead of reading me weekly, in which case we’ll get to the last comic book I read and the significance of my reading comic books, close parentheses–oops, did I say that out loud? I meant), it was a Classics Illustrated version of David Copperfield. Now, you’re saying, “Man, that must have been hard, collapsing a Dickens novel into 40 pages of panels and sentences!”

You have no idea. I am certain the comic did not ruin the book for me when I get around to reading it in prose. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll actually know what is going on and discover the book is not actually a music video cut-scene style collage of characters when I read the book. But as for a last comic book that I might ever read, David Copperfield is pretty hoity-toity.

On the back, there’s a list of other titles available in Classics Illustrated editions.

It’s not a comprehensive list, as the numbers skip wildly. But I took it to be a challenge to my well-readhood, so I’ve identified the books I’ve read in actual book form below the fold.
Continue reading “They Weren’t Comic Books When I Read Them”

Personal Goal Reached, Revisited

So one of my goals for this year was to read all the comic books I own.

Well, to finish reading the comics I’d purchased, not read all the comics I owned again. Last year, I organized my comic books into short boxes and stored them.

However, I had another short box of comic books that I’d bought in 2008 at a garage sale at Edgar Road Elementary. They were marked 10 cents each, but I bought the whole box for $4 or $5 without counting them. It turns out they came to almost 100. Plus, I’d picked up a couple books at Vintage Stock in recent years. And I’d bought a couple comics for my kids that they’ve then sold to me for a discount when they wanted to buy Pokemon cards. In retrospect, even though they sold the books to me at a discount, I have bought the books twice which makes me a not-so-smart shopper. It also explains why I have single issues of mutant titles–when it seems inexplicable, I realize the cover has Cable on it, and the youngest thought Cable was cool for some reason when he (the youngest, not Cable) was six years old.

At any rate, I decided to read those comics this year so I could enumerate them in the spreadsheet of my collection and then store them properly with the others in an organized fashion. So it’s sort of like how I treat my actual library: I get, then I read, then I enumerate. Of course, there is not much organization in my book library at all, so the comic book collection quite differs from real books.

As you might know, I have been diligently knocking off comic books throughout the year, often as a break from reading actual books or after completing a chapter of a real book like The Grapes of Wrath. The Edgar Road Box, which I would shorten to ERB if I planned on ever speaking of it again, contained pretty good sets of mid-80s comics like Alpha Flight, Power Pack, and The New Mutants, but I was not familiar with those series, so I pushed them off.

But I eventually got to them.

And this week, I finished the last of my comic books.

Now that I’m done with the personal goal, I lack a sense of accomplishment.

On the one hand, as you might expect, I look at the end of the stack and I think, “Is this the last time I read a comic book?” I don’t tend to go to the comic book shop looking for comic books these days, and I haven’t even been to Vintage Stock for months. I haven’t been to Missouri Comics since it closed and moved to Florida (I wonder whether the recent hurricane has wiped him out?) The answer to this is probably not, since I’ll still pick up stuff from the independent comic book publishers at -Cons, and if I discover a small box cheap at a garage sale, I might still be tempted. But who knows?

On the other hand, now that I’m done with it, I look at it in terms of a personal goal, and think, “That’s the best you can do for personal goals each year?” To be honest, my annual goals in the past have been tied to certain metrics. Ten years ago, they were: Read 70 books (I read 125); write 50 rough drafts (I wrote 12, most of which ended up on this blog eventually); submit 50 pieces to magazines (I submitted 12; one, though, appeared in a national magazine); write 3 applications (Junk Data; ReadTrack; WriteTrack–0 completed). I also had a nebulous goal (exercise more) and a specific goal (learn to play piano). I didn’t do so good with those goals, although even today I’m tracking the books I read and get close to or more than 70 per year. And I do exercise more, although I don’t track it.

This year, though, I had more discrete goals: To get a black belt; to do a triathlon; to read all the comics I own; to publish a book of poetry. I’m three quarters of the way through the list, and I wonder if perhaps I should not have looked for something more meaningful than these. Or at least more meaningful than reading comic books as an annual goal.

I mean, I’m ::cough, cough:: closing in on fifty years old. Reading comic books in middle age is not something one does. At least, I look around my cohort and don’t see anyone else doing it. I’m not sure I’d even feel comfortable mentioning it to anyone I know. So let’s keep this between you and I, gentle reader.

Of course, when wanting to have a goal of something more meaningful, you have to have a concept of what is really meaningful. Perhaps that is what I’m struggling with when being down on this particular little pastime. I mean, I enjoyed reading the comic books a bit, although I’m more of a book reader these days. I take a certain pride in my collection (I should add an s, as I am proud of most of my collections). Perhaps that’s meaningful enough, and perhaps annual goals can be that trivial.

Who knows? Perhaps I should set as an annual goal for 2018 Get over the mid-life crisis you’ve been having since you were sixteen years old.

At any rate, since I did bother to list them, below the fold you can geek out with the complete list of my comic books as of today.

Continue reading “Personal Goal Reached, Revisited”

It Would Have Been Less Romantic That Way

As you might know, gentle reader, I met my beautiful wife on the Internet when I posted a poem on a Usenet newsgroup (ask yer grandpa), and she liked it (fuller story here).

This is the poem I posted (and which should appear in a forthcoming volume of poetry when I get around to finishing it up.

Exploring, we discovered Bee Tree Park.
Tree branches laced like lazy fingers behind our head,
above the trail, above the naked rock,
where neon graffiti was worn to earthen tones.
The slow Mississippi whispered by.
Fingers woven like dreams and the night
before falling asleep.
Her warm palm pulsing, we paused
to watch the barges wander down
and sip the summer breeze.
Her voice murmured cooly in my ears,
she spilled her hair over my shoulder,
maple syrup dripping down my chest,
“This would be a great place to make love.”
I smiled, ruffling kisses through her hairs,
a butterfly on a field of clover,
and rustled in her ear, “We are.”

The whole scene and setup would definitely be less romantic with a severed human foot in it.

A Song I Didn’t Need To Hear

As I might have mentioned, gentle reader, I spend most of my time with a bit of a double-effect narrator going on. One of the latest memes is including an image and some text with something about you, and an accompanying bit of text offering some Morgan Freeman narration over the top, expressing that this was not so. In my mind, even when I’m in the moment, I know that the moment is passing, and that I’m reaching an age where more moments have passed than are coming, especially in any particular given situation. Especially as my kids age; there will come a time when I’m holding one of my children, and I’ll put him down, and I will never pick him up again. I saw that in a listicle recently, and my boys are 11 and 9 now, and they’re getting harder to pick up. See also The Future Forgotten, Half-Empty Bottle of Mr. Bubble.

At any rate, on a recent lawn mowing excursion, I heard the new Brad Paisley song, “Last Time for Everything”:

You know, that about describes my daily interior monologue. Well, not quite, but I’m always conscious of it, often to the ruin of the present moment.

And the little chorus, which matches a protest of my one corner of my mind when it presents the entropic litany, reminds us to fully embrace every moment while we’re in it, but that doesn’t, in the song, redeem the dark enumeration of the verses. Much like reading a bunch of books on Eastern philosophy and Buddhist-themed mindfulness has yet to turn me into a peppy people person or silence that Morgan Freeman-style narration in my head.

But I’ll keep trying. Until the last time.

Do Not Confuse Coney Dog With These Imposters

As you might remember, gentle reader, my cat was recently fitted with a Edwardian collar after surgery. He spent a couple days sequestered in my office and went a little stir crazy, so we let him out and took off the collar since he wasn’t paying attention to the stitches.

Well, with the collar off, he found them and irritated his surgery site, so he’s back in the cone of shame.

Now, just as a reminder, we call him by many appellations now, but remember, he’s still the Big Bopper. Do not confuse him for someone else.

The Real Thing:


The Big Bopper

Not to be confused with:


Ming the Merciless


A Triceratops


“Weird Al” Yankovic
in the “Dare to be Stupid” video


Marvel Villain Doctor Bong

Although, to be honest, when he scratches the cone in the bed in the middle of the night, he sounds like Doctor Bong.

He gets the stitches out in a couple of days, at which point we will have to go back to our regularly scripted humor at his expense.

Pre-Daft

So I saw this ad:

And I thought, “It’s that one guy from Daft Punk.”

But no.

The ad is from the back of a 1986 comic book. Yamaha is trading on its reputation for motorcycles in advertisements for its musical keyboards.

Little did they know it would create THE look for DJs in the 21st century.

The Wisdom of Confucius (I)

As I mentioned, I’m working through a book on Confucius. Although overall I’m not really impressed (which I’ll get to in the book report), there are some nuggets that align with my experience.

Such as:

He who requires much from himself and little from others, will keep himself from being the object of resentment.

You know, that sounds pretty good on the first read, especially as it’s a prescription for self-reliance and forgiveness, but the second half of it is not necessarily correct. The reason to require much of yourself and to recognize that others won’t live up to your standards is good as a way of looking at life, for achieving much yourself and for accepting others as themselves and not how you would have them be, is that it will give you peace of mind. Others might well resent you, but, hey, you don’t expect understanding and grace from others, do you?

A Father’s Pockets Are A Cornucopia

A couple years back (and by a couple years, I mean a decade), all the cool kids did posts where they emptied their pockets, took a picture, and talked about what they had. The meme ran through the gun bloggers, so you had an assortment of knives, pocket guns, spare magazines, and whatnot.

I’m a little behind the times, but bear with me.

As I have mentioned, I like wearing looser khakis with decent pocket space. I need to wear a waist size up and cinch the waist with a belt to accommodate my fat thighs, and this leaves me with lots of pocket space. Enough to hold me until tactical harem pants come in style, anyway.

How much pocket space do they give me? Plenty, as demonstrated by what I carried in them on a recent trip to the local Silver Dollar City amusement park.

So here’s my junk on the table:

  • The obligatory bottle of sun screen. The lotion, because I suspect the spray-on bottles provide plausible appliability–that is, you can say you’ve put on sun screen, but mostly you’ve sprayed some at your body and not actually covered your skin enough to protect yourself.
     
  • The Thoughts of Confucious, a paperback I brought along because I don’t like most rides. Was I the guy reading a book in the amusement park (while wearing khakis, no less)? Yes. During the Southern Gospel Picnic, too. Talk about missing the spirit.
     
  • A large stuffed horse for winning the shoot-water-at-a-target horse race game. And two smaller horses given as consolation prizes to my boys, who aren’t yet as fast as their father at bringing the stream of water on target. But soon, they will beat me at everything, so I have to enjoy these wins when I can.

    Full disclosure: The big horse rode in my shirt pocket, not the pants. But it went with the khakis, which were not actually khaki in color but black.br> 

  • A wallet that shrank as the day went on.
     
  • A key ring that I recently reduced to the keys I actually use from a larger set that includes what looks to be a number of house keys to…what? My home in Old Trees? My mother’s house? I have no idea.
     
  • A pocket knife that I used to open a bag of chips at the park. “Do you only use that for opening things?” my oldest son asked. I’m not sure what else he would use a pocket knife for, but the question does not help his case that he should have a pocket knife.
     
  • An iPhone that, I’m proud to say, only has one screen of apps on it, and most of them are things Apple won’t let me uninstall. I AM A LUDDITE.
     
  • A notepad and a pen. In the old days, I’d use this for scribbling down thoughts and poem fragments. Now it’s mostly shopping lists and films I want to rent from the video store.
     
  • A small lighter. I don’t smoke, but if I’m ever in a situation where I need fire, I’ll really need it badly, and I’d hate to spend that time futilely trying to start a fire with sticks or stones and lamenting if only I had a thirty cent lighter now.

Not depicted: The theme park’s paper/calendar of events and a collection of change that grew as the wallet shrank.

In the olden days, the everyday pocket contents would have included wipes, little toys to amuse little boys, and whatnot. But that’s when the post would have been entitled “A Daddy’s Pockets” instead of “A Father’s Pockets”.

Book Report: The Catswold Portal by Shirley Rosseau Murphy (1992)

Book coverI picked up this book right after reading Cotswold Mistress because they had similar titles, and I figured reading them right after the other would lend itself to a certain symmetry. Or something. Besides, there would be no better time to read it than when I had the notion of reading the two similarly-titled books in succession.

I bought this book new with the proceeds of a gift card in 1998 or 1999, when the book was relatively new. I remember picking it up at the Barnes and Noble in Ladue, not far from my then-beautiful-girlfriend (note that the “then” here refers to the ‘girlfriend’ and not the ‘not now beautiful’ because she is now my beautiful wife and remains as beautiful or more beatiful now). Where was I before I was guarding my flank? Ah, yes. I bought this book back then because it had a cat on the cover, and I was a new cat owner. The back cover indicated the book involved a portal to a world of cats. So I thought it might be interesting.

And although I have picked it up a couple of times in those almost twenty years, I often found myself wondering if I was in the mood for a 400-page fantasy book about a portal to a cat world. And the answer was then “No.” But the similar titles to the two books gave me the push to get into it.

As I might have alluded, this is a fantasy world, but the portal does not lead to a world of cats; instead, it leads to a world that includes a race of shapeshifters who can turn into cats. In our world, there are a number of people of this race, but they don’t know it.

The main character, Melissa, is such a woman who was to be cultivated by an evil queen from the Netherworld to lure that shapeshifting race, the Catswold, into a trap. But as she was being taken through the portal, the queen’s henchman was ambushed by a rebel woman who then used magic to make Melissa forget her past and the upper world and then who raised her as a peasant. Melissa, though, is drawn to her destiny at the castle of the evil queen where the king has an agenda of his own and beds Melissa to produce an heir to the kingdom, cementing his position. When the queen discovers this tryst, she turns Melissa into a cat and has her dumped in the outer world. There, the widower of Melissa’s childhood friend Alice is a painter who has lost his creative spark finds a cat and then a new model in a mysterious woman (Melissa, who is still trying to learn about her past).

At any rate, it’s high fantasy with a lot of intrigue, a lot of subplots, and a lot of textured writing throughout 300 pages. Around that time, though, the focus shifts into narrative overdrive, and we get to the end and the resolutions with a couple flashes of the textured writing. Plotlines slowly developed are abandoned or dealt with in a paragraph. It’s almost as though the author thought initially of a trilogy or pair of books or a longer book, but got toward the end and just wrapped it all up. As late as about page 300, elements were being introduced. Elements that would seem to be major elements–like a giant black dragon from the Hell Pit that represents the fundamental evil in all worlds and universes. There’s no way this finishes in 100 pages, I thought. And it did. And the black dragon gets a two paragraph send-off.

So it’s a pretty good bit of high fantasy that finishes too quickly for its own good.

Did it really take me two weeks to read one book? Well, yes; it is high fantasy with deep, rich writing as I said, and I’m spending a little less time reading these days. Hopefully I’ll complete my next read in a shorter interval. Spoiler alert: It has a completely unrelated title.

The Source Of That Thing Daddy Always Said

When it was time for the children to pick up, their preschool teachers would sing:

Clean up, clean up,
everybody, everywhere.
Clean up, clean up,
Everybody do your share.

I think it might be akin to the Lutheran Common Table Prayer, because I heard another pastor sing it to encourage the visit-end toy pick up.

Here at Nogglestead, we had another little ditty for the same purpose:

What you got, you got to put it in the closet.
What you got, you got to put it in the toy box.
Put it away, put it away, put it away now.
Put it away, put it away, put it away now.

Today, we heard the source material on the radio, and the now-eleven year old smiled a bit when he remembered the aforementioned pick up song.

I’ve laid these little touches in their memories like pleasant little Easter eggs for them to remember suddenly sometimes.

The Narrow Escapes of Nogglestead

This morning, while taking my children to school, our loud music scattered a couple of deer a couple houses up from us, and as I drove slowly by them, on fled from the loud music pouring from my car. Too small to leap the rail fence, it ran until it found a spot it could comfortably duck under. My oldest son, whose name has five letters so he gets to ride in the front, and I chuckled about the deer not liking Billy Idol. As I continued on the farm road, I was working on the humorous Facebook post I would make for it.

We went over a couple of large hills, and as we came down the hill and towards Wilson’s Creek, I saw in the distance a car with its flashers on on the side of the road. So I tried to figure out what was going on and slowed down. The car started moving, and I saw beyond it a truck sitting with it’s flashers on behind it, and I looked to see what was going on.

Then….IT broke from the trees and the shadows on the right side of the road.

A cow, escaped from a nearby pasture.

It moved into the left, oncoming traffic lane; apparently, it was some kind of English breed. I stayed, behind it, driving slowly because it’s impolite to pass livestock on the right. Also, I was not sure when it might decide to move into my lane.

The cow ran from the loud music pouring from my car. It was no longer Billy Idol; instead, it was Against the Current.

I’ve never seen a cow double-time it like that since Top Secret!

Someone came out on a four wheeler to get it, but I herded it into its pasture as it fled from me and turned left at the first drive. Perhaps it wasn its pasture. Perhaps it was just a quiet pasture, or at least a pasture that would be quiet when the loud Toyota was past.

I don’t know how close it was; if I was going my normal rate of speed, would I have been past the cow when it broke onto the road, or would I just have been too close to stop in time? Idle speculation at this point.

But I did get a Facebook status out of it.

Feel free to scrub it of context and submit it to “City People Are So Dumb!!!!” listicles.

Every Day At Nogglestead Is Like “The Purloined Letter”

So my children started their own business, again. This time (or perhaps back then since it was the day before yesterday, and their business models change quickly) it’s secure document disposal. That is, they discovered that, when you wet a piece of paper, it becomes easier to tear. So they would wet documents and tear them for a small fee.

They used a page out of the most recent copy of Forbes magazine, but left me a little note telling me what happened.

Your magazine was a victem of circumstance

Of course, it’s reminiscent of Poe’s “The Purloined Letter“.

Not a mysterious letter. Not a victem of circumstance.

That you have to look on the back of the wadded-up, torn, and repurposed piece of paper.

He wrote the note on the back of an important letter home describing an upcoming event for one of his clubs.

Which we would not have read if we hadn’t gone all C. Auguste Dupin on him.

Raising children starts out all H.P. Lovecraft from the very moment they emerge from the birth canal and then grow into Poesque mysteries as they age.

Concept: A Heavy Metal Band Whose Songs Are Kipling Poems

You know, if we had a heavy metal version of “The Hymn of Breaking Strain”, I would totally put it on my iPod for workout music. As such, we only have Leslie Fish and Julia Ecklar singing the filk version:

My goodness, how awesome would many of Kipling’s works be in heavy metal form. Just think of “If” or “The Gods of Copybook Headings” really loud. Frankly, I’m surprised Iron Maiden hasn’t already done it.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the parlor practising the power chord on a cheap acoustic guitar.

Book Report: Cotswold Mistress by Michael Spicer (1992)

Book coverAfter reading John Carter of Mars, I was in the mood for something a little different. This is that.

It’s one of those thin British spy/detective novels, something short (159 pages) and droll. In it, Lady Jane Hildebreth, who works for a British government agency, is called upon by an American playboy and airplane designer acquaintance to attend a gathering at a rented estate in England. He brings up concerns that a couple of British engineers working to test his latest plane will die as many British engineers have recently. She pokes around, interviews a number of people, and eventually determines who in the British government might be responsible for their deaths and why.

As I mentioned, it’s a light bit of work, reminiscient of the sorts of things one got from the Doubleday Book Club three-to-a-volume in the 1960s.

As I was reading it, I told my beautiful wife that it helped if I heard the words in my head as though Elizabeth Hurley or Michelle Dockery were saying them. I feel like a bit of a traitor to my generation in that Michelle Dockery won out in the end. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen Downton Abbey more recently than Bedazzled or Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

The author, a British Minister of Parliament, had several other books in the series (all bearing Cotwold in the title) by 1992. I’m not going to go hunting for them, but I won’t avoid them. I think I bought this particular volume at a book sale or on a sale table in the library a decade or more ago in St. Louis as the book bears the Ex Library markings of the St. Louis County Library.

And I learned where Cotswold is in England and that it’s famous for its stone and pottery while asking “Where the heck is Cotswold anyway?” So I’ve got that going for me.

Book Report: John Carter of Mars: The First Five Novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (2013)

Book coverEarlier this year, Friar called John Norman’s work Burroughs pastiches, so I delved into this volume which I bought at Barnes and Noble (the version I read is the Barnes and Noble house brand, not the nice edition linked below). Well, Friar’s comment came to mind, but actually I picked up the book because I rented John Carter recently, and I wanted to compare it to the books. Which I had in a massive volume.

This book, 943 pages of sword novels and appendices/glossaries, includes the first five John Carter books: A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, and The Chessmen of Mars. I read at least the first and the last already. The first (and perhaps the first couple) I read in high school or college, and I remembered little of them except the highlights. I know I read the last later in life, perhaps after college (but not in the last dozen or so years since I’ve been writing book reports on this blog, gentle reader) because I remember the paperback copy I have of it.

At any rate, a couple plot bits/summaries to help me remember in the future:

  • A Princess of Mars really sets it up: John Carter is transported to Mars from an Arizona cave and finds that he has great strength on the planet with weaker gravity. Already a fighting man, experienced swordsman, and horseman (and a Civil War veteran, but undoubtedly we’ll have to scrub him from literature because he was on the wrong side), Carter meets and has adventures in wooing and rescuing the beautiful Dejah Thoris, eventually leading to a battle that saves her from an unwanted marriage to a rival city’s leader. Carter ends up back on earth after helping restore an oxygen-producing plant that provides the breathable atmosphere for the planet.
     
  • In The Gods of Mars, Carter returns to Mars after ten years on Earth and finds himself in the Valley Dor, the place down the river that Martians traverse to die. He finds the Therns, who are a priestly caste, who rule the valley, and the valley is attacked by the First Born, and Carter and Co find themselves taken to the bottom of the world where the first born and their goddess live. Carter finds she is no goddess, meets his son, has adventures, and leads a revolt, but his beloved Dejah Thoris is locked in a room for a year with a murderous Thern princess and a friendly princess named Thuvia who can calm Banths. The book ends with this cliffhanger.
     
  • The Warlord of Mars picks right up with John Carter trying to figure out a way to get into the locked room before a year passes. A First Born and a Thern get into the room first and take away the women, leading Carter and company to the top of the world, I think, to rescue them by leading a rebellion of the Okarians against their tyrannical overlord. As a result of his adventures, Carter has united most of the races of Mars and is appointed the Warlord of Mars, the leader of all.
     
  • Thuvia, Maid of Mars, switches gears a bit (and is the shortest of the novels in the volume). Carter’s son Carthoris, who bears some of his father’s strength and certainly his spirit, wants to woo Thuvia, but she is promised to another. She is kidnapped, and Carthoris is blamed, so he sets out to rescue her, and at the end, wins her.
     
  • The Chessmen of Mars features Tara, the daughter of Carter and Dejah Thoris, is wooed a bit forcefully by the prince of another city, but she rebuffs him as he is promised to another. A great windstorm sweeps her away, and the prince takes his cruiser to find her, but they both end up prisoners of a symbiotic race of pure brains that ride headless bodies. Tara does not recognize the prince, and he passes himself off as a mercenary. They escape and find themselves then as prisoners of a tyrant who kills enemies in a game of live action jetan (Martian chess). The prince helps to lead a rebellion against the tyrant, and the fellow to whom Tara was promised married another in the interim–so Tara can marry the mercenary she fell in love with who was the prince the whole time!

Reading them all together like this, I got a bit bored with the same tropes repeating book-to-book, and I thought things really slowed down and started repeating themselves in books four and five. With a bit more spacing out, it might be better.

I have another omnibus edition that has two of these books and another that I thought I could knock off quickly, but I’m not eager to jump into another Barsoom (the Burroughs name for Mars) story right away.

Taken in smaller doses, they’re a fun read, a bit of swashbuckling science fiction/fantasy adventure that holds up decently today if you can suspend disbelief of contemporary civilizations on Mars. Also, ageless Civil War veterans.

Books like this have outsized influence on generations of writers because they represent the kinds of fun things to read that you think might be fun to write. Unlike some of the things now, where most fiction is pretty ponderous and a single novel (Stephen King, I’m looking at you) might weigh in at this size.

At any rate, I enjoyed most of it for its own sake and for my own nostalgia.