Book Report: The Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri by Dean Curtis (2022)

Book coverI got this book at a book signing last month whereupon I got not only a copy for me but also for my horse-loving aunt who lives with my grandmother in Wisconsin. As I have finally gotten around to finishing a letter to my grandmother and mailing the book, I thought I would delve into it just so I can say I’ve read it if it comes up in a Facebook conversation.

Which is kind of funny: The copy of the book I sent to Wisconsin lie upon the table for a couple of weeks until I sent the letter, and now my copy has rested upon the table for several days since I read it and before I wrote this report on it, and it’s a large book, consuming a lot of real estate on the desk. So with this report, I’ll be able to clear a little space.

At any rate, it is what you would expect: some text about the photographer’s introduction to the wild horse herds while camping over a decade ago. Shannon County apparently supports four herds, but the herds are not very big–ten or so horses roughly–so they’re not like herds of buffalo from horizon to horizon. They very in levels of shyness, which means there are more from the Shawnee Creek herd than the Broadfoot, Rocky Creek, or Round Spring herds. The photographer has caught them in a variety of seasons, dispositions, and poses, from running across a river to emerging from a fogbank.

So it’s a cool book, not a long read, but an interesting look into the places nearby which are still a bit wild. As I mentioned, well, probably explained to my grandmother, I pass through Shannon County not far from these herds when I drive to Poplar Bluff. The book gives the history of the herds and the attempts to preserve them as well as the photographer’s story–the book raised money for the organization founded to protect them–and one of the headlines reproduced is from the front page of The Current Local, a paper out of Van Buren which was one of the first of my adopted hometown newpapers to which I subscribed.

Or maybe I’m just getting old that I’m relating to local books more acutely these days, especially the ones related to local history (see also Buff Lamb: Lion of the Ozarks). I’ve lived at Nogglestead for 13 years, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere, and the experience of having lived somewhere for a while might be altering my perception of time and my place in the world. Or perhaps I’ve had too much coffee today.

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Book Report: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (2007)

Book coverAs I mentioned when I spoke of the audiobook version of Pure Drivel, I had already picked up another Steve Martin work. This book is that work–I picked it up in between short stories in a collection that the kittens suggested by knocking it off of the shelves, but I was not powering through the collection in one go. This book, though, I read in a couple of nights even though it is longer than Shopgirl.

It is basically a memoir of the early parts of his career, from his teenaged years when he worked at Disneyland and Knotts’ Berry Farm learning magic, standup comedy, and whanot through his taking his show on the road and kind of trailblazing a new wacky style of comedy and then through his movie successes of the 1980s, although he only touches on that. He doesn’t get much into his personal life except to say that he had a rocky relationship with his father when he was younger, and it does not go a lot into his later relationships. It’s definitely through the lens of the standup work and how it evolved and how it went from fulfilling to feeling like he was just playing the role of Steve Martin in his larger arena tours after his career took off.

It’s an interesting read both as a time capsule of being a young man who wants to embark on an entertainment career as well as a glimpse into being young a couple of decades before I was young. And it’s written with Martin’s characteristic intelligence and grace with a touch of self-effacement that endears the writer to the reader.

So worth looking for more, although Martin has only written a handful of books in his time.

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On The Best of the Chris Rock Show (1999)

Book coverAs opposed to the The Best of the Dean Martin Show, this DVD did not come out decades after Chris Rock’s talk show and sketch comedy bit went off the cable (which is “off the air” in the late 20th century–the modern equivalent would be “out of the stream” or something). Rock’s show appeared on HBO, so I didn’t have access to it when it was on, and I am not one for the talk shows anyway, so I probably would not have seen it.

I have, however, seen the skit “How Not To Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police” a time or two.

This single DVD does not include the aforementioned skit, but it does have some humor poking fun at The Race Question from the perspective of the middle 1990s. One skit is purportedly about an academic who is barred from entering establishments or who gets thrown out of establishments because he’s black. But when they go to the video proof, the man is naked and is getting thrown out or barred entry for that.

Man, what a wonderful world that was. Imperfect, but better than what we have now, where these sorts of jokes and poking fun at minorities’ pecadilloes just don’t fly, and we’re not allowed to laugh at obvious stereotypes.

Man, Chris Rock was everywhere up until some point in the early part of this century, but he seemed to have disappeared. Actually, I was going to posit he got supplanted by Kevin Hart, but in reality, it’s probably that my pop cultural awareness took a nosedive this century. I see he’s been in several films in the Sandlerverse–I saw Grown Ups–twice, in fact–but not much else of his work in the last fifteen years. I guess that’s on me.

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Book Report: Dark Love edited by Nancy A. Collins, Edward E. Kramer, and Martin H. Greenberg (1995)

Book coverThis was the second book suggested to me by the kittens who were sequestered in my office for a time, and they suggested books for me to read by knocking them off of my to-read bookshelves. But they might as well have knocked this book into their cat litter, for I did not like it very much, and I am no longer taking recommendations from the kittens.

The front cover bills it as Twenty Two All-Original Tales of Lust and Obsession. Given that it’s headlined by Stephen King, I thought it would be a horror collection, but really, it’s a more crime fiction with a lot of wetwork and a bunch of sex (deviancy is a plus to the editors). It’s not horror but horrific. Many of the stories try to get into the minds of the insane, who then have deviant sex and murder people.

It took me a while to get through the book, reading several others in between the stories. Because many of the stories were very similar. Breaking it up kept it a little fresher.

And as this book is from 1995, it does contain the two baddest words in the universe: Trump and, you know, the other one. Which could be used in print in living memory as a marker that whomever spoke it was backward and not a good person. But no more.

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Standard Operating Procedure

St. Louis County has a $41 million budget deficit.

Solution? Proposed cuts to St. Louis County budget include jail, police and public health staff

Only the fact that the county is a patchwork of independent school districts prevented it from going after teachers, too.

Whenever faced with a shortfall, big local governments always target its essential functions, not the nice-to-haves, which are somehow untouchable but which citizens won’t raise a hue and cry about cutting.

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On Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

Book coverQuick, what is the first comic book movie starring Chris Evans and Brie Larson? If you pick one of the Marvel movies, you’re mistaken–they both appear in this film based on a comic book series. I’d hoped that that would have come up on a trivia night the night after we watched this film, but it did not–2004 films fall into the dead zone of trivia these days. I might have a post for a later time about trivia nights in the 2020s, but that’s for another time.

In this film, Scott Pilgrim, a nebbish in Toronto, lives in a garage apartment with a gay roommate who is actually paying for everything. Scott is the bassist in a band called Sex Bob-omb. He’s 22, but he’s dating a girl in high school. And then he sees Ramona, the, well, not manic pixie girlfriend archetype but something simliar–the girl with the colored hair with a mysterious past and a jaded attitude. I mean, this was an archetype even when I was going to college a decade before the comic book appeared. To date her, he must defeat her seven evil exes he discovers. They include a Vegan bassist in the band fronted by Scott’s successful pop star ex, a professional-skateboarder-turned-actor, twin Japanese DJs, and a half-Ninja woman amongst others.

The film has a great look-and-feel that combines elements of film, video games, and comic books to great effect. The first time I watched it, it took me a couple of sittings to get through the movie, but I bought the soundtrack and have listened to it since. This time, I watched it with my oldest son, and we both enjoyed it.

And what’s not to enjoy with a cast like this?
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Book Report: Time to Time by Don Pendleton (1988)

Book coverWell, make this my year of completing sets, or at least groups of books that I have. I mean, I finished all of the books in the Executioner series that I own; I finished the set of James Blish Star Trek books I had on my to-read shelves; I finished the Doubleday children’s books I’d picked up, perhaps for my children but never shared with them. Since I only had three books in the six-book Ashton Ford series, why not?

Okay, so I did not know what to expect when I read the first in the series, Ashes to Ashes, in 2018. And when I read Life to Life in October, I thought maybe the series had an arc it was completing–after all, in it, Ashton impregnated a televangelist while she was in jail and they were getting it on in the astral plane, so I expected something to come of that. Maybe in the fifth book, but not here.

In this book, Ashton follows an unidentified flying object into the hills above town and discovers a nude woman. It’s an acquaintance of his, an actress of some reknown, and he helps her. He discovers that she’s involved with what might be some extraterrestrials and might be an alien.

So basically, that’s the schtick of the books: a pedestrian suspense plot with an overlay of woo-woo. In this case, it’s an alien civilization advanced of ours, monitoring ours and hoping to have us rejoin them in the future, but right now, it’s dolphins (the original heirs to this world), rebirth, and UFOs.

We get pages of Ashton thinking these things through again. Whereas Mack Bolan sometimes would go a couple of paragraphs or a page or so into philospophy or morals; however, in these books, Pendleton gives Ashton a lot of room to muse on the paranormal, and it detracts from the mundane plot or even the woo-woo.

You know, when reading these books, I cannot help compare them to the later Heinlein, where he turned toward free love and whatnot. Both Pendleton and Heinlein were Navy men in World War II, and their books took a different tone when they got older and as they faced their own mortality. I should like to say my books might take a similar turn, but I don’t have a body of work from my youth the mark any differences as I age.

At any rate, I can understand why this series did not go very far. It’s a little wordy, and Pendleton does not balance or blend the woo-woo with the normal plots very smoothly. But perhaps he pioneered the way, a bit, for modern urban fantasy. He certainly didn’t hinder it.

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On Legends, Lies, & Cherished Myths of World History by Richard Shenkman / Read by Arte Johnson (1993)

Book coverI started listening to this audiobook on the drive to and from the St. Louis area in October and finished it up last weekend on a trip to Poplar Bluff. It’s read by Arte Johnson, whose name I recognized. He was that guy on that one comedy sketch show you played a Nazi. You know, when you could laugh at Nazis instead of think they were the worst thing to compare your contemporary foibles to. No, not the “I saw nothing!” Nazi. The “Very Interesting” Nazi from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In:

I guess it was only twenty-five years later that he was vocal talent for audio books. Speaking of which, these cassettes are now almost 30 years old, and they still sound pretty good. I guess audio books and the like didn’t get played as often as popular music tapes did.

At any rate, the book is a snarky look at “myths” of history which are really only myths to people who get their history from popular culture. Well, the popular culture of the 1990s. The 21st century study of history, at least the teaching of it to children and the professional class of it (or the journalists who pretend to be the purveyors of knowledge), has its own newer myths and greater ignorance.

I mean, we have chapters on Ancient Rome, the Barbarians, the Crusades, British Royalty and its traditions, and a whole section on sex, amongst other things, and all of the snark is couched upon setting up some myth/lie/legend of history and knocking it down. So maybe it’s a good intro to some of these things, or maybe it’s best for the snooty who know these things and want to be along for the ride as Shenkman voiced by Johnson knocks down something the igno’ant believe.

I guess I got more into it on the last couple of cassettes (this book is on four with a running time of about 6 hours), as I was less annoyed on the trip to Poplar Bluff, but still not my favorite bit of history reading. You definitely get more depth out of an American Scholar or Teaching Company/Great Courses series, even the surveyish ones, which are six hours better spent. But if you can find this set for a buck or fifty cents or whatever I paid for this, I guess it’s worth it.

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I Wish I’d Been Swindled Thus

Roman Coins Once Thought to Be Fake Reveal a Long Lost Historical Figure:

Long dismissed as forgeries, a handful of ancient Roman coins uncovered in Transylvania more than three centuries ago have been authenticated by a new analysis.

It’s not hard to see why the coins – dated to the 260s CE – might have been considered fakes. Where most ancient coinage displays the head of an emperor, one of the artifacts displays a mysterious figure not portrayed in any other known record.

On some the name “Sponsian” is stamped, a figure of Roman authority history seems to have forgotten.

* * * *

“These observations force a re-evaluation of Sponsian as a historical personage,” Pearson and team write. “We suggest he was most likely an army commander in the isolated Roman Province of Dacia during the military crisis of the 260s CE.”

So while he may not have ruled over the entirety of Rome, Sponsian appears to have fashioned his own little empire in a remote gold mining outpost, complete with a crudely minted currency using metals from local mines, probably after the Roman Empire had started to become fractured, the researchers suspect.

“We suggest that Dacia became cut off from the imperial center around 260 [CE] and effectively seceded under its own military regime, which initially coined precious metal bullion using old Republican-era designs, then using the names of the most recent previous emperors who had achieved some success in the area, and finally under the name of a local commander-in-chief,” the team explain.

Of course, they’re gold coins, so I would never have been able to afford them. And my status as a coin collector is so fresh that I do not have a place to put the four coins I own, so they’re awaiting inclusion in a Five Things on My Desk post as we speak.

(Link via Instapundit.)

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On Pure Drivel written and read by Steve Martin (1998)

Book coverI have been holding out on you, gentle reader. And by “holding out on you,” I mean “have been lazy.” I actually listened to this audiobook the last weekend of October on the way to my boys’ last marching band festival of the year and have only gotten around to writing about it now. Which means I will have forgotten anything I really want to say about it. Actually, I don’t know if I had anything in particular I wanted to say–it’s hard to put a little sticky note into the pages of an audiobook when you’re driving 80 miles an hour down the highway.

At any rate, this is a collection that includes numerous essays that Martin wrote for The New Yorker in the middle 1990s. You can see a chapter listing on Wikipedia here and can see the first two chapters here.

The writing is wry, not (often) crass, and is topical, kind of like humor would have been in those days, not mocking, and amusing. The audio book was read by Martin as well, so he phrased it just as he intended. Which hopefully was reflected in the writing.

It’s been sixteen years since I read Shopgirl, and it won’t be sixteen years until I read another book by Steve Martin (no bets, as I’ve actually started it). I think I might actually have Pure Drivel here in print form, and I’ll actually read the book if I find it. Martin is one of the comedians I’d like to see live, and I hope that someday he and Martin Short come near enough to Springfield that I can see them.

So let that be my recommendation. I’ve heard it, and I’d like to read it. Maybe I will listen to it again. It is certainly more ageless than most comedy albums I listen to on road trips.

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Thanksgiving Triple Feature

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. Ours was a bit subdued as my beautiful wife and I came down with raging colds at the beginning of the week, so our guest list and our menu was curtailed, but we had turkey, cranberries, and stuffing (and will for days to come, as we bought a large turkey in anticipation of sharing it asynchronously if not in person. But no.

Instead of watching the three football games, I managed to spend the afternoon and evening on the couch with a trio of films.
Continue reading “Thanksgiving Triple Feature”

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Key Words: Located in Illinois

So I sometimes click through on real estate ads on Facebook as sometimes still I dream, gentle reader.

But not this one:

Yeah, you know, I cannot really think of any state in the country where I would not want to live except Illinois.

Both of my growing up locations were near (enough) the border with Illinois so that it got enough of a bad reputation, not to mention I would hate to live in a state ruled by Chicago (it’s bad enough in Missouri that Kansas City and St. Louis wield their blue influence on the state enough to make it chancy in elections.

I mean, I guess I would not like to live in Hawaii, either–but I’ve never been there. Perhaps I would change my mind.

But running down the states and regions, no other state comes to mind as a no-go.

Besides, if a house that big is that inexpensive, it requires massive repairs, or it’s under onerous regulation for preservation, or both. But, also, Illinois.

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Brian J.’s Recycler Tour, Prophesy Edition

From this date in 2019:

Listen, when you declare an attacker in the combat phase, your opponent can play the Blake Martinez card which drops one of your creatures before it can attack.

I don’t care if your creature is 8/8. Martinez makes the tackle.

What do you mean I can’t use Green Bay Packers football cards?

This game sucks.

In contemporary news, Blake Martinez, who has had stints with the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Raiders, has retired from the NFL to focus on trading Pokemon cards:

Blake Martinez retired from the NFL because he had to catch ’em all.

The former Las Vegas Raiders linebacker called it quits last week at just 28, telling the team he was hanging up his pads just days after recording 11 tackles in a loss to Jacksonville.

Martinez revealed the news on his Instagram, saying he chose “to step away from this career at this time to focus on my family and future passions!” Well, turns out that passion is very similar to something we all used to dabble in … trading Pokemon cards!

Martinez recently sold a Pokémon Illustrator card with a Gem Mint 9.5 rating for $672,000. Don’t ask what all that means, because I don’t know.

Brian J. Noggle’s Facebook feed: Where you get tomorrow’s news today, albeit in a typical oracle fashion of a bit of humor is a riddle.

Also, yeah, I know, I was using the Magic: The Gathering metaphor. But I was being oblique and cryptic, see?

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They See Me Coming

Billy Joel, Stevie Nicks to perform at Arrowhead Stadium

Things I would have thought it impossible to say twenty years ago: It’s been over twenty years since I saw Billy Joel in concert. Which is true: It was his 2000 Years tour. Back when I was a technical writer and worked at DRA. He played at the arena in St. Louis, Savvis Center I think it was called then.

But 20 years have passed, and I’m not sure how keen I am to drive three hours to sit in a stadium to watch him. Which is more a testament to my aging and getting to be nearly a senior citizen in that time.

Of course, all bets are off if Herb Alpert comes within a three hour drive of me. But that would be at a more intimate venue. I think I’m just out of the age of stadium concerts. Not that I’ve ever been to a concert in a big stadium anyway. Perhaps I never was of that age.

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On Con Air (1997)

Book coverAlright, kids, I’m a bit late to this party. This film came out when I was twenty-five years old. I’d just met with a beautiful girl who would become my beautiful wife, but I also briefly reunited with a lovely young lady who would not. I was busy, you know. What’s that, gentle reader? The film came out the same year as The Man Who Knew Too Little, a Bill Murray film I saw in the cinemas with that woman I would claim (or would claim me). So this film came out in my cinema-heavy years, but I did not see it in the cinema or anywhere else for twenty-five years. Like Friday, a still from this film has become a meme–the one where Nicholas Cage steps off the bus and revels in what he thinks is his freedom (it’s early in the film). So that is probably why I picked it up relatively recently and why I watched it.

The plot: An Army Ranger leaves the service, but comes home and meets his pregnant wife at a bar (what, not the airport?). A he is a former hothead, when some bar denizens stalk the wife, he, Nicholas Cage, kills one of them in a fight and is sentenced to Federal prison (wut?) He is paroled after many years, but he’s put on a plane with really bad guys headed to a new Supermax prison. One of them is John Malkovich, which is always a bad sign. The bad guys take over the plane as part of a plot to free a member of a drug cartel (a la Die Hard 2), and although he has a chance to go free, Cage stays on board to try to help his diabetic cell mate find a hypodermic needle to deliver a needed dose of insulin before he goes into shock. Action set pieces and a plane crash and pursuit trash the Las Vegas strip. A bit over the top, but it was designed to be a blockbuster.

At the end of the day, I will probably confuse this film less with The Rock than I might have previously. The Rock was Nicholas Cage’s action blockbuster from the year before.

Facebook ads tell me that this is one of the most 90s films ever made. I think it’s not quite so tied to its decade, but its cast features a list of people whom you’d recognize:

  • Nicholas Cage
  • John Cusack
  • John Malkovich
  • Dave Chapelle
  • Danny Trejo
  • Steve Buscemi
  • Colm Meany
  • Ving Rhames
  • M.C. Gainey
  • Rachel Ticotin

So an all-star cast.

And did we mention Rachel Ticotin?
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Good Book Hunting, Saturday, November 19, 2022: Two Book Signings

Saturday, I did a martial arts confirmation test and foolishly went to ABC Books and then the Library Center before eating lunch, which left me ravenous for an hour while traveling. ABC Books had four members of Sleuth’s Ink, a local writing group, in to sign books, and Dean Curtis was at the library signing copies of his book The Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri. So I made the trip and picked up a couple of things.

It was definitely a dangerous trip, as the Sleuth Ink authors had many titles each. So I ended up, for the most part, only buying first books in each series.

Here’s what I got:

  • Chasing Caterpillars: The Life and Times of Maria Sybilla Merian and Jim the Wonder Dog by Nancy Dailey.
  • The High Streaks Murder, Finding Lizzy Smith, and Tattered Wings by Susan Keene.
  • A Lone Wolf and The Fugitive’s Trail by J.C. Fields.
  • Writer’s Advice Dictionary by Kathleen Garnsey. This author specializes in futuristic romances, but had this spiral bound book available.
  • Raw Combat: The Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts by Jim Genia.
  • Chi Walking: The Five Mindful Steps for Lifelong Health and Energy by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer. Yes, these were the last two books in the martial arts section. I told Ms. E. that I would have to buy the books on bullfighting next as they were next to the empty martial arts section.
  • Mysticism’s Quest for God by Edward Scribner Ames. It’s a chapter from a larger work called Religion and likely a reprint for textbooking purposes.
  • Maxfield Parrish, a monograph of work from an artist I had not heard of.
  • Two copies of The Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri by Dean Curtis, one for me and one for my aunt in Wisconsin who likes horses.

It turned out to be a fairly expensive Saturday.

After enumerating the books, I’ve put them into the stacks of Nogglestead, and it will likely be some time before I see them again. Or perhaps I will read them next because they’re on top. One never knows.

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Book Report: The Lilac Lady by Ruth Alberta Brown (1914)

Book coverAs I mentioned, gentle reader, we have taken in some kittens, which means that they spent the first couple of weeks at Nogglestead sequestered in my office while the other cats got used to their smell and presence and until the veterinarian could pronounce them with a clean bill of health. As such, it has been quite an adventure, as they scamper and romp, most excitingly among the cords and cables that power my QA laboratory–many mornings, I would come into the office and have to troubleshoot what they turned off or unplugged overnight before I could get to work. They’ve also made some book recommendations by knocking the books off of the bookshelves, so I have started to take their advice and read what they’ve knocked down, starting with this book.

This book is the middle of a trilogy, apparently–and the first book, At The Little Brown House, ends in the moments before this book begins, so it took me a minute to figure out who the people are. The story centers on Peace Greenfield, a middle child in a set of six orphaned sisters. As the book begins, they’re adopted by a university president who is grandparent aged, and they go to his house and learn various and sundry lessons there.

Peace likes to give to the poor, and she’s often duped by ragamuffins and hoboes who show up for a handout, but she learns that some individuals who arrive are not in desperate straits but want the money to fund their non-working lifestyle or for alcohol. So her adopted father explains she should give to charities that can filter and follow-up on giving.

She meets the Lilac Lady, an injured and dying former singer from a well-to-do family who lives next door but behind vast hedges. The Lilac Lady shut herself off from the world after her accident that left her invalid, but Peace comes over and gets her to open up. Peace meets kids at the local orphan home and gets an inside view after briefly changing places with a resident who looks like her. She then gets the Lilac Lady to host a party for the orphans to the benefit of both.

When she returns to her old town to visit old friends, a scarlet fever outbreak at her new home forces her to live with her friends for a number of months, and she makes friends and has adventures there, too.

So it’s not a single plot piece, but some of the elements come together at a big Independence Day party at the end (as I assume happened in the first book, as they are leaving a party early on). But it’s a series of smaller adventures with little life lessons in them an examples of a child having a good heart. She’s like an older generation Ramona Quimby.

So this is a children’s book, presumably geared to little girls, perhaps even to be read to little girls. But let’s look into the language used, ainna?

Having a naturally light-hearted, merry disposition, Peace did not find it hard work to “smile and talk,” but it was hard, very hard, to restrain her generous impulses to give away everything she possessed to those less fortunate than herself, and it soon became a familiar sight to see her fly excitedly into the house straight to the study where the busy President spent many hours each day, exclaiming breathlessly as she ran, “Oh, grandpa, there is a little beggar at the door in perfect rags and tatters! Just come and look if she doesn’t need some clothes. And she is so cold and pinched up with being empty. Gussie has fed her, but can’t I give her some things to wear? I’ve more than I need, truly!”

This is not diction from a children’s book in the 21st century.

So a good book to read to your kids, but also a good artifact of the way we were.

The book itself only bears the copyright date, 1914, but not a printing/publishing date–but it doesn’t look as though this would have been in print for decades. So the pages are a bit brown, but the binding is tight, and it’s not disintegrating like The Saint Meets His Match. So that’s kind of nice. And helpful considering how it was suggested to me.

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