On Richard the Lionheart (1996)

Book coverThis videocassette is part of a series called The History Makers which came out right before the Internet blew up. I only have one of them, this one, although the Friends of the Library Book Sale is this week, so if I get into a real frenzy on Saturday (half price day), I might pick up others for fifty cents each. But probably not.

The video runs about 45 minutes and features four actors portraying Richard, an English poet, an…. Arab poet? Turkish poet?, and Saladin who appear at intervals to recite passages from their respective historical documents. The rest of it is a narrator, well, narrating the life of Richard over stock imagery that looks only slightly better than a Renaissance festival. It has less content than, say, a Teaching Company/Great Courses series and only slightly more, maybe, than a ten minute YouTube video with quicker cuts and the possibly same stock footage.

I knew enough about Richard I to know that Sean Connery’s portrayal of him in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was flattering. He ruled over people with whom he could not converse and spent most of his time campaigning and crusading, looking at England as a source of funding rather than as his people. So I didn’t get much out of it.

But when they were planning it all out in 1994 or 1995, they were targeting people who did not have streaming broadband connections to YouTube or Khan Academy or the Hillsdale College courses online. Maybe they were advertised on the History channel or other cable stations that appealed to the aspirationally academic set. Or in the backs of magazines, perhaps. Maybe the target audience appreciated them more than I did.

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Wherein Brian J. Is Punished For Not Procrastinating Enough

I just a week ago told the story of how I repaired my uncle’s Christmas tie and how it took me several rounds of Internet research and orders to get the right pieces I needed to replace the power switch/battery holder and then the LED in it so that it will once again light up red when I wear it on Christmas Eve.

I replaced the push button with a sliding switch, though, and sort of half-arsed it by splicing wires instead of soldering. But after years (decades?) of not working–it did not work when I inherited it over a decade ago–it worked, and it was off of my desk where it had been intermittently for months at a time for the last couple of years when I decided to look into fixing it and then determining, often, Not today.

And I was premature in fixing it earlier this month.

For on Saturday, we went down to Sp4rkcon, the Walmart Global Tech team’s annual free cybersecurity conference, and the free lanyards had all the parts I would have needed to repair the tie.

Each featured a power board with replaceable battery and a four position push power button–the four modes being on solid, on blink, on blink quickly, and off–as well as a string of green wearable LEDs.

It is a far better kit than what I put into the tie. As a matter of fact, I’m considering replacing the guts of the tie with the power switch from one of the lanyards. But considering means I thought of it; we all know I will leave well enough alone for at least a decade.

But I have another couple of bits/parts if I want to make use of them in future projects. When I think of them. If I think of them.

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Book Report: Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish and Elizabeth by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow (c1913)

Book coverI got this book as part of a book order back when ABC Books and everything else was in a timeout in 2020. I’ve picked up a number of similar editions and have grouped them together, so maybe I’ll be reading elementary school textbook poetry a bunch this year.

So: This book collects a number of Longfellow’s poems, including “The Courtship of Miles Standish”, “Elizabeth”, and some shorter ones. In “The Courtship of Miles Standish”, the military captain of the struggling Plymouth colony loses his wife in the first winter and asks his friend John Alden to ask Priscilla for her hand in marriage–but John and Priscilla already have eyes for each other.

In “Elizabeth”, a settler is taken with a travelling preacher, and he returns her affection. The poem includes a bit of a parallel between the maidservant and the hired man.

“Enceladus”, which I read like James Hetfield singing it. I mean, can’t you see Lovecraft taking some inspiration from this?

Under Mount Etna he lies,
It is slumber, it is not death;
For he struggles at times to arise,
And above him the lurid skies
Are hot with his fiery breath.


They talk together and say,
“To-morrow, perhaps to-day,
Euceladus will arise!
And the old gods, the austere
Oppressors in their strength,
Stand aghast and white with fear
At the ominous sounds they hear,
And tremble, and mutter, “At length!”

The other short poems include the standard landscapes and a paean to John Greenlead Whittier delivered during a dinner in the latter’s honor. I remark on this because I was just telling my wife about how I confuse him with James Whitcomb Riley. I was talking about Whittier because “Elizabeth” comes from a collection of poetical stories told by travellers thrown together at an inn (Tales of a Wayside Inn) much like The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer or Tent on the Beach by Whittier (or is it Riley?) which I started in one of these early 20th century editions but put aside.

So, yeah, one can draw a pretty direct line from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Longfellow. He draws from real sources for his stories and writes of events from hundreds of years prior for his narratives. His poetry style is breezy, hexameter with some end rhymes (I know, “Enceladus” above does, but “The Courtship of Miles Standish” and “Elizabeth”, also known as “The Theologian’s Tale”, do not). The other work bears the influences of the English Romantic movement and probably Whittier (although I have not actually read enough of his work yet to know too much about it).

“The Courtship of Miles Standish” and some of the other poems have footnotes–“The Courtship of Miles Standish” has a bunch of them, taking up half of some pages, where the editor of this textbook, not the poet, defines some terms, highlights allusions to other work, or identifies historical records which corroborate the narrative. I read many of them and said, “I already know that,” but it is an elementary school textbook (!). One that I read in the middle of “The Courtship of Miles Standish” indicated, for example, that Bradford’s history of Plymouth mentioned Priscilla was a real person who married John Alden and had eleven children with him. Which is to say, the footnote contained a spoiler alert just when the poem was getting good.

The book also has some other educational material, including a short introduction and study helps like ideas for lessons based on the book which I just skimmed.

I enjoyed the book, and I enjoyed The Song of Hiawatha when I read it six years ago (!). As I said, I’ll probably read another couple of the like this year.

And I mentioned it was an elementary textbook almost 100 years ago. Here’s the little girl’s name:

I found the obituary for that little girl, who died at 90 in 2007. You know, a lot of times books have inscriptions or names in them, but finding this particular obituary made reading the book poignant indeed. After all, I am but a temporary owner of it as well, and I’m not even leaving my mark in the book itself.

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Movie Report: The Hobbit (1977)

Book coverWell, when I said I was done with cartoons last month, clearly I was overstating things. I’ve had this videocassette in the cabinet for years (which differentiates this videocassette from all other DVDs and videocassettes in the cabinet as opposed to on the cabinet how?), but it was not rewound, so I rewound it as part of my recent project to handle that. So when I wanted something short to watch (ahut) with my youngest son this week, I popped it in.

Well, all right, you probably at least know the plot by now, ainna? Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is drawn from his hobbit-hole by Gandalf to accompany a, er, company of dwarves who are going to recapture their ancestral mountain and a bunch of gold from a dragon named Smaug.

Along the way, they have adventures. Peter Jackson turned this story into three movies. An animation company turned this into an hourlong television movie akin to Puff the Magic Dragon. Which actually came out the next year, so Puff the Magic Dragon came after this cartoon special. Which is weird, or maybe not. I remember the annual airing of “Puff the Magic Dragon” as a bit of an event at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s–I think I watched it all the time, but it was probably only three or four times. The Hobbit never reached that fame. I don’t remember seeing it even listed. But it was not a thirty minute special but almost a movie-length animation, so it didn’t drop in as easily, I suppose.

So: Probably worth a watch if you’re into being an old-school geek completist or a 70sphile. Probably only a little more cartoonish than the Jackson films, which I have yet to see in their entirety (although I did see The Lord of the Rings set when they came out in cinemas because I have been a geek for a long, long time.)

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Nico Was Here

A couple of times recently, I have walked through the little hallway to my office, and I have seen that the decorative flintlock pistol shadowbox thing is crooked.

This means Nico was here.

I have posted pictures of that precocious kitten before. Although I guess now he’s technically not a kitten, but he retains his inquisitive ways.

And the shadow box on the wall is a couple of inches thick, so Nico thinks he can get on it. As the frame is only canted and not on the ground with broken glass everywhere, I can only presume that he thinks better of it when he touches it and it moves. Or he can get up there no problem.

Also, gentle reader, and by “gentle reader,” I mean random Internet stranger looking at that photo and fingering one’s lockpicks, note that these are not actually authentic or replica flintlock pistols which sell for thousands of dollars but are instead Turner Wall Accessory home décor which sell on the Internet for $45. I bought them in an antique mall in Billings over a decade ago thinking they might be replica pistols or such, but, no. However, as I probably paid $20 for them, they would seem to have appreciated nicely. Kind of like collectibles like used cars and food have appreciated in value lately.

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My Uncle’s Christmas Tie Revived

I have mentioned before that I have an Easter tie, but I seem to have held back notice that I also have a Christmas tie. So let me go on at length about it, gentle reader.

I inherited it from my uncle, the “rich uncle” with whom I lived briefly. He passed away in, what, 2011? 2012? I’ve had the tie a long time, and I’ve worn it for the last several years running on Christmas Eve. The tie has a little red LED in it that presumably turned on at one time, but not since I’ve had it. You could find the button that operated it, but pressing it did nothing. So I wore it that way for a couple of years, and then I wondered if I could fix it.

So I cut a stitch in the back of the tie to open it up, and I found the simple board with a push power button, a hard-wired battery, and an LED. I took the battery off the board and looked at the tiny wires it held, and thought I could fix it, but it would be a problem for another day. And as so often happens, it became a problem for another year.

Sometime after Christmas Eve 2023, I put the tie back on my desk, and it lay there (well, here and there as I moved things around on my desk) for some months when I was cleaning or pawing through miscellania in the hutch when I came across some sewable LEDs I’d bought, what, a decade ago? I’d thought about putting them into a collar for Roark after we saw The Cat from Outer Space which features a cat whose collar gems flash when he uses his alien powers. Geez, that was probably twelve or thirteen years ago. I ordered some wearable LEDs and a board that makes them flash and a cat collar and…. I put them into a container in my hutch for someday.

Well, finding them again made me think I could look around SparkFun, the Web site where I’d ordered the original wearable electronic bits. I’d hoped to find a battery compartment where I could replace batteries when they wear out and connect it to the board. But I’d cut the leads to the battery, and, brother, those wires were tiny. So I ordered a ten pack of battery packs–you can order single units from SparkFun for under a buck, but if you order from Amazon, all the little electronic bits come in ten packs.

I bought a spool of two-strand sewable steel to use with the project, but I found it too fine to work with. I hoped to simply run the little threads from the connectors on the battery pack to the “legs” of the LED (research has just now indicated that these are the anode and cathode, words which appear in John Donnelly’s Gold but which I did not know applied to LED lights as well). But the thread, as I said, was too fine for my easy use.

So I thought about where I could get a bit of small gauge insulated wire. I feared needing to buy 100 yards of it at the hardware store for an inch or two that I’d use. And then I thought, Oh, no.

As you might know, gentle reader, I am a bit of a pack rat (NOT a hoarder). So it was with great internal fanfare when I recently cleaned out my garage–well, okay, that’s overstating it. When my mother-in-law downsized almost two years ago, she gave us boxes of things to go through, and one such box was extra parts from when she had someone build a custom computer for her. Inside the motherboard box, we had the case slots taken out to put cards into the PCI slots; an IDE cable or two, and power connectors for chaining hard drives to a single power supply connector or something along with a driver CD or two and installation guides for various components. And I threw them away. The very wires I could use. Oh, how I rue the day I discarded anything!

Just kidding. I did throw them out, but I had not emptied the garbage can in the garage, so I recovered the power cables anyway.

And lest you worry, gentle reader, I only disposed of the computer ephemera from my mother-in-law’s most recent desktop. I have bins and bins of my own accumulation over the last 30 years in my store room. But let’s not waste them on this project and save them for something important, okay?

So: I had the battery pack, and I had the wire, and I had the existing LED soldered onto the board that was working. So of course I tried to wire the battery pack to the LED soldered onto the board. But, as you might expect if you’re not some aging English major trying to rediscover electricity, this led to a very shaky set of connections prone to short-circuiting. So I snipped the LED from the board and tried to affix the little wired leads from the battery pack, trimmed from a hard drive power cable, to the anode and cathode (as I now know). But I could not get a good solid link by looping the wires and securing them with electrical tape. I know, I know, but I was trying to do this quickly and simply and without needing to solder.

So I ordered a set of 10 (of course) LEDs with longer legs. Actually, I ordered two sets of 10: 10 of the 5mm bulbs and 10 of the 10mm bulbs as I was not sure which the existing aperture in the tie supported. How do you measure the LED? Height? Circumference? I still don’t know, but I do know that this was a 5mm bulb as I was able to replace it with another 5mm bulb.

And alright, alright, alright. I linked the power supply to the new LED by turning the anode and the cathode like jump rings and looping the wire through them, securing it all with a spot of electrical tape. And it worked. So I fed the LED through the tie and put on the little rubber ring (grommet? Not exactly–what do I call that to get results on Amazon? 5mm rubber rings?).

And my uncle’s Christmas tie lights up for the first time in probably decades.

I have been goofing on the experience on Facebook:

I ordered the parts to repair my uncle’s Christmas tie.
This is the 21st century, you know.

All right. The original LED circa 1995 is still good in my uncle’s Christmas tie.
I just have to bypass the board with the power switch and hard-wired battery with a replacement and we should be good to go.
And if it doesn’t work and catches fire, I will be the brightest candle at candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

By the time I’m finished repairing my uncle’s light-up Christmas tie, it will have cost me $1200 or more at the rate I’m going.
But it will have more processing power than it did in 1985, and it will be able to connect to the wi-fi.

Finished repairing my uncle’s Christmas tie.
Upgraded the LED, too. FAA regulations prohibit me from shining the tie at passing aircraft.

So, yeah, from an electronics perspective, it’s a pretty simple circuit. I showed it to my sophomore, the guy going to be an engineer, and he was a bit, well, dismissive. But I’ve done it, and he’s done some school work and a hella lotta Minecraft.

Still, I’m not sure how proud to be of my work, which is really my fatal flaw. I guess we will find out on Christmas Eve when I try to light it up. But, if nothing else, the tie is hanging in the closet with the other ties and is off my desk. Now, about the sweatshirt that I just want to pull a couple stitches through. Or several years’ worth of Five Things On My Desk posts. As well as a host of other projects of minimal difficulty if you know what you’re doing, but I do not, and I don’t want to bollix it up.

Hey, think you’ve seen this before? I accidentally posted the first paragraphs of it, incomplete, on April 9. Hit Publish instead of Save Draft.

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Book Report: After Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer (1934, 1973)

Book coverWhen I bought this book seventeen years ago, I mentioned that I’d read When Worlds Collide, the book that precedes it, in middle school or high school. Now, I think I read the earlier book in sixth grade: I think it was on the metal spinning racks of paperbacks that my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Pickering, had in her room so that students could borrow them and read them (I also think I read Profiles in Courage from that rack as well, and I’ve got my own copy somewhere here in the stacks). It’s weird to think you remember something more clearly after almost 20 years have passed (between the Good Book Hunting post and this, gentle reader, not sixth grade and now, which is about twenty and a half years, give or take). I doubt my own memory on many things, and wonder if I’m retconning my initial reading of When Worlds Collide. Regardless, it has been a long time since I read the first book.

Fortunately, though, the first chapter is a brief recap: Astronomers discover a pair of runaway extrasolar planets that are hurtling into our solar system. The larger of the two will likely smash into the Earth; the smaller of the two looks like it might be habitable, and it looks as though Sol will capture this planet into an elliptical orbit ranging from just outside Venus’s orbit to just inside Mars’s orbit. So a group of scientists decide to build a couple of space ships to try to reach the second planet and save some bit of humanity. But they encountered challenges, including those not selected to escape storming their compound in Michigan, before they were able to lift off successfully in two ships. The recap kind of fleshed out what I’d remembered. Which was planets colliding and some scientists getting their rockets off.

So this book handles what happens next. The smaller of the two ships lands successfully and scouts for a place to build their homes that will weather the long and harsh winter (and the long and harsh summer). They discover the roads of a civilization on the planet from the time before it went extra solar; that the tailies have also crashed onto the island (sorry, that’s Lost which came later) the other ship from their group crashed elsewhere, and that the Nazis landed on the moon first (sorry, that’s Rocket Ship Galileo which came out later) a Russian/Asian communist rocket reached the planet first, and they’re months ahead in learning how to use the perfectly preserved machines in the domed cities of the missing aliens, and they’re using the technology to conquer the new world.

So most of the book kind of sets this up in an kinda talky way. It has a lot of action, but it has long sets where people tell other people what they’ve done and a lot of musing on the enormity of what happened–and not in a particularly individual or character-building way. And as we came closer to the end, I wondered if it was setting things up for a third book, where the protagonists would tackle the commies over a longer timeline and maybe unravel further mysteries of the human-like aliens who populated the planet so long ago, but, no. The commies cut the power to the city that the protagonists hold, so a small group hides their plan to infiltrate a third city to use its service conduits to infiltrate the enemy city. But they don’t report in. And, finally, and awfully quickly in the narrative, a pretty woman steals a car from the protagonists’ city, runs to the antagonists’ city, ingratiates herself to the bad guy leader, kills him in his bath, disables his minions, and allows the English survivors of another rocket’s crash to rise up and liberate the city/planet. And finis! But that resolution comes out of nowhere in the course of a couple of pages–I have to wonder if the authors were running out of runway in the magazine space they had left–this book was originally serialized, apparently–so they just wrapped it up in a hurry. And rather unsatisfyingly. No wonder it takes me several decades years between them. It is not a series, though–just the two books. So I don’t have another one to look forward to in 2064.

A couple things, though: One, notice the copyright dates above. This book first came out as a book in 1934, and it was still in print forty years later. That’s not a bad run, ainna? I cannot imagine much written now that will be in print in 2064.

Second, the book proved that I’m reading my library in the proper order. Page 107:

Eve disappeared into the darkness which was all but complete. In the north, toward Bronson Beta’s pole, hung a faint aurora, and above it shone some stars; but most of the sky was obscured. There was no moon, of course. Strange, still, to expect the moon–a moon now gone with “yesterday’s sev’n thousand years.”

That’s from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám which I just read, and I was pleased to recognize it. Of course, the book’s characters casually alluded to and quoted Shakespeare and Kipling. A testament probably to the benefits of a turn-of-the-20th-century British education, and it’s rare to find that sort of thing and references to God in anything past the middle of the 20th century.

Oh, and a note about the 1973 paperback. The print is tiny, and the pages’ luminosity has faded. It was reading tiny black marks on a beige or darker background. I contemplated cheaters, gentle reader, but they didn’t help a whole lot. Perhaps this will get me out of my habit of reading paperbacks and into hardbacks. Maybe large print books at that.

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Movie Report: Better Off Dead (1985)

Book coverI got this film last September at the library book sale, and I’d hoped to watch it with my oldest, whom we taught to say, “I want my two dollars!” when he was a toddler. But he’s awfully busy now, so I watched it with my youngest still on hiatus from his preferred and privilege-abused devices.

So: John Cusack plays Lane, whose girlfriend of six months breaks up with him. He has suicidal ideation (now known as support for Canadian health care in scientific terms). However, he meets the French foreign exchange student across the street, fixes up his car (well, helps the French foreign exchange student fix up his car), gets his first job, and rediscovers his zest for life.

It’s a pretty simple high school movie plot, but the subplots/recurring gags make it stand apart. We have the precocious younger brother building/upgrading things he collects from mail-in offers (and picking up trashy women). We have the mother who tries to be a stereotypical mom but fails in 80s teen film fashion. We have David Ogden Stiers somehow looking younger than Winchester from MASH as the exasperated father. We have the mother and son foreign exchange family from across the street who try to make the exchange student the love interest of the obese, awkward son. And we have Johnny, the vandal paperboy, pursuing Lane for the two dollars owed for the newspaper subscription.

Overall, it provides an amusing stylized view of Northern California teendom in the middle 1980s. I didn’t see it until the late 1990s when we borrowed it from my beautiful wife’s former roommate, so I was reflective and nostalgic about it rather than actually spoken to. Although unless you’re of a skiing culture and location in an upper-middle-class enclave, it probably would not have spoken to you directly in that time. It also features an animated daydream sequence to Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” that stuck with me enough that I thought it was the actual music video for the song. But, apparently, the song precedes music videos and there is no alternate official video.

The film also featured…. Continue reading “Movie Report: Better Off Dead (1985)”

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The Missing Cs of Southwest Missouri

I am on the Internet, so you would expect me to speculate in a most irresponsible manner when I notice something, but I’ve got nothing but the noticing and the question.

They call Ozarks Technical Community College OTC.

The city of Ozark calls the Ozark Community Center the OC (probably because one or more of them heard Orange County, California, called The O.C. and thought it was cool).

But the question I have is:

What is happening to the extra Cs?

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Movie Report: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Book coverOn an evening where my youngest was on an involuntary sabbatical from electronic devices, he joined me for a movie night, and I pulled this videocassette out. Actually, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been going through the Nogglestead to-see library of unrewound videocassettes and popped them in with the television off to let them run to the end and fully rewind. So the Nogglestead to-see library has a lot of videocassettes atop it in unrewound or rewound states, so we’re watching lots of videocassettes these days. Which is good: We have lots of videocassettes to watch. And with the Friends of the Library Spring Book Sale looming, the number is likely to grow.

At any rate, I saw this film when freshly moved to Missouri, living in St. Charles. My uncle had a VCR, and he rented the film for us to watch, and we did. And although my son was not sure that he’d seen the film before, he knew all of the songs, not just the Oompa Loompa songs.

Oh, wait: This is a musical? I didn’t remember that.

But indeed it is, and not just the Oompa Loompa song. Charlie is a young man in England who is supporting his mother and four bedridden grandparents with his odd jobs. When reclusive Willy Wonka, famous candy maker, announces a contest where five young people and a guest will get to tour his chocolate factory, the world goes nuts. A series of vignettes introduce families and children who will be the winners, including a gluttonous German boy, a spoiled British girl (Veruca Salt), an American boy who watches too much television, and a girl who chews too much gum. All hope appears lost for Charlie when a winner is announced in Argentina, but that ticket turns out to be fake, so he wins.

They all start out a tour of the fantastic (as in fantasy) candy factory, and one by one the children are picked off by their own character flaws until only Charlie is left. At the end, he is dismissed by Willy Wonka, and he is about to take up a rival candymaker’s offer to pay for a sample of Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstopper, but Charlie returns it to Wonka instead, which triggers his ultimate victory–ownership of the chocolate factory itself.

I don’t know how much it varies from the book as I’ve not read it. But it was an enjoyable experience to share with my youngest, although he is already a bit older than the target audience.

The first song number in the film is “The Candyman” (The candyman can….) which was written for the movie (and Wonkaized for the film or de-Wonkified for subsequent covers). I pointed out to the boy that he and/or his brother had, when they were younger, once requested that I put on Sammy Davis, Jr’s version on. They liked Candy. He still does.

So I have the Johnny Depp version around here somewhere. I thought I’d watch them on consecutive nights while they were fresh, but of course now that I sought out the later film, I could not find it. So maybe that will be sometime soon.

Oh, and now that I think of it, Willy Wonka might have been top-of-mind because I just read a two-part Substack post Willy Wanker and the Great Glasgow Grift about the off-brand Willy Wonka “event” that earned Internet infamy for its poor execution in Scotland.

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If You Can Still Read This

To be honest, I am not sure about the hype about the solar eclipse this year and the cicado broods coming out.

I was a little arch this morning when I said I’d seen this movie before, but I have seen solar eclipses and cicadas before 2024.

I mean, we had a solar eclipse only seven years ago (another curmudgeon remembers). We had another once-in-a-lifetime concurrence of cicada broods emerging in 2015.

I hate to be all old manny about it, but I’ve been at Nogglestead for coming up on fifteen years, so I’ve been here to compare things year-to-year in the same place. And I am coming to learn how much of the noise in the news and on the Internet are written by young people or vagabonds who lack that experience, so every experience in their new location is the first, best, superlativest thing ever.

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Good Book Hunting:
ABC Books, Saturday, April 6, 2024

Ah, gentle reader, as I recently had to tell you I bought a book recently because I had not done a proper Good Book Hunting post containing it (Maurine and Other Poems by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, mentioned in the book report for Lake of the Ozarks). So I have vowed to do a Good Book Hunting post for every trip to ABC Books, and the longevity of that vow is probably only this post.

But on Saturday, I made my way up to the book signing this weekend. Unfortunately, I cannot make them all, as they have one just about every Saturday these days. Which is probably for the best, as my book reading has slowed since the Winter Reading Challenge ended.

I got the book being autographed and a couple other things.

The signed book is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Rocky Ridge Farm: A Detailed Look Behind the Scenes by Michelle Underwood, a tour guide at the home. I also bought Ideals Easter Issue (1977) and a set of Karate flash cards that unfold and show various exercises and whatnot. I’m not sure I can count it as a book, and I’m not sure that I will ever make use of it. But I did, however, again empty the martial arts section of the book store. I should perhaps put this book on the shelf with the tai chi walking books or the assortment of other books that I have yet to read about karate, aikido, and whatnot.

At any rate, I shall likely read these book about Rocky Ridge Farm first of these. Whether I read it before I actually make the journey to Mansfield remains to be seen.

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Book Report: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám translated by Edward FitzGerald (1970)

Book coverGentle reader, I picked up this book to consider it for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge in the Author of a Different Race/Religion Than Your Own category. I mean, hey, a Persian poet is most likely Moslem, to use a spelling that was commoner when I was younger. However, as I got into the introductory material, I learned that the translator, Edward FitzGerald, re-organized the collection of rubāʿiyāt, the quattrain poems, into a more coherent whole. And given that the quattrains all have end rhymes in English, one has to think that the translations are as much of the work of FitzGerald as Khayyám. So I didn’t count it for the reading challenge, but I did keep it off of the bookshelves to read in patches between other books.

This is a Classics Club edition–as you might remember, gentle reader, I’ve picked these up when I’ve found them over the decades and have a shelf full of them, but I’ve only now read two of them (although I did read three of five Plato dialogues in another at some point). It says it’s the Five Authorized Versions–it had five editions in the 19th century–but it’s really only three. The first two and then a comparative edition which is the third through fifth editions with footnotes identifying the variation. The versions run between 100 and 110 selections from a larger body of Khayyám’s work.

Themeatically, the poems are hedonistic or Epicurean in nature. Drink, eat, love, for we soon die. We’re but specks of dust in history. And so on. The English versions are good, as I mentioned with end rhymes and tight units that FitzGerald has put in an order to sort of tell a story, although the telling is repetitive and the collection is best read over time. I’d recommend not reading all “five” versions at once–or three as I did–as they’re very, very close to one another. Although I was able to spot the one in the third-through-fifth version that was not in the first or second version as I did not follow my own advice.

So a quick enough read. I think it was more popular in the past than it is today, but I think that about most things that were popular in the past, especially if they were literature of some sort.

So now I have to find the other one Classics Club book that I already read (Meditations by Marcus Aurelius) and put the two together to show that I am making progress on this set (two in fifteen years–not bad!). I did run my hands along the spines of the exposed books (those not in the second rank of books on the shelf) when looking for another book to read after this one and thought Not today. Which I think a lot, apparently.

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It Has Been Weeks Since I Quoted Repo Man

Wilder goes down the list of films of 1984, including Repo Man:

Repo Man – A movie about an alien in the trunk of a car being driven around by the physicist who developed the neutron bomb. In a weird twist, the movie was actually one of the favorites of the actual inventor of the neutron bomb. The movie still holds up. There’s one in every car.

My son bought a set of vanilla-lemon pine tree deodorizers and put one in the truck he takes to school. When I saw it, I pointed to it and said, “Find one in every car. You’ll see.” Even though I had not seen the film in nearly thirty years; it was Glenn‘s favorite movie, so we watched it when I stayed with him ca 1994 or 1995.

Oh, and Wilder says:

Conan the Destroyer – Okay, a sequel. But by far a better movie than the first one. There was supposed to be a third, but that ended up being Kull, which was a pretty good 1990s movie with Sorbo. Arnie was also starting to learn to an actor, rather than just being huge.

I am pretty sure the third film turned out to be Red Sonja.

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I am not bragging too much because it starts with admitting some brief uncertainty. But yesterday, I used the word “epigraph” correctly. After thinking about it a minute and double-checking on the Internet.

Epigraph means a quote at the beginning of some written work, such as the poem that leads off the book I was reporting on.

I have to slow down and think a moment because I tend to confuse epigraph with epitaph, which is a brief note on the dead; epigram, which is a brief, pithy bit of wit; or epithet, which is a brief descriptive phrase for someone or something, most often disparaging these days (but what is not?).

I think I learned all these words in my college years, which blends them together even more. I guess they all share the same prefix from the Greek, epi, to mark.

I never confuse them with epiphenomenalism, though I also learned that word in college. But in Philosophy classes, not English classes, which kept it separate and siloed. And other obvious reasons.

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Book Report: Lake of the Ozarks by Bill Geist (2019)

Book coverGentle reader, I cannot find this book in a Good Book Hunting post, and I apologize as I know you, like I, relish the chance to revisit when and where I bought a particular book in the last 20 years. Now, as this is a 2019 book, clearly I did not buy the book before starting the Good Book Hunting posts. As it is in very nice shape and has no penciled prices in it, I have to guess I bought this new, perhaps as part of spending Christmas gift card or picked up while picking up Christmas gift cards. It has all the marks (figurative) of browsing the local interest section of the book store. Or perhaps I am a kleptomaniac who stoled it and don’t remember doing so.

Anyway: Purportedly, this book talks about his experiences working at his uncle’s resort at the Lake of the Ozarks in the 1960s. But, unfortunately, the book is lightest on that which would be the most interesting.

It begins a bit with a contemporary frame story: The author is driving a rental car along I-70 to catch a plane from Lambert to La Guardia when he comes to the exit that one would have taken to get to the Lake of the Ozarks. Not me, of course, as I would come up I-44 to Lebanon and turn north. But he decides he’s going to see what the lake is like now, and we get a bit of a rambly prologue.

He then does describe his aunt and uncle who end up running the place and how they, and he, from Champaign, Illinois, ended up there. Then we get some stories woven into the chapters, and then we get some short chapters that are brain dumps of the stories, some photos of what the place where the lodge had been had it not been demolished decades ago, and finis!.

So it’s a little light in what would have been the most interesting part of it, recreating the scene of the lodge in the 1960s. And what we do have has a double-effect narrator who pops in to point out that in the 1960s, people were not as right-thinking as 21st century New York media personalities are, so we get mea maxima culpa bits about off-color humor or the cultural appropriation of waitresses who dressed as stylized squaws (and that’s badthink!) We also get a paragraph of how the author knew a certain developer was a LIAR! a long time ago. Shut up, you putz: Up until 2016, when you had contact or interviews with Donald Trump, you probably thought he was a good get or good for some colorful column inches or a segment on national television, not that he was clearly the Biggest Threat to Democracy the World Will Ever Know (Until the Next One).

So, a bit of a hard pass here. Not a lot of the nostalgia/history that I like, and certainly I don’t like it in a tone that looks back with judgment for variance with modern sentiments of the elite.

One thing I will note is that the book starts out with an epigraph from Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.

That’s from her poem “Solitude”.

Gentle reader, I have been holding back on you: A couple of weeks ago, I went to ABC Books for a book signing for Trina Wilcox, a local author whom I’ve met and whom I’ve followed in various 5Ks (she being a serious runner, me being someone running the 5Ks because I didn’t want to make small talk with other parents of the middle school cross country team when they, the team, ran the 5Ks). I didn’t write a Good Book Hunting post on the trip nor book reports for the children’s books I go signed. I did however pick up an Ella Wheeler Wilcox collection, Maurine and Other Poems. Which was lying atop this book.

“Solitude” is not in this collection, but I was tickled to see the epigraph in a book adjacent to a book by the same poet. Things like this happen at Nogglestead.

And as I told my beautiful wife about the book, I mentioned that the author is (was) a color/humor commentator on CBS, and she had no idea who he is–nor did I. However, I asked my mother-in-law on Easter, and she said, “Willie Geist? On the Today show?” Oh, so close. Willie Geist is the author’s son, the heir to the mediastocracy. To be honest, my mother-in-law watches a lot of television news, so she’s probably seen the author as well.

Although the author has written, what, eight other books, I don’t think I’ll pick them up. I don’t know why modern humor writing leaves me so cold, but anything besides Dave Barry…. meh.

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How To Tell A Book From 20 Years Ago

Sarah Hoyt posts about hitting the sucker punch in a book:

I hit a substantial portion of the book, and the character is making fun of the names developers give to developments and how they make no sense. It could be a good funny thing, but the writer couldn’t help himself and had to say “And that’s why when developers became politicians they lied so much.”

Uh. Look, guys, until that point I thought I was reading something 20 years old at least, but at that point I went and looked at copyright and, son of a bitch, yep 2020.

She would not have avoided a sucker punch in a book from 2004. That’s where the era where we coined sucker punch (see also Marcia Muller and the Simple Art of Sucker Punch). Books from 2004 would have made their sucker punches at oilmen and those who had “I’m Proud Bush Is Our President” bumper stickers on their pickup trucks into the second Obama administration (ahem).

It is a phenomenon of the 21st century. I found it especially acute in Ed McBain’s books: Prior to 2000, some of his asides would rail against the powers that be, the men in Washington, and so on, but they became more personal in the Bush years.

Pretty much you have to presume now that books published during Republican administrations will rail at the president directly. And if it’s during a Democrat administration, the the Republicans, conservatives, and/or MAGA generally in some aside or bit of color.

See also a book report I’m working on with a book bearing a 2019 copyright date.

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Book Report: 40 Days of Wisdom (2024)

Book coverFor the past several years, the church I attend has put together a Lent (and maybe Advent) devotion book written by members of the congregation. Full disclosure: My beautiful wife contributed three devotions this year. This is the first time I picked up a copy and went through it, not day-by-day but in spurts where I would read several days’ worth to catch up, read the day’s, and then read a couple of days ahead. To be honest, I am not the target market for devotionals, although I have given several as Christmas gifts–my mother-in-law reads several daily, including one that I have her several years ago that she re-reads every year.

At any rate, contributors include several church pastors, some of the younger members of the congregation (high school aged girls who are active in the youth group with my boys who attend intermittently), and some of the congregation who often handle scripture readings from the lectern on Sundays. So as with George Burns books, when reading their devotions, I heard the words in their actual voices.

Devotions are short by nature, so none of them are especially deep. Some start with the dictionary definition of a word, which is the first refuge of scoundrels early writers of non-fiction and masters of directing suspense films (early in their careers as well). One tells the story of a young woman who wanted to play basketball but was told she was not good enough, but she prayed about it, and eventually she made the team. God apparently answered her prayers and made her six foot tall.

As I mentioned, I’m not the target for such books, so I don’t know if I’ll pick up another such devotional next time around.

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Book Report: White Banners by Lloyd C. Douglas (1936)

Book coverAh, gentle reader. I read Douglas’s Home for Christmas in 2011 (which might make it the first in my annual tradition, but I am too lazy to double check right now–oh, heck, all right, I looked, and it does seem to be the first, and the tradition is not as annual as I would like to think–I skipped a couple of years). So when I saw three of his books available in Collier editions in 2022, I picked them up and was kind of excited to have them even though they’re not Christmas-themed.

Jeez, Louise, a quick look at Douglas’s Wikipedia indicates how big he was in the 1930s. He wrote a dozen novels and nine non-fiction works, and his novels were made into movies (his first novel, Magnificant Obsession, was made into a movie twice). The books I picked up were matched Collier editions of his work–I’ve only seen Steinbeck’s work in similar editions. Collier reprinted them because it expected people to buy sets of this guy’s work. And he is so little known today. Time and fame are fleeting.

At any rate: The book begins with a rough-looking woman selling a household gadget coming into the poorly run house of a junior college professor, his flighty wife, and their two children (with another on the way). The woman of the house gives her some food, and she–the dishevelled woman–sort of takes over, winning over the husband as well as the children with her good nature and frugal ways. She is Hannah, a housekeeper who fell on hard times after the birth of her son, whom she gave up for adoption. Her story unfolds in flashback over the course of the 400 pages: She was a housekeeper, fell in love with a young man whose family she worked for but who died young of an illness, and she took on his philosophy of non-confrontation and having faith in a Higher Power. She married a playboy whose mother disapproved of the match, so the marriage ended before the boy was born–and the ex-husband did not know of the pregnancy. She gave the boy up for adoption and visits her son and his adopted mother as Aunt Hannah and watches him grow up. As the story progresses, she becomes the housekeeper properly for the professor, who is a tinkerer who invents a refrigerator process that gets stolen by the people with whom he’d hoped to partner. Hannah gives him a pep talk as his son is laid out with pneumonia and on death’s door. So the professor promises to trust the process the Higher Power and not pursue legal action. Eventually, he has another idea, invents another thing for household refrigerator, becomes rich and the Dean at his college, his flighty wife enjoys social prominence. A former employer/companion/friend of Hannah returns from Europe, learns her story, and wants to be the adopted son’s aunt, too, taking him East and then to Europe where he meets his father who recognizes him and wants to turn him into an indolent playboy as well. But the adopted son has fallen for the professor’s youngest daughter, and social class self-conscious Hannah wants neither of these for her boy. And then the boy and the daughter try to figure out exactly who is an aunt or uncle and who is not.

It’s like a Charles Dickens book written by Norman Vincent Peale. It’s awfully talky, with long periods of philosophical conversation, although I guess one could fault most of classical literature for being the same. But it lacks the playfulness of Dickens’ work and is dreadfully earnest. Douglas started out as a Lutheran pastor and switched to another denomination, but this book is not really Christian. Like Peale in his nonfiction, Douglas talks about the Higher Power and surrendering to/trusting in it a bunch, but I think the words “God” and “Holy Ghost” (or Spirit) appear once each in the book; instead, the book talks about Him, the Other, It, and once Them. And yielding to the higher power is often in service of a greater goal, so it’s a bit like praying, but not really. So schismatic would probably be a better term for it.

Additionally, passage of time changes from the beginning of the book to the end of it. It starts out with pretty much the story unfolding day to day over some months with some flashbacks–we get the way the house is run (and how Hannah improves it), the professor tinkering, et cetera, and then about the time of the boy’s illnesses and the father’s acceptance of the Higher Power They Don’t Want To Name Because They’re Not Superstitious Simpletons, chapters start taking place months or years after each other. All told, the book takes place over the course of 20 years–the boy grows up, and the unborn daughter of the professor grows up, goes to college, and falls in love with the boy. But it gave me a bit of whiplash. When Hannah takes the daughter (Sally; she does have a name, you know) to Europe to see her family (Hannah’s originally from England), the playboy takes the boy (Peter; he does have a name, you know) to the home of his (Peter’s) family, and while at the fair, riding an elephant, Peter sees Hannah and Sally and vows to find them in the crowd. End of chapter with only a couple chapters to go, so I expected maybe the next chapters involved perhaps Peter finding them, a reconciliation between Hannah and the playboy (perhaps not a full reunion, but reapprochment), Hannah getting over her class consciousness and blessing the union of Sally and Peter…. Oh, but no: Next chapter opens two months later with the professor in the hospital and in dire straits after a car accident caused by his son who tended to drive too fast and recklessly. Which gives some opportunity for him to share the message about the Higher Power with Peter, eventually, and for Peter and Sally to muse about his family relationships and to muse at length internally whether they like like the other.

So a bit of a slog of a read after about page 200 (of 400).

I’d first picked up Doctor Hudson’s Secret Journal, but that is not only like this but more so. A follow-up to Magnificent Obsession (a prequel written ten years after the first), it includes journal entries describing the doctor’s experiments with the Higher Power along with a related story, sort of. To be honest, reading this book (and starting the other) have made me not look forward to reading either Doctor Hudson’s Secret Journal or Disputed Passage any time in the near future. Which could be the next decade.

On the other hand, the book is an artifact that tells us in the 1930s, clergymen had to write books like this to convince the reading public to…. Well, one presumes to come to church, although no one in the book goes to church.

But the concerns then:

Last night, reading in her room, Adele had been stirred, alarmed, appalled, horrified. The world was quite evidently coming to an end; overpopulated, underfed, the last frontier occupied; eugenically deteriorating, its racial colors clashing, its nationalistic greeds mounting, its mind upset, its emotions unstable, its nerves frazzled. Adele herself would undoubtedly be alive–in terror and tatters–when the ultimate explosion was touched off.

Sadly, those of us who might feel similarly can take no solace in that this particular prophecy was fulfilled in World War II. Which only took six years of hot war and millions of dead before its end. Modern pessimists don’t feel as lucky.

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