Book Report: Big Trouble by Dave Barry (1999)

This is Dave Barry’s first novel and the source for the 2002 film, so of course I bought it when it was available from the St. Charles County Book Fair for $2.00. I’ve been meaning to see the movie, too, but now I can compare it to the book, unfavorably no doubt.

As Dave Barry works with Carl Hiaasen (Book reports: Strip Tease, Skinny Dip, and Basket Case), one could expect that the absurdist crime caper bacterium would contaminate the works of the normally serious Mr. Barry. And so it has. The book is full of oddball characters, strange coincidences, and other contrivances that make the work funny. It’s not serious fiction, so it’s good camp and high fun. Or vice versa.

I need to start pitching my books to agents as in the style of Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry. I’ll just have to be more careful to spell their names and book titles correctly. If you’ve clicked through those Hiaasen reviews, gentle reader, you’ll note I’ve misspelled both in various places.

Books mentioned in this review:




What, you think I mention other books just to get the links on the front page of my blog? I am shocked, shocked at the accusation! But it’s a new quarter, and I’m hoping to break my new record for quarterly referral kickbacks of $.08.

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Because It’s A Literary List, That’s Why

Kim du Toit presents a list of his favorite short stories. While not a true “best of” list, compulsion to convince you, gentle reader, that I have read some things has lead me to reproduce this list with the items I have read highlighted with bold font:

Short stories are harder to recollect than novels if you’ve merely read them in passing, as part of a survey course, or as part of a collection or anthology.

I’d also like to point out that I have a collection of Guy de Maupassant on my to-read shelves, so at some time, this personally annotated list will be more impressive.

Of all those I’ve read, I’d have to say that the “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is probably my favorite, and I’ve sort of got the idea for a story that has it in a twist of sorts. Sort of a combination of that and O. Henry’s A Retrieved Retribution.

But that’s neither here nor there.

So how well would you hold a conversation with Mr. du Toit on his favorite stories?

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Book Report: Lloyd What Happened by Stanley Bing (1998)

I used to read Stanley Bing’s column in Fortune magazine in 1996-1997, back when I was making $15,000 to $20,000 a year but was thinking big. It’s also before Fortune magazine and everyone in the Time stable started unscrupulously sending out magazine subscription forms disguised as invoices or shipping Sports Illustrated calendars, payment due, to anyone who entered their contests. So while my appreciation for all things Time-Warner fell to the disdain level, my fondness for Stanley Bing did not.

So when I saw this ex-library hardback at the St. Charles Book Fair, I said what the heck, and I picked it up for two dollars. It’s a satirical, slightly humorous look at life in the higher echelons of a multinational conglomorate. Lloyd, an executive vice president or some such, is a man with a title but no department who becomes the special envoy between the corporation and its parent as it begins to trim headcount in preparation for an acquisition. In addition to prose, the application includes relevant slide show presentations and graphs to illustrate Lloyd’s lifestyle relative to what it was when he began his career and how it was when he began the year captured in the book. In between business deals, navigating the literally and figuratively murderous world of scheming underlings and scheming overlords, Lloyd must deal with the temptations of a fiery vice president who’s available to a man of his obvious charisma.

Still, all temptations of the flesh and the power aside, the main character is a bit of a cipher; other characters explain how he fills a room, but that doesn’t come off of the page nor out of the mind of the character. Perhaps that’s intentional from Bing, a kind of representation of how even the most charismatic can fill out their interior lives with doubts. As I’m not particularly charismatic, you could easily convince me this is the interior life of more affable people, and I’ll let Bing get away with it. Because in spite of his self-doubts and cloddish behavior, Lloyd gets a redemption of sorts, unlike Brandon Sladder (from The Columnist by Jeffrey Frank, reviewed here). So the good will in the overall story of the book and its non-American Beauty ending, coupled with the palatable satire, carried me along through the book.

It was an entertaining book, but it might have run a couple or fifty pages too long. Sometime in the turn beyond the 200 page mark, I started wondering where it was going, and then it wrapped up somewhat abruptly, but perhaps that’s appropriate given the semi-absurdity of its ending. It’s an enjoyable book, and I recommend it as not only humorous story, which it is, but also as an inspiration for some people ascending the corporate ladders. Sure, it’s satire, but it’s also human in that it shows that people in power, in the apex of their fields, still suffer from the existential angst when they wonder if that’s all there is. I can appreciate that, and it’s comforting.

Books mentioned in this review:


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Book Report: In Someone’s Shadow by Rod McKuen (1969, 1970)

I finally broke down and bought this book from the Bridgeton Trails branch of the St. Louis County Library for a quarter. If you peruse the poetry sections of used books stores, garage sales, or many new book stores, you find an awful lot of this McKuen guy’s work. I’ve pooh-poohed them because 1. They’re popular and prevalent, and 2. That funky old-timey script and design probably indicates that they’re old, from like the 60s or something and probably chock full of San Franscisco park goodness.

Well, sorta.

The book started out exceedingly well, with a poem dedicated to Jerry Kramer, the former right guard for the Green Bay Packers (Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer reviewed). I mean, a poem dedicated to a Green Bay Packer. You don’t get much better than that.

That poem, which deals with the aging and retirement of a great, and the other pieces within the book are eminently accessible, as their language is facile and freeversic. So I could follow each poem, enjoy some of them, and spot a turn of phrase or two that was clever. And by the next day, I’d remember little. Very light poetry, with little of lasting sustenance. I can’t imagine trying to memorize one of these to perform at an open mike night, unlike “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “Love, Though For This You Riddle Me With Darts”, or “The World Is Too Much With Us”.

Still, sometime in the 1960s, apparently McKuen was a popular poetry dynamo, with millions of books of poetry in print and albums of spoken/sung poetry, hit records for other people, and other things that landed him an IMDB entry. The most financially successful poet of all time, and he’s all but forgotten thirty years later. Unlike, say, Robert Frost.

Like his fellow popular celebrity singer/poet Leonard Cohen (Selected Poems 1956-1968 review), perhaps McKuen did more harm than good to poetry by making it so accessible, so real, and so ultimately like spun cotton candy that required no digestion other than putting it on one’s tongue. I mean, they’re not bad poets, but if they’re held up to the popular mind as the ultimate in poetry, well, the public mind has digested it and has turned elsewhere for sustenance.

So it’s not a bad book, and I won’t dodge 25 cent offerings of other McKuen books in the future, but I don’t rate him among the giants of the field, past or present.

On a side note, this book is the first one read to my son. Remember, 25% of your purchases through the Amazon links below will be dedicated to my boy’s future therapy.

Books mentioned in this review:



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The Show

Forget this minor league blogging stuff; Damn Interesting is looking to bolster its roster.

I am going to take my cuts before the scouts, believe you me. Or believe me you. However those tricky direct object/indirect object relationships work out, which is typically badly and end with much breaking of dishes.

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You Don’t Say

Story: Legal bills drain money from public coffers: $100 million paid to attorneys in past 5 years:

Lawyer bills ate up close to $100 million in local tax dollars over the past five years in the five-county metro area, and legal spending by municipalities is on the rise, a Journal Sentinel analysis shows.

Of course, the Journal-Sentinel wants to point the finger at greedy lawyers who suck up all that public money. Personally, since the Journal-Sentinel tends to like spending public money and suing your way to justice or retribution, I find it disingenuous that the paper makes an issue of the combination. But it does.

You want to know what really burns up the people’s money when it comes to legal expenses? Governments suing governments, whether municipalities suing each other, local governments suing regional governments, state governments suing the federal government, or peer agencies suing each other. Such as:

Nah, that’s not wasting the people’s money on legal fees. Not if there’s a chance for a higher office for the right-thinking sort of person involved.

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Compton Heights Takes Extreme Anti-Emu Measures

To emus from overrunning the neighborhood at up to 35 miles per hour, the neighborhood of Compton Heights has taken extreme measures:

This kid’s pet was not the typical dog or cat, but the world’s longest lizard, a rare – and, to some people, beautiful – animal called the crocodile monitor. It looks like a tiny dinosaur with teeth like razors and a bullwhip for a tail. It is very aggressive. It dines on birds and medium-sized rats.

Now it is missing.

The crocodile monitor escaped from its cage and is assumed still to be roaming the streets of St. Louis’ Compton Heights neighborhood, fending for itself and potentially scaring people.

The introduction of a predator to take care of the largely bulletproof flightless birds will likely save the police department money on ordnance it would spend on dangerous emus, which can act aggressive and elusive to anyone they meet. Carbondale police are watching with interest to see how the Compton Heights program works on controlling the emu population, as well as small yippy dog population, before unleashing exotic predators, anaconda or perhaps dingos, in the small university town.

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Anti-Property Rights Legislators, or the IRA

It’s getting hard to tell them apart, with philosophies like this:

The surgeon general’s recent report on the hazards of secondhand smoke could spawn the next big summer sequel: Smoking Ban II.

Last year a controversial attempt to ban smoking in all public buildings died a slow, public death in the St. Louis County Council.

But the failed ban’s author, Council Chairman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, says the new report has led him to consider another run at the issue.

“After this report, I don’t think anyone can say this is not a health issue anymore,” Odenwald said. “The dangers of secondhand smoke are real. They are not hogwash, and I think we need to address them.”

When it comes to keeping a check on the government’s regulation of individual property rights, our elected leaders and the unelected agitators for legislation usurping personal dominion over personal property seem to espouse the philosophy: Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You have to be lucky always.

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Two Words: Falun Gong

L.A. yoga guru accused of running illegal studio:

Los Angeles prosecutors charged “hot yoga” guru Bikram Choudhury with operating a yoga studio without a permit and other violations that could land the controversial instructor in jail.

Choudhury, his landlord American Sunroof Corp. and company president Christian Prechter were each charged on Thursday with 10 criminal counts including operating without a certificate, overcrowding the yoga studio and not maintaining emergency exits. Each faces a maximum sentence of six months in jail for each count, and/or a $1,000 fine.

As his attorney would tell you, that’s a weak set of twigs to bind together into something with which to beat this instructor.

But, ladies and gentlemen, our activist, “Doing Something!” legislatures have given prosecutors with agenda the ability to legally beat upon the “criminals” using a bunch of lilliputian laws that could bind any one of us.

Sure, this prosecutor isn’t actually beating nor killing this fellow, but it’s just close enough for the Chinese to say that they’re dealing with their oddball religions/exercise programs the same way.

And just close enough that our own consciences will pull up short when it comes to sanctioning the Chinese. After all, we’re no different.

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