Another Country and Western No-No

Attention country and western singers:

I understand the lure of the Christmas album, and that backlist sales for such can go on for years and years, providing you with a steady, albeit low, income even once your waning popularity relegates you to performing at state fairs and store openings.

However, in your zeal to cash in on the reason for the season, note that steel guitars do not belong in Christmas songs.

I am talking to you, Alan Jackson and Trace Adkins.

Thank you, that is all.

Morning Read

Read this first: Of Bibliophilia and Biblioclasm:

In 1936, George Orwell published a little essay entitled Bookshop Memories. In it, he recalled his time as an assistant in a second-hand bookshop, a time that was happy only when viewed through the soft-focus lens of nostalgia. Irony might be defined as disgust recalled in tranquillity, and Orwell’s essay is nothing if not full of irony. He was glad to have had the experience, no doubt, but more glad that it was over.

Not much has changed in the three quarters of a century that have elapsed since Orwell’s experience as a bookseller. Second-hand bookshops the world over still tend to be inadequately heated places, Orwell says because the owners fear condensation in the windows, but also because profits are small and heating bills would be large. There is a peculiar chill, quite unlike any other, to be experienced between the stacks of second-hand bookshops.

I love to browse because navigating Web sites and menus does lose the tactile pleasure of the experience, which also explains why iTunes has not replaced a collection of records, CDs, and audiocassettes. When everything you own is just another node in your content tree, is it really the same as really having it?

(Link seen on Neo-Neocon.)

Book Report: The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald (1985)

This book, the last in the Travis McGee series, represents the most existentially maudlin entry in the series. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I rather like the wistful tone taken in some of the books, but this one hammers it pretty hard.

It’s a pretty pedestrian plot as far as McGee novels go. Hired by a rich man to find his stolen yacht, McGee finds it with the bodies of two American teenagers and a daughter of a Peruvian diplomat/drug trafficker aboard. Suddenly, people connected with the case begin dying, and McGee has to survive long enough to figure out if it’s to cover up for the crime or as revenge for the crime that he’s being targeted.

I’ve read this book before, and as I purchased this latest copy of it, I misremembered which one this was. I thought it was the one where his wife died, but that’s earlier in the set and probably not as melancholy.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Wall by Jean-Paul Sartre (1974)

This book collects a handful of Sartre’s stories, including “The Wall”, “The Room”, “Erostratus”, “Intimacy”, and “The Childhood of the Leader”. If you have read a Sartre short story, you have read “The Wall”. It’s the best of this anthology, and in an odd turn of events, the whole thing starts well and progressively gets worse. “The Wall” is a good story, but “The Childhood of the Leader” is a sixty page exercise in Sartrean pontification and excess.

Let’s face it; Sartre is not a writer whose philosophy dribbles out of his writing. His writing exists to prop up his philosophy, kind of like Ayn Rand’s fiction really lays out Objectivism. Ayn Rand had better plots, though. Sartre’s plots are very literary, and the tone of each story is self-consciously literary. Maybe that’s a factor of the translation undertaken by a student or something.

As such, Sartre deals with revolutionaries sentenced to death; a man gone mad and his wife; a man who just decides to kill someone; a wife who married an impotent man but cheats on him; and a guy who grows into an anti-Semitic leader. So these aren’t people I can necessarily relate to, which makes reading a chore. However, in some literary and high-brow fiction threads, that lack of identification and even repugnance throws me out of my bourgeous sentimentality or something. It also make reading Sartre for pure enjoyment impossible.

As I said, the books first two stories are the best. “The Wall”, about condemned insurgents spending their last night together in their cell and facing the Wall tomorrow, is oddly enough the most approachable. The narrator is forced to dwell on dying and dying well in a limited amount of time. It’s almost Hemingwayesque, but with a distinctly Existential twist at the end. “The Room”, on the other hand, is sort of two parts: It starts with the mother of the wife, confined to her room, as she gets a visit from her husband, a very practical man who’s off to go to tell his daughter what he thinks of her tending to her psychotic husband. He then goes and tells her. In the second part, the woman deals with the aftermath of her father’s visit and how she feels about the husband whom she loved. She wonders what his insanity is really like, experientially, and wonders if she’s going a bit mad herself. It’s a very complex tale, where one wonders about whether the father telling her to send her husband off to an institution is completely consistent, since he himself tends to the woman’s mother.

After that, it’s rather basic Existentialist hokum wrapped in stories about unsympathetic people. Worst of the lot, “The Childhood of the Leader” relies on the main character becoming the narrator of Nausea at three years of age, questioning his existence and the existence of things outside himself, before growing up, having an abortive homosexual relationship, and then turning anti-semitic for really no reason other than to wrap up the story.

Interesting if you’re a student of philosophy, but you can get more enjoyable life lessons out of classic English literature or hard-boiled detective novels.

I think I need to read some Camus to rinse this out of my head.

Books mentioned in this review:

That’s a Neat Trick

I just got a credit card statement in the mail today for my Commerce Bank Small Business Visa. I’m turning around and paying it right away because I missed the last deadline by a day because I’d been in the practice of letting a couple of bills collect before I sat down and wrote a bunch of checks.

So I sit down and look it over. The statement date is November 18. Today is November 26. It took Commerce Bank eight days to get this to me, which gives me a little more than, what, two weeks to turn it around without exorbitant penalties.

I called and told them it was poor form, and the customer service representative sat in silence while I said, procedurally, this was a dirty trick, and I was displeased with the way they conducted themselves. I’m not the best guy at venting my spleen on the phone, and certainly I had no end game (I want a free night at the hotel, I want a charge removed, et cetera), but even calling them to complain ultimately made me feel smaller than if I hadn’t called because I don’t expect the policy to ever change because we are a nation of small fries (and now, Goverment Sponsored Entities formerly known as Big Businesses).

But I am empowered, through this blog, to tell you, gentle reader who is searching for photos of Natalie J. Rabb or Commerce employee tracking the business’s online response. So there you go.

At this point, I sometimes want to throw up my hands and say, Big Government, Big Business, what’s the difference? It’s all about ossified bureaucracies and procedures designed to glean every possible drop from you for their own purposes. I guess the difference is choice, which means Big Business needs to trick you, whereas government just has to tell you, so it’s quite a big difference indeed.

Metrosexual Alert: Zac Brown

Ladies and gentlemen, up and coming country and western singer Zac Brown is a metrosexual.

Zac Brown: Metrosexual

Let’s look at the textual evidence within his paean to all things country, "Chicken Fried":

    You know I like my chicken fried
    Cold beer on a Friday night
    A pair of jeans that fit just right
    And the radio up

Jeans that fit just right? Ladies and gentlemen, real men do not understand the concept of jeans that fit just right. Women’s jeans, apparently, have 132 different variables in cut, shape, and jib. Women worry about jeans fitting just right. A man worries about jeans merely fitting, which means the button closes and not too much sock shows. Fitting just right sounds an awful lot like Zac Brown has spent time in trendy urban outfitters, getting custom denim cut for him. He probably uses body wash, too.

And that’s just not manly. Know your inseam and your waist and take the one off of the top of the stack at Walmart, you sissy.

Book Report: Rough Weather by Robert B. Parker (2008)

Well, it’s a Spenser book. A fair plot, although at the beginning of it, I was afraid it was going to recast the plot of one of the Paradise novels. Spenser’s hired as a bodyguard of sorts for a secluded wedding (40 minutes by boat from the coast of Massachussetts, I think he said), a job he doesn’t quite understand, since the rich people have a full security detail. But then The Gray Man recurs, shoots a couple people, and kidnaps the daughter. Someone tries to kill Spenser because he won’t stop investigating. Spenser gets information from recurring characters (Rita Fiore, Ives). Then he makes a deal with the Gray Man, and the book ends. Man, I remember when these sorts of books ended with some sort of justice. Now they end with deals with the bad guys.

At least Parker didn’t call out the Spenser Superfriends team (Bernie Fortunato, Teddy Sapp, Bobby Horse, Chollo, you know, the diverse cast of people like Spenser). Hawk appears, but I don’t count him as part of the SSF because he preceded them. Although, let’s face it, his days of menace are gone. Nobody is afraid of Hawk any more but the stock civilian characters who appear to show fear of Hawk. The police tolerate him, Susan Silverman makes kissy talk with him, and so on.

You know, I cannot think of a Spenser novel I liked beyond 1990. I guess that’s really showing now in these reviews. This one, I got from the BOMC because I had to get something. The next one, I’ll probably get from a book fair.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Heat by Mike Lupica (2006)

In a stunning turn of events, this is the second book I’ve read with this title this year. The first, Ed McBain’s Heat, I read in January. The two are not too similar, even though Lupica dabbles in some crime fiction. Because, in a stunning turn of events, this is the second Young Adult novel I’ve read in a couple weeks. Crikey, I must be into my second childhood. What’s with adult authors trying to jump into the YA market? It makes for some confusing times at the book fairs. Is this Hiaasen an adult book, or a green-preaching YA novel? Is this Lupica book one of his adult plots turned into simpler sentences and shrunken to 12-year-olds? What, pray tell, does Robert B. Parker write for young adult fiction–embrace an arbitrary “code” of relativistic, touchy-feely ethics and bone your neighbor’s wife which is okay if it feels good and you don’t feel guilty?

At any rate, this book deals with a 12-year-old Little League superstar pitcher from Cuba whose father has died, but whose 17-year-old brother is working two jobs as they keep the death quiet so they don’t get turned over to family services and split up. Additionally, the kid’s eligibilty is challenged since his birth certificate didn’t make the boat ride from Cuba. It’s a very complicated story, and it works out with an almost deus ex maquina thing, but it’s all right.

For a kid’s book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Another Thing I Could Have Lived Without

A smooth jazz rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”:

That’s rolling a 1 on a d20.

And, sadly, that is the version on the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack. You know, from the very end where Riggs is shot by the South African diplomat on the freighter.

If you don’t know the exact scene, you haven’t watched it enough.

UPDATE: You know what I really could have lived without? Researching it and finding out who else did the song. Roger Waters? Are you freaking kidding me?

This is an unholy aberration.

Book Report: 24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley (2005)

I bought this book because I thought it might be a saucy sort of male equivalent of Sex in the City or something. Without a dustjacket, I flipped it open and landed on the first person narrator’s self-description, and that was enough since I had a wallet full of money and a box half full of books at the book fair. I missed the part where it identified him as a high school kid.

So it’s a young adult novel, set in high school. The main character isn’t so good with the girls, so his friends post an online ad for him seeking a prom date, and it gets a lot of response. So he agrees to evaluate 24 girls for in the week before the prom and then to select one for his date. It takes on a little of a reality show feel, and he deals with the unreality and with the reality of his life.

Oh, and he grows and learns something about himself at the end.

Well, then. I frankly missed the YA thing. I went from Hardy Boys in elementary school to hard boiled detective fiction in middle school. I suspect I didn’t miss much, and I used my reading to prepare myself for the grim real world, not the goofy high school world. I’d go on a spurious tangent about how YA books have trained kids to be adolescents in their adulthoods, but frankly, I don’t think enough kids read to have that impact.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The TV Theme Song Trivia Book by Vincent Terrace (1996)

I bought this book because when I flipped through it, I landed pretty quickly on the beginning narration for the original Battlestar Galactica, so I thought I’d do pretty well. As it turns out, I got about 10% of the questions, maybe less. Because, let’s face it, the popular television seasons spanned a large bloc of years, so the theme songs you remember represent a very small percentage of television shows. The book is rife with answers based on short-running shows from fifty years of television, including four or so decades where I didn’t watch television.

As a result, I didn’t get many questions right about 1960s cartoons, 1940s detective shows, 1970s meaningful sitcoms, or 1950s westerns. I didn’t even get the chance to answer the question about the inexecrable Buck Rogers in the 25th Century theme song lyrics, which the producers fortunately turned into a science fiction march after the pilot. So I knew something that this author might not, which is the best I can do.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Smarter by the Dozen by Jane & Bill Dahlin/Doloris & Ted Pepple (1989)

When I bought this book, I expected a book in the line of Tom Braden’s Eight is Enough: a collection of anecdotes and incidents about raising a large family, set in a familiar location and with a historical relevance.

Instead, this book is really just a brain dump of parental advice on topics from buying insurance to handling kids’ drug problems. Not what I was looking for at all, really, but it made the book–dare I say it?–very skimmable.

One bit of historical trivia: The book has a whole chapter on 16 in Webster Groves, a documentary about growing up in suburban America that CBS shot in Webster Groves. In true reality television style, the network apparently cut the film to portray its story that suburban American children were being brainwashed into the bourgeoisie. Webster residents at the time were upset with it. So much so that the authors include it and spend a chapter railing against it 23 years later.

I’d tell you where the book is for sale, but you don’t find it anywhere on the Internet. Its existence is proven electronically only that it appears in a photo in this Flickrstream. Given that this book was printed as a limited edition, the photographer is either a Dahlin, a Pepple, or a nearby resident of Webster Groves.

Book Report: The Three Musketeers (abridged) by Alexandre Dumas (1974)

I thought this book would be a movie tie-in book because it has the actors from the movie arrayed on the front cover, and it has action stills in the photo section in the middle of the book. Oh, but no. Instead of being based on the script for the film, it is truly just an abridged form of the book (which I read in its entirety last year).

So it lacks some of the more campy humorous bits that the film had. It’s a pale version of the complete book and unrelated at all to the movie, but I suppose it does distill some of the plot points that the film captured from the original book. However, some scenes I recall from both the book and the movie (breakfast at the seige of La Rochelle) have been abridged from this edition entirely.

Probably not worth the read unless you’re a fan of Readers’ Digest Condensed Books, but might be worth your time if you’re into treatments of Dumas.

Books mentioned in this review:

The Three Musketeers Exclusive Movie Edition abridged