Book Report: The Moment She Was Gone by Evan Hunter (2002)

Although I would read anything with Ed McBain’s name on it pretty eagerly (well, okay, the Matthew Hope novels are not as compelling as the 87th Precinct novels and such), I buy and hold Hunter novels with some trepidation. I didn’t like how Last Summer turned out, so I fear that each will come with some sort of sudden, unsettling twist at the end.

This book starts when the twin sister of the narrator disappears from his mother’s apartment; she’s run off apparently. As the family gathers at the mother’s apartment, flashbacks tell the story of the troubled young woman, prone to traveling and telling exotic stories that are unbelieveable. Recently, the narrator has had to travel to Sicily to get her out of a mental health ward. He starts connecting the dots and incidents from her past and wonders if she really is crazy.

I wondered if we were in for a twist such as the narrator didn’t exist, the sister didn’t exist, or some sort of incest or molestation thing. But I was pleasanly surprised. The book is really just the story of a family coming to terms with the number of times it has overlooked, willfully, examples of schizophrenic behavior and what they do when they cannot deny it any longer.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Great Lakes: A Photographic Journey by Ann McCarthy (1992)

This book includes a 30 page vast summary history/travelogue about the Great Lakes region and a number of photos from the area. I thought the overview history was interesting enough as an idea source for historical pieces, but I really started taking it with a salt lick when they told me about Pierre Jacques Marquette in one place and identifying him as Father Jacques Marquette in two places. So maybe use it for ideas, but not as source material once you get the ideas.

The photos were beautiful. One of Chicago is taken from about where the Hyatt stands on the Chicago river, and the view is up Michigan Avenue. I can see the place where I posed for a picture beneath the Chicago Tribune building and can almost make out the place where the stairs take you down to the Billy Goat Tavern.

Two of Milwaukee feature the skyline, one looking up Wisconsin and Wells and another from over the breakwater pier. I showed Heather where my father took my brothers and me fishing, where Heather and I ate at a little cafe right as it opened, and where the art museum’s addition is (not pictured in these older photos). I’ll have to look back at them to see if I can pick out Downtown Books and the Safe House.

So, yeah, it made me homesick during a week where it’s been cold enough here but not snowy, unlike my home.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Back to the Future Part II by Craig Shaw Gardner (1989)

Last month, I read Back to the Future, so I was surprised and pleased to find I actually had this book in paperback hidden behind the trim in one of my book cases. As you know, gentle reader, the Sauder bookshelves have decorative trim that turns inward on the book cases; if you’re a double-stacker, like me, you know to put paperbacks behind the trim and then full size hardbacks when it ends. So if you want a paperback, look behind the trim. I was looking for a paperback, and I found this one.

Unlike its predecessor, this book follows the shooting script of the film pretty well. That is, I only found one particular deviation (“Mom! You’re so….big!”). I suppose that marks a good adaptation, ultimately, as it recreates the enjoyment I had of the film (since I saw the film first, and most recently about 4 years ago when my wife got me the trilogy for Christmas). I don’t know what it would do for you if you didn’t see the film, but it’s a good enough romp.

Assuming, of course, you had seen the first film or read the first book. The middle part of a trilogy is hard to enjoy on its own.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the third novelization of the movie (although I do have the trilogy of movies, which this book encourages me to watch). And I want it.

Oh, you want the plot? Marty goes to the future, saves his kid from a mistake, and then finds a mistake of his own in that future has altered the present, so he has to go back to the past again to save today and tomorrow. His, anyway. Ultimately, he ends up stuck in the past until he gets a message from further in the past and has to turn to Doc Brown of the past to help him into the past. Even spilling the plot makes me want to get the third book from Ebay or something.

So I’m a fan, and I have a pre-vote-for-your-paycheck-going-to-embryonic-stem-cell-research era poster of Michael J. Fox on my wall, okay?

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: One More Time by Mike Royko (2000)

I like Royko; I liked some of his other books (Dr. Kookie, You’re Right and Like I Was Sayin’, for instance). This book, however, isn’t the best of the lot, although it’s supposed to be The Best of Mike Royko.

The book contains columns from across the decades and papers for which Royko wrote, so it’s really got the historical summary course thing going on. Worse, the selection of the pieces probably reflects as much the decisions of the compilers and the times in which they lived rather than Royko; after all, these selections don’t tend to overlap the columns in the books he compiled. As a result, Royko comes across a little more straight ahead Democratic pundit than he probably was, although his views did skew that way. His columns, though, have more humanity and sticking up for the little guy against the big guys than the collection’s selection ultimately identifies.

Of course, I’m not a true Royko scholar; that’s just what I get from his books.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (?)

This book collects five novellas from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, Cricket on the Hearth, the Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man. Unfortunately, a collection of five Dickens novellas is harder to read than a single, thick volume of Dickens because one of the weaknesses of Dickens’s writing is the narrative voice setting up the story. In each case, each narrative takes something like five to ten pages to talk to you about the setting, in many cases before introducing a single human character that you can identify with and get into. Once you get over that threshold, you’re in pretty good shape.

I like Dickens stories, as one can surmise with my recent spate of them (Hard Times this year, and Great Expectations and Oliver Twist last year). In most cases, the stories are pretty optimistic and offer chances for redemption for most of the characters and a comfortable sentimentality as well as encouragment that man can thrive in a pre-electrified society that the Obama economy might bring us.

That said, of the five in this book, I enjoyed A Christmas Carol and The Cricket on the Hearth the most. The first is very familiar, of course, so I didn’t need the Cliff Notes to know where it was going. The second offered a very understandable and accessible dilemma, as a middle-aged man who characterizes himself as slow has reason to suspect his attractive younger wife is having an affair.

The Chimes and The Battle of Life both offer stories, but the characters didn’t involve me as much. In the first, a runner, that is, a courier, envisions life without him or something. In the second, a pair of sisters, a good man, and a wastrel are involved in love, loss, and a melodrama.

I didn’t really care for The Haunted Man because I was not invested in the characters and only sort of got where Dickens was going with the gimmick. A successful professor can be freed from a very painful memory, but loses the capacity for joy, too, but also acts as a carrier for the same effect and alters the lives of those whom he appreciates and for whom he feels affection.

I have this book in the Walter J. Black classics edition; of all the Classics Club I have, I’ve only so far read the Dickens books I have from them. I guess that indicates my predilection for Dickens, or at least my present preoccupation with classic fiction.

Final assessment: Worth a couple days/weeks of your time if you’re into that sort of thing. I am, it was to me.

Books mentioned in this review:

The Constitution Is Unenforceable

Read this piece at Ace of Spades HQ about how nobody can make Obama prove he’s an American citizen and thus eligible for the presidency and about how no one seems to care that Hillary Clinton is textually barred from serving as Secretary of State (because she, as a legislator, voted to increase pay for that position).

Once the incoming administration has finished rendering those obscure bits of the Constitution obsolete, wait until they get into the choice bits. If we’re going to start the pool, I think they’ll nullify portions of the first amendment first, because if they reinstate the Fairness Doctrine or otherwise impede freedom of the press, religion, and assembly, they won’t trigger an uprising.

The Undead Rise Again II

Consider it a sequel of sorts to this post, but KSDK reports, with a basic understanding of the possessive form of it:

Metro could eliminate 28 of it’s 60 existing MetroBus routes. The transit company has listed 22 routes on it’s website that may be eliminated next spring.

The second phase of likely cuts, including all service outside Interstate 270, will take place in the summer of 2010.

What does that really mean?

We’ll have to vote down the tax increase that we already voted down in November on the Spring ballot and maybe one more time before Metro does whatever it deems necessary, noting that cutting highly paid consultants or senior admin staff won’t be necessary.

The Collision of English Students and The Workplace

Instapundit links to a piece from a book about higher education or something, and the author relates a story about a faculty member teaching a graduate level course on technical writing wherein the faculty member gets in trouble for having a potty mouth:

“I will no longer tolerate,” the chair writes in his letter to my friend, “what can only be described as your insensitive, vulgar, and obscene language in the classroom.”

The colleague’s intent in a graduate-level, academic tech writing class (i.e., not a vocational training workshop) is not just to teach students how to type memos, but rather to challenge students to consider how they know what they know as tech writers. This can be achieved while they expand their knowledge of their field, which exists right in the oily hinge, right in the fishy craw of the intersection of higher education and the corporation. Given the mess such a collision must be, he and I agree, some form of institutional critique is vital, and this sort of three-dimensional, reflexive analysis can, over time, only make students better tech writers. To know your context is to know your work.

Like many of his grad students, the complainant is his age, and already works as a tech writer. For much more than his salary.

Oh, give me a break. The “ends” of which academic types, particularly in soft sciences, of technical writing is to deliver correct and useful information to people who need it. Take it from a technical writer. Any time spent on institutional critique and three-dimensional, reflexive analysis is a waste of time unless you want to become a professor of technical writing somewhere since the whole expertise on Dickens’ view of male/female relationships isn’t working out.

You want to teach a technical writer something, teach him or her how to suss out information from the misanthropes on the development team, how to actually freaking open the software or somewhat understand the thing they’re writing about, and how to make a good business case that documentation isn’t a waste of time and saves money on help desk calls and whatnot. But teaching them how to approach their jobs as though they’re academics ain’t it.

Nor is teaching them that swearing is professional in any way shape or form. The tech industry already skews to younger people who have already developed the habit of f-bombing everything in sight to show their intensity and passion instead of, I don’t know, showing quiet competence. I hate to see that taught in the universities as good institutional technique.

The Undead Rise Again

A good tax proposal doesn’t stay defeated for long:

The tax would finance an $80 million system which would allow members of police, fire and other emergency service agencies to talk to each other. The tax would raise about $15 million a year, Tim Fischesser, executive director of the St. Louis County Municipal League, estimated today. Currently, the county has a patchwork of radio systems using different frequencies. Often personnel from different agencies at an emergency site cannot talk to each other by radio.

On Nov. 4, voters defeated a 1.85-cent county use tax that included money for the radio system. The communications commission made its request for the 0.1-cent sales tax on Nov. 21. The county’s Blue Ribbon Commission on facilities needs discussed it this morning.

The shamble of bureaucracies is only slowed by the will of the people.

Things That Make Me Wish I Were Half As Crackpot As I Sound

Commentary in the Washington Times entitled “Nostradamus Redux“:

Mr. Celente’s accurate forecasts include the 1987 stock market crash, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the 1997 Asian currency crash, the 2007 subprime mortgage scandal that he said would soon engulf the world at a time when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a macroeconomist and expert on the Great Depression, told us, “the worst is behind us.” In November 2007, Mr. Celente also told UPI a massive devaluation of the dollar was coming and that some Wall Street giants were headed for total collapse. He called it “The Panic of 2008.”

“Worse than the Great Depression,” Mr. Celente opined. Beginning with a sharp drop in standards of living, and continuing with an angry urban underclass that threatens a social order that allowed the mega-rich to continue living behind gated communities with summer escapades to luxurious homes on the French and Italian Rivieras or to bigger and better and more expensive boats from year to year.

This time, Mr. Celente’s Trends Research Institute, which the Los Angeles Times described as the Standard & Poor’s of pop culture, can see a tax rebellion in America by 2012, food riots, squatter rebellions, job marches and a culture that puts a higher premium on food on the table than gifts under the Christmas tree.

I really ought to stop talking about loading up on guns and liquor and start doing it.