New Floor Established

Congress has passed the new, $787 billion dollar stimulus bill.

Anyone else remember how, in the ancient history of a half decade, a $250 billion dollar transportation bill was a big deal?

Then came TARP at $700 billion (essentially, a number the then-Treasury Secretary made up. Now we have $787 billion.

Thus, the new floor is set. Next time, Congress will have to pass something even bigger. Which they probably will. And anything less than $787 billion dollars will seem as though Congress isn’t trying harder.

(At least one of these links seen on The Anchoress, where she’s gloomier than I am.)

Also read this for a summary of some of the things in the bill. At 1000 pages, nobody really knows what all is in it. Some lobbyists no doubt know the parts they wrote, but no one knows what is in the whole thing.

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Good and Bad to Start 2009 in Missouri



  • Bill to allow students who don’t graduate chance to participate in graduation if they’re disabled. The disabled have more legal rights than the enabled, do they not? As a bonus, this bill has a girl’s name attached to it. A MfBJN rule of thumb: if a bill has a child’s name on it, it is a bad law rushed into the books for sentimental reasons.

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It Probably Says Something

Has anyone else noticed that free rein now appears more and more in print as free reign?

I’m not sure if this means more and more people are using it in reference to the growth of government and are consciously making a pun (I doubt it) or if educational standards or cultural references have obscured the horsemanship origin of the phrase.

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Ace Embraces The MfBJN Lifestyle

To add variety to Valu-Rite Vodka and hobo-killin’, Ace embraces the MfBJN lifestyle:

Allah, the technojunkie, is swooning over the new improved Kindle. I’m not, and I don’t think most will.

For one thing it costs $360. Quite an investment.

For another thing, books are not precisely difficult to carry around, especially on the places where you’d read a book outside your home — subway, airport, Starbucks, park. The Kindle is a bit thinner and lighter, but who’s sweating the weight of a book?

For yet another thing, books are intrinsically pleasurable as objects. People like books — the feel of paper, the smell of them. Kindle is not going to replace that attractiveness anytime soon.

But here’s the big reason Kindle will never catch on, as a friend explained to me:

“How do you know what to read?”

By which he meant — without the pleasant ritual of going to a book-store, browsing the stacks, picking up a book and reading its back cover and first few pages — how the hell do you know what you want to read in the first place?

You know, modern Americans read 36 books a year and buy 84 books. Because I bring the average up that much, baby! (see also this and this.)

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Book Reading 2008 Wrap

You know, every year I provide a handy little boast list of how much I’ve read in one place. Because of the hiatus, I didn’t get that list out.

Until now.

Read it and weep (for my lack of a life outside the pages):

  1. Friday by Robert Heinlein
  2. Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan by Vonda N. McIntyre
  3. Star Trek III The Search for Spock by Vonda N. McIntyre
  4. Heat by Ed McBain
  5. The Fred Factor by Steve Gill
  6. The Return by William Shatner
  7. The Best of Slate: A 10th Anniversary Anthology by David Plotz (ed.)
  8. Kill Him Twice by Richard S. Prather
  9. Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon
  10. Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook by Scott Adams
  11. April Evil by John D. MacDonald
  12. Ranting Again by Dennis Miller
  13. Playgrounds of the Mind by Larry Niven
  14. Infinite Possibilities by Robert Heinlein
  15. Stranger in Paradise by Robert B. Parker
  16. Secret Prey by John Sandford
  17. Paris Kill-Ground by Joseph C. Rosenberger
  18. The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton
  19. John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy by William Caferro
  20. The Forge of God by Greg Bear
  21. First Blood by David Morrell
  22. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  23. Mischief by Ed McBain
  24. Rambo: First Blood Part II by David Morrell
  25. Journey to Cubeville by Scott Adams
  26. Mad as Hell byMike Lupica
  27. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  28. Man O’ War by William Shatner
  29. The Running Man by Stephen King
  30. The Case of the Horrified Heirs by Erle Stanley Gardner
  31. Strange But True: Mysterious and Bizarre People by Thomas Slemen
  32. Top Ten of Everything 2008 byRussell Ash
  33. Michelangelo: His Life and Works byDonatello de Ninno
  34. Solved Selected by Richard Glyn Jones
  35. Pogo: We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us by Walt Kelly
  36. How to Break Web Software by Mike Andrews and James A. Whittaker
  37. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  38. An Altogether New Book of Top Ten Lists by David Letterman
  39. Alice in Jeopardy by Ed McBain
  40. Space Wars: Worlds and Weapons by Stephen Eisler
  41. The Book of Tomatoes by National Gardening Magazine
  42. Rooster Cogburn by Martin Julien
  43. The Braille Woods by Ann Townsend
  44. Lonesome Cities by Rod McKuen
  45. Best Home Plans by Sunset Books
  46. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Tales by Washington Irving
  47. And To Each Season by Rod McKuen
  48. The Job by Douglas Kennedy
  49. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
  50. Red Zone by Mike Lupica
  51. Sweer Savage Heathcliff by George Gately
  52. Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  53. Bread by Ed McBain
  54. Paradise Alley by Sylvester Stallone
  55. Contrary Pleasure by John D. MacDonald
  56. Clash of the Titans by Alan Dean Foster
  57. A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
  58. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
  59. No Witnesses by Ridley Pearson
  60. Phantom Prey by John Sandford
  61. Conquest by Hugh Thomas
  62. Shadows Over Baker Street edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan
  63. Love Sonnets edited by Louis Untermeyer
  64. The End of the Night by John D. MacDonald
  65. The Private Dining Room by Ogden Nash
  66. Nobody’s Safe by Richard Steinberg
  67. The Careless Corpse by Brett Halliday
  68. The Case of the Mischeivous Doll by Erle Stanley Gardner
  69. The April Robin Murders by Craig Rice and Ed McBain
  70. The Fruminious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain
  71. Murder at the ABA by Isaac Asimov
  72. I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore by Clarissa Start
  73. Murder Spins The Wheel by Brett Halliday
  74. From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming
  75. Many Long Years Ago by Ogden Nash
  76. Reflections on Our Friendship by American Greetings Corporation
  77. The Pope of Greenwich Village by Vincent Patrick
  78. The Lost City of Zork by Robin W. Bailey
  79. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot
  80. Chasing Darkness by Richard Crais
  81. Resolution by Robert B. Parker
  82. Do As I Say (Not As I Do) by Peter Schweizer
  83. Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie
  84. The Man With The Golden Gun by Ian Fleming
  85. A Friend Forever Edited by Susan Polis Schutz
  86. Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel
  87. The Silencers by Donald Hamilton
  88. Invisible Prey by John Sandford
  89. The First Immortal by James L. Halperin
  90. True Grit by Charles Portis
  91. Crossword Poems Volume One by ed by Robert Norton
  92. 50 Great Horror Stories edited by John Canning
  93. Event Horizon by Steven E. McDonald
  94. 24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley
  95. Smarter by the Dozen by Dahlin/Tipple
  96. Back to the Future by George Gipe
  97. Elm Ave by Save the Heart of Webster, Inc.
  98. Indians of North America: The Aztecs by Frances F. Berdan
  99. The Explainer by edited by Bryan Curtis
  100. Rough Weather by Robert B. Parker
  101. TV Theme Song Trivia Book by Vincent Terrace
  102. The Three Musketeers (abridged) by Alexandre Dumas
  103. Heat by Michael Lupica
  104. The Wall by Jean-Paul Sartre
  105. The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald
  106. Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life by Dave Stern
  107. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  108. One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko by Mike Royko
  109. Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell
  110. Back to the Future Part II by Craig Shaw Gardner
  111. The Moment She Was Gone by Evan Hunter
  112. The Great Lakes: A Photographic Journey by Ann McCarthy
  113. Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter

What’s odd is how sometimes you can remember what you were doing when you were reading the books. The first of the books I read while painting my new office space and preparing for the transition to newborn fatherhood. Later, I read a stack of books rather quickly in the waiting room outside an ICU.

Also, I remember something of most the books I read, but the compilations are harder.

So what did you read last year?

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Book Report: Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon (1995)

I don’t know why I am such a sucker for Neil Simon plays. They’re short, as are all modern plays, and they’re often amusing, but frankly they tend to lack a proper story arc in the two acts. I Ought To Be In Pictures and Chapter Two are pretty good, but Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound just kind of drop a couple of scenes out of Simon’s life, fictionalized, onto the stage. I guess Lost in Yonkers is somewhere in between. However, the lesson I’ve learned is the closer the story tracks to Simon’s life, the less interesting it will be.

This play has two acts about a young writer working for a comedy/variety show in 1953. We get two acts of the writers who work there ripping on each other and making jokes as fast as they can. Their mercurial boss, the head of the show, makes an appearance. The HUAC is at work, and the network wants to cut the show. Then, in act 2, we get more of the same and the show ends.

This is the weakest of the plays of Simon that I’ve read, and it also tracks autobiographical, perhaps proving the my theory. On page, it’s less funny than a public domain episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show which has a similar vibe vis-a-vis the working environment without the benefits of wacky situations and an hot young Mary Tyler Moore.

As a side note, I always read the original cast list that appears in the front of the book and see whom I recognize. In this case, it’s Nathan Lane as the show host. I also recognized Mark Linn-Baker’s name, although if you would have asked me, “He played the American cousin on the television sitcom Perfect Strangers,” I would have been at a loss. But give me the name, and I recognize his most famous role. A note of amusement is that he played the guy without the accent in that show, but in this play he portrays a Russian immigrant, so he’s the only one with an accent. Huh.

So it’s a quick hour’s worth of reading, more worth it if you’re doing a paper on Neil Simon’s works than if not.

Books mentioned in this review:

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Book Report: Every Little Crook and Nanny by Evan Hunter (1972)

Even though in later years, Evan Hunter/Ed McBain got a little onto the bash Bush wagon, the bulk of his work occurred before he went nuts, and I read most of it so far before that, so I cut him more slack than I do someone like John Sandford. So I don’t think anything of picking up a new Hunter novel, especially since it looks like Last Summer was an outlier in its pathology.

This book details a kidnapping of a crime world figure’s son while he’s vacationing in Capri. The Nanny, with whom the Ganooch had left the urchin in the states, calls one of the lesser men in the underworld circle to help her figure out what to do. He employs various methods and criminal plans to try to raise the ransom money before the Ganooch comes home or worse…. if anything could be worse.

Hunter names the chapters after characters who appear in them, often for the first time, and on the page facing each chapter we get a photograph of those people, apparently taken of not only Hunter and some family members, but other people he knew. An addendum tells who the photographs really are and makes reference to some of the other material in the book so you know he wasn’t making things up. The photograph gimmick was amusing and worked for me.

I get the sense that Evan Hunter liked to write. Most writers, you don’t get that sense or worse. But he liked doing novel things with his novels.

Books mentioned in this review:

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A Secret Revealed

Instapundit links to a post on the Atlantic Monthly site and asks:


I can answer in a word: No.

I caused the financial meltdown.

You see, for years I’ve been taking all the credit card offers I received in the mail and sent the post-paid envelope back with only the terms and the conditions of the offer enclosed. I did this up to 20 times a week when the credit was easy, when I got several offers a day, often from the same promotion but with the picture on my new card-to-be changed from my university to other universities people I know attended.

I thought it might teach them a lesson, perhaps drive the price of new customer acquisition up to the point that it was less worthwhile to carpetbomb the country with the offers. Also, I’m often juvenile.

Little did I know that the cumulative effect not only ate into the cash flow of the organizations in question, but because they borrowed money for short term expenditures, the nominative predicative delta accelerated as the time participular refluxion elapsed. To put it succinctly:


I should have thought of that before the first time I scissored out the little faux customer locator code from the back of one of those envelopes.

Of course, I just made this whole business up out of whole cloth, including vocabulary and formulas. Kind of like the smartest people in the country who still work for the major banking companies and the government offices that service the financial industry, hey? I could have a career in one or the other, except it would be too hard for me to play it “straight” there and not snicker from time to time when I’m building the fables that are modern instruments of policy and banking.

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Book Report: The Deal by Peter Lefcourt (1991)

This is a quick little comic, almost-heist of a novel set in the movie industry. A washed-up marginal producer about to commit suicide gets one more chance when his nephew from New Jersey shows up with a script about Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Smelling his last chance, the producer sort of misleads a hot but impressionable action star into wanting it and then gets a budget and an office at a studio. Once he’s set, he only has to completely have it rewritten into an action flick and shoot it in Hungary. When that falls apart, he can always go with unplanned B: attaching major Oscar talent to it and shooting it as an actual period piece.

An amusing read. I was saddened that the author hadn’t written many books between now and then and wonder what to think now that its sequel is coming out fifteen years later.

Books mentioned in this review:

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Good Book Hunting: January 2009

You think that because I haven’t posted a good book hunting segment in a while that I have not been out there buying books? Hah! Think again.

Although January isn’t normally a good month for book fairs, this January 2009 proved to be fruitful indeed. We visited the following three book fairs.

St. Michael’s

The first book fair we visited was St. Michael’s in Shrewsbury. I think we missed this book fair last year; however, we saddled up our children and went to this one (a side benefit of having toddlers as big as horses is you can, in fact, ride them). St. Michael’s is tucked off a side street in Shrewsbury (St. Michael, for some reason).

The book fair is tucked into a small room to the left of the entrance. Small rooms with few people mean that toddling children can walk by themselves, exploring the books on their own. Our toddling child offers his own suggestions for purchase, not only in children’s books but also in adult books, but his determinations of his parents’ reading interests are more random than an Amazon algorithm. At any rate, here’s what we got:

January 2009 trip to St. Michael's
Click for full size

I got:

  • The Jeopardy Book, a book based on the popular television game show.
  • A four volume set of Masterpieces of World Literature, a reference work.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac in bound, not scroll, form.
  • Hard Drive, a book about Bill Gates and Microsoft. I’ll read it sometime, like I’ll read Softwar about Larry Ellison and Oracle sometime.
  • Life in the Castle in Medieval England. Self-explanatory.
  • The Natural, the book upon which the movie was based.
  • Breaking Legs, a play.
  • Blackhawk Down, the book about the Somalian excursion. I read the book serialized in the late 1990s, but I’ll probably want to read it again. You know, I think I saw the film, too.
  • Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.
  • Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell. It doesn’t fit into the Sharpe series, so I didn’t blow it with all the people who will get me the series for my birthday.
  • I’m No Hero. I forget who wrote this, or why he or she bothered to assert it. I guess I’ll find out sometime in 2019, unless I’m forced to burn the book for fuel first.
  • If You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It, a memoir by Yogi Berra.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
  • Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a Neil Simon play.
  • Life After Death, a play by someone else.
  • Introduction to Logic, as though I need another textbook on this deprecated subject.

That’s 19 books.

Heather got some books, and the toddler got some books that he can’t wait to read. And he hasn’t.

St. Mattias

We’d seen the signs for weeks, so when the time came, we had a babysitter lined up and went down to St. Mattias for its book fair. I entered a raffle for a quilt which I didn’t win. The fair was in the church’s gym, a bit bigger than we would have wanted to let the child run in anyway. I have totally given up pretense, and I grab a box right away when entering these affairs. You can see why:

January 2009 trip to St. Mattias
Click for full size

I got:

  • The Birds on VHS. It was written by Evan Hunter, you know.
  • A Short History of Australia because I don’t have a lot of time for a long history of Australia. Speaking of which, since Pluto is a dwarf planet, shouldn’t we also have a movement afoot to demote Australia to a dwarf continent?
  • Breaking Point, a DAW paperback original science fiction thing. Just because.
  • A volume in the History of Philosophy series. A duplicate, of course, but one of these days I’ll get lucky. Or I’ll get smart and list what I have so I don’t buy up all the duplicates in circulation.
  • Renny’s Daughter, part of some series by Mazo de la Roche. I bought some others in the series. Why not get them all just in case I like them? Well, I guess the argument would be what if I don’t like them, but I can always burn them for fuel.
  • The Klutz’s Guide to Knots, complete with strings to practice with. Should come in handy if I’m impressed onto a frigate.
  • Odd Hours, by Dean Koontz. I already had a BOMC edition complete with erratum notice; this standard edition will replace it and provide my brother’s new birthday gift.
  • The Big Play, an old collection of big NFL plays.
  • Devil’s Holiday.
  • The Complete Book of Swords. This had been in the history section, but I know better. The volunteers at St. Mattias appeared to be somewhat clueless since many books were classed according to the title and not the content.
  • O Pioneers in the coveted Readers Digest edition no less.
  • King Edward VII. A biography. Don’t know who he is? Someday I won’t be able to say that.
  • Brave Men, a collection of works by Ernie Pyle.
  • The Ends of the Earth by Robert Kaplan.
  • Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of the Democratic Party. Get them before they’re banned!
  • Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, a Readers Digest collection. These are such good sources for ideas. I have so many, I should put the good ideas to use sometime.
  • How a House Works, a home repair thing. I have so many, I should repair my house sometime.
  • A Memory of Running by Ron McLarty. He played Sgt. Frank Belson on Spenser: For Hire, you know. I didn’t need more reason than that.
  • 2201 Amazing Facts, hopefully another idea source.
  • 2 volumes of a collection of Kipling.
  • Not Exactly the Three Musketeers, a Guardians of the Flame book by Joel Rosenberg. You know he’s a CCL instructor, right?
  • Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, another screedish, no doubt, book.
  • Black Money by Ross MacDonald. When you find a Ross MacDonald in the wild, you take it.
  • The Yuppie Handbook. For times when I want to reminisce about being DINK and project myself into a city in the 1980s.
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself, poems by Ogden Nash. I shall have the whole set someday.
  • Daytrip Missouri, a travel thing for Missouri.
  • Well Versed in Business, poems about business.
  • Let it Rot about composting.
  • The Fall of the Ivory Tower, a screedish book a la The Hollow Men and ProfScam, I assume.
  • The Tommyknockers by Stephen King.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte. Man, if I ever start reading historical biographies, I will be set.
  • Michigan, a picture book. Hopefully, it will skip Detroit (although I have looked at a picture book dedicated to that city in 2007).
  • Manual of Home Repairs, Remodeling, and Maintenance. See comment above for the other home repair book.

Additionally, I bought some Diane Schuur CDs and the Verve Pipe CD with “The Freshmen” on it. Heather got some books and some LPs, including a Styx album whose cover creeps me out seriously. Seriously.

I’m only going by line numbers here in my HTML editor, but is that 32 books? That puts me at 52 purchased for the month before the deluge.

The JCC Mini Sale

This year, apparently the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur will renovate the building that houses its book fair, so they threw a mini-book fair for five days in January. We were going to go on Tuesday, the penultimate day, but a schedule conflict emerged, so we ended up going on the last day. Five dollar bag day. You know what that means.

I didn’t have too many books, but then I looked again at a large collection of Walter J. Black-printed three-mysteries-to-a-volume series, and thought, “Man, I could pick those all up for $10. So I did, and then some:

January 2009 trip to JCC
Click for full size

I got:

  • 43 of the aforementioned mystery books, or 129 mystery novels total.
  • Shakespeare Whodunnits, mysteries based on Shakespeare plays.
  • From Here to Eternity by James Jones. I am on a WWII kick here. By “kick,” I mean buying a lot of WWII books.
  • M*A*S*H Goes to Moscow, a book based on the television series.
  • Star Trek 2-7. Some are dupes, but they all fit in the bag, dig?
  • The Black Death by Nick Carter. Quality pulp.
  • Four From Planet 5, a science fiction thing about kids from another planet.
  • Happy Days: Ready to Go Steady, a book based on the television series.
  • It’s Always Something, the autobiography of Gilda Radner.
  • The Beyonders by Manly Wade Wellman. Probably not about the Secret Wars or Cosmic Cubes.
  • The Covery and Then. I have no idea. I bought that?
  • Thunderball, the James Bond novel.
  • The Yom Kippur War, a historical account. The J is always good for Israeli history; what are the odds?
  • Shogun. Remember the miniseries? I remember it was on. Sometime around the time Masada was on, too.
  • Shopping Smart, an early book by John Stossel.
  • Goldfinger, another Bond novel.
  • Screenplay, a book about how to write screenplays? Hey, it fit in the bag.
  • Wild Fun, a galley or ARC of a novel by Nelson DeMille. The J is also good for prepublication materials.
  • Captives, a galley or ARC of another novel. Bought because it’s prepublication and hence worth more if anyone bothers collecting books in 20 years and this chap is any good. If not, it burns at a cozy 451 degrees.
  • At That Point In Time, Fred’s book about Watergate.
  • My Life by Golda Meir. I think I already have this in paperback, in which case the hardback is a replacement.
  • Freedom in the Ancient World, a book that examines and, hopefully, rates the individual freedom in ancient societies.
  • Bush Country, a pro-Bush screed.
  • Degas, a picture book of the artist’s work.
  • Historic Midwest Houses, a picture book of, well, you can guess.
  • The World’s Great News Photographs 1840-1980

Heather got a couple of books and some music, as is her wont.

As you know, on dollar bag day (or $5 bag day in this case), you buy books by volume. Our collection was four bags, so $20. We didn’t even really try to stuff the bags. The selection wasn’t the best, as it was only a minibook fair and the last day of it to boot. Maybe I was a little gun shy about going nuts, too, knowing it was license to acquire too much. Because, you know, 73 books wasn’t too much.

Total: 124 new books.

That is, more than a year’s worth of reading bought in one month.

And it’s not even book sale season yet.

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Book Report: Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (1970)

After I read the first book in the Sharpe series, I realized that I didn’t have the second book in that series, so I looked around for other historical fiction on my shelves, and I came to this book. I’d seen the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but apparently that is a later book in the series. This book introduces Jack Aubrey and the surgeon characters and describes Aubrey’s first command.

Meticulously researched, the book describes the technology, procedures, and military of the era as much as any Clancy novel. However, the pacing on this book is very mellow and languid. A lot of exposition, some action, more exposition, some politicking, some exposition, action, and the novel kind of ends without a real climax.

As such, it’s not as compelling as Clancy or Cornwell, but still interesting enough that I wouldn’t mind reading the next in the series.

Apparently, I’m really getting into British military history ca 1800 with the Sharpe and Aubrey/Maturin books. Reading these makes me want to do my own research so I can really be steeped in what the authors describe, so that the exposition isn’t educational but merely a reminder. Maybe I should get into Civil War fiction instead since I already have a good library on it.

Books mentioned in this review:

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Book Report: St. Louis 365 by Joe Sonderman (2002)

First of all, let’s log the defect. The book is called St. Louis 365, but it includes February 29, so it should be St. Louis 366.

That said, it take each day of the year and relates a set of things that happened on it in St. Louis history. Sonderman and his assistants scoured newspaper archives, apparently, to come up with this list. It includes a lot of one-off tidbits that give you neat little origins for street names and whatnot throughout the city and county, but also provide some narrative in identifying events in a series for larger stories, such as the Greenlease kidnapping and the World’s Fair in 1904.

It took me a while to get through it, since it’s not a book that drags you along. It is, however, a good book for stop and start, pick it up for a couple minutes in a doctor’s waiting room, sort of reading. I started reading it last year when I was going through browseable books during ballgames and only finished it in January.

But a good idea book and something that will give me odd bits of trivia to throw out randomly in conversations where the trivia don’t exactly fit and will meet a sort of stunned silence as people puzzle out the irrelevance. But that’s why I read.

Books mentioned in this review:

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Book Report: Godless by Ann Coulter (2006)

Any book with Ann Coulter on the cover, you kinda know what you’re getting. Ann Coulter.

This book is a little schizophrenic, as it really has two parts. The first is normal liberals are bad men and women sort of thing you get on the Internet and in Coulter columns. Whereas she’s amusing in columns and in short doses, sometimes a book-length treatise by Coulter grates on my nerves.

So I was fortunate, surprised, and pleased when the book took a thoughtful turn into exploring intelligent design versus evolution debate, exposing some of the holes in the evolution theory and keeping the mouth, or its textual equivalent, to a snarky minimum throughout.

I don’t read the debates nor the supporting materials very closely, but Coulter’s treatment was a decent survey of it. After a couple chapters of the normal political nyah nyah of which this blog often joins in.

Books mentioned in this review:

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Book Report: A Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy (1989)

When reading Clancy books, you come away from them about seven hundred pages later with the description, “It’s the drug war in Colombia one,” or “It’s the nuke at the Superbowl one,” or “It’s the one with the submarine.” This one happens to be the one with the drug war in Colombia.
Maybe that’s better than you get with a lot of thrillers, especially ones of this size.

The British first edition I have here clocks in at 816 pages; you know what? That’s sort of okay, since Clancy is quite honestly writing serious epic stuff here. Even though this one doesn’t bring the United States to the brink of a major war, it has enough tension within it to mostly sustain its size. Clancy uses his standard characters of Ryan and Clark (and introduces some soon-to-be standard ones in this book). Additionally, he details a lot of incidents and makes a lot of throwaway minor characters into actual characters.

Plot summary: The US government sends covert troops into Colombia to report on drug flights leaving; when the drug lords kill an important government official, the government orders them to start attacking. And then the government abandons them when it’s convenient, but Jack Ryan and Clark don’t let that happen.

There’s a lot of double-dealing, a lot of plot turns, and it almost makes you forget you’re reading 800 pages of fiction. But not quite.

Still, it moves along faster than a Dickens novel (but Dickens novels, being shorter, are quicker to the finish line). It’s also quicker than an O’Brian Master and Commander sort of book, which carries the same amount of technology cut into it (albeit an old-fashioned technology). And a meal of Clancy really sates your thirst for his books for another year or two and opens a big space on your to-read bookshelves for stuff coming from book fairs this year.

If that’s not a book report damning with faint praise, I don’t know what it; however, I did enjoy it.

Books mentioned in this review:


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Book Report: Urban Affairs by Elaine Viets (1988)

Man, I lament that the St. Louis paper doesn’t have a real metro/lifestyle columnist, what with Bill McClellan and his “Here’s a bad guy who’s in a bad situation, don’t you feel bad for him” schtick and the black guy. But when it did, I didn’t pay too much attention. Aw, heck, I was just a kid.

This book collects a hundred or so columns from Viets’s tenure at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and she covers the South Side of the city with an eye for amusing anecdotes and St. Louisisms. As I’ve now spent more time in St. Louis than my home town, unfortunately, I enjoy these stories way too much.

So I should go forth and look for more of Viets’s collections or try some of her fiction. I shall.

Aside, tying in books I’ve read. The cover shot for this book, unavailable from Amazon, was taken at the Coral Courts motel; the first couple of columns talk about its preservation attempt, and Viets wrote about it in the forward to the book Tales from the Coral Court, which I reported about in November 2007.

Books mentioned in this review:

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Book Report: Dead Watch by John Sandford (2006)

Oh, spare me. Is there any damn thriller writer operating after 2000 who doesn’t feel compelled to take shots at Republicans and/or President Bush? Because Ed McBain did it, and Robert B. Parker does it, and with this book, Sandford gets his digs in. We’ve got the closeted gay rich former Senator and his circle of evil gay Republicans, we’ve got the clandestine meeting with an RNC official at the museum because nobody from his work goes there (maybe it would be better for the Republic if they did, haw haw!). Hey, did you know the RNC HQ was reinforced because a teacher tried to blow himself up at it to protest Republican educational policies (I don’t blame him, says the first person narrator). Don’t get me wrong, Sandford has his bad apples in the Democrat party, too, but they’re bad apples, gun nuts, and thugs in the party; it’s not the party itself nor its views that are a priori bad. Does Sandford think he can get away with it because he thinks that Republicans aren’t literate enough to read books not written by Ann Coulter? Or does he think we should be thick-skinned enough to take a joke, even though we take that damned joke every day in the media, from the government, and throughout the Internet? I don’t know, but jeez, I lost a lot of respect for Sandford.

That diatribe aside, this book distills most of the bad aspects of a Lucas Davenport number and transplants it to Washington, perhaps so Sandford can become a national thriller writer and not a regional author. There’s a crime, or series thereof, but the book spends an awful lot of time worrying not about right or wrong or serving justice, but serving political ends. How will this play? How will that play? How should the hero do this to minimize political fallout? And so on. I can take some of that in a Davenport novel because they weren’t always that way, and if I read them out of order, I can mix in the better novels with the lessers. But here, Sandford dangles it all out. A disabled Afghanistan vet now works as a fixer for the White House Chief of Staff and has to investigate the disappearance of the closeted gay rich Republican former Senator who might have a politically damaging “package”–evidence of corruption–that could hurt the reelection chances of the President. His first goal is to protect the Democrats in power, natch.

After a while and some more dead gay Republicans, the situation is resolved with the stock ambush-in-the-woods.

So, Sandford, how come all the veterans in the book are disabled Afghanistan vets except for, you know, the psychotic ones?

Ah, who knows. I’m glad this Sandford book is the last on my unread shelves for now. I think I’d be a better person, and at least in a better mood, if it were still up there.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll confine myself to old crime fiction again, back before they were compelled to attack the political beliefs of roughly half of the country.

Or Robert Crais, who hasn’t done this sort of thing so far. I hope I didn’t just out somebody.

Books mentioned in this review:

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