Book Report: The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw (2002)

I bought this book some years ago from the Quality Paperback Club, undoubtedly as one of the four or six books for a dollar deal. I was looking to branch out, and the write up of this book piqued my interest.

It’s about a woman, obviously someone with an English degree, who gives up her current life to return home to a small island off of Maine where the main industries are lobster fishing and working for the summertime residents. The life she gave up was not some sort of Assistant Professor (non-tenure track) position, but that of deep sea fishing boat captain. As a matter of fact, a character based on her appeared in A Perfect Storm played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Looking at the cover photographs, that casting choice might have been flattering.

So I started to read it, and her writing style is choppier than the sea in a Nor’easter. The book has no real narrative flow other than being her thoughts and asides over the course of a bad lobster season. She muses on the life on the island, some of the local characters, and the basics of lobster fishing. Then her mother gets cancer. Then the book ends.

Even though I started out thinking about how choppy the writing was, somewhere into the book I really overlooked it. I really enjoyed visiting a lifestyle so different from mine in a remote location. Also, I decided that the author looks less like Martin Short and more like she could be one of my relatives on the Noggle side, so she became like family. I also bought another of her books at a book fair this weekend, a later book which depicted an older Linda Greenlaw with all her limbs, which indicated that the book didn’t have a “I got caught in a lobster trap, lost an arm, but triumphed!” resolution.

I picked this book up immediately after reading The Tommyknockers, also set in Maine. Like A Salty Piece of Land, the cover of this book depicts the author by the sea. Sometimes I find similarities and threads among the books I read where they aren’t, really, but I mention them anyway.

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Controlling the Horizontal, Government Goes For The Vertical

Beyond AIG: A bill to let Big Government set your salary:

It was nearly two weeks ago that the House of Representatives, acting in a near-frenzy after the disclosure of bonuses paid to executives of AIG, passed a bill that would impose a 90 percent retroactive tax on those bonuses. Despite the overwhelming 328-93 vote, support for the measure began to collapse almost immediately. Within days, the Obama White House backed away from it, as did the Senate Democratic leadership. The bill stalled, and the populist storm that spawned it seemed to pass.

But now, in a little-noticed move, the House Financial Services Committee, led by chairman Barney Frank, has approved a measure that would, in some key ways, go beyond the most draconian features of the original AIG bill. The new legislation, the “Pay for Performance Act of 2009,” would impose government controls on the pay of all employees — not just top executives — of companies that have received a capital investment from the U.S. government. It would, like the tax measure, be retroactive, changing the terms of compensation agreements already in place. And it would give Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner extraordinary power to determine the pay of thousands of employees of American companies.

So what do you think happens when Congress starts cutting salaries and then realizes that it’s cutting the revenue from income taxes? Higher taxes for everyone, duh!

You know, the unintended consequences are so obvious sometimes that I think our oligarchs call them hidden-from-the-mindless-masses benefits.

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Book Report: A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffett (2004)

I was in the mood for a Florida story after my recent fiction meanderings, and I had this recent acquisition on the outside of my double-stacked to-read shelves. Also, I remembered that Jimmy Buffett novels were supposed to be pretty good. After all, the Author’s Note points out that he is one of six authors to make it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List in both fiction and nonfiction. So I gave it a go.

Sadly, I was disappointed.

The book started out with a tolerable, although Kenny Chesney song, sort of story. A cowboy on the run from a rich, vindictive ranch owner in Wyoming hides out in the Caribbean with his horse, ultimately settling into a fisherman’s guide job in the Yucatan. No, wait, let me back up: There’s a frame story, said cowboy at the behest of a very wealthy 102-year-old sailor woman, lands on a Cayo with a lighthouse and is tasked with restoring it. Meanwhile, the woman is on the hunt for an authentic replacement for the Fresnel lens that powered the lighthouse. Then we go into the flashback about the cowboy on the run, who meets his folk-singer hero, who lands the job as a fishing guide and runs into an ex-lover upon which he left on sudden terms, who goes to Belize to buy a jeep and has epic sex with a college girl who happens to be the rancher’s stepdaughter and who happens to turn him over to the bounty hunters looking for him, and who smokes a lot of spliffs on the way.

Then we get back to the real time, exposition and a panthenon of deus ex maquina occur as the folksinger hero, on a trip around the world in a restored amphibious plane, finds a Fresnel lens for him and as the rancher dies after a S&M video of her surfaces. The hero meets the grand-niece or something of the rich sailor woman (spoiler alert: rich sailor woman dies), inherits a mansion, and the book ends.

The book starts out in a rambly story telling fashion, then we start getting odder sidebar stories and letters from the folk singing hero telling about his travels, and then the main conflicts are resolved offstage, and the news from England that the rich rancher woman is dead and so on. The book is semi-enjoyable, but ultimately disappoints that the enjoyment that melts into semi-enjoyment goes nowhere.

Also, it gave me the freaking munchies.

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On The Plus Side, It Cuts Down On Light Pollution

Say it ain’t so! The government based legislation lobbied by industrialists on the industrialists’ marketing brochures and not on reality? Be still my beating heart (as soon as its beating is too expensive for Washington)!

It sounds like such a simple thing to do: buy some new light bulbs, screw them in, save the planet.

But a lot of people these days are finding the new compact fluorescent bulbs anything but simple. Consumers who are trying them say they sometimes fail to work, or wear out early. At best, people discover that using the bulbs requires learning a long list of dos and don’ts.

On the dark side (which is the optimistic side for some people today), this will cut down on light pollution. And a bulb that does not illuminate is more energy efficient that the most energy efficient bulb that does.

In the meantime, remember, you have no choice come 2012!

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Magazine Report: Image Magazine Volume 9, Issue 1 (1981)

All right, I’m not going to make a habit of reviewing the various and sundry literary magazines that I pick up for the poetry. But this particular magazine struck me on many levels:

Image Magazine from 1981

Here’s what I found noteworthy:

  • The book was laid out before desktop publishing, so it required cutting and pasting. No, the real thing, from which the computer metaphor arose. I did some of that myself in the olden days.
  • The magazine was based in the same suburb in which I live now. Meanwhile, in 1981, I lived in a housing project in Milwaukee.
  • The mailing address of the magazine is a post office box in the zip code of this very suburb. 13 years after this magazine appeared, I used the same post office for my literary magazine. I did not live in St. Louis proper at the time, but wanted a St. Louis mail address for submissions. I had to drive 45 minutes from Jefferson County to check the box. Which was rarely full.
  • Yes, the Image magazine does include a poem by Lyn Lifshin. You know the six degrees of Kevin Bacon? Well, if you’re any kind of poet at all, you’re one degree of Lyn Lifshin. That is, you’ve appeared in at least one magazine with her. Heather has. I have not.

Those are the crazy things that I thought about when I looked through the magazine. The artwork is what would later become known as ‘zine-ish, with a lot of simple hand-drawn bits. The poems are of lightweight literary quality. But I got a kick out of the magazine for the other things which it reminded me of and the wonder of wondering who these guys were that put this out right at the beginning of the Reagan era.

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Book Report: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987)

Yesterday’s foreshadowing about the introduction to the novella in Transgressions mentioning this book wasn’t a hint as to the resolution of that story; instead, it foreshadowed that I read this book after that one. Because one decent 780 page book deserves another. Well, truly, this book is only 560 pages, but it took me a while to read it.

In it, the town members of Haven, Maine, start acting funny when a writer begins to uncover an alien vessel buried in their midst.

Well, it’s a kinda short King book, but he still puts in cannon fodder characters that he introduces just to kill off. Also, he spends a lot of time making allusions to other books (The Dead Zone and It in particular) and even alludes to himself (a writer up near Bangor who writes gross books, unlike the writer in this book, who writes Westerns).

In true King fashion, bizarre things occur as people encounter fantasy novel situations and don’t realize they’re in a fantasy novel. However, like many, the writing of the book is very good but the end leaves me a little disappointed. Maybe I misconstrued some of the foreshadowing, but it seems to me that early parts indicated survival of characters who didn’t survive. Perhaps I misread it. But with thousands of volumes left for me to read, I don’t have the need to go back and re-read it to see if I was right.

Now you can understand why I read those Dilbert books I reported on earlier in the week. After 1300 pages in two books that took me weeks to read, I needed to boost my numbers and I’m a little behind on the annual book reading numbers.

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The Emphasis Is On Magazines

You know what won’t sell me on a “business” magazine subscription?

These are magazines.  They are not pro-business.

Gushing about the man atop the administration that’s going to punish any free business that isn’t government business.

Some lean left, some lean right, we lean forward? You mean progressive aka “left,” don’t you, Businessweek?

The important thing to remember about these rags is that they’re magazines that cover business. That is, they have the normal media biases and the normal collection of journalists writing and editing them. And if something is good for The People, business be damned.

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Book Report: Transgressions edited by Ed McBain (2004)

In his introduction, McBain says he wants to honor a mostly-forgotten form from the pulp era, the novella. Longer than a short story, shorter than a novel, the form doesn’t get much love these days. So he rounds up a number of people to contribute works in this form.


  • “Walking Around Money” by Donald Westlake. The story of series character Dortmunder and a plot to break into a printing plant and print a number of bills of a foreign currency from the presses used to make the currency and reset the serial number equipment.
  • “Hostages” by Anne Perry. A crime novel, sort of, depicting the seizure of an Irish Protestant leader by Irish Catholics. That’s all secondary to the main plot: Men are stupid, and docile women really have to save the day.
  • “The Corn Maiden: A Love Story” by Joyce Carol Oates. A rather pedestrian, almost high-schoolish effort detailing the abduction of a young special needs kid told in a variety of viewpoints, including that of her abductors. Side note: I was very down on the novella at first, but I realized I had confused Joyce Carol Oates with Erica Jong. Once I realized my mistake, I enjoyed it more. Because I don’t have a lot of respect for Erica Jong.
  • “Archibald Lawless, Anarchist at Large: Walking the Line” by Walter Mosley. This novella doesn’t feature his series character, but instead a rather crazy setup spun from the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin paradigm. I enjoyed it a lot and was disappointed that Mosley hadn’t created a series with the characters.
  • “The Resurrection Man” by Sharyn McCrumb, not so much a crime fiction piece as a character study about a slave/former slave charged with a grisly task for a medical school in the South circa the Civil War.
  • “Merely Hate” by Ed McBain, a chance for McBain to mention once again that he really hates George Bush. Pathetic.
  • “The Things They Left Behind” by Stephen King. After the attacks of September 11, a man who called in sick that day must deal with some remainders and reminders from his coworkers who died in the attacks. The introduction mentions The Tommyknockers by name. Consider that foreshadowing.
  • “The Ransome Women” by John Farris. A reclusive artist chooses an art dealer’s assistant to be his next subject, and her police detective fiance thinks there’s something amiss since the former subjects are all reclusive.
  • “Forever” by Jeffrey Deaver. A police statistician thinks that an abnormal number of suicides might mean murder. A bit of a fish-out-of-water tale that was very pleasing.
  • “Keller’s Adjustment” by Lawrence Block. A murderer-for-hire has a change of heart after the September 11 attacks and has to work it out while on the job. Plenty readable.

On the whole, it was a pretty good book, although I didn’t enjoy a couple of the novellas very much. Sadly, that includes the McBain piece.

It weighs in at nearly 780 pages, so it’s quite an endeavour to read it. But the novellas move along and you can read each in one or two nights, so it might expose you to some writer whom you’d enjoy in longer form.

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Book Report: It’s Obvious You Won’t Survive By Your Wits Alone by Scott Adams (1995)

This is an early book in Scott Adams’s collections, one of those whose cartoons are reprinted in Seven Years of Highly Defective People. So I got some deja vu.

As always, the cartoons are amusing. I’m sure I relate to them because not long after this book was published, I left the world of retail and light industrial to make my livelihood in an office, and I didn’t know how to behave. Fortunately, it’s a lot like Dilbert, so eccentricity was okay.

By the way, if you’re keeping track at home, by the time this book was published, Wally was not yet Wally.

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Government Health Care, Heart and Head Style

President Obama, speaking on the dystopia he would inflict upon Americans:

“There is a moral imperative to healthcare,” Obama said. “Having said that, if we don’t address costs, I don’t care how heartfelt our efforts are, we will not get this done. … We’ve got to balance our heart and head as we move this process forward.”

Well, here’s how they balance the costs in Britain (formerly Great Britain, but now not so much):

A seriously ill baby has died just hours after a judge ruled doctor’s should turn off his life support machine against his parents’ wishes.

Here’s what the judge says about your right to life:

But yesterday, judge Mrs Justice Parker ruled the boy did not have the right to life ‘in all circumstances’.

The circumstance that abrogate that right to live: it’s to expensive to the government, the health care provider.

It would be easy for me to make a pithy response that using the heart and the head in government health care means some department head determines when your heart stops, but let’s be honest. Most of these decisions won’t be made by department heads or courts; instead, it will be some 24 year old with a social work degree killing off the expensive through bureaucratic process.

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Book Report: Seven Years of Highly Defective People by Scott Adams (1997)

I bought this book last week at a book fair and thought it would make a good break from the thick books that have been bogging me down this year. Indeed, it was not only a break, but a retread of sorts, since this book collects material from earlier Dilbert books and provides a bit of gloss or exegesis to the characters Adams created and what he was thinking of. This includes thoughts about the origins and evolution of Ratbert and Dogbert as well as the character who would become Wally but who was called by many names over the first couple of years.

Considering that this book came out in 1997, that means Dilbert is coming up on its 20th anniversary. It seems like it’s younger than that, but probably only because I think I’m younger than it would make me. Additionally, one has to reflect that Dilbert really caught on because it was partially established when the Internet rolled around and geek/engineering culture ascended. Adams really was in the right place at the right time.

So this book shouldn’t be the first of the collections you get; you can get the same cartoons elsewhere, and Adams’s commentary is interesting if you’re really into Dilbert. Or if you’re an Adams drone who will buy any book he publishes, like me.

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Hate Speech

I hope Rush Limbaugh distances himself from this knucklehead:

In a comment aired this afternoon on WMT, an Iowa radio station, Grassley (R-Iowa) said: “The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things — resign, or go commit suicide.”

This sort of comment from an elected official is reprehensible, and from a Republican who theoretically values life and opposes euthanasia, is beyond the pale. This man Senator deserves ostracization (note to that ignorant Senator from Iowa: that is not a medical procedure).

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Good Book Hunting: March 14, 2009

Today offered the Eliot Unitarian Chapel’s annual book fair. This marks our third year going out to Kirkwood to see it, and this year the books were cheaper than in previous years, which helped me gorge.

Additionally, Kirkwood Baptist Church cleaned out its library and had an impromptu book fair of its own, which helped me gorge.

Finally, we stopped at the Old Trees Recreational Center for its annual garage sale. Within, I found parts of two sets of National Geographic books for fifty cents each. I couldn’t stop myself!

Here’s what we got:

Three places, 63 books
Click for full size

Some of the highlights of the 63 new books:

  • America Alone by Mark Steyn and Blog by Hugh Hewitt.
  • Several volumes in the University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers and the British Council and National Book League’s Writers and Their Work series, hardbound for libraries.
  • Some historical memoirs, probably with a faith bent.
  • Some Existentialism, including hardbound copies of The Stranger and The Plague by Camus and an examination of Sartre’s philosophy which is probably more readable than Sartre’s philosophy.

One would think that having to use the third row seating in the SUV for a person might have trimmed my purchasing given the knowledge that someone would be sitting under it. One would not know me very well to think it.

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Glenda Noggle

Let me tell you about my mom.

You might not know this about her, but she was a Marine. Maybe you’ve never talked to her, or visited her home decorated with eagles on anchors, or come to a holiday dinner where she carved the turkey with a ka-bar, but she was, and she was rightfully proud of her service. On her way to the induction to be sworn in, she caught a ride on a fruit truck and ate seven pounds of bananas to make minimum weight. She almost did. They let her in anyway. She served her country.

She also fought for what she thought was right in her own way. As my brother and I were going through her effects, we uncovered a number of letters. My mother wrote her senators, the Secretary of the Defense, the Secretary of the Army and gave them the what-for all the time. The response letters start out form letters, but ended up by starting, “Now, Glenda…..”

She was giving. She would give you the flannel shirt off of her back, and then she’d go to her closet, her drawers, under her bed, and to that secret wardrobe in her basement to give you more. And then she would tell you she bought that shirt at a yard sale in 1988 for a quarter, because she remembered those things.

She was also a doer. I have a friend who’s Canadian, not that there’s anything wrong with that, who never met her, but knew that much about her. Whenever I’d tell him I was going to do something around the house, he’d say, “You mean you’re going to have your mom do it.” That stems from a particular incident where a thunderstorm had broken some tree limbs, and I needed to cut them out of the trees. I had a ladder, and she had a chainsaw, and together we had a solution. She came over, and I had to block the ladder to keep the 58-year-old woman from going up to cut the limbs. Maybe she wanted to protect the investment in the chainsaw. But that’s who she was. Someone who would like to help you to the point of doing it for you, and ready to do things. She refinished her basement, refinished a bathroom, and she was quietly proud of what she did.

She was a great mother; she raised the two of us on her own. She was a good sister and a great friend, who enriched us all, but some of us more than others, particularly at the Saturday night card parties.

Thank you.

Thanks to the Women Marines Association, the American Legion Women’s Post 404, and Marine Corps League Gateway Detachment for attending.

I also want to thank members of the Patriot Guard for escorting her to Jefferson Barracks. She lived nearby, and any time she saw them performing an escort, she would comment appreciatively.

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Book Report: Florida: A Photographic Journey by Bill Harris (1991)

This book, unlike the previous books in the series I’ve looked over, doesn’t deal with a state in which I’ve lived, only one I’ve visited (and have read a large number of books about). So the book didn’t make me homesick, but it did give me a sense of wonder and a desire to visit the state and maybe even live in it a bit (as Mary Schmich said, “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.”).

The book also has a brief summary essay about Florida history that made me realize one thing: The United States must be the only country in the history of the world that has named so many places for its sworn, and defeated, enemies. For example, Osceola. Why don’t they teach that in the colleges instead of the usual drivel?

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