Book Report: The Virginian by Owen Wister (1902, 1988)

This book has been credited as being the first Western. Wister wrote it about a bygone era: it’s set 30 years before its publication in 1902, and Wister based it on people he’d known on the plains at the time. Frankly, it’s a series of connected vignettes that chronicle events in Wyoming centered on a young man from Virginia, the protagonist, as he becomes a foreman on a ranch and woos the local schoolmarm. The narrator starts out as a greenhorn under the protection of the Virginian, but on his frequent visits to the region over the course of the years the novel encompasses, he becomes accomplished in his own right in hunting and fishing anyway.

At any rate, the Virginian has to deal with the men on the farm and in the area, including a long-running enmity with a fellow named Trampas who goes from ne’er-do-well to cattle rustler. Eventually, there will be a climactic shootout, of course, but when you remember that this is the first Western novel, you can hopefully appreciate it as not being a cliche.

The language, a sort of self-conscious educated Eastern dialect of the later 19th century applied quite a bit to the landscape of the plains and the eastern Rockies, at times flows nicely over you and at other times distracts the 21st century reader a bit from the story. All in all, though, I liked the book. With this firm grounding, I’m ready, sometime, for the other popular Westerns (Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour). Or maybe some Willa Cather. I own some of them in the self-conscious Readers Digest editions, too.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Great Sonnets edited by Paul Negri (1994)

This is a Dover thrift edition that collects a pile of sonnets that had fallen into the public domain. It collects them from a large number of authors, chiefly British and American, and includes a lot of favorites from Shakespeare, Millay, Whittier, Tennyson, Poe, Swinburne, and so on. It’s like a good sampler album of music. You find some you know and like, you find some you don’t think much of, but you also find a couple you like a whole lot and plan to look up more from the author.

This is the latest in the volumes of poetry that I’ve read aloud to my children as they’ve played so they can hear some cool words, and the older boy at four is starting to understand some of the narratives. This means it’s back to Ogden Nash since sonnets sometimes tend toward the That’s what Mommies and Daddies do.

At any rate, a good book. Worth the couple pennies it would cost you.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Goodbye, Nanny Grey by Susannah Stacey (1987)

So I sat down to read an English village mystery from the Thatcher era. I think it’s because of brain chemistry changes that occurred when I drank a lot of honeyed tea for a cold. When I was a kid in high school, I read a lot of these since my high school library had all of the Agatha Christie books and my grandmother had quite a collection of such which my mother inherited too early. But every once and again, I get the urge for one of these books, and so I pick up the occasional title.

This book is kind of a whodunit slash British police meanderal (which, at 160 pages, does not give it a lot of room to wander). Nanny Gray is a village oldster and, well, Nanny to a lot of the local families who lived in a cottage given to her by one of her titled charges shortly before he died. He also redid his will to make her the sole heiress, leaving out the remainder of his family. She’s also served the local Arab family, whose wife might have let slip her secret assignation with her husband’s cousin. And since she’s crotchety, she also might have offended the local miscreants. So when she’s found dead in the woods, it could be an accident, or it could be… MURDER!

Well, of course it’s murder. So the investigating officer Bone has to walk about and talk to the various people over large quantities of tea and scones and deal with his own problems (a damaged daughter and his own grieving for his lost wife and son, victims of a car accident). Eventually, he gets his man, sort of, and the story comes out. But at the end, one’s not sure that his efforts helped at all.

Maybe there’s a British lesson in there. Maybe this reflects Britain of the 1980s or how the British mystery authors of the 1980s wished it still were. One thing’s certain: this period has passed in British history, and the Thatcher era might as well be the Thomas Hardy era.

Books mentioned in this review:

iPods, Apple Products Will Destroy Humanity

It’s not carbon exhaust causing global warming; it’s the small magnetic fields generated by iPods and smartphones that are causing the magnetic poles to shift or disappear:

NASA has been warning about it…scientific papers have been written about it…geologists have seen its traces in rock strata and ice core samples…

Now “it” is here: an unstoppable magnetic pole shift that has sped up and is causing life-threatening havoc with the world’s weather.

Forget about global warming—man-made or natural—what drives planetary weather patterns is the climate and what drives the climate is the sun’s magnetosphere and its electromagnetic interaction with a planet’s own magnetic field.

And:

The first evidence we have that the dangerous superstorm cycle has started is the devastating series of storms that pounded the UK during late 2010.

On the heels of the lashing the British Isles sustained, monster storms began to lash North America. The latest superstorm—as of this writing—is a monster over the U.S. that stretched across 2,000 miles affecting more than 150 million people.

Yet even as that storm wreaked havoc across the Western, Southern, Midwestern and Northeastern states, another superstorm broke out in the Pacific and closed in on Australia.

The southern continent had already dealt with the disaster of historic superstorm flooding from rains that dropped as much as several feet in a matter of hours. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. After the deluge tiger sharks were spotted swimming between houses in what was once a quiet suburban neighborhood.

Okay, maybe I’m inferring a little more than the report states. However, as a respected Internet commentator, I must call immediately for all hipsters to drop their gadgets and buy Toyota Tundras to combat the global cooling.

For the children! And by the children, I mean of course my children since the faceless and manufactured hipster nemesis does not clutter his and her lifestyle with children.

Also, I call upon Hindmost Obama to increase the bonfires of American currency immediately to help warm the eastern seaboard.

Baking with Brian J.

As some of you know, I’ve taken to baking some sweet breads these days, mostly because when life gives you zucchini (and by “gives you,” I mean overruns your yard and threatens to crush your silly brick home, mortal), you make zucchini bread. But after the zucchini ran out after a successful rogue insect team insertion, I decided to try some other breads and a couple of pies. That said, I’m no Cunegonde because I’m not that pretty.

Recipes and cook books sure have a lot of different verbs in them, don’t they? The authors use the mandate tense and order me to do a lot of different things to the poor ingredients, but I am a simple man, with a simple Oster hand mixer that goes to six. As such, whatever the verb in the recipe, seriously, they can’t mean anything but “Mix at 6,” can they?

  • Cream the eggs and butter? Set the mixer to six.
  • Fold the nuts into the batter? Set the mixer to six.
  • Combine the flour and spices? Put on a dust mask and set the mixer to six.
  • Chop the walnuts? Set the mixer to six and chase them around the bowl until they’re small.

I mean, seriously, can we lose the thesaurus here and just admit that there’s nothing to it?

Also, what’s up with the order of combining things? Just pour it in the bowl and mix it at six.

Everyone remains polite when accepting the breads, anyway. Because they fear the creepy man with the mixer with the long extension cord.

Book Report: Fresh Lies by James Lileks (1994)

Wow. This is a portrait of the Lileks as a young man.

I’ve read his Web site, The Bleat and whatnot, for eight years or so. I’ve bought several of his books from the middle of the last decade new. And I’m expecting one of these days to pay into his BleatPlus system. Eventually.

But finding one of these old Lileks books at a book fair is almost as hard as finding a Philip K. Dick book. And that’s because They don’t want you to read either. This one I nabbed at the Friends of the Springfield Library book fair last fall. On bag day. Which might be proof that They wanted me to read it….

At any rate, this book was written in the early part of the 1990s. Lileks has left his life in the Midwest to find his fortune as a Washington, D.C., based columnist for the Newhouse News syndicate. He was still doing that until sometime in this century, so we have some carry over there between then and later then. His wife is still in law school when he goes to D.C. and lives as a bachelor for a bit. The pieces in the book are about what you’d expect. Not a lot of political stuff, but a dabbling of world-weary kinds of wry asides now and then about the Gulf War and George H.W. Bush.

But he talks a about his smoking habit and about some youthful drug use. He remarks about what it would be like to have a kid, and a longtime student of Lileksia cannot help but enjoy the book on a different level from someone without the same daily exposure. It’s the same guy who writes the Bleat, but instead of fifty-something, he’s a punk kid.

It’s a good enough book on its own. You would have to have lived through the era awarely to get some of it, so kids won’t be looking for this on their flashread devices. But we in our thirties and up can enjoy it.

Books mentioned in this review:

What’s Counselorese For FYNQ?

An awesome story:

Football fans know what happened in Super Bowl I. The game, which was played on January 15, 1967, was the first showdown between the NFL and AFL champions. It ended with the Green Bay Packers stomping the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10.

Unless they were one of the 61,946 people at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that day, or one of the fans who watched it live on NBC or CBS, there’s one thing that all football fans have in common: They’ve never actually seen the game.

In a bizarre confluence of events, neither network preserved a tape. All that survived of this broadcast is sideline footage shot by NFL Films and roughly 30 seconds of footage CBS included in a pre-game show for Super Bowl XXV. Somehow, an historic football game that was seen by 26.8 million people had, for all intents and purposes, vanished.

….

The long search may finally be over. The Paley Center for Media in New York, which had searched for the game footage for some time, has restored what it believes to be a genuine copy of the CBS broadcast. The 94-minute tape, which has never been shown to the public, was donated to the center by its owner in return for having it restored. It was originally recorded on bulky two-inch video and had been stored in an attic in Pennsylvania for nearly 38 years, the Paley Center says.

Estimates are that it’s worth millions.

Enter the NFL.

Mr. Harwood, the attorney, says he contacted the NFL in 2005 about the tape. He says the league sent him a letter on Dec. 16, 2005 claiming the NFL was the exclusive owner of the copyright. Mr. Harwood says the NFL offered his client $30,000 for the tape and his client declined.

Geez, I realize that it’s a labor dispute year and the NFL owners have to plead poverty while building billion-dollar stadiums, but come on. $30,000?

Stunning, the Perfidy

Forget the eagle, forget Uncle Sam. With this current administration, we have a new mascot.

Stunning, the Perfidy.

Whenever I think the president and his smartest-people-in-the-universe have reached the utmost limit in selling out, nay, for selling out, you get something; whenever I think the president and his collegiately credentialed Marxist studies professionals have reached the limit in giving out our nation’s long time allies, they broaden my understanding.

Witness this:

Information about every Trident missile the US supplies to Britain will be given to Russia as part of an arms control deal signed by President Barack Obama next week.

Defence analysts claim the agreement risks undermining Britain’s policy of refusing to confirm the exact size of its nuclear arsenal.

The fact that the Americans used British nuclear secrets as a bargaining chip also sheds new light on the so-called “special relationship”, which is shown often to be a one-sided affair by US diplomatic communications obtained by the WikiLeaks website.

In two years, I wonder if the United States will have any standing in the world or any allies left.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link, Ms. K.

Baby’s First Syllogism

Well, he’s not actually a baby. My four-and-a-half-year-old son is quite precocious. Not only has he made his first pun (watching his Christmas program, he said the little girl wearing the star was the star of the show–I know, it’s obvious, but it’s a a pun and he’s four-and-a-half), but the other day he distributed his first middle.

I made some chili for myself for lunch and put some shredded cheese on it. Then, being the benevolent despot, I put a little cheese on the boys’ lunch plates and announced, “I share the cheese because I am from Wisconsin.”

“Am I from Wisconsin?” he asked.

“No, you are from Missouri,” I said mournfully. “But you come from many generations of Wisconsinites.”

“Is Grandma from Wisconsin?” he asked.

“No, Grandma was from St. Louis. But Nana is from Wisconsin.”

“So she shares the cheese.”

Bang, just like that, proper syllogism. He closed the circuit. Wow, I am so proud.

Also, I’m sorry for burdening the rest of you Wisconsinites with that burden to live up to. If the lad ever sees you with cheese, he’ll expect you to share it.

If you don’t want to, just tell him you’re from Minnesota. Or if you see him with some and want to take it, I guess you could say you’re from Illinois.

Ask A Simple Question

The Democratic Party National Convention is not going to be in St. Louis in 2012.

The New York Times has some rumor that Claire McCaskill did not want the convention in St. Louis because it might hurt her re-election chances:

Ms. McCaskill, one of the president’s closest friends in the Senate, took her concerns directly to the White House, according to party leaders familiar with the selection process. She argued that her re-election could be complicated if the convention was held in St. Louis, because the Democratic gathering will almost certainly attract protesters and compete for fund-raising.

Rob Port asks: Did Tea Partiers Scare The Democrats Away From St. Louis?

St. Louis has an extremely active tea party movement (in which blogger Jim Hoft is active), and McCaskill has been plagued by their protests for some time now.

If this is why Democrats moved their convention from St. Louis to Charlotte, it’s a real coup for the movement and its influence.

Uh, it’s not the Tea Party she fears.

Go check out the Google Image Search for protests democratic convention 2008.

That’s what McCaskill doesn’t want. A couple protests from leftist organizations, some proud progressives rioting in downtown St. Louis (although I’m not sure there’s anything worth looting), and campaign managers for Martin or Steelman would tie both to Claire.

Those are the protesters she does not need helping her campaign.

(Link seen on Instapundit.)