Book Report: Tiger at the Gates by Jean Giraurdoux / translated by Christopher Fry (1935, 1955)

Book coverWhen I opened this book and saw the name plate in the front cover, I knew where I’d gotten it: an estate sale in 2007 in Old Trees. Mr. Paul, I remember your name for your excellent taste in literature and music.

At any rate, this book is set immediately before the Trojan War. Hector has returned from another war, a successful one, with his troops. His brother Paris has taken Helen and has her, and the Greek fleet has just arrived to take her back. Some elements of the Trojan populace, including the leader of the Senate and a poet, love the thought of war even though they do not fight it and want to start a new war with Greece. Others, like Hector and the women who have missed or lost their men, want peace and are willing to act without “honor” to get it.

This book was translated and performed in New York in 1955, so it’s easy to think it was a Cold War parable. However, the original French play was written in 1935, between World War I and World War II, so if you’re eager to limit its impact to its historical context, it’s about the rise of Germany perhaps. Within, though, Giraudoux explores the differences between men and women, between warmongering and peace-at-any-cost viewpoints, and between the different sensations and aesthetics of love and/or human relationships.

However, the play itself is a little wordy and not very clever; whether this is the case in the original French I don’t know, but there’s no pull real tension or drive between the scenes amid the philosophical speaking. This probably wouldn’t play so well to modern audiences.

Within the play are a couple of black and white photographs of people who appeared in the New York version on stage. In a desparate bid to tart up my book reports and to generate Rule 5 fodder, I’ve included photos of some of the women who appeared in the play below the fold. Continue reading “Book Report: Tiger at the Gates by Jean Giraurdoux / translated by Christopher Fry (1935, 1955)”

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Prosecution as Puzzle Game

Woman who left gun in Brookfield church faces new charge:

Eight months after an Oconomowoc woman left her loaded handgun in a Brookfield church restroom, she is facing a new criminal charge, while her husband will likely avoid prosecution for a similar incident at a Door County amusement park.

Susan Hitchler, 67, beat the initial charge of negligent handling of a weapon when a Waukesha County judge dismissed a criminal complaint in June.

Now, a prosecutor has charged Hitchler with disorderly conduct. Gun rights advocates say Hitchler turned down an offer to avoid the charge if she would give up her concealed carry permit and forfeit her Ruger .380 caliber gun.

Apparently, it is not explicitly against the law to accidentally leave your gun in a bathroom in Wisconsin. But that’s not going to stop the prosecutor, who will try a little button-mashing on the statutes to get some conviction. Because this prosecutor knows this woman’s actions were wrong, and this prosecutor apparently is in the business of prosecuting those who do wrong instead of those who break the law.

Reading the article, it looks like the woman and her husband either have a major case of the whoopsies in this department, or they’re having the normal number of whoopsies in this department but the authorities have their eyes all upon them.

In no way am I advocating careless handling and forgetting of firearms, but I don’t wonder if they represent a talisman of extra bad. People leave dangerous things lying around once in a while, including knives, chemicals, prescription drugs. I mean, my pocket knife falls out of my pants pocket once in a while. Is that negligent handling of a weapon or disorderly conduct in Waukesha County? If the wrong person or a child picked it up, couldn’t something bad happen? Isn’t that the argument usually made to go treat guns differently from everything else?

If leaving a heater unattended is going to be against the law, perhaps a legislative body should pass this as a law explicitly and leave the prosecutor’s creative endeavors to model trains or weekend painting classes.

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Book Report: New Pearl of the Orient Korea by Korea National Tourism Corporation (~1980)

Book coverThis book is one of the Korea-centric books I bought this spring in Clever. Like the first two I read, it’s a tourist-focused book. As a matter of fact, the Korean government’s tourist arm put it out. So it describes places to go and to see in South Korea and highlights some of the customs, traditions, and other cultural facts about the country that might interest a viewer, so it’s got an added dimension that the purely artifact- and location-based tourist tracts don’t.

On the one hand, the material I’ve read has covered a lot of the same ground and has been location- and artifact-based books I’ve read. But in reading similar material over and over again, I’m starting to pick up a sense of Korean history vicariously. I know when the Silla dynasty came to power, and I’ve got a sense of when the Yi (or Chosun) dynasty came to power. Although I lack detailed knowledge of the ins and outs of the history and the invasions, I’m getting a very high level sense of them. I’ve got a couple more books on Korean art to go through, and I think some of it will stick just from the repetition. Good for me.

At any rate, this book is an interesting artifact of its own in that it brags about different locations with all paved roads or mostly paved roads by 1980. I can laugh, because I live in Greene County, Missouri, one of the few counties in the state whose (public) roads are completely paved (although I’m not too far from some unpaved Christian County roads). Also, the book talks about driving four hours from Seoul to visit a location. I’m not much of a traveller, but it doesn’t appeal to me to fly some dozen hours to a destination and then drive eight hours round trip to another location. Perhaps that’s geared more toward the people who travel to Korea for a month or something.

I’m glad I’ve picked these books up and have looked through them. And I’m absolutely ready if one of the local trivia nights has a category called Korea. Well, that’s overstating it: a lot of this washes over me. But I’m more prepared than many people.

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I’ve Always Said It’s An Aggressive Recessive Gene

My father had brown eyes. He had three blonde, blue-eyed boys between hazel-eyed and blue-eyed wives. Ergo, I was pretty sure the “recessive” blue eyed gene was awfully aggressive. At least in my line.

It’s in it’s nature, according to this scientific paper, or at least the news blurb on it:

New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.

But, wait! This would fly in the face of high school presentation of Mendelian genetics, where both parents must have a recessive gene to pass it on to their children. THE SCIENCE IS SETTLED.

Which proves something about science and the natural world aside from what the news report about a study indicates:

  • All SCIENCE THAT IS SETTLED is subject to review and revision when more information becomes available.
  • The understanding most of us have from science stems from extremely watered down summary materials which might be decades out of date.
  • The material from which most of us draw information is second-hand information about whatever we’re being told, so it’s akin to hearsay or science gossip instead of actual science we could reproduce in our basement labs.

Honestly, I’m not sure what practical application this research has, and it’s not like it’s reproducible. I’m more a fan of engineering these days, where some knowledge is put to practical benefit. Unfortunately, it seems like most speculative science — at least what’s covered in newspapers and on Twitter– is put to social engineering uses. Which is not really engineering at all.

The story does give one room for a little meta-reflection of the nature of science, but most people will just see the story, post it on their Facebook walls or mention it to blue-eyed people, and go on. Or maybe, being a blogger, I’m just prone to meta-reflection to make a word count and to keep the Google beast happy so I can keep my ten dollars a year advertising revenue flowing.

(Link via Trey’s Facebook page.)

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Book Report: Murder for Halloween edited by Michele Slung and Roland Hartman (1994)

Book coverI started this book on Halloween, appropriately enough. Which means it has taken me over two weeks to read this one book, which hardly justifies my profligate book buying habits. However, in my defense, the short story form leads to earlier reading stoppage in the evening, as instead of maybe just reading one more chapter of a novel, I have to think, “Do I want to read a whole new story with whole new characters and a whole new narrative style and situation tonight?” Often, the answer was no.

That’s not to knock the quality of the short stories in the volume; they’re all crime stories, not all of which include murder, centered on Halloween. Most have been published before, which explains why I’d read one of them before, an Edward D. Hoch Nick Velvet story I probably caught in its first appearance in a Ellery Queen.

At any rate, the book includes:

  • “Monsters” by Ed McBain
  • “The Lemures” by Steven Saylor
  • “The Adventure of the Dead Cat” by Ellery Queen
  • “The Odstock Curse” by Peter Wimsey
  • “The Theft of the Halloween Pumpkin” by Edward D. Hoch
  • “Hallowe’en for Mr. Faulkner” by August Derleth
  • “Deceptions” by Marcia Muller
  • “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe
  • “OMJAGOD” by James Grady
  • “The Cloak” by Robert Bloch
  • “What a Woman Wants” by Michael Z. Lewin
  • “Yesterday’s Witch” by Gahan Wilson
  • “Walpurgis Night” by Bram Stoker
  • “Trick or Treat” by Judith Garner
  • “One Night at a Time” by Dorothy Cannell
  • “Night of the Goblin” by Talmage Powell
  • “Trick-or-Treat” by Anthony Boucher
  • “Pork Pie Hat” by Peter Straub

Some of them are straight crime fiction, but some slide into horror and fantasy. “One Night At A Time”, for example, deals with a vampire detective. A couple of the stories are told from the perspective of children, such as “Yesterday’s Witch” and “OMJAGOD”. Some are of the quality of detective magazine filler, such as “What A Woman Wants” which is about a police squad looking for a smash-and-grab thief that uses Oldsmobile Cutlasses in his crimes, and the antagonist has a ride along magazine writer and agonizes about how to approach a fellow cop for a date fishing.

So it was a timely read when I started it, but a time consuming read once I started it. The biggest takeaway I got was in reading the Steven Saylor story set in Ancient Rome. I have a number of his paperbacks that I picked up some time ago, and his short story here has given me the excuse to pick one of them up.

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Putting the Sexy in Anti-Septic

This isn’t the 21st century juvenile science fiction of the middle 1900s promised us. No, this is the 21st century of custom fashion surgical face masks:

My Air Mask

Oh, how I laugh about it now. But in a couple years, when the 21st century resembles the 21st century promised to us by post-apocalyptic 1980s films, I might very well wish I had something like it.

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Finally, Something For Those People In Funny Hats and Tight Pants To Laugh At

When I say funny little hats and tight pants, of course you think mime, but in reality, mimes already laugh at those other people in funny hats and tight pants, serious bicyclists. Now, the serious bicyclists have someone to laugh at: Elliptigo riders:

It’s a bicycle with pedals that mimic the workings of an elliptical. And this ad indicates one is expected to ride this on the street. Heck, even serious road recumbent bike riders are looking at this and saying it goes against the laws of nature.

But it’s a real thing, apparently. Briefly.

Some of you are asking “Isn’t your wife a serious bicyclist?” This is true. However, it is also true that she does not look funny in tight clothing. Also, she looks cute in hats of any sort except martial arts sparring headgear, in which she looks cute and like she’s going to punch one in the throat.

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Book Report: Limericks by Edward Lear &c (1980)

Book coverThis book is just what it says: A collection of limericks, the five line poem type.

The book contains 212 limericks by Edward Lear, the English writer who popularized the form. His limericks are a bit of nonsence, and the fifth line pretty much just restates the first line without the clever twist that later limericks employed. So we get things like this:

There was a Young Person in Pink,
Who called out for something to drink;
But they said, “O my daughter,
There’s nothing but water!”
Which vexed that Young Person in Pink.


There was an Old Person of Fife,
Who was greatly disgusted with life;
They sang him a ballad,
And fed him on salad,
Which cured that old Person of Fife.

After the main course of Lear, we get 28 limericks from Punch magazine and then 20 other limericks. These last 48 are in the contemporary form with a little more punchline to the last line, but none of them stuck with me or inspired me to memorize them and tell them to others.

I’m not really consumed with the urge to try out the form, either.

So skip this book unless you’re a real scholar on poetry forms or want something to browse through during football games and don’t mind re-reading the same limerick a couple of times because you’d forgotten you’d read it before third down.

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Book Report: Leif and Thorkel: Two Norse Boys of Long Ago by Genevra Snedden (1924)

Book coverThis book is a ninety year old children’s book, written when children’s books were not 300+ page fantasies part of a series for adults to read. As such, it’s a couple pages over one hundred and is, the title page informs us, designed to make children interested in history. As opposed to fantasy, magic, dystopia, and intrigue, which is what we’re teaching them now, I guess.

At any rate, this follows two young Norseboys, Leif Ericson and Thorkel. Leif has come to live with Thorkel and his family, including father Lodin and wife Astrid. The chapters of the book recapture some of the slices of life in Norway around 1000 AD: Lodin comes home from raiding England; they drive the cattle down from the mountains for the winter; they prepare for and endure winter; they prepare the cattle to go to the mountains in the spring; they attend a Thing, which is a court proceeding adjudicating a dispute among neighbors and then a duel when one party does not concede. Then, the boys go their separate ways: Leif to Greenland where his father lives and then onto the Americas briefly and Thorken as part of a war between his half-brother, who becomes king of Norway, and an alliance of other nations against him.

The book has no larger plot other than these guys growing up and becoming men. It illustrates the way the Vikings lived from the perspective of young men whom the target audience could relate to. And it leaves the reader a little smarter than when he started, even if it’s only to remind an adult of things he’d learned about the Vikings in school but didn’t have at the tip of his brain.

This 1924 book was published by the World Book Company. Later, that company would be better known for its encyclopedias.

It’s a handsome looking hardback, too. Which is a shame, though, because I’ll probably start collecting other volumes in the series in my nonchalant collecting fashion, and it’s hard for me to keep track of all things I’m nonchalantly collecting.

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Wherein Brian J. Is Made To Look Like A Piker

Randy Johnson (not the baseball pitcher) rounds up his October reading: Thirty books.

I’m not my top pace of a couple years back, and even then I was not reading thirty books a month.

Here’s what I completed in October, if you’re interested:

Poems of Creatures Large and Small edited by Gail Harvey
Dirty South Ace Atkins
The Fall Albert Camus
Longarm and the Border Showdown Tabor Evans
As Autumn Approaches Ronald E. Piggee
No Exit and Three Other Plays Jean-Paul Sartre
Leif and Thorkel Genevra Snedden

Which are books 41-47 of the year.

My peak in recent years is 106 in 2011.

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Not In My House, You Won’t

So my oldest child has learned to read, which means he was able to see this on the back of the potato chip bag and comprehend it:

Lays potato chips and chocolate: Not a perfect evening, but spell components to open a portal to Hell

Melted chocolate chips on potato chips? Are they barking mad?

However, my eight-year-old thinks this is a good idea. Even though, or particularly because, I recoiled at the thought. Kind of like he’s determined he’s a fan of Led Zepplin because I change the radio station when a Led Zepplin song comes on. Do you understand how much I hate them? So much that I refuse to misspell their name the same way they do.

So I’m at a loss. He does not prepare his own snacks yet, and you can be sure I won’t create this abomination for him no matter how much he cries or begs. (Look how feeding the children after midnight turned out!)

If I prohibit this behavior in my house too strenuously, he’ll be wasting chocolate chips and potato chips whenever he can just to rebel against authority. If I do not prohibit it at all, he might commingle the two. And he might like it. And do it again and again.

The best I can hope for is that he will forget this travesty before we trust him with the microwave, and Lays will stop printing this perverse propaganda on its bags between now and then.

I know it might look like I’m overreacting, but look: It’s potato chips. With chocolate melted onto them. It’s unholy. We’re not talking about dipping chips in Mountain Dew, which is perfectly natural and healthy. FOR PETE’S SAKE PEOPLE, WAKE UP!

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Book Report: As Autumn Approaches by Ronald E. Piggee (1993)

Book coverThis book is a chapbook written by a Vietnam veteran, a black father in Nebraska in 1993. The poetry within ranges through a bunch of different styles, including free verse and at least one villanelle. It’s better than a lot of chapbooks I’ve read.

The book led me to some personal musings, though. In 1993, my father was two years away from dying from cancer; he was a Vietnam-era veteran who served in Okinawa instead of Vietnam (and I think he felt a little guilty about it). It’s hard for me to imagine him writing poetry, but that was not his way. He was a hands guy: his creative hobby of the time period was building elaborate ship models that required him to tie nautical knots in thread using a magnifying glass and tweezers.

Crazy that a book of poems about growing older would make me think about my father, how he didn’t grow older, and how I will not long be older than he ever was. Or maybe not so crazy, since that’s what poetry does. So consider that an endorsement of this book: It was definitely evocative.

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Book Report: No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre (~1950)

Book coverSince I’m apparently on an Existentialism kick (see my recent report on Camus’s The Fall. I picked up this book. I’ve read No Exit before, whether in my collegiate Existentialist reading period or my collegiate Existentialism class. I had not read the three others, though.

For those of you who don’t know, The Fall is about three people in Hell. Each of them is condemned for sins related to love, and their torment is to spend eternity with people who irritate them. It’s the source for the quote “Hell is–other people.” that American collegiate Existentialists banter amongst themselves.

The Flies is a retelling of the story of Orestes and Electra’s revenge upon their mother Clytemnestra for the killing of their father Agamemnon. In this retelling, the Orestes returns to Argos just before they ‘celebrate’ a holiday when the dead come back to remind the living of their crimes and slights against the departed. Orestes meets a disguised Zeus and then his sister, who has long hoped for her brother’s bloody return. When they meet, she does not think he’ll be the one to wreak vengeance, but he does and she has second thoughts. He kills his mother and stepfather, and the siblings hide out from the vengeance-seeking populace and Furies in Apollo’s temple, where Zeus appears to deal with them and to get them to return to his fold and to rule the people by casting off their freedom and doing his plan.

In Dirty Hands, a comrade imprisoned for killing the leader of a rival faction returns to his revolutionary compatriots to their chagrin, as he has proven to be unreliable. An old flame or crush of his secures his temporary safety while she tries to understand what went on with the assassination attempt and whether the fellow killed the charismatic and pragmatic leader for proper party reasons or in jealousy.

The Respectful Prostitute tells a short tale about a prostitute fresh in town who was the witness of the killing of a black man on a train by an respected citizen of the town and the member of a powerful family. The official story is supposed to involve the attempted rape of the young lady by two black men and her defense by the racist fellow, but she does not initially want to hew to that line and tries to resist various forms of persuasion to keep her story true.

They’re all pretty quick reads; the translations aren’t dated. Sartre’s work really draws out some of the Existentialist thoughts on freedom and what it means to be a person, and Sartre really subtlely leaves some questions for us to wonder about–particularly whether the wife of the main character in Dirty Hands got herself into a compromising position with the political figure to trigger her husband’s jealousy and compel him to complete his mission. Pretty good stuff, and reading it makes me feel deep.

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