Book Report: Thermal Thursday by Don Pendleton (1979, 1990)

Book coverThis book is the sixth printing of the book from 1990, which means it was in print for at least eleven years. Which is something to note of its own accord.

This book closely follows the events of Monday’s Mob, Terrible Tuesday, and Wednesday’s Wrath. I’m not actually reading one of these per day, although it might seem like it. It’s taking me about two and a half calendar days (not, surely, sixty hours each). How’s that Gallic War that you claim to be reading coming along? you ask. I’m to the part where a couple of tribes band together and challenge Caesar. So, I’m somewhere between Book One and Book Seven.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Hours after leaving New Mexico, Mack Bolan is steeped in doubt about his future with Washington, so he asks for a little space from his government contacts. He goes to Miami and infiltrates a mob project to build undersea tunnels from the Everglades to Mexico and Caribbean islands to facilitate smuggling. So it’s the craziest plot yet.

It’s also a very segmented book, and not in a good way. The first 120 pages or so involve the set-up and then Bolan infiltrating the site acting as Frankie, a mob bigwig looking in on operations. He finds a vast complex underground where engineers are using slave labor pirated from amateur smuggling operations to build a great undersea network of smuggler’s subways in the limestone strata beneath the sea. When Mack gets out from his probe, we get twenty pages of him getting together with his Washington contacts and discussions with scientists about how such a thing could be remotely feasible enough for a book plot. Then we get 20 pages of Mack blowing it up. However, at some point after Bolan left, the mob got onto his game and redoubled patrols. A bit of whiplash there; I put the book down one night after the scientists were talking, and I opened it up and the mob was onto Bolan. I actually backtracked to see if I’d forgotten something overnight, but apparently not.

At any rate, this effectively wraps up my reading of the tail end of the Pendleton Mack Bolans; all the others out from here are the stable books. They probably lack the philsophical asides that Pendleton deftly inserted (or made into full discussions at times). And, brother, I’ve got a long way to go to clear my top shelf off.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Wednesday’s Wrath by Don Pendleton (1979)

Book coverThis book takes place about 12 hours after the events of Terrible Tuesday. Given the nature of the last “week” of novels that Pendleton wrote, the timing of it would be tricky: Bolan goes to different cities across the country and does his thing there within the span of 24 hours (usually less, since he does not begin exactly at midnight). If you’re reading them back to back, you go “Hmmmm.” This probably wasn’t a problem when they first came out, as the books were months apart.

In this book, the “Hmmmm.” involves people apprehended at the end of Terrible Tuesday. In the twelve hours it takes Mack Bolan to fully heal and whatnot, those mobsters are sprung from jail, transported to New Mexico, and tortured slowly–in other instances where Pendleton refers to “turkeys,” that indicates torture over the course of days or weeks, not hours. But Bolan bursts into a torture scene, executes the torturer, and then impersonates the fellow who’s involved with a paramilitary plot to steal weapons from the nearby military bases. It’s the same military fellow from Colorado Kill-Zone which I read back in 2011 when I only had 20 Executioner books on my to read shelves. The Old Days.

At any rate, Pendleton is beginning the transition in these books from the previous focus on mob activities to more military thriller sorts of plots and operations. This will ease the transition into the stable of writers to follow and how Mack Bolan starts his life as a government operative.

A quick enough read, obviously. I’m a book away from finishing the ones I’ve in this week (I’ve previously read Friday’s Feast and Satan’s Sabbath). And then it’s into the world after Don Pendleton, where the books are up and down.

We’ll see if I continue my, erm, “discipline” of reading Executioner books as I read Caesar. It might not last many of the “Don Pendleton’s” books.

But that’s okay. I have other books to choose from.

Books mentioned in this review:

The Source Of That Thing Daddy Always Says

Springfield has a new Denny’s, and it was inevitable that we would venture to the restaurant, the first of its kind in the city, because I spent an awful lot of late night time in my youth in a Denny’s, and I longed for a Super Bird and a bowl of vegetable beef soup.

Still, my children could not understand why I kept calling it Lenny’s.

Gather round, youngsters, and let me explain about the Corlick sisters.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Denny’s advertised on television (perhaps they still do, but we’ve been out of Denny’s television markets for five years now). The commercials featured two sisters, the Corlick sisters. One of them mishears what her sister says to comedic effect (much like Daddy does on occasion, although he’s the only one who thinks it’s funny). Then she mentions eating at “Lenny’s”, and her sister automatically corrects her to “Denny’s.”

I had a few of those free meals at Lenny’s. I recall one year visiting multiple Denny’s so that I could get the free meals. As a young man, I could eat a lot.

So my children know about the Corlick sisters. I would have alluded to the commercials when interacting with the wait staff, but everyone working there was younger than the commercials.

Book Report: Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire translated by Jacques LeClercq (1958)

Book coverInterspersed among my other reading, I’ve been working on this book for a little bit. It’s a collection of poems by Charles Baudelaire, but they’re end-rhymed, so the translator had a heavy hand in the actual English of the poems which probably means they’re almost as much his work as Baudelaire’s. Because poems have so much nuance, rhythm, and flow that rely on word selection, you have two choices when translating: You can go with the literal translation, which will chop most of the mouthfeel of the original poem out, or you can try to put the poem in the target language with as much of the flavor of the original as possible but still ending up with something of the original in it. I think this translation, as demonstrated by the end lines, did more of the latter.

Now, about the poems: Oh, my.

On one hand, these are the poems I wanted to write when I was twenty years old. Vivid, evocative, concrete, and meaningful (and full of end rhymes). You’re in the moment with the poet narrator in a way that overshadows a lot of poetry in English that I’ve read. The topics are full of love, lust, and pondering mortality.

But.

The introduction explains a bit of Baudelaire’s bio and explains his obsession with a particular woman, and it comes through in the poems as the poet-narrator fixates on a woman and the poems describe a love/lust/hate relationship with a woman. And the poet-narrator muses on death and the ultimate meaninglessness of love when confronted by death. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

And vivid in a sometimes squicky way. There’s a poem called “Carrion” which is about the poet-narrator and his love out for a walk when they come across a dead animal, and the poet-narrator describes it in great detail as it breaks down and then says something about the breakdown of the flesh and how the woman will be food for worms soon. And then there’s a poem about necrophilia. But only one.

So.

It’s good poetry qua, but some of the topic matter is a bit objectionable.

This book features an inscription, To Michael, with love and a Merry Christmas, Ellen 1966. Frankly, I’m not sure what sort of message you’re sending if you’re giving this book to a lover. Also, Phil offers to read Baudelaire to Rita in the film Groundhog Day; suddenly, this changes the meaning of the film for me forever.

Books mentioned in this review:

There Was One Man

With terrorists operating with impunity in tribal areas of Pakistan, there was one man who could bring order to the provinces.

A decorated veteran, he turned his back on the military until he was drawn reluctantly back into battle.

Older now, a world-weary sportsman leaps from his patrol boat with nothing but his M-16 and his determination to set things right.

Kerry II: The Warlords of Pakistan.

The movie has already been written from this headline:
Kerry in Pakistan to shore up counterterror cooperation.

I’ll blurb it: “Reminiscent of Genghis Khan!”

Book Report: Terrible Tuesday by Don Pendleton (1979)

Book coverI know, I know, you’re quoting back to me what I said last week: “In 2015, I hope to finish more books, and as always, I hope to read a better quality of literature….” How does it explain that the last two books I finished were this book and Monday’s Mob?

I’m reading Julius Caesar’s The Gallic War, and after every book or half book, I take a little time to read from cheap paperbacks. As these paperbacks are shorter than The Gallic War, I’m finishing more of them as I read one piece of longer work. So there.

Mack Bolan, on the second day of the last week of his free agency, swings out to California at a tip from Leo Turrin and stumbles into a plot of the new California Concept. A group of retired mobsters and the remnants of Bolan’s previous visits have gathered in a plan to build the world’s foremost data and electronic signals interception facility to gather as much information as they can for their nefarious schemes, and it’s up to Bolan to stop it.

Man, what a world that was where the plot of men’s adventure novels involved the mob doing this sort of thing. In the 21st century, it’s the government doing it, and the electronic and wireless transmission of information is much greater.

If only they weren’t the 1970s, I’d want to live in the sweet, innocent world of the 1970s.

Books mentioned in this review:

The Mathematically Challenged As A Profit Center

Buy in bulk and pay more at Walmart:

Two at just two cents more than two!

That is, a two pack for $9.58 or two one packs for $9.56.

I don’t know if it’s Walmart setting these prices or Land o Lakes setting this price (for I’ve seen the same thing at the grocery store, where the one pound four stick pack is a couple cents more than the one pound eight one-half stick packs).

However, it does rely on a certain inability to do basic calculations to make it work.

Or haste. Or trusting that big packs are cheaper than small packs.

But still.

People call me cynical. I show you the world, and it is often as I expect.

Book Report: Monday’s Mob by Don Pendleton (1978)

Book coverThis book follows Tennessee Smash which I read in 2010 and not Washington I.O.U. which I read just a week or so back. So I’m reading the books far out of order (at least I was and should not be unless I find a bunch of earlier ones in Clever or Ozark this spring).

At any rate, the nature of the series, at least in the Pendleton years, is such that you can have an overarching knowledge of the series to kind of orient yourself, but the books themselves are episodic enough that you can pick them up in any order.

This book is the first of Bolan’s last week as a free agent before he goes to work for the government (and the last of the books Pendleton wrote for the series). He takes his war wagon (it’s the war wagon years) to Indiana to find a Chicago mobster who fled the carnage there. Along for the ride is government agent April Rose (it’s the beginning of the April Rose years). Bolan hits the mobster’s hideout, but the mobster is not there. Bolan spares the houseman from the site with the latter’s promise that he will go and sin no more.

The mobster has summoned other remaining leaders of the midwest to a secure location to talk about splitting up the territory, and the mobster gathers the fleeing head man and April Rose to the hard site while the parley occurs. Bolan has to hit the site but rescue April, and he does so by making a grisly exchange with the houseman: The heads of the bosses and April Rose in exchange for sparing the houseman and the fifty other gunsels from a watery grave.

A quick read, to be sure, and a little outlandish–Bolan in the missile-firing war wagon is less at risk than before and it’s a little less than satisfying to read this part of the series.

Additionally, Pendleton describes a “large lake” as being five or six acres in size. I ascribe this to a city man writing about rural areas, but I can’t quite pin that to Pendleton (mainly because Linda Pendleton is watching). But it’s a jarring note that echoes throughout the remainder of the book.

So if you’re into men’s adventure novels, you could do worse.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Book Challenge I’ll Pass On

At Rural Revolution, Patrice Lewis is going to participate in a 52 book challenge this year:

This is a list of 52 books (50 categories, but one of the categories is a trilogy) to be read over the next 52 weeks. Older Daughter got it in her head to accept this challenge and managed to talk the rest of us (Younger Daughter, our friend GG, and myself) into participating as well.

She includes the list of categories as well as books she has selected for each category.

I’d play along, but I’m more fluid in my reading choices. I don’t tend to plan ahead, and I don’t generally know what I’m going to read next.

I’m also not sold on the categories, such as a woman author, an author under 30, a book published this year…. I’m not against any of them, but I can’t promise I’ll read anything like that in 2015.

(Also note the Lewises have a library of 5000+ books. You know what we call a library of 5000 books at Nogglestead? “If my beautiful wife had her way and decluttered.” As a reminder, you can see the library at Nogglestead ca 2010 here. In 2015, we don’t have any additional shelving, but we do have more books piled atop the additional shelving.)

I Know The Feeling

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes a lot of jokes his teammates don’t get:

Aaron Rodgers is almost certainly going to win his second most-valuable-player award this season. With a remarkable 38-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he has been the best quarterback in football. His Green Bay Packers offense is one of the most well-orchestrated in the league. Rodgers is, by all accounts, perfect.

And then there are his jokes.

The only time Rodgers isn’t on the same page with his teammates is when he is telling jokes. Rodgers’s attempts at humor are so layered and dry, those who know him say, that the only thing more common than a playbook in the Packers’ locker room is the clueless comment, Is he joking?
More NFL

“His jokes are what we call ‘Algebra 2,’ ” said Daryn Colledge, a Miami Dolphins offensive lineman and former Packers teammate. “I think a lot of people don’t get it.”

I know the feeling. I make a lot of jokes, often without a smile to indicate they’re jokes. A lot of time, they require a bit of obscure knowledge or learning to understand them.

And sometimes when I make a joke, one person in the room laughs. Which makes it all worthwhile.

Rodgers’s jokes, teammates say, are almost entirely for his own entertainment.

Mine, too.

Book Report: Up in the Air by Walter Kirn (2001)

Book coverThis book is the source for the George Clooney film of the same name, but a quick perusal of the film’s plot indicates they differ widely.

In this book, a business consultant whose job it is to counsel laid off employees across the country is nearing a million frequent flier miles on an airline. His employer has given him pretty free rein to travel the country to meet with clients, and the consultant also travels for some pleasure and for some of his side projects. He’s left a resignation letter on his vacationing boss’s desk, so in a week he’ll be out of a job. But he should make the million mile club before then, before they cut off his company credit cards.

He’s been travelling like this for many years, and he’s got no home but the series of airports and hotels he calls Airland. He’s got his own set of rules and expectations from other business travelers, and he’s working on a book with it. He also thinks a secretive consulting company might be trying to recruit him through a series of tests and contacts with his clients and friends.

It starts out a lot like a Stanley Bing novel (see Lloyd What Happened and You Look Nice Today). A bit wry, with an obviously unreliable narrator. However, over the course of the book, it becomes clearer just how unreliable the narrator is: he’s having a breakdown of some sort, or perhaps an entire psychotic episode where none of it really happens.

Which is unfortunate: I would have preferred a better payoff for what was a pretty engaging narrative and voice.

As I finished it, I didn’t think it would be the sort of character George Clooney would play, so I’m sort of interested in seeing the film now to see how little they overlap. And it’s definitely possible I’ll like the film better than the book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Why I Gave Up On Sleepy Hollow

So I’m prone to bouts of picking new geek-friendly shows on television and recording them for my later viewing. How later? Sometimes years later. I’m only a year late on Sleepy Hollow. And I won’t be getting any further behind.

Okay, it’s a story about a man who’s been under a spell for a couple hundred years; Ichabod Crane, instead of the slightly philandering bookish dandy from the story is a spy for George Washington and an action hero. He awakens to head off the apocalypse when the headless horseman and other horsemen from the book of Revelation are trying to get a foothold in our world. So it calls for a certain suspension of disbelief. It’s our world, but strange things are happening in it. I can suspend disbelief.

But there are a number of things about the real world that the series gets wrong that sticks in my craw, and I can’t let them go.

I can forgive that the deputy he partners with has the high rank of lieutenant just so he can call her leftenant.

The commingling of the sheriff’s department and the village police force, though. They share office space, okay, that happens. But when the sheriff is killed in the pilot, all of a sudden, the sheriff’s deputies are getting ordered around by The Captain. Presumably of the village police. Which is a different police force, so he would not be able to give orders. And the sheriff’s dead, and no one gets appointed to act as sheriff and there’s no talk about who might stand for election for sheriff or if there’s a need for a special election. It’s not germane to the plots of the stories, but it’s how things are done.

And there’s the last episode I started, “John Doe” (episode 5) where the lost colony of Roanoke is found hidden away but all infected with a medieval plague that slips into our world, and Crane shows signs of it while outside an isolation ward with the head of the CDC task force assigned to monitor or whatever the plague, and they dramatically haul Crane off for isolation, but not everyone else in the room who has been exposed to Crane while he was symptomatic. That bothered me because it’s not the way that should have been handled, and also because my confidence in our CDC these days is that they might actually handle it that way.

But the thing that just absolutely killed it for me was the way this. We come out of commercial break often to an establishing shot showing a sign with Sleepy Hollow on it and the population:

And someone immediately slaps a hand on the table and exclaims, “It’s a small town!”

144,000 people is not a small town. It’s a small city. Probably with bike paths and sushi joints. A small town is 5,000 or less. Even the Census Bureau tries to convince us that towns of 10,000 or more are urban areas. But the writers of Sleepy Hollow want us to think a city is a small town. Where are those writers from? New York City? Mexico City? Shanghai? Sleepy Hollow lies 30 miles from New York City. Do you know what’s 30 miles from a real small town? Another small town.

Bonus disgust every time the leftenant deputy sheriff is the one doing the exclaiming about the small town. Because her jurisdiction is not the town, it’s Westchester County.

The series provided so many groaners that I couldn’t get past them. Especially the small town thing. So I had to give it up.

Somehow, I Missed The Party

A month ago, Jamie Malanowski offered A Centenary Salute to Patrick O’Brian:

Let us pause in the day’s labors to raise a glass, preferably containing Madeira or a rich, full-bodied port, to the centenary of the greatest historical novelist ever, and one of the best novelists of our era.

Patrick O’Brian was born Dec. 12, 1914—or, rather, Richard Patrick Russ was born on that date in Chalfont St. Peter, England, and grew up to become a novelist of middling success. O’Brian was technically born in 1946, when Russ adopted that pen name and went on to develop a new persona as an elusive Irish writer ensconced in the south of France.

Although O’Brian would produce much estimable fiction and nonfiction under his nom de plume, his signal achievement was the series of 20 novels set during the Napoleonic Wars and informed by O’Brian’s encyclopedic knowledge of nautical matters from that era. The heart of the novels is the friendship between the charismatic Captain Jack Aubrey of the British navy and the Irish-Catalan Dr. Stephen Maturin.

I have a pile of the Aubrey/Maturin novels, but I’ve only read Master and Commander so far. And given how I’ve been reading historical fiction from an earlier era recently, it might be a while until I get back around to them.

I’d better start eating better because I’ve got a lot of books and series I’ve got to get back around to.

Book Report: Bad Cat by Jim Edgar (2004)

Book coverI have an embarrassing and stunning admission to make: I have read this book twice even though I didn’t like it. Not exactly. Let me explain.

This book is based on a desktop calendar that features pictures of cats, sometimes doing things that make them look a little guilty, accompanied by qouted captions where the cat is saying something. And they include the cat’s name, age, and hobby. Here, have a taste:

Bad Cat example

Obviously, this one would have come from December in the calendar.

Most of the captions have a sexual or drug use angle, and all of them are not funny. As a matter of fact, some of them are so not funny that they’re enjoyable for the spectacular badness. Although it’s been seven years since I had the calendar, I remembered some of them.

But this collection is really the sweepings on the floor of cat caption industry. Your Facebook wall or Twitter feed have better examples of the genre.

This book was a Christmas gift, as was the desk calendar. But at least with the book, I was able to flip through it in a couple hours instead of over the course of a year, one dreadful cat sex caption at a time.

Books mentioned in this review:

When You Find A Contradiction In A Book, You Cannot Trust It

You know how it goes: You’re reading a book, and it says something, and a couple of pages later it says the exact opposite, so you can’t trust anything it says at all.

For example, today I was reading Simms Taback’s Great Big Book of Spacey, Snakey, Buggy Riddles.

And one riddle is:

And a couple pages later, another riddle is:

Both of these things cannot be true.

Wake up, sheeple! This is how they break down the minds of your children: By presenting riddles that compel your child to hold two contrary ideas in mind at once and/or to not recognize or object when two opposing assertions appear and are presented as TRUE!

Or maybe I take things too seriously. Or lack a sense of humor.

2013: The Year In Reading

So the day after dinging a professor for not reading enough good stuff, allow me to present the list of books I finished in 2014:

  • Modge Podge Rocks by Amy Anderson
  • Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard
  • You Must Remember This 1978edited by Betsy Dexter
  • Poetry for Cats by Henry Beard
  • Captive of Gor by John Norman
  • Rebel Moon by Bruce Bethke and Vox Day
  • Spectrum II edited by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest
  • The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen
  • God, Man, and Archie Bunker by Spencer Marsh
  • The Day After Tomorrow by Allan Folsom
  • Wonderland by Ace Atkins
  • Damned If You Do by Michael Brandman
  • Skin Tight by Gary Henderson
  • Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
  • The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell
  • Real Women Don’t Pump Gas by Joyce Jillson
  • A Daughter’s Revenge by J.R. Roberts
  • Rogue Warrior II: Red Cell by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman
  • Churchill: In Memoriam by The Editors of the New York Times
  • Forbidden City by Alex Archer
  • The Bloody Crown of Conan by Robert E. Howard
  • Devil’s Pool by Charlie Farmer
  • The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray
  • The Battle Off Midway Island by Theodore Taylor
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Sink the Bismarck by C. S. Forester
  • The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard
  • Blood Silver: The Story of the Yocum Dollar by Woody P. Snow
  • Books are Better In Bed Than Men Because by Deenie Vin
  • Women Who Love Cats Too Much by Allia Zobel
  • 101 Reasons Why A Cat Is Better Than A Man by Allia Zobel
  • Bomun Temple in Seoul Korea
  • The Private Hell of Hemingway by Milt Machlin
  • The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  • Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins
  • Mary Rose by J.M. Barrie
  • Beautiful Korea
  • What Makes a Picasso a Picasso?
  • Designation Gold by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman
  • The Barrabas Hit by Jack Hild
  • Poems of Creatures Large and Small by edited by Gail Harvey
  • Dirty South by Ace Atkins
  • The Fall by Albert Camus
  • Longarm and the Border Showdown by Tabor Evans
  • As Autumn Approaches by Ronald E. Piggee
  • No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Leif and Thorkel by Genevra Snedden
  • Limericks
  • Murder for Halloween edited by Michele Slung and Roland Hartman
  • New Pearl of the Orient Korea by the Korea National Tourist Corporation
  • Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor
  • Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective
  • The Time-Hoppers by Robert Silverberg
  • Tiger at the Gates by Jean Giraudoux / Chistopher Fry
  • Magic by William Goldman
  • Chains of the Sea edited by Robert Silverberg
  • The Programmer’s Book of Rules by George Ledin, Jr. and Victor Ledin
  • The Three Legions by Gregory Solon
  • Washington IOU by Don Pendleton
  • Conan the Cimmerian by Roy Thomas
  • Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright
  • Bad Cat by Jim Edgar

That’s only 62, and it’s a bunch less than I read a few short years ago.

There’s a couple books of lightweight poetry in there, a couple of plays, and only a couple of things one would consider Literature (the Existentialist works). Of all the things I’ve read, I’m proudest of reading the Robert E. Howard’s complete Conan stories. I probably read too much Ace Atkins considering how little satisfaction I get out of reading them.

Still, I did make progress on two thousand+ pages books that I’ve been working on for several years now, and I’m actually almost done with an actual Harvard Classics book (Folklore: Aesop, Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Anderson) that I’ve been reading aloud to my child(ren) off and on for a couple of years.

In 2015, I hope to finish more books, and as always, I hope to read a better quality of literature, but I’ll sneak in the short bits while watching sports and while digesting Literature. But I promise that to myself every year anyway.

Also, if you’re thinking 62 books is a lot to read in a given year, check out the numbers over here. That fellow reads as many books in a year as I buy.

The Harvard Classics Collection is a Gateway Drug

Actually, the cheaper Walter J. Black Classics club edition are a less expensive gateway, but the Harvard Classics are a better-bound alternative, also available unfortunately inexpensively because nobody values the old canon packaged for the middle brow like they used to.

Except for this newcomer:

For years, I’ve had a set of the Harvard Classics in my study: 50 volumes of “great works” bound in faded green cloth—the “Five-Foot Shelf,” as the collection was called when it was first published in 1910. Our set was left to us by my husband’s aunt. She acquired it secondhand during the Great Depression and willed it to us because we had a literary bent. It is unclear whether she ever looked at it. Despite our literary bent, we let it gather dust.

. . . .

Some of the selections were hard to follow or lacked context. Even so, they generally yielded something of value. I did not understand Faraday ’s treatise on magnetism, but I could discern a method to his argument. I did not know what was transpiring in Act III of “The School for Scandal,” but I could tell that Sheridan had wit.

The editors of the “Reading Guide” were working on the cusp of two worlds: the Victorian and the modern. They returned again and again to predictable classic texts. But they also excerpted repeatedly from Darwin’s work on evolution, and included selections from folk and fairy tales that reflected respect for populist culture.

I was most taken with the great essayists: Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, the Enlightenment philosophes, and the proto-bloggers of the 19th century such as Thomas Carlyle and J.S. Mill. These works, well suited to brief reading bytes, were models of critical reasoning, insight, cleverness and taste. Jonathan Swift ’s “Hints Toward an Essay on Conversation” clarified for me why I like to talk to some people and not to others.

Ah, a gateway.

Or so I thought until I got to the bio at the end of the piece:

Ms. Cohen is a professor of English and dean of Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University.

One would hope that a professor of English and a dean of a college might have touched upon some of these authors before. I graduated in 1994 from the university, and although I was steeped in the Western canon, I had the benefit of studying English and philosophy. Also, I had so many English credits that I was almost ineligible for an English degree. Think on that for a moment: I had to creatively explain why I should graduate even though I had too many English classes along with my second major. So I had a pile of reading in those days in the canon even as I had a pile of reading in the stuff that the young professors was trying to make into the new canon, which would never actually be a canon because younger English professors would have other canon-toppling reading to displace the ephemera from a couple years ago.

Where was I before the rant?

Oh, yes.

It’s a good article about the discovery of the canon, but it’s sad that a professional educator in the field is just now discovering so much of it. It’s possible to get that far in the industry without it, but, zang.

I hope some people read her article and pick up this set or one of so many similar programs and discover that a lot of the Western canon is approachable and, yes, relevant and universal.