Book Report: Camille Pissarro: A Medænas Monograph by Anne Schirrmeister (1982)

Book coverThis book is in the same line as Peter Paul Rubens, but it is two years earlier, which means that it has two sets of pharmaceutical ads instead of one and the front cover does not have the artist’s name nor a sample work on it (which explains why I have two).

Instead of the Baroque work of Rubens, Pissarro falls into the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist schools of art. Like Monet, he does landscapes, but unlike Monet, he includes human figures in them. He does a lot with working people in their elements (the fields and whatnot), and he has a lot of blocky, square structure in his works as he used the palette knife before Bob Ross made it cool.

So I’ve learned more about this artist and sampled his work. I also hopefully will no longer confuse him with Bazille and think Pissarro died in the Franco-Prussian war. When they’re both covered briefly in the Impressionist sampler books, like this or this, I tend(ed) do do just that.

Worth a browse if you like art and can find it for a buck. Or if you’d like me to just send you my spare copy.

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Book Report: The Courtship of Barbara Holt by Brian J. Noggle (2011)

Book coverIn my recent reading, I’ve seen the term hortus conclusus and references to Hegel and Husserl. Which immediately made me think of The Courtship of Barbara Holt, my play. So I took one of the proof copies from the shelf and read it again.

Like John Donnelly’s Gold, which I also re-read this year, the play amused me because I get all the jokes within it, and some still catch me by surprise enough to make me laugh. Although the allusions to hortus conclusus, Hegel, and Husserl did not specifically.

The plot, in case you haven’t seen it recently, is that an English major in college, Mark, really likes a girl (Barbara Holt), and when he talks to her, he spouts blank verse. Barbara’s friend Jenn likes Mark. Mark’s friend Mike likes Jenn, so he tries to get Mark to woo Barbara more effectively. Rick, another friend of Mark (called ‘Phil’ by Mike because he’s a philosophy major and hence brings the three Hs into it) thinks Mark is trying to woo Jenn, so he tries to help get them together. And so on.

At any rate, there’s some simple humor in it, and a little bit of obscure humor like I fancy in it. I’m almost tempted to release a footnoted edition just so everyone will know just how clever I am, but I’d probably sell fewer copies of the annotated Barbara Holt than the original.

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Book Report: The Experience of Nothingness by Michael Novak (1970)

Book coverWell, I found this book.

It is a good example of mid-twentieth century American Existentialism. It’s like Kierkegaard put into a blender with Joseph Campbell. It’s all about the human as a deciding being creating itself every moment, but the creation also involves making myths and destroying existing myths. Pragmatism, but instead of solutions and eliminating doubt, it’s about building better myths and symbols. I’ve read a bit of Kierkegaard and of of Kierkegaard recently plus I’ve started and put down a number of books from this line of thought (including Campbell’s Myths to Live By, so I’m really, really going to read something other than Existentialism for the remainder of the year. Or at least the week.

The Experience of Nothingness at the core of the lectures this book is built on is that moment of Sartrean nausea where you see beyond the appearances of the world and into the nothingness beyond. Once you see that, you have to build yourself a world and a you to inhabit it. This self-determination aspect of Existentialism appeals to me, but when you get further into it, Existentialism and particularly mid-century American existentialism folds into an adolescent idealism, where the only thing that matters is the story and the myths you live by and toppling the Institutions’ myths that control you. Those institutions–universities, corporations, the government, man–are holding you down.

Fifty years on, we see where this gets us. The American university has been overthrown by people who think this way and are busily crafting myths, symbols, and narratives that have no bearing on reality, and reality is going to win over narrative.

At any rate, this book isn’t too hard of a read–of course, as it deals in abstract thought, it’s slower going than a paperback novel, but it’s not Being and Nothingness. Novak rails against the War in Viet Nam and the military-industrial complex a bunch, as befits the time. I understand there’s a newer edition from 1998. I’m almost tempted to read it to see what has changed in the interim, but I’m off Existentialism for the nonce.

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Book Report: The Eight-Seven by Ed McBain (1965?)

Book coverThis book contains three Ed McBain novels from the 1950s and 1960s: The Mugger, Killer’s Choice, and Doll. I bought it four years ago, right after reading a paperback copy of Doll. I said I was in no hurry to read it, but I guess I was: Only four years on the to-read shelves of Nogglestead is pretty fast.

At any rate, The Mugger is one of the early ones in the series, and it deals with the primary mystery of a mugger who always thanks his victims and a secondary case of a young woman killed in a remote location attributed to the mugger. Kling is a patrolman in this book; I remember when he got promoted, and it was after this book. There were so many books in the fifties and sixties in this series that were more readily available in the 1980s that I remember reading so that it’s strange to think the recent war that Kling originally served in was Korea. In later books, it gets obscured to The War which could be Vietnam later or the Iraq Wars or Afghanistan later (although I don’t think this was emphasized in the twenty-first century books).

In Killer’s Choice, a woman who works in a liquor store is killed, and the detectives uncover multiple versions of the woman based on whom they interview. Was she a sinner or a saint, and which got her killed?

In Doll, a model is brutally killed in her bedroom while her daughter is in the next bedroom. The Kling is on the fritz after the recent death of his model girlfriend and gets suspended. Carella has an insight into the murder and gets knocked out and held by a sadistic compatriot of the murderer who gives him heroin. The doll in the title refers both to heroin and the the daughter of the victim’s doll which has a record and playback feature that picks up evidence in the murder. Four years ago, I didn’t like the book because the subplot with Carella is extraneous, but I’m in a more forgiving mood this year. As I read it with two others in the 87th Precinct series, I recognize that he’s doing something different with the books for the sake of doing something different. And perhaps trying to create a little sympathy for people who get addicted to heroin and are not vicious killers. Strange, fifty years later, that heroin addiction is a thing again.

McBain, like John D. MacDonald, is an author whose books I can read over and over again. It’s too bad that I don’t see many of the old McBain books at book sales–mostly just the hardbacks from after 1990. But this book shows how he changes with the times: the early ones are short paperback originals, but ten years later, the books are getting thicker to match the times and contemporary topics. By the end of his career, McBain’s novels matched the fat three hundred page thrillers of the present day. It’s a testament to his evolution and adaptability as a writer.

ONE MORE THING: What would McBain think of me? Well, I supported George W. Bush, so certainly not good. Also, in Doll, Andy Parker, the worst detective in the precinct, says this to a prostitute:

I’ve got a hi-fi set and also I belong to the Classics Club. I’ve got all those books by the big writers, the important writers. I haven’t got time to read them, but I got them all there on a shelf, you should see the books I got.

Brothers and sisters, I might own the largest collection of Classics Club books outside the heirs of Walter J. Black. And I read them once in a while. By “them,” I mean the ancient Greeks and Romans, and by “once in a while,” I mean every couple years.

What do you mean, I’m being defensive?

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Book Report: Kierkegaard by Ronald Grimsley (1973)

Book coverWhen I cleaned up my library this year, I found this book, and I thought, “Silly boy! You’ve already read that!”

Silly boy! I actually had two short overviews of Kierkegaard from two different series. The one I’d read previously was Søren Kierkegaard from the Makers of the Modern Theological Mind series. THIS book is Kierkegaard from the Leaders of Modern Thought book (other titles in the series are Neitsche, Sartre, and Ho Chi Minh. So we know where this series is going.

This book includes a biography, of course, and then runs through Kierkegaard’s publication history and thought. This book examines more his philosophical thought rather than his theological thought, as the series is not a theology series, so I enjoyed it a bit more and might have gotten more out of it. It certainly cemented for me how Kierkegaard was at the forefront of Existentialist thought, the origin of themes such as existence-in-action and whatnot. You know, how a person/soul is not static, but is defined by its actions and that it is always deciding and that makes it what it is.

At any rate, I got a lot out of this book, albeit slowly. It made me want to read next in my Kierkegaard exploration The Concept of Dread or The Sickness Unto Death (or both in that order), but all I’ve got on hand is Either/Or (or perhaps some others–perhaps I should organize my to-read shelves so I can better gauge this).

However, I’ve read a lot of Existentialism and modern thought this year, what with the Kierkegaard (Fear and Trembling) as well as some Tillich and other things I’ve started and put down. Perhaps I need to take a break from Existentialism for a while.

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Book Report: The Official Jewish Joke Book/The Official Irish Joke Book by Larry Wilde (1974)

Book coverBook coverThe author of this book–it is one book, but each side has a different cover followed by its collection of jokes–also wrote The Official Polish Joke Book/the Official Italian Joke Book. So you know what you’re in for: some ‘ethnic’ humor, which is jokes that require familiarity with some stereotypes.

The Jewish humor actually relies a lot on Jewish comics from the middle part of the twentieth century for its jokes, so it’s a little like reading George Burns (yes, George Jessel and Jack Benny are mentioned on page 18).

The Irish humor relies on the Irish-as-drinkers trope a bunch, of course.

Some of the jokes must have been amusing, but as I said in the report on this book’s predecessor, I’m not much for jokes unless they involve talking dogs. So your mileage may vary, as might your offense to the existence of such a book.

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CD Rain of Terror

No, I didn’t misspell reign. Sometimes, I’m startled by a rain of CDs.

Yes, there is a cat involved.

Two of my cats like to loll about on the top of my desk hutch, warmed by a couple of lamps that I have up there. One, the smart one, jumps onto the window sill to the left of the hutch and then atop the hutch. The other one, the younger of the two, prefers to jump atop the arcade game to the right of the desk, to knock off a couple of hats resting atop the Arkanoid, and then to army-crawl under the lowered ceiling and duct work above the hutch to get to the warm spot by the lamps.

Along that part of the hutch, I have stacks of CDs, and as the cat crawls behind them, he nudges them ever so slightly towards the edge of the hutch. Eventually, they reach a tipping point where another nudge as he crawls by or stretch as he’s already resting knocks a cascade of CDs onto my desk and, sometimes, me.

It’s not as fun if you’re watching me.

As a result, I have to remember to straighten and push back the CDs as often as I can.

Which I’m doing right now as I think about it.

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Book Report: Orbiting Omega by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverThis book has Mack Bolan teaming up with a KGB agent against his will as they try to find a scientist who has figured out a way to hack the US and USSR orbital nuclear weapons platforms. He, the scientist, demonstrates the satellite capture by firing and detonating nuclear weapons above Washington D.C. and Moscow–too high for an EMP effect, but enough to light the night sky as a warning.

As Bolan and the KGB agent close in, the scientist is betrayed by his head of security–a Japanese-American with a cadre of fellow Japanese-American National Guard-trained soldiers. This guy doesn’t want world peace–as the scientist did–he just wants money.

At any rate, another subpar entry in the series. And another book with nuclear weapons exploding in orbit (see also Lightning Fall. Personally, I’m starting to get concerned about this.

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Disagreeing with Brian J. Before the Internet

I recently made a trip to the Kansas City area, and my brother who is in Leavenworth gave me some effects from my sainted mother, including a number of publications in which I appeared in the 1990s and early part of the century. Although there weren’t many clips, they’re relatively impressive compared to my recent output (which has been frequently paid for, thank you, but only appears on Web sites which is still less impressive than in print).

One of the things I got was a stack of old newspaper columns. I’d had two newspaper columns in the past: A column you might remember, gentle reader, called “Opinion Shapers” which was a quarterly in the college paper, the Suburban Journals (you might have seen references to them in the past here, as they ran in 2008-2009).

The first, though, was for the college paper, the Marquette Tribune. It was a monthly column that rotated with four other students, two from the left and two from the right. Given that two of the other columns were called “The Traditional Conservative” and “The Right Perspective”, I think they put me on the left because I had long hair. But I was not to right from the left; my first real column lambasted a proposed required multicultural literacy class (and my second lampooned those who successfully agitated against the required class).

Back then, they did not have comments section on the Internet. Instead, they had to make due with an unsigned editorial column.

No such luck, anonymous scribbler.

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Book Report: Lightning Fall by Bill Quick (2014)

Book coverTo be honest, this book was an add-on purchase. I’d created a CreateSpace account and added it to the cart, but I never completed the checkout process–I probably balked at the price. But when I found The Ballad of Ethan Burns on CreateSpace and put it into my cart, I found Lightning Fall already in it, so I bought it, too. Why not?

This book is longish–over 600 pages–and it reads a lot like a Stephen King book in that there are many different people in many different settings sometimes coming together but mostly dealing on their own with the fallout of multiple major terrorist attacks on the US. An EMP weapon detonates off of the west coast, leaving much of the US past the Rockies without power. A nuclear weapon detonates at ground level in New Orleans, taking out the nation’s biggest port and rendering much of the delta uninhabitable for centuries. A Mexican ‘relief’ army activates some irregulars in the United States to target military and civilian power centers and then invades under pretense of helping. Although it looks like an Islamic attack, there might be Chinese elements behind the scenes. A Hillaryesque president worries more about the party and the politics of dealing with the crises rather than the United States or its citizens.

The various peoples involved include a gay couple trying to shelter in place in San Francisco; a single mother in Indiana trying to keep her children safe; a Tea Party activist and his new beau in the Midwest; a shrimper in Mississippi and his family; a television crew from Denver trying to make their way west to report from the scene; a gang leader in LA with contacts in various foreign powers; politicos in Washington, including the President, her husband, and the Congressional leadership; a couple of military men in Cheyenne Mountain; and various others.

The book jumps between the people, focusing a lot on the San Francisco couple. Unfortunately, it jumps between the action in the affected areas and then goes back to Washington, where it works on political manipulation and, well, politicking. It kills off one of the focal characters and the whole story line is abandoned. Many of the storylines don’t converge; most of the stuff from the Midwest is just “slice of life” stories as people start to cope with the breakdown of society in the aftermath, but they do not contribute to the book’s main plot lines.

So the 600 pages of the book comprises a bit of schizophrenia (Is it a political thriller? Is it a thriller thriller?) with a bunch of extraneous matter (and I hate the Stephen Kingesque “Set up a character with a backstory and texture just to kill them off because that’s like REAL LIFE, man” thing). AND it leads up to the thrilling sequel, American Caesar, which the book claims will be available in 2015 (although I cannot find it), which means nothing is resolved at the end of this book except the political stuff in Washington.

So I am of two minds about it. I didn’t like it that much–the concept was interesting, and some of the characters were compelling, but overall the bloat and the lack of copyediting (a lot of typos throughout and calling one character by the wrong name early) diminished the book greatly. But by the time I got to the end, I bothered to look for the sequel to add it to my CreateSpace cart just in case it would become an add-on purchase sometime in the future. But it wasn’t there.

So if you’re up for a Kingesque rambling mess that clearly is self-published, you might like the book.

Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to my cat who heightened the tension of the book by knocking the cord of the reading lamp out of the wall while I was reading a book about an EMP attack, plunging the room into darkness. That added a touch too much of realism to the proceedings. As though the book’s plot wasn’t almost plausible enough.

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