Good Book Hunting, Friday, September 29, 2017: ABC Books

So a couple weeks ago, the owner of ABC Books posted on Facebook that they were “drowning” in books and would no longer be accepting books for trade.

So I immediately responded to the distress call and immediately several weeks later sprang into action.

I had planned to go there with my children as they were off school, and it’s one of the trips we take as we spend days together. My beautiful wife wanted to go to spend her Christmas gift card(s), so we waited until she finished her work day and packed off to ABC Books. When we got there, we ran into a pastor from our church and his family. Which is not surprising, as the book store is owned by a couple from church. But it made me feel part of a community, running into people I know about town.

At any rate, you’re all wondering what I got? A couple of books courtesy the gift card I have my beautiful wife for Christmas:

Here’s my list:

  • Strength Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. My beautiful wife took this test and found it useful, and she found a copy with its Internet code envelope intact, so we got a really good deal on it. I think she might have been planning this for me for Christmas, but I can take the quiz before then.
  • Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus by Karl Barth.
  • Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. Although I don’t plan to become a Zen master, I do enjoy reading about it.
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible which I expect to be very much unlike Asimov’s Guide to the Bible which I read in 2015 but apparently did not review.
  • A nice edition of The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine.

Most notable was the things I put down. I picked up a translation of Confucius’s Analects. Which I I just read. However, this edition broke up the sayings with the original Chinese, so it looked more digestible. I also forwent a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’ve been thinking about reading this, but I think I have a copy somewhere already. The urge to read it has not been such that I’ve gone looking for it, but it also wasn’t enough for me to buy another copy in case I was mistaken.

I pawed around the church history and books on the Bible section looking for something that distills the evolution of the Bible and why the things that were not included were not included (including the things that didn’t make it into the Protestant versions of the Bible but remain in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles). You know, I had a pastor there I could have asked, but I did not. Well, I’ll see him in a couple of days and should remember to ask then.

At any rate, my beautiful wife got two books, including one I already own (To Engineer Is Human), but she got her own copy even after I mentioned it. Partly because she likes to mark books up and partly (mostly) because she knows I wouldn’t be able to find my copy for a couple years.

At any rate, that should hold me for a couple of days, anyway. But the semiannual book sales start in a couple weeks.

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The Progression of My Summer Sausage Consumption (A Repeating Series)

As I was born in Wisconsin, you know I like my summer sausage. Also, I like deals. Which leads me to this series of events that recurs every couple of years:

  1. I see a Johnsonville Summer Sausage display at the grocery store and decide to work some into my diet.

  2. I have a little sausage for breakfast. I have a little sausage for a snack. I find myself buying a lot of summer sausage, a couple small sausage a week.
  3. I start buying the larger size of Johnsonville Summer Sausage because it’s less expensive that way.
  4. My summer sausage consumption continues or increases.
  5. I see the Hillshire Farm Yard O Beef at Sam’s Club, or my children see it and become very excited about the concept of Yard O Beef and the ability to bash each other with processed cattle. I think, Hmmm, that’s even a better deal than the large Johnsonville package and buy it.

  6. I taste the Hillshire Farm summer sausage and think they must have slaughtered the cow right at the salt lick and then threw the bloody salt lick into the sausage press with the beef.
  7. I stop eating summer sausage. The Hillshire Farm summer sausage mocks me from the refrigerator. Lots of Hillshire Farm summer sausage mocks me from the refrigerator. Call it Two Feet Ten Inches O Beef.
  8. Seriously, it’s still there in the refrigerator, and when I want a proteinish snack, I find myself eating Kraft dried Parmesan right from the little plastic shaker jar instead.
  9. Months or years later (honestly, it’s a lot of salt), I throw the Hillshire Farms sausage out, and I never buy summer sausage again.

Well, not exactly never. Three to five years later, I repeat these steps in exactly the same order. Except next time, my boys will try to bash each other with the sausage by then. They will be young men bashing each other with sausage.

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Book Report: San Francisco photos by Morton Beebe (1985)

Book coverIn the battle between the San Francisco picture books between this book and the other similarly named book I just looked at, this one wins.

It’s bigger in size, it’s thicker, and it’s got higher quality paper and photography. It also relies on locals for the essays within, including Herb Caen, Herbert Gold, and others, so you get a better sense of place and the people of San Francisco. The essays are essays, too, instead of just text blocks around which to group the images.

So if you have to choose one or the other, this is the one to go with. As probably demonstrated by the fact that it has gone into a third edition.

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Book Report: San Francisco by Edmund Swinglehurst (1979)

Book coverThis book is a picture book of San Francisco from 1979.

As you might know, gentle reader, I myself have visited San Francisco on two occasions (noted here and here). So I’d like to think that the book reminds me of my trips, and it does a little bit. On our trips, we went to wine country, we went to Yoshi’s (the defunct San Francisco location), and we went to book stores, none of which are depicted here. We did go to Pier 39 and to Ghiradeli Square, so I see some of that, but I didn’t visit in 1979, so the cars and fashions in my memory were different.

But of all the cities in the world, San Francisco is one of the most photogenic and interesting from a photography perspective, so it’s an appealing book to look at. The text within it is pretty boilerplate, and aside from the place names, one could imagine the copy being written for any city. But the copy is not the point of the book.

So, you’re saying to yourself, is it football season already? Yes, yes, it is, so it’s time for picture books and poetry chapbooks to make up a higher portion of my reading (hem) list. Which is why I stocked up a bit in Branson last weekend.

Worth a browse if you’re into this sort of thing and can pick it up for a buck like I did.

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Good Book Hunting, Friday, September 22, 2017: Hooked on Books

We had a little time to kill between appointments yesterday, so we stopped into Hooked on Books for a couple minutes.

Which is all I needed.

I got four from the dollar books section and two from the philosophy section.

  • Cat Fear No Evil, one of the Joe Grey mysteries by Shirley Rosseau Murphy, who wrote The Catswald Portal. I thought about checking the series out, and here is one for a dollar. Can’t miss for that.
  • The Maine Lobster Book by Mike Brown. Looks to be similar to The Lobster Chronicles. Which reminds me: When I hunger for this sort of literature, I have a couple of Linda Greenlaw’s other books floating around here somewhere.
  • Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender.
  • The New Prince which promises or threatens to be an update to Machiavelli’s treatise. This volume is by Dick Morris, the political consultant, so who knows its worth–I will someday, perhaps. I did allude to the original in a book report yesterday, so of course I was primed for this book.
  • The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra. This is the thirty-fifth anniversary edition, and it was right next to the twenty-fifth anniversary edition, which indicates that this has remained in print for a while. Probably more relevant than The Tao of Elvis.
  • Spirit of Shaolin by David Carradine. The actor from the two Kung Fu television series talks about his exploration of Eastern thought and martial arts. The book was written three years after his turn in Warlords.

At any rate, a good couple of minutes. I look forward to reading these books, but unfortunately, I will put them on my to-read bookshelves, where they will be lost for years.

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Book Report: The Living Thoughts of Confucius by Alfred Doeblin (1950, 1959)

Book coverAs I mentioned, this book was my pocket book for quite some time, which explains why the cover looks like it does now compared to how it looked when I bought it in Baraboo in June.

As you might know, gentle reader, I’ve been looking to the East like a China Grover the last few years, and I’ve read some books on Buddhism (here, here, and here), Taoism (here, here, and, heaven help me, here). I’ve also read some books on Chinese history (like this) and listened to a long series of lectures on Chinese history (this one). As you know, Confucianism is quite the thing in China and has been historically. So aside from some aphorisms here and there, I have not read Confucius in detail.

Until now.

Although “depth” is misleading. You hear so many aphorisms from Confucius because the collected writings are collections of short lessons and aphorisms that don’t lead from one to another or build upon each other. It’s textually a bit like Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations that way. A bit like the Buddhist lessons, but briefer. Which makes them harder to read in succession because they do tend to repeat themselves thematically.

And the theme? Well, to boil it down, Confucius says:

That’s a snarky bit of boiling it way down, but it’s not complicated. Confucius emphasizes filial piety and obedience as the foundation of society. You obey your father and older brothers; they obey the lower ministers; the lower ministers obey the emperor, the Son of Heaven. This then is kind of like the li, the natural way, upon which societies run.

The topic and subject of Confucius’s lessons are practical and mostly political and a bit moral. There’s no ontology in there, no real aesthetics. Only that virtue comes from doing the right thing, which is generally following your leader faithfully. It assumes that your leaders are going to be good and wise leaders, superior men, and that the emperor himself will be benevolent, frugal, and wise. Otherwise he won’t be emperor for long, but the lessons do no focus on how to tell if an emperor should be deposed.

Confucius could be a companion book to Machiavelli’s The Prince. Instead of the focus of how to get and keep power, this book is all about serving those in power because it is morally right. I can see why it might have been a popular philosophy amongst the ruling class of a country.

Much like any Chinese history or philosophy book written after 1949, I wonder how much it has been influenced by the modern Chinese government–whether through actual direct involvement in reviewing the material or whether through indirect involvement where the author fears the loss of access to China for further work. This book was first written in 1950, though, so it’s probably indicative of a Chinese mindset that has prevailed through ages. Perhaps I’ll come to a greater understanding of Confucianism versus Buddhism in Chinese thought if I study enough. Have I enough time, I might have something intelligent to say.

At any rate, I cannot yet compare this book to other books in Confucian thought. As the aforementioned trip to Baraboo yielded a book on Mencius, I have one more book on Confucianism to read. But based on the content of this one, I’m not inclined to delve more into it.

But perhaps I should teach it to my children.

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Book Report: The Presidents Tidbits and Trivia by Sid Frank and Arden Davis Melick (1984)

Book coverThis book is a coffee table sized book of small trivia bits about the presidents (through Ronald Reagan, although someone helpfully appended Bush, Clinton, and Bush in pen at the end of one list). The material is not sourced, and it’s not reliable–two separate vignettes give different stories about Ulysses S Grant’s name (one is that he has no middle name; the other is that he became US Grant when someone filled out his application to West Point incorrectly, not using his real name, Hiram Ulysses Grant). And this is a later edition of the book, which was first published in 1972, so some things have been updated to reflect the new presidents (Ford, Carter, and Reagan), but some of them have not.

So you wouldn’t want to cite this book in a paper (well, unless you’re a journalist working for a paper, in which case there are no consequences nor even embarrassment for getting something wrong).

But it did remind me of some of the presidents that one doesn’t think of often and made me want to read a biography of them. Polk and Taylor come to mind, actually. But the relative dearth of biographies in the places I look (book sales and church rummage sales) will ensure I don’t rush out and buy a number of these books to put on my shelves for years.

So I got something out of it, perhaps just as much as one could expect.

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How To Tell What Song Just Came On Brian’s iPod At The Gym (XI)

If you see me running on the track at the gym, and if my right arm looks like it’s twirling a lever action shot gun instead of pumping, you should know immediately what song I’m listening to.

“You Could Be Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses. In addition to being on one of the Use Your Illusion albums, it’s on the Terminator 2: Judgment Day soundtrack which explains why a young(er) Arnold Schwarzeneggar is in the video linked above.

Strangely enough, this is my favorite GnR song. I mean, “Welcome to the Jungle” is okay, but it’s a little self-conscious by now. And “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” isn’t an upbeat workout song.

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Good Book Hunting Saturday, September 16, 2017: Branson, Missouri

Yesterday, we found ourselves in Branson, Missouri, with a little time on our hands, so we visited:

  • Calvin’s Used Books (one of the best used book stores in Missouri last I heard), where I bought a number of books because at $2 each, that’s almost as good as $1 each.
  • The Shepherd of the Hills Humane Society Thrift Store, where the books were significantly cheaper. I walked out with a box full of books for a buck fifty.
  • The State of the Ozarks festival in Hollister, which had a couple of booths with comic book and regular book authors, and I always like to pick up some of their work, although I don’t tend to get to the books quickly.

I got:

  • Five comic books from Anthony Hunter: Two issues of Lame Brains and the first three issues of Silent Sillies. Which proves my thoughts of “Are these the last comic books I ever read?” were indeed premature.
  • The Proof of God by Larry Witham.
  • Three by the lately departed Jerry Pournelle: Janissaries (which I bought even though its front cover is almost completely detached), Exiles to Glory, and King David’s Spaceship.
  • Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman
  • The Wards of Iasos by local author J. Cristopher Wilson. I saw him at LibraryCon 2017, but he was speaking in a panel when I passed by his table on the way out, so I didn’t buy his book. I saw him and caught a little of a talk he gave at the Ozark Mini Maker Faire the next week. When I saw him yesterday at a table in Hollister, his old home town, I told him if he was going to keep following me to fairs and festivals, I’d buy his book. Now, when I see him around, I’ll remind him of that.
  • “A” is for Alibi by Sue Grafton. It’s an early edition, but I think it’s book club.
  • The Face by David St. John, a novella in verse.
  • Voodoo, Ltd. by Ross Thomas. I’ve already read it, but the copy I read is paperback, and this is a first printing. Note to self: Do not put this on the to-read shelves, or I will have to read it again before I move it to the read shelves. THERE ARE RULES.
  • Finding my Father by Rod McKuen. It’s prose and looks to be a memoir of some sort with a title Roger Waters and I can appreciate.
  • The Mycenean World by John Chadwick.
  • Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen. He takes a lot of hits from non-believers and otherly denominated Christians, but what is his theology? I aim to find out.
  • A companion to the television/video series Charlton Heston Presents The Bible. Without the video.
  • Two books of photography, both called simply San Francisco.
  • The World of Herb Caen by Barnaby Conrad about the legendary San Francisco columnist, and by “legendary,” I mean “mostly forgotten by the illiterate generations following ours.”
  • The Cotswolds, a picture and guide book to that region of England, because I haven’t read a Cotswold or similarly named book in weeks.

Someone from San Francisco (or a Friscophile) donated a bunch of books to the thrift store, as there were volumes of Rod McKuen poems along with the picture books and memoir I snagged above.

My wife got a couple of Daniel Silva books she read as library books and wants to re-read and a copy of an inspirational book, Joni, to replace a copy she recently gave away. The boys got three or four books themselves, but these are not pictured because they’ve already taken them away and probably have read most of them by now.

This should keep me in browsing and reading for a bit. Now, to get to finishing the books I have half-completed so I can get to them, maybe. Except for the Ross Thomas book. I really, really have to remember to put that on the read shelves.

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They Weren’t Comic Books When I Read Them

If you’re asking what the last comic book I read was (and you might just be, or might would have been being if you read the linked post yesterday instead of reading me weekly, in which case we’ll get to the last comic book I read and the significance of my reading comic books, close parentheses–oops, did I say that out loud? I meant), it was a Classics Illustrated version of David Copperfield. Now, you’re saying, “Man, that must have been hard, collapsing a Dickens novel into 40 pages of panels and sentences!”

You have no idea. I am certain the comic did not ruin the book for me when I get around to reading it in prose. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll actually know what is going on and discover the book is not actually a music video cut-scene style collage of characters when I read the book. But as for a last comic book that I might ever read, David Copperfield is pretty hoity-toity.

On the back, there’s a list of other titles available in Classics Illustrated editions.

It’s not a comprehensive list, as the numbers skip wildly. But I took it to be a challenge to my well-readhood, so I’ve identified the books I’ve read in actual book form below the fold.
Continue reading “They Weren’t Comic Books When I Read Them”

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Personal Goal Reached, Revisited

So one of my goals for this year was to read all the comic books I own.

Well, to finish reading the comics I’d purchased, not read all the comics I owned again. Last year, I organized my comic books into short boxes and stored them.

However, I had another short box of comic books that I’d bought in 2008 at a garage sale at Edgar Road Elementary. They were marked 10 cents each, but I bought the whole box for $4 or $5 without counting them. It turns out they came to almost 100. Plus, I’d picked up a couple books at Vintage Stock in recent years. And I’d bought a couple comics for my kids that they’ve then sold to me for a discount when they wanted to buy Pokemon cards. In retrospect, even though they sold the books to me at a discount, I have bought the books twice which makes me a not-so-smart shopper. It also explains why I have single issues of mutant titles–when it seems inexplicable, I realize the cover has Cable on it, and the youngest thought Cable was cool for some reason when he (the youngest, not Cable) was six years old.

At any rate, I decided to read those comics this year so I could enumerate them in the spreadsheet of my collection and then store them properly with the others in an organized fashion. So it’s sort of like how I treat my actual library: I get, then I read, then I enumerate. Of course, there is not much organization in my book library at all, so the comic book collection quite differs from real books.

As you might know, I have been diligently knocking off comic books throughout the year, often as a break from reading actual books or after completing a chapter of a real book like The Grapes of Wrath. The Edgar Road Box, which I would shorten to ERB if I planned on ever speaking of it again, contained pretty good sets of mid-80s comics like Alpha Flight, Power Pack, and The New Mutants, but I was not familiar with those series, so I pushed them off.

But I eventually got to them.

And this week, I finished the last of my comic books.

Now that I’m done with the personal goal, I lack a sense of accomplishment.

On the one hand, as you might expect, I look at the end of the stack and I think, “Is this the last time I read a comic book?” I don’t tend to go to the comic book shop looking for comic books these days, and I haven’t even been to Vintage Stock for months. I haven’t been to Missouri Comics since it closed and moved to Florida (I wonder whether the recent hurricane has wiped him out?) The answer to this is probably not, since I’ll still pick up stuff from the independent comic book publishers at -Cons, and if I discover a small box cheap at a garage sale, I might still be tempted. But who knows?

On the other hand, now that I’m done with it, I look at it in terms of a personal goal, and think, “That’s the best you can do for personal goals each year?” To be honest, my annual goals in the past have been tied to certain metrics. Ten years ago, they were: Read 70 books (I read 125); write 50 rough drafts (I wrote 12, most of which ended up on this blog eventually); submit 50 pieces to magazines (I submitted 12; one, though, appeared in a national magazine); write 3 applications (Junk Data; ReadTrack; WriteTrack–0 completed). I also had a nebulous goal (exercise more) and a specific goal (learn to play piano). I didn’t do so good with those goals, although even today I’m tracking the books I read and get close to or more than 70 per year. And I do exercise more, although I don’t track it.

This year, though, I had more discrete goals: To get a black belt; to do a triathlon; to read all the comics I own; to publish a book of poetry. I’m three quarters of the way through the list, and I wonder if perhaps I should not have looked for something more meaningful than these. Or at least more meaningful than reading comic books as an annual goal.

I mean, I’m ::cough, cough:: closing in on fifty years old. Reading comic books in middle age is not something one does. At least, I look around my cohort and don’t see anyone else doing it. I’m not sure I’d even feel comfortable mentioning it to anyone I know. So let’s keep this between you and I, gentle reader.

Of course, when wanting to have a goal of something more meaningful, you have to have a concept of what is really meaningful. Perhaps that is what I’m struggling with when being down on this particular little pastime. I mean, I enjoyed reading the comic books a bit, although I’m more of a book reader these days. I take a certain pride in my collection (I should add an s, as I am proud of most of my collections). Perhaps that’s meaningful enough, and perhaps annual goals can be that trivial.

Who knows? Perhaps I should set as an annual goal for 2018 Get over the mid-life crisis you’ve been having since you were sixteen years old.

At any rate, since I did bother to list them, below the fold you can geek out with the complete list of my comic books as of today.

Continue reading “Personal Goal Reached, Revisited”

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It Would Have Been Less Romantic That Way

As you might know, gentle reader, I met my beautiful wife on the Internet when I posted a poem on a Usenet newsgroup (ask yer grandpa), and she liked it (fuller story here).

This is the poem I posted (and which should appear in a forthcoming volume of poetry when I get around to finishing it up.

Exploring, we discovered Bee Tree Park.
Tree branches laced like lazy fingers behind our head,
above the trail, above the naked rock,
where neon graffiti was worn to earthen tones.
The slow Mississippi whispered by.
Fingers woven like dreams and the night
before falling asleep.
Her warm palm pulsing, we paused
to watch the barges wander down
and sip the summer breeze.
Her voice murmured cooly in my ears,
she spilled her hair over my shoulder,
maple syrup dripping down my chest,
“This would be a great place to make love.”
I smiled, ruffling kisses through her hairs,
a butterfly on a field of clover,
and rustled in her ear, “We are.”

The whole scene and setup would definitely be less romantic with a severed human foot in it.

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A Song I Didn’t Need To Hear

As I might have mentioned, gentle reader, I spend most of my time with a bit of a double-effect narrator going on. One of the latest memes is including an image and some text with something about you, and an accompanying bit of text offering some Morgan Freeman narration over the top, expressing that this was not so. In my mind, even when I’m in the moment, I know that the moment is passing, and that I’m reaching an age where more moments have passed than are coming, especially in any particular given situation. Especially as my kids age; there will come a time when I’m holding one of my children, and I’ll put him down, and I will never pick him up again. I saw that in a listicle recently, and my boys are 11 and 9 now, and they’re getting harder to pick up. See also The Future Forgotten, Half-Empty Bottle of Mr. Bubble.

At any rate, on a recent lawn mowing excursion, I heard the new Brad Paisley song, “Last Time for Everything”:

You know, that about describes my daily interior monologue. Well, not quite, but I’m always conscious of it, often to the ruin of the present moment.

And the little chorus, which matches a protest of my one corner of my mind when it presents the entropic litany, reminds us to fully embrace every moment while we’re in it, but that doesn’t, in the song, redeem the dark enumeration of the verses. Much like reading a bunch of books on Eastern philosophy and Buddhist-themed mindfulness has yet to turn me into a peppy people person or silence that Morgan Freeman-style narration in my head.

But I’ll keep trying. Until the last time.

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Do Not Confuse Coney Dog With These Imposters

As you might remember, gentle reader, my cat was recently fitted with a Edwardian collar after surgery. He spent a couple days sequestered in my office and went a little stir crazy, so we let him out and took off the collar since he wasn’t paying attention to the stitches.

Well, with the collar off, he found them and irritated his surgery site, so he’s back in the cone of shame.

Now, just as a reminder, we call him by many appellations now, but remember, he’s still the Big Bopper. Do not confuse him for someone else.

The Real Thing:

The Big Bopper

Not to be confused with:

Ming the Merciless

A Triceratops

“Weird Al” Yankovic
in the “Dare to be Stupid” video

Marvel Villain Doctor Bong

Although, to be honest, when he scratches the cone in the bed in the middle of the night, he sounds like Doctor Bong.

He gets the stitches out in a couple of days, at which point we will have to go back to our regularly scripted humor at his expense.

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So I saw this ad:

And I thought, “It’s that one guy from Daft Punk.”

But no.

The ad is from the back of a 1986 comic book. Yamaha is trading on its reputation for motorcycles in advertisements for its musical keyboards.

Little did they know it would create THE look for DJs in the 21st century.

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The Wisdom of Confucius (I)

As I mentioned, I’m working through a book on Confucius. Although overall I’m not really impressed (which I’ll get to in the book report), there are some nuggets that align with my experience.

Such as:

He who requires much from himself and little from others, will keep himself from being the object of resentment.

You know, that sounds pretty good on the first read, especially as it’s a prescription for self-reliance and forgiveness, but the second half of it is not necessarily correct. The reason to require much of yourself and to recognize that others won’t live up to your standards is good as a way of looking at life, for achieving much yourself and for accepting others as themselves and not how you would have them be, is that it will give you peace of mind. Others might well resent you, but, hey, you don’t expect understanding and grace from others, do you?

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A Father’s Pockets Are A Cornucopia

A couple years back (and by a couple years, I mean a decade), all the cool kids did posts where they emptied their pockets, took a picture, and talked about what they had. The meme ran through the gun bloggers, so you had an assortment of knives, pocket guns, spare magazines, and whatnot.

I’m a little behind the times, but bear with me.

As I have mentioned, I like wearing looser khakis with decent pocket space. I need to wear a waist size up and cinch the waist with a belt to accommodate my fat thighs, and this leaves me with lots of pocket space. Enough to hold me until tactical harem pants come in style, anyway.

How much pocket space do they give me? Plenty, as demonstrated by what I carried in them on a recent trip to the local Silver Dollar City amusement park.

So here’s my junk on the table:

  • The obligatory bottle of sun screen. The lotion, because I suspect the spray-on bottles provide plausible appliability–that is, you can say you’ve put on sun screen, but mostly you’ve sprayed some at your body and not actually covered your skin enough to protect yourself.
  • The Thoughts of Confucious, a paperback I brought along because I don’t like most rides. Was I the guy reading a book in the amusement park (while wearing khakis, no less)? Yes. During the Southern Gospel Picnic, too. Talk about missing the spirit.
  • A large stuffed horse for winning the shoot-water-at-a-target horse race game. And two smaller horses given as consolation prizes to my boys, who aren’t yet as fast as their father at bringing the stream of water on target. But soon, they will beat me at everything, so I have to enjoy these wins when I can.

    Full disclosure: The big horse rode in my shirt pocket, not the pants. But it went with the khakis, which were not actually khaki in color but black.

  • A wallet that shrank as the day went on.
  • A key ring that I recently reduced to the keys I actually use from a larger set that includes what looks to be a number of house keys to…what? My home in Old Trees? My mother’s house? I have no idea.
  • A pocket knife that I used to open a bag of chips at the park. “Do you only use that for opening things?” my oldest son asked. I’m not sure what else he would use a pocket knife for, but the question does not help his case that he should have a pocket knife.
  • An iPhone that, I’m proud to say, only has one screen of apps on it, and most of them are things Apple won’t let me uninstall. I AM A LUDDITE.
  • A notepad and a pen. In the old days, I’d use this for scribbling down thoughts and poem fragments. Now it’s mostly shopping lists and films I want to rent from the video store.
  • A small lighter. I don’t smoke, but if I’m ever in a situation where I need fire, I’ll really need it badly, and I’d hate to spend that time futilely trying to start a fire with sticks or stones and lamenting if only I had a thirty cent lighter now.

Not depicted: The theme park’s paper/calendar of events and a collection of change that grew as the wallet shrank.

In the olden days, the everyday pocket contents would have included wipes, little toys to amuse little boys, and whatnot. But that’s when the post would have been entitled “A Daddy’s Pockets” instead of “A Father’s Pockets”.

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Book Report: The Catswold Portal by Shirley Rosseau Murphy (1992)

Book coverI picked up this book right after reading Cotswold Mistress because they had similar titles, and I figured reading them right after the other would lend itself to a certain symmetry. Or something. Besides, there would be no better time to read it than when I had the notion of reading the two similarly-titled books in succession.

I bought this book new with the proceeds of a gift card in 1998 or 1999, when the book was relatively new. I remember picking it up at the Barnes and Noble in Ladue, not far from my then-beautiful-girlfriend (note that the “then” here refers to the ‘girlfriend’ and not the ‘not now beautiful’ because she is now my beautiful wife and remains as beautiful or more beatiful now). Where was I before I was guarding my flank? Ah, yes. I bought this book back then because it had a cat on the cover, and I was a new cat owner. The back cover indicated the book involved a portal to a world of cats. So I thought it might be interesting.

And although I have picked it up a couple of times in those almost twenty years, I often found myself wondering if I was in the mood for a 400-page fantasy book about a portal to a cat world. And the answer was then “No.” But the similar titles to the two books gave me the push to get into it.

As I might have alluded, this is a fantasy world, but the portal does not lead to a world of cats; instead, it leads to a world that includes a race of shapeshifters who can turn into cats. In our world, there are a number of people of this race, but they don’t know it.

The main character, Melissa, is such a woman who was to be cultivated by an evil queen from the Netherworld to lure that shapeshifting race, the Catswold, into a trap. But as she was being taken through the portal, the queen’s henchman was ambushed by a rebel woman who then used magic to make Melissa forget her past and the upper world and then who raised her as a peasant. Melissa, though, is drawn to her destiny at the castle of the evil queen where the king has an agenda of his own and beds Melissa to produce an heir to the kingdom, cementing his position. When the queen discovers this tryst, she turns Melissa into a cat and has her dumped in the outer world. There, the widower of Melissa’s childhood friend Alice is a painter who has lost his creative spark finds a cat and then a new model in a mysterious woman (Melissa, who is still trying to learn about her past).

At any rate, it’s high fantasy with a lot of intrigue, a lot of subplots, and a lot of textured writing throughout 300 pages. Around that time, though, the focus shifts into narrative overdrive, and we get to the end and the resolutions with a couple flashes of the textured writing. Plotlines slowly developed are abandoned or dealt with in a paragraph. It’s almost as though the author thought initially of a trilogy or pair of books or a longer book, but got toward the end and just wrapped it all up. As late as about page 300, elements were being introduced. Elements that would seem to be major elements–like a giant black dragon from the Hell Pit that represents the fundamental evil in all worlds and universes. There’s no way this finishes in 100 pages, I thought. And it did. And the black dragon gets a two paragraph send-off.

So it’s a pretty good bit of high fantasy that finishes too quickly for its own good.

Did it really take me two weeks to read one book? Well, yes; it is high fantasy with deep, rich writing as I said, and I’m spending a little less time reading these days. Hopefully I’ll complete my next read in a shorter interval. Spoiler alert: It has a completely unrelated title.

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