Book Report: Life Lessons From Your Cat by Anthony Rubino, Jr. (2007)

Book coverI rescued this book from a box of outgoing books that my beautiful wife was winnowing from her collection (from time to time, she gets rid of books, a concept that is very foreign to me). I grabbed it because it looks like something I would browse during a football game.

However, I browsed it after reading How To Read A Poem as sort of a palate cleanser.

This compact book was probably designed to be a humorous little gift for the cat lover you know (the one you always give cat-themed things because that’s her gift schtick). Undoubtedly, my wife got this for similar reasons.

But the book really isn’t that amusing. It’s one or two sentences or sentiment per page from your cat’s point of view, but nothing really insightful and not much that’s really clever. So I was disappointed with it, but I’m happy to not have browsed it during a football game as I’d like my forthcoming disappointment with the 2019-2020 Packers to be unalloyed.

Now I’ll put it on my read shelves, from whence my children will poach it, love it, and likely destroy it as they have Bad Cat.

Book Report: How to Read a Poem by Nancy C. Millett and Helen J. Throckmorton (1966)

Book coverSince I just read How To Read A Play, I thought I should further my education with this text. And don’t be fooled: This is a textbook geared to high school kids or perhaps early college students.

Perhaps the subtitle should be “And Come To Hate Poetry” because the focus is not on how to read poetry for pleasure, but how to read poetry so you can write a cogent paper on it. The book encourages readers to treat every poem like a worksheet, circling keywords and drawing arrows and diagramming this and that. I kid you not.

The book starts out talking about the importance of key words and concepts, and only after almost a hundred pages gets around to the the rhythm and the rhyme of poetry. You know, the stuff that makes reading poetry fun.

So I didn’t like the book that much, but so much of the technical information I already knew, and I disagree with the basic premise that you have to work hard to unpack a poem. Poets should work hard to build the poem so that it’s easy and fun to read. Poets should not “work” to craft a poem that takes heavy analysis to understand. As a poet, you can pack meaning into a poem, but you have to make it fun for someone to read even if they’re not hunting for meaning or having to write a six page paper on your poem. For Pete’s sake. I blame e.e. cummings. Jeez, I’m coming to hate that guy more than William Carlos Williams, if only because it’s a shorter name to type when preening my disdain on this blog.

At any rate, the best part of the book was the sample poems (except the e.e. cummings). The book includes a number of Robert Frost pieces, samples from Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins (of whom I have a collection around here that I’m going to look for to read mid-Keats), and others, some of whom I might remember but probably not if I cannot enumerate them here.

So I’m glad to have read the book if only because it continues to cement my belief that academic poetry split off into its own cul-de-sac sometime in the early 20th century and might have destroyed the popular appreciation of poetry. Or maybe not–perhaps popular music picked up some of the slack for a time. But that’s a thesis I might tease out little by little over the course of innumerable book reports in the future instead of sitting down and writing an essay on it.

Memo for File

Inside a record I bought earlier this month, I found a mimeographed copy of the Licking High School Pep Club Constitution.

In purple, as Ditto intended.


Click for full size

Licking is a small town a little northeast of here. I’ve never been, but I’ve tried on occasion to subscribe to the local paper, The Licking News, from time to time ever since one got misdelivered to me a couple years back. However, I’ve not pursued it to the point of actually subscribing. Just looking on the Web site for an online form to subscribe and pay. Which isn’t there yet.

Technically, this is not a Found Bookmark nor is it as interesting, I suppose, as a record store receipt, but it’s something.

Now that I’ve scanned it, what do I do with it? Pitch it, or try to repatriate it to Licking High School or the Texas County museum (which happens to be in Licking). I mean, it’s a piece of ephemera, but don’t they want it all?

Book Report: Caligula and 3 Other Plays by Albert Camus (1958)

Book coverNow that I’ve learned how to read plays, I’m off to the races! Well, no, I’ve always mixed some drama in with the novels and nonfiction I’ve read, so this is not different at all.

At any rate, the book contains about two acts of decent drama amid the talky Existentialist theorizing. I’ve been talking a lot about the paper rhythm and spoken rhythm when discussing poetry, but I could probably also make such a distinction in plays as well. Some plays are snappy, with fast moving dialogue and an entertaining story and has its themes beneath the surface, and some plays are theme-first with lots of paragaph-long speeches about the theme. These plays definitely fall into the latter.

Caligula has its name in the title, but it’s probably the weakest play in the lot. In it, the Roman emperor embraces his freedom and does whatever he wants at the expense of his countrymen until (spoiler alert) he is deposed.

The Misunderstanding is a three act play that contains the aforementioned two acts of stage drama as a mother and daughter run an inn and infrequently kill isolated travellers for their money. They decide to do one last job before leaving their central European town for the sea, and the man who comes in is the prodigal son who has made a fortune overseas and wants to better their lives, but he doesn’t want to reveal who he is until he gets to know them. The first two acts are pretty good tension, but they kill him at the end of the second act only to find his passport in the beginning of the third, and then the man’s fiancée comes in, and they bore her to death. Not really, but the third act is all talky philosophy.

State of Siege kind of looks like it’s going to be The Plague but set in Cadiz, Spain. But it takes a turn when a character representing the plague shows up and institutes some changes to the government to make life more orderly, but one doctor eventually defies the order by not being afraid, which causes the plague to lose his grip on power. The play offers a bunch to think about–is it anti-fascist or anti-Communist in its resistance to a properly ordered totalitarian government? It also has some dramatic tension in it, but it features a chorus and a lot of stage directions that seems like it would make it hard to stage.

The Just Assassins deals with a cell of Russian terrorists who want to assassinate a Grand Duke with bombs. One of their members, a poet, falters when he sees children in the duke’s carriage, so the cell talks and talks about it. The poet is also possibly falling for the bomb maker who might want to leave the revolutionary world behind and be normal. But when the poet gets a second chance, he does not falter, and he is arrested and interrogated by the authorities and forgiven by the newly widowed duchess. But the clemency she grants leads his fellows in the cell to think he turned on them. So it’s an intellectually interesting thing, but it, too, lacks real tension.

I sometimes wonder if British and American drama really is the pinnacle of the genre, but I guess some British and American drama fits into the mold (Equus, anyone?).

I’m also thinking that there’s a larger dichotomy to explore among literature: works where theme is prevalent over entertainment or good storytelling. These plays, then, fit more with works where theme trumps entertainment. I’ll probably start using that as a recurring measure in my other book reports.

Oh, and reading this book answered a question for me. I saw a Camus quote in a Birds and Blooms magazine in 2015 that I wondered if it was a real Camus quote. Sort of. It’s presented in pretty posters and across the Internet as “Autumn–a second spring where every leaf is a flower.”

It appears in The Misunderstanding thus:

MARTHA: What’s the autumn?
JAN: A second spring when every leaf’s a flower.

A little different, but it is from the Camus.

At any rate, worth a read if you fancy yourself a hoity-toity well-read individual, as I so. And I still prefer Camus to Sartre (whose collection No Exit and Three Other Plays I reviewed in 2014–note that both books are from the Cintage Book collection, which were not very vintage in the late 1950s but are surely such now).

Triple Effect Narrator

So I might have mentioned that the country and western station that I can get on my lawnmowing headphones has gone back to playing older country songs as well as a couple beach or bro country songs, so I just spent an hour and a half marinating in country.

I heard a Kenny Chesney sing “I Go Back”:

and I heard what I thought was a Lee Ann Womack song, but it turns out was Pam Tillis singing “Shake The Sugar Tree“.

But they got me thinking about a post I did just a little while ago about Kenny Chesney’s “Young”, Lee Ann Womack singing “Mendocino County Line” with Willie Nelson, and Eric Church singing “Springsteen”.

Except that little while was almost seven years ago.

As I said then:

The strangest thing about it is the double-effect nature of it (I am Mr. Double Effect Narrator right here). When I first heard it ten years ago, I was a little wistful appropriately for my teenaged years (although briefly and only at a surface level, of course, but that is the will o’ the wist).

Now, of course, I can be both wistful for its content and wistful for the time when the song was new.

I think I have achieved the rare condition of triple effect narrator. Because I’m now nostalgic for the time when I wrote the post, the time when the song came out, and my younger days.

I need an emergency infusion of Toby Keith, stat.

Okay, maybe not that Toby Keith.

More likely I should step away from the YouTube and spend some time with my family.

Book Report: Divine Fruit by Julian Lynn (2017)

Book coverI bought this book last weekend, and when I finished The Physics of Love, I wasn’t ready to jump back into the Keats, so I read this book instead.

The book is subtitled “Ecstatic Verse” and is called “devotional verse” on the back cover, but I thought most of it would be meditative in nature given the “paper rhythm” of a couple syllables per line which lends itself more to the contemplative pacing of haiku more than ecstasy, which I would associate with longer lines. Some of the poems are rather short, too, with a title and a couple of words for contemplation.

But the poems do get a little more ecstatic, with several sexual-themed pieces. Is the sexual experience leading to an experience of the divine, or is the poet-narrator’s experience of the divine akin to sexual experience? The poems leave room for interpretation and, dare I say it, meditation on the point.

At any rate, some good moments, but I am still not a fan of the paper rhythm and prefer the more lyrical spoken rhythm in poetry.

I’ve got a couple of other books by this author, as I mentioned, which are not poetry which I’ll probably delve into before too long, where “too long” might mean “within a decade” as my unread collection of books still numbers in the thousands.

Question Answered

As my beautiful wife and I were driving back from dinner on Friday night, I noticed numerous old cars headed north on Glenstone.

“I wonder if there’s a car show,” I said. “It’s not the Route 66 Festival.”

There was: The Street Rod Nationals.

I have not been to a car show in a while. Well, except the Royal Run and Rides 5K and car show that I have run the last couple of years, but I count that as a 5K.

The Heart of Facebook Darkness

Like Ann Althouse, I’ve been seeing prompts by Facebook to join various groups on its site.

Which is weird; I am on a couple for my martial arts school and run one (The Legion of Metal Friends). So it’s not as though I’m unfamiliar with the concept. However, I’m not actively looking to increase my engagement with the intrusive behemoth at this time, thanks.

Which is weird, because Facebook recently killed a large group:

Recently, Facebook deleted without warning or explanation the Banting7DayMealPlan user group. The group has 1.65 million users who post testimonials and other information regarding the efficacy of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. While the site has subsequently been reinstated (also without warning or explanation), Facebook’s action should give any serious person reason to pause, especially those of us engaged in activities contrary to prevailing opinion.

So I’ve fixed one of their Group come-ons for them:

Of course, I’m just incensed that Facebook reminded me of my recent anniversary a day late. Thanks, Facebook. I can make that mistake on my own.

Other Repeats in Brian J.’s Life

Yesterday I mentioned films I had seen more than once in the theater, and it got me thinking (but not right before bed) about other things I have seen more than once.

Plays

  • Table Manners, one of the three in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests. When I was at the university, the Milwaukee Rep played all three on a rotating basis (Table Manners one night, Round and Round the Garden the next, and Living Together the next, and repeat), so I decided I would go to each of them with a different girl. However, because I misread the schedule, I had to go see Table Manners a second time. I actually saw it a third time when the Chesterfield Community Theatre in St. Louis played it by itself.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think I’ve seen this a couple of times, but I might be conflating the play with the symphony, both of which I’ve seen.

Musical Acts

  • Richard Marx (twice on the Repeat Offender tour: once in Milwaukee, once in St. Louis).
  • Poison
  • Warrant
  • Dar Williams
  • Ani DiFranco

The last two were under the influence of my beautiful wife, naturally.

The musician I’d like to see most again: Herb Alpert. The play I’d like to see most again: Sight Unseen.

First, They Came For Walmart

A year or so ago, the nation’s news media really glomped onto stories about Walmart as a crime attractor. For years before that, Walmart was wrecking the local economy.

I don’t know why that particular worm has turned to dollar stores.

I saw this story at Neo’s place: The war on the dollar stores:

This article is a few months old, but it just recently came to my attention and I read it because I love dollar stores, although the article is a typical anti-capitalist attack on them as somehow harming minorities in poor communities who don’t have easy access to other grocery stores.

Then I saw a story on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel‘s Web site:

No link because it’s subscriber-only, and I’m not a subscriber.

So did the media beat Walmart? Or did Walmart up its advertising budget enough that it’s not a target?

You Can See That Again

So last night, as I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, my mind continued to whirl in strange directions instead of calming down.

So I started trying to recall films that I saw in the theater more than once.

I suspect it’s because of an exchange I had with a sixteen year old in martial arts class earlier in the evening. We’re working on a self-defense against choking that involves binding the arms and pushing down on the attacker’s neck, and I told him he needed to stretch me out when defending, to straighten his arms, and that I didn’t mind because it made me taller. “I’ll look like E.T. by the end of the night. Hey, have you guys seen this really old movie, E.T.?” Alluding to the latest incarnation of Spider-Man (Remember, gentle reader, the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, gentle reader, debuted before my training partner was born). I think the young people enjoy it when I “get down” verbally, don’t you?

At any rate, I had E.T. on the brain, and I remembered I’d seen it twice in the theatres. Once with family friends, and once with a guy who dated my mother a couple of times and eventually opted for a woman on the next block in the housing projects–he and his kids and my sainted mother and her kids went to see it in the van that was eventually seen down Florist Avenue a lot.

So I started enumerating films I’ve seen twice in the theater.

  • E.T.

    I guess I told this story above.

  • Star Wars

    Although I did not see this in the theater in 1977, I saw it a couple of times on its re-release in the 1990s. In retrospect, I went to a lot of movies those days and could even see one a couple of times to make a statement.

  • The Empire Strikes Back

    When my sainted mother was in rehab, my father took my brother and I to see this in the theaters on a Sunday evening after we visited her. But we got there late and missed the entire Hoth section of the film, so I would not see that until I saw it on video. I saw this movie the second time when it was re-released in the 1990s, which means it’s the longest time between viewings in the theater (so far).

  • Return of the Jedi

    I would have to have seen this in the theater in its first run and also in the release. Wouldn’t I?

  • The Bodyguard

    This film came out when I was at college and was establishing my identity as a stoic. So this film really fell into my wheelhouse.

  • The Fugitive

    Ibid. I saw this film in the theater with my Milwaukee friends and with some of the college writing kids, including one of my college crushes, when the university showed in in the campus cinema. As we walked out, she whirled to me and said, “You like Gerard.” Well, yeah.

  • The Truman Show

    The most recent entry on this list is from the late 1990s. The place where I worked, my first IT / office job, often left movie passes for employees by the coffee pot, and I grabbed a couple for this. I went with a friend, and then I took my fiancée. The movie really creeped me out as paranoid fiction often does, and although I have it on video, I haven’t watched it in a while. Not only do I go infrequently to movies, but I rarely get to watch videos, either. Although playoff hockey has made me comfortable watching the television for hours at a time in the evening, so perhaps I’ll get more in during the summer.

I came up with as many as I composed this post as I did last night before falling asleep, which should probably be a lesson to me when falling asleep: Just go to sleep, you’re not thinking very well anyway.

So what else might have made this list? I’ve seen Blade Runner in a revival one-night-only showing. Only once?

Films most likely to join these in the future are also things I might see in revivals such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep or something. I don’t really see myself in the position where I watch a film multiple times in the theater again.

Gem Buried In The Article

The article itself is not funny: ‘Terrifying:’ Man shot and killed at MetroLink station after dispute on train.

But this bit is quite telling:

Metro President and CEO Taulby Roach, six months into the job, said on Wednesday afternoon that he was driving out to the shooting himself.

Note that he is not taking the Metrolink to the Metrolink train station. Ever wonder why he is not eating his own dog food and using his own product?

Maybe because it’s inconvenient or prone to crime?

Light rail is not having a good week. Earlier this week, some wilding youths attacked people at a light rail station in Minnesota.

On The Count of Monte Cristo

Book coverWell, it should come full circle: I finished the book last month after having read the comic book adaptation last year sometime, and I was going to run through Villages at Monte Crist again this weekend, so I sat down to watch the 2002 film again (the first time I’ve seen it since seeing it in the theatre in 2002).

Of course, since I just read the book, I had a keen awareness of how the book was compressed. As I mentioned in my review, the long novel really was like a trilogy, with the first part being the unjust arrest and confinement of Edmond Dantès, the middle part is the things that go on during his confinement amongst the other players along with the beginnings of his plots, and the third is the culmination of his plots and his thoughts of whether his revenge is right or not.

The film covers the first part of the book, abbreviated, along with the third, really abbreviated. You can contrast the liberties the film takes with the original storyline, which are many. Alright, it’s about fitting it into a film, so I can see that.

However: As a film, the second half, where the Count of Monte Cristo emerges, saves young Albert from the thieves and is introduced into Paris to seek his abbreviated revenge against Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand Mondego. Which he does with a single plot involving the theft of a shipment of gold.

Which is not like the book at all.

Of course, one cannot judge a two hour film adapted from a one thousand page novel. One should test how the movie hangs on its own.

It’s paced fast enough, and, again, I like the first part, but the last half moves too quickly, really, to have depth (although it has action).

Alterations to the novel’s plot in service of the film treatment are forgiven for the most part, as they tighten the plot for a shorter treatment.

So it’s good enough to watch again, which I probably will with my boys this summer.

Book Report: The Physics of Love by Carla Kirchner (2017)

Book coverI bought this book over the weekend, and as I just completed Keats’ “Hyperion”, I was looking for other poetry to clear my palate before jumping into Keats’ posthumously published poems (which, I think, includes a sequel to “Hyperion” but fortunately not other bonzers of dubious merit and readability).

I pretty much struck the jackpot with this book.

The poetry’s themes include things I can relate to: Children growing up, getting older, and whatnot. The lines are long and have a good mouthfeel, more of a spoken rhythm than a paper rhythm (as I explained when reporting on my my cousin-in-law’s book). I’ve even picked out a favorite piece in it, “Relativity”, which is about kids growing up, and I’ve thought I should try to capture similar sentiments in a poem of my own.

You know, I sometimes read something that makes me want to write more, and this collection definitely did. It’s fun to read, has some depth, and doesn’t take as long as a lot of Keats does.

Recommended. It’s on Amazon at less than the cover price. Unfortunately, it’s her only book so far.

Good Book Hunting, May 11 and 19 2019: ABC Books

Last Saturday, I had to run to ABC Books to get gift cards for the thank-yous that my boys reluctantly and almost illegibly write for their teachers and coaches. I bought 17 gift cards and smuggled a couple of purchases among them. As I have pretty much picked over the Martial Arts section, I moved into the Football section beside them and got a couple of Packers books to read when the hockey season is over.

This past Saturday (which for purposes of this post is not “last” Saturday), I went back because an author was in the house signing her books, and I like to support local authors.

At any rate, I got these:

They include:

  • The Physics of Love by Carla Kirchner, a chapbook by a local author.
  • I Remember Lombardi by Mike Towle.
  • Life After Favre by Phil Hanrahan, which is timely because some of us are thinking about life after Favre’s successor.
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby because suddenly everybody’s talking about mixed tapes as a 90s phenomenon, which I attribute to the film version of this book.
  • Yoga’s Devotional Light, Four Gates to Health: Eastern Ideas and Techniques for Vital Living, and Divine Fruit: Ecstatic Verse by Julian Lynn.

I joked on Saturday that I didn’t need any gift cards today because I had one left. However, on Sunday, I gave that one away.

Oh, curse the luck! I’ll have to go back to ABC Books again soon.

Book Report: How To Read a Play by Ronald Hayman (1977, 1986)

Book coverI’ve been reading some drama this year (Dinner with Friends, The Time of Your Life), so when I spotted this book on my to-read shelves, I picked it up. Because, hey, maybe I should learn how to read a play.

I didn’t agree with a lot of the material in the book; it takes kind of a producer- or director-first kind of perspective. Most of the book deals with the things you should infer outside the text–the layout of the stage, the stage directions, the silences and pauses, the things left unsaid. It says you have to really spend a lot of time thinking on these things to get the real experience of seeing the play live.

I don’t know if I buy that for a couple of reasons. Mostly because it throws out a lot about I’ve learned about writing plays. Back in the olden days when I was writing plays at the university (cough, cough The Courtship of Barbara Holt), we focused on minimizing the stage directions and stage layout so that theatres on a budget can stage it as they see fit. I was also told that the words in the play should present everything that the reader and viewer will need to know.

One example: He talks about having to imagine the stabbing of Claudius by Hamlet at the end of the play:

HAMLET
The point!–envenom’d too!
Then, venom, to thy work.

[Stabs KING CLAUDIUS]

The author here talks about how you should imagine this as an elaborate action on the stage; however, in my Shakespeare class at the university, the professor says that this kind of takes place as an afterthought and that the main point of the play was not the revenge but Hamlet working himself up to it.

You know what? With the limited stage direction, either interpretation is possible. A good play allows for that flexibility. It’s like a musical score that different symphonies will play according to their arrangements, instruments, and conductor.

So when I read a play, I read the words which are of paramount importance in the play. I imagine some of it as needed, but I don’t build little models of the play to see it.

Going to see a play, on the other hand, is a different experience, and you enjoy it differently. But trying to reproduce the live theatre experience while reading it in a book seems like a fool’s errand.

I get the sense that the author also favors written plays with more words in italics, kind of like The Time Of Your Life.

So I didn’t get much from the book aside from disagreement, and I’m not even sure it sharpens the way I think about writing plays or reading them. Ah, well.

Eydie vs. Keely: The Musical Smackdown

A poor unenlightened soul refuses to acknowledge the primacy of Eydie Gorme in all things musical, so I feel the need to offer a direct comparison.

We’ll take Keely Smith on her home turf, with “I Wish You Love”, the title track from her 1957 debut album.

Here is Eydie Gorme doing what she does best, which is everything:

As I had said to Friar, I’ve got another Keely Smith album (Be My Love) that hasn’t really stood out, and I think it’s because Keely sounds like a lot of other female big band vocalists I’ve heard, where the delivery is flat and a bit projected since there’s generally an orchestra behind them whereas Eydie is more pop/jazz influenced, where the notes are rounder and the presentation more intimate.

Your actual mileage may vary, but understand that no matter what scientific measurement you apply, Eydie Gorme is always the best. Because no matter what your subjective understanding of reality is at any given time, reality is as it is.

Book Report: Dead Line The Executioner #130 (1989)

Book coverThis is the 130th entry in the series, and I’ve apparently read 72 of them so far. So I have started to not so much compare them to literature but to each other. You probably have already seen that, gentle reader, but I guess I’ll need to re-remember and re-write it every time I read one of these (the last was Haitian Hit in April). Or maybe I only write this preface paragraph every once in a while, as I didn’t for the previous book.

At any rate, like Haitian Hit, I picked this book up after a piece of Serious Literature (then it was The Count of Monte Cristo; this time it was Jane Eyre).

The series has shifted from terrorism back to targeting organized crime, so Bolan is called upon to avenge the murder of an undercover narcotics agent who was looking into a smuggling ring using hijacked macguffins. The crime boss takes the wife and daughter of the murdered agent hostage to bargain with Bolan and the government. Officials want to negotiate, but Bolan does not, and so he finds him against elements in the government as well as the criminals.

So, yeah, it’s a lot like other Bolan novels, but it’s a creditable entry in the series. It was a quick enough read. It introduces a high-paid assassin, a tall black woman with shortly cropped hair which probably means that someone just watched A View To A Kill before plotting it. And she gets away at the end, so I’ll probably see her again after my next piece of Classical Literature.

A New Jazz Crush Has Entered The Arena

WSIE played Ashley Pezzotti’s version of “We’ve Only Just Begun”, and I was taken with it, so I bought her debut album of the same name.

I was a very low order number on her Web site.

Here she is singing her own composition “That Way”:

She’s already learned the secret to not losing head-to-head musical competitions with Eydie Gorme here on MfBJN: Write your own material.

So, how many times have you listened to that CD so far, Brian J.? you might ask. I shall simply say “More than once.”