Book Report: Nature Center Rhapsody by Doug McKean (?)

Book coverAs you might know, gentle reader, I sometimes take my children to the Nature Center here in Springfield, so I’m familiar with some of the locations mentioned in the book. And, in a Springfieldian turn of events, my beautiful wife nows the author: his wife taught algebra and his child played in the band with her. So I’d better not go too hard on the fellow as it might stifle our social life.

The book doesn’t have a date on it, but it’s right about in the 1985-1995 era. It uses a monospace font and lots of clip art which puts it in the early days of PC-based desktop publishing (as opposed to X-acto knives and rubber cement desktop publishing, both of which I participated in with my chapbooks).

At any rate, the first poems in the book made me think I’d picked up another winner. They feature, directly, locations at the Nature Center that I could visualize, probably helping because I’d been there, and the poems throughout the book are shot through with mindfulness/Buddhist themes of stillness and just being with the universe.

However, later poems get more to the modern short line stacks that I don’t like at all. It’s hard to evoke with three syllables–even haiku have five (in their first and last lines and seven in the middle line, I know, gentle reader). But the haiku is trying to make but a moment for contemplation and not a longer poem. I might have to work out a mathematical formula for the minimum number of syllables in a line of poetry before I disapprove. It might be seven. Maybe six. Maybe a more complex algorithm where an average line length over the poem matters more. I dunno. At any rate, the later poems led me to re-read the ones at the beginning and kind of discount them as well.

So it’s okay in spots and thin and tepid in others. Kind of like this blog, come to think of it.

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Prose Poem For A Chilly Autumn Morning

If the hot shower had a coffee pot, I would still be there.

It’s the autumn time of year where we can leave our windows open all day, and then into the night where it really cools the house for some good sleeping weather. We get about two or three weeks of it before we have to go to the furnace or the evening fires to keep the house warm.

But it’s kind of nice, the changing of the seasons.

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I’m Not That Gone Already

So I work a lot on the phone, sometimes leading calls where my microphone is open most of the call.

And this chonker makes himself comfortable on a chair beside my desk and proceeds to nap and snore.

I mean, I might be a short timer, but I am not sleeping through these calls.

This affectionate fellow likes to nestle up with me when I nap or sleep at night, and he snores as loud as a human might. I mean, maybe louder than I do. I can’t tell, because I’m generally sleeping when I snore, but I certainly hope I don’t snore any louder than that.

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Book Report: The Art of Nancy Erkholm Burkert edit by David Larkin (1977)

Book coverNancy Erkholm Burkert is a Wisconsin- and maybe even Milwaukee-based illustrator and artist, and I never heard of her before. Which is probably a ding on my knowledge of Wisconsin, but in my defense, I was not browsing art books all that much in my school days. Although I did go to the Milwaukee Art Museum fairly frequently, and surely it must have some of her work, ainna?

Basically, she got her start and cut her teeth in illustrating children’s books, including James and the Giant Peach back in the day, and later (that is, mid-1970s) she got more into oils and sculpture. Most of the work depicted in this volume, though, are the illustrations which are elaborate and realistic–well, as realistic as you can get in a children’s book, anyway.

The intro text is a bit heavy on the criticism–that is, the discussion of the artist in relationship to other art and whatnot and less biographical, although it is not exclusively critical. But, again, as a casual reader/browser, I prefer a shorter more biography-focused introductions. Although perhaps if I were to specialize in one kind of art to view, I would really get dialed into the relationships and influences more than I am.

Wikipedia indicates that she is still alive at 87, but seems to indicate her career highlights end around 1990 as the thin Wikipedia article would indicate and the lack of a personal Web site might attest. Which is a shame. I would rather look at her work than, say, Patrick Woodroffe’s. And were I in Wisconsin, I would be hopeful that I could pick up one of her original illustrations at a garage sale or something. Or at a silent auction at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where in 1994 or 1995 I once bid a week’s pay on a minor illustration by Picasso, true story. Which I did not win, by the way, and I don’t even like Picasso. Nancy Erkholm Burkert? I like her work.

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Book Report: The New Glass House by James Grayson Trulove (2006)

Book coverWell, now, gentle reader, I will have another section to pick through at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale: Architecture (and home design). I bought this book last weekend from the architecture section because it was right across from the art monographs. I used to read home plans books, magazines, and Web sites regularly, but I’ve gotten away from that since I bought a large house in the country. I’ve let my design, or at least my home and garden, magazine subscriptions lapse except for the quarterly 417 Home that’s part of my subscription to the local local interest slick. So it almost caught me by surprise how much I liked to flip through this book.

It’s got a number of homes made mostly or largely of glass windows. A little section description of where it is and what the goal was, house plans and architectural drawings, and then photos of the building from the exterior and the interior looking out.

The photos, of course, depict showroom houses. Like staged homes you see when you’re shopping for a home: furniture, but no signs of living. You know, my (recently) sainted aunt kept her home very tidy, and she had a lot of showpiece bits of furniture. Mostly antiques, which might not see in a lot of style guides like this, especially for modern architecture–even the rustic-styled lodges with glass walls had modernist furniture made out of wood or faux wood. But my aunt’s finely appointed home had personal touches, and I would guess those are stripped from the photos along with the clutter.

At any rate, these homes aren’t for me. Some of the homes are near others, which means the glass walls give people outside clear views into the home, and whether it’s true in real life or not, most of the windows do not have curtains, blinds, or other shuttering solutions for privacy. Personally, I don’t like to have blinds open on both sides of my house so that someone looking in the front can see completely through the dining room windows. I probably got this from my father, who once said he did not want to live in a fish bowl. Me, either. Although I don’t mind maybe one room that has a wall of windows–or a set of sliding doors to the back yard–I don’t want to let the outside in that badly. I want boundaries to my home and rooms that emphasize that you’re secure inside. Yeah, I like dark colors and paneling on my walls, too.

That said, one thing leapt out at me: Someone built a small, two-story library outbuilding to house his or her 10,000 volumes of Japanese history books (hello, rich professor!). It’s a little out in the woods, and it has a completely enclosed first floor where the books are stored and a second floor with walls of windows on all sides with a sofa for reading and a desk for working. You know, back in my I’m going to be startup rich and build our dream home days (and probably a little under the influence of the observation tower at Big Cedar Lodge), I wanted something like this atop my dream home, although I had in mind more of a round turret style. With a fireplace in the middle of the floor. So I liked it best of the things I saw, even though it did not have a brick or stonework exterior.

And I cannot leave this topic without saying that the new glass houses are interesting, but I like the old Glass Houses the best.

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Brian J. Pulls The Loud Handle

Gentle reader, I am in the process of leaving my full-time job and returning to the world of contracting, or maybe later another full-time job, but it certainly means an interesting time coming up. I have left with but the offer of a part-time contract with one of my favorite clients from the past and the joy of being a bit more self-determining again. It comes as I near the three year mark with my current posting, which historically has been the time I’ve gotten itchy feet at other jobs and after some soul-searching in the current dying time.

Still, I cannot help wonder how irresponsible it makes me or what a poor provider/father I am to leave steady employment for the unknown.

But at least The Kimble Group has me covered as far as new opportunity goes:

I wonder if they reach out to me with any job opening in southwest Missouri regardless of if it matches my LinkedIn profile or not.

I make fun of it, but if I cannot resuscitate my contracting company, I might be looking for anything in the future. So perhaps I should be a bit more humble. Good advice in any case except maybe for blogging, because who likes to read humble blogs?

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Book Report: The Widening Gyre by Robert B. Parker (1983)

Book coverOf course I read this book right away after buying it last weekend. It’s just about the only fiction I bought, as I don’t tend to browse those tables at large book sales. But this was on the Collectibles/Antiquarian tables as it’s a signed first edition from 1983. Which makes it both.

Also, I should note that right about the turn of the century, I read through the Robert B. Parker books in order to that point. It was before I was blogging and before I was writing book reports, so I don’t have any way to review what I thought about them then. But twenty years later, with the early twenty-first century Parkers and the Atkins/Brandman/Coleman continuation of Parker’s series between now and then, I am putting my thoughts down which are only a little about the book and more about the oeuvre and its impact on my youth. I’ve mentioned it before (see my thirty-year-old essay Meeting Robert B. Parker), gentle reader, but all those people coming in from Google in the coming years won’t have heard the story a hundred times before.

So, where are we in the series? Susan has gone off to Washington to work. So it’s before Valediction when she goes out west. And before A Catskill Eagle and before the television series, which I think influenced his work to where the books later become mostly dialog and repeats.

At any rate, the plot: A congressman and Senate candidate comes to Spenser because he needs a head of security, and Spenser’s at loose ends so he hires on. He discovers someone is blackmailing the congressman to drop out and endorse his opponent. The congressman’s wife apparently likes to drink and has ended up videotaped having sex with a younger man. Spenser vows to find out who did it and how to extricate the congressman without exposing his wife or even letting the wife know what is going on. Because the congressman love-loves his wife, you see. Or maybe that should be capitalized as Love because their relationship is drawn to parallel Spenser and Susan’s. Spenser discovers that the son of local mobster Joe Broz, Gerry Broz, is doing a little dealing and grifting on his own to impress his father, and when things go a little sideways, the son asks his father’s second to help clear it up without the father’s knowledge.

When analyzed kind of like I do the Executioner books, I break it into a couple set pieces of actual detecting between sections of self-analysis and conversations with the other characters, and I see how few action set pieces there actually are. Of course, the book clocks in at under 200 pages, so it’s not a Jack Reacher or other modern suspense novel–and it owes as much to John D. MacDonald as it does to Raymond Chandler or Ross MacDonald. But the pieces fit all right together with a balance between them which added deft depth to the genre.

As I read this, I recognized why I loved these books as a kid. They’re suspense novels, with the Spenser being arch and tough and well-read and philosophical, musing (again) on self-definition and introducing some conceptions on what means for Spenser to Love (or love-love) Susan. The kind of thing that a boy growing up without a father and prone to reading books might come to idolize.

Ah, but the seeds of the things that later turned me off to Spenser novels are present. The introspection on what love is and how it can best serve Feminist-driven female self-discovery zeitgeist (here only the woman being free to be herself whilst Spenser Loves or love-loves her). Although the MacGuffin of the congressman’s wife’s infidelity here is treated not so much as that it’s morally wrong but impractical and possibly neurotic, it would be almost thirty years before it would be something to celebrate (as in the repellent Split Image). We also get the starts of Deus Ex Mafia, where the resolution is a negotiated settlment between Spenser and some crime figure who comes to believe, possibly after an attempted hit, that coming to terms with Spenser is easier and safer than killing him. I guess the negotiated settlements started out earlier–God Save the Child and Early Autumn come to mind–but in later novels, negotiated settlements with actual criminals seem to become the norm. Or maybe I don’t remember them as well because I did not read them in my formative years and because I only read them once.

On one hand, reading this book reminded me of why I liked the earlier Spenser novels and almost makes me want to re-read them up to maybe Valediction. I mean, I re-read Early Autumn fairly regularly in my formative years and even gave it as a gift to one or more friends that I thought could use some encouragement in self-definition.

But I have so many other books to read, so I will likely hold off on that unless I find other signed first editions on collectible tables in the future.

As it stands, the hardback I already owned of this title was a Book Club Edition. So I seriously upgraded my collection with this $7.50 purchase. Which could well be my last addition to the collection unless the Spenserian Sonnet limited edition falls into my lap. I see that the Wikipedia entry for Robert B. Parker’s bibliography does not include his dissertation The Private Eye in Chandler and Hammett or Parker on Writing, both signed and numbered limited editions nor his signed and numbered sonnet; I have two of three in my collection as I was a serious collector for a while around the turn of the century. But, ah, the loss of heroes, ainna?

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Book Report: Space: 1999 by Mary A. Mintzer (1977)

Book coverWhen I bought this book last Saturday, I thought it was a comic book; however, it turns out this is actually a children’s book. So although I do not count comic books in the annual total of books read–so the first issue of Battlestar Galactica that I bought on Saturday doesn’t count (but the first of the novels, which I read in 2011, did). Don’t bother trying to make sense of it–the rules of what I count as a book for my annual reading total based on content, length, and time of year are very difficult calculus indeed.

At any rate, this book includes two short adventures of the crew of Moonbase Alpha. In the first, a colleague thought dead returns but is actually only a cipher for a ruler from the planet Psychon come back to get revenge on Maya, the woman with the sideburns who can change into things. In the second, explorers in one of the ships find a planet suitable for colonization with a small group of mentally advanced people on it who will share their planet. But there’s a dark secret: The planet has no sun, and it’s only the mental power of the Queen that keeps it going–and she steals power from the brains of her subjects.

I remember the program came on on Saturday afternoons in the late 1970s in Milwaukee, but I don’t remember watching it much. All I remember is the woman with the sideburns could change into things. And that it had a low budget, but somehow it didn’t grab one as Star Trek did. And by “one,” I mean sub-ten-year-old me. So I have to wonder if this is worth watching sometime. I just checked on Amazon, and it doesn’t look like it’s available in US DVDs. Which makes my mind up for me. I don’t have time to watch the things I own, so I shouldn’t go buying things I will just put in the cabinet for some day. Also note: It’s far easier to be virtuous for sins one cannot commit; if Amazon had the complete series on DVD for $14, it would be on its way to Nogglestead by now.

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I mentioned that I have a new washing machine. Well, I implied it. in addition to a larger tub, it has a more modern interface, all steely and LCD screen and smooth buttons that are but a part of the face of the control box.

But two of the buttons have Braille beside them.

I have to wonder the logic that led to the decision to put a couple bits of Braille on the surface here as it has no real tactile buttons to manipulate and because the other controls do not have Braille and no real way to know what they are.

It’s not like the Braille you see on drive-up ATMs which share buttons with ATMs installed where the blind can walk up to them. This is a smooth surface that doesn’t do anything but run this washing machine (and probably the ones that work better in Asia or wherever they don’t have environmental strictures in place).

I wonder if this is just enough to defend against ADA lawsuits or something.

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Book Report: Brazilian Baroque by Sharon Harper Sampson (1972/1973)

Book coverI bought this picture book last weekend and thumbed through it during a football game. It’s the takeaway book from a Washington, D.C., exhibit of Brazilian religious artifacts sponsored/provided by a government ministry of Brazil from the time I was born.

The preface and the introductory essay “Colonial Religious Art in Brazil” describe the development of religious art in Brazil (wait, you mean the title already summed that up?) from the items they brought from Portugal to the different regional styles driven by the materials at hand. To be honest, without a map of Brazil handy, a lot of this information rolled right over me as it’s pretty comprehensive in identifying individual religious institutions, the churches, convents, abbeys, and whatnot, that originally displayed the items and when they were built, burned, and/or rebuilt. The detail was a bit much for any sort of retention, and it certainly hasn’t driven me into further study.

The book also lists, I suspect, all the items at the exhibit whereas the book itself focuses on silver and precious metal-based church service pieces with a couple of other statues and monstraces thrown in. So although a number of terra cotta and soapstone statues are listed in the catalog, they are not in the book. Which is a pity; I think I would have prefered to see them rather than another censer.

Okay, I say it hasn’t driven me to further study, but I am not as familiar with the history of South America, especially Brazil, as I could be. So maybe I’ll pick up something on it sooner rather than later. I have a really dry history of Latin America that I tried to read twenty-some years ago. Maybe I’ll pick that up again. Maybe after I read The Story of Civilization.

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As An Investor, I Know Better

I got this in my email box on Tuesday:

Yeah, as a savvy investor in Powerball tickets from time to time, I didn’t fall for this because I know the drawings are not held on Tuesdays, but on Wednesdays.

Also, I am not that kind of an idiot.

Although I do call myself an “investor” in lottery tickets. Because honestly, they pay out only slightly worse than the stocks I pick on my own.

Buy the cheap mall store stocks, Brian J. Retail is coming back real soon, I swear.

In case you’re wondering, I did not win this week. And it cost me less to lose than my investment in Wet Seal did.

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Book Report: An Ozark Tapestry and More by Marjorie Shackleford McCune (1987)

Book coverThis is the second of the chapbooks that I bought this weekend; Heartstrings was the first. This is also an example of grandmother poetry, literally, as the back cover has a picture of the author with her grandson. The About the Author bit on the back cover mentions she took a class in writing poetry at Drury University late in life.

Which probably explains why this is a cut above the norm for the genre (which I am probably the one who coined the term grandmother poetry, but I think you will agree it is a genre in itself).

The poems cover the usual genre territory: Family, faith, and the seasons. However, under the influence of the poetry class undoubtedly, Ms. McCune has some poems with a pat abab rhyme scheme, but she dabbles with some other rhyme schemes and even free verse which really frees her from the constraint of the rhyme scheme for better rhythm and imagery. So some of the poems are all right (he said, in Northerner, which tends to dim compliments and to praise with faint praise, or so I tell my beautiful wife when she’s miffed that I say that her dinner was all right).

Apparently, a lot of the books I got this weekend come from the middle to late 1980s, and as I look upon this, which is a chapbook that appeared only a few years before my first, I’m a little–disoriented. I mean, the woman who wrote with this fresh voice was 80 in 1987. She has passed away long ago, and her book is 33 years old. Which means my first published book is 26 (but still remains fresh and is reprinted in its entirety in Coffee House Memories). Which means I am… getting old enough to write grandfather poetry although my grandfathering years are still at least, um, not that many years in the future maybe.

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Breaking News From 2016

For some reason, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has this story on its front page, albeit at the bottom, today:

Oh, come now, we can all know the reason: It wants to hurt a Republican.

It looks like the Journal-Sentinel has a rotating series of stories in the same area, and they might have that one thing in common.

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Book Report: Heartstrings by Sharon Harper Sampson (1985)

Book coverAs you might have expected, gentle reader, I dove right into the chapbooks and art monographs during the second week of football. As I watched most of three games, I had plenty of time in between plays to read a poem or look at a picture and caption. Given how my attention during football games these days focuses mostly on the books and a little on the football game makes me think that maybe watching football is more of an excuse to read during the day than actual love of football.

At any rate, this is a middle 1990s chapbook back when making a chapbook often meant laying the stuff out yourself on paper. Desktop publishng was very rudimentary then, gentle reader–take if from someone who printed the text of his first 1994 chapbook out and laid the actual pages out on paper and whose first issues of his magazine (the St. Louis Artesian) were laid out on paper until I got Microsoft Publisher on a 386 PC in 1995 for later issues and my second chapbook. Oh, there were small publishing houses that did chapbooks back in that age, but most of us just ran them off at Kinko’s.

The most interesting bit about this book is that it was hand-lettered in a fun, almost italics font that took a lot of work. Here’s the dedication page:

Book dedication

I have trouble making my handwriting legible much less pretty.

However pretty it is, though, it makes for a slower read over the length of a book, even a chapbook like this. I’m currently working on a longer book, a Yoga devotional, presented in an italic font, and it’s not fun going through 300 pages of it. This book, though, is only 53 pages.

The poetry is pretty pedestrian Grandmother poetry talking about family and faith with end rhymes and a bit of a sense of rhythm. So, yeah, nothing that sticks out–but I’m reading the complete works of Keats, and most of Keats’ work doesn’t stick out, either. So take of that what you will: Good poetry, or a good poem, one that strikes a chord within you, is pretty rare.

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Yeah, I Had That In A Book Plot, Too

VIDEO: Tourist captures ‘ghost sighting’ at Gettysburg battlefield, sparks debate.

Back in the 1990s when I was under the influence of the Anita Blake novels, wherein vampires come out of the shadows and get legal protections of a sort, I thought what if a ghost on a Civil War battlefield became aware of his surroundings and got legal protections?

It did not go as far as some of my books went, with anywhere from just a title page to several chapters stuffed into an old Microsoft Word document on a PC long ago. Just the idea.

Maybe I should take it up again. Perhaps I could sell a dozen copies.

(Link most recently from Knuckledraggin.)

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Good Book Hunting, September 19, 2020: Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale

As I mentioned, I went to the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County book sale this weekend. Generally, this sale is semi-annual; however, with the Current Unpleasantness, the spring sale was cancelled. I had not realized how much I missed being able to go buy a stack of books and records cheaply.

I brought my boys along, again. They love to read, but the youngest must get overwhelmed with the selection, as he does not like to look for books that he might want to read. He gets very impatient and will badger me about being done very early; to be honest, he only comes because we have a new family tradition of stopping at Five Guys for lunch after. That, in his mind, is the purpose of the trip. Not accumulating vast reserves of books that might well go unread when one’s retirement ends.

So to minimize his boredom, I really only hit four areas:

  1. The dollar (fifty cents on half price day) records.
  2. The collectible Better Books.
  3. The art section for monographs.
  4. The Great Courses section–they now have a whole section set aside for these (and Modern Scholar courses) instead of scattering them among the related book sections.

We were in an out in an hour, a new record (actually, 48 since I failed to look at the Better Books records.

I got the following books:

  • Three poetry chapbooks that were not grouped together for one price: Heartstrings by Sharon Harper Simpson, An Ozark Tapestry and More by Marjorie Shackleford McCune, and Nature Center Rhapsody by Doug McKean.
  • Art monographs on Frido Kahlo, Nancy Ekholm Burkert, Grandma Moses (whom I will never again confuse with Georgia O’Keeffe, William Edward West, and Modigliani.
  • A collection of art works called At the Sea.
  • Brazil Baroque, a commemoration of an exhibition of Brazilian religious art.
  • The New Glass House; near the Art section is the Architecture section, which might be collections of pictures of architecture. So I might have a whole new genre of picture books to look at while football plays on the screen.
  • The Widening Gyre by Robert B. Parker, a signed first printing that sold for $7.50. I’m not an active collector of Parker’s work, but I had to buy this one because it was only $7.50 and I would have bid far higher than that back in the day.
  • The first American printing of Secondary Worlds, a collection of essays by poet W.H. Auden.
  • Gladstone: The Man and His Work, an 1898 edition, mainly because I confused Gladstone with Dr. Livingstone. One might almost say, I presumed.
  • Essay on Man by Alexander Pope, which is actually a poem of course. I think I have The Rape of the Lock in a similar edition around here somewhere.

I had worried about running out of CD-based Great Courses for the car (I have a bunch of DVD-based courses, but I don’t want to play videos in the car). Well, I quelled that worry. I found a couple of courses on audiocassette–my newer older car actually has a working tape player, so I can work with that–and most of what the Friends had in the Great Courses section, at least what remained on Saturday, was CDs.

So I got a bunch at between $.50 and $10 each:

  • A bunch of short, four hour courses on various composers including Haydn, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms.
  • Two courses on Buddhism: Buddhism and Great World Religions: Buddhism.
  • Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World.
  • The English Novel.
  • Francis of Assisi.
  • The Aeneid of Virgil.
  • The Search for Intelligent Life in Space.
  • Emperors of Rome.
  • Lost Christianities.
  • The Ethics of Aristotle.
  • Voltaire and the Triumph of the Enlightenment.

That should hold me for a while. I might have to think of some additional reasons for road trips so I can have some uninterrupted listening time.

I also got two comic books: Marvel’s Battlestar Galactica #1 because when I went to the comic convention in 2016, I got numbers 2-22 and wanted to fill out my run. I also got an issue of Space: 1999 because I already had one comic–why not others? I left the rest of the nearly contiguous Battlestar Galactica issues because I already have them. They’re probably on their way to be ground up to cat litter even now.

As far as books go, that’s remarkable restraint. I will probably read the art and poetry books before the end of the football season. So I have not gotten myself too much deeper into the hole as far as books I will never have time to read goes.

I did spend over $100, though, mostly on the weight of the old books and the Great Courses. But the Friends could use the funding since the number of book sales has been cut in half and this one might have had diminished attendance because.

Which reminds me: I haven’t been to ABC Books in months.

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Revisiting Old Predictions

In a Good Book Hunting post in July 2018, I predicted:

The real question is, which of these books will I read first (aside from Hundred Dollar Baby)? Probably the cartoons. How many will I have read by this time in 2020? Probably the cartoons.

Analysis: FALSE.

I’ll have to figure out where that collection of cartoons is as it’s football season, so I have time to review cartoons between plays. I’d thought I’d already read it, but I don’t see it on the list.

Perhaps I should consider not buying so many books since I tend to buy more in a given year that I actually read–and that’s about a hundred–so I am doing nothing but falling behind.

But I have this real fear about not being able to find a book to read that I’m excited about–it’s been a while since I’ve had to wander aimlessly by my bookshelves because nothing really appeals to me in the moment I’m looking for something to read–but the memory of that fear keeps me going.

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