On The English Novel by Timothy Spurgin (2006)

VHS coverI have often said that I don’t really care for the Teaching Company courses that are in my disciplines–English and Philosophy–but this one was an exception. It covers, well, the development of the novel in England and talks about its themes and whatnot from the 1700s to roughly World War II with the death of the Modernists.

The lectures include:

  1. Definitions and Distinctions
  2. The “Englishness” of the English Novel
  3. Historical Context of Early English Fiction
  4. The Rise of the Novel–Richardson and Fielding
  5. After 1750–Sterne, Burney, and Radcliffe
  6. Scott and the Historical Novel
  7. Austen and the Comedic Tradition
  8. Austen and the History of Consciousness
  9. Dickens–Early Works
  10. Novelists of the 1840s–Thackeray
  11. Novelists of the 1840s–The Brontës
  12. Dickens–Later Works
  13. After 1870–Review and Preview
  14. Eliot and the Multiplot Novel
  15. Eliot and the Unfolding of Character
  16. Hardy and the Natural World
  17. James and the Art of Fiction
  18. Conrad and the “Scramble for Africa”
  19. Ford and Forster–Transition to Modernism
  20. Lawrence and the “Bright Book of Life”
  21. Joyce–Dublin and Dubliners
  22. Joyce–Realism and Anti-Realism
  23. Woolf and the Poetic Novel
  24. The Impact of the Novel

I had read just enough of the books and authors mentioned (Jane Eyre, Barnaby Rudge, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and so on) to feel clever.

And I looked back over my list of books that I’ve read this year, and I was ashamed–I thought I had not read any classic bits of literature this year (but I was mistaken–I read Barnaby Rudge in 2020). So I immediately went to ABC Books to buy a new piece of classical literature to read. Well, not exactly, but on one of my trips up there this holiday season, I did pick up a copy of Wuthering Heights which I have already started to read. Sure, I might have a copy of it somewhere else on my to-read shelves, but they organize their books so much better up there.

At any rate, what did I learn? Well, a little of the evolution of the novel from the epistolary stories in the eighteenth century to the magazine serials to the self-conscious and self-indulgent works from the late 1900s through the work of James, Joyce, Lawrence, and Woolf. As you can imagine, gentle reader, I liked the talk about the earlier books the best, and although the professor did not mean to imply that Henry James ruined the novel, he (the professor) points to James as the guy who branched the novel into Art and Genre. Of course, the professor also likes the Art and the things the Modernists did–he says everyone should try to read Ulysses, for crying out loud, and that’s just foolishness (although I did buy a copy of it recently, as in 13 years ago recently just in case I ran out of other things to read).

I mean, I understand some of the developments such as floating limited omniscient narrators and unreliable narrators–so I’m glad someone invented these things, but things you have to read a second time, after you’ve read the footnotes and a couple of critical essays to interpret the “right” way–I ain’t got time for that.

So a good course, and it’s likely triggered another one of those classical literature kicks that I go on every five or ten years, where I will read a bunch of them in order and then back to genre paperbacks.

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I Saw The Conjunction

Last night, whilst grilling, I was pleased to go outside and see a bright star in the sky.

I got out my binoculars and took a look; yes, it was indeed two planets so close together that they looked like a single unit to the naked eye. I don’t have a tripod for my phone, unlike the artist formerly known as the One Hand Clapping Guy. So you get a dot, kind of like I saw.

My oldest saw me taking the binoculars out to the driveway, so he followed; he thought it was cool, so he told his brother, whom I then took out on the deck for a peek. I even coaxed my beautiful wife out to take a peek. They all thought it was neat, and then they went back to their other [electronic] endeavors.

You know, when I was in middle school, I was all down with astronomy. One of my father’s childhood books, a volume on astronomy, passed down to me, and I checked other books out of the library to read up on astronomy as it was understood in the 1960s. I lay on my back on my aunt’s yard in St. Charles and tried to draw a sky chart. I was very in tune with the position of the planets daily–but that came with the help of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which posted that information along with the daily weather report. But when 1986 rolled around, and we were living in the well-lit trailer park when Halley’s Comet came around. I might have seen it. I saw a smudge in the morning sky where the paper said it should be.

About that time, my interest in astronomy waned, which is just as well. I lived in well-lit areas after that. Even the house down the gravel road had close neighbors on either side with lights in their back yards and on their chicken coop, and I had a massive hill immediately for my western horizon.

Still, I thought the night was very dark when I moved to Nogglestead, but the horizons are shrinking with light from new developments and growing towns to the east and west. But I have, when I have thought of it and when news coverage prompted me, to go try to see a meteor shower or whatnot. I might have actually seen a meteor once a couple years back, but it was blink-and-it’s-gone, so I’m not sure.

So I was surprised and mutely delighted to actually see an astronomical phenomenon. One that Genghis Khan might have thought was a good omen. I’d like to try to treat it as such, but I am all-too-familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry.

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Book Report: Total War by Joshua Chase (2016)

Book coverWell, I have completed the first three books in the series, which I bought in 2017. He’s got at least one more out, and I’ll probably pick the others up the next time I see Chase at a convention. And by “the next time,” I mean “if ever again,” but I hope I do.

Let’s see, in this one, the Empire and the Confederacy are stalemating a bit. The Confederacy has some alien tech that gives them a bit of an advantage; some systems align with the Empire, and some with the Confederacy. And the military leader for the Empire starts laying the groundwork for a coup when the current emperor orders the slaughter of civilians in retaliation for a Confederate victory. Then the aliens whom humanity slaughtered hundreds of years ago–the ones that left behind the advanced technology return, and they’re pissed.

The book runs a little longer than the previous ones–180 pages versus under 140–and Chase is still good at plotting, and the book moves along at a quick pace, but he’s also really starting to develop as a writer with some more polished descriptions added and some characterization to the story. So he’s improved as a writer since his first book eight years ago to this book which is four years old.

Good for him.

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Managing the Christmas Playlists at Nogglestead

As you know, gentle reader, I have numerous Christmas albums acquired over decades (well, I inherited some eleven years ago and have added to the stash since) and I have a working record player this year. So am I listening to Christmas records 24/7? Unfortunately, no–as I am not spending much time in the kitchen/parlor/living room area where you can hear the records on the record player.

Instead, I have been listening to other, more limited, playlists of Christmas songs in other venues.

I started with the local Christmas radio station. This year, 106.7 The River (don’t ask me the call letters–radio stations rarely mention them any more, and you can’t spell “River” from any combination thereof) started very early–the beginning of November–to get a jump on 105.9 KGBX (all right, make a rule and suddenly there’s an exception). As a radio station, it focuses more on the secular songs of Christmas and the more recent poppy versions of them. It mixes in a little Perry Como and Bing Crosby, but not a lot. Since it was the first source of Christmas music at my disposal, I let the radio play a lot, and after a couple of nights of a couple of hours at dinner and thereafter, we got very familiar with the radio-sized playlist–which is to say, it’s not very big.

At night, in the recliner, I used my phone to play some of the albums I have in CD form streaming to a Bluetooth speaker. Unfortunately, my set of Christmas CDs is pretty limited: Erin Bode’s A Cold December Night; Alberti’s Merry Christmas; Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album; Jessy J’s California Christmas; Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas, Christmas Extraordinaire, and Christmas in the Aire (as I mentioned); and Natalie Cole’s Holly and Ivy. I was starting to think of this as the “The Holly and the Ivy” Christmas as the song was over-represented in the CD streaming rotation (that is, Erin Bode and Natalie Cole sang it repeatedly).

At the end of November, I remixed our audio equipment here, which allowed me to spin records and stream the DirecTV more traditional Christmas station through the speakers downstairs.

Well, a couple nights of addressing Christmas cards made me very familiar with the satellite provider’s Christmas list which is almost as small but different than the radio’s.

For example, perhaps the person who programmed the playlist is a bigger fan of Robert Goulet than Fillyjonk, but you get multiple tracks every night, including “This Christmas I Spend With You”:

I mean, topically, it’s not that different from Natalie Cole’s “No More Blue Christmases”:

However, the Goulet song sure does have an “I’m God’s gift to you” vibe, ainna? As you might remember, gentle reader, I actually have that album, and we play it once every year just because we have it (kind of like the Mario Lanza Christmas album we have). I don’t actually think we made it through the whole album yet this year, but with the satellite television music playlist, we’ve probably listened to more Goulet Christmas music overall than ever before.

Another song in heavy rotation is “Up on the Housetop”. The satellite music playlist includes several versions, including the one by the Jackson 5:

So it’s not uncommon to hear the song several times a night. Which is more striking because I was not familiar with the song before this year, but I am now. My boys know it–the youngest sings along with it–but it’s not heavily represented on the records I own, and if you hear the Jackson 5 on a Christmas radio station, it’s probably “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. I know it because I’ve heard it a bunch.

The satellite radio station also plays selections from Ella Fitzgerald, but Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney” is in such heavy rotation that we’re sick of it. And Allan Sherman’s “12 Days Of Christmas”, another song I was not familiar with. And the Spike Jones Orchestra renditions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”. So novelty Christmas songs go way back, but you can have way too much of them.

Additionally, WSIE has worked some Christmas music into its playlist, which is kind of nice as the playlist has seemed to shrink quite a bit towards the end of the year–but it’s not that broad, either. Maybe when I drop them my annual contribution, they’ll be able to afford additional music.

So what have I done?

I have worked to switch between the Christmas music sources frequently enough to keep them fresh. As we’re only a couple days away from Christmas itself, I think I’ll make it without being driven crazy. Because although we will probably have the trees lit until New Years weekend, the Christmas music comes pretty much to a full stop on December 26 here at Nogglestead.

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The Christmas Argument, Difficulty Level: EXPERT

Denis Leary’s No Cure For Cancer is a Christmas album or carol because he does have a character wish you a Merry F’n Christmas.

If you’re feeling particularly argumentative, you can also debate whether his The Ref is also a Christmas movie.

You’ll probably win that last argument easily, as most people won’t know what you’re talking about. Heck, I haven’t even seen that film, and I am sort of a Denis Leary fan. Well, I bought No Cure For Cancer on cassette when it was new and listened to it over and over on my near monthly drives from St. Louis to Milwaukee in my immediate post-college years. Enough so that I can remember bits of it when I’m brushing my teeth. Not with NyQuil, though.

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The Christmas Card Scandals of Nogglestead

So we have the majority of our Christmas cards signed, sealed, and mailed. But not without SCANDAL!

I mentioned that this year got glittery Christmas cards this year. I paid more for about 70 cards than I normally would, but two 35 packs were available at the warehouse store the day I wanted to start and I did not want to make another stop at Walmart to get more Brian-priced Christmas cards, so I forked over a handful. They’re pretty nice, though: glitter aside, they come with pretty and decorated envelopes and little foil seals for the back of the envelopes. So they were very lah-di-dah indeed. And spilled glitter everywhere.

However, I ran out of the new cards a little before I ran out of names and addresses. Which led to the conundrum:

If started mailing out plain cards, they likely would have glitter in them as the table where I prepared the cards will not give up the last of the stray glitter until sometime next year. So these recipients would likely get non-glittery cards with bits of glitter upon them. They might think that they do not rate with the Noggle family to get the fancy cards and might take offense.

I mean, this would mostly be my family, as somehow our Christmas card list is weighted so that the sixty-five percent of it comes before N, and family members who have married have married down in the alphabet. Except for my cousin who married Jeff AAABest (who has his own business); I simply forgot to re-sort the list this year, so she’s still listed under her old married name way down the alphabet. I could not slight my families!

So I did the next worst thing: I sent them some of the glittery cards remaining from 2018.

So they might look at the cards and say, “Oh, how the glitter clashes!” The 2018 cards have silvery glitter to represent snow; the 2020 cards have gold glitter from the frame of golden-hued cards. Or the recipient might look at it and say, “Wait, this is a repeat of the card from 2018!”

Either way, it’s less SCANDALOUS and hurtful than sending them cards with no glitter at all.

Or at least that’s the drama I inserted whilst I wrote out the Christmas cards.

In other news, I removed two families from the list this year (SCANDAL!). The first was a couple I went to high school with who married; we sat with them at my 10 year high school reunion 20 years ago and started sending them Christmas cards sometime thereafter. We haven’t received a card from them maybe ever, so twenty years is my limit! The other is a family who were friends of my parents as they lived across the hall from us in the middle 1970s. They lived not far from the store where I worked at college, so I saw them from time to time–the first time, I heard the gentleman’s voice before I saw him. He definitely had a radio announcer or movie trailer voice. They stayed in touch with my mom over the years, even coming for a visit — well, I guess that was also twenty-some years ago. I have not heard from them in a long time, and they’re getting up there. If they’re still alive.

The real scandal of the Christmas cards, I suppose, is that it gives me the one chance a year to think of and to communicate in a one-way fashion with people I’ve known and I think fondly of, but not fondly enough to keep in greater touch throughout the years. Some of them are on Facebook, or were for a while, but I’m not on Facebook much any more, and I hardly saw things from them when I was, either because they stopped participating or because Facebook has curated them out of my feed for its own ends.

So, for me at least, Christmas cards are about the warm feelings they give me and are a completely selfish pursuit. But I really do wish the recipients a Merry Christmas and a blessed 2021.

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Clearly, Not The Source Of My World-Famous Dying Tauntaun Impression

In a recently released video showing a Rare, behind-the-scenes look at ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, Mark Hamill mentions the tauntaun dance which is three steps and then you fall down.

Which is completely different from my famous (that is, mentioned once on this blog in 2003) dying tauntaun impression.

Which is more than three steps this way, rolling the head, making a tauntaun sound, and then falling down.

See? Completely different, and Mark Hamill can fight me for the international rights to it if he sees fit.

(Link via Neatorama.)

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Book Report: Grandma Moses by Otto Kallir (1973)

Book coverI said when I reviewed Georgia O’Keefe earlier this year:

I think I confused her with Grandma Moses when I was young, as she was still alive but was very, very old–both she and Grandma Moses lived to about the century mark (Grandma Moses a little older, Georgia O’Keeffe a little younger). And both of their names started with G, which means to a young man not steeped in the arts, they were practically the same person.

Well, I have now completed my education into the differences between Grandma Moses and Georgia O’Keeffe (with a little Frida Kahlo thrown in this year for a bit of spice). Grandma Moses was what they call a “primitive” artist, meaning in the art world that she was not trained in the arts. I tend to use the term incorrectly, meaning that she’s kind of folk art, with some good representation of nature in a distant landscape but with diminishing skill on buildings and then on people and animals. I mean, much of her work is about what you would expect from a paint-with-wine class, maybe. Not quite up to Bob Ross on the landscapes, even.

I think she became famous because she was a novelty: She started painting at about 80, and a New Yorker visiting upstate spotted her work and worked to make her famous (and that he was an early collector and made money on her is purely coincidental). Soon, she was having exhibitions around the world and appeared in a documentary film and an appearance on Murrow’s See It Now television program.

This book is not just a monograph, but rather a comprehensive treatment of Moses and her work. It includes a biography, information about her career, several letters in her own hand reproduced, and a complete catalog of her known works (at the time of publication–it’s possible they have found and/or authenticated more in the almost fifty years since this book’s publication). It’s a bonzer–356 pages, although it’s not small print and has extensive indexes and a complete listing of her work with small photos where available). Very complete.

One gets the sense that Grandma Moses herself did not take the whole thing too seriously and did not let her fame go to her head. Of course, as a child of the 1860s and a resident of Virginia in the reconstruction era (perhaps considered a carpetbagger by the Virginians) she would have more perspective than a young artist who was 20 something at the time of “discovery.”

So although I appreciate her work a little more than Kahlo or O’Keeffe, I would still not decorate my house with Grandma Moses prints.

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Book Report: 60 Selected Tales from Jake’s Barber Shop by Clinton Stewart (?)

Book coverThis book is of unknown provenance; it has no title page or copyright page, and the Internet has never heard of it. I’m guessing that it was written in the early to middle 1970s because it refers to Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon. It has the feel of small town paper’s humor column (or maybe something from the Springfield papers at the time, but it’s before the Internet), and a later entry does start out “This week” which lends credence to the belief.

And it’s quite an enjoyable little book. The “author” is purportedly a barber in a small town who tells stories about the local residents, mostly made up characters so I guess this is more an example of a collection of flash fiction than the actual reporting on what is going on in a real small town, but it’s amusing and sometimes humorous. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of the bits, including a man who corrected a nagging wife by slapping her bottom with a carp (it must be the Ozarks, as no self-respecting northerner who catches a carp brings it home to eat–because even when we’re poor, we’re not barbarians).

Given the size of the book, I probably bought it in a packet of chapbooks for a buck at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale at some point. I will keep my eyes open for other volumes by the author, but I’m not sanguine–this looks like a self-published low run number (although it’s signed and inscribed to Theodore), so it’s probably a one-off for a larf.

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How Soon They I Forget

Apparently, I remember glitter-inclusive Christmas cards about as long as a woman remembers the pain of childbirth–a little over a year (which is why so many siblings are about two years different in age, I often argue).

Because I got Christmas cards with glitter in them again, and now suddenly I am inadvertently sparkly.

Even my beautiful wife catches some bits of glitter, either floating through the air or from my touch when I have been working on the cards. It gives her a bit of a clubbing vibe, which she carries off better because she is something like twenty-seven years old whilst I am significantly older.

At least this year, I don’t have a beard, so the little unicorn dandruff isn’t getting caught in my facial hair. And I started and will finish my Christmas cards a couple of days earlier, which means the glitter will all finally be cleaned up a little earlier next August.

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Kind Of Not A Christmas Song At All

Morten Harket, “A Kind of a Christmas Card”:

Does that sound like the lead singer of a-ha to you? And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the poet-narrator, as he sings:

All you folks back home
I’ll never tell you this
You’re not supposed to know
Where your daughter is

And later:

Just think of the girl I used to be
You were my age once, mama

Is he singing about the daughter? Was he the daughter? In this timeline, the song from the 1995 album Wild Seed is smack dab between “Lola” and “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” and 2020, man.

The rest of the album sounds more like the voice of a-ha, though, and it occurs to me that although I have his first English solo effort (the aforementioned Wild Seed, he has released six solo albums, all the way up to 2014. Perhaps I will think to get them when I am feeling profligate.

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Book Report: Revolution by Joshua Chase (2014)

Book coverThis is the second of Joshua Clark Chase’s military science fiction novels; I read the first, Triumphant Empire a week or so back, and I will likely read the third very soon. So that if I ever see him at a convention again, I can proudly by the next book or two in the series since I will have finally found and read the ones I bought three years ago.


The copyright date is 2014, two years after Chase published Triumphant Empire, and I think I see some improvement in his writing. The book still jump cuts a bunch not only between chapters, but in chapters between the various characters and perspectives. We see the Primary of the Ordeon Empire (the triumphant one) as he meets with the emperor and deals with some light intrique with the leader of the Star Knights by commissioning an apprentice and assigning her to his task force. We get some of her perspective as well. On the other side, we focus mainly on the leader of the resistance and his brother the pirate, but also amongst some others as the resistance foments rebellion on a slave planet and meets with other leaders. The resistance discovers alien tech and captures an imperial dreadnaught to try to reverse engineer it. The empire helps the weaker side in a conflict to actually pull both into its orbit and then launches an audacious attack on three systems at once–only to be thwarted on one such attack by the resistance.

So there’s a lot going on, and the books might have fit together as a single novel. Or, perhaps, the plots could have been fleshed out to make each book bigger than the roughly 130 pages of action. The next book looks to be longer and even more recent, so I’m looking forward to it after a brief interlude. It’s best to read them all very close together, as the books might not stand alone very well as the plots are so completely linked.

I’m starting to realize that my year’s reading log is coming to an end. I will finish, what, three or four books that I have in process? I don’t know that I’ll read a whole other novel–aside from Total War, the third in this series, this year. But I guess it’s only the middle of December. I might.

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A Guide To The Book Backdrop of Brian J.

In the Wall Street Journal, likely some time ago given my reading habits, columnist Joe Queenan says Those Bogus Bookcases for Zoom Calls Aren’t Fooling Anybody:

When house-bound experts appear on TV interviews via Zoom, they are almost always seated in front of a large bookcase studiously purged of the usual trash. Whether an expert is deploring executive-office overreach or dissecting the baffling enigma of structural unemployment, you will usually see a gargantuan biography of Ulysses S. Grant or Winston Churchill perched over their left shoulder. Slightly to the left you may spot a three-volume history of the Civil War or something with the ancient Roman abbreviation “S.P.Q.R.” in the title.

If the person being interviewed is a scientist, the bogus bookcase is likely to sport a dog-eared copy of Thomas S. Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” and either “Chaos” or “Genius” by James Gleick. Some showoffs might even have Isaac Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” strategically positioned to face the camera. Not to mention one of their own books. Or six. Or the remaindered books by friends they owe a favor.

But no matter what luminary is being interviewed, the background bookcases will include nothing by James Patterson or Lisa Scottoline, no thrillers by Tana French or Jo Nesbo, and definitely no autobiographies by Miley Cyrus.

We all know bookcases can get gussied up this way in a hurry. Something earthshaking has happened, but the first guest booked to talk about it has canceled, so Sanjay Gupta will be calling for an emergency Zoom chat in 30 minutes. The flummoxed, totally unprepared expert immediately panics. “Quick, get all the Clive Cussler and V.C. Andrews books off the shelves,” he cries out to his quarantined loved ones. “And somebody hide that Ozzy Osborne tell-all!”

You know, when I am doing a video call, I like to see if the other person / people have more books than I do. Spoiler alert: They don’t. But I don’t know what kind of cameras people with whom Joe Queenan video-conferences have, but I have yet to see a camera that shows titles very well. Although, again, that might just be me. Actually, although I glance at the monitor when I’m doing a video call, I tend to look at the camera, so I only get a glance anyway.

To spare you the bother, gentle reader, I have provided a handy guide to the real book backdrop of Nogglestead. Most of you won’t see me in a real, live (or fake for that matter) video call anyway. And the view has changed a little since 2010.

Continue reading “A Guide To The Book Backdrop of Brian J.”

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The Road Humor Not Taken

Yesterday, my beautiful wife had a meeting in town, so she volunteered to take the youngest to school. I decided that I would go to the gym anyway but a little earlier than I would were I to take him into school. As it happens, I was not leaving that much earlier–so the boy thought I was taking him to school. Even when I said I was not, he said I could just drop him on the way–it being Friday, he was eager to get to school because a fundraiser sells candy and snacks before school on Friday, and an extra couple of minutes in the morning would be that much more sugar he could consume before school. I declined, saying that I was not even going to be in the vicinity, taking instead a straight route to the YMCA, a more southern route east than would take me by his school.


I don’t know. I was lost in thought, I was lost in the metal, but I missed the highway entrance that would have spirited me to the gym ricky-tick. Instead, I took the next right, which is Battlefield Road. Which is the route to the school.

So I passed a block and a half south of the school anyway on my way to the gym.

It occurred to me as I neared the school that I could pull up to the front door, where the school employees with the thermometers await, and turn to the passenger seat, and then look in the back seat, and then drive off as though I had forgotten my son at home to amuse the custodians of the COVID protocols. Of course, my wife would arrive with the child a couple minutes later, and he could explain to them that I was going to the gym. After all, the people at the school have learned I have odd sense of humor.

I did not, though; I don’t know them that well. And, to be honest, I wanted to get to the pain awaiting me at the gym as soon as possible.

Two roads diverged on a morn, and I—
I took the one less likely to
get the Division of Family Services called on me.

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Apparently, I Do Not Own All Of Her Albums

So I have been thinking about writing some more Christmas album reviews, since they’re popular parts of the deep content here around Christmas time, and I have been thinking of including CDs I own instead of just record albums. Of course, I was thinking about that because I was without a means of playing records until I recombined the electronics here in late November. So, clearly, the idea of resurrecting the Christmas album reviews is another plan I’ve meant to put into action but have not yet.

Not being able to listen to the records meant I piped things from my phone a bunch, which is why I had been listening to Christmas CDs (ripped and streamed). One of them is Erin Bode’s A Cold December Night which opens with a song called “Skating”.

Continue reading “Apparently, I Do Not Own All Of Her Albums”

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Jeez, Everyone’s A Gladys Now

So, gentle reader, as you might know, I am light on the work hours currently, which means that I get the chance to go to the gym a couple of mornings a week. Which would be great, and I would love to do an AoSHQ GAINZZZZ thread extolling my accomplishments there, but, really, all I know is that everyone is all of sudden a Gladys.

I guess it came to mind a couple of days ago when a post showed up in my Facebook Memories:

So as I am slowly working my way back into some shape (probably a rhombus), I’m suddenly confronted with the whole world of Gladyses.

Continue reading “Jeez, Everyone’s A Gladys Now”

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Book Report: The Gift of Christmas Present by Melody Carlson (2004)

Book coverI have a confession to make: Despite the fact that I have bought several years’ worth of Christmas novels at book sales past, when Christmas time closes in, I can’t find the Christmas books I already own (and this year, I am certain they are not by the Joshua Clark Chase books). So last Friday, I headed to the northern wastes of Springfield, where ABC Books is an oasis on the distant horizon to buy one such novel for this year. Ms. E. keeps her holdings in far better order than I do; although she did not have a special display of Christmas novels set up, I quickly found one in the extensive Christian Fiction section. I recognized the name Melody Carlson as I started to read it; her novel The Christmas Shoppe was the first Christmas novel I read in 2012, when it and I were young.

This book focuses on a college-aged adoptee whose natural mother died shortly after her birth and who was adopted by an older couple who befriended the natural mother who fled from her family for some reason. Although they look a little to try to find her family, it’s only now (sixteen years ago, so then already) that the young lady gets a lead on her birth grandmother in the very town where she is attending college. As she rings the doorbell, the embittered old woman thinks she is a housekeeper/caretaker she has hired because she has sprained her ankle. So the young lady does not correct the misinterpretation and hires on as a housekeeper/caretaker and grows close to the woman without revealing her secret. She tries to learn a little about her mother and why she left–apparently, she took preggers a couple weeks before her graduation and left after a row with her family about whether she should keep the baby or not.

About the midway point, she talks to her pastor and decides to tell her family–her grandmother, her step great aunt, her step-uncle and his family–which left me to wonder where the book was going to go after the big reveal. Welp, it had one family secret too far: You see, the adopted girl is the product of a union between the stepfather and the (of age) step-daughter. So the second half of the book is the family members coming to terms with this revelation. The book uses the word rape a lot, but neither of the participants are alive in the book to say whether it was really rape or just a drunken hookup. I read enough Agony Aunt things where that sort of thing happens to think it possible, but the book calls it rape, so let it be rape, I guess. As I said, that’s a family secret too far, and it makes for the most macabre Christmas romance I can think of (actually, there’s no romance in this book: no love interests for the grandmother or the granddaughter, wait, I mean stepdaughter, I mean, whatever she ended up being).

So, yeah, that might not have been the Christmas novel I was looking for.

As I’m listening to a lecture series on the English Novel, I can’t help compare this book to the themes found in traditional English novels. An orphan, a rich family, mistaken identity, a family secret, and at the very end, the revelation that the orphan is a blood relation inheritor. It reads a lot more modern than, say, Jane Austen, but one can easily see the influence of the typical, and generally much longer, classical English literature story arc.

Or at least I can, right now, because I’m listening to the lectures that I mentioned.

Of the two, I think I prefer the later work that I read earlier. I won’t dodge her Christmas books in the future. Likely because I won’t remember until I’m researching book reports on them that I’ve read her books before.

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