Book Report: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978, 1997)

Book coverI picked up this book right after High Fidelity because that book features a protagonist that owns a record shop; this one, presumably, was about someone with a book shop. I was even willing to forego a book tied into a film for this connection, but as it turns out, this was made into a film in 2017. So it actually is a book with a movie tie. Whoa.

At any rate, this book, too, is set in England, albeit the northeast of England. In a small town, a retired widow wants to open a book shop in a building that has been abandoned for many years but that is several hundred years old. However, a noveau riche society matron had hoped that building would be the town’s arts center, under her leadership, someday, so she sets out to thwart the protagonist. After a number of incidents and third person interactions with the quirky characters of the small village, the bookshop closes.

The book was first published in 1978; I have the first American paperback edition from almost twenty years later; and twenty years after that, the movie came out. So I was expecting some twist or theme that would have made it a college literature staple, but I’m not sure it ever comes. Reports indicate that the big twist was that she stocked Lolita when it was controversial, but this is really underdeveloped. But it is a British book, a book featuring an older British woman (which I found reminiscient of The Handyman written by a different Penelope). It’s only 123 pages, but it’s fairly dense third person narration in the British style, and not in the fun Dickens sense.

I only flagged one thing in it, the motto of the olde riche family whose last member, and elderly man, supports the book shop owner. The family motto, above the door of the manor, is Not to succeed in one thing is to fail in all. That’s a pretty grim motto. It does make me realize that, although I have named my houses, I have not come up with a proper family motto. So I will give that some thought, and then I will probably make a wood burning of it. But nothing as dispiriting as that one.

At any rate, I shall turn my attention to American movie and television books between chapters of David Copperfield for the near term and will try to avoid books with elderly British women not named Jane Marple from here on out.

Book Report: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (1995, 2000?)

Book coverIn keeping with the movie books, I selected this book, Nick Hornby’s first novel which was made into a film with John Cusack. Remember him? He was like an American Hugh Grant but with a shorter career and a less British career. Maybe I am conflating the two a little more than one does, but this book has his picture on the cover, and the setting of the book is England instead of Chicago so it’s more Hugh Grant territory than the American film. At any rate, I got this book from ABC Books as part of the cover story for my visit when Julian Lynn visited to sign books. I know, you don’t care, really, but sometimes I can search the blog and link the book back to its purchase point so I can see what else I might have bought then and have read since (although it was only a small trip, I’ve only also read The Physics of Love).

So. The story of the book is that the protagonist, a 35-year-old record store owner named Rob Fleming gets dumped by his long-time live-in girlfriend for the guy who formerly lived upstairs from them (and the two move in together elsewhere), which triggers Rob’s reflection on his relationships and his life which seems to have stalled. Prone to making a list, Rob lists his top five heartbreaks of all time and gets in touch with those women and moons over Laura, whom he met while he was DJing at a defunct club. She has gone onto become an attorney at a big law firm in London, which creates a gulf between them in Rob’s mind, and he’s starting to get a little bitter.

The book is told in shortish chapters of first person narration, more stream of consciousness than stream of time, and a bit unreliable as he might be trying to present the best possible rationalization for his actions, but somewhere underneath he might think he can improve. And at the end of the book, he might, but the reader has enough to doubt but hope for the best for the guy.

It captures the nineties and young peoples’ relationship anxiety zeitgeist pretty well, or at least what I remember of it (although, gentle reader, my humble love life narrative from the era is pretty pedestrian), but the character is 35, which seems a bit old, but certainly prone to self-doubt if he’s living the same life that he lived in his 20s ten or fifteen years later.

So I rather liked the book. At times, its expression of mortality and uncertainty struck me pretty raw, and it certainly made me glad I was not Rob or Lloyd Dobler at 35.

I did mark some things in the book for extra attention; you can find them below.

True Words

You need as much ballast as possible to stop you from floating away; you need people around you, things going on, otherwise life is like some film where the money ran out, and there are no sets, or locations, or supporting actors, and it’s just one bloke on his own staring into the camera with nothing to do ad nobody to speak to, and who’d believe in this character then?

I’ve had moments where I feel this way, too: the day-to-day maintenance of work-parenting-chores-bed leads a lot of things and friends to fall away. One does have to work a bit to keep busy. Maybe not everyone; maybe just introverts or lazy people like me who have, a lot of times, not bothered to keep those other things going.

On the other hand, I have a seventeen-year-old blog to keep me company. No, wait, that might be the same hand.

Oprah Alert

Speaking of the number of sexual partners he’s had, Rob thinks:

Ten isn’t a lot, not for the thirtysomething bachelor. Twenty isn’t a lot, if you look at it that way. Anything over thirty, I reckon, and you’re entitled to appear on an Oprah about promiscuity.

I wonder if I need to make a separate category to list books that mention Oprah as a cultural touchstone.

Also, to confess, I have not enough sexual partners to even trigger one of the conditions he mentions. At times, I wonder what was wrong with me. Which might be a good character thing to put into a book to strike right into the self-doubt of many middle-aged people. Or, perhaps not.

A False Dilemma, But

In Bruce Springsteen songs, you can either stay and rot, or you can escape and burn. That’s OK; he’s a songwriter, after all, and he needs simple choices like that in his songs. But nobody ever writes about how it is possible to escape and rot-how escapes can go off at half-cock, how you can leave the suburbs for the city but end up living a limp suburban life anyway. That’s what happened to me; that’s what happens to most people.

The book contains a lot of this expository sorting out of emotions, the aggrandizement of the narrator’s own self-doubt and whatnot. Which works, for the most part, where it doesn’t work in other books.

So, to sum up, I liked the book but didn’t want to be the character. I think some people liked the drama of those uncertain relationship times and would want to be Rob, but not me, brother. I’m glad I outgrew whatever I had in common with him.

Brian J. Gets The First Dose

Not of a vaccine, gentle reader–I am not rushing out to get it, and the more it becomes a legal or “moral” thing, the more I will #Resist. I mean, I don’t run out and get a flu shot every year, either. It’s just that I’m a little leery of pharmaceuticals.

But on Sunday, one of my boys’ retired teachers asked my beautiful wife and I if we’d been vaccinated. She has–her mother has been in seclusion since this thing began, and they’re hopeful that once they’re two or three weeks out from vaccination, my wife can come over and go into her mother’s house and they can sit on opposite sides of the room with masks on. And maybe gloves.

But me, I’m making plans for car trips to places in the Midwest and Florida and ordering my life around what I can do when I don’t have the proper papers on my person at all times. Which, to be honest, won’t be too much different from my life now.

But when I shrugged because I had not gotten the jab, the conductor of the church bell choir said, “Shame on you.”

Indeed. Shame on me for not aligning my morality with what government, politicians, and right-thinking society demands at any given moment.

I suppose there could be more of this to come, but you can’t make me pariaher, and certainly you cannot shame me into doing something based merely on your opinion of me.

Time To Resuscitate An Urban Legend As Journalism

It looks like all the news stories about Wuhan Flu Parties are a year old.

It’s time to resuscitate them as real news, but with an anti-vaxxer twist.

Homeschoolers Hold COVID Parties to Avoid Vaccines

Anti-vaccination religious homeschooling parents have begun holding COVID parties to infect their children so the poor abused cishet spawn can develop immunity without the benefit of a vaccine provided by President Joe Biden.

“I want my eight children to develop immunity the way Geezus intended,” said Rebecca Leah Christiansen, hostess at one such party in rural Arkansas.

C’mon, twenty-three-year-old Journalists. I’ve given you a head start!

Brian J. Could Blame The Magical Algorithms

As you might know, gentle reader, I left a full time position in October and started looking around for a new thing to do, whether that’s full time contracting again or another full time position. I’ve currently got part time project, so I have some freedom to take my time. Although given the pace of my interviews early on (and before I actually left my full time job), I expected to have caught on somewhere else by now. I’ve gone through several rounds of interviews with different companies only to be ghosted or brushed off with an automated email (and, I am pleased to say, I have also withdrawn from others when determining they’re not what I am looking for).

Given the state of the tech industry today, it crossed my mind that I might be an untouchable because of my political views which employers might have easy access to.

I mean, take a look at this blog running nearly twenty years now. In its early days, I was pretty political, mocking Democrats a bunch and being snarky rather than reasoned. However, that’s gotten boring over time as my perspective has changed but the eternal struggle between the individual and all sorts of collectives do not. I still textually shake my head at various diktats and make mock of certain actions or ideas, so someone doesn’t have to go far into the archives to learn I am a wingnut.

I have seen some visitors during this time that hit the blog on the front page, go through some archives, and then never return. Recruiter? HR? I wonder.

I also have a ten-year-old Facebook presence. Facebook has pegged me as Extremely Conservative, which is not particularly nuanced in my libertarian but voting Republican in this First Past The Post electoral system philosophy. However, it’s one data point that I could see and that is quite likely available to Facebook customers and unknown applications perhaps in the hiring industry.

So. Does that impede me behind the scenes?

Well, given the state of the industry, this story kind of backs up my paranoid internal conspiracy imaginings:

The business world’s discrimination against anything “Trump” has reached an epidemic level, touching former aides to the president, anybody pictured near the Jan. 6 Capitol protest, and now those who endorsed him on social media posts.

A new survey of hiring managers provided to Secrets found that backing Trump on social media is the top reason to reject a job applicant.

The apparent reason: Human resources departments want to avoid “tiffs” between employees.

“Likely to avoid future office tiffs, a significant portion of hiring managers admitted to negatively judging candidates based on the political content posted. For 27% of hiring managers, social media posts endorsing Donald Trump for president would negatively impact their decision to hire a candidate,” read the analysis of the poll done for Skynova, an online business software company.

Yeah, well. (Story via Behind the Black.)

So.

I guess I could worry about the algorithms behind the scenes keeping a man down, but that’s rather akin to worrying about the wee folk tying my shoelaces together (although, not to be pollyannish, as the algorithms could be real). I can’t control that. And, upon further review of my job application tracking spreadsheet that runs back six years, I really haven’t gotten a lot of job offers through the blind Internet box submissions. Most of my work comes from people I know or previous clients. So I can’t blame the recent political atmosphere.

At any rate, I have often said that a company that has HR staff is too large for my startup tastes, and this is still true. Something will turn up, and until it does, I need to enjoy Travis McGee-like bits of semiretirement while it lasts.

On Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication by Professor Bart D. Ehrman (2002)

Book coverI listened to Professor Ehrman’s The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon in 2019.

This series of lectures takes a bit of a different focus: It looks at some of the variant Christian churches in the early centuries of the church, the first and second centuries AD, right after the gospels and Pauline letters were written. Many of these churches had different collections of books that they used as scripture, including some elements that made it into the New Testament canon and others relegated to apocrypha. The winnowing didn’t involve necessarily purging, inquisitions, and punishing heretics, although some of that was involved. But mostly this lecture focuses on the books themselves.

The lecture is structured a bit into introduction, identifying some large groups of churches aside from the proto-orthodox (which would eventually dominate and determine the canon), and then examining some of the apocryphoral books based on types (gospels, acts, epistles, apocalypses) and ending with a bit of how the proto-orthodox became The Church and set the canon–which might lead into the other lecture series.

The lectures include:

  1. The Diversity of Early Christianity
  2. Christians Who Would Be Jews
  3. Christians Who Refuse To Be Jews
  4. Early Gnostic Christianity–Our Sources
  5. Early Christian Gnosticism–An Overview
  6. The Gnostic Gospel of Truth
  7. Gnostics Explain Themselves
  8. The Coptic Gospel of Thomas
  9. Thomas’ Gnostic Teachings
  10. Infancy Gospels
  11. The Gospel of Peter
  12. The Secret Gospel of Mark
  13. The Acts of John
  14. The Acts of Thomas
  15. The Acts of Paul and Thecla
  16. Forgeries in the Name of Paul
  17. The Epistle of Barnabas
  18. The Apocalypse of Peter
  19. The Rise of Early Christian Orthodoxy
  20. Beginnings of the Canon
  21. Formation of the New Testament Canon
  22. Interpretation of Scripture
  23. Orthodox Corruption of Scripture
  24. Early Christian Creeds

When I listened to Buddhism, I marvelled at how disparate the strains of Buddhism were, especially in contrast to Christianity. One sees in this lecture series how disparate Christianity could have become without the centralizing influence of Rome on it. One wonders if Buddhism had arisen in one of the strong Chinese dynasties instead of India whether it would be more standard, or how Christianity might have evolved outside of the Mediterranean world of the Roman empire.

At any rate, I think I sharpened up some of my understanding of the gnostics, learned who the Ebionites were, and understand some of the source material for Medeival and Renaissance religious art lies outside of the Bible and in these, what, Further Adventures Of… Christian storybooks. However, if I were going to take a test on it, I would definitely have to study. I am learning the real limitations of listening to the audio courses–one that my uncle in Kansas City pointed out–that I don’t remember a whole lot from the lectures–just bits and pieces and cool stories therein. This set of lectures is fairly narrative and focused, so I hope I remember a bunch from it. But after I hit Publish on this report, unless I make an effort to bring it up elsewhere and in conversation, I probably will only retain about ten minutes of it including the Bradenberg Concerto fanfare that starts each lecture (this set is from before The Great Courses/Teaching Company changed the intro to a single chord).

Still, better than listening to the same Jack playlist on the radio all the time.

Sports Journalist Cannot See Beyond Sports

ESPN talkers discuss whether Aaron Rodgers has a brighter future with the Packers or with ‘Jeopardy’ and if he is good enough to be the host:

Aaron Rodgers’ future may or may not be in “Jeopardy.”

He is the only guest host openly campaigning to become permanent host.

“I would love to be the host of ‘Jeopardy!’ yes,” Rodgers said.

Clearly, this sports writer doesn’t know much about Jeopardy! or the current state thereof or he would realize that another person is actively campaigning to be host–but his guest spot has not come into the rotation yet. But the sports journalist is probably rather busy reporting on sports, which means a lot of retread speculation on the NFL Draft currently. It’s myopia coupled with the journalist’s ability to speak ex cathedra about anything, since what journalists don’t know isn’t true or important.

Some of us pay attention. A lot of attention. Some of us could point out that Jeopardy! did not hold its annual online competition for contestants this year. Or maybe some of us were specifically not invited. Which some of us might suspect.

When Bill Gates Comes To Town

The realtor who helped us find Nogglestead advertises realty listings in Ozarks Farm and Neighbor right next to his stockyards ad. Most of the time, he has a bunch of listings with a couple of SOLD or UNDER CONTRACT stamps on them to show that he’s a realtor who can get properties sold.

This last issue, though, shows a very high success rate indeed.

What does this mean? Bill "Bill Gates is the biggest private owner of farmland in the United States. Why?" Gates has come to town?

Or that land continues to be a hedge against possible economic calamity to come?

Also note that Tom still has listings for two lots in the new subdivision going in down the road across from the little church that used to be in the middle of nowhere. Other pastures just south of here are up for sale for subdivisions. Twelve years after he helped us find Nogglestead, suddenly we live in the suburbs. I mean, yesterday morning, I saw the local family of deer crossing my back yard, and they’re up to eleven, which means the predators are staying away and the deer have lots of tasty landscaping to eat nearby.

I feel a bit like Natty Bumpo here. I sometimes fantasize about moving further out into the country. Maybe out to Freistatt or Peirce City.

21st Century American Scientists Invent Vegemite

Seen at Instapundit, this just in: Scientists turn beer waste into new protein sources, biofuels.

You know, the Australians have been doing that for 100 years.

Living on a desert island surrounded by salt water pretty much means Australians have had to invent many, many nasty things to eat, or they would starve.

However, one does not get Federal grants now unless one does something “new,” and instead of doing it because they’re going to waste away otherwise, our American scientists are doing it for the environment. Natch.

Some People Could Not Tell That Clark Kent Was Superman, Either

‘Reading Rainbow’ legend LeVar Burton wants to host ‘Jeopardy!’:

Amid mixed reception for the latest crop of “Jeopardy!” guest hosts, Twitter is campaigning for one beloved celeb to succeed Alex Trebek as full-time MC — former “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton.

LeVar Burton on the left, Geordi La Forge on the right. You see? Completely different people.

They might as well have just said science fiction author LeVar Burton.

I know, I know, he has been associated with Reading Rainbow for a couple more years than the Star Trek franchise. But aside from the 90s kids who make up modern tastemakers, who associates him with that? More people than think of him as Kunta Kinte, but not many.

Book Report: On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt (2005)

Book coverThis is an essay by a philosophy professor emeritus at Princeton, published in hardback by Princeton University Press. I don’t know where I got it; I only know I picked it up as a break between movie novels because it’s pretty short.

Within, the author talks about the difference between lying and bullshit, and the basic crux of the article is that the liar knows he’s lying and subverts truth whereas the bullshitter doesn’t care whether what he’s saying is true or not. It contains lots of philosophical speak like talking about the truth-value of a statement and referring to Wittgenstein (whose progeny call themselves WittgenSTEEN), and the author digresses into how bullshit relates to humbug and whether bullshit has any nutritive value.

I think his definition of bullshit conflates two things that bullshit tends to mean in real life. Bullshit is generally puffing up or marketing kind of talk that is at its heart false, and the person spreading it might or might not know it. I think this author finds bullshit to be worse than lying, but when it’s just marketing or puffing, it’s actually less offensive and wrong. Unfortunately, in some cases, it does cross the line into outright lying. The subtle difference makes all the difference. How to capture into words the distinction, though, is the challenge, and this book really doesn’t go into it.

So, basically, it’s kind of an insipid bit of modern philosophy. Instead of tackling the weighty questions of existence, we have a little pop culture book with a catchy name that does a little of philosophy and refers to some other philosophers. Perhaps the authors of such books (which includes The Simpsons and Philosophy which I started three or four years ago and still languishes on my chairside table) want to introduce philosophy to the masses by roping it into pop culture and hope it will spur the people on to read primary sources. I think it’s probably as useful as feeding kids books full of crude drawings like the works of Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney in hopes it will lead children to reading real books–take it from me, as hard as I try, my junior high and high school students still read the Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books over and over again instead of something more mature. Or maybe the authors want to make a buck.

Regardless, I did flag some quibbles with the book, but I’m not going to bother to go into them. Probably not worth my time.

After a slight detour, it’s back to David Copperfield and movie books.

Book Report: Men in Black II by Michael Teitlebaum (2002)

Book coverI continued with my movie and television tie-in books with this volume which is apparently the children’s / young adult version of the movie. It’s very short (143 pages, possibly shorter than the actual screenplay) and uses simple language. It deals with the sequel to the first film, where Jay has to find Kay because he had a previous mission hiding a powerful energy source that a new alien threat who looks like Lara Flynn Boyle wants it to conquer some other aliens–and Earth isn’t important, but she’s willing to take on the Men in Black and capture their headquarters to find it.

I just watched the first film in the series last year when my quaranteens were watching it during their work-from-home phase, and I plopped down to watch it again. So I have seen the first film maybe three or four times. This one, I probably watched once soon after it came out, so I did not remember the plot of it, but some of the scenes came back as I was reading them.

I was just pleased that I could remember the name of the woman playing the Alien Big Boss: Lara Flynn Boyle. She was featured in a Maxim or FHM magazine around this time, when I was young enough to subscribe to them and convince myself it was to keep hip on the things the kids were into whilst I was getting toward middle age (in my defense, I also subscribed to GQ and Spin around the same time, so the impulse was real). I remembered she was in that lawyer show that I never watched. Ally McBeal? Nah, I thought, but yes. Also, The Practice.

So not as much fun as True Lies, but not as long to read, either, I guess.

That said, I will probably not rush out and get the six (!) other movie tie-in paperbacks they released in support of the movie.

Eesh, I can’t imagine kids being that excited about this particular movie.

Oh, and I did flag some quibbles. With a children’s book. BECAUSE I HAVE NO LIFE.

Mostly, I flagged anachronisms. Kids at the turn of the century might have known what these things met, but kids these days would be clueless.

A Wut?

“I sent you an interstellar fax,” Serleena said. “Didn’t you get it?”

I think all but the most recalcitrant of official documents go through the Internet now.

At Where?

“Sephalopods have been making counterfeits at the Kinko’s on Canal Street.”

After almost forty years of being Kinko’s, Kinko’s became Kinko’s FedEx Office in 2004, just after this film, and then just FedEx Office in 2008 (according to Wikipedia). So Kinko’s has not existed in any name for almost thirteen years.

The When?

Kay reached into the locker and took an old digital watch–circa 1970–from a tall clock tower.

Hmmm, that seems a little out-of-time. PC Mag says the first commercial digital watches arrived arrived in 1972 and cost as much as a car–although in a decade, they would become less expensive and get into wider circulation. Probably the authors were too young to know.


At any rate, an amusing and quick read even though it lacks any real depth. On the plus side, I can’t call it depraved unlike some things I’ve read recently. But I am just the kind of prude who yesterday turned down a job interview with a company that did not mention in its job listing that it is in the adult entertainment industry. PRUDE, I TELL YOU!

Book Report: True Lies by Dewey Gram and Duane Dell’Amico (1994)

Book coverI don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theater in the middle 1990s–I think I saw it first on videocassette–but I remembered the whole plot and most of the scenes. I remember I tried to watch it in the early part of this century, but I had to pop the VHS tape out as the attacks on September 11, 2001, were too fresh for me to enjoy a film that features a nuclear detonation in the continental US. I have since watched it, though, and in continuing with the theme from this year, I read this book, the novelization.

The book is a cut above many novelizations as the authors include some interior life to the characters instead of just reporting the action in the script or in the movie. As such, the book is a little deeper than the film, and the insertions keep the playful tone of the movie itself. It’s not like when they made Serenity after Firefly and suddenly all the characters were darker and haunted instead of happy-go-lucky.

If you’re not familiar, the story follows a secret agent with an agency that tracks nuclear weapons and threats. He has a wife and a daughter that he sees rarely as he is called away often for his computer job cover story. He has a set piece in the Alps, and an Islamic terrorist from the set piece follows him to try to kill him to protect the terrorist plot to smuggle nuclear weapons into the United States. Set piece, set piece, comedic subplot that the wife is getting bored and a used car salesman has crafted a secret agent story to seduce her, set piece that the daughter is acting out, set piece, nuclear detonation, Harrier jump jets (remember when they were a thing?), one-liner, happy ending.

Spoiler alert. There is a nuclear detonation in this film. But I guess I already mentioned that.

So, a pretty fun book with some minor variations from the film–the last voice over by Harry’s handler that ends the film is missing–but no great differences, so this is from a fairly late draft or early cut of the film.

A couple things I noted below the fold.
Continue reading “Book Report: True Lies by Dewey Gram and Duane Dell’Amico (1994)”

Another Strange Easter Tradition at Nogglestead

I have already told you the story of the Easter Chewbacca (which Chimera successfully knocked behind the clock, so it resides there to this very day, and the Easter tie (which I did wear to church this morning).

Now, the story of the Easter bucket.

I got some stuff for Easter for the boys this year. Last year, Easter fell right after the lockdown, and I was still limiting my trips out of Nogglestead, so I didn’t get anything for the boys. And the gap gave me time to forget that we had discarded the old Easter baskets from years before because my boys had beat each other with them between the holidays.

So when I went out to look for the baskets in the garage last night, I only found one that had been part of another Easter disbursement of some sort.

So I used a decorative bucket instead for the oldest.

They’re old enough to buy their own candy year-round, which they do whenever they have money in their pockets and the weather allows. So they only got a couple peeps and a couple of chocolate eggs, a magazine or two each, a tin of Altoids, and a yo-yo. Most of the candy is likely eaten except for a tin of Altoids which has already been spilled.

And the Easter Bucket might just become a tradition. I mean, the oldest only has three more Easters, so it doesn’t make sense to spend a couple of dollars on one at this late date.

So another, albeit brief, strange tradition is born.

Meanwhile, In The Powerline Week In Pictures, We Get My Area

This weeks Week in Pictures at Powerline features a meme from my area:

If I am not mistaken, that is Kearney facing east. North of Kearney, there’s only Interstate 44 and then non-overpass intersections north.

Of course, I hardly ever see the intersection going that way–when I’m going to ABC Books, I take US 65 north to Kearney and then turn west on Kearney to get to Glenstone and my favorite bookstore.

I have seen the sign on rare occasions when I have wanted to catch the highway from Kearney or when I have gone east on Kearney to a sports facility formerly known as The Courts, where my boys had a basketball camp and my youngest briefly played in a basketball league.

Not as weird as seeing a known intersection in a CAPTCHA.