Good Book Hunting, June 29, 2021: The Thrift Stores of Branson

Gentle reader, I sneaked out again for a couple of days on you. My sons are at camp this week, so my beautiful wife and I drifted away to a Branson resort for a couple of days on our own. It was not the first time we’ve gotten away since we had kids–we went to St. Louis a year ago, and to Tampa a couple years before that on business. So we do have these adult getaways, but only every couple of years on average. This might have been our fourth in fifteen years of child husbandry.

At any rate, we planned to go hiking in a state park, but scattered showers enjoined in a downpour just as we were getting out of the car, so we altered our plans to visit a couple of thrift stores in downtown Branson. We hit the animal shelter thrift store and another “thrift store” next week that did not say what charitable organization it supported, so it might have been a second hand store.

I got some books, DVDs, books on tape, and a couple of CDs.

The books include:

  • Journey to China by the National Geographic Society just in case my Sinophilia rages again.
  • The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhahn. Purportedly the secret rules of men in the workplace that every woman should know. Probably me, too. The book was from the second thrift store; it looks like that shop intakes a bunch of remaindered books kind of like Sheldon used to at the Collector’s Book Shop in University City.
  • The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail, a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
  • Frederiksborg Museum, a picture/memento book from said museum. Where is Frederiksborg? Ask me during or after football season if I even watch any this year.
  • The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher by Rob Stennet; apparently the story of a real estate man that decides to woo Christian clients. And might end up redeemed himself.
  • Dispatches from Bitter America by Todd Starnes, a political current events remainder. I don’t know why I bought it. I don’t tend to read books like this very often, but I pick them up slightly more often. A remaindered copy.
  • The Rick and Bubba Code by Rick Burgess and Bill “Bubba” Bussey. Purportedly a humor book. Also a remainder.
  • Dave Barry’s History of the Millenium by Dave Barry. I don’t think I have it, but it was a buck, so we will give it a try.
  • Memoirs of a Public Servant by Charleston Hartfield.
  • Secrets of a Tabloid Reporter by Barbara Sternig.
  • Car Guys vs. Bean Counters by Bob Lutz; a former auto executive draws a distinction between visionaries and the corporate guys, I bet.
  • Road to Paradise by Max Allan Collins. Clearly, I am collecting his books for a time when I decide I really, really like him.
  • Treasure in Hell’s Canyon by Bill Bulick. A Double D Western. Which is probably not like the DD Westerns Randisi writes; this looks like a kids’ book.
  • Myths and Mysteries of Missouri by Josh Young. This looks a lot like something that Larry Wood would write if Larry Wood would write this.
  • Crowdpleaser by Marc Smith who purportedly founded poetry slams. So these should have good, long lines and rhythm.

Were I betting man, I would place money that I read the play or the poetry first.

Man, I don’t know where I am going to go with these books. I was just getting the shelves kind of tidy. It looks like I have made some room up on top reading Executioner novels recently, but that won’t account for them all. I might be getting close to stacking on the floor again, which seems a little like a defeat.

I got two audio books, Just a Guy by comedian Bill Engvall and Shakespeare’s Sonnets which is not an audio book but rather a collection of the actual sonnets. The latter is on audiocassette, which means if I ever get another vehicle, I will have to have a sound system with CD players and audiocassette player installed. Bluetooth? Optional!

Speaking of CDs, I got two music CDs: Exitos y Recuerdos by Selina because I have Paulina Rubio and Shakira, so why not some Selina? Also Greatest Hits by Nino Rota which is apparently Italian for Henry Mancini as they’re all movie themes.

I also picked up a bunch of things to watch:

I got:

  • A couple Mel Gibson movies, Ransom and Maverick. It’s easy to forget Ransom or confuse it with Payback as they’re both one-word crime thrillers. But I should already have Payback in the library as it’s based on the Donald Westlake as Richard Stark Parker novels.
  • Four Highlander movies; I am pretty sure I have them as I just watched them a year or so back, but I spent four bucks to make sure.
  • Her Alibi with Tom Selleck and Paulina P. I have yet to see it, which is weird, since I like Tom Selleck. Remember he made a bunch of movies in the 80s where he was the lead, but he really did not have success on the big screen without Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg–but he did all right in television Westerns.
  • Tombstone, which I did not own until now and have only seen probably once before back in the day.
  • Shanghai Knights with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. I don’t own and have not seen the first movie (as I mentioned when I talked about Rush Hour).
  • Quantum of Solace. I am a bit behind on my Craig Bond movies. I think I have only seen the first.
  • Assault on Precinct 13. This is the 2005 remake; I saw the original 1976 film some time ago.
  • Hamlet at Elsinore which is a hoity toity British production of some sort.
  • A Bruce Lee two movie disc (pictured in error with the books) containing Fist of Fear, Touch of Death and Blind Fist of Bruce which actually stars Bruce Li. I will have to watch them first to see if I can watch them with the boys.

If I were a betting man, I would bet the first of these that I watch will be Tombstone with the longer odds on Her Alibi. Of course, were you to bet with me, I would watch what I bet on first to win, so don’t fall for it. That said, we will know the answer soon, as they are next scheduled for the amusement park this weekend. And they have a week of VBS volunteering coming up, so I will continue my summer of increased movie scheduling. W00t!

At any rate, the total haul, including a couple of frames for crafts and a necklace of my wife, was fifty some dollars. More expensive than a hike, assuredly, but many hours of enjoyment to come and perhaps the cost will be recouped at my estate sale.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

On Socrates read by Lynn Redgrave (1995)

Book coverThis is not a Teaching Company/The Great Courses production (or even Modern Scholar). It’s a mid-1990s Knowledge Products two cassette set that I bought this spring, so it weighs in at about two hours. Amazingly, instead of college professors holding their own lectures, though, they feature Hollywood talent. Lynn Redgrave, for example, handles the heavy duties on this particular–what, item? Set? At any rate, the two cassettes. When it comes time to quote either Socrates or other people talking about Socrates, other vocal talent comes in–often with appropriate accents and whatnot. My beautiful wife found it distracting, but I did not.

Well, as you know, gentle reader, Socrates left no writings of his own–the dialogues of Plato feature Socrates as a character in them, perhaps derived from his actual works, but probably not exactly. This, um, bit explains that the earlier Plato dialogues are probably more from Socrates real concerns and later things are Plato’s work with Socrates as a character. The book/series/audiocassettes focus as much on Socrates’ life as his work, and some contemporaries or relatively contemporaneous sources talk a bit about Socrates’ life (in appropriate Serious Classics Voices, although not so much in Greek accents).

So, you know what, it’s not a bad bit of drive time. Of course, all of you are not driving a top-of-the-line ca. Obama Elected truck that also has an audio cassette player in it, but brothers and sisters, I assure you that when I have another vehicle and upgrade the sound system, I am going to ask for a cassette deck in it just so I can continue to listen to these sub-dollar bits of lectures in them.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Good Book Hunting, June 26, 2021: ABC Books and The Library

On Saturday, ABC Books had a book signing from a local author and the Library Center, our home library branch, had an author signing books like they used to a long time ago, so we made a circuit to the north end of Springfield and then down south to the library.

ABC Books had author James R. Wilder; one of his books is Tough Times in Grubville. Grubville is not too far from where I graduated high school (closer than De Soto), so we talked a bit about the area.

I also found a couple things in the Martial Arts section as well. Overall, I got:

  • Three Executioner novels: Force Down, War Hammer, and Black Hand. You are right, gentle reader–I have already read these books (see here, here, and here). These are gifts for my oldest son, who is turning fifteen here soon, and whom I’m trying to get interested in adult fiction finally. It’s also a bit of a twist: When he was four, right after we moved to Nogglestead, my beautiful wife took he and his brother out to go shopping for a birthday present for me. Although she swore them to secrecy, he announced immediately after getting out of the car, “We got you books about guns!” So it’s a bit of turnabout. I looked in the suspense and the thrillers section before asking Ms. E. in a low voice, “I don’t want to offend you, but do you have any Executioner novels?” She did, and I wanted to pick out a couple that I had read and thought was good, and I did not want to get him one I haven’t read, but I ended up getting him this three pack. And I know where to go to pick up others when I finish up the ones I have and want to fill in some gaps.
  • Old Acquaintances, a signed book by Ursula Gorman, a local author (?) who has a couple books at ABC Books. More than I do, certainly.
  • Terror Near Town, Tough Times in Grubville, and Sheriff Without A Badge, the three books by James R. Wilder. I learned from my mistakes with Mary Phelan: Buy all the books in case you like them.
  • Ultimate Aikido by Yoshimitsu Yamada with Steven Pimsler and Deadly Karate Blows: The Medical Implications by Brian Adams. Ms. E. said they had just gotten those into the Martial Arts section, and I said I know. She said that there are two or three other people who prowl that section regularly, and I admitted it was probably good that two did not show up at the same time.
  • At the library, I got Tea in the Time of COVID by Ann Kynion. It’s 100 musings from the first 100 days of the lockdowns last year. I expect it to be similar to Coffee Is Cheaper Than Therapy.

I must admit, gentle reader, that since I have finished he Winter Reading Challenge and broke off of reading movie and television books, I’ve been kind of wandering aimlessly and fruitlessly. I have been stacking up incomplete books in my book accumulation points; I have been underwhelmed and not really been excited about what I am reading; and I have been dulling the pain with uneven Executioner novels. So it’s good to have in my hands books that look interesting and that I might be excited to read.

Ha! Just kidding. While typing this post, I have put them into the nebulous Nogglestead to-read stacks, and they’re lost for a couple years.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: The Ref (1994)

Book coverI have made a gag in the past, probably on Facebook, that now that we have settled that Die Hard and Lethal Weapon are Christmas movies, we have to move on to proving that The Ref is a Christmas movie. After all, it has family coming over for the holiday meal and a story about redemption. Well, maybe not redemption.

Within it, Denis Leary, fresh from his stand-up comedy special success but before the award-winning program Rescue Me, stars as a burglar whose job on Christmas Eve is thwarted, and the local police bottle the town up to try to catch him. He kidnaps a couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) on their way home from marriage therapy and keeps them prisoner in their home as he tries to figure out an escape. Complications arise as their malcreant son is on his way home from military school and the man’s mother and other relations are coming for dinner. The burglar deals with the bickering and family drama as the film takes on, as so many do, suburban decay.

So amusing at times, but not a high comedy–better than Hot Tub Time Machine 2 but not as good as the National Lampoon movies I’ve seen recently (see this and this).

But it’s still worth bringing forth as a Christmas movie and arguing on the Internet about it.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Death Whisper The Executioner #208 (1996)

Book coverI have been pleased with a couple of the Executioner books I’ve picked up lately. This book and Rescue Run are a cut above, although this one does get a little outlandish at the end.

In this book, Bolan goes to Arizona near the border to investigate a mining company that runs the town and runs off or kills those it cannot control. A lawman known to the man from Justice dies, triggering Bolan’s investigation, and he basically discovers that Soviet deep agents have acquired the mining company and have built a large tunnel into Mexico for smuggling. Bolan has to bust it up, but the mining company has hired an army of ex-Spetsnaz troops to defend the complex.

So Bolan has to singlehandedly, with the help of the dead lawman’s daughter, now the chief of the local police, put a stop to it. Which he does in a set of exploits that get a little ridiculous at the end, and the Able Team and Phoenix Force parachute in to help mop up.

So a cut above, but trending down.

Also, who wrote this, Lee Child?

Larquette snapped out of her daze. She pulled a lever action rifle from a rack off the wall and chambered a round. With a sudden afterthought, she snatched up an extra box of shells and then positioned herself in a crouch between the filing cabinets.

If enough of these books call rifle food shells, I’m going to start doing it, too.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Do It The Brian J. Way

This article hit my email inbox from the local athletic shoe store’s parent company: How to Make Your Running Shoes Last Longer.

To be honest, I didn’t read it because I have a better method.

Don’t run.

My running shoes, unlike me, are immortal.

I keed, I keed! But I have not been running that much this year. An indoor triathlon, an in-person 5K, and a couple virtual 5Ks. Which means, in calendar months, my shoes are getting up there indeed, but they don’t have much mileage in them.

I might replace them soon, though, as my walking shoes are getting worn, and I use my old running shoes as my walking shoes.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Anger Management (2003)

Book coverThis movie is a two-fer, at least for where Brian J.’s Rule 5 movie report posts go: It has both Marisa Tomei (from My Cousin Vinny) and Heather Graham (from License to Drive). However, although it probably is the best part of these movie reviews, I am not posting more pictures of these ladies at this time.

The film also features Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. In it, Adam Sandler plays an executive assistant working for a pet supply company who is mild mannered and less of a man boy than his normal roles. On a flight to St. Louis, he sits next to an obnoxious man and touches a flight attendant to get her attention–which she calls assault, so Sandler’s meek character is tased and arrested. In lieu of jail time, the judge sentences Sandler to anger management therapy–run by the obnoxious man (Nicholson). So he joins anger management group therapy with the usual collection of Sandler character actors (John Turturro, Allen Covert) and, after another incident, gets personal high-contact therapy–Nicholson’s character moves in with him. It leads to some amusing set pieces–Dave (Sandler) picks up Heather Graham in a bar and goes home with her, only to reject her sexual advances because he has a girlfriend; a confrontation with a childhood bully who is now a Buddhist monk leads to a brawl at a monestary; a trial separation between Dave and his girlfriend (Tomei) leads to Tomei’s character dating Nicholson’s character; and finally, the climax at a Yankees game stocked with cameos as self including Rudy Giuliani, Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, and so on.

So it was amusing, which is honestly the rating I give most comedies. It’s not raunchy (PG-13), but there’s some sexual humor in it. It was a bit different to see Sandler playing a more sedate role and having Nicholson chew the scenery. You know, I am going to run up to the Netflix barrier some day, where Sandler’s films are only available, maybe, online. But I’ve got plenty of his oeuvre to catch up on before then.

Also, in searching the Internet for anger management several times, I might have set myself up for a Red Flag something or other. Which is the risk I run to bring high quality content like this to you.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Selected Poems by Mary Phelan (2004)

Book coverI bought this collection of poems at the Webster Groves Book Shop; it (this book, not the book shop) was on the local interest bookshelf near the door. The book is chapbook-sized, but chapbooks aren’t really that chap any more–when I was hawking Unrequited and Deep Blue Shadows, I priced them at $3 each. This volume was like ten bucks; although the author had another volume available, I only bought one in case I didn’t like the poems. Which is kind of the opposite reaction I have when buying cheap LPs, wherein if I find a bunch from a new artist for a buck each, I buy them all in case I like the artist. The philosophical difference is the difference between a buck and ten bucks, I guess.

Which is a shame, as I did like the poems in the book.

They deal with aging, traveling, family matters, and whatnot; the poet might have been a professional instructor in the liberal arts or might just have been a vagabond when younger. But the poems have heart, rhythm, and relatively longer lines at times, so I enjoyed them. Not grandmother poetry at all.

You know, this book is dated 2004, and the poet would have been in St. Louis at the time, but it was five or six years after my Coffee House Memories days, so I have no idea who she is and don’t recognize any names in her acknowledgements/thank yous. Perhaps she was an academic-minded poet and not a coffee shop/open mic brawler like me. Or maybe that few years was long enough to completely turn over the crowd.

So worth a read. The next time I am in the St. Louis area, I hope to pick up a copy of the later collection.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: DARYL (1985)

Book coverI saw this film early in the trailer park years–it seems to me that I saw it over and over, which probably meant it was on Showtime but rotated out pretty quickly. Of course, we got our first VCR right after we moved into the trailer, so I suppose we could have gotten it as a rental in the days when every grocery store and some gas stations rented videocassettes. Which, conceptually, is about as dated as this film.

Basically, the film starts en media res–a car is getting chased by a helicopter, and the man driving the car lets a boy out before driving over a cliff; the boy is picked up by an elderly couple and taken into town. My youngest, who was watching the film with me while trying to simultaneously play a video game, got confused immediately because the thought he’d already missed a plot point or two–but that got him watching the film. At any rate, the boy apparently has partial amnesia, so he’s placed with foster parents (Lenny and Mary Beth Hurt). They discover that he’s good at a lot of things, but he’s a little lacking in social skills. He befriends a neighbor boy who teaches him a little about being a kid, and when it’s going good, his “real parents” show up to claim him.

They’re scientists who essentially “built” him. He’s not a robot, really–he’s got the body of a human and will grow and whatnot, but a computer for a brain. They learn that he has become almost human (not that Almost Human) with emotions and preferences. The military shuts the program down and orders the scientists to terminate Daryl. Instead, they break him out of the military facility.

You know, I misremembered the doctor who breaks him out as being played by Dabney Coleman, likely because I saw a lot of Dabney Coleman in those days; however, the kindly doctor is played by Josef Sommer who has played similar characters his whole life (I remembered him from 2000’s The Family Man).

At any rate, kind of a neat film, not high art, but if you’re a kid about Daryl’s age, it might speak to you a bit. I liked it when I was that age, and my youngest son liked it well enough. And the lad did not offer any comment on the “ugly” people in it since the film does not include romantic plot points or women in bikinis, but it did include Colleen Camp.

Continue reading “Movie Report: DARYL (1985)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Coffee Is Cheaper Than Therapy by Ann Conklin Unruh (2015)

Book coverI bought this book almost two weeks ago (already?) when we visited Old Trees during our vacation and promptly read it since it’s a collection of short, what, essays? A woman in late middle age or early later age meets friends for coffee, and she captures some of the things they talk about into these brief paragraph or so musings. They’re kind of grouped by topic, but mainly they’re just musings on life, the goings on in the world, and family by a local author.

It clocks in at 102 pages with room in the back for discussion questions (and To and From on the frontspiece) that indicates this book is not supposed to be heavy literature but rather something to perhaps trigger other discussions. But, you know, discussions between people, not “discussions” that are Serious Political Messages You Must Present Strenuously Until Your Family Agrees Just To Shut You Up. The entries are not Political, but sub-political. That is, real life, but which percolates up into the political these days, unfortunately.

And I liked the–voice? The paragraphs are a little thin to really have a narrative voice. But I agreed with a lot of it, which kind of worried me: Why am I, so very young-thinking and -acting (why, I just this week showed off a bit in martial arts class by doing a set of ten push-ups as clapping push-ups which I impressed my sainted aunt with on one of my visits to the St. Louis area in 2019), why am I agreeing with a woman of a certain age so much?

Because I guess I am getting to that certain age, albeit reluctantly. And, as this blog attests, I was a curmudgeon in my relative youth.

The author is a toastmistress, she mentions in the book, and the book came with a the top of Toastmasters Item 163 which is a ballot/evaluation form for speakers at a meeting. Given that only the top remains, I have to wonder if this book was used as part of the discussion at a Toastmasters event and then found its way to the Webster Groves Book Shop. As you know, gentle reader, I once thought about (and created) a blog called Found Bookmarks (now a category on this blog, and the sparse entries in that category indicate why it never went anywhere. This stub would not warrant a full entry in that line, but it did make me look up the local Toastmasters clubs–and there are five entries in Springfield, Missouri, in 2021. So now I am thinking about maybe sitting in and seeing what it’s all about.

So, definitely worth my time in reading on my vacation. Better than an encyclopedia of disasters, truly, but that’s a lower and lower bar to clear.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Air America (1990)

Book coverWell, this should have been a blockbuster, ainna? A young Mel Gibson in his heyday, a young Robert Downey, Junior, version 1.0 fresh from the Brat Pack days. A buddy film set, part comedy and part adventure, with corrupt government officials as the bad guys, flying action scenes and stunts, and….

Well, it’s a bit underwhelming.

The plot is that a helicopter traffic reporter (Downey) loses his job and gets his license to fly revoked stateside, but a secret government agency recruits him to join an outfit in Laos that flies and drops supplies to various locations in southeast Asia, from guns to friendlies and aid to outlying villages. He meets the crazy pilots who are already in country, who do the flights by day and party really heartily at night. One (Gibson) takes the new pilot under his wing, and the new guy learns that the old hand is amassing arms to sell to finance his retirement. After Downey and another pilot crash, the local warlord, an ally of the leaders of their outfit, rescue some “flour” and leave the fliers stranded. So Downey plans his revenge on the local opium processing plant, which involves setting up a couple of grenades–but it only throttles production for a little bit and kicks up a hornets’ nest of revenge. Subplots involve a senator (Lane Smith, last seen in My Cousin Vinny) on a fact-finding mission looking for evidence of drug smuggling and an American aid worker working with refugees whose underdeveloped storyline only exists to provide a redemption story for Gibson’s character (the refugee camp is located in poppy fields that rival factions converge on to harvest).

It’s hard to say why it doesn’t really work. The pacing? Are the characters just outside the relatable range? Is the pacing a little slow? Is the main problem or conflict under-defined so we don’t really know what’s at stack until the middle or end of the movie? I mean, Gibson and Downey should be at the height of their charisma, but it’s kind of wasted. A script that is not sure how buddy it is or how serious it is with a message? Probably all of these things.

So it will go into the library and not represent something I watch over and over again, but I guess it’s good for completeness’ sake in the ouevres of Gibson and Downey.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Focus Grouping The Next Pandemic

Let’s ask the audience, the general public, how panicky they get with this story: Springfield pediatricians see rise in patients with RSV, uncommon for summer months:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning parents about a national rise in the respiratory infection RSV, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, this summer.

RSV is common in the fall and winter, similar to the flu season, but not very common in the warmer months. Mercy pediatrician Dr. Laura Waters says her office didn’t see as many cases during the typical season, but they are seeing an uptick now.

”I had a couple of weeks ago about five or six kids who were actually seen over one weekend in the emergency room,” Dr. Waters says. “Later that week I actually had a child that ended up in the ICU with it.”

You know, perhaps the constant drumbeating of disease and whatnot will have the benefit of informing people how contingent life really is, and how precious it is, if we can remove some of the sense of absolute safety that many Americans from the middle and upper classes and the elites have from birth.

Just kidding. I am not sure that’s possible.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy (2008)

Book coverThe book bears the subtitle An Office Power Ballad. It details the author’s brief employment as a marketing executive at a record company headed for a takeover told in a series of short vignettes. The voice is a bit neurotic, a bit “I can’t believe I’m here” laced with imposter syndrome as he meets different musical artists and normal-in-these-books corporate interactions.

So it’s kind of like mixing one’s Stanley Bing (Lloyd What Happened and You Look Nice Today) and one’s Joshua Ferris (Then We Came To The End) except that it’s not fiction. The book goes through those office politics and through his layoff with some anecdotes about being laid off (shades of Executive Blues by G. J. Meyer).

The book kind of disappointed me; as it’s just a collection of vignettes, it doesn’t really lead to anything beyond the amusement of its anecdotes. Still, it was better vacation reading than an encyclopedia of disasters.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

End of an Era

John Kass has published his last column for the Chicago Tribune.

Gentle reader, when I first got myself a sit down in an office job in an IT company in 1998, I had an Internet connection all day long, and so, in addition to writing documentation using software that made the contract technical writer cry in frustration, I started reading a lot of newspaper Web sites every day. Especially the newspaper columnists. I read Roeper, Steinberg, Kass, Greene, and Schmich from the Chicago papers.

Over the years, the number I’ve read has dwindled. After 2000, most of them veered too left for me, and Greene was dismissed from the Chicago Tribune. Although I still say “Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen” whenever the topic of sunscreen comes up at Nogglestead, I don’t tend to read new Schmich. Kass was the only one I would go to the Chicago Tribune Web site, intermittently, to read.

Perhaps the loyal devotion to columnists tailed off when it became clearer that I was not destined to be a columnist.

At any rate, for some reason the Chicago Tribune separated him, which means that the only remaining reason I have to visit that Web site is to gleefully follow the heartbreak of another Bears season. Intermittently, and maybe.

Although the corporation is probably better off without me, too, as I don’t tend to click the ads and do not subscribe to Internet publications. But Tronc, or whatever the corporation calls itself these days, has sacrificed a reason old people like me read the physical paper when we do (as a reminder, I subscribe to five newspapers from around the state, soon to be seven now that The Licking News has a way to subscribe online finally and because I’ll also take the adjacent Houston Herald).

For the news, yes, but also the voices of Jim Hamilton, Larry Dablemont, Father Hirz, Cassie Downs, Amber Heard, Karen Craigo, and other friendly print voices. Which does not mean 23-year-old Web content producers writing clickbait listicles; it means adults.

I hope Kass continues writing; I have seen his work in other venues, but that might have just been his Tribune columns syndicated.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

On Great Masters: Beethoven by Professor Robert Greenberg (2001)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I have listened to a couple of other lecture sets in the musical Great Masters series, most notably Brahms and Liszt earlier this year.

So, this is Beethoven, one of the three big Bs (Bach and Brahms the other, who precede and aftercede Beethoven respectively). He comes of age when piano technology is improving so that it can be thundering and not just tinkling, and Beethoven uses it to great effect. He’s a bit of an ass, though, which leads to some problems in his personal life and professional dealings. Also, he goes deaf over the course of his career.

Basically, if you saw Gary Oldman in Immortal Beloved, you get the gist of it, although Greenberg proffers a different identity for the addressee of the letter than the film did. Aw, c’mon, man, you know that Beethoven wrote but did not send a love letter addressed to his immortal beloved, and scholars have speculated to whom he had written it, ainna?

At any rate, this set of lectures does not move in chronological order; instead, it starts toward the end of his career with some reversals of fortune and then goes back to talk about his youth and early career.

The lectures include:

  1. The Immortal Beloved
  2. What Comes Down Must Go Up, 1813-1815
  3. What Goes Up Must Come Down, 1815
  4. Beethoven and His Nephew, 1815-1819
  5. Beethoven the Pianist
  6. Beethoven the Composer, 1792-1802
  7. The Heroic Ideal
  8. Two Concerts, 1808 and 1824

Beethoven’s life kind of follows the pattern of the other artists/composers: An unhappy childhood, being pushed into music, being tutored by a known musician (Haydn in Beethoven’s case), and so on. Perhaps Greenberg told the story in this disordered fashion to keep it fresh.

Which is why I am spacing these lecture series out: They kind of follow similar arcs, and as I’m not that trained in actual musicology yet, the music sounds kind of similar. Greenberg’s a great lecturer and fun to listen to, but my enthusiasm for the subject matter has its limits, especially the more I listen to these Great Masters courses.

Which means it will take me quite some time to get through the series I have in this line.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Moon of Mutiny by Lester del Rey (1961, 1982)

Book coverWhen I bought this book in May, I said I might loan it to my youngest who is reading dystopian YA fiction these days. I offered it, but he demurred. So I took this on my recent trip and read it quite early in the vacation.

At any rate, this is young rocket jockey fiction from the 1960s that was still in print in my formative years and filled the library shelves of my middle school. A young man notorious for stealing a rocket and joyriding to the moon and requiring rescue washes out of rocket flight school and returns to the space station where he was raised by a distant father. He’s at loose ends at the station, where everyone has a job to do but him, but he gets a chance to go on an underfunded mission to the moon as a junior pilot, where his piloting skill and unnaturally good mental ability to calculate trajectories comes in handy. But he gets a reputation for being bad luck as difficulties befall the scientific survey team he’s on, and he mutinies when another space ship, a prototype fast rocket, crashes somewhere other than the computers calculated it would–and he gets the chance to save the very instructor who opposed him in the rocket academy.

The narrative is a collection of scenes more than a truly cohesive narrative–the climactic problem really does not arise until the end of the book–with a bunch of neat-o speculative science fiction things and explanations as to how they work to keep the mid-20th century boys interested and maybe thinking about an engineering career. The book also addresses some social-political considerations of space flight and exploration, including the tenuous economics and support for space exploration/colonies and some logistical challenges therein.

So it’s young adult fiction, but the young adults from sixty and seventy years ago–and just forty years ago when these books remained on school shelves–must have been a bit more educated than they are today. But, of course, this being an old-timey blog and not a TikTok, you already expected that kind of messaging, ainna?

Del Rey is a cut below the Heinlein or the Asimov, but still good enough for a quick read.

(Previously on MfBJN: The Early Del Rey.)

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Gran Torino (2008)

Book coverYou know, gentle reader, I am so old now that I think of things from long ago as recent–so I think of this as a recent Clint Eastwood movie, perhaps because it’s from the 21st century, and Eastwood’s filmography goes way back. But he has been making and acting in films up to the present day (I posted a Toby Keith song with clips from the really recent movie The Mule here, although it’s only really recent now–if you’re reading it seven years from now, maybe not recent any more).

At any rate, I will explain the plot for those of you who are later to the 21st century movies than I am. Eastwood plays a recently widowed Korean War veteran whose Detroit neighborhood has changed around him. It’s become a bit dangerous, and Hmong immigrants have moved in, including next door. The first scenes deal with his wife’s funeral and its aftermath, including Walt (Eastwood) watching his children and grandchildren’s behavior at the funeral and the cold cuts at his home after. The priest of the parish church wants to look after Walt as the priest promised the late wife that he would, but Walt rebuffs him.

A local gang tries to initiate the teenaged son of the next door neighbors by having him steal Walt’s pristine Gran Torino, but Walt prevents it. To atone, the Hmong neighbors offer the boy as a worker to help work off his offense; Walt doesn’t think much of it and tries to rebuff this gesture, but then takes the boy on, tasking him with helping to clean up and repair houses in the neighborhood, which makes Walt a little more popular with the new neighbors and introduces him to them. Walt takes on mentoring the young man and protecting him from the gang with escalating violence which leads to the ultimate violent conclusion.

Spoiler alerts, kinda.
Continue reading “Movie Report: Gran Torino (2008)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Brian J.’s Recycler Tours: The Prophecy Is Fulfilled

From 2015:

I have been telling the kids in my [martial arts] sword class that “uff da” is Viking for “Cut off his head!”

If they ever go to Minnesota, they’re going to think it’s the most dangerous place in America.

Also on this day in 2011, one of my best:

Brian J. Noggle keeps trying to create a splinter group of Pan’s followers, but he can’t get no satyrs’ faction.

You have to be 40 years old to be educated enough to get that joke.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories