Last Week, My Laptop Failed To Boot

Generally, this is a prelude explaining the dearth of posting, gentle reader, but this story is unrelated to the dearth of posting. That particular ennui stems from not being particularly interested in posting political hot takes because I’m not convincing anyone and venting my spleen is not actually letting any fresh air into my spleen and because I’m looking for work and a front page of political wrongthink can hinder that. Although most employers and hiring managers don’t bother to look at my LinkedIn profile, much less do a Web search for me (Googling a person is so 2002), I did get a blog post attached to my job application once and might have led demerits. True story: On one of those barrage interview situations, none of the senior people looked for me on the Internet, but a junior developer participating in the interviews, did, and he mentioned my reading a Star Trek book. Afterwards, I got a hit to the blog from Greenhouse on the previous post which indicated that Chinese cat food products might have suspect ingredients. As I interviewed with two Chinese-Americans, I presume this labeled me as a xenophobe (although you, gentle reader, know that if I am not truly a Sinophile, at least I have read some history and watched some native films). I’ve not been posting a lot of humorous anecdotes about life because, well, how is life going? That’s another story, maybe, but I am looking for work. Enough said for now.

So when I say My laptop failed to boot, I meant my nearly thirty-year-old Thinkpad.

Continue reading “Last Week, My Laptop Failed To Boot”

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Spoken Like A Man With No Metal On His Wall


It’s been a while since I’ve popped into a Home Depot, but now that I know they’re peddling a reasonably priced sword, I might need to check it out.

People have been buzzing about the surprising listing that was found on the company’s website.

What if we fought using the Home Depot sword

— Sena Bonbon ️ ~comms open~ (@Bonbon_Sena) January 23, 2024

Damn, look at that. What makes it even better is that it’s priced at around $50. I defy you to find a William Wallace Medieval Sword — or any other bladed weapon for that matter — with a sheath for that price.

With inflation still pretty high, you can’t.

Still, you might need to convince your wife/girlfriend/significant other that you need this at a hardware store Claymore.

I know you’re busy so allow me to come up with some arguments for you.

As you might know, gentle reader, I have mentioned that I have a halberd and several swords on my wall, several practice weapons atop the books on my bookshelves, and a Swiss bayonet that I really must put on the wall before a cat knocks it off of the bookshelves perhaps onto my head instead of next to where I am standing, trying to pick out a book, next time (but no rapier or katana even though I have just the spot for one.

You know, (perhaps I’ve already told this story, but here it is again) Relics had a claymore in one of the booths a while back, and I thought about it. Then I looked at the price tag, and it was $500. So I mulled it over, and when I had a Christmas bonus or something, I took a closer look at it…. And it was truly a claymore, a plaster or resin replica of a claymore and not even metal at all. So way, way overpriced. Which is just as well, as I don’t have room for it on my office wall. But in the den, the vertical surface above the fireplace mantel is bare….

So I don’t have to justify buying a new blade to my beautiful wife as it falls into ther category of things I accumulate. I wouldn’t have to justify spending $50 on a sword–and keep in mind the thing at Home Depot is a replica, with as much relationship to a real sword as the decorative flintlock replicas I have on my wall are to real pistols.

I would have to justify spending $500 on a sword, though. And perhaps get a second job to cover it.

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Musing On Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

Wow, gentle reader, it has been six years since I started reading The Complete Works of Shakespeare in order; back in the beginning of 2018, I posted this atop my individual play reports:

I’ve started to read the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and instead of writing one book report at the end, since this could take years, I’ve decided to post my thoughts on each play as I finish it. Of course, it will still only count as one book on my annual reading count in 2020 because I’m silly that way.

Clearly I was optimistic back then; that winter and spring, I only read five comedies (The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night, and Measure for Measure) before setting the book aside. For what would become the better part of a decade (see it languishing on the bottom left stack on the chairside table in 2019). The book presents all the comedies, then all the historical plays/tragedies, and then the poetry. So reading all the comedies fairly close together shows how formulaic they are. On the other hand, reading a lot of Middle English in a row makes it more comprehensible. So perhaps I should read the plays out of order and check them off of a list.

When I looked at the ad for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge, I said, “I mean, would it hurt the librarians to include a Shakespearean play in there sometime?” Guessing they will probably not, ever, I picked up The Complete Works of Shakespeare and read the next play in it which was certain to be a romantic comedy. This one.

When I mentioned I was reading this play and that I remembered the movie to my beautiful wife, she “remembered” seeing the movie with me as well as the play and the symphony. Which gave me pause: I remember seeing the film with a girl I dated before the woman who would become my wife, and I remembered seeing a play at Washington University with my beautiful then-girlfriend, but a symphony? Ah, she is thinking of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Which is the next play in this collection, by the way. Which I will likely read before the 2020s end, but one never knows.

So: Much Ado About Nothing. The prince (Denzel Washington in the movie)–who does not have the title of prince, but we know what it means–comes to town with two of his caveliers/courtiers, Claudio and Benedick, and they stay with Don Leonato. Claudio (some dude in the movie) finds Leonato’s daughter (some dudette who turns out to be a young Kate Beckinsale in the movie) irresistable, and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh in the movie) crosses wits with her cousin Beatrice (Emma Thompson). Claudio and Hero become engaged, but the evil-for-the-sake-of-evil half-brother to the prince Don John (Keanu Reeves, which leads me to wonder where are the Don John Wick photoshops?–I presume it’s because history started with the Internet in 1997, and Shakespeare is icky to the yut who are getting to be middle-aged now) deceives Claudio into thinking Hero is untrue. The bulk of the story, though, is the Prince and Claudio and various handmaidens convincing Beatrice that Benedick secretly loves her and vice versa. All’s well that ends well–sorry, wrong play–but in the end the deception is uncovered and everybody lives happily ever after.

The play contains some of the common Shakespeare tropes that were probably more common Elizabethan drama tropes that are most familiar to us because of the Shakespeare (one of these days, I will dig out my Ben Jonson and see). You’ve got helpful friars, people in disguise, villains who are just villains because they’re villainous, faked deaths (which I guess survive to the modern time if Lethal Weapon is any guide), and so on. To modern readers, especially those dealing with tiny-print, double-columned omnibus editions, some of the speeches of Hero’s father lamenting his daughter’s calumny and the repartee and soliliquies of Beatrice and Benedick as they ponder their attraction to the other seem a bit long. But on stage, and in the movie, with things to look at and spit out rapidly with the characters, these blocks of text probably come off better.

An amusing read, and a fun watch. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the film in the Nogglestead video library. I’ll watch out for it, though–given its date in the height of home media sales, I should be able to find a copy of it somewhere. Hopefully before all used DVDs go to $5 or $7 each.

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Movie Report: Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Book coverWell, gentle reader. Well, well, well. For starters, I watched this film last month and it has lingered on my desk that long. To be honest, I’ve been fairly busy with the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge to watch or even think about movies this month so far. I must get through the categories therein before I return to my regularly scheduled occasional film watching.

I picked this film up last September in a burst of profligacy. I watched the first film in…. Well, in ages past, before I decided that movie reports were content for the search engine algorithms to ignore. I mention it in The 80s R in 2018, so that must have been about the time when I rented the DVD from the video store. Six years? Not quite closer to the film’s release than now, but close. But, oh, how I dwell on the passage of time outside my unchanging world.

The film takes place a couple of years after Kick-Ass and is less brutal than the original. Kick-Ass trains with Hit-Girl, and they’re both not really active but are training. The son of the big bad guy in the first film takes control of his father’s criminal empire and the family fortune and assembles a squad of super-villains hoping for revenge. Meanwhile, Kick-Ass discovers that a group of people in costume has gathered to fight crime as well, and he teams up with them. But the bad guys group starts killing members of the good guys group and Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl have to put a stop to it.

Less brutal, and it has some teen movie themes to it as Hit-Girl, in her secret identity, has to navigate high school. And she and Kick-Ass come to determine they’re more than friends.

A bit of deconstruction on the superhero films that were still gaining steam in that era. An amusing bit of watching, but not for younger viewers. And it can probably stand alone enough if you haven’t seen the original. Or, if you’re like me, and you’ve seen the original “recently” as understood by more seasoned readers, where “recently” can stretch back a decade or so.

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Book Report: Mine the Harvest by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1954)

Book coverAh, gentle reader. I was going to lead off by saying “I’ve already read this book,” but you might remember that. I read it in 2006, which is slightly more recently than I read Blood Relatives. But this 2024 Winter Reading Challenge is proving not only to be a year of Bowlderized (or merely edited) books, questionable category assignments, and re-reads. I will note that this copy, which I bought in 2022 for $1, which is better than the ex library book First Edition for which I paid $10 and read in 2006.

At any rate, this book was compiled by Millay’s sister after her death (as I mentioned). Some of the poems are polished, as she might have been gathering some for publication before her death. Some are not. Millay experiments with free verse, but without a lot of what makes free verse palatable to me–good rhythm, internal rhymes, and alliteration–but I write free verse for performance at open mics (not that I have done an open mic in 20 years). Instead, it’s words laid out on a page without rhyme and with some obscure meaning and discrete images that don’t hold together too well.

But it has some sonnets as well, and Millay is at her best in the tighter confines of traditional structures. Her structured poetry looks pretty effortless and almost conversational, and they’re short and often poignant. And these are not her best sonnets.

The poems overall deal with death and remembering the past than love (although she touched on these subjects in the past). Millay died in 1950, a year after her long-time husband (who died of lung cancer, which might have taken some time although not as long as it can with modern treatments). So one can understand where her mind might have been immediately before her death. Her Wikipedia entry indicates she might have been in chronic pain after a 1936 automobile accident as well, so, yeah. Not bright and cheery poetry, but the book contains a lot of birds, flowers, and trees landscape poetry.

So not my favorite of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s work, but I am probably growing into it more than shouting “Love! Though for this you riddle me with darts!” at a half-empty coffeehouse (I guess I am telling the same old stories over and over again as I read books over and over again, ainna? Is this my dotage already?).

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Book Report: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Heddon (2003)

Book coverAh, gentle reader. I am certainly playing fast and loose with the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge. Although I did not use The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam or The Broken Spear as the Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own book because those books were collected/compiled/edited by presumable Christians and people of European descent, I did enter Tales from the Missouri Tigers in the School Setting category even though it’s more a sports book than a school book (but university sports). And now, gentle reader, I have fallen even lower.

The Winter Reading Challenge has a Neurodivergent character. Heaven help me, but I was not going to wade back into The Sound and the Fury again for a mug. And I’ve already read Of Mice and Men recently (what? twenty years ago recently?). I remembered that I had a copy of this novel in the Reader’s Digest Select Editions format. I “ordered” this and, apparently, four other such editions back around the turn of the century (the volume containing this book is from 2004). Reader’s Digest (not italicized as it’s the company, not the periodical) would send out a teaser for offering a free book for your review, and then you can cancel or get any one such book every month or two on subscription unless you canceled. I was pretty good at canceling, and I accepted the free offer a number of times (but did “buy” a book or two). These Select Editions are paperbacks, unlike Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, so I thought they were the complete text. But as I started The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, I noticed it was under 200 pages, and not even Mack Bolan books of the era fell under that. With some trepidation, I turned to the front of the book (this novel is fourth of four in the volume), and…. Selected and Edited. Oh. This is a Reader’s Digest Condensed book in a cheaper package for people who, at the turn of the century, might have thought that the Condensed Books were for old people (as an aside, I hardly ever see Condensed Books at garage sales, estate sales, or book sales any more–have they all been pulped by now?). But I am going to count it as a complete novel because I really, really don’t want to wade into the children’s section of the library, where one can easily find entries for every category on the Winter Reading Challenge list.

At any rate, I remembered that this book focused on a neurodivergent child, and so it does. The first person, fifteen-year-old Christopher, is autistic. The book starts when Christopher is out walking late at night, which he likes to do because it’s quiet, he finds the neighbor’s poodle dead on a lawn, stabbed with a garden fork. Police initially think that he did it, but he did not, so he starts to investigate and to write this book to describe his investigation.

Christopher tells us about his life a bit, slowly working in details about his special school and life with his father, an HVAC man who has been raising Christopher since his mother died of a heart attack. Christopher steps outside of his comfort zone to talk with the neighbors in his investigation, including an old woman who tries to befriend him. Christopher’s father orders him to stop investigating and bothering people and takes away Christopher’s manuscript of the book. While looking for the book, Christopher finds a stack of letters from his mother. She did not die, as his father said, but instead could no longer take the pressure and/or responsibility of raising Christopher and ran away with a married neighbor. Christopher’s father discovers him with the letters and explains that not only did his wife run off with another man, but he had hoped to become a couple with the left-behind wife, and when he had a falling out with her, he killed the ill-tempered dog. This sets Christopher off, and he must really leave his comfort zone and travel to London to be with his mother. Who is falling out of love with the man she ran off with. The book ends kind of media en res as well; Christopher returns to Swindon to take his Maths exams; his parents can be in the same room together; and Christopher’s father tries to make amends with Chistopher.

It’s a thin plot, and the whole purpose of the book is to imagine and experience the imagined voice of an autistic teenager. Which it does with some limited success, I suppose, but I imagine that it’s different enough that a lot is lost or transmogrified. A couple of times the narrator says that he does not imagine things, but he goes off on flights of fancy a time or two. The narrator also describes clinically how he perceives things instead of simply perceiving them that way. Although I suppose that it would be too jarring to try to completely reproduce it.

The book was originally sold both as an adult novel and a YA novel with different packaging and covers for each. It does kind of have more of an young adult book to it, but part of that might be in the Reader’s Digest trimming.

You know, I read this fairly quickly and probably got a good flavor for it. Perhaps I should give these Selected Editions and Condensed Books (where I can find them) a second look. I am not especially a fan of modern and mainstream novels, but reading these would give me a deeper overview of the works than the Wikipedia entries. And I could count them as a complete book in my annual tabulation (and the Reading Challenge categories). So maybe I should add them to the list of things I hope to read this year after the Reading Challenge. Along with the rest of the Sharpe’s books I own, one or more volumes of The Story of Civilization, and pretty much whatever catches my eye in the interim.

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Book Report: Tales from the Missouri Tigers by Alan Goforth (2003)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, when I bought this book in 2021, I said:

I am thinking of giving this to my mother-in-law for Christmas, but we might already have done so. Which might lead me to justifying keeping it for myself.

I know you have been waiting in suspense lo these almost three years, but I did not end up giving this to my mother-in-law. Well, not yet. I think I shall take it over to her apartment to let her read it. Because I might not be a giver, but I can be a lender.

Also, gentle reader, I must admit that I’m playing fast and loose with the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge categories. School Setting appears on the list of categories, but one gets the sense that the categories might be skewed to younger readers these days. I don’t read many books set at schools. This book deals with a university’s athletic program, so it will have to do. If not, I have a similar book from Michigan State (I think). Maybe even by the same author.

The author breaks the book into two parts plus some appendixes. The first trips through some reminisciences from basketball players from the Tigers in the 20th century (and a couple of years into the 21st) focusing on coaches (and Norm Stewart, who was a two sport man at Mizzou before becoming a storied coach much later) and some of the better players. The second part, which is most of the book, does the same with football players. Appendixes include memories from the sidelines–including a section that includes Dan Meers’ memories (I read his book Wolves Can’t Fly last summer).

I say the book “trips through” because it’s written in that blocky style that skips between memories and interview bits from players, staff, and whatnot (including a guy who had attended/reported on the Tigers since the 1930s, seventy years by the time this book came out). Surely You Can’t Be Serious and Louder than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Heavy Metal both used this technique, which makes it easy to read in snippets since the snippets are two to three paragraphs long. Why bother reading whole chapters? Why bother writing the connective tissue between topics? Just lay in a couple of centered asterisks and move on.

It’s 191 pages with appendixes, and it proved to be a pretty quick read. It gave me some sense of the history of the sports programs and their successes that I previously had lacked. I should have taken better notes, I suppose, because Mizzou sports facts are not uncommon at trivia parts around here. But I only have retained so far the things that especially resonated with me. That Norm Stewart played baseball and football for Missouri state; that Dan Devine coached Missouri football before the Green Bay Packers, and…. Well, that’s all that comes to mind right now. I can only hope that other information might rattle out if needed, but that’s probably too much to hope for. Beaver Cleaver’s first name did not rattle out on New Year’s Eve even though I’d just read Why We Watch: Killing the Gilligan Within.

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As I Read Bernard Cornwell Books….

I know who the Duke of Wellington was:

I KNOW nothing should surprise us these days about dumbed-down Britain. But an article on the moronic Mail Online website the other day had me choking on my cornflakes.

It read: ‘In 2020, Mandy Lieu, 38, bought 935-acre Ewhurst Park in Hampshire, once owned by the inventor of the wellington boot, the Duke of Wellington, and vowed to turn it into a world-class organic farm and nature reserve.’

The inventor of the wellington boot!

Good grief, I know teaching of British history is nowadays outrageously skewed and bowdlerised, but I didn’t realise things had got this bad.

Sharpe’s Trafalgar only mentions the duke in passing. The pompous politician or his wife is a distant cousin.

By the end of the year I shall know a heckuva lot more about the Napoleonic wars, and I should probably read the firsthand account of his retreat from Russia that I have around here somewhere.

(Link via Sarah Hoyt on Instapundit.)

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Book Report: Sharpe’s Trafalgar by Bernard Cornwell (2002)

Book coverAh, gentle reader, of course I did not have to rely on All Quiet on the Western Front for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge Historical Fiction Outside the U.S. category. After all, I have a bunch of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels (and a couple of one offs) and a stack of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series, and I know where they are–on the outermost ranks of the to-read shelves in the hall. So why not grab one of those? Certainly better than a Bridgerton tie-in that librarians might favor.

At any rate, I bought most of these paperbacks at a garage sale in South City right after we moved to Old Trees and before we had our first son. It was only a couple of months, late spring and early summer, but the world was awash with possibilities–I was an executive working downtown, getting ready to grow a family, and I had actually moved to Old Trees. I read Sharpe’s Tiger and Sharpe’s Triumph the next year, but not another Sharpe book since then (fifteen years ago!). I also read non-Sharpe novels Stonehenge and Wildtrack the same year, but after we moved to Nogglestead. And given how much I enjoyed this book, my underwhelmed response to the latter put me off on the Sharpe books, and that’s a shame.

The events of the book take place after Sharpe’s adventures in India (Sharpe’s Tiger, Sharpe’s Triumph, and Sharpe’s Fortress which I have not read). Sharpe is headed to England to join a regiment there. He has booked passage on an Indian cargo ship and has bought furniture and provisions for the trip, but the right before the trip, the warehouse storing his provisions “burns down.” The book begins with Sharpe, in disguise, trying to infiltrate the estate of the merchant’s cousin after receiving a tip that the merchant did not actually die in the fire–and that the “fire” was part of a scam to sell the same goods to other travelers. He recognizes the merchant among his cousin’s entourage, but before he can make a move, a British capitan and some marines appear seeking recompense for the scam perpetrated on them. Although the captain and the marines are handled by the cousin’s guards, Sharpe makes a successful roll to backstab gets the drop on the merchant and gets recompense for his scam, for the captain’s scam, and makes friends with the captain.

When he goes to sea, he finds an old adversary on board posing as a German duke and a pompous British politician with a beautiful wife with whom Sharpe falls in love. While at sea, the merchant ship is captured by a French privateer, but Sharpe manages to help recapture the ship with the help of the captain’s ship. And Sharpe finds himself on the captain’s fast ship hunting for the Revenant, which is not the large bear that almost eats Leonardo di Caprio but instead is a large French ship. Instead of Sharpe’s Trafalgar, Cornwell could have called it Sharpe’s O’Brian Book.

So most of the action takes place at sea and doesn’t involve much, mostly Sharpe wooing the woman and dealing with her husband’s secretary who tries to blackmail him. It has a lot of detail about ship’s operations along with some drilling because just as the ship is about to catch the Revenant it is summoned to participate in the Battle of Trafalgar. And, as luck would have it, they get to battle the Revenant up close and personal.

Sharpe remains a bit of an anti-hero, although he does seem to be trending a little more traditionally heroic in this book. In researching this book, I discovered that Cornwell did not write the books in chronological order. He published the eighth book in the chronological history in 1981 and only sixteen years later did he publish Sharpe’s Tiger. This book came out in 2000 (my edition is a later paperback edition), so it was twenty years since Cornwell’s first Sharpe novel. Interesting, and now I’ll have to look to see how they hang together when I get to the actual start of the series in publication order.

As I mentioned, I enjoyed the book and don’t know why I’ve waited so long to get back to it. I was tempted to blow off the rest of the Winter Reading Challenge–I have more than enough for a mug now–and jump back into it, but I probably will try to get as many of the fifteen categories as I can before hitting this series again. It looks like the series has 26 books in it so far, mostly dealing with the the war against Napoleon. I don’t have that many (yet), but the books are written to be individual novels and not relying on too much knowing what happened immediately preceding the book you have in hand. Which is good, as I’ve already skipped gaps (both in the series and in a decade and a half of real time) with no great loss of reading pleasure.

The O’Brian books will likely have to wait, though.

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Book Report: Generation B Music & Melodies by Ernie Bedell (2022)

Book coverI picked up this book last year during the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge, but it did not slot into any of those categories. This year, though, it could slot into either of two categories: Author of a Different Race/Religion Than Your Own (which I already filled with Karate-dō Nyūmon) or Featuring Music. So I have slotted it into the latter, but I do like the additional thrill of reading books that can fit into more than one category.

The book looks like it might have been, at inception, an oral history or a family history that Bedell put together of his musical family, his grandparents, parents, and uncles as well as he and his siblings (a family of eleven siblings) for the next generation–his younger siblings and his grandchildren. As such, the books layout is lacking–it looks to be simply a dumped word processor document whose formatting was lost in the translation to whatever print-on-demand service the author used. Photos are laid out oddly, their captions are misplaced, section headings are widowed (they appear at the bottom of the page and the section starts on the next page). Additionally, the text repeats itself in several places, sometimes a phrase, sometimes a sentence, and sometimes a couple of paragraphs as though in editing, the author copied and pasted instead of cut and pasted. Listen to me on this point, gentle reader; recall, it has been said that my books suck but they look professional whilst sucking.

So it’s an unpolished work, and it does seem a bit voyeurish to look this closely at another person’s family, but the author has some interesting stories to… well, allude to. Born into a musical family, the author, some siblings, and neighborhood kids form a touring band (the Fabulous Elites) in high school in the 1960s (1950s? The book jumps around a lot and does not often root one into the exact time). After a couple of years of performing, the group winnows to a smaller group that tours regionally into the 1970s (The KC Express). When that band’s members starts to settle down, some of them buy and run a club on Commercial Street.

I say that the stories are alluded to because, for the most part, the author just dumps names and some events without building them into fully fleshed-out stories. It kind of reminded me of Danny Mile’s Twice a Week Heroes in that regard except with fast-pitch softball players swapped out for musicians.

Still, I’m glad I read it, and I’ll have to keep an eye out for the author and his current band, ABS Band. I’ll also watch for his bands’ records and recordings when I am out and about.

The last bit of the book has a roll call of the current generation of musicians and artists (again, the book has a bit of a family album feel), and you might have been wondering, is Gary Bedell, artist/author of Thawed a member of the family? Of course!

But what really made me go “Hmmm…” was this bit talking about the author’s grandfather:

I remember my mother’s father, Harry Piggee, was a jolly person full of spunk and who always had a smile on his face. His military background included both Navy and Army amd my grandfather “Piggee” loved the military.

* * * *

My mom was a housewife who took care of us kids. She was a woman who had a love for poetry and a gift for writing it.

Hmmm… Military. Poetry. Could Ronald E. Piggee, author of As Autumn Approaches, be a distant part of this family? It would explain how that small-run book would have found its way to Springfield.

At any rate, the book has promise, but I’d wait for the second edition if I were you.

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Book Report: Karate-dō Nyūmon by Gichin Funakoshi (1943, 1994)

Book coverThe 2024 Winter Reading Challenge has a category “Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own” because of course it does. To a librarian, the common library user around these parts only read Karen Kingsbury, James Patterson, and other white authors (probably Assemblies of God church members at that), so compelling patrons to read something else will elevate those patrons to the level of identity box-checking librarians everywhere.

I started out looking from something of a different religion. I wanted to avoid having to read a fat tome by Mencius or Confucius or Aristotle or Plato. I pulled The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam in the Classics Club edition, figuring the fellow was probably Muslim, but I discovered that the book was translated and “refined” by an Englishman probably so much that it was not “by” Omar Khayyam much at all. Then I uncovered The Broken Spear, the Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico, but it, too, was so clearly that would fall under the rubric of a different religion, but it, too was compiled by a Mexican historian in the 20th century, so I could not be sure.

Ah, the heck with it, I would go with race then. In lieu of looking at the authors’ pictures on the dust jackets (where available), I figured I would just grab one of the martial arts books I have that are written by someone from Japan. And here we are.

I bought this book last year 2022 (although I write 2024 on my checks, I am still thinking of 2022 as “last year”) at ABC Books and note that I read another of the six books I bought that day, A Beginner’s Guide to Glass Engraving, as part of the Winter Reading Challenge last year (in which “last year” is actually 2023, but not by much). So if I keep up this pace, I will have read all six books I bought that day by 2028. A daunting deadline to be sure.

At any rate, this is the translation of a 1943 work by Karate master Funakoshi who learned the art form back when it was still a hidden practice on Okinawa and then demonstrated it and opened a school in Tokyo. If you’re doing the math correctly, you will notice that this book first appeared in Japan during the war, which made me feel a little like a traitor in reading it. This book appeared not long after the Durants’ Our Oriental Heritage, for crying out loud, although this translation/edition came out in 1994. Past the 1980s martial arts cultural explosion, but there’s continued to be a market for them as the Martial Arts section at ABC Books and its barrenness continues to attest.

So this book is part history of Karate (and Okinawa and the southern part of Japan by extension), autobiography, and the description of a particular kata that the author’s school emphasizes (and briefly compares it and the other kata it uses to other schools and the evolution of kata). It has a number of static images from the kata, including the steps that feature a partner, but it’s hard to get the flow from a kata from text description and pictures. Heck, in my experience, it’s hard to get the flow of a kata from repeated demonstrations and practices (and, apparently, it’s hard to teach them as well, which is probably why my school moved away from them when it tried to introduce them 6 or so years ago).

At any rate, a quick read, more informative on the history of Karate than anything else. And an entry for the Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own which could almost be part of the Published Before You Were Born category, as it appeared in Japanese presumably before my parents were born (and before the author’s countrymen shot my grandfather on the author’s home island of Okinawa) but this particular edition is from 1994, so as a pedant, I can’t use it in that category. Besides, I’ve already started a different book for that category (thankfully, not a volume of The Story Of Civilization–I am not that optimistic, and I still have to finish The Greek Life).

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Book Report: Treasure in Hell’s Canyon by Bill Gulick (1979)

Book coverI said when I bought this book in 2021 that I thought this was a children’s book. It’s an ex-library (Springfield-Greene County Library’s Brentwood branch) book with pouches for cards and no computer markings, so it was likely removed from circulation when I was a boy. But event though the dustjacket, in its protective mylar, looks a little like a library binding, it’s not. This would have been a fairly inexpensive hardback western. Apparently, there were over a hundred of them, but not all by Bill Gulick.

The book deals with an attorney in Portland, Oregon, who works with a Chinese importer who has his hand in some shady businesses, but the attorney, Walt, tries to keep him as legal as possible. When the authorities get wind that the importer is bringing in several young women for sale, a friendly cop asks Walt to dissuade the importer. Walt does so at their regular poker game, but ends up winning one of the young ladies in the poker game. She has been taught to please a man, and she does end up pleasing him both as a housekeeper and as a lover, but anti-miscegenation laws don’t permit marriage, and anti-Chinese sentiment, particularly among the Irish, cause trouble for the couple.

Meanwhile, his brother, a prospector, has not only found gold (in Hell’s Canyon) but has legitimate English investors who want to develop it. He would like Walt’s help making it all legal, albeit retroactively.

After a near riot and shooting leave Walt almost dead, the girl nurses him to health, but he decides he must send her back to the importer who arranges a marriage with a laborer. Walt goes to Hell’s Canyon to help his brother, and the girl and her husband join a work team heading inland. Which just happens to end up in Hell’s Canyon as some bad men are planning to rob the mine–and the workers’ camp.

Probably not for modern audiences as although it features anti-Chinese sentiment and bad words, the book itself has a nuanced view of it, defending the Chinese and probably trying to portray the actual friction objectively (the author was a regional historian with other nonfiction tomes in his oeuvre). The imported young ladies are also young to the modern legal framework–the one Walt wins is fifteen–but young marriages were more of a thing in the past, and this is not a book about the perils of human trafficking–it portrays Walt’s relationship with the girl as mature and loving. Still, probably not something one would encounter in a modern book, but I guess I would have to read a modern book to find out.

A short bit, definitely a bit of a pulp feel although this was a Doubleday (Double D) hardback. Less meat to it than a L’Amour or Grey book, but the writing has a bit of knowledge and depth that you don’t get from real, paint-by-the-numbers, publish-a-book-a-month pulp or men’s adventure books.

The author did not have a series of books in the Double D Western line, and I’m not sure I’ve seen another in the wild. But the book sales I go to these days is large, and I don’t tend to hit the fiction sections much at all, much less the Westerns section. So maybe they table(s) is/are lousy with them. Maybe I’ll find them if I ever attend the Christian County or Polk County library fundraisers again, but I don’t get to small, one-room, browse-them-all book sales any more.

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Book Report: Blood Relatives by Ed McBain (1975)

Book coverYou are not mistaken, gentle reader; I have written a book report on this 87th Precinct novel before (in 2006). I picked this copy up at the Friends of the Library book sale in May 2022, and as I noted then, I will pick up mid-career McBains when they’re cheap just in case I don’t already have them. This one has a mylar cover on it to protect the book jacket, but it is only a Book Club edition, so not that collectible. But nice nevertheless.

At any rate, this book is very focused on a single crime, unlike some later books which blended a number of plots, sometimes bringing them together but not always. A girl shows up at the 87th precinct with defensive knife wounds, and her cousin has been stabbed. As they were on the way home from a party, they stopped to outwait a downpour in a tenement/construction site when a man with a knife appeared and wanted the older (17-year-old) girl to perform unspeakable acts. So Carella and Kling investigate, finding a man sleeping off an evening drunk which matches the description, but he is not picked out in a lineup, and the blood on his shirt is not the victims. They look at the dead girl’s boss at the bank where she worked, who matches the description. Then the living cousin fingers her older brother for the crime, and the eventual discovery of the dead girl’s diary indicates it was probably not him.

When I re-read it in 2006, I remembered mostly a memo that appeared as an aside in the book–a police superintendent says that orders using rubber stamps should not be obeyed, but the order is signed by a rubber stamp. Carella puzzles over this for a page or two, and that’s all I remembered from a previous reading. But I remembered the plot, or at least whodunit, this read around.

The book is a brief 151 pages and makes use of the pasted-in interview notes, memos, and documents style where these appear in a different font. They pad out what might only have been a novella to short book length. I can see why McBain would later include more than one plotline in later books: He was moving from a paperback sensibility to a $25 hardback value-in-length mindset.

Still, I like his old stuff as much as the new, and I’m always happy to find them in the wild. Even if I come home to discover I already have it.

This book will fit into the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge Suspense category. It’s only a one-fer, though, as it doesn’t look as though it fits in other categories.

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Book Report: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1928, 2002)

Book coverI bought this book in May 2008, when I was young and life was good. Little did I know I would be reading it in the hellscape of 2024 almost sixteen years later. Did I say, “hellscape”? Damned autocorrect! I started typing “2024 Winter Reading Challenge.”

Originally, I’d planned to use this book in the Historical Fiction Outside the U.S. category as it was slightly historical fiction when it was published in 1928. Set in World War I France, it tells the story of a group of school boys who enlisted in the German army together and who end up on the front lines in France. The first-person main character, Paul, has a bit of a poetic soul, and one can imagine him keeping this as sort of a diary although the book doesn’t mention that–but I seem to remember that the 1979 television movie adaptation had John Boy writing in a little book (but I could be mistaken, as I saw that film in school while it, the adaptation, was fairly new).

The book details how the group goes through training with a sadistic leader, and then they go off to the front. The book details the conditions on the front, in the trenches, and how the soldiers lived. It zeroes in on a couple of incidents: A charge over the top; Paul’s month-long liberty, when he visits his home and family a changed man; Paul’s presence on a reconnaisance which traps him in a shell hole when an attack comes, leading to his stabbing a French soldier and watching him die; an interlude where the group guards a supply depot in an evacuated village and get to live well until the French advance; Paul’s trip with a comrade to a hospital after they’re wounded, and then finally the return to the front, where the group dies one-by-one until Paul dies right before the armistice.

So the book kind of blends themes from The Red Badge of Courage along with Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist. Anti-war with insights into German deprivations during the war.

Paul demonstrates enough admiration and affiliation with an older soldier to likely have kept students in homoeroticism theme papers for decades, but not enough to slot the book into the LGBTQ+ Character category, so I’ll put this into Made Into A Movie/TV Show, although ever the pedantic, I feel like I’m cheating because this has not been adapted into a movie, but it has been made thrice into films or a television movie. None of which I have seen in over thirty years.

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The Briefly Made Bed of Nogglestead

Ah, gentle reader. Every morning, I make our bed at Nogglestead because, at some point in my life probably coinciding with moving into my own apartment but more likely coinciding with getting a serious girlfriend or getting married, I moved beyond just leaving my linens in disarray on my bed and actually making the bed in the mornings. I mean, there’s even a book about it now (not a new book now, I guess, since it was published in 2017).

In the winter, the bed features a set with a heavy comforter and decorative pillows, here modeled by Foot and Roark, PBUT:

I usually make it right after I shower early in the 6 o’clock hour in the AM (both my beautiful wife and I are early risers; she because she just does, me because I want to ensure that the boys get off to school on time).

So it looks nice until sometime in the 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock hour, when I come up for a daily nap. I move a couple of the decorative pillows over and crawl under the comforter.

I snooze for about an hour, and if a cat has curled up against me, when I slip out of bed, I don’t remake the bed if it will disturb the cat.

The bed often remains in that half-discombobulated state until I turn down the beds at night. Sometime around dinner time, I take the pillows off and turn the comforter, blanket, and sheet down for easy access in the evening. I started doing this after one of my wife’s business trips probably a decade ago–she traveled, what, coast to coast and was gone a week, and I wanted to present her with one of the little touches of travel at home. No mints or cookies, though.

So if you break it down, the bed is in a Made state for, what, maybe 5 hours in the day? And then it’s Partially Made for 6 or 7, it’s Turned Down for 2 to 5 hours, and then it’s In Use for 7 to 10 hours.

I haven’t read the book on how much benefit one gets for making the bed for such a brief interval, nor how much might be deducted from the Benefits of Making Your Bed for not re-making it when it would disturb a resting cat. But that’s the state of things at Nogglestead most days. And I am sure it says more about me and my personality than any Internet personality test.

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Book Report: Death in Dittmer by James R. Wilder (2023)

Book coverThis, of course, was the first book I read for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge. Although I could try to slot it into the Western Setting category, it is a Western, albeit one set in the thirties and actually northeast of here. So, no, definitely Published in 2023, and perhaps the first book that I’ve read from 2023. Perhaps the last, although I will likely pick up other works by local authors published last year. So perhaps I should not be melodramatic.

Like previous books, this book picks up immediately after the events in Murder at Morse Mill. The same scene. The bad guy from an even more previous novel has interrupted Christmas dinner with revenge on his mind. As he holds a knife to Chet Harbinson’s daughter’s neck, her boyfriend, whom the bad doctor coshed outside, comes in and kills the intruder with an Indian war axe but loses consciousness from the coshing. Uh, spoiler alert for Murder at Morse Mill there. Chet and his family try to load the boy up into his truck to take him to St. Louis in a blizzard for medical care. They cannot, but the German man who owns the mill comes by with his stronger truck and takes him.

So Chet is wracked with self-doubt and worries that the doctor must have had an accomplice to help escape Leavenworth, where he was incarcerated. So he’s a wreck when a working man laboring for a mean cattle rancher dies one night–well, it’s murder, as the book shows us whodunit: the ne’er-do-well son of the rancher who wants the property promised to the working man and his family to give to a mob-connected man to settle gambling debts. The mob man wants it to build a slaughterhouse he can use to launder mob money. When someone kills the ne’er-do-well son, Harbison and his deputies try to find out who–and the laborer’s son admits to the crime to protect his mother, whom he suspects did it.

The book has other subplots and series business, and it’s a pretty good read. I’m not fond of the book picking up immediately like it’s the next chapter of the last book, as sometimes time passes between reading books in the series (although I read this book but a month after the previous installment). It still takes a bit for the reader to get back into where the last book left off exactly. And, unfortunately, this book ends on a cliffhanger note. Actually, it’s not a cliffhanger–if you didn’t know there was a DUN DUN DUH! coming, you would just expect the book denoued.

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Movie Report: Corky Romano (2001)

Book coverAh, gentle reader. I took my beautiful wife to see this film in the theater. We were young, and we went to the movies often, apparently, and I not only made her suffer through not only films based on Saturday Night Live sketches, but also films starring Saturday Night Live alum. For some reason, we thought this would be a funny film, but she was not impressed.

Twenty-one years later (somehow), I picked the film up at a book sale and popped it into the DVD player. And I enjoyed it enough for what it is: a silly comedy.

Chris Kattan plays the title character, a happy-go-lucky veterinarian, basically a Chris Kattan character, whose father and brothers are mobsters. When their father is indicted, the family calls in Corky to impersonate an FBI agent to steal the evidence that the FBI has on them. So he does, impressing the other agents by resolving situations using his special methods–often frantic and panicked flailing of some sort–as he tries to win the heart of an agent (played by Vinessa Shaw).

It’s lightweight, and I might have enjoyed it a little more this time without worrying about how much my wife was not enjoying it.

You know, for a brief period there around the turn of the century, Chris Kattan was a movie star–well, all right, he was also in A Night at the Roxbury and Undercover Brother, both of which I saw in the cinema, so maybe Chris Kattan was just in movies that I went to–but lately (and by lately, I mean for the last almost two decades), he’s had guest starring roles on television and in other films, so he’s kept busy. Hopefully on his terms.

So: An amusing little bit if you’re in the mood for some slapstick and some late 1990s sensibilities. Not as crass as films that come later and a bit better-spirited, but it does have some drug humor and whatnot (but not the trope where the main characters purposefully get wasted to get into whacky situations or let their true selves shine).

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Movie Report: The Lost Swordship (1979)

Book coverAh, gentle reader, I picked up this film with a heavy heart. As I mentioned in July, I spotted a nice rapier in a cabinet at Relics and wanted to buy it, but I did not want to pay cash for it, instead hoping that I would get gift money somewhere and could return. So the week after Christmas, when I had to stop by Relics for a Christmas gift for friends for whom I’d hoped to make something but did not, I had Christmas gift money in hand to buy the rapier. And…. It was gone. The little cabinet that had been stocked with blades of all kinds was down to a katana, a couple sword canes, a bayonet, and a couple of knives. I was greatly disappointed, but I did not buy the katana as I was hoping for a rapier. So for three days, I hemmed and hawed and decided I would take the katana since I have space on my wall, and it was slightly less expensive than the rapier. And on New Year’s Day, and I went to Relics, and…. The katana was also gone; the cabinet only had a couple of knives and sword canes left. I am not even tempted to buy any of them.

So it perhaps was fitting that I popped in this film, which I bought at Relics with Christmas 2022’s gift card.

Natively entitled Piao xiang jian yu, this is a 1977 Taiwanese kung fu film. Surely this would not have made it to American late night television in time for us to have seen in on a Saturday night in 1981 or 1982 after Hawaii Five-O. If it was on Kung-Fu Theater in Milwaukee a few years after release, though, I might have seen it before. But unlikely.

At any rate, the story: A “Bishop” (according to the subtitles)–attacks a monastery or martial arts school and kills its members but the son of the owner(?) survives and vows revenge. Meanwhile, another martial artist finds his wife has been kidnapped or killed by the Bishop. He vows revenge. The other guy is her lover. One of them is impressed into the service of “the Bishop” to save her and the other goes looking for her. The one not in the Bishop’s service ends up being taught by two thieves to swordfight with special tricks like throwing the sword like a deadly boomerang. In the end, they team up and discover “the Bishop” was the wife/lover all along.

To be honest, I found the film hard to follow. The two male leads, the husband and the lover, both have long hair and wore it similarly, so I didn’t realize at first that they were different people. The subtitles didn’t help–they were inconsistently paced so that sometimes, short subtitles would be up for a long time, but other times, a longer block of text comprising a couple of lines would show and disappear quickly. So one watched the action on the screen at the risk of missing the plot points.

I didn’t find much on this film online–the IMDB entry and a couple of similar if not scraped Web sites–but on Letterboxd, other reviews indicate that the editing of this film made it hard to follow for other people, perhaps not just those of us dwelling on the subtitles trying to follow the plot.

So, yeah, kung fu theater. Okay if you’re into this thing, but not enough to make one forget the loss of a sword that could have been mine.

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2023 Reading In Review

Well, gentle reader, it has come a time for an accounting. Or a counting. How many books did I read in 2023?

Well, I held the accounting period open for a couple extra days, to the end of the year–normally, I call a lid on the counting sometime after Christmas, but I held out to the end of the year to more align it with the beginning of the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge–and then finished The Making of the Old Testament on January 2 before beginning a book for the Winter Reading Challenge.

So here’s the list.

66 books in all. Not a lot of heavy reading in the year; the only classical or heady things are The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories, Our Oriental Heritage, and maybe Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist. A lot of local authors, a couple of westerns, and some pulp.

It’s funny how the Winter Reading Challenge dominates my reading year. Well, maybe not dominates, but it does guide my reading for the year. Last year, it accounted for 14 of the books I read (21%).

I’m already buckling down in my reading this year for the reading challenge, so perhaps I can get it out of the way before the end of February. And maybe pick up The Greek Life, the second volume of The Story of Civilization, again. If I read one of those a year, I can finish the set in 2034. Ah, but I have so many fine sets to read in between the pulp. I should stop typing and settle in by the fire with a book or two.

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