Book Report: House on the Rock (1988)

Book coverStrangely enough, I am pretty sure that I read a later version of this book not long after I visited in 2015. Although I have not done a direct comparison of the two, both are copyright by the House on the Rock, so this book is essentially what I would have picked up if I had visited the House on the Rock if I’d had an intact family that took vacations in high school.

So my memories of the House on the Rock track with the ones I had when I originally read the later version (and the trip was fresher in my mind): A lot of the rooms, especially the original ones, were dark, and I didn’t remember them except as a block of the dark rooms. I remember the giant carousel, some of the automaton music machines, and the room with the little drug store automatons.

Other rooms that I remember, such as the giant sculpture of a sea monster fight and the infinity room (the finger of glass that extends over the valley, where you can walk out and look around) are represented in the back of the book with artist renderings because they were only then under construction. Well, the effect was to make everything else feel like I had seen it after riding out to it in the back of a 1967 Chevy Impala.

A nice return to a memory. I am hoping to get back to Wisconsin this year or next, but not the House on the Rock. I have been, and I have the souvenir books.

Kim du Toit: Metalhead

So, yesterday, Kim du Toit extolled the virtues of symphonic metal, recommending the works of Nightwish (both Floor and Tarja), Epica, Ayreon, Within Temptation, and Battle Beast (I happened to be listening to their eponymous album whilst reading his post).

No mention of Semblant (whose album Obscura I listened to before the Battle Beast, and who properly is classified as Brazilian death metal, but Mizuho Lin was also trained classically) or Amaranthe.

Also, no pictures, which is unlike him.

So I will remedy that.

Elize Ryd,
Mizuho Lin,
Sharon van Adel,
Within Temptation
Noora Louhimo,
Battle Beast

Also, let us not forget that Amaranthe’s “82nd All The Way” is the best Swedish band cover of another Swedish band’s (Sabaton’s) song about American Congressional Medal of Honor winner Alvin York you’ll hear all day:

Or, as I like to call it, The Plank Song, because when it comes on at the gym, I have to stop what I’m doing to try to do a plank through the whole song. I’m not there yet.

Book Report: Complete Karate by J. Allen Queen (1994)

Book coverThis is another martial arts book I picked up at ABC Books, this one almost a year and a half ago. In the Before Times.

This book is a textbook for starting Karate or its derivative martial arts forms. Judging by the history it presents, most martial arts derive from a karate way in the past, with differences arising in different places (Tae Kwon Do, from Korea, features more kicking than Japanese forms of Karate because the Koreans tended to be taller than the Japanese, the book asserts–I have no idea if the science and anthropology bears this out, but it makes sense).

The book covers early elements of starting out, including pickin a gi (some of the ones in the book are quite spangled). It talks about basic strikes, but mostly with only the two-photo method and then goes into using those techniques in sparring and in kata (forms, where you do a choreographed set of moves). It also identifies some warm-up and other exercises you can do before class or as part of class to loosen up or increase your flexibility.

As it focuses on traditional strikes and not the boxing that my school focuses on, but I don’t wonder if I can see an evolution in the curriculum from sparring. When I started out six or seven years ago, some of the existing black belts threw back fists and jump punches that caught us n00bs by surprise. Except for the instructors, they’re all gone now. We really didn’t cover those strikes back in those days, and only covered the knife hand and ridge hand (karate chops) a little bit. Now we don’t cover them at all, and in free sparring, I can catch the newer students by surprise with the more traditional strikes since they’re trained and have practiced watching for boxing strikes. Also, I am the old man there now. I think one or two students might be older than I am, but none of the instructors are.

Jeez, every time I think of that, I feel the need to ice something.

So this book is kind of bifurcated in focus, perhaps on purpose: It is targeted to people who have yet to take a martial art–hence the talk about gear and gis, but also a source book to remember the different techniques. So it’s pretty good, better than some of the others I’ve browsed.

I Thought We Were Past The “Haw-Haw!” Stage, But No

Missouri senator calling for limits on local lockdowns tests positive for COVID-19

There’s no mention of his condition nor a hope for his recovery; no, just the stain of a positive test coupled with the bad things he said (that is, Republican positions on various issues), and casting wider aspersions on the Republicans who have not taken The Crisis seriously enough and have been/should be punished with the stain of a positive coronavirus test.

Nothing but making sure that everyone knows that this fellow, who thinks wrongly, bears the stain.

As The Prophets Foretold

I got this book at ABC Books.

When I got it home, I did put it directly on the read shelves in the poetry corner, where I discovered that although I do indeed have a volume with Tennyson Illustrated on the cover, they are not, in fact, in the same set nor are they by the same publisher. I guess everyone at the end of the 19th century was doing lush editions of current (!) poets.

I did put it immediately on the read shelf next to the Tennyson and the other collections of poetry from the 1800s that I own (except for the one that I am currently reading, sort of). I mean, I did buy some slightly younger (early 20th century) reading copies of Longfellow’s work last spring from ABC Books when I was placing orders. So I have those to read and later put on the shelf beside this book.

The nice display shelf has the old Tennyson, the new old Longfellow, the Ogden Nash I have read over the years, the Wordsworth and Millay my sainted mother bought me for Christmas thirty (!) years ago, and some Riley and Whittier. I’ve had to start double-stacking books even here (which is why Jane Eyre is on a poetry shelf), so I have hidden an embarrassingly large selection of Rod McKuen.

So, gentle reader, does this move me into the category of blue-blood book collector, or am I still in my more comfortable blue collar mere book accumulator?

I suppose I will turn a corner if I have an insurance agent give me a rider on my homeowner insurance for the books. I’m just afraid to have them appraised and found wanting.

Book Report: Gettysburg Visions by Sam Weaver (2002)

Book coverThis is the size and shape of a poetry chapbook, but it’s printed on glossy paper with four color pictures throughout. So it was anything but chap, gentle reader. Apparently, the author has a ministry of his own (Oil and Wine Ministries) where you can actually download this book and his others as a PDF for free without having to pay ABC Books $3.50 for it.

At any rate, the poems are simple rhymed numbers based on the Battle of Gettysburg triggered by the author’s visit. They talk about Jesus’ forgiveness and how soldiers on both sides received grace as all were sinners redeemed by the savior. It’s a thought that might be a little nuanced for modern audiences. But probably not those reading Bible-inspired poetry published by a ministry organization.

So a very quick read indeed, as half the book is color pictures of the battlefield. It also has a collection of Bible verses tied to the poems, so there’s some learning in addition to just reading poetry. But the poetry itself doesn’t rise much above grandmother poetry, although to be honest, I still prefer it to more modern Good Poetry.

Book Report: Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (2003)

Book coverThis book fills the Books about Books slot in the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge. The conceit is that it’s a topical list of reading that identifies a topic and then lists a bunch of books about the topic that you might want to read. The author is a long-time librarian and a contributor to a public radio station or two.

With that in mind, one might think the book lists would skew in a certain political direction. One needs only get to the American History Nonfiction section, page 20, where the first recommendation is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Okay, so, yeah. But the politics don’t overwhelm the book–it was 2003, after all, and Bush was only slightly Hitler when the author was finishing the book. So the politics are not overt nor hateful, but some do inform the choices and the selections of topics.

The books comes off as a series of listicles, like you might find on a blog back in 2003 (or 2021). I found myself skimming more than reading, looking more for books that I have read that she recommends (some) more than recommendations (I already have thousands to read on my shelves, so I won’t be rushing out to buy new books until…. well, the next time I go to ABC Books, which is likely soon).

She has some author-specific “Don’t Miss This Author” recommendations which include Robert Heinlein and Ross Thomas, authors whom I have read and enjoyed.

I flagged a couple things:

In the topic Biographical Novels:

Reading The Death of Ché Guevara by Jay Cantor makes it easy to see how the charismatic Castro’s closest pal during the Cuban Revoluton was. The book is fast moving and sympathetic to both Ché Guevara and the cause. Cantor was clearly as captivated by the energy and humanity of the man as were Ché’s many followers.

So, yeah, politics inform the selections. But not hatefully. Strangely, too, she applies the accute accent to his name even though it’s not represented in the book title or other references to Che’s name.

The following, from the section Politics of Fiction, is even more timely now than in 2003:

Charles McCarry’s Shelley’s Heart tells the story of a presidential election that is stolen by computer fraud, and the winning and losing candidates whose lives are changed by the outcome. Eerily familiar, this is a perfect novel for today’s paranoia-filled world.

Me, to the author in 2003: Just you wait!

I also flagged a couple books I’d read or will read soon–she mentions Steven Saylor, whose Last Seen in Massilia I read in ancient times and one of whose books I stacked up for the Historical category in the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge–and also Jane Eyre–but I stopped flagging the books to whose book reports I could link. They were scattered enough that I was not tacking a slip to every page.

At any rate, I didn’t really flag any books to hunt down, as I mentioned (except maybe The Golden Gate, a novel made of sonnets), but perhaps I will kind-of, sort-of remember the recommendations in the book when confronted with some of the authors mentioned within at the book sales. But I likely won’t remember acutely why I decided to pick up an Iris Murdoch or why I decided to read The Last Picture Show, which I have in paperback on the outer rank of books in the hall, soon.

But it did fill a line in the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge form, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Training for a Triathlon

Book coverSo I have discovered that the Springfield Parks will hold their now-annual indoor triathlon at the Chesterfield Family Center, and that it’s in two weeks.

So I have started training and recovered with this new sports drink.

I mean, this has to be good for you, ainna? It’s got Fit right in the name and a man running on the label.

I have been drinking mostly red blends and zins of late, so I cannot comment too intelligently on a cabernet, but this was pleasant to drink and a nice change from the usual.

Book Report: Sid Meier’s MEMOIR! by Sid Meier with Jennifer Lee Noonan (2020)

Book coverI bought this book partly with gift cards after Christmas. As one of the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge categories is Memoir/Biography, you can guess which one I picked up first. And, probably, which one I said to myself One more chapter a couple nights before going to bed, wherein one more chapter sometimes meant more than one.

Okay, so for those of you who don’t know who Sid Meier is: Well, this book can explain that. He was one of the founders of MicroProse, who left MicroProse to found Firaxis, and even before he created the Civilization franchise which continues to dominate my free time, he was responsible for numerous games that shaped my beautiful wife and I’s lives. MicroProse also did F-15 Strike Eagle and whatnot; he/they made Pirates! which I just installed on my Windows 10 box, and it works, but not in a nice windowed mode; and he was responsible for the licensed Magic: The Gathering game that my beautiful wife has been able to hack and install on machines up until Windows 10. So, yeah, we have played a lot of them.

The book tells his story from his youth, his learning computers, his time in Switzerland, and onto the rudimentary games that he wrote in college and as a young man working for General Instrument, a cash register company. Then he and Bill Staley founded MicroProse, and the rest was history in the making. They developed flight simulators, including Gunship which I played for hours and hours in the trailer in Murphy, Missouri, when I had time for hours and hours of Gunship, D&D, and watching movies over and over again on Showtime–however did I have that many hours in the day?

The early chapters recount the history of MicroProse and then Firaxis on an almost year-by-year pace, tying each chapter to video games released that year. In the early chapters, they come fast and furious, and Meier (and Noonan) work in his back story and early life while they do. Later, as Meier becomes a recognized brand and becomes more of a team leader and executive, and the actual narratives of game development and running the company fade, and we get more general musings on games as education and whatnot.

So Meier’s philosophy has always been to build something fun, not just something that will sell (especially by slapping Sid Meier’s name on it). He sticks to turn-based games mostly, and although towards the end we do get some modernization and some attempts at MMORPG and console games, his work still seems old fashioned in a good way.

So I liked the book, and I liked Sid Meier, the person, as presented in the book. It made him real, it made him humble, and it made him seem like a fellow I would like to know.

ABC Books Sets The Bait

I saw this on ABC Books’ Facebook page the other day:

Of course, I have to have it.

I actually own the Tennyson volume in the set. Actually, I somehow ended up with two copies of the Tennyson volume, one of which I have to my mother-in-law, a former English teacher.

I think my volume is already in the poetry section of the read shelves along with several older volumes of verse that I have not actually read. And a paperback copy of Wordsworth that I try to read from time to time. Back in the old days, I would sometimes put poetry collections on the read shelves, especially omnibus editions or complete collection kinds of works. Now, I put them on the to-read shelves for eventual, maybe, reading.

At any rate, the race is on between me going to ABC Books and either buying this book or finding it’s too expensive for a casual purchase and me forgetting about it entirely. Las Vegas gives the odds in favor of the latter.

Your Macabre Thought for Wednesday

I tend to start Christmas shopping very early; I have mentioned that, come Christmas day, I am often as surprised as my gift recipients because by the time Christmas rolls around, the Christmas gifts have been wrapped and stored for eight months, and I’ve forgotten what I got for everyone.

The last two years, though, I have had to open and occasionally re-gift things that I have bought for people who have died during the year.

Yesterday, as I was walking in a antique mall flea market, I thought, What if I pass away before Christmas, leaving my Christmas shopping half-done and with people wondering about how I prioritized them, with gifts for people with whom I haven’t spoken in years but not my immediate family?

Whether that thought was macabre or merely rationalizing more trips to antique malls and flea markets, I leave to you to decide.

Book Report: We Live On Mackinac Island (2017)

Book coverI bought this on Mackinac Island on our trip north in 2018; I previously read Mackinac Island: Its History in Pictures.

This book is a little FAQ put tohether, presumably, by the public school on the island. It has about 500 full time residents, and they mostly live in the settled neighborhoods, and, yes, they have a grocery store and a hardware store that are open in the winter.

A quick read as it’s a booklet and a good reminder of the time we went there. And a couple bucks for the school which they’ve already spent.

Something about it, though, is hitting me in my hermit spot. I mean, we’re finishing the first, what, third? of brown season here in Missouri. We had a couple of days of snow dustings a week and a half ago that made it look wintery, but…. I read this book, and I have this craving to go live in a small, snug cabin up north with me, my books, coffee, soup, maybe some salted fish, and a wood fire where I would, I dunno, write and work seasonally and then hole up for the entire winter with permission to sit and read and nap.

Of course, it sounds nice, and it might be a good month or season, but I probably would tire of it after a bit. But I do get all hibernatey in the winter time, going out somewhat reluctantly. Which is weird because it doesn’t tend to get wintery like I associate with Winter down here.

Why I Shop For Records At Antique Malls

As you know, gentle reader, I received a gift certificate from a real record shop for Christmas and went to spend it over the holidays. Was that only two weeks ago? Man, it seems like a long, long time ago.

At any rate, I had just bought a couple Chuck Mangione albums three days earlier while redeeming gift cards with the children, so I was clearly in the mood. But I didn’t find Feels So Good, the album that contains the nine-minute version of the hit song which WSIE plays from time-to-time and what I consider the epitome of light 1970s chill music.

Well, I had a little time to kill yesterday before picking my youngest up from an afterschool activity. Instead of going to Hooked on Books, I went to the nearby antique mall flea market, Ozarks Treasures, to walk off a half hour. I figured if nothing else, I might find some Christmas gifts for 2021’s survivors.

But I found Feels So Good. For $2.

Someone has written TNT over his mouth; they did not selectively blacken teeth. Which is a subtly less offensive defacing.

I might have flipped past this record several times in 2019 and 2020 and only consciously discovered it now as I am building up my Chuck Mangione collection.

The guy behind the counter recognized Chuck Mangione, but only because the cashier said Chuck Mangione played himself in the cartoon King of the Hill several times over that shows run (which ended 10 years ago, old man). Which probably explains why the fellow at the record store recognized the name Chuck Mangione but not the album Feels So Good or the song by the same name. Ay. I am an old man: recognizing the old musicians for their music and not their appearances in animated television shows.

At any rate, a word about the antique mall/flea market market: I have noticed over the late Christmas shopping season and this trip that the stores have a higher than normal number of empty booths. Perhaps the new normal temporarily until these places go out of business completely, the next new normal. The number of booths with records was smaller, too, weighted a bit more heavily to booths with $10 common records versus $2 common records. I saw piles of video media, some booths with DVDs at $1 or $2 (cheaper than buying them at a defunctuating video store, but not the same experience browsing) and some booths with VHS cassettes at $10. So less to look over overall, but still, one always has the chance of finding a steal like I did yesterday.

Book Report: whiskey words & a shovel I by r.h. Sin (2017)

Book coverAs you might remember, I bought this book online from ABC Books during the Great Apausening last Spring. I started it after January 2, so this is the first book I completed in the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge.

Well, the author mentions early in the book that he’s widely quoted (in the same poem that he knocks Trump), and apparently he’s a going thing and a New York Times best seller. This book is, after all, published by a major publisher (Andrews McMeel), but it’s not my bag, baby.

I mean, you know I knocked Like the Pieces of Driftwood for its sentences with line breaks. You know by now, gentle reader, that I like longer lines with rhythm, cadence, good mouthfeel, and evocative imagery. This book is more modern, with short lines with rare concrete imagery.

For example, one of the poems starts like this (presented in a snippet, in an image, to make it harder for poetry poachers like Harvey to scrape them into collections of his own for sale for five bucks–what, fifteen years ago and I’m still bringing it up?):

So, it’s very modern in appearance, cadence, and execution. Some of the stuff that’s very short kinda hits the good haiku koan kind of thing, but the longer pieces don’t tend to work. Although I can certainly see them in spots where they’re the kind of thing that could easily appear on an image that’s passed around on Facebook or something.

As to the topic matter, basically, the poems have three threads:

  • Girl, you’re duplicitous and aren’t worth my love.
  • Girl, you’re strong and beautiful just the way you are. (If these were posted with images on Facebook, they would be misattributed to Ryan Gosling and would start with “Hey girl” [sic].).
  • Girl, I love you and we’re going to be so happy.

I was thinking maybe that this guy was very unlucky in love–hey, my own collection Coffee House Memories is full of my own poems written to unrequited loves, loves that did me wrong, loves that I done wrong, and loves I did right. However, when I read the introduction (last, as is my wont, of course), I learned that all the poems were about a single break-up, courtship, and requiting with a new love–but the poems were all jumbled together. Which makes me feel a bit better for the poet-narrator throughout.

And I was a little surprised at one point when the poet-narrator mentioned his brown skin–and I learned that the poet is indeed black. Most of the time, black poets (such as Robery Hayden and Langston Hughes) tackle the topic of race, but this collection sticks a more universal themes. So I appreciated that.

Still, not my kind of poetry, but the man has got his following in this Internet age, so good for him.

Picking Over The Bones

This weekend, we stopped at Family Video. The stores are closing, and they are liquidating all their stock and fixtures. Everything must go. And the boys had fragmentary gift cards from Christmases past.

So once more, I browsed the remaining shelves of DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. I spotted a couple that I had previously rented. But the prices were not, in fact, desperate–the DVDs were $4.99, the prices they would have listed when the tried to sell the DVDs as they rotated them out. But I bought a stack anyway.

Because, gentle reader, this will likely be the last time I browse DVDs at a video rental store or any store for that matter.

I know, gentle reader, I suffer more last times for everything than actually occur (for example, the bottle of Mr. Bubble mentioned in The Future Forgotten Bottle of Mr. Bubble actually got used up, another secured, and that one used up, so there is currently no half-empty bottle of Mr. Bubble to be forgotten, but the bath toys are long gone now).

But the industry changes that killed Family Video–that studios are starting to bypass physical media for their own streaming services–will kill what remains of physical stock are in movie shops. I mean, I used to browse Best Buys on Friday nights to pick out a couple films to watch over the weekend, but when I was in Best Buy recently, I looked over their very thin movie section. I guess I could browse Vintage Stock/Entertainmart, but their videos tend to only show the spines, whereas the video store showed them face out. Maybe it’s a change in me as much as anything.

But, yeah, it’s probably the end of something I’ve done with increasing intermittency, for, what, thirty-five years?

Yeah, it’s been a maudlin weekend.

Although, given my pace for film watching these days, the six that I bought will last for four years or so.

Reasons Why Brian J. Will Not Be Ripped


“By the end of the first season, I was as low as 176 pounds, eating around 1,700 calories each day,” Zabka told Men’s Health.

I remember one of the instructors at my martial arts school saying some years back that if he ate a cheeseburger, it really stuck to him.

Jeez, I cannot imagine living on 1700 calories a day. I eat that much at many meals.

Yeah, my drive for fitness ends on the other side of indulging in what I want to eat and drink and not worrying about it.

Sorry if this disappoints you, gentle reader, but I am not going to sacrifice my doughnuts for my film career.

Instead, I think I’ll hang out with the triathlon people, many of whom look like they’d better fit in a bowling league than in multisports. Kind of like I do.

It Seems Like A Gift In Kind

As I mentioned, I gave my boys for Christmas pieces of paper that announce they are lords of Sealand and Scotland. What am I expecting in return? Well, this wouldn’t hurt: Inside the £18million mansion no one wants that takes 30 minutes to walk through:

An 18th Century mansion is up for sale at a guide price of £18m and is so big it takes 30 minutes to walk through.

The Irish estate includes part of ancient woodland and is made up of 1,050 acres.

The abbey was set up by a group of monks back in the mid-12th century, in Co Laois, and is the most expensive property publicly listed in the Republic of Ireland right now.

* * * *

The mansion was built by James Wyatt in 1773, and includes nine bedrooms, 10 bathrooms as well as 10 lodges and cottages on the grounds.

Abbey Leix comprises of 26,910 square feet of private estate, ancient woodland and even the country’s oldest oak tree.

The stunning country house is positioned within a private estate and frontage to the River Nore.

It takes a full half-hour to tour the three-storey mansion alone, and extra to walk around the immediate grounds.

The house is filled with classic Irish furniture an art, which some is available to acquire if new owners want to buy them.

Forget the furniture; what’s the serf tenant situation? Do I have people to work the land for me, or will I have to raid Scotland on my own?

Wait a minute:

The original library was replaced with the new state dining room but a smaller library remains in its place.

Well, never mind then. I’ll have to spend my thirty dollars somewhere else.

Wait a minute: I have just been handed a note. Apparently, the exchange rate is not $30 to £18,000,000. I must have confused it with Euros. Perhaps I should pay more attention to exchange rates before I direct my real estate professional to make an offer next time. It will prevent international incidents like that one in the future, and I might not get officially banned from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the future and being put on the Guinness No-Buy list. Consider this my mealy-worded apology that does not work anyway and only serves to make me look weak. Thank you, that is all.

Book Report: Like the Pieces of Driftwood by Jon Francis (1979)

Book coverI bought this book at ABC Books a couple weeks ago and started the book as a browser during football games that weekend. Which means I cannot count it as my Poetry book for the library winter reading challenge. Because although I didn’t see it in the rules anywhere, I’m playing the game that I need to read the whole book in the prevailing period, not just the last half of it (as I did with this book) or the introduction (which I read last in Wuthering Heights).

The author of this book apparently liked to travel along the Pacific coast, often in the winter, and write about his experiences and people, often women, he met. This is his fourth collection of poetry, essentially self-published, but as that was 1979, he is a man lost to time. I tried to look for things about him on the Internet. I briefly worried that I would discover that he wandered into the woods and dies like that McCandless kid–I mean, there’s a lot of rootlessness and wandering in this book–and on of my searches found the Jon Francis Foundation, named after a kid who died in a mountain climbing accident and it took his family a year of searching to find his remains in the wilderness. But it’s not the same guy. The only traces we have of this guy, or at least in the first couple pages of search results, are listing for his books on various Web sites.

At any rate, the poetry of the author is the conversational kind of things you get from casual poetry of that era, akin to Rod McKuen or James Kavanaugh. Not as formal as grandmother poetry with end rhymes (but not the modern short line paradigm, either). But mostly they’re sentences with line breaks expressing sentiments rather than evoking them. Here’s a sample of one’s beginning, presented in image form:

I mean, prose as poem because it has line breaks and line breaks between paragraphs, which means verses.

So, kind of relatable, but not very poetic.

However, he probably sold more books of poetry before he faded into obscurity, so he’s got that going for him.

I did want to take a moment to speculate on something. The photo on the back cover is a black and white image captioned “Jon and Trip on the Mendocino Coast.” And I for the life cannot figure out what Trip is. I’ve tucked it under the fold here in case you want to try with a large image to speculate.

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