Book Report: Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas (1954)

Book coverI just read Thomas’s short story Holiday Memory, but upon checking my notes (this blog), I see that just read was almost five years ago. Tempus fuhgeddaboudit.

This is called “A Play for Voices,” which probably means a radio drama more than a stage play. The cast of characters indicates why: There are 63 named “voices” in the play. Apparently, this drama debuted as a staged reading in New York City with six people (including Thomas) doing all the voices. It must have been confusing to watch and keep up with it without the names above the spoken words, as several voices (Drowned One, Drowned Two, and so on) appear, say their line, and then disappear for half of the play only to reappear later. In context, you can kind of figure out who they are–they’re more types than real characters–but to see this on stage with only six people doing five voices each would have been underwhelming.

At any rate, the drama is a limited omniscient slice-of-life day of a small town where not much happens. You look into the minds of lovers, husbands and wives, the clergyman, and a variety of other characters as they go through their day. And CUT!

I mean, there’s no plot to speak of; we get some characterizations of the various characters, but it’s just a day in their lives.

The words are poetic and would be pleasant to listen to, but the “play” lacks any drive or development beyond its presentation of this day in the life. So it, too, underwhelmed me.

I’m going to start an idle speculation about the evolution of drama. In the old days, like 1592, you read a lot of drama about heroic characters (or tragic ones), kings and princes and whatnot, but in the 20th century, is there a shift to more working people and common people as protagonists (as it were)? Does this reflect a shift in the audience–from common people seeing heroic stories to academic and upper class people watching stories about distant lives of the common folk? I suppose I could write an academic paper or a book making that argument and throw in how today’s commoners flock to movies about outsized heroes. Were I so inclined and not so lazy.

At any rate, worth a read if you’re into Thomasania.

This completes my reading of the four books I bought at ABC Books this month. I thought about going up on Saturday to buy more, but I decided that I have enough to read for now. If they have an author signing next week, however….

Book Report: Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1592, 1978)

Book coverThis is the third of four books I bought at ABC Books earlier this month that I have read in this, the same month I bought them. What a triumph it will be to return to the place of purchase and announce that I’ve read all the books I bought the last time I was in! Which will not, really, be much of a triumph at all, and I’m the only one who will take any delight in it at all.

At any rate, you probably know the story of Dr. Faust by now: A learned medieval philosopher/scientist reaches what he thinks are the limits of knowledge through traditional learning, consults with some sorcerors, and makes a pact with the devil. In exchange for his soul, he gets 24 years of magickal supremacy. Although he starts out with grand dreams of power and what he’s going to do with them, over time it turns out he does not much, and then the devil claims his soul.

I’ve seen an operatic performance of the story (not this story) where Faust is redeemed in the end, but that’s not how it happens in this story.

So the story is an archetype we see re-written today, but it can also be seen as a comment on man’s condition in the world, where man becomes earthly and fritters away what powers he has whilst in the world. Or maybe I’m just getting middle aged and seeing signs of how I’m puttering my way through my life and I’m seeing that as a storyline where it’s not.

Regardless, it’s a play in blank verse. A long introduction talks about variations between the texts and relates the work to contemporary other works by Marlowe and Shakespeare, but I skipped this until after I read the text itself. I have hammered home again and again how I prefer to do this because the scholarly professor’s intercession on your unlearned behalf often kills or at least mutes the desire to read something.

The play itself is 90 pages of text, but sometimes a third of that is given to footnotes explaining things that someone with an English degree (or at least one that steeps the undergrad in Shakespeare, Jonson, and Chaucer) is going to know anyway and differences between the A and B text. So it’s a quicker read than that.

I enjoyed it, and I enjoy being able to say I’ve read it. A two-fer.

I think I have Goethe’s work around here somewhere. Perhaps I’ll pick it up sooner rather than later for a compare and contrast. If I remember, and if I find it.

Ross Thomas Makes It Big

Well, I’m pretty sure the author made it big enough during his lifetime.

But here in the 21st century, 25 years after his death, his 1984 book Briarpatch is getting a television treatment:

The explosive opening of USA’s “Briarpatch” promises that this new series, starring Rosario Dawson as a crusading investigator uncovering hometown corruption, will continue to offer bang for its buck.

That doesn’t quite happen, but “Briarpatch,” adapted from Ross Thomas’ 1984 crime fiction novel, does provide enough of a compelling storyline to keep viewers guessing where it will all eventually lead.

I’m kind of pleased.

It’s been five years since I’ve read a Ross Thomas paperback, but I have plenty scattered amongst the library, possibly including Briarpatch. So when I end up reading one of them in the near future, you’ll know why.

(Previously reported: The Porkchoppers, The Mordida Man, and Voodoo, Ltd..)

Book Report: Life After Death by T.A. Kantonen (1962)

Book coverThis book is a short (54 pages) theological explanation of the (or perhaps a) Christian view of life after death based on Biblical texts. It talks about what life is, what death is, what happens at death, and what happens in the final reconciliation / resurrection.

He definitely explains the monistic Christian idea of the soul+body combination versus the dualist notion that the soul exists outside the body and takes issue with the common conception that someone who dies goes immediately to Heaven and then talks about the resurrection of the body (and soul). So it runs a little counter to popular sermon fodder and populist notions of life after death.

The author draws upon biblical sources but also classical literary sources (Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold) along with theological sources and delves into different philosophies such as Platonism, Aristotleanism, and Existentialism to contrast them to Christian thought and explains how different translations of Greek texts have led to the popular misconceptions. So it’s a heady and literary work, but it’s not academic–the mentions of these other sources and philosophies are kind of pointers toward more examination rather than requiring esoteric knowledge of others’ footnotes to understand this work.

Personally, I contrast this book with its learnedness but targeted to common laity circa 1962 with common Christian best-sellers of today, and I find them lacking. Even though I have not read a bunch of them, they’re a bit contemporary self-affirming from what I said, whereas this is deeper. Not quite the Tillich (alluded to in this book), but scholarly enough.

Oh, and another thing. I flagged a mention in the section of What Is Our Relation To The Dead regarding ESP:

The depths of the human heart and the experiences to which they lead must not be treated lightly. In our day research in extrasensory perception has indeed afforded remarkable insights into the potentialities lying in personal relations, far exceeding the ordinary. But the exploration of that experience and the determination of its genuineness must be left to the psychologists. The concern of Christian faith is man’s relation to God.

You probably don’t get many such references in contemporary works to ESP as being possible and not necessarily demonic, either.

For some reason, when I bought this book at St. Michael’s book fair in Lemay in 2009, I thought it was a play. Which would have made it fit right in with the drama I have been reading to start the new year.

The Shadows of Nogglestead

So my oldest son played Destiny 2: Shadowkeep the other night and didn’t like it because it was too hard–which means different from the first person shooters he’s accustomed to.

As my beautiful wife and I ate dinner, I mentioned to her what he said, and then I thought of Shadow Chasers, a short-lived television series from the eighties that could have been a comedic blueprint for the more successful The X-Files.

I hadn’t thought of this show in years. But the Shadowkeep brought it to mind.

Almost as a non sequitur, my wife said, “In 2052, we’ll be eighty.”

It would almost be a non sequitur, and it might have seemed so to her, but I corrected her. “Shadowrun is set in 2050.”

Although she was not a big roleplaying gamer back in the day–or a television watcher who would have seen one of the eight episodes of Shadow Chasers that aired–our martial arts school is in Shadowood Plaza, and I have told her at least once that the name of the plaza reminds me of Shadowrun. Which I never played, by the way.

So we really hit for the cycle on geekery: Video games, esoteric television, role playing games, and martial arts based on the word “shadow.”

I’m Through The Worst Of It

This is when middle age really starts to suck: study:

A new study confirms that middle age is unpleasant as hell, but there’s an exact moment where the malaise reaches its peak. Dartmouth College professor David Blanchflower was able to pinpoint that midlife torment reaches its crest at 47.2 years old.

The economic study, distributed Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, used data across 132 countries, including 95 developing and 37 developed nations to determine the connection to well-being and age. The researchers concluded that every country has a U-shaped “happiness curve,” with the lowest point at 47.2 years old for developed countries, while a developing nation reaches its low point at 48.2 years old.

I’d have to say that my 47th year, which is ending soon, has not been the best or most satisfying one in my young life. If I believed in economic studies, I’d be encouraged.

Rather, I believe in myself. So I’m encouraged.

It’s The Wrong Strategy, Cotton

Report: ‘Kevin and Liz’ Springfield morning show canceled as iHeartMedia slashes staff nationwide:

Liz Delany, longtime host of a popular morning drive time show on KGBX along with co-host Kevin Howard, confirmed Wednesday morning that “The Kevin and Liz Show” was canceled.

“Before you hear it elsewhere, the Kevin and Liz show was canceled as of today,” read a post on Delany’s Facebook account. “I love this community and I’ve been proud to serve it during these last 21 years. Thank you all for supporting us for so long. I’m going to miss talking to you every day. God bless you, Liz.”

Broadcast radio is definitely facing serious competition with Spotify and other media, not to mention the occasional audio book or course in my vehicles. No doubt.

But I’m not sure firing the local personalities that radio audiences know is the right strategy.

The show’s cancellation came on the heels of major cuts nationwide by KGBX’s parent company, iHeartMedia, which announced a corporate restructuring earlier this week. The goal, officials said in a news release, was “to take advantage of the significant investments (iHeartMedia) has made in technology and artificial intelligence.”

So, instead, we’re going to get broadcast radio that sounds more like Spotify, but with smaller playlists selected for you by artificial intelligence that you don’t control.

I suppose it’s the sort of thinking that makes short-term sense. Cash outlays are down. But the decline in listenership will hasten.

On Being Early

Patrice Lewis links to a Guardian story “Beat the Clock: The Surprising Psychology Behind Being Perpetually Late“, and she (Ms. Lewis) asks:

So what end of the spectrum do you hit? Are you early or late? And what’s your logic/reasoning/motive behind it?

I am on the early side. I think it’s because I don’t want to be rude and I don’t want to make a spectacle of myself coming in late and being unprepared for whatever.

I have a tendency to be really early, like being a half hour early to pick my boys up or drop them off. I used to be so early dropping my boys off to school that it became common to drive “around the block” a couple miles to kill some time until the school actually opened. And when going to job interviews, I’d end up being an hour early, find the company where I was to interview, and then drive twenty minutes down the road and twenty minutes back to be a little early.

The problem might have worsened when we moved to the Springfield area from the St. Louis area. In St. Louis, you might have to drive for forty-five inutes from one suburb to another for things and commute an hour. So I got used to that and built in some extra time, natch. But here in the Springfield area, you can go from our house outside the southwest corner of Springfield to ABC Books, all the way in the northwest corner of Springfield proper, in about twenty minutes. An hour’s drive will take you to another city (Joplin or Marshfield or Branson) past a lot of rural country. But I have tended to retain my sense that I need to leave an hour early to go downtown.

I am working on it, though. Just yesterday, I knew I had to pick up my boys at 5:30 and that it would take fifteen or twenty minutes to get to their school, and although I wanted to leave at 4:45, I waited until 5:00. And then grew anxious because I was afraid I’d be late.

So, nah, I’ll just give up on trying to be just on time. I mean, I know you’re supposed to get out of your comfort zone, but I think I’ll do it in other ways than taking a chance that I might, possibly, but not likely, be late.

Wrong Weapon For The Job

Kansas man requests ‘trial by combat’ with swords to settle custody battle with ex-wife:

A Kansas man has asked an Iowa judge to let him engage in a sword fight with his ex-wife and her attorney so that he can “rend their souls” from their bodies.

. . . .

He also asked the judge for 12 weeks’ time so he could secure Japanese samurai swords.

As there’s no armor, I would recommend the rapier.

As I am sure I have mentioned over and over again, when my martial arts class was studying swords and sparring, I was a relative master because I fought rapier-style and poked my opponents far faster than they could swing a psuedo-katana at me.

(Link via Instapundit.)

Book Report: The Yogi Book by Yogi Berra (1999)

Book coverI got this book in November (I have read two of those five books so far, but I have been to ABC Books since then, so no rush to read them all soon). When I was looking for something else this weekend, I found the book and wondered where I’d gotten it and how long it had been on the shelves. Not long, a quick search of this blog reveals. Which is why I have this blog: to help me remember.

At any rate, this collection is not as deep and dense as even When You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It!. Instead, it’s a collection of quotes from Berra, one per page, with photos from his life and captions that explain the photo, the quote, or both. So I was able to browse it easily during playoff football games and following. Which was nice.

A pleasant enough browse and read if you’re into Berraiana. Which, apparently, I am.

A Very Brian J. Injury

So I have a cut on my head.

Clearly, I did not cut myself shaving as I am not shaving my head (yet). So, what happened, you ask?

Well, I got cut with a blade.

Sounds tough, ainna? Well, not really. It’s clearly not a knife wound.

An ice skate blade did this to me.

Well, no, I only wish it had happened doing something manly like hockey.

For ten years except for a couple of trips to the ice park (well, maybe only one), my beautiful wife has hung her ice skates on a nail in the garage, a nail on the front of the built-in shelving. The shelves feature many such nails, and we hang grill brushes, calendars, and at one time a thermometer from these nails. And her skates, ostensibly to protect the blades from the damage that would occur if we just tumbled them in a bin with other sporting goods.

So this weekend, when I was putting away some bottled water under the shelving, I stood up into the skates and nicked my head.

It’s not the first time.

So what makes this a very Brian J. injury? That I’ve not moved the skates to a nail in a more remote location in the garage. Partially this.

But, more to the point: I have engaged in a month- (soon to be months-) long project of cleaning up and organizing my garage, which involves sorting, packing, and donating various jetsam that has appeared in our garage. And, during the course of this re-organization, I discovered knit ice skate blade covers, and they made their way to a diminishing pile of things on the floor to deal with later.

So the very objects that would have protected my fragile gourd lie useless on the floor mere feet away whilst I cut myself on the ice skate blades. I worked around the ice skate blade covers during my working sessions and walked past them several times a day without taking a minute to actually put them on the ice skates.

I have done so now.

But it’s a very Brian J. thing to not do a little thing that eventually turns into a big thing. Or, in this case, a physical injury and perhaps a wicked scar whose origin I will hereafter obfuscate by saying, “I got cut,” and not want to talk about it.

Book Report: Our Town by Thornton Wilder (1938, 1985)

Book coverFor some reason, I had gotten it into my head that this particular play was one of the most popular plays produced by high school theatre groups. I have no idea where I got that idea–I am pretty sure it predates wide adoption of the World Wide Web–but if it’s true, I can see why. The play has a lot of characters, and most of them have a manageable (that is, few and easily memorized) set of lines. Perfect for kids getting their feet wet on stage with a couple of more involved roles for those who are natural at it and will go to Hollywood in a couple of years to have their dreams crushed. Also, it’s a play within a play!

So, about the play: It’s a high-level view of a town in three acts. The main role is the Stage Hand who narrates and breaks the fourth wall to exposit a lot about the town and its inhabitants which are kind of treated like it’s a play, but the people in the play don’t know it (hello, Mr. Shakespeare). The acts focus on two families at home, the town doctor and the paper editor, with wives and two children each. A bit slice-of-lifeish, with the first when the kids are young, the second when the son of one family is going to marry the daughter of the other, and the third at the too-soon funeral of the now-married daughter who communes with townspeople who have predeceased her.

So it’s not a very plot-driven play, as there’s no central story to it. A lot of characters walk on and have a couple of lines, sometimes about irrelevant other towns people (threads that are knit loosely into the play, but aren’t central to it). It reminded me a lot of The Time Of Your Life by William Saroyan, and I see they are contemporaneous (have I used that word in two straight book reports? Indeed.). Too many characters, too little intensely driving them.

Although I guess I liked this one a little better since it sort of celebrates bourgeous values more, although the overarching message might be one of subtle Existentialism.

This is the second of the four books that I bought this month at ABC Books (the first, of course, was The Heart in Hiding, a poetry collection). Given that the other two are also plays, it is entirely possible that I will have read them all by the next time I go to ABC Books. At which time, should it be so, I will proudly announce it to Mitchell and/or Mrs. E. So now it’s a goal (much like my goal to read all of the books I bought at Calvin’s Books last year before the end of the year–a goal I met, gentle reader).

My Alleged Cousin Passes Away

‘Alice’ Child Star Philip McKeon Dies at 55

It’s not something from or some other genealogy site, and I haven’t tried to confirm it, but when we were growing up, someone told us that we were distant cousins by marriage to Philip and Nancy McKeon. Which would have meant much more to a ten-year-old in 1982 than today.

In researching this post, I learned that my alleged cousin Nancy has kept busy acting and whatnot throughout our lifetimes, but I haven’t seen her in anything since the 1980s.

Headline Writer Swings and Misses

Two people escape from a house fire near Battlefield, Mo.

I’m not sure why they would categorize this as near Battlefield, Mo. Here is the 2300 block of South Nolting Avenue, the scene of the fire:

Notice the town of Battlefield, Missouri, in the southwest corner.

Although this particular block is in unincorporated Greene County, it is surrounded on three sides by Springfield, Missouri, which has an isthmus that leads to the City Utilities power plant and some surrounding land. Nolting is far nearer to Springfield (a couple of blocks) than a town a couple miles away:


Forensically speaking, I would guess that someone told the headline writer that the fire was near Battlefield, and the headline writer surmised that meant the town and filled in the state name. However, in Springfield speak, Battlefield more often means Battlefield Road which is just south of the fire location.

A small case of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect? Hardly–I don’t believe much of anything I read in the news anyway. But an example of a small mistake that one can extrapolate means other small or large mistakes in basic reporting, much less anything technical or scientific.

Book Report: Samuel Bourne: Images of India by Arthur Ollman (1983)

Book coverI had thought this might be a good book to browse during football games, but it turned out not. The book is actually weighted heavily to text, in small print, that talks about the photographer and his trips (well, trip to India which lasted roughly seven years) and the hardships of taking piles of photographic equipment of the middle nineteenth century into the Himalayas and around the Indian subcontinent.

In most cases, I decry a heavy text-to-image ratio in art and photography books, but in this case, I found it suiting since the story of his treks and whatnot were more informative and interesting than the photographs themselves. I mean, we have a couple mountain passes, a couple portraits, and a couple forts/monasteries, with an occasional figure thrown in to give a sense of scale (and sometimes the best part of viewing a photo was playing Where’s Waldo? in trying to pick out the tiny human in front of the great mountains). But they are mostly landscapes, interesting undoubtedly in their time to viewers who had not actually seen photographs of these places before. But here in the 21st century, we have it all in IMAX.

So I found the photos themselves less interesting than the contemporaneous Civil War pictures of Matthew Brady as the latter has historical significance. But the story of getting the images from this book are far more interesting than Brady’s photography given that Brady had pretty level ground and roads to get there.

Bourne was a principle in a photography shop called Bourne and Shepherd that sold prints of the photos Bourne and his partner took as well as doing portraits and official photography and whatnot. Founded in 1863, this business just closed in 2016. Which itself is fascinating.

So worth a read (22 pages, but two columns and small type) even more than a browse. It helps if you can remember the historical context, though: people seeing actual pictures of far away lands and being able to buy them for their own homes.

This is a former Springfield Art Museum library book which I just picked up last May, but the last date stamped (!) into the book is 1990. So no one has (probably) looked at this volume in thirty years. Which seems kind of sad, but it will probably languish on my bookshelves for that long as well unless my estate sale is sooner than that.

Office Holder Put Into Position As Part Of International Financier’s Secret Plan To Remake Criminal Justice System In United States Says What?

Gardner alleges racist conspiracy in federal civil rights lawsuit against St. Louis, police union

The first black woman elected as circuit attorney in the city of St. Louis is taking long-standing racial tensions, specifically between her office and the police department, to federal court.

On Monday, Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging a racist conspiracy to stop her from doing her job. Gardner is suing the city of St. Louis; the St. Louis Police Officers Association and its longtime business manager Jeff Roorda; a former police officer named Charles Lane who sued Gardner’s office; and Gerard Carmody and his children, who are the private attorneys appointed as special prosecutors to investigate her office’s handling of the investigation of former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Is this a conspiracy? George Soros’ quiet overhaul of the U.S. justice system:

While America’s political kingmakers inject their millions into high-profile presidential and congressional contests, Democratic mega-donor George Soros has directed his wealth into an under-the-radar 2016 campaign to advance one of the progressive movement’s core goals — reshaping the American justice system.

The billionaire financier has channeled more than $3 million into seven local district-attorney campaigns in six states over the past year — a sum that exceeds the total spent on the 2016 presidential campaign by all but a handful of rival super-donors.

Gardner would probably disagree, as she received some of that money from a foreign national: St. Louis circuit attorney candidate defends accepting super PAC campaign money from liberal billionaire.

Well, perhaps it’s a plan, but it’s probably not shadowy enough to be a true conspiracy, and it’s certainly not racist in the headline sense.

But I really wish our system of government hadn’t turned into a reality television show designed to entertain its own participants.

The Conformist Society Produces No Individualist Iconoclasts

I was reading or hearing something about the difference between conformist societies like the ones you find in China and Japan with the individualist societies you find in the West. Strangely, I cannot remember where I read this. A book? An Internet article? An audio course?

However, that little insight answers this question for you: Why Does China Have 1.4 Billion People and No Good Bands?:

Fans attribute the success of the Hu to the group’s blending of Western metal with local styles. But it’s only the most well-packaged instance of an ongoing phenomenon. Mongolia has a strong tradition of rock groups working to modernize traditional sounds. Altan Urag, a Mongolian folk rock group from the capital of Ulaanbaatar, first succeeded in electrifying traditional Mongolian instruments almost 15 years ago. And it gave heavy metal the distinctive growl of throat singing with its seminal 2006 album, Made In Altan Urag. Mongolian bands like Khusugtun, Altain Orgil, Jonon, and Mohanik have all tweaked folk music to modern ends.

That’s a stark contrast with Mongolia’s neighbor China. Despite having 1.4 billion people to Mongolia’s mere 3 million, there’s no such thing as a distinctive Chinese national sound that mixes tradition and modernity in the same way Mongolians do—at least none that has become a serious commercial player. Instead, China has been left churning out a stream of pale imitations of other countries’ genres. That raises a big question: Why does Mongolian music slap so hard and Chinese music (with a few exceptions) suck?

Because metal musicians would be a threat to the regime/social order and would be punished.

I would be remiss in not posting a sample of The Hu:

If you will excuse me, I’m off to study Mongolian so I can put that on my gym playlist.

Also, the over/under on Mongolia conquering China, again, is twelve years.

(Link via Instapundit.)