Book Report: Vengeance Is Mine! by Sage Hunter (2022)

Book coverI got this book the last time Sleuth Ink came to ABC Books for a signing in July. Wait, maybe it’s not the last time ABC Books had a book signing for the group–maybe it’s just the last time that I went. ABC Books has been racking up the book signings since, and I have been missing a lot of them. I’m also playing the little interior drama will I go to the Friends of the Library Book Sale? It starts today, and I am not sure about going. I am really, really running out of space for books and LPs. And yet the odds that I attend are still fairly high even though I won’t decide to do it until Saturday morning.

At any rate, this book presents itself as a Christian Suspense Novel, but it’s not, really. It’s more of a Christian romance or melodrama. A young man with a family moves to Springfield Lake City from a small town in the region with a promise of a contract by a known developer based on a relatively recently deceased mogul from Springfield. However, this business owner has the reputation for screwing over subcontractors who work for him, driving them into bankruptcy. The young man pretty much bets it all on this one contract and gets put behind the eight ball when a flood wipes away his work and makes it difficult for him to making the spring Lake–no, it’s spring in this case–and missing the deadline would trigger financial penalties.

The pressures of the job lead him to pulling away from his pregnant wife. Then a series of unfortunate events occurs: A car hits their house, the husband is t-boned by a car which puts him in the hospital, the wife has her baby, the husband befriends the homeless near the job site and eats with them at the mission, and the wife get hit over the head when visiting the job site which puts her in the hospital as well. The family pulls apart and comes together, the husband finds the faith that the wife always had, and then an unrelated investigation handles the bad businessman in the last couple of pages.

The writing is not bad, but the plotting is a rather melodramatic. The book is a bit talky–I know, I know, if you’ve read John Donnelly’s Gold, you could say the same about it. But the worst part is some of the detail work which just doesn’t ring true. Now, I’ve not been in a maternity ward in fifteen years, but the description of the events of the wife’s giving birth and that whole thing–she hasn’t seen the baby in a long time? From my recollection, the mother is supposed to suckle the child a whole lot. I’ve been in an ER and in hospitals, and some of those elements don’t ring true. And the owner of a landscaping business who spends months moping around a job site and a husband counting on that one thing for all of his family’s finances…. Well, these things did not feel right.

I always feel bad when I pan the work of local authors who have put in the effort to write and self-publish novels. I mean, it’s been almost 20 years since I finished my magnus opus. Reading these books inspires me, though, to see other people doing it. And I’m hopeful that the authors I review will go on to write more and better in the future, unlike me.

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Book Report: Fraktur: The Illuminated Manuscripts of the Pennsylvania Dutch by Frances Lichten (1958)

Book coverI forgot to include Fraktur in my list of disparate vocabulary words I will soon forget, but fraktur is one of them. Because suddenly I found myself reading this book, which I undoubtedly got in a Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale bundle of chapbooks for $1.

The booklet contains the contents of a talk that the author gave when the Free Library of Pennsylvania got a large collection of fraktur documents. Fraktur refers not only to a font/typeface of German printing but also to the freehand documents produced by German immigrants in Pennsylvania in the late 18th through the late to middle 19th centuries.

Basically, if you wanted to have a birth certificate or a marriage certificate in those days, you’d hire a wandering illustrator to write one up for you are pre-printed forms from the county office were not available. The Pennsylvania “Dutch” (Deutsch) mostly spoke German, so they hired German-speakers to write them up, and the producers also decorated the documents with little illustrations. The Free Library of Pennsylvania in the middle of the last century (hey, old man!) got a private collection (and later another) of these historical documents.

And, you know what? It was an interesting little read.

The talk/booklet gives a bit of history, some description, and a couple of stories. She tells of finding an illustration of a crocodile on one such document and wondering how a German-American circa 1850 knew how to draw a crocodile, so she starts looking at educational spellers, in German, and finds the very illustration the artist reproduced. She also briefly outlines one such itinerant artist who spent years going community to community, sleeping in the rail depots, and earning just a bit writing and illustrating fraktur.

It’s 26 pages, so the length of a long essay or something that the New England slicks produced before they became mere propaganda mills.

And, gentle reader, you might wonder, Does Brian J. have any fraktur? Well, gentle reader, I might, although a photo reproduction. I have in a rolled tube somewhere a large photograph or slick reproduction of my great Aunt Laura’s birth certificate from the late 19th century (I assume), and from what I remember, it is in German, elaborate, and quite likely frakturic. It has been a while since I’ve gone into the archives–about a year and a quarter ago I had to come up with my marriage license, and although I did not find mine (I am married–I remember that pretty clearly even though I might have gotten a little wavery and woozy when she came down the aisle), I found many others in the family–and I would likely have put this document to the side un-unrolled as I knew what it was and I was not interested.

I am interested now. So I got more out of this book, and more interest on things outside this book, than I get from most books I read.

The author has a couple of other books available on Amazon and eBay from the first half of the last century, but this one does not look to be widely available. As it is collectible, perhaps I should put it in a special place on my read shelves. Undoubtedly, wherever I put it, it will be the place where I cannot find it again.

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Book Report: The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories by O. Henry (1987)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, when I reported on The Best of Saki, when I was younger and had probably only read a short-story or two from O. Henry, I confused the two because they were both wry/humorous short story writers who used pseudonyms and were basically contemporaries albeit on different sides of the Atlantic ocean. I also read a book whose author called O. Henry blended with The Twilight Zone, so I thought I would familiarize myself with the O. Henry to see if the comparison was apt. And, well, sometimes.

So the first two stories, “The Gift of the Magi” and “A Retrieved Reformation”, are the ones you see most anthologized in textbooks. In the first, a husband and wife living on a strict budget sell their most precious possessions (hair and a wristwatch) to buy a Christmas present for the other–which augments the precious possession pawned. In the second, a safecracker is in town for a job, but goes straight when he falls in love and opens a shoe store. But when children are accidentally locked into the new bank vault, he uses his old skills to open the vault under the eyes of the lawman who just caught up with him–but who lets the safecracker go (which reminds me a lot of The Outlaw Josey Wales which might have drawn inspiration from the story).

The book has 27 other stories in it, and I’m too lazy to enumerate them all here. They kind of fall into two camps: love affairs that are missed or are matched and stories about men and/or criminals who don’t get what they’re looking for. Maybe I should break it into three silos, with men getting or not getting what they want and criminals somehow getting a comeuppance, caught, or turning over another leaf.

If you read a bunch of them in a row, they’re a bit repetitive. I mean, we have two stories in 29 where old friends meet after a time where one is now a cop and the other a lawbreaker and the cop cannot bring himself to bust his friend but sort of does due to the twist. The stories do not all end with DUN DUN DUN! They have a little more denouement for that, mostly. And they don’t end up happily–sometimes Richard Cory goes home and puts a bullet in his head (the twist at the end of two or three–or more–of the stories is suicide). But for the most part, they are amusing, or just (justice–I did not forget a word there).

But I was ready after 29 stories to be done. My mother-in-law apparently has the complete works of O. Henry which she inherited from her father, and I cannot imagine trying to go through a multi-volume set at once. Although reading them one or two a month, maybe, or more if you took all the magazines in 1910, that would have been pleasant.

I guess O. Henry doesn’t get much truck with academia these days, which is too bad. He has a lot of good moments and life lessons. And a lot of vocabulary to teach.

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Book Report: Self-Reliance in the 21st Century by Charles Hugh Smith (2022)

Book coverI saw this book mentioned on a blog, and I cannot remember which one. It almost makes me want to create a blog or browser plugin called “Where’d I read that?” which searches the sites on your blog roll and in your browser history to find out where I should attribute credit. Or I could just guess Bayou Renaissance Man, conduct a quick site search over there, and discover yeah, that’s it.

So Bayou Renaissance Man’s preview had the first bit of the book in it, and it looked to maybe be a combination of musing on Emerson’s essay blended with modern prepping tips, and I guess it was that after a fashion. But it read more like a series of blog posts hastily stitched together, and I didn’t get a whole lot out of it. I found it very hard to read, in fact, and then I realized why:

60% or more of the sentences in the book (an estimate, not a count) use the verb is.

Let’s look at the first part of the Bayou Renaissance Man’s excerpt for an example as I am too lazy to type any out on my own:

What is self-reliance?

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice in his 1841 essay Self-Reliance still rings true today: “Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another.”

For Emerson, self-reliance means thinking independently, trusting your own intuition and refusing to take the well-worn path of conforming to others’ expectations.

This celebration of individualism is the norm today, but it was radical in Emerson’s more traditionalist day. What’s striking about Emerson’s description of self-reliance is its internal quality: it’s about one’s intellectual and emotional self-reliance, not the hands-on skills of producing life’s essentials.

Emerson doesn’t describe self-reliance in terms of taking care of oneself in practical terms, such as being able to build a cabin on Walden Pond and live off foraging and a garden like his friend Thoreau. (The land on Walden Pond was owned by Emerson.)

Emerson did not address practical self-reliance because these skills were commonplace in the largely agrarian, rural 1840s. Even city dwellers mostly made their living from practical skills, and the majority of their food came from nearby farms. (Imported sugar, coffee, tea and spices were luxuries.)

The economy of the 1840s was what we would now call localized: most of the goods and services were locally produced, and households provided many of their own basic needs. Global trade in commodities such as tea and porcelain thrived, but these luxuries made up a small part of the economy (one exception being whale oil used for lighting).

Even in the 1840s, few individuals were as self-sufficient as Thoreau. Households met many of their needs themselves, but they relied on trusted personal networks of makers and suppliers for whatever goods and services they could not provide themselves.

Okay, perhaps it’s not 60% in that excerpt, and maybe it’s not 60% in the whole book, but it is a whole lot, and I certainly noticed it and then got bogged down analyzing the writing more than the content. Of course, if you’ve made it this far, you’re looking at that preceeding sentence and are preparing your tu quoque attack because I used is for 60% of the verbs in that particularly convoluted sentence. But this is a blog post, not a book. Not even a book based on blog posts.

Aside from the issue, the content was a bit repetitive, identifying global macro forces that have led us into a tight spot–the book italicises key concepts like landfill economy–that items are produced to have a short useful life after which the owner will scrap them and buy a new one–and then italicizes and defines them again. Useful tips are repeated in different lists of useful tips. And, yes, I did spell italicize both the American and English way because I’m not sure what that one guy in Seoul who keeps searching for mature pantyhose only to get a book report on The Life Expectancy of Pantyhose and the Poems of Middle Age prefers.

At any rate, a couple of good reminders–grow what grows easily, which is good advice if only I could find what aside from grass grows easily in this rocky clay soil and if I could only find something I can do easily and well that would produce a side income. But overall, a lot like reading a blog on paper–and not even a Substack long-form kind of blog, but rather the quick hits and bulleted lists kind. I had a similar response to The Gorilla Mindset by Mike Cernovich last year. I should probably steer clear of bloggers’ nonfiction in the future unless it’s from someone I already read and it promises more substance or more detail than their existing posts.

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Book Report: Ozarks Impressions by Robert E. Gustafson (1995)

Book coverI am not sure when I got this book. It has a Redeemed Books sticker on the back that seems to indicate it was added to their inventory in 2010. So somewhere between then and now. It is a collection of poetry written by a retired economist from a consultancy or think tank and it’s illustrated by his brother, a retired artist. The volume I have is numbered 386 of 1500 and is inscribed to Linda. I found myself musing as much on the history of this book and the men who produced it as the actual contents.

The book contains poems that are built using haikus as the syllable counts for each stanza. The number of haikus per poem, that is, the number of stanzas per poem, varies. The book mostly deals with introspection and landscapes and follows the seasons from spring to winter.

So: okay, the author says they’re haikus, and some of them could stand alone as haikus, but most of them cannot, and they’re just syllable counts for lines in English. I think a much more interesting challenge would have been to make haikus that build upon each other to a common theme or poem, but the poet does not indicate this is the case. Although I am pretty sure the result would have been similar: some good haikus that build to a complete poem, but some haikus that clanged on their own and didn’t rise to independence just serving as filler material in longer poems.

At any rate, an interesting read, fairly quick, sometimes enjoyable, but sometimes questionable. I remember one poem talking about a fox eating turkeys, and given the relative size and feistiness of each, I had a hard time believing it to be true. I would need a Dablemont ruling on that.

So if you can find one of the other 1,499 copies available, it might be worth a glance if only to think What if I tried that?

Also, as an aside, something I learned in Our Oriental Heritage: Apparently, the Japanese were so crazy for hokku when they first came out that they had competitions on who could write the best and they bet on it until the Japanese government put it down (Our Oriental Heritage, 881). I am not sure I would have bet on Gustafson unless I knew something about the other guy.

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Book Report: Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist by Russell McCormmach (1982,1991)

Book coverI picked up this book back in 2007, and likely then as now I confused it for “Night Thoughts of a Quantum Physicist” which was a physics lecture given when I was an adult instead of this novel which was written when I was a boy and must have gotten some use as a textbook, as the volume I have contains some note-taking.

It is a bit of a non-linear story about a classical physicist at the end of his career in the year 1917. He reflects on his career, the physicists he has known, and how Einstein and quantum theory is really not all that–he still believes that aether is the substance tying everything together, and he bemoans that physics has moved from a mechanical understanding of the universe to a mathematical one. The story is set during World War I, when it was becoming clear that the war was not going well for the Germans, so the war and its impact are a counterpoint to the main character’s story–or an augmentation thereof, as he served during the 1870 war with France. The timeline of the story outside the flashbacks and dreams of being judged for being an inadequate physicist takes place over a couple of days starting with a trip to the theatre and through a talk that the professor gives and beyond. He reflects a bit on the suicide of a peer, which leads to a (spoiler alert) final Did he? Probably!

It’s but 157 pages, so a quick read if you’re in it for the fiction. It also comes with 60 pages of end notes and bibliography, essentially, if you want to see how much research the author went through to get details right. But I’m just here for the story, pal. I’ll deal with the math when I come to a copy of “Night Thoughts of a Quantum Physicist” which I probably have around here somewhere. Actually, I both do and do not until I discover I do, and that copy is right now on my to-read bookshelves vibrating in unison with a copy in Berkeley, California, right now.

An interesting read, more literary than a lot of stuff I stuff into my intellectual gullet, and it kind of reminded me of The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy in its end-of-life reflections. Hopefully, the theme is not resonating with me because I am nearing the end of my life, but one never knows. One never knows.

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Book Report: The Adventures of Slim & Howdy by Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn with Bill Fitzhugh (2008)

Book coverI have to say that this is the best novel based on country-and-western album liner notes that I have ever read.

Apparently, Brooks & Dunn’s albums had some stories featuring Slim & Howdy in the liner notes. Gentle reader, I gathered my Brooks & Dunn albums in those dark days of audiocassettes, which contained liner notes in very small type indeed. So I had not seen any of this material before.

Slim and Howdy are a couple of hard luck singers who meet at a used car lot and decide to pool their resources for a bit. They have some adventures recovering Slim’s guitar; wooing a couple of women from a honkytonk who then lead them unwittingly into a burglary; and ultimately into rescuing a friend and employer, the woman who owns the Lost and Found bar in Del Rio, Texas. A border town, get it? Lost and found in a border town? Yeah, the book alludes to a number of Brooks & Dunn songs like this. It probably does more than I know since my collection stops at Hard Working Man, and to be honest (as you can guess, gentle reader) my country and western listening is limited to the rare occasions (rare now as my son is mowing the lawn, and rare as it will be for a year or so until he is too busy or two gone to do so).

The bulk of the book is ultimately (I guess I already said that) to the latter quest–finding the bar owner who has been kidnapped for unknown reasons, but for whom a ransom note eventually arrives. Is it the recently fired employee, a hard case with body piercings making a fake mohawk? Is it the person from whom Slim and Howdy recovered Slim’s guitar, the person who has vowed revenge? Is it someone who has done busines with the woman’s father, who has gotten wealthy not entirely honestly? Or something else?

Well, it’s something else, a bit twee and perhaps expected. It ends up with gunplay that only scratches the heroes but mortally wounds the bad guys. And finis.

Not a bad read. Certainly targeted to Brooks & Dunn fans. The book included a CD single with the song “Gotta Get Me One Of Those”, and very stern warnings indicated you could not return the book if the envelope containing the CD had been breached. I assumed that the CD was missing, as it is on so many of my tech books, but I discovered it is intact and unbroken. Oh, the dilemma: Get the single which I will not listen to often or preserve the collectibility of this book for future generations who will not find it collectible anyway?

Well, gentle reader, they might have saved it from Napster kept it off of the iTunes store and forgotten to make it available on Amazon, but it’s on YouTube:

No word on if it’s available for free on Napster.

I did not break the seal on the CD, anyway, as it is my wont to not adulterate the books I read in any way except for some Dorito dust now and then.

At any rate, an okay, if simply told bit of modern Western. Not the amount of depth you get in, say, Louis L’Amour or James R. Wilder, but a bit of fun for Brooks & Dunn fans. Speaking of whom, holy smokes, those guys are like 70 years old now, and they’ve been retired as a musical act for over a decade. Somehow, in my head, they’re always forty-something like they were when I got the albums in the middle 1990s. And I’m still twenty-something.

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Book Report: Our Oriental Heritage by Will (and Ariel) Durant (1935, 1954)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, I have done it.

All right, I have not read the Durants’ The Story of Civilization series, but I have read the first volume which is a step in that direction. I bought most of the series in 2019, but I had to order this book from Ebay or Amazon. It’s got the embossed stamp of the previous owner, one R. Neil Schirke, on the title page, but the previous owner did not read it. Or so I assume, as this edition was poorly cut so that some of the pages were still wed together at the bottom–I carefully tore them when I needed to turn them, but some portions of the table of contents and index remain unseparated.

I have a bunch of little paper flags in the book, but it’s a lot, so I won’t drop them all here. Instead, I’ll parcel them out as “The Wisdom Of….” posts perhaps. Or I’ll get tired of having the volume on my desk (although I don’t have a place to put it on the Read shelves of Nogglestead with room for its fellows, so no rush).

But I will comment a bit on the Durants’ style and whatnot.

This book covers thousands of years in its almost 1100 pages. It starts out with a “book” defining what it means by civilization–basically, the structure of society and the art that comes with it which distinguish a civilization from a tribe. Then it delves into different civilizations by location and time period starting with the early Mesopotamian civilizations (Sumeria, Egypt, Assyria, Judea, Babylonia, and so on) in the near East; Indian civilizations in the Indus valley; Chinese dynasties; and then Japan (no love for Korea or Mongolia, for example, although the appropriate dynasty is covered in the book on China).

Each “book” within this volume goes through the civilizations discussed not entirely in chronological order, but rather chronological order by topics. So you have a timeline of government and/or social organization, and then you have chapters dedicated to various arts and occupations from industry to writing, philosophy, religion, poetry, sculpture, architecture, and/or painting, and sometimes you get these in sections of chapters which are themselves broken out chronologically. It makes it a little difficult to follow when the chapters discuss which artist was supported by which ruler–I admit I did not take copious notes whilst reading, and so I do not have a solid handle on some of the names and their eras.

Additionally, Durant (or Durants) is (are) Old Left. Which means you get some Marxism mixed into the book, with its attendant glorification of the proletariat (called proletariat and the working people are called proles, for real), denigration of “conservatives,” and even love given to leaders who redistribute wealth–but every time it happens, the system collapses under corruption which the authors blame on the corrupt people and not a system where corrupt people rise to the top. But it’s very subtle, and it only colors the work (red) a little.

Some of the early stuff where there isn’t documentation is a bit speculative, and the more closely that the history comes to Durant’s time, the more it is more current events reporting (and henced colored by his politics). The Durants are quite homers for every civilization–each in this book (and the start of the next) find something superlative for each civilization. Which is encouraging and engaging to read.

I’d wondered what it would be like to read a Chinese history written before the Communist revolution, and this one fits. To be honest, I don’t see a whole lot of difference, though. It talks about the Revolution, but it does not mean the Communist revolution–it means the revolution that overthrew the Manchu (Qing) dynasty, which ended in 1912. That is to say, within twenty-some years of the book’s writing. Living memory. The last imperial dynasty was closer to this book than the Clinton administration is to today (and more so true if you’re reading this in the archives and not in August of 2023). That’s an interesting perspective.

Which leads me to pop off with a couple of other footnotes of events that occur after this book is written that affects the areas the book covers:

  • India becomes independent.
  • Israel becomes a Jewish nation.

The book ends with a “book” on Japan and with a section questioning whether the United States and Japan absolutely had to go to war. Whether or not we had to, we did, and that was a long time ago. Ninety years on, and we’re looking at a new dynasty in China which might be losing its grip and a regime in the United States that might be losing its grip and might pen a piece Must the United States and China go to war? But this would be commentary on current events, not history, not even the first draft of history, but rather what concerns learned men have today and not actual events that have unfolded.

Fortunately, the further volumes in the set deal with ages in Western and European civilization, so we won’t get too much more commentary except for the Old Left flavor.

So I’m on my way, and if I read two volumes of the set per year, I’ll finish in…. 2028. Although that’s discouraging–I’m getting to the age where I wonder if I won’t finish before five years from now–it’s a project I’ve undertaken, and I’m proud to have started. I’m also excited enough about it that I’ve bored people talking about Chinese history at the only party I’ve attended in recent history. So I guess it’s for my own enjoyment and amusement. And yours, gentle reader, and you can think I’m doing it all for you if you would like.

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Book Report: Truth or Dare & Other Tales by V.J. Schultz (2003)

Book coverI got this book last month at ABC Books, and when I saw the date, I thought Was it that long ago? Because somehow July 2023 already seems like a long time ago. I guess it has been a long week for me.

At any rate, this collection of science fiction, horror, and other stories is part of the author’s Take Ten Tales series which has a couple of other books that I passed over because the book signing had multiple offers, so I only bought one book from each.

So I just read Into the Night, another collection by a local author with similar thematics/genresificity. So I cannot help but compare them, and I kind of liked this one better.

It is shorter, which helps, even when I’m starting out. I mean, when I pick up a really thick book, even if I really enjoy it, I tend to get a little antsy with having to stick to the book for a long time, even if it’s only a week or so. Or more, sometimes (details forthcoming). So a quick collection of 10 stories beats out a couple hundred pages of other material.

Although the stories are not as well written–which is not to say they’re poorly written, but they lack a bit of the umami in setup and character development that you get in the beginnings of the stories in Into the Night–but the story structure varies. The stories do not end with a DUN DUN DUH! and a predictable loss on the part of the human characters in the story.

So I consider it a notch above the other book, and when the author returns to ABC Books, I shall pick up some of her other work.

The book also has some room for your handwritten notes and discussion questions in the back of the book, which I thought was interesting. I cannot imagine any of my work being included in a book club discussion, but I guess this author can/could.

The book was published in 2003, which means she has slowly been putting out work over the last twenty years. Me? I’ve got a novel, a collection of poetry, and a full evening play in print, and I’ve not written much outside this blog and some professional articles in that time. Clearly, I need to do better.

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Book Report: Catnapped! by Elaine Viets (2014)

Book coverI mentioned when I read Viets’ collections of columns from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Urban Affairs and Viets Guide to Sex, Travel, and Anything Else That Will Sell This Book in 2009 and 2010 respectively) that I would delve into her fiction. Well, I read both books after we moved from Old Trees to Nogglestead, and I had not seen any of Viets’ fiction until the Lutherans for Life garage sale in 2017. I don’t tend to hang about in the mystery sections of book stores or book sales much these days, so it would have to be a garage sale for me to find them.

Also, I clearly did not jump right into the book six years ago. But it seemed a thing to read between chapters/sections of Our Oriental Heritage.

This book is the 13th entry (of 15) in Viets’ Dead-End Job Mysteries. Which means that the series has a lot of business in it already, and that takes up a good portion of the book.

The main mystery revolves around the purebred kitten of a socialite who shares custody of said cat with her husband. The kitten is kidnapped, or Catnapped! as the title would have it. The main character, Helen Hawthorne, and her husband are private investigators engaged to find the kitten. They find the ex-husband murdered, and the socialite is arrested. Meanwhile, the ex-husband of the owner of their apartment building shows up after thirty years of shacking up with another woman–he wants to reconcile, but she most assuredly does not. When he winds up dead, she, too, is arrested for the murder.

So we have two or three crimes that the duo investigates. It took me a while to get into it–as you know, gentle reader, despite this being the second cozy I’ve read this year (Murder, She Wrote: The Maine Mutiny being the first for the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge), they’re not my bag.

The particular schtick of this series is that Helen Hawthorne had been on the run from an ex-husband in St. Louis, so she takes low skill jobs for cash. According to legend (and by legend, I mean Wikipedia), Viets actually did these jobs before writing about them. By the 13th book in the series, the reason for the schtick–the ex-husband–was a problem solved in an earlier book, so Hawthorne has to go undercover as an assistant cat groomer to get close to a subject and to show us how grooming and cat show exhibiting goes on.

The other bit of series business that takes up a lot of real estate in the book is the group of people who live at the apartment building. They get together every night to watch the sun go down, and they interact a bunch. It does lead up to the third mystery, who poisoned the ex-husband, but it also fills a lot of pages with socializing and chitchat.

Most people don’t start series toward the end (or just the latest, perhaps), but it does detract a bit from the stand-aloneness of each novel. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s a line that authors have to walk between serving their long-time readers who want these elements of the book and those just looking for a mystery. This book goes a bit far in the series business.

At any rate, I liked it well enough that I’ll pick up more Viets books when I run across them, and maybe I’ll even read them six years later.

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Book Report: Into the Night by Caroline Giammanco (2021, 2022)

Book coverI got this book at ABC Books in June at the author’s book signing.

When I bought the book, the author described the short stories as O. Henry mixed with The Twilight Zone. As you might recollect, gentle reader, I read The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia in 2018 and have since accumulated a number of DVDs with episodes on them (and I’ve watched a few). I’ve always found its speculative fiction inspirational in giving me ideas for my own writing, so I looked forward to this book. I bought the author’s first two books of short fiction, and she said she had enough ideas mapped out for another eight or nine books in a similar vein.

The book collects 42 stories in roughly 420 pages, so about ten pages per, more or less. Genres include fantasy, horror, and science fiction along with some that are more speculative than genre-specific. They’re pretty well-written and well-executed for the most part, with interesting characters built with good prose. But….

The O. Henry part rears its head in that most of the stories are structured with that well-crafted beginning of the story that ends on the twist ending in the last sentence, paragraph, or couple of paragraphs. Characters and their situations are built up and then DUN DUN DUN! The demons are loosed upon the world. Or DUN DUN DUN! They were the aliens visiting Earth. Or DUN DUN DUN! The aliens sucked their brains out through their noses!

So it’s a book best taken in sips and not one to read all the way through all at once, as that will highlight how the stories have very similar structures and DUN DUN DUNs. As I said, well-written but formulaic in its own way, and many of the stories could use a little more denouement and maybe not have all of the sympathetic heroes and heroines getting killed by shapeshifting alien serial killers. Once in a while, it would be nice if the plucky small town girl would maybe at least survive.

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Book Report: Earth Games by Ruth Loring (1995)

Book coverI got this book two years ago at ABC Books, and it stayed on the side table for browsing during football games in 2021 and 2022, but I didn’t make it through them, mostly because I kind of gave up on browsing through books during the football games. I’m in a bit of a spot, gentle reader, as I have read fewer than 40 books so far this year, and I’ve always counted on the football browsing to make up some ground in my annual quest for 100 books read at the end of the year kind of like how churches expect to make up an outsized portion of their budgets during Christmas week. Since I gave up the habit of browsing during football games, and we’ve given up any television provider that carries football games, I won’t be doing much browsing at all in the autumn and winter.

At any rate, onto Earth Games. Well, now, this might be Grandmother Poetry: The Next Generation. Blurbs on the back come from grandchildren, and one of them indicates Grandma Ruth is 80. My Internet research (a quick search) found an obituary that aligns with that, so Ruth Loring might well have been a grandmother when these poems came out.

However, unlike the Grandmother poetry that I read from earlier eras, these poems do not often deal with home, family, and Jesus nor do they end with rhymes. Instead, they read more like the instapoetry of Rupi Kaur and Pierre Alex Jeanty in having short lines, stream of consciousness, and abstractions rather than images.

Here’s a taste:


Round and round and round I go
my life an endless zero
forever o-ing money.
Oh oh oh!
Then owe owe owe.
Credit card junkie
and all for naught.

More wordplay than poetry, and like I criticize (most) instapoetry, it has a few good moments scattered throughout but it’s mostly for the amusement of the poet herself.

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Book Report: Jeopardy! by Harry Eisenberg (1995)

Book coverThis book came out a couple of years after The Jeopardy! Book and refers to it as a lightweight cash-grab that only glosses on the show and presents quizzes without actually delving into the backstage workings of the show. Which, come to think of it, is kind of what I said in my review of that book in 2009 (for historical perspective, five years before I auditioned for the program, and seven months before I moved to Nogglestead from Old Trees–so a long time ago).

This book, on the other hand, is written not by ghost writers, but by one of the actual writers (who had just left the show). It includes insights into how one goes about making up the questions for each program as well as how the shows are filmed and some of the personalities involved–Alex Trebek was the producer on the first season, but he was replaced with someone that Merv Griffin had worked with previously. The book also gives short biographies of all the parties involved, from Trebek and Griffin to the various writers, producers, researchers, and receptionists.

The book also tells the history of Kings World who distributed the show and Merv Griffin Productions and how all of that works out, and how Jeopardy! was a surprise holding the #2 game show slot behind Merv Griffin/King World’s Wheel of Fortune.

Which kind of led me to the question: Has the New York Post been ragging on these game shows over the past, what, year to get a better distribution agreement or price? I mean, readers have been subjected to seemingly daily stories mining Twitter for hot takes on anything that anyone said negative about the shows.

For example:

Those are headlines from the last month. And prior to Pat Sajak announcing his retirement, the paper also ran numerous articles about bad puzzles, Sajak’s inappropriate behavior, and so on, to rag on Wheel of Fortune. Like I said, I wonder what’s up with that and suspect it’s a money thing between the Murdochs and Sony, who now owns the shows.

At any rate, definitely a better read than the other book, and probably more insightful into the show than a contestant’s book would be. The Afterword wanders away from the core topic matter and into a bit of a polemic about the role of television, even Jeopardy! on public discourse. It doesn’t really add to the book, but I guess the author thought it was important.

Also, note the timestamp on the book (1995), and note this bit of prescience:

The new game’s experience of its young existence was to be presented to George [the producer] for his comments and approval. If a particular clue bothered him he ordered it replaced. For some reason he hated references to hamsters or gerbils; he seemed to consider these creatures obscene and so that was out. Other no-nos included references to Donald Trump, the quiz show scandals of the 50s, and mentions of Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Jeopardy! declared Donald Trump persona non grata before it was cool. Or maybe it was always cool to a certain set.

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Book Report: Wolves Can’t Fly by Dan Meers (2014)

Book coverI picked up this book from the free books cart at church. I know, gentle reader, it’s not that I lack for something to read. But our church has a free books cart with cullings from the church library and other books that people drop off. Well, other people, not me, as I rarely separate books from the Nogglestead library, and when I do, they are generally not religous or church-friendly titles. Every Sunday, or almost every Sunday, I make my way past this cart and look it over. Most of the time, I don’t pick up anything as Nogglestead is topped up on Bibles and I don’t tend to read devotionals. But I picked up this book because it is the biography of the guy who serves as the main mascot for the Kansas City Chiefs and includes the story of an accident at Arrowhead Stadium that almost killed him.

The book is biographical and starts with his youth, his attendance of Lutheran church and school, and his relationship with his family. He ends up at Mizzou, not too far from his family in St. Charles, Missouri (a little farther than I had to drive once or twice a week to visit my beautiful girlfriend who attended grad school at Mizzou when I was working as a printer in O’Fallon). Although he played high school sports (at Francis Howell North, which was originally M. Gene Henderson Junior High which I briefly attended in the middle 1980s, right before the change to the high school–given that he’s four years older than I am, he must have started elsewhere as the class of 1990 would have been the first to start and finish at FHN), he wasn’t good enough for college–but he tried out to be Truman the Tiger, the Mizzou mascot, and got the gig. And proved very successful at it–he took first or second at national mascot competitions several years running. After college, a university contact got him an interview to be Fredbird, the St. Louis Cardinals’ mascot, and then an interview to be the new Kansas City Chiefs mascot, K.C. Wolf.

Meers has been a faithful Christian throughout his life starting in his youth, but he turns his position as K.C. Wolf into an opportunity to talk to others and to make appearances at schools and in other forums to gently spread the word. He even becomes an ordained minister in the Baptist church and serves as one of the ministers in his church for a time, so he has helped wedding proposals at Arrowhead Stadium and he has performed weddings (and gave away a bride a time or two when her father was unavailable). The book is chock full of Bible versus that inspired Meers at any given moment (and as this book is signed, the signature–K.C. Wolf–has a Bible verse with it). Clearly a Godly man with a story to tell. I was pleased to do further research, and it doesn’t look as though in the nine years since he’s written the book that he’s had any scandal or divorce followed by a quick engagement like some Bible-quoting Facebook friends. Which was reassuring and inspirational in itself.

So, the accident: As part of his act, he does a little bit with a dramatic entrance at football games at Arrowhead. He started out by riding on an ATV, but he’s also appeared via airborne jumps (tried several times, with only a few successes–and the guys landing with parachutes were professionals). Meers had ridden a zip line into the stadium, and in this case he was going to jump off a light with a bungee cord attached to a zip line–I’m not sure how exactly it was supposed to work–but in the rehearsal for the stunt, something went wrong, and he hit the upper deck before the zip line carried him out over the field. The last bit of the book talks about his recovery and return to the field, which he handles through faith, although it was challenging. This book was written and published within the year it happened, so that part is no doubt fresh.

Meers is still the K.C. Wolf, although with less zip lining and crazy stunting now, which is appropriate, since he’s four years older than I am, which would make him almost thirty. Which seems improbable, since he has been the K.C. Wolf for over thirty years. But I am pretty sure time-space itself is warped these days, which makes all of that possible.

So an enjoyable and inspirational book. As intended.

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Book Report: Tough Times in Grubville by James R. Wilder (2019)

Book coverMy goodness, it has been a year and a half since I read the first in the Harbison Mystery series (Terror Near Town, which I read in January 2022). It’s been two years since I got the series at a book signing at ABC Books. This probably means that there’s another one or two in the series since real writers are writing books whilst I write intermittent blog book reports.

This book takes place almost twenty years after Terror Near Town. Set in the Great Depression, Chet Harbison, the Spanish-American War veteran from the first book, is 51 years old and has lost a bundle in a St. Louis bank’s failure. He and his family, including his brother and his family, economize and handle different business ventures to keep themselves and their farms afloat. The Jefferson County sheriff gets Chet to agree to be a deputy to earn a little money and to mostly keep him on a short leash and to take credit for Chet’s successes.

Although there is a bit of “mystery”–organized crime is moving in on local bootleggers–the book is not a mystery–it’s a western in the vein of Louis L’Amour (which, of course, I have cottoned to after reading A Trail of Memories: The Quotations of Louis L’Amour and Bendigo Shafter last year). The crime part of the story is a small part of it, almost an afterthought. But I suppose it’s better to be in the mystery section of the book store than the Western section–although in ABC Books, I’m pretty sure he’s still in the Local Authors section regardless of where the author actually lives.

I flagged a number of things in the book, gentle reader, that were errors and oversights, such as talking about the county alderman from High Ridge (the county has a council, but I’ve never heard of them called aldermen–but, to be honest, most of my time living in Jefferson County when I was too young to pay attention to such things) or a character telling another to bring in half a cord of wood for a stove–half a cord of wood is 8 feet by 4 feet by 2 feet (64 cubic feet) which is a pretty big ask to bring inside at one time or how onerous an eighth of a mile walk is (it’s 660 feet or two football fields which is not that far). But never mind those.

I will mention one thing: One of the events in the book is a raid on the Biltmore Club which straddles the St. Louis/Jefferson County Line. Apparently, the trick was if one county raided the club, they would all run to the other side of the club in the other county. As you have often heard, gentle reader, I lived in a trailer park down Delores Drive, and I often mention going up to the flea market on the hill. The hill was overlooked by a ridge, and atop that ridge was Biltmore. It wasn’t a club in the 1980s, but they did have a little business center up there with a couple offices (and a dump). Now, I believe it’s a real retail development. But the locations in the book came very close to where I lived indeed.

A good enough read that I look forward to the two others I have in the series. Apparently, I picked up the fourth in the series last August, which means I might only be missing one in the series if one came out this year. Note how this note indicates I’m writing these book reports in stream-of-consciousness–I just now searched again for the author on the blog and only now, four paragraphs later, I discovered I had actually bought the fourth book in the series. Of course, time goes all a-wonky again since I’ll be scheduling this post, so now is several days ago. Ay. And it might well be another year and a half before I pick up another in the series, by which I might well be further behind in the series.

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Movie Report: Knocked Up (2007)

Book coverAfter watching The Green Hornet, I picked up this film which might have been the movie that launched Seth Rogen’s career, to see if his characters always annoyed me. Which is a little less than rage-watching, but he had a big moment about a decade and a half ago, and I wanted to maybe catch a little of his career in case it ever comes up in a trivia night. After all, the things I thought were trivia–pop culture details from the 1940s-1970s–is now ancient history and the lost wisdom of the Ancestors.


In the film, Rogen plays a frattish bro living with a bunch of friends who are hoping to make it rich off of an Internet site (coming sometime) that tells you when you can see boobies in the movies. Katherine Heigl plays an up-and-coming broadcast talent who finally gets her break in front of the camera. The frattish boys are out at the club because that’s what they do, and Heigl’s Alison is celebrating her promotion, and after many, many drinks, Rogen’s Ben and Alison hook up. The coitus they barely remember results in Alison becoming pregnant, and against the advice of her family and at risk of her career, she decides to keep the baby. When she tells Ben, he decides to help, and they get to know each other as they prepare for the baby’s birth.

So the manboy in this film does undergo some character growth–the woman too–but I attribute this more to it being a Judd Apatow film more than a Seth Rogen film. some of Apatow’s other works also have those bits of growth and depth to them–This Is 40, The 40-Year-Old Virgin maybe–but some are just straight ahead comedies (Anchorman, Superbad, Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, et al). Looking over Apatow’s ouevre, I have seen a lot of his films, and although I note that many of the same actors appear in them–his family, Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, and so on–I don’t think of the Apatowverse like I think of the Stillerverse or the Sandlerverse. Probably because he’s behind the camera–far behind it as a producer and writer not always the director.

So the film was not as bad as I had feared it would be. Like most 21st century R-rated comedies, it has a lot of swearing and requires drugs or blackout drinking for major plot points–I need some Cary Grant films as a palate cleanser–but it is easily the best Seth Rogen film I’ve seen. Of which the sample size is small (although he has smaller parts in other movies in the Apatowverse, he stars in but a few).

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Book Report: Old Acquaintances by Ursula Gorman (2010)

Book coverI bought this book at ABC Books in the summer of 2021. The book is dated 2010, and the author’s signature is from 2018, so this is either before I started hitting as many of the ABC Books signings as I could, one that fell between the cracks, or one that the author signed for stocking.

At any rate, the story is about the owner of a boutique who seems to have a stalker. Who apparently starts killing people she knows or knew–one murder is the family at a house where someone she knew used to live.

The book is leavened with almost a bit of tension with the man whom she thought of as a brother as her mother took him in when his rich parents died and who has been her constant friend since. But he’s engaged to be married, which leaves her free to feel the flutterings for the handsome police detective on her case.

So it’s a bit of a cottage mystery, with a side order of romance. It’s a bit thin on the prose, which is better than being overdone, and the book is a short 140 pages, so it’s not long enough to be annoying. Next time I’m through John Donnelly’s Gold, I’m definitely going to gauge myself according to this new metric I have for prose: the density of it, contrasting paragraphs versus dialog and complexity of sentences to express meaning. I mean, Robert B. Parker, for example, wrote better when he had longer paragraphs, but not so much later when he relied mostly on dialog and stage directions. It’s kind of akin to my length-of-line metric for poetry, I suppose, but there’s something to it.

Another thing that struck me about this book was a certain similarity to Finding Lizzy Smith by Susan Keene which I read earlier this year. In both, people close to the female protagonist are getting killed. I wonder topically how often this happens in cozies–I don’t read many of them, Murder, She Wrote books that I read every seven or eight years. So I don’t know how much of a trope it is.

In researching this post, I see that the author published another book in 2012 which was to be the first in a trilogy. But nothing after, and her Internet presence is a Tripod site that has not been updated in years. This saddens me somehow, even though we’ve never met.

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Book Report: I’m Here For A Purpose by LaDonna Greiner (2023)

Book coverFull disclosure: I sort of know the author as she has volunteered with my beautiful wife in a local entrepreneur’s group (well, she was there before my wife, so perhaps I should say “My beautiful wife volunteered with this author.”) So when I saw that she, the author, was having a book signing downtown (not yet at ABC Books) on First Friday Art Walk night, I dragged my wife and my youngest downtown to get a copy.

Ms. Greiner is a photographer and avid hiker, and she often hikes alone. The book talks about those hikes, hikers who get lost, tells the story of how she got lost trying to get a photo of a sunset but made it to camp and to her husband only a little late, and then culminates in the story of how she got lost on a hike and spent a night in the forest whilst thunderstorms raged and the temperature dropped to near-freezing before hiking some number of miles in the morning to rescue (and then to a series of events that would not be believed in fiction).

The book is relatively short (117 pages), leavened with the author’s photographs. It’s professionally laid out (which as you know, gentle reader, I can appreciate, or at least do). Not only that, but the book builds the story–I confess, I knew what the book was about when I started it–starting with some anecdotes about taking photographs, sometimes in dangerous circumstances (it starts out with photographing alligators on the bayou in Louisiana) and then a little about getting lost, building to almost dying at the end and then dénouement which is its own story.

Okay, so I liked the book. How much? I read it in a single night, and then we tracked her down at Artsfest in Springfield the next day to buy another book as a gift. And if she ever makes her way to ABC Books for a book signing, I’ll have to think of to whom I will give that copy as a gift. But hopefully I will have some time. Maybe Mrs. Shepherd. Who likes to hike? Who likes photography?

Oh, yeah, I would be remiss if I did not mention that she credits God for her survival, and the book is also a testament to her faith.

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Book Report: From Gold to Grey by Mary D. Brine (1886)

Book coverWell, finishing this book has been a long time coming. I mentioned that it was a gift from a friend at a garage sale at my sainted mother’s in Fall 2008. We would have known, ainna, by then? My sainted mother would have been in the early parts of diagnosing and examining the cancer that would kill her early the next year. Her surgery, which the surgeon later said he would not have performed if he’d known how pervasive the cancer was, would be in late November or early December. So she would have been full capacity, and the event would not have been terribly somber, although we undoubtedly missed my aunt who passed away a couple of years earlier and always made these events a hoot.

More on the history of this book: As you know, gentle reader, I had this book beside the sofa for browsing during football games, wrapped in a paper bag until I properly wrapped it in mylar. I mentioned in September of 2021 that I’d started reading it in earnest, which means “off and on. Mostly off.”

I have certainly read other poetry books completely in the interim, but I had to be in the right frame of mind to read this book. After all, it is almost 150 years old, and I had to treat it gently. I did not open the book completely, only parting the binding the minimum I needed to read the book. And I had to read slowly, as the font sizes varied on each poem down to pretty tiny print to make it so the poems fit into the artwork.

So, the poems: I enjoyed them. They’re romantic, rhyming, and well-rhythmed. They deal with enjoying nature, looking forward to meeting one’s beloved, being with one’s beloved, and a couple about having lost one’s beloved. The sort of thing that heavily influenced me in my younger poet years, and I loved them.

I did flag a couple of things:

The first line of “In the Park” is:

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever!” so they say;

You might know, gentle reader, that I have a volume of the complete works of Keats and Shelley that was on the chairside table in 2019 but has migrated to the dresser upstairs as I’ve read the book outside on the deck in the evenings from time to time. But I know that “they” in this case is John Keats, as this is the first line of “Endymion”. Of course, I already flexed that I recognized it in a book review in 2021–however, to be honest, what cemented the first line for me is that when I mentioned I was reading the, my mother-in-law (epithet needed) quoted the first line to me, and I did not recognize it. But I do now.

A poem entitled “The Golden Gate” begins:

Beyond the clouds, the Golden Gate is waiting,
Which only angel hands can open wide,
And only they whose toil has ended
Pass in, and find their rest at eventide.

Gentle reader, when you and I think of “The Golden Gate,” we think of the bridge. Which was completed fifty-one years after this book was published in the first Grover Cleveland administration.

The book itself is beautiful. Heavy paper and lush illustrations surround every poem.

Every page is like that. Beautiful, but hard to read in spots because the fonts (although they probably called it merely “type” back then) is often small so the poems can fit into the illustrations. I might or might not have used a pair of my beautiful wife’s cheaters a time or to, but no one will ever know because I would only have done so after everyone else was in bed.

Now, a bit more about the provenance of this book.

The book was originally given to a Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Perry, on Christmas of 1886.

The book was then given by Mrs. Perry to her grandson, a young man named Ray Wood, in March 1929. Right before the bad times were coming.

I received this book in 2006 from a relation of Ray, I suspect, as they shared the surname. Given her age in 2006, I would guess Ray was her older brother or cousin and not her father. But what a great gift. I miss “Roberta.”

I’m glad I gave this book its due and read it outside football games. I am glad I’ve protected it with mylar and have hopefully kept Dorito dust out of it. But I cannot help feel some sadness that I suspect that I will be the last person to read the book.

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Book Report: From Ghetto to Glory: The Story of Bob Gibson by Bob Gibson with Phil Pepe (1968)

Book coverI hopped into this book right after reading Open Net because I was in the mood for another sports book, and this one was right across the hall.

So. This book really has three themes, and they don’t mesh together very well at all.

  • It’s partly a biography of Bob Gibson, who came out of a poor neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska, played with the Harlem Globetrotters for a season, and then settled into playing for the Cardinals organization and then the major league team, winning a couple of World Series with them and becoming a star, although he’s pretty humble about that.
  • Because it’s 1968 and because Gibson is Black, the book also tackles the Race Question, which served to distance this particular reader who is white but grew up pretty poor. It distances the reader from the experience of the man whenever the book goes into the Experience of the Race.
  • A bit of a baseball book which goes into the philosophy of pitching and that particular, 1967, when the Cardinals won the World Series.

It would have been a far better book if they’d only focused on the first and the third of those themes. It would have focused on what draws us together, not what separates us. Fifty years later, the professionals have gotten better and more scientific at separating us.

At any rate, some good stories in here, like the time where he broke his leg and came out to pitch on it anyway before coming out of the game and being shut down for most of the season thereafter. A lot of love for his wife, whom he divorces a couple years after the book comes out. A lot of familiar names from Cardinals history–Mike Shannon, Tim McCarver, Roger Maris, and so on. So like Open Net, it helps someone who came to fandom later connect those names to stories, but perhaps useless to current fans.

The book is written in very plain language–I wondered if it was targeted to kids, or if it’s just the way the sports journalist Phil Pepe wrote.

I did flag a couple of things.

How do you measure poverty? I wore the same coat for three or four years. It was a hand-me-down from one of my brothers and I wore it until it had too many holes in it. I had one pair of shoes. No Sunday shoes, just one pair for every day in the week, and I wore them until they practically fell off my feet. When they got holes in the bottom, I put a piece of cardboard in them so the water would not seep through when it rained.

See, I can understand that. I got hand-me-downs from the neighbors, which meant I was pretty fly for a white guy in 1980. And my shoes were rubber-soled sneakers, so they’d break down by having the top separate from the sole, not wearing holes in the bottoms, but I remember making the shoes talk like a mouth with my exposed sock as the tongue. It was definitely not a Race thing.

Now that’s the way I see the Negro riots we’re having in this country, as a brushback pitch. Their intention, like the brushback pitch, is to get people to think and not to get complacent and take things for granted. Negroes have been mistreated for years. They are getting tired of being mistreated, misused, and misunderstood, and the only way they can rebel is to stage riots.

The chapter was called “Brushback”, and it started in pitching philosophy including when to brush someone back. Then, it turned into justifying riots as part of the Race Question. Gentle reader, I remind you that over 80 people died in 1967 in riots. The only person who died from a pitch was Ray Chapman. So they’re not the same. And it illustrates how the book veered between its themes poorly. One wonders what Gibson thought about the riots fifty years later in 2020 (which occurred right before his death). Oh, one wonders.

And, yes, lest you wonder, the book does contain the baddest word. Gibson talks about how he feels about it and how he and a couple of teammates cleaned the locker room up of language (and how the team came together as a team instead of groups of different colors).

All I wanted was a baseball book, where I could learn from Bob Gibson, the pitcher. Instead, I got a whole lot of Bob Gibson, The Other.

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