Book Report: The Zen Way To The Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru (1982, 1991)

Book coverI bought this book just last month, and like so many of the Buddhist or martial arts books, I dived right into it. This book is a two-fer in that regard, as it blends Zen Buddhism with martial arts.

The book is a collection of talks given at a retreat in Switzerland in 1975 that blended zazen sitting with martial arts demonstrations. Of course, you can draw many parallels between the focus in practicing martial arts techniques and forms and the Buddhist focus not only on sitting/meditating, but also in the focus on being present in every moment and doing everything fully in the moment.

So there’s not really anything surprising in the book; I didn’t flag anything for comment.

I read these books because I find them a bit calming, but they really do go in one eye and out the other as far as remembering their contents goes.

Book Report: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844-1846, 1999?)

Book coverWell, I finally finished this book.

I read the comic book adaptation of this book last year, and I knew that the comic book adaptation left a lot of things out–I suspect there are panels in the comic with scenes that are hundreds of pages apart in the book. My beautiful wife read the book not long after we saw the film in the theater, so I ordered myself a nice copy to read. And I picked it up in November not long after passing The Villages At Monte Crist. And it has taken me six months to read it.

The book is essentially three books in one, and I only liked two of them.

The first part of the book tells about how Edmond Dantès, a sailor, who returns to port happy to see his fiancée Mercédès, but a disgruntled shipmate, a ne’er-do-well, and a rival for Mercédès frame Dantès as a Bonapartist after the restoration. When the prosecutor reviews the case, he discovers his own father’s involvement, so Dantès is sentenced to the remote Chateau d’If. He passes fourteen years there, his lonely days broken when an abbe from an adjoining cell breaks through into Dantes’ cell. They spend years studying together and planning an escape, but it’s only the abbe’s death that gives Dantès the chance he needs. Once free, he finds the buried treasure left behind by the abbe, whom everyone thought was mad because he offered millions for his freedom–millions that nobody thought he had.

The second part of the book and, sadly, the biggest portion of the book deals with what has happened to everyone else during the years of Dantès’ imprisonment and his travels and studies before he returns to Paris. The people who framed Dantès have prospered. Their children have come of age. So a lot of things go on, and the independent characters who are not the title characters have their chapters, kind of like in a Stephen King novel, but they don’t get killed by flying soda machines shortly after you’ve read a couple thousand words on them. The second part also includes the return of Dantès, now styled as the Count of Monte Cristo, to Paris to exact revenge and some parts of him putting his plans in motion, but it’s a lot more intrigue than action.

The third part of the book details his plans coming to fruition, and how he has set each up to fail according to his strengths. So the third part, with its action, moves along a little faster. As his plot goes on, though, Dantès starts to wonder if the collateral damage in his revenge makes him evil.

It ends, not with a reunion of Dantès and Mercédès, but a happy ending never the less. Dantès really grows as a character, which is rare for an action book, but Dumas has a thousand pages to play around with here.

So I enjoyed the first and last parts of the trilogy, so to speak. And I’m glad to have read it even though at times I did not enjoy reading it. Overall, though, I prefer The Three Musketeers, and I have one or more sequels to it around here somewhere. Which I’ll get into in a couple of years, I reckon.

Book Report: Poems by C.S. Lewis (1964, 2016)

Book coverI think my beautiful wife gave me this book right after I read The Screwtape Letters (Three years ago? Are you kidding?), but I might be retconning it.

I’ve read it now between bonzer thousands-of-lines poems in the collected works of Keats that I’m ambling through, and the books are not dissimilar. As a matter of fact, if you put Keats, the Christian-themed chapbooks I tend to read, and modern quality into a blender, you might get C.S. Lewis’s poetry.

The poems are grouped thematically. We start with some with the most Keats flavor, a series of poems retelling folk tales and mythological stories and then move into more modern concerns, lamentations about politicians and progress, and some reflections on God as would befit the best known apologetic from the twentieth century. I flagged a couple of his poems so I could come back to them.

Such as “Lines During A General Election” which begins:

Their threats are terrible enough, but we could bear
All that; it is their promises that bring despair.

I also flagged Re-Adjustment, the first of Five Sonnets, and Footnote to All Prayers (which is by far my favorite).

So the book was a pleasure to read, and it (like The Screwtape Letters) made me want to read more by C.S. Lewis.

But for now, it’s back to the Keats for me.

Book Report: On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1937, ?)

Book coverWhen we last left the Ingalls family (Little House on the Prairie in September), the Ingalls family had to leave their home in Kansas. Instead of returning to Wisconsin, they headed to Minnesota. The book opens with Charles, the father, trading his horses and wagon for a sod house beside a creek with a Norwegian farmer looking to move west.

The book covers a couple of years, unlike the first ones in the series. Hopeful of a good crop of wheat, the Ingalls family builds a house on credit only to run into trouble when plagues of grasshoppers destroy the crop right before harvest. Charles has to walk a hundred miles to the east to find work through the harvest season to support the family. And although the first winter is very mild, the second is definitely more snowy than they’re used to–even in Wisconsin.

The book hints at some perhaps poor decision making by the father who had previously been omnicompetent. He buys a bunch on credit, and then cannot pay it off with the wheat crop. When he’s harvesting back east, he sends four dollars back to his family–and buys himself a new pair of boots for three dollars. One wonders how these stories appear in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s adult book Pioneer Girl.

Of course, I might just be reading more into this children’s book than I should. But I’m looking for a double-effect narrator that the author does not intend.

So I’ve got the next book, On the Shores of Silver Lake, so I will probably read it before the summer. I’ll also keep my eyes open for the others in the series and for Pioneer Girl, her more adult memoir, at the coming spring library book sales. Given how close we are to her home down in Marshfield, I should find them pretty easily. I hope. Because I really am enjoying the series and, apparently, my second childhood.

Book Report: The Time of Your Life by William Sayoran (1939, 1941)

Book coverIt took me two tries to make it through this book, a single full evening play that says it’s in three acts on the cover but is actually five acts. That’s not why it took me two attempts, though.

It’s a thematic play set in a dive bar in San Francisco on the eve of World War II (written in 1939, this edition came out in 1941). The cast is quite a few people: A guy who has a lot of money with no visible means of support; a simple man who does errands for him; a man who keeps trying to call a woman he loves on the payphone; a guy playing the marble game (a forerunner of pinball); an Arab who basically spouts two ‘profound’ lines over and over; a black guy who can play the piano; a guy who wants to be a comedian but is not funny; a woman of the night; a vice detective; the bartender; and a couple of others who have a couple of lines and disappear.

So you can tell it’s a very busy play with all of these people interacting with themselves and a full stage.

The text of the play is very patter-like interaction between these characters along with a whole lot of stage direction that identifies more than stage directions. They include treatises on the characters’ back stories and whatnot that really don’t belong in a play. The play itself follows a long introduction by the playwright which is a pre-war essay on the importance of art in a time of militarism or something. To be honest, I might have read it the first time I tried to read the play, but I bailed on it this time after I couldn’t understand what the playwright was trying to get at.

It reminded me a little of Picasso at Lapin Agile, which I saw staged by the Clayton Community Theatre almost twenty years ago, but with less of a point.

I have a new thesis: Twentieth (and the beginning of twenty-first) century art and literature is a triumph of theme over plot or characters. The rise of the university put the academics at the forefront of “art,” and, as they give outsize weight to theme over the other elements of art. Plots and characters are hard. Themes are easy and allow one a very easy, and unfortunately obvious way, to expound on a moral or political message without having to really engage the viewer/reader. This play would serve as evidence.

Apparently, it’s the middle of a trilogy, but I’m in no hurry to read the other four (let me explain the joke: It says it’s a play in three acts, but it’s actually five, so…. get it?)

Book Report: Trace by Ike Keen (2014)

Book coverI bought this book by a local author at ABC Books, but not while the author was in evidence. ABC Books has quite a good selection of books by local authors (present company excepted), and, as you know, I try to support both ABC Books and local authors whenever possible. And sometimes I read the books.

Like Stories of Suspense, I picked this book from my to-read floor after the recent bookshelf collapse. I figured the more books I read from the floor, the fewer I would eventually have to pick up.

This book is set in Springfield after World War II. After a woman’s body is found in the river, two men hire Max Black to find their sister, and he suspects it might have been her corpse found murdered. But Black discovers his employers are not the brothers of the woman they’re seeking, and the plot gets very tangled with the New York mob sending hitters to keep their operations in Springfield secret, and the operations include drugs and prostitution. It all becomes very tangled.

The book could have used a copy edit, and some elements of it seem a bit off–I’m not sure Springfield police in the 1940s would have responded to a body in the river since I don’t think a major river ran through Springfield until it later expanded. But perhaps I’m mistaken in it.

The prose is a bit clunky, but it fits in the pulp mold that the author is imitating (he’s a fan of Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins). The plot, too, convolutes in a way the old pulp ones did, albeit perhaps a little more than necessary.

But I enjoyed it enough to perhaps pick up something else by the author sometime when I’m up at ABC Books.

Book Report: Stories of Suspense (1963, 1967)

Book coverI chose this book because it was on my floor. It’s a Scholastic book from 1963, when my mother would have been starting high school. Not that the books was hers, of course–I picked it up somewhere later. But it’s interesting to think that this book was targeted to kids, well, kids my mother’s age, in the middle 1960s.

The book contains:

  • “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier. The concept is the same as the Hitchcock film that came out in the same year–the birds are murderous–but the story, set in Britain instead of California, is completely different.
  • “Of Missing Persons” by Jack Finney, wherein a man is given an opportunity to travel to a far different place.
  • “Midnight Blue” by John Collier. A woman dreams that her husband has murdered his partner, and she recounts her dream in uncanny detail.
  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keys, which was made into the 1968 film Charly which I tried to watch recently.
  • “Taste” by Roald Dahl, wherein a host at an elaborate dinner party wagers a gourmand that he cannot guess the vintage of the claret, with the stakes being his daughter.
  • “Two Bottles of Relish” by Lord Dunsay, wherein a man suspected of killing his wife is watched but they cannot figure out how he would have disposed of the body.
  • “Charles” by Shirley Jackson, wherein a child’s tales about the naughtiest boy in the kindergarton makes his parents want to meet Charles’ parents at the school open house.
  • “The Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” by Jack Finney, wherein a man risks his life to retrieve a business paper that has blown onto the apartment building’s ledge and regrets his decision.
  • “The Perfectionist” by Margaret St. Clair, wherein a man’s aunt helps him out financially, but her methods for preserving art subjects make him uneasy.

Overall, I liked the book. The stories were short and clever and made me want to write short stories like this. Kind of like the inspiration I felt reading The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet inspired me yet to finish a short story like this. I am too busy reading these books to actually write anything.

Book Report: The Face: A Novella in Verse by David St. John (2004)

Book coverThis book calls itself “A Novella In Verse”, but although it’s kind of pitched as a series of poems, they are not as related as one would think. The publication history indicates that many of the 45 poems within appeared in numerous poetry journals independently, and one appeared in an anthology of poems about September 11, 2001. So they’re more related thematically than perhaps intentionally built to convey a single story.

That said, I enjoyed the book for the most part. As you might know, gentle reader, I’ve been reading the complete works of John Keats lately (and have just completed Endymion after a couple weeks), so this book came as a breath of fresh air with its more modern language and imagery.

The connective tissue of the poems, I guess, is growing older and looking back on a relationship that recently ended. It’s the sort of things poets are best at, or perhaps the ones I respond to (my best poetry days were in that swirl of uncertainty).

I rather enjoyed the first half of it for its evocative freshness (which I appreciated after reading the Keats and some of the other chapbooks I consume regularly), but towards the end of it, I got a little bored. An overarching conceit of having a movie made of one’s life didn’t work for me–the use of another art form as a metaphor and the narrative elements of it detracted from the poetry’s immediacy.

But I would read more by this poet and wonder if I would enjoy his earlier work more.

Book Report: A Man Called Baraboo by M. Richard Tully (2007)

Book coverWhen I bought this book in Baraboo, Wisconsin, I thought it was a local history book. That’s not exactly what it is. It first tries to determine where the name Baraboo comes from, from the word for catfish, beautiful sandbar, or a vine.

The book eventually settles upon the theory that the river took its name from a French Canadian trader, François Barbeau, who set up a trading post on a bluff on the river. He traces Barbeau back to his youth and then to his military service at Fort Michilimackinac, from whence he received a commission to conduct the trading expedition to southwest Wisconsin (which, of course, was not yet Wisconsin).

The book weaves a lot of history from the colonial period into a narrative of traveling by canoe from the junction of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan across lakes and rivers to a trading post where they collected furs all winter and then returned when the ice broke up in spring. You get sidebars about equipment, lots of discussion of the native tribes in the area, and whatnot.

It’s a pretty good, relatively short (180 pages) narrative from a long stretch of time that gets pretty short shrift in history books and classes. I enjoyed it a bunch.

If I had read it immediately, I could have visited Fort Michilimackinac when I was in Michigan last year. Ah, well. Maybe next time.

Book Report: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1905, 1991)

Book coverIt’s the strangest thing: I could have sworn that I just read the first collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, recently. But a quick search of this blog and the spreadsheet I use to track my accumulated reading since 2009 indicates I have not apparently read that collection in the last sixteen years. I even looked at my recently read bookshelves to see if I had missed it in my electronic tracking, and I had not. My book database software indicates that I have two (!) editions of the first collection, including one by Reader’s Digest that I remember so clearly.

So I don’t know why I thought I’d read it recently. Perhaps because I just read The Man Who Knew Too Much last year. Maybe I’ve even got another copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes floating around that I’ve seen recently on my to-read shelves.


This book tells the story of the reanimation of Sherlock Holmes by the Romulans (sorry, wrong book) a collection of stories about Sherlock Holmes set in the 1890s after he makes known to Watson that he did not actually die in “The Final Problem” but faked his death so he could hunt for those who wanted him dead. The book includes 13 stories that vary in tone and resolution; they’re pleasant enough to read, but too many of them in a row became a little tedious for me.

From a historical perspective, although we think of Sherlock Holmes as gaslight era, the last of the Holmes yarns appeared in print after the first Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot books appeared. The latter seem so modern and the former so old-timey. Partly that is because the last of the Holmes stories were a bit of an anachronism when they appeared, and Christie wrote of the modern world with cars, telephones, radios, and in her later works more modern technology yet. It highlights, though, the vast changes that occurred in England and in the world between the end of the nineteenth century and the 1920s. Of course, if you’ve watched Downton Abbey, you’d be aware of this as well.

In “The Six Napoleons”, part of the investigation deals with Italian immigrants, and one of them is suspected of being Mafia. So Sherlock Holmes is a forerunner of Mack Bolan. Face it, we’re one encounter with a young man named Broz from Sherlock Holmes touching all the greatest 20th century detective/heroes.

I marked a couple of other things:

  • In “The Three Students”, Holmes come to Watson while he’s making his toilet. I once wondered where I learned the term. I’m still thinking it was Ellery Queen.
  • The first paragraph of the Afterward says:

    Sherlock Holmes lives in our imagination in the pantheon of immortal literary heroes, right alongside King Arthur, Robin Hood, and the Count of Monte Cristo.

    A book I picked up as I avoid finishing The Count of Monte Cristo calls me out.

At any rate, an enjoyable read, but probably best read a story or two at a time.

Book Report: Finish by Jon Acuff (2017)

Book coverMy beautiful wife eats self-help, goal-setting, accomplishment-preceding books like this up. Me, I tend to prefer my self-help books to be written by philosophers and Buddhists rather than itinerant life coaches. I mean, when you go to the local weekly entrepreneur’s event, it’s chock full of these peppy people who want to build business empires on the weight of their optimistic messages. And yet, as I have bookshelves chock full of unread books about everything except chemistry, apparently, I have many titles like this lingering about, so I might as well read one from time to time.

So, this book is not about starting projects/dreams/goals, it’s about finishing them, and it identifies very early perfectionism as the villain that keeps one from finishing one’s goals. It does lay out some pretty good points about how trying to be perfect often causes one to stumble or quit something the first time one encounters something, an obstacle or lapse, that destroys a dream of perfect resolution to one’s goals or projects.

But it carries on the conceit a little to far and applies the term perfectionism to other obstacles where it doesn’t really seem to be the operative problem, such as bad personal habits. It turns what was a valid insight into a schtick to tie the book together in ways it didn’t need.

Still, I got a little out of the book and flagged a couple of bits.

One is a section entitled How to Read One Hundred Books A Year. Oh, I know how to do that: lots of picture books. Although this author says comic books are allowed; once I hit that passage, I put the book down and picked up a comic book.

Second, he refers to Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame. Personally, I think of him as of The Andromeda Strain fame because I read that book in middle school, before Jurassic Park came out. The author is talking about how the television show ER came out, so he’s might be more informed on Crichton from his works made into films and television shows (although The Andromeda Strain was adopted for the big screen and, much later, television).

Also, he mentions several times that you should start a blog (party like it’s 2005). Strangely enough, that’s the same advice I got from a business coach from the local entrepreneur event: start a blog and go viral. Welp, I’ve started, what, eight blogs in he last 20 years (this one, QA Hates You, Pop-Up Mocker, Draft Matt Blunt 2008, The Beading Will Continue, Found Bookmarks, The Weakened Gardener, and probably others I’ve forgotten, and I contributed to 24th State for a while). To be honest, they didn’t do much for me. Even with a sixteen year presence here, I don’t get that much traffic, and it hasn’t helped me push enough books to cover the cost of publication (a professionally designed cover on John Donnelly’s Gold and a fifty-freebie-book publicity push put me in the hole quite in the hole on that one). So, yeah, I suppose it could help in some regards, but going viral is not in the cards for a lot of people, so social media engagement might just be busy work on your way to a goal.

At any rate, this is why I don’t read too many go-get-’em books: They don’t fit my personality type, and they really don’t compel me to change my personality type.

Your mileage may vary.

(For related musings from me, see For Me, The Hardest Part Is Not Starting from 2012.)

Book Report: Running Scared by Gregory Mcdonald (1964)

Book coverThis book, the cover informs you, is by the author of Fletch. And it shares the title with the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines film from the middle 1980s. However, this book is not the source for the film. It’s from 1964 and is Mcdonald’s first book; it would be about ten years until Mcdonald started the series that would make him known and about twenty years until the movie Fletch, based on that series, led someone to print his first novel with a tout that this is the guy who wrote Fletch (the book).

At any rate: It’s a simple enough story, sort of. A cold, detached college student watches his roommate and longtime friend commit suicide in their apartment and, only after it’s done, calls campus police. When asked about it, the college student, Tom Betancourt, says his roommate Casey was free. He quits school before they can expel him and goes home to his high class family, such as it is–a father who is never there, traveling on business most of the time, and a needy mother with a longtime affair. Betancourt doesn’t know anything about Casey’s family, as his roommate never talked much about them in their years rooming together at boarding school and college, but Betancourt knows Casey has a sister, and Betancourt hopes to meet her.

So he goes to their summer home community and takes a job at the yacht club under an assumed name. He meets and falls for the girl and meets her parents who are also quite rich but are dysfunctional in their own way, especially after the death of the son. As they fall deeper in love, Betancourt knows he must tell her the truth, and he does, with tragic consequences clumsily foreshadowed earlier in the book.

The narrative punches quite a bit above the plot’s weight, as we’re carried along, trying to figure out something about this main character. He somewhere on the spectrum between Howard Roark of The Fountainhead and Meursault of The Stranger. He’s handsome so that all the girls throw themselves at him, not that he cares, and he’s hyper-competent, but more detached and less driven than the Rand hero. The book hints at things, such as how his childhood might have made him hold everything at arm’s length. The book also hints that the roommate might have killed himself because of an unrequited homosexual attraction to the main character as the main character sort of considers the possibility. But these questions remain unresolved at the end, which is rather abrupt (but not unforeseen, as the foreshadowing was not subtle).

It reminded me a little of Robert B. Parker’s Love and Glory as both feature young men falling in love at college in the olden days, and something of the narrative style, but they’re really not that much alike.

So I was hoping for better as the narrative pulled me along, and the more I think about it, the less I actually liked the book. That’s what pretty good writing in service of a plot lacking will do.

But I liked the Fletch and Flynn books I read in high school (and reread much later).

Book Report: Sudan Slaughter The Executioner #128 (1989)

Book coverWell, this book reverts to the mean of Bolan book quality after War Born.

In it, Bolan is told to go to Sudan to rescue some journalists being held by a Libyan puppet government only recently installed via coup. Bolan accompanies a retired general who is going to be an unofficial liason with pro-American rebels seeking to depose the current government. When presented with evidence of a Libyan-sponsored chemical weapons program, Bolan decides to destroy the program and coordinates the rebels’ attack on the existing government in the process.

I mean, it’s got some twisty plot stuff, but it’s handled less than adeptly. The retired general character is just an appendage, a savior in a couple of situations and a wounded person Bolan has to take care of in others. Bolan and the general are inserted by air drop, but the amount of equipment that Bolan comes out with (two different crossbows? Really?) makes one wonder if he has a Bag of Holding. I can’t help wonder if the book was influenced by Ikari Warriors as Bolan hops into a number of piece of Soviet equipment, including an armored human resources carrier and a tank, and operates them immediately.

The book did not encourage me to immediately read another in the series, but it wasn’t bad enough to make me swear them off forever (which is a good thing, as I still have 32 ever-thickening titles in the Executioner series alone remaining on my bookshelves).

Book Report: The Raven Steals the Light by Bill Reid and Robert Bring hurst (1996)

Book coverI read this book in a single day in a little over an hour of sustained reading time. It is 150 pages of roughly 5″ by 5″ paper containing 9 Native American myths/tales, many of which feature Raven, the trickster god (?).

The stories are whimsical, and the flavor of the Native American/American Indian myths differs from those of the classical Greek myths. They’re more Hiawatha and Brothers Grimm, at least in the fantastic elements but not as bloody.

You could probably read these to your kids without fear of harming their sensibilities, and Disney could probably make them into films without too many changes. So they’ve got that going for them.

Book Report: Modern Electronics by Wayne J. LeBlanc and Alden R. Carter (1986)

Book coverPerhaps the theme of this year’s reading will be “Clearing out thin books from the shelves and side tables.” This particular volume is an old “juvenile” book about electronics as you can see from the cover. I say “juvenile” in quotes because books don’t really get classed as “juvenile” any more, do they? It’s “young adult” now. I suspect it’s more to avoid the criminal association that developed from “juvenile” or to make juveniles feel better about themselves (young adults, so let us vote!) than because people using the word in conversation were getting juvenile confused with Juvenal.

But enough about me. About this book.

It’s a bit of an anachronism by now, surely, with its references to Radio Shack or your local electronics store (or to juveniles who might be interested in engineering) and a bit of optimistic wonder about what the future could bring since about forty years of integrated circuits brought us small radios, personal computers, and more (the answer, almost forty years on, is Web sites that exacerbate tensions between political factions and devices that listen in on you to help you with simple things and to better determine your psychology for tech companies’ benefit).

It might also tip a little bit to why the study of electronics might have fallen off a cliff. The basic progression of the book is:

  1. Basic chemistry: Electrons and atoms.
  2. Power source/circuits.
  3. AC/DC.
  4. Basic electronic parts: resistors, capacitors, diodes. Complete with diagrams and experiments.
  5. Chips and circuit boards with no real diagrams.
  6. Magic.

It doesn’t talk much about chip architecture or how electronic devices (even in those days) have a lot of chips that you can’t really do anything with. Well, I guess you can with chip programming things, but tinkering has gotten so much more complicated these days.

Still, I got something out of the book. A reminder about different electronic components, including an explanation of diodes and capacitors that made sense to me. So there’s something to be said about reading children’s books in fields you’re not studied in.

I have many fields in which I wish I had time to dedicate more study (one of the other being music), but, getting and spending, I’ve laid waste my powers. Books like this make me wonder why I didn’t spend more of my youth studying these pursuits since they really are rather simple at the foundational level. I suppose it’s half because my recognition of how much I had to learn in these fields overwhelmed me and made them seem more inscrutible than they are and half because I’m lazy and like to read books.

Book Report: Monuments: Masterpieces of Architecture by Laura Brooks (1997)

Book coverThis book is a little different from some of the coffee table tourism books I’ve read before that focus on a state or city. Instead this book focuses on monuments around the world, from the pyramids in Egypt to the memorials in Washington D.C. The images within it are big and color, generally just one of the mentioned monuments. The text, though, is kinda of bland and vanilla, kinda just talking very generally about monuments and not offering a whole lot of insight into the individual monuments or their construction.

I flagged some items, though.

The Monument to the Third International is another ambitious symbol of national idealism, but, unlike the Statue of Liberty, it was, unfortunately, never realized. The Soviet architect Vladmir Evgrafovic Tatlin (1885-1953) planned the monument in between 1919 and 1920 to house th legislative offices of th new revolutionary government in Leningrad. Tatlin conceived of a gigantic spiral of wood, iron, and glass that would reach the almost inconceivable height of 1,300 feet (396 meters). It was to span the Neva River, and encompass three glass-walled buildings that would revolve at different speeds–one would take a day to complete a turn, one a month, and one a year–while ligh beams projected skyward from the roof. The Monument to the Third International presented a vision of the technological utopia and reshaping of society that Communism promised. Its unprecendented form suggested a break from history and a ne architectural and social order. Had it been achieved, it would have combined the elements of time, movement, energy, and scale in a way never before realized in one monument.

For some reason, the book spends as much time on this incomplete but promised to be glorious Soviet Statue of Totalitarianism as the Statue of Liberty. And since this is a 1997 book, the Statue of Liberty, shot from the harbor, has the World Trade Center towers in the background.

In addition to memorials to soldiers, memorials to war victims are found throughout the world.

The book lists two such memorials: Peace Park in Hiroshima and the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. So saying “throughout the world” is quite a bit of a stretch here. I don’t expect you’d find many such monuments in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but I could be mistaken.

We think of monuments as enduring, everlasting, and permanent–as indeed they are meant to be. But many of the world’s greatest monuments are in peril. During the last fifty years, pollution has devastated the world’s monuments.

You know what has devastated monuments since the book was published? Groups destroying the monuments of the disfavored, whether it’s the Taliban destroying ancient Buddhist statues or American leftists pulling down statues of historical figures who were not 21st century Woke.

So it was a relatively quick browse, a couple nights/hours. I have a large number of coffee table or set picture books like this. Perhaps I’ll focus on them a little more this year to clear some of them out and to bolster my annual numbers.

Book Report: Mount Vernon: An Illustrated Handbook by The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union (1974)

Book coverThis book is one of those books sold at a historic site to tell you about said historic site, but it’s pretty detailed–flat spine and 114 pages which includes numerous photographs and drawings, of course, but enough text that make this more than a football game browser.

It’s also more like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello than Death Valley Scotty or House on the Rock in that it details a place of historical significance, not just a tourist attraction or curiousity turned into a tourist attraction.

The book also includes the story of how Mount Vernon came to be preserved–in the middle of the eighteenth century, the last owner from Washington’s line wanted to give it to the Federal government or the state of Virginia, but neither took the offer (remember limited government? Ah, what an old notion!). So a group of women formed a society, raised money, and took it on (remember voluntary association for the common good? Ah, what an old notion!).

How’s that working out? All right.

We are proud that Mount Vernon does not accept government funding. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and rely solely upon patriotic individuals, foundations, and corporations to help preserve George Washington’s home and to educate visitors from all over the world.

What an anachronism.

At any rate, the book reminds me how little I really know about the revolutionary war and the late eighteenth century in general. However, the book goes through the building room by room with color photographs, and I realize that the whole thing reminds me of a stage set: You see all the props, but the action and narrative are often missing. I kind of get that, too, when I visit places like the Ray House at the Wilsons Creek National Battlefield or the Hawken House, the center of the Webster Groves Historical Society (of which I am still a member, ten years on). Showing me the things only fills in the gaps when I already know the story. I guess interactive programs and re-enactments have their merit.

So the book not only makes me want to visit Mount Vernon, but I also want to read a biography of George Washington. I think I have one around here somewhere. Only time will tell if my urge to read such a volume intersects with my finding such a book on my bookshelves before my urge to read it ebbs.

So I’m getting pretty close to having completed the books that languished on my sofa side table for years, although I have found on my to-read bookshelves books that I know where also on the side table for several football seasons, so I must have cleared it off without reading the books a year or so ago. Ah, well, perhaps I exaggerate for effect when I said how long these particular books had been there, but blowing through them is making for a healthy annual book count as I continue to trudge through The Count of Monte Cristo and the complete works of Keats and (P.B.) Shelley, not to mention the complete works of Shakespeare that I started last year and set aside a couple plays later.

Book Report: Pop Art by Michael Compton (1970)

Book coverThis book is part of the Movements of Modern Art series, so I expect they’re designed to be textbooks. It was not a good book for browsing during football games, as the text to image ratio is quite high. Chapters cover the origins of pop art, subject matter, formal qualities of pop, English pop artists, American pop artists, European artists, and post-pop art, complete with miniature biographies of major artists along with samples of their work. The book also includes little excerpts from magazines and books about pop art from the time when it was new. Which is not all that long before this book appeared.

So what is pop?

Rubbish is what it is.

The book explains that it’s a response to abstract expressionism, which is Jackson Pollack and all that other, earlier rubbish. The pop artists wanted to paint real things, and they often did, except that, instead of painting things as things, they made paintings as things themselves, whereupon the thing depicted was not the point. I would say, “And suddenly, we’re way off into never-neverland” or some such dismissal, but it wasn’t sudden. Blast, what my beloved Impressionists did to art by removing the straight lines.

Were I bothered, I would try to build pop art into a further example of how artists/”elites” in the 20th century fought for the common man by doing their damnedest to ensure that their books/poems/paintings did not speak to people, but instead spoke self-consciously to themselves and fawning critics looking for the newest fad to become an academic expert in. Which means they’re all chasing fads and making fads instead of making something pleasant to look at that tells a story or scene or causes a viewer to actually have an emotional response other than smug reassurance that he’s better than the hoi polloi.

I did flag one bit from one of those reviews I mentioned. It’s from Art News in 1964 by James Rosenquist:

I’m amazed and excited and fascinated about the way things are thrust at us, the way this invisible screen that’s a couple of feet in front of our mind and senses is attacked by radio and television and visual communications, through things larger than life, the impact of things thrown at us, at such a speed and with such a force that painting and the attitudes toward painting and communication throught dowing a painting now seems very old fashioned….

Just wait about fifty years and see where we are. It’s no surprise, then, that a number of the “artists” in the book flirted with other media, including films and “novels” and, earlier, environments and “Happenings.” Because they were chasing acclaim and fads.

The other thing I flagged was a precursor to tentacle porn called Il Visitatore del Mattino by Dino Buzzati. Which is supposed to be art. I couldn’t find it on the Internet with my first search, but apparently that’s because the artist’s name was misspelled in the book or on the Internet. The image is on Pinterest here along with other items in the vein. It might not be safe for work, especially if you work somewhere where you’d have to try to explain the importance of Buzzati/Buzzatti in later European pop art (and fail).

You know, I prefer painted treasures like these; anything I would like from the 20th or 21st centuries is probably kitsch by Real Artists circa 2019, but the more I see in books like this and in art museums run by Serious Art Apprecianatos, the more I’m fine with that. I’ve got three H. Hargroves on my walls and prefer Bob Ross or Thomas Kinkade to Warhol, Lichtenstein, or the other parade of forgotten pop artists in this book.

So, let me tell you how I really feel.

Book Report: A Million Hours of Memories by Dick Grosenbaugh (1979)

Book coverThis book reminds me a lot of Webster Groves by Clarissa Start, and well it should. Both are local histories compiled in the 1970s as part of the localities’ celebration of anniversaries. However, this book is a little less meaty than that one.

It has a couple of paragraphs around different topics such as sports teams, the car, airports, radio, television, and so on amid numerous black and white photographs. In addition, the book is chock full of sponsored pages, advertorials or paid content where a business had its copywriters or corporate historian chuck out a brief history of the business. You know, that was a thing in the middle part of the last century: The corporate historian, someone with an English degree or something that worked on keeping writing about the history of the company. This was proffered as a career option even when I was a kid for writers, but that’s all gone now, ainna?

At any rate, I was not a resident of the area at the time, so many of the brands and buildings they talk about within this book are gone now, although I did fly on Ozark Airlines and Trans World Airlines when I was a kid, before the bigger ate the littler and then got eaten by a bigger. But most of the local things mentioned in the book are gone, too, especially amongst the sponsored pages, so that probably explains why the Webster Groves book seemed more immediate to me when I read it–because it balanced historical places more than this volume, which focuses on abstract topic centers and businesses that have faded away.

At any rate, worth a buck, maybe, for the pictures. But don’t plan to browse it during football games and then wander away from the game.

Book Report: War Born The Executioner #123 (1989)

Book coverYou know, this is actually a pretty good book. And not just a good book for a Bolan book.

In it, Bolan is tasked with helping protect a munitions manufacturer, but he discovers that the munitions manufacturer has something to hide: He is willing to exchange SDI technology secrets for an American mercenary group to spirit his unknown grandson of a Vietnamese woman and his KIA pilot son out of Vietnam. The munitions manufacturer has also tasked his younger son, now a mercenary himself, with handling the extraction from Vietnam. But the in-country mercenary has made some powerful enemies who learn of the stakes of the swap and move to intercept.

So we’ve got Bolan a bit in the dark about what’s going on, we’ve got a small mercenary group led by the uncle who don’t know the score, and we’ve got the Vietnamese criminals and corrupt military officials all heading for a reckoning.

The jump scenes between the different groups and the individual interplay between the players work better than in typical Bolan novels, and it all moves the story along pretty well. A couple of things disappoint–a bit of clumsiness in the action sequences, and the whole “we have to airdrop into Vietnam and hump through the jungle to Ho Chi Minh City” instead of catching a plane with a fake British passport–but overall, it’s a pretty good little book. Well, less little than they used to be–they’re up to 250 pages by the 20th anniversary.

It’s books like this that keep me optimistic that my march through the dozens of books in this and related lines I have on top my to-read shelves won’t all make me cringe. I’d hope that most of them would be this good, but I am a realist who has a long track record already with these books. They’re not the same without Don Pendleton writing them, and many, many of them are not very good.