Book Report: Mother Goose in the Ozarks by Ray Wood (1938, 1983)

Book coverAs I accurately predicted on Sunday, I read this book first of the ones I picked up. I have so little time to read these days that monographs and twee little books are about all I can get read in a timely fashion.

This book is a 1983 reprint of the 1938 original, a sticker on the cover informs us, and it is an illustrated collection of what might have passed for nursery rhymes in the Ozarks around the turn of the twentieth century. The perface tells us about the author and the history of the rhymes in this collection which later appeared elsewhere (we’ll get to that in a minute). H. L. Mencken had nice words to say about it when it was published.

The little rhymes in it are a bit twee and facile, but I’m coming to them from a position where Mother Goose and the European nursery rhymes are wisdom received at a young age. Perhaps if I were exposed to these rhymes in my youth and Mother Goose as an adult, I’d have the completely opposite reaction. So, some were amusing, but most were just rhymes for children to recite because nobody had television or radios yet.

One thing that modern audiences would zot onto is the use of perjoratives for blacks. A couple of the rhymes involve accusing a black person of something or just denigraating a black person, but that loses a bit of context that a lot of people mentioned in these rhymes are not represented in the best light. The book also disparages Irish people and other individuals. Face it, if you’re in a nursery rhyme, you’re not doing to well. But modern scholars and readers have their own biases and focii, so that’s what they would see first. Not that I’m defending the viewpoint; only that I can read something like it and say, “That’s not right,” where modern arbiters might not let me read it at all because they don’t trust my judgment.

Some things sounded familiar, though, such as:

Chicken in th’ bread-pan
Pickin’ up th’ dough
Granny will your dog bite?
No, child, no.

Where have I heard that before?

Also, this one learned me the source of an expression that was a fabled book and then a major motion picture:

William tremble-toe is a good fisherman
Catches hens–puts them in pens
Some lay eggs–some lay none
Wire, briar, limberlock, three geese in a flock
One flew east, one flew west
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

The nursery rhyme listed as the source of the title in Wikipedia differs, though.

Another features a character asking for his jimmy-john. I wondered if he wanted a sandwich, but after a little research which was mainly trying to formulate a search query that would return me something other than information about the restaurant chain, I discovered this probably refers to a whiskey jug.

At any rate, a quick read. A little educational, as it taught me the things I mentioned above. But it would be doubleplus ungoodthink to many who would then not learn what else it might have to teach.

Book Report: On the Run by John D. MacDonald (1963)

Book coverOoops, I read it again. I first read this book in 2004, and in reviewing that particular review, I agree, fifteen years later with my earlier assessment.

The story: A young man, on the run from the mob, is found by a private detective working for the young man’s rich grandfather, who is dying and wants to see his progeny again. The grandfather sends his private nurse to retrieve the young man, and they fall in love as they drive from Texas to New England. The grandfather also invites the man’s brother, but the brother is in with the mob, and he comes with a plan to finger his brother for a hitman. Then a single violent night ends some lives and changes others.

I did flag this chapter beginning, though:

THE EXECUTIONER stood at the back of the bar of a roadhouse on Route 5 between Albany and Schendectady, nursing a bottle of ale.

What book am I reading here?

But given the turn of events at the end of the book, which sees a newly wealthy young man seeking violent revenge on the Mob, one wonders if this might be a precursor to the Don Pendleton series. Probably not, but you never know.

Book Report: Don Worth: Photographs 1955-1985 Introduction by Hal Fischer (1986)

Book coverThis is a collection of photographs from a mid- to late-twentieth-century photographer who focused (ba dum tiss) on close-ups of flowers and other flora who then moved into landscapes, male nudes, and still lifes during his career.

The introduction is one of the great artistic criticism sorts rather than the simple bio. Hal Fischer fits Don Worth into the great American tradition of nineteenth century landscape painters and Transcendentalists. So it is on that end of the spectrum of monograph intros, meaningful to serious students of photography but just blather to more casual appreciators of the art.

The photography itself is also a bit of a photography buff’s bag. It deals a lot with textures and shapes within the frame, where the content is important as photography more than telling a story or inviting the viewer to see something other than a photograph. So it’s a bit of modern art in that regard, and the introductory text writer favorably compares Worth to Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, so, yeah.

It doesn’t take you long to browse through it once you get through the introduction.

I know, with the blizzard of monography book reports, you’re wondering exactly how much football I watched this weekend. No more than nine hours. But I’m also watching some college football and playoff baseball. Which means I should make a real effort to get to the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale to pick up more this month.

Book Report: Adolf Dehn Drawings Selected by Virgina Dehn / Introduction by Carl Zigrosser (1971)

Book coverThis collection of drawings’ introduction describes the life and times of Adolf Dehn without getting into the Importance of the artist in the milieu. It talks mostly about how the artist approached his work, which is by sketching a bit and then later interpreting his sketch and memory in the finished sketch.

For Dehn’s work is mostly pen and ink drawings (including some caricature) but also includes some watercolors, although the images in the book are black and white, so I cannot speak to how they would look in color.

However, the line drawings do not appeal to me. I mean, it’s like 2D comic art blended with some Degas or the other bad Impressionist or post-Impressionist influences. I mean, he’s no Matt Hirschfeld, that’s for sure.

Still, worth a browse during a football game just so I can continue to explore what I like and don’t like among the art world and art monographs.

Book Report: Thawed by Gary Bedell (?)

Book coverThis book is an ex-library book from some unstated library that I picked up this spring at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. I called it a comic art monograph, but it might be more akin to a self-published sketch book that I tend to avoid buying at local cons.

So, about the artist. He’s local, as I determine by the inclusion of posters advertising music shows in downtown Springfield. The book include some completed comic art that has the fully realized 3D modeling that’s unlike more cartoon-centric art like Rook City or Duel! as well as some other art, some digitally generated, that looks like it could fit into video games. The book also includes some sketches to show the preliminary work before the finished product.

An interesting browse during a football game, to be sure.

Book Report: H.G. Wells by Alan L. Paley (1973)

Book coverThis book is a short biographical sketch and literary history of the early science fiction author who wrote The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The War of the Worlds, and others.

He made his bank on those early science fiction works and then turned his attention to serious novels, often with autobiographical undertones, and his two volume The Outline of History which I have around here somewhere.

However, he is not known for those books except for The Outline of History, and the latter mostly because it was often the free books given away by book clubs to new members. His themes moved more to the political, and in the between war years and after World War II, that didn’t play well in Yorkshire much less Peoria.

Regardless, he was prolific and an active writer until his death in 1946, but you will be forgiven if you think him a contemporary of Jules Verne, who died in 1905. Most of H.G. Wells’ best known works come from the turn of the century, too.

You know, these little short books about various authors were quite a thing back in the middle part of the last century. I’ve got a bunch of short bio-and-literary-criticism ex-library books from various series tucked away in narrow gaps and in the back crannies of the Nogglestead library. I should consider blowing through a bunch of them to pad my annual reading numbers. However, since this is the 92nd book in my log for this year, I should probably save that gambit for another year where I bog myself down in heavy classical literature more than I have this year.

Book Report: The Addams Family by Elizabeth Faucher (1991)

Book coverI guess a new animated film of The Addams Family is coming out. Now that I’m watching football, baseball, and hockey on the television, I see more advertisements these days. And, apparently, my youngest son saw an episode of the television show in school last week, for some reason, and he asked me if I’d seen it. I had, but The Munsters played more in syndication in Milwaukee, so I’ve seen more of them.

This book is a novelization of the 1991 (!) film adaptation that starred Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, and Christina Ricci. You know, I’ve seen both this film and its 1993 sequel, and although I remember the basics of the plots, I don’t remember the movies that clearly. So I can’t compare the book to its cinema execution.

But the plot is that the wacky macabre Addams family still yearns for missing Uncle Fester, who disappeared a long time ago. When the Addams family attorney falls behind on payments to a loan shark and con artist and her son, they hatch a plan to insert the son into the family as the long-lost uncle until such time as he can steal the family’s wealth from their hidden vault. Only it turns out that the son fits in too well with the family and might be the real Fester.

This, too, is a kid’s book (as was Lassie Come-Home published by Scholastic, so clearly, I am really trying to pad my annual book reading total.

Actually, what happened was I was looking for a particular book on one particular shelf, and I found a couple of quick reads while I continue my search for this particular book. And, as I mentioned, my son brought up The Addams Family recently, which made it seem a timely choice.

Also, I’m trying to pad my annual total.

Book Report: Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight (1940)

Book coverI don’t know if I should count this as a “classic” or high literature in my annual self-accounting, as it is simply a story about a boy and his dog. Sort of. But it’s a classic, sort of, and it certainly spawned a number of movies and television shows so much that you can still say “What’s that girl? Timmy’s fallen in the well?” and people will get the allusion even though the television show has been off the air for, what, forty years?

At any rate, no Timmy in the well in this book. Here, a proud Yorkshire family raises a good dog, Lassie, that makes them proud, and the people in hard times are proud of their dogs. But times get harder, and the father sells the dog to the local aristrocrat. The dog escapes and meets the boy at the schoolhouse just like every day, and the family takes her in, but the local kennel master thinks the whole thing is a con akin to Jerry Reed’s “The Bird”. So the aristocrat takes to dog to his estate in the Scottish Highlands, and the dog bides its time until it can escape and travel south to meet with its family again.

The bulk of the book is in the journey and the adventures, such as they are, that Lassie has on the way. No children are actually imperiled by wells, but the dog gets into fights and meets a nice old couple that takes care of her for a time, but she is driven to return.

It’s a kids book, I guess, and a relatively quick read. And, just maybe, a classic. Borderline.

Book Report: Random Realities by Elton Gahr (2017)

Book coverAs I mentioned when I read Gahr and Seth Wolfhorndl’s Rook City comic, I hoped I would like Gahr’s fiction as well–as I bought a couple of his fiction collections at LibraryCon this year.

Well, I liked the book.

It’s a collection of science fiction short stories. Some of them are very short indeed–a couple of pages, which means they’re coming it at under 1000 words. So flash fiction. The plots are imaginative, but the execution is a little unsophisticated at times. The prose lacks any flourish, even the flourish of austerity. But, you know what? Who cares? Did I mention the plots are imaginative? And the stories are not woke parables, which I understand is a problem in some modern sci fi.

So I’ll pick up his other collection, Random Fantasies by and by. I see I actually bought a couple of other books from him, so I’ll probably jump into them before long as well. Because simple with good plots beats complex, character-driven pieces with poor plots or pacing.

Book Report: Steuben Glass by James S. Plaut (1948)

Book coverThis “monograph” is more of a marketing piece for the (former) Steuben Glass, which was part of Corning that made and sold high-end hand-blown glass objects as well as created pieces for museums to promote the consumer glass.

The text tells the history of the company as well as the techniques of hand glass blowing. We can see an example of this every time we go to Silver Dollar City, and I have some objects that a friend made when he took a glass blowing class twenty or so years ago, so I understand the craftsmanship involved.

A lot of the pieces within, and not just the museum pieces, are flawless and beautiful works of glass that you can maybe use when the company comes. At the tail end of the depression and in the immediate war years, they must have been expensive status-provers.

But now you can go into Walmart and get something possibly not as beautiful, but attractive and cheap. I explained this to my son yesterday as I was looking at the book. The march of technology and progress continues bringing things that were luxuries into the reach of people working real jobs.

Amazing.

As this is an ex-library book from the Springfield Art Museum, we can judge its relative popularity by the last stamp on its checkout papers in the back cover. In this case, 7/27/99.

Book Report: Henry Fuseli by Carilyn Keay (1974)

Book coverYou know, the front material on these monographs tends to be of two varieties. One offers biographical information. The second offers critical interpretation of the artist’s work and what it means and why it’s important. I’d like to generalize and say that the more famous the artist is, the more likely the monograph will have the first type of introduction. You know, they’re famous because their art meant something. However, that’s a bit misleading, as the Rodin monograph definitely leaned to the critical. As does this book, which covers the career of an artist who worked in line drawing and painting in the 18th century.

He’s mostly known today as an illustrator who did editions of Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante. But the short critical piece at the outset says he’s an important transitional figure between the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Romanticism.

But, basically, it’s the equivalent of comic book art from the 1700s. The best pieces (aka the ones I liked the best) were the line illustrations, but only a few of the paintings were in color, so they probably lost a little in that translation into black and white. The paintings are a bit of Rubens or Raphael but blended with the Chiascurro of Rembrandt. But without the latter’s heroism or dignity.

So, yeah, unheard of but perhaps important to art critics. And not likely to have one of his prints grace the walls of Nogglestead soon.

As this is an ex-library book from the Springfield Art Museum, we can judge its relative popularity by the last stamp on its checkout papers in the back cover. In this case, 2/17/89, but it was overdue and a notice was sent on 2/25/89.

Book Report: Games Zen Masters Play: Writings of R.H. Blyth Selected, edited, and with an introduction by Robert Sohl and Audrey Carr (1976)

Book coverThis book collects some commentary on primary Buddhist texts by an early 20th century Nipponphile. R.H. Blyth was born in London and moved to Japan prior to World War II. He was locked up for the duration of it, but continued to live in Japan afterwords. He became quite the scholar in Buddhism and whatnot.

The book takes an excerpt from some Buddhist text, whether it’s a poem or a complete parable, and Blyth comments on it, making it more palatable or comprehensible to Western readers. He ties some of the tenets and lessons to Christian teachings to illustrate how some of the concepts align, but dealing with the primary sources really highlights some of the ways the ontology of Buddhism is a little hard to swallow at times.

You know, I might have said this before, but the Buddhism and Yoga purists rail against lightweight Mindfullness industry even though the authors and speakers who talk about embracing and focusing on the present instead of embracing the Eastern religion in toto might be distilling the best part of the religions kind of like non-denominational churches focusing on the gospel instead of the law. These provide practical blueprints for living, and we Americans are practical people in the aggregate. After all, we invented Pragmatism, did we not?

So this book lies a little more Buddhist than even some of the writings of Shunryu Suzuki or Hanh. Perhaps more akin to the Talmud where these other writings are akin to the epistles of Paul. That is, this book is commentary on the ontology, and those others are commentary on the message.

Or maybe I’m just making this all up. I don’t know if I’m really clever or really daft. Or if these are mutually exclusive.

Book Report: Rodin by Yvon Taillandier (1978)

Book coverYou might remember, gentle reader, that my house is completely done in Impressionism, with maybe a dozen prints of Renoir on the walls along with a Monet print (and the other classic print is a Rembrandt). But what about the sculpture? The only classic sculpture we have is a small rendition of Rodin’s The Kiss because it was a souvenir from the Milwaukee Art Museum which has a plaster cast of it, and this small rendition of it has been in the family for probably almost fifty years–I remember it on the shelves in the apartment in the projects. So I was really hoping to like Rodin (which I am pretty sure I pronounce like Rodan because, although I like to pretend otherwise, I am an uncultured clown).

At any rate, this book: Oh, my.

You know how I like to comment on the balance of text to work in these sorts of books (monographs and photography collections)? This one is completely unbalanced in favor of the text. The text is not biographical; it’s more self-indulgent art criticism (redundant, I know) that explains how Rodin was to sculpture what the Impressionists were to painting. However, the text makes it sound like Rodin is the sculptural equivalent of the Jigsaw killer. Every incomplete figure is a gruesome dismemberment by the sadistic sculptor. I mean, the prose is pretty purple over and over in this regard. And then there’s a dash of Marxist class struggle, which Rodin’s work really, really advances. Death to the Bourgeoisie!

So, yeah, not worth reading. But I just bought the book for the pictures.

And I have a new favorite Rodin piece: The Eternal Spring/Eternal Springtime. But I probably won’t be getting a cast of it any time soon as Nogglestead does not have a lot of horizontal surfaces for sculpture.

And I learned that Rodin worked for a couple years in a factory designing vases and cups, so Rodin was decorating common household goods not unlike the people who worked on Painted Treasures. Rodin also illustrated an edition of Les Fleurs du Mal, known in English as The Flowers of Evil. The last would come in handy on a trivia night if only the trivia window had not shifted to the 1990s.

At any rate, I find that it’s not so easy to flip through these books during football games any more. I’m not sure if my attention spans continue to shrink or if football games have been shortened. Perhaps both. Perhaps the books I’ve picked up of late are particularly wordy in the text. Regardless, I have a couple more queued up and might get a chance to get a couple more at the library book sales this autumn.

Book Report: The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise (2013)

Book coverI bought this book earlier this year when I went to a book signing at ABC Books and made my way to the poetry section in addition to the martial arts and football books. I picked it up to browse during football games, but I ended up just reading it as I do so many books that I plan to browse.

So this book is a collection of poems by a woman of some success–her work has appeared in literary journals I’ve heard of. The poems are modern and a bit self-indulgent, which led me to wonder about modern poetry: Is it more about the poet telling his or her story and making you sympathize or empathize with him or her more than it is about using an incident to create a resonant moment within the reader? Because a lot of poems seem more about the poet’s expressing himself or herself more than anything else.

As in this book.

The poet recounts the end of a relationship with a modern sensibility, and her life experience does not resonate with mine, and her poems don’t evoke anything in me as a reader. As a matter of fact, certain elements create a conscious distance, and they express something, but it’s not necessarily good poetry.

Of course, she’s an award-winning poet with poems in journals whose names I recognize, whilst I am an almost double-digit selling poet whose works have pseudonymously appeared in zines like Monkey Spank. So perhaps being a successful poet is more about one point of view over the other, which is mine.

Book Report: Alan Gussow: Oils 1950-1980 by Lyle Gray (2006)

Book coverWell. This is a collection of paintings done by the named artist and exhibited in New York and perhaps on the road shortly after the turn of the 21st century. A bit of introduction explains who Gussow was and why he was important, which basically justifies the exhibition.

But ultimately, he’s a mid 20th century brush strokes and shapes on canvas sort of painter. It’s hard to find anything represented in his work but for the colors and shapes. The frontspiece is reminiscient of Guernica but without the actual, you know, distinguished shapes. So this work doesn’t rise to the level even of Picasso. Or even, heaven forfend, Matisse.

So why do I bother with monographs and collections of artists I don’t like? Perhaps I hope to crystallize things I like and to be able to explain better what I don’t. But I’m not sure that’s working. To turn Tolstoy’s quote from Anna Karenina on its head: All art that I don’t like are all alike; each piece of art I like is pleasing in its own way. And the reason I don’t like a lot of modern art is that it’s basically self conscious artist doing art that is supposed to be viewed and reviewed as art. That is, you know you’re looking at a painting. It has little content other than Hey, I’m a painting!.

Perhaps I need to review more modern art monographs to improve my explanation. Or put a little more thought or effort into it. But what am I, Driscoll or Lileks?

Book Report: Rook City by Seth Wolfshorndl and Elton Gahr (2016)

Book coverThis book is by one of the artists behind Duel! and the author of a couple of other books I picked up at LibraryCon 2019.

This book deals with Rook City, a place where many people have special abilities, but one fellow does not. A college student who likes mysteries, he helps an elderly vigilante escape a nursing home and witnesses several students who consume Dracula’s reconstituted blood and each receives a single ability of the vampire’s power–and a professor that drinks a vial with a more powerful reconstitution. Oh, and the super hero defender of the city pays an actor to act as his nemesis and always look good.

It has a number of stories with interconnections, and it works. The art is simple and serves the story, which you know is what I like in comics. And it hints at a continuation, so I’ll look for that.

I liked it, so I’ll pick up more of the artist’s narrative work (that is, not the sketchbook kinds of collections that a lot of con comic book participants offer). And I hope that I like Gahr’s fiction as much as I liked these stories.

Book Report: The Art of America in the Gilded Age by Shirley Glubok (1974)

Book coverThis book is not a real monograph, nor is it a comprehensive survey of art in America between the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century. It’s a very, very brief glance.

For painting, we’ve got a couple paragraphs and an image or two for Whisler, Sargent, Cassatt, members of a group called The Ten, Eakins, Remington, a couple photographers, but each really only gets a mention and a plate. Then we’ve got a couple paragraphs on the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (Didn’t Cassatt do an impressive mural for it? Yes, yes, she did, I remembered.), some pages on architecture and engineering in the last half of the last century (The Roeblings who built the Brooklyn Bridge suffered for it; the father died and the son had lingering effects from working in the caissons, I remembered).

So it’s a quick skim–the text is really only essay length–with relatively few images for the text (but the text is not dense). It was most valuble for me to remind me of things I already knew, as I have read books on Sargent, Cassatt, and Remington and the story of the Roeblings in Who Built That?.

But not a bad way to pass an hour or so.

Book Report: Duel! by Steve Wolfhorndl and Matt Meyers (?)

Book coverThis is a fun little collection of, well, two stories essentially: Duel 1 and Duel 2.

The first has the conceit of two kids drawing super-powered characters who take turns stomping the other kid’s most recent character. So we get a bit of one-upmanship with simple comic drawings of different types of characters.

The second actually features two comic artists swapping drawings, so each new creation attacks and defeats the champion from the previous turn.

The book also includes a couple prequel adventures of the characters before they met their ends in the duels, which is a nice treat of more straight forward comic bookery. The end matter of the book includes additional treatments of the characters.

It’s a bit of fun. I might get a copy of it for my boys for Christmas.

Book Report: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow (2003)

Book coverI bought this book six years ago because I recognized Doctorow’s name from the Internet. In those six years, I have read a pile of Executioner novels acquired that same day before picking this book up. In the interim, I forgot it was a novel, and I initially placed it in my carry bag last week to read at the martial arts school while my kids were in class (and I was not, as I recovered from the memorial stair climb).

But it is a novel, and to sum up: Nothing of consequence happens in an interesting world.

The extrapolated world has people constantly jacked into the Internet, extreme body modifications, and sort-of immortality via consciousness backup and restore to a clone. People live not on cash, but a currency based on social media reputation called Whuffies–if you do a lot of things that people on the Internet value, you have a lot of doors open to you, but if you do not, well, you’re on hard times. Down and out, one might say.

The narrator begins by recounting how he met his best friend, and then the main narrative explains that he (the narrator) returns periodically to Disney World after various adventures. His friend returns, out of Whuffies, and talks again about permanently ending his life. The narrator convinces his friend to not go out on the bottom, but to rebuild his reputation and to go out at his peak. So the two work with the narrator’s girl friend to manage part of the park.

The park itself is run by various ad-hocracies, like-minded individuals who come together to do things guided by people on social media who reward them with likes–and Whuffies–for good ideas. Another attraction developer moves into Liberty Square and threatens the status quo with new technologies–and someone murders the narrator, which makes the narrator go a little off in his defense of the status quo.

Spoiler alert: At the end, status quo is maintained. As I mentioned, nothing of consequence happens in an interesting world.

I’m not sure if the intended message is that nobody can move forward or change in such a society, but that’s what I took from it.

At a little over 200 pages, it’s a pretty quick read, and narratively, it pulls you along. So pleasant, but meaningless.

Book Report: Seven Dwarfs and Some Odd Tales by Isaac Crawford (2016)

Book coverI got this book at LibraryCon 2019. The author/artist had a couple of regular, staple-stitched comics that I bought as well as this collection which has a flat spine and hence gets counted as a graphic novel and eligible for my annual reading list and an official MfBJN book report.

This book is a collection of stories that take on stuff from the Brothers Grimm (or at least popular representations thereof) and nursery rhymes and given a darker (although not necessarily as dark as the Brothers Grimm) turn, often featuring lycanthropy as the pivot.

An interesting book. The art is black and white and not too busy. The art and story are well balanced–it’s not a story ins service of the art, but the art serves the story. So pretty good.

I liked it better, strangely enough, than his individual comics. One of the series I read, Musical Mishaps of Cat and Fiddle, stretches a story similar in feel (and featuring a form of lycanthrophy as well), into six issues which lends itself to creating more panels for the story which unbalances it a bit.

So perhaps I’m learning a little about the balance I prefer, and this book has it. For what it’s worth.

Still, I’ll watch for more from this guy at future conventions.