Book Report: Red Plush and Black Beard (Condensed) by Marguerite Higgins (1955)

Book coverThis is a condensed, pamphlet-sized version of a longer book (which is $300 on Amazon if you search via Bing but $8 if you search on Amazon?) about Marguerite Higgins’s experience in the Soviet Union. It clocks in at 16 pages, and I probably got it in a bundle of chapbooks/pamphlets for a buck at a Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale some time ago. But I’m counting as a book I read regardless of the length.

At any rate, you don’t have to be a Russiaphile to know what she finds: Brutal architecture, primitive living, but a resilient and resigned people.

But enough about this little publication of the Good Reading Rack Service. It leads to a little wondering about the Good Reading Rack Service itself. The book has no price markings; what was the Good Reading Rack Service? Internet searches yield no history of the company but a boatload of entries from their series. Was it teaser giveaways for bookstores trying to sell the books themselves?

Also, how about Marguerite Higgins herself? A woman war correspondent who covered World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam along with being the bureau head in Moscow when she wrote Red Plush and Black Beard. Wow, that’s more interesting than what she had to say about Moscow in the middle 1950s.

Book Report: Made To Be Broken by Allen St. John (2006)

Book coverWell, I got this book from ABC Books this week, and I was so achy for sports that I jumped right into it.

It’s a photograph-laden book with 50 different streaks and records that the author thinks are important across sports, including Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Ty Cobb’s batting average, Johnny Unitas’s touchdown pass streak, Rickey Henderson’s stolen base and runs scored records, as well as tennis, golf, and Olympic records.

I remember most the baseball and football ones from real life even though I might not have lived in their times just because they’re the legends of the game even though they weren’t Brewers, Cardinals, or Packers.

Some of the records have been broken since the book was published (Mark Spitz’s gold medals in an Olympics, Dan Marino’s career passing yardage–twice) and one has been stripped (Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wins). So not all of them will last the ages.

An interesting and quick browse between heavier works, and a pleasant interlude.

Book Report: The Cyclops/Heracles/Iphegenia in Tauris/Helen by Euripedes (1969)

Book coverAfter watching Hercules Unchained, I decided to go right to the source material. Well, Hercules Unchained is based Sophocles and Aeschylus’ works, not Euripides. Which becomes clear when one reads the tragedy Heracles that is included.

The book includes:

  • The Cyclops, a comedy of sorts of a type called by scholars a satyr-play, so it’s a touch raunchy and one expects the chorus to be a bunch of men in goatskin pants and priapi (I hope I spelled that correctly; you will forgive me that I did not conduct an Internet search to make sure.) (I am just kidding; I do have a dictionary, so it is spelled correctly). It recounts Odysseus’ trip to the island of Polyphemus and the escape.
  • Heracles, a tragedy that recounts Heracles’ return to Thebes, his madness, and its consequences.
  • Iphegenia in Tauris, wherein Orestes goes to Tauris to steal back the idol of Artemis to calm the Furies chasing him, where Iphegenia is the high priestess after Artemis whisked her away from Agammemnon’s sacrifice.
  • Helen, wherein Menelaus is shipwrecked in Egypt, where he finds the real Helen, not the fake Helen who was carried away by Paris, triggering the Trojan War.

You know, the contemporary wailing about Hollywood relying heavily on known intellectual properties for entertainment, but it has nothing on the ancient Greeks.

Euripedes put his own spin on the latter two tales, wherein both women were not where common (Homeric) stories had them. Artemis replaces Iphegenia with a hind during the moment of sacrifice, so Iphegenia is still alive after the Illiad. The gods make a double for Helen who is carried to Troy, so the real Helen has remained true to her husband. Given that the book is titled Euripedes II: Four Tragedies, I expected the stage to be littered with corpses at the end of these plays, but I was pleased that they ended a little more happily than that.

Each play has a relatively length bit of criticism/history/relating the stories to other Greek works that I skipped. A lot of times, I’ll come back and read the commentary after I read the source material, but this time I skipped most of it (I read the intro to Helen which is presented after the play and I read a little of the introduction to The Cyclops). I’m more interested in the source materials than the academic scholarship around it anyway.

At any rate, I flagged a couple of things:

  • From Heracles, a defense of monotheism:

    Ah, all this has no bearing on my grief;
    but I do no believe the gods commit
    adultery, or bind each other in chains.
    I never did believe it; I never shalll
    nor that one true god is tyrant of the rest.
    If god is truly god, he is perfect,
    lacking nothing. These are poets’ wretched lies.

  • In Iphegenia in Tauris, Iphegenia tips the forty for her presumed dead brother Orestes:

    Give me the urn o gold which heavy holds
    My tribute to the God of Death.
    Orestes, son of Agammemnon, who
    Who are lying under the dark earth, I lift
    And pour–for you.

  • Also in Iphegenia in Tauris, Artemis herself lays down the baseball rule that the tie goes to the runner:

    Orestes, once I saved you
    When I was arbiter on Ares’ hill
    And broke the tie by voting in your favor.
    Now let it be the law that one who earns
    An evenly divided verdict wins
    His case.

    Note that in modern American civics, though, an evenly divided jury is hung, and in the Senate, the vice-president gets to vote to break the tie.

  • From Helen, a brief aphorism that comes at the end of a speech that, erm, prophecies Luther’s arguments against some practices of the medieval church:

    The best prophet is common sense, our native wit.

    Oh, right, I cannot make that assertion about Luther and not give the wider context:

    It shall be done, my lord.
    Only, now I am sure
    how rotten this business of prophets is, how full of lies,
    There never was any good in burning things on fires
    nor in the voices of fowl. It is sheer idiocy
    even to think that birs do people any good.
    Calchas said nothing about this, he never told
    the army when he saw his friends die for a cloud,
    nor Helenus either, and a city was stormed in vain.
    You might say: “No, for God did not wish it that way.”
    Then why consult the prophets? We should sacrifice
    to the gods, ask them for blessings, and let prophecy go.
    The art was invented as a bait for making money,
    but no man ever got rich on magic without work.
    The best prophet is common sense, our native wit.

    So you can see where I might have thought that: Luther was against some of the money-earning practices of the church, including the saying of masses with no attendees for money to expedite the stay in purgatory for dead relatives. So, basically, the criticism of the church is similar across time and churches.

    Also, it gives a nice aphorism.

If you’re interested, you don’t have to buy the book; you can find all of these plays and more on MIT’s Classic page for Euripedes. You might like that, gentle reader, but as you know, I need a book. This book is part of a series, but I am not going to seek them out. But if I see them at ABC Books or the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library, I will be all on them.

Because these pieces of classical literature, in good translations, are very approachable and readable especially if you skip the academic and mostly irrelevant prose bookending them.

Book Report: Murder at the Painted Lady by Barbara Warren (2011)

Book coverAs I mentioned, my grandmother sent me a really nice omnibus edition of five Miss Marple novels by Agatha Christie. Which I put on my to-read shelves. Where I promptly lost it. I am not kidding; after I finished Deep and Swift, I went looking for it on the shelves in my office, and I could not find it. You would expect it would be on top or something, but it is not.

Instead, I found this book on top of the floor stack. I bought it at LibraryCon last year from a pleasant older woman whose product didn’t really fit the general science fiction/comic convention. It sounded like a British-styled cottage mystery. And so it was, although it is set in the Ozarks.

A young lady finds that she has inherited a fine old house in Stony Point, Missouri, that has run down a little bit from an estranged great aunt whom she tried once to visit but was rebuffed. The husband of her aunt, if only there was a word for that, was prosecuted for jewelry theft and went to prison, and the aunt withdrew from society as she tried to prove his innocence, and she left the house to the only relative who ever showed her any consideration along with the directive that she clear her uncle (oh, that’s the word) name.

But even before she decides to accept the house, a chilling phone call warns her against it. Suddenly, she’s got relatives coming out of the woodwork, literally, to try to wrest it from her. With the help of a conscientious contractor and friends she makes along the way, she works to restore the home and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast.

Oh, yeah, and one of the contenders for the home is murdered in the house–a house where she had no right to be and no signs of forced entry. I mean, murder is right in the title of the book. It’s not all a romance about a plucky young lady.

So it did fit into the cozy cottage mystery vibe, and I enjoyed it. I have a couple more from this author somewhere, but not on the stack immediately beneath this one. So I’ll probably enjoy them when I find them. Someday.

Book Report: Deep and Swift The Executioner #148 (1991)

Book coverThis is the next Executioner novel after Payback Game. The series has started to move between international thrillers and the more basic Bolan-against-the-mobs plots, with this one featuring Bolan in New York City fighting both sides of a drug turf war between Vietnamese gangs which include re-settled warriors from the Vietnam War whom Bolan knows and Columbians.

So, shoot-em-up set pieces which are not laughable. Some helpful sympathetic characters die. Some live. There’s a bit of innovation on how he penetrates the enemy stronghold at the end. So not a bad outing in the series, but not one of the more inventive ones.

Still, now that I am almost done with the Little House books, I’m starting to wonder how long it would take me to go through the remainder of the Executioner novels I own. Probably, with effort, years. So I will probably plug along at a little slower than that and maybe make it in a decade or so.

Another thing that struck me whilst reading this book is how little the titles have to do with the plot. It used to be that they had a place name in them that made for an indicator, at the very least, of where Bolan was going so that maybe, if you paid attention or were a Bolan scholar, you would know which plot goes with which book. But less so now.

Book Report: Gauguin by René Huyghe (?)

Book coverThis book has not disuaded me from my thesis that art (not just visual art, but literature and music also) became generally broken sometime right before the turn of the twentieth century when the focus changed from the work of art representing something in real life to the work of art reflecting itself. That is, a painting wasn’t necessarily for you to look at the something in the painting, but rather for you to look at the painting.

Gauguin still stands on the representational end of he spectrum. You can tell his crude executions depict something, often nude native women, which means that he’s basically the artistic version of old National Geographic magazines. That is, an educated excuse to see boobs.

The book itself is laden with text with some boobs and some non-boob art interspersed. The text is heavily art-critic and translated from the original French, so it’s pretty florid and emphasizes how awesome and important Gauguin is, relating his work to other less consequential figures and the Impressionists. I am not cultivated enough to really grok it, though, since it’s the sort of in-language that detects hints of smoke and blackberries in the wine.

So, yeah, not a fan.

Something interesting about this book: the first couple of pages–the frontspiece and the title page have come out, and the title page has a picture pasted onto it. Which makes me believe that they were added after the rest of the book was bound. You know, one of the early work-at-home businesses was to paste these pictures into the box on the page and then ship them back off to the publisher to insert into the books. Work at home in your spare time while watching television ads in the backs of magazines. This girl I dated in the middle 1990s did that, pasted craft pictures onto the title page of some crafting book. It wasn’t that good of money, and you had to pay close attention to get the right amount of glue on the picture and to make sure it was square. Or the boss would reject the pages and maybe dock you for them. So the girl I dated didn’t do it for long.

Book Report: These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1943, 1981+)

Book coverStrangely enough, this is the first Little House title I owned. I received a copy of These Happy Golden Years from my rich aunt, the one who just passed away, when we lived in the projects (as I recounted when I reported on Captains Courageous back in–Jesus and Mary Chain–2010). The particular volume I read was not the same one gifted to me forty (Love and Rockets!) years ago. When my boys came of reading chapter books age, that volume was passed up to their book shelves, and it’s likely still there as a young man’s interest is not in a teenaged girl’s ‘high school’ years in the late ninteenth century. Mine certainly wasn’t when I was younger than they are now. Which means this book might surpass by a decade Captains Courageous as the longest time a book has been on my to-read shelf before I read it. Given my advancing age, it’s unlikely this mark will be surpassed by anything I’ve boughten myself, although it’s entirely possible that I will get a wild hair and read Nobody’s Buddy or something else my aunt gave me back then to set a new record.

But that’s a long paragraph not apropos to the book itself. This book follows close on the heels of Little Town on the Prairie. And by “close on the heels,” I mean it picks up immediately after. Laura at 13 gets a teaching certificate and goes to teach school in a settlement 12 miles away from her family and the life she’s known. It’s only for eight weeks or so, and she’s bunking with one of the families at the settlement, but the family is unpleasant–the mother wishes they would return back east–and it’s only that Almanzo Wilder comes to get her to bring her home on the weekends that makes it bearable. After that stint is up, she returns home, returns to school, works a bit, and Mary comes to visit a couple of times. As I said, it rolls up a couple of years that encompasses her friends pairing off with boys/men as she pairs up with Almanzo Wilder, goes on sleigh and wagon rides, and eventually marries him.

So we’re passed the childhood now and will get into the two remaining books that are about her adult life but still geared towards children. I’m kind of sad to be coming toward the end of the series. But I do have other things to read.

Book Report: Collected Poems by Robert Hayden (2013)

Book coverI bought this book based on the poem that Neo posted last Father’s Day, “Those Winter Sundays”. I won’t repost it here so as to make you click over to her blog, but the poem spoke to me as I am a father myself and know something of love’s austere and lonely offices that, perhaps, my children will appreciate some day.

I think it’s probably the best poem in the collection, or perhaps it’s the one that spoke most to me. Hayden was active between roughly the late 1940s and his death in 1980. His last new collection was published posthumously in 1982. So we see quite a run through 20th century poetry styles through his career. His early poems feature lines of poetry, but then we get into the more modern couple of words of poetry per line. He sometimes goes into the Black Experience, which is something with which I cannot identify as I am not Black, and this is different and a little distant contrasted with poor urban upbringing themes with which I can identify. But he does not dwell exclusively on racial themes.

Hayden’s career overlapped a bit with that of Langston Hughes and Edna St. Vincent Millay, but you can see where he breaks with traditional forms of poetry that they espoused and went with the more modern stylings. And you know, gentle reader, which style of poetry I prefer.

So it took me a while to read it, off and on, but I liked it enough. He does a shout out to Paul Laurence Dunbar, another poet I have heard about somewhere–I have his Wikipedia entry bookmarked from some earlier encounter so I can write a historical profile of him sometime (although it has been bookmarked so for years, so don’t expect something soon). He also does a poem about Phyllis Wheatley, the first black woman poet to publish a book. So some elements of the book educated me beyond the poetry.

So a better than average collection. Although perhaps it’s just better than the average of the poems I tend to read.

Book Report: Nietzsche by Hendrik van Riessen / Translated by Dirk Jellema (1973)

Book coverIf you read only one 1973 European Presbyterian summary survey / critique of the work of Friedrich Nietzsche this year, well, it’s probably this one.

Actually, I don’t know if van Riessen is actually Presbyterian (the publishing house is Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing), but he is a European Calvinist of some stripe, so as you can imagine, socialism is praised. As long as it’s democratic.

At any rate, this book explores a little of Nietzsche’s biography and then runs through his written work. van Riessen identifies an evolution in Nietzsche’s thought as he goes through rationalism, positivism, and pragmatism on his way to what he (Nietzsche) hopes is active nihilism.

From time to time, the book contrasts Nietzsche with Christian thought, but the Christian lines of thought are just presented briefly without much detail, so this guidebook probably works best if you’re already steeped in Reform theology. The author also presents Nietzsche as struggling with Christ and his message personally in a way that I’m not sure I would infer, but I have not read all that much of Nietzsche primary sources much less in the original German. So I’ll have to accept this with a raised eyebrow.

So it’s a pretty good summation of Nietzsche from the perspective of a mid-twentieth century academic philosopher and theologian. More approachable than primary source Tillich or whatnot, but, again, it’s an explanation and not the primary source.

I don’t have any other titles from this An International Library of Philosophy and Theology Modern Thinkers line, and they’re not necessarily something I’ll seek out as this volume is a pamphletesque paperback whose spine from time to time made sounds like it was going to turn into a pile of leaflets.

Book Report: The Postman by David Brin (1985, 1997)

Book coverHey, who’s in the mood for a post-apocalyptic book? And the apocalypse I’m talking about is not the middle 1990s collapse in Kevin Costner’s career after the twin post-apocalyptic Waterworld and The Postman (which I rented and watched on the same night in the 1990s, gentle reader).

Twenty years (roughly) after a series of calamities (EMPs, bio-warfare, nuclear winter, and insurrection by augmented former soldiers and survivalists), a traveling troubador performs remembered bits from pre-collapse plays, television shows, and commercials in scattered communities for food and shelter as he wanders westward from Montana seeking some semblance of civilization. After he’s robbed of his supplies, he tries to track the thieving band of survivalists but instead stumbles upon a mail truck with a decades-dead postal carrier inside.

Donning the uniform and coat, Gordon reaches a settlement, and they think he’s actually a postal worker, so he invents a story about the Restored United States of America based in St. Paul that is sending out emissaries to set up post offices. He uses this con to survive and delivers actual letters written by townspeople to other towns, eventually actually setting up a post office system. He settles in a prosperous community held together by the myth of an all-knowing supercomputer and tries to get them to train up before the augmented former soldiers march on their homeland and impose a brutal fuedalism on it.

The plot differs from the film quite a bit, as they couldn’t fit whole elements, subplots, and side quests from the book into a single two or three hour film. Although I don’t remember the film that well–I might have actually seen it in the last 20 years–I didn’t dislike it as much as the Clinton-era critics did.

The book was a pleasant enough read for the most part, but wandered a bit and then jumped into an ending that seemed a little rushed. But, overall, pretty good. Not as wide-open in possibilities as a pure mid-century science fiction novel like Project Pope, but that is to be expected.

Book Report: Trash to Treasure 1 (1996)

Book coverYou know, I read three volumes in this series (2, 6, and 8) about ten years ago when I was all hopped up on watching Creative Juice. Even then, I was not really impressed with them.

I mean, basically, you’re “recycling” some household by-product like coffee cans, plastic restaurant clamshell containers, spools/toilet paper cylinders, and so on into crafts by taking this piece of trash and bundling it with about $30 worth of supplies from a craft store to make something cheap and country-crafts looking. Kind of like things our great-grandparents had and we remember fondly. Although they made these kinds of crafts, minus the craft store expenditure, because it was the Depression and/or because they lived on a farm and had to make use of every little thing, for Pete’s sake.

I’d be embarrassed to give most of these projects as gifts or to put them around my house. Although perhaps I’ll change my opinion and will find these books as valuable resources after the apocalypse.

The best part about them is some of the furniture projects and in using the volume as a Look Book, but the step-by-step project text is a little compressed. So this is supposed to be mostly a photo book.

Which means I used it correctly.

At any rate, I don’t think I’ll bother with others in the series–I am pretty sure I checked the others out from the library, but this particular book was on my to-read shelves (purchased in 2017). I am pleased to see I only bought one.

Book Report: The Hobbit Adapted by Charles Dixon and Sean Deming / Illustrated by David Wenzel (1990)

Book coverIt’s been almost ten years since I read The Lord of the Rings. At that time, I said:

This is not a comic book nor a 20th century American thriller.

This, on the other hand, is a graphic novel adaptation of the one book that became three movies in the 21st century. It is a prequel of sorts to the Lord of the Rings, as Bilbo Baggins very early gets the ring and meets Gollum as part of a dwarf quest to slay a dragon (Smaug, come on, you already know the story) and reclaim their ancestral lands.

I probably have the actual text around here somewhere and will get to it one of these decades; however, this does provide a little context to the overall story kind of like I had to read the Cliff’s Notes version of A Tale of Two Cities back in high school.

I was a little surprised, though, that the death of the dragon comes two-thirds of the way through the book, and the remainder is the dwarves trying to hold off other groups who want to get the dragon’s loot. I wondered if the movies captured this, but given that it ends in a great battle that would have been very cinematic, I will guess they did. It’s not like they would have trimmed any material to make it into a trilogy.

At any rate, I read it over the course of a couple nights and enjoyed it enough. It’s funny; it’s been on my to-read shelves for a long time–I didn’t find it listed in my Good Book Hunting posts which I’ve been doing for a long time–awaiting the moment when I would want to read it, and that came up this month. I have not had comic books on my side table in a long time–I’m mourning the closure of the Comic Cave last summer, and after a short play that had also been languishing on my (Deathtrap), it was the time to read the book. I seem to go through cycles of knocking out thin, quick reads to move them from the to-read to the read shelf and then I feel the need to read one of the thick books on my shelf. I’m still coming down from Barnaby Rudge and will probably focus on thinner books for the nonce.

Book Report: Deathtrap by Ira Levin (1979)

Book coverI saw the film version of this in a high school class. What was it? Drama? Media? I forget. What I do remember, though, is that it was a two day event, and the first day ended at almost the end of the first act, and I explained what I thought the trick was, and my friend and locker partner thought I had seen it. So I will spare you the spoiler and will just mention the basic plot.

A thriller playwright who sometimes does playwriting seminars hasn’t had a hit in a while, and although he doesn’t explicitly lament writer’s block, he’s really not cooking anything up. He receives a play in the mail from a student at one of these seminars and discovers it’s quite good, so he invites the student to his house down in Connecticut to–co-write the play? Murder the student and take it for his own? The playwright’s wife is unsure.

So it’s a thriller with twists and whatnot, and it’s only a two act play, so it’s pretty quick reading. I enjoyed it even though I knew the twist. And I seem to recall enough from the movie to know it departs some from the play. Which is pretty good. I’m not sure if I’ll pretty instantly remember much in thirty years of what I’m reading in 2020.

Book Report: Ramblings of an Old Guy by Randall L. Boyd (2016)

Book coverI bought this collection of poetry earlier this month at Main Street Books in St. Charles on the date weekend my beautiful wife and I shared. When we go somewhere on vacation, as you know, gentle reader, we like to visit used book stores in the area. However, St. Charles has but Main Street Books which is mostly new books but has a couple of shelves of used books upstairs. I did not buy any used books this trip, but I did buy three new books at full price.

This is one of them, and it’s the first I have read as I could read it while watching football. The XFL and St. Louis Battlehawks have extended my browse-a-book-whilst-watching season, and this book was good for that.

The book collects poems from across almost fifty years (I believe the earliest is 1973), but most of them come from 2015 and 2016. It describes, fairly narratively, betrayal of a lover/spouse, a brush with death, and some basic slice-of-life narratives.

However, they poems are not very good. They tend toward straightforward narratives or laundry lists of words that have no real depth nor metaphor behind them. I mean, I feel for the poet, but mostly it’s sympathy for the things he’s expressing rather than anything the poetry itself evokes. The poems are often free verse, with only a few employing end rhymes, so I don’t feel the sort-of affection that I have for Grandma poetry you find in Ideals magazine.

Still, it’s better than Collections of Madness.

Your mileage may vary.

Book Report: Project Pope by Clifford Simak (1981)

Book coverAfter I listened to Augustine: Philosopher and Saint, I thought about picking up some of the primary texts I have lying around. Instead, I picked up this science fiction book because it was on the shelves where I thought I had last seen the Augustine, and it has a little bit of religious theme to it. So almost the same.

In it, a doctor on the run joins a journalist on a trip to End of Nothing, a planet way out of the way that features Vatican-17, a research center/church built by robots a thousand years ago where they find room for themselves amongst the human partners in the endeavor. The robots, inspired by their human creators, are looking for one true faith and have created a super computer they call the Pope to crunch the data provided by many alien races and human “listeners” who are mystics or projectors who travel to other places outside their bodies. Over the centuries, factions have developed between those who favor promulgating the faith and those who seek knowledge as the stepping stone to true faith.

When one of the listeners visits “Heaven”–a location that matches common but not biblical depictions of heaven–everything comes to a head as the rival factions vie for power.

You know, when I read classical science fiction–not the modern stuff, and not so much the late Cold War US vs the Soviets in Space–I experience a sense of wonder that I don’t get from other genre fiction, including fantasy. Anything can happen, and I feel transported in a way I don’t with men’s adventure paperbacks, thrillers, or even historical fiction or literature. So I should really read more science fiction–it’s not as though I lack it on my shelves–but somehow I end up grabbing a different kind of book, and I lose that sense of wonder.

Perhaps I should read more science fiction. Please, someone, remind me of this in a week or so.

So, yeah, recommended.

I haven’t read much Simak (City and Mastodonia in the last decade), but he’s a fallen Wisconsin boy (fallen because he was born in Wisconsin but ended up in Minneapolis). In researching this post, I did learn that I bought twp copies of Mastodonia over the years (one in October 2010 and another a year later in October 2011). So I’ll have to be careful not to pluck the second copy from my shelves in 2029 and read it again. Because, by that time, I expect to have about 20% more books on my to-read shelves than I do now. Please, someone, if you see me picking Mastodonia up again, remind me.

Book Report: Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1942, ?)

Book coverI read The Long Winter in December, and I’ve pretty much determined I’m going to read the rest of the series by the end of the year, so here we go.

Well, sort of–I had shelved These Happy Golden Years out-of-order, so I actually read a couple chapters of it before I saw in the front that I was going out of order, so I set that aside and jumped into this book.

This book sees Laura get a job in town for a couple of weeks that will provide some money to help send Mary to college. Mary goes to college; the town develops a little more. Winter is not so bad the next year, but to alleviate cabin fever, the town decides to have weekly town meetings called Literaries that start out with a spelling bee and end with a blackface minstrel show (OUTRAGE!!!!!!!!!1!). Well, I would be outraged, except, as you all know, I am guilty of reading the banned literature, so I’m too guilty to be outraged.

The book ends with a lead-in to the next book, I can tell you as I read the first bit of it: Laura takes a teaching position at a small settlement 12 miles away (which is about the distance I traverse several times a day to deliver and pick up my boys from their school in the city). In the latter half of the ninteenth century in North Dakota, though, this was quite a distance, and she would live with a family in the setllment and not see her family–or her new beau, that Wilder boy, very often.

The book continues to evolve as the character ages. In this book, she pays more attention to clothing and fashion than in other books, and the subtle content changes over the course of the series to reflect the age of the character. I appreciate the effort and effect.

Thanks to this, I’ve learned the origin of the term “lunatic fringe”: It originally meant bangs (which Laura wants) before Teddy Roosevelt turned it into a political insult (source).

I also felt a connection with the book in that Laura receives for Christmas. She has a 1883 blue and gold copy of Tennyson’s Poems. I myself have a brown copy of the same book that was inscribed by the then-owner in 1893. So Laura Ingalls and I practically owned the same book. Although this was not her copy obviously. Not only do I have a copy of this volume, but at some time I happened upon a second and gave one to my mother-in-law.

At any rate, as I mentioned, I’ve already started These Happy Golden Years, so I shall probably finish that at some point in the next couple of weeks. I’m sure you can’t wait to hear my twee reflections on the next children’s book I plan to read.

Book Report: The Death of Common Sense by Philip K. Howard (1994)

Book coverThis book is a look at how several factors systematically removed discretion from government and how that made government worse. It’s broken into a couple sections, and basically it boils down to these themes:

  • The increase in regulations makes it difficult to get anything done and hampers citizens.
  • The reliance on overdetailed processes takes discretion away from individuals in the government and makes everything inefficient, costly, and time consuming.
  • The profusion of “rights” for varied aggrieved classes means groups vie against each other for their own benefit.
  • Changes in educational policy, including making it a property right and introduction of due process protections for discipline, have neutered schools and educators.

I want to remind everyone here that this book is twenty-six years old, so these ruminations precede our current state of affairs which are the poisoned vine from those roots.

The author seems to come from the center-left perspective from that antiquity before Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are considered moderate on the left.. I base this mostly on that he quotes left-leaning, albeit reasonable types, more than conservative sources. He doesn’t light into Republicans and seems like he’s trying to rein in some excesses of government power while still saying that its activist do-gooding is good. More of a Daniel Patrick Moynihan type. But nobody listened.

He does quote Walter Olson a couple times, though. I used to cite Overlawyered.com, Olson’s blog, a lot. But that time was closer to this book’s publication than now. How long have I been blogging, anyway? (Seventeen years in March.)

Oh, and as this is the 1990s, we have a Good Trump appearance.

Processes designed for public participation have also taken on a life of their own. In 1991, Donald Trump was persuaded by a coaliton of civic groups (including one I am active in) to adopt a plan for developing a seventy-acre abandoned rail yard he owned on Manhattan’s West Side. Arms locked together, this odd coalition of do-gooders and the Donald entered New York’s three-level zoning approval process. In total, our group attended over one hundred formal meetings, including twelve large public hearings, at which, I could (and did) testify, everyone said basically the same thing over and over. At the end of the process, an intense eighteen months later, the objectors sued. Their main grounds? After thousands of hours of meetings, they complained that the process–specifically, that one draft legal document had been provided six weeks later than certain others. They also said the environmental impact statement, almost two thousand pages long, was not complete. Our coalition won in court. But the project was held up another eighteen months for the litigation.

I would say, “See the meme above about what the future holds,” but according to his Wikipedia entry, Howard has worked with the Trump administration. Also, from his Wikipedia entry, I see that members of the board of his nonprofit included Bill Bradley and George McGovern–along with Alan Simpson and Tom Kean. So he’s a real centrist.

At any rate, I bought this book in 2007, and it has been on the bookshelves in Old Trees and Nogglestead for thirteen years. I’d say I’m looking out for the author’s other works, but I’d probably leave them on the shelves for a long time as well since I get my daily dose of political theory in blogs and don’t generally want to sit down and read them in my recliner.

Still, I agree with this book and didn’t have to throw it once.

Book Report: Payback Game The Executioner #147 (1991)

Book coverAfter Barnaby Rudge, I wanted a quick bit of pulp, so I turned to, once again, the next in my Executioner collection.

And stepped into a pretty pedestrian entry in the series.

In this book, Bolan goes to the Middle East to rescue some hostages being held by Hizbullah. The terrorists are led by a man who thinks he is Mohammed reborn and hopes that his plan of holding hostages will lead to world domination. He has set a deadline for capitulation, with a hostage being killed every week until his demands are met. So Bolan is on a deadline and has no real leads. So he goes to the Middle East, spares a highly trained warrior when Bolan is captured by a band of Yazidis and has to fight to the death to live. Turns out that this fellow is the twin of the lead terrorist, but he was raised apart and allies with Bolan. So they find the terrorist headquarters and bam bam bam!

Well, as I said, pretty pedestrian. I was impressed with a couple of Bolan books I’ve read recently (Blood Run, White Line War and Devil Force), but this book and the last one I read Direct Hit are reverting to the mean.

The biggest takeaway, though, is that almost thirty years later, I don’t need footnotes to know who Hizbullah and the Yazidis are. But for cell phones and GPS, you could drop most of the book into 2020 and it would not be too out of place.

Book Report: Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841, 1997)

Book coverIt took me several months to read this book, gentle reader. As you know, it takes a Dickens book several hundred pages to get going. In this case, I think it was 450 of the 750. So I have read many other books in the interim.

Apparently, it has been a while since the great Dickens Phase of 2007/2008 (where I read The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Hard Times, and A Christmas Carol in a little over a year). So I picked this book up because I was doing well on my 2019 reading and thought I could fit in a longer work. Which took a while, as I mentioned.

At any rate, this book centers on the Gordon Riots of 1780 and numerous personages affected by it. We have an old inn keeper whose son joins the military to get out from his father’s dominion. We have two sets of star-crossed lovers: The son loves the daughter of a locksmith, and the niece from the large manor up the road loves the son of a tapped-out-but-keeping-up-appearances courtier who wants to marry his son to an heiress to get some cash. We have a twenty-three year old murder with attendent ghosts and secrets. We have the title character who is a simpleton a la Forrest Gump who falls in with a bad group leading the Gordon Riots. And, as I said, about 450 pages into the book, the riots erupt, homes burn, and people who deserve it live happily ever after and the wicked are punished after a fashion.

The book is rife with other characters who don’t contribute terribly to the overall plot–a lady’s maid who poorly serves her mistress, an apprentice locksmith who dreams of the locksmith’s daughter, a hangman leading the rioters who goes on and on about working ’em off and who you know will end like The Man Who Was Death.

So a bit longer than it should have been, but Dickens published it as a serial in his own magazine, so who was going to tell him to stay on point? You can pretty much tell when a serial section begins because the chapter begins with a lot of expository, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” verbiage that most of them lack. And were better for the lacking.

At any rate, like Hard Times, it’s not one of the more commonly known Dickens books and for good reason. Although in the 21st century, are many of them known at all?

Book Report: Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais (2008)

Book coverI was surprised and pleased to find a Robert Crais book on my to-read shelves; I just read A Dangerous Man, which is relatively new. How is it that a Crais book has languished on my to-read shelves for so long? Turns out, it has probably not. I read this book when it was new in 2008.

But it was on my to-read shelf, so I read it again anyway. Robert Crais might be the only modern writer whose works I can read and re-read like I can with John D. MacDonald’s work.

So Cole had gotten this guy free from a murder charge, and the guy apparently kills himself with photos from that and other killings on his lap. Cole doesn’t like the thought of having freed a killer to kill twice more, and then he suspects that perhaps the dead man was not the actual killer. So he goes to work.

The book is told in pure first person narration without jump cuts that most modern writers use. Even Crais uses them in later books. Somehow, it seems a more connected and flowing, a purer, literary style. And a throwback.

A couple things struck me mostly about the passage of time.

Elvis Cole does tae kwon do kata on his deck; twelve years ago, I could not have imagined that I’d be a black belt in tae kwon do, basically, the next time I read this book. Although my school is a satori school that does not focus on kata.

Also, I said then:

A good book overall and one that keeps me interested in the series, which makes it one of two contemporary series I appreciate (Sandford’s Lucas Davenport being the other).

Yeah, well, not so much now.

So will I end up “accidentally” buying more Crais books at book fairs just to read them again? Maybe!