Book Report: Poetics South by Ann Deagon (1974)

Book coverI got this book at the spring Friends of the Library book sale, and when I was looking for a volume of poetry to read (aside from the complete works of Keats, Shelley, and Marvell that I have read a couple of and put aside as well as a couple other collections), I picked it up because this was the first of my recent purchases I’ve found.

The poet is in her middle age in 1974; she talks about getting laid in 1947, so that makes her my grandmother’s age. So although I don’t generally mind poems about sex–I mean, I’ve written one or two of my own–the thought of a grandmother writing about oral sex made it kind of squicky.

The poems are all right; a step above true grandmother poetry. I know, I know, you can’t wait for me to tell you how long the lines are: Well, she has some shorter-lined poems and some that are sentency length in longer narrative poems (not Childe Harolde or even “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” length–just a couple of pages). Unfortunately, the poems are written for the page and not the mouth, so they lack the alliteration, rhythm, and word play that make a good spoken poem. And I try to speak all the poems I read, sometimes out loud and sometimes only in my head, but I do. Blame it on being raised by Nuyorican street poets, at least in my performative years.

The author has won numerous prizes, the back flap tells us. My first Internet look for her did not come up with a lot of information, but a search this morning showed that she published numerous books and won prizes as late as 2015. So she must have some regional recognition. So perhaps I’ll bump into something else she’s written sometime, but given her nexus is the northern southeast, perhaps not.

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Book Report: Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One and Firefly: The Official Companion Volume Two (2006, 2007)

Book coverThese books collect the scripts of the fourteen episodes of the short-lived television program Firefly which was essentially Joss Whedon’s western in space. It’s kind of funny: Around the turn of the century, when this program was briefly on the air, the geek community quite embraced it, and they embraced it hard. People dressed as the characters for Halloween and used catch phrases from the show (“Shiny” meaning “Cool,” for example). I mean, this kind of went on until my beautiful wife bought the boxed set on DVD and watched it around 2010 followed quickly by the film Serenity which appeared a couple years after the show went off the air. However, I think the show’s cultural moment has passed; now, it’s middle-aged geeks who still sometimes say “Shiny.” Although I could be wrong: I was in a games-and-comics store this weekend, and its selection of role playing games was limited, but one table had three volumes of the Firefly role-playing game displayed prominently. So maybe only my consciousness of it has waned until I bought these books at my last trip to Calvin’s Books in 2020.

Book coverOkay, so as I mentioned, it’s a western in space. The series itself does not go into a lot of exposition, but human settlers have reached other planets after depleting the resources on Earth. A power called the Alliance has won a civil war uniting the planets, but on the frontiers, their presence is not as acutely felt. A leader from the resistance/the Independents/not the Alliance–Mal Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion, buys an old ship and, along with his second-in-command–Zoe, played by Gina Torres, assembles a crew to trade/smuggle/commit petty crimes on that frontier. They collect a pilot (Wash, played by Steve the Pirate), a mechanic (Kaylee, played by Jewel Staite), a hired goon (Jayne, played by Adam Baldwin), and an itinerant high-quality call girl (Inara, played by Morena Boccarin). They also end up with a priest who might be more than a priest (Shepherd Book, played by Detective Harris from Barney Miller) and a brother and sister on the run from the Alliance, who had the sister in a special “school” to develop her into a killing machine (Sean Maher and Summer Glau). And they have some adventures as their history unfolds along with some hints to why the Alliance was after River, played by Summer. The action is pretty episodic, though, with series business taking a back seat to the adventure of the week.

In addition to the scripts, the books contain a series of brief articles about the actors, the designers, the musicians, and the props and weapons of the series. They offer some insight into the production of a television series. The scripts themselves offer some insight into the pace of the 21st century television, with lots of cut scenes and disconnected dollops of dialog or reaction shots. I found it a bit jarring being someone who mostly reads plays and whose Spenser: For Hire scripts seem like stage productions in comparison.

But I enjoyed re-visiting the series and might want to re-watch it soon. I’m not sure I’m going to do so with my boys, though, as the characters have a whiff of anti-hero about them.

It’s funny–would this show become the phenomenon it did if it had lasted a couple of years? I don’t know. I know that I have warmer feelings about shows that ended after only a season or two, like the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Almost Human, Human Target than I do about shows that went on and on like Lost or The Blacklist which might have resolved finally, but I have not watched the later seasons. Also note that the ones I feel most affection for have a storyline carried through the seasons, but the series business is generally secondary to the current episode. But things like The Blacklist end up with the series business being the only business, and it has to be really convoluted and sometimes retconning. Friar has offered a commentary on Nathan Fillion’s latest series The Rookie which leads him down a similar path. What happens in later in series that steals the zest from the program? A turnover in personnel? Maybe.

Side note: Nathan Fillion has played the titular Rookie for longer than he played Malcolm Reynolds, and he appeared in Castle for almost a decade. But will he always be remembered primarly as Mal Reynolds? Probably for some of us.

At any rate, this is the second television series that I have read all the scripts–the first was Monty Python’s Flying Circus whose All the Words Volume One and All the Words, Volume 2 I read in the 1990s even though I have only seen certain sketches from that program.

But I am glad to have paid three dollars each for these books.

The show featured several beauties in defining roles.

Continue reading “Book Report: Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One and Firefly: The Official Companion Volume Two (2006, 2007)”

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Book Report: Oriental Love Poems compiled by Michelle Lovric (2003)

Book coverThis is kind of like a pop-up book for adults. An Andrews-McMeel Publishing concoction, you already know that it’s going to be graphically busy, but this book not only features a lot of color and graphics, but it has origami, often birds, posted in, and the table of contents is a separate card inserted into an envelope in front. So it keeps your attention busy for sure, perhaps distracted from the poetry.

The poetry collects works from mostly Chinese and Japanese sources from across the millenia. If you’re familiar with Chinese and Japanese poetry, you know in the shorter forms it tends to be a bit airy, like the haiku: A bit of imagery to dwell on, not a lot of word play, of course, because that would be lost in translation anyway.

So the book was a quick read, a bit interesting because it’s different than the poetry I write, and I don’t think it will influence me a whole lot in imagery or pasting papercrafts into books. But you never know; it certainly cannot limit my sales any more than being a self-published poet already does.

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Book Report: Fission Fury The Executioner #214 (1996)

Book coverWell, this is an Executioner novel. Not the worst of the series, but, again, not something memorable to read. Since I’m splitting my time between reading books and watching movies in the evenings, perhaps I should read something more memorable for my books. Well, if I ever finish Pamela, the old English novel that I am putatively reading currently but very intermittently, I will remember that I read it, although very few of the episodes in those epistles will I recall distinctly.

Okay, what’s Mack Bolan doing in this book? He goes to Moscow after some missing nuclear scientists and their innovative new plutonium. They have staged their own kidnapping to get the government to pay their ransom so they can retire comfortably, but the new Russian mafia decides they will collect the ransom and sell the scientists to the Iranians. So Bolan along with a Russian former KGB agent move through some set pieces to find out what’s going on.

As I have mentioned, the plots are starting to get a little more elaborate as we move into the 1990s, perhaps trying to compete with the flavor of more modern thrillers versus paperbacks. This one handles the twists pretty well.

I did flag a couple things from the book for snark, though.

Continue reading “Book Report: Fission Fury The Executioner #214 (1996)”

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Book Report: Asian Crucible The Executioner #209 (1996)

Book coverI read this book on my recent little getaway with my beautiful wife. Well, okay, like all the books I read on the trip, I started reading it at home, but I finished it on the trip, okay? As I was about a chapter or two from completion, it was the first I finished but the last I reported on. And in the intervening days, I almost forgot what it was about except Mack Bolan doing Mack Bolan things.

But, you know what, I remember it: secret forces in the U.S. government are hoping to start a second Vietnam war by faking the return of a military man held POW for twenty-five years and by faking up some border incidents with Laos and Thailand. Bolan goes to Thailand to investigate and discovers rogue elements of the CIA are working with a Chinese Triad involved in drug smuggling to get the war started.

Bang! Boom! Set pieces! Problem resolved.

Not a bad book; one might say it has elements of First Blood Part II blended with a bit of Air America.

Recognizing the influences isn’t a bad thing once one knows that creative works have borrowed, homaged, and ripped off other works forever. It’s only since the RIAAfication and Disneyfication of copyright laws in the United States that it’s gotten risky.

So how many do I have left? Not many in the originals of the series; I might push on to finish those titles this year, safe in the comfort that ABC Books has more. Kind of like the false security I had about Hooked on Books having a huge selection of John D. MacDonald paperbacks. They did, until they no longer did.

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Book Report: My Cat Spit McGee by Willie Morris (1999)

Book coverMy goodness, I bought this book thirteen years ago, clearly anticipating a time when I might need to read a book about an animal for a summer reading challenge. I thought I would read a Cleveland Amory book that I’ve got around here somewhere, but I found this one first.

The author is a former editor of Harper’s of some controversy back in the 1960s who then moved back to Mississippi where he became a university professor and eventually wrote several books, one of which (My Dog Skip) was made into a major motion picture.

The book describes how the author, in coming into a second marriage late in life, discovers that his fiancee likes cats, and they’re going to get one. So he thinks about and writes about (a lot) what it would mean for him, a dog person. Then he gets a cat, and that cat’s kitten is Spit McGee who becomes his cat. And they get other cats.

The chapters are about this musing, the lineage of Spit, some adventures with Spit, and whatnot. To be honest, I typed Skip twice in that sentence because the book might have been a bit of a cash-grab trailing the success of the movie and its interest in its book. The dog Skip, the cat Spit, see? But the dog story is about a boy growing up in the south in the olden days (when everything was racist, which is different from now, where everything is racist), and this book is dedicated to a child actor from the film who met Spit McGee when the author brings the cat to the set. The author also takes the cat various places, like his childhood home and his father’s grave. So Spit McGee and this book are also a bit of a story about getting older and life changes there as a bit of subtext. The author actually died in 1999, not long after finishing the book.

And boy howdy, the name-dropping. He lives in Jackson, the state capital, so he’s familiar with pols, including Trent Lott; he mentioned being friends with Eudora Welty; and so on, a bunch (yes, he did meet Cleveland Amory once).

I also had some Mmm-hmm moments about things he drops in. He proposed to his second wife in the Old Senate Caucus room in front of a thousand people. He and his wife buy a stately old home built in 1940. Friends, when this book was written, that home would have been fifty-some years old. Gentle reader, Nogglestead is almost that old. Honormoor in Old Trees would have been forty years old when we lived there. The house in Old Trees was seventy years old when we lived there (although renovated and stripped of its stained glass before we moved in). So the house might have been nice and had Spanish moss draping from the magnolia trees, but it was not that old. Ah, well. I also flagged a couple of extraneous name drops, but most of the names didn’t actually mean anything to me.

So, I dunno, it’s okay as a book, and it’s competently written, but I am not really sure how much it needed to be written nor what it’s goals were.

But I’ve counted it as my True story about an animal entry for the reading challenge even though it’s more about the man than the animal.

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Book Report: Three Comedies by Aristophanes edited by William Arrowsmith (1969)

Book coverI started this book right after listening to Socrates because the audiobook mentioned that the idea of Socrates as a blasphemer probably comes more from the play The Clouds (in this volume) than his actual dialogues with Athenians. Also, it was at the top of the stack which is odd since I bought it three years ago and not recently.

At any rate, the plays are purportedly translated, but really they’re adapted for modern audiences circa 1969–this particular volume was someone’s (presumably) college textbook around the time I was born. The plays have some highlighting, mostly the aforementioned The Clouds, but no dialoguing with the text notes in the margins–that would come later, I guess, as it was quite the thing when I was in school. Or maybe the owner of this textbook thought about as much of it as I did.

As a product of that black age, has illustrations in it that would get a gentleman’s D in elementary school art classes.

I mean, can you imagine living in a time where someone, probably someone well paid in the publishing industry, thought that that would add to the reading experience? How little they thought of the hippies on the college campuses.

As I mentioned, these plays are adapted, not translated. That means that some liberties have been taken with the original text to make them more palatable for 20th century students. For example, a communication from Olympus is given as a telegram; the plays contain some Biblical allusions; and the poems have end rhymes. Although Aristophanes might have done the last of these in the original Greek, it’s likely he did not include the first two unless he was some kind of prophet indeed. With that in mind, it makes it hard to analyze just how many fart and gay sex jokes were in the original to compare it to, say, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 to see if humor in the classics of antiquity was truly as crude as modern works.

At any rate, about the plays:

  • The Birds is about two guys who a la Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” try to convince the birds that they, the birds, are the real gods and that they, the birds, should set up their own kingdom and have men sacrifice to them instead of the gods. They, the men, hope to be important figures in this new kingdom called Cloudcuckooland (whether that’s the name in the original is unclear). As the birds go along, a whole set of men in grifting occupations (politicians, philosophers, artists) comes along to wet their beaks, so to speak.
  • The Clouds deals with a father who has accrued debts because his son likes high living and owning horses, so he tries to get his son to attend the school of Sokrates next door to learn to be a sophist who can argue his way out of debts. One of the things Sokrates says in the play is that the gods do not exist; instead, it is the clouds that provide everything and are all powerful. When the son does not attend the school, the father tries himself but is not very smart; eventually, the son does attend, learns to argue, and uses that power to upend traditional structures and to be indolent. So, kind of like an actual university education except without the ability to actually argue part. This is the strongest of the three plays.
  • The Wasps, the third play, is translated adapted by someone other than the editor. It pokes fun at old men serving on juries and voting to convict everyone. The son of such a man tries, in a very comic fashion, to keep his father from attending the juries one day, and the father tries to escape from the house in various methods, but is ultimately stymied by the son and the servants/slaves. The other jury members, also old men who speak of their time at wars, come buy to try to free him, but they do not succeed, and finally the son gets the father to stay and to judge things in the household. This has it’s moments, but it’s probably the weakest of the three as it kind of veers off in the end.

So the plays have comic moments, set ups that read well for humor in the play, but of course they’re structured like classical Greek plays (called Old Comedy in the academic) with choruses and with the playwright or an actor portraying him coming out an appealing for the audience to vote for his play for the prize at the drama festival. The choruses and sometimes characters break the fourth wall.

But, again, I am not sure how many of the jokes are kind of retold from the original. The plays name a lot of names with end notes explaining who they were, and it’s a bit troublesome to flip to the back of the book to get the notes about who they are–I would have preferred these as footnotes, but the end notes sometimes ran to paragraphs as the professionals got their profsplaining on.

Also, in a scandal of all scandals, I did not read the introductory material. At all. Sometimes I will wait until the end, reading the original material before reading what I should think of it, but this time I bypassed it entirely because I’m not reading this to write a paper on it, and I don’t need the citations. Am I counting this as a whole book, albeit a single book, in my annual reading total anyway? You bet your bippy. And am I counting The Birds as an animal-based book for the purposes of the Summer Reading Challenge 2021? You bet. I have yet to determine, though, if it’s animals in another country (Cloud Cuckooland) or Featuring Imaginary Creatures. Probably the former, as I might squeeze in a fantasy novel in the coming months.

So: An amusing read if you’re into reading classical literature. Amusing enough for a blend of 2300-year-old and 50-year-old gags. Better than Hot Tub Time Machine 2 anyway.

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Book Report: Death Whisper The Executioner #208 (1996)

Book coverI have been pleased with a couple of the Executioner books I’ve picked up lately. This book and Rescue Run are a cut above, although this one does get a little outlandish at the end.

In this book, Bolan goes to Arizona near the border to investigate a mining company that runs the town and runs off or kills those it cannot control. A lawman known to the man from Justice dies, triggering Bolan’s investigation, and he basically discovers that Soviet deep agents have acquired the mining company and have built a large tunnel into Mexico for smuggling. Bolan has to bust it up, but the mining company has hired an army of ex-Spetsnaz troops to defend the complex.

So Bolan has to singlehandedly, with the help of the dead lawman’s daughter, now the chief of the local police, put a stop to it. Which he does in a set of exploits that get a little ridiculous at the end, and the Able Team and Phoenix Force parachute in to help mop up.

So a cut above, but trending down.

Also, who wrote this, Lee Child?

Larquette snapped out of her daze. She pulled a lever action rifle from a rack off the wall and chambered a round. With a sudden afterthought, she snatched up an extra box of shells and then positioned herself in a crouch between the filing cabinets.

If enough of these books call rifle food shells, I’m going to start doing it, too.

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Book Report: Selected Poems by Mary Phelan (2004)

Book coverI bought this collection of poems at the Webster Groves Book Shop; it (this book, not the book shop) was on the local interest bookshelf near the door. The book is chapbook-sized, but chapbooks aren’t really that chap any more–when I was hawking Unrequited and Deep Blue Shadows, I priced them at $3 each. This volume was like ten bucks; although the author had another volume available, I only bought one in case I didn’t like the poems. Which is kind of the opposite reaction I have when buying cheap LPs, wherein if I find a bunch from a new artist for a buck each, I buy them all in case I like the artist. The philosophical difference is the difference between a buck and ten bucks, I guess.

Which is a shame, as I did like the poems in the book.

They deal with aging, traveling, family matters, and whatnot; the poet might have been a professional instructor in the liberal arts or might just have been a vagabond when younger. But the poems have heart, rhythm, and relatively longer lines at times, so I enjoyed them. Not grandmother poetry at all.

You know, this book is dated 2004, and the poet would have been in St. Louis at the time, but it was five or six years after my Coffee House Memories days, so I have no idea who she is and don’t recognize any names in her acknowledgements/thank yous. Perhaps she was an academic-minded poet and not a coffee shop/open mic brawler like me. Or maybe that few years was long enough to completely turn over the crowd.

So worth a read. The next time I am in the St. Louis area, I hope to pick up a copy of the later collection.

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Book Report: Coffee Is Cheaper Than Therapy by Ann Conklin Unruh (2015)

Book coverI bought this book almost two weeks ago (already?) when we visited Old Trees during our vacation and promptly read it since it’s a collection of short, what, essays? A woman in late middle age or early later age meets friends for coffee, and she captures some of the things they talk about into these brief paragraph or so musings. They’re kind of grouped by topic, but mainly they’re just musings on life, the goings on in the world, and family by a local author.

It clocks in at 102 pages with room in the back for discussion questions (and To and From on the frontspiece) that indicates this book is not supposed to be heavy literature but rather something to perhaps trigger other discussions. But, you know, discussions between people, not “discussions” that are Serious Political Messages You Must Present Strenuously Until Your Family Agrees Just To Shut You Up. The entries are not Political, but sub-political. That is, real life, but which percolates up into the political these days, unfortunately.

And I liked the–voice? The paragraphs are a little thin to really have a narrative voice. But I agreed with a lot of it, which kind of worried me: Why am I, so very young-thinking and -acting (why, I just this week showed off a bit in martial arts class by doing a set of ten push-ups as clapping push-ups which I impressed my sainted aunt with on one of my visits to the St. Louis area in 2019), why am I agreeing with a woman of a certain age so much?

Because I guess I am getting to that certain age, albeit reluctantly. And, as this blog attests, I was a curmudgeon in my relative youth.

The author is a toastmistress, she mentions in the book, and the book came with a the top of Toastmasters Item 163 which is a ballot/evaluation form for speakers at a meeting. Given that only the top remains, I have to wonder if this book was used as part of the discussion at a Toastmasters event and then found its way to the Webster Groves Book Shop. As you know, gentle reader, I once thought about (and created) a blog called Found Bookmarks (now a category on this blog, and the sparse entries in that category indicate why it never went anywhere. This stub would not warrant a full entry in that line, but it did make me look up the local Toastmasters clubs–and there are five entries in Springfield, Missouri, in 2021. So now I am thinking about maybe sitting in and seeing what it’s all about.

So, definitely worth my time in reading on my vacation. Better than an encyclopedia of disasters, truly, but that’s a lower and lower bar to clear.

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Book Report: Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy (2008)

Book coverThe book bears the subtitle An Office Power Ballad. It details the author’s brief employment as a marketing executive at a record company headed for a takeover told in a series of short vignettes. The voice is a bit neurotic, a bit “I can’t believe I’m here” laced with imposter syndrome as he meets different musical artists and normal-in-these-books corporate interactions.

So it’s kind of like mixing one’s Stanley Bing (Lloyd What Happened and You Look Nice Today) and one’s Joshua Ferris (Then We Came To The End) except that it’s not fiction. The book goes through those office politics and through his layoff with some anecdotes about being laid off (shades of Executive Blues by G. J. Meyer).

The book kind of disappointed me; as it’s just a collection of vignettes, it doesn’t really lead to anything beyond the amusement of its anecdotes. Still, it was better vacation reading than an encyclopedia of disasters.

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Book Report: Moon of Mutiny by Lester del Rey (1961, 1982)

Book coverWhen I bought this book in May, I said I might loan it to my youngest who is reading dystopian YA fiction these days. I offered it, but he demurred. So I took this on my recent trip and read it quite early in the vacation.

At any rate, this is young rocket jockey fiction from the 1960s that was still in print in my formative years and filled the library shelves of my middle school. A young man notorious for stealing a rocket and joyriding to the moon and requiring rescue washes out of rocket flight school and returns to the space station where he was raised by a distant father. He’s at loose ends at the station, where everyone has a job to do but him, but he gets a chance to go on an underfunded mission to the moon as a junior pilot, where his piloting skill and unnaturally good mental ability to calculate trajectories comes in handy. But he gets a reputation for being bad luck as difficulties befall the scientific survey team he’s on, and he mutinies when another space ship, a prototype fast rocket, crashes somewhere other than the computers calculated it would–and he gets the chance to save the very instructor who opposed him in the rocket academy.

The narrative is a collection of scenes more than a truly cohesive narrative–the climactic problem really does not arise until the end of the book–with a bunch of neat-o speculative science fiction things and explanations as to how they work to keep the mid-20th century boys interested and maybe thinking about an engineering career. The book also addresses some social-political considerations of space flight and exploration, including the tenuous economics and support for space exploration/colonies and some logistical challenges therein.

So it’s young adult fiction, but the young adults from sixty and seventy years ago–and just forty years ago when these books remained on school shelves–must have been a bit more educated than they are today. But, of course, this being an old-timey blog and not a TikTok, you already expected that kind of messaging, ainna?

Del Rey is a cut below the Heinlein or the Asimov, but still good enough for a quick read.

(Previously on MfBJN: The Early Del Rey.)

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Book Report: Hell Road The Executioner #205 (1996)

Book coverWe don’t skip but a month ahead in time between publication (in December 1995) Rescue Run and this book (January 1996), so no great leap forward in my life. Of course, I failed to mention that my father passed away in the last gap and we moved from the house down the gravel road, to whence I returned after college, to the rundown suburb in south county where my mother grew up. In two months, I will get the printing job which was my last non-IT job, and sometime later this year, I will break up with the young lady whom I’d dated for, what, two years? At any rate, that’s personal trivia and not a discussion of the book.

I brought this book on our vacation in De Soto as one of the two little fiction books to read among the Important Books I brought to compel myself to read. So, of course, I read it and the other fiction book before I completed The Pessimist’s Guide to History.

However, this is not one of the better entries in the series.

The plot: The Israelis have captured a major Iraqi terroist (ca 1996) and will, reluctantly, turn him over to the United States for trial. However, he’s broken out of captivity with the help of an Israeli turncoat and an agreement with an American mercenary leader to lead him back to Iraq. The American mercenary also has picked up a couple of nuclear missiles from Russia (nee: The Soviet Union) that he hopes to sell with the freed Iraqi to The Iraqi Madman (so-called, but not named until later in the book, which made me wonder).

So. Yeah. That’s a complicated plot as they’ve started to get. How’s it executed?

Bolan shoots a guy in the leg with a .44 Magnum so he (the shootee) will be available for questioning. And he shoots a guy with the same gun who runs off, relatively unhurt. Also, the book calls a C-130 airplane a “gun ship.” So one gets the sense that the subscription author might not know what he’s talking about.

So.

I guess one could say that the book was interesting in the abstract, but not so much in the… execution.

I cannot believe that I haven’t said that so far in the series, but you might expect to see that again in the future given that I have a dozen later titles in the Executioner series and a several dozen in other previous, current, and later related series to go.

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Book Report: The Pessimist’s Guide to History by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (2000)

Book coverThis is the book of disasters and diseases that I brought along on my recent vacation and kind of kind of hamstrung my enjoyment of said vacation. This book is basically a year-by-year encyclopedia of bad things happening in history. You can basically break the things up into categories like Natural Disasters, War, Disease, and Accidents with some lesser incidents sprinkled in. It’s in chronological order, so it is a bit light on the earlier material but picks up steam and dedicates more pages to individual years as modernity occurs. Kind of like the pacing of a Civilization IV game, as a matter of fact. And many of the paragraph or multi-paragraph accounts have a zinger at the end that most of the time does not zing and just represents a bit of “We know better now” thinking which was bad enough in 2000–a revised edition would be unreadable.

As the book stems from 2000, we don’t get accounts of the presidential recounts of 2000 (the impeachment of Clinton is included along side with natural disasters that killed hundreds of thousands or diseases that killed millions). Also missing because of the impossibility of time travel: the attacks of 2001 (although the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 makes its appearance); a couple of earthquakes in Iran that killed tens of thousands; the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia; the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the presidency of Trump (which the authors might be inclined to include in a revised edition); and, of course, the COVID infections which the press and certain elements of society continue to press as a Big Deal, seriously you guys an Extinction Level Event.

So, yeah, not a fun read, really, and the numbers overwhelmed me too much to retain much for trivia nights should such a thing ever occur again.

One could read it as a bit of an Optimist’s Guide to the Present, though; biblical disasters killed many thousands of people at a go in the old days, with earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes leveling entire cities routinely. At least in the West and certainly in the United States, we have some deaths from such events, but one can mark the difference between the 1906 and the 1987 earthquakes in California; the latter caused less damage and substantially fewer deaths. And in the old days, fires routinely burned cities to ash or portions thereof, including London, Boston, and Chicago, sometimes many times, once every decade or so. Our fires are much more contained now.

Not what I needed to start a vacation, for sure. Perhaps I should have taken some movie tie-in paperbacks instead.

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Book Report: Whoppers: Tall Tales and Other Lies Collected From American Folklore by Alvin Schwartz (1975)

Book coverI bought this book last year on an ABC Books order during the Great What-The-Hell-Were-They-Thinkingening.

The book reminds me of some of the Ozarks humor books I read. The chapters segment the book into different categories like Ordinary People, Ordinary Events, Fancy Clothes and Narrow Escapes, Animals and Insects, The Weather, and Putrefactions and Other Wonders. The zingers range from one sentence of hyperbole to a couple paragraphs or pages of a tall tale punctuated with cartoonish illustrations. (The celebrated jumping frog does not appear).

I picked it up for a quick read, and it’s not a deep dive into Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, but they make their appearances. I am sure the fact that it was a children’s book made it quicker; I don’t remember what I was thinking back when I ordered it, but I am sure I was not specifically seeking out children’s books for quick reads.

Although it sometimes happens that way.

An amusing hour or two’s worth of reading for kids or their adult equivalents.

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Book Report: I Remember Vince Lombardi by Mike Towle (2001)

Book coverI got this book at the same time that I bought Life After Favre, so I read it soon after the latter book as a palate cleanser.

This book is structured a little like Louder than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Heavy Metal. The chapters represent different eras of Lombardi’s coaching career, from high school to West Point to the New York Giants and then, finally, as head coach of the Green Bay Packers (and the Washington Redskins, they tell me, but it was a very brief visit before he passed away). Within each chapter, we’ve got quotations from different people broken into blocks of a couple paragraphs preceded by their names and relationships with Lombardi. So it’s like an oral history.

You know what? I read books about Lombardi, and I’m fascinated. I mean, I read Run to Daylight, and I read Instant Replay (twice) where Lombardi appears, but this book reveals some of him that I’d have to go to a biography to get otherwise.

Like when he was a high school coach, he was also a teacher, and that he taught physics and chemistry. He went to Mass every day. And he knew Latin and liked to play Latin conjugation games with old school friends. Incredible. Here, I read an English literary novel and maybe a classic or two every year and think I’m something special. Sadly, in this day, maybe I am. But perhaps it would be better were I a dullard.

I flagged just a couple bits of trivia for noting:

Even Then
A player who started with Lombardi in the 1950s says:

As the defensive signal caller, that meant I would get on the headphones with him when I came to the sideline, and he would tell me what he thought we ought to call and why and what changes we ought to make and other things.

This was the middle of the 20th century. We think that the technology is fairly new, with the green dot headsets. But they did certain things even then. One has to wonder if the constant chatter in the helmet has made things better or worse. And whether putting the radios into other players would make them feel like video game characters instead of men (who are playing a game, but still, they’re the ones playing the game.

Ibid.

A sports columnist wrote about Lombardi going to coach the Redskins:

“It is true that our hero has treated us rather shabbily at the end. Vince Lombardi has gone off, without asking us about it, and made himself a deal in a foreign land to the east. He has cast us aside, rather roughly at that. It is probably true that our former idol has been crafty, calculating, even a little deceitful with us.”

Well, as you know, gentle reader, Aaron Rogers is playing the Brett Favre game this summer, perhaps for the first time, perhaps for the only time. Even Vince Lombardi left Green Bay, but he’s more fondly remembered than Brett Favre and probably Aaron Rogers will be because he didn’t drag it out. He just left. Of course, he died shortly thereafter with only some success in Washington. Who knows how it would have been if he’d lived longer and had beaten Green Bay a couple of times. Probably, though, the clean break would have been good enough.

At any rate, a pleasant read if you’re a Packers fan or if you like excellence.

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Book Report: Rescue Run The Executioner #204 (1995)

Book coverAll right, then, let’s skip ahead. The last Executioner novel I read was Lethal Agent from 1994 when I was just embarking on a romance with the girl whom everyone thought I would marry. This book came out two years later, and I was on the verge of ending that relationship. Well, maybe not that close: I don’t have my resume handy, but at the end of 1995, I was done working at the industry magazine where I’d had a temporary Assistant Editor position for a special project, and I’d not shone enough to extend it, so I was only working at Sappington Farmers Market. I was at loose ends of a sort. But in a couple of months, I’d land my job as a printer that would put my workplace halfway to Columbia, and in about a year I would meet my beautiful wife. So that late mid nineties period is a bit of a blur of changing jobs and circumstances. Which is more than you hoped to get from a book report, gentle reader, but these subscription titles are also a prompt for me to reflect where I was when these books were fresh on the grocery store racks.

At any rate, this book takes place in Rwanda right after/during the unpleasantness of the middle 1990s. A visiting theatre/variety act troop including an aging woman star (she’s like old, man: she’s like forty), an older (sixties) star of westerns who dresses more like Roy Rogers than John Wayne, a young action star who thinks he’s God’s gift to women, and a makeup artist, escape renewed fighting while they’re performing–a native promoter leads them to safety and hides them in one of his hideouts. Bolan gets sent in to find them and rescue them because…. Well, I forget; essentially, it’s because this is an Executioner novel.

So the book goes between Bolan and his allies looking for the theater troupe and the theatre troupe on the run, a nice blend. A subplot involves the action hero behaving dangerously boorishly and a budding romance between the Western star and the actress.

One of the hard men who helps Bolan is nicknamed Tater, which is kind of funny in 2021, where a CNN host has been nicknamed Tater by elements of the conservative blogosphere, and picturing the CNN host as an action hero does not compute.

So worthier of a read than others in the series, like the next one which I’ll get around to reporting on in the next couple of weeks–movies, books, and audio courses are piling up, and I’m not spending a lot of time at my desk this summer.

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Book Report: Life After Favre by Phil Hanrahan (2009)

Book coverI bought this book in 2019. Maybe I didn’t know when the time would be right to read it, but given the nonsense in this off season, wherein people are claiming that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want to play for the Green Bay Packers any more, I knew the time was now. As to the truth of the Rodgers situation, I can believe it. In spite of his being good at Jeopardy! and an entertaining host of it, I can find it easy to believe he wants to leave–I saw the look in his eyes last year, when the conference championship was at Lambeau Field. He did not want to be out there playing football in the cold. So I can find it easy to believe that he might want to play somewhere warmer. But if he does, a pox on him.

But that’s not about this book. This book. Well, it’s an interesting book, all right, a bit interesting in its conception and execution. The author, living in LA at the time but a native Wisconsinite, decides he wants to write a book about the year after Favre left. So he moves to Green Bay for the season, but also attends several games in different places and travels to Kansas to watch a game in Jordy Nelson’s parents’ bar, travels to Kiln, Mississippi, the home of Brett Favre, and travels all over while renting a place in an extended stay in Green Bay. He goes around, talks to other fans, and…. Well, that’s the book. Not a whole lot of insight into the Favre thing other than recounting a bit of it which had kinda fallen out of my mind, and he brings up the names of some nearly forgotten Packers players for some pleasant memories. The book plays up the young Aaron Rodgers as eager to please, to lead, and to make a good impression with his teammates–an impression that, over time, looks a bit disingenuous.

Of course, as I’m reading this, I’m wondering who’s paying for it. I mean, fronting the money for that sort of thing must have been fairly expensive, and this is not a big name author or the member of some media organization. This looks to be about his only book. In the acknowledgements, he thanks his parents for his support, and I thought, a-ha! When I read the back flap of the dust jacket after I finished the book (I removed it while reading the book–funny, it’s there to protect the book, but nowadays we, and by we, I mean I, protect the protector more than the protected), I discovered that he taught writing at Marquette. He must have been after me, I told my beautiful wife, but actually we overlapped–but he must have been an adjunct or associate professor, teaching the 001 classes or something, since I did not take his classes, and I was not only in the Writing Intensive English program, but I had so many English credits that my graduation was in jeopardy (is that the second time that word has appeared in this book report? Is double jeopardy even allowed in these things?).

At any rate, so how did the Favre thing compare to the Rodgers thing? Kinda close, actually: Rumors and hints in the national media, a primadonna star quarterback who believes unfallibly that he’s in the right and that he’s not respected, and the general manager should be sacked. Worry that nobody would want to play for Green Bay without the recently departed star quarterback. The Packers did really get lucky with two really good quarterbacks in a row leading to 25 years of really good football–I’m a fair weather fan who really only got into it about twenty years ago, so I don’t remember the lean years. Perhaps if the Packers revert to the mean, I will end up only kind of following them and catching a game here or there kind of like I follow the St. Louis Blues these days. Eh, we will see.

So I did flag a couple of things for comment.

Continue reading “Book Report: Life After Favre by Phil Hanrahan (2009)”

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Book Report: The Blues Brothers by Miami Mitch (1980)

Book coverWell, this book is probably the one that leads me to end my reading of other movie and television tie-in books for the nonce. It, of course, novelizates the classic film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch (which makes it movie and television tie in).

All right, for those of you born in the twenty-first century (Just kidding! What is this, an app-based video because the damn kids can’t even handle a YouTube video that’s measured in tens of minutes? Not hardly!), I will sum up the plot: After a failed robbery to pay the members of his blues band, Jake Blues goes to prison for a couple of years. When he gets out, he discovers that the orphanage where he and his adopted brother Elwood grew up is under the threat of closure for nonpayment of taxes (what?), and a group of Nazis are hoping to buy it at auction. So they decide to get their blues band back together to do a special gig at a ritzy joint where they’re not actually scheduled to perform.

So that’s it. The story is them gathering the band members who have scattered and putting on the show.

The movie, as you recall, gentle (old man) reader, was almost a musical with numbers by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and others in their various scenes. However, in each of those iconic scenes, the mention of any music is omitted, and the whole scene is over in a couple of sentences or a paragraph. Other lengthy segments from the film, such as the car chase through the mall, are also handled quickly and dismissively, with memorable lines like “The new Oldsmobiles are in early this year!” completely missing.

Given that this is much of the draw of the film and that the humor in the film is kind of droll and not really laugh out loud funny to begin with, the book is not a very good read. As I mentioned, it’s probably put me off of movie tie-ins for a bit, especially as I think the running theme is played out (although with its help, I am at 49 books read so far this year).

I did pick out a couple of things from the book to flag though, tucked below the fold so I do not further tax your patience with my book reports which are more about me reading the books than the books themselves.

Continue reading “Book Report: The Blues Brothers by Miami Mitch (1980)”

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Book Report: Cocoon by David Saperstein (1985)

Book coverIn continuing with my movie tie-in book reading of this year, I picked up this book which has been haunting my to-read shelves for thirteen years and two homes. I remember the film well–it was on Showtime in my youthful trailer park days, and as you might remember, gentle reader, when a movie was on Showtime between 1985 and 1988, I saw it a bunch. So I remember the film passably well, especially Steve Guttenberg shouting, “If this is foreplay, I’m a dead man!” which of course would have stuck with a fifteen year old who probably learned about foreplay from the American Heritage Dictionary. Remember Steve Guttenberg? In the late 1980s, he was in every other movie (actually, it was only nine major movies in four years, so it was only every other non-action film).

But I digress.

The book has a different story arc than the movie: A charter boat fisherman takes an assignment for what he quickly learns are aliens (I mean, on page 15, they reveal themselves as aliens). They’re looking to recover almost a thousand (not ten like the movie) of their fellow Antareans that have been submerged in coccoons off the coast of Florida after the sinking of Atlantis. They’ve bought an incomplete senior condo project and turned one of the buildings into a processing center for reviving the dormant aliens. Four seniors from the complete building on the property discover the processing room and mistake it for a health club, so they try the equipment and find that it rejuvenates them. When the Antareans find that the salt water has damaged the cocoons, they’re left without an army–until they decide to recruit seniors from Earth.

So it’s quite different from the movie, which is a simplified version of the novel with subplots removed. I wondered if the book had come first followed by the simplified movie, but according to this article from 2019, it sounds like it went from story-for-movie to movie to novel:

Finding a way to get my story out to an audience did not come easily. I heard 51 “noes” before a “yes.” Among the rejections were many who deigned to read a few pages and said things like, “This is a wrinkle story,” and “Old people don’t go to the movies.”

It took five years to get a movie made, with a script by established screenwriter Tom Benedek and direction by Ron Howard, in 1985. The positive reactions to the story said to me that I got most of it right. The movie won two Oscars, and critics called it “feel-good” and “uplifting.” My novel was published after the movie. Cocoon was a New York Times best seller and became a brand of sorts, and I went on to a new writing career.

So perhaps the novel tracks more on what Saperstein had in mind; although he provided the story and later wrote the novel, he did not write the screenplay. He does work in a bunch of back story for the characters, including talking about what the seniors and their wives did before retiring to Florida. He even drops a couple of paragraphs describing a helicopter pilot into the middle of the narrative. So it gets some of its novel length with these back stories which are naturally not in a movie.

It was a pretty good read, though, even with its changed story line.

Brian J., did you flag anything in this fun little novel? you might ask. Of course I did! Not that I remember what. Let’s see if I can remember why I marked passages in the book.

Continue reading “Book Report: Cocoon by David Saperstein (1985)”

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