Book Report: The Great Optimist by Leigh Mitchell Hodges (2003)

Book coverI bought this book in December at ABC Books because it was inexpensive, and as it was filed with the poetry, I thought it was an old collection of poems. As it stands, though, it is a collection of essays or newspaper columns–apparently, the author was a columnist in Philadelphia back when a lot of the people mentioned in Heroes and Outlaws of the Old West, the lawmen anyway, were still alive.

So we have ten short essays–I would put them at 600 words, tops, and it’s only 35 pages total. The column/essays are:

  • “The Great Optimist”, a column about Christmas and how Jesus was the Great Optimist. I wondered as I started it whether I was in for a dozen sermons, but no; although the author is Christian, he’s a columnist and not a pastor.
  • “A Darkened Cage” about how a little darkness teaches a songbird to sing. You know what it’s a metaphor for; it reminded me of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s autobiography I was assigned in freshman English. The same metaphor, anyway.
  • “A Spring Song”, which talks about the optimism of spring and mirrors a poem that I’ve put down the first lines of somewhere.
  • “Making the Most”, which is about making the most of your talents (of course).
  • “The Flag”, a patriotic piece whose sentiments we might look askew at today, as it says all Americans can rally around it, which is not the 21st century reality, ainna?
  • “Ma Brither”, which recounts this story:

    Ian MacLaren tells somewhere a sweet story of his native Scotland–what while sauntering along a country lane one hot afternoon, he met a bonnie wee lass, all humped up and red, puffing with the weight of the chubby laddie she was carrying.
    “Isn’t he too heavy for you?” asked the dominic.
    “He’s not hivvy, sir,” came the reply, with a smile of loving pride; “he’s ma brither.”

    I tried to track down the source of this story; although Hodges attributes it to Ian Maclaren (pen name of John Watson), apparently it appears in The parables of Jesus, an 1884 book by James Wells. So it was already an established trope by 1903.

  • “Failure”, about how failure leads to success, which is a strangely contemporary message delivered to you by all your software that breaks easily.
  • “The Grasshopper”, about finding beauty in everyday things.

    Notable because:

    One Wednesday afternoon back in the baby days of the last century, three poets who were friends met together, as was their custom. Before parting, each agreed to write a sonnet on “The Grasshopper,” and to read it the following Wednesday. How would you like to have been there when John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Leigh Hunt–for they were the friends–read each his fourteen lines!

    The poems are from 1816. So the poems were newer to Hodges than Hodges book is to our day.

  • “My Friend,” about real friends. Shades of the first essay in that Montaigne book I have not finished yet.
  • “Thanksgiving,” which is about the holiday and gratitude. Which go together!

So the book kind of follows the year from Christmas to the next Thanksgiving.

The essays are nice, but I probably won’t remember much from the book except that it was old and that I read it. Which is what this post is for, ultimately, gentle reader–to remind me of what this book was actually about.

Also, as a side note, I have read three of the six books I bought at ABC Books that day and I have started the fourth (the English novel Pamela which I will undoubtedly mention over and over as the serious book that I am reading whilst posting book reports on smaller books I have read during the span, much like the recently completed David Copperfield. Dare I make this a twee goal for 2021, to complete all six of these books, kind of like I made it a goal in 2019 to read all of the books that I bought at Calvin’s Books that May? The collection of Paul Dunbar might be daunting, though–although it is only the beginning of May.

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Book Report: Heroes and Outlaws of the Old West by Shane Edwards (1993)

Book coverI asked yesterday whether you thought I would delve into a book that I bought over the weekend or if I would read another movie tie-in book next. Hah! Gentle reader, as you well know, this is an example of a false dilemma. As it turns out, I picked up a thin children’s (I dare say it’s younger than Young Adult, but who knows in the 21st century?) book about, well, the title says it all, I suppose. I bought this book in 2012 along with Hud and a couple of M*A*S*H books, which might make this movie/television tie-in adjacent. That, and the other thing that we will get to.

The book is 128 pages of quick read–it took me about two hours start to finish. It lists, alphabetically, a variety of lawmen or outlaws from the frontier days (which means the latter half of the nineteenth century and maybe the first decade of the 20th–it’s amazing how not long ago this was). It’s got some of the usual suspects–Jesse James, Black Bart, Butch Cassidy and the Sunset Kid–and it pretty much has everyone from the Lincoln County War, including Billy the Kid amd Charlie Bowdre, so one wonders if the author was a fan of the film Young Guns which came out in 1988 (and the sequel in 1990).

The information within is perhaps dubious–it espouses the view that Butch Cassidy survived the shoot-out in Bolivia among other things. And it has something of a message, as all the outlaws die young by violence, and all the lawmen live to an old age after they retire in their 40s.

So a good idea book if you’re looking for things to write about in the old west, but probably not a source you’d want to cite. And, as I mentioned, a quick read even if it took me nine years to get to it.

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Book Report: Alien by Alan Dean Foster (1979)

Book coverWait a minute, Brian J., didn’t you already write a book report about this book this year? you might ask. Gentle reader, I understand why you might think so. But the movie novelization by Alan Dean Foster that I read earlier this year was Alien Nation. They would be shelved together in the used book store assuming that Alien Nation came before Aliens, which Foster also novelizinated. Of course, they might not even be in the used book store at the same time. Certainly my copies will not be until perhaps after my death.

Okay, so this is the novelization of Alien. I have not actually seen the film even though I have it and, I believe, the first two sequels on videocassette. I thought it would be too spooky–as a kid, I shied away from spooky movies, even spooky science fiction movies from the early days when I didn’t want to go see John Carpenter’s The Thing with my babysitters when I was ten years old. So I have probably backburnered this film with that same kind of dread. Although I did see Aliens in the theatre when I was fourteen years old. But probably not since. Now that I’ve read the book, I am a little more prepared for the movies, so perhaps I will give them ago. Albeit without my boys, who are probably not ready for it yet even though they might think they are.

So, the plot: Seven crew members on a faster-than-light tugboat are awakened from their cryogenic sleep to investigate a ‘distress call’ on a planet in a sector they’re passing through. They land, and as they explore a derelict alien craft, one of them gets attacked by an alien that attaches itself to his face. They bring him aboard, against all procedure, and eventually a different alien bursts from his chest, and the crew tries to hunt it down but finds itself outmatched, especially as someone on the crew seems to be helping the alien. I mean, you know the basics, right?

A third of the book is in setup before the attack on the derelict occurs, and about another third elapses before the Xenomorph is loose on the ship, so we get a rather brief run through of fighting the alien. I have to wonder if the movie itself is paced this way, or if this is another instance (like Alien Nation) where a lot of time is spent on world building in the beginning that doesn’t appear in the movie. This article explains some of the differences between the original screenplay and what was shot and also mentions a couple of things left on the cutting room floor that appear in the book.

So I’ll be set up for jump scares that never come, maybe.

But I liked the book all right; it’s got a We Find A Mystery Of Another Civilization/Race thing that I like, and I like the detail Foster builds into the world of being a working-class space farer. And I like Alan Dean Foster. So you know if I find other Alan Dean Foster books in the wild, I’ll grab them, but they’ll have to be at smaller book sales or garage sales unless they’re misfiled in the Martial Arts section at ABC Books or the Ozarks section at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale since I don’t go out seeking science fiction books. But they manage to find me.

At any rate, I only flagged one thing in the book, and it was because of a coincidence:

Unexpectedly, a realignment of priorities in her [Ripley’s] querying jogged something within the ship’s Brobdingnabian store of information.

I came across that sentence immediately after my beautiful wife played some Brobdingnabian Bards filk music while we were playing cards, and I explained the origin of the term (Gulliver’s Travels). It’s not quite the Jeopardy! nexus, but still.

So, now, the question: Do I read another movie novelization or television series tie-in, or do I delve into the stack of books I bought last weekend. I am keeping you in suspense, gentle reader, because I have not decided just yet.

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Book Report: Home Is Where The Heart Is by Thomas Kinkade (1998)

Book coverNot to be confused with Home Is Where The Quick Is which was a MOD Squad tie-in paperback that I read in 2012, proving that I have long had a thing for those kinds of books (my run through them this spring notwithstanding).

Instead, this is a Thomas Kinkade property. It’s 47 pages long. It has 18 Kinkade paintings reproduced; opposite pages have quotes from famous literary works. In it, Edward Guest has two or three such pages; as his most famous poem is called “Home” and the title comes from it, I understand why. Also, his works were known for being kitschy and sentimental and are mostly forgotten now–so you can see how he might fit in with Kinkade.

So I looked over the pictures here with a bit of a gimlet eye (not Gimlet’s eye, gentle reader; don’t be morbid) to try to see what some find so offensive about them. Well, it’s only la-di-dah public types who tend to get quoted disapproving Kinkade’s work. They’re homey scenes like something out of Currier and Ives, but, and I think this might be the start of the disapproval, the skies are usually fairly bright even at night–perhaps a nod to his Christian beliefs–and the light spills kind of unnaturally out of every window of the houses in the nighttime scenes, which seems wasteful at best and an anachronism if you try to figure out how the light was so bright and even though it’s horse-and-buggy days, probably precluding electric light for most of these places. Those would be some very bright gas lamps indeed. But, you know what, it’s also to emphasize the homey, so I get it.

It’s a shame about his tragic personal life, and it’s a shame people dunked on him when he was alive and probably after he died. Knocking him because he purportedly outlined things and had assistants fill them out or whatnot. C’mon, man, aren’t you familiar with Renaissance art practices?

At any rate, a nice little book that I could use in between chapters of other things.

I suppose I would be remiss in noting this is the first of the books that I read from this weekend’s binge. I was actually looking for a book of poetry, but when I shelved the books, I scattered the smaller books across the stacks in my offices, and this was the first quick browser that I came across. So it didn’t make it until football season.

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Book Report: Mr. Monk Goes To Hawaii by Lee Goldberg (2006)

Book coverAll right, all right, all right, I said I was going to finish David Copperfield before I picked this book up, but I did a couple of chapters of Dickens and wanted another break. So I picked this book up a week later. This one, recall, gentle reader, I bought at the Friends of the Christian County Book Sale in 2017; given that this particular sale generally runs concurrently with the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale, I checked to see if it, too, was running this week. Oh, but no: it was an in-library event the first weekend of the month. Which I would have known if I only subscribed to the Christian County Headliner. And, I suppose, read it in a timely fashion (I often fall a week or two behind, so I generally only later discover events I would have wanted to attend).

But enough about me: This book has Natalee, Mr. Monk’s assistant, dropping a bomb on him: her best friend is getting married, so she has an all-expense trip paid for to a resort in Hawaii for a week, and she waits until the day before to tell him. She expects to have a week away from him, but he, with the help of a prescription from his psychiatrist, flies on a plane (with all of his inhibitions and habits gone) to join her.

Mr. Monk is the man to speak up at the wedding, as he noticed things that indicate that the groom is a liar and potential bigamist; after that, an older (sixties!) woman with a trophy husband is murdered; it turns out that he has married older women and inherited them before, but in the past, they’ve died of natural causes (or have they?). She was bashed in the head in her bungalow after reporting hearing voices. Meanwhile, a spiritualist next door filming his television show says he has messages from Monk’s dead wife and Natalee’s dead husband, and Monk wants to prove him a fraud.

Again, a good book, and I am going to look for Lee Goldberg work next Saturday at the book sale. Which is me going out of my way to the fiction tables; most of the time, I only hit the records, audio courses, art books, old books, and local interest sections. But I am planning to not take my boys, so I’ll have a little more time to wander.

At any rate, flags and stuff below the fold.

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Book Report: Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg (2006)

Book coverI don’t know where I picked this up; it’s a nice hardback edition, and it doesn’t have any price stickers or internal markings to indicate whether it came from a library book sale or ABC books. One of the mysteries of the universe, I guess.

The book is based on the television series Monk which ran the early part of the century. That makes it ten or twenty years younger than the other television- and movie-based properties I’ve been reading the last couple of months. This is the first in the series, which pleases me, as I also came across the paperback copy of Mr. Monk Goes To Hawaii that I bought in 2017, and I managed to grab the earlier one first (unlike the Babylon 5 episode guide I just read, which is for the second season but I’ve learned that I have the episode guide for the first season around here somewhere).

And I really enjoyed this book.

The schtick of the program is that Adrian Monk, the detective, is obsessive-compulsive and germaphobic, but his slightly warped mind is good for solving murders because he notices little details that other people overlook. The book is written in a first person narrator style where his assistant, a former bartender who keeps him in handiwipes and intercedes with normal people on his behalf, tells the story. So it has a Holmes/Watson structure, and it’s fun to read. And no politics; a lot of twenty-first century crime fiction, especially by established authors (Ed McBain, Robert B. Parker, Marcia Muller), has some jabs or worse at people who vote differently than the authors. You get nothing of the sort in this book, and it’s set in San Francisco.

My beautiful wife tells me she has read works by the author and some of his collaborations with Janet Evanovich and has enjoyed them; perhaps when I hit the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale next week, I will actually walk past the fiction section and the mystery tables to see if I can spot some of his other works.

Which is not to say I did not find things to flag and quibble and snark over.
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Book Report: Babylon 5: The Coming of Shadows by Jane Killick (1998)

Book coverWhen I bought this in 2007, I said:

I have seen like five minutes of Babylon 5 in my life, and I’m buying a book tie-in? I blame it on book-acquisition-drunkeness.

In the fourteen years since, I have not seen any more Babylon 5. I thought back then that this was a tie-in novel, but, you know, looking at the cover indicates that this is an episode guide for the second season, apparently the one where The Scarecrow (Bruce Boxleitner) takes over from Sisko the other guy. The joke is on me, though, as I bought the episode guide for season one, Signs and Portents in an ABC Books order last year during the Great Empausening, as I could have read the first season’s episode guide before this one.

At any rate, the book is an episode guide that talks about the second season. There’s a new commander on the space station, and a couple of the races whose ambassadors reside on the station are gearing up for war–one race with the assistance of an ancient race that almost conquered the universe a long time ago. The book starts with an article on producing the series on a budget, and then the individual episodes have a cast list, a summary, and then the cast and crew talking about their memories of making the episode. As such, you don’t get a lot of intricate connections between the episodes, although it does mention the arc stories as they developed.

While reading, I was struck by the actors who played in Star Trek series and Babylon 5, including Walter Koenig and Dwight Schultz. I see Miguel A. Núñez, Jr., was a guest star in one episode this season; I saw his film Juwanna Mann in the theatre because I remembered him from Tour of Duty, and looking at his oevre, I see that I have seen him in a lot of movies, although I don’t remember him in them (they’re small roles), but undoubtedly I recognize him and say his name when I see him in those bit roles, only to forget he was in them if I happen to think of them.

At any rate, a couple quotes and remarks below the fold.
Continue reading “Book Report: Babylon 5: The Coming of Shadows by Jane Killick (1998)”

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Book Report: Hackers by David Bischoff (1995)

Book coverYou know, I am pretty sure I saw this film sometime in the early part of the century on videocassette or DVD, but I don’t remember it that much. I watched a lot of these hacker movies around that time when I was writing John Donnelly’s Gold, and I meant to throw in a lot of allusions to hacker movies. I don’t think I included one from this movie in the novel, and I kind of confused it with Antitrust even as I started reading this. And, maybe sometimes Sneakers when just thinking of the title.

In it, a young man who was convicted as a juvenile for releasing a virus in 1988, turns 18 and can use a computer again. He and his single mother have moved from Seattle to New York City, and he is starting at a magnet school for smart kids where he finds a group of hackers. One of them, a lesser light trying to prove himself, hacks into a mining company’s computer and finds a salami attack in place where the head of security and the head of marketing are embezzling small amounts of money a lot of times. So they frame the kid/kids for a computer-based terrorist attack on one of the company’s oil tankers, and the hackers have to unite to clear the protagonists and expose the plot. Along the way, we get school pranks, young love, high school party/rave scenes circa 1995, and parental worry about what the boy is becoming.

I flagged a bunch of silly little inaccuracies, like arming the Secret Service strike team with AK-47s, saying BBS is short for Bulletin Board Service (it’s system, you damn kids), 1995-era teen hackers knowing Pascal, calling a wardialer a “WarGames” scanner, you get things like “It isn’t a virus! It’s a worm!” (which I guess it was, but still, in the 21st century we worry more about trojan horses, ainna?), and whatnot. I flagged them like it was worth mentioning, but the person writing the novel might have had less knowledge about contemporary technology than the screenwriters–some of the inaccuracies come in the non-dialog text. It’s been a while since I saw the film, as I said, so I don’t know.

You get some very dated technology with a “Pentaflex” (someone didn’t pony up for product placement) computer chip running at 30MHz. You get apocryphoral scenes like one at the World Trade Center. But you do get a shout-out to 2600: The Hacker Quarterly (which might have been filmed, so the author of this novelization was not responsible for it). You get unfortunate instances of pineapple on pizza–c’mon, man, that couldn’t have been filmed that way, could it? You get hacker speeches where they talk about freed information, wanting to learn, and being free. You get what looks to be an actual social security number (and some )

So, basically, it’s a teenager movie about hacking, with the focus on the teen themes and some pre-AOL level cinematic hacking for the plot.

I mentioned the virus release in 1988: This was based on the Morris worm. I remember that incident very acutely because at that very moment I was writing a research paper for my high school composition class, and I had picked computer viruses as the topic. I was in a tight spot, though, as the sources at the local library (magazines and books) that one could find on viruses were pretty thin. My mother drove me forty five minutes to the nearest St. Louis County Library branch twice. The first time, the branch had nothing I could use, and I could not request ILL books since I was not a St. Louis County resident (and back in those days, computers weren’t used much for card catalogs, so finding an ILL book would have been a challenge). However, the second time was after the release of the Morris worm, and I had suddenly lots of sources since every news magazine ran a story about virii and worms with sidebars I could quote).

At any rate, a lesser quality novelization of a lesser quality book. No allusions to this appear in John Donnelly’s Gold.

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Book Report: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978, 1997)

Book coverI picked up this book right after High Fidelity because that book features a protagonist that owns a record shop; this one, presumably, was about someone with a book shop. I was even willing to forego a book tied into a film for this connection, but as it turns out, this was made into a film in 2017. So it actually is a book with a movie tie. Whoa.

At any rate, this book, too, is set in England, albeit the northeast of England. In a small town, a retired widow wants to open a book shop in a building that has been abandoned for many years but that is several hundred years old. However, a noveau riche society matron had hoped that building would be the town’s arts center, under her leadership, someday, so she sets out to thwart the protagonist. After a number of incidents and third person interactions with the quirky characters of the small village, the bookshop closes.

The book was first published in 1978; I have the first American paperback edition from almost twenty years later; and twenty years after that, the movie came out. So I was expecting some twist or theme that would have made it a college literature staple, but I’m not sure it ever comes. Reports indicate that the big twist was that she stocked Lolita when it was controversial, but this is really underdeveloped. But it is a British book, a book featuring an older British woman (which I found reminiscient of The Handyman written by a different Penelope). It’s only 123 pages, but it’s fairly dense third person narration in the British style, and not in the fun Dickens sense.

I only flagged one thing in it, the motto of the olde riche family whose last member, and elderly man, supports the book shop owner. The family motto, above the door of the manor, is Not to succeed in one thing is to fail in all. That’s a pretty grim motto. It does make me realize that, although I have named my houses, I have not come up with a proper family motto. So I will give that some thought, and then I will probably make a wood burning of it. But nothing as dispiriting as that one.

At any rate, I shall turn my attention to American movie and television books between chapters of David Copperfield for the near term and will try to avoid books with elderly British women not named Jane Marple from here on out.

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Book Report: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (1995, 2000?)

Book coverIn keeping with the movie books, I selected this book, Nick Hornby’s first novel which was made into a film with John Cusack. Remember him? He was like an American Hugh Grant but with a shorter career and a less British career. Maybe I am conflating the two a little more than one does, but this book has his picture on the cover, and the setting of the book is England instead of Chicago so it’s more Hugh Grant territory than the American film. At any rate, I got this book from ABC Books as part of the cover story for my visit when Julian Lynn visited to sign books. I know, you don’t care, really, but sometimes I can search the blog and link the book back to its purchase point so I can see what else I might have bought then and have read since (although it was only a small trip, I’ve only also read The Physics of Love).

So. The story of the book is that the protagonist, a 35-year-old record store owner named Rob Fleming gets dumped by his long-time live-in girlfriend for the guy who formerly lived upstairs from them (and the two move in together elsewhere), which triggers Rob’s reflection on his relationships and his life which seems to have stalled. Prone to making a list, Rob lists his top five heartbreaks of all time and gets in touch with those women and moons over Laura, whom he met while he was DJing at a defunct club. She has gone onto become an attorney at a big law firm in London, which creates a gulf between them in Rob’s mind, and he’s starting to get a little bitter.

The book is told in shortish chapters of first person narration, more stream of consciousness than stream of time, and a bit unreliable as he might be trying to present the best possible rationalization for his actions, but somewhere underneath he might think he can improve. And at the end of the book, he might, but the reader has enough to doubt but hope for the best for the guy.

It captures the nineties and young peoples’ relationship anxiety zeitgeist pretty well, or at least what I remember of it (although, gentle reader, my humble love life narrative from the era is pretty pedestrian), but the character is 35, which seems a bit old, but certainly prone to self-doubt if he’s living the same life that he lived in his 20s ten or fifteen years later.

So I rather liked the book. At times, its expression of mortality and uncertainty struck me pretty raw, and it certainly made me glad I was not Rob or Lloyd Dobler at 35.

I did mark some things in the book for extra attention; you can find them below.

True Words

You need as much ballast as possible to stop you from floating away; you need people around you, things going on, otherwise life is like some film where the money ran out, and there are no sets, or locations, or supporting actors, and it’s just one bloke on his own staring into the camera with nothing to do ad nobody to speak to, and who’d believe in this character then?

I’ve had moments where I feel this way, too: the day-to-day maintenance of work-parenting-chores-bed leads a lot of things and friends to fall away. One does have to work a bit to keep busy. Maybe not everyone; maybe just introverts or lazy people like me who have, a lot of times, not bothered to keep those other things going.

On the other hand, I have a seventeen-year-old blog to keep me company. No, wait, that might be the same hand.

Oprah Alert

Speaking of the number of sexual partners he’s had, Rob thinks:

Ten isn’t a lot, not for the thirtysomething bachelor. Twenty isn’t a lot, if you look at it that way. Anything over thirty, I reckon, and you’re entitled to appear on an Oprah about promiscuity.

I wonder if I need to make a separate category to list books that mention Oprah as a cultural touchstone.

Also, to confess, I have not enough sexual partners to even trigger one of the conditions he mentions. At times, I wonder what was wrong with me. Which might be a good character thing to put into a book to strike right into the self-doubt of many middle-aged people. Or, perhaps not.

A False Dilemma, But

In Bruce Springsteen songs, you can either stay and rot, or you can escape and burn. That’s OK; he’s a songwriter, after all, and he needs simple choices like that in his songs. But nobody ever writes about how it is possible to escape and rot-how escapes can go off at half-cock, how you can leave the suburbs for the city but end up living a limp suburban life anyway. That’s what happened to me; that’s what happens to most people.

The book contains a lot of this expository sorting out of emotions, the aggrandizement of the narrator’s own self-doubt and whatnot. Which works, for the most part, where it doesn’t work in other books.

So, to sum up, I liked the book but didn’t want to be the character. I think some people liked the drama of those uncertain relationship times and would want to be Rob, but not me, brother. I’m glad I outgrew whatever I had in common with him.

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Book Report: On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt (2005)

Book coverThis is an essay by a philosophy professor emeritus at Princeton, published in hardback by Princeton University Press. I don’t know where I got it; I only know I picked it up as a break between movie novels because it’s pretty short.

Within, the author talks about the difference between lying and bullshit, and the basic crux of the article is that the liar knows he’s lying and subverts truth whereas the bullshitter doesn’t care whether what he’s saying is true or not. It contains lots of philosophical speak like talking about the truth-value of a statement and referring to Wittgenstein (whose progeny call themselves WittgenSTEEN), and the author digresses into how bullshit relates to humbug and whether bullshit has any nutritive value.

I think his definition of bullshit conflates two things that bullshit tends to mean in real life. Bullshit is generally puffing up or marketing kind of talk that is at its heart false, and the person spreading it might or might not know it. I think this author finds bullshit to be worse than lying, but when it’s just marketing or puffing, it’s actually less offensive and wrong. Unfortunately, in some cases, it does cross the line into outright lying. The subtle difference makes all the difference. How to capture into words the distinction, though, is the challenge, and this book really doesn’t go into it.

So, basically, it’s kind of an insipid bit of modern philosophy. Instead of tackling the weighty questions of existence, we have a little pop culture book with a catchy name that does a little of philosophy and refers to some other philosophers. Perhaps the authors of such books (which includes The Simpsons and Philosophy which I started three or four years ago and still languishes on my chairside table) want to introduce philosophy to the masses by roping it into pop culture and hope it will spur the people on to read primary sources. I think it’s probably as useful as feeding kids books full of crude drawings like the works of Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney in hopes it will lead children to reading real books–take it from me, as hard as I try, my junior high and high school students still read the Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books over and over again instead of something more mature. Or maybe the authors want to make a buck.

Regardless, I did flag some quibbles with the book, but I’m not going to bother to go into them. Probably not worth my time.

After a slight detour, it’s back to David Copperfield and movie books.

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Book Report: Men in Black II by Michael Teitlebaum (2002)

Book coverI continued with my movie and television tie-in books with this volume which is apparently the children’s / young adult version of the movie. It’s very short (143 pages, possibly shorter than the actual screenplay) and uses simple language. It deals with the sequel to the first film, where Jay has to find Kay because he had a previous mission hiding a powerful energy source that a new alien threat who looks like Lara Flynn Boyle wants it to conquer some other aliens–and Earth isn’t important, but she’s willing to take on the Men in Black and capture their headquarters to find it.

I just watched the first film in the series last year when my quaranteens were watching it during their work-from-home phase, and I plopped down to watch it again. So I have seen the first film maybe three or four times. This one, I probably watched once soon after it came out, so I did not remember the plot of it, but some of the scenes came back as I was reading them.

I was just pleased that I could remember the name of the woman playing the Alien Big Boss: Lara Flynn Boyle. She was featured in a Maxim or FHM magazine around this time, when I was young enough to subscribe to them and convince myself it was to keep hip on the things the kids were into whilst I was getting toward middle age (in my defense, I also subscribed to GQ and Spin around the same time, so the impulse was real). I remembered she was in that lawyer show that I never watched. Ally McBeal? Nah, I thought, but yes. Also, The Practice.

So not as much fun as True Lies, but not as long to read, either, I guess.

That said, I will probably not rush out and get the six (!) other movie tie-in paperbacks they released in support of the movie.

Eesh, I can’t imagine kids being that excited about this particular movie.

Oh, and I did flag some quibbles. With a children’s book. BECAUSE I HAVE NO LIFE.

Mostly, I flagged anachronisms. Kids at the turn of the century might have known what these things met, but kids these days would be clueless.

A Wut?

“I sent you an interstellar fax,” Serleena said. “Didn’t you get it?”

I think all but the most recalcitrant of official documents go through the Internet now.

At Where?

“Sephalopods have been making counterfeits at the Kinko’s on Canal Street.”

After almost forty years of being Kinko’s, Kinko’s became Kinko’s FedEx Office in 2004, just after this film, and then just FedEx Office in 2008 (according to Wikipedia). So Kinko’s has not existed in any name for almost thirteen years.

The When?

Kay reached into the locker and took an old digital watch–circa 1970–from a tall clock tower.

Hmmm, that seems a little out-of-time. PC Mag says the first commercial digital watches arrived arrived in 1972 and cost as much as a car–although in a decade, they would become less expensive and get into wider circulation. Probably the authors were too young to know.


At any rate, an amusing and quick read even though it lacks any real depth. On the plus side, I can’t call it depraved unlike some things I’ve read recently. But I am just the kind of prude who yesterday turned down a job interview with a company that did not mention in its job listing that it is in the adult entertainment industry. PRUDE, I TELL YOU!

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Book Report: True Lies by Dewey Gram and Duane Dell’Amico (1994)

Book coverI don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theater in the middle 1990s–I think I saw it first on videocassette–but I remembered the whole plot and most of the scenes. I remember I tried to watch it in the early part of this century, but I had to pop the VHS tape out as the attacks on September 11, 2001, were too fresh for me to enjoy a film that features a nuclear detonation in the continental US. I have since watched it, though, and in continuing with the theme from this year, I read this book, the novelization.

The book is a cut above many novelizations as the authors include some interior life to the characters instead of just reporting the action in the script or in the movie. As such, the book is a little deeper than the film, and the insertions keep the playful tone of the movie itself. It’s not like when they made Serenity after Firefly and suddenly all the characters were darker and haunted instead of happy-go-lucky.

If you’re not familiar, the story follows a secret agent with an agency that tracks nuclear weapons and threats. He has a wife and a daughter that he sees rarely as he is called away often for his computer job cover story. He has a set piece in the Alps, and an Islamic terrorist from the set piece follows him to try to kill him to protect the terrorist plot to smuggle nuclear weapons into the United States. Set piece, set piece, comedic subplot that the wife is getting bored and a used car salesman has crafted a secret agent story to seduce her, set piece that the daughter is acting out, set piece, nuclear detonation, Harrier jump jets (remember when they were a thing?), one-liner, happy ending.

Spoiler alert. There is a nuclear detonation in this film. But I guess I already mentioned that.

So, a pretty fun book with some minor variations from the film–the last voice over by Harry’s handler that ends the film is missing–but no great differences, so this is from a fairly late draft or early cut of the film.

A couple things I noted below the fold.
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Book Report: The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (1966, 1979)

Book coverWell, as I mentioned, Larry McMurtry died while I was reading this book. I read Books: A Memoir in February, and I knew I had a couple of his novels on the shelves. I came across this one while I was looking for something to read before picking up Hud, the movie version of Horseman, Pass By.

And I came here to bury McMurtry, not to praise him.

This book, which the cover calls the precursor to Texasville even though this book and its movie came before the second book in what would eventually be known as the Thalia Trilogy and its movie. Published in 1966, the book is set a decade or so earlier in a small Texas town. It’s the sort of literary novel favored by serious artists and those who love them: The novel of pissing on where you came from, your home town where everyone is pitiable. So I did not like the book at all, and that’s before nine teenaged boys ran a train on a blind heifer and the novelist assured us that all the small town boys have sex with farm animals, if not cows and horses then dogs and chickens. Whatever is available. It’s not often that I call a book depraved, but here you go.

I mean, the main character or protagonist, such as it is, is a high school kid estranged from his father and lives in a rooming house with another high school friend. The friend is dating the daughter of one of the rich families in town, a girl who wants to be a legend in town and is a climber, always plotting her next move and/or boyfriend. The book is chock full of characters–the local coach, who might be a latent homosexual; his wife, Mrs. Robinson Ruth, who is turning forty and discovers orgasm with the protagonist; the owner of the pool hall/picture show/diner who is like a father figure to the town boys; and so on. You don’t really like any of them. Mostly, you pity them. The story, such as it is, follows a winter/spring/summer of the boys’ senior year, including football season, a trip to Mexico to score with some prostitutes, sexual escapades/adultery/sociosexual climbing and more prostitutes, it’s all pitiable and games until someone loses an eye, and then…. Well, it ends. To be taken up thirty years later in Texasville if you’re so inclined. I am not.

So this is why I like genre fiction. Because it has heroes and adventures, not normalish-but-quiet-desperation-amid-meaningless-sex vignettes.

I did flag a couple things to comment on, but I have decided not to bother except to bring up two points below the fold.
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Book Report: Supercarrier by George C. Wilson (1986, 1989)

Book coverI started this book because I’m on a novelization/source of movies kick to begin the year, and I remember the short-lived television series from the 1980s. This book is not a novelization of it or a novel that’s the source: It is a non-fiction book that was purportedly source material for the television show, but I don’t think they had much to do with one another aside from the name and the type of boat.

The author is a Washington Post reporter and a former pilot who embeds before embedding was a thing with the crew of the USS John F. Kennedy as it deploys for a seven month cruise in 1983-1984. Originally scheduled to steam out to the Indian Ocean, it gets put on point off of Lebanon after the attack that killed the Marines in their barracks. The posting climaxes early in an ill-conceived bombing raid that results in the loss of two planes and the deaths of two aviators.

Initially, I thought the author was playing it pretty straight, but in gestalt, not so much. He proffers some respect for the people on the ship–and he gets around, so he gets to know people in every position from the captain down to the boiler tenders–but, really, he’s kinda for the guys who are in the Navy because they had no other prospects in their slums or backward small towns. And when we get to the bombing raid, he really takes some time to call out the civilian leadership of the military (Reagan and the Republicans) for attempting a limited retaliation for a missile strike. Which is weird because he mentions Operation Eagle Claw which was launched in an election year by Carter, but he doesn’t call that a political operation.

So, basically, the author tries to be for the troops while pissing on the military and the political leadership.

However, the left-leaning subtext is fairly subtle compared by modern standards, and in between its blushes we get some good stories and insight into various occupations and life on a deployed aircraft carrier. The cover says it was a controversial book, and I bet it was, as a lot of people who would have liked a straight narrative got a Political Message in it. But, as I said, by the standards of today, it’s relatively subtle and mild. Although books like this likely led us to where we are now.

I can’t give it a completely unalloyed recommendation, but it was insightful in spots.

Quibbles and targeted snark below the fold.
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Book Report: More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (2005)

Book coverAfter I read Book Lust in January for the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge, I was surprised/not surprised to find I had the sequel on my bookshelves. I didn’t buy them at the same time–I bought the first at the Friends of the Christian County Library Book Sale in autumn 2015 and this volume, signed by the author but not inscribed but with the recipient’s name, in autumn 2018 at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. So of course they were not really anywhere near each other on the bookshelves, and any time I saw one, I probably saw the other.

At any rate, it’s much like the first volume: A collection of topics and books for that topic. Really, one, and by “one,” I mean I is not so much looking for books to read about a topic–one has a disorganized library full of books on many topics (books on boomerang and whip making, for example) and actual book sales this year to fill the few gaps one creates by reading these smallish paperbacks. So it’s more about keeping score on books I have already read.

Which is not a lot, actually–the bulk of the topical book listings list relatively recent books for the most part and avoid poetry, read: grandmother poetry and chapbooks, and classical literature. The book also dodges overtly political content, but the leftist bent is in evidence, more acutely in this book than in the previous one as she explicitly says about some older books that it’s hard to read because contemporaenous views on race were not contemporaenous to this book and because a lot of the selections are on the Race question–pretty much the whole state-by-state selection of Southern fiction deals with racial matters.

Still, I flagged a number of books she mentioned that I have read:

  • Killing Floor by Lee Child (see below)
  • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Deep Blue Goodbye by John D. MacDonald
  • Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (although I do not have a book report on it, I did ask my boys to read it last year)
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard.
  • Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (this year)
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (I read it most recently in Selected Tales and Poems in 2017)
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (apparently, I cleaned up on the books listed in the “Horror for Sissies” section)
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • David Copperfield (in progress)
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  • “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. It’s not a whole book, but I haven’t brought up that I used to go to poetry open mic nights and recite the whole thing from memory in almost a year
  • The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer (ugh)
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the section on South Dakota, as are
  • The Long Winter
  • Little Town on the Prairie
  • and These Happy Golden Years
  • True Grit by Clinton Portis
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  • Millennium by John Varley
  • Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Those are the ones I flagged as having read, anyway. To be honest, in the week or so where I read the book off and on, I might have stopped flagging the ones I’d read if I felt like I was flagging too much and then started after a couple of pages without flagging anything.

Most of the books that I read are mentioned in passing and are not actually the subject of the entry. Also, note that only, what, three of them that I have read are from within the last fifty years.

I also flagged a couple of passages for snark, but I’ll tuck them below the fold to keep this book report from completely consuming the front page here.
Continue reading “Book Report: More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (2005)”

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Book Report: Mission: Impossible by Peter Barsocchini (1996)

Book coverI don’t want to make you feel old, old man, but this novelization is from the first Mission: Impossible movie which came out 25 years ago. I mean, I was still working in a printing plant. Five years later, when I worked for my first start-up around the turn of the century, I had the audiocassette single of the theme song from the movie queued up, and if someone asked for something outlandish, I’d ask them to wait a minute, and I would play the cassette while they asked. Here we are, twenty years later, and I’m reading the paperback novel of the film because some such movie novelizations percolated to the top of my to-read shelves while I was looking for something else recently. Meanwhile, the 7th film in the series is scheduled for release this year, but probably not to theatres. Somehow, Tom Cruise has not aged, unlike the rest of us.

At any rate, the plot: The IMF finishes an op in Russia and immediately heads to Prague to hunt for a mole who might be selling the list of Eastern European covert agents. The mission goes South, and the team is killed. Ethan Hunt, the only surviving member of the team, is accused of being the mole, but manages to escape and recruit a team to clear his name. To do so, he must meet a shady information broker, to whom he promise to sell the worldwide covert operative list for $10 million and for the person who was going to sell the other list–the mole who got his team killed.

A couple of set pieces later, and a couple of outrageous stunts in the movie later, Ethan discovers the mole was closer than he thought.

A quick read, but it suffers from the pacing problems I noted in Alien Nation and a bunch of Executioner novels that are written from provided outlines: A lot of development in the first half, but then the book runs through set pieces to end quickly. I haven’t seen the film in ages–perhaps twenty-five years–but I don’t remember the Prague elimination of the team taking up half the movie.

Also, SPOILER ALERT, but the book uses a limited omniscient narrator who peeks into the heads of the people and tells what they’re thinking at times. Which is cheating the reader badly when it dwells for chapters on Jim Phelps, the leader of the IMF team, and SPOILER ALERT, I REPEAT, who is eventually revealed to be the mole along with his wife and other team member Claire, and none of his thoughts are about his plans to betray his team. For Pete’s sake, that’s some cheating right there. In the movie, you don’t get that interior life, so it works better. A straight third person narration would have served better. However, it couldn’t have provided the depth in the characters, even though some of that depth was the false bottom in a briefcase.

At any rate, I did mark a couple of things for the quibbles section.

Where The Wisconsinians Go

He’d been making serious judgment calls his entire life. Bachelor’s degree from Wisconsin State University, master’s from Princeton, FBI training, CIA training, special tactics and forces training, special weapons training, advanced linguistics and electronics. Ethan knew his judgment calls were not pulled out of thin air. They were based on solid training and field experience, not to mention the stability of a strong family background.
He’d grown up on a farm not far from Madison, Wisconsin, the only child of devoted parents who recognized early on that their son was exceedingly bright.

Given the proximity to Madison, I believe that the author means the University of Wisconsin. When I was attending the premier university in Wisconsin, not far from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I liked to call it University of Wisconsin-Madison to take the flagship state university down a peg. But I would not have called it Wisconsin State University.

Although I understand changing the names of universities for some prestige reason was a thing for a while. Maybe the author was trying to get ahead of the curve here.

The Deep State As The Bad Guy
Phelps tries to name a civil servant as the mole:

Phelps went silent, brooding into his coffee. “When you think about it, Ethan, it was inevitable. No more Cold War. No more secrets you keep from everyone but yourself, operations where you answer to no one but yourself. The one morning, you wake up and find out the president of the United States is running the country–without your permission. The son of a bitch! How dare he? You realize it’s over, you’re an obsolete piece of hardware not worth upgrading, you’ve got a lousy marriage and sixty-two grand a year.”

The good news is that in the 21st century, we know that the President of the United States no longer runs the country. The last one couldn’t because of the resistance of the lifers, and the current one probably isn’t, either.

The 90s Ubiquity of Oprah

This book, like Alien Nation, refers to the all-powerful one:

“I told him not to hold his breath. Just chalk it all up as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”
“He’d probably rather hear that from the president.”
“Exactly what he said to me. Maybe he’ll settle for Oprah.”

Twenty-five years later, she [Oprah] has just perhaps (the tabloids hope) aired the interview that might end the monarchy in Britain. Although, honestly, the tabs can’t hope it ends. Their stories of Katie Price (who?) won’t last forever.

Eight Track Technology
The books sometimes really tries to impress us with the latest technology, but it would better have served its own longevity to obscure the tech a bit (I did once write and sell, for money, an article to a writing magazine about how to avoid these pitfalls, although it was twelve years too late for this author). While talking about diskettes (instead of disks, which one could almost conflate with a CD or DVD or microdisc), while mentioning various architectures (unfortunately, probably from movie dialogue which needed preservation) to talking about laptops with PCMCIA cards–really, you’re dating it more than you have to.


Still, a quick thriller that made me wonder if I should pick up watching the movies. I am pretty sure that I saw the first and the second of these in the cinema, but I haven’t seen any of the other ones since then. Perhaps I should give them a try, but I already have a cabinet full of videocassettes and DVDs to get to.

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Wonderlic Throws Brian J. Some Shade

So I’m taking the Wonderlic test as part of a recruitment process, and one of its personality sampling questions is this:

I would like to write a great novel or play. Agree | Neither Agree nor Disagree | Disagree

Ah, but I have already written a great novel and play.

I guess most people have to treat that question as a hypothetical.

But Wonderlic is saying that neither of them is great.

Perhaps I can agree if we use great to mean successful.

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Book Report: The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly (2018)

Book coverMy wife spotted this book on my to-read shelves and brought it to my attention: I should read it soon, or it might disappear from my shelves. She has read other things by the author, a three-time cancer survivor, so that might be how she knows of him. So after I finished the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge, I picked it up.

It’s a contemporary Christian….self-help book? It’s in the vein of The Power of Positive Thinking or Eat the Cookie…Buy the Shoes with a bit of focus, I guess, on living as a Christian in the 21st century and helping to expand the Church’s reach/the power of the Church. The author is either first or also a business consultant, so it has a lot of focus on large-scale outcomes and uses the term continuous improvement referring to the experience of Christianity.

Spoiler alert: The biggest lie in the history of Christianity is that holiness, living a holy life, is impossible in the 21st century.

The book is a little bifurcated: He creates the concept of Holy Moments, essentially paying-it-forward by doing nice things for people to represent Christianity well, and then, rather unrelatedly, he then talks about The Church as if it’s some monolith that need Christians to band together to maximize its influence and whatnot. I am not sure that he leads from one to the other very well, and I’m not sure you can do that very well. I mean, Christianity is about one’s own relationship with Christ; once you start talking about the organization of the Church, especially as some ecumenical megalith, you start losing me.

He talks, briefly, about the Church doing a big thing, all Christians together:

Everybody knows the world needs changing. We may disagree with our non-Christian sisters and brothers about what changes are needed, but the need for change itself is indisputable. And so, the key to repositioning Christianity as an incredibly positive and powerful force in our culture is what I like to call a 100 percent issue. A 100 percent issue is one that no reasonable, rational man or woman of goodwill can disagree with. For example, I believe that no child in the United States should go to be hungry. That’s a 100 percent issue.

. . . .

If I said no American should go to bed hungry at night, it would no longer be a 100 percent issue. Some people would argue that many of the hungry and homeless are lazy, are voluntarily abusing substances, and have chosen the lifestyle they are living. They may be right. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter right now, because while some people may disagree about every American, everyone agrees that no American child should go hungry. This is a 100 percent issue, which means nobody can disagree with you without looking foolish at the very least.

Now, just one minute, Admiral. Before I, who might not be reasonable, rational, or of goodwill, will check those terms and conditions:

  • What is a “child”? Up to age 26 like a medical insurance dependent?
  • What is “hungry”? Hankering for a snack even though they’ve already had their necessary dietary needs met?
  • When, exactly, is going to bed going to occur? Must we guarantee that an eighteen-year-old who has been playing Far Cry for eighteen hours should have a banana at four o’clock in the morning?
  • Can parents opt out, or do reasonable, rational men or women of goodwill get to compel behavior?

The book and its conception of the Holy Moment can be useful as a frame of thinking of small acts of kindness that a Christian can perform every day to act more according to the teachings of the New Testament, but too often it kind of veers into the macro. Also, it really kind of goes from deontology–do good works because it’s the right thing to do or because it’s God’s will–to teleology–do good works to show everyone what good Christians do or to make the Church look good/broaden its power and influence. That is, do good with a worldly goal in mind.

So, yeah, not buying it.

At any rate, the book is only 114 pages, but it took a fair amount of themeatic repetition to get there. So I will mark this into my library database and annual reading total, but instead of onto the read shelves, I will probably pass it onto my wife. Perhaps she will enjoy it or get more from it than I.

Oh, and other things I marked upon which to comment:

Check Your Theology

Other common lies today include: Christians hate all non-Christians; Christians think everyone else is going to hell; smart people are not Christian; Christianity isn’t dying and won’t be around for much longer.

I disclaim that I did not even complete my (Catholic) theology minor at the university (I dropped Philosophy and Theology because it was an 8am class, had used all my absences by midterms, and thought I was getting a worse grade in it than I was), but I am pretty sure that the the only way to the Father is through the Son is still taken pretty seriously if not stridently. Some denominations in the diverse monolith that is the Church emphasize it more than others, but I’m not sure that those who have eliminated it constitute a majority. So it’s not a lie told about Christians.

Endymion Rears Its Head

This is a thing of beauty. The first line of John Keats’ poem Endymion reads: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” A Holy Moment is a thing of beauty. The poem continues, “Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”

The author here is referring to a good deed or a single action as a thing of beauty; however, Keats himself is referring to actual things:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. 5
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways 10
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils 15
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
’Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms 20
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Keats is talking about actual things, earthly things that one can enjoy, externally triggering joy, over and over again. Hey, I know the feeling. See also my preference for personal relics as physical triggers for memories I might not remember otherwise.

Also, this might be a good time to drop in a little design knock on this book. A lot of books have callouts, where they put little snippets of the text in a larger font on the page so you can remember it when you’re flipping back through the book or to emphasize a point. When I read books that use them, I skip the larger text because it’s generally a little aphorism out of context.

This book, however, puts whole paragraphs in larger font; text which does not otherwise appear, so they’re not callouts, they’re emphasized part of the text. The stuff the author would underline for you if he could, and it’s whole paragraphs.

I think that’s poor design. And you can take it to the bank since the closest thing I have to an official review of my last collection of poetry was the poetry sucks, but the design is awesome!

Take That, Pelagius

It is also important to note that we need God’s grace to create Holy Moments. We can’t do this alone. This is not self-empowerment.

I always feel smart when I can name the heresy.

Top-Down Approach

So, it is going to take a brilliant strategic effort to place Christianity back at the center of modern culture. But the most brilliant strategies are usually simple, and the simplicity at the center of whatever strategy we can all agree to adopt will be Holy Moments.

Again, this is the greatest dispute that I have with the book. It talks about doing good and being holy as part of a strategy with an earthly goal in mind. I think that any resurgence of Christianity and traditional morals must be a by-product of people just doing it, not the goal of a strategy.

Whoa, There, Joseph Smith

Kelly starts out a chapter called “Everyday Miracles” with a story that must be a parable, but:

A thousand years ago, a missionary was visiting a village on a small island deep in the Amazon, when he came upon three old friends talking, singing, and laughing.

I think the parable is about how the Church and its official emissaries cannot teach holiness to Christians who are already holy. I don’t think this squares with the Church having an official strategy. But I do know that missionaries weren’t visiting the Amazon a thousand years ago. The official Church wasn’t even going to retake the Holy Land in the Crusades yet, and Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire hadn’t fallen.

It’s a glaring mistake. But the book itself has a bit of a dashed-off quality.

It looks like the author dashes off a couple books like this every year. So that explains it.


So, a quick read. Not a lot of depth, just a couple of ideas repeated in various forms like motifs in a musical work. And little for me.

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Book Report: Alien Nation by Alan Dean Foster (1988)

Book coverIn rummaging through my books last month to find a book by a native author, I went through the collpsed bookshelves and percolated a couple of movie novelization tie-ins to the top. So, gentle reader, you might look forward to reading book reports on a few of them here in the near future.

I told my boys about these movie books and how, before the home video revolution in the 1980s, if you wanted to experience your favorite movies outside of the cinema in a format you controlled, you had to go with the movie paperback. The novelization if you wanted the story in depth or the storybook if you wanted pictures from the movie (and, sometimes, things that were cut from the movie as in the Star Wars Storybook which shows pictures of Luke and Biggs on Tatooine). They, being of the Internet age, are pretty used to having any movie approved and licensed by big tech available at any time, although they will be the last amongst our people to remember going to an actual video store.

But I digress.

I must have seen the film at some time, but I am most familiar with the television series–enough to remember the star’s name even though he really hasn’t appeared in a leading role anywhere else. The television show lasted a season, my senior year in high school, when the fledgling Fox network didn’t have a full week’s worth of programming. According to the Wikipedia entry, Fox cancelled the series because it wasn’t making enough money at the time–but that its enduring popularity led to five television movies through the 1990s. Which is four movies past Firefly if you’re keeping score, brother.

Of course, by now, it’s a forgotten science fiction cult classic, maybe, so I should probably explain the setup. An automatically piloted alien ship appears out in California containing thousands of aliens that come to be called Newcomers (or Slags if you prefer the slur). These aliens were supposed to be slave delivered elsewhere, but inadvertently arrived at Earth. So the government has quarantined the aliens for a while but are helping to integrate them into human society. This has been ongoing for a bit–ghettos have formed where the Newcomers live, and some are starting to work alongside humans.

When human Detectives Sykes and Tuggle witness trouble brewing in the Newcomer area of Los Angeles, they witness and try to stop what appears to be a robbery in progress at a Newcomer-owned store. The robbers kill the storekeeper and then shoot their way out of the store, killing Tug. I think I’ve actually seen the movie and not the television show because I seem to recall this scene, with shotgun blasts punching completely though cars. But that might be a scene from another movie.

So one of the Newcomers on the police force is promoted to detective, and Sykes volunteers to partner with him. Although he’s not supposed to work on the case of his partner’s death, Sykes knows the Newcomer detetive, “George,” is working on a murder that might be related. So they navigate the hidden world of the Newcomers, finding a plot that deals with an alien drug ring and not the prevalence of super shotgun shells.

The book has a lot of good commentary on relating to The Other and integration, which means it’s certainly out-of-step for the 21st century. But they’re univeral themes, the alien in a host society, and the book explores some of these concerns without banging the race drum too much.

Foster handles the cinematic elements well, but the book’s pacing kind of matches some of the Executioner novels in that a larger part of early pages sets the tone and characterization, but then we get about three quarters through it and we have to cover the slam-bang finish and false endings in detail. Not on of Foster’s greatest works, but it’s still pretty good and kept him in kibble.

I don’t think anyone had actually read this paperback before. The spine was uncracked, and as I read it, the binding popped a couple of times and pages came loose. Which is okay, ultimately, as I suspect that once this book disappears into my paperback shelves, no one else will ever read it. Because, c’mon, man, I’m hoping to own the book for another couple of decades, after which I fully expect “reading” to be a lost art, and even if people still do it, most of it will be tech-approved content on tech-provided devices. But I digress.

I flagged a couple of things for comment as I’ve started doing, and I will risk the spine of this book further to provide this bit of commentary to you, gentle reader.

I Remember When

His hand reached out to automatically slap the rewind/playback switch on the answering machine. It whirred as he advanced on the kitchen. One time he’d put a funny greeting tape on the machine, a gag gift from a fellow officer. Only trouble was that his mother had called once and had been forced to suffer throught the tape’s bouncy barrage of four-letter words. All copspeech, unsuitable for mentally stable civillians. Now the machine requested its messages in a noncontroversial monotone.

When I finally moved out of her basement, my sainted mother bought me an answering machine so that she could leave me messages. In those days, although cell phones existed, they were still on the lower end of the adoption scale. I didn’t have one for a couple of years yet. I didn’t think I’d need an answering machine as I was not expecting a lot of calls. And, as I expected, she was the only one to leave messages. Well, mostly.

Also, note how much Foster has inserted here: In the movie, James Caan comes in the door and hits the button on the answering machine. But Foster adds depth with a little story about the protagonist’s mother. This separates the better novelizations from the lesser.

1 Out Of 2 Is Kinda Bad

“Wrap sheet shows one armed robbery conviction, a couple for sale of a controlled substance. He also beat a number of raps back East.”

Copyediting on paperbacks was not a big line item on even major books from major houses based on a major motion picture even in the 1980s.

The Other Water

There was muzak in the air and the cheesy aroma of canapes on trays. Waiters moved obsequiously through the crowd, dispensing Perrier and champagne and soaking up a month’s worth of gossip which the more astute among them would peddle a little at a time and for high fees to the city’s more prominent columnists.

Widows mentions Pelligrino water, which is my preferred sparkling water brand simply because I am not hoity-toity, and in the 80s, Perrier was pitched to the hoity-toity as it is a marker for a high class function here.

Also note how Foster here also injects a little characterization for some of the wait staff. The line in the script might be “A busy party scene.” Or, I suppose, the script could have included some of this in its description. But I prefer to attribute it to the seasoned pro (more on that in a bit).

Someone Has Kids

He tapped the picture. “That’s Kristin there. My daughter. It’s kinda an old picture, but you know how you get about old pictures. You always have this one special image of your kids, when they’re a certain age, when they look a certain age. When you’re seventy-five and they’re fifty, you’ll still see them the same way.”

Analysis: True.
I have a rotating set of pictures running on one of the monitors here in the lab, and since the Macintosh cannot recognize shortcuts nor include subfolders in its screensaver rotation, it mostly plays the root folder from one or more of my boys’ photo collections, which is disorganized photos from their extreme youth. And although they’re teenagers, about, now, they still have that toddler or little boy in them to me even though it was a lifetime ago to them. Not to me.

But Hasn’t Actually Scheduled a Wedding In A While
A paragraph later, talking about his aforementioned daughter’s wedding:

“When is the happy occasion?”
“Sunday. This Sunday.

In my experience, most weddings take place on a Saturday. Churches generally have other things scheduled on Sundays.

Of course, I’ve only been married once, and the wedding itself was long ago.

A Nice Line

They sat at the table and talked about small things suddenly becoming large, big things that no longer seemed half so important, and the debris of a person’s life called memories.

Definitely a noir coloration in the black and white text.

The Other Oprah Effect

His partner refused to be mollified. “She’s very progressive, I’m certain she’s considering it. She watches television all the time, and not just the Newcomer channel. She’s taken up flower arranging in her spare time. If she can pick up a human habit as bizarre as that, why not also divorce?”

I’ve heard that the other Oprah effect is that women who find themselves at home start watching programs like this and that they then find unhappiness in their marriages and the path to empowerment and fulfillment following a divorce. A friend pretty much attributed his divorce on Oprah.

Based on the screenplay by Rockne O’Bannon

I first became acquainted with the name Rockne O’Bannon from the episode of the middle 1980s Twilight Zone series. The segment was called “Personal Demons”, and it dealt with an older writer named Rockne O’Bannon who is plagued by destructive physical demons who damage his car and whatnot and, when he confronts them, they say they want him to write about them. When he does, they leave.

Because the character Rockne O’Bannon is older in the show, I thought O’Bannon himself was older. However, O’Bannon was at the beginning of his career in the middle 1980s. He did several stories for The Twilight Zone, one for Amazing Stories, and then this movie. He’s also responsible for Farscape (which I’ve never seen and would probably confuse with Lexx very easily since I didn’t see that program either).

I mention it because I think it’s funny that I thought that O’Bannon was a grizzled veteran in the 1980s, but he’s probably not that much older than I am.


So, to sum up, a good novelization of a mostly forgotten science fiction film. But it makes me want to go out and get the DVDs for the movie, the television series, The Twilight Zone 80s edition, and maybe Farscape and Lexx. Actually, I don’t have to go out to get them; I can simply conduct an Internet search online and be shocked that it’s so expensive and not buy any of them.

Which is just as well–I don’t carve out time for watching television, so they’d languish on the cabinet for years until I got around to them. Because I spend my time reading books based on movies and television programs instead.

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