Book Report: In the Valley of Yesterday by Jeane K. Harvey (2020)

Book coverWhen blog and Internet friend Blogodidact mentioned his mother wrote a book, of course I rushed right in and ordered it. Thankfully, his mother was not in a touring production of a Broadway musical or local revival. As I have mentioned, I buy my friends’ (and, apparently, their parents’) books and music, which is about ten bucks a pop. I once supported someone I knew in musical theatre, and tickets for the four of us were $120 or so. So thank goodness for the greater ambition of original works. Of course, I would not say this in real life to the fellow who starred in Jesus Christ Superstar, as his “a pop” has been known to sideline me from martial arts classes for months. But, where was I?

Oh, yes: This book falls right into my wheelhouse of small-town personal and historical memoirs, except that instead of some unknown person writing about growing up in Missouri or the Ozarks, we get stories of growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1930s and 1940s (and beyond a bit). The author’s father is a studio art director, but when Great Depression I hits (I’m numbering them, as I expect Great Depression II: Candlelight Bugaloo to come any day now), he buys some property in the valley, and the family sets up a ranch with small animals to tide them over. So you’ve got stories about managing animals and construction interspersed with celebrities popping in (Alberto Vargas pops over for an artist group paint session, for example). Eventually, the father gets another job with the studios and works on a number of known films with Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, and others. In most of those anecdotes, the celebrities don’t drop by, but we get the stories related from the father’s perspective, sort of.

So I really liked the book because, as I mentioned, it has the flavor of a rural memoir with the injection of the old-time movie business. Which is not to say that I did not tag a couple quibbles, which I did, but I will tuck them under the fold so that only Van and his family have to see them.
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Book Report: The Samurai: The Philosophy of Victory by Robert T. Samuel (2004)

Book coverI bought this book last summer in Berryville, Arkansas. Whilst I am bogged down and bored with the children’s book I’m reading, I have been looking for various other things to read between chapters, and I settled on this volume, especially as I recently succumbed to latent nipponphilia when listening to Understanding Japan: A Cultural History.

However, this is a Barnes and Noble book, so it’s more of a coffee book akin to Samurai Warriors than an actual history. It is lavishly illustrated, which unfortunately often means watermarking images behind the text that make it hard to read in spots, and its text relies heavily on Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai and The Book of Five Rings, texts which Professor Ravina tut-tuts because they’re written a bit anachronistically.

At any rate, it collects some aspirational material about how to live like a samurai, the warrior code and whatnot, interspersed with some stories and legends of samurai. Unfortunately, many of the non-Hagakure and Five Rings sources are unattributed, so one cannot look for those source materials for further reading.

So a bit thick for a simple browse, and not detailed enough for real study. But, I suppose, if you’re looking for a bit of self-help in how to live well, you could do worse.

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Book Report: Tiger Stalk The Executioner #220 (1997)

Book coverI thought this might be the first of the Executioner novels I’ve read this year, but apparently I read Terror Intent to start the year. Which proves, I suppose, either how forgettable the later Executioner novels are or perhaps how long ago January was from now in my mind.

At any rate, this book is a rare artifact in the Executioner series in that the title kinda refers to the plot: Mack Bolan goes to Sri Lanka to find an American diplomat held by the Tamil Tigers. C’mon, man, if you’re of colonoscopy age like me, you cannot read Sri Lanka without a muddy British accent and pronouncing it Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, can you?

Spoiler alert: Mack Bolan does not beat any shopkeepers to death with their own shoes, although this book was written long enough after the film came out that the author could have inserted such a scene. Or perhaps dropped in a Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon for us. But no.

So Mack Bolan meets up with an intelligence counterpart who is playing all three ends against the middle: the government of Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers, and the Americans–I have not done the calculations to determine exactly what number of agent that makes her. She’s ostensibly in the service of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), but she’s sleeping with the head of one of the factions of the Tigers. So when I read Pergelator yesterday, and he mentions RAW in terms of a film he watched, I was all like oh, of course I know what that is. So these books have some small educational value.

Bolan, like my middle school (and high school) Dungeons and Dragons group, does not use the encumbrance rules. Check this out:

A large canvas carryall at his feet contained more gear, including extra clips for the Uzi, as well as for the Beretta and Desert Eagle. Additionally, a 5.56mm M-16 A-2 assault rifle, fitted with an M-203 single-shot grenade launcher, lay beside a small radio transceiver to send messages to the fishing boat waiting in a port in India just across from Palk Strait. An assortment of M-40 and 40mm fragmentation and incendiary grenades, C-4 plastic explosive, miniaturized detonators, trip triggers and timers, and three compact missile-launching LAW 80s completed the portable armory.

He’s carries this bag various places, but it’s well over a hundred pounds of equipment easily, so he should not be carrying it with one hand. I don’t know how big of a carryall that is, but that’s a lot of weight and cubic dimension for a single bag. But I can’t talk. It was not uncommon for my fighters to go into a dungeon with a 10′ pole, 50′ of rope, carrying a pole axe, two handed sword, long bow, and food and water for a week (plus whatever loot we found).

A serviceable book in the series, torn from the headlines of 1997–and the civil war in Sri Lanka, which began in 1983, would last until 2009.

So maybe one can learn things even from these men’s adventure paperbacks from time to time.

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Book Report: True Tales From Dickerson Park Zoo by Mike Crocker (2022)

Book coverWell, it only took me a week to read this book–I bought it at ABC Books a week ago Saturday, and it was a nice book to intersperse with my reading of The Red Badge of Courage.

The book is a series of very short stories–most of them are only a couple of paragraphs long, but they’re not broken into individual chapters–dealing with animals and zookeeping and talking a bit about the evolution of zookeepery over the last fifty years, from the concrete cages of the 1970s–heaven help me, but I kind of remember those kinds of exhibits at the Milwaukee Public Zoo when I was but a kid and Chandar, the white tiger, was there–to the more lavish and proper habitat that you see these days.

Crocker specialized in snakes, so a lot of the stories deal with the slithering fellows, but many of the anecdotes that do not feature snakes indicate how dangerous it is to work at a zoo.

I did flag a bit in the book:

One weekend day in the early ’80s, I got a phone call about a lion loose on North Glenstone in Springfield. I think people had called 911 to report spotting a lion. At that time, I lived not far from the location, perhaps a two-minute drive. By coincidence, another zookeeper, Terry Letterman, was at my house.

Terry and I jumped into a vehicle and headed to the location, which was a motel just south of the intersection of Glenstone and Kearney, on the west side of the road. By the time we got there, animal control had already caught the cat and had it in one of the holding units in their truck. It was an African lion, about one-third grown by my estimate, and weighed perhaps seventy-five to one hundred pounds.

The animal was not aggressive. Animal control drove to the zoo with Terry and me following behind. Once we arrived, animal control let the cat out. I straddled the lion, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, and walked it into a stall in a building located in the southwest corner of the zoo property.

It didn’t take long to locate the owners. They were traveling through Springfield with the cat and had stopped at a motel at the corner of Glenstone and Kearney. They left to eat, and while they were gone the lion got out of its crate and wandered into the swimming pool next door. I’m sure this caused a bit of panic as the people evacuated the pool area.

That motel has been in the news recently as it was closed, and the corner slated for redevelopment, but squatters on the property had caught bits of it on fire in March, and it was torn down while I was reading this book.

I passed the property several times recently as it’s just north of ABC Books.

Also, I could have stopped the quote with the mention of the motel, but I finished out the story to give you a sense of how long the individual anecdotes are. Not especially detailed; more spoken history written down than anything else.

So a quick and amusing read. As I mentioned, this is the second copy of the book that we have at Nogglestead–my beautiful wife got a copy first, and she read bits of it to me, so when I saw that the author was going to be at ABC Books, I made sure to go up there and get my own signed copy.

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Book Report: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895, 1983)

Book coverI am going to go out on a limb here and say that the text comes from the 1895 publication of this book; in 1982, Norton came out with a longer version based on Crane’s “original manuscript,” and I doubt they would have shared that copyright with Reader’s Digest the same year (the Reader’s Digest The World’s Best Readers edition came out in 1982, and mine is a second printing from 1983). Not that it matters except for purists. But I am throwing it out there because I read the Wikipedia article.

At any rate, this was my first reading of this book. I understand, or at least my beautiful wife told me, that some people read this book in elementary school, or perhaps their mothers’ wombs, but I came to it late, and I am pretty sure that I have mentioned once or twice that I confused this book with Where The Red Fern Grows because they both have the word Red in the title. So, alright: Even though I came from an era where they read novels in school, the schools I attended did not read either of the red books. Nor The Little Red Book, which they might teach in TikTok form to modern students, but that’s neither here nor there. Also, that might remind me of a story, although I don’t need much reminding as it’s recent, but perhaps I will tell it someday.

Where was I? Oh, yes. This is a Civil War book about a young man who goes to the war over the objections of his mother, who does a bunch of marching and bivouacking and thinking, and when he encounters battle for the first time, he gets caught up in a disorderly retreat, and he runs away. He spends a couple of days out of the fray, running then meeting up with a rearward march of the wounded, and he gets a bang on the head which he presents as his war wound to have taken him out of battle. Then, he returns to his unit, and they have a battle, and then they’re ordered to a charge he knows is a distraction which is expected to lead to many casualties, he performs well, and he does not die.

Um, spoiler alert retroactively.

I had a bit of trouble with this book because I’m from the 21st century (well, I am from the 20th century, but I’ve been here in the 21st a long time now). As I read it, I kind of expected that the main character would die and/or the book would veer into anti-war or anti-patriotism, but it doesn’t take a more modern turn. Instead, it tries to re-create what it was like in the Civil War even though it was written twenty years later by a man born after the war.

The prose is a bit purple. And red. And yellow. You don’t go more than a few sentences in dry spots where a color is not mentioned, and the prose is measured for its own sake, not the service of the plot. So it was a bit denser of a read than a thriller or genre book, but not as dense as Georgian prose or self-indulgent high literature.

So not one of my favorite books, but I’m glad to have read it as it offers some light classical literature amid this year’s children books and Star Trek short storification collections.

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Book Report: John D. MacDonald: A Checklist of Collectible Editions & Translations by David G. MacLean (1987)

Book coverI bought this little chapbook at ABC Books a couple weeks ago, and when I went back earlier this month and bought a book by Gregory McDonald, I mentioned that Gregory McDonald was one of the big three MacDonald/McDonalds–the other were Ross MacDonald and John D. MacDonald (I said, gesturing to a Travis McGee novel stacked and ready for pricing behind the register). I then told Mrs. E. that I had recently bought a price guide for John D. MacDonald books, this very book–and then I realized I had bought it at ABC Books a couple of weeks earlier, albeit when she was not there.

So. This is a 32-page, saddle-stitched, typeset with a typewriter booklet from 1987, probably not long after MacDonald’s death (at a different hospital in Milwaukee than the hospital where Heather Graham and I were born–he is buried in Milwaukee, and I never visited even though I have been a fan since he was interred). It lists first editions, including first foreign editions in some cases, and prices circa 1987.

How do the prices stack up to modern prices? The Brass Cupcake, his first novel in paperback from 1950, is listed in the book at $40 including notes on a recent sale. You can find it on Ebay from between $30 to $250, and there’s a hardcover edition at $1250 (which is a hardback reprinting of the paperback). So your mileage may vary.

As I have mentioned, gentle reader, I’m a bit afraid of eventually running out of John D. MacDonald books to read. So this book gave me an opprortunity to audit my collection using the Wikipedia entry for John D. MacDonald’s bibliography, the archives of this blog, and my seriously overburdened inexpensive, turn-of-the-century book library software. The shocking results are below the fold.
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Book Report: The Dark Side of CX by Michael G. Bartlett (2022)

Book coverI bought this book new on Amazon when a local tech group mentioned it. I kind of thought that CX (customer experience) would be something akin to UX (User Experience) which deals with UI (User Interface) which is the parts of the computer program that users actually tap, type, and click on. Each step up the chain is a bit of an abstraction that allows the consultants to sell it a bit more to audiences who are further up in the management chain. Pardon me, do I sound a little cynical? Or maybe envious of the cool consultants?

So CX is actually customer/client experience, which blends marketing, sales, and customer support into a single concept about which one can draw some lessons. He breaks the failures into two categories: Goal friction, where the problem prevents the customer from achieving a goal, and Social Friction, which makes the customer feel bad or socially diminished.

The book uses the Russian term priyome, which is a term for a pattern and an action leading to advantage from recognizing the pattern. He gives them cute names like “Pass the Parcel” and “Without a Paddle,” explains the pattern/archetype a bit, and then how to solve or avoid the problem.

A lot of this seems like common sense, especially if you’ve had any retail or customer service experience, but this is 2022, man. What was common sense in 1990 might be the lost wisdom of the ancients by now.

The book is kind of structured like The Gorilla Mindset in that it interrupts its main flow–in this case the priyomes–with interviews with experts and digressions on company culture (but nothing on juice products advertised on the podcast!).

So it made for a quick, light read that really doesn’t offer much I can apply directly to my day-to-day, but it’s something to go into the hopper for future recombination with my ideas.

And I felt a little gratified by an invitation to a forthcoming webinar that confuses CX with UX:

Improving the Mobile Customer Experience Through Scriptless Automation

Let’s face it, mobile automation is difficult. You can’t rely solely on coordinates or xpaths to make it work. Yet so many automation products do, resulting in flaky test scripts and a maintenance nightmare. If a test script fails, it can lead to reduced customer satisfaction and retention, or worse—it can be seen as a reflection of your brand. This need to keep users happy while maintaining app performance can seem impossible, but there is a solution: scriptless test automation.

This is testing the user interface, not the end-to-end customer experience Bartlett envisions. I wonder whether this term and abbreviation are not tightly locked down yet.

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Book Report: Gorilla Mindset by Mike Cernovich (2016)

Book coverI ordered this book when I saw Cernovich’s name mentioned on two blogs on the same day. Sorry, I forget which blogs they were, but they were likely ones from the blogroll.

So this book is all about shifting your mindset, a self-help title focusing a little on how you frame things/alter your perspective, that you should be in the moment, and that you should drink vegetable juices using the juicer that sponsors his podcast.

I’ve read a number of self-help books over the last couple of years, including The Power of Positive Thinking and Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes in late 2020. The first is from 1952; the second is from 2010, but from an author a generation or two up from mine (probably closer to one, since I apparently have reached the age of lower auto insurance rates). This book, the one under review, comes from someone of my generationish (he’s five years younger than I am), and much of the book seems adapted from quick hit blog posts and podcast transcripts. If you read the books in chronological order, you see a definite decline in the depth of the prose. One wonders if we are still printing and reading books in ten or twenty years if self-help books will be but collections of memes and inspirational quotes on images or more akin to Dav Pilkey books, lightweight prose broken up by rudimentary cartoons. It could go either way.

At any rate, a little actionable information in the book, I suppose. I mean, there’s a bit on recognizing negative self talk, and I took action on it, thinking That’s negative self talk when I did it, which dropped my negative self talk down to fifty percent of my interior dialog with the introduction of 50% thinking That’s negative self talk. I did realize how grousy my mother’s family was, in total, grousing as a large part of their other-to-other talk. But I have not completely reframed my perspective with that knowledge or that book.

A quick read, not very deep as I mentioned, and akin to the stuff you might find in popular Buddhist philosphy/mindfulness books and whatnot.

Perhaps it is best to read Cernovich in blog form or listen to him on his podcast to hear him in his native enviroment rather than in book length chunks.

He’s had a lot of success with the podcast and notoriety from his blog, so he’s doing well for himself. Good on him, I guess, but I don’t know if I need to read more of his work. And it might be another year or so until I try another self-help book (aside from philosophy or whatnot, which is university-grade self-help) for another year or more. I mean, it’s not telling me much that I don’t already know.

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Book Report: Star Trek 5 by James Blish (1972)

Book coverI already reported on this book in 2005, which probably makes it one of the earliest book reports on the blog. Well, certainly early in the almost 1,800 on the blog. I basically said then what I’ve said in a lot of the more recent reports on the Star Trek books: They’re short story recreations of episodes from the original Star Trek series by a British science fiction author who had not seen the show–so it lead to some early blunders like calling Vulcans Vulcanians and whatnot. The books came out in the years when the show was off the air (which was before VCRs, so book form was the only way to catch it if you weren’t sitting in front of the television when the syndicated repeats aired). I also mentioned, as I always do, that I originally read these books in the middle 1980s, so the books were fairly new and although the motion pictures had begun, Star Trek: The Next Generation had not.

So, as I mentioned previously, Blish is not working in airdate order or stardate order–he’s basically writing up the episodes that fans say they want to see next.

At any rate, this book contains:

  • “Whom Gods Destroy”, the one where a shapeshifter takes the form of Kirk to try to hijack the Enterprise. I don’t know if I remembered this one, but it’s a lot like “The Dagger of the Mind” (in Star Trek) and “Turnabout Intruder” below.
  • “The Tholian Web”, the one where the alien spaceships build a stellar net and the one where Kirk gets trapped between dimensions in his space suit. I remembered both from the episode, but not that they were the same episode.
  • “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, the one with the heavy-handed race relations metaphor where a guy with one side of his face black and the other white is rescued from a damaged, stolen star cruiser, and he has been pursued by a guy with the opposite coloration for a thousand years. One wonders how the writers would feel about disintegrated race relations fifty years later.
  • “This Side of Paradise”, the one where the spores make everyone, even Spock, happy. A similar story would later be included in the film Star Trek: Insurrection.
  • “Turnabout Intruder”, the one where a jealous ex-flame of Kirk uses an alien technology to swap bodies with him and try to hijack the Enterprise.
  • “Requiem for Methuseleh”, where the Enterprise meets a strange genius on an out-of-the-way planet, and Kirk tries to steal his girl.
  • “The Way to Eden”, where a bunch of hippies led by the carrier of a deadly plague try to hijack the Enterprise to go to a planet names Eden.

One thing that’s becoming clearer is how much the stories kind of mirror each other. We have four stories in this book where someone tries to hijack the Enterprise. We’ve got two stories with dopplegangers of one sort or another. Other books have had the time travel stories that kind of mirror one another.

Which is probably why when I watch or read about The Twilight Zone, I’m inspired to write speculative fiction, but I don’t get that same impulse from Star Trek.

Still, a bit of enjoyable nostalgia. And perhaps I should space these books out a little more, but they’re so quick to read, and I’m only at 19 books this year, so I need to pad the accounts.

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Book Report: The Story foreward by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee (2005)

Book coverThe Lutheran Church Missouri Synod church that I attend has been working its way through this book over the course of the last year. It is a further simplification of the Bible, trying to tell more narratively some of the denser or less readable sections, particularly of the Old Testament, and making the history of Israel into a set of narratives or stories focusing on different parts of history. Zondervan, the big Bible publishing company, put it out, and it includes excerpts from the New International Version of the Bible.

So every week for the last year, church service focused on a chapter of this book, so the readings might be related to the period covered in the chapter. A brief video preceded the sermon, but it was just clip art Flash with intense cellos or violas, a quote, and the trademarked logo displaying with a dramatic chord. Then the pastor would preach a sermon perhaps touching on the themes in the chapter, but often not. The single Bible study class that restarted after the 2020 empausening and the Sunday School classes used supporting materials to keep the whole church focused on the chapter for the week.

You know, the whole Protestant and especially Lutheran thing is Sola deo, sola scriptura, and so on, which makes me often wonder how that’s squared with the Lutheran catechisms and teaching from this book. But once you’re not reading the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, I guess it’s all a matter of the liberties and interpretations made in translation.

If you’re looking for a 500-page-long Cliff’s Notes version of the Bible, you could do worse, I suppose. It didn’t do much for me, but it did only tell the history of Israel once, which was nice. When I’m reading early in the Old Testament, I often get bogged down in the repeats.

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Book Report: Star Trek 4 by James Blish (1971, 1975)

Book coverAs I mentioned when I recently went over Star Trek 3 that Blish, in his introduction, talks about how they decide which Star Trek episodes to include in each volume–basically, they’re going on fan requests, volume thereof. By the time this book comes out (1971), Star Trek has been off the air for a couple of years–by the time this printing occurs, it’s longer still (and man is about to or has just landed on another piece of the solar system for the last time). So they must have known or thought this might be a phenomenon. Whether they could even conceive then that it would lead to multiple television series and movie reboots fifty years later…. You know, probably not. That’s a long time in the future from 1971.

At any rate, this book collects some more episodes I remember. Previously, I called these iconic, but basically, it’s episodes I remember. Perhaps they’re iconic. Perhaps I just watched Star Trek a lot. I mean, I remember watching it on the little color television in my mother’s bedroom in the house down the gravel road in 1988 or so. Why was I watching it there? The 25″ television was in the living room. Perhaps the smaller television had better antennae, or perhaps I was grounded.

The episodes within include:

  • “All Our Yesterdays”, the one where they go back in time. Well, separately–Kirk, Spock, and McCoy get beamed to a planet where the population has all beamed into the past to avoid a catastrophe. A “librarian” still manning the device thinks the Enterprise team are stragglers, and he beams them into two different eras of the past separately–so the Enterprise crew needs to get themselves back to the present time.
  • “The Devil in the Dark”, the one with the Horta, with which Spock mind-melds and cries, “Pain! Pain!”
  • “Journey to Babel”, the one with Spock’s parents. Also, a plot, and Spock has to save Sarek.
  • “The Menagerie”, the one with Captain Pike. Originally shot as the show’s pilot, it was later aired with a framing story–the retelling here leaves out the framing story of Spock mutining to take the disabled Captain Pike back to the planet of the illusionists.
  • “The Enterprise Incident”, the one where the Enterprise enters Romulan space, and Kirk goes on trial for espionage.
  • “A Piece of the Action”, the one where Kirk and the Enterprise crew act like mobsters. Not a time travel episode as one would expect–they just visit a planet whose cultural development was based on a mob history from an Earth ship’s crash.

So I’m not remembering these episodes quite as clearly, but it’s been thirty years since I have watched Star Trek.

The books have made me want to acquire Star Trek on physical media. I know I’ve seen videocassettes of the series at a local thrift store. Last week, I hit the local antique mall with my Christmas gift certificates (which I can only use until June since they have six month expiration dates), and one of the things I had my eyes out for was such videocassettes. I thought I hit pay dirt at one booth with a shelf of 20 or 30 videocassettes, but they were Star Trek: The Next Generation. As I have the first two seasons on DVD, I was surprised to see that Paramount sold TNG two episodes to a VHS tape–it must have been early in the show’s run. So no Star Trek for my video shelves at this time, which is just as well as I have only watched a couple episodes of the first season of The Twilight Zone on the DVD set that I got not long after reading The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia.

Also, I should note that the next couple of books–Star Trek 5-7, Star Trek 9-10–I have read relatively recently (2005), so my remembering the episodes might just as well be my remembering reading the stories. Although, as I mentioned, I read a great number of these books in middle school or high school, so one cannot expect any of them to be truly green field. Although they are quick enough reads.

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Book Report: Star Trek 3 by James Blish (1968)

Book coverAs I mentioned, I’m going to plow through the James Blish adaptations of Star Trek short storizations this year since I apparently have them all (and two of some of the later ones). (See also Star Trek and Star Trek 2 and, just to make this post forward compatible, the search for Star Trek book reports that mention James Blish which includes some of the books I’ve previously reported on and some books I compare to James Blish).

This book collects many iconic episodes, including:

  • “The Trouble with Tribbles”, the one with the little puff ball creatures that takes place on a disputed space station.
  • “The Last Gunfight”, the one where the Enterprise away team is going to be executed by aliens in being the losing side in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
  • “The Doomsday Machine”, the one which gets retread in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: An alien artifact, speculated to be a doomsday machine launched by an ancient alient race, destroys everything in its path, and it’s headed toward Earth.
  • “Assignment: Earth”, the one, unlike “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” from Star Trek 2, is the one with Gary Seven. A human groomed by aliens is sent to Earth to do something in the past, and the Enterprise crew has to determine whether to help him or stop him.
  • “Mirror, Mirror”, the one where Spock has a beard. Several members of an away team, beamed through an ionic storm, end up in a parallel universe where the Federation is instead a violent Empire.
  • “Friday’s Child”, the one where the Enterprise away team is caught in a power struggle between primitive tribes who control resources that the Klingons also want. To be honest, I didn’t remember this one very clearly, but it’s got tropes that seem familiar.
  • “Amok Time”, the one where Spock goes through Pon Farr and has to return to Vulcan to mate, much to his high Vulcan chagrin.

You know, I have remembered many of the episodes in the first three books in the set, and I wondered a bit if the stories were in series order, but clearly not–we have yet to see “The Menagerie”, for example. Given the way the budget for the program was cut in the second and third seasons of the series described in Star Trek Memories, I wondered if the first books in the series would front-load with the best and most iconic storylines, and whether the stories would become less familiar as time went on.

Well, the introduction of Star Trek 4, already in progress, explains that 1., the series has already ended when Blish is writing the books, and 2.), Blish is kind of responding to fans’ recommendations of what stories to include. So the early books are not necessarily the television episodes in order by season, but rather popularity. Which will be the same result; since the series runs 11 volumes, they probably get all of the episodes in.

At any rate, I’m kind of interested to see if my familiarity with the stories diminishes as the series goes on, but my familiarity with the stories comes not only from watching the shows in syndication, but also in reading these books when I was younger and re-reading 5-10 in 2005.

More interesting for me than for you, gentle reader, but bear with me.

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Book Report: Heidi by Joanna Spyri (1881, 1954?)

Book coverI know, I know, I know; a couple weeks ago, I posted that like others, I haven’t read the Harry Potter novels because they’re for kids. But here I go again, reading a nineteenth century children’s book (like Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates or the Little House books or Me and My Little Brain) and thinking that makes me better than those who draw lightning bolts on their heads, wear robes, and cosplay.


If you don’t know the plot because you grew up after this book was popular for children, that being in the latter part of the 20th century and beyond, the book deals with a five-year-old orphaned girl whose aunt took care of her for a while after her mother died, but the aunt has a job offer that does not allow for childcare. So the aunt takes the girl to her grandfather’s shack high up on an Alp and leaves her there. The grandfather is a bit of a hermit and a bit of a curmudgeon, but he warms to the girl and reintegrates into the Swiss village a bit. During an interlude, Heidi’s aunt gets her a job as a companion for a rich invalid girl, and Heidi enlivens the household–although she upsets the ways of the household help already in place. When she becomes depressed from being away from her mountain, the rich household sends her home, and in turns they come to visit her and enjoy the fresh mountain air. When Klara, the “invalid” girl, gets a couple months of rich goat milk and mountain air, she is strengthened to the point where she can walk.

So, basically, it’s Punky Brewster in 19th Century Switzerland–although Punky Brewster is better described as a 20th century Heidi in an American city with a dog instead of goats.

Like Hans Brinker, it has a lot of quaint details, and it made me want to visit Switzerland more than Hans Brinker made me want to visit the Netherlands. Is it the Netherlands or simply Netherlands? I guess we will find out when the Russians invade and suddenly the media corrects our long-standing misconceptions.

I bought this book with a number of others in the series–Hans Brinker, Black Beauty, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Alice in Wonderland among them. I think I bought them before children, and I never did read them to my boys when they were young enough to listen to their father at all, much less for hours. So I’ll read them now–and never mind that they’re young adult books. They’re classic literature, you see. Don’t you?

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Book Report: Star Trek 2 by James Blish (1968, 1975)

Book coverI picked up the first book in this series for the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge, and once I abandoned that effort (although I got eight of fifteen categories this year, which is not as good as last year, so I still get the undersized coffee cup), I decided to start running through some of the book sets I have. And, as I mentioned, I have a bunch of these books, short storizations of the Star Trek episodes as well as the Alan Dean Foster short storifications of Star Trek: The Animated Series. Sorry to bore you regular readers with the repeatings of the minutiae, but some people might someday hit this from a search and not have the proper context. Not that I’m providing that; what I am providing is a bunch of links for myself in the future when I re-read posts so I can click about in my own past. Thanks for joining me on that journey today, which, as I mentioned, is already the past.

Sorry, where was I? Oh, yes, Star Trek 2. Originally published in 1968, this is the 19th printing in 1975. Apparently, they were selling. Enough that a decade later, they’d make another television series and even launch a television network based on it. Remember those little television networks like Fox, Paramount, and what was that other one, CW? They had cutesy names and foreshadowed a bit the streaming services of today (tomorrow’s yesterday).

At any rate, this book includes:

  • “Arena”, the one with the Gorn.
  • “A Taste of Armageddon”, the one with two fighting planets who compute casualties by computer until Kirk breaks it.
  • “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”, the one where the Enterprise first travels back in time and ends up with a fighter pilot on board. No, not Gary Seven. That’s to come later.
  • “Errand of Mercy”, the one where the Klingons and Kirk fight over a planet whose inhabitants have more powers than either expect. To be honest, it’s not an iconic episode, so I’m not sure I’ve seen it, but I must have.
  • “Court Martial”, the one where Kirk is on trial for dereliction of duty in letting a crewman die, but did he? I honestly don’t remember this one at all, but the tropes alone were enough to make it familiar.
  • “Operation–Annihilate”, the one with the space virus or whatnot spreading and making people kill each other. To be honest, this one was not one I remembered, but it didn’t have a Gorn in it. So I probably saw it and did not recollect it clearly.
  • “The City on the Edge of Forever”, the one with Joan Collins in it. C’mon, man. Joan Collins. Something something time travel and Joan Collins.
  • “Space Seed”, the one that introduced Khaaaaaaaan!

As with the other books, this one has some anachronisms and variations from the mythos.

Continue reading “Book Report: Star Trek 2 by James Blish (1968, 1975)”

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Book Report: Mr. Monk Is Miserable by Lee Goldberg (2008)

Book coverWell, the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge has a category Character/Author With A Disability category. I guess, were I a noble man, I would have maybe tried again The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, but instead of buying the university textbook store offering of it, I bought a Barnes and Noble or Waldenbooks omnibus copy that included that book amongst four in the volume, so I would not have counted it as a book in my reading. I also know I have The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time somewhere with an autistic narrator, but that’s in a Reader’s Digest omnibus (not a condensed book, although, you know, you don’t see them much in the wild anymore). So it, too, would not count as a book in my annual total, and I’m not sure whether I would count it as a complete book for the winter reading challenge. Wait a minute, Brian J., you say. Didn’t you count your own book in the challenge? Well, gentle reader, I didn’t actually think you read these book reports and would hold me to account! But I selected this book because I have enjoyed previous Monk novels (Mr. Monk Goes To The Firehouse and Mr. Monk Goes To Hawaii which I read last year), and I’d count his OCD and various phobias as a disability.

So this book takes place several books after Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii, so we miss the set-up and activitites that get Mr. Monk somewhere over the sea again–this time, apparently, he goes to Germany because he absolutely needs to talk to his analyst immediately. But after he solves the murders in that missing book (Mr. Monk Goes to Germany), his assistant Natalie, the first person narrator of the books, Watson to Monk’s Sherlock, she manipulates/compells him to visit Paris on the way back.

Of course, he becomes a pest on the short flight to Paris, but solves a murder on the flight, which leads to introductions with the local police, which comes in handy when Monk, on a tour of the sewers of Paris, he discovers the skeleton of a recently dead man amongst a pile of other bones. The skull belongs to a wealthy American man reported dead by suicide after prosecution who, apparently, fled to Paris and joined a dumpster-diving, living off the grid movement with a charismatic leader with whom he might have fallen into conflict.

So we get a bunch of humorous set pieces playing fun on Monk’s, erm, habits, including one where he takes a sidewalk cleaner for a ride, and the city employee lets him ‘borrow’ the vehicle for the duration of the stay as long as he cleans the sidewalks with it twice a day. And then, Monk solves the crime.

So a fun book to read. I don’t think I have any more Monk titles by Goldberg in my library, but I do have several in the Diagnosis: Murder series that I will get to before too long (but I am more likely to finish other series/sets that I’ve started recently). And I’ll continue to watch for other Monk titles in the wild.

I am probably going to call a lid on the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge, though. I’ve read enough–six books, which is five if you discount my own, and the categories are just not leading me into the next book like they did with the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge, where I read 16 books in the 15 categories. I probably won’t turn the form in until the end of the month just in case I slip another one in, but I’m going to focus on other books for the nonce.

Also, as I look at the hardback copy of Mr. Monk Is Miserable, I see I have flagged some things for individual comment. What did I flag? Continue reading “Book Report: Mr. Monk Is Miserable by Lee Goldberg (2008)”

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Book Report: The Courtship of Barbara Holt by Brian J. Noggle (2011)

Book coverYou know, I have already read and reviewed my own play in 2016, but the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge has a category Makes You Laugh, and now as it did then (in 2016) and when I wrote it (in 1993 or 1994), it makes me laugh out loud at some joke I’d written thirty years ago that catches me by surprise and makes me chuckle anyway.

I should have flagged it, gentle reader, but I don’t know it would have worked for you without context. As I’ve mentioned, this play is rife with wordplay, in jokes for serious English or Philosophy majors, and general silliness.

In 1995, Stages St. Louis, which was really one guy, a courier by day and arts influencer by night who ran the open mic Tuesday night at the Oasis, but Stage St. Louis sounds better, presented a staged reading of the play one month of spring Sundays in the aforementioned Oasis coffee shop. A “staged reading” is when actors read from the script, and the stage has no sets, but they do kind of emote their lines. So I took over the production and shanghaied people I knew to play the parts. Mike played Todd. For balance, I had Todd, a high school acquaintance who went on to be Navy Search, an actor in actual productions in St. Louis shows, and later a Hollywood stunt man and actor with a SAG card, played Mike–although Mike wondered if I made him the villain because he might have matched the character in real life. Scott, the friend who told me of Mike’s passing played Mark, the main character. Nicole, my girlfriend at the time, played Jenn. Eve, who was a poet and the only one of us to turn pro–she teaches in the St. Louis area, although I think she’s touring other continents presently, played Barbara Holt. Dennis, a guy from our role playing gaming group, played Rick/Phil (the character’s name is Rick, but the character Mike calles him Phil because he’s a philosophy major and his last name is Specter; this was before the real Phil Spector killed his wife). Penny was played by…. Well, that was the one person associated with Stages St. Louis, so I don’t remember her name.

One weekend, Steve from Stages St. Louis brought along a camcorder (that’s like a thing that takes video like a cell phone, but it records it to VHS videocassette, you damn kids) and recorded the performance. He set up with his back to the front window, which meant that the performers had their backs to most of the coffeeshop. But several people I’d known came to see it. Dena, a classmate from Marquette with whom I’d traveled to Memphis, New Orleans, and Biloxi right after our graduation, came down from Chicago to see it and to bang Mike even though I’d said, c’mon, man, you hit everything else, don’t nail this girl I’d gone to school with, but as I’ve mentioned, he was a horndog and might have enjoyed nailing girls I was interested in just because I was interested in them. A guy I’d worked with at the Price Chopper brough his girlfriend and their toddler. And some woman came in and watched of her own volition. On a previous week, I’d invited a Washington University student with whom I’d worked at the car ad measuring place to see it, and I remember that my then-girlfriend (who did not become my beautiful wife) referred to her as “that dancer” (I knew a lot of people pursuing advanced art degrees at Washington University in those days).

At any rate, I can say this with certainty because I found the MPG file I’d transferred from the videocassette several computers and probably not a whole decade ago, and I shared the said MPG file on Google Drive with Scott and Todd, and they passed it around with other players that they were in contact with. Scott said:

You were a really good writer even way back then. It’s funny that my memories of the scripted reading revolved around my own stress of reading the script, never really stepped back.

The banter between the characters.

I sold a copy of it in December; it was probably him.

Oh, yeah, and Dennis Thompson Goes On Strike? A bit self-indulgent, but I had to have a certain number of pages to get the flat spine, so there it is.

I wrote a pile in that era; most of it was–oh, not that bad. Compared to what I see in the literary magazines these days, anyway.

So, um, by my book? Or not. In a couple of years, I shall re-read it and laugh in spots.

Hey, maybe I should write something else, too.

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Book Report: Star Trek Memories by William Shatner with Chris Kreski (1993)

Book coverTo be honest, when I finished Star Trek, I went looking for a Chuck Norris memoir I have somewhere in my office, but I came across this book instead, so I read it to fill in the Celebrity Memoir category in the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge.

Although, to be honest, I might be stretching the definition of memoir a bit to include this book since it’s not focused solely on the life of William Shatner. Instead, it talks about the production of the original Star Trek television series. Shatner (or Kreski) interviews a number of the people involved, including not only the actors (Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley most prominently, although George Takei and Walter Koenig also appear–but James Doohan does not, as Shatner explains in the epilogue), but also some of the behind the scenes people, telling stories about Gene Roddenberry (recounted by Majel Barrett), Gene Coons (writer), D.C. Fontana (writer/secretary to Roddenberry), Bob Justman (producer), Fred Freiberger (producer), and even some of the lighting men and gaffers.

So it’s an interesting and insightful look into the show and its origins in the late 1960s.

You know, I cannot help but to compare it to the Firefly books I’ve read (Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One and Two and Firefly: Still Flying). While we don’t get shooting scripts or “new stories”–that’s what the Blish and Foster books are for–we do get paragraphs and stories with greater depth and emotion than the Firefly books which plumb to the equivalent depths of Entertainment Weekly sidebars. This book talks about The Kiss, political struggles to get the show on the air, details about the timelines of writing versus actually shooting the episodes (writers had weeks to come up with scripts, which the crew would then have five or six days to shoot), and even admits that the other actors didn’t appreciate Shatner’s approach and belief that he was the star of the show (Roddenberry admitted he was, but Nimoy got more attention as Spock, not necessarily to Nimoy’s liking–his autobiography of the time is called I Am Not Spock). So it’s got some dirty laundry–well, reality–mixed into the hagiography.

I flagged a couple of bits. Below the fold since this is getting long. Continue reading “Book Report: Star Trek Memories by William Shatner with Chris Kreski (1993)”

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Book Report: Star Trek by James Blish (1967)

Book coverI mentioned that I might pick this book up after discovering that Firefly: Still Flying as that book was not a collection of short stories (and I need a collection of short stories for the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge). So I could not find the Leah Holbrooke Sackett book I bought in Old Trees last summer, I actually did pick read this book.

As you might know, gentle reader, the original Star Trek series aired for only three seasons in the late 1960s, but it developed quite a following. After its cancellation, the IP owners had James Blish write the episodes as short stories collected in, what, a dozen paperbacks (The Star Trek cartoon was likewise written up in Star Trek Log books by Alan Dean Foster). Fans had to get by on these books, the early novels, and on the syndicated shows for what seemed like a long time, but it was really only a decade until Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, and Star Trek: The Next Generation a couple years later. So it really wasn’t that long, but it seemed longer, most likely because it was, at least for me, the long, long years of youth.

At any rate, this book contains:

  • “Charlie’s Law” which is The Twilight Zone‘s “It’s a Good Life” in space. The crew finds the only survivor of a disaster at an outpost, and he has survived somehow from a very young age in an inhospitable environment and has developed great mental powers.
  • “Dagger of the Mind” which is the one where the Enterprise crew goes to a penal colony and discovers that the leader is doing some unauthorized experiments on the patients designed to make them more docile.
  • “The Unreal McCoy” which is the one with the salt-sucking monster.
  • “Balance of Terror” which is the one that introduces the Klingons and their cloaking device for their Birds of Prey warships.
  • “The Naked Time” which is the one where the Enterprise picks up a contagion where everyone acts like their fantasies. C’mon, man, the one with Sulu swashbuckling.
  • “Miri” which is the one where the Enterprise goes to the planet where only the children are left because once they hit puberty, they begin aging rapidly, and the away team (although I don’t think they were called such until TNG) has to find a cure before they succomb.
  • “The Conscience of the King” which is the one where a member of a touring theatre troupe might be a presumed dead brutal dictator.

I say “which is the one where” because if you’ve read this far, you’re probably a science fiction fan of a certain age, and you’ll recognize some of the episodes.

The book is a very quick read; it’s only 136 pages, and the stories are basically scripts put into paragraphs with a little dash of flavor to them.

Strangely enough, though, Blish must have been working with early scripts or didn’t read much outside of the scripts, as he calls Spock a Vulcanian throughout and once mentions the Enterprise landing on a planet (although that might have been a typo, or he meant one of the shuttlecraft).

But, still.

I read a bunch of these a long, long time ago in a trailer park far, far away–I think I got the paperbacks from the volunteer-run Community Library–and I have picked up a number of the books (1-8 and 11) in recent years. I also have a number of the Alan Dean Foster books as well, and I think they’re all grouped in the stacks here at Nogglestead. I think I’ll dip into them as I run out of Executioner novels for those in-between-other-book books. They’re fast, and they’re enjoyable, and they’re a bit of a nostalgia blast for me. And they’re likely to make me buy original Star Trek episodes on videocassette when I next come across them.

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Book Report: Gracie: A Love Story by George Burns (1988)

Book coverI can slot this book into the Winter 2022 Reading Challenge in either the Celebrity Memoir or the Love Story category; I’ve tentatively put it into the Love Story category because I have a lot of celebrity memoirs I could otherwise read, and most things I have in my library that one could consider a love story are probably 500 pages long.

As you might recall, gentle reader, I read an omnibus edition of his work called The Most of George Burns in in 2016, when I thought I might pick this particular volume up soon. Well, apparently I have reached a certain age where six years later is soon. Although I am pretty sure that my boys would tell you that whenever I say Soon to them, it can be up to never years later.

This book is a memoir of his marriage and act with Gracie Allen, although I guess they came in the opposite order. He is very flattering of her talent and as a person, making light of the fact that she was the star of the show and he was just the foil and straight man. But oh how he glows in his description of her throughout the book, and talks about her attitude towards show business (she was eager to leave it when they’d made bank) and her heart problems and eventual death. When this book was written, he still lived in the house they shared and went to visit her at the cemetary frequently–twenty-five years after her death.

In talking about the movies they made together, he mentions many by title, and they’re not available any more. He mentions his friendship with Jack Benny, but you don’t see a lot of Jack Benny DVDs on the dollar rack in grocery stores (or you didn’t in the day). I guess you can find the Jack Benny show on Amazon Prime….for six more days from today. (Also note that Burns mentions Benny’s wife, Mary Livingstone, which is know they’re married and whatnot). I think Burns got his modern notice, at least my notice, because of his films in the 1970s and 1980s and because that spurred public domain dumpster divers to put his taped shows out on DVD.

At any rate, I loved this book and his adoration for his wife.

I flagged a couple of things for comment:

Opening night was Monday at eight-fifteen. That’s when the critics came. We packed the audience with friends like Jack, Mary, Rena, Blossom Seely, and Benny Fields, dress designed Orry-Kelly, Archie Leach–a handome necktie salesman who was trying to break into show business with a stilt-walking act. He eventually changed his name to Cary Grant and after that was never much good as a necktie salesman.

You and I know Cary Grant was originally Archie Leach–he mentions the name in a bunch of his films. But this illustrates how Burns and Allen knew a bunch of people in vaudeville, radio, and early television–Burns mentions a lot of them by name. In the 21st century, many of the names are unknown (although Cary Grant makes infrequent appearances in memes about how men dress poorly these days).

Bibelots, or as we call them in English, chatchkas, are little trinkets. I suspect they’re called bibelots because if they were called trinkets, or knickknacks, they wouldn’t dare charge the prices for them that they do. Bibelots is a French word that, literally translated, means “overpriced trinket.”

I have learned a new word: Bibelot. Although since it’s a French word, I will likely mispronounce it when I use it, like so many words I learned from books.

She read everything, but she loved philosophy and trashy novels. I always figured that reading one helped her understand the other.

Sounds like what you find in the Book Reports category here at MfBJN unless the Winter Reading Challenge is on.

318 pages that breeze by, a pleasure to read, and it two sections of photographs of Burns and Allen and the whole Burns family.

I hope I do find more George Burns books in my stacks. They are a hoot.

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Book Report: Firefly: Still Flying (2010)

Book coverI bought this book, along with Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One and Firefly: The Official Companion Volume Two at my last trip to Calvin’s Books in Branson in June of last year. I also got the Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, and that would probably have been the next published–this book came out in 2010, seven or eight years after the television show and five years after the movie. I picked it up now because the 2022 Winter Reading Challenge has a category Short Stories, and the cover of this book says Featuring New Stories From Writers Of The Original TV Episodes.

Sounds like a book of short stories, ainna? Oh, but no.

The 158 page book has four “stories,” but one of them is a pair of single-panel cartoons looking like they were from a brutal children’s book featuring Jayne. The other stories don’t really break any new ground. One, “What Holds Us Down”, is the most akin to an episode–Kaylee and Wash break into a floating junkyard to steal some parts needed for the Serenity but it goes sideways, and Kaylee has to quickly fix up another ship to escape before the searchers find them amid the rubble. Another story, “Crystal”, is about River visiting the people on the ship before the motion picture takes place and telling them a little about their fates in her inscrutible way. The last short story, “Take the Sky”, deals with an old retired Mal receiving a package from Zoe, the current pilot/owner of Serenity, and reflecting upon his aging and their adventures. So the stories are not exactly what I would have expected, and they’re but brief interludes in the book.

The reminder of it is celebrity/fan material. Each of the stars of the program gets a section with photos and quotes from various sources–nothing new, and we get to hear from the shows costumers, designers, and stunt coordinators. It has a little feature on what happened to the Jaynestown statue–Adam Baldwin kept the head, but the rest likely got discarded–and on the endurance of Browncoat fandom, which might be a little different ten more years on–are they still doing those? A quick Internet search says no, but I see some speculation that Disney might throw something together for Disney+ with a new cast. Kind of like the new (but now as old as the original series was to its time) Battlestar Galactica that ran longer than the one-season television show it rebooted and updated. It will be interesting to see the old Firefly fans acting like I did when the new Battlestar Galactica came around.

At any rate, given that the book only has, what, a dozen pages of short stories, I cannot in good conscience slot it into the Winter 2022 Reading Challenge–I will probably pick up one of James Blish’s Star Trek books for that. And I will likely pick up the Serenity: The Visual Companion book later this year just to make a clean sweep of the Firefly titles. As I have mentioned, I think the film really lost a bit of the playful spirit of the series–this won’t probably come across as much in the script as in the execution. Which is why I have been avoiding it.

Oh, and should you come across a fan suffering from what Disney does to the property, be sure to point out that more people see Nathan Fillion and think Richard Castle than Mal Reynolds. Or even Johnny Donnelly from Two Guys and a Girl. Remind me to drop into conversation cryptically that Fillion played John Donnelly.

So it’s a good bit of trivia and nostalgia, but not something to stand the test of time. More like a flat spine fan magazine than anything else.

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