Book Report: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard (2004)

Book coverI read Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels in 2014 and bought this book in January. Since these are all proceeds from Christmas gift cards at Barnes and Noble, I had to clear the deck for this year’s expected gift card. I can only hope that Barnes and Noble has another Robert E. Howard collection to pick up.

This book collects stories, poems, and fragments of incomplete stories featuring a swashbuckling Puritan having adventures. The character differs from Conan, but the plots and the way they play out really do not. Kane goes to different exotic places, particularly Africa, and encounters fallen and decadent civilizations and has to fight his way out. One of the stories featured a device similar to one in a Conan story–a hidden priest speaking through an idol–but it plays out differently than the Conan story.

The style is rich pulp–the plots are two-fisted, but the prose has some heft. More than an Executioner novel, anyway. I enjoyed reading the fragments even though they would not resolve because the plot and the setup were good on their own.

The Robert E. Howard library series contains a number of other volumes, and I can only hope they’re available at Barnes and Noble after the holiday. Or I’ll have to–gasp!–order them from Barnes and Noble’s Web site.

On the Art of June Wayne

June Wayne bookJune Wayne bookJune Wayne book

This spring, I bought three catalogs of exhibitions of June Wayne tapestries and whatnot. Yesterday, I flipped through them, but I cannot bring myself to count them as books in my annual list. They’re like 35 pages each with a couple images in each book as well as little bits of film strip or negative with other, presumably full color representation of the work.

At any rate, June Wayne was a painter and lithographer know for her tapestries and textures. These three books show a limited range of subject matter, though. The books all show series of prints and paintings based on her fingerprint, an abstract of DNA, and Japanese/Oriental-influenced images of tidal waves.

Perhaps these books only represent a phase of her art, but a lot of her pieces from this time simply repeat with differences the same motifs. Which is kind of dull.

The text within the books, at least the text that is not French but could very well include the French text as far as I know, lauds Wayne as a very important artist. You know, back when I was reviewing art and poetry in print, I tried to say something nice about everything I reviewed. However, I never got to the point of overemphasizing the importance of an artist in the canon. Perhaps I’m just suffering from the recent monographs from minor artists whose work the public has forgotten if it ever knew them.

So worth a glance, but I wouldn’t pay top dollar to hang her stuff in my house. And I don’t feel the need to go see one of her shows.

Book Report: Devil Force The Executioner #135 (1990)

Book coverI was impressed (such as it is) with the previous entry in this series, White Line War, and I liked this book as well.

It doesn’t follow a typical Bolan/Executioner plot, which is nice. In this book, someone is hitting members of a covert ops team from Vietnam known for their savagery. The CIA starts trying to hit those members as well to cover their operations in the war, and members of the teams are looking to kill the person hunting them. Bolan is almost an afterthought as he tries to get to the bottom of it. It turns a convention on its head, as the American servicemembers are the bad guys and a Vietnamese youngster seeking revenge is, if not the good guy, at least a more sympathetic character.

Still, having Bolan kinda fumbling around the main plot instead of just hitting a Mob hard site was nice, but it does end rather abruptly with a quick battle in the jungles of Cambodia kinda truncated a pretty good story.

So I’m not averse to pulling down one of these from the shelf every hundred or so pages of the Dickens novel I’m currently reading at a leisurely pace.

Book Report: Humphrey Bogart: A Hollywood Portrait by Marie Cahill (1992)

Book coverThis is a coffee table book that presents a short biography of Humphrey Bogart, and then kind of steps through his career and filmography with promotional stills and perhaps some candid snaps, but probably less “candid” than posed behind the scenes shots.

It reminds me of how many Bogart movies I have yet to see, and that’s a sad commentary on how many movies I get to watch these days–which is several a year. And that’s not movies I watch in the theaters–that’s total. Yikes.

Perhaps I should watch less football and more black and white movies. Although I would not be able to browse books like this while watching a noir flick.

At any rate, worth your time if you’re a Bogart fan. And I am, as Bogart is the only cinema star whose picture appears on my office wall. If you’re keeping track, only one author (Robert B. Parker) appears on my office walls, but a lot of sports figures (various Packers, Jordan Binnington). For what it’s worth.

Book Report: Vancouver: A Year In Motion (1986)

Book coverThis is the official book of the Vancouver Centennial celebration in 1986, and its schtick is that a series of photographers went out to photograph the city in its centennial year. So it starts in January and runs through December and includes the building and running of the exposition that marks the centennial.

The photos look to have been chosen to illustrate aspects of Vancouver from its economy to its wonderful landscapes, and the book is a little text heavy as it explains how awesome Vancouver is. The amount of text takes away from the images, and the images themselves, as I said, are not chosen for quality or their photographic skill alone.

So this is not an art book.

It is interesting, though, that of all the city-touting photography books (touting cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Detroit), this is the only one to specifically pay homage to the city’s strip clubs, complete with photo of an exotic dancer on a pole. So it has that going for it.

Worth a browse, but it requires some attention. For a coffee table book, it is attention-intensive. So I browsed it during football games not featuring the Packers.

Book Report: White Line War The Executioner #134 (1990)

Book coverAfter reviewing my annual reading list (so far) and lamenting how many picture books and poetry books I’ve read, I sat down with a Mack Bolan men’s adventure novel to get some narrative fiction on the list. Which is not saying that I reached high into the qualitysphere.

This is a pretty good entry in the series. An up-and-comer in the Columbian cartels is hoping to take over the crack and cocaine trade on the Eastern seaboard from its Mafia partners. To thwart an interstate law enforcement effort, the Columbian wreaks unrelated havoc along an interstate corridor to distract the cops from the drug trade which draws Bolan’s attention. He then plays the Columbians against the Mafia to disrupt both operations.

It moves along well and doesn’t have any real groaners in it, so it was a nice little bit of two-night reading to help me remind myself that I read real books, too, in addition to picture books and poems. Well, as real of a real book as this is. Perhaps I shall read some literature, too, in the two months remaining in the year.

Book Report: The World of the Polar Bear by Norbert Rosing (2006)

Book coverThis book is my 100th of the year, and it’s not even November. Of course, I look back at what I’ve “read” this year, and it is a lot of artist monographs and poetry collections, so perhaps I should not be so proud.

This book collects a number of astounding photos of arctic wildlife and landscapes focusing on bears. It has a bit of text talking about the arctic seasons and the habits and habitat of polar bears. Amid this text, though, is a bit of allusion to what an arctic nature photographer has to do to get the photographs. Travel far north, hire a competent guide, find signs of animal habitation, and then wait for hours or days to get the shot. And to work with camera equipment not really optimized for subzero temperatures. Frankly, that’s almost as interesting as the photos.

Which are very interesting indeed.

There’s an equipment section at the end for photography buffs to geek out on.

Definitely worth my dollar and couple of hours, although the large form factor of this book displeased my cats who could not sit on my lap whilst I read it and are glad I am done with it.

Book Report: I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Ogden Nash (1938)

Book coverAside from the (then) complete works of Emily Dickinson that I started to read in 1994, this might have been the book that took me the longest to read from beginning to end. I started this book probably nine years ago, back when I read other Ogden Nash collections and other poetry to my toddlers as they played. This would have been one of the last I started reading to them here at Nogglestead before I abandoned the practice. This volume languished in my bedside table and then on my dresser for a year (both book accumulation pointsa>) as I started to read it on the deck in the evenings.

It took me a while to get dialed into Nash again. As I said, it’s been a decade since I’ve read his work in earnest, and I’ve read a bunch of poetry since then, some good, mostly bad, but I found myself only reading a poem or two from this book before getting tired of the schtick. After probably a year of this mostly off and sometimes on reading, I packed the book along on a couple of trips and read it a little more doggedly. So I came to appreciate again the humor and get back into it.

So, if you’re not familiar with Ogden Nash, he wrote wry humorous poetry in the early part of the 20th century focusing on urban topics. He varied line length to a great degree and did some whacky spellings to make rhymes. Once I got back into it, I was amused appropriately.

One of the interesting things, though, is one of the allusions jumped out. From “Locust-Lovers, Attention!” we get this:

It is as fantastic as something out of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne or G.A. Henty
To watch a creature that has been underground ever since it hatched shortly previous to 1920,

I mean, I know of H.G. Wells, and I’ve read Jules Verne. But who is G.A. Henty?

Apparently, he was an adventure novelist from the 19th century who influenced a generation of writers. But he’s all but forgotten today.

Nash refers to Henty in another poem, “And How Is My Little Man Today?”:

Because you feel heroic like a hero out of Alger or Henty,
And a couple of degrees of fever are as stimulating as two drinks and as soporfiric as twenty,

Clearly he influenced Nash if nobody else. But I’ll have to keep an eye out for his work–most likely in the old falling apart books section of the book sales.

I’m not sure if I have any other Nash books scattered amongst the Nogglestead library, but I can tell you that I do not have any others on the book accumulation points. Now, I’ll have to delve into the Neruda that will likely surpass this book as the longest between start and finish since I read a couple of them to my children a decade ago as well.

Book Report: Colorful Missouri Photographs Selected by Edward King / Introduction by Bill Nunn (1988)

Book coverI got this book two weeks ago, and I got an opportunity to browse it the other night when watching a football game that I was not particularly interested in. So I could pay more attention to the book than to the screen.

It’s a nice collection of middle 80s images from the countryside of Missouri. Most of them are landscapes focusing on the different topographies you can find in this state. It almost made me a little proud of the state in which I have lived for most of my life, a pride that I would prefer to only feel for my home state, thank you. So let that be a testimony about what I think about the book.

So a nice picture book to review. The book collects photos from a variety of photographers, and one of the photos by DIck Kahoe has the photographer’s signature below it. So this is a signed copy, and I spent only a dollar on it. W00t!

Book Report: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1951, ?)

Book coverThe second of the books I bought last weekend is a bit deeper than the first (Mother Goose in the Ozarks). I think this counts as Literature, ainna? Hesse won the Nobel Prize for literature, so all signs indicate yes.

The book covers the journey of an Indian? Nepalese? son of nobility who wants wisdom, so he leaves his family and joins a group of ascetics with a friend. When the ascetics encounter the Buddha–the Siddhartha of the title is not, as it turns out, that guy–the friend joins the Buddhist movement, and Siddhartha goes to town where he encounters a courtesan whose beauty is described in detail and I can only assume foretold Morena Baccarin (who played a courtesan/companion in Firefuly, do I have to inline cite my allusions? Yes, if I want to stay out of trouble with my beautiful wife who might wonder why I brought Morena Baccarin into this discussion out of nowhere). Siddhartha wants her to teach him of love, but she points out that she likes nice things and he’s an ascetic, so he becomes a merchant, dissipates a bit, and then tires of that life and becomes a ferry man where, by listening to the river, he becomes wise. The courtesan becomes a Buddhist, and as she is traveling to pay her respects to the dying Buddha, she comes to the river but dies, leaving Siddhartha with the charge of his son Siddhartha. The willful, formerly pampered boy rankles under his father’s simple lifestyle and runs away. The title Siddartha thinks of searching for him but lets him go.

So I did read it, and I remember the plot better than I do the plots of most Executioner novels I read, certainly.

At any rate, it reads a little like an Existentialist novel in reverse (see The Fall for example.) The narrator comes from a position of comfort but has a bit of mental disquiet as he hungers for wisdom pursuing knowledge. A series of events occur leading him to question everything, and he finds peace. Existentialist novels start from a sense of peace where things shatter that peace and lead to a new understanding. Or maybe it’s exactly like an Existentialist novel. I certainly put it in the genre as I read it, but the Wikipedia entry argues that it’s really a Buddist novel.

Or perhaps they’re very close to one another, Buddhism and Existentialism.

No, that’s not it. In this book, Siddhartha has been taught that reality is an illusion, and he learns instead about the unity of all. In Sartre’s Nausea, the protagonist learns that reality is an illusion. So, yes, backwards.

At any rate, a quick and engaging read. The volume I have does not say who the translator is, but the prose is very lyrical, with lots of prepositional phrases. Which, sadly, is how I’ve found myself writing these days. And I don’t have a translator to credit or blame for it.

So perhaps I’ll find Steppenwolf somehwere and pick it up, too.

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

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

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

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

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

Some things sounded familiar, though, such as:

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

Where have I heard that before?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did flag this chapter beginning, though:

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

What book am I reading here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Report: Thawed by Gary Bedell (?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Report: Random Realities by Elton Gahr (2017)

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

Well, I liked the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing.

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