Book Report: Ice Wolf the Executioner #131 (1989)

Book coverI picked this up right after Creature; the Executioner series is the default for “I’ve just finished a book and need to pick up another, but I don’t want to spend much time picking it.” And it will be for some time to come as I still have 30 on the shelf (not counting the spin-off series like Stony Man or Able Team).

In this book, Bolan is on a security team for a summit between the President and Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington when Leo Turrin tips him to a hit team that is eliminating people in the witness protection program. Bolan prevents this team of trained pros from killing one target and reaches out in his own particular way to a local mob boss who hired the hit team–who reached out to him with the offer. Bolan eventually discovers that the hit team is killing the witnesses as a red herring to distract law enforcement from their real target: the President and Gorbachev. Like so many other fictional antagonists from the 1980s (and, sadly, to this day), they’re Nazis who emerged from a deeply hidden program to take over the world again.

The book weighs in at about 250 pages, a little longer than the pulp entries from early in the series, and they have the makings of an interesting modern (well, 80s) thriller. The big bad Nazi, trained to be a killing machine by his father, might be jeopardizing his mission by hunting for a woman who escaped from his clutches that he must possess; the aforementioned red herring subplot; and infiltration of the security teams by the long-planning Nazis. But ultimately, it’s a couple of set pieces and then the author gets to about page 220 and has to wrap it up with sudden revelations (the woman is his twin sister!) and a climax that is abrupt and we’re done.

So I’m comparing this book to Creature, and I have to say that I’ll remember the plot of Creature better than Ice Wolf in the days to come. I suppose that series books lend themselves to a little bit of this confusion–what plot happened with which title (especially since series titles tend to fit a pattern to increase salability rather than describe elements of the plot). However, I’m sure authors of these series are happy to accept this trade off with profitablity on our behalves.

Which is why I need these posts–so I can keep the plots of books and my thoughts of them clear as the years pass. Although, to be honest, I rarely go back to Executioner titles to see what I had to say about them.

Book Report: Creature by John Saul (1989)

Book coverAfter reading Cabal, I thought maybe I’d knock out a couple of the 80s-era horror books I have around. I have a couple from John Saul, so I picked up this one. Who knew that it might actually be the next in alphabetical order?

At any rate, the plot is that a nuclear family moves to a small company town in the Rockies when the father gets a promotion at the tech company he works for. They find the town idyllic, but it’s controlled almost top-down by the tech company. The local football team has boys that are bigger and meaner than other nearby schools, and it’s because the local “sports” clinic, funded by the tech company, is conducting experimental treatments on the boys. It makes them bigger and stronger, but sometimes makes them feral. Of course, the gentle son of our nuclear family decides abruptly that he wants to become stronger and so he falls under the influence of the doctor running the clinic. When some of the mothers of the affected children start wondering if their children are in danger, the tech company and the fathers align to protect the program and the company.

So it’s got a children in danger theme to it that seems fairly common to the genre, and it has helpless wives who lack the power to get their children out of danger. It reminded me a lot of The Stepford Wives in that regard. It got under my skin a bit–I cannot imagine any of my mother’s sisters or my mother dealing with the issues as the mothers in this book do. And they all lack a support network outside the town, so nobody calls a sister or friend for a sanity check. Stephen King’s books often featured isolated locations, but it doesn’t seem forced. Here, it is.

The book ends very quickly with a burst of violence; it was sudden that I thought right before it that it was leading up to a cliffhanger or a sequel. But no, a little bloodshed and not a complete set of revenge which might have left room for a sequel.

I did flag a bunch of things in this book:

  • Some anachronisms. Or the opposite of anachronisms: things that would seem to belong to a future era, more like the present, than 1989.

    They’d gone first to the software section, where a group of top programmers, all of them casually dressed, were working at computer terminals or whispering quickly to each other in strange programming language that Blake had never been able to comprehend. “We have an Artificial Intelligence unit working here,” Jerry said in reply to Blake’s inquisitive glance. “We’re far ahead of the guys in Palo Alto and Berkeley, but of course they don’t know it. In fact, as far as they know, we’re only working on a new operating system to compete with Microsoft.

    Aside from the locations or writing an operating system, that could be cut from a novel from today.

  • The family moves to a house on Telluride Drive. One story behind the name of Telluride, Colorado, is that it’s from To Hell you ride. Or at least that’s what Michelle Malkin told me.
     
  • Observe this barbarity, the worst in the book:

    “In a few minutes, honey,” she told the little girl. “How’d you like to take care of the steaks for me?”

    Kelly’s eyes glittered with pleasure, and she instantly picked up the large fork from the counter by the grill and stabbed experimentally at one of the thick T-bones that were just barely beginning to brown. “Is it time to turn them?”

    “Every four minutes,” Sharon replied, glancing at the meat and deciding she had at least fifteen minutes in which to talk with her son.

    Oh, the humanity!

  • Recovering from a beating at the hands of a nearly feral football player, the undersized lad says:

    Mark winced with almost every motion, but when he finally made it, he forced himself to grin at the nurse. “See? Nothing to it. I could run a ten-K if I had to.”

    It’s presented 10K these days, and it’s about an hour of running at a six-mile-per-hour pace. Which is easier for kids.

  • It must have seemed quite cutting edge at the time:

    “May I help you, Mrs. Tanner?”

    Sharon frowned, then glanced instinctively at the girl’s lapel, searching for the identification badge that all TarrenTech employees wore.

    The girl wore none.

    The girl’s smile broadened as she realized Sharon’s dilemma. “I’m Sandy Davis,” she said. “And you don’t know me. The security system did a photo comparison on you, so I knew who you were even before you came into the building.”

    But now we just assume it, ainna?

  • Marty Ames opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out the .38-caliber pistol he’d started keeping there when he first realized that some of the boys might become dangerous.

    You know, I would have gone with a larger caliber.

  • Speaking of isolated:

    For the first time that morning she was able to think about the funeral without crying. She didn’t know whether it had been like other funerals, because she’d never been to one before. There hadn’t been very many people there, and it hadn’t taken very long, and as she sat in the front pew of the little church, listening to a man she’d never seen before talking about her family–and she knew he’d never even met her family, so how could he talk about them?–she tried to convince herself that it really was her father and mother and brother in the three coffins lined up in front of the altar.

    Notice there’s no other family members nor a church support network. Artificial isolation that really sticks out.

So ultimately, the book really didn’t work for me. I’m not a great fan of the genre, and this book hasn’t made me want to read another any time soon.

In thinking about this book and John Saul’s sort-of ubiquity–you could see his books available back in the day, and they were prevalent at book sales a couple years ago–made me wonder how the collapse of book clubs altered book buying. Book club editions were a staple of the book sales for a long time. I think we might have seen that bubble burst as members of my parents’ generation have downsized their libraries. What am I talking about? Even I don’t know.

Book Report: Sanibel Shell Shoked by Art Stevens (1992)

Book coverSpeaking of beach vacations, I dived right into this book after buying it last week in Branson. I felt a little like I was betraying Branson by reading about another vacation destination while vacationing in Missouri. But that didn’t stop me from reading the book.

It collects newspaper columns by Art Stevens who was (is?) a part-time resident of Sanibel Island, splitting time with New Jersey, where he made enough in six months to afford a spot on the island. Although this book dates from 1992, Stevens’ column continues to this day.

It takes on topics such as tourists, alligators, and development on the island. It’s Florida stuff, the kind of thing you find in Barry or Hiassen (and treated more seriously in John D. MacDonald books). As I started the book, perhaps I expected too much of the author; perhaps he suffered in comparison to Barry, who is about the only humor columnist that has made me laugh out loud.

However, some of the columns amused me. So the humor is akin to Mike Royko when he was doing his outlandish pieces.

So worth the read if you’re into Sanibelernalia.

Book Report: Cabal by Clive Barker (1985, 1988)

Book coverClive Barker was all that in the late 1980s. He had a couple of movies out, including Hellraiser and, um, what’s that other one?

Well, this book collects a novella and several short stories. The novella, “Cabal”, talks about the Nightbreed. Ah, there it is!

At any rate, this book has on the outside edge of my to-read shelves since I cleaned up my library (::cough, cough:: three years ago). I read Barker’s Books of Blood (I, but that was before they needed Roman numerals) in 1994, and I’ve picked up a couple of his books here and there because every once and again, I think I’ll read some horror and maybe write some (which tends to come out more like H.P. Lovecraft than Stephen King or one of the modern Urban Fantasy people).

At any rate, this book contains:

  • “Cabal”, in which a mentally unhealthy individual is convinced he’s committed horrible murders, so he tries to go to a remote Canadian town where monsters are welcomed. Once there, he finds that he is not the monster he thought he was, but there are monsters in this world–human and otherwise.
  • “The Life of Death”, wherein a lonely woman becomes enamored with the thought of the dead and becomes a killer inadvertently and meets Death, although not in the way she expected.
  • “How Spoilers Bleed”, wherein some adventurers acquire land rights in the jungle and try to displace a native tribe only to fall under a curse.
  • “Twilight at the Towers”, wherein an espionage agent discovers he’s not just human, and that he has more in common with others of his kind than his handlers.
  • “The Last Illusion”, wherein an investigator with experience (not pleasant) with the occult is called to help protect the body of a magician from dark forces.

I mean, they’re okay stories, a bit gory as expected and with a touch of S&M (graphic at times) that spawned more than one Goth in the 1990s.

So perhaps I’ll read a couple more of these 1980s horror books that I’ve accummulated over the years. Back then, horror books (as with so many other books) were thinner, running 200 or 250 pages (this volume is 338, but broken over multiple stories, it seemed shorter), and horror books must have been fairly popular in book clubs, as you can see bunches of them available at book sales. For a little while, yet. I have to wonder if they’ll all disappear soon as the baby boomers finish downsizing and if another burst of availability will occur when the readers of Generation X start downsizing.

Book Report: Who Built That by Michelle Malkin (2015)

Book coverI don’t know where or when I bought this book; it cannot have been too long ago as it’s a book of recent vintage and it was not buried in my to-read shelves. I picked it up to read because I might be going to an event where Malkin is speaking this autumn, and I wanted to be able to say I read one of her books.

At any rate, this book is not a political polemic as one might expect from a political commentator. Although the book piggybacks off of an Obama quote (“You didn’t build that.”), the book focuses on a number of what Malkin calls “tinkerpreneurs”: inventors whose innovations changed our lives, sometimes in ways that seemed small but had big impact. She looks at Carrier and Lyle (air conditioning), the Roebling family (steel cables and suspension bridges), Libbey and Owen (glass), and others. The book looks at how many of them had humble origins (and by humble, I mean nineteenth century origins, which meant they went to work, often in manufacturing, and then improved upon the things they did every day through mehanical automation). No eight year degrees in inventing for them.

So it was an inspiring book. One of my stretch goals for my life is to get a patent for something. Unfortunately, I’ve ended up working in computers, where patents and innovation are squirrelly instead of actually working for a living. So it’s made me want to tinker (where other books make me want to write more).

I just need to clear some space in my garage to get going.

Book Report: Life Lessons From Your Cat by Anthony Rubino, Jr. (2007)

Book coverI rescued this book from a box of outgoing books that my beautiful wife was winnowing from her collection (from time to time, she gets rid of books, a concept that is very foreign to me). I grabbed it because it looks like something I would browse during a football game.

However, I browsed it after reading How To Read A Poem as sort of a palate cleanser.

This compact book was probably designed to be a humorous little gift for the cat lover you know (the one you always give cat-themed things because that’s her gift schtick). Undoubtedly, my wife got this for similar reasons.

But the book really isn’t that amusing. It’s one or two sentences or sentiment per page from your cat’s point of view, but nothing really insightful and not much that’s really clever. So I was disappointed with it, but I’m happy to not have browsed it during a football game as I’d like my forthcoming disappointment with the 2019-2020 Packers to be unalloyed.

Now I’ll put it on my read shelves, from whence my children will poach it, love it, and likely destroy it as they have Bad Cat.

Book Report: How to Read a Poem by Nancy C. Millett and Helen J. Throckmorton (1966)

Book coverSince I just read How To Read A Play, I thought I should further my education with this text. And don’t be fooled: This is a textbook geared to high school kids or perhaps early college students.

Perhaps the subtitle should be “And Come To Hate Poetry” because the focus is not on how to read poetry for pleasure, but how to read poetry so you can write a cogent paper on it. The book encourages readers to treat every poem like a worksheet, circling keywords and drawing arrows and diagramming this and that. I kid you not.

The book starts out talking about the importance of key words and concepts, and only after almost a hundred pages gets around to the the rhythm and the rhyme of poetry. You know, the stuff that makes reading poetry fun.

So I didn’t like the book that much, but so much of the technical information I already knew, and I disagree with the basic premise that you have to work hard to unpack a poem. Poets should work hard to build the poem so that it’s easy and fun to read. Poets should not “work” to craft a poem that takes heavy analysis to understand. As a poet, you can pack meaning into a poem, but you have to make it fun for someone to read even if they’re not hunting for meaning or having to write a six page paper on your poem. For Pete’s sake. I blame e.e. cummings. Jeez, I’m coming to hate that guy more than William Carlos Williams, if only because it’s a shorter name to type when preening my disdain on this blog.

At any rate, the best part of the book was the sample poems (except the e.e. cummings). The book includes a number of Robert Frost pieces, samples from Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins (of whom I have a collection around here that I’m going to look for to read mid-Keats), and others, some of whom I might remember but probably not if I cannot enumerate them here.

So I’m glad to have read the book if only because it continues to cement my belief that academic poetry split off into its own cul-de-sac sometime in the early 20th century and might have destroyed the popular appreciation of poetry. Or maybe not–perhaps popular music picked up some of the slack for a time. But that’s a thesis I might tease out little by little over the course of innumerable book reports in the future instead of sitting down and writing an essay on it.

Book Report: Caligula and 3 Other Plays by Albert Camus (1958)

Book coverNow that I’ve learned how to read plays, I’m off to the races! Well, no, I’ve always mixed some drama in with the novels and nonfiction I’ve read, so this is not different at all.

At any rate, the book contains about two acts of decent drama amid the talky Existentialist theorizing. I’ve been talking a lot about the paper rhythm and spoken rhythm when discussing poetry, but I could probably also make such a distinction in plays as well. Some plays are snappy, with fast moving dialogue and an entertaining story and has its themes beneath the surface, and some plays are theme-first with lots of paragaph-long speeches about the theme. These plays definitely fall into the latter.

Caligula has its name in the title, but it’s probably the weakest play in the lot. In it, the Roman emperor embraces his freedom and does whatever he wants at the expense of his countrymen until (spoiler alert) he is deposed.

The Misunderstanding is a three act play that contains the aforementioned two acts of stage drama as a mother and daughter run an inn and infrequently kill isolated travellers for their money. They decide to do one last job before leaving their central European town for the sea, and the man who comes in is the prodigal son who has made a fortune overseas and wants to better their lives, but he doesn’t want to reveal who he is until he gets to know them. The first two acts are pretty good tension, but they kill him at the end of the second act only to find his passport in the beginning of the third, and then the man’s fiancée comes in, and they bore her to death. Not really, but the third act is all talky philosophy.

State of Siege kind of looks like it’s going to be The Plague but set in Cadiz, Spain. But it takes a turn when a character representing the plague shows up and institutes some changes to the government to make life more orderly, but one doctor eventually defies the order by not being afraid, which causes the plague to lose his grip on power. The play offers a bunch to think about–is it anti-fascist or anti-Communist in its resistance to a properly ordered totalitarian government? It also has some dramatic tension in it, but it features a chorus and a lot of stage directions that seems like it would make it hard to stage.

The Just Assassins deals with a cell of Russian terrorists who want to assassinate a Grand Duke with bombs. One of their members, a poet, falters when he sees children in the duke’s carriage, so the cell talks and talks about it. The poet is also possibly falling for the bomb maker who might want to leave the revolutionary world behind and be normal. But when the poet gets a second chance, he does not falter, and he is arrested and interrogated by the authorities and forgiven by the newly widowed duchess. But the clemency she grants leads his fellows in the cell to think he turned on them. So it’s an intellectually interesting thing, but it, too, lacks real tension.

I sometimes wonder if British and American drama really is the pinnacle of the genre, but I guess some British and American drama fits into the mold (Equus, anyone?).

I’m also thinking that there’s a larger dichotomy to explore among literature: works where theme is prevalent over entertainment or good storytelling. These plays, then, fit more with works where theme trumps entertainment. I’ll probably start using that as a recurring measure in my other book reports.

Oh, and reading this book answered a question for me. I saw a Camus quote in a Birds and Blooms magazine in 2015 that I wondered if it was a real Camus quote. Sort of. It’s presented in pretty posters and across the Internet as “Autumn–a second spring where every leaf is a flower.”

It appears in The Misunderstanding thus:

MARTHA: What’s the autumn?
JAN: A second spring when every leaf’s a flower.

A little different, but it is from the Camus.

At any rate, worth a read if you fancy yourself a hoity-toity well-read individual, as I so. And I still prefer Camus to Sartre (whose collection No Exit and Three Other Plays I reviewed in 2014–note that both books are from the Cintage Book collection, which were not very vintage in the late 1950s but are surely such now).

Book Report: Divine Fruit by Julian Lynn (2017)

Book coverI bought this book last weekend, and when I finished The Physics of Love, I wasn’t ready to jump back into the Keats, so I read this book instead.

The book is subtitled “Ecstatic Verse” and is called “devotional verse” on the back cover, but I thought most of it would be meditative in nature given the “paper rhythm” of a couple syllables per line which lends itself more to the contemplative pacing of haiku more than ecstasy, which I would associate with longer lines. Some of the poems are rather short, too, with a title and a couple of words for contemplation.

But the poems do get a little more ecstatic, with several sexual-themed pieces. Is the sexual experience leading to an experience of the divine, or is the poet-narrator’s experience of the divine akin to sexual experience? The poems leave room for interpretation and, dare I say it, meditation on the point.

At any rate, some good moments, but I am still not a fan of the paper rhythm and prefer the more lyrical spoken rhythm in poetry.

I’ve got a couple of other books by this author, as I mentioned, which are not poetry which I’ll probably delve into before too long, where “too long” might mean “within a decade” as my unread collection of books still numbers in the thousands.

Book Report: The Physics of Love by Carla Kirchner (2017)

Book coverI bought this book over the weekend, and as I just completed Keats’ “Hyperion”, I was looking for other poetry to clear my palate before jumping into Keats’ posthumously published poems (which, I think, includes a sequel to “Hyperion” but fortunately not other bonzers of dubious merit and readability).

I pretty much struck the jackpot with this book.

The poetry’s themes include things I can relate to: Children growing up, getting older, and whatnot. The lines are long and have a good mouthfeel, more of a spoken rhythm than a paper rhythm (as I explained when reporting on my my cousin-in-law’s book). I’ve even picked out a favorite piece in it, “Relativity”, which is about kids growing up, and I’ve thought I should try to capture similar sentiments in a poem of my own.

You know, I sometimes read something that makes me want to write more, and this collection definitely did. It’s fun to read, has some depth, and doesn’t take as long as a lot of Keats does.

Recommended. It’s on Amazon at less than the cover price. Unfortunately, it’s her only book so far.

Book Report: How To Read a Play by Ronald Hayman (1977, 1986)

Book coverI’ve been reading some drama this year (Dinner with Friends, The Time of Your Life), so when I spotted this book on my to-read shelves, I picked it up. Because, hey, maybe I should learn how to read a play.

I didn’t agree with a lot of the material in the book; it takes kind of a producer- or director-first kind of perspective. Most of the book deals with the things you should infer outside the text–the layout of the stage, the stage directions, the silences and pauses, the things left unsaid. It says you have to really spend a lot of time thinking on these things to get the real experience of seeing the play live.

I don’t know if I buy that for a couple of reasons. Mostly because it throws out a lot about I’ve learned about writing plays. Back in the olden days when I was writing plays at the university (cough, cough The Courtship of Barbara Holt), we focused on minimizing the stage directions and stage layout so that theatres on a budget can stage it as they see fit. I was also told that the words in the play should present everything that the reader and viewer will need to know.

One example: He talks about having to imagine the stabbing of Claudius by Hamlet at the end of the play:

HAMLET
The point!–envenom’d too!
Then, venom, to thy work.

[Stabs KING CLAUDIUS]

The author here talks about how you should imagine this as an elaborate action on the stage; however, in my Shakespeare class at the university, the professor says that this kind of takes place as an afterthought and that the main point of the play was not the revenge but Hamlet working himself up to it.

You know what? With the limited stage direction, either interpretation is possible. A good play allows for that flexibility. It’s like a musical score that different symphonies will play according to their arrangements, instruments, and conductor.

So when I read a play, I read the words which are of paramount importance in the play. I imagine some of it as needed, but I don’t build little models of the play to see it.

Going to see a play, on the other hand, is a different experience, and you enjoy it differently. But trying to reproduce the live theatre experience while reading it in a book seems like a fool’s errand.

I get the sense that the author also favors written plays with more words in italics, kind of like The Time Of Your Life.

So I didn’t get much from the book aside from disagreement, and I’m not even sure it sharpens the way I think about writing plays or reading them. Ah, well.

Book Report: Dead Line The Executioner #130 (1989)

Book coverThis is the 130th entry in the series, and I’ve apparently read 72 of them so far. So I have started to not so much compare them to literature but to each other. You probably have already seen that, gentle reader, but I guess I’ll need to re-remember and re-write it every time I read one of these (the last was Haitian Hit in April). Or maybe I only write this preface paragraph every once in a while, as I didn’t for the previous book.

At any rate, like Haitian Hit, I picked this book up after a piece of Serious Literature (then it was The Count of Monte Cristo; this time it was Jane Eyre).

The series has shifted from terrorism back to targeting organized crime, so Bolan is called upon to avenge the murder of an undercover narcotics agent who was looking into a smuggling ring using hijacked macguffins. The crime boss takes the wife and daughter of the murdered agent hostage to bargain with Bolan and the government. Officials want to negotiate, but Bolan does not, and so he finds him against elements in the government as well as the criminals.

So, yeah, it’s a lot like other Bolan novels, but it’s a creditable entry in the series. It was a quick enough read. It introduces a high-paid assassin, a tall black woman with shortly cropped hair which probably means that someone just watched A View To A Kill before plotting it. And she gets away at the end, so I’ll probably see her again after my next piece of Classical Literature.

Book Report: Blood Song by Michael Schmeltzer (2016)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, as you might know, my beautiful wife is is a poet of some reknown and publication credits. So I had resigned myself to being the second best poet in the family. However, as this collection of poetry comes from my cousin’s husband, I might only be the third-best. Until my children start expressing themselves in verse.

As you might expect, gentle reader, I cannot say anything bad about the book at risk of not getting invited to family reunions, although I actually haven’t been invited to a family reunion since 2007. Schmeltzer’s poetry is more modern than I prefer or write. I liked elements of it better than most things I read, but I read a lot of chapbooks of amateur origin (like this and this) when I’m not struggling through the long, long poems of British Romantic poets (I read this book as a break from Keats; currently, I only have “Hyperion” in his long poems left, but it’s harder to slog through it than “Endymion” for some reason). Schmeltzer’s modern sensibilities reminded me a bit of David St. John, but that’s because that’s the best of the modern stuff I’ve read recently.

At any rate, Schmeltzer covers some ground that’s topically in my wheelhouse: the death of parents, relationships, and whatnot. However, some of the poems are a bit obscure, a collection of images that sort of hint at something, that didn’t tie it up neatly. Which might have been part of the point, I suppose.

I might have put my finger on a dichotomy in two different types of poems and rhythms: the paper rhythm and the spoken rhythm. As you might know, gentle reader, my poetry is steeped in performance in open mics, so my lines tend to be longer. A lot of modern poetry, including some of Schmeltzer’s work, has shorter lines. I wonder if they’re written to be seen on paper instead of heard aloud. When I’ve heard Serious Poets reading these kinds of poems in the university, they pause ponderously after every image or phrase. I blame William Carlos Williams. It’s not how I like poetry–I like longer lines and better sustained rhythm, I guess. Which should mean I love Keats, right? Well, he and the other Romantics had an outsized influence on my early poetry, I rediscover when I go through it.

I’m not saying that Schmeltzer is particularly guilty of overly truncated lines and unneccesary enjambment; it’s just what I thought of as I was reading what he wrote and relating it to the other things I’ve read.

So I liked it better than most of what I read. And, if you need the ultimate endorsement, I read one of the poems to my beautiful wife, and she nodded with her chin low and her eyes rolling up as she said, “It’s good.” Which is a sign of true excellence in her estimation. So she’d probably give it five stars instead of four.

Book Report: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847, 1984)

Book coverThis book shall probably forever hold the Personal Record in my life for the longest time between re-reads at 33 years. I read this book as a freshman in high school and didn’t remember that much from it except the basic outline of a servant woman working and falling for a rich man with a crazy wife in the attic. Uh, spoiler alert.

So not long after I read The Count of Monte Cristo, I spotted this book on my shelf and decided to pick it up since it was a classic and shorter than the aforementioned The Count of Monte Cristo. Still, it took me two weeks to read the book, partially because my evenings have been pretty active in those two weeks with watching playoff hockey and the less occasional movie.

On re-read, I recognize and appreciate the three part structure of the book. The first part is Jane’s unhappy youth at her aunt’s place and the charity school she attends; the second her life as the governess at the said home with a said lunatic; and the third is her life after she’s fled from Mr. Rochester after discovering his secret at the altar when she was going to marry him.

You’ve got a bunch of hints that Jane has some wealth coming (she does), a little bit of resolution with her family line (her mother was from a moneyed family that disinherited her when she married a poor clergyman, and the moneyed family lost the money in a bad speculation), and whatnot. It’s one of those tangly Gothic romances, you know.

It does, however, offer a bunch of topics for school papers, though. You can explore Jane Eyre’s personality: Is she really strong? She yields a lot to circumstances and strong male figures. Is her endurance a strength? Is it weakness? One could talk about the proper ways women relate to men: Should they yield as Jane does? You could talk about the roles of class. You could write about how Jane can only really be with Rochester when he is humbled. I’m sure many could.

Me, I’m thinking that this book warped me at a young age as to how imperious and haughty one can be and still get the chicks. It didn’t work for me throughout school. But I eventually got a babe, so maybe not too much.

So it was interesting to read, shorter than The Count of Monte Cristo, and it makes me feel worthy of my English degree to have returned to it.

But I don’t think I’ll read it in another 33 years when I’m eighty. I’ll not be that far into the to-read shelves by then.

Wait a minute, Brian J., are you saying that you’ve re-read Me and My Little Brain as an adult? Well, gentle reader, I didn’t think you were paying attention. So this re-read of Jane Eyre is probably not my personal record, but I can pinpoint the time when I read it to give it an absolute number, so I went with it. Me and My Little Brain probably went almost forty years between readings. EVERYTHING YOU READ ON THIS SITE IS A LIE! Except the part about my beautiful wife being beautiful.

Book Report: Haitian Hit The Executioner #129 (1989)

Book coverTo what do I turn after completing The Count of Monte Cristo? Why, an Executioner book, of course.

This book is not a bad entry. Bolan is in Haiti to put the hurt on some mobsters, and he ends up getting entangled in a revolution looking to overthrow the military junta in charge after Baby Doc fled. Since the junta is allowing the mob to build a casino and resort, Bolan’s plan turns to its destruction.

Once again, these books from the 1980s illustrate how little has changed in the thirty years since they were new. Haiti is still a mess, and the story would not need much updating to be set in 2019 instead of 1989.

Book Report: Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies (1999)

Book coverDonald Margulies is my favorite modern playwright. I really enjoyed Sight Unseen both on stage and in print. Which makes it weird that it took me over a year to get to this book (bought in in January 2018) while I read lesser plays.

This book has four characters: Karen and Gabe, two married food writers, and Beth and Tom, friends that they introduced a dozen years ago whose marriage is ending. Beth reveals that Tom has cheated on her, and he cannot join them for dinner because he’s gone out of town to visit his mistress. The news shocks Karen and Gabe. Scenes center on meals where Beth or Tom eat at Karen and Gabe’s.

The emotions are pretty raw, and the play really evokes wondering what is happening off-stage as much as on. Karen and Gabe disagree over how to treat Tom after the break-up, and Tom touches Karen’s hair at one point, which leads one to wonder if something happened there. How strong is Karen and Gabe’s marriage? Can Beth and Tom reconcile while eventually destroying their friends’ marriage?

Very good, but not as good as Sight Unseen. Margulies has numerous other works, and one of these days I might start ordering them new instead of hoping to spot them at book sales in Springfield or Ozark.

Book Report: The Zen Way To The Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru (1982, 1991)

Book coverI bought this book just last month, and like so many of the Buddhist or martial arts books, I dived right into it. This book is a two-fer in that regard, as it blends Zen Buddhism with martial arts.

The book is a collection of talks given at a retreat in Switzerland in 1975 that blended zazen sitting with martial arts demonstrations. Of course, you can draw many parallels between the focus in practicing martial arts techniques and forms and the Buddhist focus not only on sitting/meditating, but also in the focus on being present in every moment and doing everything fully in the moment.

So there’s not really anything surprising in the book; I didn’t flag anything for comment.

I read these books because I find them a bit calming, but they really do go in one eye and out the other as far as remembering their contents goes.

Book Report: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844-1846, 1999?)

Book coverWell, I finally finished this book.

I read the comic book adaptation of this book last year, and I knew that the comic book adaptation left a lot of things out–I suspect there are panels in the comic with scenes that are hundreds of pages apart in the book. My beautiful wife read the book not long after we saw the film in the theater, so I ordered myself a nice copy to read. And I picked it up in November not long after passing The Villages At Monte Crist. And it has taken me six months to read it.

The book is essentially three books in one, and I only liked two of them.

The first part of the book tells about how Edmond Dantès, a sailor, who returns to port happy to see his fiancée Mercédès, but a disgruntled shipmate, a ne’er-do-well, and a rival for Mercédès frame Dantès as a Bonapartist after the restoration. When the prosecutor reviews the case, he discovers his own father’s involvement, so Dantès is sentenced to the remote Chateau d’If. He passes fourteen years there, his lonely days broken when an abbe from an adjoining cell breaks through into Dantes’ cell. They spend years studying together and planning an escape, but it’s only the abbe’s death that gives Dantès the chance he needs. Once free, he finds the buried treasure left behind by the abbe, whom everyone thought was mad because he offered millions for his freedom–millions that nobody thought he had.

The second part of the book and, sadly, the biggest portion of the book deals with what has happened to everyone else during the years of Dantès’ imprisonment and his travels and studies before he returns to Paris. The people who framed Dantès have prospered. Their children have come of age. So a lot of things go on, and the independent characters who are not the title characters have their chapters, kind of like in a Stephen King novel, but they don’t get killed by flying soda machines shortly after you’ve read a couple thousand words on them. The second part also includes the return of Dantès, now styled as the Count of Monte Cristo, to Paris to exact revenge and some parts of him putting his plans in motion, but it’s a lot more intrigue than action.

The third part of the book details his plans coming to fruition, and how he has set each up to fail according to his strengths. So the third part, with its action, moves along a little faster. As his plot goes on, though, Dantès starts to wonder if the collateral damage in his revenge makes him evil.

It ends, not with a reunion of Dantès and Mercédès, but a happy ending never the less. Dantès really grows as a character, which is rare for an action book, but Dumas has a thousand pages to play around with here.

So I enjoyed the first and last parts of the trilogy, so to speak. And I’m glad to have read it even though at times I did not enjoy reading it. Overall, though, I prefer The Three Musketeers, and I have one or more sequels to it around here somewhere. Which I’ll get into in a couple of years, I reckon.

Book Report: Poems by C.S. Lewis (1964, 2016)

Book coverI think my beautiful wife gave me this book right after I read The Screwtape Letters (Three years ago? Are you kidding?), but I might be retconning it.

I’ve read it now between bonzer thousands-of-lines poems in the collected works of Keats that I’m ambling through, and the books are not dissimilar. As a matter of fact, if you put Keats, the Christian-themed chapbooks I tend to read, and modern quality into a blender, you might get C.S. Lewis’s poetry.

The poems are grouped thematically. We start with some with the most Keats flavor, a series of poems retelling folk tales and mythological stories and then move into more modern concerns, lamentations about politicians and progress, and some reflections on God as would befit the best known apologetic from the twentieth century. I flagged a couple of his poems so I could come back to them.

Such as “Lines During A General Election” which begins:

Their threats are terrible enough, but we could bear
All that; it is their promises that bring despair.

I also flagged Re-Adjustment, the first of Five Sonnets, and Footnote to All Prayers (which is by far my favorite).

So the book was a pleasure to read, and it (like The Screwtape Letters) made me want to read more by C.S. Lewis.

But for now, it’s back to the Keats for me.

Book Report: On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1937, ?)

Book coverWhen we last left the Ingalls family (Little House on the Prairie in September), the Ingalls family had to leave their home in Kansas. Instead of returning to Wisconsin, they headed to Minnesota. The book opens with Charles, the father, trading his horses and wagon for a sod house beside a creek with a Norwegian farmer looking to move west.

The book covers a couple of years, unlike the first ones in the series. Hopeful of a good crop of wheat, the Ingalls family builds a house on credit only to run into trouble when plagues of grasshoppers destroy the crop right before harvest. Charles has to walk a hundred miles to the east to find work through the harvest season to support the family. And although the first winter is very mild, the second is definitely more snowy than they’re used to–even in Wisconsin.

The book hints at some perhaps poor decision making by the father who had previously been omnicompetent. He buys a bunch on credit, and then cannot pay it off with the wheat crop. When he’s harvesting back east, he sends four dollars back to his family–and buys himself a new pair of boots for three dollars. One wonders how these stories appear in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s adult book Pioneer Girl.

Of course, I might just be reading more into this children’s book than I should. But I’m looking for a double-effect narrator that the author does not intend.

So I’ve got the next book, On the Shores of Silver Lake, so I will probably read it before the summer. I’ll also keep my eyes open for the others in the series and for Pioneer Girl, her more adult memoir, at the coming spring library book sales. Given how close we are to her home down in Marshfield, I should find them pretty easily. I hope. Because I really am enjoying the series and, apparently, my second childhood.