Book Report: The Legend of the One by Orlea Rayne (1999)

Book coverThis short book of poetry, 39 pages, contains, what, a single poem or prayer spread over the 39 pages with a spiritual theme that presents the One as a female figure, so it’s not a Christian spiritual collection. Given that each page or poem faces a mandala, the poetext might be to support the mandalas instead of the other way around.

A mandala, as you might remember, gentle reader (not that I’ve ever mentioned it here before), is an Eastern art form that uses geometric shapes and whatnot designed as a meditation aid for Buddhists, Hindus, and whatnot. The mandalas in this book are not so geometric as much as abstract art with an Eastern flavor. I guess the author would make mandalas for people–her bio says that she was divinely guided after a near death experience and that she wants to help everyone just get along like Susan Polis Schultz. The author’s Facebook page was active until 2015, so she was probably creating mandalas for people well into our century.

So, the poetext, meh, but the mandalas are interesting. Given that I got this book in one of the dollar bundles of chapbooks available at the at the library book sales, I think it was worth the 18 cents I probably spent on it. After all, I counted it as a whole book in my annual goal of reading 100 books.

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Book Report: American Art Deco by Eva Weber (1992)

Book coverThis is a large-sized Crescent book covering the design styles of art deco which were early 20th century design and architectural movements around the world, but notably the United States. I say styles and were in the plural because really Art Deco includes subdesign styles called the Aztec, zigzag, and streamlined styles. The book breaks things up into sections on Architecture, Furniture, Art, and whatnot. Each chapter has a page of text that name drops people who popularized the style, and then includes photos and illustrations.

You know, I like Art Deco, at least in the design and the architecture–we have some Fiestaware at Nogglestead–but not the art-art, which has a bit of Sovietism to it. A lot of it comes from the WPA and NRA programs coming out of the New Deal, so that’s probably appropriate.

However, Fiestaware aside, I like to look at it, but when it comes to design that I like to have around Nogglestead, I go more for classical looks and cheap pressboard. Not stylized modern things, or at least how modern was envisioned a hundred years ago. Even though it’s cooler than what a hundred years later would generally produce, particularly in architecture.

So that’s what comment you get from me in this regard. You want depth in discussion of design, go seek your Lileks and Driscoll.

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Book Report: Something to Someone by Javan (1984) and One World, One Heart by Susan Polis Schultz (2001)

Book coverThese are two more chapbooks, or short books of poetry, that I bought bundled recently. Actually, the Shultz book was in a bundle, but I bought the Javan book alone for a buck. It seems that I’ve seen a lot of books by Schultz and Javan around, and then I thought it might just be at ABC Books, but my recent trip showed that the poetry section there was not rife with either of these poets. So I don’t know where I’ve seen so many of them before that I thought I should finally give them a try.

I have grouped them together because they both suffer from the same thing: Too much abstraction with line breaks, announcing a feeling or thought without poetic imagery to back them up.

Javan’s poems are of a personal nature, with musings on relationships and some “Hey, Girl” kinds of poems. The Schultz book deals with macro themes of reconciliation between different peoples and “Can’t we all just get along?” More than that, though–can’t we all just love one another for our differences? Reading them together is a little like listening to a U2 song: First, we get the personal, which is more relatable (although U2 is generally more poetic), and then all of a sudden in the third or fourth verse the personal relationship morphs into a song about feeding the world or something.

The stories of the poets is more interesting: Javan self-published his books in the days before computers, and he didn’t have the Internet, so he drove around, bookstore to bookstore, to get his works carried. Given that I’ve seen and now bought one of his works far away from his native Georgia, it seems to have worked. Schultz, on the other hand, is a mommy poet of some note who then put this book out as a public service such as it was. She and/or her husband founded Blue Mountain, whose early Internet greeting card company they sold to Excite in 1999 for $780,000,000, so she had some money and time to write a bunch of poetry, and she’s the mother of the current governor of Colorado. So she probably did not have to drive widely to disseminate her work.

At any rate, they both come out of that 70s poetic tradition like, say, Rod McKuen or Jon Francis or James Kavanaugh. The wording is conversational and not very self-consciously poetic. Which is probably to say not poetic at all. But, hey, some people might go for it. I prefer more poetic, but perhaps not self-consciously “We’re doing poetry!”

UPDATE: I discovered when I was entering this book into my library database that I’ve read something edited by Susan Polis Schultz before: A Friend Forever also published by Blue Mountain–which means they’ve been at this for a while.

 

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Book Report: Thoughts from a Dark Room that Lit Up by Denzel Norris featuring Joel Smith (?)

Book coverThis book is from Faith over Fear Productions, so I expected some faith-based poetry, but there’s nary a mention of Jesus in it. Instead, it’s a collection of street poems, almost raps, dealing with relationships and whatnot. The poems have short lines with a bunch of chatter and not the distinct imagery but rather rhythmic, sometimes, abstract conversation. Less formal than grandmother poetry or decades-old greeting cards and not quite as poetic as more literary poetry of the 21st century, but probably not the poets’ goal.

Each poem is paired with a vivid abstract or abstactish piece of painting in color with full bleed to the edge of the pages–kind of like the cover image–and the layout is very good. As one reviewer said of my collection of poetry, the poetry is meh but the design is very good.

So not my bag, but your mileage may vary.

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Book Report: Thanksgiving by Ideals Magazine (~1970) and Prayers and Meditations by Helen Steiner Rice (~1988)

Book coverThese two slim volumes came in the bundles of chapbooks that I bought at this autumn’s Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. As I have mentioned often and will continue to mention every day or so for a couple of weeks, they bundle a small stack of chapbooks and pamphlets together for a buck, and I cannot help but buy many of them. Something about a grab bag appeals to me–it’s like when the old record store would bundle ten 45 rpm singles fresh from jukebox duty or remainders and mark them $1.99; I bought a lot of such bundles and sometimes found something interesting (such as Madhouse). So it is with the chapbook bundles. Plus, it gives me something to look at between plays whilst watching football on Sundays–and, let’s be honest, watching football on Sundays is a pretext for me to read during the day, not purely to watch football.

At any rate, these two slim volumes are not so much chapbooks as they are holiday cards with several pages of poetry in them. The first is by Ideals magazine (See also here and and was given as a Thanksgiving greeting from Mother and Daddy in 1970. It collects a lot of poetry and photography with harvest, autumn, and Thanksgiving themes with some Christian content thanking God, not just being mindful and grateful. Given that I have Ideals magazines dealing with Autumn and Thanksgiving, I have to wonder if I’ve read some of this material before.

Prayers and Meditations is a Christmas card signed by Norm and Jan in 1988; it collects nine poems by Helen Steiner Rice, religious-themed prayers and musings about the meaning of Christmas. It’s an exclusively religous card, with thoughts and prayers about the birth of Christ and its meaning, and nothing about sleighs and family. Handy, I suppose, if you can’t find only one card with a single poem that expresses what you want about Christmas. Less expensive than a full little gift book, perhaps, and a keepsake a little more than a card. I mean, thirty years later, I read it and counted it toward my annual total.

The two of them remind me how far we are into the year already, another year almost passed, and the fact that they’re fifty-one and thirty-three years old, respectively, reminds me how far I am into life already. Bittersweet, for sure.

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Book Report: The Controlled Clasp by John Bahnke (1972)

Book coverI bought this in one of the three packets of chapbooks that I got for a dollar each at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale this autumn. The three sets of chapbooks and another volume of poetry are about all the books I got, instead focusing on albums as you might recall, gentle reader.

Well, about this book. Apparently it’s a chapbook of “poetry” from 1972. That’s what I gather from limited Internet searches for the book and the poet on the Internet. The first poem, or perhaps the section, is called “Nightmares in the Dark”, and the whole collection with its dated poems ranging from 1968 to 1972 read like a Vietnam veteran working through his PTSD or perhaps a patient in an institution working through some things. The prose poems are reflective of nightmares, where the poet-narrator is in the jungle, or meeting with a woman whom he gores or who gores him, and there’s a clown that keeps reappearing.

Most of them are in paragraph form, not verse, and some themes repeat. But it’s not very poetic, and it’s not compelling reading. I finished it, not browsing during football–the prose is too dense to glance down and glance up–but in the chair just for completeness sake. And to add to my annual tally easily.

So far, no nightmares of my own on account of it, which is nice.

So probably something to avoid.

But I get the sense that the story behind the book is better than the book, and that’s quite probably lost.

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Book Report: Carver: A Life In Poems by Marilyn Nelson (2001)

Book coverI picked up this Scholastic book to browse during a football game, and I thought, a collection of poems about the life of George Washington Carver for kids? Who needs that? Who would read that?

But, you know what? I kind of got into it eventually. The book builds poems, not very poetic poems but rather poetry-prose with line breaks and distinct phrases instead of full sentences–to talk about Carver’s incidents from Carver’s life. From his early years as a slave and his early attempts at formal education to his eventual work with the Tuskogee Institute and, yes, peanuts.

So perhaps a good intro to an amazing life, but you would definitely want to follow it up with something more weighty, such as George Washington Carver and/or a trip to Diamond, Missouri.

Also, you know George Washington Carver was a black American. This book, coming from the turn of the century, makes a couple of references to our people, and the poet’s father was one of the Tuskogee Airmen, but the book is not an especially racially themed book. One wonders whether the poems were written twenty years later would differ greatly from the interesting and straightforward presentation of a fascinating figure of American history we have here. Sadly, one thinks so.

Oh, but this children’s book has the baddest word ever in a poem called “My People” about the envy the other instructors and staff at the Tuskegee Institute felt toward Carver. But it’s further proof of my latent white supremacism that I read books with the baddest word in them. That is, books written in the dark past of twenty years ago.

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Book Report: Shadow Valley by Alan Brown and Brian Brown (2021)

Book coverSo as I mentioned when I reported on Lake Honor and Gone in the Night, I was going to pick this book up next, which means I read all the books I bought from Brian Brown at his book signing in rather short order which is probably the best endorsement by my actions rather than quibbles I post in my book reports.

This book does without the frame story present in the other two books, where the authors insert themselves and listen to or work with Booger McClain to “solve” an unsolved mystery–but whose resolution is not actually the solution of the crimes, perhaps an allusion or a theory that cannot be acted on.

Instead, this is a more straightforward story: An old friend comes to Booger to find his estranged wife and daughter who were last known to have been living in a trailer park in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. So Booger and his new wife Rose move into the trailer park to figure out what’s going on. Well, Rose does: A couple of injuries land McClain in the local hospital, which takes him out of the action for much of the book, so he acts mostly as a sounding board for what Rose is doing and as comic relief. So Rose uncovers a prostitution ring running in the trailer park, and that the shadowy Branson organized crime types behind it are dealing with the introduction of cocaine trade in the same area. Two guys in a blue truck make shadowy appearances, including perhaps killing the wife and daughter, and the sheriff of Pea Ridge is one of McClain’s former deputies. So they manage to depose the sheriff and get him to turn state’s evidence, so they take out the drug ring. But they don’t really solve the case they started with except for allusions and some speculations, perhaps.

So maybe that’s thematic, then, and not just how a quickly written book turns out.

As with the previous two, this one could have used a copy edit to catch things like:

  • Again referring to the Sheriff of a town; McClain was sheriff of Branson, this book also mentions, and another town. But sheriffs are county officials and the law enforcement for unincorporated parts of a county. In cities and metropolitan areas with cities whose boundaries run right up to each other, such as the St. Louis area, the sheriffs and their deputies mostly serve papers. It’s probably no help that St. Louis County, where the Browns live, has a St. Louis County Police force which handles law enforcement and differs from the St. Louis County Sheriff.
  • Talk about the trailer park and living in a trailer. At one point, someone is a couple hundred yards away from a trailer; in general trailer park sizes, a couple hundred yards is clear on the other side of the trailer park. The lot sizes are not generous. The book mentions going into the cellar under a trailer; okay, that’s rare in a trailer park; sometimes you can put them on foundations, but that’s more permanent than a trailer park. But at the end of the book, the trailer is towed away, but when trailers are placed on foundations and can have cellars, the wheels are generally removed.
  • Rose goes to a neighbor’s trailer during a power outage; the trailer is lit with a lot of candles because the neighbor is used to this. Rose learns that the neighbor has security cameras, so they go back to another room to look at the computer monitors that show the view from the cameras. That would be a lot of batteries to power monitors.
  • The wife and daughter are named Tammy and Carly, and I had some trouble keeping them straight in my head. At one point, too, the book says Tammy sold her stocks and bonds and moved back to Little Rock–but that’s the daughter’s name, not the wife. So I was not the only one having trouble keeping the names straight!

I also flagged a couple of things to comment on:

  • At one point, while driving down to Pea Ridge, one of the characters said “Maybe we should have stopped in Berryville.” As you know, gentle reader, Berryville earlier this year, and I mentioned to my beautiful wife (but did not post on the blog) every time that I have seen Berryville mentioned in the news–although I think one of the other mentions of Berryville that I encountered might have been in Lake Honor.
  • Somebody calls the local paper the Tri-Lakes News; however, last year or the year before, the paper changed its masthead to emphasize it’s the Branson (Tri-Lakes) News. As I boasted recently, I get that paper twice a week.
  • At a wedding at the end of the book (See? It is a comedy!), they play a Shania Twain song (“You’re Still the One”). I can reveal to you, gentle reader, since it’s not the security question on any Web site that I am aware of, that at my wedding, our first dance as husband and beautiful wife was to a Shania Twain song–it was “From This Moment On”, and I forgot to get the CD back from Ernie, the owner of Occasions, when we left. When we were in town this summer, it looked like Occasions was still there and maybe open.

Also, it had typos and wrong word substitutions–instead of alter for altar which appeared in a couple of places in Lake Honor, we got conscience for conscious a couple of places here.

So it was a fun bit of reading that could have used a bit of copyediting. Kind of like Elton Gahr’s books. I’ll pick up more of them if I bump into Brown or Brown in person again, but they’re not so compelling that I’ll go out and order them. After all, I have many, many fine stacks of books to get to in the interim.

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Book Report: Lake Honor by Alan Brown and Brian Brown (2020) and Gone in the Night by Alan Brown and Brian Brown (2021)

I’m going to do a dual book report on two of the three books I bought at the book signing at ABC Books last month because they have some similarities that I’ll talk about at the end.

Book coverAfter reading a chonking Stephen King book and a shorter palate cleanser on Descartes, I thought, wouldn’t it be something if I read the author-signed books from ABC Books soon after buying them instead of years later? So I picked up what is the first chronologically in the series, although the author I met (the son of the father and son duo) says you can read the three books in any order, but I went with the first one first.

The book deals with a fictionalized version of a real case: In the 1970s, two young men were found floating in the fountain pond on the School of the Ozarks, now the College of the Ozarks, campus. They were fully clothed, and the authorities pretty quickly said it was death by misadventure or drugs, maybe, and kind of swept it under the rug. A student at the school ends up re-evaluating his attendance there and quits, only to come back a year later to interview people about the killings for a story. He meets a private investigator, Booger McClain, who tells the story. So this book has two frame stories, really: In the present day, the former student is thinking about the case and comes back to town; and the second, which dominates the book, is the private investigator telling the story of his investigations along with some scenes with the principals in the action, including the boys who died. So the narrative takes place in real time, sort of, as events unfold, but it’s partially told by a private investigator a year later. And the now frame around the whole thing really doesn’t add anything.

The book, like the one that follows, has some typos (altar is spelled alter a couple of times) and a couple of little problems that factchecking would solve, like:

In fact, when I first watched the movie “Halloween,” and saw the mental hospital where Jason escaped, I immediately thought about that dorm.

C’mon, man, we can tell our Jason from our Michael Myers, ainna? We can even spell Myers right on the first try. You know, a dilligent fact-checker would have found this, but when writing and editing our own work, we check on things we’re uncertain of, but not the things we know (that just ain’t so). It’s always the one little throwaway that goes awry.

“Where are you staying?” he asked after a few seconds.

“The Bel Air Motel on 67,” I said.

Highway 67 runs along the eastern part of the state, not the western part, although I understand why it would be top of mind to the authors–it runs through south St. Louis County where they live (and where I once lived).

There are some other anachronisms and things that make one wonder–one of the dead young men played football for Kickapoo; I had thought Kickapoo opened in 1972, which would have made this iffy, but Kickapoo actually opened in 1971, which would make this more plausible. Coupled with the typos, though, one wonders if it was really that way.

Book coverThis Booger McClain mystery takes place in the present day, but again it deals with a crime that occurred decades ago. In this case, it’s the disappearance of three women, two recent high school graduates and a mother of one of them, in 1992. This story still resonates in the Springfield community–every so often, it pops back into the news when it is featured on a podcast or in a book such as this one. My beautiful wife informed me that she had already bought this book during its initial publicity burst. She was in Springfield when this happened (and an attractive young woman), and she went to school with the two recent graduates who disappeared. So this story resonates with her, and it’s one of the top two defining crimes that really shook Springfield (the other was the 1904 lynching on the square for which Springfield is only now seemingly emerging from self-flagellation).

Like Lake Honor, the book centers on a writer coming to Booger McClain to the story of his investigation. McClain has a war room with evidence in a seemingly abandoned warehouse on the north side of town, and he lets the writer review it. Someone tries to break into the evidence room, though, which leads McClain to believe he’s close to solving the mystery. So this book has a little more action in it, but it’s very similar to Lake Honor in its storytelling and resolution.

I flagged a couple of things in this book as well.

“Pull into the next parking lot,” the man in the back ordered his partner. That parking lot was a 24-hour Wal-Mart grocery a few miles from the Levitt home.”

It’s a quibble, but in those days, the Walmarts were Walmarts; the Walmart Neighborhood Market was a ways off, and the Walmarts of the day were more department stores. It’s only later that they would expand their grocery offerings.

“I was a sheriff for a time in Branson back in the 60’s.”

McClain would not have been a sheriff for Branson. Sheriff is a county office; he would have been Taney County Sheriff, which is an elected position by the way. But city folk can be forgiven for thinking that sheriff is what you call the police in a small town.

Again, some anachronisms and errata that one might overlook if it weren’t for the typos.

Also, I recently read a post on Mad Genius Club about whether authors were including the Malingering Unpleasantness in their works; this book mentions the Wuhan Flu conditions, as a business slowdown gives the writer in the story time to come to Springfield to interview McClain. It’s mentioned, but not doted upon.

At any rate, the books were very similar in the following:

  • They’re both rather expository. The stories are told, often by McClain, rather than experienced or shown. Which is to be expected. Although both have elements of contemporary action where McClain is not present, but even those passages are telling more than vivid creations of a scene.
  • Which is probably explained a bit by the fact that the crimes occurred decades before the actual setting of the books. Lake Honor has more of recreations of scenes contemporaneous to the crime; Gone in the Night has one, and it’s one that thwarts McClain’s assumptions of the case.
  • Neither book “solves” the case. Lake Honor alludes to possible solutions. Death in the Night offers a section where McClain presents his theory of the case–which, as I mentioned, is counter to the one contemporaneous scene (quoted above, where the perpetrator has a partner, whereas in Booger’s theory of the case, a suspect acts alone).
  • The authors Asimov themselves into the story. In the first, “Alan” is Alan, the author. In the second, the writer is “Brian,” the author, and the biographies of the characters in the story kind of match the authors’ stories. I’m not sure why to choose such a frame–perhaps to keep the writing interesting for the authors themselves?
  • In both books, some information is repeated, almost in the same words, as though they were in the process of moving it, but forgot to remove it from the initial location in the narrative.

That said, I found the books readable and a bit compelling–I read them right after each other, and I started the third book, which is an original, already. So let that be my endorsement as it is: The books are clearly self-published, with the typos to attest, but they’re not the worst of the self-published I’ve seen and put down.

The books affected me so much that when I saw the headline Branson family hires high profile private investigator to join search for missing son, I immediately thought of Booger McClain.

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Book Report: Descartes in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern (1996)

Book coverIt’s been a while since I read Discourses on Methodfour years. Wow, the teenager I mentioned in that post moved away, came back to Springfield to go to the university, worked at the dojo briefly, and has moved on to a realer job whilst studying. Tempus fugit, ainna?

At any rate, this book is a brief overview of Descartes’ life and work. It clocks in under 90 pages in fairly large print, so you might have to be a slow reader to squeeze 90 minutes out of it. It leans heavily on the bio and on broad themes in Descartes writing instead of details of his arguments, but I’m sure this book is supposed to be a gateway to the other books, kind of a starter for people thinking of getting into philosophy–or who have a brief paper to write, I suppose.

So a nice quick read after a chonker of a King book.

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Book Report: Four Past Midnight by Stephen King (1990)

Book coverYou might have noticed, gentle reader, a dearth of book reports here at MfBJN over the last couple of weeks (what? Poems was almost a month ago?). A number of factors play into this. I have a new client on the West coast, a startup whose participants have day jobs, so meetings sometimes occur in the evenings during reading time. Also, I have been working on longer works (no, not just longer comic books). I still have Pamela on the chairside table, and I read a letter in it from time-to-time. A recent interest in writing again led me to pick up a collection called On Writing Horror. And since I was reading about writing horror, I decided to venture to my Stephen King shelf, choosing this volume which includes four shorter novels/novellas instead of one 1000+ page extravaganza. Still, the book took me several weeks to finish, and at several points I looked at the shelf of remaining King works, mostly his later, 1000+ page opii, and thought there’s no way I’m going to read all of those in my lifetime. Sadly, gentle reader, I am getting to an advancing age where I realize that I will not read all of the books I now own. Will that keep me from buying more, whether at ABC Books or the library book sale coming up in two weeks? Shut your mouth!

This book contains for, erm, stories, but most of the stories are novel length. Or would have been before the inflation of the 1980s made it so bestsellers had to be 600 pages to be worth the suddenly expensive cover price.

As I was reading, I came up with a term to describe King’s work: Pulp gothic. Or maybe Gothic pulp. Perhaps this is not an original term, but I really think it captures King’s style, especially as it developed in the middle 1980s and onward. The tone and style are modern and conversational and move along fairly well; however, the scope of the works runs really long as I mentioned. So gothic and not unlike some works of classical literature. Except that when I have finished Wuthering Heights or David Copperfield, I feel like I’ve accomplished something and am a bit proud of it. When I finish a Stephen King book, I don’t get that sense of accomplishment. I get a sense of relief that it (not the book, and not the book of that title, but the reading of the book) is over. And, sometimes, disappointment at how it ends.

The book contains these works:

  • The Langoliers
  • Secret Window, Secret Garden
  • The Library Policeman
  • The Sun Dog

I will go into some detail about each below the fold.

Continue reading “Book Report: Four Past Midnight by Stephen King (1990)”

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Book Report: Poems by Chris Alderman and Harold Alderman (1970)

Book coverI was in the mood for a chapbook, so I picked up this recent purchase. I got it at a garage sale here in Springfield for fifty cents at a garage sale whose proprietrix said they had a great selection of books, but which looked to be mostly college Spanish and English literature textbooks. I think I came away with two books: this book and another piece of classical literature in the expensive but cheap college paperback edition–it’s lost in the stacks already, so I cannot tell you what it was.

This book, though, is a signed, numbered chapbook, number 159 of 300 published fifty-one years ago in California. How it got to the garage sale of a recently enfamiliated college grad in Springfield, Missouri, I cannot tell you, either, but I always find these books’ travels interesting.

It collects poems of two people with the same last name. The first section is Chris, and it’s the better section. Medium-length lines, but definitely a rhythm that said Chris read the works aloud. The second set, by Harold, is less good, but, still, overall, the collection was pleasant to read.

A quick search of the Internet does not yield a lot of information about either of the authors or them together, although one can find the book on Amazon for $17.50, which is not very chap at all.

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Book Report: Laugh Lines by Alison Pohn (2004)

Book coverThis book is kind of similar to Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby (and pretty much every I Can Haz Cheesburger-style Web site from the 21st century). A picture and a caption that’s supposed to be funny. This book collects images of really old people (thankfully, not merely old people like me) and has a sentence like “I’ve got those falling down arches, can’t see without my glasses, I hate gravity blues.” which is paired with a woman wearing bifocals playing a harmonica). Fun fact: I was given bifocals in 9th grade because I had trouble with the aligned text test while getting a new strength for my glasses. So I was wearing bifocals in high school, standing all of five foot something and weighing under a hundred pounds. So, yeah, I was very low on the pecking order, brah.

Another caption has a pair of elderly twins in matching outfits with the caption “Mary Kate and Ashley, consider this a warning.” Seventeen years later, you’d need a footnote on that in the 2nd Edition of this book. My boys don’t know who they are. Of course, my boys didn’t know who John Wayne was until recently, so maybe that’s more accusing my failures as a father than dated pop culture references in this book.

At any rate, I guess these things are designed to give as a gift to someone as a gag on an advancing birthday. So maybe my buying it at a garage sale and reading it really doesn’t keep with its intended spirit and purpose.

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Book Report: Fire Hammer The Executioner #215 (1996)

Book coverYou know, I have kind of enjoyed the last couple of Executioner novels (all right, mostly Rescue Run and Death Whisper), but this book is a real clunker.

To start with, the plot involves helping China. A group of Chinese rebels working with a Chinese American entrepreneur hope to bring China’s Communist government down by causing an accident at a nuclear plant in southeast China, which will also poison Hong Kong. Bolan has to track them through a couple of set pieces to Malaysia, where he works with a Chinese-American CIA agent and eventually the only remnant of a Chinese “secret service” team that tried to kill Bolan on a couple of occasions. They have to attack an enemy stronghold with a maze-like structure that can serve as a training room for various nuclear plants, which means of course we’ll have a shoot out in a maze.

Yeah, well. You know, when I read Lee Child’s Killing Floor, I mentioned that he (Child) was an Englishman trying to write in the American, and the author of this particular paperback leads me to believe he, too, might be English. But some of the same kinds of things: Calling cartridges ‘shells’ (I think) and especially the mistake in measuring distances. The mistake is this: Americans tend to measure things in terms of feet until they start getting pretty large, at which time we talk about yards. So talking about three yards is ludicrous unless you’re talking about an American football game. At one point, it goes on about how Bolan prepares himself to jump two yards and then barely caught the edge of the precipice/building as though that was a great distance–but if Mack Bolan fell that two yards, he would hit his head on the edge.

I was working myself up to a thesis that this was Lee Child in another early pseudonym, but apparently the author is a guy who lists his Gold Eagle work in his LinkedIn bio. Welp, I guess I am not as clever as I think.

Aside from the British-sounding bits, the book has some clunkers, some misplaced verbiage that could have been cut, as well as some mistakes as to which gun Bolan is holding at any given time (he fires the Beretta, then he fires the Desert Eagle, without mentioning that he’s changed weapons). Maybe that’s not a mistake, as he later goes two-handed, firing one of the pistols in one hand and a Chinese assault rifle in the other. With deadly accuracy.

So I was glad to be done with the book; apparently, it’s early in this author’s work. Hopefully, he got better.

But now that I’m down to four books in The Executioner series on my to-read shelves, suddenly I look upon them with trepidation. I was hoping to finish the series soon and feel some sense of culmination or something for having read almost 100 of them over the last decade. But it will probably be later in the year or early next that I finish the series as I’m going to look for something else for the nonce. Pamela? you say. Let’s not go to extremes, gente reader.

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Book Report: Sonic Warrior by Lou Brutus (2020)

Book coverMy beautiful wife, who also gave me Louder than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Heavy Metal last year, gave me this book for my birthday or our anniversary this year. So, in between Executioner novels, I picked it up.

Lou Brutus is a longtime DJ working in various cities, apparently culminating in working for SiriusXM and has been a hard rock/heavy metal fan for probably two and a half decades longer than I have. One of the local rock stations used to run his syndicated program HardDrive XL every night at 7pm, so I would catch snippets of it in the car when I was out later than I should be. So, know, gentle reader, that I could hear Lou’s voice in my head as I read the book and heard his inflection on just about every line. Oh, yeah, and you know, the Dave whose Iron Maiden poster I quoted to win my beautiful wife? After he mustered out of the Army (Airborne, natch, since I know more former Airborne than former Marines), he ended up on somewhere on one of the Deagon coasts as a DJ, so, of course, he knows Lou Brutus (as I often pointed out to my children when we heard him on the radio–I know a guy that knows that guy).

The book describes not so much his love of rock music, but more his interactions and funny anecdotes at concerts or music festivals or when meeting rock bands professionally. He got started as a kid in New Jersey going into New York to see concerts and ascended the ladder. You know, when I took broadcasting classes at the university, one of the professors talked up the fact that you had to move around a lot and go city to city to rise in broadcasting. Coincidentally, that was about the time I decided I was not going into broadcasting. I never wanted to leave Wisconsin again! Er.

So it’s a great book. The voice is humble and self-deprecating but not neurotic. You know, at this time, I would summarize a book a bit, but ultimately, he goes to a lot of concerts, meets a lot of musicians, and sometimes impresses them, but sometimes does not.

It’s a great book. I enjoyed it and actually bought a CD based on it. We’ll get to that in specific things I flagged, below the fold (a.k.a. when you click More.

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Book Report: Poetics South by Ann Deagon (1974)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The show featured several beauties in defining roles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bang! Boom! Set pieces! Problem resolved.

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

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

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

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