Book Report: The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray by Rober Schnackenberg (2015)

Book coverI bought this book for $10 at Rublecon last month because it’s BFM, man. Its subtitle says A Critical Appreciation of the World’s Finest Actor, which is a bit of hyperbole, of course, but the book is not so much a critical appreciation of Murray’s work, but rather an encyclopedia of alphabetical entries about movies and shows he has appeared in along with topics on his relationships with other people, including his wives and his family. Interspersed with the encyclopedia entries, we get stories about Murray’s hijinks crashing parties and spontaneous appearances with normal people.

So we agree that Groundhog Day and Lost In Translation are amongst his best films, but I disagree with the book about The Man Who Knew Too Little–I think that’s a funny movie, and I not only saw it in the theaters, but I’ve watched it many times since then on home media. I am quite a bit behind on Murray films–I mean, I’ve never seen The Razor’s Edge or Quick Change, for example, not to mention most of the Wes Anderson collaborations (although I did see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, again, in the theaters).

The book also portrays Murray as a complex individual. Although it has its moments of homerism (such as the subtitle), some of the disputes and fallings out he’s had, not to mention a couple of bad divorces, and a reputation of being difficult (Dan Ackroyd called him The Murricane because of his mercurial nature). I mean, I guess anyone who’s been paying attention to Murray as a celebrity probably knows all this. But I somehow haven’t paid attention even though I like his work.

So a pleasant read in between chapters of other things I’m kinda reading, which really means they’re just stacking up on the table beside my reading chair. Informative. And I’m kind of pleased as well that I have so many Bill Murray films yet to see.

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Book Report: Serenity: The Official Visual Companion by Joss Whedon (2005)

Book coverThis book completes the four books I bought at Calvin’s Books the last time I went there. I was afraid that they were closing, as the Firefly books were only three dollars each, but they were not that inexpensive because they were closing. But they closed never the less.

At any rate, I read the Firefly scripts in Firefly: The Official Companion Volume One and Firefly: The Official Companion Volume Two last summer and Firefly: Still Flying in January (when I thought it might count as a collection of short stories for the library’s Winter Reading Challenge, but it’s not really).

So this book means the end of the road unless I find some of the comic books or the recent novels cheap. So I am a little sad to come to this end. I’m sure some of that is mixed in with missing Calvin’s Books as well, although I need more books like I need more sunny days without rain here at Nogglestead.

So: It’s the shooting script for the film Serenity. As a reminder, this film came out three years after the television series, so if you watched them altogether as we did, you’ll notice things. Jewel Staite, for example, lost some weight (she said she had to eat a bunch to keep at Kaylee weight for the series in one of the previous books). And they played the characters a little different, and it was cut without some of the humor and playfulness of the television series. So the tone was a lot darker–although it might have been more in the acting and editing than the scripting. And they try to answer a lot of the questions from the television series in a fashion that’s disappointing, not on the Lost scale, but still

The book also has some inside looks at the making of the film, as the previous book does, but having read Star Trek Memories earlier in the year, I notice quite a difference in tone in the descriptions of making the film, even the nitty gritty technical aspects of it. In Star Trek Memories, making a television show is a more blue collar affair, with discussions about hitting budgets and physically doing the work, whereas these books are more about artistic vision, and the people who worked on the show take themselves very seriously. Perhaps it’s a difference in the elapsed time between the books and the television show/movie they depict (26 years have elapsed between Star Trek and its book, whereas these books came out within a couple of years). Maybe it’s a generational shift between the movie makers or between the fandoms. I dunno.

The book talks about a possible movie franchise, but that did not pan out. Maybe killing a couple of the main characters and tweely solving all the mysteries will dim that prospect for you–at least in the Star Trek movies, they only got into the habit of blowing up the ship every movie.

But, you know what? It’s been almost twenty years. Maybe it’s time for a reboot.

As I said, I was a bit sad to come to the end of the books, so I started re-watching the television series. Time will tell if I make it through again and if I watch Serenity. I invited my boys to watch, but they were not interested. So I guess I should stop making allusions to the show since perhaps nobody younger than forty-something will get it or even care.

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Book Report: Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams (1979, 1982)

Book coverI bought this book a couple weeks ago at ABC Books when I made the first of my recent runs on the martial arts section. I read it on a recent business trip to Chicago, and I really enjoyed it.

It’s not a long book–133 pages, and the chapters are short, generally a page or two story or anecdote from martial arts training and a bit of a lesson. The Zen it goes into is not the ontological Buddhism nor the practice of completely emptying oneself to escape the futility of life. Rather, it’s more geared to what we would later call mindfulness, with lessons on being present in the moment fully and in flowing. So good reminders.

And let’s talk a moment about the author. I had no idea who Joe Hyams was, but look at his Wikipedia entry. Born in 1923, served in World War II (Purple Heart and Bronze Star), worked for Stars and Stripes, went into newspaperin’, was sent to Mexico to cover illegal immigration (is that still a thing?), wrote a blockbuster story, was given some time off in Los Angeles as a reward and was told–perhaps jokingly–to interview movie stars that he met, and ended up scoring interviews first with Bogart and then his co-stars, became a full time entertainment columnist, studied martial arts as a student with Bruce Lee and then took lessons from Bruce Lee, studied several martial arts disciplines, wrote stars’ biographies, travelled with his wife Elke….

Jeez, the guy is Hemingway: The Next Generation, but without the legacy of novels.

So, yeah, the book has a lot of stories about Bruce Lee teaching this guy lessons. But they’re good lessons. And I really enjoyed the book. If I can remember to and if I’m not overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the unread books in the Nogglestead library, I should like to read it again. Definitely a better devotional than the Thich Naht Hahn, the Joko Beck, the Pirsig, the Suzuki, or even the forgotten The Zen Way to the Martial Arts.

Oh, and his wife Elke? He married Elke Sommer when she was 24 and he was 41. It’s not often I can turn a book report into a Rule 5 post, but here we are.

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Book Report: A Lifetime Collection of Poetry by Lucille Christiansen (?)

Book coverThis book bears no copyright date, but some of the poems that are dated come from the late 1960s–and the first is dated 1937 and says it’s the poet’s first poem. So we can assume this is from the 1970s or 1980s–maybe even a little later given that the collection has wingdings between poems that might come from the birth of desktop publishing. Remember, younger readers, desktop publishing referred to being able to lay out your books on your desktop computer for printing, not blogging or e-zines where the work never actually leaves the desktop (which these days includes mobile devices).

The author was a teacher, and perhaps an English teacher, as the poems come in a variety of forms and styles, so it’s clear she liked to noodle with words a bit. The quality varies from simple to some that are actually halfway decent. So it’s a bit of grandmother poetry with a little dash of the cool teacher who might have inspired you to write. Strangely enough, I can’t think of anything in my middle school or high school career where English teachers actually wrote, and my college mentor, such as he was, has published only three or four books in his career.

At any rate, a quick, light read from when poetry was designed to be quick, light reads.

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Book Report: The Pandora Gambit by Levi Samuel (2018)

Book coverWell, it’s been a while since I bought this book–I got it at the last LibraryCon, in 2019. As I might have mentioned, I recognized the author, who under a different pseudonym wrote Dammit Bre!. So I’ve bought at least six of this guy’s books; this is the second, and the first fiction of them I’ve read.

I guess the point was to write a quick bit of fiction blending urban fantasy with Miami Vice. And, you know what? He did it. I’m going off of his author’s notes here, a bit of Piers Anthony’s thing, as I recall, putting author’s notes about the writing of the book and the reaction of fans to his work.

Alright, so, the plot: The olden folk, elves, orcs, and whatnot, have gone to ground and have hidden from us for centuries, but they’ve also participated in the world a bit where their interests are concerned. In the modern day, an operation of their kind goes awry, and one of the elves betrays his fellows in law enforcement, leaving his partner wounded and left for dead, whilst the elf goes off to help distribute a drug that has different effects on the races. It makes orcs into berserkers, and it elevates humans to be able to see through the magic that hides the other folk. The olden folk want to keep the drug off the streets, and that means that an orc has to partner with a human detective to break the drug ring up.

So it’s a quick, fun read. And I’m a bit inspired by Levi Samuel Rickard–he’s banging out these books, and they’re likely getting better (this is only the second of his I’ve read, but I have four fantasy books floating around somewhere). It’s almost enough to inspire me to work on one of the novels I’ve plotted or stubbed out here, but not yet. Perhaps when the boys are out of the house. But most likely not. But I can appreciate the efforts of those who do.

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Book Report: Tae Kwon Do Basics by Keith D. Yates and H. Bryan Robbins (1987)

Book coverI bought this book last Saturday, and it would have been a good bet to guess it would be one of the first that I read.

It helps that this book, like so many from the era, was written for children who were getting into martial arts in what must have been a post-Karate Kid boom–so many of the books I see are from the 1980s or now with fewer selections in between. And it really is the basics, designed as something you can review at home after having seen the things in class (and many of the chapters indicate your instructor will likely show you more examples).

So it’s a book that shows basic moves and basic forms with black and white photos for starting positions and ending positions, but unfortunately, that does not capture the flow in any of them. So if you’re thinking you’re going to learn the actual moves from a book, you’re mistaken–as I was in the 80s, when I checked out at least one book from the library about karate. But it’s like learning a language–you have to do more than read a dictionary (which I’ve also done, trying to learn foreign languages from dictionaries before I understood verb tenses and whatnot).

Still, for me, it’s a nice refresher. And I note, again, that the sparring stance for tae kwon do is a more guarded, hide-behind-the-lead-shoulder posture than the one my school teaches. Which makes me want to ask the kyoshi where he got the stance preference.

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Book Report: Unspoken Feelings of a Gentleman by Pierre Alex Jeanty (2014)

Book coverThis book was in the poetry section at ABC Books, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. The author’s bio calls him a social media influencer, and the book reads like a bunch of Instagram posts. Some are a couple paragraphs of prose, and some are “poetry,” although they’re just prose with line breaks.

Thematically, the work is about a man who was sensitive, and then became quite the pick-up artist, but then repented of it and is celibate until he finds his future wife. He talks about an absent father, he apologizes to women he’s wronged, and he encourages them to wait until they find a man worthy of their affection.

I mean, it’s a good message, but I had a complicated relationship with the book. I mean, I’ve known some men who’ve been good with the ladies, my own father and Mike amongst them. And I’ve behaved myself chivalrously and neurotically with women even in my salad days, mostly. So I don’t have much of a score in the scoring department. So when presented with material about a reformed philanderer, I bristled a bit. I’ve always been a good boy; where are my accolades? Eh, not in this world.

Also, when a manipulator says he’s reformed, you can take it to the bank. The river bank.

Still, I hope he’s sincere, and I would have preferred a coda where he has found his soulmate and has been true to her. But I wish him well.

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Book Report: Star Trek 6 by James Blish (1972, 1975)

Book coverYou know, I had almost forgotten that I was working my way through these books earlier this year. So when I was looking at the to-read books in the hallway, I thought, Oh, yeah, and this book provided just what I was looking for: A quick and pleasant read. I mean, I have to get my stats up. I’m only in the 40s in the books read in 2022 list, and it’s almost August. And I’m not sure we’ll have the football package this year for me to browse monographs and chapbooks.

So we’re about half way through the book series which ultimately will include most, if not all, of the episodes of the original Star Trek series turned into short stories by a British author who has presumably seen some of the series even though he had not when he began writing the books–which was about the time the show was on, but this book first appeared in 1972, when the show had been off the air for a couple of years. One has to wonder if the popularity of these books (this 1975 edition was the 10th printing already).

But because we’re halfway through the series, we’re starting to get to the more obscure episodes. This one includes:

  • “The Savage Curtain”, wherein an alien race, hoping to learn more about good and evil, pits crewmembers from the Enterprise, Abraham Lincoln, and other notables against Ghengis Khan and some other violent people.
  • “The Lights of Zetar”, wherein an interstellar brain containing the minds of the survivors of a long-dead alien race seek a human host to live in the real world again.
  • “The Apple”, wherein a paradise-like planet is run by a giant computer whom the child-like natives think is a god.
  • “By Any Other Name”, wherein aliens from a distant galaxy lure the Enterprise to their rescue; they hope to take over the Enterprise and to use it to return home in several hundred years’ travel, but they find that their presence in humanoid bodies gives them humanoid appetites and emotions.
  • “The Cloud Minders”, wherein the Enterprise is sent on an emergency run to a planet that is the sole source for a needed material, only to find that the society is bifurcated between the people who live in the cloud city and the miners who do the work.
  • “The Mark of Gideon”, wherein the Enterprise visits a planet that had avoided contact. Kirk apparently beams to an empty Enterprise that only contains one of the natives, and she’s trying to get infected with a disease that almost killed Kirk in the past because her planet has no germs and the population has remarkable healing powers–so that overpopulation has overcrowded the place, and Kirk’s infected blood can help people die.

I only kind of remembered “The Apple” from my viewing days. Still, a quick, pleasant read with characters I know.

But more interesting is that I am this book’s second owner.

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Book Report: My Ántonia by Willa Cather (1918, 2004)

Book coverWell, I wish I could say that my confusion between Willa Cather and Eudora Welty is easing with my reading, apparently, a couple of Cather novels in the recent years. Oh, but no. I had this book before me with the author’s name right on it, but I got to thinking Eudora Welty wrote O Pioneers! which I read in 2018. Wow, four years ago? I feel a little better about forgetting who wrote it then, even though I said at the end of the book report:

I do have a copy of My Antonia around here somewhere; this book was a pleasant enough read that I won’t hide from the other novel if I find it.

Apparently, it took me four years (!) to find it even though it was in the front rank of my office bookshelves. You know, where I go most often when looking for a new book to read. In my defense, I probably passed over it a couple of times looking for something quicker or something that appealed to me more in that moment. But I finally picked the book up.

The book is very similar to O Pioneers! Both are set in Nebraska during the sodbusting years; however, this book follows a young man, Jim Burden, sent to live with his grandparents and his friendship with a young Bohemian (from Bohemia, not just wearing hemp) whose family arrives on the same train. She is the Ántonia of the title; the name is pronounced the Bohemian way, not the way to pronounce the small town down the county highway from where I lived my last years in high school. The Shimerda dwelling is basically a cave, and they really do not know how to farm or bust sod, coming from a city in Europe, so they need help, and Jim and Ántonia bond as he helps the children learn English. They have some youthful adventures; then Jim and his grandparents move to town when they rent their farm, and Ántonia, who is a couple years older than Jim, gets a job in one of the houses in town, and although they are not quite peas-and-carrots, when a traveling dance instructor troupe comes to town and hosts dances in a big tent, Jim hangs with Tony (as he sometimes calls her and I’m going to for the rest of the review because the accent on the A is a bother) and some of the other hired girls. Then Jim goes to Lincoln for college; another of the hired girls moves to Lincoln and starts a dress shop which does well, and she spends some time with Jim, but he becomes distracted from his studies, so his mentor, who is moving to Massachusetts to teach at Harvard, encourages Jim to come along, and Jim does. And then, twenty-some years later, Jim returns to Nebraska and sees Tony and her family, which includes her illegitimate daughter, the result of her dalliance with the son of a local railroad baron; the boy had promised to marry her, but he was not a good man, and after they lived together in Denver for a while, he abandoned her, pregnant, to return to Nebraska in shame. In the years since, she married another immigrant and they’ve had a large family. Tony has grown old, lost some teeth, put on some weight, whilst Jim, presumably, has aged better with his law degree and urban lifestyle. Jim feels the same connection with Tony as he had when they were kids–a kinship, more brother and sister though the middle part of the book indicated some romantic leanings–and he promises to visit the family and her boys in the future. And, finis.

One of the dings I, well, dinged O Pioneers! for was that it was a series of short stories or, more truthfully, sketches that Cather stitched together to make a book. You know, this book is also broken into sections. The first two, “The Shimerdas” and “The Hired Girls”, deal with the introduction of the characters and their lives on their respective farms and then their subsequent moves to town (Jim when his grandparents rent their farm, Tony when she hires on at another household). These two sections comprise the first 200 pages roughly of the 277 page book, and they hang together pretty well, hinting that there might be a cohesive plot. The next section, “Lena Lingard”, is about the hired girl who becomes the dress maker and meets up with Jim Burden in Lincoln; we still might have some plot advancement if she really does rival Tony for the author’s affections. Oh, but no. She mentions Tony is going with the ne’er-do-well son of the railroad businessman and seems to like him a lot. In “A Pioneer Woman’s Story”, the next section, takes place a couple years later, when Jim comes back to the Nebraska town after graduating law school and hears the story of Tony’s betrayal and her raising her new daughter at the old Shimerda place. Then the last section, “Cuzak’s Boys”, takes place decades later. The narrator has updated us on the other hired girls and how they’ve gone on in the world. Lena continues to be a successful dress maker, but she has gone to San Francisco and joined another hired girl, who had gone to Seattle, opened a business of ill repute, but sold it to join the Yukon gold rush where she made out big. When Jim, the narrator, returns to Nebraska, he visits Tony, now Mrs. Cuzak, and meets her family. And, that’s it. Ultimately, the book offered indications there might be a plot, which kept me reading along a little better than O Pioneers! (I presume), but ultimately it is just a series of sketches, and the whole My Ántonia title and repeating of Optima dies… prima fugit make one suspect that the author might have wanted to convey more a mood of nostalgia and the loss of youth, but that alone is a little disappointing after 277 pages.

Still, an easy enough read. I note that, like The Red Badge of Courage in the heavy use of colors as adjectives–one cannot go pages without blue sky or orange this or red grass. I think modern writers have been trained to not use colors as adjectives, but they’re easier to see in one’s mind’s eye than other obscure shades used as adjectives. The pamphlet that Reader’s Digest provided with the book says the author became friends with Stephen Crane, and one wonders if this tic was part of his influence on her.

I did flag a couple passages in the book for comment.

Regarding the back story of two Russians who have moved to Nebraska, someone relates that they had been drivers of dogsleds taking a wedding party home, but when the party was beset by wolves, the two men sacrificed the entire party to save themselves.

We did not tell Pavel’s secret to any one, but guarded it jealously–as if the wolves of the Ukraine had gathered that night long ago, and the wedding party been sacrificed, to give us a painful and peculiar pleasure.

C’mon, man. In the 21st century, the Right Thinkers Who Talk On Television have assured me that it’s Ukraine and not the Ukraine. A hundred years of common usage must be publickly discarded so that the current Right Thinkers Who Talk on Television can teach us rubes something and prove their own shibbolestication.

Regarding town living in the late 1800s:

Most Black Hawk [residents of the town, not the tribe] fathers had no personal habits outside their domestic ones; they paid the bills, pushed the baby carriage after office hours, moved the sprinkler about over the lawn, and took the family driving on Sunday.

You know, when the Monkees were singing in 1967:

They were echoing criticisms of the literati of fifty years earlier.

Although I think I just marked the passage because I did not realize sprinklers were a product of the 1800s.

Eh, I flagged a couple of other things and was not really sure what I wanted to say about them when I flagged them.

At any rate, still, a worthwhile read just to remember what life was like a hundred and forty or fifty years ago–and might be again!

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Book Report: The Midwest Survival Guide by Charlie Berens (2021)

Book coverAs you know, gentle reader, I’m a bit of a fan of his for years (ah, jeez, I posted his video “Midwest Horror Film in October 2020). So when we saw (well, my oldest saw) this book in Baraboo, I had to have it. So we do. I have read it, but he has not yet.

It’s a large hardback running about 288 pages (including acknowledgements and credits) with a fair amount of imagery, photographs, tables, charts, and wingdings with chapters on The Basics, The Language, The People, The Setting, The Driving, Food & Drink, and so on. If you have seen any of his videos on YouTube, you’ve got the flavor of the humor.

Still, it works a little better in the short, three-minute videos than in a three hundred page book. I started it whilst on my vacation in Wisconsin, and I read about half of it, but I set it aside for a while to freshen it up a bit in the second reading. I had a couple quibbles with the book, first and foremost a certain love for Chicago that I assure you proper Wisconsinites do not have. Anyone from Wisconsin who expresses this desire to go to Chicago or any place in Illinois for that matter is suspect–but let us remember that Berens himself moved elsewhere and won an Emmy as a newscaster before returning home to be a Wisconsin-schtick comedian. Also, the book pays a little to self-consciously to recognizes native Americans, women, and other groups who might not have gotten a lot of recognition in the past, but now get all the recognition that’s handed out. Still, it’s only sprinkled in, but if you’re sensitive to the themes, as apparently I am in the 21st century, then you’ll spot it. But it’s just a little bit and not hectoring or particularly off-putting.

I only put a couple of flags in the book, all in the college section. First, my alma whattamattayou is not listed in the intro paragraph as an example of a midwestern university. Second, the book mentions Carleton College in Minnesota, and I remember that college was one of the first to send me brochures, which I liked to look at, but I was committed to going to my alma moneyforadecade since I was 10 years old–but I do wonder how my life might have been different if I had truly gone away to college (as I lived with my father, I was technically a commuter and more a resident of Milwaukee than a student bound to the university), and the last is a mention of Southern Illinois University, which threw me a bit–I did not realize that Southern Illinois University-Carbondale was technically “SIU”–I always thought of it with the town appended, but that’s because I’m a big fan of SIUE, which is Edwardsville, closer to St. Louis and home of the sound.

So a book amusing in spots, probably a bit long. Worth it at a book sale, although I’m not sure it’s worth $27. But I am a bit of a cheapskate when it comes to books. But I’ll keep an eye out for more from Berens, on YouTube and at book sales.

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Book Report: Boxing: The American Martial Art by R. Michael Onello (2003)

Book coverThis book is a former library book from Palm Beach County that ended up at ABC Books (from whence I bought it in April). It runs 176 pages, with lots of pictures, but it’s really more of a training plan than an instructional guide. It starts with some conditioning exercises and stretches, and then it goes into punches and combinations, with progressions detailing what you should do in weeks where you work out three or four times a week.

It does talk about combinations using numbers, which is something my dojo has started recently (well, within the last three years), but our dojo’s numbering system differs from the book’s (and our dojo really doesn’t talk about tae kwon do strikes now at all). The book also has a couple of different punches that my dojo does not focus on–a straight right (which is a shorter right than a right cross) and an overhand right, which is a high hard one, like a straight or cross punch but coming kind of down over the opponent’s guard. And the book emphasizes a boxer’s stance, where the lead shoulder is turned more toward the opponent than my school teaches, as that position, although it puts you on a better guard as you can hide behind your lead hand/shoulder and present a smaller target, it pretty much neutralizes your rear arm and leg. Of course, left to my own druthers, I would spar this way all the time.

At any rate, not quite as informative as Boxer’s Start-Up: A Beginner’s Guide to Boxing–remember, that book had a lot of really good illustrations identifying body pivots and angles of motion. But I guess it makes me more of a martial artist that I can sit and read books about the subject when I’m too lazy to go to the dojo.

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Book Report: Introducing Machiavelli by Patrick Curry and Oscar Zarate (2000)

Book coverAs you know, gentle reader, I am a sucker for these Marxist comic book introductions to various thinkers (see also Sartre for Beginners and Einstein for Beginners), so when I saw this book at ABC Books last August, I knew what I was in for.

So, yes, the book is a Marxist tract that basically implies that Machiavelli was in favor of a proletariat revolution of sorts, but aside from that, it does talk about, yes, The Prince (which is clearly not a satire) and provides context both historical and biographical to its composition.

It has paragraphs (and cartoonish illustrations) that describe Italy of Machiavelli’s time, including the importance of the d’Medicis, the Borgias, and the revolutions and counter revolutions in the city states of the time. So, as I was saying, good context for Machiavelli’s writing and a description of his non-writing career (and how he wanted his writings to ingratiate him to the powerful).

But it recognizes that The Prince is a small part of Machiavelli’s output–apparently, he thought his Discourses on Livy was a more important work–but it gets all the attention and draws everyone’s ire even though it’s a dispassionate study as much as a moral prescription for power. But the book puts it all in context and makes me want to read Discourses on Livy.

Oh, and of course it makes sure to erroneously say that national socialists/fascists are “on the right,” and it does lay out that Margaret Thatcher was pretty close to Hitler (although, the book is strangely hard on Bill Clinton).

So these books are plenty informative, and they’re quick reads since they have less actual text in them than a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. And they’re funny when you can point at the obvious Marxist insertions and assertions.

I hate to say it, but I rather hope I find more of these books in the wild. I am not so enamored with them that I’ll order them full price, though.

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Book Report: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (~1954)

Book coverI am continuing my, well, I would call it a march through the children’s classics that I have in the Children’s Classic series (such as Hans Brinker, Black Beauty, and Heidi). Given that I’ve only got four or five in the set, it’s a pretty short walk indeed.

You know, I started reading this book to my boys when they were younger, but we didn’t get very far–Alice did not even make it to Wonderland before we put it aside. I passed the bookmark where we’d left off, and Alice was still in the hallway.

So if you don’t know the arc as it were, Alice is out with her sister one day, and she follows the rabbit with the pocket watch down a rabbit hole that leads to a hall with a door to wonderland. She has some adventures in the hall before getting into Wonderland proper, and then she gets right-sized to go through the door into Wonderland, where she meets the royal court of cards and whatnot.

They’re simple, kind of silly little bits of whimsy, but when you stop to think about how many tropes and allusions to the stories one knows without having actually read the book–I mean, I knew about the bottles changing Alice’s size, the cards and the Queen saying “Off with their heads!”, and the white rabbit with the pocket watch amongst other things. Maybe I saw parts of the cartoon when I was a kid or read a kid’s book about it when I was actually a kid. One wonders if anything by Dan Kinney or Dav Pilkey will have similar cultural reach. The books about today’s current thing written to teach kids the current party line certainly won’t.

You know, I actually flagged something in the book. It must have been the time Alice used a gun chambered in something other than the ammo she purportedly used. Let’s open the book and see:

‘Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.’

That’s advice from the Duchess to Alice, and I think they’re words to live by.

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Book Report: Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary by Alvin York / Edited by Tom Skeyhill (1928, 2018)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I watched the Gary Cooper film Sergeant York with my boys in 2020, and I bought this book shortly thereafter. I took it on vacation with me to Wisconsin earlier this month, and I read it in a night or two. It’s a pretty fast read, as I assume it’s based on notes taken while York talked to the biographer (Skeyhill). This leaves York’s voice in the vernacular, which might diminish the readability a bit, but it’s not hard to follow once you’re used to it.

When I saw the film, I found it odd that the film focused so much on York’s youth and his draft and subsequent attempt to get a conscientious objector excuse. But it follows the book, which talks a lot about York’s region, family, and upbringing before getting to the war three quarters of the way through the book, and then it’s presented as his diary and official documents about the battle that earned him the Medal of Honor, so that’s really only a small part bit of the book. The book does go on into greater detail of York’s philanthropic endeavors after the war, supporting education and building a school in his county.

So I enjoyed the book a lot.

I did mark some things in it, though.

Continue reading “Book Report: Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary by Alvin York / Edited by Tom Skeyhill (1928, 2018)”

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Book Report: Hard Start: Mars Intrigue by S.V. Farnsworth (2021)

Book coverThis is the best Mormons In Space Love Story I’ve ever read!

Well, that’s a twee oversimplification of this book, but twee oversimplifications are a blogger’s stock in trade.

This book centers on a Martian secret agent, Cody Greene, who is on death row for not getting married by a certain age. He’s rescued by a beautiful engineer who herself was reaching the mandatory marriage age. But, as a twist, he is to investigate her for resource theft–specifically air stolen from one of the domes making up the different colonies on the planet. They’re married at first sight, and they find themselves attracted to one another, which gives the book the majority of its motion–will they give into their desires/love for each other, or will the secret agent continue to keep his new wife at arm’s length to investigate her? Also, Cody’s mother, from whom he is estranged, is a powerful politician/government official who might be pulling strings and manipulating him. Oh, and the new Mrs. Greene is a blonde, blue-eyed beauty, but she is half Korean and was raised in the Asian colony, so she tries very hard to look Korean and has a Korean mindset–spartan domicile, Korean cooking and dining, and so on.

So the book has a lot of interesting plot things going on, but it’s definitely weighted to the romance angle, which culminates rather disappointingly. The actual intrigue, presumably who is actually stealing the resources and who is pulling the strings behind the scenes, is kind of on the back burner to the “Do I give into my attraction?” and “I was about to give in, but now my suspicions are reset!” dithering. We get a couple of incidents and little to tie them together, and the book’s climax is more of a cliffhanger to the yet-unavailable second book in the series.

So it was a quick, light read, and for the most part, it worked, but a bit long on the dithering in the romance. Hopefully, the next book in the series will be better balanced in that regard–after all, the will they/won’t they Dave-and-Maddie tension (c’mon, you damn kids, that’s an allusion to Moonlighting, which was a television series in the 1980s) was resolved, so that dithering can’t be reproduced. And I’m looking forward to seeing how Farnsworth works in the other genres (fantasy and straight ahead romance).

If I can find the books; they’ve disappeared into the stacks, only to be rediscovered decades hence.

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Book Report: Within This Center by Robert C. Jones (1976)

Book coverI read this book over a week ago, before my vacation, and just a little after Thin Ice and Other Poems. This, too, is a chapbook, with poems on the right page and photos by the author on the left.

Unfortunately, the printing quality does not do justice to the photographs. The poems are, however, a cut above Thin Ice and Other Poems, with some imagery and fairly clear points–mostly about the cycle of life, with a lot of thematic influence on plants growing and dying and a lot of reliance on colors, especially yellows and greens. But the poems at least have imagery and try to evoke things, although again, I would say the lines are too short, broken too often by line breaks for ponderous pauses.

Of course, I find myself writing fairly run on poetic lines these days, so I can’t really complain too much about the line length. No, wait: This is my blog. I will complain all I want.

So overall middle of the road; average. Which is not something to sneeze at in poetry, given all the bad poetry I read.

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Book Report: Thin Ice and Other Poems by Marcia Muth (1981)

Book coverI bought this book in April at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. In the past, they have bundled chapbooks up five or ten for a buck; however, this year, they did not, so I paid a whole dollar for this book. I picked it up last week when I was not falling asleep quickly enough, and I thought a quick chapbook might take my mind of the troubles my mind invents at eleven o’clock.

So, this book has a copyright date of 1981 but a signature block from 1986, which meant that she was peddling these at least five years after publishing them. The back notes that she has also published another collection of poetry, a book on painting and selling art (specifically kachinas, the native spirit beings in Pueblo cultures), and a book on how to write and sell poetry, fiction, plays, and local history. So she was a pro and no grandma writing poetry, although she might have been a grandmother (although none of the poems really mentions children).

But, about the poetry: Meh. I mean, it’s got some of that look at the poem feel that dominates so much modern art. Self-consciousness that says, this, the poem, is what is meaningful–not that the poem, or the art, wants to draw attention to some meaning beyond itself.

Perhaps I am being to unkind, perhaps I am trying to fit my criticism into my standard template, but nothing here really captures my interest, makes me want to read it out loud, makes me want to read it again, or really makes me feel like I relate to the poem. The title poem is:

I ask questions.
You smile
Shake your head.
“Thin ice,” you say
Silence rests
A wall between us.

That’s it. Most of the poems fall within those line lengths, although some are a couple of lines longer. Some of them have repeating motifs, such as the Gypsy king or referring to the kiva, but mostly they read like the work of someone who felt compelled to write poems every day because one is a poet. Although, to be honest, reading through the complete works of any poet like Keats, Shelley, or maybe even Frost (probably not), one gets a lot of clunkers.

At any rate, I did come away with a couple of new words (kiva, a sacred place for Pueblo Indian rituals, and kachina, a Pueblo Indian spirit–the author does live in New Mexico, you must know, and if you don’t you might miss some of the references). But overall, not impressed.

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Book Report: Nuts About Squirrels by Don H. Corrigan (2019)

Book coverI bought this book last summer on a trip back to the St. Louis area. As I mentioned then, Mr. Corrigan as the editor of the Webster-Kirkwood Times, published at least one of my letters to the editor. So full disclosure on that, not that I pull punches on people who’ve published me (of whom there are very few) or people I meet in person (sorry, again, S.V.).

The subtitle of this book is “The Rodents That Conquered Popular Culture”. So when I started reading it right away during our vacation in De Soto, but I got fifty or so pages in and bogged down. I had expected a light-hearted look at squirrels, but instead, it looked like it was really turning into a serious study of squirrels. So it languished on my chairside table for a year until I decided to clear the table of some books that had been on the table for several years untouched (rest assured, gentle reader, I did leave some books on the table that had been there for several years untouched–I do have stretch goals of reading them sometime in the next couple of years). In the winnowed stack, this book remained, so I picked it up again, starting not from the bookmark but from the beginning.

And on this second pass through, it occurred to me that this is not about squirrels per se; this is a book about how squirrels are portrayed in different media, with each medium having a different take on squirrels, whether they’re cute or a menace, based on the type of thing that sells in that media. So wait a minute–Corrigan is a professor of media at Webster University–is it possible that this is a book about media and is only using squirrels as an example? I felt kind of clever catching on, whether I caught onto the real purpose of the book or not, and it helped me power through.

Although by the end, I wondered if that was really the point. Or if perhaps the author lost the point. Or padded it out with more squirrel stuff.

The early parts of the book:

  • Preface: Mass-Mediated Squirrels, an introduction.
  • Introduction: “Hot” and “Cool” Squirrels, which talks about the types of media (print versus electronic) and whether they favor stories about danger and menace or cool and funny.
  • Squirrels in Children’s Books, which talks about
  • Squirrels Make the Headlines, which talks about newspaper stories where squirrels are portrayed as a menace to homeowners, the electrical grid, and cars.
  • Squirrels for a Television Age, which talks about squirrels on television, especially local news and short segments on national programs where squirrels water ski or are dressed up–amusing and cool.
  • Squirrels in PR and Advertising and also as town mascots–also cool.
  • Movie Madness: Squirrels in Cinema about squirrels in movies, mostly in comedies.
  • Cartoons and Animated Movie Squirrels which deals with cartoon squirrels (not Rocky; he was cool on television).
  • Comics and Video Game Squirrels, especially Squirrel Girl who apparently became an Avenger after I started paying attention.
  • Legendary American Squirrels about squirrels
  • Squirrels in Myth and Folklore, mostly the Norse squirrel who was like a four-footed Loki.
  • Postscript: Squirrels Unlimited which promotes further study of squirrels in media.

So you can see the progression of sorts of squirrels in different media in kind of a historical context of the march of media, but then we get chapters about legendary squirrels, which makes one wonder if it is supposed to be a book on squirrels, and not on the media using the metaphor of squirrels, after all.

At any rate, the illusion or miscomprehension got me through the book. It could have used some editing–some bits are repeated almost verbatim within the same chapter, as though the book might have been different articles with similar material that got stitched together without removing the material repeated in the different source essays.

So kind of an academic book, but I’m not sure which direction its academic study is.

I have some flags in the book; let’s see what struck me as I was reading.

Continue reading “Book Report: Nuts About Squirrels by Don H. Corrigan (2019)”

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Book Report: Tucked Away in a Discarded Scrapbook by S.V. Farnsworth (2022)

Book coverI got this book at S.V. Farnsworth’s book signing at ABC Books in April. As I predicted, I picked this book up first as it’s a collection of short pieces and poems.

The subtitle is “Creative Nonfiction with Poetry”, but the creative nonfiction pieces do not rise to the level of full essays. Instead, they’re more like diary entries and/or writing exercises, some poetic musings on incidents or elements of her life, but not necessarily things abstracted enough to draw the reader in so that the reader says, “Oh, yeah, me, too.”

For example, we get glimpses and allusions to abusive men her mother dated, and we get glimpses of the author’s younger years, whether getting ready to go to engineering school or serving as a missionary in Korea or ending up at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, where the author lives now. But it’s not a autobiographical enough to tell those stories completely, and some of the gaps and questions a reader has–what happened to the engineering track? What was it like in South Korea? are not covered.

The poems, too, were a bit underwhelming, with a nice bit here or there, but nothing that really grabbed me or made me want to read it aloud and feel it in my mouth.

I’m still hopeful that the fiction, of which I have a bunch, will read a little better. Certainly, the prose is not bad, but it really doesn’t get a running start to anywhere. Hopefully, the longer form work will be better.

Sorry, S.V.; however, I totally invite you to pick any of my work and savage it in any medium you favor.

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Book Report: Point Position The Executioner #304 (2004)

Book coverGentle reader, this is the last of the Executioner books on my shelf. Alright, alright, alright: I do still have SuperBolan books, Able Team Books, Stony Man Farm Books, and Phoenix Force books. Still: I got my first Executioner novel in 2007 and read it, Panic in Philly, later that year. I got the books in big chunks: 47 books in the 2011 as a birthday present from my beautiful wife and at the Friends of the Clever Library book sale in 2013. I have not counted, but I have probably read nearly 100 of them from #3 Battle Mask from 1970 to #373 Code of Honor from 2009, which I bought new in the grocery store (and, briefly, was caught up on my Executioner novels until I received the birthday gift that week). So, overall, it’s been a mostly enjoyable experience. But onto this book.

This book comes seven years and 83 books after the previous book on my shelf (Blood and Fire). The books are still 220 pages, but unlike the two previous, the title has no real relevance on the plot or action. Bolan is on the trail of some chemical weapons, and he has to team up with two mercenaries who are out to find and retrieve an even more frightening weapon–a sonic weapon that can immobilize people within its radius and make them forget years of their lives. A couple of set pieces later, and Bolan triumphs, of course.

I flagged a couple of things:

A jab took the man in the chest, the power of Bolan’s forearm and biceps muscles driving his adversary backwards.

C’mon, man, the biceps muscles handle moving things towards the body, not extending the arms. That’s the triceps job. And much of your punches, including jabs, should come from twisting your hips, not just using the arms.

Well, okay, I flagged one thing. But it’s interesting to note that in 2004, the terrorists are all right-wing groups even in Executioner novels. No more Marxists or Communists. Which probably makes this a good place to stop with the Executioner novels. If even the Executioner books start trending toward the political, I might not ever read another piece of fiction from the 21st century. Which is probably not true, but still.

At any rate, the jump ahead seven years from Blood and Fire to 2004 saw great changes in my life. In the interim, I had gotten married and gotten started in a career in technology–and I’d even made my mostly final move to quality assurance from technical writing. In a couple of months, I would start my own company to bill as a consultant, something I’ve done for the most part since. And in short order, my aunt would pass away, leading me and my beautiful wife to consider having a family, which, clearly, we have (and we’re almost done with these days). Of course, I’ll be going back to other series in the Bolanverse, so I’ll still get to relive the time in my life where I was when the book was fresh. I don’t do this with normal books, but with the Bolan books, I have. Probably due to the monthly subscription nature of the series.

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