Book Report: Whoppers: Tall Tales and Other Lies Collected From American Folklore by Alvin Schwartz (1975)

Book coverI bought this book last year on an ABC Books order during the Great What-The-Hell-Were-They-Thinkingening.

The book reminds me of some of the Ozarks humor books I read. The chapters segment the book into different categories like Ordinary People, Ordinary Events, Fancy Clothes and Narrow Escapes, Animals and Insects, The Weather, and Putrefactions and Other Wonders. The zingers range from one sentence of hyperbole to a couple paragraphs or pages of a tall tale punctuated with cartoonish illustrations. (The celebrated jumping frog does not appear).

I picked it up for a quick read, and it’s not a deep dive into Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, but they make their appearances. I am sure the fact that it was a children’s book made it quicker; I don’t remember what I was thinking back when I ordered it, but I am sure I was not specifically seeking out children’s books for quick reads.

Although it sometimes happens that way.

An amusing hour or two’s worth of reading for kids or their adult equivalents.

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Book Report: I Remember Vince Lombardi by Mike Towle (2001)

Book coverI got this book at the same time that I bought Life After Favre, so I read it soon after the latter book as a palate cleanser.

This book is structured a little like Louder than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Heavy Metal. The chapters represent different eras of Lombardi’s coaching career, from high school to West Point to the New York Giants and then, finally, as head coach of the Green Bay Packers (and the Washington Redskins, they tell me, but it was a very brief visit before he passed away). Within each chapter, we’ve got quotations from different people broken into blocks of a couple paragraphs preceded by their names and relationships with Lombardi. So it’s like an oral history.

You know what? I read books about Lombardi, and I’m fascinated. I mean, I read Run to Daylight, and I read Instant Replay (twice) where Lombardi appears, but this book reveals some of him that I’d have to go to a biography to get otherwise.

Like when he was a high school coach, he was also a teacher, and that he taught physics and chemistry. He went to Mass every day. And he knew Latin and liked to play Latin conjugation games with old school friends. Incredible. Here, I read an English literary novel and maybe a classic or two every year and think I’m something special. Sadly, in this day, maybe I am. But perhaps it would be better were I a dullard.

I flagged just a couple bits of trivia for noting:

Even Then
A player who started with Lombardi in the 1950s says:

As the defensive signal caller, that meant I would get on the headphones with him when I came to the sideline, and he would tell me what he thought we ought to call and why and what changes we ought to make and other things.

This was the middle of the 20th century. We think that the technology is fairly new, with the green dot headsets. But they did certain things even then. One has to wonder if the constant chatter in the helmet has made things better or worse. And whether putting the radios into other players would make them feel like video game characters instead of men (who are playing a game, but still, they’re the ones playing the game.


A sports columnist wrote about Lombardi going to coach the Redskins:

“It is true that our hero has treated us rather shabbily at the end. Vince Lombardi has gone off, without asking us about it, and made himself a deal in a foreign land to the east. He has cast us aside, rather roughly at that. It is probably true that our former idol has been crafty, calculating, even a little deceitful with us.”

Well, as you know, gentle reader, Aaron Rogers is playing the Brett Favre game this summer, perhaps for the first time, perhaps for the only time. Even Vince Lombardi left Green Bay, but he’s more fondly remembered than Brett Favre and probably Aaron Rogers will be because he didn’t drag it out. He just left. Of course, he died shortly thereafter with only some success in Washington. Who knows how it would have been if he’d lived longer and had beaten Green Bay a couple of times. Probably, though, the clean break would have been good enough.

At any rate, a pleasant read if you’re a Packers fan or if you like excellence.

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Book Report: Rescue Run The Executioner #204 (1995)

Book coverAll right, then, let’s skip ahead. The last Executioner novel I read was Lethal Agent from 1994 when I was just embarking on a romance with the girl whom everyone thought I would marry. This book came out two years later, and I was on the verge of ending that relationship. Well, maybe not that close: I don’t have my resume handy, but at the end of 1995, I was done working at the industry magazine where I’d had a temporary Assistant Editor position for a special project, and I’d not shone enough to extend it, so I was only working at Sappington Farmers Market. I was at loose ends of a sort. But in a couple of months, I’d land my job as a printer that would put my workplace halfway to Columbia, and in about a year I would meet my beautiful wife. So that late mid nineties period is a bit of a blur of changing jobs and circumstances. Which is more than you hoped to get from a book report, gentle reader, but these subscription titles are also a prompt for me to reflect where I was when these books were fresh on the grocery store racks.

At any rate, this book takes place in Rwanda right after/during the unpleasantness of the middle 1990s. A visiting theatre/variety act troop including an aging woman star (she’s like old, man: she’s like forty), an older (sixties) star of westerns who dresses more like Roy Rogers than John Wayne, a young action star who thinks he’s God’s gift to women, and a makeup artist, escape renewed fighting while they’re performing–a native promoter leads them to safety and hides them in one of his hideouts. Bolan gets sent in to find them and rescue them because…. Well, I forget; essentially, it’s because this is an Executioner novel.

So the book goes between Bolan and his allies looking for the theater troupe and the theatre troupe on the run, a nice blend. A subplot involves the action hero behaving dangerously boorishly and a budding romance between the Western star and the actress.

One of the hard men who helps Bolan is nicknamed Tater, which is kind of funny in 2021, where a CNN host has been nicknamed Tater by elements of the conservative blogosphere, and picturing the CNN host as an action hero does not compute.

So worthier of a read than others in the series, like the next one which I’ll get around to reporting on in the next couple of weeks–movies, books, and audio courses are piling up, and I’m not spending a lot of time at my desk this summer.

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Good Book Hunting, Thursday, June 10, 2021: Webster Groves, Missouri, Book Stores

Gentle reader, it has been over a decade since we left Old Trees, Missouri. Back when we left or shortly thereafter, one could buy books at The Webster Groves Book Shop or Pudd’nhead Books in Old Orchard. My, times have changed. Now you can buy books at The Novel Neighbor and the (new) Webster Groves Book Shop. So it’s kind of the same, except that it’s not. Old Trees was very maskappy, with a lot of people masked up.

But they were near the old homestead, and I was jonesing for more books for my vacation. And I felt compelled to pick up something at each place.

At The Novel Neighbor, I had to wander the store a number of times before I finally picked up The Vintage Geek, a quiz book about “geek” stuff that I thought perhaps we could quiz each other on the ride home. As it stands, though, when the car starts, the devices turn on, and I watch the road and listen to lectures.

At the new location of The Webster Groves Book Shop, I was also kind of flummoxed as to what to buy until I found the local author’s section, where I found:

  • Coffee Is Cheaper Than Therapy by Ann Conklin Unruh.
  • Nuts About Squirrels by Don Corrigan.
  • Selected Poems by Mary Phelan.
  • White Knight Escort Service by Leah Holbrooke Sackett.

So that’s five books at full price. Which was expensive. But it might have saved my vacation, as it gave me a couple of interesting things to read not only at the resort in De Soto, but also into the future.

Sadly, though, I only know one of the authors. Although Don Corrigan, the editor of some of the local free papers, did publish one of my letters back in the day.

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Book Report: Life After Favre by Phil Hanrahan (2009)

Book coverI bought this book in 2019. Maybe I didn’t know when the time would be right to read it, but given the nonsense in this off season, wherein people are claiming that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want to play for the Green Bay Packers any more, I knew the time was now. As to the truth of the Rodgers situation, I can believe it. In spite of his being good at Jeopardy! and an entertaining host of it, I can find it easy to believe he wants to leave–I saw the look in his eyes last year, when the conference championship was at Lambeau Field. He did not want to be out there playing football in the cold. So I can find it easy to believe that he might want to play somewhere warmer. But if he does, a pox on him.

But that’s not about this book. This book. Well, it’s an interesting book, all right, a bit interesting in its conception and execution. The author, living in LA at the time but a native Wisconsinite, decides he wants to write a book about the year after Favre left. So he moves to Green Bay for the season, but also attends several games in different places and travels to Kansas to watch a game in Jordy Nelson’s parents’ bar, travels to Kiln, Mississippi, the home of Brett Favre, and travels all over while renting a place in an extended stay in Green Bay. He goes around, talks to other fans, and…. Well, that’s the book. Not a whole lot of insight into the Favre thing other than recounting a bit of it which had kinda fallen out of my mind, and he brings up the names of some nearly forgotten Packers players for some pleasant memories. The book plays up the young Aaron Rodgers as eager to please, to lead, and to make a good impression with his teammates–an impression that, over time, looks a bit disingenuous.

Of course, as I’m reading this, I’m wondering who’s paying for it. I mean, fronting the money for that sort of thing must have been fairly expensive, and this is not a big name author or the member of some media organization. This looks to be about his only book. In the acknowledgements, he thanks his parents for his support, and I thought, a-ha! When I read the back flap of the dust jacket after I finished the book (I removed it while reading the book–funny, it’s there to protect the book, but nowadays we, and by we, I mean I, protect the protector more than the protected), I discovered that he taught writing at Marquette. He must have been after me, I told my beautiful wife, but actually we overlapped–but he must have been an adjunct or associate professor, teaching the 001 classes or something, since I did not take his classes, and I was not only in the Writing Intensive English program, but I had so many English credits that my graduation was in jeopardy (is that the second time that word has appeared in this book report? Is double jeopardy even allowed in these things?).

At any rate, so how did the Favre thing compare to the Rodgers thing? Kinda close, actually: Rumors and hints in the national media, a primadonna star quarterback who believes unfallibly that he’s in the right and that he’s not respected, and the general manager should be sacked. Worry that nobody would want to play for Green Bay without the recently departed star quarterback. The Packers did really get lucky with two really good quarterbacks in a row leading to 25 years of really good football–I’m a fair weather fan who really only got into it about twenty years ago, so I don’t remember the lean years. Perhaps if the Packers revert to the mean, I will end up only kind of following them and catching a game here or there kind of like I follow the St. Louis Blues these days. Eh, we will see.

So I did flag a couple of things for comment.

Continue reading “Book Report: Life After Favre by Phil Hanrahan (2009)”

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“So What Do You Want To Do In Branson?” My Beautiful Wife Asked

I had mentioned maybe taking a weekend in Branson this summer to my beautiful wife this weekend, and she said, “So what do you want to do in Branson?”

“Go to Calvin’s Books,” I said. I mean, I guess we could do a show. But Calvin’s Books was a given, along with walking up to the Uptown Cafe to see a country singer while I eat breakfast.

Well, strike that trip to Calvin’s Books. Well-known Branson bookstore closing doors due to pandemic challenges, rent spike:

Calvin’s Used Books owner Heidi Sampson said the bookstore faced tough financial struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recent rent spike leaves them with no other choice but to walk away from their business.

Although the video story shows them moving their inventory out instead of liquidating it, so one can hope that perhaps they might reopen later in Hollister or West Branson where rents might be less expensive.

So we might as well cancel our weekend in Branson since there’s nothing to do there now.

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Book Report: The Blues Brothers by Miami Mitch (1980)

Book coverWell, this book is probably the one that leads me to end my reading of other movie and television tie-in books for the nonce. It, of course, novelizates the classic film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch (which makes it movie and television tie in).

All right, for those of you born in the twenty-first century (Just kidding! What is this, an app-based video because the damn kids can’t even handle a YouTube video that’s measured in tens of minutes? Not hardly!), I will sum up the plot: After a failed robbery to pay the members of his blues band, Jake Blues goes to prison for a couple of years. When he gets out, he discovers that the orphanage where he and his adopted brother Elwood grew up is under the threat of closure for nonpayment of taxes (what?), and a group of Nazis are hoping to buy it at auction. So they decide to get their blues band back together to do a special gig at a ritzy joint where they’re not actually scheduled to perform.

So that’s it. The story is them gathering the band members who have scattered and putting on the show.

The movie, as you recall, gentle (old man) reader, was almost a musical with numbers by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and others in their various scenes. However, in each of those iconic scenes, the mention of any music is omitted, and the whole scene is over in a couple of sentences or a paragraph. Other lengthy segments from the film, such as the car chase through the mall, are also handled quickly and dismissively, with memorable lines like “The new Oldsmobiles are in early this year!” completely missing.

Given that this is much of the draw of the film and that the humor in the film is kind of droll and not really laugh out loud funny to begin with, the book is not a very good read. As I mentioned, it’s probably put me off of movie tie-ins for a bit, especially as I think the running theme is played out (although with its help, I am at 49 books read so far this year).

I did pick out a couple of things from the book to flag though, tucked below the fold so I do not further tax your patience with my book reports which are more about me reading the books than the books themselves.

Continue reading “Book Report: The Blues Brothers by Miami Mitch (1980)”

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Book Report: Cocoon by David Saperstein (1985)

Book coverIn continuing with my movie tie-in book reading of this year, I picked up this book which has been haunting my to-read shelves for thirteen years and two homes. I remember the film well–it was on Showtime in my youthful trailer park days, and as you might remember, gentle reader, when a movie was on Showtime between 1985 and 1988, I saw it a bunch. So I remember the film passably well, especially Steve Guttenberg shouting, “If this is foreplay, I’m a dead man!” which of course would have stuck with a fifteen year old who probably learned about foreplay from the American Heritage Dictionary. Remember Steve Guttenberg? In the late 1980s, he was in every other movie (actually, it was only nine major movies in four years, so it was only every other non-action film).

But I digress.

The book has a different story arc than the movie: A charter boat fisherman takes an assignment for what he quickly learns are aliens (I mean, on page 15, they reveal themselves as aliens). They’re looking to recover almost a thousand (not ten like the movie) of their fellow Antareans that have been submerged in coccoons off the coast of Florida after the sinking of Atlantis. They’ve bought an incomplete senior condo project and turned one of the buildings into a processing center for reviving the dormant aliens. Four seniors from the complete building on the property discover the processing room and mistake it for a health club, so they try the equipment and find that it rejuvenates them. When the Antareans find that the salt water has damaged the cocoons, they’re left without an army–until they decide to recruit seniors from Earth.

So it’s quite different from the movie, which is a simplified version of the novel with subplots removed. I wondered if the book had come first followed by the simplified movie, but according to this article from 2019, it sounds like it went from story-for-movie to movie to novel:

Finding a way to get my story out to an audience did not come easily. I heard 51 “noes” before a “yes.” Among the rejections were many who deigned to read a few pages and said things like, “This is a wrinkle story,” and “Old people don’t go to the movies.”

It took five years to get a movie made, with a script by established screenwriter Tom Benedek and direction by Ron Howard, in 1985. The positive reactions to the story said to me that I got most of it right. The movie won two Oscars, and critics called it “feel-good” and “uplifting.” My novel was published after the movie. Cocoon was a New York Times best seller and became a brand of sorts, and I went on to a new writing career.

So perhaps the novel tracks more on what Saperstein had in mind; although he provided the story and later wrote the novel, he did not write the screenplay. He does work in a bunch of back story for the characters, including talking about what the seniors and their wives did before retiring to Florida. He even drops a couple of paragraphs describing a helicopter pilot into the middle of the narrative. So it gets some of its novel length with these back stories which are naturally not in a movie.

It was a pretty good read, though, even with its changed story line.

Brian J., did you flag anything in this fun little novel? you might ask. Of course I did! Not that I remember what. Let’s see if I can remember why I marked passages in the book.

Continue reading “Book Report: Cocoon by David Saperstein (1985)”

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Book Report: Journey through Heartsongs by Mattie J.T. Stepanek (2003)

Book coverI regret having read this book.

When I bought it this weekend, I thought it was a collection of grandmother poetry based on the name Mattie. Short for Matilda. Oh, but no. Mattie is short for Matthew.

The poems are not very good, but Mattie is, at the time of publication, 13 years old.

And that would be that, but I came across a poem that he wrote when his older brother died. Each of the poems is dated, and when I got to the bottom of the poem, I did the math. He purportedly wrote this poem when he was four years old. Which is when I looked a little deeper and found the cult of Mattie. Continue reading “Book Report: Journey through Heartsongs by Mattie J.T. Stepanek (2003)”

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Book Report: The Great Optimist by Leigh Mitchell Hodges (2003)

Book coverI bought this book in December at ABC Books because it was inexpensive, and as it was filed with the poetry, I thought it was an old collection of poems. As it stands, though, it is a collection of essays or newspaper columns–apparently, the author was a columnist in Philadelphia back when a lot of the people mentioned in Heroes and Outlaws of the Old West, the lawmen anyway, were still alive.

So we have ten short essays–I would put them at 600 words, tops, and it’s only 35 pages total. The column/essays are:

  • “The Great Optimist”, a column about Christmas and how Jesus was the Great Optimist. I wondered as I started it whether I was in for a dozen sermons, but no; although the author is Christian, he’s a columnist and not a pastor.
  • “A Darkened Cage” about how a little darkness teaches a songbird to sing. You know what it’s a metaphor for; it reminded me of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s autobiography I was assigned in freshman English. The same metaphor, anyway.
  • “A Spring Song”, which talks about the optimism of spring and mirrors a poem that I’ve put down the first lines of somewhere.
  • “Making the Most”, which is about making the most of your talents (of course).
  • “The Flag”, a patriotic piece whose sentiments we might look askew at today, as it says all Americans can rally around it, which is not the 21st century reality, ainna?
  • “Ma Brither”, which recounts this story:

    Ian MacLaren tells somewhere a sweet story of his native Scotland–what while sauntering along a country lane one hot afternoon, he met a bonnie wee lass, all humped up and red, puffing with the weight of the chubby laddie she was carrying.
    “Isn’t he too heavy for you?” asked the dominic.
    “He’s not hivvy, sir,” came the reply, with a smile of loving pride; “he’s ma brither.”

    I tried to track down the source of this story; although Hodges attributes it to Ian Maclaren (pen name of John Watson), apparently it appears in The parables of Jesus, an 1884 book by James Wells. So it was already an established trope by 1903.

  • “Failure”, about how failure leads to success, which is a strangely contemporary message delivered to you by all your software that breaks easily.
  • “The Grasshopper”, about finding beauty in everyday things.

    Notable because:

    One Wednesday afternoon back in the baby days of the last century, three poets who were friends met together, as was their custom. Before parting, each agreed to write a sonnet on “The Grasshopper,” and to read it the following Wednesday. How would you like to have been there when John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Leigh Hunt–for they were the friends–read each his fourteen lines!

    The poems are from 1816. So the poems were newer to Hodges than Hodges book is to our day.

  • “My Friend,” about real friends. Shades of the first essay in that Montaigne book I have not finished yet.
  • “Thanksgiving,” which is about the holiday and gratitude. Which go together!

So the book kind of follows the year from Christmas to the next Thanksgiving.

The essays are nice, but I probably won’t remember much from the book except that it was old and that I read it. Which is what this post is for, ultimately, gentle reader–to remind me of what this book was actually about.

Also, as a side note, I have read three of the six books I bought at ABC Books that day and I have started the fourth (the English novel Pamela which I will undoubtedly mention over and over as the serious book that I am reading whilst posting book reports on smaller books I have read during the span, much like the recently completed David Copperfield. Dare I make this a twee goal for 2021, to complete all six of these books, kind of like I made it a goal in 2019 to read all of the books that I bought at Calvin’s Books that May? The collection of Paul Dunbar might be daunting, though–although it is only the beginning of May.

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Book Report: Heroes and Outlaws of the Old West by Shane Edwards (1993)

Book coverI asked yesterday whether you thought I would delve into a book that I bought over the weekend or if I would read another movie tie-in book next. Hah! Gentle reader, as you well know, this is an example of a false dilemma. As it turns out, I picked up a thin children’s (I dare say it’s younger than Young Adult, but who knows in the 21st century?) book about, well, the title says it all, I suppose. I bought this book in 2012 along with Hud and a couple of M*A*S*H books, which might make this movie/television tie-in adjacent. That, and the other thing that we will get to.

The book is 128 pages of quick read–it took me about two hours start to finish. It lists, alphabetically, a variety of lawmen or outlaws from the frontier days (which means the latter half of the nineteenth century and maybe the first decade of the 20th–it’s amazing how not long ago this was). It’s got some of the usual suspects–Jesse James, Black Bart, Butch Cassidy and the Sunset Kid–and it pretty much has everyone from the Lincoln County War, including Billy the Kid amd Charlie Bowdre, so one wonders if the author was a fan of the film Young Guns which came out in 1988 (and the sequel in 1990).

The information within is perhaps dubious–it espouses the view that Butch Cassidy survived the shoot-out in Bolivia among other things. And it has something of a message, as all the outlaws die young by violence, and all the lawmen live to an old age after they retire in their 40s.

So a good idea book if you’re looking for things to write about in the old west, but probably not a source you’d want to cite. And, as I mentioned, a quick read even if it took me nine years to get to it.

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Book Report: Alien by Alan Dean Foster (1979)

Book coverWait a minute, Brian J., didn’t you already write a book report about this book this year? you might ask. Gentle reader, I understand why you might think so. But the movie novelization by Alan Dean Foster that I read earlier this year was Alien Nation. They would be shelved together in the used book store assuming that Alien Nation came before Aliens, which Foster also novelizinated. Of course, they might not even be in the used book store at the same time. Certainly my copies will not be until perhaps after my death.

Okay, so this is the novelization of Alien. I have not actually seen the film even though I have it and, I believe, the first two sequels on videocassette. I thought it would be too spooky–as a kid, I shied away from spooky movies, even spooky science fiction movies from the early days when I didn’t want to go see John Carpenter’s The Thing with my babysitters when I was ten years old. So I have probably backburnered this film with that same kind of dread. Although I did see Aliens in the theatre when I was fourteen years old. But probably not since. Now that I’ve read the book, I am a little more prepared for the movies, so perhaps I will give them ago. Albeit without my boys, who are probably not ready for it yet even though they might think they are.

So, the plot: Seven crew members on a faster-than-light tugboat are awakened from their cryogenic sleep to investigate a ‘distress call’ on a planet in a sector they’re passing through. They land, and as they explore a derelict alien craft, one of them gets attacked by an alien that attaches itself to his face. They bring him aboard, against all procedure, and eventually a different alien bursts from his chest, and the crew tries to hunt it down but finds itself outmatched, especially as someone on the crew seems to be helping the alien. I mean, you know the basics, right?

A third of the book is in setup before the attack on the derelict occurs, and about another third elapses before the Xenomorph is loose on the ship, so we get a rather brief run through of fighting the alien. I have to wonder if the movie itself is paced this way, or if this is another instance (like Alien Nation) where a lot of time is spent on world building in the beginning that doesn’t appear in the movie. This article explains some of the differences between the original screenplay and what was shot and also mentions a couple of things left on the cutting room floor that appear in the book.

So I’ll be set up for jump scares that never come, maybe.

But I liked the book all right; it’s got a We Find A Mystery Of Another Civilization/Race thing that I like, and I like the detail Foster builds into the world of being a working-class space farer. And I like Alan Dean Foster. So you know if I find other Alan Dean Foster books in the wild, I’ll grab them, but they’ll have to be at smaller book sales or garage sales unless they’re misfiled in the Martial Arts section at ABC Books or the Ozarks section at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale since I don’t go out seeking science fiction books. But they manage to find me.

At any rate, I only flagged one thing in the book, and it was because of a coincidence:

Unexpectedly, a realignment of priorities in her [Ripley’s] querying jogged something within the ship’s Brobdingnabian store of information.

I came across that sentence immediately after my beautiful wife played some Brobdingnabian Bards filk music while we were playing cards, and I explained the origin of the term (Gulliver’s Travels). It’s not quite the Jeopardy! nexus, but still.

So, now, the question: Do I read another movie novelization or television series tie-in, or do I delve into the stack of books I bought last weekend. I am keeping you in suspense, gentle reader, because I have not decided just yet.

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Book Report: Home Is Where The Heart Is by Thomas Kinkade (1998)

Book coverNot to be confused with Home Is Where The Quick Is which was a MOD Squad tie-in paperback that I read in 2012, proving that I have long had a thing for those kinds of books (my run through them this spring notwithstanding).

Instead, this is a Thomas Kinkade property. It’s 47 pages long. It has 18 Kinkade paintings reproduced; opposite pages have quotes from famous literary works. In it, Edward Guest has two or three such pages; as his most famous poem is called “Home” and the title comes from it, I understand why. Also, his works were known for being kitschy and sentimental and are mostly forgotten now–so you can see how he might fit in with Kinkade.

So I looked over the pictures here with a bit of a gimlet eye (not Gimlet’s eye, gentle reader; don’t be morbid) to try to see what some find so offensive about them. Well, it’s only la-di-dah public types who tend to get quoted disapproving Kinkade’s work. They’re homey scenes like something out of Currier and Ives, but, and I think this might be the start of the disapproval, the skies are usually fairly bright even at night–perhaps a nod to his Christian beliefs–and the light spills kind of unnaturally out of every window of the houses in the nighttime scenes, which seems wasteful at best and an anachronism if you try to figure out how the light was so bright and even though it’s horse-and-buggy days, probably precluding electric light for most of these places. Those would be some very bright gas lamps indeed. But, you know what, it’s also to emphasize the homey, so I get it.

It’s a shame about his tragic personal life, and it’s a shame people dunked on him when he was alive and probably after he died. Knocking him because he purportedly outlined things and had assistants fill them out or whatnot. C’mon, man, aren’t you familiar with Renaissance art practices?

At any rate, a nice little book that I could use in between chapters of other things.

I suppose I would be remiss in noting this is the first of the books that I read from this weekend’s binge. I was actually looking for a book of poetry, but when I shelved the books, I scattered the smaller books across the stacks in my offices, and this was the first quick browser that I came across. So it didn’t make it until football season.

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Good Book Hunting, May 1, 2021: The Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale

I know, I know; you saw my post about albums I bought this weekend, and you said, Who cares about the cheap, obscure easy listening records you buy in an attempt to find something of yours on Lileks’ Thrift Store Vinyl feature on Fridays?. Well, my bibliophile friend, it’s your turn to feast your eyes on the bonanza I got on half price day:

Click for full size

The audio courses section was pretty picked over, but I got:

  • From a series of two-cassette lectures on philosophers, I got bits on Neitzshe, Kierkegaard, Aristotle, Dewey, Hume, Spinoza, Aquinas, St. Augustine, and Socrates.
  • Lost Worlds of South America.
  • Comedy, Tragedy, History: William Shakespeare on cassette–I shall certainly miss having a cassette player in my vehicle again should I ever get another.

It looks like I mis-filed and mis-appropriated my beautiful wife’s audio course Myths, Half-Truths of Language Usage. Because I wanted to impress you with the height of my stacks, gentle reader, I stooped to inadvertent deception. It looks like I stacked 2001 Things to Do Before You Die in my books as well. As you can imagine, it has been banished to her shelves. Our books cannot conmingle.

The books I got include:

  • The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk in the Reader’s Digest World’s Greatest Reading edition. I have started to accumulate these books, but I bypassed a number of titles that I already have in other editions. So where’s my dedication really?
  • Peter Ackroyd by Charles Dickens. Because I actually finished David Copperfield and need more Dickens to read.
  • Long Lost signed by David Morrell, whose books I continue to accumulate without reading.
  • The Art of Carl Fabergé by A. Kenneth Snowman.
  • Fabergé Eggs, a browser dedicated to the designer’s fantastic eggs.
  • Louis C. Tiffany: Rebel in Glass by Robert Koch. Although it includes a lot of pictures, it’s a reader more than a browser.
  • American Art Deco by Eva Weber. A coffee table book, but hopefully someday I will understand what Lileks and Ed Driscoll are talking about when they talk architecture.
  • Motels: American Retro, a browser that would be right up Lileks’ alley.
  • Strive and Succeed, a two novel omnibus from Horatio Alger that includes Julius and The Store Boy. It’s in better shape than the other Alger novel I have, so I will probably read it first.
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin. It looks to be a 1903 ex-library copy, but it’s in such good shape that I think it might be a later edition.
  • Oriental Love Poems edited by Michelle Lovric. It looks like it has some kind of pop-up cover, or it has some wrapping paper stuck on the front cover. I am not sure which.
  • I’ve Seen It All at the Library by Jonathan M. Farlow, a memoir by a librarian.
  • The Electric Life: Essays on Modern Poetry by Sven Birkerts. Of course, the book is dated 1989, so it’s less modern by now than the title would indicate. Given that I am trying to write poetry these days, I thought I might buy a book of criticism. Although who knows when I might read it.
  • The Use and Abuse of Literature by Marjorie Garber. Definitely longer than The Use and Abuse of Books.
  • Poetics South by Ann Deagon, a short collection of poems.
  • The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. Longer than The Lessons of History, but shorter than the Story of Civilization.
  • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. To be honest, I remember looking at this book and touching it, but not putting it into my stack, but my visit to the Better Books section’s Literature section was late in our trip; by this time, my beautiful wife was taking small stacks from my hands to put on the holding tables, so I lost track of a lot of what I bought.
  • Tales from the Missouri Tigers by Alan Goforth. I am thinking of giving this to my mother-in-law for Christmas, but we might already have done so. Which might lead me to justifying keeping it for myself.
  • For Everything There Is A Season by Carolyn Gray Thornton, a collection of light essays by a regional author.
  • Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy, who took a job in the music industry to find it wasn’t like the movies advertised.
  • Chin Music from a Greyhound: The Confessions of a Civil War Reenactor Volume One: 1978-1987 by Robert W. Talbott.
  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, also in the Reader’s Digest World’s Best Reading edition.
  • Journey Through Heartsongs by Mattie J.T. Stepanek, which looks to be a collection of grandmother poetry in hardback.
  • Privilege and Privation by Todd Parnell, a local author.
  • Home Is Where The Heart Is a collection of Thomas Kinkade something something. To browse during football games or something.
  • Moon of Mutiny by Lester Del Rey in the library binding just like the ones I read in middle school. Which might have included this one. My youngest is tearing through YA fantasy these days; perhaps I’ll give loan him some rocket jockey fiction to see if he likes it.
  • Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in The East Teaches Us About Living In The West by T.R. Reid. Probably that it’s better, but we will see.
  • Fourteen Acre Gold by Georgie Hicks. Looks to be grandmother poetry, although it says on the back she got her start when her twenty-year-old son died.
  • Messages To Lelia by Billy Reed. More poetry.
  • McAddoo About Nothing, a collection of old columns by a local columnist.
  • The Old Dog Barks Backwards by Ogden Nash. A paperback, and not one of the collections I already own.
  • Death to the Death of Poetry by Donald Hall. More criticism of poetry to inspire me to read poetry.
  • Early Royko: Up Against It In Chicago by Mike Royko. Man, it’s been a while since I read Royko. How come nobody collects John Kass’s columns? He’s about the closest Chicago or most major cities have to Royko.
  • Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge by Kevin Starr.

I also grabbed four copies of the local university’s literary magazine, the Moon City Review, which recently rejected several of my poems; I wanted to see what kind of poetry does appear in the digest to see if I should submit again. I picked up the 2009 issue, and every time I found a later one, I picked it up, intending to put the less recent copy down, but by that time, my beautiful wife was whisking them away, so I didn’t get the chance to put three of them back.

Apparently, in taking the photograph, I also purloined my wife’s copy of The 29% Solution. She tends to read more practically applicable books than I.

But you know what I did not find? Any Lee Goldberg. So, you know what is right across the highway, practically, from the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds? ABC Books.

So we diddly-bopped into ABC Books and told Ms. E. that we were just from the book sale and couldn’t find anything, which she likely did not believe. Although I found that my martial arts section was still not restocked, I found a couple of books by local(ish) authors and several by Lee Goldberg.

I got:

  • Mr. Monk is Miserable in hardback.
  • The Shooting Script, The Death Merchant, The Dead Letter, and The Waking Nightmare in the Diagnosis Murder series by Lee Goldberg. Although I like Lee Goldberg, as I mentioned, I am not going to hurry to pick up these books any time soon as Dick Van Dyke, the star of the show, is still alive, and this year my reading has adversely impacted world events.
  • The Underwater Window by local author Carol Shackleford. The name sounds really familiar.
  • The Reluctant Bachelor and Why Aren’t We Rich Yet? by Andy Willoughby, a local author that ABC Books promoted on its Facebook page. I thought the books sounded interesting in the post on Facebook, so I meant to seek them out.

Even though the mysteries were 25% off due to a sale I didn’t know was taking place, the full price of the local author books and what my wife bought meant we almost spent as much at ABC Books as we did at the book sale.

At any rate, a good haul, and it is making me rethink my current streak of reading books based on television shows and movies. But we will see how it goes when I actually get into the reading chair.

The funny thing is that, with the 40+ books I’ve read so far this year, I was able to straighten my to-read shelves so that most books were vertical, albeit double-stacked. Welp, that was that. Now they’re laid atop each other willy-nilly again. Which is their native state here at Nogglestead.

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Book Report: Mr. Monk Goes To Hawaii by Lee Goldberg (2006)

Book coverAll right, all right, all right, I said I was going to finish David Copperfield before I picked this book up, but I did a couple of chapters of Dickens and wanted another break. So I picked this book up a week later. This one, recall, gentle reader, I bought at the Friends of the Christian County Book Sale in 2017; given that this particular sale generally runs concurrently with the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale, I checked to see if it, too, was running this week. Oh, but no: it was an in-library event the first weekend of the month. Which I would have known if I only subscribed to the Christian County Headliner. And, I suppose, read it in a timely fashion (I often fall a week or two behind, so I generally only later discover events I would have wanted to attend).

But enough about me: This book has Natalee, Mr. Monk’s assistant, dropping a bomb on him: her best friend is getting married, so she has an all-expense trip paid for to a resort in Hawaii for a week, and she waits until the day before to tell him. She expects to have a week away from him, but he, with the help of a prescription from his psychiatrist, flies on a plane (with all of his inhibitions and habits gone) to join her.

Mr. Monk is the man to speak up at the wedding, as he noticed things that indicate that the groom is a liar and potential bigamist; after that, an older (sixties!) woman with a trophy husband is murdered; it turns out that he has married older women and inherited them before, but in the past, they’ve died of natural causes (or have they?). She was bashed in the head in her bungalow after reporting hearing voices. Meanwhile, a spiritualist next door filming his television show says he has messages from Monk’s dead wife and Natalee’s dead husband, and Monk wants to prove him a fraud.

Again, a good book, and I am going to look for Lee Goldberg work next Saturday at the book sale. Which is me going out of my way to the fiction tables; most of the time, I only hit the records, audio courses, art books, old books, and local interest sections. But I am planning to not take my boys, so I’ll have a little more time to wander.

At any rate, flags and stuff below the fold.

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Book Report: Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg (2006)

Book coverI don’t know where I picked this up; it’s a nice hardback edition, and it doesn’t have any price stickers or internal markings to indicate whether it came from a library book sale or ABC books. One of the mysteries of the universe, I guess.

The book is based on the television series Monk which ran the early part of the century. That makes it ten or twenty years younger than the other television- and movie-based properties I’ve been reading the last couple of months. This is the first in the series, which pleases me, as I also came across the paperback copy of Mr. Monk Goes To Hawaii that I bought in 2017, and I managed to grab the earlier one first (unlike the Babylon 5 episode guide I just read, which is for the second season but I’ve learned that I have the episode guide for the first season around here somewhere).

And I really enjoyed this book.

The schtick of the program is that Adrian Monk, the detective, is obsessive-compulsive and germaphobic, but his slightly warped mind is good for solving murders because he notices little details that other people overlook. The book is written in a first person narrator style where his assistant, a former bartender who keeps him in handiwipes and intercedes with normal people on his behalf, tells the story. So it has a Holmes/Watson structure, and it’s fun to read. And no politics; a lot of twenty-first century crime fiction, especially by established authors (Ed McBain, Robert B. Parker, Marcia Muller), has some jabs or worse at people who vote differently than the authors. You get nothing of the sort in this book, and it’s set in San Francisco.

My beautiful wife tells me she has read works by the author and some of his collaborations with Janet Evanovich and has enjoyed them; perhaps when I hit the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale next week, I will actually walk past the fiction section and the mystery tables to see if I can spot some of his other works.

Which is not to say I did not find things to flag and quibble and snark over.
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Book Report: Babylon 5: The Coming of Shadows by Jane Killick (1998)

Book coverWhen I bought this in 2007, I said:

I have seen like five minutes of Babylon 5 in my life, and I’m buying a book tie-in? I blame it on book-acquisition-drunkeness.

In the fourteen years since, I have not seen any more Babylon 5. I thought back then that this was a tie-in novel, but, you know, looking at the cover indicates that this is an episode guide for the second season, apparently the one where The Scarecrow (Bruce Boxleitner) takes over from Sisko the other guy. The joke is on me, though, as I bought the episode guide for season one, Signs and Portents in an ABC Books order last year during the Great Empausening, as I could have read the first season’s episode guide before this one.

At any rate, the book is an episode guide that talks about the second season. There’s a new commander on the space station, and a couple of the races whose ambassadors reside on the station are gearing up for war–one race with the assistance of an ancient race that almost conquered the universe a long time ago. The book starts with an article on producing the series on a budget, and then the individual episodes have a cast list, a summary, and then the cast and crew talking about their memories of making the episode. As such, you don’t get a lot of intricate connections between the episodes, although it does mention the arc stories as they developed.

While reading, I was struck by the actors who played in Star Trek series and Babylon 5, including Walter Koenig and Dwight Schultz. I see Miguel A. Núñez, Jr., was a guest star in one episode this season; I saw his film Juwanna Mann in the theatre because I remembered him from Tour of Duty, and looking at his oevre, I see that I have seen him in a lot of movies, although I don’t remember him in them (they’re small roles), but undoubtedly I recognize him and say his name when I see him in those bit roles, only to forget he was in them if I happen to think of them.

At any rate, a couple quotes and remarks below the fold.
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Book Report: Hackers by David Bischoff (1995)

Book coverYou know, I am pretty sure I saw this film sometime in the early part of the century on videocassette or DVD, but I don’t remember it that much. I watched a lot of these hacker movies around that time when I was writing John Donnelly’s Gold, and I meant to throw in a lot of allusions to hacker movies. I don’t think I included one from this movie in the novel, and I kind of confused it with Antitrust even as I started reading this. And, maybe sometimes Sneakers when just thinking of the title.

In it, a young man who was convicted as a juvenile for releasing a virus in 1988, turns 18 and can use a computer again. He and his single mother have moved from Seattle to New York City, and he is starting at a magnet school for smart kids where he finds a group of hackers. One of them, a lesser light trying to prove himself, hacks into a mining company’s computer and finds a salami attack in place where the head of security and the head of marketing are embezzling small amounts of money a lot of times. So they frame the kid/kids for a computer-based terrorist attack on one of the company’s oil tankers, and the hackers have to unite to clear the protagonists and expose the plot. Along the way, we get school pranks, young love, high school party/rave scenes circa 1995, and parental worry about what the boy is becoming.

I flagged a bunch of silly little inaccuracies, like arming the Secret Service strike team with AK-47s, saying BBS is short for Bulletin Board Service (it’s system, you damn kids), 1995-era teen hackers knowing Pascal, calling a wardialer a “WarGames” scanner, you get things like “It isn’t a virus! It’s a worm!” (which I guess it was, but still, in the 21st century we worry more about trojan horses, ainna?), and whatnot. I flagged them like it was worth mentioning, but the person writing the novel might have had less knowledge about contemporary technology than the screenwriters–some of the inaccuracies come in the non-dialog text. It’s been a while since I saw the film, as I said, so I don’t know.

You get some very dated technology with a “Pentaflex” (someone didn’t pony up for product placement) computer chip running at 30MHz. You get apocryphoral scenes like one at the World Trade Center. But you do get a shout-out to 2600: The Hacker Quarterly (which might have been filmed, so the author of this novelization was not responsible for it). You get unfortunate instances of pineapple on pizza–c’mon, man, that couldn’t have been filmed that way, could it? You get hacker speeches where they talk about freed information, wanting to learn, and being free. You get what looks to be an actual social security number (and some )

So, basically, it’s a teenager movie about hacking, with the focus on the teen themes and some pre-AOL level cinematic hacking for the plot.

I mentioned the virus release in 1988: This was based on the Morris worm. I remember that incident very acutely because at that very moment I was writing a research paper for my high school composition class, and I had picked computer viruses as the topic. I was in a tight spot, though, as the sources at the local library (magazines and books) that one could find on viruses were pretty thin. My mother drove me forty five minutes to the nearest St. Louis County Library branch twice. The first time, the branch had nothing I could use, and I could not request ILL books since I was not a St. Louis County resident (and back in those days, computers weren’t used much for card catalogs, so finding an ILL book would have been a challenge). However, the second time was after the release of the Morris worm, and I had suddenly lots of sources since every news magazine ran a story about virii and worms with sidebars I could quote).

At any rate, a lesser quality novelization of a lesser quality book. No allusions to this appear in John Donnelly’s Gold.

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Book Report: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978, 1997)

Book coverI picked up this book right after High Fidelity because that book features a protagonist that owns a record shop; this one, presumably, was about someone with a book shop. I was even willing to forego a book tied into a film for this connection, but as it turns out, this was made into a film in 2017. So it actually is a book with a movie tie. Whoa.

At any rate, this book, too, is set in England, albeit the northeast of England. In a small town, a retired widow wants to open a book shop in a building that has been abandoned for many years but that is several hundred years old. However, a noveau riche society matron had hoped that building would be the town’s arts center, under her leadership, someday, so she sets out to thwart the protagonist. After a number of incidents and third person interactions with the quirky characters of the small village, the bookshop closes.

The book was first published in 1978; I have the first American paperback edition from almost twenty years later; and twenty years after that, the movie came out. So I was expecting some twist or theme that would have made it a college literature staple, but I’m not sure it ever comes. Reports indicate that the big twist was that she stocked Lolita when it was controversial, but this is really underdeveloped. But it is a British book, a book featuring an older British woman (which I found reminiscient of The Handyman written by a different Penelope). It’s only 123 pages, but it’s fairly dense third person narration in the British style, and not in the fun Dickens sense.

I only flagged one thing in it, the motto of the olde riche family whose last member, and elderly man, supports the book shop owner. The family motto, above the door of the manor, is Not to succeed in one thing is to fail in all. That’s a pretty grim motto. It does make me realize that, although I have named my houses, I have not come up with a proper family motto. So I will give that some thought, and then I will probably make a wood burning of it. But nothing as dispiriting as that one.

At any rate, I shall turn my attention to American movie and television books between chapters of David Copperfield for the near term and will try to avoid books with elderly British women not named Jane Marple from here on out.

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Book Report: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (1995, 2000?)

Book coverIn keeping with the movie books, I selected this book, Nick Hornby’s first novel which was made into a film with John Cusack. Remember him? He was like an American Hugh Grant but with a shorter career and a less British career. Maybe I am conflating the two a little more than one does, but this book has his picture on the cover, and the setting of the book is England instead of Chicago so it’s more Hugh Grant territory than the American film. At any rate, I got this book from ABC Books as part of the cover story for my visit when Julian Lynn visited to sign books. I know, you don’t care, really, but sometimes I can search the blog and link the book back to its purchase point so I can see what else I might have bought then and have read since (although it was only a small trip, I’ve only also read The Physics of Love).

So. The story of the book is that the protagonist, a 35-year-old record store owner named Rob Fleming gets dumped by his long-time live-in girlfriend for the guy who formerly lived upstairs from them (and the two move in together elsewhere), which triggers Rob’s reflection on his relationships and his life which seems to have stalled. Prone to making a list, Rob lists his top five heartbreaks of all time and gets in touch with those women and moons over Laura, whom he met while he was DJing at a defunct club. She has gone onto become an attorney at a big law firm in London, which creates a gulf between them in Rob’s mind, and he’s starting to get a little bitter.

The book is told in shortish chapters of first person narration, more stream of consciousness than stream of time, and a bit unreliable as he might be trying to present the best possible rationalization for his actions, but somewhere underneath he might think he can improve. And at the end of the book, he might, but the reader has enough to doubt but hope for the best for the guy.

It captures the nineties and young peoples’ relationship anxiety zeitgeist pretty well, or at least what I remember of it (although, gentle reader, my humble love life narrative from the era is pretty pedestrian), but the character is 35, which seems a bit old, but certainly prone to self-doubt if he’s living the same life that he lived in his 20s ten or fifteen years later.

So I rather liked the book. At times, its expression of mortality and uncertainty struck me pretty raw, and it certainly made me glad I was not Rob or Lloyd Dobler at 35.

I did mark some things in the book for extra attention; you can find them below.

True Words

You need as much ballast as possible to stop you from floating away; you need people around you, things going on, otherwise life is like some film where the money ran out, and there are no sets, or locations, or supporting actors, and it’s just one bloke on his own staring into the camera with nothing to do ad nobody to speak to, and who’d believe in this character then?

I’ve had moments where I feel this way, too: the day-to-day maintenance of work-parenting-chores-bed leads a lot of things and friends to fall away. One does have to work a bit to keep busy. Maybe not everyone; maybe just introverts or lazy people like me who have, a lot of times, not bothered to keep those other things going.

On the other hand, I have a seventeen-year-old blog to keep me company. No, wait, that might be the same hand.

Oprah Alert

Speaking of the number of sexual partners he’s had, Rob thinks:

Ten isn’t a lot, not for the thirtysomething bachelor. Twenty isn’t a lot, if you look at it that way. Anything over thirty, I reckon, and you’re entitled to appear on an Oprah about promiscuity.

I wonder if I need to make a separate category to list books that mention Oprah as a cultural touchstone.

Also, to confess, I have not enough sexual partners to even trigger one of the conditions he mentions. At times, I wonder what was wrong with me. Which might be a good character thing to put into a book to strike right into the self-doubt of many middle-aged people. Or, perhaps not.

A False Dilemma, But

In Bruce Springsteen songs, you can either stay and rot, or you can escape and burn. That’s OK; he’s a songwriter, after all, and he needs simple choices like that in his songs. But nobody ever writes about how it is possible to escape and rot-how escapes can go off at half-cock, how you can leave the suburbs for the city but end up living a limp suburban life anyway. That’s what happened to me; that’s what happens to most people.

The book contains a lot of this expository sorting out of emotions, the aggrandizement of the narrator’s own self-doubt and whatnot. Which works, for the most part, where it doesn’t work in other books.

So, to sum up, I liked the book but didn’t want to be the character. I think some people liked the drama of those uncertain relationship times and would want to be Rob, but not me, brother. I’m glad I outgrew whatever I had in common with him.

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