Book Report: Breathe: You Are Alive by Thich Nhat Hanh (1995)

Book coverIt’s been a year since Thich Nhat Hanh died; in researching how to say his name, I found a documentary made on the anniversary of his death where everyone was calling him by either his nickname or his birth name, so I’ve had to rely on the Wikipedia entry for pronunciation. Not that I’ll ever actually say his name aloud; mostly I just type it here in book reports (see also Thundering Silence and Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present).

This book slots into the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge‘s “Religious or Spiritual” category. Originally, I picked up the Joel Osteen book I bought five years ago(?!), but it was more of a self-help book akin to Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes or The Power of Positive Thinking–although they include Bible versus, they’re not religious in theme–they don’t talk about the nature of the divine or the doctrines of a church.

This book, like Thundering Silence, is commentary and history of a particular Buddhist sutra. This one is a lesson on breathing by Buddha, sixteen practices or things that you can think while breathing in and out to calm your body, calm your feelings, calm your mind, and lead you to enlightment or closer thereto. It’s basically thirty-two lines of teaching wrapped in the story of where and when Buddha taught it (the sutra itself) followed again by historical analysis of how the Sutra (or sutta) was passed down, history of the sutra’s setting, and then commentary and expansion on the practices.

Basically, again, it’s breathing, but with each exhalation and inhalation, repeating to yourself to calm your mind, calm your feelings, understand the object of your mind, and then progressing at the last quartet into understanding the non-dual nature of everything and whatnot. So one can take it through the first three quarters of it and get a good course on mindfulness, but the last quarter goes into the unified nature of self and non-self that underlies Buddhism.

That, and the mention of the cycle of rebirth, are really the only Buddhist cosmology in the book, and none of the later evolved cosmic Buddhas (like Amida Buddha and whatnot). So very core, very original to the tradition. But the text itself was passed down for generations, popping up in Vietnam based on an earlier Chinese translation (or perhaps I got this backwards). So an interesting read and an educational read, but it has not convinced me to be a Buddhist.

To breathe a little deeper and talk to myself as I do so, sure.

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Book Report: Merchanter’s Luck: Rendezvous at Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh (1982)

Book coverThe 2023 Winter Reading Challenge has a category entitled “Set in Space”, and this was the first space paperback that I set my hands on. It was a pretty fine DAW first edition when I started it, but it’s a read copy now, which is just as well.

I have not read a Cherryh book since middle school or high school, when I came across a copy of The Pride of Chanur at the library and recognized the title from the song “The Pride of Chanur” by Leslie Fish from a collection of filk music, Quarks and Quests, that I’d ordered basically for the cost of shipping from the back of an Analog or Asimov science fiction magazine.

Uh, spoiler alert: That is a good summary of the plot of The Pride of Chanur, which I also bought in….2007? Which is odd; I am pretty sure that I just came across a paperback copy of the book in the stacks, too, so maybe I have two.

At any rate, it has taken me this long (35 years) to read my second Cherryh book (probably–although I might have read another when I was younger that I do not remember).

Which is a lot of column inches to another book I’ve read by the author. What about this book?

The title on the spine is Merchanter’s Luck, but the cover also says Rendezvous at Downbelow Station which made me wonder if this book was the start of a series. Well, a moment’s research on the Internet indicates that this book followed Downbelow Station but was not so much a sequel as a book in the same part of space with some minor characters who were the major characters in the previous book.

In this book, a single owner/operator of a small merchant vessel, the sole remaining member of the family who’d owned it after they were slaughtered or taken prisoner by pirates and two other brothers died after, is down on his luck. He’s down to his last credits, he’s operating under an assumed identity and with a renamed ship, “borrowing” money from the margin account of a distant trade syndicate, and without a crew since his last hired man jumped ship, and with few prospects. In a dive bar, looking for a crewman, he encounters a beautiful woman, member of a powerful family running a ship with 1000 crew but with no prospects for young helmswomen to advance, and they spend the night together. He then vows to see her again at her ship’s next stop, several hops away. No problem for a ship crewed around the clock, but for a single man flying solo, a risky endeavor–as the hops are disorienting and the total time takes several weeks of flight time. He manages to get there and becomes a minor celebrity, but entangles himself embarrassingly with the woman’s family–which leads to the family bankrolling his operation so long as he takes five family members with him on an expedition to nigh-uncharted space where trading opportunities might be had. Or they might be bait for a trap.

The book runs 208 pages, and for the first quarter I was really enjoying the world-building and how it was worked in with the plot, and the captain of the small vessel and the woman were falling for each other. But it got a little too intriguey, with the limited omniscient narrator looking in on one then the other and the other family members and a lot of back and forth about how they could not trust each other and steps they took in their mutual distrust. I would have preferred a more straightforward narrative, but that would not have made book length without the long passages and sections where one character distrusts the other, they talk about it, and one or the other thinks about how he or she cannot trust the other. As you might know, gentle reader, I don’t really get off on intrigues, which is why I am not so fond of modern television.

At any rate, it was ultimately okay. I won’t dodge Cherryh books in the future, but I don’t know when I’ll find another on the shelves. I do have numerous other DAW books on the shelves here, including a boxed set of Andre Norton books, another author I read once or twice as a kid that led me to buy more later. I don’t know when I will get to them, but certainly not before the end of the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge.

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Book Report: Racing the Light by Robert Crais (2022)

Book coverI bought this book for my beautiful wife for Christmas, so I don’t get to put it onto my read shelves, although it would not surprise me if a secondhand copy does not end up over there. After all, I have a pretty complete set starting with The Monkey’s Raincoat, Crais’ first Elvis Cole novel dated 1987 which my wife gave me, along with Crais’ other books to date, for Christmas in 2005. I’d say that Crais books are a Christmas tradition at Nogglestead (and Honormoor, our house in Casinoport, and the untitled Old Trees house), but 1) Crais does not write one a year and 2) we’ve gotten them in between holidays when available.

So, in this book, an older woman with a retinue of bodyguards comes to Cole to find her son, a podcaster who has disappeared. Cole delves into it, finding an association between the podcaster and an adult movie star. And his folks worked on deep, deep black government projects back in the day, so perhaps someone took the boy to get to the parents. The adult movie star also goes missing, and Elvis Cole and Joe Pike and Jon Stone (a recent recurring character) find high-powered Chinese bugs in the podcaster’s home. So it could be anyone and for any reason, and eventually Cole narrows it down.

It’s a quick read–I slotted it into the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge in the Page Turner category–and I read it in a couple of nights (somehow, I have less time to read now than in the past, where a Crais or Parker book would only take an evening). Maybe I’m a slower, more distracted reader these days.

The book also brings Lucy Chenier and her son Ben back into Cole’s life, and I was afraid they were brought back into the book so they could be taken by the bad people, but that’s not the case. My wife speculates that Crais is planning to wrap up the series and is tying up loose ends. Maybe. I dunno. I mean, I hope not, as I have enjoyed all the books (they lack that post-2001 turn into making the bad guys Republicans and delivering Important Messages that many series did). But it’s not like I’m lacking for things to read here.

So consider this a recommendation, and remember the story of how I acquired copies of Crais’ first published work.

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Book Report: A Black Woman’s Civil War Memoirs by Susie King Taylor (1902, 2009)

Book coverI bought this book in 2018 (I just discovered thanks to an Internet searcher from China), and it was the first book by Author of Color that I grabbed for the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge.

Originally entitled Reminiscences of My Life in Camp when it was published, the publishing house who slapped a new introduction on it to get a fresh copyright re-titled it for the 21st century, knowing what would sell the book–the personal pronoun My does not target the niche audience of university folk, and in Camp is not specific enough for a population that (by my tests in the 1990s) could not date the Civil War to know where camp was or why it was important.

The book basically has two parts: The Civil War-era diary, which details her time after escaping slavery and attaching herself to a military unit as a laundress and teacher of the other freed blacks along with the raising of the first black regiments in the Union army and a couple of their expeditions. The second part comes after the war, a later couple of additions talking about the integration of the newly freed slaves into the society and includes a chapter where the author, a resident of the magical land of Massachussetts (according to the text, Massachussets, as one of the most abolitionist states and forward-thinking in its treatment of freedmen, was legendary amongst the former slaves) to Louisiana. Unfortunately, it was not pleasant (to say the least), and it would be no better sixty years later (as Black Like Me sort of simulates).

The book is very short–154 pages when padded with end notes, illustrations, and a introduction to pad it out. Given that it’s still in print, or it was fourteen years ago, one can assume that it was required reading in some courses or another, but one wonders about fourteen years on. After all, the author is a Christian, and she’s hopeful in the first part of the book that blacks will be treated equally after emancipation, and even in the second part, she’s disappointed, but still hopeful. Which is not what has been sold for the last thirty years and what has been beyond the pale in modern thought in the last decade. You know, after the country elected a bi-racial child of an African and an American. Oh, how I would weep were I not a stoic and/or cynic.

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Book Report: For the Love of Benji by I.F. Love (1979)

Book coverThis year’s Winter Reading Challenge has a category called Kids’ Chapter Book–not so strange, as the 2021 edition had a Re-Read a Childhood Favorite category, and the 2022 edition had a Young Adult category. This category looks to be a gimme for serious readers. And I thought I might be in a world of hurt since I not only read Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates last winter, but I also read several other Doubleday Children’s Classics last year as well. But I found this book which I bought in the spring of 2009 after having seen it twice in two days, and I was set.

As you might know, gentle reader, I prefer Boomer of television’s Here’s Boomer to Benji. Probably because Benji was mostly a movie dog (and not that many, truth be told). This book is the novelization of his second movie, released in 1977.

In it, Benji’s family is on its way to Greece for a vacation when someone–tattoos? marks?–Benji at the airport, and the little scamp becomes an unwitting courier. When he arrives in Athens, he is accidentally set loose, and he evades numerous secret agent types as he looks for his family. Dog chases later, happy ending!

You know, it was probably hard to capture most of the charm of the film, which was undoubtedly a little dog doing amazing things and looking cute, in print like this. So take it for what it’s worth.

I’ve already alluded to it, but I was really surprised how few movies and appearances the various dogs playing Benji made. Two movies with his name in the title, the one with Chevy Chase which must have been excerpted in The Weekly Reader (how old am I? So old that there was a national newspaper for kids distributed free in school–and apparently it continued until 2012, so you might not have to be old old to remember it), and a couple of cameos in other films. And a television special or two. Man, he seemed ubiquitous at that point where the 70s turned into the 80s.

So I got my kids’ book for the reading challenge in, and that’s 2 of a minimum of 5. I am cruising, but I would like to hit most if not all of the 15 categories by the end of February. However, as my last year’s experience indicates, that might be too late for a mug–when I turned in my full sheet last January, I got the last mug, the display mug, in the Library Center branch of the library. Unless they ordered more, this year, I might end up with a librarian’s coffee-stained personal mug. Which is fine by me: Coffee is sterilizing, or so I tell myself when I reuse a mug for the fifth day.

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Book Report: Finding Lizzy Smith by Susan Keene (2017)

Book coverThis is the first book I’ve completed in the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge. I have applied it to the Female Detective category. The main character is a detective, a former police officer, and the action is more urban action than I think the Cozy category would allow. The two are kind of redundant, although from what I have read in the genre definition somewhere on the Internet, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series would be cozies. But we will see–Cozy might be the last category I read if I make it through all fifteen.

In the book, a former police officer turned private detective after her husband was murdered is scheduled to meet a college friend in Forest Park, but when she waits for the friend who does not show, a laser dot appears on her. Another friend saves her from gunshots, and so she has to wonder where her no-show friend, the Lizzy Smith of the title, is. She starts to investigate, and others in their close circle of college friends start to die–and her husband might have been the first. Eventually, she discovers that it might be tied to a dance club fire that killed several people and left a potential Olympian without legs. And Lizzy might be part of it.

It’s an okay book, paced well enough and well-written. As the book takes place in St. Louis and was written by someone from Southwest Missouri, I was watching for little gotchas. In one instance, the protagonist and another woman go to a strip club on the corner of Euclid and Kingshighway. When I lived in Old Trees, I remembered Euclid nearby–and I guess it’s in the Central West End, too, but running parallel with Kingshighway. It actually does intersect with Kingshighway far north of the Central West End–in an area where two small white women (the main character is 5′ 1″) would probably not go. The book has some misspellings and misnomers that spellchecking would have missed–Kingshighway appears as two words, for example–that a closer proofreading by a native would have caught. On the other hand, she talks about a 40-caliber Glock, and I thought that was a mistake–but I heard it a second time, so I double-checked, and the Glock 23 is chambered for that round, so it’s not wrong, but I’m not sure how common they are outside of women-generated detective fiction. Also, the rifle with the laser site is identified as chambered in .243, but I’ve always seen that as .243 Winchester. But that’s just from rifle magazines, not real conversations.

At any rate, I bought a number of her books in November (that long ago already?), and I don’t dread reading the next one. I can’t say when I’ll get to the others, though, as I do have this Winter Reading Challenge to tackle yet.

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Good Book Hunting, Saturday, January 14, 2023: ABC Books Gift Card Redemption

Friends, on Saturday, I went to ABC Books with gift cards in hand. I received a $50 card for Christmas, and I have $34 remaining on a Visa gift card, so I tucked three remaining $20 “You need a gift now?” gift cards (the “You need a gift now?” gifts previously had been bubble wands, inexpensive art kits, or Legos for the times when a child would announce he was invited to a birthday party the morning of the birthday party and produce a wrinkled invitation from somewhere in his school pack, but they’ve gotten too old for that–they might have outgrown getting invited to birthdays as well, as it has been years) into my pocket. That gave me roughly $150 in not real money to spend, and I knew I had a couple of more expensive books that I’d had my eyes on for the occasion when I was feeling flush, and although we are not flush right now with real money, I was ballin’ with gift cards.

So we got there, and I could not find anything.

The curse of the gift card. I can walk into ABC Books and find $100 worth of books when it’s my own money (and when an author is signing his or her books), but when I go there with a gift card, I cannot find anything to buy. I’ve had this problem at Barnes and Noble, Vintage Stock, you name it.

I mean, the nice copy of Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell that I’ve been hankering for since I listened to The World of George Orwell before the COVID lockdowns is $199.95, and the Folio Society and Eaton editions are not 25% of currently (they often are). There’s a nice set of the complete works of James Whitcomb Riley–I enjoyed his Little Orphant Annie and Other Poems Dover collection in 2018–but, come on, am I going to read those 10 volumes? I’m certainly a little at a loss for room for a nice set of 10 in the Nogglestead library.

The martial arts section remains empty. I looked at the artist monographs down the aisle, and I spotted a couple of collections of photography that I could use to satisfy the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge‘s Pictorial category–a collection of photos of Big Sur, California, a collection of the Grand Canyon, or photos from Marilyn Monroe’s last session, but these collections were fifty dollars or more, and that’s a lot for an hour’s worth of browsing to tick off a category in the reading challenge.

So I almost came out empty handed.

But not quite.

I got:

  • The Book of Irish Limericks by Myler MacGrath, a 40 page collection of limericks that would have been good to browse during football games, but football season has ended for Nogglestead.
  • Those Who Love: Love Poems by Sara Teasdale by, well, Sara Teasdale, a 61 page collection by the early 20th century poet. Either of these books would fulfill the Under 200 Pages category of the Winter Reading Challenge.
  • Ridge-Runner: From the Big Piney to the Battle of the Bulge by Norten Dablemont as told to Larry Dablemont. As you know, I enjoy Larry Dablemont’s columns which appear in several of my adopted hometown papers.
  • The Complete Poesm of Marianne Moore. This is a nice book club edition with a copyright date of 1956. I have a copy of Goblin Market and Other Poems around here somewhere–perhaps unfinished as I do not see it in the record from the last 20 years. Oh, well. It’s only one volume, and it was only $7.95.

So it was $25.73 total, and I paid with a regular credit card. Because I want to save the gift cards for something special.

And I still have the “You need a gift now?” cards in case we need a gift suddenly. Which is nice.

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Book Report: Lay Down My Sword and Shield by James Lee Burke (1971, 1994)

Book coverTwo and a half years ago, I picked up this book ABC Books after having read about the author in Garden and Gun magazine–a 2016 issue, which I was then four years late in reading. When I did my Good Book Hunting post, I said I’d get to the author eventually, and that was only two and a half years, which isn’t bad comparatively.

At any rate, this book is in the mystery section, but it is not a mystery. It’s in the mystery section because the author later became known for one or more mystery series, and the publisher who put this book back into print wanted people to buy it, too. So, voilà! A “mystery.”

But the book is more a serious, perhaps literary, novel about a Texan Korean War veteran whose service was briefly as a corpsman and less briefly as a prisoner of war, a member of a longstanding line of Texas heroes and businessmen starting with an ancestor who was a legendary lawman and a father that was thought to be a shrewd businessman. The protagonist, such as he is, is now an attorney serving an eccentric oilman and industry clients. He’s running for Congress and deals with a senator who looks forward to welcoming him to the fold and a mysterious power broker/fundraiser who is seemingly appended to the senator. He, the protagonist, is also a raging alcoholic who spends all day drinking whiskey, and he cheats on his wife with Mexican prostitutes–the first scene in the book is leaving his home and his oil wells for a trip to a cheap motel with one such on his way to a political event. He’s got an older brother trying to keep him on track, perhaps for his own purposes, and a cold wife. Just when you’re wondering if the alcohol or the whoring is going to do him in, an old army buddy calls from a small town jail in an agricultural area. He’s been working with some of the workers to unionize the agricultural workers, and the strike breakers and the local law enforcement have just about killed him. When the protagonist gets him out, they do kill him, and the protagonist takes up the cause of the farm workers–it doesn’t hurt that they drink a lot, too, and one of them is an absolute babe from back east. This allows him to work out his demons from the war (as a POW, he was eventually broken) and to find more meaning than coasting on his family’s wealth and fame.

So it’s a bit of Ross Thomas meets Larry McMurtry as well as a commentary on Texas, noble unionizers, and the change from Democratic political dominance to Republican political dominance and the Viet Nam war taking place about the time of the book’s writing. The text is a little bit lush, with again a lot of color being thrown around to describe things (I noticed this in The Red Badge of Courage as well). A little slower paced than a mystery, but not a bad book. Its political leanings are there, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with them as later authors might.

So not a bad read. I finished this book at the beginning of the month (well, all right, New Year’s Eve, but the Book Reading Year starts early), so it’s not eligible for the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge. I’m not sure where I could have slotted it anyway–it’s certainly not a page turner, and it’s 226 pages long. But it hasn’t dulled me on the author, which is good as I still have a couple of his other books which might actually be mysteries somewhere. Probably close in the stacks to where I got this one, but I have forgotten where that is.

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It Begins (2023)

The Springfield-Greene County Library 2023 Winter Reading Challenge has begun! Here’s the paper form for the challenge, which lasts from January 3-February 28:

To win the blessed mug, one needs to read five books from these fifteen categories:

  • Listen to a book
  • Set in Space
  • Religious or Spiritual
  • Female Detective
  • Cozy
  • Author of Color
  • Kids’ Chapter Book
  • Under 200 Pages
  • Banned Book
  • Speculative Fiction
  • Nature/Outdoors
  • Page Turner
  • Wartime Setting
  • Pictorial

The beauty of the unread stacks here at Nogglestead is that I can pretty much find books from all of those categories without any trouble. As a matter of fact, I’ve already picked out six books that fit the categories and have finished one with another to be completed tonight.

So, game on!

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2022: The Year’s Reading in Review

I only read 76 books this year, but I did close out some series–well, at least I read all the volumes in certain series that I owned, including the Executioner whose books I started picking up about a decade ago, some children’s books that I bought before I had children, and re-read some volumes of James Blish’s Star Trek series which turned episodes of the television series into short stories.

Here’s the rundown:

  1. Terror Intent The Executioner #219
  2. Tea in the Time of COVID 2020 Ann Kynion
  3. Time’s Eye Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
  4. Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates Mary Mapes Dodge
  5. Terror Near Town James R. Wilder
  6. Firefly: Still Flying
  7. Gracie: A Love Story George Burns
  8. Star Trek James Blish
  9. Star Trek Memories William Shatner with Chris Kreski
  10. The Courtship of Barbara Holt Brian J. Noggle
  11. Mr. Monk Is Miserable Lee Goldberg
  12. Star Trek 2 James Blish
  13. Heidi Johanna Spyri
  14. Star Trek 3 James Blish
  15. Star Trek 4 James Blish
  16. The Story
  17. The Dark Side of CX Michael G. Bartlett
  18. Gorilla Mindset Mike Cernovich
  19. Star Trek 5 James Blish
  20. The Red Badge of Courage Stephen Crane
  21. John D. MacDonald: A Checklist of Collectible Editions and Translations David G. MacLean
  22. True Tales from Dickerson Park Zoo Mike Crocker
  23. Tiger Stalk The Executioner #220
  24. The Samurai: The Philosophy of Victory Robert T. Samuel
  25. The Valley of Yesterday Jeane K. Harvey
  26. Black Beauty Anna Sewell
  27. Blood and Fire The Executioner #221
  28. The Old and the Beautiful
  29. Mr. Obvious James Lileks
  30. Point Position The Executioner #305
  31. Tucked Away in a Discolored Scrapbook S.V. Farnsworth
  32. Nuts About Squirrels Don H. Corrigan
  33. Thin Ice and Other Poems Marcia Muth
  34. Within This Center: Poems and Images Robert C. Jones
  35. Hard Start: Martian Intrigue S.V. Farnsworth
  36. Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
  37. Introducing Machiavelli Patrick Curry and Oscar Zarate
  38. Sergeant York Alvin York / Edited by Tom Skeyhill
  39. Boxing: The American Martial Art R. Michael Onello
  40. The Midwest Survival Guide Charlie Berens
  41. My Ántonia Willa Cather
  42. Star Trek 6 James Blish
  43. Unspoken Feelings of a Gentleman Pierre Alex Jeanty
  44. The Pandora Gambit Levi Samuel
  45. Tae Kwon Do Basics Keith D. Yates and H. Bryan Robbins
  46. Lifetime Collection of Poetry Lucille Christiansen
  47. Zen in the Martial Arts Joe Hyams
  48. Serenity: The Official Visual Companion Joss Wheldon
  49. The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray Robert Schmakenberg
  50. A Trail of Memories: The Quotations of Louis L’Amour Angelique L’Amour
  51. Red Snow and Death Had Yellow Eyes Lester Dent
  52. Nine Tomorrows Isaac Asimov
  53. I Sing the Body Electric! Ray Bradbury
  54. A View from the Bridge Arthur Miller
  55. Star Trek 7 James Blish
  56. Bendigo Shafter Louis L’Amour
  57. Life to Life Don Pendleton
  58. Star Trek 8 James Blish
  59. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne
  60. Star Trek 11 James Blish
  61. John Donnelly’s Gold Brian J. Noggle
  62. The Saint Meets His Match Leslie Charteris
  63. Buff Lamb: Lion of the Ozarks Randy H. Greer
  64. The Broken Snare R.D. Symons
  65. The Lilac Lady Ruth Albert Brown
  66. Time to Time Don Pendleton
  67. Born Standing Up Steve Martin
  68. Dark Love edited by Nancy A. Collins, Edward E. Kramer, and Martin H. Greenberg
  69. Conan the Barbarian L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
  70. Conan the Destroyer Robert Jordan
  71. The Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri Dean Curtis
  72. The Silent Partner Lee Goldberg
  73. Christmas Stories for the Heart compiled by Alice Gray
  74. Double Star Robert Heinlein
  75. Fullmetal Alchemist Hiromu Arakawa
  76. Milk and Honey Rupi Kaur

I read several volumes of poetry, a couple plays, and only a couple pieces of literature not counting the classic children’s volumes (My Ántonia and The Red Badge of Courage). So I guess I’ll have to dig into something more serious in 2023.

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Book Report: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (2015)

Book coverAh, gentle reader, I had a hard time writing this particular book report. For this young woman is a New York Times best-selling author, and she has appeared on numerous television programs and many venues, reading her poetry to large live audiences. And, as you might know, I have self-published a collection of poetry (Coffee House Memories–surely you have not forgotten even as you have not bought it!) that sold dozens of copies. Or at least a dozen. Perhaps.

So you might consider anything negative I have to say sour grapes. You might even be right! However, here’s what I thought.

I bought this collection of poetry in August, and although it is not my wont this year to read poetry or artists’ monographs during football games, but this would have been one I could have browsed as the poems are generally short.

According to a quick Internet search, the author is a more modern InstaPoet who wrote and illustrated this book when she was 21, and she’s a perfomance poet, although meta tags from various Web sites don’t indicate this is the rough-and-tumble poetry slam/open mic world or more genteel events where she is the featured poet given in small rooms or auditoriums at universities. Probably the latter, although in interviews she says she came up through the open mic circuit. They might be friendlier in Canada than the Wabash or the Venice Cafe, though.

So what of the poetry? Most of it is only a couple of lines, a lot like a thoughtful tweet. Some of the sentiments thematically resonate with me, or at least with where I would have been in my twenties–I mean, look at much of the material in , particularly the reproductions of Unrequited (released when I was 22) and Deep Blue Shadows (released when I was 23). They share a bit of the cynical romanticism, the hardened vulnerability….

But some, not so much, as they rely a bit on modern feminist celebrations:

the goddess between your legs
makes mouths water

That are really not for me. That is a whole poem, so you can see what I mean by being tweet-length. What is it? Does it somehow describe the vagina as a deity separate from the vagina-bearer that somehow causes a salivary response akin to good food or a conditioned response to Russian bell-ringing, or is a simplistic and twee feminist self-affirmation or reclamation of sexual power? I’ll take Occam’s razor to it: The simplest answer is probably true.

So some of the shorter poems have a good sentiment but are undeveloped, and when the pieces are longer, they’re unrefined. Overall, the work reminds me of Pierre Alex Jeanty whom I read earlier in the year and who is also more of an Internet “influencer” than a true poet.

The volume I have has some poems or lines therein highlighted–I’m not sure whether this means the books was used as a textbook or if the previous owner marked bits from favorite poems that way. It’s not how I do it, of course–if I like a poem a lot, I memorize it. And have been known to recite them at open mics. Including Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” which is, what, 20 pages? Yeah, you don’t uncork those too often at open mic nights. Certainly not at the Wabash or the Venice Cafe.

So, overall: Some promise, but a lot of emotion dumps that express but do not evoke. Still, if I see one of her later volumes at ABC Books, I’ll probably pick it up.

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Book Report: Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (2005, 2007)

Book coverI thought this might be the last of the manga that I bought at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton garage sale in 2015, but extensive studies have determined that although I have read Shaman King #17 and Warriors: The Rise of Scourge, I don’t see a book report for Naruto #15. So I guess I will find that seven years hence.

At any rate, this is early in the series. An alchemist, which is kind of a magician, has lost his arm and has a robotic one to help him with his alchemy/spellcasting. The attack that left him in such a state also destroyed his brother’s body, so he, the fullmetal alchemist, infused a suit of armor with the brother’s soul. A serial killer–well, we would call it a serial killer in a modern suspense thriller, but really it’s an unknown supervillain of some sort–is hunting down the government alchemists. As the story develops, they learn that it’s a survivor of a government suppression of a religious sect, the suppression which used government-sponsored alchemists to perform a genocide on the sect. Pardon me, but what is the verb for genocide? “Perform” seems tame.

So we get four chapters in the saga, where the brothers and other government alchemists battle the unknown assailant and discover his reasons, but not why he is so powerful. Four out of many, many such chapters, and of course it’s comic book form, so a lot of comic art for little story.

So I’ve not really gotten into manga, although I have read a comic book or two. But they don’t count toward the annual total, unlike graphic novels or manga. So I will eventually read that remaining volume when I find it.

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Book Report: Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein (1956, 1957)

Book coverI bought this nice looking (well, better than the scan, and probably better than I started it) paperback from sixty-five years ago at the Friends of the Christian County Libary book sale in October 2019, and it came with its own little story:

Double Star, a Robert Heinlein juvie that earned me a book sale friend. Another guy saw it and asked where I got it; I mentioned it was mixed in, and that there were not others, or I would have them in my hands. He told me of the collection he’d received as a gift, a trash bag full of classic science fiction, and I envied it. Later, he approached me to offer me the copy of Friday that he’d found, but, come on: The later Heinlein hardbacks are easy to come by. At any rate, I’ll hit this one up sometime; I’d say “Soon,” but I’m surprised to see how many Heinlein books I come across in the library here that I have not yet read.

Spoiler alert: It was not really soon unless you’re counting in Nogglestead to-read time, in which a little over three years is actually soon.

The book was stacked amongst some of the paperbacks I bought in Berryville, Arkansas, which includes Diagnosis: Murder: The Silent Partner (can one put two colons in a title) and Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer–when I came across it, I moved it to the top of the stack and started it shortly thereafter.

But, ah, gentle reader–although this book is only 128 pages, it took me a week to read it. Some nights I gave over to watching films, including Highlander, Die Hard, and Die Hard 2, but that’s not the only reason. This book is in tiny print, and the text is in full midcentury paragraphs, where even the dialog is dense. Coupled with a cat and a couple of kittens who hop onto my lap and demand attention by sitting at my reading focal point, and suddenly it takes me days to read essentially a mid-century juvie rocket-jockey book.

So it’s a pretty simple plot: A two-bit actor is down on his luck and is down to his last dime when he tries to befriend a spacer on the run, presumably, who comes into the dive bar where the actor is drinking. As it happens, the man pretends not to be a spacer but has a job offer for the actor. While discussing the matter in private, they’re interrupted by some opposing forces whom our heroes dispatch–and once they are off Earth and on their way to Mars, the situation becomes clearer: a Parliamentary politician, currently out of power, has been kidnapped, and his people need the actor to stand in for the missing man to participate in a delicate ceremony while they search for the missing man. Complications arise, and the actor must determine how much further the show must go on.

So it’s an interesting story, but the pacing was a little slower than I’d prefer, and the blocks of tiny text made for a less enjoyable reading experience. Still, it is a very old paperback, designed to be affordable by young people (and to be put into library bindings). I suppose if I am going to complain about it, I could pick up one of the many, many hardbacks with larger print in them that I have available–including some large print editions, no doubt.

Still, I look forward to the other Heinleins I uncover here in the stacks or find in the wild. Even if I’ve already read them. So let that be my endorsement.

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Book Report: Christmas Stories for the Heart compiled by Alice Gray (1997)

Book coverAs you might know, gentle reader, I like to read a Christmas novel around Christmas. And although I pick them up here and there over the year at book sales and garage sales in anticipation of Christmas to come, once they’re in the disorganized to-read shelves of Nogglestead, they’re gone for years.

I mean, I looked. I have a number of Lloyd Douglas (author of Home for Christmas) novels in Collier’s editions, but they’re not Christmas novels. I have another Thomas Kinkade/Katherine Spencer Cape Light novel, but unlike A Christmas Promise, it’s not Christmas-themed. And so on.

Well, I found this book which is not a novel. Instead, it’s a collection of poems, short stories, devotions, and personal essays recounting events that seem custom-made for personal essays about Christmas. That last, of course, is out-of-step with the Christmas spirit, but I’m a bit out-of-step myself. I have not gone gonzo on the gift-giving. Of course, it has not really snowed–a dusting, almost an imagining, which resulted in measurable snowfall at all points of the compass but not here.

So: It’s a collection of things you might have found, well, not in Ideals magazine, but collected in many mid-century general interest magazines (one of the pieces previously appeared in Reader’s Digest) along with a couple more modern things like Max Lucado.

The short fiction is probably the best; many of the essays are also probably short fiction, and they’re okay. The poetry is akin to grandmother poetry, although the perpetrators might not have been grandmother aged at the time of the writing. The devotional-kind of bits are a bit rote.

Actually, in looking at the end matter which points out where the items originally appeared, the best of the lot comes from the mid-century, and much of the lesser bits come from the 1990s. Which, gentle reader, was 25 years ago–about the age now that the “old” stuff in the book comes from. And it’s sad to see the decline to that point.

At any rate, it’s 156 pages with the end matter. Most of the stories are only a couple of pages, shorter than the things in the contemporaneous Dark Love, and I enjoyed it more.

Although I wish I had found a proper Christmas novel.

I have, however, found an Ideals magazine compendium of Christmas things. The kittens knocked down an old Christmas Ideals magazine from the vintage magazine shelf in the Sauder printer stand serving as the end table in the den, but it looks like I have not mentioned it on this blog. Perhaps I have not read it–I have not read many of the vintage science fiction magazines I got–somewhere, perhaps in my estate sales days. So perhaps I have not read that one wall the way through.

Will I read the compendium I have found recently before Christmas? Before the end of the year? That’s the cliffhanger in this book report. I will say I have not yet started it, although I might carry it to the chairside book accumulation point if I can find it again.

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Book Report: The Silent Partner by Lee Goldberg (2003)

Book coverWhen I read Monk book by this author in February, I said:

I don’t think I have any more Monk titles by Goldberg in my library, but I do have several in the Diagnosis: Murder series that I will get to before too long (but I am more likely to finish other series/sets that I’ve started recently).

Well, that prophesy has proven true for sure. I completed a number of series, or at least the volumes I had (the Doubleday children’s books, the Executioner book, the James Blish Star Trek books, etc.), and after I read the Conan movie tie-in books that I bought in Berryville, Arkansas, in July 2021, I thought I might enjoy some of the other paperbacks I bought at that time. So far, so good.

I am only aware of the Diagnosis: Murder program whose canon this book extends. My mother liked the show, and I sometimes caught bits of it when visiting her. I knew Scott Baio was in it, but was replaced (or replaced) the other guy. I knew Dick van Dyke, depicted on the cover, was a doctor who wore roller skates at times (actually, Heelies shoes), and his son was the cop. But that was not it. So when the action started in the book, I was not sure whether to think of Dr. Travis as Scott Baio or the other guy, but Scott Baio’s character, Dr. Stewart, makes an appearance, and the book describes him as looking like a grown-up Chachi, which not only identified the characters for me but also captured a bit of the show’s side jokes as well as Goldberg’s style.

At any rate, the book has two murders: a wealthy, type-A restaurant chain owner needs a new kidney, and his son volunteers one of his. So the two junior doctors played by Scott Baio and the other guy perform the operations, but the kidney recipient dies of a penicillin allergy that might have been caused by a near-pharmaceutical antibiotic administered by the cocky Dr. Stewart–but Dr. Sloan had given him the same antibiotic without a reaction some weeks before. So who wanted to kill the man–or to frame Dr. Stewart for negligence?

In the other, Dr. Sloan is added to a cold case task force by a deputy chief trying to neutralize his meddling in homicide. But Dr. Sloan uncovers what might be a serial killer who is killing by mirroring the methods of other serial killers. Officially, the police want this theory to go away, as it might throw into doubt the conviction of the actual serial killers, but investigation seems to be proving Dr. Sloan right, especially when he is the target of a drive-by attempt that would have filmed wonderfully (but didn’t translate as well to the page).

I mean, the book is almost 300 pages, but I knew who would turn out to be the killers very early. Still, it was an enjoyable read to the finish.

I did flag a couple things:

It was a pricey, and exclusive, stretch of sand. Most of the houses on Broad Beach belonged to actors, directors, big-shot producers and a few over-compensated, perk-fat CEOs.

Wow, okay, but some of those outside of Hollywood might have heaped opprobium on people who work in Hollywood, too.

“What about the bullets?”
“We’ve recovered some shells,” Rykus said. “They’re on the way to the lab.”

Oy, vey. I am not sure if I am out-of-touch with actual gun owners or if Goldberg (or Lee Child), but I don’t know anyone who calls rounds or casings shells. Shells go into shotguns, and they’re what’s left after the shot has gone down range or into fowl (or, depending upon the gunner, near the fowl–all right, all right, all right, also slugs/deer, but that’s rare).

So I am pleased with this other series of Goldberg, which is good as I have several. I’d like to think he’s written them himself, but he’s a big-shot producer, so it’s possible, maybe probable, that someone else wrote them for him. But he’s not quite the brand of James Patterson or Tom Clancy to farm the work out quite that much, ainna?

Regardless, I’ll pick up the other Diagnosis: Murder books by and by. Probably too late to clear all the books I own the series in 2022, though, as I have four more to go.

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Book Report: Conan the Barbarian by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter (1982) / Conan the Destroyer by Robert Jordan (1984)

Book coverI bought these books and a couple of other Conan/Robert E. Howard paperbacks last summer in Berryville, Arkansas, and as I just watched the films in July, I thought I would pick them up. I am spending a lot of reading time this year on paperbacks, so why change now?

These books differ from some movie novelizations in that the authors were already steeped in the Conan mythos as they’d written original Conan short stories and/or novels in decades before the movies appeared. So you get a lot of depth in the books that you don’t get in a lot of cases where the novelizinator works quickly from a script.

I summarized the plots of Conan the Barbarian in the movie post thus:

In Conan the Barbarian, young Conan sees his father and mother killed before him when a raiding party strikes their undefended village, and he is taken as a slave. He grows up, becomes strong from his labor, and then ends up as a gladiator traveling with Mongol-types, still a slave, until he is released. He flees to a dead area where he finds Mako playing a sorcerer of questionable ability and seeks his revenge on the leader of the band who killed his family and razed his village, Thulsa Doom played by James Earl Jones. Of course, the man is now the leader of a spreading cult of snake-handlers. Oh, and Sandahl Bergman plays Valeria, a fighter-thief that Conan loves.

It’s as good of a read as the movie is a good movie, if that makes sense–it reads like a standalone novel, not something that simply recaptures the film so you can remember it. And it does not include photos from the movie. Perhaps the intent was to make this a backlist book that outlasted the movie.

Book coverI described the plot of this film also in that movie post:

In Conan the Destroyer, Conan is given a quest to escort the virgin niece, played by Olivia d’Abo, of a queen who is destined to restore the horn of a sleeping god. So Conan and a thief start off with the girl and her bodyguard, played by Wilt Chamberlain. They rescue Mako and a female warrior, played by Grace Jones, from a hostile tribe and they go do some sidequests and then the main quest and discover they’ve been played, and the queen is going to sacrifice the virgin to resurrect the god. So Conan has to slay the tall bodyguard and then the resurrected god.

Actually, in the case of this book, it’s a good thing that I just watched the film as this first printing has an erratum in the binding. After page 256, when Conan and his party are storming the castle, the frontspiece, title page, and the first 31 pages of the book appear again instead of the climactic showdown and end matter. I would think this might be collectible, but, c’mon, man, collecting, paperbacks, errata, and all that are so 20th century. You can find copies of this book on Ebay for $10 without mention of the errata (well, perhaps that means not all of the first printing was botched). However, if I find another copy in the wild, I might have to pick it up if it finishes the story, and perhaps I will read it again–or just the end of it. Time will tell if I count that as a complete book–but I sure counted this one as a whole book.

I shall probably delve into those other Conan paperbacks by and by–and I have already started one of the Diagnosis: Murder paperbacks I picked up on that trip.

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Book Report: The Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri by Dean Curtis (2022)

Book coverI got this book at a book signing last month whereupon I got not only a copy for me but also for my horse-loving aunt who lives with my grandmother in Wisconsin. As I have finally gotten around to finishing a letter to my grandmother and mailing the book, I thought I would delve into it just so I can say I’ve read it if it comes up in a Facebook conversation.

Which is kind of funny: The copy of the book I sent to Wisconsin lie upon the table for a couple of weeks until I sent the letter, and now my copy has rested upon the table for several days since I read it and before I wrote this report on it, and it’s a large book, consuming a lot of real estate on the desk. So with this report, I’ll be able to clear a little space.

At any rate, it is what you would expect: some text about the photographer’s introduction to the wild horse herds while camping over a decade ago. Shannon County apparently supports four herds, but the herds are not very big–ten or so horses roughly–so they’re not like herds of buffalo from horizon to horizon. They very in levels of shyness, which means there are more from the Shawnee Creek herd than the Broadfoot, Rocky Creek, or Round Spring herds. The photographer has caught them in a variety of seasons, dispositions, and poses, from running across a river to emerging from a fogbank.

So it’s a cool book, not a long read, but an interesting look into the places nearby which are still a bit wild. As I mentioned, well, probably explained to my grandmother, I pass through Shannon County not far from these herds when I drive to Poplar Bluff. The book gives the history of the herds and the attempts to preserve them as well as the photographer’s story–the book raised money for the organization founded to protect them–and one of the headlines reproduced is from the front page of The Current Local, a paper out of Van Buren which was one of the first of my adopted hometown newpapers to which I subscribed.

Or maybe I’m just getting old that I’m relating to local books more acutely these days, especially the ones related to local history (see also Buff Lamb: Lion of the Ozarks). I’ve lived at Nogglestead for 13 years, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere, and the experience of having lived somewhere for a while might be altering my perception of time and my place in the world. Or perhaps I’ve had too much coffee today.

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Book Report: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (2007)

Book coverAs I mentioned when I spoke of the audiobook version of Pure Drivel, I had already picked up another Steve Martin work. This book is that work–I picked it up in between short stories in a collection that the kittens suggested by knocking it off of the shelves, but I was not powering through the collection in one go. This book, though, I read in a couple of nights even though it is longer than Shopgirl.

It is basically a memoir of the early parts of his career, from his teenaged years when he worked at Disneyland and Knotts’ Berry Farm learning magic, standup comedy, and whanot through his taking his show on the road and kind of trailblazing a new wacky style of comedy and then through his movie successes of the 1980s, although he only touches on that. He doesn’t get much into his personal life except to say that he had a rocky relationship with his father when he was younger, and it does not go a lot into his later relationships. It’s definitely through the lens of the standup work and how it evolved and how it went from fulfilling to feeling like he was just playing the role of Steve Martin in his larger arena tours after his career took off.

It’s an interesting read both as a time capsule of being a young man who wants to embark on an entertainment career as well as a glimpse into being young a couple of decades before I was young. And it’s written with Martin’s characteristic intelligence and grace with a touch of self-effacement that endears the writer to the reader.

So worth looking for more, although Martin has only written a handful of books in his time.

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Book Report: Dark Love edited by Nancy A. Collins, Edward E. Kramer, and Martin H. Greenberg (1995)

Book coverThis was the second book suggested to me by the kittens who were sequestered in my office for a time, and they suggested books for me to read by knocking them off of my to-read bookshelves. But they might as well have knocked this book into their cat litter, for I did not like it very much, and I am no longer taking recommendations from the kittens.

The front cover bills it as Twenty Two All-Original Tales of Lust and Obsession. Given that it’s headlined by Stephen King, I thought it would be a horror collection, but really, it’s a more crime fiction with a lot of wetwork and a bunch of sex (deviancy is a plus to the editors). It’s not horror but horrific. Many of the stories try to get into the minds of the insane, who then have deviant sex and murder people.

It took me a while to get through the book, reading several others in between the stories. Because many of the stories were very similar. Breaking it up kept it a little fresher.

And as this book is from 1995, it does contain the two baddest words in the universe: Trump and, you know, the other one. Which could be used in print in living memory as a marker that whomever spoke it was backward and not a good person. But no more.

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Book Report: Time to Time by Don Pendleton (1988)

Book coverWell, make this my year of completing sets, or at least groups of books that I have. I mean, I finished all of the books in the Executioner series that I own; I finished the set of James Blish Star Trek books I had on my to-read shelves; I finished the Doubleday children’s books I’d picked up, perhaps for my children but never shared with them. Since I only had three books in the six-book Ashton Ford series, why not?

Okay, so I did not know what to expect when I read the first in the series, Ashes to Ashes, in 2018. And when I read Life to Life in October, I thought maybe the series had an arc it was completing–after all, in it, Ashton impregnated a televangelist while she was in jail and they were getting it on in the astral plane, so I expected something to come of that. Maybe in the fifth book, but not here.

In this book, Ashton follows an unidentified flying object into the hills above town and discovers a nude woman. It’s an acquaintance of his, an actress of some reknown, and he helps her. He discovers that she’s involved with what might be some extraterrestrials and might be an alien.

So basically, that’s the schtick of the books: a pedestrian suspense plot with an overlay of woo-woo. In this case, it’s an alien civilization advanced of ours, monitoring ours and hoping to have us rejoin them in the future, but right now, it’s dolphins (the original heirs to this world), rebirth, and UFOs.

We get pages of Ashton thinking these things through again. Whereas Mack Bolan sometimes would go a couple of paragraphs or a page or so into philospophy or morals; however, in these books, Pendleton gives Ashton a lot of room to muse on the paranormal, and it detracts from the mundane plot or even the woo-woo.

You know, when reading these books, I cannot help compare them to the later Heinlein, where he turned toward free love and whatnot. Both Pendleton and Heinlein were Navy men in World War II, and their books took a different tone when they got older and as they faced their own mortality. I should like to say my books might take a similar turn, but I don’t have a body of work from my youth the mark any differences as I age.

At any rate, I can understand why this series did not go very far. It’s a little wordy, and Pendleton does not balance or blend the woo-woo with the normal plots very smoothly. But perhaps he pioneered the way, a bit, for modern urban fantasy. He certainly didn’t hinder it.

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