Book Report: Gettysburg Visions by Sam Weaver (2002)

Book coverThis is the size and shape of a poetry chapbook, but it’s printed on glossy paper with four color pictures throughout. So it was anything but chap, gentle reader. Apparently, the author has a ministry of his own (Oil and Wine Ministries) where you can actually download this book and his others as a PDF for free without having to pay ABC Books $3.50 for it.

At any rate, the poems are simple rhymed numbers based on the Battle of Gettysburg triggered by the author’s visit. They talk about Jesus’ forgiveness and how soldiers on both sides received grace as all were sinners redeemed by the savior. It’s a thought that might be a little nuanced for modern audiences. But probably not those reading Bible-inspired poetry published by a ministry organization.

So a very quick read indeed, as half the book is color pictures of the battlefield. It also has a collection of Bible verses tied to the poems, so there’s some learning in addition to just reading poetry. But the poetry itself doesn’t rise much above grandmother poetry, although to be honest, I still prefer it to more modern Good Poetry.

Book Report: Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (2003)

Book coverThis book fills the Books about Books slot in the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge. The conceit is that it’s a topical list of reading that identifies a topic and then lists a bunch of books about the topic that you might want to read. The author is a long-time librarian and a contributor to a public radio station or two.

With that in mind, one might think the book lists would skew in a certain political direction. One needs only get to the American History Nonfiction section, page 20, where the first recommendation is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Okay, so, yeah. But the politics don’t overwhelm the book–it was 2003, after all, and Bush was only slightly Hitler when the author was finishing the book. So the politics are not overt nor hateful, but some do inform the choices and the selections of topics.

The books comes off as a series of listicles, like you might find on a blog back in 2003 (or 2021). I found myself skimming more than reading, looking more for books that I have read that she recommends (some) more than recommendations (I already have thousands to read on my shelves, so I won’t be rushing out to buy new books until…. well, the next time I go to ABC Books, which is likely soon).

She has some author-specific “Don’t Miss This Author” recommendations which include Robert Heinlein and Ross Thomas, authors whom I have read and enjoyed.

I flagged a couple things:

In the topic Biographical Novels:

Reading The Death of Ché Guevara by Jay Cantor makes it easy to see how the charismatic Castro’s closest pal during the Cuban Revoluton was. The book is fast moving and sympathetic to both Ché Guevara and the cause. Cantor was clearly as captivated by the energy and humanity of the man as were Ché’s many followers.

So, yeah, politics inform the selections. But not hatefully. Strangely, too, she applies the accute accent to his name even though it’s not represented in the book title or other references to Che’s name.

The following, from the section Politics of Fiction, is even more timely now than in 2003:

Charles McCarry’s Shelley’s Heart tells the story of a presidential election that is stolen by computer fraud, and the winning and losing candidates whose lives are changed by the outcome. Eerily familiar, this is a perfect novel for today’s paranoia-filled world.

Me, to the author in 2003: Just you wait!

I also flagged a couple books I’d read or will read soon–she mentions Steven Saylor, whose Last Seen in Massilia I read in ancient times and one of whose books I stacked up for the Historical category in the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge–and also Jane Eyre–but I stopped flagging the books to whose book reports I could link. They were scattered enough that I was not tacking a slip to every page.

At any rate, I didn’t really flag any books to hunt down, as I mentioned (except maybe The Golden Gate, a novel made of sonnets), but perhaps I will kind-of, sort-of remember the recommendations in the book when confronted with some of the authors mentioned within at the book sales. But I likely won’t remember acutely why I decided to pick up an Iris Murdoch or why I decided to read The Last Picture Show, which I have in paperback on the outer rank of books in the hall, soon.

But it did fill a line in the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge form, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

ABC Books Sets The Bait

I saw this on ABC Books’ Facebook page the other day:

Of course, I have to have it.

I actually own the Tennyson volume in the set. Actually, I somehow ended up with two copies of the Tennyson volume, one of which I have to my mother-in-law, a former English teacher.

I think my volume is already in the poetry section of the read shelves along with several older volumes of verse that I have not actually read. And a paperback copy of Wordsworth that I try to read from time to time. Back in the old days, I would sometimes put poetry collections on the read shelves, especially omnibus editions or complete collection kinds of works. Now, I put them on the to-read shelves for eventual, maybe, reading.

At any rate, the race is on between me going to ABC Books and either buying this book or finding it’s too expensive for a casual purchase and me forgetting about it entirely. Las Vegas gives the odds in favor of the latter.

Book Report: We Live On Mackinac Island (2017)

Book coverI bought this on Mackinac Island on our trip north in 2018; I previously read Mackinac Island: Its History in Pictures.

This book is a little FAQ put tohether, presumably, by the public school on the island. It has about 500 full time residents, and they mostly live in the settled neighborhoods, and, yes, they have a grocery store and a hardware store that are open in the winter.

A quick read as it’s a booklet and a good reminder of the time we went there. And a couple bucks for the school which they’ve already spent.

Something about it, though, is hitting me in my hermit spot. I mean, we’re finishing the first, what, third? of brown season here in Missouri. We had a couple of days of snow dustings a week and a half ago that made it look wintery, but…. I read this book, and I have this craving to go live in a small, snug cabin up north with me, my books, coffee, soup, maybe some salted fish, and a wood fire where I would, I dunno, write and work seasonally and then hole up for the entire winter with permission to sit and read and nap.

Of course, it sounds nice, and it might be a good month or season, but I probably would tire of it after a bit. But I do get all hibernatey in the winter time, going out somewhat reluctantly. Which is weird because it doesn’t tend to get wintery like I associate with Winter down here.

Book Report: whiskey words & a shovel I by r.h. Sin (2017)

Book coverAs you might remember, I bought this book online from ABC Books during the Great Apausening last Spring. I started it after January 2, so this is the first book I completed in the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge.

Well, the author mentions early in the book that he’s widely quoted (in the same poem that he knocks Trump), and apparently he’s a going thing and a New York Times best seller. This book is, after all, published by a major publisher (Andrews McMeel), but it’s not my bag, baby.

I mean, you know I knocked Like the Pieces of Driftwood for its sentences with line breaks. You know by now, gentle reader, that I like longer lines with rhythm, cadence, good mouthfeel, and evocative imagery. This book is more modern, with short lines with rare concrete imagery.

For example, one of the poems starts like this (presented in a snippet, in an image, to make it harder for poetry poachers like Harvey to scrape them into collections of his own for sale for five bucks–what, fifteen years ago and I’m still bringing it up?):

So, it’s very modern in appearance, cadence, and execution. Some of the stuff that’s very short kinda hits the good haiku koan kind of thing, but the longer pieces don’t tend to work. Although I can certainly see them in spots where they’re the kind of thing that could easily appear on an image that’s passed around on Facebook or something.

As to the topic matter, basically, the poems have three threads:

  • Girl, you’re duplicitous and aren’t worth my love.
  • Girl, you’re strong and beautiful just the way you are. (If these were posted with images on Facebook, they would be misattributed to Ryan Gosling and would start with “Hey girl” [sic].).
  • Girl, I love you and we’re going to be so happy.

I was thinking maybe that this guy was very unlucky in love–hey, my own collection Coffee House Memories is full of my own poems written to unrequited loves, loves that did me wrong, loves that I done wrong, and loves I did right. However, when I read the introduction (last, as is my wont, of course), I learned that all the poems were about a single break-up, courtship, and requiting with a new love–but the poems were all jumbled together. Which makes me feel a bit better for the poet-narrator throughout.

And I was a little surprised at one point when the poet-narrator mentioned his brown skin–and I learned that the poet is indeed black. Most of the time, black poets (such as Robery Hayden and Langston Hughes) tackle the topic of race, but this collection sticks a more universal themes. So I appreciated that.

Still, not my kind of poetry, but the man has got his following in this Internet age, so good for him.

Book Report: Like the Pieces of Driftwood by Jon Francis (1979)

Book coverI bought this book at ABC Books a couple weeks ago and started the book as a browser during football games that weekend. Which means I cannot count it as my Poetry book for the library winter reading challenge. Because although I didn’t see it in the rules anywhere, I’m playing the game that I need to read the whole book in the prevailing period, not just the last half of it (as I did with this book) or the introduction (which I read last in Wuthering Heights).

The author of this book apparently liked to travel along the Pacific coast, often in the winter, and write about his experiences and people, often women, he met. This is his fourth collection of poetry, essentially self-published, but as that was 1979, he is a man lost to time. I tried to look for things about him on the Internet. I briefly worried that I would discover that he wandered into the woods and dies like that McCandless kid–I mean, there’s a lot of rootlessness and wandering in this book–and on of my searches found the Jon Francis Foundation, named after a kid who died in a mountain climbing accident and it took his family a year of searching to find his remains in the wilderness. But it’s not the same guy. The only traces we have of this guy, or at least in the first couple pages of search results, are listing for his books on various Web sites.

At any rate, the poetry of the author is the conversational kind of things you get from casual poetry of that era, akin to Rod McKuen or James Kavanaugh. Not as formal as grandmother poetry with end rhymes (but not the modern short line paradigm, either). But mostly they’re sentences with line breaks expressing sentiments rather than evoking them. Here’s a sample of one’s beginning, presented in image form:

I mean, prose as poem because it has line breaks and line breaks between paragraphs, which means verses.

So, kind of relatable, but not very poetic.

However, he probably sold more books of poetry before he faded into obscurity, so he’s got that going for him.

I did want to take a moment to speculate on something. The photo on the back cover is a black and white image captioned “Jon and Trip on the Mendocino Coast.” And I for the life cannot figure out what Trip is. I’ve tucked it under the fold here in case you want to try with a large image to speculate.

Continue reading “Book Report: Like the Pieces of Driftwood by Jon Francis (1979)”

The Springfield-Greene County Library Winter 2021 Reading Challenge

So this week, I stopped at the Library Center, which apparently is my home library now that my wanderings and errandings take me into Springfield instead of Republic, just to pick up the form for the Winter Reading Challenge for adults. I mean, I can totally crush it, ainna? I read 126 or so books last year, and I was on the cusp of completing a couple shorter works.

But, it turns out, the reading challenge is to read five books from amongst fifteen categories. The categories include:

Well, not too woke; only a couple of identity group choices of the fifteen. Some critics have alleged, according to the introduction of Wuthering Heights, that Emily Brontë might have been gay. At the very least, it was set in another country. But….

The reading challenge runs from January 2, 2021, through February 28, 2021. I started Wuthering Heights last year, so I don’t feel right counting it. Or the half-completed collection of poetry I started before then. And I can’t count Savings, which I finished in December. Too bad–that’s a collection of poetry by a native American author. I could have picked it!

So, gentle reader, for the next month or so, my reading will be guided by hitting at least five books that fit one of these categories. You can probably guess which ones I will hit–crime, poetry, one-word title, books about books, and in a different country come to mind, with translated and historical on the outside–although I will have to be careful with the latter to make sure that, if I read a piece of classical literature, that I properly identify it as historical if it took place in the past of its writing/publication (and so many do–Wuthering Heights and Barnaby Rudge both were historical novels before they became classics from history).

So bear with me here as I try to earn a coffee cup, which I need since I only have thirty or forty cups to choose from–and only five of them at 12 ounce mugs, so really, only five.

Book Report: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847, 2004)

Book coverWell, I finished this book. The Bolan Number for this book is only two (Black Hand and War Hammer, although I did start a Larry Dablemont book as well, so maybe the Bolan Number should have a decimal–albeit, it would be a low decimal, like maybe .05). Perhaps there should be a Bolan Quotient, which would be the number of other books I read divided by the total number of pages in the piece of classic fiction during which I read other books. I mean, I read two plus books in Wuthering Heights, and it’s 326 pages plus an introduction (which I read last, of course). I have since started Dickens’ Davif Copperfield, and it’s twice the length. It hardly seems fair to compare Bolan Number to Bolan Number between these books since one is twice the length of the other.

At any rate, if you have not read the book–and, c’mon, man, this is the 21st century, you haven’t–the main story is, well, it’s too complicated, let me sum up: A landowner brings in a foundling orphan to his house; the orphan and the daughter become close; when the father dies, the older brother inherits and treats the orphan badly; when they’re out together, the orphan and the daughter spy on neighbors, and when the dog bites the daughter, the neighbors take her in but drive off the orphan; the daughter and her new friends, the neighbors, laugh at the orphan once; the orphan runs off, only to return years later, when he’s wealthy, and finds the daughter married to the neighbor; the orphan encourages the affections of the neighbor daughter (younger), marries her, and then abandons her; when she begets his son and dies, the orphan brings the sickly son back home to win the affection of the original daughter’s daughter (believe me, two daughters in the paragraph here is less confusing than all the characters who shared names in the book); they wed, the sickly son of the orphan and the daughter’s daughter, and when the older neighbor who married the daughter dies, the orphan becomes owner of both properties as his son dies, leaving him in control. Well, that’s the first eighty percent of the novel. Maybe ninety.

Although the professor of The English Novel (Timothy Spurgin, if you’re keeping track) ascribes the birth of the frame story and the unreliablish narrator (why is the narrator telling the story?) to Joseph Conrad, this book has the same thing going on. A servant relates most of the story to a tenant who rents the neighbor house from the orphan after he has become master when said tenant meets the residents of Wuthering Heights in real time and then falls ill and asks her about them. So…. Who is Mrs. Dean, and why does she tell this story to a stranger? I mean, throughout even her story, she seems a bit conniving, gossipy, and although powerless to alter the precedings (as she tells it), she still keeps a job (among the other servants who do not). And after the ill tenant recovers and leaves with eight months on his lease, he returns on a lark to find the orphan has died, the daughter’s daughter has fallen for the rustic cousin–the son of the older brother who treated the orphan badly–whom she treated cruelly her part of the first ninety percent of the book, and there might be a happy ending after all!

Yeah, right.

I spent most of this book wanting to beat all of the characters with a stick. Only the original papa that brought in the orphan child eluded my predisposal to violence, but I thought maybe the big reveal would be that it was his own illegitimate son (I see from the Wikipedia entry that some critics have speculated this was the intent). But, no. All a bunch of vapid, cruel, mean, and evil characters; even the nice-seeming ones end up cruel and mean until the end is tacked on.

I read the introduction last, as is my wont, and I discovered just how awesome this book really is. It’s a dream-like musing on brutality of the moors or something. Also, I learned many salacious details of Emily Brontë’s life, like she was a closeted lesbian and/or had an incestous relationship with her brother. Or that Charlotte wrote this book–it appeared after Jane Eyre (which I read in 2019 and prefer). She, Charlotte, did edit a revised edition of the book in 1850 after her sister’s death, but she really insists her sister wrote it. I am not so into textual analysis and literary forensics to dispute it.

I do wonder if the Brontës punched above their weight in the canon, though, as Jane Eyre was okay, but this book was not very good, and you don’t really hear about the other novels except maybe Anne’s Agnes Grey and only then when reading about the sisters. Their books were originally published under pseudonyms, which gave them an air of mystery and allowed for speculation, and Charlotte was very active in curating and correcting their works for posterity. Also, they were women writing in a male dominated world, so they stand out for study for that. They also all died young–Charlotte lived the longest, to age 39. If not for all these factors, would only English professors think of them in the 21st century? Just kidding. This is the 21st century, you know–I am not even sure if English professors think of them these days.

At any rate, it does give me reason to run this again, which I first ran in January, 2017, before I re-read Jane Eyre:

I am pretty good on being able to name all three, and I shall probably be able to remember the name of the brother (Branwell) as well. Which will definitely help me in trivia nights if such things ever come to pass. As might knowing that "Wuthering Heights" was Kate Bush’s biggest single, which I just learned in researching this book report. So this book proved educational in 20th century trivia, too.

Book Report: War Hammer The Executioner #179 (1993)

Book coverThis book, read a couple days after Black Hand, brings Wuthering Heights‘s Bolan Number up to 2 the easy way.

This book is a better entry in the series–better than Black Hand anyway. In it, Bolan is on the trail of stolen nuclear triggers that are on their way from California to Iraq (which has just restarted its nuclear program after the first Gulf War). So set pieces include a couple shootouts in California, the Irish coast, and Iraq after getting smuggled in via Turkey.

At any rate, the author clearly has read some of the other Executioner novels at least–he blends some Bolan philosophizing sections into the story and uses similar phrases like “numbers running down” that undoubtedly are mentioned in the outlines of the books given to the house authors but some handle them more deftly than others. The tactics and firing Uzis from the hip to great effect are more informed by watching movies than, I don’t know, serving in the military or firing an actual gun–much less playing realistic military games from the 21st century. As I’ve not done two of those three, I am an armchair novel writer when I criticise that, I know, but still.

A quick read, and then back to the moors of Scotland briefly.

Book Report: One-Step Sparring in Karate * Kung Fu * Tae Kwon Do by Shin Duk King (1978)

Book coverStrangely enough, I started this book before I read Boxer’s Start-Up (which means this does not count against Wuthering Heights‘s Bolan Number either). However, I put it down and on my chairside table to read towards the end and quite forgot about it for a bit. Enough to push it from the 2020 reading list to the 2021 reading list, which, combined with starting the Reading Year in the last week of the preceding year, explains how I have read four books already in 2021. Through government and corporate accounting rules.

At any rate, this book, as it indicates, includes a number of techniques and drills, kata even, for practicing sparring. It focuses a lot on tae kwon do style kicks, which means really pretty big kicks to the head or higher; my school teaches them, but the crescent kick is a sweeping front side kick where your leg comes up sideways and strikes with the instep, and although it’s a nice distraction–I use it to hide a second strike following it–it plays a large role in a lot of the drills and kata here.

As I have mentioned, these books are best for people who study the arts and want something to review when not in class. This book formerly belonged to a student at a martial arts school–he has written notes beside different techniques along when he should be proficient at them and minor variations (knife hand instead of a punch, for example).

So I didn’t get a lot out of it myself; I am familiar with many of the strikes, and as far as the sparring drills go, I’d have to have a partner to put them into effect–and my school has its own drills, so when I’m partnered up, I’m doing things my kyoshi has selected. I got bogged down in the last bit of it. The last section–60 of the books 140 pages, not quite half, is some thirty different kata that are attack/counterattack drills this are between six and ten sentences and six and nine photos of the two-person kata. So I set it down and might have forgotten about it except I finished an Executioner novel and did not want to pick up Wuthering Heights again right before bed–and I rediscovered this book instead.

So it was probably more worthwhile for the preceding owner. Who might well have been studying martial arts even before The Karate Kid, if you can imagine such a thing.

Book Report: Boxer’s Start-Up: A Beginner’s Guide to Boxing by Doug Werner (1998, 2000)

Book coverTechnically, this book does not count against Wuthering Heights‘s Bolan Number as I started reading this book before Wuthering Heights. Also, it’s not a cheap paperback the likes of which will fill my time between chapters of Wuthering Heights. Which, I assure you, I am actually reading.

At any rate, I picked this book up in December at ABC Books. As you know, I work my way counter-clockwise through my two aisles, the first of which is the martial arts/football/artist monograph aisle (with the local authors at the front of the store at the end of the aisle). This book was in the Boxing section which is mostly biographies and auto-biographies of boxers. So I don’t tend to look too closely in it, but by this time I have basically bought all the martial art books that are not about Tai Chi Walking, whatever that is. Come to think of it, somebody else is buying martial arts books up there–some of the ones I have seen in the past but have not bought aren’t there any more, either–which means nobody likes the Tai Chi Walking books, I guess. Me or this other guy. Come on, we know it’s a guy.

I digress. As I mentioned I looked over the boxing section and picked this up because it’s a how-to book about boxing. #9 in a series, presumably about taking up a sport you’ve never done before. The author here talks about his experience fencing, so I presume that he has also done the article about fencing in the book.

As I might have mentioned (or mention all the time), my martial arts school emphasizes boxing over tae kwon do hand techniques, so I am a bit familiar with the strikes in the book–the jab, the cross, the hook, and the upper-cut. Boxing, apparently, does not emphasize as much hip rotation as our school does.

Of course, I’m all about the comparisons to the martial arts as I’ve been trained. The biggest difference is the fighting stance–this book emphasizes a more fencing-style stance, which presents more of your side to the opponent. It closes off target areas on your own body, but it also puts one side of your body out-of-range for attacks–which might be a bigger deal in martial arts, where feet are employed and where you’re supposed to be ambidextrous, being able to attack with the same combinations (but reversed) if you present your other side.

So the book was a bit of review for me in spots, but it did give me some ideas for drills, such as a head movement drill–I am not so good at head movement (and given how sparsely I’ve attended class the last year and a half, I am probably not so good at sparring at all), so I have started doing some of the rythmic movement that I read about in the book. I watched some boxing a while back, and those guys slip punches very fast indeed.

One definite improvement in this book versus other martial arts books I’ve read is instead of a pair of photos showing before and after the strike, the book includes at least three, with one in process, and the images often have callouts and lines to indicate focus or planes:

That is very helpful, indeed.

The book runs 150 pages plus a glossary; only about two-thirds of it is technique and whatnot. The last third are a history of boxing up until the turn of the century and a journal of the author’s individual lessons with a boxing coach. Interesting, I suppose, but not what I am looking for. Although also interesting is that the book has an AOL email address for the amateur boxing group and a fax number to contact them. Wow, twenty years, huh? I cannot imagine that I would have picked up a book like this for practical information twenty years ago. To research for a novel, perhaps, but to hone my technique? Who knows what the next 20 will bring? Sorry, that’s a little extra reflection you get in a book report around the turn of the year and the turn of a duodecade.

Book Report: Black Hand The Executioner #178 (1993)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, I now have a new metric for Classical literature. Out: The Anna Karenina moment where I’m reading a long piece of literature and determine I could have read a whole other book by that point. The new metric is the Bolan number: The number of Mack Bolan or other paperbacks that I read while reading another piece of literature. This is the first Bolan book that I’ve read while going through Wuthering Heights, and Wuthering Heights will have a Bolan Number greater than 1.

But we’re not here to talk about Wuthering Heights; we’re here to talk about Black Hand, a novel that finds Bolan in Turkey after an attack on the American embassy that is laughably underguarded ten years after Beirut. He teams with a director of counter-terrorism and then an attractive sub-director of terrorism to free some hostages and smash the terrorist group, which is five people. Well, clearly, a diminishing number of people once Bolan gets involved, but they certainly seem to punch above their weight.

So it’s not one of the better entries in the series. One incident in the book that I read out loud to my poor long-suffering but beautiful wife was when a terrorist invaded a hospital to kill the anti-terrorism director. He bypasses a supply closet, shoots a surgeon in the head while the surgeon is in a break room, hides the body, and puts on the surgeon’s white coat as a disguise. Except why hide the body after making a mess in the break room? And just how white is the lab coat going to be after that gunshot luridly removes the surgeon’s head?

Yeah, not one of the best entries in the series, but it helped get me through another couple chapters of Wuthering Heights.

2020: The Year In Reading Review

Well, gentle reader, as you might know, I like to post a recap of my annual reading to look at some of the trends I discover only at the end.

This year, I apparently read about 126 books this year. A little more, a little less–my book year started on December 28, 2019 with the completion of the first Jack Reacher novel and ended about the same time this year. Not depicted in this total are books that I started but did not complete, including the collected poems of Andrew Marvell, Wuthering Heights, and some reading I’ve done on the complete works of Keats and Shelley that are upstairs now and will probably gather dust until the springtime, when I read a little poetry on the deck.

With further adieu, here’s the list for 2020:

Well, 126 books is the most I have done since I’ve been keeping track in 2010ish as I ran out of cells with borders in the Excel spreadsheet–although my previous high was 2019 with 110, so I don’t know why I ran out of bordered cells at 123. I stopped the numbering at 125, and I blew past it. Strangely enough, my spreadsheet was missing three titles that I added at the end when going back through the Book Report category to make this post.

I think I padded out the numbers a bunch this year because I read a lot of poetry, plays, and artistic monographs. The only big piece of literature I read was Barnaby Rudge, but I also condensed the numbers by only counting various omnibus editions (five Miss Marple novels, Lord of Janissaries, and Euripedes II) as single books.

I read 10 Executioner novels. I read a lot of science fiction and a lot of local authors. I read a bunch of plays, including the aforementioned Euripedes, Eugene O’Neill, and Dylan Thomas among others. I read a lot of art monographs, but not much of artists I like.

Next year, I will read more classical literature under the influence of The English Novel audio course–although, if Wuthering Heights is any indication, I will read a lot of shorter works in between chapters.

And, of course, even at 126 books, I start the year further behind as I have surely bought more books than that. But I will never want for something to read.

Book Report: Savings by Linda Hogan (1988)

Book coverI picked up this collection of poetry at ABC Books on one of the classified gift card runs this December. I didn’t do Good Book Hunting posts on them because I bought only a couple of books each time and a handful of gift cards. I mainly hang out in the martial arts, poetry, philosophy, local, and now the classical literature sections over there. I tend to start with the local and rotate counter clockwise through these sections. I’m prone to picking up inexpensive poetry collections. I think I got this one because it’s from Coffee House Press in Minnesota, and the title is similar to my collection Coffee House Memories. So I spent $3.50 on it.

Which might have been too much.

Even though it’s from 1988, it’s still too modern for my tastes. The short line breaks and the choppy mouth feel don’t lend themselves to good, evocative images or pleasure in reading aloud (even if it’s just in your head). The poet is Native American, so there’s a lot of Mother Earth, Brother Crow tropes in it; given that there’s not much else, it really stands out in not a good way.

So someday I’ll have to pen my “What makes a good poem?” essay, and it’s the contrasts with material like this that help me really dial in on the good stuff. Most of which comes from the ninteenth century.

Book Report: The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster (1983)

Book coverAlan Dean Foster might well be the greatest living science fiction writer. There, I said it. At the very least, I have enjoyed his work ever since I got a book in the Spellsinger series in middle school.

Since then, I’ve read and reported on:

It looks like it’s been nine years since I read one of his paperbacks, which is odd since I have several of his books in the to-read shelves, but if you’ve seen the to-read shelves, you’d understand why I have a wealth of things from which to choose. Given that I posted about Some Paperbacks of Note, the in middle school link above, in 2016, that means it’s been four years since I last completely dusted and shuffled the to-read shelves lineup. I should probably do that again. Likely I would shake out other Foster paperbacks to read next year.

At any rate, I have reached the point in Wuthering Heights where I want to read something else after a couple of chapters of that Literature, so this was just the thing.

In it, a low-level thief kills a jewelry store owner who won’t pay protection to the local crime boss and then kills the crime boss’s killers who come for him because he’s… different. So he works his way up the levels, and that is numbered levels, of being an illegal, and when some of the political powerbrokers on Terra take an interest in him, he pulls a trick to become legal businessman, again starting at a low level number and working his way up. He makes an alliance, essentially becoming a spy for an alien race but seems to play both humanity and the aliens off of each other until a grander scheme comes to fruition–allying the humans and these aliens against a menace from the galactic core.

The first half of the book focuses on the main character himself and deals with how he goes about what he’s doing; the second shifts to a psychologist of the alien race who suspects the main character has some sort of plot going against his race and tries to thwart him–all the while playing into his hands. The book ends with a short resolution where these antagonists talk it over and discover that the main character does all his plotting, including his latest, a mocked-up alien armada that looks as though it is about to invade the combined spaces of the humans and their new allies–he does all this just because he does not want anything to have control over him. Also, the improved commercial environment makes the humans, their new friends, and the man himself richer.

So ultimately, it’s a little thin, but it’s a roaring read. I thought the ultimate twist would be that it was some sort of video game, what with the marking levels playing so much of a part early. That was not the case, though. But a fun read, interesting characters–the main character is an amoral, pragmatic man much like say Raymond Reddington in the television series The Blacklist or similar anti-heroes that abound here in the 21st century. It seems a bit ahead of its time, but I am sure one could find other examples of it in other works preceding this one.

Book Report: Total War by Joshua Chase (2016)

Book coverWell, I have completed the first three books in the series, which I bought in 2017. He’s got at least one more out, and I’ll probably pick the others up the next time I see Chase at a convention. And by “the next time,” I mean “if ever again,” but I hope I do.

Let’s see, in this one, the Empire and the Confederacy are stalemating a bit. The Confederacy has some alien tech that gives them a bit of an advantage; some systems align with the Empire, and some with the Confederacy. And the military leader for the Empire starts laying the groundwork for a coup when the current emperor orders the slaughter of civilians in retaliation for a Confederate victory. Then the aliens whom humanity slaughtered hundreds of years ago–the ones that left behind the advanced technology return, and they’re pissed.

The book runs a little longer than the previous ones–180 pages versus under 140–and Chase is still good at plotting, and the book moves along at a quick pace, but he’s also really starting to develop as a writer with some more polished descriptions added and some characterization to the story. So he’s improved as a writer since his first book eight years ago to this book which is four years old.

Good for him.

Book Report: Grandma Moses by Otto Kallir (1973)

Book coverI said when I reviewed Georgia O’Keefe earlier this year:

I think I confused her with Grandma Moses when I was young, as she was still alive but was very, very old–both she and Grandma Moses lived to about the century mark (Grandma Moses a little older, Georgia O’Keeffe a little younger). And both of their names started with G, which means to a young man not steeped in the arts, they were practically the same person.

Well, I have now completed my education into the differences between Grandma Moses and Georgia O’Keeffe (with a little Frida Kahlo thrown in this year for a bit of spice). Grandma Moses was what they call a “primitive” artist, meaning in the art world that she was not trained in the arts. I tend to use the term incorrectly, meaning that she’s kind of folk art, with some good representation of nature in a distant landscape but with diminishing skill on buildings and then on people and animals. I mean, much of her work is about what you would expect from a paint-with-wine class, maybe. Not quite up to Bob Ross on the landscapes, even.

I think she became famous because she was a novelty: She started painting at about 80, and a New Yorker visiting upstate spotted her work and worked to make her famous (and that he was an early collector and made money on her is purely coincidental). Soon, she was having exhibitions around the world and appeared in a documentary film and an appearance on Murrow’s See It Now television program.

This book is not just a monograph, but rather a comprehensive treatment of Moses and her work. It includes a biography, information about her career, several letters in her own hand reproduced, and a complete catalog of her known works (at the time of publication–it’s possible they have found and/or authenticated more in the almost fifty years since this book’s publication). It’s a bonzer–356 pages, although it’s not small print and has extensive indexes and a complete listing of her work with small photos where available). Very complete.

One gets the sense that Grandma Moses herself did not take the whole thing too seriously and did not let her fame go to her head. Of course, as a child of the 1860s and a resident of Virginia in the reconstruction era (perhaps considered a carpetbagger by the Virginians) she would have more perspective than a young artist who was 20 something at the time of “discovery.”

So although I appreciate her work a little more than Kahlo or O’Keeffe, I would still not decorate my house with Grandma Moses prints.

Book Report: 60 Selected Tales from Jake’s Barber Shop by Clinton Stewart (?)

Book coverThis book is of unknown provenance; it has no title page or copyright page, and the Internet has never heard of it. I’m guessing that it was written in the early to middle 1970s because it refers to Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon. It has the feel of small town paper’s humor column (or maybe something from the Springfield papers at the time, but it’s before the Internet), and a later entry does start out “This week” which lends credence to the belief.

And it’s quite an enjoyable little book. The “author” is purportedly a barber in a small town who tells stories about the local residents, mostly made up characters so I guess this is more an example of a collection of flash fiction than the actual reporting on what is going on in a real small town, but it’s amusing and sometimes humorous. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of the bits, including a man who corrected a nagging wife by slapping her bottom with a carp (it must be the Ozarks, as no self-respecting northerner who catches a carp brings it home to eat–because even when we’re poor, we’re not barbarians).

Given the size of the book, I probably bought it in a packet of chapbooks for a buck at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale at some point. I will keep my eyes open for other volumes by the author, but I’m not sanguine–this looks like a self-published low run number (although it’s signed and inscribed to Theodore), so it’s probably a one-off for a larf.

Book Report: Revolution by Joshua Chase (2014)

Book coverThis is the second of Joshua Clark Chase’s military science fiction novels; I read the first, Triumphant Empire a week or so back, and I will likely read the third very soon. So that if I ever see him at a convention again, I can proudly by the next book or two in the series since I will have finally found and read the ones I bought three years ago.


The copyright date is 2014, two years after Chase published Triumphant Empire, and I think I see some improvement in his writing. The book still jump cuts a bunch not only between chapters, but in chapters between the various characters and perspectives. We see the Primary of the Ordeon Empire (the triumphant one) as he meets with the emperor and deals with some light intrique with the leader of the Star Knights by commissioning an apprentice and assigning her to his task force. We get some of her perspective as well. On the other side, we focus mainly on the leader of the resistance and his brother the pirate, but also amongst some others as the resistance foments rebellion on a slave planet and meets with other leaders. The resistance discovers alien tech and captures an imperial dreadnaught to try to reverse engineer it. The empire helps the weaker side in a conflict to actually pull both into its orbit and then launches an audacious attack on three systems at once–only to be thwarted on one such attack by the resistance.

So there’s a lot going on, and the books might have fit together as a single novel. Or, perhaps, the plots could have been fleshed out to make each book bigger than the roughly 130 pages of action. The next book looks to be longer and even more recent, so I’m looking forward to it after a brief interlude. It’s best to read them all very close together, as the books might not stand alone very well as the plots are so completely linked.

I’m starting to realize that my year’s reading log is coming to an end. I will finish, what, three or four books that I have in process? I don’t know that I’ll read a whole other novel–aside from Total War, the third in this series, this year. But I guess it’s only the middle of December. I might.

A Guide To The Book Backdrop of Brian J.

In the Wall Street Journal, likely some time ago given my reading habits, columnist Joe Queenan says Those Bogus Bookcases for Zoom Calls Aren’t Fooling Anybody:

When house-bound experts appear on TV interviews via Zoom, they are almost always seated in front of a large bookcase studiously purged of the usual trash. Whether an expert is deploring executive-office overreach or dissecting the baffling enigma of structural unemployment, you will usually see a gargantuan biography of Ulysses S. Grant or Winston Churchill perched over their left shoulder. Slightly to the left you may spot a three-volume history of the Civil War or something with the ancient Roman abbreviation “S.P.Q.R.” in the title.

If the person being interviewed is a scientist, the bogus bookcase is likely to sport a dog-eared copy of Thomas S. Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” and either “Chaos” or “Genius” by James Gleick. Some showoffs might even have Isaac Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” strategically positioned to face the camera. Not to mention one of their own books. Or six. Or the remaindered books by friends they owe a favor.

But no matter what luminary is being interviewed, the background bookcases will include nothing by James Patterson or Lisa Scottoline, no thrillers by Tana French or Jo Nesbo, and definitely no autobiographies by Miley Cyrus.

We all know bookcases can get gussied up this way in a hurry. Something earthshaking has happened, but the first guest booked to talk about it has canceled, so Sanjay Gupta will be calling for an emergency Zoom chat in 30 minutes. The flummoxed, totally unprepared expert immediately panics. “Quick, get all the Clive Cussler and V.C. Andrews books off the shelves,” he cries out to his quarantined loved ones. “And somebody hide that Ozzy Osborne tell-all!”

You know, when I am doing a video call, I like to see if the other person / people have more books than I do. Spoiler alert: They don’t. But I don’t know what kind of cameras people with whom Joe Queenan video-conferences have, but I have yet to see a camera that shows titles very well. Although, again, that might just be me. Actually, although I glance at the monitor when I’m doing a video call, I tend to look at the camera, so I only get a glance anyway.

To spare you the bother, gentle reader, I have provided a handy guide to the real book backdrop of Nogglestead. Most of you won’t see me in a real, live (or fake for that matter) video call anyway. And the view has changed a little since 2010.

Continue reading “A Guide To The Book Backdrop of Brian J.”