Book Report: Dirty Jokes and Beer by Drew Carey (1997)

Book coverWow, this book is almost thirty years old. I bought it at some point since then–the historical records (the blog here) are incomplete as to when, but the copy I have is a hardback without the dustjacket and has only the price marked in pencil on the frontspiece. The book, he acknowledges a with a smirk, is a bit of a money grab based on the popularity of his television show The Drew Carey Show during the Clinton administration.

Carey had been a standup comic from the middle eighties, and this show which ran for nine years in the 1990s into the 21st century. He concurrently appeared in an American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? for about the same time, and he took over for Bob Barker on The Price Is Right seventeen years ago. I say this, amazed, because although I would have known him by site these almost three decades, I have never really seen much of his work whether the scripted sitcom, improv work, or standup routine. I had a picture of him as a bit of a schlub, a maybe smart everyman, but that’s not exactly been his schtick as far as I can tell.

This book has a tripartite structure. It has three sections: Dirty Jokes, which is sort of humorous essays/anecdotes/memoir; Beer, which is talking about The Drew Carey Show with some behind-the-scenes looks, responses to critics, working to thwart the will of the people in charge of standards and get dirty words and jokes onto the air; and Stories of the Unrefined, which are fictional (mostly) short stories based on Carey’s life and experiences in Cleveland and Las Vegas with a character named Drew Carey at the center. Dirty Jokes and Beer start each chapter with a dirty joke; as you might know, gentle reader, I do not get the vapors with dirty jokes (which began with “borrowing” my mother’s copy of the Frank O’Pinion dirty joke book and become sort of popular at North Jefferson Middle School for my vast store of off-color humor in 1985 to 21st century readings such as The World’s Best Dirty Jokes and Lecherous Limericks to watching and enjoying National Lampoon’s Dirty Movie). So a couple of the dirty jokes made me chuckle in my head.

However, the book is kinda meh aside from that. It offers some insights into the making of television, a la Jeopardy! or Star Trek Memories, but those books cover the material in greater depth. It’s got just a little biography, not enough to be compelling. And the fiction is the kind of material that I’d read by other college students when at the university in the writing program. Better than some of the self-published books by local authors that I read in writing style and quality, but the slice-of-life incidents leave me with a bit of “So what?”

Probably best if you’re a Drew Carey fan, but not if you’re a little old lady watching The Price Is Right and want to learn more about that nice young man (current age: 65). Because part of the character, schtick, or person of Drew Carey is that he was from a working class background, went into the Marine Corps Reserve, and became a comic, and when he became famous/successful, he got to do what he wanted, which included dating strippers and living a libertine lifestyle. Hopefully it was more character than real person, but who knows? Maybe I am just jealous, although I would like the world to know that I started out looking like a dork and got better looking, whereas Carey started out all right and then got dorky looking and wore the dorky glasses after getting his vision corrected when he was “on.” So…. character?

I would also be remiss in missing comparing this book to Unqualified by Anna Faris which I listened to this winter. Carey’s book is less earnest, a bit smirking, and it was far better to read a book than to spend hours dedicated to listening to the book (as I mentioned, I’m not spending an hour a day in a car, so listening to an audiobook requires sitting in a darkened room and just listening instead of listening while driving). An unfair comparison, but they are similar in that the books don’t really focus on humorous observations from the author, and they’re less pure comedy than the thoughts of a comic actor/actress. Well, better luck to me next time, although I’m not sure how many other comedian/comedienne/comic actor books I have in the unread stacks.

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Book Report: Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks by Terrence Dicks (1979)

Book coverI got this book in 2015, which was far after any semblance I had of Doctor Who fandom.

As I might have mentioned (briefly, in in 2011, before I bought this book), Doctor Who played on Sunday nights at 10:30 on the St. Louis PBS station (followed by Red Dwarf, which I was talking about in 2011). Of course, my bedtime in the trailer days was 9:00, so I didn’t watch it live, but I did record them on videocassettes. Initially, I think that I only started recording them when we lived down the gravel road, but I have a lot of videocassettes (of course I still do) from that era, and when I was in the creative writing class probably my sophomore year of high school I wrote a series of short stories wherein the main character steals the TARDIS, so I was already familiar with the program in 1987 or so. I haven’t rewatched the videocassettes in a long time–I tried watching a program when my boys were children, but the first episode featured a plot where people were getting attacked by people in the sewers, which meant that they did not hardly see Colin Baker on the screen before someone went into (grainy videocassette recording) darkness and screamed, and that was all they could take–the oldest had an imagination full of darknesses which he might have outgrown (even as his father has not). Perhaps I’ll use this as an excuse to rewatch some of those old videocassettes. And perhaps the Red Dwarf box set I got in 2011.

One more Doctor Who memory, gentle reader, if you will indulge me. When I was at the university, I was not watching the show because it was not available in Milwaukee as I was aware (nor St. Louis when I returned). I made the acquaintance of Doctor Comic Book when we were in the English program at the University, he a year behind me. We got to be…. Acquaintances, I suppose, but close enough that he let me stay at his apartment on the East side one night my senior year when I attended a party that ended after the buses stopped running. And in the months (years) after college, when I was travelling to Milwaukee monthly (and later a couple times a year, but quite often), he let me stay with him for the weekend. One night, alone in his apartment (well, there with my college crush, who was not at all interested in me, of course), I opened one of his closets to discover a stack of old Doctor Who paperbacks, with this one probably on top (as it is the first in the American paperbacks). I teased him about it, saying, “That explains it!” as he favored long coats and a long scarf. He chuckled guiltily. He would later really get a doctorate and teach courses in comic book rhetoric when we reconnected on Facebook, as happened in the early years of this century, and then parted in political acrimony, as happened in later years of the century. Still, this paperback makes me think of the fellow as well as being young once.

So this is the first American paperback in the line, although Britain had seen numerous Doctor Who tie-ins before then, but I guess in the late 1970s, the show had made some appearances in America (given that, what, six or seven years later I saw it). This book tells a story from the third Doctor, played by John Pertwee (years as the Doctor: 1970-1974). That’s back when the Doctor was in England for an extended period as he tried to work on the TARDIS and helped the Brigadier and UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce).

An aging diplomat is to chair a conference to avert a war as tensions between the West, the Soviet Union, and China are boiling over. He leaves his estate for China, and when he does, a group of rebels from a future where the Daleks have taken over the Earth return, certain that their goal is to kill the diplomat whose actions lead to their dystopian future. The Doctor is less certain about what triggers the war that diminishes humanity and leads to the Dalek dominion–what if their success caused it? So we have (one can tell low budget even from the prose) scenes in the dystopian future and (one can tell low budget even from the prose) scenes on the estate as the Doctor tries to rescue his companion, taken to the future, and to avert a Dalek assault on the compound when the diplomat returns with dignitaries of the hostile nations.

Terrence Dicks was a writer for the show, so he was working with actual scripts, so the story probably pretty well matches what one would have seen on the BBC when I was lying nude on rugs for photographs (gentle reader, I assure you, this was when I was young, before I turned fifty). Rumor has it (and by “rumor,” I mean some Doctor Who fan site I read after reading this book but which I didn’t save in a tab until I wrote this, and I am too lazy to post it for you, oh, all right, it might have been this one or something that scraped it) that Pertwee didn’t like the episode that much at first, but, c’mon, man: it was 1970s television. In Britain. Nobody expected much more until Thatcher came to power, and to be honest, not much more after that. And by “nobody,” I mean “Americans.”

At any rate, it’s a quick 139 page read which, like all other paperbacks of the era, talked about other series the publishers had going at the time. Instead of Deadlands books, though, this one promotes a series called Blade, which was like a Deadlands with a timelord in it.

Man, if I put some effort into it (and, you know, had good guaranteed employment in the future whose base pay could keep up with base Biden-economy expenditures), I would like to be a serious collector of these old paperbacks. But I am not likely to find myself much in the paperback sections of the big book sales. Although one never knows what the future or the possible future saved by the intervention of a British television science fiction series might lead to. Who knows? I might even reconcile with Doctor Comic Book when I and my clan are driven north by the invading hordes and we take refuge on the shores of Lake Superior and reluctantly have to liberate the fortified campus from what they voted for.

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Book Report: Raiders of the Lost Ark by Campbell Black (1981)

Book coverWell, I could not have read this for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge in the Made Into A Movie/TV Show category because this book is the novelization of the film. I bought it in May 2009, not long after my sainted mother died and not long before I packed up the smaller Old Trees library for shipment to Nogglestead. Looking at the list of other movie paperbacks I bought at the St. Charles Book Fair along with this one (Outland, The Taking of Pelham 123, Meatballs), this is the last of them I needed to read. Heck, I even read Star Trek Memories (but not Star Trek Movie Memories). Man, I do so like going through those old Good Book Hunting posts to see what I have already read, what I have yet to read, and what I know I can easily find in the stacks should I be inspired to read it next.

At any rate, this is a better movie novelization which doesn’t just put the screenplay into paragraph form but adds some depth to the characters interior life, although I am not sure how much of it would be considered canon. For example, does the movie indicate that Indy’s past with Marion took place when she was 15? I dunno. Also, I don’t know if the book’s pacing matches the films. Does half of the film take place before they get to Egypt? Or is the pacing just off because the action sequences that take up the latter half of the movie are condensed while the introduced interior thoughts are longer? Regardless, the book does seem as though it starts thicker and then speeds up toward the end, with less of that interior stuff. Which happens in a lot of formula men’s adventure fiction as well as these better film novelizations.

But you know what? It makes me want to watch the film again, and I have a set of the first three Indiana Jones movies on videocassette, and this is just the excuse to do so.

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Book Report: A History of Pierce City by David H. Jones (2005)

Book coverI bought this book at Rublecon in 2022. The author had a table full of old magazines and ephemer as well as one copy of his book. As I had visited Pierce City several times for sporting events (and have seen its tank many times), I bought the book.

The subtitle of the book is “Through Post Cards, Photographs, Papers, & People”. The author was a collector of post cards, so he explains how post cards were easy mechanisms for short, inexpensive communications before telephones. Which also explains why a small town like Pierce City produced such a great number of post cards.

So the author collected numerous postcards from around the turn of the 20th century, and he researched the buildings, people, events, and so on depicted in them. The book, then, includes reproductions of the post cards and builds an anecdotal bit of history. Amazing things: The number of passenger trains that stopped in Pierce City was incredible. 20 passenger trains each day. And the town had a population of 2,500. When the trains stopped, the town declined a bit, but it’s still a nice place to visit. The postcards also mention whether they were sent (most were) and where they went. One wonders how the author accumulated postcards mailed to Illinois or St. Louis. The story behind the book is probably as fascinating as the book itself.

As I read this, I thought this might be the sort of thing that Lileks would like. I also thought maybe I would start accumulating post cards. Fortunately, though, I will likely move on before I come to a place where I can indulge this new interest.

Still, an interesting book which will give me lots of tidbits for my beautiful wife should we find our way out there again.

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Book Report: Myths and Mysteries of Missouri by Josh Young (2014)

Book coverTo be honest, I was a bit down on this book when I first started reading it. The first chapter is about Jim the Wonder Dog, and I just read a whole book about him in December. Chapter 4 is pretty much a retelling of the Yocum Silver Dollar from Traces of Silver (and lest we forget, I read Woody P. Snow’s fictional account Blood Silver which would have fit into my Blood book theme this year). Chapter 9 is about the Springfield Three–I read a fictionalized account about it, Gone in the Night, a couple years back, and we just “celebrated” the thirtieth anniversary of the disappearence of the three women in 1992, so I’ve seen a lot of press coverage of it in recent years. And Chapter 13 is about the Spook Light down around Joplin which had not one, but two, books published about it in recent years (which means I might have one or two of them around here). So a lot of it was pretty familiar to me.

And, to be honest, perhaps I was a little envious. After all, I at one point fifteen years ago thought maybe I could mine the esoteric books I read for essay material and write articles bringing unknown things to the forefront (which resulted in one such publication, “Hey, Buddy, Want To Buy a Tower?” in History magazine in March 2008). But these stories, or at least the ones I mentioned above, are fairly common knowledge around these parts. Or maybe just to someone who takes eleven local newspapers plus Rural Missouri and Ozarks Farm and Neighbor plus who picks up a lot of local history books, even those not written by Larry Wood (who has multiple books like this Wicked Springfield, Missouri in print and in bookstores).

But the book is probably targeted for people outside Missouri or newcomers.

After I got over it and settled into the book (story retellings with few citations), I guess I leaned into it and enjoyed it more. After all, the Civil War cave it talks about is not Smallin Civil War cave just north of Ozark but a cave in Neosho whose entrance was closed, and now people are hunting for it. And I am not sure I’d read about Ella Ewing, a giantess who toured as a curiosity but was unfailingly proper, or Tom Bass, a black horse trainer, before. So I did get some new things out of the book as well as retellings of some of the aforementioned familiar with some asides and digressions into related topic matter.

Not a long book, and not a long read. So worth your while if you’re into Missouri, especially southwest Missouri, history.

The author bio says that he’s a local columnist, but he’s not syndicated. I don’t see him across multiple papers and magazines like I’ve seen Jim Hamilton and Larry Dablemont. Maybe he has moved on and has more recently penned books about other states.

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Book Report: Blood Count by “Dell Shannon” (1986)

Book coverGeez, Louise, it’s been a while since I’ve read an Elizabeth Linington book (Dell Shannon being one of her pen names). I mean, I read a number of them in high school, either because the Community Library in High Ridge stocked them or because I borrowed some from my grandma (who owned some which I inherited in a roundabout fashion–and now that I think of it, my grandma died about the same time as “Elizabeth Linington”, and I never saw the two of them in the same place at the same time….) I know I have The First Linington Quartet around here somewhere, which I inherited from my grandma through my sainted mother. I must have read it right before I began blogging and doing book reports, because I kind of poop on her work in early book reports on this blog (The McBain Brief by Ed McBain, reviewed in August 2003; The Lost Coast by Roger Simon, reviewed in November 2004; Blood on the Arch by Robert J. Randisi, reviewed in December 2004). Clearly, it has taken me twenty years to remember how I didn’t like them (and note that in 2003, I was a little more than 20 years from my heavy reading in the…. well, a couple years earlier). But, oh, dear: Apparently when I bought this book in 2008, I bought several “Dell Shannon” books. Which might well remain in the Nogglestead stacks until 2044, or the sale of my estate.

I guess this book jumped out at me since I’ve already read two books for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge with Blood in the title (Blood Relatives by Ed McBain–a far superior police procedural–and Blood Debts by Shayne Silver).

This is one of the Luis Mendoza books (The First Linington Quintet being the Ivor Maddox series–Linington had numerous series from 1960 to this volume, one of the last before she passed). Luis Mendoza is part of Robbery and Investigation (Homicide) in the LA police department, and the book features Mendoza as a character amidst the detective squad, most of whom are but names–perhaps in the, what, 35 or so previous books they had personalities, but in this book, they’re a rotating series of names mostly, with no back story elaboration. Why does Mendoza, a cop, drive a Ferrari? Perhaps that was covered somewhere sixty or seventy years ago–the series began in 1960–, but it’s not in this book, and I don’t remember anything about it from whatever I might have read forty years ago from the series.

So, at any rate, the detective squad starts to look into a murder where a woman from out-of-town has extended her stay, but is murdered and someone has tried to cover it up as a car accident. Meanwhile, other cases are introduced: The rape of a young girl walking home from a friend’s house; a mugger who steals his victims’ shoes; an elderly man dies in his apartment amid an apparent struggle; and a couple of other smaller cases whose detecting progress, or not, is woven throughout the book.

So it’s a police procedural, but maybe too much. The cipher-like detectives of the squad–mostly just names, but some with a little mention of their families, and one is a woman–hang out, do puzzles, read books, and sometimes go out to investigate. Fortunately, their Los Angeles police district circa the mid 1980s doesn’t see a lot of crime. When they investigate, they interview some people but spend a lot of time theorizing in paragraphs- or page-long ruminations. But when it comes time for the cases to be cracked, it’s usually a random tip that provides the information that the detectives need–not their hard work. And some of the cases remain unresolved at the end of the book. Because it’s just another day’s–or week’s work–for the police.

Blech. Not only is the book particularly existential in its meaninglessness–the “heroes” of the book just kind of ride along with the story–but it goes out of its way to be existential as two separate sets of characters in different scenes go on to embrace and evangelize their atheism over the course of a dozen pages about two-thirds of the way through the book. Out of nowhere. Additionally, the book is crazy anachronistic. They mention a gang fight with stabbings like it was the Sharks and the Jets and not the gangs and violence we who came of age in the 1980s would recognize from the era.

But, as I mentioned, this book comes at the tail of Linington’s career, and this particular series began in 1960, almost a half century before. Ed McBain kept his 87th Precinct books pretty fresh from the 1950s through the early part of the 21st century, but this book reads like the author had frozen her understanding of police procedure in amber. I mean, I guess I cannot knock it–She banged out enough books to make a good midlist living at it. But they’re not that good, and they don’t have the staying power of the McBain work. Not that one can talk about the staying power of any 20th century books or maybe books in general in the 21st century.

And, apparently, I have two more “Dell Shannon” books in the to-read stacks, ready to strike at any time. Maybe if the Winter Reading Challenge next year has a category A Book That Probably Sucks. Well, it likely will, but with a mind-broadening woke title instead of the more direct Probably Sucks.

I am ready to read something else (and I already have!)

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Book Report: Star Trek 12 by James Blish with J.A. Lawrence (1977)

Book coverI was mistaken in October 2022 (That long ago? Already?) when I’d said I’d finish Star Trek 13 sometime and turn my attention to the Star Trek: The Animated Series books by Alan Dean Foster. This volume is the final one in the original set, and Blish died while working on it (his widow, J.A. Lawrence, finished it). I also thought that Star Trek 11 was the last in the set that I had on my to-read shelves as I’d grouped them as I went along before reading them, but I found this paperback when scouring the stacks for books for the Winter Reading Challenge, and I figured it would be a good, quick book to start off my post-Winter Reading Challenge reading.

The book has five stories based on episodes, and they felt rather familiar, but perhaps I remember them from reading Star Trek Memories two years ago–I think it had some summaries of the plots of the shows.

Stories/episodes include:

  • “Patterns of Force”, the one where the Enterprise crew visits a planet where a peaceable Federation researcher has somehow become a Fuhrer figure to a militant society looking to eliminate people from the next planet over.
     
  • “The Gamesters of Triskelion”, the one where an Enterprise’s away team is snatched during transport to a distant planet where they’ll be trained to act as gladiators that the Gamesters can wager on.
     
  • “And the Children Shall Lead”, the one where the Enterprise comes to a research outpost to find that the adults are dead and the children are unconcerned; when the crew brings the children aboard, they start to take over at the behest of an alien force.
     
  • “The Carbomite Maneuver”, the one where the Enterprise goes to the edges of known space and encounters a stronger alien presence that wants to defend itself by destroying the Enterprise until Kirk explains about the Carbomite.
     
  • “Shore Leave”, the one where an overworked Enterprise crew finds a planet that seems to bring the crew’s memories and thoughts to life–for good and for bad.

Blish (and his wife) got better as he (they) went along with these books, where they could not only write from relatively fresh scripts but from the actual aired episodes, so they match (and perhaps make) our memories. You know, when I initially read these books in the 1980s, I probably had not seen many of the episodes. I mean, Star Trek was fairly common on the weekends in syndication, so I took it for granted. So many of the episodes that I’ve later seen–and infrequently at that, now that I think about it–I would have seen after reading these books.

So fifty years after he passed away, I have to salute James Blish for his work. He was not a midlister who filled a void for science fiction fans–television science fiction fans, perhaps–but, as I’ve said, until Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out (and, honestly, until The Wrath of Khan or maybe Star Trek: The Next Generation came out), this is what we had to make do with in those pioneer days before streaming, before cable. I suspect Laura Ingalls Wilder read these books on the prairies. Well, not quite, but…. Yeah, kids these days would not enjoy these books as much as I have decades and a half-century later.

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The 2024 Winter Reading Challenge: Complete

Well, gentle reader, in a little over a month, I read 14 books and listened to 1 to complete the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge:

I read:

Gentle reader, that counts only as 13 books in my annual total–Unqualified is an audiobook and does not count, and neither does Much Ado About Nothing. But considering that I finished one book on January 2 before starting the Winter Reading Challenge, I read one book not counted in the Winter Reading Challenge before completing it, and have finished another book or two since, and I am in good shape for my annual reading already. And it’s leap year, so I have an extra day to run up my annual total.

It certainly seems like that was a long month, but I attribute that both to the dietary restrictions (doing the Whole 30 Diet with my beautiful wife) and the late great employment uncertainty. But I read a lot, so that’s something.

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Book Report: Blood Debts by Shayne Silvers (2015)

Book coverAll right, all right, all right. I am really stretching here. The 2024 Winter Reading Challenge has a category Library/Bookstore Setting, but although I looked through my stacks for books on selling books (such as or Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry) or book collecting where the authors visit a bunch of book shops (such as Slightly Chipped by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, which I bought at Hooked on Books before I lived in Springfield, back when I stopped at Hooked on Books every time I came to Springfield, but now that I live in Springfield I don’t hardly ever go even though my church is across the street and my doctor’s office is next door). I looked for books with titles that clearly indicated that they took place in a bookstore or library (such as The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald). But I could find none of these, and I didn’t want to spend time reading the backs of books to see what might qualify and I wanted to not have to go to the library for a “recommendation”–I wanted to draw all books this year from my personal stacks. Then I remembered an urban fantasy series where the main character owned a book store. I checked into the Dresden files by Jim Butcher (I read White Night in 2015), but that’s not it (which is unfortunate, as I have several facing out right behind my desk). But when I was tearing apart my stacks looking for a book for this category, I said, “Aha!”

I read the first book in the series, Obsidian Son, in 2017, and I bought this book the next year in 2018. I mentioned then that I had spoken to the author at his table about getting ready to test for my second-degree black belt, and I laughed when I opened the book and saw the inscription.

Five and a half years later, I’m in a similar position with pursuing my third degree. Back then, I punted the final testing date a couple of months because my boy(s) had cross country meets and First Lego League competitions on testing dates, although to be honest they weren’t that excited to come cheer me on in my testing. So much that I’m not expecting them to attend the third degree when I get there. I’ve been putting off the confirmations and the ultimate testing because my attendance has been somewhat spotty over the last couple of years, but it’s steadied at a class or two a week, and I’ve been concerned that I’m not getting in enough reps to be sharp enough to prove myself worth of the next degree–and most of my classes have been with children over the last four years–but I’m getting more comfortable with the thought. So I’ll likely work my way up to that next degree before the author of this book can go all General Patton on my continued slackerosity.

So, about this book:

Nate Temple has defeated the weredragons (from Obsidian Son) and is looking into his parents’ murder and how to unlock the secret armory of magic items they’ve hidden in their tech company’s headquarters. During his investigation, he visits a Kill bar, which is a bar where supernatural beings can kill each other with impunity, and he in quick succession defies a demon, angers an angel, gets wailed on by a werewolf, and gets kidnapped by a tribunal of wizards who also want the armory. He’s cursed with diminishing magickal powers unless he turns over the armory to the wizards and has to deal with demons and Nephilim hunting him while he tries to find the secret of the armory, who killed his parents, and who summoned the demons in an attempt to kick off Armageddon.

Silvers has a very kinetic and conversational first person narration style, especially compared to some books I’ve read lately, so the 320 pages flew by relatively quickly. I was in a bit of a bind, though, since through the first hundred or so pages, Nate Temple does not go to his book store at all. I was a little worried that he would not and that I would have to go back to the stacks, but fortunately he soon thereafter, in a battle with a nephilim and a demon, destroyed the bookstore. So a scene at a bookstore counts as far as I’m concerned.

The book does a good job of not being too particular in naming streets and whatnot (::cough, cough:: Guilty!), but it really lacks a sense of being set in St. Louis. It mentions being during Mardi Gras, but it says the whole city goes nuts for Mardi Gras–it’s really Soulard (named once in the book, eventually). But I don’t get any idea where Temple Industries is located; they mention the city jail, but you don’t get a sense of it being downtown (not Clayton, of course, that’s the county jail). He talks about going into a seedy area, but is it North St. Louis? Vanderloo? That corridor between Grand and the Central West End? A little more such detail would have spiced it up (but not so detailed that your book becomes obsolete when they change the intersection at Litzsinger and Lindbergh).

The book might suffer from some power inflation in the main character though. He’s put on the ropes with the curse, but he eventually transcends mere wizardry and can battle demons and angels to a standstill by the end of the book (and temporarily gets the powers of one of the Four Horsemen before being found not guilty in a trial of the Four Riders at the end of the book). I remember a couple books into the Anita Blake series by Laurell Hamilton (you know, that Klein girl from Heber) that Anita Blake kept getting laden with new powers which seemed to diminish her approachability as a character (also, she had the hots for werewolves and vampires and not printing press operators/coffee house poets, as I was at the time I read the first books in the series). I hope the same does not befall Nate Temple.

Apparently, I would have some catching up to do to catch up with Silver’s ongoing series–he has almost 30 books out now which means he’s publishing five per year (check my math). Amazing. And they’re a cut above the normal self-published fare. So I will likely pick up another book or two by him if I run into him again at a con or something. I really miss LibraryCon, which was free–Missouri Comic Con is this weekend here in Springfield, and I can’t justify $30 to walk around vendor booths and spend too much on self-published comic books and maybe meet (but not party with) Sam J. Jones from Flash Gordon (I have a martial arts class during his session anyway, and I do need to get that third degree anyway).

Where was I? Oh, good book. A quicker read than I remember from Larry Correia and Jim Butcher. Although maybe my speed to read it was partially influenced by the fact that it was the last book I needed for the Winter Reading Challenge.

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Book Report: Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy (1965)

Book coverFor some reason, I kinda remembered that this book was a gritty look at New York City and the main character was a prostitute who serviced both male and female clients. Actually, I must have read something about the movie somewhere (I mention the film compared to 9 to 5 in 2021, but I’ve never actually seen the film, apparently the only X-rated film to win Best Picture). So when I needed something to slot into the LBGTQ+ Character category of the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge. But it might be a stretch, though, as the main character does not appear to be attracted to men. But I am playing fast and loose with the rules this year, and probably a lot of college papers in the 1970s talked about the latent attraction between two of the male characters, so I’ll go with it.

At any rate, the book tells in a third-person limited omniscient narrator fashion, the story of Joe Dirt Buck (really), the product of a broken home, rather dumb. Raised by his grandmother rather absently, he loses his virginity, mostly watches television, gets drafted, and becomes rootless when his grandmother dies while he’s in the service stateside. He moves to Houston, takes work, and falls under the sway of a gay hustler who turns him onto weed and tries to have sex with him. Joe is still under the man’s spell, but the man takes him to a whorehouse out in the sticks and then watches as Joe wins over the prostitute purchased for him for the evening, leading to Joe beating the man and then getting raped by the gay bouncer. Joe then decides to go to New York City and become a hustler himself, but he’s dumb and does not know how to go about it. He falls in with a lame grifter, Rico “Ratso” Rizzo, lives with him for a bit, has a couple of hustling “adventures,” and decides, when the weather turns, to do one last job to buy bus tickets to Florida for himself and Rizzo. Which he does, although it involves beating and robbing a john. And on the bus ride there, Rizzo dies. And, finis!

The sex in the book is not given in any great detail, fortunately, but it must have been very grittily depicted to have earned an X rating for the film. I think I will pass on the film.

For the second book in a row, I got a told-to book with great blocks of telling what was happening, and the main character was not particularly likeable. It reminded me a whole lot of The Last Picture Show in that it takes a simple, small-town southwestern man as a protagonist, and it just kind of tells the sad story of a mediocre figure. I can’t believe that the author had affection for the characters, instead trying to write the gritty expose of how life really is, man in the 1960s as imagined by the literate set.

Herlihy was something in the 1960s, apparently. This is the second of his three novels–he was more known as a playwright–and a number of his books and plays were made into successful films. But his success and endurance has proven to be fleeting.

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Book Report: The Beautiful and Enduring Ozarks by Leland Payton (1999)

Book coverTo be honest, gentle reader, this volume does not slot into the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge. However, after Lolita, I only had the LGTBQ+ Character and Library/Bookstore Settings, and the book that I found with a LGBTQ+ character promised to also be seedy, so I browsed through this collection of Ozarks text and photos as a bit of a break. It only took a couple of hours, but it was a nice respite.

I picked it up on the church’s Free Book cart, which has expanded from being but a way for the church to dump old theology and Christian books out of its library and more into a Little Free Library for members. I myself have left duplicate copies of The Greek Life, Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far), and a fat collection of Shakespeare, and Todd Parnell’s Privilege and Privation which I apparently bought at library book sales two years in a row. If I spot a book that looks interesting–such as The Making of the Old Testament–I will note it one week, and if it’s still on the cart the next week, I will snag it. Except this book. I think I grabbed it on first sight.

So, it’s about 80 pages of photos and text, a little about the history of the Ozarks, but pretty broad in scope, talking about the Scotch-Irish settlers, the Osage Indians, and the transition of the hill men to hillbillies in popular thought. So, basically, a paean to the place and the people and their continued independence and leave-us-alone attitude.

So pleasant little vacation from seamy Serious Fiction on a list guided by librarians out to broaden my horizons.

In doing a quick Internet search as “research” for this book report, I discovered that Leland is still around 25 years later and still producing books like this available at hypercommon.com.

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Book Report: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

Book coverThe 2024 Winter Reading Challenge has a category Outside Your Comfort Zone, and I figured it was finally time to tackle this novel. I bought it sixteen years ago at an estate sale south of Blackburn Park in Old Trees when my oldest was but a toddler. It has languished on the to-read shelves for an occasion just such as this as at no point would I carry this book outside the house to read it, gentle reader.

You might know the basics of the story, gentle reader, as it has passed into the culture even beyond its film adaptations. Humbert Humbert has what Ed McBain would call “Short Eyes” for the title character. The book details his biography, an encounter in his youth to which he attributes his predilection, and then how he comes to room with a woman and her daughter, the title character. The book, erm, waxes poetic on the attributes of the girl, and when the mother dies shortly after marrying the narrator and then finding his hidden journal detailing his obsession. Humbert takes the girl across country, dallying with her often, but although initially she was into their assignations, she grows bored and distant. They settle in a town, and she attends a girls’ school for a while, but they take off on another cross-country excursion, this one in desperation as the narrator fears she is into someone else. Then she disappears, presumably with that someone else, and he loses touch of her for a number of years before she reaches out, and he meets her, married and pregnant, and then he kills the man who stole her from him (not her husband).

The frame of the book is that it’s a manuscript written by a man in jail awaiting trial (for the murder, likely). The narrator is trying awfully hard to not sound like a bad guy with his actions taking place in between bouts of real madness and trips to a sanitarium. The sensuous descriptions of the girl, though, make one feel squicky. The unreliable narrator comes off as pretty pathetic, and the girl kind of bratty. The prose is overwritten, with the author just dropping lists into the text (not bulleted, mind you, but lists anyway, which gets tedious).

As I was reading it, I was wondering, “Why write this book?” I mean, there’s no hero in it and no lesson to learn from it unless it’s just to shock the bourgeoisie (which might have been part of the point) or to perhaps normalize this behavior (not the madness nor brattiness but the other thing, which is probably not the point but seems to be gaining steam in the 21st century). Nabakov included an afterword in the English depiction here which boils down to 1.) It’s Art and 2.) I am a great novelist in several languages. But I don’t wonder if he didn’t just want to write Crime and Punishment for mid-century America.

Welp, I read it. So I have another thing to strike off in innumerable “you should read this book” lists (such as this, this, or this). And I have one more category done in the Winter Reading Challenge.

In searches on this blog for the book’s title, conducted to see if I had it in a Good Book Hunting post, I rediscovered that this book played a part in The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. Ah, a shame! The Library/Bookstore Setting category will likely be the last I complete, and The Bookshop would not only have satisfied that category but also the Made Into A Movie/TV Show category. As you know, gentle reader, I like those twofers.

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Book Report: Mine the Harvest by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1954)

Book coverAh, gentle reader. I was going to lead off by saying “I’ve already read this book,” but you might remember that. I read it in 2006, which is slightly more recently than I read Blood Relatives. But this 2024 Winter Reading Challenge is proving not only to be a year of Bowlderized (or merely edited) books, questionable category assignments, and re-reads. I will note that this copy, which I bought in 2022 for $1, which is better than the ex library book First Edition for which I paid $10 and read in 2006.

At any rate, this book was compiled by Millay’s sister after her death (as I mentioned). Some of the poems are polished, as she might have been gathering some for publication before her death. Some are not. Millay experiments with free verse, but without a lot of what makes free verse palatable to me–good rhythm, internal rhymes, and alliteration–but I write free verse for performance at open mics (not that I have done an open mic in 20 years). Instead, it’s words laid out on a page without rhyme and with some obscure meaning and discrete images that don’t hold together too well.

But it has some sonnets as well, and Millay is at her best in the tighter confines of traditional structures. Her structured poetry looks pretty effortless and almost conversational, and they’re short and often poignant. And these are not her best sonnets.

The poems overall deal with death and remembering the past than love (although she touched on these subjects in the past). Millay died in 1950, a year after her long-time husband (who died of lung cancer, which might have taken some time although not as long as it can with modern treatments). So one can understand where her mind might have been immediately before her death. Her Wikipedia entry indicates she might have been in chronic pain after a 1936 automobile accident as well, so, yeah. Not bright and cheery poetry, but the book contains a lot of birds, flowers, and trees landscape poetry.

So not my favorite of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s work, but I am probably growing into it more than shouting “Love! Though for this you riddle me with darts!” at a half-empty coffeehouse (I guess I am telling the same old stories over and over again as I read books over and over again, ainna? Is this my dotage already?).

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Book Report: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Heddon (2003)

Book coverAh, gentle reader. I am certainly playing fast and loose with the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge. Although I did not use The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam or The Broken Spear as the Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own book because those books were collected/compiled/edited by presumable Christians and people of European descent, I did enter Tales from the Missouri Tigers in the School Setting category even though it’s more a sports book than a school book (but university sports). And now, gentle reader, I have fallen even lower.

The Winter Reading Challenge has a Neurodivergent character. Heaven help me, but I was not going to wade back into The Sound and the Fury again for a mug. And I’ve already read Of Mice and Men recently (what? twenty years ago recently?). I remembered that I had a copy of this novel in the Reader’s Digest Select Editions format. I “ordered” this and, apparently, four other such editions back around the turn of the century (the volume containing this book is from 2004). Reader’s Digest (not italicized as it’s the company, not the periodical) would send out a teaser for offering a free book for your review, and then you can cancel or get any one such book every month or two on subscription unless you canceled. I was pretty good at canceling, and I accepted the free offer a number of times (but did “buy” a book or two). These Select Editions are paperbacks, unlike Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, so I thought they were the complete text. But as I started The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, I noticed it was under 200 pages, and not even Mack Bolan books of the era fell under that. With some trepidation, I turned to the front of the book (this novel is fourth of four in the volume), and…. Selected and Edited. Oh. This is a Reader’s Digest Condensed book in a cheaper package for people who, at the turn of the century, might have thought that the Condensed Books were for old people (as an aside, I hardly ever see Condensed Books at garage sales, estate sales, or book sales any more–have they all been pulped by now?). But I am going to count it as a complete novel because I really, really don’t want to wade into the children’s section of the library, where one can easily find entries for every category on the Winter Reading Challenge list.

At any rate, I remembered that this book focused on a neurodivergent child, and so it does. The first person, fifteen-year-old Christopher, is autistic. The book starts when Christopher is out walking late at night, which he likes to do because it’s quiet, he finds the neighbor’s poodle dead on a lawn, stabbed with a garden fork. Police initially think that he did it, but he did not, so he starts to investigate and to write this book to describe his investigation.

Christopher tells us about his life a bit, slowly working in details about his special school and life with his father, an HVAC man who has been raising Christopher since his mother died of a heart attack. Christopher steps outside of his comfort zone to talk with the neighbors in his investigation, including an old woman who tries to befriend him. Christopher’s father orders him to stop investigating and bothering people and takes away Christopher’s manuscript of the book. While looking for the book, Christopher finds a stack of letters from his mother. She did not die, as his father said, but instead could no longer take the pressure and/or responsibility of raising Christopher and ran away with a married neighbor. Christopher’s father discovers him with the letters and explains that not only did his wife run off with another man, but he had hoped to become a couple with the left-behind wife, and when he had a falling out with her, he killed the ill-tempered dog. This sets Christopher off, and he must really leave his comfort zone and travel to London to be with his mother. Who is falling out of love with the man she ran off with. The book ends kind of media en res as well; Christopher returns to Swindon to take his Maths exams; his parents can be in the same room together; and Christopher’s father tries to make amends with Chistopher.

It’s a thin plot, and the whole purpose of the book is to imagine and experience the imagined voice of an autistic teenager. Which it does with some limited success, I suppose, but I imagine that it’s different enough that a lot is lost or transmogrified. A couple of times the narrator says that he does not imagine things, but he goes off on flights of fancy a time or two. The narrator also describes clinically how he perceives things instead of simply perceiving them that way. Although I suppose that it would be too jarring to try to completely reproduce it.

The book was originally sold both as an adult novel and a YA novel with different packaging and covers for each. It does kind of have more of an young adult book to it, but part of that might be in the Reader’s Digest trimming.

You know, I read this fairly quickly and probably got a good flavor for it. Perhaps I should give these Selected Editions and Condensed Books (where I can find them) a second look. I am not especially a fan of modern and mainstream novels, but reading these would give me a deeper overview of the works than the Wikipedia entries. And I could count them as a complete book in my annual tabulation (and the Reading Challenge categories). So maybe I should add them to the list of things I hope to read this year after the Reading Challenge. Along with the rest of the Sharpe’s books I own, one or more volumes of The Story of Civilization, and pretty much whatever catches my eye in the interim.

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Book Report: Tales from the Missouri Tigers by Alan Goforth (2003)

Book coverWell, gentle reader, when I bought this book in 2021, I said:

I am thinking of giving this to my mother-in-law for Christmas, but we might already have done so. Which might lead me to justifying keeping it for myself.

I know you have been waiting in suspense lo these almost three years, but I did not end up giving this to my mother-in-law. Well, not yet. I think I shall take it over to her apartment to let her read it. Because I might not be a giver, but I can be a lender.

Also, gentle reader, I must admit that I’m playing fast and loose with the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge categories. School Setting appears on the list of categories, but one gets the sense that the categories might be skewed to younger readers these days. I don’t read many books set at schools. This book deals with a university’s athletic program, so it will have to do. If not, I have a similar book from Michigan State (I think). Maybe even by the same author.

The author breaks the book into two parts plus some appendixes. The first trips through some reminisciences from basketball players from the Tigers in the 20th century (and a couple of years into the 21st) focusing on coaches (and Norm Stewart, who was a two sport man at Mizzou before becoming a storied coach much later) and some of the better players. The second part, which is most of the book, does the same with football players. Appendixes include memories from the sidelines–including a section that includes Dan Meers’ memories (I read his book Wolves Can’t Fly last summer).

I say the book “trips through” because it’s written in that blocky style that skips between memories and interview bits from players, staff, and whatnot (including a guy who had attended/reported on the Tigers since the 1930s, seventy years by the time this book came out). Surely You Can’t Be Serious and Louder than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Heavy Metal both used this technique, which makes it easy to read in snippets since the snippets are two to three paragraphs long. Why bother reading whole chapters? Why bother writing the connective tissue between topics? Just lay in a couple of centered asterisks and move on.

It’s 191 pages with appendixes, and it proved to be a pretty quick read. It gave me some sense of the history of the sports programs and their successes that I previously had lacked. I should have taken better notes, I suppose, because Mizzou sports facts are not uncommon at trivia parts around here. But I only have retained so far the things that especially resonated with me. That Norm Stewart played baseball and football for Missouri state; that Dan Devine coached Missouri football before the Green Bay Packers, and…. Well, that’s all that comes to mind right now. I can only hope that other information might rattle out if needed, but that’s probably too much to hope for. Beaver Cleaver’s first name did not rattle out on New Year’s Eve even though I’d just read Why We Watch: Killing the Gilligan Within.

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Book Report: Sharpe’s Trafalgar by Bernard Cornwell (2002)

Book coverAh, gentle reader, of course I did not have to rely on All Quiet on the Western Front for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge Historical Fiction Outside the U.S. category. After all, I have a bunch of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels (and a couple of one offs) and a stack of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series, and I know where they are–on the outermost ranks of the to-read shelves in the hall. So why not grab one of those? Certainly better than a Bridgerton tie-in that librarians might favor.

At any rate, I bought most of these paperbacks at a garage sale in South City right after we moved to Old Trees and before we had our first son. It was only a couple of months, late spring and early summer, but the world was awash with possibilities–I was an executive working downtown, getting ready to grow a family, and I had actually moved to Old Trees. I read Sharpe’s Tiger and Sharpe’s Triumph the next year, but not another Sharpe book since then (fifteen years ago!). I also read non-Sharpe novels Stonehenge and Wildtrack the same year, but after we moved to Nogglestead. And given how much I enjoyed this book, my underwhelmed response to the latter put me off on the Sharpe books, and that’s a shame.

The events of the book take place after Sharpe’s adventures in India (Sharpe’s Tiger, Sharpe’s Triumph, and Sharpe’s Fortress which I have not read). Sharpe is headed to England to join a regiment there. He has booked passage on an Indian cargo ship and has bought furniture and provisions for the trip, but the right before the trip, the warehouse storing his provisions “burns down.” The book begins with Sharpe, in disguise, trying to infiltrate the estate of the merchant’s cousin after receiving a tip that the merchant did not actually die in the fire–and that the “fire” was part of a scam to sell the same goods to other travelers. He recognizes the merchant among his cousin’s entourage, but before he can make a move, a British capitan and some marines appear seeking recompense for the scam perpetrated on them. Although the captain and the marines are handled by the cousin’s guards, Sharpe makes a successful roll to backstab gets the drop on the merchant and gets recompense for his scam, for the captain’s scam, and makes friends with the captain.

When he goes to sea, he finds an old adversary on board posing as a German duke and a pompous British politician with a beautiful wife with whom Sharpe falls in love. While at sea, the merchant ship is captured by a French privateer, but Sharpe manages to help recapture the ship with the help of the captain’s ship. And Sharpe finds himself on the captain’s fast ship hunting for the Revenant, which is not the large bear that almost eats Leonardo di Caprio but instead is a large French ship. Instead of Sharpe’s Trafalgar, Cornwell could have called it Sharpe’s O’Brian Book.

So most of the action takes place at sea and doesn’t involve much, mostly Sharpe wooing the woman and dealing with her husband’s secretary who tries to blackmail him. It has a lot of detail about ship’s operations along with some drilling because just as the ship is about to catch the Revenant it is summoned to participate in the Battle of Trafalgar. And, as luck would have it, they get to battle the Revenant up close and personal.

Sharpe remains a bit of an anti-hero, although he does seem to be trending a little more traditionally heroic in this book. In researching this book, I discovered that Cornwell did not write the books in chronological order. He published the eighth book in the chronological history in 1981 and only sixteen years later did he publish Sharpe’s Tiger. This book came out in 2000 (my edition is a later paperback edition), so it was twenty years since Cornwell’s first Sharpe novel. Interesting, and now I’ll have to look to see how they hang together when I get to the actual start of the series in publication order.

As I mentioned, I enjoyed the book and don’t know why I’ve waited so long to get back to it. I was tempted to blow off the rest of the Winter Reading Challenge–I have more than enough for a mug now–and jump back into it, but I probably will try to get as many of the fifteen categories as I can before hitting this series again. It looks like the series has 26 books in it so far, mostly dealing with the the war against Napoleon. I don’t have that many (yet), but the books are written to be individual novels and not relying on too much knowing what happened immediately preceding the book you have in hand. Which is good, as I’ve already skipped gaps (both in the series and in a decade and a half of real time) with no great loss of reading pleasure.

The O’Brian books will likely have to wait, though.

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Book Report: Generation B Music & Melodies by Ernie Bedell (2022)

Book coverI picked up this book last year during the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge, but it did not slot into any of those categories. This year, though, it could slot into either of two categories: Author of a Different Race/Religion Than Your Own (which I already filled with Karate-dō Nyūmon) or Featuring Music. So I have slotted it into the latter, but I do like the additional thrill of reading books that can fit into more than one category.

The book looks like it might have been, at inception, an oral history or a family history that Bedell put together of his musical family, his grandparents, parents, and uncles as well as he and his siblings (a family of eleven siblings) for the next generation–his younger siblings and his grandchildren. As such, the books layout is lacking–it looks to be simply a dumped word processor document whose formatting was lost in the translation to whatever print-on-demand service the author used. Photos are laid out oddly, their captions are misplaced, section headings are widowed (they appear at the bottom of the page and the section starts on the next page). Additionally, the text repeats itself in several places, sometimes a phrase, sometimes a sentence, and sometimes a couple of paragraphs as though in editing, the author copied and pasted instead of cut and pasted. Listen to me on this point, gentle reader; recall, it has been said that my books suck but they look professional whilst sucking.

So it’s an unpolished work, and it does seem a bit voyeurish to look this closely at another person’s family, but the author has some interesting stories to… well, allude to. Born into a musical family, the author, some siblings, and neighborhood kids form a touring band (the Fabulous Elites) in high school in the 1960s (1950s? The book jumps around a lot and does not often root one into the exact time). After a couple of years of performing, the group winnows to a smaller group that tours regionally into the 1970s (The KC Express). When that band’s members starts to settle down, some of them buy and run a club on Commercial Street.

I say that the stories are alluded to because, for the most part, the author just dumps names and some events without building them into fully fleshed-out stories. It kind of reminded me of Danny Mile’s Twice a Week Heroes in that regard except with fast-pitch softball players swapped out for musicians.

Still, I’m glad I read it, and I’ll have to keep an eye out for the author and his current band, ABS Band. I’ll also watch for his bands’ records and recordings when I am out and about.

The last bit of the book has a roll call of the current generation of musicians and artists (again, the book has a bit of a family album feel), and you might have been wondering, is Gary Bedell, artist/author of Thawed a member of the family? Of course!

But what really made me go “Hmmm…” was this bit talking about the author’s grandfather:

I remember my mother’s father, Harry Piggee, was a jolly person full of spunk and who always had a smile on his face. His military background included both Navy and Army amd my grandfather “Piggee” loved the military.

* * * *

My mom was a housewife who took care of us kids. She was a woman who had a love for poetry and a gift for writing it.

Hmmm… Military. Poetry. Could Ronald E. Piggee, author of As Autumn Approaches, be a distant part of this family? It would explain how that small-run book would have found its way to Springfield.

At any rate, the book has promise, but I’d wait for the second edition if I were you.

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Book Report: Karate-dō Nyūmon by Gichin Funakoshi (1943, 1994)

Book coverThe 2024 Winter Reading Challenge has a category “Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own” because of course it does. To a librarian, the common library user around these parts only read Karen Kingsbury, James Patterson, and other white authors (probably Assemblies of God church members at that), so compelling patrons to read something else will elevate those patrons to the level of identity box-checking librarians everywhere.

I started out looking from something of a different religion. I wanted to avoid having to read a fat tome by Mencius or Confucius or Aristotle or Plato. I pulled The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam in the Classics Club edition, figuring the fellow was probably Muslim, but I discovered that the book was translated and “refined” by an Englishman probably so much that it was not “by” Omar Khayyam much at all. Then I uncovered The Broken Spear, the Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico, but it, too, was so clearly that would fall under the rubric of a different religion, but it, too was compiled by a Mexican historian in the 20th century, so I could not be sure.

Ah, the heck with it, I would go with race then. In lieu of looking at the authors’ pictures on the dust jackets (where available), I figured I would just grab one of the martial arts books I have that are written by someone from Japan. And here we are.

I bought this book last year 2022 (although I write 2024 on my checks, I am still thinking of 2022 as “last year”) at ABC Books and note that I read another of the six books I bought that day, A Beginner’s Guide to Glass Engraving, as part of the Winter Reading Challenge last year (in which “last year” is actually 2023, but not by much). So if I keep up this pace, I will have read all six books I bought that day by 2028. A daunting deadline to be sure.

At any rate, this is the translation of a 1943 work by Karate master Funakoshi who learned the art form back when it was still a hidden practice on Okinawa and then demonstrated it and opened a school in Tokyo. If you’re doing the math correctly, you will notice that this book first appeared in Japan during the war, which made me feel a little like a traitor in reading it. This book appeared not long after the Durants’ Our Oriental Heritage, for crying out loud, although this translation/edition came out in 1994. Past the 1980s martial arts cultural explosion, but there’s continued to be a market for them as the Martial Arts section at ABC Books and its barrenness continues to attest.

So this book is part history of Karate (and Okinawa and the southern part of Japan by extension), autobiography, and the description of a particular kata that the author’s school emphasizes (and briefly compares it and the other kata it uses to other schools and the evolution of kata). It has a number of static images from the kata, including the steps that feature a partner, but it’s hard to get the flow from a kata from text description and pictures. Heck, in my experience, it’s hard to get the flow of a kata from repeated demonstrations and practices (and, apparently, it’s hard to teach them as well, which is probably why my school moved away from them when it tried to introduce them 6 or so years ago).

At any rate, a quick read, more informative on the history of Karate than anything else. And an entry for the Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own which could almost be part of the Published Before You Were Born category, as it appeared in Japanese presumably before my parents were born (and before the author’s countrymen shot my grandfather on the author’s home island of Okinawa) but this particular edition is from 1994, so as a pedant, I can’t use it in that category. Besides, I’ve already started a different book for that category (thankfully, not a volume of The Story Of Civilization–I am not that optimistic, and I still have to finish The Greek Life).

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Book Report: Treasure in Hell’s Canyon by Bill Gulick (1979)

Book coverI said when I bought this book in 2021 that I thought this was a children’s book. It’s an ex-library (Springfield-Greene County Library’s Brentwood branch) book with pouches for cards and no computer markings, so it was likely removed from circulation when I was a boy. But event though the dustjacket, in its protective mylar, looks a little like a library binding, it’s not. This would have been a fairly inexpensive hardback western. Apparently, there were over a hundred of them, but not all by Bill Gulick.

The book deals with an attorney in Portland, Oregon, who works with a Chinese importer who has his hand in some shady businesses, but the attorney, Walt, tries to keep him as legal as possible. When the authorities get wind that the importer is bringing in several young women for sale, a friendly cop asks Walt to dissuade the importer. Walt does so at their regular poker game, but ends up winning one of the young ladies in the poker game. She has been taught to please a man, and she does end up pleasing him both as a housekeeper and as a lover, but anti-miscegenation laws don’t permit marriage, and anti-Chinese sentiment, particularly among the Irish, cause trouble for the couple.

Meanwhile, his brother, a prospector, has not only found gold (in Hell’s Canyon) but has legitimate English investors who want to develop it. He would like Walt’s help making it all legal, albeit retroactively.

After a near riot and shooting leave Walt almost dead, the girl nurses him to health, but he decides he must send her back to the importer who arranges a marriage with a laborer. Walt goes to Hell’s Canyon to help his brother, and the girl and her husband join a work team heading inland. Which just happens to end up in Hell’s Canyon as some bad men are planning to rob the mine–and the workers’ camp.

Probably not for modern audiences as although it features anti-Chinese sentiment and bad words, the book itself has a nuanced view of it, defending the Chinese and probably trying to portray the actual friction objectively (the author was a regional historian with other nonfiction tomes in his oeuvre). The imported young ladies are also young to the modern legal framework–the one Walt wins is fifteen–but young marriages were more of a thing in the past, and this is not a book about the perils of human trafficking–it portrays Walt’s relationship with the girl as mature and loving. Still, probably not something one would encounter in a modern book, but I guess I would have to read a modern book to find out.

A short bit, definitely a bit of a pulp feel although this was a Doubleday (Double D) hardback. Less meat to it than a L’Amour or Grey book, but the writing has a bit of knowledge and depth that you don’t get from real, paint-by-the-numbers, publish-a-book-a-month pulp or men’s adventure books.

The author did not have a series of books in the Double D Western line, and I’m not sure I’ve seen another in the wild. But the book sales I go to these days is large, and I don’t tend to hit the fiction sections much at all, much less the Westerns section. So maybe they table(s) is/are lousy with them. Maybe I’ll find them if I ever attend the Christian County or Polk County library fundraisers again, but I don’t get to small, one-room, browse-them-all book sales any more.

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Book Report: Blood Relatives by Ed McBain (1975)

Book coverYou are not mistaken, gentle reader; I have written a book report on this 87th Precinct novel before (in 2006). I picked this copy up at the Friends of the Library book sale in May 2022, and as I noted then, I will pick up mid-career McBains when they’re cheap just in case I don’t already have them. This one has a mylar cover on it to protect the book jacket, but it is only a Book Club edition, so not that collectible. But nice nevertheless.

At any rate, this book is very focused on a single crime, unlike some later books which blended a number of plots, sometimes bringing them together but not always. A girl shows up at the 87th precinct with defensive knife wounds, and her cousin has been stabbed. As they were on the way home from a party, they stopped to outwait a downpour in a tenement/construction site when a man with a knife appeared and wanted the older (17-year-old) girl to perform unspeakable acts. So Carella and Kling investigate, finding a man sleeping off an evening drunk which matches the description, but he is not picked out in a lineup, and the blood on his shirt is not the victims. They look at the dead girl’s boss at the bank where she worked, who matches the description. Then the living cousin fingers her older brother for the crime, and the eventual discovery of the dead girl’s diary indicates it was probably not him.

When I re-read it in 2006, I remembered mostly a memo that appeared as an aside in the book–a police superintendent says that orders using rubber stamps should not be obeyed, but the order is signed by a rubber stamp. Carella puzzles over this for a page or two, and that’s all I remembered from a previous reading. But I remembered the plot, or at least whodunit, this read around.

The book is a brief 151 pages and makes use of the pasted-in interview notes, memos, and documents style where these appear in a different font. They pad out what might only have been a novella to short book length. I can see why McBain would later include more than one plotline in later books: He was moving from a paperback sensibility to a $25 hardback value-in-length mindset.

Still, I like his old stuff as much as the new, and I’m always happy to find them in the wild. Even if I come home to discover I already have it.

This book will fit into the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge Suspense category. It’s only a one-fer, though, as it doesn’t look as though it fits in other categories.

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