Book Report: Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais (2008)

Book coverI was surprised and pleased to find a Robert Crais book on my to-read shelves; I just read A Dangerous Man, which is relatively new. How is it that a Crais book has languished on my to-read shelves for so long? Turns out, it has probably not. I read this book when it was new in 2008.

But it was on my to-read shelf, so I read it again anyway. Robert Crais might be the only modern writer whose works I can read and re-read like I can with John D. MacDonald’s work.

So Cole had gotten this guy free from a murder charge, and the guy apparently kills himself with photos from that and other killings on his lap. Cole doesn’t like the thought of having freed a killer to kill twice more, and then he suspects that perhaps the dead man was not the actual killer. So he goes to work.

The book is told in pure first person narration without jump cuts that most modern writers use. Even Crais uses them in later books. Somehow, it seems a more connected and flowing, a purer, literary style. And a throwback.

A couple things struck me mostly about the passage of time.

Elvis Cole does tae kwon do kata on his deck; twelve years ago, I could not have imagined that I’d be a black belt in tae kwon do, basically, the next time I read this book. Although my school is a satori school that does not focus on kata.

Also, I said then:

A good book overall and one that keeps me interested in the series, which makes it one of two contemporary series I appreciate (Sandford’s Lucas Davenport being the other).

Yeah, well, not so much now.

So will I end up “accidentally” buying more Crais books at book fairs just to read them again? Maybe!

Book Report: Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas (1954)

Book coverI just read Thomas’s short story Holiday Memory, but upon checking my notes (this blog), I see that just read was almost five years ago. Tempus fuhgeddaboudit.

This is called “A Play for Voices,” which probably means a radio drama more than a stage play. The cast of characters indicates why: There are 63 named “voices” in the play. Apparently, this drama debuted as a staged reading in New York City with six people (including Thomas) doing all the voices. It must have been confusing to watch and keep up with it without the names above the spoken words, as several voices (Drowned One, Drowned Two, and so on) appear, say their line, and then disappear for half of the play only to reappear later. In context, you can kind of figure out who they are–they’re more types than real characters–but to see this on stage with only six people doing five voices each would have been underwhelming.

At any rate, the drama is a limited omniscient slice-of-life day of a small town where not much happens. You look into the minds of lovers, husbands and wives, the clergyman, and a variety of other characters as they go through their day. And CUT!

I mean, there’s no plot to speak of; we get some characterizations of the various characters, but it’s just a day in their lives.

The words are poetic and would be pleasant to listen to, but the “play” lacks any drive or development beyond its presentation of this day in the life. So it, too, underwhelmed me.

I’m going to start an idle speculation about the evolution of drama. In the old days, like 1592, you read a lot of drama about heroic characters (or tragic ones), kings and princes and whatnot, but in the 20th century, is there a shift to more working people and common people as protagonists (as it were)? Does this reflect a shift in the audience–from common people seeing heroic stories to academic and upper class people watching stories about distant lives of the common folk? I suppose I could write an academic paper or a book making that argument and throw in how today’s commoners flock to movies about outsized heroes. Were I so inclined and not so lazy.

At any rate, worth a read if you’re into Thomasania.

This completes my reading of the four books I bought at ABC Books this month. I thought about going up on Saturday to buy more, but I decided that I have enough to read for now. If they have an author signing next week, however….

Ross Thomas Makes It Big

Well, I’m pretty sure the author made it big enough during his lifetime.

But here in the 21st century, 25 years after his death, his 1984 book Briarpatch is getting a television treatment:

The explosive opening of USA’s “Briarpatch” promises that this new series, starring Rosario Dawson as a crusading investigator uncovering hometown corruption, will continue to offer bang for its buck.

That doesn’t quite happen, but “Briarpatch,” adapted from Ross Thomas’ 1984 crime fiction novel, does provide enough of a compelling storyline to keep viewers guessing where it will all eventually lead.

I’m kind of pleased.

It’s been five years since I’ve read a Ross Thomas paperback, but I have plenty scattered amongst the library, possibly including Briarpatch. So when I end up reading one of them in the near future, you’ll know why.

(Previously reported: The Porkchoppers, The Mordida Man, and Voodoo, Ltd..)

Book Report: Life After Death by T.A. Kantonen (1962)

Book coverThis book is a short (54 pages) theological explanation of the (or perhaps a) Christian view of life after death based on Biblical texts. It talks about what life is, what death is, what happens at death, and what happens in the final reconciliation / resurrection.

He definitely explains the monistic Christian idea of the soul+body combination versus the dualist notion that the soul exists outside the body and takes issue with the common conception that someone who dies goes immediately to Heaven and then talks about the resurrection of the body (and soul). So it runs a little counter to popular sermon fodder and populist notions of life after death.

The author draws upon biblical sources but also classical literary sources (Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold) along with theological sources and delves into different philosophies such as Platonism, Aristotleanism, and Existentialism to contrast them to Christian thought and explains how different translations of Greek texts have led to the popular misconceptions. So it’s a heady and literary work, but it’s not academic–the mentions of these other sources and philosophies are kind of pointers toward more examination rather than requiring esoteric knowledge of others’ footnotes to understand this work.

Personally, I contrast this book with its learnedness but targeted to common laity circa 1962 with common Christian best-sellers of today, and I find them lacking. Even though I have not read a bunch of them, they’re a bit contemporary self-affirming from what I said, whereas this is deeper. Not quite the Tillich (alluded to in this book), but scholarly enough.

Oh, and another thing. I flagged a mention in the section of What Is Our Relation To The Dead regarding ESP:

The depths of the human heart and the experiences to which they lead must not be treated lightly. In our day research in extrasensory perception has indeed afforded remarkable insights into the potentialities lying in personal relations, far exceeding the ordinary. But the exploration of that experience and the determination of its genuineness must be left to the psychologists. The concern of Christian faith is man’s relation to God.

You probably don’t get many such references in contemporary works to ESP as being possible and not necessarily demonic, either.

For some reason, when I bought this book at St. Michael’s book fair in Lemay in 2009, I thought it was a play. Which would have made it fit right in with the drama I have been reading to start the new year.

Book Report: The Yogi Book by Yogi Berra (1999)

Book coverI got this book in November (I have read two of those five books so far, but I have been to ABC Books since then, so no rush to read them all soon). When I was looking for something else this weekend, I found the book and wondered where I’d gotten it and how long it had been on the shelves. Not long, a quick search of this blog reveals. Which is why I have this blog: to help me remember.

At any rate, this collection is not as deep and dense as even When You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It!. Instead, it’s a collection of quotes from Berra, one per page, with photos from his life and captions that explain the photo, the quote, or both. So I was able to browse it easily during playoff football games and following. Which was nice.

A pleasant enough browse and read if you’re into Berraiana. Which, apparently, I am.

Book Report: Our Town by Thornton Wilder (1938, 1985)

Book coverFor some reason, I had gotten it into my head that this particular play was one of the most popular plays produced by high school theatre groups. I have no idea where I got that idea–I am pretty sure it predates wide adoption of the World Wide Web–but if it’s true, I can see why. The play has a lot of characters, and most of them have a manageable (that is, few and easily memorized) set of lines. Perfect for kids getting their feet wet on stage with a couple of more involved roles for those who are natural at it and will go to Hollywood in a couple of years to have their dreams crushed. Also, it’s a play within a play!

So, about the play: It’s a high-level view of a town in three acts. The main role is the Stage Hand who narrates and breaks the fourth wall to exposit a lot about the town and its inhabitants which are kind of treated like it’s a play, but the people in the play don’t know it (hello, Mr. Shakespeare). The acts focus on two families at home, the town doctor and the paper editor, with wives and two children each. A bit slice-of-lifeish, with the first when the kids are young, the second when the son of one family is going to marry the daughter of the other, and the third at the too-soon funeral of the now-married daughter who communes with townspeople who have predeceased her.

So it’s not a very plot-driven play, as there’s no central story to it. A lot of characters walk on and have a couple of lines, sometimes about irrelevant other towns people (threads that are knit loosely into the play, but aren’t central to it). It reminded me a lot of The Time Of Your Life by William Saroyan, and I see they are contemporaneous (have I used that word in two straight book reports? Indeed.). Too many characters, too little intensely driving them.

Although I guess I liked this one a little better since it sort of celebrates bourgeous values more, although the overarching message might be one of subtle Existentialism.

This is the second of the four books that I bought this month at ABC Books (the first, of course, was The Heart in Hiding, a poetry collection). Given that the other two are also plays, it is entirely possible that I will have read them all by the next time I go to ABC Books. At which time, should it be so, I will proudly announce it to Mitchell and/or Mrs. E. So now it’s a goal (much like my goal to read all of the books I bought at Calvin’s Books last year before the end of the year–a goal I met, gentle reader).

Book Report: Samuel Bourne: Images of India by Arthur Ollman (1983)

Book coverI had thought this might be a good book to browse during football games, but it turned out not. The book is actually weighted heavily to text, in small print, that talks about the photographer and his trips (well, trip to India which lasted roughly seven years) and the hardships of taking piles of photographic equipment of the middle nineteenth century into the Himalayas and around the Indian subcontinent.

In most cases, I decry a heavy text-to-image ratio in art and photography books, but in this case, I found it suiting since the story of his treks and whatnot were more informative and interesting than the photographs themselves. I mean, we have a couple mountain passes, a couple portraits, and a couple forts/monasteries, with an occasional figure thrown in to give a sense of scale (and sometimes the best part of viewing a photo was playing Where’s Waldo? in trying to pick out the tiny human in front of the great mountains). But they are mostly landscapes, interesting undoubtedly in their time to viewers who had not actually seen photographs of these places before. But here in the 21st century, we have it all in IMAX.

So I found the photos themselves less interesting than the contemporaneous Civil War pictures of Matthew Brady as the latter has historical significance. But the story of getting the images from this book are far more interesting than Brady’s photography given that Brady had pretty level ground and roads to get there.

Bourne was a principle in a photography shop called Bourne and Shepherd that sold prints of the photos Bourne and his partner took as well as doing portraits and official photography and whatnot. Founded in 1863, this business just closed in 2016. Which itself is fascinating.

So worth a read (22 pages, but two columns and small type) even more than a browse. It helps if you can remember the historical context, though: people seeing actual pictures of far away lands and being able to buy them for their own homes.

This is a former Springfield Art Museum library book which I just picked up last May, but the last date stamped (!) into the book is 1990. So no one has (probably) looked at this volume in thirty years. Which seems kind of sad, but it will probably languish on my bookshelves for that long as well unless my estate sale is sooner than that.

Book Report: The Heart in Hiding by Jane Daley Kraus (1981)

Book coverThis comb-bound book has a 1981 copyright date, but the author’s autograph on the title page is dated 1990, so nine years later, she’s still signing them for people. At poetry readings/open mics? For friends? For the little bookstore down the block? I cannot tell, as it’s just a signature and the date, but that makes it seem like it was a less personal occasion and something more formal. Still, working it nine years later. I wonder if she printed that many of them in 1981 or was reprinting them as needed. It’s a lot to speculate about on a simple chapbook.

At any rate, it was a pleasant read after At the Mountains Collections of Madness. As you might recall, I didn’t care for that previous volume very much. It’s too modern, where the poems are mainly free verse which, at their worst, are inscrutible verbiage (sometimes) and, at their best, are brain dumps with little apparent craftsmanship. I also saw that the editor of the Marshfield Mail, the current Missouri Poet Laureate, posted a piece of free verse in the paper and defended it a bit as poetry a week or so back, and I thought, “Meh.”

So some better-than-average Grandma poetry was in order. Well, some Grandma poetry, which I am taking to calling the poetry written by housewives in the middle of the 20th century. The sort that filled Ideals magazine. The kind of thing Leah Lathrop and Bobbie J. Lawson, amongst many other examples scattered over this blog, wrote. Formal, rhythmic, and sometimes with an insight or two into the human condition.

This collection was written by a Long Island housewife and deals with tending to children, continuing to be in love with your spouse (and working at it), and other mid-life (that is, the bulk of life) concerns. Some are quick little hits, bits of humor about phone use back when the family only had a single phone connected to the wall and family members contended to talk on it. Some are longer reflections about family and long-term romantic relationships. Some drop contemporary references to movies and soap operas whose titles and players are forgotten in the 21st century.

Overall, a better than average collection of Grandma poetry. Some workmanship and some insight, but it doesn’t rise to the level of high art. But better than most of the dreck produced by professionals, who will also be forgotten in the ages, wherein “ages” might mean “couple of years.”

Now In Paperback

I was researching this post, and by “researching,” I mean I was looking for the Amazon link for There Will Be War Volume X when I discovered that it’s available in paperback as of December 2019.

It’s definitely more real than a Kindle book, and I will still have it when the megacorporvernments decide Vox Day is beyond the pale and strike him and all his works from history.

Book Report: The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff (1992)

Book coverIt’s been two years since I read The Tao of Pooh, and I mentioned I had this book around somewhere, maybe. I’m not entirely sure if I found it or if I bought it in the interim, but its absence on the Good Book Hunting post in the interim suggests the former.

Like the predecessor, this book seeks to illustrate Taoist thought through a whimsical mash-up with Winnie-the-Pooh stories. The title character in this case is Piglet, who is small but Taoism would suggest (as the book asserts) that he is the right size. So we get a little of the author interacting with the Pooh characters, a little bit of text from actual Pooh stories, and chapters on different personality types demonstrated by the Pooh characters and how they’re not properly Taoist (Eeyore is too negative, Tigger is too positive, and so on). We get helpful quotes from other sources, such as Henry David Thoreau as well as actual Taoist thinkers.

It’s okay; a little less informative than The Tao of Pooh and a little more, erm, practical and contemporary in its descriptions of kids these days and how modern life isn’t very Taoist. He foreshadows a bit when he laments about the government whipping up a frenzy to remove the foreign tyrant of the day. Looking at the publication date, we can tell that this was Saddam and the first Gulf War (Desert Shield/Desert Storm).

Then we get to page 214, and we get completely into how the Republicans are going to cause the Taoist apocalypse through their rapacious greed and desire for profit/conquest. No, really. The harms done by Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and their supporters were going to cause Nature, the Tao, or the Nothing to violently respond and swing the pendulum back the other way towards harmony. Perhaps that was the election of Clinton later in the year. Maybe we’re still due for a reckoning, since we had George W. Bush. Friends, the narrative sucker-punch gained precedence in the early 21st century when authors dropped in unwarranted political commentary in books to prove they hated Bush like any right thinker would. This one comes from a decade and a whole Bush earlier.

So, yeah, I can see why this book would not have been as popular as its predecessor.

An easy enough read, but the author’s interactions with the Pooh characters detracted from it in spots, such as the introduction of a, what, mob-connected hardman, into an otherwise engaging exploration of Taoism. Well, engaging when it wasn’t completely off-putting with a misplaced and misguided tirade.

Book Report: In Focus by Jim Rathert (2004)

Book coverI thought I might browse this book of photography during football games, but it’s more than a book of photography. Although it does have a lot of great photos of native animals and landscape around Missouri, it also offers photography tips and discusses various habitats and geographical types we have in Missouri, from the different types of forests (and what constitutes an actual forest as opposed to a woodland).

So I enjoyed it. Every once in a while, I think about getting into photography, but books like this might daunt me as I learn how much effort a professional photographer puts into it.

Although he did admit that for some wildlife, he puts them into an enclosure designed to look like their habitat and then gets pictures of them doing their thing there instead of out in the wild. Which probably makes sense when you’re on a deadline. And it tells me if I want to become a nature photographer, I should start at the zoo.

At any rate, I enjoyed this book more than a simple book of photography. Like The World of the Polar Bear, it informed me about the process as well. Which is more interesting sometimes than the mere photos.

Book Report: Die Trying by Lee Child (1998)

Book coverAfter I finished Killing Floor, I went to Barnes and Noble and plunked down a couple of bucks for the next book in the series. Actually, I almost plunked down a couple of bucks–wait, they’re actually ten bucks for paperbacks now?–for Make Me because the end of The Killing Floor says “Jack Reacher returns in Make Me“, but apparently that was a new book when this paperback edition was published and it was not listing the next in the series.

So, yeah.

Well, I clearly did not like the book as much as I “liked” the first one. I mean, it starts out with Jack Reacher accidentally stumbling (literally) into an attempted kidnapping, and he thinks he can take the kidnappers but that innocent people might get caught in the cross-fire. I am pretty sure even I by 1998 had attended a self-defense seminar that said give an attacker your money, but never get in the car. So this would have been a much shorter Brian J. Noggle-as-hero book because I would have been killed by the gunmen in chapter one. But hyper-competent Jack Reacher should have ended it early, but we would not have had a whole 552 page novel to go through to get to the end.

So the actual kidnapping victim is the FBI agent daughter of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the kidnappers are a right wing militia (ripped from recent events in 1998, but still a trope twenty years later) who are declaring their own nation in Montana and are using her as a hostage to keep the military from attacking. Or something.

You know, the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the pacing is awful. Child has discovered the jump cut third person narration, where we get to see lots of extraneous things going on from different perspectives, and in most cases, they really don’t increase the tension. We get the same events sometimes from three different characters’ perspectives, and then the resolution is simple and underwhelming. And Jack Reacher vacillates between the hyper-competent and pretty passive as events overtake him.

You know, I flagged a lot of things as silly. Like:

“We’re in some sort of a barn,” Reacher said. “With the doors closed.
Holly nodded impatiently.
“I know that,” she said. “I can smell it.”

A dairy barn, I guess, since the beef cattle around here don’t have cow barns.

The guy with the shotgun tore his attenion away from Holly’s breasts. He raised the weapon to his hip. Pointed it in Reacher’s direction. It was an Ithaca 37. Twelve-bore.

We’re in America, Jack. Talk American. Twelve gauge.

He [Jack Reacher] walked fast for twenty minutes. More than a mile.

I should hope more than a mile. The average walking speed of a human is three to four miles an hour. I should hope that Jack Reacher’s walking fast would be better than average. (Although he is carrying a dead body at this point, but still.)

“I don’t have many facilities available,” he [the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] said in turn. “It’s the holiday weekend. Exactly seventy-five percent of the U.S. Army is on leave.”

Oh, come on.

The parade ground was full of people. All standing in neat ranks. Reacher guessed that there were maybe a hundred people there. Men and women. All in uniform. All armed. Their weapons formed a formidible array of firepower. Each person had either a fully automatic rifle or a machine gun sling over their left shoulder.

A fully automatic rifle or a machine gun! Do tell. Even if we’re going to argue about whether some had M2s over their shoulders, we’re already outside the story, ainna? Trying to make the text somehow conform to our experience and think maybe the author was winging it a bit?

He kept close to the road, all the way back to Yorke. Two miles, twenty minutes at a slow, agonizing jog throuh the trees.

Friends, six miles an hour is a comfortable run for me. Not a slow, agonizing jog. Of course, I’m not in the peak of human conditioning, and I know the military expects more of its recruits, but it’s not how I would characterize six miles an hour.

Where the earth had fractured and fallen, the edges had broken up into giant boulders. The scouring of the glaciers had tumbled those boulders south….

Blah blah. Here, have a page or so history of the ice age that created the topography of this particular obstacle. My old fiction professor would talk about nice little moments in short stories, but too many of these nice little moments, and I hearken back to another professor of philosophy who admitted one day that all the amusing stories he told in class were simply because he had to fill the time and couldn’t let us go too early or it would reflect bad upon him (and this was the 3:30 to 5:00 class that finished up my semester of two days of classes, 8:00 to 5:00, so I could work instead on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I was pretty tired of classes by then and didn’t want to listen any more to stories just padding time).

The nearest sentry was still on his feet. Not heading for the shed. Just standing and staring toward the rock Reacher was behind. Raising his rifle. It was an M-16, same as Reacher’s. Long magazine, thirty shells. The guy was standing there, sighting it in on the rock. A brave man, or an idiot. Reacher crouched and waited. The guy fired. His weapon was set on automatic. He loosed off a burst of three.

Sweet Christmas, even I know that the common pew! selector on an M-16 was single, burst of three, and fully automatic. So in saying that the guy had it set to automatic and only fired a burst of three “shells,” well.

Never mind. I flagged a lot in this book and shook my head at a lot of nice little moments that were not so little and a plot that, well, why did they do what they did? Because, BOOK!

If this were an Executioner novel, it would not have been a particularly good one. And it would have been 300 pages shorter. So I’ll stick with them and perhaps Rogue Warrior titles when I fancy something longer.

So maybe I’ll pick up more Lee Child books at book sales for a dollar, but likely not for a while.

I am interested in seeing the other Tom Cruise Jack Reacher movie, though.

And if you ask me, I would say I prefer the metal band.

But I would. I actually do own that album. I picked it up at a garage sale sometime.

An Annual Inventory Story (And Good Book Hunting, January 4, 2019: ABC Books)

So when I worked as the shipping and receiving clerk at the art supply store with the rhyming name (you can try to guess it, but those in the know recognize that all the St. Louis area art supply stores had rhyming names)….

All right, I’ll tell you the name of the store since you could find it in my blog archives. It wasn’t Dick Blick or Red Lead; it was Artmart, which is still in the same location.

So where was I? Oh, yes. The bulk of my job, in addition to the all other duties as assigned which often included custodial/janitorial things, facilitating product returns (when I started the job, they had a store room just about stacked to the ceiling with returned and defective items awaiting return to the manufacturer or distributor, and nobody liked to do it since you had to find a purchase order with that product on it, contact the manufacturer, get a return authorization, and then box up the item or items to return, and nobody had time for that, so they just tossed it into the room–I kid you not, it was floor to ceiling with products just tossed in, and I cleared it out within a month or so), light maintenance/electrical repair, and computer technical help, the bulk of my job was receiving shipments, counting the received items and comparing them to the packing lists, and shelving the items in the warehouse for later stocking (“Why so many?”). So I spent most of eight hours every day for months counting pens, counting pads of paper, counting sheets of paper.

It came time for the annual inventory. The store closed up early, and everyone who worked there paired with another, and we started counting all the things on the sales floor. Every charcoal pencil. Every sheet of paper. Every Pantone color selector book (which costs hundreds of dollars for what is essentially a bunch of paint chip selectors like you get at the hardware store, except Official). I got paired with one of the retail floor guys, relatively new. One partner per team would write down the name of the product; the second partner would count said product; and the first partner would write down the number. It worked pretty efficiently for most teams, but I could count items accurately just by looking at them, so I was impeded by the speed at which my partner could write.

I mean, to count pens or pencils, which were mostly housed in square boxes (and came that way in the shipments), you basically tip the box so a corner is pointing down and shake the box until the pens/pencils fall into a pattern. The shape of the pattern indicates the number in the box.

Take, for example, the stars on the flag, right? The pattern is that the bottom row has six; the second to bottom row is five. Five rows have six, and four rows have five. Thirty plus twenty equals fifty. And, gentle reader, I could match the various patterns pretty much from memory. I was like, “Koh-i-noor 31652, 18. Faber-Castell 110251, 15. Koh-i-noor 5055, 3.” And so on. I must have looked like Rain Man to this kid.

I take pride in a lot of things I did on that job, including my ability to not so much count fast as to recognize the pattern of counts.

At any rate, I related this story to the store manager at ABC Books on Saturday when I stopped by, and he laughed politely as he does to every story I tell and joke I make. I’d wandered up to see if they had a book signing this weekend as their calendar on Facebook is not accurately updated since the social media guru left. They did not have a book signing, and they were finishing up their annual inventory (the store manager explained to someone who wanted to trade books).

I tried to help:

I have been hitting the poetry and drama sections more of late. I got:

  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder.
  • Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
  • Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.
  • The Heart in Hiding by Jane Daley Kraus, a comb-bound collection of poetry by a Long Island housewife.

It didn’t really help the counters at ABC Books who had already counted these sections.

Also, I had found an ABC Books gift card amongst my customer rewards and gift card collection. I was not sure whether I had gotten this as a gift or if I had forgotten to put a gift card in with a teacher’s Christmas card. More likely, one of the boys found himself at ABC Books without his gift card and gave it to me in exchange for the equivalent value in books which happens frequently when they have gift cards but are not carrying them.

So the above books and a book for each of my boys came to almost $25 dollars. And the gift card was for….

24 cents.

The store manager asked me if I wanted to use it. The alternative, of course, would be to put it back in the collection of rewards cards, to find it the next time I took a moment to toss out rewards cards from defunct restaurants, and to think again I had a whole gift card to use. So, yeah, I spent the twenty-four cents.

I look forward to reading these short books to start padding my annual total early. When I find them again in my stacks. Some year in the future.

Book Report: Killing Floor by Lee Child (1997)

Book coverI watched the Tim Cruise film Jack Reacher this month. On Christmas Eve, I had some time to kill before church, so I stopped in at Barnes and Noble and saw a rack of Lee Child books, so I thought I would take a look at the source material. This is the first book, published 22 years ago, by a new English author (from England, not New England). The paperback I have has an introduction wherein the author talks about why he created the Jack Reacher character and his influences–mainly John D. MacDonald.

In this book, the drifting Jack Reacher, riding on a bus as he drifts, on a lark has the bus driver drop him at a highway cloverleaf so that Jack can go to a nearby town where a little-known blues guitarist died seventy or so years ago. Jak walks fourteen miles into town and, as he is having breakfast, he is arrested for a murder at some warehouses near where he was dropped. Which he didn’t commit, by the way.

So he and a local man whose phone number was in the dead man’s shoe are bundled off to a state prison lock-up for the weekend, and several people try to kill Reacher. Or are they trying to kill the local businessman whose number was in the shoe? When they’re released, the business man disappears and although Jack Reacher is nominally cleared and is thinking of drifting along, he discovers the dead man was his…. DUM DUM DUM! estranged brother who worked for the treasury department. So although Jack just wants to roll on, he has to help investigate since the bad guys threaten/kidnap the cute local cop that Reacher has feelings for. Or they cross him one too many times.

The book reachers 524 pages, and it’s told in pretty straight forward first person narration. Unfortunately, it feels padded. A lot of pages are Reacher concluding something at length and, ultimately, incorrectly. Additionally, it reads like a British man trying to write in the American argot. He calls rounds for .22 pistols “shells.” He talks about distance in terms of yards, even if it’s only one yard–or something more Americanly referred to as 3 feet (which I attribute to thinking in terms of meters, a continental measure more equivalent to yards than feet).

He refers to the “gutter” of a car, which I had to look up. It’s not actually a British term for something we call something else, unless the American term is “scuttle.” It’s just esoteric, but I had to look it up.

And, more importantly, he refers to something in Wisconsin as it related to Chicago:

Since Stevie Ray died in his helicopter up near Chicago it seemed like you could count up all the white men under forty in the southern states, divide by three, and that was the number of Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute bands.

As you know, gentle reader, Stevie Ray Vaughn died flying from a concert at Elkhorn, Wisconsin. I remember where I was when I heard the news: Facing the frozen foods in a grocery store the next day. Where I often was when I learned of deathsa> throughout the 1990s. As I recounted the story to my beautiful wife, I recounted feeling relief it wasn’t Jon Bon Jovi. But I conflated memories: Relief that the headliner (Eric Clapton) was safe and a bit of Denis Leary’s No Cure for Cancer:

We live in a country, where John Lennon takes six bullets in the chest, Yoko Ono was standing right next to him and not one fucking bullet! Explain that to me! Explain that to me, God! Explain it to me, God! I want it! God! Jesus! Now we’ve got twenty-five more years. Yeah, I’m real fucking happy now, God. I’m wearing a huge happy hat, Jesus Christ! I mean Stevie Ray Vaughan is dead, and we can’t get Jon Bon Jovi in a helicopter. Come on, folks. “Get on that helicopter John. Shut the fuck up and get on that helicopter! There’s a hair dresser in there. Yeah, go ahead in there, yeah yeah.”

I listened to that a lot in the cassette deck of my 1986 Nissan Pulsar in the middle 1990s.

So where was I?

Oh, yes. Well, overall, this book was okay. Kind of what you expect out of midlist thrillers of the day, but a little wordy (okay, a lot wordy) with a lot of the words just waste. A little askew at times, especially once you get into your head that the author is British and misfiring on some American argot (perhaps you can excuse it because Reacher was raised abroad).

I don’t know if he satisfies in this book the description that Lee Child gives of him as a hyper-competent protagonist as he spends so much of the book being wrong and letting things happen to him. I mean, perhaps he’s better than the other heroes in the thick thrillers of the time, but I’m pretty sure the Executioner could take him easily.

Or maybe I’m just jealous, since my college thriller novel completed in 1992 featured a 6’4″ 240 pound ex-military misanthrope, and I didn’t get a book deal much less a series and film franchise out of it.

2019: The Year’s Reading In Review

This BRY (Book Reading Year, roughly Christmas to Christmas), I completed, what, 111 books?

I also browsed several collections of June Wayne’s work, but they contained so little text and actual images that I could not in conscience count them in my annual total.

So I am pretty pleased with the selection here. Although I did “read” a large number of art monographs, I did read some smarter works, including (by my quick count):

  • Between 2 and 5 classics; Jane Eyre and The Count of Monte Cristo, but also Siddhartha, Lassie Come-Home, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes which some might consider classics;
  • 12 collections of poetry;
  • 4 plays or collections of plays;
  • 10 Executioner novels;
  • 3 of the Little House novels;
  • 3 martial arts books;
  • 3 horror novels/collections;
  • 1 book I bought to give as a Christmas present (A Blade So Black, given to two people);
  • Probably too many graphic novels for someone with an English degree from the 20th century.

Mostly fiction, and the nonfiction tended to local interest or history. A couple literature textbooks kinds of things (How to Read a Play, How to Read a Poem).

Overall, a good selection, and I feel good about it. I like to put together these year-end lists and take a little time to reflect and review what I’ve read this year. Sometimes, I’m surprised that it was in the current BRY (Book Reading Year, remember) as January or March can seem like so long ago. I get to re-experience a bit of my vacationing as I remember the books I read on vacation (if nothing else from the vacation). And, I am pleased to say, I did read the five books I bought at Calvin’s Books whilst on vacation in May.

So onto BRY 2020 which should see the completion of this Dickens novel I’ve been reading amongst other things for the last month or so.

Book Report: Collections of Madness by Jane Smith, Asil Nottarts, and Nod Nihill2 (2005)

Book coverI bought this book in November and started on it because I’d stalled out on the couple of other poetry books I’ve been reading of late.

It’s a collection from nominally three poets with a marker from a veteran’s cemetary on the cover, someone who died at 22 in 1997, so a contemporary of the authors presumably who died before the late unpleasantness.

I tried to date the poems to being a couple years older than the bulk of my ouevre, but it might have been a decade past my coffee house days. So I was trying to imagine the poets as people I would have known. The first section by Jane Smith fits that mold, and the beginning of the second by Asil Nottarts started that way, but then I came to one entitled “To A Dying Man” that begins:

Nobody wants you to go, Old Man
But right now,
You are an open wound on everyone’s heart,
deep and raw.

Each cough,
each rattle,
each wince of pain
hurls a jagged stone at our tender flesh.
We wince with you

And ends:

My heart
will start
to beat again…
…when yours has stopped.

You know, that is very much not what I needed to read as my godmother was dying. I mean, there’s a bear minimum of self-consciousness in the poem, maybe, that what the poet-narrator was saying was monstrous, but, no, maybe not much at all. So my poetic response to this piece, delivered as part of the oral tradition, involved many, many fine expletives and invectives. No, I oversell myself. It was one expletive applied to many, many fine things.

So the poets lost any sympathy I had, and then I muddled through the remainder of the rather pedestrian middle poet and got to the longest section by Nod Nihil2 with is more prose than poetry, a brain dump of verbiage and dime store mysticism. The words contain enough allusion to make one recognize that the poet has a college education that covers real literature, but the resulting blather is less compelling than, say, Divine Fruit by Julian Lynn. Which, strangely enough, suffers by comparison.

So, yeah, not a lot I’m going to take out of this book but some real resentment to the sentiments expressed in “To a Dyning Man” which was probably not the poet’s intent. And I rank it below the grandmother poetry I read from time to time.

It’s not enough to keep me from nosing around the poetry section at ABC Books. And this is the book that ended my 2019 reading year. Not a high note.

Wherein I Recognize The Art In An Ace of Spades Mid-Morning Art Thread

Not today, of course, as it is still early. However, on Tuesday, CBD posted Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, and I remembered it from the book I read in 2009 (Gainsborough by Max Rothschild).

I read it right before my mother died.

It’s funny; I can remember more acutely some books I read in 2009 when my mother died and I moved to Nogglestead than books I read last year. Likely, I tie those books to events and the newness of Nogglestead, and books I read last year I read like those I did in 2010 and following: sitting in my recliner on the lower level.

Book Report: The Homecoming by Harold Pinter (1966, ?)

Book coverI got this book last week when I went to ABC Books for the Christmas gift cards. I did not do a full Good Book Hunting post on it because, gentle reader, I’m not sure if you even read them (or the blog book reports for that matter). But, if you’re interested, I got Little Town on the Prairie, Those Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years in the Little House series, this book, and a book on whips and whipmaking that I bought for a gag gift for my brother but that I ultimately kept because, hey, I might want to make a whip some day.

At any rate, this is a mid-(twentieth)-century British two act play by Harold Pinter, who apparently won a Nobel Prize for Literature. Given the topic matter, I can see why.

The plot revolves around a house containing Max, the patriarch not respected by anyone and given to long stories extolling himself; his brother Sam, a chaffeur; his son Lenny, a pimp; and his other son Daryl Joey, a young man who wants to be a prize fighter. So they’re lower class grifters, basically. The oldest son, Teddy, a Doctor of Philosophy teaching in America, returns home as a surprise and brings his wife Ruth home.

So everyone propositions Ruth (as the back panel tells us), and the story alludes to the dead mother’s infidelity (as well as the male characters promiscuity and attempted promiscuity), and at the end, though frustrated with Ruth’s fidelity (or at least denying everyone in the household), they make plans to turn her into a prostitute and proposition her with the possibility, and she apparently agrees–leaving her husband to leave the house and return to America without her. At the end, she is the center of the household and the men revolve around her.

So I guess that’s the message: It’s unclear whether she will actually become a prostitute or just get all the sex she wants, but she will rule this household. At least, I think that’s what the message is. I suppose I could re-read it and highlight the bits that support my theory and turn it into a proper undergrad paper, but I’ve graduated, and I am reading for pleasure. So, nah.

The play did remind me of a play that I saw after college at St. Louis Community College-Meramac with a similar theme. I’ll have to go through my momentoes to see if I still have the program. It might even have been this play, but I am not sure. Funny, I haven’t thought of the play ever, and I remember most of the productions I’ve been to. Now I’ll have to dig those boxes out and see what it was.

But I’m not going to put Harold Pinter on my list of playwrights whose works I want to pick up. Unless they’re a buck at a book sale, perhaps.

Book Report: Direct Hit The Executioner #141 (1990)

Book coverWelp, this is not one of the better entries in the series. The series by this point was progressing to more elaborate plots, and sometimes the authors handled them better (see White Line War and Devil Force).

This book, however, has the trappings of elaboration, such as continent-spanning set pieces and a bunch of interlocking conspiracies with different bad guys/terrorist organizations with their own competing and sometimes clashing agenda, but this author handles them a little clumsy compared to others. We don’t get much beyond the plotting part, with characters remaining thin and some of the plot movement is a little more than intertitle cards. So perhaps it reads a little like a silent movie version of an Executioner novel.

Still, I will continue with the series because some are better than others. Also, I stil have 24 of the numbered entries in the series and numerous spin-off titles, and they aren’t going to read themselves. Unlike the Little House books, though, I shall not finish them in 2020. But since the numbered series total is down to 24, I can almost see the end.

Oh, and one thing I flagged in this book is a little bit of big city rural miscalculation (such as was also seen in Death of a Hired Man).

She pointed the way, and he drove the battered pickup through Parkersburg, an unimpressive town of about forty thousand.

You know, forty thousand sounds small if you live in a major metropolitan area, but out here in the country, that’s pretty big. Springfield is bigger, of course, but Parkersburg is bigger than Nixa, Republic, Marshfield, and Monett. It’s almost as big as Joplin, and we kind of think of Joplin as a small city. After all, the Census Bureau says anything over 10,000 is an urban enclave.

Book Report: Christmas Lights by Christine Pisera Naman (2007)

Book coverThis is my annual Christmas novel for the year, although it’s really more of a short story cycle a la Winesburg, Ohio than a novel-novel.

It contains a number of short stories focusing on women at various stages of their lives and having different difficulties around the holidays. One is a busy doctor with no time for personal relationships until a gust of wind scatters the nativity set from her apartment balcony, leading various neighbors to each bring back a piece and introduce themselves–including a potential love interest! Another woman is having difficulty in her marriage and walks out, only to find herself in church praying and eventually reconciling with her husband. One woman meets someone at the airport–a baby she’s adopting from overseas. And so on.

At the end, we discover that they’re all sisters as they gather in their mother’s home on Christmas Eve and recount their stories.

The stories are short and women-centric, but I guess the target audience for these sorts of books is not the same as the Executioner novels. The back flap says the author writes for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and, to be honest, these do kind of seem like Chicken Soup short stories, with a bit of setup and then a positive, uplifting outcome.

I didn’t like it as much as some of the other Christmas novels I’ve read, but it’s a pleasant and quick read.