Book Report: On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt (2005)

Book coverThis is an essay by a philosophy professor emeritus at Princeton, published in hardback by Princeton University Press. I don’t know where I got it; I only know I picked it up as a break between movie novels because it’s pretty short.

Within, the author talks about the difference between lying and bullshit, and the basic crux of the article is that the liar knows he’s lying and subverts truth whereas the bullshitter doesn’t care whether what he’s saying is true or not. It contains lots of philosophical speak like talking about the truth-value of a statement and referring to Wittgenstein (whose progeny call themselves WittgenSTEEN), and the author digresses into how bullshit relates to humbug and whether bullshit has any nutritive value.

I think his definition of bullshit conflates two things that bullshit tends to mean in real life. Bullshit is generally puffing up or marketing kind of talk that is at its heart false, and the person spreading it might or might not know it. I think this author finds bullshit to be worse than lying, but when it’s just marketing or puffing, it’s actually less offensive and wrong. Unfortunately, in some cases, it does cross the line into outright lying. The subtle difference makes all the difference. How to capture into words the distinction, though, is the challenge, and this book really doesn’t go into it.

So, basically, it’s kind of an insipid bit of modern philosophy. Instead of tackling the weighty questions of existence, we have a little pop culture book with a catchy name that does a little of philosophy and refers to some other philosophers. Perhaps the authors of such books (which includes The Simpsons and Philosophy which I started three or four years ago and still languishes on my chairside table) want to introduce philosophy to the masses by roping it into pop culture and hope it will spur the people on to read primary sources. I think it’s probably as useful as feeding kids books full of crude drawings like the works of Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney in hopes it will lead children to reading real books–take it from me, as hard as I try, my junior high and high school students still read the Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books over and over again instead of something more mature. Or maybe the authors want to make a buck.

Regardless, I did flag some quibbles with the book, but I’m not going to bother to go into them. Probably not worth my time.

After a slight detour, it’s back to David Copperfield and movie books.

Book Report: Men in Black II by Michael Teitlebaum (2002)

Book coverI continued with my movie and television tie-in books with this volume which is apparently the children’s / young adult version of the movie. It’s very short (143 pages, possibly shorter than the actual screenplay) and uses simple language. It deals with the sequel to the first film, where Jay has to find Kay because he had a previous mission hiding a powerful energy source that a new alien threat who looks like Lara Flynn Boyle wants it to conquer some other aliens–and Earth isn’t important, but she’s willing to take on the Men in Black and capture their headquarters to find it.

I just watched the first film in the series last year when my quaranteens were watching it during their work-from-home phase, and I plopped down to watch it again. So I have seen the first film maybe three or four times. This one, I probably watched once soon after it came out, so I did not remember the plot of it, but some of the scenes came back as I was reading them.

I was just pleased that I could remember the name of the woman playing the Alien Big Boss: Lara Flynn Boyle. She was featured in a Maxim or FHM magazine around this time, when I was young enough to subscribe to them and convince myself it was to keep hip on the things the kids were into whilst I was getting toward middle age (in my defense, I also subscribed to GQ and Spin around the same time, so the impulse was real). I remembered she was in that lawyer show that I never watched. Ally McBeal? Nah, I thought, but yes. Also, The Practice.

So not as much fun as True Lies, but not as long to read, either, I guess.

That said, I will probably not rush out and get the six (!) other movie tie-in paperbacks they released in support of the movie.

Eesh, I can’t imagine kids being that excited about this particular movie.

Oh, and I did flag some quibbles. With a children’s book. BECAUSE I HAVE NO LIFE.

Mostly, I flagged anachronisms. Kids at the turn of the century might have known what these things met, but kids these days would be clueless.

A Wut?

“I sent you an interstellar fax,” Serleena said. “Didn’t you get it?”

I think all but the most recalcitrant of official documents go through the Internet now.

At Where?

“Sephalopods have been making counterfeits at the Kinko’s on Canal Street.”

After almost forty years of being Kinko’s, Kinko’s became Kinko’s FedEx Office in 2004, just after this film, and then just FedEx Office in 2008 (according to Wikipedia). So Kinko’s has not existed in any name for almost thirteen years.

The When?

Kay reached into the locker and took an old digital watch–circa 1970–from a tall clock tower.

Hmmm, that seems a little out-of-time. PC Mag says the first commercial digital watches arrived arrived in 1972 and cost as much as a car–although in a decade, they would become less expensive and get into wider circulation. Probably the authors were too young to know.

At any rate, an amusing and quick read even though it lacks any real depth. On the plus side, I can’t call it depraved unlike some things I’ve read recently. But I am just the kind of prude who yesterday turned down a job interview with a company that did not mention in its job listing that it is in the adult entertainment industry. PRUDE, I TELL YOU!

Book Report: True Lies by Dewey Gram and Duane Dell’Amico (1994)

Book coverI don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theater in the middle 1990s–I think I saw it first on videocassette–but I remembered the whole plot and most of the scenes. I remember I tried to watch it in the early part of this century, but I had to pop the VHS tape out as the attacks on September 11, 2001, were too fresh for me to enjoy a film that features a nuclear detonation in the continental US. I have since watched it, though, and in continuing with the theme from this year, I read this book, the novelization.

The book is a cut above many novelizations as the authors include some interior life to the characters instead of just reporting the action in the script or in the movie. As such, the book is a little deeper than the film, and the insertions keep the playful tone of the movie itself. It’s not like when they made Serenity after Firefly and suddenly all the characters were darker and haunted instead of happy-go-lucky.

If you’re not familiar, the story follows a secret agent with an agency that tracks nuclear weapons and threats. He has a wife and a daughter that he sees rarely as he is called away often for his computer job cover story. He has a set piece in the Alps, and an Islamic terrorist from the set piece follows him to try to kill him to protect the terrorist plot to smuggle nuclear weapons into the United States. Set piece, set piece, comedic subplot that the wife is getting bored and a used car salesman has crafted a secret agent story to seduce her, set piece that the daughter is acting out, set piece, nuclear detonation, Harrier jump jets (remember when they were a thing?), one-liner, happy ending.

Spoiler alert. There is a nuclear detonation in this film. But I guess I already mentioned that.

So, a pretty fun book with some minor variations from the film–the last voice over by Harry’s handler that ends the film is missing–but no great differences, so this is from a fairly late draft or early cut of the film.

A couple things I noted below the fold.
Continue reading “Book Report: True Lies by Dewey Gram and Duane Dell’Amico (1994)”

Recklessly, I Picked Up….

So, I finished reading Supercarrier, and I then picked up Supership. When I bought it in 2007, I thought it was a novel set on a supertanker, but I have since learned it is actually a nonfiction account, sort of like Supercarrier on a tanker.

I started reading this, and the cargo ship got stuck in the Suez Canal.

So I picked up The Last Picture Show, and Larry McMurtry died.

I told my beautiful wife these two events, and although she laughed, I feared my reading selections might have more power than providing me several nights’ worth of reading leading to eventual, or sometimes sudden, disappointment.

Maybe what I decide to read dictates world events.

Keeping with my reading of novelizations or sources for movies in paperback, I picked up True Lies.

I am sorry; if that happens, it’s all on me.

Meanwhile, reading of David Copperfield continues a couple chapters every couple of nights. So far, no major mining disasters. So maybe it really is a coincidence.

Book Report: The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (1966, 1979)

Book coverWell, as I mentioned, Larry McMurtry died while I was reading this book. I read Books: A Memoir in February, and I knew I had a couple of his novels on the shelves. I came across this one while I was looking for something to read before picking up Hud, the movie version of Horseman, Pass By.

And I came here to bury McMurtry, not to praise him.

This book, which the cover calls the precursor to Texasville even though this book and its movie came before the second book in what would eventually be known as the Thalia Trilogy and its movie. Published in 1966, the book is set a decade or so earlier in a small Texas town. It’s the sort of literary novel favored by serious artists and those who love them: The novel of pissing on where you came from, your home town where everyone is pitiable. So I did not like the book at all, and that’s before nine teenaged boys ran a train on a blind heifer and the novelist assured us that all the small town boys have sex with farm animals, if not cows and horses then dogs and chickens. Whatever is available. It’s not often that I call a book depraved, but here you go.

I mean, the main character or protagonist, such as it is, is a high school kid estranged from his father and lives in a rooming house with another high school friend. The friend is dating the daughter of one of the rich families in town, a girl who wants to be a legend in town and is a climber, always plotting her next move and/or boyfriend. The book is chock full of characters–the local coach, who might be a latent homosexual; his wife, Mrs. Robinson Ruth, who is turning forty and discovers orgasm with the protagonist; the owner of the pool hall/picture show/diner who is like a father figure to the town boys; and so on. You don’t really like any of them. Mostly, you pity them. The story, such as it is, follows a winter/spring/summer of the boys’ senior year, including football season, a trip to Mexico to score with some prostitutes, sexual escapades/adultery/sociosexual climbing and more prostitutes, it’s all pitiable and games until someone loses an eye, and then…. Well, it ends. To be taken up thirty years later in Texasville if you’re so inclined. I am not.

So this is why I like genre fiction. Because it has heroes and adventures, not normalish-but-quiet-desperation-amid-meaningless-sex vignettes.

I did flag a couple things to comment on, but I have decided not to bother except to bring up two points below the fold.
Continue reading “Book Report: The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (1966, 1979)”

Book Report: Supercarrier by George C. Wilson (1986, 1989)

Book coverI started this book because I’m on a novelization/source of movies kick to begin the year, and I remember the short-lived television series from the 1980s. This book is not a novelization of it or a novel that’s the source: It is a non-fiction book that was purportedly source material for the television show, but I don’t think they had much to do with one another aside from the name and the type of boat.

The author is a Washington Post reporter and a former pilot who embeds before embedding was a thing with the crew of the USS John F. Kennedy as it deploys for a seven month cruise in 1983-1984. Originally scheduled to steam out to the Indian Ocean, it gets put on point off of Lebanon after the attack that killed the Marines in their barracks. The posting climaxes early in an ill-conceived bombing raid that results in the loss of two planes and the deaths of two aviators.

Initially, I thought the author was playing it pretty straight, but in gestalt, not so much. He proffers some respect for the people on the ship–and he gets around, so he gets to know people in every position from the captain down to the boiler tenders–but, really, he’s kinda for the guys who are in the Navy because they had no other prospects in their slums or backward small towns. And when we get to the bombing raid, he really takes some time to call out the civilian leadership of the military (Reagan and the Republicans) for attempting a limited retaliation for a missile strike. Which is weird because he mentions Operation Eagle Claw which was launched in an election year by Carter, but he doesn’t call that a political operation.

So, basically, the author tries to be for the troops while pissing on the military and the political leadership.

However, the left-leaning subtext is fairly subtle compared by modern standards, and in between its blushes we get some good stories and insight into various occupations and life on a deployed aircraft carrier. The cover says it was a controversial book, and I bet it was, as a lot of people who would have liked a straight narrative got a Political Message in it. But, as I said, by the standards of today, it’s relatively subtle and mild. Although books like this likely led us to where we are now.

I can’t give it a completely unalloyed recommendation, but it was insightful in spots.

Quibbles and targeted snark below the fold.
Continue reading “Book Report: Supercarrier by George C. Wilson (1986, 1989)”

Book Report: More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (2005)

Book coverAfter I read Book Lust in January for the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge, I was surprised/not surprised to find I had the sequel on my bookshelves. I didn’t buy them at the same time–I bought the first at the Friends of the Christian County Library Book Sale in autumn 2015 and this volume, signed by the author but not inscribed but with the recipient’s name, in autumn 2018 at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. So of course they were not really anywhere near each other on the bookshelves, and any time I saw one, I probably saw the other.

At any rate, it’s much like the first volume: A collection of topics and books for that topic. Really, one, and by “one,” I mean I is not so much looking for books to read about a topic–one has a disorganized library full of books on many topics (books on boomerang and whip making, for example) and actual book sales this year to fill the few gaps one creates by reading these smallish paperbacks. So it’s more about keeping score on books I have already read.

Which is not a lot, actually–the bulk of the topical book listings list relatively recent books for the most part and avoid poetry, read: grandmother poetry and chapbooks, and classical literature. The book also dodges overtly political content, but the leftist bent is in evidence, more acutely in this book than in the previous one as she explicitly says about some older books that it’s hard to read because contemporaenous views on race were not contemporaenous to this book and because a lot of the selections are on the Race question–pretty much the whole state-by-state selection of Southern fiction deals with racial matters.

Still, I flagged a number of books she mentioned that I have read:

  • Killing Floor by Lee Child (see below)
  • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Deep Blue Goodbye by John D. MacDonald
  • Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (although I do not have a book report on it, I did ask my boys to read it last year)
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard.
  • Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (this year)
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (I read it most recently in Selected Tales and Poems in 2017)
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (apparently, I cleaned up on the books listed in the “Horror for Sissies” section)
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • David Copperfield (in progress)
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  • “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. It’s not a whole book, but I haven’t brought up that I used to go to poetry open mic nights and recite the whole thing from memory in almost a year
  • The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer (ugh)
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the section on South Dakota, as are
  • The Long Winter
  • Little Town on the Prairie
  • and These Happy Golden Years
  • True Grit by Clinton Portis
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  • Millennium by John Varley
  • Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Those are the ones I flagged as having read, anyway. To be honest, in the week or so where I read the book off and on, I might have stopped flagging the ones I’d read if I felt like I was flagging too much and then started after a couple of pages without flagging anything.

Most of the books that I read are mentioned in passing and are not actually the subject of the entry. Also, note that only, what, three of them that I have read are from within the last fifty years.

I also flagged a couple of passages for snark, but I’ll tuck them below the fold to keep this book report from completely consuming the front page here.
Continue reading “Book Report: More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (2005)”

Good Book Hunting, March 18-19, 2021: ABC Books / Hooked on Books

So after watching Fletch on Monday, I thought I would see if I could find a copy of the book or others in the series for my oldest son, whom I’m always encouraging to read a book with words in it instead of cartoons.

However, the Fletch series seems to have aged out of the used books–most of them would have been sold in the 1980s, remember–so I did not find books at either book store. Perhaps I will get lucky at the upcoming book sales this year.

I did, however, pick up a couple things:

At ABC Books, I got:

  • Semper Fidelis by M. L. Brummett, a local author. I had just been at the Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks, as you might recall.
  • Earth Games, a short collection of poetry by Ruth Loring.

At Hooked on Books, I got a couple of $1 books:

  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.
  • Blood and Thunder by Max Allan Collins.
  • Neon Prey by John Sandford. I know, I know, I swore these off, but it was only a buck. And note that this went from a new book at the library in April 2019 to the dollar cart outside a used book store in under two years. I wonder if his popularity is widely suffering.

The sale room in the back was pretty bare, but I still saw some books with red dots on the spines. Gentle reader, Hooked on Books used to mark their discount books with the red dot (which, two years ago, a cashier there didn’t know because it had been so long ago). So those books had been in the building for quite some time indeed. I expect that young man no longer works there, so they outlasted him by quite a margin.

At any rate, now that Spring Break is over, I hope I can get back to my normal reading schedule. I realize you have not had a book report in quite some time, gentle reader (eleven days since Mission: Impossible), and I know I am your primary source for book reports on twee books of decades past. Soon. Soon.

Book Report: Mission: Impossible by Peter Barsocchini (1996)

Book coverI don’t want to make you feel old, old man, but this novelization is from the first Mission: Impossible movie which came out 25 years ago. I mean, I was still working in a printing plant. Five years later, when I worked for my first start-up around the turn of the century, I had the audiocassette single of the theme song from the movie queued up, and if someone asked for something outlandish, I’d ask them to wait a minute, and I would play the cassette while they asked. Here we are, twenty years later, and I’m reading the paperback novel of the film because some such movie novelizations percolated to the top of my to-read shelves while I was looking for something else recently. Meanwhile, the 7th film in the series is scheduled for release this year, but probably not to theatres. Somehow, Tom Cruise has not aged, unlike the rest of us.

At any rate, the plot: The IMF finishes an op in Russia and immediately heads to Prague to hunt for a mole who might be selling the list of Eastern European covert agents. The mission goes South, and the team is killed. Ethan Hunt, the only surviving member of the team, is accused of being the mole, but manages to escape and recruit a team to clear his name. To do so, he must meet a shady information broker, to whom he promise to sell the worldwide covert operative list for $10 million and for the person who was going to sell the other list–the mole who got his team killed.

A couple of set pieces later, and a couple of outrageous stunts in the movie later, Ethan discovers the mole was closer than he thought.

A quick read, but it suffers from the pacing problems I noted in Alien Nation and a bunch of Executioner novels that are written from provided outlines: A lot of development in the first half, but then the book runs through set pieces to end quickly. I haven’t seen the film in ages–perhaps twenty-five years–but I don’t remember the Prague elimination of the team taking up half the movie.

Also, SPOILER ALERT, but the book uses a limited omniscient narrator who peeks into the heads of the people and tells what they’re thinking at times. Which is cheating the reader badly when it dwells for chapters on Jim Phelps, the leader of the IMF team, and SPOILER ALERT, I REPEAT, who is eventually revealed to be the mole along with his wife and other team member Claire, and none of his thoughts are about his plans to betray his team. For Pete’s sake, that’s some cheating right there. In the movie, you don’t get that interior life, so it works better. A straight third person narration would have served better. However, it couldn’t have provided the depth in the characters, even though some of that depth was the false bottom in a briefcase.

At any rate, I did mark a couple of things for the quibbles section.

Where The Wisconsinians Go

He’d been making serious judgment calls his entire life. Bachelor’s degree from Wisconsin State University, master’s from Princeton, FBI training, CIA training, special tactics and forces training, special weapons training, advanced linguistics and electronics. Ethan knew his judgment calls were not pulled out of thin air. They were based on solid training and field experience, not to mention the stability of a strong family background.
He’d grown up on a farm not far from Madison, Wisconsin, the only child of devoted parents who recognized early on that their son was exceedingly bright.

Given the proximity to Madison, I believe that the author means the University of Wisconsin. When I was attending the premier university in Wisconsin, not far from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I liked to call it University of Wisconsin-Madison to take the flagship state university down a peg. But I would not have called it Wisconsin State University.

Although I understand changing the names of universities for some prestige reason was a thing for a while. Maybe the author was trying to get ahead of the curve here.

The Deep State As The Bad Guy
Phelps tries to name a civil servant as the mole:

Phelps went silent, brooding into his coffee. “When you think about it, Ethan, it was inevitable. No more Cold War. No more secrets you keep from everyone but yourself, operations where you answer to no one but yourself. The one morning, you wake up and find out the president of the United States is running the country–without your permission. The son of a bitch! How dare he? You realize it’s over, you’re an obsolete piece of hardware not worth upgrading, you’ve got a lousy marriage and sixty-two grand a year.”

The good news is that in the 21st century, we know that the President of the United States no longer runs the country. The last one couldn’t because of the resistance of the lifers, and the current one probably isn’t, either.

The 90s Ubiquity of Oprah

This book, like Alien Nation, refers to the all-powerful one:

“I told him not to hold his breath. Just chalk it all up as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”
“He’d probably rather hear that from the president.”
“Exactly what he said to me. Maybe he’ll settle for Oprah.”

Twenty-five years later, she [Oprah] has just perhaps (the tabloids hope) aired the interview that might end the monarchy in Britain. Although, honestly, the tabs can’t hope it ends. Their stories of Katie Price (who?) won’t last forever.

Eight Track Technology
The books sometimes really tries to impress us with the latest technology, but it would better have served its own longevity to obscure the tech a bit (I did once write and sell, for money, an article to a writing magazine about how to avoid these pitfalls, although it was twelve years too late for this author). While talking about diskettes (instead of disks, which one could almost conflate with a CD or DVD or microdisc), while mentioning various architectures (unfortunately, probably from movie dialogue which needed preservation) to talking about laptops with PCMCIA cards–really, you’re dating it more than you have to.

Still, a quick thriller that made me wonder if I should pick up watching the movies. I am pretty sure that I saw the first and the second of these in the cinema, but I haven’t seen any of the other ones since then. Perhaps I should give them a try, but I already have a cabinet full of videocassettes and DVDs to get to.

Wonderlic Throws Brian J. Some Shade

So I’m taking the Wonderlic test as part of a recruitment process, and one of its personality sampling questions is this:

I would like to write a great novel or play. Agree | Neither Agree nor Disagree | Disagree

Ah, but I have already written a great novel and play.

I guess most people have to treat that question as a hypothetical.

But Wonderlic is saying that neither of them is great.

Perhaps I can agree if we use great to mean successful.

Book Report: The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly (2018)

Book coverMy wife spotted this book on my to-read shelves and brought it to my attention: I should read it soon, or it might disappear from my shelves. She has read other things by the author, a three-time cancer survivor, so that might be how she knows of him. So after I finished the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge, I picked it up.

It’s a contemporary Christian….self-help book? It’s in the vein of The Power of Positive Thinking or Eat the Cookie…Buy the Shoes with a bit of focus, I guess, on living as a Christian in the 21st century and helping to expand the Church’s reach/the power of the Church. The author is either first or also a business consultant, so it has a lot of focus on large-scale outcomes and uses the term continuous improvement referring to the experience of Christianity.

Spoiler alert: The biggest lie in the history of Christianity is that holiness, living a holy life, is impossible in the 21st century.

The book is a little bifurcated: He creates the concept of Holy Moments, essentially paying-it-forward by doing nice things for people to represent Christianity well, and then, rather unrelatedly, he then talks about The Church as if it’s some monolith that need Christians to band together to maximize its influence and whatnot. I am not sure that he leads from one to the other very well, and I’m not sure you can do that very well. I mean, Christianity is about one’s own relationship with Christ; once you start talking about the organization of the Church, especially as some ecumenical megalith, you start losing me.

He talks, briefly, about the Church doing a big thing, all Christians together:

Everybody knows the world needs changing. We may disagree with our non-Christian sisters and brothers about what changes are needed, but the need for change itself is indisputable. And so, the key to repositioning Christianity as an incredibly positive and powerful force in our culture is what I like to call a 100 percent issue. A 100 percent issue is one that no reasonable, rational man or woman of goodwill can disagree with. For example, I believe that no child in the United States should go to be hungry. That’s a 100 percent issue.

. . . .

If I said no American should go to bed hungry at night, it would no longer be a 100 percent issue. Some people would argue that many of the hungry and homeless are lazy, are voluntarily abusing substances, and have chosen the lifestyle they are living. They may be right. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter right now, because while some people may disagree about every American, everyone agrees that no American child should go hungry. This is a 100 percent issue, which means nobody can disagree with you without looking foolish at the very least.

Now, just one minute, Admiral. Before I, who might not be reasonable, rational, or of goodwill, will check those terms and conditions:

  • What is a “child”? Up to age 26 like a medical insurance dependent?
  • What is “hungry”? Hankering for a snack even though they’ve already had their necessary dietary needs met?
  • When, exactly, is going to bed going to occur? Must we guarantee that an eighteen-year-old who has been playing Far Cry for eighteen hours should have a banana at four o’clock in the morning?
  • Can parents opt out, or do reasonable, rational men or women of goodwill get to compel behavior?

The book and its conception of the Holy Moment can be useful as a frame of thinking of small acts of kindness that a Christian can perform every day to act more according to the teachings of the New Testament, but too often it kind of veers into the macro. Also, it really kind of goes from deontology–do good works because it’s the right thing to do or because it’s God’s will–to teleology–do good works to show everyone what good Christians do or to make the Church look good/broaden its power and influence. That is, do good with a worldly goal in mind.

So, yeah, not buying it.

At any rate, the book is only 114 pages, but it took a fair amount of themeatic repetition to get there. So I will mark this into my library database and annual reading total, but instead of onto the read shelves, I will probably pass it onto my wife. Perhaps she will enjoy it or get more from it than I.

Oh, and other things I marked upon which to comment:

Check Your Theology

Other common lies today include: Christians hate all non-Christians; Christians think everyone else is going to hell; smart people are not Christian; Christianity isn’t dying and won’t be around for much longer.

I disclaim that I did not even complete my (Catholic) theology minor at the university (I dropped Philosophy and Theology because it was an 8am class, had used all my absences by midterms, and thought I was getting a worse grade in it than I was), but I am pretty sure that the the only way to the Father is through the Son is still taken pretty seriously if not stridently. Some denominations in the diverse monolith that is the Church emphasize it more than others, but I’m not sure that those who have eliminated it constitute a majority. So it’s not a lie told about Christians.

Endymion Rears Its Head

This is a thing of beauty. The first line of John Keats’ poem Endymion reads: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” A Holy Moment is a thing of beauty. The poem continues, “Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”

The author here is referring to a good deed or a single action as a thing of beauty; however, Keats himself is referring to actual things:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. 5
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways 10
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils 15
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
’Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms 20
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Keats is talking about actual things, earthly things that one can enjoy, externally triggering joy, over and over again. Hey, I know the feeling. See also my preference for personal relics as physical triggers for memories I might not remember otherwise.

Also, this might be a good time to drop in a little design knock on this book. A lot of books have callouts, where they put little snippets of the text in a larger font on the page so you can remember it when you’re flipping back through the book or to emphasize a point. When I read books that use them, I skip the larger text because it’s generally a little aphorism out of context.

This book, however, puts whole paragraphs in larger font; text which does not otherwise appear, so they’re not callouts, they’re emphasized part of the text. The stuff the author would underline for you if he could, and it’s whole paragraphs.

I think that’s poor design. And you can take it to the bank since the closest thing I have to an official review of my last collection of poetry was the poetry sucks, but the design is awesome!

Take That, Pelagius

It is also important to note that we need God’s grace to create Holy Moments. We can’t do this alone. This is not self-empowerment.

I always feel smart when I can name the heresy.

Top-Down Approach

So, it is going to take a brilliant strategic effort to place Christianity back at the center of modern culture. But the most brilliant strategies are usually simple, and the simplicity at the center of whatever strategy we can all agree to adopt will be Holy Moments.

Again, this is the greatest dispute that I have with the book. It talks about doing good and being holy as part of a strategy with an earthly goal in mind. I think that any resurgence of Christianity and traditional morals must be a by-product of people just doing it, not the goal of a strategy.

Whoa, There, Joseph Smith

Kelly starts out a chapter called “Everyday Miracles” with a story that must be a parable, but:

A thousand years ago, a missionary was visiting a village on a small island deep in the Amazon, when he came upon three old friends talking, singing, and laughing.

I think the parable is about how the Church and its official emissaries cannot teach holiness to Christians who are already holy. I don’t think this squares with the Church having an official strategy. But I do know that missionaries weren’t visiting the Amazon a thousand years ago. The official Church wasn’t even going to retake the Holy Land in the Crusades yet, and Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire hadn’t fallen.

It’s a glaring mistake. But the book itself has a bit of a dashed-off quality.

It looks like the author dashes off a couple books like this every year. So that explains it.

So, a quick read. Not a lot of depth, just a couple of ideas repeated in various forms like motifs in a musical work. And little for me.

So That’s Why The Wards of Iasos II Is Still “Coming Soon”

My bike shop posted a bit about someone losing weight riding bikes:

Hey, I know that guy. It’s the author of The Wards of Iasos Book 1: The Leftovers which I read in 2017. When I bought his first book in September 2017, I said:

I saw him at LibraryCon 2017, but he was speaking in a panel when I passed by his table on the way out, so I didn’t buy his book. I saw him and caught a little of a talk he gave at the Ozark Mini Maker Faire the next week. When I saw him yesterday at a table in Hollister, his old home town, I told him if he was going to keep following me to fairs and festivals, I’d buy his book. Now, when I see him around, I’ll remind him of that.

I would think he was stalking me to buy his second book, but:

  1. It’s not out yet after four years. But, Brian J., you haven’t self published a novel in almost ten years. Shaddup, italics voice. Shaddup.
  2. I don’t do the Bicycle Outlet Monday Night Rides because we only have a three bike mount for the back of a car, which means one of our family would have to ride out to Bicycle Outlet to join in and then back some seven or eight miles in the dark. As a result, currently, the family does the Friday night rides in Battlefield, which is only a couple of miles away.

Of course, this means I’ll be looking for him when the Friday night rides start up again, and I’ll have to start seeing him at events and hounding him for the next book in the series.

Which, truth be told, I’d only buy and throw on the stack.

The only local author I can look in the eye at the next LibraryCon, someday, is Joshua Chase Dodge Merrin. Because I’m way behind on Shayne Silvers and William Schilcter.

Book Report: Alien Nation by Alan Dean Foster (1988)

Book coverIn rummaging through my books last month to find a book by a native author, I went through the collpsed bookshelves and percolated a couple of movie novelization tie-ins to the top. So, gentle reader, you might look forward to reading book reports on a few of them here in the near future.

I told my boys about these movie books and how, before the home video revolution in the 1980s, if you wanted to experience your favorite movies outside of the cinema in a format you controlled, you had to go with the movie paperback. The novelization if you wanted the story in depth or the storybook if you wanted pictures from the movie (and, sometimes, things that were cut from the movie as in the Star Wars Storybook which shows pictures of Luke and Biggs on Tatooine). They, being of the Internet age, are pretty used to having any movie approved and licensed by big tech available at any time, although they will be the last amongst our people to remember going to an actual video store.

But I digress.

I must have seen the film at some time, but I am most familiar with the television series–enough to remember the star’s name even though he really hasn’t appeared in a leading role anywhere else. The television show lasted a season, my senior year in high school, when the fledgling Fox network didn’t have a full week’s worth of programming. According to the Wikipedia entry, Fox cancelled the series because it wasn’t making enough money at the time–but that its enduring popularity led to five television movies through the 1990s. Which is four movies past Firefly if you’re keeping score, brother.

Of course, by now, it’s a forgotten science fiction cult classic, maybe, so I should probably explain the setup. An automatically piloted alien ship appears out in California containing thousands of aliens that come to be called Newcomers (or Slags if you prefer the slur). These aliens were supposed to be slave delivered elsewhere, but inadvertently arrived at Earth. So the government has quarantined the aliens for a while but are helping to integrate them into human society. This has been ongoing for a bit–ghettos have formed where the Newcomers live, and some are starting to work alongside humans.

When human Detectives Sykes and Tuggle witness trouble brewing in the Newcomer area of Los Angeles, they witness and try to stop what appears to be a robbery in progress at a Newcomer-owned store. The robbers kill the storekeeper and then shoot their way out of the store, killing Tug. I think I’ve actually seen the movie and not the television show because I seem to recall this scene, with shotgun blasts punching completely though cars. But that might be a scene from another movie.

So one of the Newcomers on the police force is promoted to detective, and Sykes volunteers to partner with him. Although he’s not supposed to work on the case of his partner’s death, Sykes knows the Newcomer detetive, “George,” is working on a murder that might be related. So they navigate the hidden world of the Newcomers, finding a plot that deals with an alien drug ring and not the prevalence of super shotgun shells.

The book has a lot of good commentary on relating to The Other and integration, which means it’s certainly out-of-step for the 21st century. But they’re univeral themes, the alien in a host society, and the book explores some of these concerns without banging the race drum too much.

Foster handles the cinematic elements well, but the book’s pacing kind of matches some of the Executioner novels in that a larger part of early pages sets the tone and characterization, but then we get about three quarters through it and we have to cover the slam-bang finish and false endings in detail. Not on of Foster’s greatest works, but it’s still pretty good and kept him in kibble.

I don’t think anyone had actually read this paperback before. The spine was uncracked, and as I read it, the binding popped a couple of times and pages came loose. Which is okay, ultimately, as I suspect that once this book disappears into my paperback shelves, no one else will ever read it. Because, c’mon, man, I’m hoping to own the book for another couple of decades, after which I fully expect “reading” to be a lost art, and even if people still do it, most of it will be tech-approved content on tech-provided devices. But I digress.

I flagged a couple of things for comment as I’ve started doing, and I will risk the spine of this book further to provide this bit of commentary to you, gentle reader.

I Remember When

His hand reached out to automatically slap the rewind/playback switch on the answering machine. It whirred as he advanced on the kitchen. One time he’d put a funny greeting tape on the machine, a gag gift from a fellow officer. Only trouble was that his mother had called once and had been forced to suffer throught the tape’s bouncy barrage of four-letter words. All copspeech, unsuitable for mentally stable civillians. Now the machine requested its messages in a noncontroversial monotone.

When I finally moved out of her basement, my sainted mother bought me an answering machine so that she could leave me messages. In those days, although cell phones existed, they were still on the lower end of the adoption scale. I didn’t have one for a couple of years yet. I didn’t think I’d need an answering machine as I was not expecting a lot of calls. And, as I expected, she was the only one to leave messages. Well, mostly.

Also, note how much Foster has inserted here: In the movie, James Caan comes in the door and hits the button on the answering machine. But Foster adds depth with a little story about the protagonist’s mother. This separates the better novelizations from the lesser.

1 Out Of 2 Is Kinda Bad

“Wrap sheet shows one armed robbery conviction, a couple for sale of a controlled substance. He also beat a number of raps back East.”

Copyediting on paperbacks was not a big line item on even major books from major houses based on a major motion picture even in the 1980s.

The Other Water

There was muzak in the air and the cheesy aroma of canapes on trays. Waiters moved obsequiously through the crowd, dispensing Perrier and champagne and soaking up a month’s worth of gossip which the more astute among them would peddle a little at a time and for high fees to the city’s more prominent columnists.

Widows mentions Pelligrino water, which is my preferred sparkling water brand simply because I am not hoity-toity, and in the 80s, Perrier was pitched to the hoity-toity as it is a marker for a high class function here.

Also note how Foster here also injects a little characterization for some of the wait staff. The line in the script might be “A busy party scene.” Or, I suppose, the script could have included some of this in its description. But I prefer to attribute it to the seasoned pro (more on that in a bit).

Someone Has Kids

He tapped the picture. “That’s Kristin there. My daughter. It’s kinda an old picture, but you know how you get about old pictures. You always have this one special image of your kids, when they’re a certain age, when they look a certain age. When you’re seventy-five and they’re fifty, you’ll still see them the same way.”

Analysis: True.
I have a rotating set of pictures running on one of the monitors here in the lab, and since the Macintosh cannot recognize shortcuts nor include subfolders in its screensaver rotation, it mostly plays the root folder from one or more of my boys’ photo collections, which is disorganized photos from their extreme youth. And although they’re teenagers, about, now, they still have that toddler or little boy in them to me even though it was a lifetime ago to them. Not to me.

But Hasn’t Actually Scheduled a Wedding In A While
A paragraph later, talking about his aforementioned daughter’s wedding:

“When is the happy occasion?”
“Sunday. This Sunday.

In my experience, most weddings take place on a Saturday. Churches generally have other things scheduled on Sundays.

Of course, I’ve only been married once, and the wedding itself was long ago.

A Nice Line

They sat at the table and talked about small things suddenly becoming large, big things that no longer seemed half so important, and the debris of a person’s life called memories.

Definitely a noir coloration in the black and white text.

The Other Oprah Effect

His partner refused to be mollified. “She’s very progressive, I’m certain she’s considering it. She watches television all the time, and not just the Newcomer channel. She’s taken up flower arranging in her spare time. If she can pick up a human habit as bizarre as that, why not also divorce?”

I’ve heard that the other Oprah effect is that women who find themselves at home start watching programs like this and that they then find unhappiness in their marriages and the path to empowerment and fulfillment following a divorce. A friend pretty much attributed his divorce on Oprah.

Based on the screenplay by Rockne O’Bannon

I first became acquainted with the name Rockne O’Bannon from the episode of the middle 1980s Twilight Zone series. The segment was called “Personal Demons”, and it dealt with an older writer named Rockne O’Bannon who is plagued by destructive physical demons who damage his car and whatnot and, when he confronts them, they say they want him to write about them. When he does, they leave.

Because the character Rockne O’Bannon is older in the show, I thought O’Bannon himself was older. However, O’Bannon was at the beginning of his career in the middle 1980s. He did several stories for The Twilight Zone, one for Amazing Stories, and then this movie. He’s also responsible for Farscape (which I’ve never seen and would probably confuse with Lexx very easily since I didn’t see that program either).

I mention it because I think it’s funny that I thought that O’Bannon was a grizzled veteran in the 1980s, but he’s probably not that much older than I am.

So, to sum up, a good novelization of a mostly forgotten science fiction film. But it makes me want to go out and get the DVDs for the movie, the television series, The Twilight Zone 80s edition, and maybe Farscape and Lexx. Actually, I don’t have to go out to get them; I can simply conduct an Internet search online and be shocked that it’s so expensive and not buy any of them.

Which is just as well–I don’t carve out time for watching television, so they’d languish on the cabinet for years until I got around to them. Because I spend my time reading books based on movies and television programs instead.

Book Report: A Ginger on a Mission by Lynn Daake (2015)

Book coverI bought this book at an undocumented trip to ABC Books (sometimes, as I mentioned, if I only end up with one or two books, I don’t make a special Good Book Hunting post for it since the hunting, in those cases, wasn’t particularly good). I spotted it in the local author sets, and I asked Mrs. E., the proprietrix, if it was Mama Daake. We know the Daakes from church, and the younger Mr. Daake, whose children received our boys’ Mega Bloks collection and still receive odd Mega Bloks from time to time when they turn up at Nogglestead, is not married to Lynn. So I thought it might be his mother, but, no, it’s his sister or sister-in-law. So bear that in mind, gentle reader: I know the family, and younger Mr. Daake is very large; although very good natured, I would not want to give him offense by savaging his sister or sister-in-law’s book.

With that disclaimer out of the way: The book is what it says it is. The subtitle is My Trip to Egypt, so it’s essentially culled from her diary/journal of a two week mission trip to Egypt. Daake is not a professional writer, so really the text is a bit of a cleaned up version of a journal which focuses on the travel aspects of the trip and the siteseeing a bit with only a little description of the mission work (cleaning up a park in Hurghada). You get some detail about the work, but a lot more of the time is spent on where the group is going in their non-work time, the souvenirs they seek, what they’re eating (a lot of Western chain restaurants), and impressions of the city. Also, a quest for hairbraiding.

So. It was a fairly quick read, the first thing I finished since finishing the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge (this book could have fit into the In a Different Country and Memoir categories). It doesn’t go into a lot of detail, it’s not particularly spiritual (although it does cite scripture a couple of times). So it kind of fits into the normal person biographies that I tend to read, but this one is contemporary.

I do wonder, though, how much of mission tripping is mission tourism industry, though. I mean, they paid money to go to a tourist city on the Red Sea to work half days on a project not directly tied to a sister church–although they do an activity with a local Coptic church and attend a service or two with them. They’re not directly proselytizing but just setting an example. So whether they’ve brought anyone to Christ through their example is uncertain–the author would like to think so, but I’m from a wee bit more cynical world.

At any rate, it’s the second book recently I’ve read set in Egypt (the other being The Judgment of Caesar). Which might have been why I jumped on it so quickly.

I also flagged a couple of things for comment.

Local Cuisine

The final dish was a beef dish. It had beef made three different ways. One was an interesting site [sic]. They [sic] way that it is made is that the beef is ground into a hamburger consistency and seasoned. Then it is formed around a shish kabob skewer and grilled. When it comes off the skewer and served, it looks like a piece of dog dookie with a hole in the middle of it. I think I was the first one to try it because of its visual appeal, and it actually tasted pretty good.

Strangely, I have recently been thinking of the word dookie. When I was growing up in the projects, it was the slang term of choice for human scat, but it’s not one that my boys have been exposed to–certainly, I don’t tend to use it any more. Then, I was thinking perhaps it was the word duece pronounced incorrectly originally. Of course, I didn’t search for it on the Internet, because, c’mon, man, that will not be good for my appetite ahead of my next meal and for the kinds of ads I would see for the rest of my life.

But sometimes I spend perfectly good brain cycles during the day thinking of things outside of Philosophy.

Shared Mall Experience
While visiting a mall, she notes:

You can even drop your kids off at Magic Galaxy where they can ride a roller coaster, drive bumper cars, or play with over 90 video games while you spend your time shopping. On the 4th floor there is a little tram where you can drop off your kids to ride the tram while you are shopping.

Although the local mall’s arcade does not have that many video games, for a while, it did have a little train that would ride around one small segment of the mall. We used to have our car serviced at the shop by the mall, so I sometimes took my boys up there and we would walk around the mall while we were getting the cars’ oil changed. So we rode on the train a couple of times during its brief presence at the mall. Since we were the only ones who rode it that I ever saw, it did not last long.

I’ve Seen Photos From Other Angles

Seeing the signs meant, “yes, we’re really are going to be able to not only see the pyramids but touch them, and even go inside one”. Then, all of a sudden, there they were. We rounded a corner and the pyramids came into view. They were majestic and stood high above the city buildings.

A lot of photographs make it look like they’re out in the middle of the desert, but I have seen photos of the pyramids showing them in the middle of the city.


As we started to drive away from the Sphynx and pyramids, Rafik told us that we would be headed to lunch. I was expecting to drive into Cairo to the mall, but we didn’t. Instead we pulled over right across the street from the pyramids. We were eating lunch at a KFC/Pizza Hut in Giza.

Martial Artists Can Relate

Juju and I bonded over martial arts and kickboxing. He showed me some of the moves he knew, and then I taught him a few more. We were having a blast throwing kicks and punches in the middle of the mall while our friends were shopping.

This is true in life: When you find out someone studies martial arts, particularly another type, you ask to see something that you can try out on the people in your school. Or, if you’re like me, you read a pile of books on it to learn dirty tricks.

Sounds More and More Like America

Vanda called Mariette and told us that their block had no power. Ish! We all laughed and decided it was an Egyptian sendoff. We didn’t have electricity when we left Hurghada, and new we weren’t going to have electricity as we left Cairo.

The Springfield area had rolling blackouts during the winter storms a couple weeks ago. I have been trying to get the phrase They’re not going to like the nineteenth century they’re voting for, but it might as well be They’re not going to like the third world country they’re voting for. Either works, I suppose.

At any rate, again, an interesting book. I enjoyed it and learned something, but it’s not a professional work, and if you’re not used to that, you probably won’t enjoy it as much.

Book Report: Karate! by Russell Kozuki (1974)

Book coverThis book was previously published as Karate for Young People, and if I had read the back of the book when I picked it up in August 2019 at ABC Books, I would have seen that the book describes itself as being for all young people between 10 and 17. Maybe I did. I am not sure it would have dissuaded me. I certainly do pick up the martial arts books for young people at ABC Books. But not the ones for old people. I assume that’s the market for the tai chi walking books that are piling up because I’m not buying them.

At any rate, this is a very cheap paperback–almost pulp magazine quality more than a book–which offers a list of the basics of karate. Stances, strikes, kicks, blocks, and sparring. The techniques are shown with a series of three or four pictures, each of which takes up most of a page with a paragraph of explanation. The photos are not as helpful as the ones in Boxer’s Start-Up, but that books pictures and diagrams in that book really set a high bar. This volume has a couple instructive ones.

As I have said before, these books really serve to supplement an actual class since the motions are hard to learn from mere pictures. I mostly read them to draw comparisons with the martial arts class that I study. Some of the main differences that I see are that the karate ready positions tend to have a more closed stance (hips are aligned toward the opponent) and the hands are lower. But I’ve seen many of these forms already, but not lately–as I’ve mentioned, the school has focused a lot on boxing over the last couple of years.

But, still, there’s something to learn. One combination strike is called the U-punch, which is thrown from a front stance (which my school has never emphasized) and involves a cross and a backwards uppercut. It reminds me of my Matador combination, which is a knifehand toward the head from the forward hand with a low cross coming under it almost simultaneously. Although I haven’t really sparred in over a year with the way things have gone, this was one of my favorites. But, again, we’re not focusing on tae kwon do strikes these days.

So a good review over a couple of hours where I wasn’t at the dojo. Which I haven’t been much the last two weeks with the weather and whatnot. I need to get back so that I don’t fall further behind and I can wear my business gi again sometime.

Book Report: The Judgment of Caesar by Steven Saylor (2004)

Book coverIt’s been six years since I read Saylor’s Last Seen in Massilia. I bought a bunch of these at a garage sale or something, and when I read Last Seen in Massilia, I had them together on the bookshelves, but I had put the first two I owned of the series out of order. Since then, the shelves upon which I’d put them in order collapsed, so they have kind of been just piled onto the remaining bookshelves. When it came time to find books to fill out the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge categories, I grabbed the Saylor book that was on top. This one.

It takes place well after the events of Last Seen in Massilia. After Caesar defeats Pompey. Gordianus, the protagonist, is returning to Alexandria, Egypt, with his wife, a native of that land, as well as his two adopted charges and the hulking mute brother of Gordianus’s recently deceased lover, whose ashes she wanted spread on the Nile. As they see the light of the Great Lighthouse at Pharos, a storm comes up and blows their ship into the remnants of Pompey’s fleet. Pompey hates Gordianus (Caesar is not terribly pleased with him, either), and he looks forward to executing the Finder (Gordianus’s nickname) after he returns from the shore expedition where he (Pompey) hopes to ally himself with the Ptolemeic royal family–but Pompey is assassinated before he reaches the shore.

The Egyptian fleet chases off the remnants of Pompey’s forces. Caesar arrives, and Gordianus finds himself caught between Caesar, Ptolemy, and Cleopatra in their various intrigues.

Basically, I thought the book was going to just come down to a historical intrigue book and not something hinging on a crime, but on page 209 (of 323), one of Cleopatra’s food tasters dies from drinking poisoned wine that she and Caesar were going to share, and suspicion falls on Meto, Gordianus’s adopted son who went missing in Massilia and whom the Finder disowned at the end of that book for throwing in his lot with Caesar. So Gordianus leaps into action to try to find out who really did it. Which he does in the back quarter of the book.

You know, I couldn’t help but think that this book is just like The Good Girl’s Guide To Murder (I mean, they even both came out the same year). The first half of the book deals with familial relationships, the pressures of mothers/daughters and fathers/sons (respectively), and the reader expects a crime but gets a lot of rumination until, yes, there it is, somewhere in the 200s, something happens (a murder/attempted murder). Then, very quickly, the protagonist solves it without an awful lot of legwork. You see? Exactly the same.

Except that this book has a lot of flourishes of interesting historical locations and events, even basing some of the dialog on things recounted in Caesar’s account of the Civil War (which I read not long after Last Seen in Massila). So it’s more relatable to me than the McBride novel.

Which is good. I have several others in the series hidden in the piles on the to-read shelves. Hopefully, it won’t take me six years and a prompt from a Winter Reading Challenge to get to them. But one thing I have recently rediscovered is that I have a lot of really cool books to read, starting with the partially finished David Copperfield (which I paused early in January so I could get a coffee cup from the library’s Winter 2021 Reading Challenge.

Oh, and things I marked:

I Feel Smart
The book talks about Crassus, the other part of the first triumvirite.

Pompey was not her first husband. Her previous marriage had been to Publius Crassus, the son of Marcus Crassus, the lifelong rival of Caesar and Pompey. When the elder Crassus set out to conquer Parthia some five years ago, he took his son with him; both perished when the Parthians massacred the invading Romans.

I am listening to an audio course lecture series called History’s Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach; one of the lectures is on the battle at Carrhae. So by the time I read this, I could talk about that particular battle in detail.

Me, Too

“I am a slave–of Isis. I serve the goddess and belong to her completely, body and soul, in this world and the next.”

Yeah, me, too. That’s what I get for naming a cat Isis.

Not a lot marked here, but what am I going to complain about, the description of Alexandria? I will say of the two Civ IV Great Wonders from Alexandria, I prefer the Great Lighthouse to the Great Library.

Thank you, that is all.

Mission: Accomplished

On January 9, I announced my participation in the Springfield-Greene County Library Winter 2021 Reading Challenge.

Although the rules indicate that you only need to read five books from the fifteen categories, of course I had to try to hit all fifteen.

Which I did.

Click for full size

Actually, I read sixteen books in the fifteen categories so I could do a software testing boundary analysis gag on LinkedIn.

Still, that puts me at 25 books so far this year, which would put me on pace for 150 this year if I kept it up. Which I won’t, of course, as the last eighty percent of David Copperfield, which I paused to complete this challenge, awaits.

Still, having to select something from these categories directed my reading in a fashion that did not leave me wondering what I was going to read next. When I finished it up this weekend, I was at a bit of a loss as to what I was going to read in addition to David Copperfield.

But I got over it.

Book Report: She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo (1983, 2008)

Book coverWhen I went to the library to get a book about food for the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge (Chocolate: The Consuming Passion), I also got this book, a collection of poetry by a Native American woman who, it turns out, is the current Poet Laureate. Which might explain why this book is in print nearly forty years after it or its content first appeared.

Well, her poetry lines are generally longer than those of Linda Hogan, whose book I read in December, short before I knew I would need to read something by a Native American author in the beginning of 2021.

But the same knocks I applied to Hogan, except perhaps the short lines, although some of the poems in this book also have short lines. But the poetry is not concretely evocative. It’s lyric in spots, and probably works better in performance than in reading from the page. But, come on, if the poetry depends upon a predetermined interpretation and delivery, it’s only so good.

The first paragraph and sentence of the introduction say:

What do the horses mean is the question I’ve been asked most since the first publication of the book She Had Some Horses in 1984. I usually say, “It’s not the poet’s work to reduce the poem from poetry to logical sense.” Or, “It’s not about what the poem means, it’s ‘how’ the poem means.” Then I ask, “So what doe the horses mean to you?”

Like most poets, I don’t know what my poems or the stuff of my poetry means exactly.

Spoken like a professional academic poet.

Maybe that’s my problem. I do know what my poems mean, and it’s my job as a poet to convey the meaning poetically, through words that feel good when you read them out loud, not that sound good when I read them out loud (although back in my open mic days, they did–or maybe they were just loud). Of course, I am not a professional poet, although I did get paid $100 for a poem once. Between that and my other sales to national magazines a decade ago, I am entitled to the professional tier in various writers’ guilds when I have been known to join.

At any rate, most of the poems flowed over me like water and back into the bookearth from which they came. I don’t expect to pick up another of her works, although the author is also a musician and a saxophone player, so perhaps I will catch something of hers on YouTube and order a CD.

Or maybe not. A little too Native American-influenced for my tastes.

Book Report: Chocolate: The Consuming Passion by Sandra Boynton (2015)

Book coverBrian J., you might ask, exactly how low will you go to complete all fifteen categories in the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge? Well, gentle reader, I went to the library the other day to find a short collection of poetry by a Native American author and a book on food since I can’t find the book I pulled from my personal library about food. And I found this book on the shelves of the library in the food section. It’s a short humor book with lots of illustrations, but, c’mon, man. It was in the library’s own Food section, and not the kids’ food section. So it counts.

At any rate, it is an update of a 1985 volume that contains the sort of thing one would find in an “I Am….[Food Type]” article on Reader’s Digest if anyone besides me subscribed to it in the 21st century. You have information about how cacao is grown, how it is made into chocolates you can eat, where to buy the best chocolate, how to store it, all presented with a sense of humor and a lot of drawn hippopotami. Strangely enough, you can learn a lot from this book if you’re interested. It includes steps to grow cacao beans–step one is basically live in Africa or South America–and also recipes. So the book has it all.

But, yeah, it’s a very short read–it took me an hour or so. As I said, it’s more of a long article with the cartoons. But still informative.

I did flag one thing, though:

The new millennium has brought with it a quiet but insistent counter-trend to mass production: exquisite artisan-made food and drink. Wine, cheese, coffee, beer, bourbon–each has drawn a fanatical core of small-batch makers who strive for new vistas of nuanced taste experience. In turn, those makers attract a core of deeply devoted followers.

And so it is with chocolate.

The chocolate that these driven iconoclasts make is kown as “bean to bar” or “craft chocolate.” The makers begin at the beginning, working directly with smale-scale cacao farmers to determine how to grow and nurture the best possible beans, and how to optimize the methods by which these beans are sorted, fermented, and dried.

She’s talking about Askinosie Chocolate based here in Springfield, Missouri–and she does mention him in the thank yous at the end.

So I am down to two books to read in the next nine days. I am starting to feel very confident that I will complete the Winter Reading Challenge the hard way.

Book Report: Vespers by Ed McBain (1990)

Book coverI first read this book fifteen years ago (or, at least, I first reported on it fifteen years ago). That was when the book was fifteen years old, so basically its age has doubled. Mine, almost, too. Or so it feels sometimes.

At any rate, this book precedes Widows, and as I mentioned, I spotted this volume on my bookshelves right after I read that book. I ordered this book last spring from ABC Books during the beginning of the Ongoing Unpleasantness; I got it because it is an autographed copy.

Not only is it autographed, but it is inscribed.

Much like the English copy of The Caribbean Mystery, I have to wonder how it ended up in Springfield, Missouri, for me to pick up.

The book has two unrelated plots: Carella and Hawes investigate the murder of a priest, and they have a bunch of suspects: A member of the congregation who has a beef with the priest; a member of the Satan-worshipping church down the street, whose rites are described in some tawdry detail; members of the the church staff; a local drug dealer who might have hidden drugs in the church; local youths/drug distributors who chased the drug dealer into the church after the drug dealer stole the drugs; someone who might be having sex with and/or blackmailing the priest; and the eventual murderer. The second features Marilyn Hollis, the former prostitute who is involved with Detective Willis, whose past catches up with her in the form of two South Americans who want the money she stole from her former pimp when she killed him.

The first plot moves a little recursively, as the stories of each person change according to the other peoples’ stories, until Carella returns to the scene and uncovers additional evidence that allows him to solve the mystery pretty quickly; the other meanders to a conclusion abruptly.

So not the best of the lot, but still an engaging read, and I read it in three nights, so pretty fast for my modern pacing.

I ended up picking it up because, when I was handling Widows, I saw that it was a selection of the Literary Guild. Which is a book club. So this is my Book Club Selection for the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge.

Oh, and I did mark some things as I went along.

Anachronism Alert

“This was late in the afternoon,” Krissie said, “this black kid came running into the church with his head all bloody. Hald a dozen white kids were chasing him with stickball bats and garbage can covers, chased him right into the church, right up the center aisle to the altar.”

I am not convinced a twenty-two year old woman from Minnesota would use the term stickball bat, especially since everyone else in the book calls it a baseball bat.

Attacking George Bush
I might have mentioned that in the 21st century, McBain let some sucker punches into his work. But here in 1990, he also criticises the earlier George Bush:

The black man in America knew where it was at. And where it was at was not here, not in these mean streets. Where it was at was uptown someplace, so far uptown that the black man had never been there, could not even visualize it there, knew only that uptown was a shining city somewhere high on a hill, a promised land where everyone went to Choate and Yale and a thousand points of light glistened in every cereal bowl.
Read my lips, Carella thought.

A little zinger for Reagan, too, who borrowed shining city on a hill from John Winthrop.

The Baddest Word
Clearly, there is a black kid in the book and it muses on racial questions, so we get the superbad word.

In the movie theater, sitting there in the dark with mostly white people, Hooper likes to wet his pants laughing every time Eddie Murphy does another one of his shrewd things. White people all around him are laughing, too. Not at any dumb nigger but at dumb Charlie who the nigger’s fuckin’ around. Hooper doesn’t completely understand why all these white people are laughin’ at theyselves, but he knows it makes him fell damn good.

Yeah, the superbaddest word of all appears throughout this book; it should be cancelled harder than Widows. But McBain does capture something of race relations at the time–Eddie Murphy’s characters were protagonists, black but relatable, and even white folk could identify with him. However, that’s not allowed or encouraged now–it’s not our shared humanity to discover and celebrate, but our assigned categories to defend.

Tie-In To Something I Just Saw

Marilyn wondered if there were such things as passionate, poetic men who looked like lions and made their homes in subway caves.

I just saw the intro for Beauty and the Beast when reminiscing about the New Shows of 1987.

McBain Knew No Goths

Carella recognized in the group of teenagers the two young girls he’d spoken to yesterday. They were dressed more sedately today, not in black–this was largely an alien color in a young person’s wardrobe–but in dark shades of blue that seemed appropriate to the day’s burden.

Apparently no metalheads either. In my high school years which ended in 1990, black was not uncommon.

Anachronism Alert (II)
One of the white local youths:

So we were, I don’t know, showing off for the girls, clowning around. I remember Allie was doing his imitation of what was supposed to be Tony Bennett singing I Lost My Heart in San Francisco, but he sounded more like Jerry Lewis, did you ever hear Jerry Lewis sing?

Probably not what a group of teens in 1990 would be doing, imitating Tony Bennett but sounding like Jerry Lewis.

Asimovian Self-Insertion

“Carlos Ortega,” Morente read out loud from the computer screen, and then turned to the faxed record and said, “Carlos Ortega,” and then kept turning his head from screen to paper like a spectator watching a tennis match, comparing records, speaking the facts out loud, “forty-two years old, born October fifteenth,” and said in an aside to Willis “Birthdate of great men” but did not amplify, “six feet three inches tall, two hundred and sixty-five pounds, brown eyes, bald with black sideburns, this is some kind of miracle, broken nose, knife scar over right eye, they sound like twins except your guy was born in Argentina and this guy in El Salvador.”

Ed McBain was born on October 15, you see?

White Privilege Alert
McBain also includes several slurs for white people and one for the Italians:

This was getting to be a regular reunion of WOPS, the World Order for the Prevention of Subterfuge, a watchdog society dedicated to the proposition that any American born with an Italian name must keep that name forever, neither changing it completely nor even Anglicizing it, lest he be mercilessly and eternally hounded to his grave with reminders that he is meely an ignorant peasant with hoity-toity pretensions.

As you might remember, Ed McBain’s birth name was Salvatore Lombino; he later changed it to Evan Hunter. Note that the aforementioned Tony Bennett also violated this precept and changed his name to a more American-sounding name.

So he is pointing out that anti-Italian prejudice and the reaction, Italians ‘policing’ themselves to find people who are not authentic enough, existed in living memory. Which, unfortunately, is not living memory to many people in the 21st century, or it would maybe give them some perspective other than what they’re given by the authorities.

At any rate, I flag things to comment on just so I can give a little more to these book reports. I don’t want to be pedantic, and I don’t want to spend hours composing these book reports, so you’re getting, for the nonce, a comment on things that strike me while reading the book.

In sum, I liked the book, and I tried to keep the Doritos dust off of this since it’s a warmly inscribed first edition, so it might be briefly collectible until the remainder of us who like to read physical books and not just content delivered to our devices and managed/’curated’ by big tech companies. Especially books with bad words in them even when the thoughts were, for the time, good.