Book Report: Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War by Alexander Gardner (1866, 1959?)

Book coverYou might have thought I already read this book, gentle reader–I could see how I might have gotten that impression, as I have already perused Brady’s Civil War. As you might recall, gentle reader, that book was a collection of photographs taken by Matthew Brady in the eastern theatre of the Civil War. This book collects very similar photos from Alexander Gardner, who at one point was Brady’s assistant–even during some of the Civil War photo shoots. So perhaps the books share some of the photos, as Gardner took photos that he had taken when he left. I really did not do the analysis myself to see if they had any overlap.

At any rate, the text included is ascribed to the photographer himself. Unfortunately, it is in about six point font in the book; tiny print, and I’m starting to get to the age where tiny print in poor light makes me think I am getting to the age where, if you know what I mean. So it was slow reading. The text is definitely on the side of the North, as it calls the Confederates traitors and treasonous and whatnot.

Like the Brady book, it reminds me that I own a lot of history about the Civil War (and live within a musket shot of) a national battlefield, but I really haven’t kept the history of the conflict fresh in my mind.

Perhaps I should look for a course on the Civil War or two–although I am pretty sure those are the first to go at the book sales around here.

Book Report: Hawaiian Heat by The Executioner #155 (1991)

Book coverSixteen years after Hawaiian Hellground, Bolan returns to Hawaii to rescue comrade and comedian Tommy Anders from a Chinese triad that’s holding him hostage because he’s building up a network of Chinese and Japanese business people who are tired of paying of their countrymen.

So Bolan gets involved to help the businessmen disrupt the Triads and Yakuza who are co-existing on the islands, with a precarious truce as long as the organized crime people stick to their ethnic constituencies. As part of his plan, Bolan nudges them toward a full scale war as long as he can protect the innocent.

So I can see the plot as outlined, and it could have been handled better. Some of these later books must have had more elaborate plots, perhaps more in line with the Super Bolan titles, as the page count increases, but some of the authors don’t execute them as well. In this book, it looks like the author was used to the old 180 page limit. The action moves from set piece to set piece fairly well, but you can kind of see where some plot points are left unaddressed or just mentioned in passing.

The book contains a couple of tactical problems. Of course, everyone has a different kind of gun, again, which means no one can swap ammo if needed. And he carries two spare magazines for a combat assault. Cmon, man. Kim du Toit takes two spare magazines to the bathroom. Also, Bolan takes “cover” behind a couch. It’s a heavy couch, the text says, but, this is the 21st century–we all know the difference between concealment and cover, ainna? I wonder if kids these days steeped in first person shooters could write more intelligently about military tactics and concepts. But probably not the “everyone has a different gun” thing.

Ah, well. It’s not Shakepeare. It was a quick, enjoyable read. Not as good as Firebase Florida, but not bad enough to put me off the novels for a while. I kind of think I’m on a tear here; I am down to 18 titles in the Executioner series. With “dilligence,” I could finish them by the end of next year. However, I would still have dozens of related paperbacks to go, not to mention thousands of other better things to read. So I won’t predict or promise that I’ll finish them out any time soon, gentle reader–you still have several years of intermittent Executioner book reports to look forward to.

Book Report: Notre-Dame de Paris by Jacques Perrier / Katharine Ball (1986)

Book coverIn keeping with the tradition, I am tearing through the travel and art books I’ve bought this summer and autumn on Sunday afternoons, Monday evenings, and occasionally Thursday evenings as I “watch” football games (which is more and more meaning I look up from my book to check the score from time to time). The weather has again turned to autumn at Nogglestead, and I like nothing better than lighting a fire (okay, a Duraflame log as I have fallen back into all of my dollars-a-day habits even as I have left my full-time position), watching a little football, going on parenthetical digressions in my writing, and looking at pictures in books.

This short souvenir edition describes Notre Dame, that one, in the middle of the Parisian river. It has a pretty heavy text to photo ratio, and the photos aren’t actually captioned, so you have to kind of guess where the text refers to some of the artifacts depicted. The text includes a little history and a bunch of step-by-step, here’s what you see on the tour text which might help jog your memory if you took the tour, but if you have not, the words are wasted. And not helpful.

Still, a bit of an insight into the setting for The Hunchback of Notre Dame–a book that this book mentions on more than one occasion as perhaps the savior of the then-declining church.

It did not make me want to visit Paris as much as All Montserrat made me want to book a cheap flight to Barcelona. On the balance, though, there is a difference sometimes in travel books that are supposed to make you want to go somewhere and souvenir books that make you remember where you have been. The best of the latter should also have the function of the former, ainna? To make you want to go back? I don’t know. I am not a travel writer. For the nonce, I am merely a blogger.

Book Report: Milton’s Comus, Lycidas, Etc. by John Milton / edited by Andrew J. George (1899, 1908)

Book coverI said when I reported on Milton’s Minor Poems:

These little hardback editions from around the turn of the century seem to have been fairly common–in addition to this volume, I have a couple of works from Alexander Pope in similar editions from similar series. This series, the Eclectic English Classics, look to have cost twenty cents. I wonder if they were the Walter J. Black books of the day.

So I was looking for a science fiction paperback this week on three of my to-read shelves, and I came across this book. A small collection of Milton’s poems from the last years of the nineteenth century still in print in the early years of the twentieth century but from a different collection than the previous one I reviewed. Still, for a couple of dimes, you could have a small hardback that would last at least a century (not that you would have known it). I wonder how popular these were as textbooks–each had some pencil notations in various places, but there’s no telling whether it’s from the original owners or succeeding generations that might have used them as inexpensive textbooks. Heaven knows I did, when I was not checking my English and Philosophy primary sources out from the library.

At any rate, this book contains the same four pieces as Milton’s Minor Poems (“L’Allegro”, “Il Penseroso”, “Comus”, and “Lycidas”) as well as a few others (At a Solumn Music”, “On Shakespeare”, “Arcades”, “On His Blindness”, and “On His Deceased Wife”). The introductory essay is different, of course, and the book includes the Matthew Arnold address I have previously quoted (here and here).

I didn’t re-read the four pieces I read last month; however, I did read the new bits (although I used “On His Blindness” as one of our coronacation family poems, so I had been exposed to it pretty recently).

I don’t have anything really to add to my previous appreciation of Milton; although he gets a pile of accolades from a pile of poets since, including Matthew Arnold, I find him a little longform for my current tastes, although reading a bunch of him in a row will dial me into the language and form than coming into it cold. So these short books are good intros into it before you decide you want to jump into Paradise Lost.

Not that I will anytime soon; I shall probably read some of the Pope poems I have in these editions first.

Book Report: Firebase Florida by The Executioner #153 (1991)

Book coverYou know, gentle reader, for the last couple of weeks, most of my reading has been poetry, art monographs, travel books, and Christian self-help kinds of books (we’ll get to those by and by). Given the sheer number of those books that I’ve polished off in the last couple of weeks, it seems like a long time since I read any fiction (it’s not–I read The Widening Gyre only two weeks ago, but that was a dislocated finger and Exposure Notification ago). And it’s only been two months since I read the previous entry in the series (Combat Stretch). Still, it felt a bit refreshing. Maybe this is actually a better entry in this part of the series. Who can tell?

At any rate, Mack Bolan is summoned to Florida because some of the Cuban immigrants are setting up a crime syndicate, aided perhaps by the Cuban secret police. Thirty years after the revolution, some of the first generation refugees are happy with the lives they’ve built in Florida, but some of their children dream of returning to Cuba triumphantly. The police detective who summoned Bolan wants him to act as a mentor to these second generation warriors who have amassed a small arsenal of their own. However, when Bolan starts his probing and hitting, an expert team of hitters from New York comes to take care of him and a Cuban strike team comes to take care of the young second generation soldados.

It moves along well with the set pieces where Bolan is hitting the various criminal locations with only a few “he shot someone how far with a shotgun?” moments. All right, a few howlers: Selecting Ingrams and Uzis instead of rifles as the weapon of choice, and later shooting down two Mi-24 Hinds with the aforementioned small arms. I mean, I had trouble in 1987 playing Gunship winning against Hinds whilst flying a freaking Apache, for crying out loud–remember flight simulators, how you could sort of realistically fly real aircraft on computers before 2001?

At any rate, I enjoyed the book but for the usual flaws I complain about in the better books in the series: It gets well developed for 150 pages, and then the author remembers he’s running out of words, so the remainder of the outline gets short shrift. The stage gets littered with corpses: the soldados, the police detective and his wife, and the love interest die, Bolan hits a military commander’s house in Cuba, and Bolan hits the Cuban immigrant mobster’s fortified island, and finis.

A too quick resolution, but at least it didn’t go on too long, I suppose.

So I might not have finished these books yet, but I get ever closer, and I kind of want to read the next in my set. I’ll likely be disappointed, of course, which is how I end up with an average time between entries in the series: I read bad books really quickly after the good ones, and then I read the good ones after a longer gap following the lesser ones.

Book Report: All Montserrat by Fr. Josep M. Soler (?)

Book coverThis book describes the Montserrat monestary just ourside of Barcelona, Spain. The monestary complex sits upon a mountain that has a rather distinctive shape with multiple rock features with individual names; the first part of the book describes its formation and how the natives named pretty much every rock on it over the millennia.

The book then talks a bit about the religious buildings that have been on sight, which includes a couple of churches, monestaries, and hermitages amongst the rocks. However, given how long the site has been given over to religious use, the buildings on site and all the workings are of relatively recent vintage as they suffered in various wars, most notably during Napoleon’s time when they razed the whole site and carried everything off.

Everything except the Morenta, the Dark/Brown Virgin statue which was hidden away and is in place today. So aside from a few ruins in the pictures and some of the art collection, the buildings, the gold and silver work, and even the crypts tend to be a hundred and fifty or so years old. Which, I repeat, is odd for such a historical site, but history has not been kind to the particulars of the location.

As this is a European book, the contents are in the back where the index should be, and although it reads left to right and front to back, it’s only in the last pages that one realizes that this is not just a historical site but also a tourist complex that features hotels, apartments, a couple restaurants, a couple bars, and a market. So, feasibly, one could live there. I am not sure whether the apartments cater exclusively to pilgrims and the penitent. But I did notice that some of the rooms are only (according to the Internet) about $100 a night, which is about what it costs to stay in Poplar Bluff.

So I’m not saying that I’ll be in the area for sure someday, but you know what? It might not be too bad to visit some of these places. When I am old and will not enjoy them as much as I would now, where I still like to climb and run the hills. But unless that Publisher’s Clearinghouse entry that I just mailed turns out to, finally, be a winner, I don’t expect that I will be visiting Montserrat before I turn sixty.

Although the island in the Caribbean with the same name is closer and probably less expensive overall.

Maybe I will be ready for a traveling vacation next year if such things are available.

Book Report: At The Sea by Jennifer Bright (1996)

Book coverInstead of a single artist’s monograph, this book collects a number of paintings of the sea from Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s “Fall of Icarus” to modernist twaddle like Jackson Pollock’s “Blue (Moby Dick)”. So you can take one subject like this and kind of chart the evolution of painting through the depiction of sea-side scenes.

So if you’re not sure of whose art you might like, or if you can’t buy complete artist monographs for a buck each at a sale and don’t want to gamble, this might be the survey course to get you started. You can get a flavor of some old masters, some Impressionists, and some of those damned twentieth-century artists who made everything look like rubbish, and you can be reasonably sure that the blue somewhere on the canvas is supposed to be water.

I enjoyed most of it. I was familiar with some, like “Fall of Icarus”. It reinforced a bit of my taste and perhaps nationalism in that I think early twentieth century American artists were able to resist some of the continental foolishness for a while, but eventually succombed to the modern tastemakers, unfortunately.

So a nice browser between deeper readings or deep throws down the field.

Book Report: Marseille by G. Foveau and Roselyne Moreaux (2005)

Book coverWell, this is a relatively recent travel book. Most of the time, I find these old travel books are from the 1960s or the 1980s, but someone who went to France in this century brought this back, and this person or the heirs sold it to Calvin’s Books for me to pick up earlier this year.

At any rate, this book is a lovely collection of photographs of the French city grouped by neighborhood or local landmark. Introductory text gives a high-level history of the city from its founding as a Greek colony, its role in holding out against Caesar (as depicted in Last Seen in Massilia. which is an old name for the colony), its stalwart independence through the Middle Ages, and its relatively recent joining into France. Of course, we get to hear about the creation of the fortress on the Isle d’If (immortalized, as this book acknowledges, in The Count of Monte Cristo). So the book has many pictures where this island is in the background.

The pictures are wonderful, and the description of the city does it credit.

I’m not sure I’m inclined to go, though. As I said to my beautiful wife, “I don’t need to go; I’ve seen the pictures.” And although I am a bit of a homebody, if we end up wildly wealthy, she will probably convince me to cross an ocean at some point. But England is higher on the list; perhaps the Cotswolds since I not only liked The Cotsolds, and I have another picture book of that region that I bought at Calvin’s Books that I will pick up this weekend or next.

Yes, I am “watching” footbal, which is really a pretext for “reading books during the day.” I set myself up pretty well between this trip to Calvin’s books for travel books and the visit to the Friends of the Library Book Sale for art monographs. I might make it to mid-season before I have to scour my to-read shelves for eligible books.

Book Report: Frida Kahlo by Frank Milner (1995)

Book coverYou know, I wanted to really dislike Frida Kahlo’s work because she’s so celebrated by modern tastemakers because she was a foreign Communist bisexual back in the day. Because that’s what titillates a lot of people who want to be seen as right-thinking more than their response to the art itself, their response to the artist as celebrity. Which Frido Kahlo was and might well still be. I mean, I’ve seen ads for merchandise with her on them even in this twenty-first century.

So I really wanted to dislike her work, and, well, it’s still not my favorite–she’s of the surrealist and brutalist stripe from the early 20th century like Matisse and Madigliani and Picasso, and some of her works are pretty gory. But some of the portraits and the still lifes are not bad.

But that’s not what she’s known for, unfortunately.

So I didn’t hate her work, but it’s probably not for the Nogglestead decor.

Book Report: Modigliani by Jacques Lipchitz and Alfred Werner (1971)

Book coverHave you heard the name Modigliani? I had not. He lived a brief consumptive life around the turn of the century in France, and his art work is somewhere between the Impressionism or whatever Gauguin did and Picasso; the images are representative but distorted in proportion and brutal in execution. He was only starting to get some recognition when he passed away from tuberculosis, so he’s really only known amongst art people, and perhaps fewer of them as we go along.

It’s probably fitting that if you talk about art that everyone kind of knows and artists who a lot of people have heard of, the names really taper off in the twentieth century.

Perhaps a twenty-first century reboot of the Teenage [sic] Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Generation with turtles named Matisse, O’Keeffe, and, uh, some other lesser know artists would re-inject them into the zeitgeist. Or not.

Book Report: Milton’s Minor Poems by John Milton, edited by Philo Melvyn Buck, Jr. (1894, 1911)

Book coverThis book collects four pieces from Milton which do not have Paradise in the title and are not about his blindness. “L’Allegro” presents life as a person with a happy outlook. “Il Penseroso” presents life from a melancholy outlook. “Comus: A Masque” is a brief verse play wherein the sorceror child of Circe and Bacchus tries to tempt a virtuous woman to give up her life of chastity and to enjoy natural, sensual delights. And “Lycidas” is an elegy for a drowned companion that detours into political commentary that diminishes its impact.

It’s less than a 100 pages, these four works sandwiched with a pair of essays about Milton, his time, and his relationship to the Revolution at the time.

To modern readers, even to me a bit, the poems are a bit long-winded and slow without the punchiness that I prefer in shorter modern poems. However, to someone who’s steeped in older poems, though, they read pretty well and have a lot of nice little turns of phrase. Of course, my college poetry professor would point out that I shouldn’t write poems like this–as I did early in college. But I got more punchy.

And these weren’t onerous to read–like some of the wordy, wordy Romantic poet works. So a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

These little hardback editions from around the turn of the century seem to have been fairly common–in addition to this volume, I have a couple of works from Alexander Pope in similar editions from similar series. This series, the Eclectic English Classics, look to have cost twenty cents. I wonder if they were the Walter J. Black books of the day.

And I will probably read one of the Pope books–I since I just bought Essay on Man at the last book sale, it’s right on top–before I finish my complete works of Keats and Shelley. Or the Shakespeare I started years ago. Because these little books are Classics, and they’re not daunting. Which was probably their appeal a hundred plus years ago as well. It’s only the reading public that has changed.

Book Report: Nature Center Rhapsody by Doug McKean (?)

Book coverAs you might know, gentle reader, I sometimes take my children to the Nature Center here in Springfield, so I’m familiar with some of the locations mentioned in the book. And, in a Springfieldian turn of events, my beautiful wife nows the author: his wife taught algebra and his child played in the band with her. So I’d better not go too hard on the fellow as it might stifle our social life.

The book doesn’t have a date on it, but it’s right about in the 1985-1995 era. It uses a monospace font and lots of clip art which puts it in the early days of PC-based desktop publishing (as opposed to X-acto knives and rubber cement desktop publishing, both of which I participated in with my chapbooks).

At any rate, the first poems in the book made me think I’d picked up another winner. They feature, directly, locations at the Nature Center that I could visualize, probably helping because I’d been there, and the poems throughout the book are shot through with mindfulness/Buddhist themes of stillness and just being with the universe.

However, later poems get more to the modern short line stacks that I don’t like at all. It’s hard to evoke with three syllables–even haiku have five (in their first and last lines and seven in the middle line, I know, gentle reader). But the haiku is trying to make but a moment for contemplation and not a longer poem. I might have to work out a mathematical formula for the minimum number of syllables in a line of poetry before I disapprove. It might be seven. Maybe six. Maybe a more complex algorithm where an average line length over the poem matters more. I dunno. At any rate, the later poems led me to re-read the ones at the beginning and kind of discount them as well.

So it’s okay in spots and thin and tepid in others. Kind of like this blog, come to think of it.

Book Report: The Art of Nancy Erkholm Burkert edit by David Larkin (1977)

Book coverNancy Erkholm Burkert is a Wisconsin- and maybe even Milwaukee-based illustrator and artist, and I never heard of her before. Which is probably a ding on my knowledge of Wisconsin, but in my defense, I was not browsing art books all that much in my school days. Although I did go to the Milwaukee Art Museum fairly frequently, and surely it must have some of her work, ainna?

Basically, she got her start and cut her teeth in illustrating children’s books, including James and the Giant Peach back in the day, and later (that is, mid-1970s) she got more into oils and sculpture. Most of the work depicted in this volume, though, are the illustrations which are elaborate and realistic–well, as realistic as you can get in a children’s book, anyway.

The intro text is a bit heavy on the criticism–that is, the discussion of the artist in relationship to other art and whatnot and less biographical, although it is not exclusively critical. But, again, as a casual reader/browser, I prefer a shorter more biography-focused introductions. Although perhaps if I were to specialize in one kind of art to view, I would really get dialed into the relationships and influences more than I am.

Wikipedia indicates that she is still alive at 87, but seems to indicate her career highlights end around 1990 as the thin Wikipedia article would indicate and the lack of a personal Web site might attest. Which is a shame. I would rather look at her work than, say, Patrick Woodroffe’s. And were I in Wisconsin, I would be hopeful that I could pick up one of her original illustrations at a garage sale or something. Or at a silent auction at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where in 1994 or 1995 I once bid a week’s pay on a minor illustration by Picasso, true story. Which I did not win, by the way, and I don’t even like Picasso. Nancy Erkholm Burkert? I like her work.

Book Report: The New Glass House by James Grayson Trulove (2006)

Book coverWell, now, gentle reader, I will have another section to pick through at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale: Architecture (and home design). I bought this book last weekend from the architecture section because it was right across from the art monographs. I used to read home plans books, magazines, and Web sites regularly, but I’ve gotten away from that since I bought a large house in the country. I’ve let my design, or at least my home and garden, magazine subscriptions lapse except for the quarterly 417 Home that’s part of my subscription to the local local interest slick. So it almost caught me by surprise how much I liked to flip through this book.

It’s got a number of homes made mostly or largely of glass windows. A little section description of where it is and what the goal was, house plans and architectural drawings, and then photos of the building from the exterior and the interior looking out.

The photos, of course, depict showroom houses. Like staged homes you see when you’re shopping for a home: furniture, but no signs of living. You know, my (recently) sainted aunt kept her home very tidy, and she had a lot of showpiece bits of furniture. Mostly antiques, which might not see in a lot of style guides like this, especially for modern architecture–even the rustic-styled lodges with glass walls had modernist furniture made out of wood or faux wood. But my aunt’s finely appointed home had personal touches, and I would guess those are stripped from the photos along with the clutter.

At any rate, these homes aren’t for me. Some of the homes are near others, which means the glass walls give people outside clear views into the home, and whether it’s true in real life or not, most of the windows do not have curtains, blinds, or other shuttering solutions for privacy. Personally, I don’t like to have blinds open on both sides of my house so that someone looking in the front can see completely through the dining room windows. I probably got this from my father, who once said he did not want to live in a fish bowl. Me, either. Although I don’t mind maybe one room that has a wall of windows–or a set of sliding doors to the back yard–I don’t want to let the outside in that badly. I want boundaries to my home and rooms that emphasize that you’re secure inside. Yeah, I like dark colors and paneling on my walls, too.

That said, one thing leapt out at me: Someone built a small, two-story library outbuilding to house his or her 10,000 volumes of Japanese history books (hello, rich professor!). It’s a little out in the woods, and it has a completely enclosed first floor where the books are stored and a second floor with walls of windows on all sides with a sofa for reading and a desk for working. You know, back in my I’m going to be startup rich and build our dream home days (and probably a little under the influence of the observation tower at Big Cedar Lodge), I wanted something like this atop my dream home, although I had in mind more of a round turret style. With a fireplace in the middle of the floor. So I liked it best of the things I saw, even though it did not have a brick or stonework exterior.

And I cannot leave this topic without saying that the new glass houses are interesting, but I like the old Glass Houses the best.

Book Report: The Widening Gyre by Robert B. Parker (1983)

Book coverOf course I read this book right away after buying it last weekend. It’s just about the only fiction I bought, as I don’t tend to browse those tables at large book sales. But this was on the Collectibles/Antiquarian tables as it’s a signed first edition from 1983. Which makes it both.

Also, I should note that right about the turn of the century, I read through the Robert B. Parker books in order to that point. It was before I was blogging and before I was writing book reports, so I don’t have any way to review what I thought about them then. But twenty years later, with the early twenty-first century Parkers and the Atkins/Brandman/Coleman continuation of Parker’s series between now and then, I am putting my thoughts down which are only a little about the book and more about the oeuvre and its impact on my youth. I’ve mentioned it before (see my thirty-year-old essay Meeting Robert B. Parker), gentle reader, but all those people coming in from Google in the coming years won’t have heard the story a hundred times before.

So, where are we in the series? Susan has gone off to Washington to work. So it’s before Valediction when she goes out west. And before A Catskill Eagle and before the television series, which I think influenced his work to where the books later become mostly dialog and repeats.

At any rate, the plot: A congressman and Senate candidate comes to Spenser because he needs a head of security, and Spenser’s at loose ends so he hires on. He discovers someone is blackmailing the congressman to drop out and endorse his opponent. The congressman’s wife apparently likes to drink and has ended up videotaped having sex with a younger man. Spenser vows to find out who did it and how to extricate the congressman without exposing his wife or even letting the wife know what is going on. Because the congressman love-loves his wife, you see. Or maybe that should be capitalized as Love because their relationship is drawn to parallel Spenser and Susan’s. Spenser discovers that the son of local mobster Joe Broz, Gerry Broz, is doing a little dealing and grifting on his own to impress his father, and when things go a little sideways, the son asks his father’s second to help clear it up without the father’s knowledge.

When analyzed kind of like I do the Executioner books, I break it into a couple set pieces of actual detecting between sections of self-analysis and conversations with the other characters, and I see how few action set pieces there actually are. Of course, the book clocks in at under 200 pages, so it’s not a Jack Reacher or other modern suspense novel–and it owes as much to John D. MacDonald as it does to Raymond Chandler or Ross MacDonald. But the pieces fit all right together with a balance between them which added deft depth to the genre.

As I read this, I recognized why I loved these books as a kid. They’re suspense novels, with the Spenser being arch and tough and well-read and philosophical, musing (again) on self-definition and introducing some conceptions on what means for Spenser to Love (or love-love) Susan. The kind of thing that a boy growing up without a father and prone to reading books might come to idolize.

Ah, but the seeds of the things that later turned me off to Spenser novels are present. The introspection on what love is and how it can best serve Feminist-driven female self-discovery zeitgeist (here only the woman being free to be herself whilst Spenser Loves or love-loves her). Although the MacGuffin of the congressman’s wife’s infidelity here is treated not so much as that it’s morally wrong but impractical and possibly neurotic, it would be almost thirty years before it would be something to celebrate (as in the repellent Split Image). We also get the starts of Deus Ex Mafia, where the resolution is a negotiated settlment between Spenser and some crime figure who comes to believe, possibly after an attempted hit, that coming to terms with Spenser is easier and safer than killing him. I guess the negotiated settlements started out earlier–God Save the Child and Early Autumn come to mind–but in later novels, negotiated settlements with actual criminals seem to become the norm. Or maybe I don’t remember them as well because I did not read them in my formative years and because I only read them once.

On one hand, reading this book reminded me of why I liked the earlier Spenser novels and almost makes me want to re-read them up to maybe Valediction. I mean, I re-read Early Autumn fairly regularly in my formative years and even gave it as a gift to one or more friends that I thought could use some encouragement in self-definition.

But I have so many other books to read, so I will likely hold off on that unless I find other signed first editions on collectible tables in the future.

As it stands, the hardback I already owned of this title was a Book Club Edition. So I seriously upgraded my collection with this $7.50 purchase. Which could well be my last addition to the collection unless the Spenserian Sonnet limited edition falls into my lap. I see that the Wikipedia entry for Robert B. Parker’s bibliography does not include his dissertation The Private Eye in Chandler and Hammett or Parker on Writing, both signed and numbered limited editions nor his signed and numbered sonnet; I have two of three in my collection as I was a serious collector for a while around the turn of the century. But, ah, the loss of heroes, ainna?

Book Report: Space: 1999 by Mary A. Mintzer (1977)

Book coverWhen I bought this book last Saturday, I thought it was a comic book; however, it turns out this is actually a children’s book. So although I do not count comic books in the annual total of books read–so the first issue of Battlestar Galactica that I bought on Saturday doesn’t count (but the first of the novels, which I read in 2011, did). Don’t bother trying to make sense of it–the rules of what I count as a book for my annual reading total based on content, length, and time of year are very difficult calculus indeed.

At any rate, this book includes two short adventures of the crew of Moonbase Alpha. In the first, a colleague thought dead returns but is actually only a cipher for a ruler from the planet Psychon come back to get revenge on Maya, the woman with the sideburns who can change into things. In the second, explorers in one of the ships find a planet suitable for colonization with a small group of mentally advanced people on it who will share their planet. But there’s a dark secret: The planet has no sun, and it’s only the mental power of the Queen that keeps it going–and she steals power from the brains of her subjects.

I remember the program came on on Saturday afternoons in the late 1970s in Milwaukee, but I don’t remember watching it much. All I remember is the woman with the sideburns could change into things. And that it had a low budget, but somehow it didn’t grab one as Star Trek did. And by “one,” I mean sub-ten-year-old me. So I have to wonder if this is worth watching sometime. I just checked on Amazon, and it doesn’t look like it’s available in US DVDs. Which makes my mind up for me. I don’t have time to watch the things I own, so I shouldn’t go buying things I will just put in the cabinet for some day. Also note: It’s far easier to be virtuous for sins one cannot commit; if Amazon had the complete series on DVD for $14, it would be on its way to Nogglestead by now.

Book Report: Brazilian Baroque by Sharon Harper Sampson (1972/1973)

Book coverI bought this picture book last weekend and thumbed through it during a football game. It’s the takeaway book from a Washington, D.C., exhibit of Brazilian religious artifacts sponsored/provided by a government ministry of Brazil from the time I was born.

The preface and the introductory essay “Colonial Religious Art in Brazil” describe the development of religious art in Brazil (wait, you mean the title already summed that up?) from the items they brought from Portugal to the different regional styles driven by the materials at hand. To be honest, without a map of Brazil handy, a lot of this information rolled right over me as it’s pretty comprehensive in identifying individual religious institutions, the churches, convents, abbeys, and whatnot, that originally displayed the items and when they were built, burned, and/or rebuilt. The detail was a bit much for any sort of retention, and it certainly hasn’t driven me into further study.

The book also lists, I suspect, all the items at the exhibit whereas the book itself focuses on silver and precious metal-based church service pieces with a couple of other statues and monstraces thrown in. So although a number of terra cotta and soapstone statues are listed in the catalog, they are not in the book. Which is a pity; I think I would have prefered to see them rather than another censer.

Okay, I say it hasn’t driven me to further study, but I am not as familiar with the history of South America, especially Brazil, as I could be. So maybe I’ll pick up something on it sooner rather than later. I have a really dry history of Latin America that I tried to read twenty-some years ago. Maybe I’ll pick that up again. Maybe after I read The Story of Civilization.

Book Report: An Ozark Tapestry and More by Marjorie Shackleford McCune (1987)

Book coverThis is the second of the chapbooks that I bought this weekend; Heartstrings was the first. This is also an example of grandmother poetry, literally, as the back cover has a picture of the author with her grandson. The About the Author bit on the back cover mentions she took a class in writing poetry at Drury University late in life.

Which probably explains why this is a cut above the norm for the genre (which I am probably the one who coined the term grandmother poetry, but I think you will agree it is a genre in itself).

The poems cover the usual genre territory: Family, faith, and the seasons. However, under the influence of the poetry class undoubtedly, Ms. McCune has some poems with a pat abab rhyme scheme, but she dabbles with some other rhyme schemes and even free verse which really frees her from the constraint of the rhyme scheme for better rhythm and imagery. So some of the poems are all right (he said, in Northerner, which tends to dim compliments and to praise with faint praise, or so I tell my beautiful wife when she’s miffed that I say that her dinner was all right).

Apparently, a lot of the books I got this weekend come from the middle to late 1980s, and as I look upon this, which is a chapbook that appeared only a few years before my first, I’m a little–disoriented. I mean, the woman who wrote with this fresh voice was 80 in 1987. She has passed away long ago, and her book is 33 years old. Which means my first published book is 26 (but still remains fresh and is reprinted in its entirety in Coffee House Memories). Which means I am… getting old enough to write grandfather poetry although my grandfathering years are still at least, um, not that many years in the future maybe.

Book Report: Heartstrings by Sharon Harper Sampson (1985)

Book coverAs you might have expected, gentle reader, I dove right into the chapbooks and art monographs during the second week of football. As I watched most of three games, I had plenty of time in between plays to read a poem or look at a picture and caption. Given how my attention during football games these days focuses mostly on the books and a little on the football game makes me think that maybe watching football is more of an excuse to read during the day than actual love of football.

At any rate, this is a middle 1990s chapbook back when making a chapbook often meant laying the stuff out yourself on paper. Desktop publishng was very rudimentary then, gentle reader–take if from someone who printed the text of his first 1994 chapbook out and laid the actual pages out on paper and whose first issues of his magazine (the St. Louis Artesian) were laid out on paper until I got Microsoft Publisher on a 386 PC in 1995 for later issues and my second chapbook. Oh, there were small publishing houses that did chapbooks back in that age, but most of us just ran them off at Kinko’s.

The most interesting bit about this book is that it was hand-lettered in a fun, almost italics font that took a lot of work. Here’s the dedication page:

Book dedication

I have trouble making my handwriting legible much less pretty.

However pretty it is, though, it makes for a slower read over the length of a book, even a chapbook like this. I’m currently working on a longer book, a Yoga devotional, presented in an italic font, and it’s not fun going through 300 pages of it. This book, though, is only 53 pages.

The poetry is pretty pedestrian Grandmother poetry talking about family and faith with end rhymes and a bit of a sense of rhythm. So, yeah, nothing that sticks out–but I’m reading the complete works of Keats, and most of Keats’ work doesn’t stick out, either. So take of that what you will: Good poetry, or a good poem, one that strikes a chord within you, is pretty rare.