Book Report: Blood Debts by Shayne Silvers (2015)

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

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

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

So, about this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Subtext: Sissy?

I am not sure what to make of this summary:

The singer crafted an identity around his macho, pro-American swagger and wrote songs that fans loved to hear in his three decades in country music.

So…. he was not authentically macho? Not authentically pro-American? A sissy because a real man doesn’t die of cancer at 62?

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but probably not. This clever wordsmith (or AI trained by clever wordsmiths) is making a point.

But never mind. Onto the real news.

Probably the best advice I’ve gotten in a while.

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But My Garbage Smells Delicious

I’m creating a new category for the blog, Vexations, for things that vex me. Not like politics or current events which make me by turns angry or resigned. A little perturbed. A little angry, but I know it’s a little thing or it could be worse. Instead of starting out with the many, many fine vexations of 2023/2024, I must recount what happened to me this morning.

So I decided I was going to try to make soup.

I guess I wanted to learn how to make full use of the Christmas turkey so that when the hard times come (see politics or current events), I can extend the meals I get from black or turkey vultures I manage to bludgeon with a shovel. Also, my oldest is supposed to be learning to cook and to write about them for his senior project at school. So we used a pressure cooker to make stock with the Christmas turkey right after Christmas.

However, my beautiful wife and I did the Whole 30 Diet for the first 30 days of January, so my boy(s) and I did not make soup right after Christmas as I did not think we would eat it all before my consumption was locked down. So I put it in the freezer, but I got it out again on January 31.

However, even though I selected a recipe, my boy(s) and I did not come together to make the soup in the week that passed after I took the stock out of the freezer. I am not sure how much time the boy could have counted toward his project as I picked a slow cooker recipe, so basically it was to cut vegtables up and put them in the slow cooker.

But we put it off long enough, so this morning, I went to the grocery store very early to pick up a couple of things we’d need–mostly heavy cream and some small potatoes (no small potatoes, as it turns out, $6 for 24 ounces). And by we’d need, I mean I’d need since, by this point, I didn’t think the boy(s) would proffer much help as it required preparing the vegetables and letting it cook for hours. They could have chopped vegetables when they got home from school (and before the oldest went to work) and the soup would have been ready at like 8pm. So I figured I was on my own.

So around 8am this morning, I chopped carrots, celery, potatoes, and an onion slowly and carefully and put them in a ceramic bowl. I started the pot a-warming, and then I put the stock into the pot, spilling only a lot of the stock in the process, and added the four pounds (and $10) of vegetables. Then I thought I would use up the remaining onions in the refrigerator and maybe jalapeños into the mix.

You see, as part of the Whole 30 Diet, I cooked a lot with green peppers, onions, and jalapeños, so when I chopped one up, I’d store what I didn’t use in the fridge for later use. I put green peppers in a plastic container, but onions and jalapeños in glass jars so that their smell/flavor would not penetrate.

I opted against the jalapeño, but I dumped the onion directly into the slow cooker and turned to get a spoon to scrape the ones sticking to the side of the jar, and when I put the spoon into the jar, I heard a little tinkle. “What was that?” I thought.

And I discovered a small hole had broken out of the bottom of the jar.

I guess that the temperature change from the refrigerator to the warm air above the stock pot weakened the glass. Did it break when I dumped the onions or when I touched the glass with the spoon? I don’t know either. I looked and even touched the top layer of vegetables, but I could not see any broken glass amidst the finely chopped onions and minced garlic.

Of course, I could not take a chance. So I binned it all.

Man, this really vexed me. Probably more so because I has put it off, and then when I finally went to do it, I made the big mistake. So it’s my fault, too. Although I am not sure if I’ve really learned a lesson, since it’s entirely possible I will never again try to make soup to be in a position to not make this mistake again.

Not a really big thing. But certainly a vexation.

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On Unqualified by Anna Faris (2017)

Book coverThe 2024 Winter Reading Challenge, like previous ones, has a category for audio books, but this year, it had an additional requirement: it needed to be narrated by the author. Fortunately, I had a copy of this audio book, which was at the top of the box containing audio books and courses that I’d removed from atop the desk hutch because the stacks were blocking the light from the lamps up there. It was fortunate that I picked up this former library copy at the Friends of the Library book sale last spring as I took a quick spin through the audio books section of the library and did not find anything narrated by the author. Well, nothing I would want to listen to anyway.

It took some effort to fit this audio book in, gentle reader. As you might know, my children are older now and don’t require me to drive them to and from school on weekdays, so I lost about an hour each day in audiobook listening time. Coupled with the fact that I currently have no wheels (ask me sometime about how the autumn and winter of 2023/2024 vexed me) and don’t really go anywhere, so I had to make an effort to listen to an audio book at home. I briefly tried to listen while I worked, but I was focused on other things and was not paying attention to the audio book, so I could not do that. I didn’t have any hands-on, not processing words hobbies in the workshop to do while this played. So I spent six evenings, well, six individual hours over six evenings, to listen to this. Instead of reading a book or watching a film. I lit a fire, popped a CD into the DVD player to listen through the den’s audio system, and I just listened to the book. I gave my attention pretty strictly to the book. I couldn’t even putz around on my phone as I don’t have any games or mindless activity apps installed on the phone. Just a browser for reading Web sites. But, gentle reader, I wanted that 2024 Winter Reading Challenge mug. And, most importantly, I wanted to hit all of the categories. So I listened to Anna (ah-na) Faris (one R) read her book.

So: Although I have seen her in Lost in Translation and Keanu (although it must have been a small role, playing herself, perhaps in the Hollywood scene), I remember her mostly from My Super Ex-Girlfriend where she played Hannah, the cute assistant to the Luke Wilson character. Mostly because I just watched the film last year. She has been in a number of other comedies and voice actor in children’s movies and some television appearances. But, as I discovered, she is a comic actress and not a comedienne, which is important because this book is earnest and not humorous.

She also has or had a successful podcast, or maybe successfulish as I don’t know what metrics mark a successful podcast, called Unqualified. On the podcast, Faris gives advice, mostly (I presume based on the contents of the book) on sex and relationships. But she holds that she is really unqualified to give this advice.

So this book is part memoir, with some stories about her growing up and becoming an actor but also about her early relationships, her first marriage, her second marriage to Chris Pratt and the birth of their son, and some behind-the-scenes glimpses of life in Hollywood (she and Pratt divorced after the book came out, and she is on her third marriage now), and a bit about the podcast and its production. Another part of the book is relationship advice based on callers to the podcast, and another bit of it is filler material where she reads comments from the podcast’s Facebook page and whatnot. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly humorous (comic actress, not a comedienne). It might be a better read as some of the material is probably pretty skimmable, whereas listening to it means you have to hear every word at the author’s pace.

I don’t want to poop all over the author’s efforts here; she is very earnest in wanting to help people by giving them advice. But I am really not the target audience for this book, and I’m sure I would not have picked up the book if I saw it in a bookstore. But I saw it through the veil of profligate accumulation on a Audiobooks table for $.50 a month after I’d seen Faris in a film, so I got the book. And, fortunately, it counted for a category in the Winter Reading Challenge. But I can only recommend it if you’re a fan of Anna Faris or advice columns/podcasts. Not if you’re looking for topical humor from a comedian or comedienne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ultimate Showdown

Well, okay, not anywhere close. But if you watched game shows in the 1980s, you might be familiar with two of the games’ villains. The Whammy from Press Your Luck and the Dragon from Tic Tac Dough.

   

So the question I have for you is: Which is the bigger villain?

I’ll go first (and probably only). I say the Dragon because I came to watch Tic Tac Dough earlier than I watched Press Your Luck, and because the Dragon was the height of Apple II graphics at the time (according to the Wikipedia entry).

However, one could make the argument that the Whammy was worse because it was part of regular game play, and the Dragon was only part of the bonus game at the end of the program.

Still, I have to go with what I know.

I can still hear its roar when the game player exposed its square. To be honest, I think I can hear the Whammy, but I might be thinking of the Domino’s Pizza Noid from that era.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Report: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jack Baruth Discovers Symphonic Metal

Atop Jack Baruth’s Avoidable Contact Forever yesterday, I saw a familiar face:

It’s Giada “Jade” Etro of the symphonic metal band Frozen Crown, of whom Baruth says:

As most of you know, music isn’t a full-time job for most people nowadays, so you’ll be pleased to know that Miss Etro has twelve years of experience as a dentist and orthodontist. How in God’s name have I had one implant, four veneers, and a dozen crowns… none from her. I don’t care if I die during the procedure like Ye’s mom did during her discount Mexican plastic surgery.

As I did with Kim du Toit, I welcome Baruth’s discovery of the genre, where all the bands have attractive women with pipes on the lead vocals.

And, then as now, I offer some further selections.

Vocalist:
Melissa Bonny
Mizuho Lin
Nicoletta Rossellini
Nationality:
Swiss
Brazilian
Italian
Bands:
Evenmore
Rage of Light
Ad Infinitum
The Dark Side of the Moon
Semblant
Kalidia
Walk in Darkness

Although I don’t put a lot of symphonic metal on my gym playlist (“What Lies Ahead” and “Mere Shadow” by Semblant, “Stay Black” by Battle Beast, “82nd All the Way” by Amaranthe), it’s what YouTube insists on feeding me on those occasions where I type in a song from a metal band (any metal band) and let it run. Which is not a good way to find more songs for my gym playlist, but it does introduce me to new symphonic metal bands. And the infrequent Spanish metal band thanks to Xeria.

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Last Week, My Laptop Failed To Boot

Generally, this is a prelude explaining the dearth of posting, gentle reader, but this story is unrelated to the dearth of posting. That particular ennui stems from not being particularly interested in posting political hot takes because I’m not convincing anyone and venting my spleen is not actually letting any fresh air into my spleen and because I’m looking for work and a front page of political wrongthink can hinder that. Although most employers and hiring managers don’t bother to look at my LinkedIn profile, much less do a Web search for me (Googling a person is so 2002), I did get a blog post attached to my job application once and might have led demerits. True story: On one of those barrage interview situations, none of the senior people looked for me on the Internet, but a junior developer participating in the interviews, did, and he mentioned my reading a Star Trek book. Afterwards, I got a hit to the blog from Greenhouse on the previous post which indicated that Chinese cat food products might have suspect ingredients. As I interviewed with two Chinese-Americans, I presume this labeled me as a xenophobe (although you, gentle reader, know that if I am not truly a Sinophile, at least I have read some history and watched some native films). I’ve not been posting a lot of humorous anecdotes about life because, well, how is life going? That’s another story, maybe, but I am looking for work. Enough said for now.

So when I say My laptop failed to boot, I meant my nearly thirty-year-old Thinkpad.

Continue reading “Last Week, My Laptop Failed To Boot”

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Spoken Like A Man With No Metal On His Wall

HOME DEPOT IS SELLING A ‘BRAVEHEART’ SWORD AND HERE ARE SOME FOOLPROOF WAYS TO SELL THE IDEA OF BUYING ONE TO YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER:

It’s been a while since I’ve popped into a Home Depot, but now that I know they’re peddling a reasonably priced sword, I might need to check it out.

People have been buzzing about the surprising listing that was found on the company’s website.

What if we fought using the Home Depot sword pic.twitter.com/Slcg5F40Tb

— Sena Bonbon ️ ~comms open~ (@Bonbon_Sena) January 23, 2024

Damn, look at that. What makes it even better is that it’s priced at around $50. I defy you to find a William Wallace Medieval Sword — or any other bladed weapon for that matter — with a sheath for that price.

With inflation still pretty high, you can’t.

Still, you might need to convince your wife/girlfriend/significant other that you need this at a hardware store Claymore.

I know you’re busy so allow me to come up with some arguments for you.

As you might know, gentle reader, I have mentioned that I have a halberd and several swords on my wall, several practice weapons atop the books on my bookshelves, and a Swiss bayonet that I really must put on the wall before a cat knocks it off of the bookshelves perhaps onto my head instead of next to where I am standing, trying to pick out a book, next time (but no rapier or katana even though I have just the spot for one.

You know, (perhaps I’ve already told this story, but here it is again) Relics had a claymore in one of the booths a while back, and I thought about it. Then I looked at the price tag, and it was $500. So I mulled it over, and when I had a Christmas bonus or something, I took a closer look at it…. And it was truly a claymore, a plaster or resin replica of a claymore and not even metal at all. So way, way overpriced. Which is just as well, as I don’t have room for it on my office wall. But in the den, the vertical surface above the fireplace mantel is bare….

So I don’t have to justify buying a new blade to my beautiful wife as it falls into ther category of things I accumulate. I wouldn’t have to justify spending $50 on a sword–and keep in mind the thing at Home Depot is a replica, with as much relationship to a real sword as the decorative flintlock replicas I have on my wall are to real pistols.

I would have to justify spending $500 on a sword, though. And perhaps get a second job to cover it.

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Musing On Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

Wow, gentle reader, it has been six years since I started reading The Complete Works of Shakespeare in order; back in the beginning of 2018, I posted this atop my individual play reports:

I’ve started to read the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and instead of writing one book report at the end, since this could take years, I’ve decided to post my thoughts on each play as I finish it. Of course, it will still only count as one book on my annual reading count in 2020 because I’m silly that way.

Clearly I was optimistic back then; that winter and spring, I only read five comedies (The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night, and Measure for Measure) before setting the book aside. For what would become the better part of a decade (see it languishing on the bottom left stack on the chairside table in 2019). The book presents all the comedies, then all the historical plays/tragedies, and then the poetry. So reading all the comedies fairly close together shows how formulaic they are. On the other hand, reading a lot of Middle English in a row makes it more comprehensible. So perhaps I should read the plays out of order and check them off of a list.

When I looked at the ad for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge, I said, “I mean, would it hurt the librarians to include a Shakespearean play in there sometime?” Guessing they will probably not, ever, I picked up The Complete Works of Shakespeare and read the next play in it which was certain to be a romantic comedy. This one.

When I mentioned I was reading this play and that I remembered the movie to my beautiful wife, she “remembered” seeing the movie with me as well as the play and the symphony. Which gave me pause: I remember seeing the film with a girl I dated before the woman who would become my wife, and I remembered seeing a play at Washington University with my beautiful then-girlfriend, but a symphony? Ah, she is thinking of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Which is the next play in this collection, by the way. Which I will likely read before the 2020s end, but one never knows.

So: Much Ado About Nothing. The prince (Denzel Washington in the movie)–who does not have the title of prince, but we know what it means–comes to town with two of his caveliers/courtiers, Claudio and Benedick, and they stay with Don Leonato. Claudio (some dude in the movie) finds Leonato’s daughter (some dudette who turns out to be a young Kate Beckinsale in the movie) irresistable, and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh in the movie) crosses wits with her cousin Beatrice (Emma Thompson). Claudio and Hero become engaged, but the evil-for-the-sake-of-evil half-brother to the prince Don John (Keanu Reeves, which leads me to wonder where are the Don John Wick photoshops?–I presume it’s because history started with the Internet in 1997, and Shakespeare is icky to the yut who are getting to be middle-aged now) deceives Claudio into thinking Hero is untrue. The bulk of the story, though, is the Prince and Claudio and various handmaidens convincing Beatrice that Benedick secretly loves her and vice versa. All’s well that ends well–sorry, wrong play–but in the end the deception is uncovered and everybody lives happily ever after.

The play contains some of the common Shakespeare tropes that were probably more common Elizabethan drama tropes that are most familiar to us because of the Shakespeare (one of these days, I will dig out my Ben Jonson and see). You’ve got helpful friars, people in disguise, villains who are just villains because they’re villainous, faked deaths (which I guess survive to the modern time if Lethal Weapon is any guide), and so on. To modern readers, especially those dealing with tiny-print, double-columned omnibus editions, some of the speeches of Hero’s father lamenting his daughter’s calumny and the repartee and soliliquies of Beatrice and Benedick as they ponder their attraction to the other seem a bit long. But on stage, and in the movie, with things to look at and spit out rapidly with the characters, these blocks of text probably come off better.

An amusing read, and a fun watch. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the film in the Nogglestead video library. I’ll watch out for it, though–given its date in the height of home media sales, I should be able to find a copy of it somewhere. Hopefully before all used DVDs go to $5 or $7 each.

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Movie Report: Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Book coverWell, gentle reader. Well, well, well. For starters, I watched this film last month and it has lingered on my desk that long. To be honest, I’ve been fairly busy with the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge to watch or even think about movies this month so far. I must get through the categories therein before I return to my regularly scheduled occasional film watching.

I picked this film up last September in a burst of profligacy. I watched the first film in…. Well, in ages past, before I decided that movie reports were content for the search engine algorithms to ignore. I mention it in The 80s R in 2018, so that must have been about the time when I rented the DVD from the video store. Six years? Not quite closer to the film’s release than now, but close. But, oh, how I dwell on the passage of time outside my unchanging world.

The film takes place a couple of years after Kick-Ass and is less brutal than the original. Kick-Ass trains with Hit-Girl, and they’re both not really active but are training. The son of the big bad guy in the first film takes control of his father’s criminal empire and the family fortune and assembles a squad of super-villains hoping for revenge. Meanwhile, Kick-Ass discovers that a group of people in costume has gathered to fight crime as well, and he teams up with them. But the bad guys group starts killing members of the good guys group and Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl have to put a stop to it.

Less brutal, and it has some teen movie themes to it as Hit-Girl, in her secret identity, has to navigate high school. And she and Kick-Ass come to determine they’re more than friends.

A bit of deconstruction on the superhero films that were still gaining steam in that era. An amusing bit of watching, but not for younger viewers. And it can probably stand alone enough if you haven’t seen the original. Or, if you’re like me, and you’ve seen the original “recently” as understood by more seasoned readers, where “recently” can stretch back a decade or so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As I Read Bernard Cornwell Books….

I know who the Duke of Wellington was:

I KNOW nothing should surprise us these days about dumbed-down Britain. But an article on the moronic Mail Online website the other day had me choking on my cornflakes.

It read: ‘In 2020, Mandy Lieu, 38, bought 935-acre Ewhurst Park in Hampshire, once owned by the inventor of the wellington boot, the Duke of Wellington, and vowed to turn it into a world-class organic farm and nature reserve.’

The inventor of the wellington boot!

Good grief, I know teaching of British history is nowadays outrageously skewed and bowdlerised, but I didn’t realise things had got this bad.

Sharpe’s Trafalgar only mentions the duke in passing. The pompous politician or his wife is a distant cousin.

By the end of the year I shall know a heckuva lot more about the Napoleonic wars, and I should probably read the firsthand account of his retreat from Russia that I have around here somewhere.

(Link via Sarah Hoyt on Instapundit.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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