Monday, August 18, 2014

Books I've Read

According to this blog, it's been well over a year since I've read a book but that presumes a truth to the philosophical question:  if a book review is unposted, does that mean a book hasn't been read?

Ha!  I've read books.  I just haven't posted about them.  Here's a list, in no particular order, of what I've read in the last 16 months or so:

Stephen Hunter's latest Sniper's Honor.  Bob Lee Swagger learns about a Russian, female sniper from World War II which, of course, has modern day repercussions.  Plenty of shooting and sniper lore and a harrowing, surrealistic battle scene between Nazi tanks and Commie tanks.  You haven't read anything like this before.
Lawrence Block's The Thief Who Counted The Spoons.  Delightful, but then the whole series is which meant I had to re-read the other 10 Bernie Rhodenbarr novels in the series to confirm it. and that lead me to re-read A Ticket to the Boneyard, which is anticipation of the upcoming movie of his book, A Walk Among the Tombstones which should be pretty good.  I mean, it's Liam Neeson against the bad guys.  What more could you want?
For some reason I turned back to Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park.  I've blogged here about the rest of the series but you don't really know how good the first was until you go back there and see for yourself what Smith managed to do.  As good as the series is, the first is the best.  
I don't know why I read Robert Harris' The Ghost.  I've like his other stuff:  FatherlandEnigma, and Pompeii, all of which I must've read before this blog since I don't see where I posted my thoughts on these before.  But I'd blogged about the movie, which I liked, despite many reasons not to, and I read the Kindle version which means I must've gotten a deal on it.  Whatever.  I enjoyed it.  I especially liked the behind-the-scenes look at ghost-writing and the publishing world.  Nice twist at the end, too.
Both volumes of Hemingway's Complete Letters.  (Link goes only to the first volume but you can get to the second volume from there.)  Sorry.  For aficionados only.  

So by my count that's 17 books or a little over a book a month.  Not much of a pace but it'll do.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Blogging

Holy, moly, it's been a lifetime since I've updated here.  Blake was good enough to challenge me for the funny stuff last month and though I'm loathe to disappoint him, looking back over these posts I see there's a disappointing amount of funny and an overwhelming amount of banality.  Sorry, friend Blake.  Let me try to do better.

I started this blog for a reason - I just can't remember what it was.  Oh, right.  Here's the reason.  And here's the first post, six long years ago.  And here's a secret:  I'd actually started this blog way before that first post.  For some reason, I'd deleted the first version and so the first posts are now down the memory hole.

I've title this post "Blogging" and tagged it that way as well, but I see I've used that tag 82 times - 83, now - and I seem to blog a dismayingly amount about not blogging.  Which I'm doing now.  But with Twitter and Facebook, has blogging become obsolete?

Could be.  Those social media platforms offer a lot and I've found myself over there to be far more active than I have been over here.  Why?  I can't rightly say.  Both platforms offer an immediacy, and an audience, that I don't get over here on Blogger but this blog is where I started and I really should either stoke the fires over here or give it up altogether.

Which is all to say, I really need to get back to blogging.  Some things just won't work on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sunday, June 23, 2013

I went out to get chocolate malts for everyone and I noticed the Blockbuster next to our local Braums was closed and for good.  I know, I know, the Blockbuster closings happened long ago but the boarded up windows brought the sense of finality home.  And I was struck, too, that this was the end of something more than just an obsolete method of entertainment delivery.  No longer would there be those thrilling days of when you having two little girls race excitedly among the aisle looking for the one - okay, two, all right, three - VHS tapes, and later, DVDs - that would mark the beginning of a long weekend or the threat of a snowstorm or any other reason that would find us in that store.  We'd stopped going there a long time ago and we weren't the only ones who'd stopped going and after a lot of not going the reason for the demise of Blockbuster becomes pretty clear.  And those little girls are grown up now and we get our videos on demand through our cable service so there's a lot that's long, long gone.

And then The Byrds' Turn Turn Turn pops up on Pandora on the way out of the parking lot and pretty much sums up this entire post.  That season is gone.  Time for new seasons.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming - Book Review





Rod Dreher, in his very moving elegy to his sister, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, wants you to know this about her:
A long time ago - I must have been about seven years old, which would have made Ruthie five - I did something rotten to her.  What it was, I can't remember.  I teased her all the time, and she spent much of her childhood whaling the tar out of me for it.  Whatever happened that time, though, must have been awful, because our father told me to go lie down on my bed and wait for him.  The could mean only one thing:  that he was going to deliver one of his rare but highly effective spankings, with his belt.
I cannot recall what my offense was, but I well remember walking down the hallway and climbing onto the bed, knowing full well that I deserve it.  I always did.  Nothing to be done but to stretch out, face down  and take what I had coming.
And then it happened.  Ruthie ran into the bedroom just ahead of Paw and, sobbing, threw herself across me.
"Whip me!" she cried.  "Daddy, whip me!"
Paw gave no spanking that day.  He turned and walked away.  Ruthie left too.  There I sat, on the bed, wondering what had just happened.
Forty years later, I still do.
What follows is the story not only of Ruthie and her Little Way of living a Christ-like life in the face of certain death, but a portrait of Dreher's family, the town - St Francisville, Louisiana - in which he was born, and the people with whom he grew up.  Dreher explores the evolution of his faith and his tendency to over-intellectualize everything and compares it with his sister's simpler, more straightforward approach to hers.  It's the difference between thinking about living a good life and actually living that life.

I was an admirer of Dreher's when he was with National Review but I lost track of him during his Crunchy Con days and when he moved on to write editorials for The Dallas Morning News.  I don't know how I found him again but it was shortly after the death of Ruthie and I've been following the living and the writing of this book since its inception.  Dreher bothers me at times with his intellectualism but there's no doubt of his feelings for his sister or his faith in Christ.  This book is a work of love for both.

You're guaranteed to weep.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Third Bullet - Book Review

Goodness me, has it really been over four months since I last posted a book review?  I suppose it has, though I must admit to having re-read Stephen Hunter's Soft Target during that time.  Is that all?  I guess so.  But it's more a testament to my inability to find anything worth reading rather than being too busy to read anything.  And if I don't post about it, it didn't happen.  So I'll have to plead guilty and try to do a better job and read more books.

So since the last book I've read was by Stephen Hunter, it seems only appropriate that I've come roaring back with Stephen Hunter's latest, The Third Bullet.  A tale of the Kennedy assassination, Hunter isn't a conspiracy theorist and claims to be an believer in the Warren Commission Report and Bugliosi's and Posner's conspiracy debunking but he takes the set of known facts, looks at them through the eyes of a well-seasoned sniper, twists a motive here, adds a character there, and gives us an entirely plausible new theory to ponder.  Sure, it's fiction, but why couldn't things have happened the way Hunter describes?  (Hunter has some fun with the conspiracy theorists by detailing one theory of how a second shooter came from the future, a plot device right out of Terminator.  And, if you think about it, it's not too far-fetched.  If you believe in time travel.)

But forget all that.  You want to know if Hunter brings the shoot-em-ups and the best writing you're likely to find on guns and ammunition and sniper-ing.  Dang straight he does.  He takes great delight in killing off his first victim - a thriller-writer whose series' main character is a lot like Swagger.  Hmmm.  Who could this be?  (In interviews, Hunter denies any other purpose than to get the plot a'rollin'.  I think he's a bit too self-satisfied with that explanation.)  But most importantly, Hunter brings back Bob Lee Swagger and even for a few lines Swagger's father, Earl.  Fans, like me, of the Swagger mythos will rejoice and believe the ultimate reason why Swagger investigates the assassination:  no, not because of Kennedy but because of another government official who, like Swagger's daddy, was gunned down while doing his duty.

A slam-bang effort at taking another look at a popular myth.  (Okay, not myth - the assassination actually happened - but the events of that dreadful day have reached a near-myth level in this country.)


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Time to Link to My "Ten Reasons Why I Should Be Preparing Your Tax Return and Not Turbo-Tax" Post

Yep, it's that time of year.  I don't have anything to add other than to note that with the recently passed tax package, tax returns aren't getting any easier to prepare and won't be in the future.  I can help.

Ten Reasons Why I Should Be Preparing Your Tax Return and Not Turbo-Tax:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Graveyard Special - Book Review

The first line of James Lileks' Graveyard Special is worth the price of admission alone:
I poured the coffee, Dick wrecked the eggs.
I've been a longtime fan of James Lileks and I'd go just about anywhere he'd take me.  Essentially a light mystery, it's really Lileks' fictional remembrance of his college days in late 1980 in Dinky Town in Minneapolis.  Interweaving actual events with his plot-line, Lileks takes us for a nice little tour of this special place and time in his life, casting off memorable one-liners like he does in his columns and blog.  Novelist isn't Lileks primary profession - yes, yes, I know, he's published novels before but that's been a long time and the samples I've ready show he had yet to develop his novelist skills -  and it shows it parts with some lagging action and only mildly confusing plot-age.  The first in a promised series of linked novels, he's bound to improve.  I liked his asides on pop culture - the music of the time, the transition from pinball to video games - and the portrait of his protagonists parents was especially loving.  All this and a smashing climax with a Zamboni.   What else could you ask for?

 (This was second experience with Kindle reading and, like my first Kindle experience, it was equally meh.  I'll blame it on using my iPhone Kindle - after all, thousands of Kindle users can't be wrong, can they? - because who wants to read a book on their phone?  I do, apparently, since I haven't yet sprung for an actual Kindle.  But my limited experiences with this e-reader technology have been underwhelming.  I frankly don't see what the Kindle fuss is all about.  Sure, I got Graveyard Special at a good price and I was able to carry it around with me wherever I carried my phone but it turns out I carry my phone to all the same places I would have carried a dead-tree book.  Now I'm stuck with it.  I can't toss it up in the attic where stacks of other books gather dust or sell it at a discount book store or give it away as a gift to someone.  It just sits there on my phone.  Now what?)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bob Greene's Quiet Comeback

I was a big fan of Bob Greene's before his fall 10 years ago but I'm glad to see he's quietly making a comeback.  (No, not Oprah's Bob Greene; this Bob Greene.)

Bob Greene thinks a lot these days about the colleagues he has lost — and probably about the career he lost, too.
Ten years ago this week, Greene’s public life crashed and burned on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Readers awoke that Sunday morning in mid-September to the news that he’d been fired after more than three decades as one of the best known and most widely read columnists in America.
A spectacular ride that had taken a kid from Bexley, Ohio, to a starring role at the Sun-Times by age 23, then to the Tribune and syndication in more than 200 newspapers, was suddenly and completely over.
Greene had been fired, according to the Tribune’s version of events, because he had abused his position by engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a girl he met when she came to interview him for her high school newspaper. 


I first came across Greene's columns in the pages of Esquire in the '80s.  I greatly enjoyed his collections of columns from that magazine and his work on the Tribune.  Up to his time of his dismissal, he was a tireless advocate for abused children and his series on the Baby Richard case touched me deeply as an adoptive parent.  I hungrily re-read his Good Morning, Merry Sunshine in those heady first weeks of Rachel's infancy and so his writing remains a part of that very special time.

No doubt, Greene's actions were a serious breech of ethics and terrible lapse of judgement but count me as one of those who thought his punishment was too harsh.  Certainly some kind of reprimand was in order, a lengthy suspension as well would have been called for, but his body of work up to that point was evidence enough that this may have been an isolated occurrence.  Add the fact that his wife passed away four months after his dismissal - her death likely had more to do with her month-long respiratory illness than Greene's crash-and-burn but that probably didn't help - and you're looking at a man who more than paid the price for his transgression.

Since then he's managed to publish four books and now writes a weekly column at CNN.  I guess you'd call it a comeback if you could call 10 years in the wilderness "looking for stories and trying to do the best job I can reporting and writing them" a comeback.  Call it redemption through work.  I guess that's all you can do, the best you can do, and that's enough.  It certainly seems to be the case for Bob Greene.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Hemingway Slept Here

Paul Hendrickson, in his book, Hemingway's Boat, tells us Hemingway's regular stopover place in Miami was this hotel:

  

 Hendrickson says the hotel was 7 blocks from the railroad terminal with a view of Biscayne Bay but gives no address. The image above I found on a postcard auction site and the reverse of the card says its located "Facing beautiful Bayfront Park. Here's a seagull's eye view of Bayfront Park today:

 
View Larger Map

 There's no sign of the Miami Colonial; likely it was elbowed aside by the forest of high-rises that line Biscayne Boulevard across the street from Bayfront Park. (And from this view, Bayfront Park does look beautiful, doesn't it?)

 I'm not opposed to high-rises. They're beautiful in their own way, monuments to the ambition of the human race. But would it have killed developers to leave this lovely old hotel?