Sunday, July 2, 2017


     The books are beginning to pile up on the ol' nightstand again.  At least I managed to finish a couple: The House of the Seven Gables and The Devil's Elixir.

     House had good moments and bad. Overall, it was charming slice of life of a New England town from 200-years ago sprinkled with a few nuggets of wisdom, insight and characterization that lift it above the common muck. Some of my favorite quotes:
 "It is a very genuine admiration, that with which persons too shy or too awkward to take a due part in the bustling world regard the real actors in life's stirring scenes..."     
"He had no burden of care upon him; there were none of those questions and contingencies with the future to be settled which wear away all other lives, and render them not worth having by the very process of providing for their support."
 "She was startled, however, and sometimes repelled, -- not by any doubt of his integrity to whatever law he acknowledged, but by a sense that his law differed from her own."
"The haughty faith, with which he began life, would be well bartered for a far humbler one at its close, in discerning that man's best directed effort accomplishes a kind of dream, while God is the sole worker of realities."
     Not so good was the rushed and pat ending which made the whole thing seem more melodrama than serious work and would not seem out of place in a made-for-TV movie.
     But that did not mitigate the overall pleasure I took in reading this excellent book. It just doesn't rise to a favored status. It was very funny in parts, too.

     I downloaded E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Devil's Elixir in two parts, each of about 150 pages.
     Volume I is outstanding. Easy to read, and full of absolutely zany characters and a totally mind-blowing surrealistic plot, if slightly-to-very confusing. Everything is secondary to the characterizations, though. The plot really doesn't matter.
     This is from the main character's barber:
"When I arranged your excellency's hair, my mind was, as usual, lighted up by the sublimest ideas. I resigned myself up to the unbridled impulse of wild phantasy, and accordingly I not only forgot to bring the lock of anger on the topmost curls into a state of proper softness and roundness, but even left seven-and-twenty hairs of fear and horror upon the forehead."
      With perfect comedic timing, this was good for an honest belly-laugh.

"I feel deeply that it is not merely the fear of loss on which my present dislike to gaming is founded. Gain itself, which only brings us more and more under a state of slavery...which would one day lead us to destruction, is equally dangerous."
      Now those are words of wisdom. But you sure won't ingratiate yourself to a 21st-century audience uttering them! Probably not so much to a 19th-century one either, come to think of it.

"As for the Amtmann, he had always become more and more quiet; at last he tottered away into a corner of the room, where he took a chair and began to weep bitterly. I understood a signal of the innkeeper, and inquired of this dignitary the cause of his deep sorrow. "Alas! alas!" said he, "the Prince Eugene was a great, very great general, and yet even he, that heroic prince, was under the necessity to die!" Thereupon he wept more vehemently, so that the tears ran down his cheeks."
     The scene continues with no more mention of the Amtmann (Amtmann is a kind of civic official), until a few pages later:

  "The waiter took the doctor under one arm, and the Amtmann, still weeping for Prince Eugene, under the other; and thus they reeled along through the streets."
      The absurdity of it! Like something from a Tim Powers novel.
     The Estimated Time of Arrival of Hoffmann's punchlines is always just right! (Volume 2 is dull, however. I suggest you read Vol. 1 and skip the other -- unless you really care about the plot. I would be hard-pressed to recount what it was!)
      Until next time, good reading!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


     The only way I really know what I'm going to be reading next is by starting in on a several books at once and seeing which one holds my interest. I started Phantom of the Opera and while it seems like it might be a pleasant diversion, I'm not really in the mood for something quite this frivolous. On top of it, the writing is pedestrian. Reading it felt like a waste of time.
     I'm in the middle of the first book of Ian Toll's Pacific War trilogy, but had to pull out due to an over-saturation of anguish. I stopped somewhere before the Bataan Death March. I just can't deal with it right now. It makes me angry and depressed. I should just skip ahead to Doolittle's Raid or the Jap repulse at Port Moresby or Midway. But I decided I would just come back to it when I'm feeling stronger. I'm getting pissed off now just thinking about it. I only hope these Japs and the Soviet NKVD types got their just desserts. That's all I'm sayin'...

     In contrast to Phantom, the writing in MacKinlay Kantor's Spirit Lake was its saving grace. Despite the vacuity of the novel, I enjoyed the journey for the writing style. The theme was strictly a bankrupt product of the 20th century, however -- bleak, hopeless, meaningless. The Indians were portrayed as two distinct types: The good Indians who had the morals and sensibilities of 1950's-era Iowans; and bad Indians who were of the massacring variety. Eye-rolling stuff.


      Worse were the settlers. Not a likable one among them. The only one who came close was the doctor character but even he became overwhelmed by a repulsive, animal, demeaning lust in the end. I also had hope for the Frenchman, but he was given an atypical backstory (to say the least -- it was actually quite absurd) and then faded into the background after a couple hundred pages of buildup.
     But none were worse than the only overtly Christian character in the book, who, naturally, was depicted as a buffoon. As I said, this book says so much more about the 20th century than the 19th it's a little embarrassing for Kantor. You have to remember Kantor made his living in Hollywood. In the end, his story is of a sad waste of talent. But at least he had talent, I guess. How many of his ilk didn't even have that.
     Which brings me to my YouTube viewing recently. I've been watching some Jordan Peterson videos. A college professor and a very smart guy, no doubt about it. (Brilliant, in fact, since much of what he says I've been saying around the kitchen table for years.) But what's with the weird emphasis on Dostoevsky and Nietsche, et al? Isn't it about time we focused on something else? You know, something that didn't result in the slaughter of hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century? For all Peterson's intelligence, he presents these things as works of genius (he especially gushes about Nietsche, who died of syphilis, remember) to impressionable kids, many of whom will fancy themselves existentialists or anarchists or atheists (or libertarians, snicker) and do themselves incalculable damage by the time they discover they've been duped. Everybody's got to make a living, I guess.

     The book that has captured my attention this week is E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Devil's Elixir. So far, so good. It's funny, I have a million cool things to do, but I really look forward to bedtime, as that's when I do all my reading. Bedtime can come pretty early sometimes.
     Hoffmann, you may recall, is a German writer from the early 1800s who wrote "The Sand-man" (the tale which provided me the characters of Coppelius and Olimpia for use in My Clockwork Muse) and "The Nutcracker". His stories tend toward the phantasmagorical --  which means they tend toward awesome. Poe was a fan of Hoffmann. Me, too.

     I'll leave with this bit of wisdom, from Little Feat (my new favorite band) and their song "Time Loves a Hero." Now, the Feats are no Nietsche, but in this little snippet of lyric, they offer something worth thinking about.

Well they say that time loves a hero
But only time will tell
If he's real he's a legend from heaven
If he ain't he was sent here from hell

Hear me well
Seeing ain't always believing
Just make sure it's the truth that you're seeing
Eyes sometimes lie, eyes sometimes lie
They can be real deceiving

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


     After 13 years, I finally finished Dostoyevsky's Crime & Punishment. It started out pretty good, got really long and boring and then ended up okay. It would have been a great 150-page novella. But overall I liked it better when Poe wrote it and it was called "The Tell-Tale Heart".  Instead, I read 600 pages of this thing only to discover that I should have been following the Word of the Lord all along. Who knew?

A guy trying to ax himself in the back. The perfect suicide.

     At the same time, people who get all excited about Dostoyevsky also tend to spout off about Nitschke all the time, too. Now, look, I admire Nitschke as much as the next guy, but I think Butkus was every bit as good--(What's that you say? Nietzsche? Frederich Nietzsche, a philosopher? Not Ray....?)
     Ahem, yes, well, um, never mind....

Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke. Not philosophers.
     I'm holding off on Andersonville until Gulag Archipelago and Crime & Punishment wear off a bit. I started Gulag but had to bail. I can only take so much suffering. Must be something in the Russian water.
     In the meantime, I'm halfway through House of the Seven Gables. I'm reading it bits at a time. Sometimes it's a little dull, other times it's awesome. Right now, it's awesome. So I hope that'll carry me through to the end.
     After House, I'm planning on reading The Phantom of the Opera. This was recommended to me by a fan of My Clockwork Muse. So it's got that going for it....

Henry Waxman.
     I'll let the picture do the talking.

     Now that the Preds have swept my Blackhawks, and have taken out the Blues, I've jumped on the Nashville bandwagon. I usually pull for Chicago or San Louee, but Nashville has the look of a team of destiny. Plus I think Carrie Underwood is pretty...
     I'd like to see an Ottawa-Nashville final. Before that, though, I'm pulling for Edmonton and Washington. Edmonton has that Nashville look of destiny, too -- but their destiny, I think, is to lose to Nashville in the Western final. I'm not a big Ovechkin fan (although I bet he's an existentialist, though probably not much of a philosopher, unlike Nitschke), so I'm giving the nod to Ottawa. Plus, I'd need GPS to find Ottawa on a map...(Capital of Canada, you say? Now you're just making stuff up...)

     I had this album back in 1978 or so and hadn't heard it since. I looked it up on YouTube one day and was surprised at how sophisticated the music is. I've since become a big fan (again).
     I remember the NFL playoffs (79 or 80, somewhere in there) , Philly vs. Atlanta. Whenever they'd go to a commerical break, they'd leave off with a snippet of an appropriate song, like maybe "Philadelphia Freedom" for the Eagles and, I remember distinctly, "Oh Atlanta" for the Falcons. I was pulling for the Falcons, but the Eagles took it. The Falcons running back that year was Bubba Bean. Probably the best sports name til Coco Crisp.
     Anyway, I'll leave you with "Oh, Atlanta," from "Feats Don't Fail Me Now."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Me and Me Books

When am I Going to be a Priority?
     Alright, you big baby...Today's your day. This post is all about ME. About time, you say? Yes, I couldn't agree more!

     First, on the weight loss front: I weighed 175 this morning, down from 217 on December 1. My usual weight, for about the past 10 years, has hovered around 207 or so. In 2016, I gained 10 pounds, which prompted me to go on a diet. As of this morning, that was 42 pounds ago. It's been easy and I don't see why I couldn't lose 10 more.
     In my day job, I draw steel. Yeah, I know. Not very glamorous. I've been doing this for 27 years. Here's my latest project, one of the largest I've ever done.

     All that steel there? That's mine. I prepared the fabrication drawings for the steel shop. Also the plans that show the guys in the field how it all fits together. Just so you know...

But Enough About Me! What Do You Think About What I'm Reading?
      I finished Spirit Lake. I'll write a review of it one of these days. I was a little disappointed with the work as a whole, but enjoyed the journey enough to order this (which has just arrived):

     Also, on its way from England (Be careful when you order a used book; sometimes the vendor doesn't make clear where they are located):

     A little light reading, both of them. I read Andersonville years ago and loved it. I've always wanted to read Gulag. It was on my bucket list.
     Also on my nightstand:
     I shouldn't buy so many books at one time. Now, I'm torn as to what to start next. I think I'll go with my two bucket list books: Gulag and Zhivago. Make it a Russian theme. I already know the opening of the Pacific War inside and out, but Toll's book is the first of a trilogy that I want to read. Start at the beginning, I say. I've read a bit of Frontier Regulars and really like it, too. But Rooskies, to the front! Everyone else, form an orderly line....

Friday, April 7, 2017


Go to 3:30 for the greatest scene in the greatest movie ever made.
It's Friday, so here's one for the road....

You're welcome.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


     I picked up a few new books this month. When I say "new," I actually mean "used," as you might be able to tell from the photos. I really wanted to get these books -- and all books -- in Kindle format. But they're just too expensive. As I understand it, publishers are intentionally over-pricing e-book editions in order to prop up paper books (and paper bookstores). LOL! Good luck with that. It's interesting to see these buggy whip manufacturers go down kicking and screaming.
     For example, Frontiersmen in Blue sells for $24 on Kindle. I mean, c'mon man, that's not even serious. Hate to tell ya, but I'm not paying that for a trade paperback, either. I got it used for a couple of bucks. I'm glad, too, because, well, it's just not all that good.

     But let's start with a book that is all that good...mostly. If you read Andersonville by this same author, then you know what awaits you in Spirit Lake. It's a novel of an 1850s massacre that occurred in the Spirit Lake region of Iowa. It's written in a kind of stream of consciousness. Not for everyone. You have to really love language as much as story to enjoy this. As you remember from Andersonville, Kantor can be a tad over-exuberant in his use of words, to put it lightly. To put it heavily, there are times when he just vomits words all over the page. So prepare yourself for that. I'm 300 pages into this 800+ page novel, and so far the author paints a compelling picture of mid-19th century America. 

800 pages of densely-packed verbiage. A 1/2" square chit for scale.
      This book is out of print. I've long wanted to read it, so didn't mind paying $14 for a used mass market paperback. Impressed with the book, I went to purchase Andersonville for my Kindle only to find that the publisher has set the price at $20. I guess they think they can stem the tide of progress. If so, they'll be the first! Off to the used bookstore again. Sigh...

     A couple more, both by Robert Utley: Frontiersmen in Blue and Frontier Regulars. These are something like parts 1 and 2 of a military history of the American West. The first covers the years 1848-1865, the second from '65-'91.
     I read Frontiersmen in Blue and found it informative but dry. Utley, I think, is an academic, and he definitely writes like one. Very by-the-numbers. But I found some good Indian Wars gaming scenarios in there from some little-known campaigns (at least to me) in Oregon and Washington among other places. It's a good reference book, if nothing else. I don't expect anything more from Frontier Regulars. They're both heavy, meaty books with some maps and plenty of photos.

     Forty Miles on Beans and Hay is a much better choice for enjoyable reading than the Utley books. It's pretty much everything you wanted to know about the frontier army during the Indian Wars. Rickey's a good writer and offers a complete -- and personal -- portrait of the frontier soldier of the day. Essential reading for reenactors and wargamers. You won't find any formal description of proscribed tactics used during battle, however -- because there weren't any. Tactics were pretty much improvised on the spot. The formal tactics of the day were for use against modern armies and not Indian bands, who were not considered a significant enough threat to warrant a tactical doctrine. Still, the book discusses weapons and tactics, at least as they were employed in the field. But I was a little disappointed in this aspect of the book. An entertaining read, though.

     If you want a good book on army life on the frontier, Eugene Ware's book is the one to read. He was an officer at Fort Kearney Nebraska during the Civil War. He's also a top-notch writer. The Indian War of 1864 is the somewhat mis-titled account of, well, just day-to-day life on the frontier. I love eye-witness accounts and this is one of the best out there. You learn stuff you've never heard before, such as how the Indians had a superstitious fear of telegraph wires after a group of them were hit by lightning while cutting some down and attempting to steal it. Just the parade of colorful characters that show up at the fort as they travel west (or back east) is almost unbelievable. Like characters from Mark Twain. If you have a Kindle, this book is free on Amazon. I recommend it without reservation.

     While I'm thinking about it, another good first-hand account is My 60 Years on the Plains. The author was a mountain man and Indian fighter. In those days, the Blackfeet were the main nemesis. Also, free, if I remember, on Kindle.


     I like to travel light, so not much survives a move. I've recently purged my entire paper book library. In this age of the e-book, who wants to lug around a thousand pounds of books wherever he goes? I had read all of my books already and I wasn't about to re-read them. I simply couldn't. It's such a quaint, archaic notion to open a book and read, isn't it? Difficult, too -- especially the big fat ones. I can't believe we ever did it.
     That's why it's so surprising that I still have in my possession two of my oldest books. Are they prize possessions? No, not really. They're just old and -- okay, I'll admit it -- I have a bit of soft spot for them.
     Hearken back with me now to Christmas eve, 1974. I loved these books when I got them and, okay, I love them still.

Sherlock has lost his dust jacket. I say! And Bram's is looking a little threadbare.
Maybe the only truly frightening horror story I've ever read.
The childish scrawl of a 14-year-old. Not much has changed -- except I type now.
"Left Munich at 8:35..." What a great way to start a journey!
These stories are now on my Kindle.
Who doesn't love Sherlock?
     It's a little sad, I guess, this passing of paper books. But seriously, my Kindle, weighing ounces, contains my entire former library weighing tons. They're easier to read and, for the kind of books I like, cheaper, too. Even in '74, these books cost $3.95 apiece. I replaced them both on my Kindle for $0.00.
     The book is dead. Long live the book!