Friday, December 9, 2016

The Tunnels

The Tunnels:
Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill
By Greg Mitchell
Crown 2016

I am fascinated by history. The broad strokes and the minutiae. I am especially intrigued by the way the conflicts of the Twentieth Century are viewed. One of the most interesting areas to me is how the conquerors divvy up their spoils and the long-term effects of those decisions and negotiations. This book scratched all of these itches and added a personal touch that is absent from most history books.

As the Cold War raged on, the Soviets placed a crude fence then a concrete wall on the line that separated the East from the West; separating families and friends and accelerating the already tense situation.

Mr. Mitchell lays out the background then weaves a deeply human story surrounding the efforts of those stuck in the Totalitarian East to escape to Freedom. If that wasn't enough, television personalities from competing networks are racing to show the world the great lengths that people will go to to tunnel under the wall; and to profit from the story.

Wait, there's more. The Kennedy Administration believes that showing the tunnels and tunnelers will ratchet up the tension and it tries to quash the network's stories. The author gives us a rare peek into the crude attempts at the censorship of Presidential Administrations.

I enjoyed this book immensely. The anecdotes and personal stories of the tunnelers set against the background of Geopolitics and the attempts to tell the story are marvelous.
The book can be purchased here.
After reading the book if you would like to see the NBC documentary that finally did air, you can find it here.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Live and Let Die

If you're a fan of fun books and are looking for something well
written as a change of pace, try the 2008 reprints of the James
Bond Classics.
I found this book at the Good Will, so it cost me a buck.
Of course, I was attracted by the lurid cover.
While the language is not politically correct, the prose is tight
and fun as hell.
If you find these in the wild, buy one or two and treat yourself
to a night or two in the 1950's world of spy versus spy and sexy fun time.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Orwell's Nose: A Pathological Biography

John Sutherland
Reaktion Press 2016

‘but it was shot through by a sharper reek of sweat, which -one knew this at the first sniff, though it was hard to say how -was the sweat of some person not present at the moment.’

This book is a Quirky and Snarky Treat!
It is not like any other biography you will ever read, or likely will ever read. And, that is a great thing! Mr. Sutherland has managed to write an unforgettable picture of an unforgettable writer. Sutherland, who has permanently lost his sense of smell, examines Orwell's life tangentially; through his descriptions of the fascinating world around him.
Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) was an incredibly fascinating person, and unlike
most writers, he lived the lives that he wrote about.

'four frightful words...The lower-classes smell'-the Road to Wigan Pier

It turns out, after reading this book, you will never read him the same again. Oh what a sense of smell! Here are some examples:

'Poverty is spiritual halitosis'

"Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.'

I have read about half of Orwell’s books, and I'm working my way through the rest, and I must say that I hardly knew ye, Mr. Blair.

'Their[Burmese Women] slender flanks and pointed breasts... the odour of spices that clung to their satiny skins.

If Mr. Sutherland writes more biographies like this gem, say on Marx or Conrad, I'm in.

'The hallway smelt of smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats.'
[Victory Gin] 'It gave off a sickly, oily smell, as of Chinese rice-spirit.'

So many quotes, so little space. What I can say is that if you've only read 1984 and Animal Farm, you are missing out. If I could I would suggest 'Why I write', it's short and is all kinds of fantastic.

Socialism, at least in this island, does not smell any longer of revolution and the overthrow of tyrants; it smells of crankishness, machine-worship, and the stupid cult of Russia. Unless you can remove that smell, and very rapidly, Fascism may win.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Hampdenshire Wonder

J  .D. Beresford 1911
Eyre & Spottiswoode

In an effort to ‘touch the roots of Science Fiction’, our book club is reading as many of the Pre-Golden Age classics as we can reasonably stomach. This might be a noble, but vain effort. But dammit, we’re going to try. I know you are anxiously awaiting my review of ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
According to the ‘Anatomy of Wonder’, which is an amazing reference for science fiction fans, this odd tale is the origin of the Superman Myth. Wikipedia gives him a hat-tip for creating the wunderkind. I’m not sold on this, certainly the New Testament may have something to say about this.
The book opens on a train where the narrator encounters a strange babe in the arms of his mother. To put it bluntly, the lad has a huge head and crazy eyes.

I thought the child was a freak; an abnormality: and such things disgust me."

Anyone who meet the eyes of this “Very Remarkable Child” is entranced and shaken. The only person who is immune to his gaze is the ‘Harrison idiot’  (his term), a man who was born with an overlarge head as well.
The narrator, whom I would label an unreliable one, then disappears for  a few years while the lad grows into a creepy toddler. There is nothing truly remarkable about his parents other than his father, Ginger, is a cricket wunderkind. For some odd reason, the author spends 23 pages of the book describing in minute detail the accomplishments of Ginger and the ins and outs of cricket bowling (pitching). This was for the most part incomprehensible.

If you are interested in pre golden age science fiction, read this book. What I can say is that I was initially unimpressed. Upon reflection, I would say my feelings are mixed.
I will tell you that the epilog is the best part. I kept thinking throughout the book that this would have been much better if Lovecraft would have written it.                                                              

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ghost Songs

Regina McBride
Tin House Books

“I am subject to enchantments.”

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for writing an honest review.

Regina sees the ghosts of her father, and other more terrible things, after he and her mother both commit suicide.

“They’re horrific, these things”... “Not like the strange, gentle ghost of my father.”

The author traces her early life through short vignettes of joy and heartbreak.
It reveals a grim portrait of a second generation Irish immigrant family. They must deal with the disappointment and guilt of losing the American Dream. The family moves to a place that is totally alien to their temperament, and they then turn toward bitterness and madness.
Having been raised Roman Catholic, I understand Catholic guilt, it is a powerful and terrible thing. It stays with you your whole life.

[suicide]”Anyone who does such a thing removes himself from the grace of God

I initially had some difficulty following the story as she jumps back and forth through the first twenty years of her life. We see her triumphs, happiness and her family's slow decent into madness. But, the style becomes a jarring Kaleidoscope of memories that draws you in.

I read the first part when I first received the ARC. I really wanted to find out how her parents died. But, I put it down, to finish a biograph of George Orwell.
When I picked it back up I was immediately sucked back in. I finished all but the last five pages in one evening.
I became interested in this woman’s life, entranced and concerned. While we don’t see a moment where all is resolved, that’s why this is a memoir, and not fiction. I would certainly recommend this book to someone who enjoys memoirs, and even those willing to try.
Perhaps a quote that I read sums up my feelings on memoirs, “None of it happened and all of it’s true”
I enjoyed this book very much!
You can purchase a copy here or here.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I Accuse

I Accuse
Irving Werstein
1967 Julian Messner. Pub

I purchased this older book from a library sale, it had come
from a high school library donation box. Unfortunately it did not
have a dust cover. I learned that after getting it home that no one had ever
checked it out... Since 1967.

That's forty nine years. I know this because that's how damned old I am. How many teenagers browsed past this slim tome during those years? Sad, it was, in it's limited scope, a very interesting read.
As a reader of history had heard tangentially heard of the Dreyfus case. But,
had no idea of the details.
Apparently it was, the most important legal proceedings in the history of France.
Well, I was curious.
To summarize, a Jewish artillery officer was falsely accused of selling military secrets to the Germans. At the time, France's Army had been disgraced and the entire country was languishing in an economic crisis, the blame was placed of course on the Jews.
This poor man who's only sin was to be a tad focused on his career, not
particularly gregarious, and, oh yeah, he was Jewish. He was framed, drummed
out of the Army by a Kangaroo court, and sentenced to life on Devil's Island.
DEVILS ISLAND for Christ's Sake! This telling of the story was entertaining,
and read like a spy novel. I really sympathized with Dreyfus and couldn't wait
to find out what happened. It does have a fairly happy ending though. Had I
been born in France I would have known the story. I finished the 189 pages
in a day, and enjoyed it immensely. This book is no longer in print.
It had an index, but no troublesome footnotes and such. Now, when I go back
and finish Barbara Tuchman's 'Proud Tower' I will know what she was
referring to. Let me know if you want to borrow it or buy a copy here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Essays Old and New

Falling in love is the one illogical adventure, the one thing of which we are tempted to think as  supernatural, in our trite and reasonable world. -Robert Louis Stevenson

Essays Old and New
Harcourt, Brace 1957

'Essay' is a somewhat broad term meaning ' a short personal writing on one

subject'. This could apply to many forms of media that we consume today.
Magazine articles and Blogs are some examples. I run across essay
collections frequently in my travels. What I enjoy most about them are that
they are short, cover a wide arrays of subjects and you get to discover new
to you writers. When in doubt, check out the table of contents.
I can't remember for sure where I got this one but it contains essays by:
Francis Bacon
Washington Irving
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mark Twain
Robert Louis Stevenson (on Falling in Love)
Winston Churchill
Elmer Davis
William Faulkner (Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech)

Occasionally I will find a collection of essays by a single author who's other writings I am familiar
with. The most recent finds include:
E. B. White, Joseph Heller, Denise Levertov, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, Barbara Tuchman, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ayn Rand.
If I could, I would recommend that you read one essay, put the book aside and read or do something else for a bit. Like a book of poetry, I think an essay collection by a single author loses a bit if you read it straight through. Enjoy!


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why Read Lovecraft?

"The most merciful thing in the world... is the inability of the human mind to correlate
all its contents."

It's 2016, why should we still read Lovecraft?
To be certain, some of his beliefs should make you cringe. But, you could say that about most of his contemporary's.
I've been reading a lot of Orwell and Conrad of late. Hey, they had wrong opinions about people who's skin was not the same color as theirs as well. Should we just chuck their books into the trash as well?
H.P. Lovecraft could tell a scary story better than anyone else. His prose is evocative and imaginative. And, most importantly he is responsible for an entire genre of amazing spine-tingling terror, Cosmic Horror

We are all just tiny bugs in this Universe, the unknowable can squash us anytime it wants to. Pay no attention to the sky and the dreams that come from the depths. Anything you learn will just drive you insane.
I hope that he has found the peace in the beyond that he did not have
in life.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Unlike many book collectors, I don't mind loaning my
books to my literate friends. Of course, I also forget to whom I
loaned them. Fortunately a partial solution exists.
The Bookplate.
A year or so ago I started bugging the Big Local Bookstore
about stocking bookplates. There is hardly any room on the
shelves with all that 'Duck Dynasty' shit, I get it. I did finally
track some down. They're OK, but not personalized. I do
realize that it affects the value of my books, but I do not collect
them for their monetary value.
Recently I have found some pretty awesome bookplates in tomes
I have added to my collection. I sent a scan of my favorite to
a purveyor of bookplates called Bookplate Ink  They can re-
produce them and personalize with my initials. That may be a
purchase for another day, but it may be something I must do. Feel
free to touch my books, but just bring them back, Please.

If you would like to learn more or just see some awesome
pics,check out this website:
American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Nose

The Nose,
Victor Gogol
Melville House

"On the 25th of March, there took place in Petersburg a most extraordinarily strange occurrence."

While enjoying a breakfast of bread and onions (yum) the local barber, Ivan Yakovlevich, finds a nose in the bread. Of course, he recognizes the
nose. It belongs or belonged to one Collegiate
Assessor Kovalyov, whom he shaved every
Wednesday and Sunday. His lovely wife thinks that he cut off the nose while snookered. Of course, like you do, he tries to get rid of the evidence. Not as easy as it sounds, actually.
Well, it gets weird after this, we find that a nose can have a mind of it's own. If you can track this fun story down, I recommend that you do. It's delightfully absurd, and pokes fun at the bourgeois society of the time.
I am very partial to the Melville House, Art of the Novella edition.
Melville House publishes single editions of just one Novella for a great price as part of an overall project, called the Art of the Novella.
Here's a special review series on their webbie about the 'Nose'. Including a cool retro cartoon based on the novella.
What a great idea. I can't tell you how many collections I have bought just to get one story that I really want to read. They are beautifully printed and are reasonably priced. Each are colored a different color, and when I get more than two, I'm sure they will look great on my shelf.  

Buy the 'the Nose' at Melville House

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

It's been at least twenty years since I first read 'Cat's Cradle'. I find KVJ's black humor entertaining, and it jives with my outlook on life.
Basically he believes that people do stupid things when they organize into large groups, the major religions are based on the worship of the penis, and war is the slaughter of the innocents.
KVJ's writing is certainly influenced by his WWII experiences. The futility of human struggle against his neighbors and the insanity of  Nuclear Weapons is a central theme in this book.
The spectre of the Cuban Missle crisis looms only a year behind 'Cat's Cradle's' publication.
Younger readers, including myself, have little context to compare to how terrifying that was . The slow and nebulous Global Warming threat and Terrorism are not even in the same ballpark.
It is hard to imagine how close humanity came to wiping themselves out for seemingly petty issues. Is that fear good for us. Did we learn anything. Certainly we've slowly ramped down the cold war rhetoric. If you asked most young people today I think the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction would rank pretty low on their list.
Everything would be much better if we just sat face to face with the soles of our feet touching as opposed to having our hands around each others throats. (See book for the fictional religion, Bokononism)
Before I began writing this review I did a very bad thing, I went online and read the Wikipedia entry. I shan't do that again. It's a perfectly fine and exhaustive, but it may have tainted the experience.
I had just finished reading it an hour before and enjoyed it very much. Perhaps I should have waited a day or two  before starting the review.
Why should you read this book? It's sometimes silly, with funny words and a goofy, yet appealing, made up religion.
It's poignant, dark, well written, and extremely readable. A good rainy day would suffice. Try it, you'll not regret it.
Buy Cat's Cradle on Amazon.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Animal Farm

Animal Farm
1946 Harcourt, Brace and Company
First American Edition
$12.00 used

Often, a book is worth more to you than the price you paid for it. I own several copies of 'Animal Farm'. I first read it in the '80s. In the period of time leading up to the year 1984 there was a renewed interest in the writing of George Orwell. For whatever reason he has always been one of my favorite writers.
Recently I have been able to track down and read some of his lesser known works. They include 'Why I write', 'Homage to Catalonia', and 'Burmese Days'.

~ I know, I am way behind on updating Goodreads, stop bugging me about it, Damnit!~ 

I ran across this first American Edition of 'Animal Farm' at the A-1 bookstore in Richville, OH. (if you've never been there, OMG) (Seriously, if you are local and want to go, let me know)
It has an excellent bookplate, and a reprint from the Book of the Month
Club News taped to the flyleaf (1946 tape, yay!)
Certainly 'Animal Farm' is a classic. And, quiet possibly, responsible for my love of political satire. It may also have piqued my fascination with Socialism.
This particular copy is a little worse for wear, but I am glad that I bought it and hope that someday my children or grandchildren will treasure it as well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


One of the many joys of buying old books is finding cool stuff that the previous owners have left betwixt the pages. Most of these treasures are called Ephemera.  In general, the word refers to printed material that is not meant to last forever. Used as a bookmark, or just forgotten, it can come in many forms. Above, is the haul that awaited me in a book sale copy of 'The Literature of England". It includes:

a pocket calendar from 1968
a course syllabus
class notes
several postcards
Heath Bar wrapper
theater ticket
and a beautiful embroidered bookmark

I have, over the years, found many interesting things in used books (including $150 in a copy of the 'Hobbit'). Feel free to share your stories in the comments section.
If you would like to learn more, visit the Ephemera Society of America  website.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Dictionary of Americanisms

A Dictionary of Americanisms
1951 The University of Chicago Press
Edited by Mitford M. Mathews
used $9.98 for the set

I found this two volume delight at the Last Exit Book Store in Kent, Ohio. I am a huge fanboy for interesting reference books. Now that I have a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, my next biblioconquest would have to be the Dictionary of American Regional English. Quite out of my price range and very obscure, unless someone knows about a Library sale I haven't heard of...
At any rate, this might be the next best thing.  It was modeled along the lines of the OED, but it contains only words and expressions that are truly American. Many are Native American words, loan words, cool-ass old timey Yankee Malaprops, and all kinds of Great Stuff! Here's an example:

I love leafing through these books, and I find something new every time. Currently Volume 1 is on my dictionary stand.
Quite honestly, I may never run across this gem ever again, and that's why I had to have it. If you'd like to see them, send me a message and buy me a cup of coffee.