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Reading Slothfully

I was told in elementary school that I only could read at half the speed for success in college. Oh well, one benefit of slow reading is you get to live with the characters a longer period of time. I read in a vain attempt to better understand people. At my other homes, I'm known as a spouse, pop, guy in the choir, physical chemist, computer/web dilettante and child-care provider. In theory, I'm a published author, if you consider stuff like Quenching Cross Sections for Electronic Energy Transfer Reactions Between Metastable Argon Atoms and Noble Gases and Small Molecules to count as publications. I've strewn dozens of such fascinating things to the winds.

Currently reading

A Good Death
Christopher R. Cox
The Black Cargo
John P. Marquand
A Highland Christmas
M.C. Beaton
Tales from Moominvalley
Tove Jansson, Thomas Warburton
Moominland Midwinter
Tove Jansson, Thomas Warburton
On The Beach (Vintage Classics)
Nevil Shute Norway
The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett
Obscure Destinies
Willa Cather
A Start in Life (The Michael Cullen Novels)
Alan Sillitoe
Mobilizing Web Sites: Strategies for Mobile Web Implementation
Kristofer Layon

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy I'm pretty sure I read this back when I was living in London and had hour-long commutes, which gave me time for reading long books. The only thing I remembered was that Tess had some hardships and spent time one winter digging "Swedes" (Swedish turnips; actually, rutabaga) out of the frozen ground. Well, actually, that doesn't happen until well into the book, and is not exactly all that important in the overall story.

Quick synopsis: Tess, a beautiful, good hearted country girl, is driven insane by two privileged, egotistical assholes, one who takes pride in being rather a rake, the other a pompous, holier-than-thou moralist with a few skeletons in his own personal closet. But despite the gloomy plot trajectory, this is really a good book. Thomas Hardy was a gifted writer.

So, actually, Tess Derbyfield, is a beautiful, strong, hardworking country girl. Oh, I already said that. Anyway, her parents are rather silly, especially her father. The father hears that he is actually a direct descendant of a noble family, once prominent in their part of Wessex. The family was then known as D'Urberville, but all traces of the family seem to have disappeared. Tess' parents discover a rich, old lady not all that far away who goes by the name of D'Urberville, so send Tess off to claim kinship, hoping to get some support thereby. Tess goes, but meets only the roguish son of the old lady, not the lady herself. But, Tess is offered a place tending to the old lady's chickens and teaching her birds to sing. That works for a while, but the son, Alec, continues pressing his attentions on Tess. Eventually, Tess runs back home. But Alec insists on helping her flee from him (weird, huh?) and then seems to "seduce" her. Probably, he raped her, but books weren't all that explicit in olden days. All we know is that Tess returns home pregnant.

Eventually, Tess has a baby. The baby dies a few months after birth. Tess gets depressed. Eventually, she goes off to a farm in the opposite direction to become a milk maid. There is a well-off, third son of a clergyman, Angel Clare, working the farm. His father refused to send him to university (because Angel wasn't theologically pure enough, or something), so the son must learn to make his way. His approach is to apprentice himself as a farmworker in a number of places so as to learn all the intricacies of farming. Then he'll buy a farm, either in England or in America (or the colonies). All the milkmaids fall hopelessly in love with Mr. Clare, but he clearly favors Tess. Tess, for her part, because she has been besmirched, tries to turn his head toward one of the other milkmaids, but he won't have it.

Eventually, stuff happens and Angel and Tess marry: she relents after repeated refusals. She tries to tell him why she is "unworthy", but doesn't get to why until the evening after their wedding. Once the wedding is over, it's confession time. Angel first, then Tess. Well, he's no Angel, having sewed a few wild oats in his time, so to speak. But for some reason, he takes amiss that Tess was "disadvantaged" by another egoist who was "sewing a few wild oats" himself. The old story that rules for the goose don't apply to the gander. So, Angel decides they must not consummate the marriage. Rather, after a few days, they part. Angel goes off to try his hand at farming in Brazil. Tess soon loses what money Angel provided, mostly by trying to help out her imprudent family, and she is too proud to apply to Angel's parents for additional funds. Thus, Tess is off looking for farm-labor jobs and ends up at the place where she was digging Swedes in wintertime.

Naturally, bad things happen. Angel gets very sick in Brazil and loses touch with Tess. Alec shows up again and renews his attempts to "seduce" her. Tess' father dies and her mother and siblings are evicted from their house. And so forth. It's not a happy book.

But, although it might not be a happy book, it is a very good one. Hardy is a gifted writer and does a wonderful job of "showing" the lives of his characters. One gets a great feel for the lives of the farm folk working the farms, of the changing of the seasons, of the various aspects of the countryside, and so forth.

I've taken rather a shine to Hardy in the past year. And to think my interest in Hardy was all because I fell in love, via a picture in Time magazine, with an actress who was playing one of his heroines in a recent movie adaptation of one of Hardy's works. Please don't tell my spouse.

Foy: On the Road to Lost

Foy: On the Road to Lost - Gordon  Atkinson To me, Gordon Atkinson will always be the Real Live Preacher (RLP). Even though he no longer holds a position as a church pastor, he is still preaching the word, to me at least. This book, Foy: On the Road to Lost, is yet another example of his still preaching.

I first got to know Gordon Atkinson (aka RLP, as I'll call him during the rest of this self-indulgent excuse of a "review") when I discovered his web site back sometime around 2005 or 2006. I had a lot of dead time in the lab waiting for things to happen (I was slowly heating things up until they exploded) and so, I spent some of that "waiting" time surfing the web. I believe he began the site in 2004, so I got on board, so to speak a year or two after he began that site. At the time Gordon was the pastor of a small (I think) Baptist church in Texas.

I didn't know much about Baptists then, although some of my Kansas cousins on my maternal grandfather's side were Baptists. He and my mother's people were Methodists. Anyway, what I thought I knew of Baptists was the most obvious, and odious, form of them, the Southern Baptists. If rank-and-file Southern Baptists are anything like their more prominent "leaders"—e.g. Al Mohler, Robert Jeffress, Richard Land, Franklin Graham, etc.—they would be a more ignorant and bigoted group of people than you could ever hope to meet. An object lesson of all that's opposed to the Jesus' "good news". My guess is Southern Baptists are, by and large, wonderful people who just got stuck with the dregs of humanity populating their leadership ranks. [sorry for the digression; on to RLP]

But RLP, as I'll refer to Gordon—I hope he'll forgive me—was clearly cut from different cloth. He, like my other favorite Baptist, Fred Clark (a.k.a. Slacktivist), was a thinker and questioner. RLP (and Slactivist), understood that the human condition was complex, that the questions about what came first and what comes last were not straightforward. In short, RLP was one of the most honest thinkers of the human condition I had yet encountered.

So, anyway, RLP would post various musings about life and spirituality, musings that resonated with me, a lowly UCC (pronounced uhck; allegedly it stands for United Church of Christ; sometimes people refer to UCC as "Unitarians considering Christ", or occasionally, to our "old" New England name, Congregationalists). Along with his musings about this and that, RLP also posted stories about a guy named Foy Davis. That is the genesis of this book. It seems that RLP has written some 41 stories about Foy, although I'm not sure they were all posted on RLP.com back in the day. He's still writing/revising them. He has collected 25 of them into this volume. Another volume is to come out later in the year. There may be more to follow, it's not completely clear. RLP is being coy, but does promise a finale of sorts.

What we have here are a series of vignettes in the life of Foy Davis. His life from beginning to end is to be sketched out in these vignettes, although not chronologically. When we're done, after another volume or two, we'll find out that Foy, like most of us, was an authentic person who had his failings all the while trying to be a good person. Something like that.

Atkinson is a gifted writer. He is very good at helping us see into the mind of his character, by relating universal, albeit trivial, instances in day-to-day living. I was blessed with an advanced copy of this book, and I can't wait for the next.

Normally, I read on Kindle, so am not generally exposed to decent typography. But, I read the dead-tree version of this book, and one of its great features was the typography. The typography in this book is better than you find in most dead-tree books, and certainly way above anything one could reproduce on a Kindle. I think the type face was something like Caslon Antique. Whatever, it gave a particularly graceful look to the telling of Foy's life. So, even if you aren't interested in reading about the all-too-common struggles of Foy's attempts to find meaning in his life, read this book for its presentation.

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame My spouse tried to throw some cold water on my Moomin infatuation and challenged me to read "the good stuff", e.g. The Wind in the Willows or Winnie The Pooh. I have a vague recollection that The Wind in the Willows wasn't read in my family when I was young. The family myth is that it was one of my father's favorite books, but that he tried reading it to my older brother when he was too young for it. So, my father didn't bother reading it to my sister and me when we came along. Interestingly, my older brother turned into an English major. You'd think he would have shown an appreciation of good literature at a very early age.

I do have a vague recollection that I might have read this to my daughter, but I'm guessing that if I had, it was one of those "as told by" versions. Anyway, I'm a bit at a loss as to what to say. In some ways, I'm hard pressed to see this as a children's book because the writing is so beautiful, with vocabulary and imagery somewhat above the head of your average 11-year old. I might be selling 11-year olds short. It's been so long since I was one or since I had one living in my house. In another six years, I might again know what 11-year olds are like, but I'll also likely be descending into senility by the time my grandson turns 11. Also, he'll likely not be spending nearly so much time at our house by then (in part, we hope, because his father will likely no longer be living in our basement).

Anyway, this is an absolutely wonderful book. It begins with mole getting tired of spring cleaning and going off on a ramble across the fields. He reaches the river and meets up with a water rat. They become best friends. What ensues are a number of adventures involving a rather egotistical and foolish toad, a clever badger, an otter and a number of other creatures. The adventures are fun and the descriptions of the settings is lyrical. The subject matter is the stuff of kids' books, but the writing is pure gold for adults.

It Can't Happen Here

It Can't Happen Here - Sinclair Lewis Yikes! This one is eerie in light of recent events.

My musician son has taken up reading dystopian novels. This one surely fits the bill. It was written not long after the Nazi's took over Germany. People in America kept assuring themselves "it can't happen here". But in this book, it does "happen here". A closely fought democratic election installs a charismatic autocrat in the White House, an autocrat who appears to be controlled by a media-savvy puppet master (sound familiar yet?). Soon thereafter, we see major increases in violence against marginalized groups, immigrants and negroes. We see a crack down on the media: first beginning as public disparagement of the more independent parts of the media; later on the actual infiltration of the media by government lackeys. Naturally, opposition politicians start getting arrested. No one is sure whom to trust: old friends become new enemies. Something like that. It seemed a bit fantastical, but we're now seeing, some eighty years later, that such things "can happen here". With luck, we'll dodge the bullet, and manage to extract ourselves from the malevolent forces we just elected. But that remains to be seen. Also, cleaning up the mess will be arduous.

Moominsummer Madness

Moominsummer Madness - Tove Jansson, Thomas Warburton I think this might be my favorite Moomin book so far. It's the fourth I've read. It's midsummer in Moomin Valley and Snuffkin has yet to return from his winter adventures. Moomintroll is missing him terribly. But, the local volcano erupts and causes a stir in the ground, or something, which causes the sea to rise and engulf the Moomin house. About the time the water gets up to the roof, a sort of cave floats by and they all jump into it. It's a strange cave, with red velvet curtains, lots of nice pictures in the rafters, and rows of lights along the open side, the one with the red curtains. There's also someone who cackles in the night. Eventually, they find it's a theater in which they're living and the cackling comes from a properties mistress (or something). They decide to put on a play, which Moominpappa has chosen to write. But different people want different things, so Moominpappa keeps having to revise his script. In the meantime, Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden have been arrested for destruction of property. The actual destruction was done by Snuffkin, who was on his way back to Moomin Valley from his adventures. Along the way, he found Little My floating on the ocean, and has picked up some 24 Woodie children. Being a father is tough on a born wanderer. Anyway, somehow they all end up at the play, escape from the Hemulic police and make their way back to Moomin Valley and back to the Moomin house. They have to fix quite a bit up, but it's always good to be home.

The above is undoubtedly garbled and misses out on some delightful new characters, The Whomper and Misabel. Anyway, it was a rather charming story, which is just what is needed in to distract our minds from all the cruelty now being imposed by our brand-new, kleptocratic government. As Jimmy Buffet would have it, "if we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane". The Moomins keep us grounded, keep us laughing, and keep us from going insane. Bless their hearts.

Moominpappa's Memoirs (Moomintrolls)

Moominpappa's Memoirs (Moomintrolls) - Tove Jansson This reads a bit like a prequel to the first two Moomins books I read. In those books, Moominpappa spends a lot of his time up in his study, writing his memoirs. In this book, the memoirs of his early life are recounted. In essence, he's reading them to Moomintroll, Sniff and Snuffkin, occasionally taking a break so we know they're there. Once in a while Momminmamma wanders into one of the breaks in the memoir reading.

Anyway, in his early years, Moominpappa (who is obviously not a pappa at that point) lives in a foundling house run by a Hemulen Aunt. She is rather bossy. He runs away and comes across Hodgkins, who views himself as being an inventor. Hodgkins builds a ship, and they sail off together, in company of the Muddler and the Joxer. It turns out that the Muddler and the Joxer are the fathers of Sniff and Snuffkin, so that maintains their interest in the adventures. Eventually, they arrive at the Autocrat's Island. The Autocrat hires Hodgkins as his royal inventor, or some such. Hodgkins settles down to rebuilding his boat, Oshun Oxstra (meant to be Ocean Orchestra, but the painter, Hodgkins nephew, the Muddler, didn't spell particularly well) as a flying boat. Moominpappa needs an occupation, so gathers up a ragtag bunch into a colony, The Royal Outlaw Colony. Well, as happens in Moomin books, new creatures (beings?) show up and are brought into the fold, including the Mymble's Daughter, The Mymble herself along with oodles of her children, including, eventually, Little My (who, I gather, becomes more prominent in later Moomin Books), and a ghost. Also the Fuzzy, who marries the Muddler, thus giving Sniff two parents. Toward the end, Moominpappa rescues Moominmamma from the sea and we've most of the group assembled for the previous adventures and the ones to come (presumably, I've not read ahead). There are, of course, additional adventurous activities going on and additional creatures (beings?) encountered. Yes, this menagerie is a bit confusing, but they're also charming and, for the most part, good natured and well meaning. We can use a bit of that these days. Oh, I should not forget that we also have quite a number of charming drawings of the characters in this book. The drawings really help to keep the disparate characters straight.

An Old Captivity

An Old Captivity - Nevil Shute Donald Ross is a young man who learned flying in the military, then honed his craft flying about Canada, learning the intricacies of flying over the water and in remote places. He gets a job with an archeologist, Mr. Lockwood, who wants to investigate the possibility of Celtic settlements on Greenland. The operation is to be financed by Lockwood's rich, industrialist brother. There's a clinker, however, it seems that Lockwood's frumpy and prickly daughter, Alix, is to join the expedition. To Ross, that doesn't bode well, but he does need a job and likes the challenge.

So, they head off. In Iceland, Ross begins having sleep problems. He procures a prescription of "propylin" (no idea what that might be). The first few nights, he sleeps like the dead and wakes up refreshed. But as the journey progresses, he begins having strange dreams. He begins reliving the life of some early settler to Greenland hundreds of years previously. Strangely, Alix seems to appear in the dreams as well. He even begins seeing "remembered" landmarks. Something like that.

This being Nevil Shute, the book is chock full of nerdy technical details about planes and engines and flying into and out of sea landings and how to secure sea planes and so forth. Still, it's quite a good yarn, as are all Nevil Shute tales, albeit somewhat more mystical than most of his works. Truly a GoodRead.

Finn Family Moomintroll

Finn Family Moomintroll - Tove Jansson, Elizabeth Portch I thought this was rather fun. It's sort of cute little creatures going on with adventures of one kind and another. Sometimes there is danger, but they find ways to get out of it. Sometimes weird things happen, like the loss of Moominmamma's purse. But, when it's found again—actually someone nabbed it because the inside pockets made a nice snug place to sleep—the joy is so great that they have a giant party for the whole of Moomin Valley.

I dunno, I rather like the idea of taking joy in life and in gathering up strange waifs to add to one's family (obviously, the Moomins wouldn't have a problem taking in refugees, unlike some folks we could mention). My spouse found the first book in this series that I checked out to be just too bland for her liking, so she wouldn't read this, the second one I checked out. She did, however, return both Moomin books to the library for me, bless her heart.

I have a feeling, whatever my spouse might think, that I'm not done with the Moomins. But first, my spouse insists I re-visit Pooh and The Wind in the Willows. And so I shall: I've found kindle versions of both. [Nope, I didn't. I went to the library to snag more Moomins]

Comet In Moominland

Comet In Moominland - Tove Jansson My cousin, Diane, has some fascination/connection with Finland, and that's where I first encountered Moomins, from perusing her FaceBook posts. I gather that they are sort of hippo-like forest trolls, or something. No idea, but apparently in Finland they're wildly popular. I read a book by the Moomin creator, Jove Jansson, but it had nothing to do with Moomins, just weird, slightly depressed Finnish people. So, I finally broke down and went to the library to get a dead-tree Moomin book because my library didn't carry any kindle books featuring Moomins. [It was my first time in our newly refurbished library, and I must say it's awesome. I might take up reading dead-tree books again just to have the chance to go to the library more often.]

Anyway, this was a most delightful book. Just what I needed after finishing something about the horrors of racism. So, Moomintroll lives in a blue Moominhouse with Moominmamma and Moominpapa. I think, maybe, Sniff, who is a "little animal"—sort of like a mouse perhaps—, also lives with them. First Moomintroll and Sniff go off on an adventure and discover a cave. They also come in contact with Snuffkin, a wanderer, with whom they become fast friends. Then they hear about a comet that is hurtling toward earth. So they're off on another adventure to an observatory to ask the scientists about the comet and it's potential dangers. They collect up some more companions along the way, most notably Snork Maiden, with whom Moomintroll develops a romance. They discover that the comet is indeed a danger and they have only a short time to warn people in Moomin valley to flee. They get back, just in the nick of time, move all their stuff into the cave and survive the comet. Something like that.

My synopsis is, of course, a bit simple minded, but that's not the fault of the book. This is a delightfully written story that reads like a very good bed time story, somewhat like the first couple of Dr. Doolittle books or The Hobbit. Interestingly, I conned my spouse into reading this book and she was less impressed. "A bit bland", I think was her comment. She thought I'd be better served by re-reading The Wind in the Willows, or Winnie the Pooh. So, now I have those two in kindle format for reading in the near future. But first, the next in the Moomin series, Finn Family Moomintroll.

Kingsblood Royal

Kingsblood Royal - Sinclair Lewis Neil Kingsblood is a banker in a small city in Minnesota. He lives a Dick and Jane life in the suburbs with his wife, Vestal, and his 5-year old daughter, Elizabeth, known as Biddy. Neil's father gets him interested in some old family lore about how they might be related to royalty and convinces Neil that he should do some geneological research. What Neil learns is that he had a great, great, great grandfather who was a negro and who married an Chippewa Indian. Thus, Neil, had a drop of "tainted" negro blood, making him "tainted" as well.

What to do? Should he tell Vestal? His father? His boss and co-workers? It doesn't help that Neil lives in a horrifically racist society. More racist by ignorance than direct intention. So, first of all, he decides to befriend some negroes and try to learn a bit more about them. It turns out, that negroes are mostly normal people, just like the rest of us. This revelation doesn't help Neil all that much. He still needs to know coping mechanisms for dealing with the racism of others. He still worries about his marriage and his "tainted" child. After all, if no one knows about his tainted blood, what's the harm?

But, he can't help himself. He admits to one person and another about his taint. Naturally, no individual person is prejudiced, but, you know, "other" people will begin to complain, and that will be bad for business, or lower property values, or whatever.

It's weird to read this stuff thinking that we've come a long way in the last 70 years, then realize that we just elected a President who is totally ignorant about the basics of government, ethics, the Constitution, Christianity, you name it. But, he knows how to play on people's race fears. For the first time since 1948, it became "safe" for the Klu Klux Klan to publicly endorse a Presidential Candidate. Yeah, we're so over racism in the U.S. ["Oh, but it's not me, but we do have to worry about our business model, and ...."]

A Christmas Carol (Great Illustrated Classics)

A Christmas Carol  (Great Illustrated Classics) - Malvina G. Vogel, Charles Dickens I thought I'd like to re-read this one. So my spouse handed me a copy. It was a real copy. But then, she took that copy away and left me reading this "adapted" copy. That is, someone (Malvina G. Vogel) decided they could do a better job than Dickens writing the English language, or something. In all fairness, I think this was a kids' edition, and needed to be a bit shorter/more straightforward than what the master himself produced. Dickens does, after all, tend to blather away in such a way as to entertain adults, but, perhaps, mostly befuddle 11-year olds.

Anyway, is is a Dickens storyline, and you'd have a hard time doing better than that. I've read this story before, alone and in groups, and also seen multiple film adaptations. With Dickens, the story never grows old. This version had lots of nice drawings to reinforce the text. I liked them. Next time, however, I'll hunt up a real Dickens version, illustrations or no.

Armadale

Armadale - Wilkie Collins This is a rather long, somewhat confusing, but extremely engaging book. First of all, there's an Alan Armadale who is in the process of dying in a Swiss health resort. He's there with his mulatto wife and his young son, also named Alan Armadale. Before he dies, he writes a confession, which is to be read by his son, but only after he reaches his majority.

It seems the Elder Armadale inherited a plantation in the West Indies, provided he took on the name Alan Armadale. This he did. He was also supposed to go off to Madeira and meet a young lady with whom he was supposed to marry. But he was held up by circumstances, and someone else snuck off to Madeira, impersonated himself as Alan Armadale, and, with much help from a 12- or 14-year old lady's maid, took the woman off and married her just before the "real" Alan Armadale showed up. Then, on the trip from Madeira back to England, the "real" Alan Armadale comes across a foundering ship in a storm. Everyone is saved, with the exception of the "fake" Alan Armadale, whom the "real" Alan Armadale locks in the captain's cabin to drown. Something like that.

The murderer feels guilty and is sure that his sin will be meted upon his son's head. His son is also named Alan Armadale, and is bi-racial, his father having married a West-Indian woman. Anyway, the father dies and his son is taken off with his mother and abused by a Scottish gentleman who has taken the mother to wife. This Alan Armadale, we'll call him the "dark" Armadale, runs away and lives a rough life on his own. He changes his name to Ozias Midwinter.

Eventually, Midwinter, still a wanderer at 21 or so, finds himself deathly sick. He is visited, be-friended, and nursed back to health by a jolly young fellow of similar age. The jolly young fellow is fair and is named Alan Armadale (hereafter the "fair" Armadale). He is the son of the "fake" Armadale and the young woman with whom he eloped. They become the best of friends, and remain so even after the "dark" Armadale finally reads his father's warning never to have dealings with anyone associated with the tragedy in which he murdered the "fake" Armadale. He is to eschew relations with anyone named Alan Armadale, and more importantly, with the lady's maid who is more-or-less responsible for having engineered the original fraud.

Well, as you can tell, the story is convoluted, but becomes even more so when the lady's maid who helped with the earlier elopement comes back into the story. She's hoping to charm the "fair" Armadale and share in his riches. But, she's really taken with the "dark" Armadale.

Well, I'm sure you all are confused as hell by now. So am I. Whatever, it's a very interesting and compelling book. Collins was a wildly popular Victorian author, like Dickens, but unlike Dickens, he is much less read today. Pity that.

I can't leave off without dissing, once again, the folks at Amazon. In their recent kindle offerings they claim to provide "real" page numbers. Well, this book has just under 300,000 words in it (I counted them), but Amazon's "real" page numbering algorithm credits the book with 425 "real" pages. Can anyone point me to a significant number of novels that have 700 words per page? The normal word count for novels is between 250 and 400 words per page. For example, my Modern Library edition of Brothers Karamazov has 940 pp. That novel runs 350,000 words (I counted them). Modern Library editions are known for small margins and small font sizes. Even so, we're only talking 372 words/page for Brothers K, just over half what Amazon considers valid for this particular edition. Clearly, whoever came up with this "real" page algorithm doesn't even have the competence of an average 12-year old nerd. WTF?

Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe Mysteries)

Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe Mysteries) - Rex Stout This edition actually contains two novellas, along with an introduction by Lawrence Block, a noted author of crime novels. Black orchids (the flowers) appear in both novellas, but they are otherwise unrelated, other than having in common Nero Wolfe and his able assistant, Archie Goodwin. I read this book to get a handle on real Nero Wolfe stories so as to see if some of the stylistic tics that appeared in Alan Vanneman's Three Bullets, were Vanneman's own stylistic tics or actual mimicking of Stout himself.

These two stories, themselves, weren't particularly interesting or memorable, and now, a few weeks later, I can barely remember them. One of our friends in Pittsburgh, back a number of decades ago, was a big Wolfe fan. I'm not sure why. I doubt I'll be reading any more Wolfe stories any time soon. Part of the reason, I think, is because Wolfe is such an egotistical asshole. I have enough egotistical assholes in my life; I don't need to read about them.


Black Orchids [***]

Wolfe is hired to investigate some blight that is beginning to run rampant at a flower show. Was the introduction of the blight intentional or inadvertent? Wolfe agrees to investigate, but only if he is given some rare black orchids. Wolfe then sends his assistant Archie Goodwin off to the flower show to keep an eye on things. Mostly, Archie keeps an eye on a particular exhibit in which a shepherd and a nymph cavort in a glade (something like that). The nymph has nice legs that she dangles enticingly in a pool. Archie decides he wants to marry her. The shepherd naps under a newspaper each day at a certain time. But one day, the shepherd doesn't wake up. He's been murdered. Eventually, Wolfe/Archie finger whodunnit.


Cordially Invited to Meet Death [***]

I've pretty much completely forgotten this one. Something about a society lady who supports herself throwing fancy parties for the idle rich.

Three Bullets: A new Nero Wolfe Threesome

Three Bullets: A new Nero Wolfe Threesome - Alan Vanneman This is a collection of three novellas, each featuring the famous literary detective, Nero Wolfe. I suppose one might say this is fan fic. The first was set in 1935, contemporaneous with the early Rex Stout novels featuring Nero Wolf. The latter two were set in modern times, i.e. the opening years of the 21st century. The novellas were originally published serially on the author's web site. He has subsequently packaged the novellas into a single ebook and which he offers to all takers for free.


Invitation to a Shooting Party [***+]

Set in the 1930s. A rich dowager wants to hire Wolf to break up the marriage between her granddaughter and heir and a British Lord. The granddaughter won't have it, in part because she's as stubborn and willful as is her grandmother. Wolfe doesn't do divorce cases, but eventually relents enough to send Archie Goodwin, his ever faithful sidekick down to the Poconos to the rich woman's estate. The extended family are gathered there for a shooting party, shooting deer, grouse and what not. One of the party is shot. An accident or murder?

I'm not familiar enough with Nero Wolfe to tell if the writing style is similar to Rex Stout's. I assume it is, given that the author, Alan Vanneman spends much of his time reading and musing. This novella is competently written and worth one's time.


Fame Will Tell [ ***- ]

Set in modern times, i.e. after 2000. Wolfe desperately needs money to restore his roof-top green house. So he agrees to consider taking on a case involving three bodelicious young black woman in a super group, Black Pussy Cat.

It seems that the group's manager is trying to get them signed to a big deal either with a big-time, hip-hop promoter, or with Sony. But the manager from their early days and her ex-con boyfriend show up and try to horn in on a piece of the action. Then some people get murdered and Wolfe's special analytical skills are required to finger the culprit and get the suspected member of the super group off the hook. Meh!

Politics is Murder [ **]

Ann Coulter seems to think she's being black mailed by an old friend who has a tape she recorded when she was beginning to practice her on-air personna, but with a twist, apparently. She wants the tapes found/destroyed. The old friend ends up murdered. Ann is a suspect. Ann, one of the ickiest people alive (I don't like professional liars), has an affair with Archy. Yeech!

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates Wow, is this guy pissed off. But he has a right to be. Those of us who grew up in and still live in Dick and Jane land have no idea what it's like for the folks we have intentionally barred from our Dream World. Mr. Coates tries to tell us.

From as early as he can remember, he was afraid for his body. It might be thugs on the streets when he was a young boy making his way to school. It might be his parents whose primary form of discipline was "the belt". Later on, the cops in Prince George's County who were notorious for stopping and occasionally killing black men (this long before we ever knew about Ferguson, MO; but operating similarly to Ferguson's oppressive pattern). He found occasional respite from this fear at The Mecca, Howard University, and later on, in Paris.

The book is written as a long letter to his son. It explains Coates' quest to understand the world around him and also to warn his son of the stacked deck facing all people of color in the U.S. Our country's wealth is basically derived from the plunder of black lives, first in the enslavement of black people, later in the Jim Crow system; then we had red lining, wherein "those people" were kept out of our "Dick and Jane" neighborhoods (but charged extra to live in their own); and so on to Ferguson, where "those people" were stopped, frisked and ticketed to make up for any short-falls in the city's budget. One could go on.

Interesting to me is that Coates grew up in Baltimore, a neighborhood not all that far from the fancy church I attended whilst growing up. I'm sure we drove past Coates' neighborhood pretty much every Sunday, albeit some 20 or 30 years before he was born. I had no clue about these issues going on. Out in my "Dick and Jane" land, life was idyllic. Yeah, our fancy church did some afternoon reading programs for the city kids, but we never had a clue as to how horrible their lives might be, nor how our lovely suburbs had, to some extent, been financed on the backs of "those unfortunate people". Gah!

But, I still don't know what to do, other than try to find ways to convince my ignorant in laws that their vote for Trump has already begun reversing the meager gains we've made over the past 40 or so years regarding civil rights. "We're gonna fix inner city crime by re-instituting "stop and frisk". I tell ya, it's going to be great. " Sheeesh!

The Spider, Master of Men! #40: Dictator of the Damned

The Spider, Master of Men! #40: Dictator of the Damned - Grant Stockbridge, Emile C. Tepperman Kind of like reading a super-hero comic book. Fancy literature this is definitely not. On the other hand, it's not all that bad if all you want is good guys and bad guys shooting each other up, and the good guys winning in the end.

So, somebody is taking over New York City. Several chiefs of police have been murdered or locked up in insane asylums. Ditto a couple of mayors. Thus it become imperative that the Spider, once again patrol the streets and clean things up. The Spider had other ideas, such as marrying his sweetheart and going off on a honeymoon, but eventually the call of duty prevails. So, aided by his trusty "servants" (the Spider was actually a rich guy with servants), a Sikh and a former pugilist (? too lazy to check back), the Spider wipes out the bad guys and restores law and order to NYC. The restoration involves much shooting and mayhem.

FWIW, this book is listed as having zero pages because my ebook was based on a long-lost pulp. So, not being able to cross check the pulp, we're required, I'm told, to say the book has zero length. In reality, it's about 41,000 words, which would work out to something like 120 pp.