A Visit to Washington-on-the -Brazos, Texas: Where the Republic of Texas Was Born

Today I enjoyed what has recently become a relatively rare Saturday with no prior commitments, a day made for wandering around on the open road until I figured out exactly how I wanted to spend the free time.  Eventually, I found myself stopping by the Texas State Historic Park about 75 miles from my front door called the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site.

The site is an especially important one in Texas history because it encompasses the very spot where the Texas Republic began, including a reconstruction of what Texans call Independence Hall, the building in which a prominent group of Texas settlers was meeting when it received Travis’s letter informing about the hopelessness of his position at the Alamo unless they immediately sent help to him. The Texans decided not to send reinforcements to the Alamo and the Mexican siege ended on March 6 with the deaths of every Texan there.

Sam Houston and the others meeting here in Washington did, however, declare independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836 and adopt the Texas constitution on March 17 before fleeing to escape the advancing Mexican Army.  Sam Houston and his men regrouped in time to defeat Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836 in a final battle that resulted in the Republic of Texas becoming a reality.

Some of the photos taken while walking the grounds of the park on this wonderful “spring” day are below:

img_0900

Independence Hall, Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas

img_0905

Small Amphitheater in Washington-on-the-Brazos Historic Park Site

img_0903

At Ferry Site on Brazos River Where Texas Settlers Crossed in Flight as Santa Anna’s Army Passed Just to the South of Here

img_0904

Pecan Tree from the 1830s, a Variety of the Pecan Tree Whose Nearest Relative Is Over 900 Miles Away in Mexico

img_0902

Brazos River Site of Original Ferry Landing (1830) Used to Carry Passengers and Goods into Washington

img_0901

Monument Beside Independence Hall Erected by Texas Schoolchildren in 1899

img_0899

Independence Hall, Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas

The International Thriller Writers “FaceOff”

m1011-c2

Kangaroo Skin Boot

I spent much of today driving between Spring and the little town I grew up in but left for good way back in 1972. It’s a round-trip of about four and one-half hours that I hardly every make anymore, but my brother-in-law operates a little shoe shop down there that I depend on to keep my boots in good repair so I still need to make the drive at least once a year. And since my two favorite pairs of boots (a pair of the softest kangaroo-skin ropers imaginable and a pair of Mexican-style leather cowboy boots) were ready for pick-up, this was the day to hit the road.

I really don’t mind the drive, although the fog was especially thick this morning just before daybreak, because I always make sure to have an audible book or two with me to help kill the time. One of the ones I brought along today, FaceOff, was produced as a fundraiser by the International Thriller Writers group in 2014, and is based on a rather brilliant premise: compile eleven short stories, each one co-written by a pair of the group’s more prominent members. The icing on this cake is that each writer agreed to feature his own most “beloved character” in a head-to-head meeting with the other writer’s most beloved character.

51ibw2l6nul-_sx326_bo1204203200_There is, for example, a story co-written by Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly in which the Patrick Kensie and Harry Bosch characters work together to solve simultaneously a cold case and a current child-kidnapping case. Another story, this one co-written by Ian Rankin and Peter James, features Scottish detective John Rebus and Jame’s Brighton detective Roy Grace (along with each of the men’s sidekicks) working together to verify a man’s supposed death-bed confession.

I listened to the first two discs today – encompassing three stories – and enjoyed each of the stories. It is particular fun to watch two fictional detectives I’m already familiar with work together to solve a crime, so the Lehane/Connelly story is my favorite so far. Other FaceOff collaborations include:

R.L. Stine / Lincoln Child                              M.J. Rose / D.D. Warren

Steve Martini / Linda Fairstein                   Jeffery Deaver / John Sandford

Heather Graham / F. Paul Wilson              Steve Berry / James Rollins

Raymond Khoury /Linwood Barclay          Lee Child / Joseph Finder

John Lescroart / T. Jefferson Parker

I plan to feature the book’s Dennis Lehane / Michael Connelly story in my Short Story Saturday feature this weekend, so be looking for that post in a couple of days.

A Shortage of Reading Material Is a Thing of the Past

51bukngrbpl-_sy346_ Beyond a doubt, the best thing about being an avid reader of close to seventy years of age is that I never have to worry about finding a book to read anymore.  I  remember how when I was in my twenties and thirties that my greatest reading-fear was waking up one morning and not having a single unread book at hand. Those were the days when buying even a paperback per week hit the budget a good solid lick. A library was usually within reach, but after working a forty-something-hour-week, I was often too tired to make it there. Thankfully, those days are long gone.

Nowadays, like most people my age who have read for their entire lives, I have my own library, one that includes more unread books than I could possibly read in three or four years of dedicated reading. There are numerous anthologies, short story compilations, novels, and Civil War history books awaiting my attention – not to mention the 91 Library of America volumes on the shelves, each of those including numerous novels and short stories. So I’m set for a while even if worse were to come to worst.

51pckawcosl-_sy346_But here’s the real secret: many of my reading friends are roughly the same age as I am, and our wives are constantly at us to clean out some of the books that are stashed all over the house. That means that I seldom visit a reading friend who does not shove three or four “must-read” books at me before I head home. And I’ve learned to return the favor, often carrying a like number of books to their home when visiting so that the exchange comes out relatively even. The good news is that, at least so far, all of our wives see this as a kind of game in which the winning wife is the one whose husband’s book-count drops even for just a week or two. It’s one of those strange win-win things that I hope the ladies never figure out.

51kmu2vjmwl-_sy346_Just this month, for instance, I’ve been given pristine hard copies of four of Arnaldur Indridason’s Inspector Erlenour novels (a really good series from Iceland); Conspiracy of One (a detailed study of the Kennedy assassination); Witness (the classic Whittaker Chambers book written during the early days of the Cold War); and One Ranger ( a signed copy of Texas Ranger H. Joaquin Jackson’s 2008 autobiography). Now keeping in mind that this is all part of a game of musical chairs played with books, my wife is happy to tell you that we are winning so far this month because way more books have gone out the door than have come in the door (our wives give us a free pass when it comes to library books, thank goodness).

Now if I could just learn to read faster, life would be just about perfect.

 

Book Chase Is Ten Years Old Today

10th

Today marks the tenth anniversary of Book Chase, an anniversary I never realistically expected to see happen – especially a few years ago when I was overwhelmed by so much family business that I had to take a few months off from blogging. And, frankly, I had some nervous weeks just after making the transition from Blogger to WordPress last July when it appeared that I had lost more readers than anticipated. Thankfully, things settled down and the numbers are looking better and better every week now.

I am not going to make a big deal of this. But being the ex-accountant that I am, a few numbers do jump out at me:

  • 3,008 total posts
  • 1,195 reviews (almost 1,100 of them book reviews)
  • 9 comprehensive author bibliographies
  • 327 book-related YouTube videos
  • 11,960 comments (a number I wish were three times higher)

I’ve been threatened with a lawsuit all the way from England (by the brother of one of the most famous people in that country, by the way), have made some good friends from the world of publishing, and have really enjoyed being a part of the book-blogging community. And what a community it is! Never have I met so many nice, like-minded people in my life. It’s been quite a ride, more fun than I ever dreamed I would have again, and I thank each and every one of you for being a part of it.

The Reading Slump from Hell

reading-slump

There is something distinctly different about 2017, and it’s making me nervous. January is usually my most productive reading month of the entire year because I know that I can banish all the unfilled wishes and regrets of the past year and simply start over again from zero. Everything is possible, and there is plenty of time to get it all done. It’s easy to be enthusiastic because it feels like the beginning of a huge do-over.

But I don’t have that feeling this year. Not even close.

It’s not that I’m not reading, because I am, and have in fact finished four books this month already and am closing in on a fifth one. It’s more a feeling that I’m having to push myself harder and harder to sit down and read for an extended period because it’s more difficult for me to focus than it has been in the past. I keep finding myself wondering what else I could, or should, be doing instead of reading.

Reading and blogging about what I read suddenly feels more like a job/obligation than it does the thing I’ve always enjoyed doing most in the world. My oldest hobby has suddenly gone very stale. I know that most of you have gone through a phase like this one yourselves, and it’s not the first time it’s happened to me either. But up to now, any reading slump I’m in automatically disappears with the close of the old year. It’s like magic – so why didn’t it work that way this year?

Maybe I burned myself out in 2016 by accepting more review copies than I have in several years. Maybe I didn’t read enough from my own shelves or choose enough books from my favorite genres (no baseball books in 2016, for instance, and that’s a first for me). Maybe it was my reaction to the monumental degree of condescending snobbery I discovered in one of my favorite writers when she let her utter hatred of a presidential candidate drive her to an insane perpetual rant against the man and anyone who even considered supporting him. (You know who you are, JCO.) That disillusioning experience would find me removing more than 100 books from my shelves for resale to the local book dealer who only reluctantly took them on.

And maybe, although it seems counter-intuitive to me, it’s because Book Chase will be ten years old on January 20. Maybe the approaching anniversary made me realize how tired I am right now, and how much work a one-man blog really is if it’s going to be produced on anything even close to a daily basis.

I wish I knew what it is. Right now, I just wish the slump were over and done with, so that I could get on with discovering, book by book, what 2017 is going to be like. So far, the most positive thing I’ve accomplished is my near-completion of the first book of a three-volume Spanish language course. Maybe that will jumpstart me…maybe not.

Book Chase 2016 Nonfiction Top 10

I am ending the year the way I end pretty much every year: wishing I had read more nonfiction.  No matter how good my intentions might be at the beginning of the year, I always ended up reading somewhere between thirty-five and forty nonfiction titles.  The total never seems to vary by much, and this year is no exception.  Fortunately, however, I did discover some very good nonfiction titles:

Book Chase 2016 Nonfiction Top 10

c4134-dcf67587a4cf2d8597338566c774443415873431.  When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air is part autobiography and part memoir, but most of all it is a very talented doctor’s farewell to a world that is surely less than it would have been were he still a part of it.  I should note, too, that the last part of the book is his widow’s memoir because, after Kalanithi’s surprisingly quick death, she finished the book for her 37-year-old husband.  Just twenty-two months after learning of his illness, Paul Kalanithi’s journey was over, a journey described by his wife as “one of transformation – from one passionate vocation to another, from husband to father, and finally, of course, from life to death, the ultimate transformation that awaits us all.”

f7777-0805097678-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_2.  The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer –  Skip Hollandsworth – Skip Hollandsworth, a regular columnist for Texas Monthly magazine, became so intrigued by a true crime story from Austin’s past that he turned it into his first book, The Midnight Assassin.  The book recounts a series of murders that happened there in 1884 and 1885, murders that were so horrendously bloody that they rivaled those committed three years later by London’s Jack the Ripper.  The murders in the two cities were in fact similar enough that some newspapers of the day speculated that London’s Ripper may have tested and developed his skills in Austin before bringing them with him to Europe.

48415-97816231701273.  Walking Point: From the Ashes of the Vietnam War – Perry A. Ulander –  Perry Ulander managed to come out Vietnam in one piece, and in Walking Point: From the Ashes of the Vietnam War, he tells us how he did it.  The memoir begins with the stunned nineteen-year-old Ulander reading a letter from his Uncle Sam directing him to report to Chicago for his pre-induction physical.  It ends more than a year later when a very different Perry Ulander, having just completed a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam, is equally stunned to so suddenly find himself back on U.S. soil.

65f09-9780062309914_105c3-14.  The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones – Rich Keinzle – Four years after Jones’s death, his legacy has become more settled and his whole story can be told in one volume – and that is exactly what Rich Keinzle has done in The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones.  From the very beginning of his career, country music fans were intrigued by the craziness that followed Jones around the country as he performed.  By the end of that career, George Jones had become a much-respected vocalist (still with a reputation for craziness) who had managed to grab the attention of music lovers around the world.  It was never easy for the shy, insecure performer that Jones was throughout his lifetime, but, public warts and all, he was just too good to ignore.

a4d35-1616205024-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_5.  Dimestore: A Writer’s Life – Lee Smith – Lee Smith is a wonderful storyteller, and for the last forty-five years she has been telling us stories about life in the Appalachian Mountains, a region and a people she knows like the back of her hand.  Now, in Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, Smith finally shares her own story.  I see that the book’s subtitle changed somewhere between its publication as an Advance Readers Copy and its final version, but I actually find the ARC subtitle to be the more fitting of the two (“A Memoir in Stories”) because that perfectly describes the approach Smith takes here in recounting her life for readers.

0062300547-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_6.  Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis – J. D. Vance – What J.D. Vance has accomplished in his young life is almost a stereotypical representation of the American Dream. His grandparents came to Ohio as very young newlyweds with almost nothing to their names where they managed to raise a middle-class family that included Vance’s mother. Vance, as it turned out, would spend more of his childhood with his grandmother than with his mother (and barely knew his father), but would go on to become a Marine and would earn degrees from both Ohio State University and Yale Law School. So in just three generations, Vance’s family had gone from dirt poor to having a member of the immediate family graduate from one of the most prestigious law schools in the country. But it was not easy.

6f419-hi2bres2bcover2bmiddleweight7.  West Texas Middleweight: The Story of LaVern Roach – Frank Sikes – Middleweight boxer LaVern Roach was a very successful professional boxer from the end of World War II to early 1950 but today his name is a relatively unknown one even among boxing fans.  But despite being unfamiliar with the name LaVern Roach, I was very familiar with several of the boxers who were his biggest rivals at the time for the middleweight world championship, names like Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jake LaMotta.  As an amateur, he had a record of 100 wins and 5 losses (with four of the losses coming before he turned eighteen), so his fast start as a professional was not a surprise to those in the sport.  His unusual good looks and his success made him one of the more popular boxers of his day, and LaVern Roach seemed destined for great things.  Sadly, it was not to be.

de17e17ed9ec6db596d73496e414443415873438.  Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq – Sarah Glidden – Frankly, I had doubts about Sarah Glidden’s decision to use “comic panels” to tell the intriguing story of her visit to Turkey, Syria, and Iraq with her two journalist friends and a friend of theirs who just happened to have seen military action in Iraq as an American soldier.  Rolling Blackouts manages to pack in more factual information than I expected from graphic nonfiction genre, but it is more effective when illustrating the emotions of the interviewer and those being interviewed. Sarah Glidden’s 2,500 illustrations (she calls them “comics”) are truly wonderful, and they greatly add to the book’s emotional impact on the reader. This one was a pleasant surprise.

ed3d4-b016tg5rgu-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_9.  Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide – Michael Kinsley – Michael Kinsley’s guide to old age is primarily aimed at his fellow boomers, the millions of us born between 1946 and 1964.  As a group, boomers are the next generation in line to “lose the game of life,” as Kinsley puts it, so it is time to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  And, early on in Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide, Kinsley makes the case that since we are all destined “to stay dead many years longer than we were alive,” the only thing we are going to leave behind is memories of ourselves – our reputations.  But here’s the kicker, boomers: if you want to be remembered as a good person, now is the time to get started because that old game clock is busily ticking away even as you read this.

e0e9d-0807049107-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_10.  The Drone Easts with Me: A Gaza Diary – Atef Abu Saif – It is difficult to read Atef Abu Saif’s The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary and simultaneously keep oneself divorced from the politics that caused the situation to happen in the first place.  But that is exactly what Saif, who hardly addresses the cause of the 2014 war that Israel waged in the Gaza Strip, asks his readers to do.  Doing so allows the fifty-one days of war he describes in his 2014 diary to be experienced strictly through the eyes of those helplessly caught up in the middle of it all with no place to hide.  And that makes The Drone Eats with Me a very effective war memoir.

Book Chase Top Ten Fiction List (Books Published Prior to 2016 but Read This Year)

Roughly half of my fiction reading this year has been of books published prior to 2016, so I decided to post two Top Ten Fiction lists instead of combining old and new books into a single list the way I’ve done in the past.

Book Chase Top Ten Fiction List (Books Published Prior to 2016 but Read This Year)

the-shootist1.  The Shootist (1975) – Glendon Swarthout – The central character of The Shootist is one John Bernard Books, a nineteenth-century gunfighter with a fierce reputation as a sure-shot with a quick hand. But time is beginning to catch up with Books and now, in January 1901, he has come to El Paso to see the doctor who saved his life years earlier when Books took the only bullet that ever came near killing him. Books is in pain and he knows that something is seriously wrong with him. And when the doctor tells him that the pain is being caused by the prostate cancer that is killing him, Books knows that he will die in El Paso – and soon.

c9383-1250018781-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_2.  The Dealer and the Dead (2014) – Gerald Seymour – The Dealer and the Dead is about a man who might have to pay the ultimate price for a mistake he made almost two decades earlier.  In 1992, Harvey Gillott promised to deliver heavy weapons to an isolated Croatian village located along the border with Serbia, weapons the villagers desperately needed if they were to prevent their village from being overrun by the Serbs who were determined to destroy everyone who lived there.  Gillott took payment for the weapons but never delivered the promised weapons.  Some eighteen years later, what remains of the bodies of the four men who had been sent to collect the weapons are discovered in a farmer’s field – and in the pocket of one of the dead men is a tiny piece of paper with a name written on it: Harvey Gillott.

0207a-1471137392-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_3.  England and Other Stories (2015) – Graham Swift – This is a remarkable collection of twenty-five stories about people who, regardless of their age, have reached a point where regret and self-doubt are something they confront every day.  These are people living in fear that their lives may never again be as good as they were in the past.  Not only do they fear that possibility, they are certain that it is the truth.  What makes this collection a bit unusual is that none of these stories have ever been published elsewhere.  These are new stories (written, I’m guessing, within the amount of time it would normally have taken Swift to produce a novel), and taken as a whole they present the diversity of a country that is all too often confined to its stereotypes in the minds of foreigners.

8ad0e-md38031527194.  The Long Goodbye (1953) – Raymond Chandler – Marlowe is a cynic with a good heart, a man attracted to the down and out characters he so often finds on the streets of Los Angeles.  He still believes that he can help them, even though more times than not, he fails.  One of those whom Marlowe tries to help is a hopeless drunk by the name of Terry Lennox.  Marlowe and Lennox meet late one night when a woman angrily drives away and leaves the appallingly drunk Lennox standing alongside Marlowe outside a restaurant.  After Marlowe takes the man home with him so that he can safely sleep off his drunk, the two men become friends of a sort. Things get interesting a few months later when Lennox comes to Marlowe looking for a quick ride to the Tijuana airport.

51vc-6vtuzl-_sx334_bo1204203200_5.  The Cartel (2015) – Don Winslow – When it comes to controlling drug traffic and territories, everyone is fair game to the resulting violence: family members, newspaper reporters, teachers, women, children, policemen, the innocent and the guilty, alike.  And worst of all, like their terrorist cousins on the other side of the world, the gangs now capture the shootings, explosions, and decapitations on video for the entire world to see.  Don Winslow’s The Cartel schools us on just how horrible the situation along the U.S./Mexican border really is today – and why so many Mexicans cross that border to escape the mayhem at home.

deadf-1455524190-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_6.  The Burning Room (2014) – Michael Connelly – Harry Bosch’s days with the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit are numbered – and have dwindled down to what Harry considers to be a precious few.  Harry figures that if he doesn’t rock the boat so much that the upper brass finds a reason to cut him loose early, he might have one more year in him before the department forces him into retirement.   But it won’t be easy because a cold case with huge political implications has just been dumped in Harry’s lap.

1476738025-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_7.  A Man Called Ove (2012) – Fredrik Backman – The novel opens with Ove shopping for an iPad, an electronic gadget about which the 59-year-old man knows next to nothing. Ove, however, would never allow even that level of cluelessness to keep him from expressing his opinion about the object in question and the two salesmen attempting to explain its mysteries to him. By the time this early scene is over, the reader (and the two abused salesmen) will assume that they know everything they need to know about Ove – mainly, stay out of his way.  All of themwould be wrong – very, very wrong at that.

f7538662-3a68-41a1-96b5-5c114da5841fimg4008.  The Haunting of Hill House (1959) – Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House is still the standard by which haunted-house stories are judged today even though it is based on some of the same plot devices common to more run-of-the-mill haunted-house novels and movies. For instance, Hill House is a large, isolated old house with a reputation for being haunted, a place the locals don’t want to be anywhere around after dark – and then along comes a party of outsiders who have decided to spend a few nights inside the house to see if anything spooky might happen while they are there. Throw in the rather creepy caretakers of the place (who always leave before it gets dark), long hallways with lots of closed doors, mysterious staircases that lead to unexpected rooms, plus lots of unexplained noises in the night, and The Haunting of Hill House could easily have ended up being little more than a mediocre story filled with clichés.  That’s not what happened.

1439183376-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_9.  Savages (2010) – Don Winslow – Stylistically, Savages is a hard book to describe. It is dark, violent, and sexy just the way one would expect a crime fiction novel featuring the Mexican drug cartels would be. But it is also a hilarious and touching love story (albeit one involving two men and one woman) that makes it easy to forget just how much trouble the novel’s main characters really are in. Ben, Chon, and O, for lots of reasons (some good, some not so good) are going to stick in readers’ minds for a long time. And the good news is that in 2012 Winslow published a prequel to Savages called The Kings of Cool, so readers of Savages will be able to spend even more time with them.

1250077060-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_10. Time and Time Again (2014) – Ben Elton – Hugh Stanton, ex-Army, is a man who cannot think of a single good reason to go on living. Not only has he been kicked out of the army, but a hit-and-run driver has recently struck and killed Stanton’s wife and two young children. So he plays along when his old Trinity College professor says to him, “If you could change one thing in history, if you had the opportunity to go back into the past, to one place and one time and change one thing, where would you go? What would you do?” After much debate, Stanton and Professor McCluskey agree that the best way to save the twentieth century from itself would be to prevent World War I from ever starting. But although he agrees to give it a shot (pun intended), Stanton remains a time-travel skeptic right up until the moment he steps out of a 1914 hospital basement.

On the End-of-Year Increase to Publishing House Efficiency

It’s always hard for me in December to read at anything even close to the pace that I maintain during the rest of the year, and this year it’s been even more difficult than normal.  In addition to the usual time-killing aspects of the Christmas season (shopping, wrapping gifts, dealing with heavier-than-normal traffic, longer lines at the grocery, etc.), my granddaughter’s high school’s football team went five rounds into the Texas high school football playoffs before being eliminated yesterday in a semifinal game.  Because it’s her fourth and final year on the school drill team, that means that, with the exception of two nearby games, we have driven several hundred miles in the last five weekends getting to and from various stadiums around the state.

But just when I was starting to feel like I was catching up on promised reviews, the mail (both snail and electronic) has gone a little crazy.  Every one of the books pictured below got to me days quicker than they would have earlier this year; it’s as if publisher reps are clearing the decks to get a fresh start in 2017.  This is what arrived during the last four or five days:

img_0883

The Five Books That Arrived Via UPS

Then there were the two that came to me by email (and I apologize for the photos):

img_0884

Rather Be the Devil (as it appears on my Amazon Fire)

img_0885

Ray and Joan on the same Amazon Fire

I’m about to finish up Catherine Dunn’s The Years That Followed (the third book in that first picture), and can’t wait to get started on one or two of the others.  It sort of feels like Christmas around here.

Bad Little Children’s Books – Spoof, Parody, or Bigotry?

Abrams Books has taken the rather bold step of publishing a satirical children’s book that has some calling for the publisher to recall the title.  This is the cover of the book:

161203163022-01-satire-book-outrage-exlarge-169

As can be seen from its cover, the book promised “Kid-Lit Parodies, Shameless Spoofs, and Offensively Tweaked Covers.”  And, boy, does it deliver.  Take a look at these examples:

161203183909-03-satire-book-outrage-exlarge-169

161203183907-02-satire-book-outrage-exlarge-169

According to CNN, the book has created quite an outrage around the country:

A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Ibrahim Hooper, called it the statement a “wild” claim.

“It is probably wild that they claim it is to expose intolerance and bigotry,” Hooper told CNN. “I think it had the opposite effect of promoting it and exploiting it. Bottom line is they have the right to publish this kind of material, but should they? And I think given the divisions we have seen in our society I don’t think it is the best use of the First Amendment.”

The book, however, has its defenders:
In a public letter, the National Coalition Against Censorship came to Abrams’ defense, asserting “free expression and intellectual freedom.” 
“We urge the company not to accede to pressure to withdraw the book, but to stand for the proposition that it is the right of authors to write as they choose and of individuals to decide for themselves what to read. After all, anyone who doesn’t like the book doesn’t have to buy it,” the NCAC said in its letter.
Abrams President Michael Jacobs sits on the Board of Directors of NCAC.  (That seems rather convenient, doesn’t it?  – comment is mine)
So what do you think?  Spoof, parody, or bigotry?  Should the book be recalled or would such a move be exactly the kind of censorship from which authors and publishers have the constitutional right to be protected?

Lost Weekend

img_0852

Scoreboard at Game’s End: Final Score Klein Collins 56- John Tyler High School 14

This has turned into another of those weekends where very little reading gets done – and considering that because of the Thanksgiving holiday this is a particularly long weekend, my schedule is falling to pieces all around me. It’s not so much that I’m not reading the pages, it’s more that I’m not sitting down to write the reviews that need to be written about the books I’ve finished. If you guys are like me, you know that it’s best not to wait too long before putting thoughts to paper because it seems that more of the detail slips away every day you delay.

So I wrote half a review early this morning of Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name before climbing in the car with my son-in-law and his dad to drive from Houston to Waco, a distance of about 180 miles, to watch the local high school in a third-round playoff football game against Tyler’s John Tyler High School. Most often during the high school playoff season, teams meet at a neutral site to decide which moves on to the next round. In this case, that neutral site was Baylor University’s McClain Stadium in Waco. Having to drive only 130 miles to the stadium made it a little easier on the Tyler fans, but both schools were well represented in the stands

img_0845

John Tyler High School in White; Klein Collins in Black

And the best part of the day is that the game was unexpectedly easy for the good guys from Houston who dominated the entire game and won by a final score of 56-14. The teams were expected to be much more evenly matched than the final score indicates because before the game Tyler was ranked 16th in the state and Klein Collins was ranked 18th.  Next week, it’s on to the fourth round where the remaining eight teams work their way to a final four.

Capping off the weekend with yet more football, I’m heading out in the morning to watch the Houston Texans play the San Diego Chargers in a game that promises to be a whole lot closer than the high school game I saw this afternoon. Houston is barely favored in this home game (I think they are one-point favorites) and, frankly, I don’t expect a win from them. But I’ll be there rooting them on just like I’ve done for almost a decade –and-a-half now.

That’s another full day lost, and it means that completion of the Howard Jacobson book review is going to get put off again. But all was not lost because riding alone in the backseat of a car for six hours today meant that I was able to sneak in over 100 pages of reading. Tomorrow is another day.

Indian Summers, Season Two: It’s Over Way too Soon

indian-summersDespite my good intentions, I never did get around to composing a new post yesterday – and I blame that entirely on the second season of the wonderful Channel 4/PBS series Indian Summers. Sadly, although I didn’t know it until this morning, there will be no third season for the series because the U.K.’s Channel 4 has decided against commissioning more episodes of the 1930s period drama.

None of my television viewing is done “live,” as I much prefer to record the programs for later viewing at my leisure, along with the added advantage of being able to fast-forward my way through the commercials that generally take up about 25% of the time it takes to watch anything on commercial television these days.

Those of you not familiar with Indian Summers should know that it is set in 1930s India during the critical years that a move for independence was growing among the general population of that country. Gandhi is mentioned several times in the second series, although I don’t recall him actually being portrayed on screen (I could easily be mistaken about that). The series did a good job of portraying the events of the day through the eyes of the British administrators, pro-British Indians, Indians who worked for the British strictly out of necessity, and Indians who were willing, at the end, to die for their country’s independence. The last episode of the series also ventured into the volatile split between the Muslim and Farsi populations of the country.

Because my home team did not play football yesterday, I had time to catch up on the two episodes I still hadn’t seen – and then when I realized that another episode was being recorded as I was finishing the second catch-up episode, I started watching it – not realizing that it was actually the final episode of this second season. But as it ended, I realized how perfect a spot in the continuing story it would be to use it as a lead-in to a third season and wondered it that was going to be the case. For that reason, the news this morning that the drama has been cancelled is really disappointing.

Let me recommend to those who haven’t seen it, that they fix that oversight as soon as they can. The acting is superb all the way through, from the principle players right down to those actors who have tiny parts. The cinematography is stunning throughout, the costumes are authentic, colorful, and eye-catching, and the locations (actually Malaysia’s Penang Island) are stunningly beautiful.

Season Two Trailer

So, to get back to my original point, the time that I would have used to work up a Book Chase post yesterday was consumed by the three hours I spent in fictional, 1930s India with the British as they saw their world change faster than they ever imagined it might. I do consider it time well spent, though, and I really hate the idea that Indian Summers is done now. A little window on the past has closed to me before I was ready to lose the view – and that makes me sad.

More please, Channel 4?

The Great Timekeeper in the Sky Is Really Ticking Me Off

images

Some days I start feeling as if there are only two alternatives: throw my hands up in the air in surrender, or take a deep breath and try to focus on one thing at a time in hopes that I will actually be able to finish at least one of them.  Yesterday was one of those days.

I’ve mentioned before that I spend most afternoons tutoring a grandson of mine who has significant learning disabilities.  We’ve been doing this since he started the fourth grade and he’s now in the eighth, so it has become kind of second nature to both of us.  But for some reason, three of his teachers have been dumping a much heavier than average load of homework on him this week, and we are not finishing up before ten each evening (equating to near five hours of work).  Writing is a particular problem for him, and we are “blessed” this year with a Social Studies teacher who assigns her homework in essay form and wants it returned in the same format.  Goodbye, evening.

So that’s one thing.

Then, on the other end of the age spectrum, I find myself as primary caretaker for my 94-year-old father, a WWII veteran who fought his way from Normandy to Leipzig Germany by the end of that conflict.  Well, today I had to figure out the little electronic box that wirelessly takes the measure of how his new pacemaker is doing and transmits a report to his cardiologist’s office.  It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that the only instruction manual in the box was in Spanish…not English…not even French where I would have had a fighting chance.  Goodbye, morning.

And the final hurdle takes up the middle of most of my days: rehabbing the hip I broke back in May. I’ve joined a gym just to get access to the machines there that will help me rebuild muscle strength and bone density, but that means a couple of hours out of each day is now devoted to the workout, the walking, and the round trip to the gym.

All in all, there has been less time for reading and writing these last two weeks than any week I can remember this whole year except for when I was actually in the hospital with the broken hip. It’s frustrating, to say the least, because I’m trying to be more consistent with this version of Book Chase than I was with the previous one, and the Great Timekeeper in the Sky is not cooperating at all.  I’ve been hoping to post three book reviews a week, but first I have to read those books…and at 60 or 70 pages a day, that’s just not going to happen.

I can’t believe I ever thought that retirement was going to be filled with so much free time that I would be fighting boredom more than anything else.  Boy, was I mistaken!  So here’s a heads-up for any of you who may be fast approaching your own retirement: you might just have more free time while working that full-time job than you will when you decide to stay home.  Just saying…

In the Mail…this week so far

The last two mail deliveries to my Spring, TX, home have included these:

And these:

And my TBR stack continues to grow like a weed despite my best efforts to keep up.  I’m reading fast as I can and reviewing fast as I can, but I continue to fall farther behind.  I consider that a good thing…no, a wonderful thing.  He who dies with the highest TBR wins!

Lost in the Cloud: E-Book Finds

My recent posts about my relationship with this whole e-books thing got me to wondering this morning what books might be hiding out there in my Amazon Cloud – long neglected and now totally forgotten.  So I took a look and found a few gems I really need to read.  But since they have no physical form to shame me into picking them up and turning that first page, it may not happen any time soon.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I have actually read twenty-five e-books already this year, albeit most of them were review copies forwarded by various publishers.  And I understand why ARCs are being pushed out this way…tried to mail a book to a friend lately?  It’s not cheap.

But anyway, take a look at some of what I discovered way up in that magic cloud.  I particularly remember meaning to read these first five as soon as I downloaded them, but…

 

And then there is a whole bunch of titles that I know sounded great to me when I acquired them (many of them were free from Amazon as part of the Amazon Prime program – this is not a commercial or endorsement of that program, however):

These are just seventeen (there are another 200, at least, including some rather obscure work by the the likes of Jack London and others) of the books I want to read, books that don’t exist in the real world of physical copies.  And that makes me wonder what I’m doing buying so many e-books in the first place. I realize that authors probably don’t much care if I read any of these (hopefully, I’m wrong about that), but come on…is it ever going to happen?  Looks like that old “out of sight, out of mind” adage is very true in my case.

And the topper? I bought two e-books this morning.  Am I especially can’t wait to read the book on Anne Perry’s teenage New Zealand murder conviction.  Am I nuts or what?

 

Thousands of Hits from Russia in Last Few Days…Help!

I just arrived home after being gone for two weeks and decided to take a look at the activity on Book Chase during that period.  And it is scarring me to death.  Seems that I’ve had thousands of “hits” from Russia this month, and I’m not about to believe that Book Chase is suddenly the most popular book blog in that country. 

What are these people doing?  Are they trying to hack into my computer through the blog by inserting some sort of Trojan Horse virus?  Should I consider shutting down the blog here and moving it to a new internet address…something other than Blogger?

Does anyone have any experience with this kind of thing?  How easy is it to move over to a different software?  Does traffic have to be rebuilt from zero all over again or is there some way to redirect the traffic to the new location?

Please help if you can answer any of my questions and concerns.  

Thanks.

Paul Williams Proves He Still Has It

Just time to take quick advantage of hotel wifi access (while it lasts) to post one of my favorite performances from last night’s MACC 2016 sets from up here in Columbus, Ohio.

This is Paul Williams, a man who has been in the bluegrass music business for a long time and who had the good fortune to be a key member of some of the most influential bluegrass bands in bluegrass history.  He is, of course, a tremendous mandolin picker, but for me it’s always been about that great high tenor voice of his. This is Paul proving that at 81 years of age his voice is as strong as it has ever been. 

This is his version of the post-World-War-II country classic, “Fraulein.”  


On the Road Again Again

This has been a day of physical therapy on my still-healing hip followed by a whole lot of packing for my annual summer road trip. This year I’m heading back up to Columbus, Ohio – and from Houston, that’s quite a drive – so it will be a real test for my hip and my overall endurance.  And because I’m leaving one day earlier than I had planned to leave, everything has been in kind of a rush.  Now I’m just hoping that I don’t forget to pack something.

I’ve taken a break to look at some of the video I shot in 2014, the last time I attended MACC (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer) and it’s really getting me in the mood for MACC 2016.  I’m going to share one of those videos here because I forgot I had it, and the featured artist, James King, is one we lost very recently.  James was always one of my favorite voices of bluegrass and his soulful delivery was always memorable.

I’ll be driving at a rather leisurely pace for the next three or four days, and because I stay off interstate highways whenever possible, it’s likely to take me every bit of that time to make it to Columbus.

Anyway, more to come. I’m still going to be reading and hopefully doing a review or two in the next two weeks.  But time will tell.  I’m more likely to post about the trip than anything else.  So please hang in there with me until I get home.

July: Books, Baseball, Bluegrass Music, and a Whole Lot of Driving


Just in case anyone is wondering, I haven’t disappeared for good.  It’s unusual for me to go three days without posting something “bookish” here, but I’ve been attending a youth baseball tournament with my grandson’s team for three days of two games per day this weekend, and that’s kept me from posting.  I have, in fact, been lucky to get some reading in but that’s been about it.  So now I’m behind on writing at least two book reviews and have another two coming up this week, looks like.  But it’s been great fun and worth the lost time.

If any of you are curious, his team finished fourth after being eliminated late this afternoon by the number one seed in the tourney in a last-inning 4-3 defeat.  (The teams are made up of 14-to-15-year-old boys and my grandson is a catcher/outfielder on his team).  

The second half of July is going to be even more hectic for me because I’m leaving for Columbus, Ohio, on the 16th for a four-day bluegrass music festival that begins on the 20th.  I allow three or four days on both ends of the festival for the driving, so I may go “dark” for a day or so a few more times in July.  This year is especially iffy because I’m still recovering from my broken hip (surgery was May 7) and will be moving even slower than usual.

But stay tuned…I do hope to post here quite a few times while I’m on the road, be it music news, book news, or whatever catches my eye as I drive northeast from Houston.  Hope to see you here.

The Annual "Worst Book I Ever Read" Award

Thankfully, it only happens to me once or twice a year – but it seldom skips a whole year.  That book comes along.  You know…the one that you force yourself to finish because you can’t believe it’s really as bad as it seems, or you just know the author is going to bail the whole thing out by coming up with the kind of spectacular ending that excuses everything that came before it.  And. It. Doesn’t. Happen.

Well, someone seems to have inadvertently created the perfect booby prize for that kind of book.  Most book bloggers do an end-of-year statistical compilation anyway, so what better time to award the annual “Worst Book I Ever Read Award”?  

That should put a crapper…eh, capper…on the year in rather memorable fashion, especially if friends aren’t important to you.  


Reading in Rehab

My Makeshift Hospital Desk Top

I’m still here at the rehab center following my May 6 accident.  The doctors, therapists, and nurses are supposed to meet around noon today to agree upon a target date for my release (which could be as soon as tomorrow evening), so things are finally looking up. It always helps to have a target end-date in sight.

Needless to say, it’s been another of those long stretches during -which books are more important to me than ever – and that is despite the fact that, because of the steady diet of pain pills, I am having more trouble than usual concentrating on my reading.  I am very lucky right now if I can get through ten pages before falling into one of my countless 2-minute naps.  

I have, though, managed to finish up a couple of books that I started before the fall: Anna Quindlen’s Miller’s Valley and John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye (it helps that both are excellent).  I even managed to write and post a review of the Robison book from here despite my problem staying conscious – and I spent way too long on a review of the Quindlen book yesterday that had to be junked because it read to me like something from a drunken haze when I began editing it. But even that one is about half finished now, so my time hasn’t been completely unproductive.

I’m also working on a handful of other books in between physical therapy sessions as my reading mood changes throughout the day.  Those include: an ARC of Yasmine El Rashidi’s Chronicle of a Last Summer (a coming-of-age novel about a young Egyptian woman over the period 1984-2014), the Dave Eggers 2012 novel A Hologram for the King that is now the basis for a new Tom Hanks movie of the same name, and three electronic review copies that I’ve been reading for a while.  Those three are very different from one another; one is a baseball book about the comprehensive use of statistics to manage major league games, one is a prison novel, and the other is a “time travel” novel in which time actually freezes (rather than allowing itself to be traveled) for all but the novel’s narrator.  Without all of this to keep me busy and amused, I would probably have lost my marbles at least a week ago.

So there you have it, the exciting life of a man with a broken hip and no place to go.