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:

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

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

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

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

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

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Monument Beside Independence Hall Erected by Texas Schoolchildren in 1899

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

Developing ADD in My Seventh Decade: Is That Even Possible

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I wonder if it’s possible to develop an Attention Deficit Disorder even as you approach completion of your seventh decade on Earth. Don’t scoff, because I really think it’s happening to me. These days I flit from one activity to the other to a degree I can’t remember ever doing before.

It seems as if I can’t concentrate on a single activity for much more than ten minutes at a time, and that most often, I’m trying to do two or three things at the same time. I can read for maybe ten minute straight – sometimes longer if a passage really grabs me – but then I start wondering what I’m missing on the news, or on Facebook, or on Twitter, or on…well, you get the idea. And because there are only so many waking hours in a day, and I don’t want to miss anything, it’s either multi-task or decide what I have to give up for the day.

I started noticing the problem around November when my pages-read-per-day numbers began to nosedive, a trend that has continued right up to this week and may not have yet bottomed out. That means, of course, that I’m reading fewer books than in the last bunch of years – and that means that I’ve got fewer books to review and talk about on Book Chase. Part of the drop in books completed results from the fact that I read and review two short stories a week now (one literary and one of the time travel variety), but the short stories are only a symptom; they are not the problem.

So where does all my time go? In no particular order, these are my regular daily activities: the gym, Facebook, reading, writing for and maintaining Book Chase, Twitter, watching news and commentary programs, talk radio, and running errands. Throw in the every-few-days activities like Netflix, Amazon Prime, PBS shows, listening to music, and I think you see the problem. Too many temptations. Period.

And it’s about to get a whole lot worse because my two favorite seasons of the year are just about to kick off simultaneously: Baseball and Bluegrass Music Festivals. The festivals only claim two or three weeks a year of my time because I have to drive quite a distance to get to any of them, but baseball (the way that I do it) takes a ton of hours every week. I follow high school, college, minor league, and major league baseball; I try to see as much live baseball as I can get to; I follow the players closely and I am a statistics nut who crunches his own numbers; and the baseball season is every bit of seven months long, so I don’t stand a chance.

Oh, well…First World problems are not really problems are they? They are mostly just a bunch of lucky-as-hell people whining about how tough they have it. I admit it.

But I swear I’m ADD afflicted like never before.

The Blue Light Security Service / ADT Security Installation Experience from Hell

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I have been using the past several Sundays as a time to relax by doing some of the things I don’t have enough time to get to during the rest of the week. I read from a dozen or so book blogs that I follow regularly, decide which book will be started next, spend some time with my elderly father; that kind of thing. Most Sundays I don’t even get around to posting anything at all on Book Chase.

But this weekend has been trashed by the security system installer from hell – and part of it is my fault for giving him the benefit of the doubt. The guy showed up on Friday afternoon raring to go, and then discovered that he had about half the equipment he was going to need to install the system. We have twenty-one windows in this house, not nine. We have three doors, not two. We have a wired system, not a wireless system. This meant that the installer had to drive all the way back to his downtown warehouse to get the proper kit – a round trip that took him almost two hours to complete. And then when he got back here, he found that the “transmitter” he had just picked up from the warehouse was designed for a different system than the one we want installed.

Well, by then the warehouse was closed for the day, so now we are talking Saturday installation. And of course now we have to be added to his Saturday schedule, meaning that we are dead last for the day, so he didn’t even get back here until almost six p.m. Finally, by nine-thirty, he seemed to have everything in place, had checked out the system with the offsite monitor, and it looked as if we were done.

No such luck. About thirty minutes after he left the house, we noticed that the landline telephone was dead as a doornail. No phone, of course, means that the new security system cannot be monitored offsite, essentially turning it into nothing but a loud noisemaker.

I had managed to catch the guy on his rush out the door to remind him that he had not left me with any manuals or the normal welcome package that includes phone numbers and the like, but when I looked at what he left me, I found that it was only the instructional manuals for setting and operating the security panel, etc. There were no phone numbers, local or otherwise, by which I could alert someone about the problem we are having. Luckily, though, my cell phone had captured the installer’s personal number when he contacted me on Friday, and I was able to get hold of him that way.

So here I sit. It’s closing in on eleven a.m. as I write this, and the guy promised to be here at ten. And there is no sign of him. The topper is that the alarm system just locked up and is telling us that a window is open, keeping it from being ready to arm. There are no open windows in the house – none.  Now that means that the installer is going to have to figure out the solution to another problem.  God help us.

And there is still no word from the Blue Light Security Service installer that ADT Security uses for installation of their systems. I’m trying here, I really am, to look at this as just another of life’s little jokes – but the sheer incompetence and rudeness involved here is so representative of every experience I’ve had with service people, sales clerks, doctor’s offices, and the like, in recent months that it is really starting to bother me.  The world is filled with people who simply cannot, or will not, do their jobs anymore, and they are forcing customers to respond in kind with the same degree of rudeness and demands. Otherwise, nothing gets done.

And somehow they still manage to make me feel like the bad guy because I expect things to get done correctly the first time around.

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?

On Yesterday’s Election and This Morning’s Reaction To It

I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything political before (unless it was part of a book review) here on Book Chase, but I feel compelled to say something about yesterday’s election.  I simply want to say that while I feel comfortable with the results of the election, I understand the horror and shock that many of my good friends are feeling this morning and I hope to give them at least a little hope their worlds are not really falling apart around them.

Donald J. Trump is a very flawed man; about that, there is little doubt.  But he is not the bogeyman created in the minds of people by the mainstream media for the last several months.  The media would have you believe that Trump is effectively going to turn the clock back a century and that all the gains made by minorities of all stripes are going to be tossed out the window.  I do not believe for a second that this is going to happen – nor should it ever happen.  Donald Trump is not concerned with the legality of gay marriage or transgender rights, nor is he going to change women’s reproductive rights in any significant way.  He knows that he is going to have to find a solution other than deportation for the millions of undocumented residents of this country.

It is not the end of the world as we have come to know it in the past eight years.  This is merely a swing of the political pendulum back toward the right side of the political continuum.  A lot of us believe that the pendulum had swung too far to the left and that an adjustment was due.  That does not mean that the pendulum is going to swing as far to the right as it has swung to the left; it is simply an adjustment and reassessment.  I think that a swing back toward the center was inevitable, and that this inevitability made it near impossible for Hillary Clinton to win this election.

To my friends who are taking this so hard, I want you to know that I understand what you are feeling and I am sorry that you are going through that.  I sincerely hope that Mr. Trump pleasantly surprises all of us by being the kind of president he tells us he wants to be: president of every resident of this country, regardless of political party, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

That’s all I want to say.  Please take this post in the way it is intended: as a heartfelt, virtual hug to make us all feel a little bit better about what is to come.  If Trump fails, as he certainly could, we will fire him in four years and I will help do that with my vote.

Hang in there, guys.  It’s not the end of the world.

In a nutshell, I won’t be reading Ian McEwan’s “Nutshell” anytime soon

This cover image released by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday shows, "Nutshell," by Ian McEwan. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday via AP)Have you ever tried to force yourself to read a book for no other reason than that it was written by one of your favorite authors?  The book might actually be pretty terrible or it may be that you are just not in the mood for it at the moment – but you keep trudging through it and wondering why.  Then you notice yourself avoiding the book, finding excuses to watch a movie on Netflix or a college football game instead of reading, etc.  And you know that something is very wrong.

When that happens I know it’s time to give up on a book, and that’s where I am this morning with Ian McEwan’s new one, Nutshell.  Just listen to the plot of this book as taken directly from the inside flap of its cover:

“Trudy has betrayed her husband, John.  She’s still in the marital home – a dilapidated, priceless London town house – but John’s not there.  Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan.  But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month resident of Trudy’s womb. (highlight mine)

Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.”

You read that highlighted phrase in the description correctly.  The narrator of this book is none other than the unborn child of a woman plotting with her brother-in-law to kill her husband before the child is born.  And the baby is not happy about having his family broken apart this way even before he is born into the world.  And I assume he plans to do something about old Mr. Claude before it is too late for his old man.

I was really curious to see where McEwan was going with this one and figured if anyone could pull it off it would be someone of his talent.  But here I am nineteen pages into the book, on the first page of chapter three, and I just can’t push myself any further.  This baby is already the best educated, most brilliant narrator of any novel I’ve read in the last six months.  He knows everything about everything – and claims to have learned it all from the British talk radio shows his mother enjoys so much.  This kid is so smart that he’s a snob, one of those people who throws out little literary and historical references in just about every sentence.  Geez, I can’t stand the little brat.

Anyway, Nutshell is not destined any time soon to go on my list of the Ian McEwan books I’ve read.  I don’t know what Mr. McEwan was thinking on this one or where he is ultimately going with it.  I do know that I am in no mood to spend several hours in the company of a nine-month-old fetus that is smarter than I am.

(Oh, I should mention, too, that this is McEwan’s takeoff on Hamlet, so I’m not at all sure if this baby is going “to be” or “not to be” by the time the book ends.)

If any of you guys read this one and love it, please let me know so that I can try it again.

Dallas City Council Incapable of Prioritizing: Decides Little Free Libraries Must Be Regulated

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Examples of Little Free Libraries as found on Pinterest

Don’t even get me started on neighborhood Deed Restriction committees because I will tell you a story or two that will curl your toes about the kind of people who take great pleasure in enforcing their will upon their neighbors.  But when elected city council members start to resemble the over-zealous do-gooders of Deed Restriction committees…well, that’s when I really get ticked off.

And that is exactly what seems to be happening up in Dallas right now.

Despite all the real problems that a city the size of Dallas is going to have, simply by definition, the city council there has decided to waste its time drafting and passing a city ordinance to regulate the size and location of Little Free Libraries that people want to place on their own property so that they can share and exchange books with their neighbors.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  They are more concerned about those tiny wooden boxes that have appeared on the lawns of about two dozen Dallas residents than they are about the tent cities that keep being re-erected by the people who live on the streets of Dallas.  After all, according to the Dallas Morning News, there have been at least three complaints about the Little Free Libraries this year:

On Monday morning, a Dallas City Council committee signed off on a proposal that would limit the size and location of community book exchanges that have taken root in some two dozen Dallas residents’ front yards.  As far as city officials can tell, if the full council gives its blessing, Dallas will become one of the only cities in the country to specifically regulate the take-a-book, leave-a-book boxes, which, in the past, have been subject to building laws and zoning codes.

And those rules would be as follows: The libraries can stand no taller than five feet and can be no wider than 20 inches and no deeper than 18 inches. In addition, anyone wanting to plant a Little Free Library in their front yard has to stay 10 feet away from a neighbor’s property line, and would be limited to a single structure per parcel.

The above quote from the Morning News was provided by Texas Monthly.com and that link has both a brief history of Little Free Libraries and a recap of what a handful of cities around the country have been doing to harass the goodhearted souls in their cities who want to do something as terrible as share a few books with their friends and neighbors.

You know the old saying about no good deed going unpunished?  Looks like city councilmen all across the country are determined to prove just how true that is these days.

On First Hearing About 9-11 from an Algerian Muslim

twin_towers2As I type this, it has been almost fifteen years to the hour that I learned about what happened in New York on this day in 2001.  Right about now, I would have been working away as Finance Manager on a billions-of-dollars project deep in the Algerian Sahara Desert, oblivious to the news that a teary-eyed Algerian employee (and good friend) of mine would bring me just as I was returning from lunch about three hours later.  Keep in mind that his English was as bad as my French, and you will get an idea of how difficult it was for me to accept what I slowly comprehended he was struggling to tell me.

Keep in mind, also, that this man is a Muslim and that he knew full well what level of retribution the attack on the Twin Towers was likely to unleash in his part of the world.  He knew it instinctively, and yet he was more concerned about me and how I would handle the horrible news that thousands of Americans were likely going to die as a result of an attack on America made in the name of his religion by radicals with nothing more than vengeance and murder on their crazed minds.  I will never forget the moment that he saw that I understood what he was telling me, and that I fully comprehended its impact.  His eyes said it all.

I immediately went back to my camp bedroom and tuned in CNN International which had been covering the attacks for hours by then, where I sat along with three or four of my fellow ex-pats and my two closest Algerian friends in the camp (including the man who broke the news to me).  We watched for hours as the attack video and the collapse of the two buildings was replayed over and over again.  And the world, of course, has never been the same since that terrible day.  But still, what I remember most clearly, and what I will treasure for the rest of my life, is the empathetic way that an Algerian Muslim broke the news to me and tried to cushion me emotionally in the immediate aftermath.  Djamel is a good man, one of the best I know from anywhere in the entire world, and I will consider him a true friend for the rest of my days.

So, on this fifteenth anniversary of the Twin Tower mass murders, let’s all strive to remember that there are good people on both sides of this long war against terrorism.  There are victims on both sides and there are bad men on both sides.  Innocents are dying, and will probably continue to die for several generations to come.  And we are all losers because there are no winners in this fight until it is over  Then,  and only then, we will all be winners.

 

On Judging a Book by Its Cover

I think it’s time to modify the old saying about judging a book by its cover.  For me, it should read, “You can’t always judge a book by its cover.”

When it comes to books, perhaps the most important bookstore marketing tool out there for them (other than a mega-selling author’s name in big letters splashed on the cover in red) is the image that appears on the front of the book’s dust jacket.  That’s what grabs the attention of the casual book-browser who just happens to be strolling through a bookstore on a Sunday afternoon.  If that picture or illustration is powerful enough to stop the browser in his tracks, then the book has a pretty decent chance of going home with him.

That leaves me wondering why publishers don’t put a more consistent effort into producing the kind of jackets that refuse to let you walk past them without at least picking them up to get a better look?  Take a look at these examples from a handful of the books I’ve read this year.  The first six are ones that I would not pass by without a second look:

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Each of them make me wonder what kind of tale is inside those covers.

These, on the other hand, would never get that (or any other) kind of reaction from me:

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Two of the six books in the first group are among my favorite reads to this point of 2016, and three from the second group are among my biggest disappointments of the year.  I would have ended up reading all twelve of the books anyway because none of them came from bookstores; they were either library books or review copies that came directly from publishers.  But if all twelve had depended on me discovering them in my local bookstore, the bottom six would have been in big trouble.

So, can you judge a book by its cover – or not?

It’s Sunday Morning, and I Still Miss Tim Russert

I woke up this morning with Tim Russet on my mind. The man has been gone for over eight years already, something that I find stunning, and I wonder what he would think of the administration he missed and the disgusting election cycle in which we are now so deeply immersed.

Tim died at age 58 from a sudden heart attack, and I wrote the post shown below on that first June 2008 Sunday morning that he was not behind his desk for my weekly viewing of “Meet the Press”  – a news program that lost all credibility after Russert’s death.

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amd-russert-nbc-jpgTim Russert was just about the only newscaster or interviewer on any of the big networks that I still trusted to play fair with both political parties. I’m sure that Mr. Russert had strong opinions regarding politics, but he always seemed to hold both parties to the same standards and refused to soften his interviewing technique in order to advance the point-of-view of one group over the other. I respected him for that.

But, just as importantly, I admired what the man stood for in regards to family and work ethic. His father, wife and son seemed to mean everything to him and he was never afraid to show his feelings. Tim Russert was such a likable guy that many thousands of us thought of him as a friend, someone we looked forward to spending some time with every Sunday morning and during all of that frantic election night coverage when he so much seemed to be a voice of sanity among all the braying jackasses that surrounded him.

So I’m missing Tim this morning. Just knowing that he’s not behind his desk for “Meet the Press” saddens me and, since I can’t imagine the program without him, I don’t even feel up to turning it on to see how his absence is being handled today.

Apparently, there are countless thousands who are missing Tim, too, because according to this New York Daily News article Tim’s books have shot to the top of Amazon’s best seller list since his sudden death. And how appropriate it is that on this Father’s Day Russert’s Big Russ and Me: Father and Sons, Lessens of Life is selling out in bookstores all across the country.

A day after NBC journalist Tim Russert died from a sudden heart attack, his two books about fatherhood were flying off the shelves.

“Big Russ and Me: Father and Son, Lessons of Life” – Russert’s tribute to his truck driver father – and his followup book, “Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons,” soared to the top of Amazon.com’s best-sellers list Saturday.

 Book stores said customers were snapping up any remaining copies as last-minute Father’s Day gifts.

“I was pretty moved by it all,” said Jason Keighery, who tried to buy a copy of “Big Russ and Me” at Barnes & Noble, Union Square, only to be told they were sold out across the city.

I still find it hard to believe the man is gone. I will miss him.

Gene Wilder Dead at 83

Gene Wilder starred in a bad movie on occasion, but he never failed to crack me up somewhere along the way.  The Frisco Kid, in which he played a rabbi from Poland who finds himself in bad company in the old West is a case in point.  It’s not the greatest movie in the world, but Wilder’s performance was worth the price of admission.

This is the theater trailer for that 1979 movie.

Rest in peace, Gene Wilder.  You were a good one.

Confusion, Anger, Complacency, and Grumpiness: The Four Stages of Life

65a39aef9a535c759746c556d51444341587343I’m not much into horror fiction these days, probably because so much of what I see on network news broadcasts horrifies me just about as much as anyone needs to be horrified.  But I decided to try a John Connolly novel for the first time – which turned out to be, I think, book number 14 in his Parker series, not a great place to start – and I’m finding it quite well written and informative.  Connolly even makes me laugh sometimes, the last thing I expect from a horror novel.

One of the way-off-to-the-side characters in the book is a small college professor called Ian Williamson who, when observing his school’s current crop of students, made the observation that the youth of that era (sixties and seventies) had been looking for reasons to be angry, which was perfectly understandable because the young were supposed to be angry. Now the youth were just looking for reasons to feel offended, and that wasn’t the same thing at all.  Dead on.

But it is what the fictitious prof went on to say that hit even closer to home: “The four ages of man…were confusion, anger, complacency, and grumpiness, but it was important to embrace them in the right order.”

I know very well that I’m well into the “grumpiness” stage now, and looking back, I think I went through the four stages in the right order.  I guess that’s a good thing, but it’s kind of a downer to be reminded again today that I’m in the final stage now.  That happens a lot lately.

My Love/Hate Relationship with E-Books Is Intensifying

I have had a love/hate relationship with e-books almost from the moment they appeared on the scene as an option for book-buying.  I love many things about their convenience, and because I’m a bit of a new technology nut (often jumping on the early bandwagon of products that go on to fail miserably and leave me holding the empty wallet), I purchased a very expensive Sony Reader when that was the only real option out there.  But I hate e-books as books because I couldn’t tell you right now how many I own, their titles, or where the heck I need to go to find them again. For me, buying e-books is like burning money…they just disappear into the ether, many never to be seen again.

One of the books I’m reading right now is Joe Queenan’s One for the Books (2012), in which Joe addresses many of my objections to replacing tree-books with e-books.  And, man, does he say it well.  Take a look:

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Joe Queenan

“Certain things are perfect the way they are and need no improvement.  The sky, the Pacific Ocean, procreation, and the Goldberg Variations all fit this bill, and so do books.  Books are sublime, but books are also visceral.  They are physically appealing, emotionally evocative objects that constituted a perfect delivery system.  Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who like to read on the subway, or who do not want other people to see how they are amusing themselves, or who have storage and clutter issues, but they are useless for people who are engaged in an intensive, lifelong love affair with books.  Books that we can touch, books that we can smell; books that we can depend on.”

That’s it.  All my e-books look alike, smell alike, and feel alike.  No wonder I can’t remember which ones I have paid good money for.  They are just that damned generic, and I’m starting to resent them for their sameness.

Phone Calls from “Area Code” 509 can be hazardous to your wallet’s health

 

 

I am going to do something today that I’ve seldom done on Book Chase, I’m going to re-post something previously published (on October 9, 2015).  I’m doing it because the post exposes a scam that I’m almost certain originates somewhere in India by recounting my experience with the human scum that called me on the phone and tried to con me out of several thousand dollars.

So why repost it now?  Because I noticed quite a flurry of hits on the post this morning – all originating from the same region of India. Makes me wonder about the activity and what these criminals are up to right now.

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I am furious at the moment, so I am apologizing right now just in case I get too carried away with this post.


I received a phone call this morning from this number 509-855-7456.  On the other end of the line was a man who identified himself as an IRS agent.  He then proceeded to tell me that the IRS had filed a collection lawsuit against me for back taxes between the years 2008-2013.  According to him I had been audited for those years and found short, so now I owed the IRS another $3,987, including interest and penalties.  

Now this yo-yo spoke with a heavy Indian accent, but the IRS does have many, many immigrants in its employ so that was not necessarily anything to worry about, so I listened to him.  He told me that a warrant had been issued for my arrest, that my drivers license had been suspended, and that all my bank accounts had been frozen as of this morning.  He identified himself as one Jerry Wilkins, Badge number 961277B and even gave me my “case number.”

So…he gave me two choices.  Go to the courthouse in handcuffs or authorize payment of the amount in question.  But I had to do it now or it would be too late to save myself.

When I questioned him a bit, it turns out he had my full name, my home address, my home phone number, and the last four digits of my social security number.  When I told him I would most certainly not authorize access to a bank account for him to collect the debt or wire transfer the amount to him, he turned up the heat even more and began to focus on my arrest for tax evasion, an event he predicted would occur very soon.

I hung up on the jackass, blocked the number, and considered myself fortunate not to have been taken in by the scare tactics these thieves are employing to bilk American taxpayers out of thousands and thousands of dollars.  While speaking to him, I could here one other Indian having a similar conversation with someone else.  I only hope they escaped his clutches.

Now I know that area code 509 is delegated to Washington state, but I don’t know that that means the caller is actually sitting in Washington.  With today’s technology, I would not be at all surprised if a phone call can be masked via a U.S. area code. I do know that it was possible years ago to do it from Central America because a friend of mine ran an American business from Costa Rica that way and did not want his customers to know that he was calling them from outside the U.S. so all of his phone calls from Costa Rica showed a 713 area code.

Anyway, consider this a warning.  Be very careful about any phone calls you receive from Area Code 509 even if that is your own code.  I suspect this scam is targeting older people, but I do not know that for a fact.  So EVERYBODY should make themselves and all of their friends aware of this kind of thing.

The IRS will NEVER contact you by phone or email in order to let you know that you are being sued by them.  That does not happen.  This sorry SOB did claim that they sent me a registered letter that had been returned as undeliverable and that Federal law prohibited re-mailing of such letters.  They are a sharp bunch of crooks, folks, but they are nothing more than scum of the earth criminals.  

The only thing that bothers me now is the possibility that with all the information they have about me, I am soon to be the victim of identity theft.  Wish me luck on that one.  

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So there you have it.  Just a warning to the wise…hang up on these people as soon as you identify the scam, block their calls, and report them to the appropriate authorities. Maybe they are feeling the heat a little now that the word is out, maybe their success rate is dropping off.  If so, you can rest assured that they are simply cooking up the next scam right now. So stay awake out there.

Favorite Publishers: Library of America

I don’t know how it works for you guys, but over the past few years I have come to have a number of favorite publishers, companies that consistently publish the kinds of books that appeal to my reading tastes.  And I mean consistently.  It’s not that they never miss, but they hit my sweet spot way more times than other publishers can even dream of hitting it.  Three publishers that immediately come to mind for me are Henry Holt, Soho Press, and the Library of America.

These guys publish very different books, so I know to go to Henry Holt when I’m looking for a new literary novel, to Soho when I want a crime thriller or something similar, and to Library of America when I want to revisit the  writing that helped shape this country into what it is today.

I suppose that, if pressed, I would have to say that Library of America is the publisher I most admire both because of the quality of their books and the fact that they are a non-profit publisher on a distinct mission.  I’ll let the LOA describe itself (taken from their website):

Library of America, a nonprofit organization, publishes, preserves, and celebrates America’s greatest writing and offers resources for readers to explore this rich and diverse cultural heritage.

Founded in 1979, the nonprofit organization was created with a unique and unprecedented goal: to curate and publish authoritative new editions of America’s best writing, including acknowledged classics, neglected masterpieces, and historically significant documents and texts.

Now widely recognized as the definitive collection of American writing, Library of America volumes encompass all periods and genres and showcase the vitality and variety of America’s literary legacy.

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The LOA books are on the second, third and fourth shelves in this bad photo I just took

I started collecting Library of America books sometime in the mid-nineties and right now I have 87 of their books on my shelves.  And what great books they are.  The books are all of the highest production quality with beautiful binding jobs and acid free paper, ensuring that they can be passed down from generation to generation for a long, long time.  Personally, I remove their dust jackets and shelve them that way because I think the colors of the cloth boards are so classic themselves that they bring a touch of class to any bookshelf they grace.

I plan to feature my favorite Library of America books here from time to time, but today just wanted to sort of set the stage for what is to come.  I think you’ll be surprised by the great variety of authors, eras, styles, and genres being forever preserved by the LOA people.  My 87 volumes is maybe one-third of what they have published since 1979, and I plan to add to my collection on a regular basis for (I hope) many years to come.

Am I Being Oversensitive Here?

Maybe it’s just me.  I’ve been working this afternoon on a review of St. Louis Noir, another collection of crime-related short stories from Akashic Books.  While looking at the notes that I made while reading the book, two of them jumped out at me  – and I feel compelled to mention them in the review.  Both concern references made to Michael Brown, the Ferguson teen who was shot dead after attacking and beating one of that Missouri city’s cops.  

The first is in the opening stanza of one of the four poems included in St. Louis Noir and mentions “the cold cop who killed Michael Brown.”  That one is probably not all that terrible, I suppose, even if it does nothing to place that “killing” into context.  At least it didn’t call the shooting a “murder.”

The second comes from one of those brief little author bios that usually come at the end of books with multiple authors. In Umar Lee’s bio (which I’m willing to bet is self-written) he casually mentions discussing on television “the murder of Michael Brown.”  And I’m sure that it’s no coincidence that he is currently “a candidate for mayor of St. Louis.”  I’m sorry, but the policeman in question was not indicted for any crime at all, much less the crime of murder, making me believe that this may be the most wrongheaded author blip I have ever read.

Is it just me?  Or should this have been killed by an editor?  

"Browser" the Cat Is Being Booted from His Library Home

Here’s a rather disheartening news story for you on this late Sunday afternoon because of what it says about the petty, vindictive nature of some idiots…eh, people.  I just ran across this short story from Fox News about a Texas library that has evicted the library cat that’s been living in the building for the past five years – all because some twit was not allowed to bring her puppy to work and decided to get even with the poor cat.  Geez people.

White Settlement Mayor Ron White told the paper that he blames the gray cat’s eviction on pettiness at City Hall because a city employee wasn’t allowed to bring a puppy to work.
“We’ve had that cat five years, and there’s never been a question,” White said.
Lawmakers took up the cat’s fate at a June 14 City Council meeting under an agenda item listed only as “consider relocation of Library Facility cat Browser.”

[…]

“This cat has been loved by people of all ages for six years,” Lillian Blackburn, president of the Friends of the White Settlement Public Library, told the Star-Telegram. “I don’t have any animals but this cat is so gentle and so lovable and he brings so much comfort to so many people, it seems a shame to take him away.”

White is hoping the council will reconsider its action at a July 12 meeting, two days before Brower’s eviction date, according to the paper. 

I have to believe that Browser is going to get a reprieve at that July 12 city council meeting.  Surely the two idiots who voted to boot the cat will come to their senses – one way or the other – by then.  Right?

Would you shop at an Amazon brick and mortar bookstore?

Amazon Books – Seattle

Would you shop at an Amazon brick and mortar bookstore if there were one within convenient driving distance of you?  It appears that the people of Portland, Oregon, are about to get the chance to make that decision.  If any city in the country might actually shun an Amazon bookstore, it’s probably Portland, a city that prides itself on supporting independent retailers and is home to perhaps the largest independent bookstore in the world, Powell’s.  (The new store is said to be slated for a Portland suburb called Tigard, Oregon.)

Personally, I would have to take a look at it out of curiosity, if for no other reason – and I’m sure that I’d grab a couple of dozen photos for use here on Book Chase.  But I have a fundamental problem with the idea of Amazon going wholesale into the brick and mortar bookstore business.  I understand that Amazon has every legal right to open up physical bookstores anywhere its management wants to place them.  But, let’s face it, Amazon has already pretty much had the impact on used bookstores that Wal-Mart has had on small downtowns all across this country – they are now largely boarded up.  Are we, as consumers – and an economy – really better off as a result?

If you’re curious, the Los Angeles Times says that the new bookstore would not look much like a traditional bookstore at all:

If Amazon’s first store is any indication, the locations in San Diego and Tigard won’t look much like regular bookstores. The Seattle store features fewer books than most retailers, with all the books’ covers facing out. There are no prices listed on the books; shoppers have to use a scanner or a smartphone app to find out how much each item costs.
The Seattle store also sells electronics, such as Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, Fire TV and earbuds.

That last bit about the Amazon store selling electronic gear such as Kindles, however, could be describing any Barnes & Noble location in the country if the word “Nook” were substituted for “Kindle.”

So would you support an Amazon bookstore if one were plopped down in your area?  It might be a tougher call than you think.

Are Big Books Worth the Reading Time They Take? Really?

Believe me, I’m reading as fast as I can.

I’ve been reading long enough now to understand that over a given period of time (say a week or two) I’m going to average the same old 40 pages an hour I always average.  Sure, there will be short periods during which I read at a higher rate, but they are always offset by times that I slow way down…so 40 pages per hour average, it is.

That got me to thinking about how many “chunksters,” books of at least 500 pages in length, I want to work into my reading schedule these days.  I’m looking at a chunkster from one of my favorite authors right now, Elizabeth George, and feeling reluctant about beginning it even though it’s the next volume in one of my favorite current detective series.  A Banquet of Consequences is some 573 pages long and that equates to approximately 14.5 hours of my reading time – reading time that might be better spent reading two books totaling 600 pages.

It’s that “opportunity cost” of reading long books that has me limiting them more these days than ever before in my life. It seems that the older I get, the better I understand just how precious my remaining reading time is.  Do I waste those hours on bloated novels from the likes of Stephen King who never seems to know when to quit, or do I aim to read more books from more authors?  Do I toss aside books after 30 or 40 pages if they don’t click with me or do I give them a little more time?  My 40-page rule has served me well for the last ten years or so, but maybe it’s time to drop that number to 30.  

As for chunksters like A Banquet of Consequences, I’m sure that I’ll still read some of them – but they are going to have to be books that are “important” to me (this one certainly qualifies), books that continue to nag at me until I do read them.  But I suspect there won’t be all that many of them in my future.

Too many books, too many authors, too many translated titles from around the world, too many e-books at my finger tips, too many ARCs…man, I love my life right now.

How Tom Rachman "Mourned His Sister Through the Books She Left Behind"

Tom Rachman

A Washington Post article titled “How I Mourned My Sister Through the Books She Left Behind” caught my eye this morning – and it started me on some serious thinking about what we leave behind us upon our deaths.  What physical objects, especially books, will our survivors associate with us for the rest of their own lives…and so on?  

When Tom Rachman’s sister Emily died, he found that her “library remained like a silent repository of her, and I had to dismantle it.”  And that is exactly what he would end up doing by distilling her 800-volume library into the 250 books that he believes meant the most to her during her life.  

I found books on psychology written by our parents. Books she’d started but never finished. Books with sticky notes in them — she was passionate about sticky notes. I discovered packets everywhere, in neon pink, yellow, green. Each time I found a note in a margin, it made me scour the text for why.

[…]

Many of her books I associate with her childhood bedroom in Vancouver, where she read one astonishingly thick book after another, such as the red hardcover of “War and Peace,” which bears our father’s handwriting inside: “To darling Emily, With fondest love on your 12th birthday, from Mum & Dad. x x x x”

There are books I forgot I had given, such as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in which I (at age 15) printed in pencil: “Dear Emily, happy 18th birthday, I got you this book because it is very funny, and overall ace.” 

Discoveries like these were just the beginning of what Emily’s books reminded Tom of from their shared lives – memories that bound her forever closer to him than would have ever been possible without the presence of the books – and notes – she left behind.

We should all be so lucky as to have a Tom or an Emily in our own lives.  

Perhaps writers are not the only ones who gain a measure of immortality from their books.  Maybe, just maybe, those of us who read them gain the same – if we are very, very lucky people.

(To read the entire  Washington Post article, please click on the red link at the beginning of this post.)