Books

The Martian ◊ andy weir

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‘Tis the season for thankfulness.  Everything speeds up, though.  We attend this, deliver than, check off our list, make the parties.  But the true spirit of the “holidays”?  Maybe it is to reflect . . . 

Last week a book on CD came into my possession.  I listen to these in my truck.  After the first few paragraphs, I anticipated travel time in the GMC like a dog hearing his leash.  The proverbial “old men” maneuvering their ancient Oldsmobiles at a trot pass me along the road as I carefully catch every traffic light.  The “travel” in “travel time” was never so enjoyable.

Yes, the writer is amazing.  Andy Weir hears this all the time so I need not repeat it.  I wonder if he imagined himself Mark Watney  ~  I’d bet Andy had to, but that will be another article.  Yeah, the upcoming interview, after his people and my people get our schedules in sync.  🙂

At first I did not realize – sorry Matt – this was the book made into a movie.  R. C. Bray NAILS narration so convincingly.  He becomes each of the characters and owns it so totally, you’d think he wrote it.  Our researchers memo’d me R.C.’s closest exposure to aeronautics is paper airplanes, so ghost writing rumors, begone!

Thinking I finally had something new to share with my nephew, I planned to introduce this fine novel to his young inquisitive mind.  Yes, the kid is brilliant, but I figure the book is mature enough that he’d have to read it by flashlight under the covers.  “Oh yeah, I read that a couple years ago.  Great book.  And we saw the movie too”.  Soccer ball deflated!  Where did this kid find the time to turn out so humble and pleasant?

Taking my nephew’s queue, I’ve secured the DVD.  I’ll repeat his experience.  I am not jealous of his youth or covet his upcoming opportunities, but do regret not noticing how quickly he has grown into a young man.  More reflection is in order.  After the movie.  Pass the popcorn, please.

Great movie!  Thanks Matt for your hard work!

A Slant of Light • jeffrey lent

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jeffrey-lent-by-geoff-hansenAisle L.  Always a joy.  Two years have passed.  People browsed, flirted, exchanged glances.  Plans made, advances ignored.  There is always love in Aisle L of our local library.  Requited, engaged, spurned, savored.

Since my last visit Jeffery Lent has published another book.  Mr Lent is a time traveler.  He closes his eyes, fiddles with levers and dials in his imagination, arrives at his destination and time, then opens his senses to new surroundings.  And writes.  Beautifully.  We see, smell, and hear small town America a century ago.  Before automobiles, electricity, or telephone.

The Lenten tornado of imagination plucks me from my routine and drops me within his world.  Late 1860s in rural New York.  Small town courthouse.  Country lanes. Hard farm work.  Simple murder, anything but simple.  You are not reading.  You’re an observer, tagging along, wondering what will happen over yonder hill?

a-slant-of-light-jeffrey-lent

The Whiskey Rebels • david liss

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whiskey-lgAir travel introduces one to the phenomena of speed bonding.  Like your dental hygienist is an intimate pal – two hours a year – , your aisle mate within a slender aluminum tube spearing stratospheric air can be your soul mate, confidante, therapist.  Ask anything you want; get an honest reply.  You’ll never see each other again; bearing one’s soul to a stranger can be easier.

Flying east from a fortnight of good deeds, I eagerly anticipate rich loam of Pennsylvania soil.  But the Commonwealth’s airspace was a good start.   The famous Three Rivers, home of Pittsburgh, came first.  Easy to spot; unmistakable to the eye.

Usual airplane banter followed.  Pittsburg memories between a tradesman, risk analyst, and foreclosure specialist.  Geography and the settling of Colonial America followed.  Crank back time to 1790, and we’d see a muddy hamlet of about 300 souls, many of them skilled craftsmen. It was easier to produce what they needed rather than order from the east, and wait for the product to arrive over the Allegheny Mountains,.

The residents had a surplus of grain for trade, but shipping alcohol was easier. The fledgling Federal government had decided to levy its first tax against whiskey, but the (frontier) farmers argued they didn’t have cash to pay taxes on bartered goods, and marched in protest.

Where did I pick up all these tidbits, asked my new friends?  Research spurred by reading historical fiction of David Liss.  In The Whiskey Rebels, Liss brings together national politics with backwoods realities.  People living in the time before TV, cell phones, and flush toilets, dealing with the same issues we experience today.

David Liss engages reader imagination at the right pace.  His plot as well as locale, characters, interactions, all give one a sense of being in the book, alongside the story.  At a time when we more often live within electronic content by others (like this article, but finish reading before heading to the library), I’d certainly rather be in a book than a computer! 

Patrick Graham • Brickbat Books

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062615 patrick grahamPAT GRAHAM loves books. He has collected books from childhood.  By the time he was in Art School, his 10,000+ volume collection had becoming cumbersome.  The logical solution?  Open a shop.

First, with a partner, came Big Jar Books on North 2nd Street, Philadelphia.  Big Jar eventually was sold; Pat then opened Brickbat Books on South 4th, a solo-owned boutique collection.

And the story on the Benches of Brickbat?  By invitation of Pat, of course.

We speak of a collection of wooden benches, platforms, and tables, all carved from lengths of 12″ x 12″ solid oak and poplar.  The story, not independently verified, is that a local plumber found a pile of giant landscape ties discarded by a century-old insurance firm in West Philadelphia.  Inspired hours with chainsaw, belt sander, and angle-grinder transformed some of the wood into the pictured objets d’art.

SPAM (canned meat product)

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Gentlemen-rankers out on a spree, Damned from here to Eternity, God ha’ mercy on such as we, Baa! Yah! Bah! –  Rudyard Kipling

There Is A Conspicuous Lack Of Gelatinous Goo Encasing My Spam 

124Hormel-spam-12oz-500x500The can of Spam sat awaiting release into the world of gastronomic excellence.  Waiting . . . and waiting . . . awaiting the pan . . . Two years passed before the urge to buy and the urge to fry.  But when finally opened, it was, as expected, factory fresh.  Ready to eat cold or hot.  I like mine grilled, served between white bread.

What was different?  The goo that used to slide out of the can with the Spam was absent.  Maybe it is a money thing?  Hormel realized that goo costs money?  Spam will fry up perfectly fine without the extra fat?  Unknown, Houston.  Do not care enough to call the manufacturer?  Maybe Hormel will comment on this blog entry . . .   And our interest is ???

JamesJones_FromHereToEternity1Reading the novel From Here To Eternity, I became impressed by Sergeant Maylon Stark’s order that all men be given a hot meal upon request at any hour.  This meal would be fried Spam and toasted cheese on bread with hot coffee.  A meal I’ve recreated a few times; it certainly does “hit the spot”.

Tell you what.  Get the book.  Buy a can of Spam (low salt, maybe?).  Read.  Eat.  Experience what James Jones was feeling when, after WW II, he penned one of his most famous works. 

The Coffee Trader • david liss

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ACID-FREE PAPER IS the good stuff.  The paper stays brighter.  At first, I thought my eyes were exaggerating problems associated with old, musty paperback books.  After reading the manufacturer’s warning, I’ve begun to treat my eyes to better-quality printed goods.

49491A very nice spring day last week found me on an evening walk through a small grove of cedars, up to the front door of my favorite municipal library.  A list was consulted and a selection made.  Approaching checkout, an obligatory scan was made of $2 choices on the surplus books cart

A library-quality David Liss novel produced jaw-dropping surprise.  Hardback, nice paper, the perfect gift to a buddy.  What’s so special about David Liss?  Historical fiction and thrillers wonderfully combined.

I was lent The Whiskey Rebels on CD a couple of years ago, a thriller of historical fiction. After several attempts to get past the first disc, I became hooked with a complex plot closely woven among Alexander Hamilton’s attempts to fund the fledgling Bank Of The United States, a muddy frontier hamlet called Pittsburgh, a discarded spy of General Washington, and the routine of colonial life.  I’ve since enjoyed several more of David’s novels.

The Coffee Trader I’ve read.  This novel takes us to Europe, 1659, and the life of a Portuguese Jew trading in a new product, coffee.  The drink called  The Devil’s Piss, the subversives who consume, and the schemers and rogues who make up the trading mecca of Amsterdam are all rolled up in this excellent thriller.  This copy I’ve just bought will make an excellent gift to a friend who loves history, Judaica, and reading,  And coffee.

Stolen Prey • john sandford

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Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 7.13.06 PMLET THE TRUTH be told.  I didn’t read the book.  But I was deeply entertained with the fine narration by Richard Ferrone.  Richie’s voice came through my truck speakers, via a library loan of the book on MP3.  I highly recommend an audio book over news stations and most music.

Face it, you don’t need to hear the news.  You don’t want to hear the news.  It is so often mindless content, inflicted by media conglomerates in greedy desire to suffer upon you countless product advertisements for which you have no interest.

The story (yes, we are now back to literary discussions) is a neat tale of a loafer computer dude working at a bank, who discovers a narco criminale’s bank account.  Humm. Easy pickings!  Back door, multiple wire transfers, buy lots of gold.  Scram!  Easy!  Done!  Not!

Then comes the DEA, the Mexican Federales, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, 22 million in gold, the narcos, and of course,  Lucas Davenport.  John Sandford writes an exceptionally successful and hugely popular series (judging by the number of his books at the library!) featuring Lucas Davenport, an agent for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.  Lucas has BUCK$, wears Italian loafers, and drives a Porsche.  Clearly, your typical law enforcement officer.

What I liked about the story was that it was simple enough to be believable, but had enough twists to keep me guessing.  The story line was never lost or disjointed, which is great when listening a few minutes at a time.  The bad guys got their just deserts (some of them) and the deserving got theirs.  Most importantly, the humor is supreme.  So are both storytellers.