Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book Review: Dropping Your Guard

A Fair Trade Book (Get It While!)

(This is the original paperback edition I physically own. Online readers should know that Swindoll has written a new updated edition. The original is still a nice addition to a collection, and this web site will sell it on our usual terms as a Fair Trade Book. You should get the new edition, if at all possible--it's not all that much more expensive--to show respect to this writer. For serious students it's always fun to compare original and author-updated editions of one book...I've added the new one to my Wish List, too.)

Title: Dropping Your Guard

Author: Charles R. Swindoll

Date: 1983

Publisher: Word

ISBN: 84499-4178-4

Length: 191 pages

Quote: “[T]rying to play a part that wasn’t me led to nothing but greater fear and higher defenses.”

Should ministers have all the answers and confess no doubts or spiritual weaknesses? Do Christian believers need parent-figures to look up to more than they need one more fellow believer in their midst? Some Christians might say yes. “Chuck” Swindoll was not among those. In 1981 the silver-haired primary pastor and respected author followed up Improving Your Serve and Strengthening Your Grip with this “case for open relationships,” for church meetings that might feel more like town meetings or even recovery group meetings than like university lectures.

Personally, when I think of the word “open” in the context of people or their relationships, I’ve never thought of anything very desirable. When I think of people being “opened up,” I picture surgical operations. When I think of “open relationships,” I think of the later years of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s marriage.

That’s too bad—or it would have been, if I hadn’t tipped off in time that what Swindoll really had in mind was the sort of church where the pastor feels safe in saying, “Friends, I struggle with temptation just as you do, and I’m asking a few volunteers to stay nearby, during this family medical crisis, and help me resist the temptation to go out and get drunk.”

Or, “What a tacky TV character said about the way we ‘talk to God’ in prayer hurt my feelings as much as any of yours. In fact, even though I took my blood pressure pill this morning, I can still feel that dull headache of hypertension.”

Or, “Sometimes news items like this morning’s big story make me think that God’s got some explaining to do. If good, is He God? If God, is He good? I know the traditional answers to those questions, and sometimes they don’t satisfy me any more than they do some of you.”

For me, whether or not churchgoing has anything to do with spirituality is not all about the pastor. If I go to church to pray, my opinion of speakers and speeches is a distraction. I have, however, known some of those multitudes of people who don’t believe the people they meet at church are sincere. “He says, ‘God is right beside you in this time of trial, Mrs. Jones’! Look at that slick, conceited face! He doesn’t even believe God exists; he’s just saying what he thinks will keep that poor grieving mother giving him more money than she can spare.” People who say things like that may be helped by pastors who say things like the contents of Dropping Your Guard.

“How many congregations have you ever been a part of (or heard of) who regularly encouraged their pastor?”

“[A] Christian community should know that somewhere in it there will certainly be ‘a reasoning among them, which of them should be the greatest’.”

“If we have trouble with our car, we don't give up driving. If we have a roof that leaks, we don’t abandon the house...But...when a couple of folks have a conflict, only rarely are they big enough to stay at it and work things out.”

“[Men] can have lunch together for years and years and still limit their conversation to sports, politics, and dirty jokes.”

Then there’s the three-page story of the hilarity Swindoll shared with a couple of smartypants parishioners who caught him driving through a red light.

Because the ideal of “open relationships” based on the twelve-steps group model was such a fad in the late 1980s, I can state conclusively that simply releasing the expectation that pastors should be perfect is not going to solve all the relationship problems in church. People who liked the idea of telling each other everything they thought quickly ran into a need to reestablish some rules.

One rule I remember reaffirming for myself , after an awkward conversation in which I’d been very “open and honest” about a few relationship problems, was “It may be all right to tell people all the feelings and conflicts I have about my relationship with them, but it’s all wrong to mention any third parties. Even if I think it would be helpful for A to know that I’ve been in a situation similar to the one A’s describing now, I have no right to say anything that lets A know that B was involved.”

A rule a lot of men should have reaffirmed, but apparently overlooked, is “Watch your audience.”

In the early 1980s what we heard about “Sensitive New Age Guys” was good. They could back away from an ego-defending argument, consider the facts, and say, “Right, you have a point; let’s try it your way.” If caught with a tear in their eye, as it might be at a funeral, they could go ahead and shed that tear, rather than retreat into anger and start yelling at somebody for no reason. The original image of “Sensitive New Age Guys” was a very desirable one.

But then in the late eighties Sensitive New Age Guys started to get increasingly mixed reviews. By the 1990s we were being told that a suspiciously hasty study had found that women lost respect for those “opened-up” young men. Supposedly those men reminded us of our female friends...Bosh. I was there, and I remember the kind of thing that happened.

I did not lose respect for President Reagan when he shed a tear over the Challenger. I don’t know anyone who did. I thought more, not less, of Dale Earnhardt when he wiped a few tears (who didn’t?) the day Davey Allison died. I didn’t think a bit less of a young man I’ll call Mike who cried on my shoulder the night after his grandmother died. That was the kind of crying women do, the kind men might as well admit they do—the kind people do.

I did lose interest in a young man I’ll call Dave who was supposed to have met my flatmate and me at 5:30, and was familiar with local traffic patterns, and failed to allow time for those, and turned up at 9:30 crying real tears of frustration and low blood sugar. It was not that Dave reminded me of my “opened-up girlfriends”—heavenforbidandfend. I wouldn’t have counted a woman who was as selfish, irresponsible, and incompetent as Dave among my close friends, either. Guys like Dave weren’t revealing feminine qualities; they were displaying a lack of adult qualities.

Before the 1980s, guys like Dave were just as selfish and irresponsible and incompetent as Dave was, only instead of expecting to be forgiven if they cried real tears, they expected to be able to distract everyone from noticing their shortcoming by yelling, blustering, and bullying. So the crying was an improvement—sort of—but it still left these guys several miles short of Real Manhood, or Real Womanhood either.

I’ve seen a few ministerial meltdowns that represented a sort of congregational equivalent of Dave’s Last Date. Pastor Frozenfish, whose greatest natural talent for any kind of ministry probably consisted of his not being an extrovert, but who tried very very hard to reject this gift and pass for an extrovert, preached more than one whole “sermon” whose “text” was “What do youall want me to do, anyway?” Pastor Fishfingers didn’t burden anyone with the details of his sexual temptations, which was good, but he didn’t resist them well enough to stay out of jail. Some alternatives to wearing that mask of pseudo-perfection are not improvements.

On the other hand, many Christians trusted C.S. Lewis more, not less, because he wrote, “I have moods when atheism looks probable.” Many thought crying was the normal response to the Challenger disaster. The people who thought Jimmy Carter shouldn’t have mentioned having lust in his heart, mostly, said “Everyone already knows that.”

There are things a Christian can confess and still maintain respect as a spiritual teacher, and things s/he would do well not to confess if s/he wanted to maintain respect as a legitimate member of a twelve-step group for convicted felons. What Swindoll discusses are generally the kind of thing preachers, deacons, and choir leaders would do well to confess.

Dropping Your Guard is not for ministers only. It’s for whole church or Sunday School groups to work through together. The pastor, teacher, or other group leader answers the same questions everyone else does.
Like Swindoll’s other books, this one is full of Bible studies. “Open relationships” is not a biblical concept but Swindoll presents several passages that relate to his ideas about “open relationships.”

To buy this book noted above, there are two options. You can still buy the original edition for your collection. It's still a good read, and if you enjoyed growing up in the 1980s it's a nice nostalgia trip. For that, send $5 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment to the appropriate address as usual, and we'll send $1 to Swindoll or directly to a charity of his choice. Alternatively, buy the new book here as a new book for $10 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment, and not only will Swindoll get his royalty payment per agreement with his publishers, but this web site will send $1.50 to him or his charity. If you're a serious collector, buy both for $15, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment, and Swindoll or his charity get $2.50.

As regular readers know, what this web site means by the "per package" shipping charge is that you can jam in as many additional books as will fit into the package for one $5 fee. You could, for instance, add the original paperback editions of Improving Your Serve, Strengthening Your Grip, and Hand Me Another Brick, which were pocket-size books, plus Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, to the two editions of Dropping Your Guard, and pay only $5 for shipping. At this point this web site's prices would become quite competitive with what you'd get directly from Amazon.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Book Review: The Best American Essays 1997

A Fair Trade Book

(Amazon has annoyed me lately, but it made me laugh with the computer-generated note that "There is a newer edition of this book: The Best American Essays 1998." Wrong, computer! Each year's Best American Essays collection contains fresh new essays selected by a different writer.)

Title: The Best American Essays 1997

Editor: Ian Frazier

Date: 1997

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

ISBN: 0-395-85694-9

Length: 226 pages

Quote: “Like other activities I enjoy, writing essays is something I would rather do than talk about...I recently learned, however, that for decades now I have been mispronouncing the name ‘Montaigne.’ Though the correct pronunciation has since been explained to me, I am still rather hazy on it. It’s not like ‘champagne’—or not like the way I pronounce ‘champagne.’ This discovery has chastened me, and caused me to shelve the whole history-of-the-essay opening, due to lack of qualifications. I will add that I am glad to have worked Montaigne in so early, and gotten him out of the way.”

Ian Frazier, whose first books were collections of comic essays, goes on to say that he liked some of the essays reprinted in this book because they were funny, others because “what’s funny about them coincides exactly with what’s sad,” and others that were angry or painful but had “a strong intention elegantly followed through” so that, he felt, “The reader finishes each in a heightened and lively frame of mind.”

Do even booksellers review The Best American Essays collections, or do we announce them? I’ll say this: I prefer short nonfiction, with a personal quality but with something in it beyond me-me-me—which is to say, essays—to short fiction. I’m more likely to look for writers’ full-length books after reading their essays than after reading their short stories. I think the public library system made a great mistake by discarding and discontinuing this series.

The Best American Essays are adult books, in the best sense: books that engage an educated adult’s brain in the pleasure of learning something new. Their reading level is above the ninth grade level mandated for “family” newspapers (the ones that don’t hold writers down to a sixth grade level); they don’t explain every joke or reference; the writers often relish obscure words; they expect you to recognize Frazier’s remarks on Montaigne as funny because you’ve read at least translations of at least a few of Montaigne’s Essais. They’re dense with information packed into small print, not broken up by graphics, text boxes, or other visual clutter. They expect readers to be people who enjoy reading and learning. They’ve disappeared from the public libraries, not because they didn’t circulate, but because stupid people don’t like the idea that people who are not stupid enjoy reading and learning.

The essays are always presented in alphabetical order; in 1997 the writers of Ian Frazier’s choice were Hilton Als, Jo Ann Beard, Roy Blount, Bernard Cooper, Louis de Bernières, Debra Dickerson, Richard Ford, Frank Gannon, Dagoberto Gilb, Verlyn Klinkenborg, Natalie Kusz, Naton Leslie, Thomas McGuane, Cullen Murphy, Cynthia Ozick, Lukie Chapman Reilly, Luc Sante, Paul Sheehan, Charles Simic, Lauren Slater, Susan Sontag, Gay Talese, Le Thi Diem Thuy, and Joy Williams.

I think Als’ essay is the weakest, a story supposedly about his mother but really about a sexual fantasy that probably appeals to nobody but him, but even it has some felicitous phrases. Dickerson’s lament for a wounded nephew is the most painful to read. Talese’s report on the late-in-life meeting of Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro is the least funny; Roy Blount’s thoughts on being a Southern writer are the funniest. Joy Williams’ consideration of overpopulation, “Against Babies,” is the most outrageous. Your reactions may vary.

What can you learn from a book published in 1997 about what people, many of whom were old at the time, were thinking? (Most of these essays are not about news stories from 1997; some are mostly about historical events that occurred even earlier than 1897.) You can learn that history, science, literature, philosophy, and art haven’t changed at all. These essays were collected for the pleasure each one gave the reader, and, by and large, they still do. Reading them is like a leisurely lunch with each of twenty-some interesting people, old and young, male and female, American and foreign. The stories they tell are about times and places where you’ve not been and, in some cases, they’ve not been either (many essays are about historical research). I may be oldfashioned but I think this by itself is enough to make the Best American Essays valuable: They give readers, some of whom may be the type of person who is not really boring so much as just very young, a sense of how much of a world there is out beyond the end of your nose, how much more there is to think about than me-me-me-and-my-little-feelings. If you happen to be interested in Slater’s best-case experience of Prozac Dementia (she knew pseudomemories might form, and was able to watch them like a movie) or Sante’s discussion of European food or Thuy’s description of twentieth century Vietnam, so much the better; if you’re not, particularly, well, you’ve not lost much time and they are interesting people.

Ian Frazier is still alive and writing, so this is A Fair Trade Book: When you buy it here, $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, we'll send $1 to Ian Frazier or a charity of his choice. Three more books of this size can nestle beside The Best American Essays 1997 in a package, and if you happened to choose Frazier's early books, Coyote v. Acme, Nobody Better, and Great Plains, Frazier or his charity would get $4.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Fashion Post: Studying Melania

(Image credits: Non-book images are public-domain photos donated to Bing by news sites.)

For the past month I've been paid to write things that were not blog posts. Today I've been paid to write a blog post, and the prompt was "Why don't bloggers say more about Melania Trump?"

See the source image

Well, duh. I traced this question back to the notoriously intrepid blogger Michelle Malkin, who just does not understand ordinary women. "Americans like Melania," MM posted at National Review Online. "She's beautiful, smart, multilingual, a devoted mother..."

Americans who like Melania like her because she's beautiful. Americans who dislike her probably dislike her for the same reason. Michelle Malkin, not being a natural-born White American, may not realize this--there are White American supermodels and movie stars who look at these pictures and feel inadequate.

There is also the "younger second wife" thing, only in the Trump menage it'd be a "younger third wife" thing, which is even worse...This web site refuses to go there. The time for wisecracks about the Trump menage was before young Barron was old enough to read them. All I'll say is that although I've always called First Ladies "Mrs." whatever, "Mrs. Trump" still sounds like Ivana's title to me; his other two wives are merely Marla and Melania.

But seriously, Michelle Malkin, how can you not notice? Peggy Noonan's Case Against Hillary Clinton was basically that HRC wouldn't have been your best friend at school, and Noonan got one part right: a lot of American baby-boomers project onto the baby-boomer-age Presidents and First Ladies the emotions they think they would have felt about these people if they'd been in school together. That's what they have in mind when they call the First Couples by their first names. Considered as college dorm mates...if they'd been cast in a movie about girl friends, Hillary would have been the ideal study buddy; Michelle would have been the gorgeous cheerleader you wanted to be seen with; Laura would have been the one you really admired and wanted for a best friend. Melania might just possibly, in a Lifetime Channel girl-power drama, be the misunderstood one who threatens to drop out of school, but more likely she'd be cast as an evil foreign spy, a homewrecker, or at best as The Worst Friend Anyone Could Imagine.

Dagny Taggart, maybe?

See the source image

Or Zenia--wouldn't she make a great Zenia?

It is possible that, if women who do find it possible to forgive Melania for being pretty in such a sultry, exotic, unusual way started raving about "the Melania Look," other women would seriously hate her.

It is probable that, if we started gushing about "the Melania Look," we, ourselves, would feel as if we were teenagers again, compounding our natural awkwardness by trying to copy "the Diana Look" and not knowing why those styles were never going to look good on us. Even if we know by now that most of us would not look good in what looks so good on Melania, we'd worry about sounding like the sort of little girls who did not know that, and did not have lives and jobs to write about, either.

It is certain that, by 1990, a lot of us had had time to notice how much younger and slimmer we looked in styles that suited grandmotherly Barbara Bush than in styles that suited young, thin, beautiful Diana Spencer, and we said, "We will not look back. We will not buy 'fashions.' We will buy clothes, that suit us, and wear them whether they're in fashion or not."

Right. This web site salutes women's right to wear the styles that suit us.

By and large those are unlikely to be the ones that suit Melania Trump, because although she looks more like a normal human being than gawky Diana Spencer did, she's not only extra-tall and indecently well preserved; she's a "Spring."

Remember, in the "Color Me Beautiful" system, "color seasons" have little to do with the colors traditionally associated with a season of the year. Each of the four "color seasons" includes a full range of different ethnic types, but the majority of people are Winters, and you don't see a Spring every day. Springs are those rare people who look good in the sludgy, drab colors that make the rest of us look grungy and those bright, hot colors that make the rest of us look washed-out. Springs are people who do not look jaundiced in mustard yellow.

See the source image

Springs are not normal. Some Springs are beautiful, but somehow most of us know there's no way we can copy their look.

Springs do (this may console some people) look sort of weird in colors that would be much more flattering to most of us than the colors only a Spring can wear.

See the source image

Maybe now you believe she's forty-eight?

So the first thing we learn from studying photos of Melania Trump is never to buy anything in those colors, or not as a garment, anyway.

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A pink pantsuit, with creases and all, as worn in 1978, may be due for a revival--but the rest of us should avoid that pink.

Those dresses with tiers of ruffles, also circa 1978, were fun, and red may be a good party color--but the rest of us should look for soft, rosy reds or deep, raspberry reds, never that tomato-ey red.

See the source image

And most of us can wear almost any shade of blue--but not this blue.

That dress also brings up the question of skirt lengths. Skirts about knee length, as worn by Diana Spencer, visually "cut you off at the knee" and make you look shorter. That's an effect Di needed, and Melania often uses. Women under 5'10" have less difficulty finding skirts that cover the curves of the leg, and look better when we wear them.

Diana Spencer was scraggy. Melania is curvey, even Barbie-like. Bottom-heavy women should probably look to Jennifer Lopez and/or Hillary Clinton for fashion inspiration, but personally, as a top-heavy woman, I've seen Melania showing off some things I'd like to wear.

See the source image

Those of us who aren't extra-tall need to make sure that kind of fitted jacket is fitted just right, but you have to admit it's a great look.

See the source image

Tight turtlenecks that really hug the neck make a lot of people look fat--or choked, or both. Looser "cowl" necklines, on the other hand...

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Wide belts...dang, this woman's wardrobe is a nostalgia trip. I wonder whether she remembers some of these looks from the last time they were in fashion? She wouldn't have been old enough to wear them, but she undoubtedly saw grown-ups wearing them.

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Top-heavy women have to be skinny to get away with a tight skirt, but I'm sure both Dagny Taggart and Zenia had an arsenal of them...

Well...if you're a top-heavy woman, these pictures have undoubtedly given you some ideas. And if you're only slightly older than Melania, you may even still have the clothes in the attic.

Adapting any components of the Melania Look we may want to incorporate into our wardrobes is a deeply personal matter, having to do not only with our personal shape but also with how much attention we want to call to it on any given day. Melania Trump can afford to wear some of these outfits because she rode to and from these events surrounded by more armed officers than your town probably has on duty at one time. I'll confess having worn a skin-tight skirt on the street, but not when I was alone, and never with hooker-heel shoes. (Free fun fact: I have never worn hooker-heel shoes on the street.)

However, there are two aspects of the Melania Look I completely like:

1. That brown hair. How many White American women just assume that they'll look more interesting if they dye their brown hair black, or brassy yellow, or red, or maybe chartreuse, but not the brown color to which true Caucasian hair usually fades even if it started out being red or blond. And how wrong they are. It goes with being a Spring, but Melania positively flaunts her brown hair even now that it's starting to fade to gray. Totally cool.

2. That face. Well, so it's a very Slavic, North Asian face--the type of face chosen for evil spies during the Cold War, which is probably why I keep thinking of fictional characters like Dagny and Zenia. That's not what people admire about Melania's face.

See the source image

She's forty-eight. She could pass for twenty-four. Envious women may now repeat in chorus: "Hah. Wait'll she hits fifty. That'll change fast." And I say to them: You wish.

There've always been people--some famous examples including Jack LaLanne, Ronald Reagan, Katherine Hepburn, Sophia Loren--who looked positively young all the way through middle age. Well...most of the time, they did. Now that I'm over fifty I can imagine that there were times when they looked "older" than they were, but those times were exceptions they were able to conceal from public view. They really did have the faces they, in some sense, "deserved." They didn't start to look "older" until they were positively "old."

I've blogged about being one of them (so far) because I see this happening to quite a few baby-boomers, and because it's what we were not told to expect. People who have them most of the time want to believe that baggy eyelids and saggy jawlines are part of "the aging process." They're not. They're visible on children who've been sick; they're conspicuously not part of "the aging process" as seen on healthy ninety-year-olds, whose hair may be white and whose skin may be positively cross-hatched with wrinkles, but whose wrinkling can still be described as "smile lines" rather than sags and bags.

Sagging and bagging definitely make anyone look older and fatter than the person did before the infection, the late night, the dehydration, the heavy bleeding, or the hangover...or than the person will after those causes of false aging have been addressed.

I'm fifty-plus, right? I'm not ashamed of it; this is what fifty looks like. I've been the same height and worn the same dress size since high school. I now have enough white hair to show up in a good light and prove the black hair is real. When I'm healthy, people in their twenties still think I might be one of them. When I've been out in the heat for a few hours or had a celiac reaction, people my age mistake me for some 75-year-old or even 85-year-old relative. And this is not unusual--the 85-year-old relative with mostly black hair may have to be biracial, but lots of people dye their hair. Graying is genetic, but this business of looking 25 today and 75 tomorrow seems to be happening to a lot of people in their fifties.

NASCAR fans had a chance to observe how this false aging actually works for a few years in the 1990s, when Richard Petty was still the King of NASCAR and his son Kyle was trying to race too. Richard Petty adopted a trademark look that covered up all the sites of real aging--big hat to cover gray or thinning hair, big glasses and mustache to cover the thinnest skin areas on the face--and so managed to look about half the age everyone knew he was. Still did, the last time I looked. Kyle Petty preferred beer and soda pop to water, stayed out late, partied like the rich kid he was, and so frequently looked "older" than his father. He also tended to wash out during long hot races.

People can't really fake the look of good health--dyed hair can aggravate the unhealthy look, makeup conceals only so much, and more drastic effects last only so long--but many people are succeeding in maintaining it. They're not celebrities so I won't mention their names, but I do regularly see women with "young," pretty faces who still look great in red, with long, snow-white hair, like Galadriel.

If Melania manages to avoid major illness and stay hydrated, she may look lovelier than ever, in her weird Spring way, as a "blonde," when she's older than Donald Trump is now.

I say she should go for it, and long may her brown-or-"blonde" hair wave.

That may well be as bad as she'll ever get. Go, girl!

Liebster Meme Revival (for the Benefit of Local Lurkers)

Some blog posts have been funded, and here's a quick one. I stumbled across this at the Little Bookstore blog, which I visited during some unexpected online down time:

It's Liebster, from German, "dearest"--a meme bloggers passed on to eleven of their favorite blogs. First you answer eleven questions posted by another blogger. Here are Wendy Welch's questions: 

1. So, do you like kittens? 

I adore kittens so much that, if they're female, I'm even willing to keep them around after they become cats, if no one else adopts them. As regular readers know, more than ten years ago I adopted a feral cat family from an alley in Kingsport, Tennessee. They had a lot of health problems, as real alley cats usually do, but they were incredibly clever and social. For this cat family, kittens are generally a Blessed Event rather than a problem to be prevented. Individuals with especially bad health problems, like the Manx gene, are being neutered; there's still a waiting list for kittens born to healthier members of the family, although it's shorter than it once was--and this spring nobody's moving up the list, because if Samantha's one kitten doesn't die of Manx Syndrome and/or glyphosate poisoning, she stays here. She has the Manx gene and will be spayed when she's old enough to risk a trip into town.

2. Do you like authors? 

Well...I don't keep them in the office room and feed them, so, arguably, not as much as kittens. Then again, if authors lived in 24" boxes on a handful of kibble a day...

Seriously, I like a lot of authors. That's what this web site is about: celebrating older books, paying due respect to older (living) authors. Other web sites shriek endlessly about new books. This site likes new books, too, when and as we've had time to read them.

3. Have you ever wanted to deck an author with a swift punch? 

Wayne Dyer comes to mind, and I recently reread and reviewed a book by Helen B. Andelin...Actually what I wanted to do was set them down and explain to them where they made their major mistakes, but if that were what it took to get them to that point...!

4. Have you ever decked an author with...[any] method? 

No. Of course not. This web site never condones violence and reminds everyone that, far from getting authors to retract their major mistakes, decking them is more likely to get us arrested. It makes us seem as if we couldn't explain their major mistakes on our own blogs. Also this web site ponders briefly whether Wayne Dyer ("Whatever you're feeling is entirely your choice") or Helen B. Andelin ("Women should try to be incompetent so that men will want to take care of us") would be more likely to beat us up, and if either of them were still currently alive, this web site would be more concerned about Andelin.

5. Will you be attending any of my readings? 

If and whenever my Significant Other is healthy enough, and his relatives aren't in need of whatever home health care he's able to provide, so that we can go up to Wise County (which is where he's from) and do something that is fun, we'll do that. Currently I have no social life. I do two things: (1) work for subminimum wages and (2) try to collect some sort of payment for it.

6. If you were going to make the world a better place, which would you hire as global leader: a teacher or a mom? (no fair combining) 

The last chance I had, I voted for a doctor.

7. Did you know that a woodchuck who chucks wood can chuck two cords? 

No. The answer I learned in grade two was "A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as the woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood."

8. Do you think teachers and moms should be given free vodka and hot wings at an annual global appreciation day, or just cash? 

My Mom, being both a teetotal abstainer and (most of the time) a vegan, would obviously prefer cash.

9. Have you ever moonwalked? Or read the Huffington Post? 

(These are funnier if you've read WW's post, linked above!) Moonwalked, no. Read HP, fairly often--it behaves better these days than it did when the post was first posted.

10. Are you going to look at the adorably charming Youtube videos my husband and I made of our independent bookshop? 

This computer is set up not to play most videos, but any Gentle Readers who've not imposed that limit on themselves are encouraged to go back to WW's blog and click around. The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is an adorably charming, big oldfashioned house, conveniently located near the footpath along the road between the college and the town library, full of books, friendly cats, and crocheted cotton souvenirs. There is also a cafe section, separate from the books.

11. Um, so, how do you feel about megalomaniacs? 

Isn't everybody in cyberspace one? Well, I try...urrrr (braking noise), there I go, me-me-me-ing with the best...I do try to read e-friends' blogs, as well as pontificating and self-advertising on mine.

Eleven things about me:

1. I've been blogging long enough that regular readers know as much about me as anyone in cyberspace needs to know.

2. I do not crochet cotton towels and washcloths for sale to tourists as souvenirs. I knit them.

3. I also knit full-sized one-of-a-kind blankets. You can specify colors and design motifs.

4. I was brought up to believe that children must be taught proper behavior by spanking, but I've found it more effective to threaten to sing out loud in public.

5. I have never actually had to sing at any of The Nephews' schools.

6. Due to ancestors having lived near Gate City and selectively bred to type for 200 years, I look a bit like a lot of people, including some older than my mother and some younger than any daughter I could have had. I talk to people who obviously think they're talking to one of those other people. They're related to me if you go back far enough.

7. So, if I stare dumfoundedly at you instead of answering your question, this does not necessarily mean that I can't think of a verbal dodge or counterattack. It usually means I'm trying to work out which distant relative you think you're talking to. If what you said makes sense as something you might have said to someone else, and I know who it is, a normal polite conversation may be possible--if you don't jump down my throat first.

8. So, for the local lurker who might have been reacting to the story that began with the character called Frank ( ), or to who knows what or whom else...I've met about a dozen men called Frank in my lifetime. I wouldn't say that any of them ever has helped me, in any way. The one who was standing where he could hear you, I've never seen help anybody, in any way, but he could hardly have lived as long as he had if he hadn't had a nicer side.

9. And, for the one who wanted to know how I lost "all that weight"...I've worn the same dress size all my life; during the past year I've actually gained a little weight. I have no idea which relative you thought you were addressing, or whether she's lost weight or gained weight, or how. So far as I know, all the ones who are or have been fat are considerably older than I am, though some were fat when they were fifty.

10. And, for the one who wanted to know whether I'd "go with" him...I am sorry I spoke to him as severely as I did. Insane Admirers are always a problem. You know they're physically harmless, and treating them as if they were still likely to molest anybody is cruel. You know that allowing them to carry on and possibly get overexcited is also cruel. The thing to do is find a distraction before they become either overexcited or a real impediment to legitimate business or conversation. I did try. Whether he imagined he was talking to the tall, slim, tragically beautiful young thing who was arrested recently for soliciting to feed the habit that she tried to cover up with all those tattoos that apparently remind some people of the pattern of a dress I've worn, or to someone he invited to go to a Sunday School picnic with him in 1945, I have no real idea. I get mistaken for all kinds of people by the profoundly confused. The idea of being mistaken for the Kingsport hooker, who wasn't even thirty when arrested, and for some obese elderly relative, within one hour, really did blow my mind. If it hadn't I would probably have found a way to brush him off without raising his blood pressure.

11. I would have more respect for my neighbors if they'd stop trying to carry on personal conversations in public places, and stick to either talking about business, or not talking at all.

Eleven questions for you, fellow bloggers...for some of you I could think of links to answer some of these questions, but the idea here is that you decide whether to use a short answer, back-link to your choice of older posts, or write a new post:

1. If you're not a cat person, have you posted a legitimate explanation for this? (Yes, adorable dog blogs count.)

2. Do you post recipes?

3. Would you like to read blog posts in which real people test your recipes?

4. Have you been in Washington, D.C.? If so, have you blogged about it?

5. Have you been in Gate City, Kingsport, and/or Big Stone Gap? If so, have you blogged about it?

6. (Nieces and) nephews, children, grandchildren, or all of the above?

7. What was the last book you read?

8. Did you blog about it? (If not, what was the last book you blogged about?)

9. What is your Twitter handle?

10. Do you miss Google +?

11. Where else can anti-Facebookers find you in cyberspace?

Eleven bloggers chosen for the Liebster Award meme...Y'know, I'm not sure I want to impose a meme on anybody. Some people hate memes. Some people think memes are sooo ten years ago. Some people may have done this meme when it went around, years ago, before I was following them. The eleven blogs showing at the top of the list on your right have posted something recently. Some are heavy, some are funny, some are cute, some are heartfelt. If you have some versions of Chrome your screen will show some of them in different colors to indicate that someone's clicked on those links recently; I may have been the one. Since the list includes over 100 blogs you're sure to find something good, even if you don't want to open The Blaze, which is understandable. (The Blaze stays at the top of the list because it's an aggregate of news blogs by a couple of dozen different bloggers, most of whom are paid semiprofessional journalists by now.) The following bloggers came to mind based on recent posts when I was writing the questions...Vince Staten doesn't post often these days, but has recently been sharing a French friend's blog about visiting the U.S., translated into English:

Scott Adams

Mona Andrei

Elizabeth Barrette

Ruth Cox

Ellen Hawley

John Horvath

LB Johnson

Coral Levang

Melissa & Mudpie

Barb Rad

Vince Staten

...and having found this meme there automatically disqualifies Wendy Welch.

Book Review: Louis C. Tiffany's Glass, Bronzes, Lamps

Title: Louis C. Tiffany’s Glass Bronzes Lamps

Author: Robert Koch

Date: 1971

Publisher: Crown

ISBN: 0-517-505568

Length: 201 pages plus index

Illustrations: many black-and-white photographs

Quote: “A complete or definitive catalogue of...all the objects associated with Louis C. Tiffany...can never be compiled.”

Nevertheless, admirers of this artisan have collected many objects he made or designed. This book is a collector’s guide; more than half of it consists of photographs.

Tiffany began as a painter but became famous for designing glassware with an “artistic” quality. He’s been described as a “rebel in glass.” He is remembered not so much for his paintings as for designing household goods, especially glass but also metalware. His “studios” displayed these items in exhibition rooms that also recommended the “correct” plaster, paint, fabric, and even wallpaper to provide the most artistically effective backgrounds for his works.

Tiffany marketed his designs under the name Fabrile, meaning “handmade,” which was quickly changed to Favrile “to create a unique word.’ Actually they were mass-produced in a factory. The text of this book includes interviews with the laborers who copied Tiffany’s designs, including the chemical recipe for the dip used to give copper-plated bronze pieces a green patina.

Lamps are the most obvious use for “artistic” pieces of glass and metal. Tiffany designed several laps, candelabra, and electric light bulb holders. This book also shows his paintings, decorative wall tiles, glass folding screens, vases, dishes, desk sets (“Photograph Frame, Paper Weight, Calendar (Perpetual), Reading Glass, Pen Brush, Blotter Ends...”), jewelry, and miscellaneous products.

If you’re interested in antiques and décor (Lisiwayu is a serious hobbyist, GBP mildly interested), it’s worth having this book to check for real Tiffany products and authenticate reproductions. Tiffany became one of those brands that people went to the trouble of copying. For all practical purposes a good copy, or a good piece of work made in a similar style, is as good as something made in the Tiffany factory during LCT’s lifetime. People who really care which is which will, however, pay more for a Tiffany lamp now than Tiffany ever asked anyone to pay while living.

To buy it here, send $5 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment to the appropriate address at the bottom of the screen. This is a coffee-table-sized book; one or two more books of similar size will fit into one $5 package.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: On the Road

Title: On the Road

(This is not the edition I physically own; it's the edition Amazon wants you to see first. Lots of reprints of this book are available.)

Author: Jack Kerouac

Date: 1957

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 0-14-24-3725-5

Length: 307 pages

Quote: “In the month of July 1947, having saved about fifty dollars from old veteran benefits, I was ready to go to the West Coast.”

Was this a novel or a memoir? Kerouac said it was a novel, that he was more like the character he calls Sal (who “shambled after” the character he calls Dean) than like the adventure-seeking Dean, but he had been in the merchant marine, experimented with drugs, and taken road trips. He changes names, places, and identifying details in this book, and probably cleans up the more embarrassing details of his alcoholism, which was going to kill him twelve years later. According to Ann Charters, who wrote the introduction to the reprint I have, “Carlo Marx” was based on Allen Ginsberg, “Bull Lee” on William Burroughs, “Tom” on John Clellon Holmes, “Elmo” on Herbert Huncke, and “Dean” on Neal Cassady. Kerouac stopped road-tripping, though, and went home and wrote books from his mother’s house.

Dean, in the story, “spent a third of his time in the poolhall, a third in jail, and a third in the public library.” Dean was “the holy con-man with the shining mind,” and Carlo was “the sorrowful poetic con-man with the dark mind,” and narrator Sal “couldn’t keep up with them.” Still, Sal says, “the only people for me are the mad ones...mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved...who never yawn or say a commonplace thing.”

So they all drive across the continent, east to west and south to north, in search of adventures. And they have a few, narrated in a terse, student’s-letter-to-parents style that captivates the attention by how much it leaves to the imagination.

“I had to sleep in the railroad station on a bench; at dawn the station masters threw me out.”

“Damion’s girl suddenly socked Damion on the jaw with a roundhouse right. He stood reeling. She carried him home.”

“He talked about how bad a driver Old Bull Lee was and to demonstrate...hurled the Plymouth head-on at the truck roaring our way...and swung away at the last moment...The people in the back seat were speechless. In fact they were afraid to complain.”

“It is only seldom that you find a long Nebraskan straightaway in Iowa, and when we finally hit one Dean made his usual 110.”

“Judge said, ‘Did you know what you were doing when you attacked your friend?’ ‘Yessir, Your Honor, I did, I wanted to kill the [BLEEP] and still do.”

Kerouac didn't type "[BLEEP]." Kerouac was not writing a Google-hosted blog. He and his friends were former sailors, and he wrote the way they talked.

The happy-go-lucky road-trippers are of course drinkers, occasional stoners, racists, sexists, and selfish jerks; you’d probably prefer other companions for a road trip you were planning in real life. Nevertheless most readers enjoy On the Road. Baby-boomers liked it so much in youth that we prefer to forget that the characters belonged to the Greatest Generation, not ours.

Of the literally dozens of editions of this book that are available, several contain additions--like Kerouac's other autobiographical novels--that you may prefer to Ann Charters' commentary. Amazon has eighty, count them, eighty pages of results for a search for On the Road, although some of those results are garbage. If you want a specific edition, please specify; otherwise you'll get whichever is available at the best price at the time of mailing, for $5 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment. Reprints of On the Road vary in size; there are small-print pocket-sized editions, standard-sized editions, and bulky omnibus editions where other novels are bound in. Generally four standard-sized books ship in one $5 package.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Memorial Day Post: Michael Reagan Raises Money for Amvets

Here comes this web site's official patriotic post for Memorial Day. U.S. readers, please feel free to close your eyes for a few moments, listen to your mental sound track of the Marine band playing "God of Our Fathers," and meditate on being American. (If our National Hymn is not on your mental sound track, it's on the album below.)

National Hymn (God of Our Fathers)

(Note: This post contains offsite links that may not work, in pictures that may not show, outside the United States. If the pictures work and you click on them, you should find yourself at a U.S.-specific charitable organization's site, courtesy of a legitimate fundraising system whose cookies may clutter up your computer; after visiting, cookie-cleaning software should take care of that. If you're outside the U.S., feel free to skip this post.)

This e-mail is being shared for three reasons:

(1) Although they lost me when they started "telemarketing" at my home, I supported the Amvets' charity store in Maryland for a long time, and found many fabulous bargains there. I'd owe them one just for the $5 I spent there on the base yarn to make the sweater that sold for $850. I still think charity stores are a better way for organizations to raise money than asking people for donations, but since I've not been back to Maryland for ten years now I'll waive the point.

(2) I think Grandma Bonnie Peters might enjoy seeing the late President Reagan's picture here; George Peters' hair turned grey before his face showed wrinkles, but people often thought he looked like Ronald Reagan. (I don't remember his movies, but I do remember his first inaugural address.)

(3) I never was able to complete the payment for one of Laura Ingraham's older books to her favorite charity of the season. She authorized one of these e-mails in aid of Amvets; I clicked; Amvets wasn't taking small payments! So here, this year, is an opportunity for anyone who needs a U.S. tax write-off to get in a documented 501(c)(3) donation--in honor of Laura Ingraham, or Michael Reagan, or GBP, or your favorite U.S. veteran. Forty dollars does seem a nice amount to contribute to a very peaceful demonstration to remind people how many older veterans need home care. Our federal government has a contractual obligation to offer Vietnam veterans the same benefits it offered World War veterans and currently offers young veterans, but it's been failing to pay that obligation. Amvets does showy stuff, like parades, that's no substitute for helping actual disabled veterans pay their drivers; at least that stuff should (currently) remind your Congressmen that funding home care for Vietnam veterans is part of a bill currently under discussion in Congress. You might want to write to yours, too, to make sure that specific concern is in their minds as they salute the flag at the parade...

Anyway, here is Michael Reagan's fundraising appeal for Amvets' Memorial Day Parade:


You might have heard my name before, but I'm sure you know my father, the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. I remember his first speech as President. At his inauguration he said,

"Those who say that we're in a time when there are not heroes, they just don't know where to look."

He went on to talk about some of those heroes he referred to:

"Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom.

Each one of those markers is a monument to the kind of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam."

My family has always had an affinity for the military and our veterans. In fact, you may not know that Dad volunteered in the Army four years BEFORE Pearl Harbor. He was disappointed when the Army told him he couldn't serve in a combat function because of his defective eyesight and was asked to star in promotional and training films for the Department of War. Nonetheless, he did his duty and loved his chance to serve. He also was the first president to visit Normandy on D-Day.

AVC Reagan

I wish my Dad was around today, I know he would have loved to see the National Memorial Day Parade roll down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. and go right by the White House. He would have been so honored to watch these service men and women walk by his home marching in remembrance of their fallen friends, and witness the families of the fallen participating to remember their loved ones they lost a world away.

Sadly, when he was president there was no Memorial Day Parade. It wasn't until 13 years ago the American Veterans Center a small non-profit started this tradition that had been lost to the ages. They revived it and for 13 years and on a small budget they put on this parade.

My Dad would have loved it even more knowing that NOT A PENNY COMES FROM THE GOVERNMENT! In fact, the American Veterans Center ACTUALLY PAYS THE GOVERNMENT TO PUT IT ON!! Nearly $80,000 goes to Washington, D.C. and federal government for permits, security, and other expenses.

This Memorial Day Parade costs about the same as a couple balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or for about two floats in the Rose Bowl Parade. Think for a second about the impact this Memorial Day Parade has on our military, veterans, and families of the fallen.

AVC Reagan

I am emailing you to ask for your support to help the American Veterans Center. They organize and produce this parade not because it's easy, but because it's the right thing to do. My Dad tried to live his life on principles like that.

Would you consider making a donation in honor of my father, who I know would have loved this great event?

Please consider a gift of $40 in honor of him being the 40th President of the United States or $80 for the year he became president and helped turn this country around. Or more if you can so help. I don't want to see this Parade stopped because this small non-profit can't afford the government costs.

Thank you for your considered support and patriotism to our nation.

Warmest regards,

Michael E. Reagan

P.S. – Please consider making a gift of $40 in honor of him being the 40th President of the United States, or $80 for the year he became president and helped turn this country around. Or whatever you can do. Every dollar helps!

Donations made to the American Veterans Center are tax-deductible. The American Veterans Center is a project of The American Studies Center, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational foundation.


Morgan Griffith on the EPA

I, the writer known as Priscilla King, have an apology to make. I don't always post all the e-mail this web site receives from elected officials. Some of it gets caught in the spam filter because some officials persist in using devices that try to confirm that correspondence is going to their districts, which is legitimate and reasonable but has to be classified as spyware. Sometimes I'm not online enough to find and post e-mails before they become outrageously outdated. This time, I read Congressman Griffith's E-Newsletter when it came in, thought "This needs to be posted with comments," and then failed to make the time to post it and append the comments.

Here's U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith's (R-VA-9) E-Newsletter from two weeks ago:

Friday, April 27, 2018 –
What a Diff’rence a Year Made
I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want clean air and clean water. Protecting our environment is something we all desire. But there are grand ideas about refashioning (but damaging) our economy that offer theoretical benefits we may never see, or there are nuts-and-bolts approaches that can make positive differences in both our environment and our economy. For too long at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there was more of the former and not enough of the latter.
Under the Obama Administration, EPA acted far beyond its statutory authority. As I have noted many times, EPA wrote regulations with little apparent regard for what the law actually permitted it to do or the damage it would inflict on jobs and livelihoods.
While EPA made up rules disconnected from the law, actual laws went unenforced.
You may recall the story of Flint, Michigan, where lead poisoned the city’s water. EPA’s regional administrator had information on lead in the city’s water for months without making it public, even ignoring dire warnings from an EPA field representative who was willing to spend his own money in order to get better data.
Ultimately, a team of Virginia Tech researchers led by professor Dr. Marc Edwards helped bring it to public attention. Their work showed the true scale of lead poisoning in Flint’s water, even as EPA and state officials minimized the problem.
Flint exemplified how EPA had lost its way. As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over EPA, I saw firsthand how the agency forgot its core mission.
But, to paraphrase an American standard song made popular by Dinah Washington, “What a Diff’rence a Year Made.” Under the Trump Administration, the EPA has shown notable progress over the past year in addressing its core tasks of clean water, clean air, and environmental renewal.
As an example, let’s check back in with Dr. Edwards, who was recently awarded a grant of almost $2 million from EPA. The funds will support what he calls, as reported in the Roanoke Times, the “largest engineering citizen-science project in American history.”
With EPA’s grant, Dr. Edwards will apply what he learned in Flint to help other communities that may have water problems. He will also test home kits so others can gauge the purity of what comes out of their faucets. This type of research will identify where we have problems with the nation’s drinking water. It will most likely mean that we will have to spend local, state, and federal dollars to fix the problems discovered. But hopefully, we can solve the problems before they get as bad as Flint, Michigan.
I have also been pleased with developments in EPA’s Brownfields Program, which provides assistance to contaminated areas that are no longer usable.
EPA’s program offers help to communities that want to clean these areas up and make them fit for new economic activity. It’s a boon for economic development and environmental protection.
The Brownfields Program was recently reauthorized for the first time since 2002 based on language crafted by the Energy and Commerce Committee.
EPA recently announced a round of brownfield grants:
  1. The Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation received $600,000. Among the places they may use the money are Alleghany County, Covington, Clifton Forge, and Iron Gate.
  2. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) received $300,000 for Southwestern Virginia, which will be used in Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Smyth and Wythe Counties.
  3. Virginia Tech received $300,000, which will be spent on environmental assessments in Honaker, Pocahontas, St. Paul, and Appalachia.
  4. Wise County received $600,000 for properties in the Guest River Watershed.
That’s $1.8 million that will be spent in our communities to assess lands currently in disuse, restore them, and repurpose them.
Similarly, money I obtained for a pilot project is being used by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) to accelerate the cleanup of abandoned mine lands for economic development. I advocated for funding this project, called the AML Pilot Plus Program, and I recently visited a former mine site that would benefit from it in Russell County with DEQ and OSM officials. Other sites like it dot our landscape.
Projects like Dr. Edwards’ work on water quality, redeveloping brownfields and mine lands aren’t flashy. But they will lead to cleaner air, cleaner water, a better environment, and more jobs. That’s what we really need. The EPA is doing its core job. What a difference a year makes.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at

Two comments:

1. Our Uncle Sam is known for his habit of throwing money about recklessly. If he has the money and is going to throw it, Appalachia is a nice little town and could use some free money. But I'd rather see Uncle Sam stop throwing money about and just enforce sensible laws. One that we need badly should say something like, "No person or corporation may spray any chemical pesticide on land within two miles of any residential property without a special permit, obtaining which must require the written consent of the property owner; and no permit shall authorize the use of chemical pesticides within two miles of the same property twice in fifty years." Most of the people in Gate City still don't realize that what caused all those "allergy" and "cold" symptoms, "flares" of chronic illnesses, sudden "aging" and miscellaneous weirdness among humans, illness and death of animal, around the time this e-mail was written, was glyphosate sprayed on the railroad in the middle of the night. Not everyone noticed a reaction or is willing to accept that it was a reaction to a chemical they want to believe does not affect them, but it was. The EPA needs to ban glyphosate, specifically, altogether and forever, because its unique interaction with the specifically Irish celiac gene amounts to genocide, but the EPA needs to be proactively banning most use of all 'cides because they all end up harming humans more than they affect pest species.

2. And about Flint...People up there are claiming they still don't have tap water they can drink, or use for bathing. (Dang, I always thought "dirty Yankees" was just a phrase.) Is there any truth in that? If so, why? Something is definitely rotten in Michigan.

Book Review: Pride of the Moor

Title: Pride of the Moor

Author: Vian Smith

Date: 1962

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: none

Length: 284 pages

Quote: “There’s got to be a change of luck some time.”

Like my short story, “The Luck of Jesse Barclay,” this novel is an exploration of beliefs about “Luck.” In my story one man seems to have “all the luck,” both good and bad. In Smith’s novel one man, Howard Wonnacott, has all the bad luck.

Wonnacott has inherited a farm; he works; he earns money, but never gets ahead. Even if he were to find an abandoned champion race horse out on the moor, browsing with the moor ponies, and bring it home, it’d die.

So his little boy Mark finds such a horse. Mare, rather, and she’s pregnant. She won races and was bred, in her day; now she’s old, her humans don’t want to feed her. Howard brings her home. Almost immediately she dies. But she leaves behind a colt who grows up with Mark and will do anything for Mark. Win races? Steeplechases! The horse they call Question Mark, son of the Pride of the Moor, keeps winning, bringing home prize after prize. Howard can’t make a profit at anything, but Mark and his horse are raking it in.

Do not buy this one if you’re looking for a feel-good story. There’s a spin-off—in a later, happier novel Smith picked up the career of Pilgrim Star, who raced against Question Mark. Pride of the Moor is only for readers who can handle a sad, ironic story.

To buy it here, send $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment to the appropriate address at the very bottom of the screen. Three more books of this size should fit into one $5 package.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Review: The Cockatrice Boys

Title: The Cockatrice Boys

Author: Joan Aiken

Date: 1996

Publisher: Tor

ISBN: 0-312-86056-0

Length: 221 pages

Illustrations: black-and-white drawings by Jason Van Hollander

Quote: “[T]he day when the evil invasion of the British Isles first began...was on a wretched rainy Sunday.”

(You don’t have to remember Died on a Rainy Sunday to enjoy The Cockatrice Boys, but remembering adds to the pleasure...)

Billed as Aiken’s first “adult fantasy” novel, this one doesn’t read as more “adult” than the fantastic adventures in her "young adult" books. It’s “adult” because it was published by Tor. For the same reason it’s also been classified as science fiction rather than fantasy, although the monster invasion from outer space is hardly more “scientific” than the use of balloons in the historical fantasy of King James III’s reign. (At least in the nineteenth century there were balloons.)

Whether The Cockatrice Boys is creepier than Bridle the Wind, Return to Harken House, or even The Stolen Lake is a judgment call. In my judgment it’s less creepy. The enemies include entities that answer to names real medieval Europeans once gave to demons they seriously feared, as do the cartoonish tame dragon’s separate heads in Not What You Expected; they can project their voices through humans or objects, but they seem to belong to the cartoon world of bug-eyed monsters on the cover. In Bridle the Wind we can almost believe the mad monk is possessed by real demons; in Return to Harken House, if the narrator isn’t haunted by real malevolent ghosts, we believe she thinks she is; in The Stolen Lake we know nothing like any part of that story happened in our real world, but we are reminded that real people did sacrifice children. I personally vote for Bridle the Wind as the one of Aiken’s books most likely to have given me nightmares if I’d read it during a period of emotional stress in childhood.

Aiken’s whimsical adventures, whether pretty or wacky or creepy, appeal to the same sort of teenagers, young adults, and (admit it) mature adults who like some of Tor’s other books, so why not write a book for Tor, someone must have asked her. The Cockatrice Boys is the Tor book that she wrote. It’s as whimsical as the adventures of Dido Twite but not as pretty, and didn’t sell as well. It’s an enjoyable comedy-melodrama anyway.

In an unlikely near future Aiken’s trademark pair of gifted children, here teenaged cousins Dakin and Sauna, team up with a few congenial older people and save the world from the alien invasion.

There may be a Message, for those who really want one. Thinking you hear secret messages from aliens or supernatural beings is one of the standard symptoms of classic schizophrenia. In the reality of the story, both messages and aliens are real; other people hear the voices in Sauna’s presence, and what Sauna sees through walls and forward in time also tends to be accurate. Her mean, clutter-hoarding aunt is obviously much crazier than Sauna. Nevertheless, early in the story, Sauna agrees that she needs to be tied to a chair, that “meat and bread’d make her too active.” On the team of monster hunters Sauna is capable and courageous (Dido Twite would’ve liked her) but she still hears these things, seems to attract them, and seems vulnerable to their influences, in ways other people are not. Sauna is not schizophrenic, or even really hyperactive, yet she can seem to be a best-case image of Integrating People with Mental Disabilities, Too. If only it really worked like that.

Apart from that The Cockatrice Boys is just another comic adventure, with the smart, tough, yet ineffably girlish girl and the smart, sensitive, yet thoroughly boyish boy who have each other’s backs and can therefore do anything. Just another one, but if you enjoy this kind of book you’ll want to collect them all.

To buy it here, send $5 per book, $5 per package, plus $1 per online payment to the appropriate address at the very bottom of the screen. (See the "Greeting" post for more about how payments work.) At least three more books of this size will fit into the $5 package.