Thursday, January 1, 2015

My 2015 Reading List

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last year's New Year's resolution was to read more, and for some reason I decided to keep track of what I read by keeping a reading list on this blog. Unfortunately, that was the only thing I did on this blog for the entire year. I'm not sure if I'll ever start blogging again on any kind of regular basis, but I've decided to make another reading list, so here goes...

1. The Smoke at Dawn -- Jeff Shaara

By my count, this is the eleventh Shaara book I've read, so I'm a big fan of the formula. Since this book covers the Civil War battles for Chattanooga, you can find something of a review on my Chattanooga Civil War blog.

2. Gray Mountain -- John Grisham

Not as good as the last Grisham novel I read (Sycamore Row), but an interesting look at the evil coal mining companies of Appalachia.

3. Mr. Mercedes -- Stephen King

Somewhat of a surprise. None of the horror or monsters (except the human kind) you might expect from Stephen King, but a fairly straight-up crime story.

4. The Wild Blue -- Stephen Ambrose

The first non-fiction book of the year. Subtitled "The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany," this interesting book focuses on George McGovern's WWII squadron.

5. Fuzzy Nation -- John Scalzi

Scalzi calls this a "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy universe, "not unlike the recent J. J. Abrams 'reboot' of the Star Trek film series (but hopefully with better science.)" Piper's Little Fuzzy delved deeper into the philosophical questions surrounding sapience, but Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation is a more entertaining book.

6. Void Moon -- Michael Connelly

It's very odd to read a Connelly book that isn't about homicide detective Hieronymus Bosch, FBI agent Terry McCaleb or defense attorney Mickey Haller. This is more of an Elmore Leonard-style plot with the bad guy (in this case, a woman) trying to stay ahead of the even badder guys.

7. Fear City -- F. Paul Wilson

I'm a big fan of Repairman Jack, one of the coolest crime fiction characters of all-time. The cover said, "Repairman Jack: The Early Years," so I snatched it up. When I cracked it open to start reading it, I noticed that the title page said, "Fear City -- A Repairman Jack Novel -- The Early Years Trilogy: Book Three." Yikes! I started to take it back until I could get around to the other two books, then realized that I've read a good bit of Wilson's "The Secret History of the World" ALL out of order anyway, so what the hell. Except for a few parts (What the hell's the deal with Tony?), it works very well as a stand-alone book, telling the "secret history" of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

8. Underworld -- Don DeLillo

After some lightweight page-turners, I was looking for something a little more substantial. This book more than fit the bill. A big sprawling contender for the title of Great American Novel, perhaps a tad overly long and ambitious. The prologue, a recounting of Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard Round the World, is incredible sportswriting.

9. The Red Badge of Courage -- Stephen Crane

More than what I expected. This falls into the category of "Books I Should Have Read 35 or 40 Years Ago."

10. King's Mountain -- Sharyn McCrumb

I'm a big fan of McCrumb. I've read almost everything she's written and especially enjoy the Ballad novels that deal so extensively with Appalachian life. That said, this book, a fictionalized account of the Revolutionary War's Battle of King's Mountain, was fairly disappointing. Although the actual battle lasted just barely longer than an hour, I would have thought the telling of it would have taken more than the limited number of pages McCrumb devoted to it.

11.  A Sense of History

Subtitled "The Best Writing from the Pages of American History," this book is an excellent collection of essays on a wide variety of historical topics, showing what a national treasure we all lost when American Heritage magazine folded.

12. The Uncivil War -- Robert Mackey

Nonfiction. Subtitled "Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865." Not exactly what I was expecting -- I was hoping to learn a little something about East Tennessee Unionists -- but an interesting look at the various types of irregular warfare the Confederates used (guerrillas in Arkansas, partisans -- Mosby in Virginia, and raiders -- Morgan and Forrest in Tennessee and Kentucky) and how the Union eventually defeated them.

13.  Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom -- Cory Doctorow

A short, fun sci-fi story. You've got to admire an author who shows such reverence for Disney's Haunted Mansion.

14.  No Country for Old Men -- Cormac McCarthy

Not a bad book, but for various reasons I wasn't nearly as impressed as I thought I'd be.

15.  Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk -- Ben Fountain

A blurb on the cover says that this could be the Catch-22 of the Iraq War. No, but it's close, damned close.

16.  Rise of the Warrior Cop -- Radley Balco

Nonfiction. I put this on my reading list after watching the police in Ferguson drive up in armored personnel carriers, pointing assault rifles at peaceful protestors. Subtitled "The Militarization of America's Police Forces," this book might best be summarized by the words of an unnamed police officer: "These guys got new toys. They want to use them." A must-read for any American, regardless of your political persuasions.

17. Echo Park -- Michael Connelly

It took me a little bit  -- maybe fifty pages or so -- to realize that this was one of the sources of the Amazon series Bosch. Typical fast-paced, entertaining Connelly.

18. Faster Pastor --  Sharyn McCrumb and Adam Edwards

An outlandish plot leads to an amusing tale of what life is like in the lower echelons of NASCAR racing.

19.  Gone Girl -- Gillian Flynn

It didn't seem like my cup of tea, but I thought I'd read a bit and see how it goes. Much more entertaining than expected. A very enjoyable psychological thriller.

20.  The Art of Fielding -- Chad Harbach

Sorta, kinda reminded me of some of John Irving's better novels, if Irving had ever had much to say about baseball or Steve Blass Disease.  An awesome debut novel.

21.  The Girl on the Train -- Paula Hawkins

Another awesome debut novel, this one an entertaining psychological thriller/murder mystery featuring a lot of screwed up people. I didn't figure out whodunit until about ten pages before the big reveal.

22.  The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K. Dick

I've read a handful of Dick's books before, and put this one on my list after seeing the pilot episode of the upcoming Amazon series. This was a very good alternative history book, but didn't bear much relation to the pilot episode I saw -- which is par for the course for Dick's books. I'm still looking forward to the series though.

23.  Tree of Smoke -- Denis Johnson

I almost quit this one about 100 or so pages in, but it shaped up to be a very good book about the Vietnam War. Perhaps a little disjointed and overrated to be a National Book Award winner.

24.  American Tabloid -- James Ellroy

About as noir as a book can get -- from the opening scene of Howard Hughes mainlining codeine while watching the news to the end. Like F. Paul Wilson's Secret History of the World (see #7), Ellroy has crafted a secret history of the Kennedy years culminating in the president's assassination.

25.  White Doves at Morning -- James Lee Burke

Burke takes a break from the crime/mystery novels to write an enjoyable Civil War tale based on his family's history.

26.  The Girls of Atomic City -- Denise Kiernan

Like The Wild Blue (see #4) this is a non-fiction book about the WWII years, relating the experiences of the ordinary Americans who were there -- in this case, at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, working on The Project, refining The Tubealloy that would power The Device that would end the war.  Kiernan's Daily Show interview (Part 1 and Part 2) explains the book very well.

27.  Heavenly Days -- James Wilcox

Sorta, kinda reminded me of a Southern-fried Garrison Keillor -- the whole small town, lost in the modern age, comic kind of story. It might have been better if he had a spent a few more pages fleshing out the story a bit.

28.  The Girl Next Door -- Ruth Rendell

I'm not sure why I've only read a couple of Rendell's books. I've enjoyed the ones I have read. This book -- one of her last -- is not much of a mystery; you learn all about the murders in the opening pages, leaving the rest of the rest of the book to see how it all shakes out.

29.  The Five -- Robert McCammon

Back in the day, McCammon was like a hidden treasure -- an author who could write a horror/thriller comparable with Stephen King, who very few people had heard of. Then, after writing his best books -- Boy's Life and Gone South -- he quit writing. For a decade. He came to mind a while back, and I put some of his newer books on my reading list. Here, McCammon shows off an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music to tell the story of a struggling band on their last tour through the Southwest.

30.  Winter's Bone -- Daniel Woodrell

Wow. I've read a lot of good books this year. This short novel, less than 200 pages, might just be the best. 

31. The Steel Wave -- Jeff Shaara

Typical Shaara military history. The second of four books on World War II, this one focuses on D-Day -- the planning, the invasion, and the subsequent battles that allowed the Allies to establish a foothold in France.

32.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane -- Neil Gaiman

Like Winter's Bone (#30), this is a brilliant, but short book -- less than 180 pages. Other than that, the two books are nothing alike.

33.  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance -- Robert Pirsig

Part memoir of a motorcycle trip through the west, part autobiography, part philosophical discourse. I've never been a big fan of philosophy -- it starts out with grand, interesting concepts, then gets bogged down in the weeds. Zen was the same; it started out great, then Pirsig got bogged down for a couple of hundred pages talking about Quality, which made this a chore to pick up for a while, then finally got interesting again toward the end.

34.  Hidden Prey -- John Sandford

Needed some lighter reading for a change of page. Not one of Sandford's best, but a fairly decent crime novel.

35.  Fight Club -- Chuck Palahniuk

A fairly bizarre little book. This might make a good movie.

36.  The Last Colony -- John Scalzi

Typically entertaining Scalzi sci-fi; book three of the Old Man's War saga.

37.  A Prayer for Owen Meany -- John Irving

Not my favorite Irving book (that would be The Cider House Rules), but an enjoyable read. Took a little too long to get where it was going and telegraphed the ending way too far in advance.

38.  Lost Light -- Michael Connelly

A typically entertaining page-turner from Connelly.

39.  Horns -- Joe Hill

Probably my least favorite of Hill's three novels, but still a gripping horror novel. A little frustrating in that he transformed the protagonist into a demon with a few nifty demonic powers, but not enough to keep him from getting his ass kicked a few times.

40. The Black Dahlia -- James Ellroy

Ellroy is quickly becoming a favorite. An intense crime noir novel loosely based on the real-life crime story.

41.  Finders Keepers -- Stephen King

Another page-turning crime novel from King; a sequel of sorts to Mr. Mercedes.

42.  No Less Than Victory -- Jeff Shaara

Typically interesting military historical fiction from Shaara. This is the third book of his trilogy on the WWII European Theater, covering events from the Battle of the Bulge to (spoiler alert) the fall of Germany.

43.  A People's History of Sports in the United States -- Dave Zirin

Zirin, the sports editor of The Nation, explores the strange intersection where sports meets politics. I thought it might coulda been a little more comprehensive, but a great addendum to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

44.  Speaks the Nightbird -- Robert McCammon

I was really surprised that this story of a witch trial in 1699 Virginia was actually a mystery instead of a horror novel. I was also surprised that over 700 pages of small type went by so quickly.

45.  Station Eleven -- Emily St. John Mandel

The most sedate apocalyptic novel I've ever read, but extremely compelling.

46. Washington's Spies -- Alexander Rose

Non-fiction. History. Subtitled "The Story of America's First Spy Ring," this interesting book is the basis of the AMC series Turn.

47.  Night Over Water -- Ken Follett

Follett has written dozens of books; I've read a handful of them. The story, which is kind of meh, is made interesting by the account of the beginning of trans-Atlantic passenger flight aboard Pan Am's Boeing 314 Clipper coinciding with the beginning of World War II.

48. Welcome to Braggsville -- T. Geronimo Johnson

To all authors everywhere: Please, for the love of God, quit writing novels that don't have quotation marks. It's confusing, distracting, and irritating as hell. Other than that, this is an incredible novel, sort of a coming-of-age, sort of a Berkeley meets the Old South culture shock story, written in a variety of styles that plays havoc with a lot of social conventions.

49. The Big Nowhere -- James Ellroy

Book #2 of Ellroy's L.A. Quartet. Takes place after The Black Dahlia (see #40), but is not really a sequel. Can be read as a standalone novel. Another intense, noir crime novel.

50. Zoe's Tale -- John Scalzi

Book #4 of Scalzi's Old Man's War series. Mostly retells Book #3, The Last Colony, from a different point of view. You must read the other books to know what is going on in this one.

51.  Jacksonland -- Steve Inskeep

One of the best books I've read on the plight of the Cherokees; written by the host of NPR's Morning Edition.

52.  Naked Prey -- John Sandford

Another typically entertaining crime novel from Sandford. More entertaining than the last Prey book I read (Hidden, #34).

Currently reading: The Queen of Bedlam -- Robert MacCammon

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My 2014 Reading List

Right before the Christmas holidays, I started a new job at the same old place I've been working. The new job is more about how much I know as opposed to how much work I can do. Suddenly, I've got more responsibilities, but more free time to kill with nothing much to do but read.

I used to read a lot, but gradually got out of the habit when the Internet came along. My New Year's resolution was to use my newly-found free time to get back into the habit again. I also decided to keep a list of what I've read, and that's what this post is about.

I've mentioned before that I usually try to make the next book I read somewhat different from my last book. I'll read some lightweight fluff, then try to read something more substantial. If you think of something you think I might like be sure to chime in.

1. The Eyes of the Dragon -- Stephen King

This is what I was reading... um, re-reading, when the calendar ticked over to the new year. I first read this around 1987 when it was published. I was re-reading it to see if it was appropriate for my grandson, who will be entering middle school this year. I think I'll wait another couple of years before giving it to him.

2. The Mosquito Coast -- Paul Theroux

This languished on my shelf for quite a while. A strange book about a strange man who takes his family away from it all, all the way to the Mosquito Coast. A little too far. I'm really interested in seeing the movie now.

3. To the Last Man -- Jeff Shaara

I've read quite a few of Shaara's books, which are usually historical fiction about the various wars America has been involved in. This is his book about WWI.

4. Co. Aytch -- Sam Watkins

I'm not quite sure why I haven't read this Civil War memoir before. The first non-fiction book of the year.

5. I, the Jury -- Mickey Spillane

I love a good crime story and had never read any Spillane books before. I found a book that combined three of Spillane's Mike Hammer books. This is the first. Not really my cup of tea, but I can understand why people ate these up in the 1940s and 50s.

6. Nickel and Dimed -- Barbara Ehrenreich

Another non-fiction book. Ehrenreich leaves her comfortable existence to work some minimum wage jobs, and does a pretty good job of relating some of the obstacles facing the poor working class.

7. Raylan -- Elmore Leonard

I've read more than a few Elmore Leonard books in my time. This one centers around Raylan Givens, the protagonist of the FX series, Justified. This book tells some of the stories from the show with some substantial changes.

8. Doctor Sleep -- Stephen King

The sequel to The Shining.

9. Joe Strummer and the Legend of the Clash -- Kris Needs

I was a big Clash fan back in the day. This book was a whole lot of hero worship, but related a lot of the stuff I missed from being on the wrong side of the pond. This was a bathroom book. (If you have to ask, you probably don't want to know. Suffice to say, I read it over a long period of time in short segments.)

10. Mountains Touched by Fire -- Wiley Sword

Another non-fiction book. Another Civil War book; this one is a narrative of the battles of Chattanooga.

11. Thirteen Moons -- Charles Frazier

Not as good as his debut novel, Cold Mountain, but what is?

12. Innocence -- Dean Koontz

Once upon a time I read a lot of Dean Koontz books, but finally got tired of him and stopped. This book reminded my why.

13. My Gun Is Quick -- Mickey Spillane

The second of the three Spillane books. (See #5.)

14. Sacred Ties -- Tom Carhart

Another Civil War non-fiction book. This one is about five guys who met at West Point, and how they all went their separate ways once the war began. A lot of stuff about life at West Point, a lot of stuff about the Eastern Theater of the war.

15. Our Kind of Traitor -- John le Carre

A typically entertaining le Carre book.

16. Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Sports Spectacular

Another bathroom book, appropriately enough.

17. Hard Times -- Charles Dickens

I'm slowly working through the Dickens catalog. This one started out fine, but turned into a chore. I'm not quite sure that I finished it, but close enough.

18. Les Miserables -- Victor Hugo

I went into this huge, huge book with a lot of apprehension. I figured I'd read a little bit and see how it went. I was immediately drawn into this wonderful story, then couldn't dig my way out. A great story, but it would have been twice as good at half the length. I really don't understand why Victor Hugo included so much that didn't really have anything to do with the plot. This book marked a turning point, my first on a Kindle.

19. Riders of the Purple Sage -- Zane Grey

My grandfather loved Zane Grey, and I like a good western for a change of pace, but I wasn't impressed by this.

20. Play Ball -- John Feinstein

Another bathroom book. A non-fiction account of the 1992 baseball season. Some good stories here, but probably not of much interest to anyone except the most hardcore baseball fan at this late date.

21. The Dark Tower VII -- Stephen King

Yeah, I read a lot of Stephen King. This is the third one on the list so far this year. I started reading the Dark Tower books in 1982, when the Gunslinger came out. Now, some 32 years later, I'm finally done. Oh, what? There's another one?

22. Liberty -- Garrison Keillor

A typical Keillor story. Another bathroom book, but I probably would have been better off reading it in a few long stretches at work.

23. 2030 -- Albert Brooks

Probably the most disappointing book I've read this year. I was expecting so much more than what I got.

24. The Drop -- Michael Connelly

I love a good crime novel, a la Michael Connelly or John Sandford. They're like the literary version of fast food. I've read these -- Connelly and Sandford -- in no particular order, as I've run across them, but have read so many that it's hard to keep track of which ones I've read.

25. Dracula -- Bram Stoker

I read this when I was much, much younger, but didn't remember much about it. The concept of telling the story through journal entries took some getting used to. It drug in places, but finished in a rush. It was one of those books where you look at the dwindling number of pages and wonder how the author is going to wrap it up, then suddenly it's done.

26. A Blaze of Glory -- Jeff Shaara

Another Shaara book. This one is the first of a four-book series about the Civil War's Western Theater, centering around the battle of Shiloh.

27. An Officer and a Spy -- Robert Harris

Back-to-back historical fiction books. The author of Fatherland tells the story of the Dreyfus Affair. A pleasant surprise, much better that I expected.

28. NOS4A2 -- Joe Hill

My first Joe Hill book, but not my last. I kept thinking what an awesome movie this would make in the hands of the right director.

29. Heat Lightning -- John Sandford

Typical John Sandford.

30. The Wind Through the Keyhole -- Stephen King

Billed as a Dark Tower novel, it's really a novella within another novella within a short story. While holed up to get out of a starkblast (an incredibly intense, sudden winter storm), Roland tells his ka-tet the story of hunting the skin-man. Within that story is another, the Wind Through the Keyhole. Very entertaining, but doesn't do much one way or another to advance the overall Dark Tower story.

31. No Easy Day -- "Mark Owen" (Matt Bissonnette) and Kevin Maurer

The two, count 'em two, subtitles -- "The Autobiography of a Navy Seal" and "The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden" -- pretty much explain what this was about.

32. Bad Monkey -- Carl Hiaasen

I'm a big fan of Hiaasen. I've read almost all of his novels. This one is pretty typical: a convoluted plot, outlandish characters and dozens of laugh-out-loud moments.

33. The War of the Worlds -- H. G. Wells

If I've read this before, it was a long, long time ago. The original alien invasion novel is a rollicking little page-turner.

34. A Darkness More Than Night -- Michael Connelly

Typical Michael Connelly.

35. The Cloud Seeders -- James Zerndt

I signed up for a couple of newsletters that keep me apprised of free and very inexpensive Kindle books. This book sounded interesting and was free, and turned out to be well worth the price. No, seriously, it was a very good read.

36. Deliverance -- James Dickey

Whoa. This book languished on my shelf for a little while. I had seen the movie years ago, so I knew the story...or so I thought. As good as the movie was, the book was light years better.

37. Redshirts -- John Scalzi

 An interesting concept, playing off the idea of the unnamed crewman in the red shirt who always gets killed in the Star Trek away missions. Clever, fun, and just a little bit meta with several laugh out loud moments.

38. City of Bones -- Michael Connelly

Typical Michael Connelly; better than the last one I read, not as good as the one I read before that.

39. The Last of the Mohicans -- James Fenimore Cooper

I can certainly understand Mark Twain's criticism of James Fenimore Cooper. I came very close to quitting this book before I had barely begun. I stuck with it though and finally, somehow, got into the rhythm of the writing and found it to be a very engaging story.

40. Fast Food Nation --  Eric Schlosser

The first non-fiction book in a while. Makes a very persuasive case that many of the ills of modern society can be traced back to the fast food industry. I didn't realize that this book was so old (published in 2001) when I started it; would love to see an updated version.

41. Sycamore Row -- John Grisham

I kinda got out of the habit of reading John Grisham as he got out of the habit of writing legal thrillers. This wasn't his best book, but was the best I've read in a long while.

42. The Glorious Cause -- Jeff Shaara

It's weird that I've read a lot of Shaara's books, but haven't finished too many of his series. I've read the first book of his four-book WWII series, and the Shiloh book, the first of his four-book series on the Civil War's Western Theater. Now, after several years, I've finally finished his two-book Revolutionary War series. I enjoyed this, but thought he tried to do to much with it -- perhaps should have made it a three-book series.

43. Murder as a Fine Art -- David Morrell

Back-to-back historical fiction again. Morrell, the author of First Blood, which gave us Rambo, has written a very entertaining mystery/crime novel about a Victorian era serial killer, featuring real people such as Lord Palmerston and Thomas De Quincey.

44. Tishomingo Blues -- Elmore Leonard

Vastly different, but back-to-back crime stories. A typical Elmore Leonard caper with the bad guys versus the badder guys.

45. Angels Flight -- Michael Connelly

As I said before (see #24), I've read so many of Connelly's books in no particular order that it's sometimes hard to remember if I've read a particular one or not. About 15 pages into this one, the scene of the crime, Angels Flight, seemed familiar, and I was sure that I had already read it, but I couldn't remember any of the plot details, so I kept reading. Now that I've finished it, I'm still not entirely sure if I had read it before. Hmmm.

46. American Gun -- Chris Kyle and William Doyle

Non-fiction. The American Sniper's posthumously released book, subtitled "A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms," shows how American history and culture have been shaped by the gun. Interesting war and crime stories illustrate firearm evolution.

47. Orbit -- John J. Nance

A page-turning thriller. I was disappointed in how neatly the whole plot sorta resolved itself.

48. Appaloosa -- Robert B. Parker

The author of all those Spenser and Jesse Stone books tries his hand at a western. Not too bad, I actually enjoyed it more than Zane Grey's classic Riders of the Purple Sage (#19)

49. Little Fuzzy -- H. Beam Piper

I'm planning to read John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation in the very near future, so I thought I needed to check out the original first. The version I read was an unexpurgated version. As such, it got a little twisted and confusing in parts, in need of some editing, but was an entertaining and thought-provoking attempt to define sapience.

50. Heart-Shaped Box -- Joe Hill

Wow! An incredibly awesome horror story. An incredibly awesome debut novel.

51. A Chain of Thunder -- Jeff Shaara

The second book of a four-book series on the Western Theater of the Civil War, focusing on the battles to take Vicksburg. I've always been interested in the Civil War, but haven't ever been that interested in Vicksburg. I was mainly reading this one to get to the next one in the series on Chattanooga, but found it to be very engrossing.

52. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman

Wow! A wild, weird romp through America as the old gods wage war with the new gods. This book meets the goal I set for myself around the middle of the year, to average a book a week. I know that doesn't sound like much, but it took over a month to read Les Miserables.

53.  Lies My Teacher Told Me -- James Loewen

Another non-fiction book, it explores why so many people hate history, namely because of the bad high school history textbooks. Like Fast Food Nation (#40), this was a very interesting, but way out of date (1995) book in serious need of an update, as the problems outlined in the book have only continued to get worse.

54. David Copperfield -- Charles Dickens

I haven't read as much Dickens as I would like, but this book ranks as one of my favorites (along with A Tale of Two Cities.)

55. Revival -- Stephen King

 A typical King page-turner.

Started, but gave up on:

Heart of Darkness -- Joseph Conrad

Far be it for me to criticize an author of the magnitude of Joseph Conrad, but puzzling through some of this prose is like trying to hack your way through a trackless jungle with a dull machete. Not the kind of thing to read at work at 4:00 in the morning. I gave it up about a third of the way through. I'll try this again some other time.

The Half-Life of Facts -- Samuel Arbesman

For a while this was an interesting non-fiction book about the pace of scientific discovery. Then it bogged down in the arcane and uninteresting. I read about half of it, enough of it to get the gist before losing interest.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fighting the Foo

The Westboro Baptist Church brought their virulent mixture of hatred, stupidity and religion to the Foo Fighters show in Kansas City Friday.  Why?  Who the hell knows.  But the Foo Fighters fought the foo, counter-protesting the protestors by showing up on a flatbed truck to do "Keep It Clean (Hot Buns)."

"God Bless America! It takes all kinds; I don't care if you're black or white or purple or green, whether you're Pennsylvanian or Transylvanian, Lady gaga or Lady Antebellum. Men loving women and women loving men and men loving men and women loving women -- you all know we like to watch that. But what I'd like to say is, God Bless America, y'all!"

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

You might have been wondering after all my recent troubles, but yeah, I'm still online, though you wouldn't know it from all the activity here.

It took me a while to get all the things done that I had to do to get a new computer up and running the way I want it -- the downloading, the file transferring, the updating, the backing up, etc. -- but all that was finished some time ago.  The only real glitch is that there's a setting somewhere that's keeping Firefox from remembering any of my passwords.  It won't even ask me if I want to save them.  Hmm.

I've been spending most of my free time trying to catch up my Civil War blog.  In case you didn't know, it's the sesquicentennial (that's 150 years) anniversary of the Civil War, and I've been doing a series of posts that tells what happened on the day of the post 150 years ago as it relates to the war.

I've been working on this since October 2009 with several posts on John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry.  At first the posts were few and far between, but as the 150th anniversary of the start of the war got closer, the posts got more frequent.  I got all the way up to the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's election to president in November 1860, just when things were really starting to happen.  The Deep South states were about to secede, and the crisis at Fort Sumter was building.  But I was unable to get online for quite a while, leaving a huge hole in the overall timeline -- until April of this year.

But I was back online in time for the beginning of the war at Fort Sumter.  Or so I thought.  I posted the day before the anniversary of the start of the war, then my computer fritzed out on me and I was gone again for another month.  This was another big hole in the timeline just as some big things were going down.

I've been working hard to fill in the holes, plus keep the timeline current moving forward.  I'm happy to report that the first hole -- from November 1860 to April 1861 -- is now filled in with backdated posts.  It might not be exactly kosher, but you do what you can do.  I've still got the other hole to fill, but I'm working on it.  Hopefully, once that's done I'll have more time to spend updating this blog with something interesting.

I've also started the NASCAR blog back up again.  I'm not posting there like I'd like, but I'm at least summarizing the races again.

Occasionally I might post a picture or two on the old photo blog.  I've finally turned my Flickr account pro and am dumping a lot of old pictures there a little at a time.  Lately I've posted a bunch of photos I took last year of my grandson's baseball team.  I've also posted a few photos that I didn't take, scans of snapshots my uncle sent back from Germany in 1965.

If I'm not doing any of the above stuff for a few minutes, you might find me on the Twitter or checking in on the Facebook or getting caught up with some of my blog and news reading.

See you around the web!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)

I was very saddened today to hear of the death of Gil Scott-Heron.  Scott-Heron, 62, died at a Manhattan hospital Friday.  The cause of death wasn't disclosed, but he had a long, painful history of substance abuse.

If you read through some of the obituaries you'll see Scott-Heron credited as a progenitor of rap music.  That's true in a way -- a lot of his work was just spoken-word pieces (mostly his poems) set to music, but the music was much jazzier than anything you might consider rap today.

He never achieved much more than cult status, but was best known for "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."
The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother.
Scott-Heron, who had a masters in creative writing from John Hopkins University, wrote a couple of novels and a couple of books of poetry, and recorded fifteen studio albums and nine live albums.  Other noteworthy songs include "We Almost Lost Detroit," "The Bottle," "Home Is Where the Hatred Is," and cover versions of Bill Withers's "Grandma's Hands" and Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues."  My favorite was "B Movie," a scathing protest against Ronald Ray-Gun and us for electing him -- "We're all actors in this, I suppose."
Come with us back to those inglorious days, when heroes weren't zeros, before fair was square, when the cavalry came straight away and all-American men were like Hemingway, to the days of the wondrous "B" movie.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Lightning Strike

Severe Tornado Outbreak in the Southern United...Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via FlickrSo, yeah, we're all a little skittish after the tornado outbreak.  In my case, a tornado devastated a little subdivision about a half a mile from my house, then either veered away or passed right overhead.  It was close enough that I heard the train sound you're supposed to hear when a tornado comes.  So, yeah, that was still pretty fresh in my mind.

After two torrid days that would have seemed much more normal for July, Friday was cooler and rainy.  The forecast called for scattered thundershowers, but it was mostly just some patches of rain.  Maybe a few rumbles of thunder way off in the distance.

And there I was working at my brand-new computer.  Had just bought it the day before.  Had spent a good chunk of my worldly fortune on it.

I don't know where the lightning struck, but it must have been a truly impressive sight.  I just caught a flash of it outside my bedroom window.  One Mississippi, two Mississippi.  Hmm.  Must still be way off in the distance.

Suddenly, BOOM!

It was like standing next to a big cannon when someone suddenly decides to shoot it off without any warning.  No, strike that (pun intended.)  It was like the heavens suddenly split apart.  I guess, in a way, that's what happened.

I 'bout fell out of my chair.  My first thought was about the well-being of my new investment.  Computer innards don't react too well with lightning.  But the lights didn't even flicker.

I debated for a bit about shutting the computer down.  It probably wasn't the wisest choice, but I kept it on and kept working.  I was right in the middle of one of the dozens of tasks you have to do before you can start to enjoy a new computer.  It worked out all right though.  I didn't hear much of anything else out of the storm except for the long, low rumble as the heavens stitched itself back together again.

Hope your Friday was not as eventful.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Let's Try This Again

A funny thing happened on the way to the Internet...well, okay, maybe it's not that funny.

The last time I posted here I had just gotten back online after a long absence of several months.  I even made a comment that hopefully that might be my last online absence for a while.  Everything was working great.  I was ecstatic.

The good times were over as quickly as they began.  About two and a half days into my triumphant return, my Internet connection started acting a little buggy.  It was dropping out and slowing down.  After three days, I couldn't connect to the Internet at all.  It seemed like the problem was with the ISP and I tried to work with them to resolve the problem, but it just wasn't happening.  I finally discovered that the problem was on my end with my computer -- specifically, I think my network card might have kicked the bucket.

Rather than put any more money into my old computer, I decided to wait a bit and get a new one.  Problems led to delays, and now here we are a month older.  All the pieces finally fell into place yesterday and I'm back again.  Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Don't you just hate it when you're following a blog and it suddenly goes dead on you -- no updates, no new posts, not a word of warning?  Did the author die or is he/she going through some sort of crisis that precludes posting inconsequential stuff on the Internet?

In my case, it was the latter.  I'm still alive and kicking but have been trying to work through some things lately.  To quote Genesis (the band, not the book of the Bible), "I wish that I could really tell you all the things that happened to me and all that I have seen."

My life became somewhat akin to a train wreck  But I feel like I've turned a corner and can now see a tiny bit of daylight at the end of the tunnel.  I'm slowly working my way out of the rut toward that big, bright, beautiful tomorrow.  Hopefully, my next unexpected absence is way off in the future.

When I left you, I was working on resurrecting and restructuring my blogs.  Once upon a time, I had several different blogs, each devoted to totally different topics, namely the diverse things I was interested in -- sports and photography and the Civil War.  One day I had the bright idea to close them all down and consolidate everything here at the old Meanwhile... blog.  The result, as you could probably guess, was a jumbled mess.  Somewhere along the line I got particularly interested in writing about NASCAR, which only added to the jumble. 

I finally bit the bullet, reopened the old blogs and started moving everything back where it belongs.  Now, if you're interested in the Civil War, you can go to my Civil War blog and not have to wade through photos or NASCAR results.  Incidentally, I'm was working on a series of posts there -- the Civil War Calendar.  This was a "This Day in History"-type of series exploring the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the Civil War.  When last I left you, I had just posted about the election of Abraham Lincoln.  The series will resume and I've got a lot of blanks to fill in before the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the true start of the war, which is fast approaching.

My recently renamed photo blog, Visualizations, is also back.  I'm hoping to pull out the camera more often and update it more frequently.  I also have a big backlog of photos I haven't shown you yet.  I'm going to try to post something daily, but I'm not going to be religious about it.  I'd rather have quality over quantity.

I've also started a new sports blog.  I'm still toying around with the name.  (I'm really not too good at naming these things.)  For now, I've settled on "NASCAR, etc." because it'll generally be about NASCAR and whatever other sports story crosses my radar screen. 

I'm not sure what direction this blog will take.  I'm not very interested in writing about politics much anymore.  It's all been done before.  But this is sorta the mothership of my own personal blogosphere, so at least I can write about what's going on on the other blogs while I try to think of something fresh and interesting.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saturday Six: Peanuts

Charlie BrownImage via WikipediaOver at Patrick's Place, Patrick is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Peanuts comic strip with a Saturday Six batch of questions about the beloved comic strip.  Peanuts is not my favorite strip of all time, but I would have to put it in my Top 5 with Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, Bloom County, and The Far Side.  Peanuts was a bit tamer than my other favorites, but could get pretty deep and philosophical at times.

Anyway, on with Patrick's questions:

1. Who is your favorite Peanuts character?

Jeez!  That's like asking what's my favorite Beatles album.  All of them.  I guess I've always been partial to the level-headed, intelligent, unflappable Linus.  Either him or Snoopy and his many alter egos.  I'm also a big fan of Pigpen for some reason.  And the duo of Peppermint Patty and Marcie is intriguing too. 

2. Which Peanuts character is your least favorite?

Patty and Violet, the mean girls who seemed to exist only to make Charlie Brown's life even more miserable.

3. If it were up to you, would Lucy have to let Charlie Brown kick the football?

Yeah, probably just once.  I always thought that a good idea for a strip would have been for Lucy to hold the ball in place just once, but for Charlie Brown to flub the kick.

4. When did you last read a Peanuts comic strip?

Today.  I get a daily email of comic strips from  They rerun old Peanuts strips.  Today's edition is a strip that was first published in 1963.

5. Which of the television movies based on Peanuts was your favorite as a kid?

The Halloween show -- It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  I especially love the trick-or-treating.  "I got a rock."

6. Should the strip ever be drawn by someone else, even if that person agrees to keep the same values its creator held so dear?

NO!  While that has worked out alright for several long-running strips, I'm against it for Peanuts.  If Charles Schultz had had a successor in mind and worked with him for a while, it might have worked.  Since he didn't -- precisely because he did not want the strip to continue after his death -- I'd say "no."  Just keep rerunning the old ones.
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend Assignment: History

This week's Weekend Assignment is History...
We don't all live near the site of a battlefield or other world-famous event, but any place has its own history: political, cultural, even natural history. How aware are you of the past of the town, city or state where you live now? Share with us a story of local history.

I actually do live near the site of a battlefield (several, in fact), and I'm very aware of the area's history.  I live in northwest Georgia, just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee.   The region's main moment in the historical spotlight happened nearly 150 years ago during the Civil War.  Chattanooga was an important railroad center, where several lines met that connected most of the South.  There were several battles fought for control of the town and there are historical markers and monuments scattered all over the region.

Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee occupied Chattanooga in the summer of 1863. Union General William Rosecrans sent his Army of the Cumberland around Bragg's flank, threatening Bragg's supply line from Atlanta.  Bragg withdrew from Chattanooga and headed south into Georgia.  The armies met at the Battle of Chickamauga.  The Union army was routed, but withdrew into Chattanooga, occupying the town.  Bragg besieged the town to try to starve the Federals out, but General Ulysses S. Grant arrived with many reinforcements and, after several battles, managed to drive the Confederates out of the area.

There are many, many interesting stories and anecdotes that occurred during this period.  It is hard to pick just one, but one of my favorites involves John Wilder.

Before the war, John Wilder was a successful businessman.  He ran a foundry in Ohio and invented many hydraulic machines.  When the war broke out, he joined the army as a private, but was quickly elected captain by the other men (a very common practice at the time.)  Although he wasn't a professional soldier, he advanced quickly and was a colonel within a year.

When Rosecrans's army first advanced on Chattanooga, Wilder's Lightning Brigade was at the vanguard of the attack.  He took a position on Stringer's Ridge, across the Tennessee River from Chattanooga, and began shelling the town.  His battery, commanded by Eli Lilly, who would later become very famous as the founder of a large drug company, succeeded in sinking two steamboats and causing a great deal of panic in the town.

Wilder settled in Tennessee after the war.  He built and operated the first two blast furnaces in the South at Rockwood, Tennessee.  Then he established an ironworks in Chattanooga to manufacture rails for railroads.  In 1871, he was elected mayor of Chattanooga.  That has to be an unprecedented achievement -- from shelling a town to mayor of the same town in just a few short years.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rearranging the Furniture

I've been having a hard time keeping one blog updated, so the logical thing to do (as I saw it) was to restart my other blogs.  I just couldn't stand the hodgepodge of varying topics here, so my Labor Day weekend project was to separate out some of these topics into other blogs.

All the Civil War posts here will eventually be moved back to Civil War Meanderings.

All of my posted photos will eventually be moved back to Foto Frenzy.

I'm going to keep most of the dated sports posts, including most of the NASCAR stuff, here, but the informational posts and all sports stuff from here on out will be posted on a new blog, The Southern Sports Retort.  (I had a hard time coming up with a name that was not already being used on Blogger.)

I'm not sure what direction this blog, my mothership, will take.  Hopefully I can get re-energized and start posting about news and politics again along with some miscellaneous topics.  Of course, any political posts I make here will be crossposted at The Blue Voice.

A good deal of the transferring of posts has been done and should be finished by the end of the week. It may not be strictly kosher to be moving these posts all around, but, in the long run, I think it will be better to have all this stuff divided up.  We'll see what happens.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"OK Sarah"

Check out singer/songwriter Wesley Ellis. He's working on his first album, "Broke Is the New Black" and is currently competing in the 2nd Toyota Music MySpace contest.  If you like this too, go there and help spread the word.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Bloodbuzz Ohio"

A couple of weeks ago I did a Weekend Assignment post about poetry.  The gist of the post was that I didn't care much about poetry unless it was set to music as lyrics.  I also made the debatable point that maybe our best poets aren't really poets at all, but are songwriters.

Which brings me to the subject of my favorite new band of the moment (well, new to me anyway), The National.  I like their sound, and whoever writes their lyrics -- I suspect lead vocalist Matt Berninger -- has a poet's sensibilities.  Instead of just coming out and saying what he means, everything is symbolism and metaphor and hidden meaning -- so much so that I'm really confused about what it all means.

Case in point, "Bloodbuzz Ohio."  When he says, "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees," he surely doesn't mean that literally. It seems like it's related to the old adage that you can't go home again -- "...but Ohio don't remember me." Is he talking about a trip back home or is he just reflecting on the idea of Ohio? And there's all that other stuff -- "stand up straight at the foot of your love," "lay my head on the hood of your car," "I still owe money to the money to the money I owe," etc. -- most of the song actually -- that doesn't seem to have much to do with anything else. It all sounds pretty good though...

Stand up straight at the foot of your love
I lift my shirt up
Stand up straight at the foot of your love
I lift my shirt up

I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees
I never married, but Ohio don't remember me

Lay my head on the hood of your car
I take it too far
Lay my head on the hood of your car
I take it too far

I still owe money to the money to the money I owe
I never thought about love when I thought about home
I still owe money to the money to the money I owe
The floors are falling out from everybody I know

I'm on a blood buzz
Yes, I am
I'm on a
I'm on a blood buzz
God, I am
I'm on a

I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees
I never married, but Ohio don't remember me

I still owe money to the money to the money I owe
I never thought about love when I thought about home
I still owe money to the money to the money I owe
The floors are falling out from everybody I know

I'm on a blood buzz
Yes, I am
I'm on a
I'm on a blood buzz
God, I am
I'm on a blood buzz.

So what's it all about? Any ideas?

If you're stumped on that one, try your hand at figuring out "Brainy."  This is an obsessive love song -- very similar thematically to the Police's "I'll Be Watching You" or Sarah McLachlan's "Possession" -- or is it?  I'm especially intrigued by the amazingly enigmatic couplet, "Everywhere you go is swirling, everything you say has water under it."  The song is on YouTube, the lyrics are on

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Nashville Flood

Here in the Chattanooga area, we were supposed to be slammed by a late weekend/early work week storm.  We managed to avoid most of it.  Nashville was not so lucky.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Weekend Assignment: National Poetry Month

This week's Weekend Assignment is all about poetry.
Weekend Assignment #316: National Poetry Month

As April wraps up, let's not let it get away without celebrating National Poetry Month. For this assignment, please share with us something about poetry. Tell us about your favorite poet, or quote us a few lines of your favorite poem, or if poetry doesn't happen to be something you enjoy, tell us why!

April (and the weekend) wrapped up before I could get to the assignment, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

When I first saw the assignment, I was all set to start a diatribe about how much I really don't like poetry.  I studied it enough in my younger days that I understand the concept, but as Heinlein would say, I don't grok it.  I don't get it on some basic level of understanding.  If you want to tell me about something important, give me a few solidly written paragraphs of prose and I'll understand it better.

But after thinking about it some more, I realized that I do like poetry.  Just make it rhyme (even if just a little), put it to music and sing it, and I'll get it.

When I was a young tyke, my mother went back to school.  One of her textbooks treated some of the pop and rock lyrics of the day -- Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, Bob Dylan songs -- as poetry.  As I leafed through the book and picked out songs I knew, it gave me a deeper appreciation of them -- that they were important enough to be considered "poetry."  Even now, I sometimes have the crazy notion that some of our greatest poets are not exactly poets after all -- they're songwriters.

Continuing on that idea, I'll tell you about a favorite poem, the Baby Boomer generation's "Beowulf "(or maybe it's their "Rime of the Ancient Mariner").  In the late '70s, the rock band Jethro Tull released the album Aqualung.  Ian Anderson, the leader of the band, was dismayed that rock critics were calling it a concept album, and said, "If the critics want a concept album we'll give the mother of all concept albums and we'll make it so bombastic and so over the top."

Jethro Tull - Thick as a BrickThe next album really was over the top -- a parody of the progressive rock album from groups like Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer, one long, continuous, seamless 44-minute song that stretched over both sides of an LP.  In addition to their standard guitar, drums, piano, Hammond organ and flute (yes, flute), they added the harpsichord, xylophone, lute, trumpet and string section.  The concept was that the lyrics were a poem written by a fictitious eight-year-old English schoolboy named Gerald Bostock.

The album cover was another parody, a spoof of an English community newspaper.  The main story was about young Gerald being disqualified from a literary competition "following the hundreds of protests and threats received after the reading of his epic poem 'Thick as a Brick' on B.B.C. Television last Monday night." 

The entire epic poem, "Thick as a Brick," actually written entirely by Ian Anderson, is after the jump if you're interested.  You can hear the song by Googling "Thick as a Brick."