Category Archives: book reports

Mickey the Reader

scan0001

I like to think that I am different than other readers, that the quirky, insane way I practice reading makes me somehow unique and individual.  But if you have read very much of my goofy little blog, you probably realize already that I am a deeply deluded idiot most of the time.  So let me explain a little about how I go about reading.

  1.  I am basically guilty of reading anything and everything I can get my hands on.  And the stupid internet puts an infinite variety in your hands.  Some of it is toxic and probably will kill me… or land me in jail.  (Does the NSA really care about what Mickey is reading?)
  2. Here is an example of my internet reading this morning;  Diane Ravitch’s Education Blog , An Article from British NaturismRachel Poli’s Article about Fantasy Writing, and Naked Carly Art’s post about creating a painting.  My browser history portrays me at times as some kind of communist brainiac pornography-loving terrorist painter or something.  I hope the NSA is using telepaths to investigate me, because the reasons I look at a lot of this stuff is important.  It is a good thing I don’t write mystery novels so they would be upset down in the NSA break room about my searching out creative ways to kill people.
  3. Besides being Eclectic  with a capital “E”, I am also obsessive.  My daily reading project now is Garrison Keillor’s novel, Lake Wobegon Days.

I only spend about an hour a day reading this novel, but I am totally immersed in it.  I am living inside that book, remembering the characters as real people and talking to them like old friends.  I tried to read that book before and couldn’t make progress because I like so much to listen to Keillor tell stories on A Prairie Home Companion on the radio and it just wasn’t the same entirely in print.  When he tells a story, he pauses a lot.  In fact, that moment when he stops to let you reflect on what he just said is critical to the humor because you have to stop and savor the delicious irony of the scene.  His pauses are funnier than the words.  Man, if he just stood there and didn’t talk at all, you would probably die laughing from it.  So, in order to get into the book, I had to read it with Garrison’s voice in my head, pausing frequently the way he does.  Now the stories of Clarence Bunsen and Pastor Inqvist break me up all over again.  I will soon acquire and read everything he has ever written.  I truly love Garrison Keillor.

quote-welcome-to-lake-wobegon-where-all-the-women-are-strong-all-the-men-are-good-looking-and-all-the-garrison-keillor-99801

54673-28

So there is a description of how strange a practicing reader I am.  Think about how you read.  Is the NSA watching you too?  Do you ever read two books at the same time?  Do you read everything and anything in front of you?  If you are self-reflective at all, even if you are not pathological about it the way Mickey is, you may well decide that as strange as my reading habits are, they are probably normal compared to yours.

lakewobegonart620pw

10 Comments

Filed under book reports, book review, Garrison Keillor, goofy thoughts, humor, reading, strange and wonderful ideas about life

David Mitchell is Genius!

Yes, David Mitchell is a very smart man… a very smart English man.  (That isn’t to say that his genius is any less genius than an American Genius.  Just that he is a genius who also happens to be English)

51zTXrZVMqL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_

And I, of course, don’t mean this David Mitchell either, though this David Mitchell is also a genius and also from England.  I have to tell you, though I have always loved British humor, this particular tongue of silver fascinates me enough to make me binge on hoards of old episodes of “Would I Lie to You?” from the BBC on YouTube.  He’s a quick-wit, Brit-wit, smooth-talking  bit-wit who can make you laugh even when he’s playing a thick-wit… which he is certainly not.

Anyway, that is the wrong English genius David Mitchell.

I mean the other English genius David Mitchell.  The one who wrote Cloud Atlas.  Also the one who wrote The Bone Clocks.  And, of course, the one whose book Black Swan Green which I just finished reading early this morning.

david_mitchell_books

Yes, I mean this David Mitchell.  The absolute genius writer who creates exactly the kind of books that I long to read.

14316

Now, this post should probably be more of a traditional book report than it is.  This book I just read is swimmingly, swannishly excellent in a David-Mitchell-is-GENIUS! sort of way.  It is about an English boy from Malvern, England undergoing the trials and tribulations of his thirteenth year of life.  The boy is a stutterer and secretly a poet.  The girl he pines for is the girlfriend of his greatest enemy, the boy who relentlessly bullies and taunts him.  One even suspects that this portrait of a Margaret Thatcher-era boyhood written in exquisitely horrible detail might be based on the author’s own boyhood somehow, so vivid is its detailing.

But this is already too cacked-up to be a proper book report just because of the two David-Mitchell-English-genius thing.  If you really want that sort of book review, read it elsewhere, or read the danged book yourself.  This report is more of a vow of fealty.  I must now turn my hoarding disorder sufferer’s exacting zeal on the matter of reading everything this living author writes.  I did the same thing to both Michael Crichton and Terry Pratchett because they are geniuses too.  But they are both now no longer living and writing new books, at least, not unless there is new meaning to the term ghost writing that I don’t know anything about.  So now it is David Mitchell’s turn to be the object of my intense fan-boy love of good writing.

Here are some David Mitchell books that I now must stalk and make my own;

maxresdefault

And hopefully, there are many more yet to come.

2 Comments

Filed under artists I admire, book reports, book review, comedians, humor

Liars Run the Animal Farm

c360_2017-02-02-06-01-19-250

Napoleon the PIG.

Napoleon the Pig makes himself ruler of the Animal Farm in Orwell’s 1945 book by lying about Snowball, his rival Pig, and blaming the destructive acts of the former human Farmer Jones on poor Snowball.  He is driven away from the farm by the farm dogs whom Napoleon has taught to think since they were puppies. This, even though Snowball was actually the hero of the animal rebellion that drove the humans away.  Collusion?  Perhaps.  But definitely a lie.  And the PIG Napoleon, once in power begins to keep all improvements to living conditions for the PIGs.  Other animals, he says, are happier with a simpler, hard-working life.  The PIGs begin to dress like men and walk upright and wear long red ties.

Keith Olbermann in the video is very much like Benjamin the Donkey, who is cynical and skeptical about Napoleon’s methods.  He also reads as well as any Pig.  When Boxer the workhorse is wounded defending the farm against neighboring farmers who attack and destroy the windmill, he shrugs off the the wound and works at rebuilding the windmill until he collapses.  Then Napoleon declares Boxer will only get better if he’s taken to the vet’s animal hospital.  But he calls the Knacker (the man who renders dead horses into glue) to take Boxer away.  Benjamin calls him out.  He points out that it says “Knacker” on the van that takes Boxer away, not “veterinarian”.   He points out that Russian Facebook trolls used targeted troll-posts to help get Napoleon his position of power.  But Napoleon gets away with his lies.  Boxer apparently dies in the so-called animal hospital.

Now, I am not sure which tiny animal on the farm Robert Reich is like, but he is pointing out in this video that once the PIGS got themselves into power on the animal farm, they lie in order to get their agenda operating, enriching all PIGs (or is that GOPs?) and their political donors.  They are doing it all by LYING.  Pigs lie.  We should have learned that lesson by now.  They don’t care who dies and gets rendered into glue.

d771c283-6a1e-417b-ac0a-d262d1bb2463_400_0

In 1945 Orwell intended Napoleon to be a satire of Joseph Stalin in communist Russia.  But I truly believe, as we are living on the Animal Farm now as the hard-working farm animals, that he has a bad wig on his head with whippy straw-yellow hair, and a distinctly orange face, with the same little piggy eyes he always had.  And he is in power because he tells lies.  And what’s worse, he gets away with the lies.  As long as the PIGs are in power, controlling both houses of congress and the Supreme Court, he will not lose his lying grip on the farm.  We are all doomed to continue being hard-working animals who eventually get rendered into glue.

3 Comments

Filed under angry rant, book reports, commentary, farming, foolishness, humor, metaphor, Paffooney, pessimism, satire, sharing from YouTube, surrealism

Books That Make You Hurt

242757

Yes, I read this book.  Yes, it scared the poop out of me.  Yes, it made me cry.  This is a uniquely horrific horror story that is so realistic that you know that it has actually happened in real life somewhere, sometime.  Only the names of the characters would be different.

I have a deep abiding respect for Richard Peck as a writer.  He earned that with his books A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago.  Those books made me laugh so hard it blew chocolate milk out of my nose.  And, yes, I was drinking chocolate milk at the time.  They are so realistic because the people in those stories are real people.  I know those people personally.  Of course, they have different names in real life.

But Are You In the House Alone? is a very different book from those other two masterpieces.  It tears your heart out and eats your liver because it is a first person narrative in the voice of a high school girl being stalked by a sexual predator.  Everything that happens to Gail in the high school, at home, and at the house where she babysits is hyper-real with horror movie levels of attention to detail.  I don’t wish to be a spoiler for this well-written book, but the narrator does not die in the book and it definitely does not have a happy ending.  For anyone who has the amount of empathy I do, and in many ways becomes the narrator-character by reading, reading a book like this can physically hurt.  A teacher like me has lived through horrible things like this happening to students before, it even happened to me as a boy, and it adds the slings and arrows of those things being re-lived as you read.

This is not the only book that has ever done this sort of damage to my heart strings.  I remember the pain from the conclusion of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.  You root for Little Nell and boo Daniel Quilp.  But the bad guy wins.  No happy ending can linger in the harp-strings of your memory-feeling song as long as a tragic outcome does.  I was there with Scout in that ridiculous costume in the dark when Bob Ewell was attacking her brother Jem in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  That story was filled with wise and laughable things, but the stark horror of that climactic moment nearly wiped all the good feelings away, if not for the heroics of ghostly Boo Radley whose timely intervention brings it all back before the novel ends.  It horrifies me to admit it, but I was there, too, in the moment when the boys all turn on Simon on the beach with their sharpened sticks in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  They mistook him for the monster.  I still haven’t fully recovered from that reading trauma.

The thing about books that hurt to read which makes it essential that I never try to avoid them, is that they can add more depth and resonance to your soul than any light and fluffy piece ever could.  Life is much more like Lord of the Flies than it is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  I am sadder but wiser for having read Are You In the House Alone?  I am recommending it to other readers like me who don’t so much live to read as they read in order to live.  Not because it is easy and good to read, but because it is hard and essential to read.  It will hurt you.  But it will leave you like it leaves its narrator, damaged, but both alive and purely resolved to carry on.

2 Comments

Filed under book reports, book review, horror writing, insight, inspiration, irony, old books, reading

Raising Steam… a book by Terry Pratchett

18594777

Raising Steam 
by Terry Pratchett

5951153 *****

Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 12, 2017  
Iwas amazing!


Terry Pratchett is always a good choice if you like laughs, thrills, and satire. Raising Steam does not disappoint. It uses familiar characters like Moist Von Lipwig from Going Postal and Commander Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork city watch along with new characters like the engineer Dick Simnel and the goblin Of The Twilight The Darkness (Yes, they like you to use the whole name).

The plot centers around the introduction of steam-powered railroads to the Discworld (the fantasy-world satire series that made Pratchett both a famous best-selling author, and a knight) and a schism between the dwarves who love the old ways of the deep, dark mines and the dwarves who love the new ways of living above ground in the light.

The usual mix of plot complications and themes of science versus magic are thrown about like fireballs to keep the story interesting, and one dark and foggy night aboard the train on a rickety bridge with the deposed king of the dwarves on board headed back to his kingdom sums up the sheer magic of Terry Pratchett’s gift for story-telling.

I recommend this book with six thumbs up… except I wasn’t supposed to reveal the existence of my extra arms.

Leave a comment

Filed under book reports, book review, humor, novel, strange and wonderful ideas about life

A $3.00 Treasure Trove

C360_2016-12-21-17-27-40-934.jpg

If you cruise the bargain sections in an old used book store like Half-Price Books, eventually you are going to find something priceless.  This book I am showing you is that very thing for me.

It was copyrighted in 1978.  The inscription inside the front cover says this was a Father’s Day gift on June 19th, 1988.  Someone named Gary gifted it to someone named Claude in Burleson, Texas.  It was probably a cherished book until someone passed away and the book changed hands in an estate sale.

c360_2016-12-21-17-26-52-638

Howard Pyle

The book chronicles the height of the publishing era when being able to print books and reproduce artworks began entertaining the masses.  Always before painters and great artists worked for a patron for the purpose of decorating their home in a way that displayed their great wealth.  But from the 1880’s to the rise of cinema, magazines and books kept the masses entertained, helped more people to become literate than ever before, and created the stories that made our shared culture and life experiences grow stronger and ever more inventive.  The book focuses on the best of the best among a new breed of artist… the illustrators.

These are the ones the book details;

Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Frederick Remington, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg, and John Held Jr.

c360_2016-12-21-17-26-08-244

N.C. Wyeth

Wyeth was most famous as a book illustrator for Treasure Island, Kidnapped, other books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain,  and a famous volume of tales about Robin Hood.

c360_2016-12-21-17-25-30-575

Frederick Remington

Remington is a name you probably know as a maker of Western art.  He was a famous painter of cowboys and Indians and the American frontier.

c360_2016-12-21-17-25-11-104

Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish is my all-time favorite painter.  His work is something I gushed about in previous posts because I own other books about his fanciful works painted in Maxfield Parrish blue.

c360_2016-12-21-17-24-36-579

Also Maxfield Parrish

 

c360_2016-12-21-17-24-09-869

J.C. Leyendecker

You will probably recognize Leyendecker’s work in magazine and advertising illustration as the standard of the Roaring 20’s.  His paintings set a style that swept American culture for more than a decade, and still affects how we dress to this very day.

 

c360_2016-12-21-17-23-44-163

More Leyendecker

 

c360_2016-12-21-17-23-26-011

Even more from Leyendecker

 

c360_2016-12-21-17-22-58-983

Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell and his work for The Saturday Evening Post is still familiar to practically everyone who reads and looks at the illustrations.  As you can see he was a master of folksy realism and could do a portrait better than practically anyone.

 

c360_2016-12-21-17-22-02-082

Also Rockwell

I have also written about Norman Rockwell before too.  I have half a dozen books that include his works.  My wife is from the Philippines and she knew about him before I ever said a word to her about him.

c360_2016-12-21-17-21-38-237

Charles Dana Gibson

As you can plainly see, Gibson was a master of pen and ink.  His work for Collier’s and other magazines thrills in simple black and white.  More cartoonists than just little ol’ me obsess about how he did what he did.

c360_2016-12-21-17-21-14-634

Also Gibson

 

c360_2016-12-21-17-20-49-992

James Montgomery Flagg… with a name like that, who else could it be?

 

c360_2016-12-21-17-20-06-847

John Held Jr.

The work of Held is stylistically different than all the rest in easily noticeable ways.  He’s the guy that made all the big-headed Pinocchio-looking people in the 1920’s.  You may have seen his work before, though you probably never knew his name.

This bit of someone else’s treasure hoard will now become a part of my own dragon’s treasure, staying by my bedside for quite a while, while I continue to suck the marrow from each of its bones.  I love this book.  It is mine, and you can’t have it… unless you find your own copy in a used bookstore somewhere.

4 Comments

Filed under art criticism, art my Grandpa loved, book reports, book review, humor, illustrations, imagination, oil painting, old art, old books, pen and ink, Uncategorized

Where I’d Like to Be (a book by Frances O’Roark Dowell)

490978

This book made me cry. And that is not unusual, even though I am a 60-year-old man. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens made me cry. At the end, not during the funny parts. But this was a book about a lonely eleven-year-old girl trying to make friends. Why should that make me cry?
But it is also a bittersweet tale of memorable child characters who have nowhere left to turn but each other, and their imaginations. The poetic sting of it can make a grown man cry. You should read it. You will understand then.

Leave a comment

Filed under art criticism, book reports, book review, characters, compassion, empathy, good books, humor, strange and wonderful ideas about life