Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Books in brief.

Friday, May 26th, 2017

My head is in kind of a weird place right now when it comes to reading.

I have a large stack of unread gun and hunting related books, including the PO Ackley biography and Ordnance Went Up Front, both on the basis of Hognose recommendations. (You know, I really miss Hognose.)

But I’m also trying to avoid burnout, so my rule is: one gun or hunting related book, then one book on a different subject. But then I get into a mode where what I have on hand isn’t something I’m in the mood to read, so I get stuck not reading anything except the Internet, causing my blood pressure to spike. Fortunately, I found a couple of books a week ago at Half-Price that I kind of enjoyed. (Also, fortunately, Half-Price is having a 20% off sale this weekend…)

I’m not sire why I didn’t read Papillon when I was young and impressionable. It was apparently a huge bestseller, so it should have shown up at garage sales (like a lot of other books I read at that age), or I should have seen it at the library. I can’t explain.

When I did finally get around to it, though, I had trouble putting it down. Henri Charrière is a great storyteller, and is well served by his translators. (June Wilson and Walter Michaels in the edition I read. Fact I did not know until I was looking at Wikipedia: the original English translation was by Patrick O’Brian. Yeah, “Master and Commander” O’Brian: before he became famous for those books, he was a well-regarded French translator.) And, let’s face it: Papillon is a really compelling adventure story about one man’s life in some of the worst prisons in the world and his drive to escape. This is exactly the kind of thing that should have appealed to me as a small boy.

And it still appeals to me today. Except for the Internet and some nagging little details that I found while I was looking up things on Wikipedia. It turns out that Papillon is maybe “10 percent true”, in the sense that these things actually happened to Charrière. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that Charrière incorporated things that he witnessed, but didn’t happen to him directly (the sharks and the little girl is a commonly cited example) and possibly elements from other works (specifically Rene Belbenoit’s Dry Guillotine).

I still want to see the movie, and read Charrière’s sequel, Banco (which either hasn’t attracted the same level of revisionist scholarship, or else sticks closer to Charrière’s actual post-prison exploits). But it is kind of depressing to discover that this grand adventure story is also, mostly, untrue.

I’ve written before about my fascination with the rabies virus, so you would expect Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus to push my buttons as well. And it did. I could have done with a little less “this is how the ancient Greeks and Romans treated rabies” and “rabies in popular culture” (especially the attempts to tie rabies and zombies together). But the chapters on things like Pasteur’s rabies research, contemporary treatment (turns out the Milwaukee protocol is more controversial than I thought) and rabies eradication on Bali (which also turns out to be more controversial and political than you’d expect) kept me hooked. And Rabid has the advantage of being an “economical” book: long enough to get everything in, but short enough to get through is an evening or a plane trip. Recommended.

Obit watch: May 23, 2017.

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Anne Dick, Philip K. Dick’s third wife. (Hattip: Lawrence.)

Roger Moore.

(Edited to add: NYT obit, which was not up when I posted earlier.)

Followup: apparently, and contrary to the NYT report which I relied on, G.I. Joe had two daddies.

As a connoisseur of disaster…

Friday, April 28th, 2017

…I am enjoying reading about Fyre Festival so, so much.

It’s the feral dogs that really make a good music festival.

That reminds me. (adds Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus to his Amazon wish list.)

William N. Finley IV’s Twitter feed: Finley was boots on the ground at Fyre Festival and is quoted in many pf the stories I’ve seen.

Questions, so many questions: could Ja Rule and Kendall Jenner be prosecuted for fraud? Would this have been a justified use of a MOAB? And is it true that United Airlines was an official Fyre Festival sponsor?

Obit watch: April 25, 2017.

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Damn it all to hell and Hong Kong.

Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, passed away yesterday.

I’ve written before, but sort of in passing, about Zen. It was a huge influence on me as a young man, and continues to be an influence on me today.

NYT obit for Kate O’Beirne.

Happy Buy a Gun Day!

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

You’ve still got time, if you haven’t been out yet.

Longer post to come at some point in the (hopefully) near future, but here’s my 2017 BAG gun:

Savage Model 11 Scout in FDE. Purchased new in box through GunBroker at…well, a hefty discount off of MSRP, and much less than I’ve seen it elsewhere.

(The book is H.W. McBride’s A Rifleman Went To War. I’m not a big WWI buff, but a lot of people I respect have cited McBride’s book as being a valuable work. And damn, the guy could write: there’s something I want to pull as a quote of the day in almost every chapter.)

Bonus, since I never posted it here: my 2016 BAG gun.

Smith and Wesson Model 19-4 in .357 Magnum with the round butt and 2 1/2″ barrel. Sort of the ultimate snub-nosed revolver. The holster came with it, too. Tam has a good post up about the Model 19, though she’s writing about a diffenent variant than mine.

(Book: Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, 4th Edition, of course.)

Administrative note.

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

My birthday is coming up soon. As always, I do not expect any of my loyal readers to get me presents.

However, if someone felt inclined: please do not buy this book for me. Thank you.

(Seriously. I have nothing against Jesse Sublett: he seems like a pretty cool guy. But I don’t care much for the food at either Threadgill’s location. And one of the worst aspects of Austin culture is the incessant nostalgia: or, as Lawrence likes to put it, “the burned-out old hippies who constantly talk about how they went to the Armadillo, dropped acid, and saw Shiva’s Headband.” Said it before, I’ll say it again: if the Austin Chronicle and other people had their way, this town would be a 1970s music theme park.)

Obit watch: March 30, 2017.

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

William Powell apparently passed away July 31st of last year. However,

It was not until last week that his death became more widely known, with the theatrical release of “American Anarchist,” a documentary about Mr. Powell. His death was noted in the closing credits.

He was 66, and died of a heart attack.

Mr. Powell was most famous as the author of The Anarchist Cookbook .

Mr. Powell never revised the book or wrote a sequel, but his original stayed in print, through Lyle Stuart and its successor company, Barricade Books, and most recently by Delta Press. Eventually, he renounced the book. In 2000, he posted a statement to that effect on And later, in 2013, he expressed his regret in an article he wrote for The Guardian.

Obit watch: March 22, 2017.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Chuck Barris, “Gong Show” host and noted CIA assassin, has passed away.

Or has he? You know, a conspiracy to fake his own death and go on one last mission for The Company is exactly the kind of thing that would appeal to Mr. Barris…

Colin Dexter, mystery writer. I haven’t read any of the Inspector Morse novels yet, though they are on my big list to read someday, so I can’t offer much about Mr. Dexter. However, The Rap Sheet has a good round-up and I would expect more tributes there as time goes by.

True crime notes.

Monday, March 20th, 2017

I don’t want to seem like I’m making light of this story: it’s awful, and I hope the victims are able to achieve some level of peace.

But when you see a headline like

Vegas jury convicts War Machine of 29 counts

on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network’s website, it gets your attention.

“War Machine”, in this case, is Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver.

Koppenhaver went by his birth name during the two-week trial but had legally changed it to War Machine during his 19-fight MMA career.

The jury deadlocked on attempted murder charges, but found him guilty of the other crimes. It isn’t clear to me if those include the eight counts of “domestic battery” that his lawyer conceded to.

He could face up to life in prison.

And I hope he does every damn day of it.

[The female victim – DB] testified that Koppenhaver attacked her after [the male victim – DB] left. The jury saw photos of [the female victim] with a broken nose, missing teeth, fractured eye socket and leg injuries. She also suffered a lacerated liver.

In other words, he beat the shit out of them both. But he apparently reserved special attention for her.

[The female victim] said she fled her home and ran bleeding to neighbors when Koppenhaver went to the kitchen to fetch a knife.

He has been serving a 1½- to four-year sentence for violating his probation on a 2009 conviction for attempted battery involving a 21-year-old woman.


On what I hope is at least a slightly less depressing note, here’s something I stumbled across in my reading over the weekend, but haven’t had time to dig into in depth: Taylorology. This apparently started out as a zine in the old pre-Internet/”Factsheet Five” days, but eventually migrated online.

What’s it all about? Quoting the introduction:

TAYLOROLOGY is a newsletter focusing on the life and death of William Desmond Taylor, a top Paramount film director in early Hollywood who was shot to death on February 1, 1922. His unsolved murder was one of Hollywood’s major scandals. This newsletter will deal with: (a) The facts of Taylor’s life; (b) The facts and rumors of Taylor’s murder; (c) The impact of the Taylor murder on Hollywood and the nation; (d) Taylor’s associates and the Hollywood silent film industry in which Taylor worked. Primary emphasis will be given on reprinting, referencing and analyzing source material, and sifting it for accuracy.

The Taylor murder is one of those great unsolved Hollywood mysteries that everyone seems to have a theory about; some of those theories may even have an element of truth to them. Bruce Long, who runs Taylorology, has collected a great deal of archival material related to the Taylor case. And he’s a man after my own heart: he mentions in the biographical information on his site that he first became interested in the case when he was nine.

When I have some spare time (mumble years from now, the way things are going) I’d like to dig deeper into this site. One thing I can give Mr. Long credit for: he’s steered me away from purchasing one of the more famous books on the case. (Actually, I stumbled across Taylorology by reading another book on the case that references the website. Apologies for being elliptical, but I may do a brief review of the second book in the near future.)

Obit watch: March 19, 2017.

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

I’ve been thinking most of the day about what I want to say about Jimmy Breslin, or if I want to say anything at all. I might tomorrow, but I wanted to get the obits up tonight: NYT. NY Daily News obit: there’s a lot of related material at their site, too.

For the historical record: Chuck Berry.

Obit watch: March 13, 2017.

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Robert James “Bridges of Madison County” Waller.

I sort of lost track of Waller. I remember hearing that Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend was not good, and I didn’t hear much about him after that. But The Long Night of Winchell Dear (which I hadn’t heard of) sounds like it could be interesting.

Obits and firings: March 10, 2017.

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Sweet Angel Divine, aka “Mother Divine”, passed away a week ago Saturday.

She was about 91. (One of the tenets of her religious movement was a disregard for chronological age.)

Mrs. Divine was the widow of Father Divine:

A charismatic preacher since the early 1900s, Father Divine — or the Rev. Major Jealous Divine, to give him his full title — declared in 1932 that he was God and attracted legions of devotees drawn by his message of racial equality, clean living, communal living and cash-only financial transactions.

One of the best things in the St. Clair McKelway collection Reporting at Wit’s End is his profile (with A. J. Liebling) of Father Divine at, more or less, the height of his empire. “Who Is This King of Glory?” might be available online, too, but when I went to the New Yorker website, it looked like you needed a subscription to read it there. In any case, I commend the McKelway/Liebling profile to your attention.

Scot McCloughan out as general manager of the Redskins.

And the Brockster out as quarterback in Houston. Speculation (both in the sports media and from people I know in Cleveland) is that the Browns aren’t going to keep him, either.

The Texans cut their losses with Osweiler after one season. He signed a four-year $72 million contract, including $37 million guaranteed, last year. Even though the Texans won the AFC South and advanced to the divisional round, he played poorly.

Edited to add: Well. The Browns have cut Bobby ThreeSticks now. And nobody thinks His Brockness is going to be asked to hang around. So who’s quarterbacking come fall? The season is closer than you think…,