Wednesday, September 29, 2010


... is a moose.  The cognoscenti know Thidwick is a big-hearted moose.  Dr. Seuss tells the story of Thidwick and how the other animals took advantage of his hospitality.  It was one of our favorite books when we were little.

Growing up in a small house in Central Florida, there was never much room for storing things.  That didn't stop Mom and Dad from putting up shelves everywhere they could in the garage.  But it did mean they didn't save toys and other items from our childhood.  So I was quite surprised when - not long after mentioning to Dad how I wish I still had Thidwick - a large envelope showed up in the mail, containing the one and only Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.  Dad had kept it all these years.  Maybe it was sentimental to him as well, since he used to read it to us.  Now it sits on the shelf waiting for the day I can read it to our granddaughter.

A protege of Dr. Seuss, P. D. Eastman, was the author of other books that were part of our family culture.  Our daughter Kendra loved Are You My Mother.  And Go, Dog, Go was another favorite.  In fact, when we see a bunch of people all headed in the same direction, we still say "they're going to a dog party."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Angel's Game

Last month I posted on some books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  The Shadow of the Wind and The Prince of Mist were both very good books.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same about The Angel's Game.  What little mystery threads through the novel is insufficiently engaging.  Certainly there is nothing endearing when it comes to the main characters.  Although the author's style can't be faulted - he really writes very well - I just didn't care enough about what was happening to read the second half of the book.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Things That Make Me Gag

I have to get this off my chest.  There are some things I can't stand about certain science fiction and fantasy books.
  • Vampires and zombies.  Come on, hasn't this fad run its course yet?
  • Cover art and book design for Baen Books.  (See, for example, the Honor Harrington series.)
  • Titles or author's names rendered with anything resembling Olde English Text font.
  • The steampunk genre.  And Victorian-era filigree.  Yes, I played the Bioshock video game.  Until I got permanently stuck.  But the aesthetic did little for me.
  • Cover art on several books in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.
  • The fad of showing a cloaked and hooded character on the cover, frequently without showing any facial features.
Okay, I feel better now.  Thank you for indulging me.

Oh - wait, wait, wait.  Something unrelated that also annoys me: depicting Native American women in paintings as young Caucasian women wearing make-up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ancient and Medieval Warfare - it's all in the details

There are few people who don't appreciate a good bargain.  I found Arthur Banks' Atlas of Ancient and Medieval Warfare in a local used bookstore and resisted the urge to buy it, thinking I might be able to get it cheaper.  The original price was $25.00 when it was published in 1982.  The store was asking $17.50.  For a used copy in similar condition at Amazon, you'd have to pay about the same amount.  But of course I checked eBay too.  And there it was ... except for no dust jacket, the same book in excellent condition, for $1.99 (MTS Books in Greensburg, PA).

I call that a bargain!

What made me want this book?  It is chock full of black-and-white detailed maps of Europe, the Near East, India, China, Japan, and Korea, covering battles from 1231 B.C. to 1542.  The maps show movements of armies, locations of fortresses, and important geographic features.  There are explanations of the reasons behind the battles and the strategies of the opposing forces.  There are lists of dynasties and commanders.  There are dates and numbers and tactics.  There are people and places and events I've never heard of before.  I can't think of another book I've ever seen that was so information-dense.  It is a very interesting volume of military history.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"He's dead, Jim"

"He's dead, Jim."  Or so said Leonard McCoy on a number of Star Trek episodes.  It's one of the few examples of "geek" culture that my wife and I share in conversation.  But if McCoy was talking about the citizens (denizens?) of Elysian Fields in Bruce Balfour's The Digital Dead, the phrase would carry with it layers of meaning.

I've said that The Digital Dead is one of those books that I abandoned reading.  I gave it another try, however, and I'm glad I did. Sure, The Digital Dead has more subplots "than Carter has little liver pills."  The focus of the story is on a commercial enterprise, Elysian Fields, that gives digital copies of people a virtual reality afterlife.  Of course, this technological power is misused.  And so we have nefarious politicians, teleportation gates, extremely dangerous manifestations of AI, archaeology, alien culture, and more chase scenes and gunfights and sabotage than many thrillers.  And since this is a sequel to The Forge of Mars, we have Tau Wolfsinger again as the main character, with his Navajo background and religious beliefs.

Yes, I had a bit of trouble keeping all this straight, but I still thought it was a decent book.  The author clearly set things up for a continuation of the story, but I haven't found one that he's written.  (Prometheus Road was not it.)

Author's websites, for reference:
Bruce Balfour
The Forge of Mars

Friday, September 17, 2010

Of Zoos and Nerds

On occasion I find it necessary during a chaotic workday to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, saying "If I ran the zoo, there's no telling what I would do!"  If they would only put me in charge, I'd run this place differently!  Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo is often credited with the first appearance of the word "nerd", a term my family doesn't hesitate the use in referring to me.  I tend to use the word only as a brand name, referring to one of my favorite candies.

My earliest memory is of my third birthday.  A fragment of one of my birthday gifts, a book with descriptions of wild animals and black and white drawings of them, has survived.  Over the years the cover of this book and a number of pages disappeared.  But recently I did some research and discovered that the book was Francis Wardle's Zoo Book, published in London in the early 1950s.  Intrigued, I managed to find a used (and intact!) copy for sale on the Internet.  It was very interesting to see - for the first time in 50 years - an intact copy, including many pages my battered copy no longer has.  The cover does not look familiar, but it's a dustjacket and it probably didn't last long in my little hands.

I loved this book when I was little.  I asked my parents not long ago what caused them to give a three-year old a book like this.  I couldn't read it.  The animals are arranged by their taxonomic Order in the animal kingdom.  (I wouldn't know artiodactyla even if I could read!)  And it wasn't even published in the States.  But they couldn't remember.  The book remains both a mystery and a memory.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


The American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week is coming up September 25 to October 2.  Of 50 some-odd banned books listed in the September 2010 issue of AARP Bulletin, I found that I've read a respectable 17.

I don't know if this is listed on a "banned books" list anywhere, but I've also read Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book."  Formally known as Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (rating: 6/10), I borrowed this from a fellow student when I was finishing my senior year of high school in 1973.  It was a deliberately rebellious act, given that the nation was still dealing with the tragedy of the Vietnam War (though that would soon come to an end).  We lived near an Air Force base, and I knew a boy at school whose father was a pilot who had been shot down over Vietnam.  Another boy had a father who was a POW.  I did not disrespect the patriotism and commitment of those in the armed services, but I was definitely of the mind we should not be fighting in Vietnam.

I'm so grateful that we live in a country where we can read whatever we want and form our own opinions, even unpopular opinions.