books


17
Jan 23

Is this January? Today did not feel like January …

Wow, what a day. This wasn’t January, but it was. The high reached 54 and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The highlight of the day, then, was the day. I even went outside for four minutes to walk around two buildings and take this photo. Things like this need documentation.

The Library of Congress and the Internet Archive will surely be along shortly to document the moment. And they should. Sunny and 54 degrees! In January!

I finished this book this evening. (I skimmed about the second half of it.)

Remarkable Journeys of the Second World War isn’t that good. The author interviews people who took part in the war. They’re all British subjects, and their lives and roles varied. Here’s a POW, there’s a nurse, a merchant seaman, member of the Home Guard, and so on. Their stories are theirs, and some of them are riveting, as you might expect. But the author, she gets in the way of those stories with her own narrative. It gets redundant.

There comes a point when you pass through respect to enamored that feels disingenuous.

I bought it for $1.99, so it’s fine. That I skimmed a book is the thing here. Couldn’t tell you the last time I did that.

The last chapter were short stories written by her grandfather, who was a POW from the Royal Air Force, they were all worth reading. The author discovered, and published, his memoir. That I’d read much more closely.

Next up on the Re-Listening Project, where we’re just making recollections through the old CDs played, in order, in the car, is the first Van Halen greatest hits. “Best Of – Volume I” has most of the songs you’d expect for a greatest hits, was rumored to be the reason that Sammy Hagar left the band, brought David Lee Roth, briefly, back into the fold and, ultimately set the stage for Gary Cherone’s brief time fronting the band. And, honestly, somewhere in all of that was when I got worn out by Van Halen.

I remember this well. It was the fall of 1996. School was busy in more ways than one. This was spinning a lot on the drive in to campus from Gentilly. Sunny days, warm skies, a hilariously mediocre football team but, otherwise, everything was ascendant. Michael Jordan and the Bulls were on the way to building the second three-peat. I was helping quiz my roommate, who would, the next month, rise to brilliant national prominence. I believe I was doing music shifts at the radio station, and I managed to be a lot of other places, too. Ahh, the energy and vitality of youth. And, also, David Lee Roth.

I am older now than he was then, so there’s that. (And he was born in Bloomington, apparently? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that.)

Anyway, the first Van Halen cassette I bought was “OU812” so I missed the Roth years. To me, the band was Van Haggar. Further, I am of the not-at-all-consequential-and-yet-controversial opinion that Alex van Halen is a terrific drummer, but Michael Anthony was the secret ingredient to the whole thing. A greatest hits disc got me most of the songs I’d need from the early days, which was perfect. I’m in no way a Van Halen completist.

It seems weird to write a great deal in this space about a now decades old greatest hits compilation. Instead, let’s briefly touch on one of the news from this …. now decades old release. This one, the last ever recorded with the original lineup, is quite good.

No video was ever made, creative differences apparently, but this was a radio hit. They topped the US Rock Chart for six weeks, the third time Van Halen did that with Roth; it was the band’s 14th number one, overall.

This greatest hits came, for me, with an inescapable realization, way back then, and I can’t not think of it today. For an act featuring one of the greatest commercial guitar players of all time, the late, great Eddie Van Halen put a lot of synth in his music.

The one that came to mind this morning, listening to this song: charismatic as he is, and before you could wave it away as his being a rock star, what was Roth like as a teenager?

Next up is Counting Crows’ second studio album, which was released two weeks prior to the Van Halen greatest hits. But this is the order I bought them in, and I shuffled through them at about an equal pace this time through. I have most of the Counting Crows catalog, but I just grew out of it, as all of us should. Time and place and all. (But I’m committed to this gimmick and the records get a lot better. Soon, I think.)

For some reason I always think of driving in Opelika when this song comes on. There must have been some restaurant or store or something that was involved. Maybe it’s a memory from juco classes the next summer. There’s an overpass, and too many decibels, and that’s the memory.

This one always seemed relatable, somehow. Who can say why? That’s what you get when you listen to emo pop rock in the free time of your teens or early 20s.

I always wondered how much of what Adam Duritz wrote and performed was real or in the character. It seems a dangerous thing to put yourself forward to profit from whatever happens next in your personal life. But I like to think this one is more real than not. There’s some wry humor here. Also, I think it is, in pretty much every way, the most lasting track on the record for me.

Also, it is, I think, just about the earliest possible namecheck for Ben Folds. I own no Ben Folds, but I did see him the next year.

Next time we check in on the Re-Listening project, we’ll have a soundtrack. It’ll be a … breezy one.


3
Jan 23

Don’t move anything: all the regular site elements are caught up

Today? Oh, back to the regular. I actually went to work. Did a few work things, saw some people. Thought I should start a list: People I’ve Asked About The Holidays. Over the next seven or eight days I will, no doubt, ask someone that same question twice. Three times if they are really unlucky.

I’d also like to develop an app for the phone that listens to all of my jokes and notes the phones around at the time. Then, the next time I start wind up for that same joke, it buzzes most annoyingly if it notes the same people around. We’ll name it Asa. Avoiding Social Awkwardness.

I even whipped up the logo.

It symbolizes the circular nature of one’s jokes, you see.

Because we tell our best material over and over.

Now, to just program the thing, and get around all of the many and considerable privacy issues with anonymity decryption protocols.

See, I’ve thought of everything. Except that I know not how to build it.

After work I went to the auto parts store. It is a building where they have parts. They are, generally, parts for your car. The interior of the store is helpfully organized in zones. And I went to the zone of the auto parts store that holds the light bulbs. Turns out the oil change guy last month was partly right. He said my blinker was out. My blinker is fine. My marker light, a term I learned only this afternoon, was the one that was out. The market light is the one behind the yellow lens. I thought that was the fog light, but, no, that’s different.

There are two light bulbs that seem similar to the busted marker light bulb I pulled out in the parking lot. And a guy that works in the point of sale zone of the store helped me find the right one. Online indices are wonderful things.

While he was doing that, though, someone walked out with a battery. Just carried it right out of the store. He’d been talking about it with them. made eye contact at the door, got into his truck and drove off. We all watched him leave the parking lot. The three guys working just shrugged.

I purchased my two marker light bulbs, walked outside, installed one in the socket, successfully tested the replacement and drove to the car wash.

My car needed it, but you don’t need 400 words on three days of dry weather, the long line at “Wash World” and those wonderful sounds the drive through wash makes as the machinery works its way around. Well, anyway, my car is cleaner, but my windshield was, for some reason, blurry after that.

You just can’t get good robotic help these days.

Let’s get back to the Re-Listening project — the one where I’m playing all of my old CDs, in the order I acquired them, and write about them here. These aren’t reviews, as such. Just memories and a fun excuse to put up too many videos. It’s a whimsy, as most music should be.

These, by the way, were things that got played just before the holiday break. I am, as ever, in arrears.

And first up is a maxi-single. What’s a maxi-single? So glad you asked. A maxi-single is a release with more than the usual two tracks of an A-side song and a B-side song. This is a Rusted Root maxi-single, and it has five tracks. I am sure this was a college station radio giveaway. Also, it is still good.

The title track is up first, a Santana cover that does the original a bit of justic.

And before you wonder, Rusted Root produced seven studio albums and a live record between 1992 and 2012. Four of them landed on the Billboard 200, and two of those in the top half of the chart. One is certified gold, the other is platinum. They’re not hardly a flash in the pan.

Rusted Root is one of those bands that have a lot of musicians come through the band over the years. And, I must confess, I am not always clear on who is where. But let me just say this. There are some talented front porch pickers playing on this thing, and that’s about as high a compliment I will offer a musician not paid to play orchestral music in formal wear.

Three of the songs on the maxi-single are live, including the one that was the point, one of the ones you definitely remember, and the one that still shows up in commercials and TV shows from time-to-time.

The band itself seems to be done, or on hiatus, but many of the former members are stilly playing music. (A lot of them have been in Hot Tuna, turns out.) The lead singer is still making music, and others, including the most prominent female vocalist and the original drummer, are dividing their time between their own music and things like teaching and entrepreneurial projects.

I was hoping one of them might be a software developer, someone that could help me with the Asa project.

The next CD is from Big Mountain, another freebie I picked up because, if you were a kid of a certain era you were issued at least one post-Marley reggae album as a matter of procedure.

And, honestly, unless you line things up just right, a little reggae goes a long way for me. I appreciate some of the historical elements of the form, and my lay ear respects the musicianship, and they’re still at it, but it isn’t mine.

Which is maybe why I have no real fixed memories of this CD in particular.

This is one of the later tracks on the record, and it’s a TV studio performance. This 1995 song is still topical, of course.

The previous year they’d released their cover of “Baby I Love Your Way,” which peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100. That was their biggest pop moment. This record, “Resistance” didn’t follow up with commercial success, but they did release three singles from this one, and recorded seven albums since then. They finished last year playing in India. They’ll be touring locally in California early this spring, their 34th year of making music.

I finished Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming tonight. I was wrong, where he leaves us. The book ends after the Battle of Princeton, and the maneuvering immediately after. These were the circumstances that set up the Forage War in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I wonder if that’ll appear in the next book of the trilogy. As I said yesterday, this is Tolstoy meets Burns, the two-time Pulitzer winner embracing completely the role as a popular historian.

And he’s got seven more years of the story to tell. The epilogue covered John the Painter, so, I assume, it’s going to get grim in a hurry, when the new installment is published.

The next line of his acknowledgements, which runs several pages after 564 pages of maps and another hundred-and-change of notes, thanks Queen Elizabeth II, but there’s nothing here telling me when the next book is coming out.

Maybe in 2024, just in time for my fake phone app, then.


2
Jan 23

The non-holiday, holiday Monday

OK, OK. Let’s get this place back to normal. We have to settle down, I know. There was all of that travel, and then the extra weirdness of New Year’s, compounded by the weirdness of that being on a Sunday, meaning the hangover for the amateurs were observed today — by both the amateurs and their employers. And then I published something here on Saturday, very strange indeed. And I had today off. (And tomorrow!) But we stayed in, with good reason.

For the life of me, I don’t know why anyone over the age of 24 goes out for New Year’s Eve, no matter the night of the week. And it makes zero sense during a pandemic. (Yes, that’s still on.) Unless you figure you’ve done all the ritual and obligatory family events you need to do for the next several months, so you went out to get contaminated, and contaminate others, willy nilly.

Which is thoughtful of you, really.

Funnily enough, the etymology of willy nilly goes back to about 1600. To the Internet! (Where you already are!) Willy-nilly:

c. 1600, contraction of will I, nill I, or will he, nill he, or will ye, nill ye, literally “with or without the will of the person concerned.”

And just one or two generations later, there was the Great Plague of London.

City records indicate that some 68,596 people died during the epidemic, though the actual number of deaths is suspected to have exceeded 100,000 out of a total population estimated at 460,000.

Precisely why we stayed in. And, also, because we are over 24.

The cats had a party, though. Check out their glasses. You’d be profoundly disappointed in me if you knew how long we’ve waited for that moment to appear, just for these photos, and for nothing else.

And that’s as good a transition as any to move us smoothly into the most popular feature on the website. (I look at the analytics (and thanks for your visit) so I know these things.) Phoebe is having a ball.

Poseidon has been very cuddly and lovey today.

It’s when he’s charming that he’s most dangerous, because it is all a ploy. But, my, how he can charm the unsuspecting.

As ever, it is creepy when they do the same thing at the same time.

Just darned unsettling.

The thing you’ve been skimming or just scroll past, the last six weeks or so: On New Year’s Eve I set a personal best for mileage on the year. As ever, I did it at the last minute.

I had a difficult time trying to decide how much to do that night. If I’d stopped at that point, four miles into that ride, I would have set a best by only a mile. It was obvious I didn’t have another metric century in me, but it seemed like there should be some meaning or importance to this number no one else will ever know. Shouldn’t there be? What should it be? I failed utterly in that regard, but settled in to simply enjoy a midnight ride, which is the real meaning and importance.

I fell in with a fast group and stayed with them for six miles or so. I sprinted out of that group at the finish line for no reason. I beat them all to a vague finish line no one agreed to in a race they didn’t know they were having with me. Victory, he said grimly, was mine.

And after 18 miles that evening, that was that.

But the best part of the night, The Yankee decided to ride a few miles with me. We rang in the new year pedaling away in the bike room, holding hands and being cute and all. Here are our Zwift avatars, together.

It was her second bike ride of the day. She went to the pool today, and is back to doing her many other workouts, as well. So, if you’re wondering, she’s recovering nicely from her September crash and subsequent surgery.

Which means I have to find some way to get in more miles this year than she does. This will take a concerted effort on my part. (Not to worry, I already have a spreadsheet and two new goals to help me with this.)

I have about 75 pages to go in Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming. It’s one part Tolstoy, one part Burns, and all of it a story in a style befitting the journalist taking a turn as a historian. Last night I got to that point where I began to hate that the book is ending.

It’s a feeling all the more pointed because this is the first book in a trilogy, and because it is good, and so is everything else of Atkinson’s that I have read. Problem is, he hasn’t published the other two installments yet. These things, no doubt, take time. This one, for instance, has 564 pages of text, 135 pages of endnotes, a 42-page bibliography and 24 full-page maps.

But, come on, Atkinson, this was published in April of 2020. Make with the goods!

Isn’t that last passage something? (Read this book.)

I think he’ll finish this book just before Washington crosses the Delaware on his Christmas attack. It had been a grim year, 1776, and that December, the privation of the winter quarters and the desperation late in that December would be a good place to put in a cliffhanger and set up the next book in the trilogy.

Nary a word has been published online about when the next book will be out. How am I supposed to find out what happens next?


7
Dec 22

Writing more words about reading more words

I have re-started a bad habit, at least for a short while. I’m now reading multiple books at the same time once again.

Oh, I used to do this a lot more. There was the book-in-the-car book, the regular-read book, the books I might have been studying at the time. In the Before Times, when I went out to eat, just about the most fun thing to do was to eat and read.

But these days, not so much. There’s a lot to read online, though I’ve determined I should cut back on that. I have a three-shelf bookcase full of things to read. The top is stacked with books. There’s another pile almost as tall as the bookcase. There’s dozens of books waiting patiently on my Kindle, too. You can’t work through that stack, I’ve learned, without a certain determination, without fewer distractions.

None of that includes whatever else may come my way.

And what’s come my way today is a library book. Craig Johnson is just about the only non-fiction author I read, and that’s only because of the Longmire TV show. The book series spawned the show. The show — featuring 33 episodes across three seasons on A&E and and an additional 30 episodes in three more, grittier, Netflix seasons — was far superior. But the books are close enough.

Johnson writes one of these every year now. I check them out from the local library around Thanksgiving. This is this year’s installment. I’m not sure how much more he can get out of the character, who was aging when it started. But these years later, the long-in-the-tooth part is stretching the realism.

Just as well, then, that this book is all in the spirit world, or the afterlife, or a drug-induced condition, or a coma. This is kind of annoying, because physics in an already physical world don’t always apply.

But, when our protagonist sheriff is a ghost, in the past, there’s this line …

It’s a good line.

I’ll wrap this book up in a night or two.

But I’m also happily sawing my way through Rick Atkinson. It’s late in 1776. Washington is on the run, from out of New York and into New Jersey, from the British. The situation is dire.

I like that Washington had time to order wine and water. And, in a book, these things get compressed, so we don’t know exactly when Nathanael Greene wrote this letter to his wife, maybe it was after the fact. But it’s nice to think he dashed it off just before hoping on his horse. Apparently, there was a window of about 10 minutes between the general receiving bad news and moving out. So probably that encouraging note came later, but …

Atkinson’s attention to detail is so great I’m surprised he didn’t draw the comparison to Joshua 1:9.

I’m in the last 20 percent, or so, of that book, which means I now have to agonize over it ending, wondering when the second installment of the trilogy is going to come out and, most importantly, decide what book, or how many, to read next.


30
Nov 22

And so concludes November

I received a curious envelope in the mail.

“In the mail” is a bit redundant, don’t you think?

Not at all, dear interlocutor. You can receive envelopes in many ways. Someone can hand you an envelope. You could fashion one out of your own paper, or even purchase some. I have a small box in my desk at the office.

OK, fine. You received a curious envelope in the mail.

Yes I did. It had a certain texture.

Texture?

Not like a golf ball, which has that dimpled surface for aerodynamic properties, but the opposite of that.

Surely it has some purpose, this round skid plate design. Surely I am meant to stand on it, securely, squarely, confidently, while I’m opening the rest of my correspondence.

Sure, plus, it makes it stand out.

You’re right! I felt it right away.

And we’re talking about it.

Yes, we are.

So job done.

I didn’t tell you who it was from though, did I?

And that’s just how exciting today was. Emails, a few conversations about future to do lists, watching people watch the World Cup. Laughing at people. I also wrote a letter and sent that off. No fancy envelope, though.

I got in a little bike ride this evening, if nothing else to see how my knee would feel doing its part after I aggravated it in last night’s run. Stairs felt the same. Walking didn’t hurt. Getting up and down to clean a few things around the house felt as it always does. But maybe, I figured, the repetition of riding 25 miles would tell me something different. So I tapped out 25 easy miles. No pain. Lots of gain.

By my count, I’ll have the opportunity to ride nine or 10 more times before the end of the year.

If that holds up, and I hold up, I just might set a new personal best for milage in a year.

It’s time to check in on Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming. This is an incredible descriptive bit about General Charles Lee. You could look at this in a few ways. How many different ways to you need to describe a person? You could note how this is about personality, and not about his physical description. You’re right about that, the physical part shows up elsewhere. Begging the further question, how tightly can you pack in facts about a man? (And, not pictured, this goes on for a bit, as it is our introduction to his trotting into Charleston in 1776.) But I have a different question.

How much time did Atkinson put in the simple, thorough, act of pulling together this description.

It’s always thick. It’s never burdensome. I love how the man writes.

I am 340 pages into this 564-page first installment of his American Revolution trilogy. (No word on when the second book is due out.) There’s something new to learn everywhere, here. And, even then, you know you’re not getting everything. Something to think about over the next two hundred pages.

Waiting in the wings, the latest installment of just about the only fiction I read.