Monday, February 27, 2017

A no-drama link-oh-rama

So I've been working on some detective writing this past year or so, more along the lines of hard-boiled, noir, like I've been binge reading. Hope to wow you with the first installment in a couple months, probably, maybe, who knows. Until then, here's some detecting to kick off the link-oh-rama:

*** Book review: Investigating literature’s most epic detective (for now).

*** Basically, this tells me, if you want to be like President Trump, Kanye West or Tomi Lahren (how the heck does she get thrown in with those names?) then don't read books.
Several “successful people” eschew books, including President Trump ( “I read passages, I read areas, chapters”), Kanye West ( “I am a proud non-reader of books”) and The Blaze personality Tomi Lahren (“I don’t like to read long books. I like to read news”).
Even if that list isn’t very convincing, people whom I personally am assured are much smarter than myself, such as my husband (who reads case law for a living and in-depth statistical analysis for fun) probably would answer “No” if the Pew Foundation came around asking if he had read a book in the past year.
So sure, I’m not going to be wringing my hands over Americans’ lack of reading anytime soon, aside from general lament toward the cult of anti-intellectualism currently present in some circles. But as an avid reader myself—a proud purveyor of biographies, classic literature, and utter trash alike (I really, really, love “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and mass-market Star Trek books) — I am an advocate of cracking open a book, firing up your e-reader, or investing in an Audible.com account. Here’s why.
*** Pretty tempted to get this one: Huck Out West. An excerpt in Huck-speak:

But no, just when I’m fixing to set back and catch up on my fishing on the Mississippi, here comes Huck Out West by Mr. Robert Coover. He’s writ novels that was interesting but tough, like The Origin of the Brunists, about how religion gets mangled by the folks who believe in it. And The Public Burning, about a real couple called Ethel and Julius Rosenberg that got convicted as spies. Railroaded is the way he seed it. They wound up in the electric chair. This Mr. Coover is one angry man.
Well, here, he’s the ventriloquist and I’m the innocent wanderer again, heading for the mountains like Mr. Twain once did, stumbling into the dark side of the Western Expansion. Some of the old Missouri gang are with me. Trouble is, Mr. Coover, he makes them into folks I don’t hardly recognize. For instance, Jim could break your heart when he talked about how much he loved his wife and children that was sold into slavery.
*** Prison made him believe in literature. I feel ya dude.
Naji is best known internationally for being imprisoned for the sexual content and drug references in his novel The Use of Life, in a society where these subjects remain largely taboo.
However, sitting in his apartment close to the Nile in central Cairo, Naji plays down the image he has acquired as a result of his plight, and the themes that got him into trouble.
A blend of existentialist literature, fantasy and social criticism, The Use of Life follows Bassam, a young man who lives in an alternate Cairo, which Naji imagines as a grubby metropolis that has risen from a series of natural disasters that levelled the city. Filled with irreverent references to masturbation, fetishes and pornography, the book is consistently transgressive. Bassam’s opinions and ideas are also knowingly progressive – having sex with an older woman, keeping transgender friends, indulging in drugs and drink.
“Sex and drugs play a very important part in Cairo,” says Naji – while stressing that they are not the main themes of his novel. As he sees it, The Use of Life is about “the history of the city and how it has been designed … and how people in this Kafkaesque maze are trying to find a small piece of joy”.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Chaput has a new book out. Read it.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, former bishop in Rapid City, has a new book out, Strangers in a Strange Land. From the excerpts I’ve read it looks to be the usual interesting writing I’ve grown accustomed to from him.

Chaput has a unique ability to bring religious writing down to the level of the average Joe. It’s not like reading a doctoral thesis. His book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, is one of my favorite books of any genre.

For instance, from Strangers:
But what we do in the world, how we live and how we love (or misuse love) — these things always have consequences. And they always emerge from the past to pay a visit. Choices don’t stay buried.
That echoes my wife’s most oft-repeated words to our kids and to the college Catholic kids she serves at the SD School of Mines Newman Center: "Make good choices." For the most part they have, but not always. Kind of like her husband.

In fact, this might be a good Lenten read for me. Reminder, Lent starts on March 1, Ash Wednesday. Be there or be heathen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Finished: Block's 'A Diet of Treacle'

I knocked off another short novel by Lawrence Block over the weekend. Oddly enough, I even had to look up one of the words in the title: A Diet of Treacle.

Never heard of treacle before. Apparently it’s a British molasses type mixture. My old-school dictionary didn’t even have an entry for it, so I had to Google it.
 British. molasses, especially that which is drained from the vats used in sugar refining.
Also called golden syrup. A mild mixture of molasses, corn syrup, etc., used in cooking or as a table syrup.
 The title didn’t really make any sense until I finished the book and thought about it.  The book begins with a quote from Alice in Wonderland that helps make it more understandable.

The title is actually better than its original title in 1961: Pads Are for Passion.
Anita Carbone was a good girl—and it bored her.
That’s why she took the long subway ride down to Greenwich Village, home of the Beats and the stoners, home to every kind of misfit and dropout and free spirit you could imagine. It was where she met Joe Milani, the troubled young war veteran with the gentle touch. But it was also where she met his drug-dealing roommate—a man whose unnatural appetites led to murder ...
 Reviewers call this a beatsploitation novel because he seems to be knocking the beatniks/hipsters of the 1960s in Greenwich Village and their sex and drugs lifestyle.

My favorite thing about the book is that it’s not all tied together until the last sentence. I love that. The book is dark. Really dark, even by my standards. Unlike most murder mysteries, he doesn’t actually get to the murder until you’re two-thirds through the book. Usually they say you have to have the murder in the first 100 pages. But, Block being Block, makes it work.

Very interesting work. Well worth the read. I gave it a 7- on the 10-point Haugenometer.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Coming full circle with the milkweeds

Getting some stuff started in my greenhouse recently reminded me of how I’ve come full circle in life from playing in the dirt as a kid. It wasn’t the dirt so much as it was the plant – milkweed.

One of the things today’s youth can barely fathom was the summer ritual I endured with several other friends and neighbors. It was called walking beans. Starting at 6 or 7 in the morning, and sometimes in the evenings, we’d walk with corn knives or hoes (another term I’d have to explain to today’s kids) and would chop the weeds out of the soybeans. The primary weeds were milkweeds, cocklebur and volunteer corn.


It was a thankless, monotonous job that was only made tolerable by the friends you did it with. And it was an equal opportunity job, as the farm girls joined in. They key was to try and get lined up next to the prettiest one, as if really mattered if I was lined up closest to or farthest away from her, but still. It made it easier when we threw dirt clods at each other. The best prank to pull though was the old “how’d you miss that weed, you idiot?” ploy. For that one you lagged behind for a bit and then when the person a few rows over got far enough ahead you’d grab a big weed you’d chopped and go push it into the ground  in their rows. Then after they got far ahead and you caught up, you’d casually turn around, scan the field and say: “How’d you miss that weed, you idiot?” They’d be pretty sure they didn’t but couldn’t risk not retracing their steps to make sure.

Bean walking resulted in one surgery for me, when one of my friend’s hoes severed a ligament in my hand. And I’m not sure what, but am pretty sure there may be some effects to come from the Raid that Selma Hansen sprayed on me when we walked for her and Selmer (yes, Selmer and Selma Hansen) in the evenings during the height of mosquito spawn. She claimed Off wasn’t strong enough for them. And who was this punk kid to argue with her? Douse me good, Selma!

I caught the tail end of the “bean buggy” fad, where lazy kids got to actually sit in a seat and spray the weeds. That didn’t last long though as evil corporation Monsato came along and ruined the bean walking biz by developing Round-up Ready beans. Now farmers can just whiz through the field and spray the whole works and the beans will survive.

Some will say that this has contributed to the decline of bees and monarch butterflies. I don’t know. I’m just an English major. But it probably didn’t help.

So where the “full circle” thing comes into play now is that this year for the first time I found myself planting milkweeds. Yes, once the bane of my existence, now I’m trying to grow the #&*^#$ things.

Why?

Because monarch butterflies need them to raise baby butterflies, and what can I say: I like baby butterflies. Unlike human babies, they are quiet, let you sleep and don’t make messes.

One thing I’ve noticed about my spot of heaven in the Hills is that it’s really difficult to find milkweeds and monarchs. I’m sure there’s some rancher out here who can point me otherwise but they aren’t around like they used to be and the milkweeds certainly aren’t nearly as abundant as Canadian thistle.

So last fall I spotted a milk weed, can’t even remember where, and went over and picked a peck of pods. I saved them and tried starting some a few weeks ago. Of the 12x12 container, I only had one seed germinate. I think it was a storage issue for me and I didn’t do a very good job. I’ll keep trying.

The plan, so my neighbors won’t hate me more than they already do, is to pick the pods this fall in my garden before they burst open and all the seeds start flying away. And the air will waft with clouds of butterflies and rainbows will fill the sky. That’s the plan anyway. But as I always advise people, Custer had a plan too.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Time to get smashed

I’m not an e-book guy. I’ve read one book, maybe parts of two others on my Kindle. But I recognize I’m in the minority on this, kind of like my presidential vote for Darrell Castle. I’m a 1-percenter. I get it.

Many people love their e-readers, and I’m happy for you. So happy for you that I would again like you to take a look at a really cool e-book site called smashwords.com. I got on the site years ago in its inception as a book seller. I have my novels there and some short stories.

There are several great points for you to consider as a reader.

Firstly, the variety. There’s a category for everybody: fiction, non-fiction, essays, poetry, plays. You want travel? Got it. Religion? Yep. Gardening? Uh, huh. Some sexier stuff? Oh, yeah.

Now you aren’t going to find Dean Koontz or JK Rowling hanging out at smashwords. But you might find the NEXT Koontz or Rowling there.

I won’t lie to you, there’s some total crap writers there. But the majority are very good writers. And the downloads are much cheaper than you’ll find at Amazon. And it’s free and simple to sign up. Plus you get free samples of almost everything you might want before you buy.

Secondly, you can download in whatever format you want. Got a Kindle, a Nook, a Cranny, a Pad, whatever.

Smashwords says: The Smashwords Store provides an opportunity to discover new voices in all categories and genres of the written word. Once you register, the site offers useful tools for search, discovery and personal library management.  Most of our books are affordably priced and multi-format. Over 55,000 of our books are priced at free.

As a book seller there, I’ve found it to be better than Amazon.

It seems the customers at Smashwords are very loyal to the authors there. I’ve sold hundreds of e-books and thousands of free downloads. The freebies are everything from short stories (to hopefully encourage people to buy this dude’s novels) to other give-aways and specials I’ve had on those books.

That’s the other cool thing they do is set up coupons and deals at whatever discount I want for however long I want. Amazon is much more heavy-handed. They have rules for everything and are very territorial. I get it. Fine.

But I’ve sold books in both places, and Smashwords has smashed Amazon when it comes to digital sales for me.

Smashwords lets me set my price and I get a much bigger percentage of that than Amazon too. It's not even close.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Smashwords though is that once I upload my novel (an easy process) and my cover and my particulars (cost, etc.), then within days, sometimes hours, they then ship it to other outlets like Barnes and Noble, Apple, libraries and everywhere (except Amazon).

This isn’t to bash Amazon. That’s where I buy majority of my pulp fiction. But Amazon controls 70 percent of the market. If you want to help the little guys, get signed up at Smashwords and throw a couple bucks to an independent author. He or she might be famous someday and you can take partial credit.

And you'll be all signed up and ready to go should my next novel pop up there this spring. That's the rumor anyway.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Finished: In Sunlight or In Shadow

Legendary author Lawrence Block corralled some of his author buddies and came up with an ingenious idea. Each author picked an Edward Hopper painting (you know ‘em when you see ‘em) and the writer was tasked with using that painting as inspiration for a short story.

The book is called: In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper.

I started this in December and have been reading them off and on. I love these kind of anthologies where you can knock one off when you have fifteen minutes. I just finished it this weekend and absolutely loved it. If I counted this as a 2016 read, it would be my favorite of the year.

From Amazon:
A truly unprecedented literary achievement by author and editor Lawrence Block, a newly-commissioned anthology of seventeen superbly-crafted stories inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper.
Amazonians give it 4.5 out of 5.

It introduced me to some accomplished authors I’d never read before and I quickly added some of their works to my Amazon cart and my BTB (books to buy) list I take to the used book store.

I was really looking forward to the Lee Child story (he of Jack Reacher), but it was surprisingly one of the weaker ones of the bunch. Seemed like he just threw something together quick and didn’t even use Jack Reacher in the story. I thought he dropped the ball on that.

Stephen King’s was expectedly creepy. I saw his was nominated with Block’s short story for a prestigious Edgar Award (named after Poe).

Goodreads lists some of the authors:
Contributors include Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olen Butler, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Craig Ferguson, Nicholas Christopher, Jill D. Block, Joe R. Lansdale, Justin Scott, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Warren Moore, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Lawrence Block himself. Even Gail Levin, Hopper’s biographer and compiler of his catalogue raisonĂ©e, appears with her own first work of fiction, providing a true account of art theft on a grand scale and told in the voice of the country preacher who perpetrated the crime.
Goodreaders give it a 3.8 out of 5.

It hits 7+ out of 10 on the Haugenometer. Fantastic. Below is probably the most famous Hopper painting: Nighthawks:


Thursday, February 2, 2017

The only January I like is Jones

As far as I'm concerned it's always good to have January in the rear-view mirror.

Been wondering this past month, is there a point at which these protests kind of lose their "oompf?" The boy who cried wolf type of thing? Can everything be so bad? Is everybody who disagrees with anyone Hitler, or a fascist or a communist or a sexist, racist, homophobe cat-lover? Can't anyone just be a goof or an idiot anymore or maybe just make a mistake without being the devil personified?

I tell anyone who will listen: If your daily happiness is dependent on who is president of the United States, you've got bigger problems. Sure, it's good to be politically aware and engaged, but losing your minds over it? Grow up. My happiness is generally determined by events and people within a five-mile radius of me.

But as a guy who watches politics like I watch a football game, it is fascinating. If I'd known it was going to be this entertaining and Trump was going to cause so many heads to explode, I might've voted for him.

Now if he'd just do something about that damn prairie dog that says six more weeks of winter.

Anyway, link away:

*** Shared this with my daughter, currently student teaching a fifth-grade class. I thought it was pretty cool but know I'd have difficulty, not so much with the handshakes, but remembering which handshake went with which kid.

*** This seems kind of rude, but effective. Creative people say 'No.'

*** Good article at SDPB after a sick killing of a convenience store clerk. Police Chief Karl Jegeris believes there are new levels of crazy because of meth.

*** Tough to find thoughtful pieces now-a-days, especially on anything Trump related. This seemed pretty fair regarding the travel restrictions.

*** Facebook dead, 12, victim of 2016.

*** What I'm reading: Lawrence Block's "In Sunlight or in Shadow." About done. Loving it.