Sunday, January 31, 2021

I shouldn't have done it

 For the most part, it's my wife's fault. But, to be totally honest, I didn't HAVE to read the book.

In recent years I've taken to providing my wife and kids my Christmas list, which contains novels I'd like to read. It's very specific. And each one is given a different list so they don't all end up buying me the same book. It works out great. It makes gift-buying easy for the family; and it makes gift receiving enjoyable for me.

But then wifey had to go and improvise. She admitted it before hand too. "I bought you a book that wasn't on your list, because I really liked the cover." What!? That's violating the golden rule of book buying (my rule anyway). Don't go for the pretty cover because, as the ages-old adage says, words to live by are: "Don't judge a book by the cover!" Had she never heard that? I wondered as Christmas approached.

I told myself to be nice when I opened the book. To force myself to read it, no matter what. To say I liked it, no matter what.

And the deal wasn't all bad. She actually bought me two books, one from my list and then one from the bookshelf with the pretty covers. I joyfully knocked off the John Sandford book in no time, while the "other" book stared at me from the top of my desk.

"The Whisper Man" by Alex North, an author I never heard of. A Brit, non-the-less. Maybe I've never heard of him because he/she is writing under a pseudonym. 

I knew from reading the jacket flap, it wasn't a book I wanted to read. It was obviously a scary book and it involved kids. Two things I don't like in a book. One of the reviews on the back said: "First it's spooky. Then it's scary. Then it's terrifying." Great.

I can read murder-mysteries every day of the week. In fact I do. Blood and gore don't bother me. Dexter cutting up body parts, no problem. Hannibal eating his victims, give me seconds. But a little boy kidnapped by a psychopath who's been whispering to him through the mail slot in the door? Nuh uh. No way. I don't do Stephen King. Not since Pet Cemetery. I can't explain it. Those books just hit that spot in the back of my cerebral cortex, the same spot that won't allow me to eat green peas.

It's a weird thing about me, like scraping plates. I can pick up dog poop in the yard; I can pull half-eaten rabbits out of the mouth of my dog; I can castrate a pig; dehorn a steer; blood and gore can shoot and spill and I can wipe it off my face with my sleeve and keep on trucking. But I hate scraping dinner plates into the garbage. Ooh, I got gravy on my fingers, soy sauce on my arm, mashed potatoes under my fingernails. Ick! Go figure but don't ask me to explain why.

So, how was "The Whisper Man", you ask?

Well, first it was spooky, then it was scary, then it was terrifying. Then I had trouble sleeping. But I finished it. And it was good like a haunted house was good or running a marathon was good. It sucked while you were doing it, but felt good when you were done.

I gave it a 6 on the Haugenometer. Amazonian spooks liked it more and give it 4.4 of 5.

But what can you expect from a scaredy-cat like me? Please stick to my list next time, honey.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Who's your guy?

 Years back my daughter drove into my garage door and wrecked it along with a corner of the garage. I can build a rabbit cage but I can't rebuild a garage. So I called a buddy who could come take a look at it.

He came and helped me fix it. More like I handed him stuff while he fixed it. I thanked him and he said: "Hey, we've all gotta have our guy. For fixing things, I'm 'your guy.'"

So he's my fix-it guy. I also have a beef guy, who supplies me locally-grown meat. I've got a honey guy, who supplies me with, you guessed it, local honey. I've got a walleye guy too. Even a canned pickles guy.

In reverse, I'm the "tomato guy" for some people. I provide them seedlings early in the season or vine-ripened fruits in the summer. It's not much but you go with what the good Lord gave ya.

But what I've needed lately is an "ammo guy." In case you hadn't heard there's a shortage of ammunition out there as people are buying guns at a record pace. And if you have guns you need something to shoot out of them. Thus one of the reasons for the shortage. Among others, like COVID hitting the supply line workers. Here's a good story and video from a Remington guy explaining it.

Thankfully, of all people, my wife has an "ammo guy." Usually I would not want my wife to have "a guy" of any sort. But he has access to 9mm ammo and I don't so I look the other way.

Seems we're almost getting back to the barter system in some ways. That's a good thing. You know where your food comes. You develop relationships and friendships. You rely on each other. It's all good. And if one of them annoys you too much, it's always good to have that ammo guy!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Finished: John Sandford's 'Masked Prey'

 Masked Prey is the 30th book in John Sandford's "Prey" series. Amazingly, he's still keeping them pretty fresh.

This novel is set in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., northern Virginia, right about where my son lives. I prefer his novels set in Minnesota because I'm more familiar with the area. But this one also seemed topical in that I have been in or around much of that area, which always makes for fun reading. Sure it's interesting to have novels in more exotic locations like Rome or Paris, but it works better for my mind's eye when I can more easily visual the cities and terrain having witnessed them myself. Make sense?

The daughter of a U.S. Senator is monitoring her social media presence when she finds a picture of herself on a strange blog. And there are other pictures . . . of the children of other influential Washington politicians, walking or standing outside their schools, each identified by name. Surrounding the photos are texts of vicious political rants from a motley variety of radical groups.

It's obviously alarming--is there an unstable extremist tracking the loved ones of powerful politicians with deadly intent? But when the FBI is called in, there isn't much the feds can do. The anonymous photographer can't be pinned down to one location or IP address, and more importantly, at least to the paper-processing bureaucrats, no crime has actually been committed. With nowhere else to turn, influential Senators decide to call in someone who can operate outside the FBI's constraints: Lucas Davenport.

I gave it a solid 7 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians a 4.5 of 5. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Finished: Westlake's 'Help I Am Being Held Prisoner'

 Pretty ominous title in this novel by Donald Westlake. A scary thriller of kidnapping, rape, torture? Naaa.

It's Westlake. He doesn't roll that way. Even his prison novels are funny.

In this one, the main characters name is even funny and a rolling joke throughout. I'd type it but can't find the umlaut key. The guy with the funny name is a prankster. And he goes to prison for a prank gone wrong on the wrong people (a couple congressmen). He keeps up his jokes while in prison, while falling in with a gang who has a tunnel out of prison, where he spends most of his days in an apartment with his girlfriend, while unwantingly being forced to plan a bank robbery.

Westlake is so clever he makes me mad, because I can't come up with a plot half as clever as his. In all his books. The man was a genius and I don't use that term lightly.

I gave it a solid 7 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians were even higher at 4.5 of 5 and Goodreaders a 4 of 5.


**  I was happy to see 80 of my books downloaded during the end-of-year sale. "Bags of Bodies" and "Bags of Rock" were the top two books selected, as I'd hoped. "Joshua's Ladder" continues to attract readers too, so that is good. 

** The last couple years I've caught 20-30 field mice in my garage throughout the winter. Kind of gross but we are surrounded by thousands of acres of prairie and foothills and they look for a warmer place. This year, however, I caught three early on and none in the last couple months. That perfectly coincides with an owl who lives in a tree in the gully behind our house. Thank you, Mr. Owl. Now if he'd just take care of the plethora of rabbits who are organizing for a summer assault on my garden.

** This column by Jonah Goldberg does a better job of explaining some of the thoughts I expressed in my earlier post on news. It has bigger words and stuff.

When we get fed only what we want to hear, it becomes a contest for who can sell the purest junk.

** You should know by now what I think of censorship, but nobody has a right to get published. Hey, Josh, you can always try

Here's a WSJ story on the subject.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The intelligence of your group is usually defined by the dumbest member

 Through the course of my day job I often get asked what news I watch. Usually it's meant as a sarcastic jab: from the far left that I must only watch FOX News or from the far right that I must only watch CNN. But some genuinely seem to want to know where to get unbiased news.

It's the unfortunately reality today that many people live in an echo chamber and only want to hear news they agree with, so they gravitate to MSNBC on one side or Newsmax/OAN on the other. The cry of "fake news" is often heard, but using that vague allegation I'd proffer that if there's fake news on the left there's also fake news on the right. So the conundrum is finding something in the middle, if that beast lives.

I "watch" very little news. My television at work is set to Fox Business and on mute so I can see how the markets are doing. When it leaves that channel it goes to CSPAN2, which focuses its lens on the floor of the U.S. Senate. There you can hear straight from the senators without fear of a filter or things being taken out of context. At home I seldom watch local news unless it's to get the latest on an impending weather event. I never watch national network news. 

I get my news online. I also follow a handful of news accounts on Twitter, from local journalists, newspapers and television stations to a couple national writers. 

I used to be a faithful reader of the Drudge Report, but haven't for a couple years. If you want to get depressed, read Drudge. The sky is falling and the world is going to hell there. I don't need that and I don't believe that. My first stop instead is usually It's right leaning but not crazy. It offers headlines from various left and right national news outlets, with two or three paragraph excerpts of their stories. You can then click to the entire story if you wish. It also offers analysis and opinions from an array or writers.

I also read It gives a pretty straight forward account of what's occurring on Capitol Hill. 

Beyond that I stick to sports and book websites.

I don't avoid what many consider the "mainstream" news, like the NY Times or Washington Post, that gets vilified from the right. But I do think there are things to consider when reading any news.

If they quote unnamed sources and use unattributed or anonymous quotes, ignore them. "Sources say" are the worst two words in journalism. Maybe file them away in the back of your brain or research the allegations more through other media, but don't take them as Gospel. Then, as you see those stories play out and become true or false, file that reporter's name away as legitimate and respected or not. Don't be reactionary and jump to conclusions. Have patience for a story to play out - like shootings or bombings and who is responsible or to blame.

If nothing else it is important to know what the other "side" is saying. Because sometimes "everybody I know says ..." is more a reflection of the small circle you run in. It may prove to be a smart circle or an uninformed circle. Personally, I know the bunch of goofballs I run with, and if they are all saying the same thing, I'm immediately cautious. 

As I used to tell my son, the intelligence of your group is usually defined by the dumbest member of that group. If you don't recognize who is the dumbest, it probably means it is you. Group-think is dumb. Be an individualistic thinker. 

And for goodness sake, don't get your news from Facebook friends and memes. They're the least informed and often loudest. Just because something is in all-caps, DOESN'T MAKE IT CORRECT.

Mostly, just read a lot, from various news outlets, left, center and right. You'll be smarter, more well-rounded, maybe more respectful of other opinions, more empathetic, and probably less stressed about the world around you.

Finished: Daniel Silva's "The Order" - it was fantastic

 I started Daniel Silva's "The Order" in late December. It's a pretty thick novel by my standards, (464 pages) so I planned to finish it the first week of January. Thus it would get a jump on my book total for 2021, but it was so good, I finished it in a couple of days, still in 2020. But, I'd already written my 2020 books in review post so I'm still counting it among my 2021 total. Sue me.

The trouble is, it was so good, it's going to be tough to beat the rest of the year.

It is the 20th book in the Gabriel Allon series. It's a real "thinker" and delves into issues between Jews and Christians, The Vatican's role in anti-Semitism, history of the Gospels and the history of religion in general. I thought it was great and gave it to a coworker interested in those kind of things with orders to drop what she was reading (a history of Abraham) and read it. For a change, she listened to me and I think she agreed that it was very interesting.

I gave it 9- on the Haugenometer. Amazonians at 4.3 of 5 and Goodreaders 4.2 of 5. So I was a little higher on it than them, but what do they know? The negative nabobs said it was too political and not the spy thriller they were used to from the series. Some people just want their fiction and don't want to think. I pick up books for that purpose too, just to enjoy, but occasionally it's good to test the noggin' too.

It had a nice surprise ending, a bit unbelievable, but hey. It's fiction!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

I met a new friend, Ed McBain

 I've fallen upon another pulp noir mystery writer best known as Ed McBain. I've seen his name in Lawrence Block books and elsewhere and finally decided to give him a try.

McBain is a Mystery Writer's Association Grand Master, the highest honor accorded such writers. I recently finished "So Nude, So Dead." It was good. A 7- on the Haugenometer.

At the end of the book a short story was included called "Die Hard." It's twenty pages of marvelousness. (Reminder, everything doesn't have to be a 70,000-word novel.)

Can you beat a better description of a person than this?:

"He was a little man with a little voice, one of the many stamped from the mold, one of those subway-strappers. He had a round face with a long nose that tried its damnedest to peer into his mouth. His lips were thin and narrow, and his eyes were carrying luggage, heavy luggage."

No you can't. Looks like I found another kindred spirit to read and learn from. Ed McBain, aka Salvatore Albert Lombino, Evan Hunter, John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, and Richard Marsten.

I love that those writers from the 50s, 60s and 70s used so many pen names. It certainly causes confusion when trying to collect their works, but it's fun. I might have to try one.

I'm also smitten with the words they use, like "gin joint" for bars and "heaters" for cigs. As for "subway-strappers," I had to look that one up.

It means: One who grips a hanging strap or similar device for support while riding as a passenger on a bus or subway. Or, one who uses public transportation.

I might've figured that one out on my own eventually, but, like most things, probably not.