Thursday, December 29, 2022

Finished: McCarthy's 'The Road'

 Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is just another example of how I don't get it as far as what is considered great literature of modern times.

He won a Pulitzer Prize for it; it was a best-seller; and chosen for Oprah's book club. All together now: Oooh, aaah.

I gave it a 5 on the 10-point Haugenometer.

According to Amazon, whose readers gave it a 4.4 of 5:

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

I don't argue that McCarthy is a great author. His shtick of not using commas and quote marks is cute. Heck, I wish it had been the rule of the land when I was kid. Imagine how much easier grammar and composition classes would have been.

But this is just a dull story of a man and boy trekking across barren, burned-out land. They mostly have monosylabic conversations, if you want to call them that. (I think I made that word up.) Nothing profound about it. They don't have names, and you don't know how the world got to this point. If he was going for bleak and boring, mission accomplished. 

McCarthy did a good job of showing probably what a post-apocolyptic world would look like. People not trusting each other, every man for himself kind of thing.

It just didn't do it for me and hardened my resolve to never join the Oprah Book Club.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Books for the kids

 When I was a kid my great-aunt Nora could always be counted on to give us kids gloves or mittens for Christmas. Assuming I lost at least one glove in between holidays, I would freeze my hand or hands until the next Christmas, knowing I'd get a new pair.

So it is that I have the Christmas tradition of giving a sure thing to my kids and their significant others for Christmas. Every other gift they get from ma and pa is labeled "From Mom and Dad," but this one is labeled only from me. And so their brains don't freeze, like Aunt Nora took care of my hands, I give them books. I know four out of the six usually get read. The ones that don't aren't because they aren't a great selection, it's because Junior doesn't read much unless it fits on his phone or it has to be carefully tailored to to his interests. 

After much thought and research during the course of the year, I picked up the following for them:

For history professor and son-in-law Stetston: The Good Country - A History of the American Midwest 1800-1900 by Jon K. Lauck. Even though there was a flagrant omission in the book (no mention of the Haugen empire) I bought it because Jon is a coworker and a friend and I wanted to do my little part to help his sales hit double-digits. 

According to Amazon:

At the center of American history is a hole—a gap where some scholars’ indifference or disdain has too long stood in for the true story of the American Midwest. A first-ever chronicle of the Midwest’s formative century, The Good Country restores this American heartland to its central place in the nation’s history.

Jon K. Lauck, the premier historian of the region, puts midwestern “squares” center stage—an unorthodox approach that leads to surprising conclusions. The American Midwest, in Lauck’s cogent account, was the most democratically advanced place in the world during the nineteenth century. The Good Country describes a rich civic culture that prized education, literature, libraries, and the arts; developed a stable social order grounded in Victorian norms, republican virtue, and Christian teachings; and generally put democratic ideals into practice to a greater extent than any nation to date.

For my son, Luke, the catcher of bad guys: Killing the Mob by Bill O'Reilly. 

The tenth book in Bill O'Reilly's #1 New York Times bestselling series of popular narrative histories, with sales of nearly 18 million copies worldwide, and over 320 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

O’Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard trace the brutal history of 20th Century organized crime in the United States, and expertly plumb the history of this nation’s most notorious serial robbers, conmen, murderers, and especially, mob family bosses. Covering the period from the 1930s to the 1980s, O’Reilly and Dugard trace the prohibition-busting bank robbers of the Depression Era, such as John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby-Face Nelson. In addition, the authors highlight the creation of the Mafia Commission, the power struggles within the “Five Families,” the growth of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, the mob battles to control Cuba, Las Vegas and Hollywood, as well as the personal war between the U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and legendary Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.

For Katie's Kwinn: Killing the Killers: The Secret War Against Terrorists by Bill O'Reilly.

In Killing The Killers, #1 bestselling authors Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard take readers deep inside the global war on terror, which began more than twenty years ago on September 11, 2001.

As the World Trade Center buildings collapsed, the Pentagon burned, and a small group of passengers fought desperately to stop a third plane from completing its deadly flight plan, America went on war footing. Killing The Killers narrates America's intense global war against extremists who planned and executed not only the 9/11 attacks, but hundreds of others in America and around the world, and who eventually destroyed entire nations in their relentless quest for power.

Killing The Killers moves from Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran to Yemen, Syria, and Libya, and elsewhere, as the United States fought Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, as well as individually targeting the most notorious leaders of these groups. With fresh detail and deeply-sourced information, O'Reilly and Dugard create an unstoppable account of the most important war of our era.

For daughter, Katie, and because she requested it: The Night Shift by Alex Finlay.

It’s New Year’s Eve 1999. Y2K is expected to end in chaos: planes falling from the sky, elevators plunging to earth, world markets collapsing. A digital apocalypse. None of that happens. But at a Blockbuster Video in New Jersey, four teenagers working late at the store are attacked. Only one inexplicably survives. Police quickly identify a suspect, the boyfriend of one of the victims, who flees and is never seen again.

Fifteen years later, more teenage employees are attacked at an ice cream store in the same town, and again only one makes it out alive.

In the aftermath of the latest crime, three lives intersect: the lone survivor of the Blockbuster massacre who’s forced to relive the horrors of her tragedy; the brother of the fugitive accused, who’s convinced the police have the wrong suspect; and FBI agent Sarah Keller who must delve into the secrets of both nights—stirring up memories of teen love and lies—to uncover the truth about murders on the night shift.

For daughter, Rylee: The Lost Girls of Willowbrook - A Heartbreaking Novel of Survival Based on a True Story by by Ellen Marie Wiseman.

Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.

Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her deeply. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.

Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could imagined ...

For daughter-in-law Kayla, I'm starting her on a new detective series I've heard about but haven't read myself. Hopefully they're good and she can lend them back to me. They're the first two paperbacks in the 18-book series.

Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (#1) by Louise Penny.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it's a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

Still Life introduces not only an engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces---and this series---with integrity and quiet courage, but also a winning and talented new writer of traditional mysteries in the person of Louise Penny.

A Fatal Grace: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (#2) by Louise Penny.

Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter―and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Quebec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he's dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder―or brilliant enough to succeed?

And granddaughter Josie begins her literary journey with: My First Disney Classics Bedtime Storybook. It includes: The Lion King, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland and 1001 Dalmations.

I hope you Aunt Nora or Santa were good to you as well.

Friday, December 23, 2022

'Bags' books free for a short time

 One of my distributors,, has a year-end promotion going on (never end a sentence with a preposition). 

Since I'm in a good mood I've made all three Bags Morton books available for free. Go to, sign in and search my name (it's listed at the top of this blog) and download away.

Then you will be properly prepared for the fourth book in the series coming in early 2023.

The Haugen Christmas letter, unthawed and uncensored

 It's time for the annual Haugen holiday communique in which I highlight all the good things that happened in our family in 2022 and leave out the bad stuff because you don't want to get me on a rant about the people who really pissed me off this year. 

The big news is the expansion of the Haugen Empire. 

Josie Jayne Kastengren came into the world on Easter Sunday, daughter of Rylee and Stetson. She's named after my dad, Joseph, and Stetson's grandma, Jayne. Sorry to break it to you other grandpas and grandmas out there, but yours is now only the second cutest granddaughter in the world. Smart as a whip too: Josie already knows her multiplication tables and babbles in English, Lakota and Norwegian. She's got a killer smile and more cheeks than the Kardashians in string bikinis. 

All three of them (the Kastengrens, not the Kardashians, thank God) spent a couple months this summer with us at the Haugen compound by Rapid City. Rylee made a small but positive career change this fall - going from teaching science to 130 seventh-graders and all the drama that middle-schoolers bring, to teaching 23 fifth-graders who actually still listen to adults and want to learn. Stetson is teaching at the University of Illinois and wrapping up his doctoral studies. They were back for Thanksgiving and seem to have taken well to parenthood.

The other newbie has been around for a few years but officially became a Haugen and is enjoying all the perks of that lofty title (including, but not limited to, free ice water at Wall Drug). Kayla and Luke were married in October here in the City of Rapids. They make their home in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., where Kayla recently attained her Master's Degree from Drexel. She is managing a store in Tysons Corner while job hunting for something more in her public health field. Luke continues to track down bad guys during the week and hunting deer, turkey and bear on weekends. He continues to impress and amaze me with the quality young man he's become.

Katie put another notch in her belt last month, managing another winning campaign for her boss, Congressman Dusty Johnson. I run into her a lot as our jobs often intertwine. It's fun watching her in action and seeing how she's adopted some of my better qualities while forgoing my grumpiness and cynicism. Those will come with time. Her longtime boyfriend, Kwinn, is still around and has become one of the family. He'd become a bigger part if he'd let me know where some of the gold deposits are in the Hills.

Our adopted son, Kirk, is doing a heck of a job leading his band of Norsemen. I'm still not ready to utter the "SB" word but if he manages to pull that off I promise to leave the family fortune solely to him (I hope he enjoys the riding lawn mower and 1,000 books).

Nancy, aka Wifey, continues assisting her chiropractor boss and they moved into a glitzy new office. She's still the social butterfly of our household and pries me out of the house on occasion to make me talk to people. Otherwise, she's a regular in her gym and enjoys long hikes away from me.

I'm wrapping up 18 years with Senator Thune. His recent blowout reelection (sorry, DT) should take me into retirement down the road, though no plans on that front, since I enjoy my job and coworkers and don't really see anything I'd rather be doing. My golf game sucks and I can't shoot straight, so it's not real enticing to pursue those hobbies any more regularly than I already do.

On a sour note, the day I'd been regretting for a while finally came last spring when we had to put down my buddy, Stanley. I still get choked up when I think about it and really miss him.

Ol' Huckleberry was similarly hit hard by the loss, so with that as my excuse, we added a puppy to the household. Finn is a chocolate lab who is high energy from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. He carries his orange ball with him everywhere, constantly begging anyone to throw it for him. He's really turned into a momma's boy but is really good company on my many walks and jogs. Looks like he's going to be an acrobatic Frisbee player too, though without opposable thumbs he's not very good at throwing it back.

So that's it from the Haugen house in 2022. Another memory filled year. I don't often look all that enthused about things (I suffer from Resting Bored Face), but when I reflect back on the years with these retrospectives I am reminded of what a wonderful life and wife I have. And I am so proud that we have three kids who are good people, each excelling in three very different occupations, of which the only thing in common is that they are helping people and making the world a better place. What more could a guy ask for?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Grandpa Haugen

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Coming to the defense of Taylor Swift

 Got into a Facebook spat yesterday with a friend over, of all people, Taylor Swift. (I like to engage people in the important issues of our day.)

I'm not a Swifty, but I've heard her music because I have two young adult daughters who grew up with her and are huge fans. Yet I couldn't name a song. One daughter even scored tickets to one of her upcoming concerts during the Great Ticketmaster Goatcoitus, as they're calling it.

Honestly, the friend didn't specifically name Taylor, but he referred to some "overrated blonde lady's concert" and that he didn't care for anyone posting 15-second snippets it they were at her concerts, so I assumed he was talking about Taylor. And all I said was "Lighten up, Francis." And I added a clip of Prince's "Kiss" video.

That's when things got ugly and he said: "I also find Prince to be far overrated." Then he told me to get in my little red Corvette and hit the road.

Those is fighting words and I let him have it by listing Prince's bonafides and told him we should all wish to be that overrated and to get out of the road before I ran him over.

So unless you care to hear about other people's flame wars on Facebook, which I'm sure you don't, my point here is that just because you don't like someone's music doesn't mean they are overrated and how do you rate a singer anyway?

One objective way is by album sales. Before her newest release, Swift had sold 42 million; Prince over 150 million. So if performers are judged by how many people like their performances and are willing to pay to hear them perform, neither is overrated.

Another way to judge them talent-wise, I think, is how many instruments they can play. Prince played 27 on his albums. I've seen Taylor play guitar, which is always a plus in my book. Now she's not shredding it like Prince (ranked No. 37th best guitar player in history of the human race), but she can play guitar and sing at the same time, which is more difficult than you think. Plus, I think I saw her play tambourine, which isn't saying much because I jumped on stage once and played tambourine too with my buddy's band in college. I don't remember it well so can't say if I played it well or not, but I've never read a review saying I played it poorly. I can say I played a pretty mean tuba in my high school years, was even offered a small college scholarship to continue that career, but I was also keen to the fact that college tuba players lived lonely, celibate collegiate lives, so I turned it down. 

I also think it's safe to say both have good voices. Sure, that's more subjective, but even if you don't like their types of music, it's fair to say they can sing. In a way, that can also be measured, as Prince had a range of 4 1/2 octaves, which is pretty rarefied air in the singing world.

So you can choose not to like their type of music, but I don't think it's fair to say they aren't talented. For instance, I don't listen to or like much pop music, but that doesn't mean pop musicians aren't talented. I also don't like bro-country and the Luke Bryans and Jasons and Justins of the world. But they must have talent, if nothing else at least a talent for being marketable.

And if you want to say somebody isn't talented, fine; just don't drag my man Prince into that argument or else be ready to face the music.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022


 I like to ease into my morning with dim lights, no noise and a cup of coffee, while reading my favorite media.

Unfortunately, my 8-month-old lab approaches mornings like he’s jumping out of an airplane and his parachute won’t open.

Thursday, November 3, 2022


I was at a meeting at a retirement community last week and they were having a Halloween party. I met an old guy dressed as a raven (not Baltimore) and I said: “Nice costume.”

He replied: “I’m looking for Lenore.”

I told him I loved Edgar Allen Poe.

He replied sadly: “At least somebody gets it.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A bloody mess of reading

 Murder was the name of the game in the five books I read this past month. Seems the reading has been going in spurts, like blood from an artery, and I most recently hit the carotid.

It began with "Blood Feud" - a Robert B. Parker book written by Mike Lupica. Parker died in 2010 but various authors have picked up his Spenser series and carried it on (never end a sentence with a preposition.) Not sure how that works but I suppose they have some deal with the estate and most seem to do a good job with it. Gave this one a 6 on the Haugenometer.

Then was "Bloody Genius" - the 12th and most recent book in the Virgil Flower series by John Sandford. It was set on the University of Minnesota campus amid some feuding professors. I gave it a 7-.

Followed that with another Sandford book, "Righteous Prey" - the 32nd and most recent in the Lucas Davenport series. It was the ol' vigilante group killing people they felt had done bad things trope, but still good. A 7.

Then I went where I'd never gone before and read a book by Gu Byeong-Mo, a South Korean author. Her book, "The Old Woman With the Knife," was apparently a "sensation" in South Korea, but not so much in the Haugen house. Fortunately, it was translated into English, since my Korean is a bit rusty. The old woman is an assassin who, much like me, is beginning to feel the aches and pains and general slowing down with age. It was wordy, the plot seemed forced and under developed, but I finished it and gave it a 5. Gotta say, though, it was the best book by a South Korean I've ever read.

Then I cleansed the palate with another Robert B. Parker book - "Bad Business." This one was written in 2004 while he was still alive, though it doesn't appear that's a necessity for him. His main character, Spenser, is always a hoot. Gave it a 6+.

I'm only at 22 books for the year, one of my poorer showings, so I'll have to keep the blood flowing if I'm going to get back into respectable territory.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Reading game is slipping

 Fallen behind on my book reviews, which is difficult to do considering I haven't been polishing them off as quickly as usual. And I can't blame it on a sudden burst of writing inspiration either. Usually it's an either or. Doing one, so I'm lax in the other. 

This reading malaise is a combination of laziness and a new puppy who hasn't figured out the routine of napping on the bed in my office while I work, but mostly laziness and trying to get to bed earlier so I can wake up at the crack of dawn with him. Ironically, the pups are named Finn, and his basset hound sidekick Huckleberry.

My three most recent ones were pretty good ones, all earning 7s on the Haugenometer: Targeted by Stephen Hunter, Pale Kings and Princes by Robert B. Parker, and Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais.

Fiddlers by Ed McBain was a pretty solid 6. Nothing to write home about though; or barely to write at home about either.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Re-gifting the tomatoes

As I've mentioned before, I start heirloom tomatoes from seed in my greenhouse in March. I keep about 70-80 seedlings for my own use and give away another 40-50 to friends, most to one friend in particular.

We keep tabs on how my babies are doing. Usually I have a good crop and he has a good crop. This year, between deer, varmints and drought, my garden has sucked. His has not.

When I was complaining about my harvest, or lack there of, he said: "My wife's coming by your place tomorrow, want me to have her drop off some tomatoes?"

He didn't mean it as a punch to the gut, but I felt it. Sure, technically they were still my tomatoes, but he raised them. It would be like giving up a baby for adoption, someone else raising them, and then dropping them off at your house again when they turned 18. Okay, poor analogy, but you get my point.

I swallowed my pride and said "yes."

It hurt. But they tasted good so the hurt didn't last long.

My garden has picked up a bit since then, was probably a couple weeks behind him, but we still probably won't have enough to do much as much canning as usual this year. We'll see.

As we Minnesota Vikings fans are fond of saying: "There's always next year."

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The poker game

 I stepped out of my comfort zone last winter and accepted an invite from a neighbor I didn't know for a Thursday night poker game with a bunch of other neighbors I didn't know.

We've lived in this neighborhood for almost 18 years. It's a development of about 90 homes with a trail system, pond, park and good middle-class folks. I only know my immediate neighbors on each side and two other couples. I know a lot of people in the Black Hills through my job, but don't hang out with them. My wife says I'm a homebody. My wife's correct.

My best friend around here ranches about 50 miles away. We talk a couple times a week but don't hang out much because he's got kids in school and works rancher hours and ... lives 50 miles away. My other two best friends, one from high school and one from college, live 300 and 400 miles away, respectively.

When I do go out, to eat or listen to music, it's with my wife, which is great and I really don't wish to hang out with anyone else but her. I enjoy her company as much when we met 35 years ago. But, she's my wife, so it's different than hanging out with the guys. And as Hank Jr. sings: "All my rowdy friends have settled down." And so have I.

My wife has sensed my malaise and feels I spend too much time at home in my garden, with my dogs, with my books. So when a guy relatively new to the development posted on the neighborhood website "Hey, anyone interested in starting up a poker game?" I stepped outside my zone and said: "I am."

And I haven't regretted it.

We get together one night a week. I miss once in a while due to life. It gets cancelled occasionally because the organizer has a life too. But I hit it often and between about ten of us semi-regulars there's always six or so on hand for a friendly game.

It's not really my crowd, because I don't really have a crowd, but the social events I usually attend are work-related. Usually political or governmental, usually boring. But when I am home I don't do any political stuff. I check out. Avoid it. Don't want to talk about it, especially among strangers.

So the first night before I left for the inaugural game, I told my wife, if they start talking Trump or Biden or immigration or stolen elections, I'm done. Since a lot of people are really wrapped up in that stuff (weirdly so), I wasn't optimistic I'd be back for a second week.

And guess what happens? I walk in the door and two big dogs rush to greet me. That's fine. I love dogs. The guy hollers to them: "Lincoln! Trumper! Get back here!"

I thought: "Ah shit."

But other than the dogs' names, no political talk happened and mighty little has over the past year. It's quite amazing to me, because almost everybody else I'm around, anywhere, wants to talk politics with me once they find out I'm involved. But not these guys.

We have a couple retired military veterans, a liquor salesman, a home-builder, a car salesman, a civilian who works at the Air Force base, all just regular ol' blue-collar guys.

We play poker. It goes fast. It's fun. We play in his basement or garage. Most all of them drink from a keg the guy has in his bar. I drink my NA. There's crude jokes, burping, talk about music, talk about cars, talk about dogs and gardens, and more burping.

For one night a week I'm transformed into another universe from the suits and ties talking banking, ranchers talking about drought, and everyone else complaining about Trump and Biden and RINOs and immigrants and abortion and deficits and rules and regulations.

I love it. Glad I did it. Might have to expand my universe on other nights of the week.

Crazy talk, I know.

Friday, August 26, 2022

FInished: Daniel Silva's 'Portrait of an Unknown Woman'

 I really struggled to get through Silva's recently-released novel, the 22nd in the Gabriel Allon series.

Typically, I've liked how Silva weaves some art history into these spy novels. Makes me feel like I'm getting cultured while reading about people getting blown up. But this was one too many Picasso's for me.

In this story, Gabriel has finally retired from the Israeli Mossad, thinking he's going to begin a life of leisure and love with his long-suffering wife. But, of course, it doesn't work out that way and he's thrown into a mystery of forged paintings. The entire thing is one painting after another, with grueling detail about each. 

Halfway through I started humming the George Strait song: You Know Me Better Than That.

I'm into culture, clean up to my ears; It's like wearing a shoe that's too small

I've read all Silva's books. I loved the first 20. After the last two, I'm not sure I'll buy another. Oh, I'm lying, I'm sure I will but I probably won't pre-order it like this time and will wait until the paperback comes out. And cross my fingers.

Amazonians gave it 4.5 stars out of 5, which surprises me. I gave it a 4 of 10, which is just above a DNF.

This two-star review from Lizzie G. kind of nailed it for me:

"In cutting Allon free of The Office, Daniel Silva has metaphorically castrated his hero and turned him to a parody of the man he was. This book bears no resemblance to others in the series; the plotline is contrived, the characters wooden and the action - such as it is - unremarkable. The old gang get a single name-check towards the beginning and are then forgotten completely. With far too much detail of art and art forgeries, the book limps sadly along for 400+ pages, most of it merely padding out a non-story that I found impossible to care about. Two stars for the quality of the writing, no stars for the content."

Monday, August 8, 2022

Pass the peanut butter, please

 I'm a pretty health conscious guy. Not a freak about it but probably in the 90th percentile for exercising and watching what I eat. My dad had his first heart attack at 58 and died of his second at 62. I'm 58, so always looking for an edge to make it to 63 (that ol' father-son competition never dies).

So this article caught my eye: The top 5 worst foods that could SHORTEN your life expectancy

Experts at the University of Michigan calculated the health burden of different foods, becoming the first to put concrete scores on your favourite snacks.

They found that a portion of nuts can add almost 26 minutes to a person’s life, reports The Telegraph.

But every hotdog eaten shortens lifespan by 36 minutes.

Nothing really earth shattering as far as what's good or bad for you, but it details how many minutes are added or subtracted to your life if eating these foods.

It also details how good or bad each food affects climate change. I could give a rat's rear about that and think those measurements are just arbitrary attempts at social engineering and should just be called "guilt factors." The climate has been changing since the beginning of time and how many hot dogs I eat is not going to affect the tides in the Red Sea one bit. Were the dinosaurs eating pizza?

But I digress.

It's good to see some affirmation of choices I already make. I seldom drink soda. I eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch five days a week. For that I gain 2.5 hours per week of life, about 125 hours per year or 5 days added on to my life. Throw in the salmon, bananas and tomatoes and I'm looking good.

But subtract the 50,000 bottles of beer from my younger years and it might be a wash. Still, progress.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Book bans not always what they seem

 Pamela Paul, former editor of NY Times Review of Books, writes in the NYT: There's More Than One Way to Ban a Book

Though the publishing industry would never condone book banning, a subtler form of repression is taking place in the literary world, restricting intellectual and artistic expression from behind closed doors, and often defending these restrictions with thoughtful-sounding rationales.

John Sexton talks about it in this Hot Air post: The far left bans books by not letting them get published in the first place

I've written a couple posts on this that went unpublished because I wasn't happy with how my point was coming across. Sexton nailed my point much better.

That basically is: Parents, schools and administrators deciding what is or isn't age-appropriate reading in their schools, is NOT banning books. It's called setting curriculum. There is actual banning of books or authors by book publishers, stores and nations around the world, but if a public library or local bookstore can do a display of "Banned Books" to lend or sell, then they aren't banned books. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Setting 'em up, knocking 'em down

 Been making steady work in the reading department, though you wouldn't know it by reading this blog. I'll do better, probably, maybe, who knows?

I recently read a trio of Richard Stark novels featuring Parker. "The Man with the Getaway Face", "The Mourner" and "The Outfit." Stark is a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, the Grand Master mystery writer. Parker is a cold-blooded career criminal who you somehow end up liking. Anything by Westlake is good, most of it is great.

Also knocked off two Robert B. Parker books: "High Profile" and "God Save the Child." Author Parker (not the career criminal, that I know of) is best known for his novels about fictional P.I. Spenser, and the television series "Spenser: For Hire" was based on them. 

"High Profile" is actually another series featuring police chief Jesse Stone. 

I put all the previously mentioned in the 6-7 ranking on the Haugenometer. Fun reads, worth the time.

As proof I don't just read books by dead guys I'm still moving through the C.J. Box books that feature Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Just finished the 11th book in the 22-book series: "Cold Wind."

A few weeks ago I turned my brother-in-law on to him. They'd actually been sitting on his shelf for a couple months, then he picked one up and hasn't put them down. He's already well past me in the series, but he's retired and doesn't do anything, so that's my excuse. He's much more of an outdoorsman than I am, so they really resonate with him. Fun books.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

A pacifist in the burger war

 Want to know something weird?

I've never eaten at Five Guys, In-N-Out Burger, Whataburger, White Castle or Shake Shack.

I see people arguing online over who has better burgers or fries. I can't remember the last time I had a fast-food burger. When I do, it's usually a Big Mac. I just seldom do fast food, not because I'm a health nut but because I almost always run home for lunch when I'm working. I let the dogs out and eat a peanut butter sandwich. 

My go-to fast food joints are Arby's or Taco Bell or Taco Johns and I doubt it's even once a month. Even in sit-down restaurants, a burger is rare. I had one maybe two months ago at Ruby Tuesdays. I'm a reuben guy. The place we frequent most is a local dive bar and grill called Joe's. But there, I almost always have a patty melt. 

I don't purposefully avoid those popular burger joints as any moral stand against burger chains or for any particular reason other than I seldom crave a burger over a roast beef sandwich or greasy taco.

I've also never eaten at Chick-fil-A. I don't think I've ever ordered a chicken sandwich from anyplace anywhere. To stand in line for one at Chick-fil-A is unfathonable to me. Not gonna happen. It's not a political thing, pro or con against Chick. It's just that chicken sandwiches do nothing for me.

And don't get me started on chicken wings - a food of last resort.

I don't do lines either. Across the street from the hotel we stay at every year in St. Pete Beach, FL, are a Dunkin' Donuts and a 7-Eleven. Right next to each other. My routine in the morning, home or away, is one cup of coffee. Wasn't always that way, but has been for the last few years. Not two, not three - one.

So every morning in Florida I walk across the street and view my two options for coffee. Dunkin's has the best. I know that. And so do a lot of other people as there is always a line 20-people deep at Dunkin. There's no line at 7-11. My hatred for lines is stronger than my love of a marginally-better cup of coffee. So I get a cup out of the pot at 7-Eleven and grab a cherry Hostess pie and return to the hotel a happy man. 

Not that I'm some sort of rebel or anything, but there are other things that don't interest me so I don't feel the need to wade into those waters. I've also never seen a Star Wars movie nor an episode of the Kardshians or Samantha Bee or watched a WNBA game. (I don't think I'm unique in those latter two.)

Something either interests me or it doesn't. There's very little gray area there. I'd rather watch Breakfast Club for the 500th time than a Star Wars movie once. 

Maybe someday I'll try an In-and-Out burger or a Chick-fil-A sandwich, but it will be because it's the only option when I'm hungry. I'll let you know when I do, but neither are on my bucket list. Consider it my gift to you - one less person you'll have to wait behind in line.

Friday, June 17, 2022

News dump Friday

 Stuff I read this past week and found interesting. You might too. Or might not. Roll the dice.

** WWE Beer Slammin': For Rapid City, a place she’s hiked, camped and vacationed in before, she hopes to visit the breweries. “There’s a lot of breweries and… the local stuff I can’t get anywhere else,” Baszler said.

** Idaho Potato Heads: “We’re not going back to the days of the Aryan Nations. We are past that,” Hammond said. “And we will do everything we can to make sure that we continue to stay past those kinds of problems.”

** Drinking Problems: Maryam Amouamouha, Ph.D., a graduate student at South Dakota Mines, has invented a new device that could revolutionize water treatment and improve water quality and availability around the world.

** Sociologist on Guns: When I say guns are normal and normal people use guns, I mean it in two senses. First, guns and gun ownership are common, widespread, and typical. Second, guns and gun ownership are not inherently associated with deviance or abnormalities.

** Gun Boom: “But seeing those people climb the walls and attack the Capitol — on top of all the other shootings of Black people — just confirmed why I stood in the cold and got my firearm. The bottom line is that we have to protect ourselves and our homes. But we purchase guns differently,” Hawkins said, stressing the sense that more Black people are buying guns for the sake of protection against racial attacks. “I drove a long way to take safety classes,” she added. “I went to the range.”

** Researchers on Ticks: Estimate that over 14 percent of the world’s population has had a case of Lyme disease due to contact with a tick. That’s one in every seven people. With the warm summers months between May and August bringing a resurgence of disease-carrying tick populations, study authors are sounding the alarm to prevent more infections.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The best dog

It's been over a month since I wrote this and didn't hit "publish" because I didn't feel it did Stanley justice. But I haven't been able to write one better, so here it is. I still get that lump in the gut when I think about my buddy and tears when nobody's looking. Damn I loved that dog.


This is the first night in the nearly thirteen years I've written at this desk that I've not had my dog, Stanley, either at my feet or over my shoulder on his bed. 

I had to put him down today.

If you're a dog person, you get the feeling. You can't explain it to anyone else. So it's been a tough day. I'm not gonna go all Oprah on you but do feel I owe it to Stanley to give him a proper obituary: 

Stanley was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota to a Golden Retriever dad and a Yellow Lab mom. When my son and I drove to the ranch to choose a puppy from the litter, the lady opened her garage door and a mob of ten Goldadors (they call them that so they can charge you an extra 50 bucks) came storming out of the garage. It was a thunderstorm of long-legged furballs with sharp puppy teeth jumping and nipping us. There was one that seemed more relaxed than the rest. We took him. Stanley, like Stanley Hudson on The Office television show, was chill.

I had more than one person, including a priest, tell me over the years that he was soulful. You could see it in his eyes and his gentle demeanor. I think it's safe to say that Stanley was one of the only dogs to ever spend a weekend in the rectory at the Cathedral in Rapid City as a priest puppy-sat him when we were away. He was also probably the only dog to ever poop in that rectory (that's the priests' residence for you non-Caths). 

He lived about the best dog's life a dog could live.

We put in thousands of miles running trails in the Hills, gravel roads in the middle of the prairie, and the trails around our house. He chased antelope, stared down rattlesnakes, mountain lions and lost a couple battles to porcupines. He chased deer out of our backyard. The one time I actually saw him confused or stunned was when he took after a deer across our road, but rather than run away like every deer had always done, this one put her head down and charged at him. He skidded to a stop and looked at me like "What the hell?" Then I saw the fawn behind her and figured out what she was doing. I hollered for him and he happily returned.

Up until the last couple years he terrorized the rabbits in our area. Many a cottontail met their demise to the jaws of Stanley. But gophers were his favorite. He'd find a fresh hole near my garden and lay next to it, staring into the hole. He'd sit there for hours until I'd drag the garden hose over and start pouring water into the hole. The gopher would pop his head up and take off and Stanley would nab 'em. He didn't eat them. He just carried them around for a while like trophies, then drop it and roll in it.

Rolling in stuff was his other favorite past time. I was always amazed at the number of dead things around our area. You'd never know they existed until you saw Stanley rolling in deep pleasure on top of a dead deer carcass.

Stanley also loved baseball. He'd sit between my son and I when we played catch in the backyard, just waiting for a wild throw that he could pursue and then the chase was on as we tried to catch him and get the ball away from him. He attended ball games and practices and fetched foul balls.

And then there were the pheasants. I'm not a big hunter but manage to get out a couple times a year. My son trained him a little, but Stanley operated mostly on instinct and it was a good one. He loved it, lived for it. On the rare occasion I hit one, I've seen him catch them before they hit the ground. And when I missed the shot, I swear to God, Stanley would turn around look at me like "You idiot" as the bird flew away.

He went everywhere with me. From room to room in the house and followed every trip and back to the garden. He was a constant presence in my life. You don't lose that and not feel it.

He brought joy to everyone in the household. Everyone has their own Stanley stories. Another of his greatest joys was when either of my daughters or my son returned from school, college or adult life. I could say: "Rylee's coming home today" and his eyes seldom wavered from the door, just waiting.

I'm pretty OCD on my schedule and arrive home every day for lunch at 11:45. His clock was set to that time and he would be sitting in a chair in this room watching out the window every day I pulled in. I'll miss that too. 

When someone loves so unconditionally it makes you feel good about yourself especially if you wouldn't feel that way about yourself at the time.

I've had a number of dogs, all good dogs. But Stanley was special. He was a great dog.

His buddy Huckleberry will miss him too. Stan's been in Huck's life since we got him eight years ago. He tolerated Huck like an older brother does his younger sibling. Huck can be a jerk, try to take Stanley's food and Stan just let him have it. Huck laid on Stanley, he followed Stanley everywhere. I don't think Huck quite knows what's going on yet, but I did take him back to the garden when I buried Stanley so he'd have some idea of what's going on. But I don't think Huck has the mental capacity to register it. He sniffed Stanley a couple seconds then went off to eat some grass.

Stanley will always be in my garden now, my favorite place and his too. But it'll never be the same.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Call it spring fever

 I don't know what's up the last few weeks, except very little writing and reading, thus no blogging.

Yeah, we had a somewhat stress-filled earlier-than-planned trip to Champaign for the birth of my first grandchild. All's good there, momma and baby doing fine, but that might have thrown me out of whack. 

I did visit the awesome used bookstore there and dropped some cash on nine books, to which I laughed when the lady checked me out and asked: "Would you like a bag for those?"

No, I want to walk around downtown with nine books in my arms, one of which is a twenty-pound autobiography by Mark Twin (Vol. 2 of  3). Seriously. Do paper bags cost that much? How many books do you need to buy to get a bag?

Also, my mind's been preoccupied with my best buddy Stanley, who is nearing the end of his tremendous life as a dog. He's slowed down a lot and it seemed like the end was imminent. I called my son a week ago and said I'd probably be putting him down last weekend. I think Stanley overheard the call because he's been reinvigorated and bounced back good as new. For now. 

Otherwise, I've just been out of sorts, unmotivated, lazy and generally a dull boy.

I did get through two novels in the last month: Robert B. Parker's "High Profile," a Jess Stone novel; and Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake's) "The Mourner." I even screwed that up. I read it out of order. It's the third book and I have the first two but didn't check to see which was first in the series. Very unlike me and messed with my OCD.

On the writing front, I've had the fourth Bags Morton book done for some time but my editor has been dinkin' around doing her real job and raising her family and forgetting that I should come first in her life. Maybe I should pay her more. Or, for that matter, pay her period.

Meanwhile I have another half dozen books in some phase of unfinishedness and keep jumping around from one to another hoping something will click but nothing is clicking. That aggravates me more and just exacerbates the cycle.

So I need to quit whining, get my head screwed on straight and start punching the keys. That's kind of why I wrote this. Just to prime the pump. Get the fingers working again.

We'll see if it works. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Things That Recently Caught My Eye

 1. Let's talk sex! Things ain't how they used to be.

An interesting opinion piece in today’s NY Times about the norms surrounding sex and how they may have become a bit too lax for our own good. The author suggests that the absolute permissiveness of the modern day has left a lot of people feeling somewhat confused and dejected about sex and relationships.

2. And rightfully so. They've been making a big deal out of an interview from when Prince was 11. 

3. Crime! “Unruly passenger” incidents, and other types of strange behavior have all soared recently. Why?

4. Why not? Neil Patrick Harris interviews David Copperfield, because he can.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022


 This Kevin Williamson column has a bit about eponyms. The word eponym refers to two things: a word derived from a person’s name and the person whose name formed the word.

The (possibly embellished) story is that Derrick was a convicted rapist who was spared execution for his crime by volunteering to become the London executioner, a job no one much wanted. He was appointed to the position by the Earl of Essex, whom he would later execute. Essex elected for beheading rather than hanging — big mistake: Derrick was an innovative hangman but apparently not very good with an ax, and he took several swings to finally do in the earl.

That story seems like a good premise for a novel.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Finished: McMurtry's 'Horseman, Pass By'

 This was Larry McMurtry's first novel, written at the age of 25, and is considered a classic by those who consider such things. It was published in 1961. The main character's older stepbrother, Hud, pretty much a jerk, served as the main character in the movie "Hud" and was played by Paul Newman. Not bad for a first novel. (All that info was from Wikipedia.)

As was this:

The title of the novel derives from the last three lines of the poem "Under Ben Bulben" by William Butler Yeats, which are carved on Yeats’s tombstone:

Cast a cold eye

On life, on death.

Horseman, pass by.

This was the first of what became known as the Thalia trilogy. Thalia is the town in which the books are set. I much preferred McMurtry's "The Last Picture Show" (the third) thus this novel reminded me a lot of it. Maybe I would've liked "Horseman, Pass By" more if I had read it first. That's what I get for reading books out of the order they were written. I guess we'll never know as the Horseman is out of the barn now. See what I did there?

According to Amazon:

Horseman, Pass By tells the story of Homer Bannon, an old-time cattleman who epitomizes the frontier values of honesty and decency, and Hud, his unscrupulous stepson. Caught in the middle is the narrator, Homer's young grandson Lonnie, who is as much drawn to his grandfather’s strength of character as he is to Hud's hedonism and materialism.

I enjoyed the book. It wasn't a cowboy Western. It was more the gritty ranch life of Texas with some dark themes thrown in. Wasn't a pick-me-upper.

One reviewer of the book summed up McMurtry's writing very well: "The author does not telegraph how you are supposed to feel or interpret events. He just depicts events with flesh and blood characters, people whose motives you may partially know, or think you know. But judgment on their choices and actions lays squarely on the reader’s shoulders. McMurtry wants no part of telling you how to take it."

I gave it a 6 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians a 4.3 of 5.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Bikinis, bars, beaches and baseball

 Wifey and I recently finished our annual Florida Fest, where we scrimped all year so we could blow our savings on a week-long gluttonous grilled shrimp and blackened Grouper fish taco extravaganza on the beach.

Some rando thoughts, observations and anecdotes about the Sunshine State:

** If you are in your 50s and want to feel young, attend Sunday Mass in Fort Myers. Let's just say you don't have to worry about babies crying during the service.

** Don't get me wrong, the service was lovely, the priest was great and it was a huge church. There's a portion of the Catholic Mass where names of ill or deceased people are read and we are asked to pray for them. It was the longest list of names I've ever heard read at a service. 

I was only half listening because, obviously, I didn't know any of the people there. So it was like: Marvin O'Connor, Harley Johansen, Mildred Margrove, blah, blah, blah, and then "Secretary Madeleine Albright." It woke me up. The rest of the service I was thinking: Was the former United States Secretary of State a member of this parish, or did they have a church secretary by that name, or do they just honor random politicos here?

** While we stayed at St. Pete Beach, we were in Fort Myers for a Twins spring training baseball game.
A lady sitting behind me said to her friend: “Let's get something to eat at halftime.” I bit my lip - yes, that is possible for me to do, especially because wifey was squeezing my knee with her vice-like grip, as she does when she wants me to bite my lip.

** Other than that outing, we did the least stuff we ever did on a vacation besides eat and sit on the beach and listen to bands. Day after day. It was great.

Wifey asked me on the beach: "Why do the women wear less clothes than the men?"

I wisely answered: "I hadn't noticed."

** Our first day there it rained off and on. So we did go 10 miles into St. Petersburg so I could visit the largest used bookstore in Florida only to find out it didn't survive COVID-19. It survived Amazon's take-over of the book industry and society's shift to reading nothing longer than 140 characters, but all the Ivermectin in the world couldn't help it pull through the Wuhan flu shutdown.

** There's a 7-11 and a Dunkin' Donuts across from the hotel we stay. They line up 40 deep to get coffee at DDs, but 2 people deep for 7-11 coffee. You know where this impatient soul got his java.

** The first question people ask you is "Where ya from?" When I tell them South Dakota, 9 out of 10 say a variation of "Oh, wow." Like we're from Mars or something. The 10th person says "Where's that?" So I ask: "Ever heard of Mount Rushmore?" They all have heard of that.

One couple said they went to Deadwood last year. "We caught COVID there," they said and laughed it off.

** I read two books on the trip, one of them "The Paris Apartment" by Lucy Foley. The guy under the umbrella next to us was reading "The Paris Detective" by James Patterson.

I held up my book and asked him if his detective ever stayed at my apartment. He looked at me like he was one of those people who didn't know where South Dakota was.

** The more I visit Florida, the more I like it. And, oddly enough, the more I visit Florida, the more I like South Dakota.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

And the 2022 gardening season begins

 Planted some pepper and egg plant seeds today. Up until last year I started my tomato seeds on St. Patrick's Day but I pushed it back a couple weeks because they seemed a little leggy by my usual planting time of Memorial Day weekend. So those are yet to come.

We'll see what this year brings - rabbits, deer, hail, wind, drought, grasshoppers, fungus. I'm ready. Let's get ready to rumble.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Well, it was worth it

 Finished Dean Koontz's "Quicksilver" and it was worth the 29 bucks I plunked down (never end a sentence with a preposition). 

The namesake of the book is Quin Quicksilver, a baby found in the middle of the road and raised by an orphanage fun by nuns. At 18 he ventures out to become a writer, and as with most writers, his life gets wild.

Quinn had a happy if unexceptional life. Until the day of “strange magnetism.” It compelled him to drive out to the middle of nowhere. It helped him find a coin worth a lot of money. And it practically saved his life when two government agents showed up in the diner in pursuit of him. Now Quinn is on the run from those agents and who knows what else, fleeing for his life.

During a shoot-out at a forlorn dude ranch, he finally meets his destined companions: Bridget Rainking, a beauty as gifted in foresight as she is with firearms, and her grandpa Sparky, a romance novelist with an unusual past. Bridget knows what it’s like to be Quinn. She’s hunted, too. The only way to stay alive is to keep moving.

Barreling through the Sonoran Desert, the formidable trio is impelled by that same inexplicable magnetism toward the inevitable. With every deeply disturbing mile, something sinister is in the rearview―an enemy that is more than a match for Quinn. Even as he discovers within himself resources that are every bit as scary.

In usual Koontz fashion, it's good versus evil, a little sermonizing on the state of mankind, but not overly so. It was vintage Koontz with a dose of the supernatural and the ah-shucks kid forced into being a hero or a wimp. It's a book about free-will and the choices men make.

I liked it and gave it an 8 on the Haugenometer scale of 10. Amazonians agreed and gave it a 4.1 of 5. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Impulsive buy I hope is worth it

 Did something today I haven't done in a long time. I purchased a hardcover book and paid full jacket price for it.

My reading funk this week, only surpassed by my writing funk, was hitting hard. I'd had my fill of Block, Box and McMurtry and needed a jolt. When in doubt, go to Dean Koontz.

He has a new one out called Quicksilver. I could've ordered it on Amazon for almost half price, but their two-day delivery has gone the way of Blockbuster. I needed it immediately. Today. To read tonight.

So after work I drove out of my way to Books-a-Million, so add another 30 dollars in gas for the two miles extra, and I plunked down $28.99 toward Dean's new swimming pool. It hurt. I usually do used book stores, library sales and E-Bay for my books. But, like a heroin addict, I needed my fix and needed it now.

Hope it's worth it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

5 Things That Recently Caught My Eye

 1. Let's hear it for the Knights: To date, $4.5 million has been raised, all of it going directly to relief efforts.

The Catholic fraternal organization has set up “mercy huts” in Poland, right across the border from Ukraine. When fleeing refugees enter Poland, they can immediately receive food, medical supplies, clothing, and relief from the Eastern European winter weather. The huts are based on the principle that guided the Knights’ humanitarian efforts in Europe during World War I: “Everybody welcome, everything free.”

2. Marcus Foster: A Black Hero You’ve Never Heard Of

Stressing old fashioned values like hard work, self-help, and academic achievement, Foster helped thousands of children as a public educator in Philadelphia. Foster was poised for even greater things as Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. But in 1973, he was cut down in a hail of cyanide-filled bullets, assassinated by the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Marxist terrorists better known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.

3. Because we all need more COVID news: The long, strange history of anti-vaccination movements

The history of smallpox is a reminder that, while they may seem new, anti-vaccination movements are as old as vaccination itself. People’s reasons for opposing vaccines — concerns about side effects, a preference for natural remedies, fear of government overreach — haven’t changed that much either.

4. Earth's biggest bookstore: Amazon, Notorious Bookstore Killer, Kills Off All Its Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores

Today, Amazon has worked its way into so many facets of our lives, from shipping people essential products to hosting the websites where people get their news. But it looks like replacing your local bookstore with one of its own was a bridge too far.

5. UFF DA! Four-dollar gas through November in South Dakota

Its 2022 fuel outlook predicts an average $4.11 per gallon of gas in April and a high of $4.25 per gallon in May. While the per gallon price will drop some it won’t fall below $4 until November.

Monday, February 28, 2022

A novel thought from a writer: Words matter

 The homily today (sermon to you non-Caths) got me thinking, which I guess is sort of the point.

It reflected on the first scripture reading from Sirach and the priest proposed that the old adage about judging a person by their actions, wasn't entirely true. He said, citing Sirach, and, unknowingly, the late Rush Limbaugh, that "words matter" too.

The topical verses from Chapter 27 are: 

When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do people’s faults when they speak.

The furnace tests the potter’s vessels; the test of a person is in conversation.

The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so speech discloses the bent of a person’s heart.

Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.

My first thought was: consider that scripture when you listen to your favorite politician. (Especially the: "speech discloses the bent of a person’s heart" part.)

My second thought was: that explains a lot of the issues in today's toxic society, particularly with social media, but also news media, even email and texts between friends and family.

I would posit that we communicate more than ever in the history of the world - and instantaneously. So our words really do matter, because we use so many of them. 

Couple that with what I believe to be fact that we as a society are woefully informed as to meanings of words, literature, history, etc. - basically the liberal arts. Thus, we throw out all these words and absorb all these words but don't have the ability to put things into context, to see gray areas, and we certainly don't take the time to consider them.

All we often do is get these words thrown at us, gobble them up and then shoot words back at people without the education, or time, to consider them and study them before we respond.

Often, the responses are simplistic, they're vulgar, they're thoughtless. And down the rabbit hole we go.

In history, words were more difficult to transcribe and more difficult to attain with long periods of time between responses. So they were more considered and deliberate. Moses chiseled out the 10 Commandments. The words were delivered by God but those words were carefully chosen. In 1517, Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 opinions on the church in Germany; they were meticulously written and thoughtful. When a printer set type one letter at a time, the words mattered because you didn't want to waste them. Not that long ago, we hand wrote letters to people, probably more well thought out, personal and nuanced than currently.

Now we fire off tweets and texts and emails with our fingers as fast as our mind can think of the words, then use auto-fill and spell-check to clean up our spelling to look smarter than we probably are, and then hit "send" often without much consideration for facts or the feelings of the recipient.

What is all to often the result is thoughtlessness, showing a thoughtless, unserious person; or meanness, showing a mean, inconsiderate person; or vulgarity, showing a vulgar, dark-hearted person.

Yes, our actions matter, but so do our words. The whole "sticks and stones" adage has proven to be false. Words do hurt people. Words do reflect our inner being. Not that we aren't allowed a dumb comment or something said in haste or anger on occasion, but the entirety of our words is a pretty good indicator of who we are. 

Now scroll through the latest Facebook comments you left for your congressman or on an article you commented on from the local newspaper, then check your Twitter feed for what you called people or commented on and tell me I'm wrong. That's who you are. Own it, for better or worse. If not for better, work on it.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Larry McMurtry - an underappreciated wordsmith

 I just finished my fifth Larry McMurtry novel, "The Last Picture Show," and am able to confidently say he is the best writer among the clan of authors I've fallen in with. (Never end a sentence with a preposition, but you can with two.) Those more famous authors include Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Lawrence Block, Lee Child, John Sandford, Daniel Silva.

Sure, some of them have better imaginations or plot twists or stumbled into a character they made a career out of (Lucas Davenport, Gabriel Allon, Jack Reacher, etc.) But when it comes to getting into the guts of a character so you feel what they feel, see what they see, I haven't run across anyone better. It can be salty. There is profanity, racism, N words, raunchy sex, lives lived and loves lost. But it's life, particularly in the plains of Texas, and he makes you feel it to the bone.

The characters he created were so good, they often ended up on screen, like "Lonesome Dove" and "Brokeback Mountain." The characters were so deep they attracted A-list actors like: Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd. 

When I Wiki'd him, I was distressed to learn he died last year. This New York Times obituary is worth the read just to see his quirky life and his other career as a book collector and seller. 

He wrote 30 novels, so I have plenty more to go and look forward to them.

I gave "The Last Picture Show" a stellar 8 on the Haugenometer. 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Finished: Block's 'Random Walk'

 This book, Random Walk, was way out of character from most Lawrence Block novels. Written in 1988, it grabs you mostly by making you want to see how he's going to draw it all together. You know he will, you're just not sure how. It was a bit of a struggle getting there, but satisfying. 

It begins in the Pacific Northwest. Guthrie decides to take a walk. He doesn't know how far he's going or where he's going. A journey of any length begins with a single step and Guthrie takes it, facing east.

Wonderful things happen as he walks. He begins to draw people to him. The group grows and walks and heals.

The random walk: It never ends, it just changes; it is not the destination which matters, but the journey.

What that Amazon synopsis leaves out is that interspersed throughout those chapters is a serial killer, a small dose of Block I was used to. The guy is in the real estate business and manages to kill over 100 women. The reader kind of figures the nut-job is at some point going to meet up with the group of walkers who find that their journey heals their ailments as they walk. What we don't know is what will happen when he does. For that, you'll have to read it.

This is another novel that Block draws on his several trips to South Dakota. The walkers start in Oregon and along their way drop down from North Dakota into Belle Fourche and several small communities in South Dakota before another stop in De Smet and then down through Sioux Falls. I've written about Block's references to South Dakota in several books and even talked to him about it. I find that pretty cool. 

Cool enough for a 6 rating on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians gave it a 3.9 out of 5.

Saturday, January 22, 2022


 Almost forgot to say "thank you" to those of you who downloaded books at during their holiday season sale.

Dozens of my books were downloaded. Always a good feeling to see what I write getting read.

While I did it to schlep my newest e-book "Bags of Stone," it was fun seeing people downloading that plus "Runaway Trane" and even my first book, "Joshua's Ladder."

Sometimes I forget about those and only hope the new ones keep getting better so I can nail that one where I finally feel it's THE one and hit up some publishers. So far I like the way I'm doing it - my way. But I'd be lying if I didn't say it'd be nice to get struck by lightning someday by a big publisher. 

'Til then, look for another Bags story soon. I also finished a more "adult" crime novel, but the timing has to be right before I drop that. Some books you just don't want your boss or mother to read.

Finished: Block's 'Cinderella Sims'

 Finished one of Lawrence Block's earliest books "Cinderella Sims." It's actually a 2003 reprint of the novel he published in 1958. It was originally titled "$20 Lust."

It's a splendid look at how he progressed in his career. It's a bit amateurish. You can tell he was turning out several books a year at the time, most destined for the smut publishers at the time, but some for more mainstream press when he felt the novel was worthy. According to the forward written by a friend, this was kind of in between. But you see glimpses of what would become greatness.

It's a first edition I bought on E-Bay, but it's from a library. So it has all the stickers and library card holder. I try to clean those up and take all that stuff off but they apparently used glue back in those days that could hold automobiles together. Try as I might with my limited patience and a razor, and gunk remover, it just ends up looking like a depressed old library book that tried to slit its wrists.

But, the book was interesting, especially if you're into Block and his career. It featured a man's quest to become a weekly newspaper owner, so that was nice. I gave it a sympathetic 5 of 10 on the Haugenometer.

According to Amazon: "After Louisville Times reporter Ted Lindsay loses his wife--first to another man, then to a car accident--he relocates to New York, where he meets Cinderella Jones, who is on the run from a gang that she stole fifty thousand dollars from."

This is a better description from Publishers Weekly: "Originally titled $20 Lust and published under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw by Nightstand in 1961, this early Block novel has its quirky charms. As the MWA Grandmaster explains in the Lawrence Block Bibliography: 1958¤1993, "much of the work in question was bad, and categorically so... in the early sixties I wrote a soft core sex novel every month, designed to titillate but not to inflame, with a requisite sex scene in every chapter." Strip away the requisite sex scenes and one is left with a dark, clever crime story that shows Block's emerging strengths: good storytelling, a bright sense of humor and more than a few flashes of good writing. Ted Lindsay, a reporter for the Louisville Times, loses his wife to another man, then to a fatal accident. He relocates to New York in order to get a new start. He's unsuccessful until he sees "the girl." The girl turns Ted's life upside down, setting him on a path of treacherous lies, deceptions and dangers as they try to outwit the gang that's after her. The sex scenes, mild by today's more graphic standards, are more likely to amuse than titillate. Readers who have not yet discovered the joys of Block - bookseller/thief Bernie Rhodenbarr, PI Matthew Scudder, hitman John Keller, etc. - should skip this one. But established Block fans should enjoy this peek at the author's obscure apprentice work and be grateful that he moved on to create better books."

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Finished: Box's 'In Plain Sight'

 This one had a twist that wanted to make me shout.

"In Plain Sight" is the sixth of twenty-two in the Joe Pickett Series by C.J. Box. I'm reading them in order, as any sane person should do, and it's the best so far.

I pride myself in seeing the twists ahead of time. My pride took a beating in this one. I had to read the paragraph again to make sure I'd read it correctly. It was the kind that makes me question the mental stability of the author. Like "You crazy bastard. What kind of twisted mind comes up with that?"

I'm envious.

Ranch owner and matriarch Opal Scarlett has vanished under suspicious circumstances during a bitter struggle between her sons for control of her million-dollar empire. Joe Pickett is convinced one of them must have done her in. But when he becomes the victim of a series of wicked and increasingly violent pranks, Joe wonders if what's happening has less to do with Opal's disappearance than with the darkest chapters of his own past. Whoever is after him has a vicious debt to collect, and wants Joe to pay...and pay dearly.

Some of the reviews thought the ending was a bit much, but that's why they call it fiction. My only complaint, and it's not so much a complaint as it seems to be his style, is that the book moves along at a steady pace until the last few chapters when Box shortens them up James Patterson style. It's like he's anxious to get to the ending himself and gets in a rush. Maybe it's just his thing. It works, I guess. It's just something I notice in his style.

I gave it an 8 of 10 on the Haugenometer; Amazonians a 4.7 of 5; and Goodreaders a 4.2 of 5. 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

A 'Hitt' but not a 'hit' but worth the effort

 In case you hadn't figured it out by now, I have a thing for mid to late 20th century crime noir. That started with Donald Westlake and continued through Lawrence Block and others.

Those "others" are often referenced in those books, so I check them out. Also, Amazon has that thing where "If you like X, then you might like Y." That's how I stumbled across Orrie Hitt.

According to Wiki:

Orrie Hitt (October 27, 1916–December 8, 1975) was a prolific American author of over 150 books, mostly mid-century erotica, but including some crime novels early in his career. It's been said he wrote a book every two weeks at the prime of his career, sitting at his dining room table, fueled by large glasses of iced coffee and cigarettes. His first two books, I'll Call Every Monday and Love in the Arctic were hardcover books published by Red Lantern, but his career would ultimately be made writing paperback originals.

As a paperback writer, many of his books were written as "work for hire" and the copyright held by the publishing company who, anticipating a very short shelf life, never bothered to renew the copyright or return the rights to the author. The fact that all of his books, prior to 1964, are in the public domain has been beneficial to the legacy of Orrie Hitt, in that it has made them more readily available to contemporary readers.

Original Orrie Hitt paperbacks are collectible not only among aficionados of 1950s and 1960s cover art, but also among readers of mid-century erotica and crime novels, who find them superior to those of other "hack" writers of the time.

The one I just read was titled: "She Got What She Wanted." It wasn't good. With a 4 out of 10 on the Haugenometer it's one of the lowest ratings I've ever given a book besides a "DNF." But, Wiki says he's good so I might try one more.

What amazes about these guys is how prolific they were. As mentioned above, Hitt wrote over 150 books, at one time churning out a book every two weeks. It only figures there'd be some clunkers there.

Other authors of that era/genre I like include: Ed McBain/Evan Hunter, Gunard Hjertstedt/Day Keene, Gil Brewer and more contemporary Walter Mosley.

Guys like that often had pseudonyms, sometimes several, as they would have a different name for the different genres they dabbled in: crime, soft porn, sci-fi, etc. They were talented writers who are now largely forgotten but are starting to see a resurgence thanks to publishers like Hard Case Crime. 

Sure, Patterson, Child, Koontz, Sandford dominate the mystery/crime bookshelves now, but it's fun to read these guys who set the stage for them. I suspect the old-timers had more interesting lives too.

Here is the Goodreads synopsis of "She Got What She Wanted.

Della Banners was born into poverty. It had been a hard life up in the hills. But she discovered early that a girl with her figure could get things from men. So when she ran away to the city, she was ready to try anything. That's when she met Jack. Jack immediately sized up her assets and suggested that she belonged in sales. His line of business is selling roofs and siding, but to do it right, he needs someone to find the prospects. That's where Della comes in.

Pretty soon she finds she has a knack for finding new customers, and a better knack for conning them into buying jobs they don't really need. Della and Jack are on their way to success. The only trouble is, Jack is married, and his wife is less than understanding. Because Della wants it all--the money, the new car, the nice clothes--and Jack. And heaven help anyone who gets in her way.