Monday, December 1, 2014

When the Cat's Away by Kinky Friedman

When the Cat's Away (Kinky Friedman, #3)When the Cat's Away by Kinky Friedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had no idea who Kinky Friedman was when I bought this for $1.98 off the Borders discount shelf. That's not an amazing bit of recollection or record keeping; the sticker is still on front. For about two decades, this book sat on several shelves unread until now.

I recall assuming when I bought it that Kinky Friedman was a New York society woman, sort of a Jewish Carrie whatever from Sex and the City. For two bucks, what did I have to lose?

Turns out that Kinky is a he, and he is country singer turned mystery writer. He is one hell of writer. This book is a lot of fun and a very easy read. Chapters are from 1 to 4 pages and there is a laugh on pretty much every page, if not more. Although very light and airy, this book manages to be very filling and satisfying.

The book was written and is set in the mid 1980s. Doing a little research, Friedland has always had an edgy sense of humor. Some of Friedman's un-PC remarks which might have been fine back then or pushing the envelope a little then, now feel pretty wrong. Rather than being off put about it, we can take solace in how far we've all come since then.

I'm so glad my read every book we own project turned me onto this author. I went to his Website to look for electronic versions of this other novels. This is the third one the series BTW. Each is about $8. Intellectual property is a strange thing - $2 for a hard copy found in a bargain bin or $8 online for some ones and zeros.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Travelin' Tuesday

Earlier this week I had not a Manic Monday but a Travelin' Tuesday.

I woke up at 5:30am to get a start on the day, get my RSS feeds and other news read, and to eat a little breakfast.

By 7:30am I was out the door. The rain cleared by 7am and forecast called for the rest of the day to be dry, so it was top down driving weather. First stop of the day was an old folks home for a business association meeting that I attended for Hop Angel. Before the meeting I chatted with Harold who not only is a member of the business association but also mayor of Rockledge, the town (make that borough) a few yards from Hop Angel.

The meeting was in the home's computer/training room. Even old age isn't a reprieve from stupid motivational posters (there were at least 6, none of them motivating anyone). Somehow I doubt mgmt of the home wants the residents to show leadership. Nobody has ever been inspired by one of these posters so they probably don't have to worry.

My car is still rather new and while rather modest does have a bluetooth phone connection.  I was able to catch up with my business partner Patrick who called. He couldn't make the meeting and wanted some details. It's still a novelty talking to someone through my car. My last car I had for 13 years. It's quite a quantum leap in technology.

I had 30 minutes at home before heading to the Delaware River City Corp's ground breaking for the Baxter Trail. I am a big fan of the DRCC, which is working on the Northeast Philly section of the East Coast Greenway, which will be a 2900 mile path from Maine to Florida. The DRCC has been making great progress on their section. Being my own boss and working non-traditional hours, I have been able attend most of their ground breakings and follow-up ribbon cuttings. Like the railroads and interstate highway system, the greenway is a 40 year project. Happily we are 20+ years in now and are actually seeing it happen.

It was a glorious day to be on the river.

Pleasant Hill Park at Lindon Ave is way nicer than when my grandfather used to take us kids there in the 70s to get us out of our mother's hair for a hour or two. People always like to harp on the good old days. I pretty remember them being sort of crappy. The Hatcheries at the park are much nicer now too.

Before the ground breaking, I ended up chatting with my 2nd mayor of day, Philadelphia's mayor Michael Nutter, who Patrick and I got to know when he was running for his first term as mayor.

Back home to park the car, grab a light lunch and quick nap. Then I was on foot for the 1.5 mile street hike to the Grey Lodge Pub for Tuesday office hours. Office hours were productive and a several special guests showed up.

At 6pm,  I was out the door and hiking to the Market Frankford Transportation Center to catch the El and Subway to the sports complex. Maureen's department had use of her company's suite for the Flyers game and there was room for me to join.

Having suite tickets, I did the douchey thing and went through the VIP door. I thought twice about it but went in anyway as I was running a little late. This was a mistake as the whole experience took way longer to get to the suite than just going through a regular door. Totally serves me right for being a douche.

The suite level at the arena, which is on its third or fourth corporate name, is further name righted to Equus. In previous years, everywhere you looked, it said "Equus" with no further clues, which allowed you to completely have no idea what it was selling. Now they have included "Hyundai". Equus appears to be a super luxury car that nobody has ever bought and that is named for a play where Harry Potter gets naked and too friendly with a horse.

Hyundai seems to have decided that swells who go Sixers or Flyers games are the core demographic of super luxury car buyers with a horse and/or naked Harry Potter fetish. I expect that has to be a relatively small demographic and I would not have expected them to be sports fans. Since I have never noticed an Equus on the street ever, I have to image the cost of suite level naming rights per car sold in Philly metro area has to be insane. But what do I know. Nobody is giving me a huge marketing budget for such purposes, or any purpose.

The Flyers lost but we had a great time. Transportation home was in Maureen's car.

When I was younger, I would never have pictured a day in the 3rd Quarter of life being like this, but I am sure glad it is.

Transportation for the day: 2 cars, 2 trains, and 1 pair of legs.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cold Iron by Nicholas Freeling

I continue my read every book we own project...

Cold IronCold Iron by Nicolas Freeling

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was trying to figure out whether to keep reading this. Or maybe keep not reading is more accurate. After 3 days, I am on page 10. That pretty well shows how uninteresting I found this book.

I'm sure it's a work of genius, especially if you want to read about the political and societal issues of provincial French policing in the 1980s. And especially if you like prose that is dense and a chore to read. That really old school style of writing that should have died out after Hemingway and Steinbeck showed that writing can be both great and accessible.

I also have Castang's City on our shelf, which has been on there for decades I think. At I least I won't have to even start that one. Two books off the shelf in 3 days and 10 pages. I suppose that's efficiency in reading.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

American Gods Book Report

American Gods (American Gods, #1)American Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew this was a modern classic before I read it, so I came in with very high expectations. A modern classic in the way that Jonathan Strange and The Time Traveler's Wife are. I never got as drawn into American Gods in the same way the other two sucked me in. And that is probably because while interesting, I find the basic premise to be a little weak. Thinking upon it, the mix of older more physically defined gods versus his modern gods which are abstract concepts (technology, the media) but given physical though symbolic manifestations didn't really work for me.

I am left with a lingering feeling that something was missing, which is why I gave it 4 not 5 stars. This may be because I read the 10th anniversary edition with "the author's preferred text". Maybe the original more edited version would have wrapped up before the sense of something missing kicked in.

As a European enamoured with America, Gaiman's take on the US is wonderful. It is very common for writers in that situation to be somewhat condescending and a bit smug (By "writers in that situation" I don't mean foreign writers, but writers in general who journal about some place foreign to them, even though it may be in their own city). Gaiman is never condescending or smug, even when the follies of a place are obvious. Gaiman finds the humor, humanity, and inner substance of the places he visited.

Gaiman's America has very little overlap with the America that I have visited and/or lived in my whole life. So a lot of the places in the USA he chronicled are foreign to me the American. The one place he wrote about that I actually have been to (so far) is actually in a foreign country. Oh the irony.

This is a great book, well written, interesting, and fun. Well worth a read and definitely worthy of being considered a modern classic.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The CorrectionsThe Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

I continue my project to read every book we own. I either bought this for Maureen as an Xmas present or vice versa. We don't remember. Below is my review from

 The CorrectionsThe Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This is a BOOK, for better or worse, it is a BOOK.

I was oscillating between giving this 4 or 5 stars. As I said, this is a BOOK. It is a book in the way of Aldous Huxley's Point Counterpoint (and as good) and Thomas Wolf's You Can't Go Home Again (but better). Like those two, this book is very, very densely written and there is a lot of it, while not actually having all that much plot or action, but lots of backstory. It reads like a big, important book, where reader feels important and smart because they are reading it. Look at me, I'm reading a big boy book!

To Franzen's great credit, he totally pulls it off. This could be a ponderous snoozefest, and to be honest, it starts off that way. But Franzen is such a great writer that you get sucked into it and happily roll along with it. This is a very long book, over 500 pages. And it is a dense read, or it feels like a dense read, but I ploughed through it at a great clip. Ploughed though it easier than other books that are its polar opposite in density (such as many Janet Evanovich books). The chapters are very long with very few breaks. There are few natural stopping points. But it is easy to stop and start up again.

The book follows 5 main characters, an elderly Midwestern couple and their 3 grown children, plus assorted friends, spouses, and grandchildren. Most of the characters are sort of stupid and self-centered, and few seem to get a clue. But you don't write dramas about happy people who are in control of their lives.

At one point there is strange celebrity name dropping. I guess these are people that Manhattan based Franzen is friends with.

Reading this book was time well enjoyed.

A good hunk of this book takes place in my hometown of Philadelphia, circa 2000. This was a pleasant surprise and greatly added to my enjoyment. Philadelphia of 2000 comes off really well here, surprising so actually. Franzen obviously sent some serious time here because he writes like a true local. It would be interesting to see Franzen's take on Philly circa 2014, and the amazing rebirth much of our city has had.

One more thing, Jonathan Franzen is a genius. A genius in that he really has an amazing knowledge of a lot of various things. All of which, for better or worse, made it into the book. I learned about railroads, especially signals, Norwegian run US cruises, Lithuania, and lots of other things. He doesn't know about growing asparagus, but everything else that I was already familiar with is spot on. Franzen is such a good writer, that I happily went along with all his tangents, not caring when the book would reach its conclusion.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sarah Smile

"Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists."

Sarah Palin said that in a speech at the NRA convention last weekend. 

I think I underestimated Sarah Palin by dismissing her as an idiot. That is a lot of wow packed into just one single sentence. 

Putting aside the immortality of torture, baptizing Muslim terrorists into Christianity while being waterboarded brings a whole new level to their torture. Plus it provides an environmentally friendly double dip with the water usage, so to speak. She's a genius, an evil genius. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

No Room for Bears by Frank Dufresne

No Room for Bears by Frank Dufresne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My friend owns a rare book store, all collector stuff. Often when they buy a collection of books, they get some that are worthless from a financial perspective. They sell these 5 or $5 or $10. I bought this book some years ago, because of the title, as a present for my wife who is into bears.

As part of my quest to read all of the books we own, I eventually made my way to it. Before her, though my enthusiasm for this book has now put it on the top of her reading list.

When I bought it, I thought it was some sort of fiction book and put with our fiction. Turns out it is a collection of essays from the early 1960s by an old guy who spent his life as a government worker involved with Alaskan fish and game.

So how does a nonfiction book from the early 1960s hold up in 2014? Surprisingly and pleasingly well. Facts about nature and bears are timeless. It is also fascinating look into a lost time, the pre-statehood days of the Alaska frontier. Frank Dufresne had an interesting life working the Alaskan wilderness. Included are a few first hand accounts from old timers that were told to him when he was a young man in Alaska, so there is over 100 years of history here. FD knew about all types of bears, not just the ones found in Alaska.

Frank Dufresne was a very good writer. His prose was clear and tight and he could tell a story. I greatly enjoyed reading this book. The chapters are each focused on a specific topic (which tend to overlap a bit but are seldom too repetitive) and are the right length to read one or more at a sitting.

Part of FD's reason for writing this book was to draw attention to modern man's potential to quickly and permanently destroy the last habitats of some of the last existing large land carnivores, especially at danger was Admiralty Island in Alaska. Looking at AI on Wikipedia, it seems that it was mostly set aside for nature in the 1970s. Though FD may not have lived to see that.

I was enjoying this book so much, I bought Dufresne's other book (also out of print) for my wife as a birthday present. Maureen's birthday was last week, so that's not a spoiler.

This is a great little book that sadly is mostly lost to the world. I now know more about bears than I ever expected to, and enjoyed the journey. Not bad for a worthless book.

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