Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The 2016 Reading Challenge

This comes from the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. The Reading Challenge asks you to read:

  • a book published this year
  • a book you can read in a day
  • a book you've been meaning to read
  • a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller
  • a book you should have read in school
  • a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF
  • a book published before you were born
  • a book that was banned at some point
  • a book you previously abandoned
  • a book you own but have never read
  • a book that intimidates you
  • a book you've already read at least once
I am off to a good start.  Right now, I'm reading a book one of my daughters gave me for Christmas, from my extensive Amazon wish list.  It's The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History.  Technically, I'm no longer a student, since I've finished my late-in-life collegiate studies, having received my Master of Liberal Arts in Florida Studies from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg just this past May.  However, we are all -- or should be -- lifelong students.  And we historians are constant, inveterate, and total students.  I'm enjoying the book.  It has given me information on aspects of history and historical study of which I was unaware.

I am also working on a book that intimidates me.  It is Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life.  It's a theoretical work, and therefore it makes my head hurt.  But I'm slogging through it.  He speaks of everyday practices of everyday people.  I just wish he had used everyday language in which to do it!  I am getting something out of it, but probably not as much as is there, alas.  Highfalutin' language and theory always make my head hurt.

As to a book published this year, I'll have to hunt for one.  A book I can read in a day?  I may have a few of those on my shelves, but not very many.  Maybe one of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books.  I love those.  They're delightful.

I have a number of books I've been meaning to read, and for that I think I'll choose fiction.  I will read my friend Lisa Peppan's Somewhen Over the Rain Clouds.  Maybe tomorrow when I take my sister-in-law to the library I'll ask for a recommendation from the librarian.  I like mysteries, so I'll see what she may have to say of something in that field.  A book I should have read in school.  H'mm.  Heh.  Do I want my professors to possibly see this?  Well . . . Okay, I'll fess up.  Dr. Charles Clossman, now chair of the Department of History at the University of North Florida, forgive me.  I didn't read Jack Temple Kirby's The Mockingbird's Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South in class.  I will read it this year, as part of the challenge.

I have a lot of books published before I was born, even though I was born a long time ago!  They were printing by that time.  Gutenberg showed me an advance copy of his Bible!  Okay, kidding aside, as a historian, I have a lot of old books.  My college housemate (FSU, 1965-66) Judith West sent me a book she had held onto since childhood.  This book was published in 1892, and she thought that, as a Florida historian, I'd be interested.  Indeed I am.  The book is Historical Sketches of Colonial Florida, by Richard L. Campbell.  It deals mainly with what was called West Florida, of which Pensacola was the capital in Spanish times, while my studies are mainly of East Florida, of which St. Augustine was the capital.  However, I can certainly read it for Judith, and in honor of my mother, as both were raised in Pensacola.

I have rather a fetish for reading banned books.  It is a way to thumb my nose at the prudes and arrogant bluenoses who ban them.  I must have a banned book in my collection; at least one.  I will check the American Library Association's website for their banned books list.  The website discusses banned and "challenged" books.  I'm sure I can find something fascinating on their lists.

A book you previously abandoned.  That is a tough one.  Usually, when I abandon a book, it is because I just cannot proceed any further in it, for a variety of reasons.  These are the books that I may feel so disgusted at that I throw them against the wall.  I have done so in the past because of execrable writing, terrible plotting, and disgusting characters.  I will have to work on that one.

A book you own but have never read.  I have a few of those.  I shall just peruse my bookshelves and pick one.  To be announced.  A book you've already read at least once.  Oh, that could be such a pleasure, for I have books that I have so thoroughly enjoyed I have read them again and again.  Thomas P. F. Hoving's The King of the Confessors is probably number one on that list.  It is a wonderful story, full of intrigue, telling how Hoving tracked down the elusive Bury St. Edmonds Cross.  This artifact was lost for many years.  It is an elaborately carved cross and is stunningly beautiful.  I also immensely enjoyed E. J. Priz's Cosa Nosferatu:  Capone.  Ness.  Cthulhu.  Yes, you read that right.  It was such big fun!  (Note that on the website, accessible from the above link, the second quoted review, the one in red letters, is mine!)

So that is the challenge, and how I plan to meet it.  I'll comment on these books as I finish them, and tick them off the list.

Take up the challenge!  Read some good books!  After all, we have the whole year, right?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

This week's reading

I just finished, the other day, a totally fun book!  I like all sorts of history, have been a history buff since I was a kid.  One period I'm totally bonkers about is the 1920s and 1930s.  I also love stories, when they are well done, wherein historical figures are plunked down into fictional situations.

I just read Cosa Nosferatu:  Capone.  Ness.  Cthulhu.

You read that right.  Al Capone the gangster, Eliot Ness the prohibition agent -- and Cthulhu.

Well, the Ancient One himself only has a cameo appearance.  Mainly what we see are a couple of vampires, a bunch of Yig'goltha, and a few shoggoths.  But the mix of the world of prohibition and organized crime with the world of the Old Gods works.  It works because the author, E. J. Priz, did his homework.  All throughout the book, little historical facts about Eliot Ness and Al Capone are woven into the narrative, seamlessly.  And Priz also did his homework on the Cthulhu mythos; he knows his Lovecraft.

I told my daughter about this one, and she ordered a copy for herself.  She then turned me on to another book, Peter David's Artful.  This one does not involve historical characters, but literary ones.  Peter David says we should not bother with whiny little Oliver Twist, who spends a great deal of his time in the Dickens classic being weepy.  Look instead at the Artful Dodger, the young lieutenant to that weasly coach of juvenile delinquents, Fagin.

Fagin's a vampire.

The book shows the Artful Dodger's life after the events of Dickens's Oliver Twist.  I have only read the first chapter so far, and it had me laughing myself silly.  I know I'm going to enjoy this one.

And for my work, I'm reading The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork, by Ben Kafka.  He discusses what he sees as the birth of the modern bureaucratic state, and the nature and demands of paperwork.  This is a more general book than I read last week, Kathryn Burns's Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru.  Not sure where this one is going to lead me, as regards the work I'm doing on translating colonial Spanish notarial documents, but we shall see.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

What I'm Reading this Week

I have a few books going this week, some for my work and some for leisure reading.

For my work, I'm reading Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru, by Kathryn Burns.  I am doing translations of petitions for permission to get married, filed in colonial Spanish St. Augustine, Florida, between the years 1784 and 1821.  The documents are notarial documents, written by the government notary as part of his duties to keep records of government transactions.  The Spanish, thank the deity, were anal retentive about keeping records of all sorts of events and transactions.

The problem is:  just how reliable are these documents?  How reliable were the notaries?  Spanish notaries in general apparently had pretty bad reputations, being skewered in the picaresque novels of the 16th century, right up until the beginning of the 19th.  So, Burns's work will give me a lens through which to view these St. Augustine notarial documents.

For leisure reading, I'm into a book I bought at the Clay County Library, on the sale books shelf.  It is Raising the Hunley: The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine.  Even my leisure reading is often non-fiction, usually having to do with history.  This one is a corking good sea story.

The book is in two parts.  Part One tells the story of the creation and brief life of the submarine that probably inspired Jules Verne's fictional submarine the Nautilus, and which made naval history.  Unfortunately, it was a death trap.  It sank with all hands twice, and was raised and repaired each time.  In its final excursion, during which it embedded a torpedo in a Union ship's side and blew it up, ended with the little vessel being lost with all hands for over 100 years.

Part Two tells the story of the finding and recovery of the sub.  I have just finished Part One, so I haven't really got into Part Two yet.

Of course, I'm finding the leisure selection easier reading, but Into the Archive is well-written in clear prose, and the subject to me is fascinating.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Two Excellent Storytellers

I'm visiting home for the weekend, and had waiting for me two books by two men I've admired for a long, long time and who turned out to be wonderful storytellers.

The first book is called Forerunners Courageous: Stories of Frontier Florida, written by LeRoy Collins, subject of my last post, and published in 1971.  In the book I mentioned in that post, Martin A. Dyckman's Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins, Dyckman quotes a poem called "Growing Up," which Collins wrote.  It treats of his youth in Tallahassee, a small Southern town, and how the things he saw around him affected him.  In that poem, we see the seed of the governor and the man he became.  It's a wonderful poem, and I had to read the entire thing, which is why I bought Forerunners Courageous.

I would have to say that Forerunners Courageous is to LeRoy Collins what Profiles in Courage was to John F. Kennedy.  Each book gave a glimpse into the man, into what each valued, the common denominator of which was courage.

Collins's genteel, gentle sense of humor comes through as well, in the parts that are originally his.  Much of the book consists in his retelling of old Florida tales such as the duel between Leigh Read and Augustus Alston, a tragic story of the consequences of taking the law into one's own hands.  But there is a great deal of himself, in his own words and thoughts, in the chapter titled "Reflections of a Part-Time Beachcomber."  That title refers to his summer home on the Gulf of Mexico which, during his governorship, provided a refuge from the towering problems he had to deal with, a place to think and reflect.  The chapter includes the poem, "Growing Up," and prose musings as well.  The last part of the book is devoted to the life and family of one of Florida's territorial governors, Richard Keith Call.  Collins's wife Mary was a Call, a direct descendant of the territorial governor.  The chapter weaves its story within a framework that centers upon The Grove, a mansion in Tallahassee, next door to the present governor's mansion, and which was the seat of the Call family.  In fact, when Collins became governor, the governor's mansion was in such terrible condition that Collins and his family lived at The Grove, which Mary had inherited.  The old governor's mansion was eventually torn down, and a new one built on the same lot.

Reading this book, and having read Dyckman's biography, I am glad that I have admired LeRoy Collins, and glad that I did have that chance on one balmy day in Tallahassee to meet him and talk with him for a brief time.  I like thinking men, and I like LeRoy Collins.

I also like handsome men, and to my eyes one of the handsomest of the 20th century was Robert Stack (though LeRoy Collins was no slouch in that department, either!).  Robert Stack is most famous for being the host of Unsolved Mysteries and also for his role in the 1959-1963 series The Untouchables, in which he portrayed fictional exploits of a very real historical character, Prohibition agent Eliot Ness.    Stack is the author of the autobiography Straight Shooting (1980), a title which refers not only to his direct style of speaking but also to his career as a champion skeet shooter.  He held many records during his lifetime, and taught famous actors such as Clark Gable, how to shoot.

Robert Stack likewise reveals his sense of humor in these pages -- a sense of humor a good deal more earthy and bawdy than that of LeRoy Collins!  That sense of humor is more often than not directed at himself, as he tells stories of Hollywood during the heyday of the studio system.  Robert Stack grew up in Hollywood, second son of a wealthy, socially-prominent family of old Californians.  Many of the lights in the Hollywood firmament were family friends, including Carole Lombard, the beautiful actress who died tragically in an airplane crash.  She was 13-year-old Robert's first crush.

Alex Haley once wrote, "An old person dying is like a library burning."  Robert Stack grew up in Hollywood, knew many of the famous and not-so-famous, and when he left this life early in this century, he took with him massive volumes of Hollywood lore.  Some of that is preserved in these pages.  He was not an elitist, from what he tells us.  He hung around with mechanics and stablemen and other "common" people, and seems to have gotten along with all of them.  (In that, he reminds me of my husband, who can carry on great conversations with millionaires or mechanics, and have a great time doing it.)

Robert Stack's wife, Rosemarie Bowe, an actress and model, has a chapter in the book as well, and it is as funny and engaging as her husband's chapters are.  Her sense of humor about herself shows that they were a good match for each other.  She was a gorgeous lady, and a very lucky one, from where I'm sitting!  (Though I have my own good luck, too.)

I love books that can make me laugh out loud, or say, "Oh, my gosh!" or even bring a tear.  These two books are lively and full of the love of life, poignant in places, and revealing of two very human and humane men.  They are highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Floridian of His Century

One of the books assigned for the class Florida Politics Since World War II is Martin A. Dyckman's Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins.

Collins was elected in 1954 in a special election to fill out the term of Governor Dan McCarty, who died in office of a heart attack.  Collins defeated the "Pork Chop Gang" member Charley Johns, who, as president of the state senate, had become acting governor upon McCarty's death.  The "Pork Chop Gang" was a small clique of North Florida rural senators and representatives who held power out of all proportion to their numbers due to a crying need for reapportionment which had gone unheeded for decades.  A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1967 finally resulted in proper apportionment, which eliminated the power of the "Pork Chop Gang" and provided for more equitable and reasonable representation in Florida.

Collins, born and raised in Tallahassee, was raised in the racist, segregationist tradition of the South.  However, he was blessed with a mind and a conscience, and with the ability to examine his beliefs and values, and to change when change was needed.  And it was needed.

Collins won re-election to a full term in 1956, and through his evolving stand on civil rights, calling discrimination an offense to "moral, simple justice," became probably the greatest governor Florida has yet had.  He wanted to be the one to institute the reapportionment mentioned above, but was thwarted by the "Pork Chop Gang."  He also wanted a constitutional revision to update the existing constitution, which dated from 1885, and which was inadequate to the needs of a rapidly-growing Florida.  He did not succeed in either one.  Reapportionment took a federal Supreme Court decision, as mentioned above, and the constitution was not replaced until 1968.

After his term as governor was up, there being term limits in those days which limited a governor to one term, he went on to serve in other ways.  He was able to have that full term after the first two years in which he filled out McCarty's term because of a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that a governor was entitled to a full term.

I met LeRoy Collins one day in Tallahassee, in 1969, when I was an undergraduate at Florida State University.  Three roommates and I, who had been together in another residence, rented an apartment in an old house which had been broken up into apartments.  Our landlady was LeRoy Collins's mother. She was a genteel, gentle lady with impeccable manners to all.  One day, one of my roommates came up the stairs, having been out, and told us that LeRoy Collins was downstairs.  We all tromped down the stairs with, "Oh, Governor Collins.  It's such an honor to meet you."  He smiled broadly, appearing flattered to be the object of attention from such a gaggle of enthusiastic young women.  He shook hands all around, and talked with us for a while, then we tromped back upstairs to leave him with his mother.  We were on a cloud, having met one of Florida's living heroes.

Anyone wanting to read an engaging biography of an engaging man who was in the right place at the right time at an important juncture in this state's and this nation's history could not do better than to read this book.  More radical people could criticize Collins for not having pushed harder, but he was wise in knowing that pushing too hard could have caused more violence than Florida did experience.  His moral leadership made a difference in a number of ways, not least of which was to inspire my generation in Florida much as John F. Kennedy inspired us across the nation.  The stand that LeRoy Collins did make was bold at the time and in the place in which he made it.

He deserves his place in Florida's history.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS

I just finished reading The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics by Keith Devlin and Gary Lorden (New York:  Plume Books [Penguin], 2007).  Devlin is NPR's "Math Guy" and Lorden was the math consultant on the TV series NUMB3RS, to which this book is related.

The book discusses some of the mathematical tools and theories that we see math genius and professor Charlie Eppes use on the series.  I confess that I did not nearly understand all of the book, as I am pretty much a mathophobe.  However, I enjoyed NUMB3RS, as did my mathematically-inclined husband, because it was a well-written and well-acted series with interesting stories. The Detective/Police genre is my favorite (as if one could not tell from references in entries on this blog).

Possibly the authors could have explained some of their points in a way that laypersons such as myself could better understand, but I don't regard this as a serious complaint.  I was intrigued by a number (not to be punny) of the concepts dealt with in the book, and how these are being applied in crime-fighting today.  Nice to know that such fine minds as those described in the book are applying themselves to solving problems in crime detection and the pursuit of perpetrators.

An appendix gives a "mathematical synopsis" of plots of the episodes of the first three seasons (the book was written while the series was running).  I have all six seasons on DVD, a Christmas gift from my husband.

People who enjoy reading the story behind the story, those interested in reading about the sciences in general, those interested in math, and people as enchanted as I was by the TV series will enjoy this book.  Even if you, like me, do not completely understand all of the explanations.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"The Untouchables" Drinking Game

This is just for fun.  It's peripherally related to a book, actually to one I read when I was a teenager.  That is to say, The Untouchables by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley.  It was this book which was the basis for the television series that aired from 1959 to 1963 and starred Robert Stack as Eliot Ness, the U.S. Treasury agent who formed a special squad of incorruptible men to take on the beer empire of Al Capone.  They weakened Capone enough so that the Internal Revenue Bureau was able to come in and audit his books, building a case against him for income tax evasion. 

The book is, to be kind about it, embellished in its telling of the tale.  There are liberties taken with facts.  But it is a good and exciting read, at any rate.  I also enjoyed the TV series, and am enjoying it again on DVD.  I have the first three seasons, and season 4 comes out in July.

Game requirements:
1.  The episodes (four seasons) of the original Desilu Productions series “The Untouchables” (1959-1963) starring Robert Stack.
2,  This list.
3.  Beverages of choice.
4. Players – the more, the merrier!

While watching an episode, when a condition of this list is met, take the recommended number and type of drinks.  A “sip” is just that – a small amount of beverage.  A “gulp” is a large amount of beverage.  A “chug” is to drain your glass.  Refill as needed.

            Remember, you are watching “The Untouchables.”  As you are imbibing alcoholic beverages, be warned that you could be raided.

I.  Generic actions

A dress worn by an actress or extra in a previous episode
            is worn by another in the current episode.                  1 sip

A dress worn by an actress in a previous episode is worn
            by the SAME actress in the current episode               chug

Someone kills someone else instantly while his
            gun seems aimed at something  (or someone)
            other than the intended target                                      chug

A prop you have seen in another episode turns
            up in this one (not including guns or cars)                  1 gulp

A prop looks like something that might appear
            on Antiques Roadshow                                                1 gulp

You actually have seen that prop on Antiques Roadshow       chug

Stock footage is used                                                               1 gulp

The stock footage used reveals a temporal anomaly
            (i.e., cars from the 1940s or 1950s, etc.)                     chug

A temporal anomaly turns up in a non-stock scene                1 gulp
            (such as Anne Francis reading “Prevention”
            magazine – not published until the early 1950s –
            in “The Doreen Maney Story”)

Someone is wearing glasses, but there are
            no lenses in them                                                         1 gulp

A woman screams                                                                   1 sip

Mountains show up in the background when
            the scene is set in a place where there are
            no mountains (Illinois, Indiana, Florida)                    chug

Someone – good guy or bad – fires more
            that six shots from a .38 revolver                               1 sip per gun

A flute solo plays when someone dies or
            is about to die                                                              1 sip

A man slaps a woman                                                             1 sip

A woman slaps a man                                                             1 gulp
A woman is the boss of whatever criminal operation             1 gulp

Someone takes out a pack of cigarettes, lights a
            cigarette or is in a smoke-filled room                       1 sip per weed

Someone takes a drink (this will get you plastered)               1 sip

Someone takes a drink and spits it out because it
             is rotgut                                                                      1 gulp

Someone takes a drink directly from a bottle                          1 gulp

Someone drinks directly from a bottle, then someone else
            drinks from the same bottle                                         1 gulp

Someone (other than Eliot Ness) breaks a bottle                     1 sip

II.  The Ensemble Effect

An actor who played a good guy (including one of
            the Untouchables) in one or more other episodes
            plays a bad guy in the current episode                         1 gulp

An actor who played a bad guy in one or more other
            episodes plays a good guy (including one of the
            Untouchables) in the current episode.                          1 gulp

Any actor or actress makes a repeat appearance                      1 sip

An actor makes a repeat appearance in the same role              1 gulp

A bad guy shows up repeatedly, played by the same               1 sip
           actor (Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti does not count)

A bad guy shows up repeatedly, played by different                1 gulp
III.  Eliot Ness

Ness pushes his hat up just a bit                                                1 sip

Ness hits a wall or a table with his fist                                      1 sip

Ness hits some hood with the back of his hand                        1 sip

Ness goes out of control on some hood and the
            other guys have to restrain him                                     1 gulp

Ness throws himself on the floor to fire at a bad guy               1 gulp

Ness says he’ll protect someone and
            they end up dead                                                           1 gulp

Someone asks to meet with Ness but is murdered
            before the meeting can take place                                 1 gulp

Someone tries to bribe Ness                                                      1 gulp

Someone orders a hit on Ness                                                   1 gulp

Ness lights a match with his thumbnail                                     1 gulp

Ness breaks a bottle.                                                                  1 gulp

A woman makes a pass at Ness.                                                1 sip

A woman slaps Ness                                                                  1 gulp

Ness gets slugged, beaten, or otherwise injured                        1 gulp

Ness actually mentions his wife                                                 chug

Ness hooks a thumb on a trouser pocket                                    1 sip

Ness taps his thumb or finger (either hand)
            while thinking, debating, talking,
            or deciding something                                                    1 sip

IV.  The Untouchables (singly or as a group)

The team stands in the open with bullets flying
            all around, and none of them get hit.                              1 gulp

Untouchable Jack Rossman has no lines                                    1 gulp

One of the Untouchables gets shot and no one
            reacts or goes to his aid                                                  1 gulp

 One of the Untouchables dies       Stand and raise a toast to a fallen hero.

The Untouchables get a government
            car or other government property trashed                      1 gulp

One of the Untouchables holds a loaded gun so that
            it points to another one or to a civilian                          1 gulp

An Untouchable who died in a previous episode
            shows up in a later one                                                   1 gulp

An Untouchable is beaten up, shot, or otherwise
            assaulted (includes single blows)                                   1 gulp

Any of the good guys respectfully removes his
            hat in the presence of a dead person                               1 gulp

The Untouchables grill a suspect under bright lights                 1 sip

A wiretap installed by the Untouchables is found out
             and destroyed                                                                1 sip

The bad guys put a wiretap on the Untouchables                      1 gulp
One of the team brings the rest coffee                                        1 sip