Saturday, November 23, 2013

Today's Mail

From my in box today.  Should I tell Mrs. Claudia to take a grammar class?
What was wrong with my proposal cause I got no responds from you . From Mrs Claudia.

Say It Ain't So!

Recipe Ruined? Berger Cookies Could Disappear with Proposed Ban on Trans Fat 

The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons -- Lawrence Block

I've been reading the novels of Lawrence Block since, well, I can tell you almost exactly how long.  One evening in 1966, Judy and I were driving on Burnet Road in Austin, Texas.  I don't know why we were out, but we stopped at a little convenience store for some reason.  I don't remember the reason for that, either.  Maybe we wanted a candy bar.  What I do remember is that just inside the store there was one of those paperback spinner racks of fond memory, and I could never pass one of them without looking to see what was there.  In this case there was a copy of a Gold Medal paperback called The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep.  

I liked the title, so I read the blurbs.  Sounded good, and though I was unfamiliar with the author, I'd never gone wrong with a Gold Medal book before.  So I bought it.  After I read it, I bought every book I saw with Block's name on it, so I must've been impressed.  Well, I know I was impressed.  I liked that whole series a lot, and I discovered that I liked everything I found with Block's name on it. 

For some reason I have clear memories of buying a couple of others of Block's books.  Okay, more than a couple.  In the middle '70s, Texas still had "blue laws," which meant that stores couldn't be open on Sundays.  However, there were exceptions for places like drugstores, so the Walgreen's in Brownwood, Texas, was open on Sundays.  They had part of the store cordoned off, however, because even though the store was open, only certain "necessary" items could be sold.  I don't know if the book rack was cordoned off or not, but I do know that one Sunday I found myself in front of that rack, and there was The Sins of the Fathers, the first book in the Matthew Scudder series.  I bought it that day, though I was afraid the cashier would call the cops on me.  That didn't happen, though, and I bought the other Scudder paperbacks as they came along.  I even have an impressive collection of the Scudder hardcovers.

Also while in Brownwood I would occasionally get those catalogs that sold remaindered books.  They were on newsprint, and the type was very small.  In one of them I saw a listing for something called Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man by "L. Block."  It was only a buck, and I figured, "How many L. Blocks can there be?"  So I took a chance, and it paid off.  It would've paid off a lot better if I'd bought ten or twelve copies, since I think that one's pretty pricey now.

I bought Random Walk at some convention in Omaha.  Don't remember if it was the Bouchercon or another one, but I bought it off a rack at Steve Stilwell's table in the dealers' room.  I'm sure Stilwell wasn't there.  He's never at his table.  But someone sold it to me.  Stilwell has his minions.  

And then there was that time in Ft. Worth, when . . . well, I could go on like this, but I won't.  Let me just say that I still have all those books, and a great many more.  My only regret is that I didn't know Block was writing under all those other names he used.  I would've bought those books, too, but by the time I found out about them, the books were a little too costly for a simple guy like me.  Many of them are available now as eBooks, though, for not very much dough.

But enough of all this nostalgia.  It's time for my comments on The Burglar who Counted the Spoons, the latest in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, which I've enjoyed a great deal over the years.  Except my comments immediately turn into nostalgia again because the great opening scene has a young woman in Bernie's bookshop looking for a copy of The Pit by Frank Norris.  How many people do you think there are who have read The Pit?  McTeague, sure, quite a few.  The Octopus, to which The Pit is a sequel, maybe, but not as many as have read McTeague.  And The Pit? I figure I'm one of a tiny group on that one.  And let's go beyond that.  How many people know that The Pit was turned into a Broadway play and that a once-popular card game (ever play Pit?) was, too?  If I hadn't told you, then I'd be in an even tinier group.

What I really like about the scene is that the young woman doesn't buy the book when she finds it.  She checks out the Internet and discovers that she can get it for $2.99 (which isn't really such a good deal because Amazon has it for free -- you could get it yourself and join the small group of us who've actually read it).  You know what ticks me off?  That free book has two reviews, which is more than my books usually get.  That tells us something about how small the group of my readers is.

Okay, I seem to have digressed.  What about The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons?  Well, it's great.  Here are some of the things I like best about it, aside from that opening scene.  I like it that Bernie calls the copy of the The Pit the young woman buys (her name is Chloe, and she appears again) the eQuivalent of the real thing.  I like it that Bernie talks a good bit about collectible books.  I like it that Bernie comments about novels by several current mystery writers.  I like it that there's a lot of other collecting stuff in the book.  My theory is that any collector can understand the obsession of another collector, even if they collect different things.  So whether it's books or buttons, it's fun to read about it.  I like Bernie and Carolyn's discussions of any number of subjects.  I like the Harriet Klausner reference.

There's a good bit of burgling in the book, and of course there's a murder, even though for a while it doesn't appear to have been one.  There's the traditional gathering of the suspects, and I really liked it that Bernie checked out Nero Wolfe's seating arrangement in Might As Well Be Dead and got so caught up in it that he figured it was time to read it again.  And there's the unraveling of the more-complex-than-you-might-have-thought plot, along with the unconventional aftermath of the solution.

Bernie is always excellent company, and his narration's always a pleasure to read.  Add in the snappy patter, the humor, the smooth plotting, and you have another big winner for Lawrence Block, who's chosen to publish this book himself rather than go the traditional route.  I hope he makes a bundle.

Texas Led the Way

Lone Star Saint: Roky Erickson's Solo Career In Review

Song of the Day

▶ The Beatles "From Me To You" - YouTube:

Rat Pack Troopers

Rat Pack Troopers: The day Frank Sinatra and his merry-making clan played cavalry & Indians.

I Want to Believe!

UFO hunter spots 'fossilized iguana' on Mars 

Today's Vintage Ad

My Top 10 Horror Stories by Stephen Jones

My Top 10 Horror Stories by Stephen Jones  

Link via SF Signal.

Anne Lamott’s Timeless Advice on Writing

Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott’s Timeless Advice on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity | Brain Pickings


Dennis Wheatley, Mediterranean Nights, Arrow, 1963

5 Writing Tips: Paul Harding

5 Writing Tips: Paul Harding

The Last Words Of 17 Historical Figures

The Last Words Of 17 Historical Figures

This News Comes 50 Years Too Late for Me

Why English Majors are the Hot New Hires

Archaeology Update

Biblical City Ruins Discovered UNDER Ruins Of Another Ancient City In Israel: An ongoing excavation in Israel has uncovered new evidence of an ancient city buried beneath the King Solomon-era metropolis of Gezer.

Dino Update

FRANCE 24: Palaeontologists on Friday announced they had uncovered the remains of one of the greatest land predators ever -- a nine-metre (30-foot) four-tonne dinosaur that stalked the planet 100 million years ago.

Danger in the Pacific


Friday, November 22, 2013

This Is The Reason the Internet was Invented

There Is A Website That Automatically Puts Nicolas Cage's Face On People's Instagram Selfies

Pimpage: An Occasional Feature in Which I call Attention to Books of Interest Read It and Weep (A Library Lover's Mystery) eBook: Jenn McKinlay: Kindle Store  William Shakespeare is credited with inventing how many words?

Answering Shakespeare trivia comes with the job description for library director Lindsey Norris. But when the Briar Creek Community Theater mounts their newest production of the Bard, she has no intention of leaving the stacks for the stage. Unfortunately a villain is waiting in the wings…

Former Broadway actress Violet La Rue is holding auditions for A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and everyone from the sour spinster librarian Ms. Cole to Lindsey’s youthful library pages are trying out for parts. Brought in to play the mischievous Puck is the flirtatious professional actor Robbie Vine, who seems to have eyes for Lindsey. Before her blush has faded, the Bard’s dream turns into a nightmare—when one of the cast is poisoned. Now Lindsey and her crafternooners must take center stage to unmask the culprit before the final curtain call…

H20 Update

Researchers Find Ancient Seawater Had Twice The Salt: The USGS team found the early Cretaceous-era seawater 5,000 feet down as it was drilling in an effort to map a freshwater aquifer. What it found was a watery fossil — the oldest large body of seawater yet identified.

Song of the Day

▶ Kingston Trio-Song for a Friend - YouTube:

15 Forgotten Things Found Inside Books

15 Forgotten Things Found Inside Books

Today's Vintage Ad

As I Was Just Saying, You Can't Be Too Careful

OKC bomb squad says suspicious item was a burrito 

Oddly Enough I Never Considered Chicken Catching When I Was Deciding on a Career

Professional chicken catcher fired over his attitude 

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.

Archaeology Update (With Added "Oops!")

Stonehenge archaeologists have been digging in the wrong place - for 90 YEARS

You Can't Be Too Careful

Port Charlotte mall locked down when apron mistaken for gun


Edwin O'Connor, The Oracle, Pan, 1958

I don't usually comment on these covers, and maybe it's just me, but this cover sure seems prophetic even down to a slight resemblance in the portrait.

First It Was the Thin Mints Melee. . .

Police: Man dressed as poodle set on fire by friend  

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.

Bid Early and Often!

70-Year-Old Industry Icon Auctions Off $1 Million Worth Of Comics  

Hat tip to George Kelley.

I Did a Lot Better on this Quiz than I Thought I Would

Can You Distinguish Between Multi-Million Dollar Art And Art Found At A Yard Sale

How To Write Your First Book

How To Write Your First Book: Twenty-one successful authors — including Junot Diaz, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz, and George Saunders — tell how they overcame writer’s block, completed, and sold their debut titles.

What didn't happen on November 22, 1963

The '60s at 50: What didn't happen on November 22, 1963

Once Again Texas Leads the Way

Texas Board of Ed votes to drop algebra II mandate

Friday, November 22, 1963

Friday, November 22, 1963

23 Front Pages From 1963 Covering The Day President Kennedy Was Assassinated

23 Front Pages From 1963 Covering The Day President Kennedy Was Assassinated

November 22, 1963 -- My Story

I was just out of college and working as a teacher of 11th grade English in Corsicana, Texas.  It was my mother's birthday, but I wasn't going home to see her until the next day because I'd be working at the football game that night, taking up tickets.  Corsicana had a great team that year, and in fact they went on to win the state championship in class 3-A.  

I was teaching Huckleberry Finn to my fourth-period English class when the school secretary came to the door.  She called me into the hall and whispered that John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.  That's all she knew, and she was going from room to room with the news.  Apparently the principal didn't want to announce it over the speaker system.  

I had no idea what to do next, so I went back into the room and finished the lesson without mentioning what I'd learned.  After the room cleared out at the end of the period, I went downstairs to proctor the fifth-period study hall.  I didn't have to mention what had happened, as by that time, everyone seemed to know.  Someone had one of those little portable transistor radios, and it sat in the window, tuned in to a Dallas station.  Except for the radio, the room was absolutely quiet, which, believe me, was unprecedented.  For the rest of the period we all listened to the radio.  At some point a girl started to cry.

I don't remember what happened in the sixth-period English class.  I do know that we didn't do much talking about the assignment.  

That night I worked at the football game.  The University Interscholastic League had decided that the games would go on.  Football trumps everything in Texas.

The next day I went home for my mother's belated birthday.  There wasn't much of a celebration.  On Sunday when I was getting ready to return to Corsicana, the TV set was on and I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald. 

I've never been through another weekend like that one.  I don't suppose I ever will.  The next week went on as usual, but eventually we began to realize that everything changed, in ways I can't begin to explain.

Forgotten Writer: Clark Ashton Smith

The Crawling Horrors of Mars: Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis”

A Forgotten Magazine

Amazing Science Fiction, December 1959: A Retro-Review

FFB: Skylar -- Gregory Mcdonald

I thought the first couple of books in Gregory Mcdonald's series about Fletch were terrific but that they went downhill after that.  I also liked the books about Flynn, but having been pretty disappointed in several of the later Fletch books, I hadn't read anything by Mcdonald in years.  Then, as happened with the book I mentioned last week, I ran across unread paperbacks of Skylar and Skylar in Yankeeland.  These were  in a thrift store instead of on eBay, but the principle is the same.  I couldn't just leave them there.  So I bought them.

The setting of Skylar is Greendowns County, Tennessee.  The title character has just graduated from high school and plans to remain in Tennessee for the rest of his life, though his grades are higher than anyone else's in his school.  His Boston cousin, Jonathan Whitfield, has been sent to visit to while he recovers from a bout of mono.  Skylar and Jonathan don't take to each other.  

Skylar is also irresistible to women.  It seems that his touch is electric, and just looking at him makes women want to jump his bones.  There's more sex in the first chapter of this book than in the entire soft porn book from last week.  What a difference a few decades makes. 

Unfortunately for Skylar, he's soon arrested for the murder of the young woman that the entire county believes he's practically engaged to.  Skylar breaks out of jail, and then her brother is murdered.  He's in big trouble.

Don't try to figure out the mystery.  It's not likely that any reader could. That's not the point of the story, anyway.  The point is snappy patter, a Mcdonald specialty, and observations that you might or might not find amusing.  Things take a very dark turn before it's all over, as they often do in Mcdonald's books, or at least that's my recollection of them.

I found this one better than the later Fletch books, though it's certainly not up to the first two.  I'll probably aread the sequel.  If I do, I'll report on it next week.


▶ PT 109 Theatrical Movie Trailer (1963) - YouTube:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hat tip to Francelle Bettinger.

This Month in the Old West

Western Fictioneers: Bad Roads, Indians, & Roller Skating: This month in the Old West

Pimpage: An Occasional Feature in Which I call Attention to Books of Interest

Night of the Furies: J.M. Taylor: 9780985578695: Books  In the late 1930s, Rico DiGiacomo ruled all of East Boston until he was brutally murdered by his own lieutenant, Bricks Mancini. That night, Rico’s son Giorgio overheard the details as they were reported to the one who ordered it: Rico’s wife. Giorgio vowed to avenge his father, no matter how long it took. Now, thirty years later, Giorgio has finally fulfilled that promise. As Mancini’s bodyguards pursue him into biker bars and sleazy motels like a pack of vengeful demons, Giorgio recalls a life of humiliation at his mother’s hands and the wisdom his father passed on to him. What he doesn’t know is that Fate has still more in store for him, and one night can be very long indeed.

Leo Tolstoy on Money, Fame, and Writing for the Wrong Reasons

Leo Tolstoy on Money, Fame, and Writing for the Wrong Reasons 

You May Now Sigh with Relief

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ sequel would be blocked by Paramount  

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.

Song of the Day

▶ Webb Pierce - I Ain't Never (original 45 rpm) - YouTube:

6 ways Monty Python changed the world

6 ways Monty Python changed the world

Today's Vintage Ad

9 Famous Authors Supported by the New Deal

9 Famous Authors Supported by the New Deal

Soon We'll Have No Freedoms Left Third-Grader Suspended for Snorting Smarties

Comic Strip of the Day

Ben Comic Strip, November 21, 2013 on


John Ironside, Crime Casket, Mellifont

First It Was the Thin Mints Melee. . .

Mail Online: 'I asked him to take care of something and he was being irresponsible': Woman, 23, 'stabbed boyfriend with kitchen knife over a purse'  

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.

I Miss the Old Days

New York in the 'Swinging sixties': Beautiful pictures capture New York City in a period of historic transition 

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.

Dadgum Whippersnappers Better Keep Off My Lawn

Stars who turned 50 this year  

Annoying slideshow alert.

Or Maybe You Are

Explained: The words you are not using correctly 

I Learn Something Every Day

I used a slide rule for several years in high school, but nobody ever told me that the Thesaurus guy invented the log log scale.

Slide rule - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: In 1815, Peter Mark Roget invented the log log slide rule, which included a scale displaying the logarithm of the logarithm. This allowed the user to directly perform calculations involving roots and exponents. This was especially useful for fractional powers.

Supermax Prisoners In Solitary Were Given One Photo Request

Supermax Prisoners In Solitary Were Given One Photo Request — This Is What They Asked For

Sylvia Browne, R. I. P. Renowned psychic Sylvia Browne -- a leader in the paranormal world who appeared regularly on television and radio and also wrote dozens of top-selling books -- died Wednesday in a northern California hospital, according to her website.

Dancing Lady


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

George Packer Wins National Book Award for Nonfiction

George Packer Wins National Book Award for Nonfiction

James McBride Wins National Book Award for Fiction

James McBride Wins National Book Award for Fiction

Okay, Here's the Flying Car You've Been Waiting For

This stealth company nestled against (inside?) Google is building flying cars 

I Must Have Come in Second Again

Adam Levine named 'Sexiest Man Alive' for 2013

Mars Update

4.4 billion-year-old meteorite found in the Sahara sheds light on infant Mars

“Today’s Literary Mystery

“Today’s Literary Mystery—It’s Not What Your Granny Used to Read” (by Scott Loring Sanders) | SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN

Song of the Day

▶ If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody-James Ray-1961 - YouTube:

Christopher Paolini Interview

INTERVIEW: Christopher Paolini, Author of ERAGON 

Once Again Texas Leads the Way

Texas cops force drivers off the road to give DNA to federal contractors

Today's Vintage Ad

Best YA Novel of All Time?

Best YA Novel of All Time? EW Staff Pick: 'The Earthsea Cycle' 

Link via SF Signal.

Mystery humans spiced up ancients’ rampant sex lives

Mystery humans spiced up ancients’ rampant sex lives

Link via Boing-Boing.

First It Was the Thin Mints Melee. . .

Australian Man Gary Stewart Miles Burned Friend Paul Stamp Alive for 'Pinching Beers' 

Yes, Bubba Ho-Tep Is Included

Back and to the right: 17 alternate retellings of the JFK assassination 

I Found a Penny Last Week

$1.1M in gold bars found in plane bathroom  

Hat tip to Art Scott.

And Keep Off Her Lawn! Feisty 92-Year-Old Woman Expertly Fights Off Home Invader  

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.


Thane Docker, Vengeance Wears a Star, Chisholm

Haunting Civil War portraits

Haunting Civil War portraits

7 Famous Lost Literary Works

7 Famous Lost Literary Works

The Lost Art of Library Postcards

The Lost Art of Library Postcards 

My Birthplace Not Included

What Are the Most Important Historical Sites in the World?

Charlotte Zolotow, R. I. P. Charlotte Zolotow, a distinguished author and editor of children’s books whose work — both her own titles and those of the writers in her stable — offered even the youngest readers a forthright view of emotionally fraught subjects like anger, envy and death, died on Tuesday at her home in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. She was 98.  

Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson.

The bizarre history of our obsession with unicorns

The bizarre history of our obsession with unicorns

Flying Leathernecks


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bob Dylan releases interactive music video for ‘Like A Rolling Stone’

Bob Dylan releases interactive music video for ‘Like A Rolling Stone’:  Bob Dylan put a 21st-century interactive spin on a 48-year-old song that many consider his greatest composition when he released an official video for “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Posted on, it invites viewers to channel-surf between mock TV shows where the song is lip-synched by newscasters, reality TV stars, tennis players, fashionistas, game show hosts and a levitating cartoon cat, among others.

Paging Miss Emily

Brussels widow 'slept with husband's corpse for a year' 

Grind Joint -- Dana King

Stark House is best known for publishing reprints of some really wonderful older books by writers like Harry Whittington, Peter Rabe, Sid Fleischman, and a lot of others.  Recently, however, the press has put out some original novels by Charlie Stella, who has a brief introduction to the newest original, Grind Joint, by Dana King

A grind joint is sort of a low-rent casino for the locals, and the one under construction in Penns River in western Pennsylvania.  Someone dumps a body on its doorstep before it even opens. 

It falls to Detective Ben Dougherty to investigate the case, and what he runs into is considerably more complicated that he must have thought when he started.  There's the logical suspect, Mike Mannarino, and old-line mafia guy, but the mafia ain't what it used to be.  Only Mannarino and a couple of his guys are left in Penns River.  Then there are the Russians.  Whereas the mafia guys were predictable and more or less under control, the Russian gang members are totally nuts.  They don't want to go along and get along.  They'll just kill you.  And there are a few other complications as well, including some problems on the police force.

This is a procedural with mob overtones, but it's not just the plot that grabs you.  It's all good.  The town, the cops, and the characters are all so well drawn that it's hard to stop reading.  You should check it out.

Or Maybe You Do

11 Actors You Might Not Realize Do Commercial Voiceovers 

Song of the Day

▶ TANGERINE ~ Jimmy Dorsey & his Orchestra 1942.wmv - YouTube:

10 Great TV Shows Royally Screwed By Networks

10 Great TV Shows Royally Screwed By Networks

Today's Vintage Ad

Or Maybe Not

I've read two of them and part of a third.

10 Great Books Contemporary Culture Has Forgotten 

Cartoon of the Day

Rubes Comic Strip, November 19, 2013 on


John Sterling, Fire in the Sun, Badger Books,

You Haven't Seen a Stop Motion Video Like This

You Haven't Seen a Stop Motion Video Like This

You Know You're Going to Look

Snooki And JWOWW Dressed As Iconic Television Duos

The Biggest Heartbreakers In Literature

These Are The Biggest Heartbreakers In Literature

Monty Python to reunite for new show

Monty Python to reunite for new show after 30 years

Beware the Hackberry Nipple Gall Maker

Tiny Black Insects Taking Over Parts Of North Texas County

I'm Going to Take a Selfie of Myself Twerking

‘Selfie’ tops ‘twerk’ as Oxford’s word of the year

Overlooked Movies: Rider on the Rain

When I was a student at The University of Texas at Austin, the "art theater" was the Texas Theater, which was right across Guadalupe Street from the campus and a short walk from Parlin Hall, the English building.  So sometimes in the afternoons, I'd stroll over to see a foreign film or an American "art" film.  One that I saw there was Rider on the Rain.  

At the time I saw it, I was already a fan of Charles Bronson for his supporting roles in some of my favorite movies: The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Dirty Dozen.  I was also aware that at least one U. S. actor (Clint Eastwood) had gone to Europe and become a star in the movies he made there.  I thought it would be interesting to see if the magic could work for Charles Bronson, even if the movie was from France instead of Italy and even if it was a contemporary thriller instead of a western.  

The short answer is that it worked just fine.  Bronson plays a mysterious investigator who shows up in a French town where a woman has killed a rapist who followed her home and attacked her.  Instead of reporting the death, she dumped the body into the sea. Bronson seems to know a lot about what she's done, and there's a lot of cat-and-mousing as he continues to investigate.  Lots of twists and turns, too.  For one thing when a body washes ashore, it turns out not to be the rapist.  

This isn't the usual Bronson action thriller.  The pacing is leisurely, and there's a lot of dialog, which Bronson handles just fine, thank you.  The photography is great, and the opening scenes in the rain are really something special.  For a number of years I thought of this movie every time I heard The Doors do "Riders on the Storm," but I had no idea that Morrison supposedly composed the song because of this film.  That's supposedly true, however, and the song captures the mood very well.  Check it out if you get a chance.