Sunday, November 20, 2016

So You Think You're Irish (Kelleher)

So You Think You're Irish, Margaret Kelleher, 1988

This book, published originally in 1988, and reprinted in 2014, was an impulse buy at a discount store. (Note the blurred price tag in the photo.) I'm not aware of any updates to the book for the new edition. Oddly, I never checked when it was published until I was typing this entry. This might explain why my knowledge of history was so rusty, considering that there isn't anything from the past 30 years or so, which would be most of my adult life when I might've been paying attention to such things.

I'll come right out and say this book was a bit of a disappointment, but it was an impulse buy. I shouldn't flipped through the pages a little bit before making the purchase.

The book consists of some 500 multiple-choice questions about Ireland, divided into categories: Irish History, Irish-American History, Beliefs and Legends, Entertainment, Words, Food, etc. The questions were a little too picky, and sometimes several focused on the same event (in some case, inadvertently giving away answers). I'll admit that I don't know the names and contributions of every famous Irish man and woman in each of two countries (and a few around the world).

What I found missing was any sense of cohesion tying the entire book together. Maybe an introduction into each chapter. Perhaps a little more information woven into the answer keys that followed. Something to make reading about random events, people and facts a little bit more interesting.

I'd almost put the book aside before I'd gotten to the chapters on Words and Food. I did pretty well in those, having heard quite a few of those terms over the years, from my family, old movies and even music. As a bonus, the Answer Key to the Food chapter actually included some recipes. I'll likely photograph the bunch of them and try one or two of them out sometime. (Likely not the soda bread -- my wife already makes a good soda bread. No reason to try something new.)

So it was interesting in bits, but overall, not what I was looking for. Sadly, I think I have something else in the closet that's similar. I won't mind if it refers to things I might have heard of or can reason out. But this was just guess, guess, move on, etc.

Final notes: I had a Post-It for a bookmark (two, actually: one for the answers). I scribbled down a few notes to look up, which so far, I haven't. So in case I lose the note, here are the entries:

  • Lough Derg ("Lou Derg")
  • Hy Brasil
  • Femoril
  • "keener"
  • Giants Atrium (cooling lava)

The parenthetical "Lou Derg" was (I think) me thinking that that would be a good name from a character in a story, having a little inside joke in his name.
Giants Atrium is a place formed by cooling lava, and I wanted to research it because it has the natural feel of a fantasy story location. (Maybe for Lou Derg?)

Final verdict: don't waste your time, even if it's only an hour.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

History Bytes (Vulich)

History Bytes: 37 People, Places and Events That Shaped American History, Nick Vulich, 2015

I don't remember how I found this one. Maybe it was posted as a free ebook on Reddit. I don't know.

It was well-written and the bibliography, with some very old sources, shows that it was well-researched, too. If anything, however, I would have liked some references to the bibliography in the text. The tone, at times, is conversational, so it would be nice to know where some of this information is coming from.

This wasn't a book of little-known events, and for history buffs, there probably isn't much here. There was some interesting tidbits, but nothing that made me say either "I never knew that!" or "That can't be right!" But there was information about from Colonial times, the Revolution, the Civil War, western expansion and outlaws. Why 37 events? No answer, but why not?

(Aside: sure, there were probably things that, had I'd ever learned before, I'd forgotten about, but nothing so incredible to amaze me.)

Interestingly, there was some overlap with Great Train Robberies of the Old West, which I reviewed back in February. Nothing here contradicted anything from that one.

You might be able to find a lot of this information online, should you care to look for it. Question is: would you?

Quick read. Enjoyed it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Pirates Who's Who (Gosse)

The Pirates Who's Who, Philip Gosse, 1924

The Pirates Who's Who was written by Philip Gosse in 1924, but through the magic of the Internet, it lives on as a Project Gutenberg ebook. Also, the fact that it's so old adds to its authenticity that it was likely more researched than anything that might be published for the first time as an ebook today. This doesn't read like a lengthy version of some click-bait article.

That said, what it does read like is an encyclopedia because that's what it is. Now, there isn't anything wrong with that, except that the document format of the particular version I have could be greatly improved if it had cross-referencing hyperlinks. This is one of those times that paper beats electronic -- flipping back and forth with fingers holding your place.

Okay, so why choose this book? Subject matter, obviously. Did I realize that it would be an encyclopedia when I downloaded it? No. Was that a problem? No.

Gosse included an introduction to the book which was interesting in itself and while some entires are extremely brief, others contain stories, adventures, rises, falls and final judgments of many colorful characters. That's the heart of the book.

That said, it obviously wasn't meant to be read cover to cover, and I made it 28% of the way before moving on. Important to note: 1) I will get back to it, 2) I stopped because I had some writing to do. There was a flash fiction contest on the topic of pirates. I had thought, but I wanted some authentic background, other than looking up the differed between a buccaneer and a Corsair. I found some inspiration with stealing anyone's tales.

Unfortunately, the first draft was worse than usual, and I didn't have proper time for a second. I thought I might be able to sneak it in by, say, nine the next morning (because pirates break rules!) but the contest was already judged by that point! I guess there weren't any last minute entries.

Added note: I will get around to finishing that story. Hopefully before I finish this book.

Unfinished. I will return to it, which means either editing this entry or giving it a second one.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rickles' Book: A Memoir (Rickles, Ritz)

Rickles' Book: A Memoir, Don Rickles, David Ritz, 2007

I was taking lunch, walking down Pennsylvania Ave in Brooklyn when I passed a Thrift Shop with stacks of books outside. I saw Don Rickles' face on a cover with a sticker price of a dollar. For less than a cup of coffee, I had my subway reading. I picked up the book and then perused most of the rest of the shop (as long as I was there).

A quick flip through the book showed that it was written in 2-3 page chapters or vignettes. I assumed that they would be a collection of funny anecdotes and jokes, but it wasn't. Some were serious. Some were amusing but didn't exactly end in a punchline.

This book might be of interest to long-time Rickles fans, but I doubt the appeal would go much further. Little is mentioned about his life before comedy. He was a kid for a couple of chapters, then in the U.S. Navy, and then trying to establish himself in comedy. Along the way, he drops a lot of names. He talks Vegas, and mentions Hollywood. Oddly, I had only recently seen the clip from The Tonight Show when Rickles broke Johnny Carson's pencil box when Johnny wasn't there and the following night, Carson marched across the hall to the studio where CPO Sharkey was filming and confronted him. That story is included. Also mentioned is the longtime friendship with Bob Newhart, his connections to the Rat Pack and even Elvis.

And, of course, there's a story about his grandkids and Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story.

The one other amusing connection with this book is that while I was reading it, Rickles appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's show along with John Stamos, and then proceeded to talk a lot about Bob Saget.

Last amusing thought: the "other books by" page notes that David Ritz has written about a dozen "autobiographies" featuring the lives of a dozen different people. I think I need to look up that word because I'm not sure that that is the correct meaning of the word.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Darwin Awards: Intelligent Design (Northcutt)

The Darwin Awards: Intelligent Design, Wendy Northcutt, 2000

While covering for another teacher, I glanced at the books on her shelf, and I spotted this little gem of humor. The Darwin Awards are famous and shouldn't need an explanation. I read posts when they show up on social media, but I've never been to the actual websites where stories are posted, discussed and voted on. Nor have I read an entire book of them before.

THere are some amusing stories within these pages. On the other hand, they are also a bit sad. As you chuckle at others' misfortunes, you remember that these were real people, some of whom did very foolish things. And when they are grouped together by categories, they can get repetitive in nature. Maybe that's why I preferred some of the "Honorable Mentions" -- a person gets one of those, generally, by living through their spectacular lapse of judgment.

In addition to the anecdotes, each section has an actual science article as an introduction. It provides some insight as well as a needed distraction.

A quick read. Glad I read it, but I'm not quickly running out to find another one.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Van Gelder, ed)

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 2002, Gordon Van Gelder, editor

Catching up on my reading list, this is the first of several posts in the days ahead. >P?First off, okay, it's not a usual book. However, at 160 pages of mostly fiction, this one issue of the long-running genre magazine has more reading material than some of the actual books that I read.

I have quite a few SF/F magazines in the house. Most of them are issues of Analog because I had a subscription for a number of years, and I never could keep up with them. Where this issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction came from, I'm not sure. There's nothing to indicate that it was mailed to me (no label, or glue), so my guess would be that it was a freebie at a science fiction convention somewhere, most likely Lunacon, which is held (almost) every March.

I have a pool in my yard. I don't sit in read by the pool very often. On the other hand, I've started to like reading in the pool. This means no ebooks (obviously) and no books that I would care about if I "lost". That is, if they took the plunge. These decade-old magazines fit the bill nicely.

I can't say that I was ever a regular read of F&SF but this had a decent selection of stories. Also of note: there wasn't an editorial column up front, and of the "departments", Paul Di Filippo's Plumage From Pegasus: Press One For Literature read like another short story. Added bonus: to my knowledge, I've never read anything by Di Filippo before, but I have two novels in my closet in yet another "To Be Read" pile.

The stories covered a broad spectrum of the genre. There was a religious-based story, which I didn't quite understand, but didn't hate, and a cute retired superhero tale.

On the downside, the novella "Coelacanths" by Robert Reed left me scratching my head.

Albert E. Cowdrey's novelette left me wondering what I missed in his previous writing. This entry, "Ransom", was his third story in F&SF. It started in a different century than his prior two, so I thought I was safe. However, it quickly time-traveled farther into the future, into territory I felt that I should have been more familiar with. I must've put it down a few times before the actual story got going.

So there was some good, some bad, some ugly, but nothing to stop me from picking up another issue. Except that the summer is over, the pool is covered and I have stacks of books to read.