2017 A To Z Challenge – B

Challenge2017

When I sieved out the following list of B-word prompts, I was struck by how many of them could apply to me.  Rather than choosing only one, here are some random thoughts about a few of them.

Bibliophile
blood
baggage
belief
bold
books
beach
barn
blog

Letter B

My home town is halfway up the East coast of Lake Huron, in Ontario. It has 3 miles of lovely warm, soft, white sand beach.  It has become a vacation haven, and tourism is a large part of its financial wellbeing.

The town to the south gets only 1 mile of shoreline. The tiny tourist village to the north sits in the center of 10 miles of sandy shore.  Access to the water is good, and the swimming is wonderful but, in both cases, the sand barely reaches above the water level, and their beaches are flat, hard and damp.

My mother constantly read to me as a child, and I learned to read quite young. I became a bibliophile, a lover of books.  I am also a logophile, a lover of words, but all the wonderful words are in the wonderful books, so we’ll discuss that later.

Ray Bradbury said, “Libraries raised me.” My tiny little town had a tiny little library, about the size of a medium house.  It was only open two days a week.  The volunteer librarian was a former teacher.  It was here that I learned early, the value of linguistic precision.

The fine for late books was 2 cents, biweekly.  The intent was for 2 cents, per book, for each of the 2 weekly open days.  I stood beside a man who went and got a dictionary to show the librarian that ‘biweekly’ also meant ‘every two weeks.’  He would pay 2 cents, but not the 8 cents that she demanded.

A local man became a mining engineer. He located an ore field in Northern Ontario, staked a claim, and sold the rights to a mining firm which would extract the minerals.  With the initial payout and ongoing royalties, he retired early, as the town’s richest resident.

He and his wife were great readers, but they never had children. When his wife died, and he was facing his own mortality, he donated a large portion of his fortune to the municipality, to be used to build a library in memorial to his wife.  We got a fairly large (for a small town) new library, right beside the Town Hall.  His bequest bought lots more books, and an annuity paid for hired staff.

When I moved 100 miles to Kitchener for employment, it was easy to pack my luggage. I had very little.  I also had to pack my baggage – my propensity for procrastination, my learning disorders, my neurological syndrome which causes poor physical control and lousy short-term memory, as well as my autistic-type inability to read social cues, and make and hold friends.

I am more methodical, determined, and tenacious; I would never be described as bold. Having survived an interesting, if not terribly thrilling life, now in the twilight of my years, I can put these thoughts and remembrances down, and publish them in my blog.   😀

 

Reading Challenge – 2016

Reading challenge

Oh wow, yet another post about what I read last year.  Last year, I threatened vaguely hinted that I might list what I did/did not read, that filled the above Challenge list.  Not being a great team-player/rules-follower, the results are not impressive.  The covers are all shown back at ‘It’s All Newton’s Fault’, if you want another look.

A book published this (2016) year.
N/A I’m too busy trying to catch up on about four series, so that the next ‘unread’ one is less than 5 years old and I can borrow it from the library at no charge, to be bothered with anything less than a year old.

A book you can finish in one day.
Henry Freeman – The Crusades From Beginning To End
A 156 page disappointment, with no real information, not worth the price.

A book you’ve been meaning to read.
Jonathan Kellerman – Flesh And Blood
After owning it for 15 years, I finally got around to actually reading it. (See below)  A somewhat pedantic little procedural, nowhere nearly as interesting as his wife’s mysteries.

A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller.
N/A Years ago, there was a TV ad which touted, “You can always tell a Heinz pickle, but you can’t tell a Heinz pickle nothing.”
Heinz pickle = Grumpy Old Dude

A book you should have read in school.
N/A See last year’s statement.  Perhaps some of the Sci-Fi that I’m now rereading.  Maybe I should have got to them sooner.

A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF.
Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs And Steel
More ‘recommended’ than ‘chosen’, by my online BFF, BrainRants, it was an enlightening treatise showing how White Europeans ended up owning or controlling so much of the world.

A book published before you were born.
E.E. (Doc) Smith – The Spacehounds Of IPC
With Jim Wheeler’s prompt, I am rereading some old Sci-Fi.  I think I should get extra points for this one.  It’s hard to find books that were published before I was born.  This one was from 1931.  I also reread the original Buck Rogers, from 1928.  I refuse to reread The Bible.

A book that was banned at some point.
N/A I probably have read one at some point, because some of the most supposedly inoffensive books have been banned, somewhere, sometime, including Harry Potter.  I just didn’t actively search one out.

A book that you previously abandoned.
N/A

A book that you own, but never read.
Jonathan Kellerman – Flesh And Blood
I can’t believe that I was always so far ahead with books to read, that I didn’t get around to this one for 15 years.  Then I read it, and realized why.

A book that intimidates you.
William Patterson – Robert A. Heinlein biography – Part II
This was big, and dry – but ultimately, very rewarding.

A book you’ve already read at least once.
Aside from IPC and Buck Rogers, I also reread;
Isaac Asimov – Pebble In The Sky, and Nemesis
Robert A. Heinlein – Tunnel In The Sky
A. Bertram Chandler – The Far Traveller
John Brunner – To Conquer Chaos, The World Swappers, and The Super Barbarians as well as 10 other classic science fiction books.

With all those N/As, if I hadn’t seen the list of books I did read, I might have thought I didn’t really read much.  I just don’t read a lot of what some others feel is acceptable.  You read my posts last year.  Did you have time to read anything else?  😕

Dangerous Addiction

philosopher

It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then to loosen up. Inevitably though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.

I began to think alone – “to relax,” I told myself – but I knew it wasn’t true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.

I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don’t mix, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka.

I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, “What is it exactly we are doing here?”

Things weren’t going so great at home either. One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She just glared at me and then stalked out and spent that night at her mother’s.

I soon had a reputation as a heavy thinker. One day the boss called me in. He said, “Archon, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don’t stop thinking here at work, you’ll have to find another job.” This gave me a lot to think about.

I came home early after my conversation with the boss. “Honey,” I confessed, “I’ve been thinking…”

“I know you’ve been thinking,” she said, “and I want a divorce!”

“But Honey, surely it’s not that serious.”

“It is serious,” she said, lower lip aquiver. “You think as much as college professors, and college professors don’t make any money, so if you keep on thinking we won’t have any money!”

“That’s a faulty syllogism,” I said impatiently, and she began to cry.

I’d had enough. “I’m going to the library!” I snarled as I stomped out the door.

I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche. I roared into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors…. they didn’t open. The library was closed.

To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.

As I sank to the ground clawing at the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye. “Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?” it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinker’s Anonymous poster.

Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was “Porky’s.” Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.

I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed… easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.

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To that I say, “What the hell, one little thought can’t hurt you.” Careful brother, one little thought can lead to another.

 

THE DAY I FELL DOWN

Lighthouse

Chantry Island lighthouse off Southampton Ontario

 

Did I lead a charmed life as an active, adventurous young boy?? Did I actually put enough preventive thought and safety planning into some of my more life-and-limb-threatening activities?  Or is it just that what was, to a horrified adult retrospect, not really that dangerous?

How did some of us ever survive to grow up? Most (but not all) of my questionable young antics involved getting high – I loved to climb things.  I have written of being 9 years old, and scrambling to the topmost branches of a mighty, old oak, located on the highest elevation in town.

When I entered my teens, a trusted friend and I often crossed the river on the arching steel support trusses, beneath the new bridge, ignoring the possible 50 foot plunge to the river below. In the summer by boat, and in the winter by walking across frozen lake ice, groups of us went to an island a mile offshore, and climbed to the top of the 100 foot lighthouse.

It is possible that large rocks, and chunks of logs got up the inner stairways, and accidently fell on the roof of the attached, unused, derelict, century-old storage shed.  When the caretakers bricked up the entrance and added a steel door with a stout padlock, I went around the back, and used the 1 ½ inch copper lightning-ground cable to reach the observation level.  Apparently, only to prove I could.  These were reconnaissance missions only – no bombing runs.  The view of a flat lake, whether liquid or frozen, isn’t really that spectacular.

In the early 1950s, what passed for the cognoscenti of our little town were all agog, waiting for the release of a book. A ‘famous writer’ from Toronto, 100 miles south, had researched 8 lighthouses in the north end of Lake Huron, including ours.  When the book finally arrived at the General Store, I managed to sneak a copy off the shelf, and quickly read what he’d written.

He said that, after climbing the circular metal stairway inside the lighthouse, the view from the top was magnificent…. only; our lighthouse had solid wooden floors every ten feet, for storage, with unrailed wooden stairs ascending from level to level, East to West, then North to South, etc.

I don’t know if he ever actually set foot on the island, or just did his research from the pub. It was the first time I caught an author lying to me.  Sadly, it wasn’t the last.

Alone, and with my friend’s help, I reached the top of many of the town’s public buildings. The arena was easy, but boring.  I got to the roof of one church, and the top of the bell-tower of another.  He and I sat on the roof of the three-storey bank building at the main intersection.  When his mother was late, and he was locked out of the second floor apartment in the building next to it, we scampered up the front and went in the balcony door, or up to the roof and down through the skylight.

The view from the top of the 120 foot water tower, next to the oak on the hill, was worth it. The climb was simple.  A steel ladder reached to within 10 feet of the ground, but was right beside the overflow pipe.  A foot placed here, and a grab there, and soon we were at the top.

It was so easy that my girlfriend caught us lurking near it one evening, as she walked to the library, and wanted to know what we were up to.  When we explained, she demanded to accompany us.  With him pulling and me providing a shoulder, we all soon enjoyed the lights in the town 5 miles away.  Crazy!

The day I fell down, I started with my feet firmly on the ground. I was in Grade 7, and returned to school after a September lunch break, to find a gaggle of boys surrounding a burly Grade 8 lad.  Slowing to eavesdrop on the conversation, I heard that he was bragging that he knew a way to make someone unconscious. ‘Bet you don’t!’ ‘I bet I do!’

To prove his claim, he needed a victim willing volunteer.  Why is everyone looking at me?  “Now you need to take a deep breath and hold it.  I’m gonna get behind you and give you a bear-hug, and squeeze you really, really hard.  Don’t forget to hold your breath!”

….and I woke up with my face embedded in the blacktop. My nose was bloody.  My lips, especially the top one, were swollen, and I’d lost a tiny chip off the corner of one front incisor.  None of us, me included, really thought this thing through, did we?

“Why did you let me fall down?” “Well, you didn’t collapse.”  “How could I?  You were holding me up.”  He’d set me down, but apparently my knees were locked.  Instead of winding up in a limp pile at his feet, (would that have been any better?) I had pitched forward, like the mighty oak up the street, plowing a furrow with my face.

Nowadays, I ingest an OxyContin, and take along a pillow if I have to wind down a window in the car. Surely none of you readers were as foolish as me.  Do you have a childhood escapade you wish to admit to?   😉

Book Review #12

cymbalum mundi

This will be a review/discussion of a somewhat older book with the odd, Latin title of Cymbalum Mundi. First, let me just say that if, like me, you ever get a chance to read this book….DON’T!

Some time ago, I published a post about how The Church, at the beginning of the Renaissance, made torture a competitive sport, offering rewards, both secular and spiritual, for winners. Jim Wheeler made me aware of a book titled A World Lit Only By Fire, a history of the excesses and hypocrisies of the time.

I obtained it by asking for an inter-library loan. Within its pages, it mentioned another book which listed and mocked certain Church practices.  Always willing to learn more of the failures of the best of the Good Christians, when I returned ‘World’, I requested another special loan.

This book was written in 1537. The title is in Latin, because back then, all serious works were written in Latin, so that educated people in different countries could all read them.  I requested an English translation.  Two weeks later, I got a call to pick it up.  I left the wife in the car, and when I brought it out, I tossed it into her lap.  Fortunately, before I got out of the parking lot, she asked, “Do you read French?”

The author was a Frenchman named Bonaventure Des Periers. While he titled it in Latin, the original text is all French.  I might get the gist of a current French document, but not the detail this book required.  I immediately returned it, and the Library Lady told me, “You should have told us you wanted an English version.”   👿

Two weeks later, I got another call, and carefully checked it before taking delivery. The French copy came from the University of Waterloo, 5 miles north, in our twin city.  The second, English copy, also came from U of W.  I’ve personally borrowed from Wilfrid Laurier University, our neighbors’ second, smaller school, but let the librarians do the work on this one.

The Book – Cymbalum Mundi [The Noise of the World]
(The anticipated applause of his adoring readers)

The Author – Bonaventure Des Periers

The Review – I don’t know what I expected to get with this book, but I didn’t get it. It came with 4 pages of Foreword, 28 pages of Introduction, 5 pages of Notes, and 4 pages of Literary References – and none of it actually explained only 74 pages of allegory and allusion.

It consists of five small segments, beginning with a fake letter to a fake friend, explaining how he carefully translated this from the original Greek. This is followed by four small scenes from a Shakespeare-like play; only, A Midsummer’s Night Dream is lucid and crystal clear, compared to this.

Jupiter sends his son Mercury to Earth, to have an old book rebound. He falls in with three brigands who steal the book from his bag, by replacing it with a worthless book, the same size and shape, while they are drinking at an inn.

NOW:

Does Jupiter represent God?
Does Mercury, the Messenger, represent Jesus?
Is the book Mercury brings, the tattered Old Testament?
Does the new, rebound book represent the New Testament?
Are the thieves the rulers of the Church, who steal The Word, to sell to the masses and enrich themselves?
Is the fake book they substitute, the code of rules the Church uses to control the laity?
Is the hostess of the inn a stand-in for the Virgin Mary?
Is the real food and wine she serves them a denial of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation?

The problem is, he never actually says. One well-known historian, with a pile of evidence, says yes, while another, just as renowned, and with as big a pile of proof, says the exact opposite.  You can ‘make’ this book say anything you want it to.

I had hoped that it might show more of the excesses and failings of the Church. What it shows, is the tap-dancing necessary for any writer of this period to present some doubt, and cause people to think, without ending up chained to a post, tap-dancing on a large bonfire.

It was interesting, and in the end educational, but not really fulfilling.

Book Review #11

a world lit only by fire

Title: A World Lit Only By Fire

Author: William Manchester

When I published my Torture of Faith post, my well-read and well-respected visitor, Jim Wheeler, suggested the above book as background reference reading, to explain the historical era.

As too often happens, I whined and wheedled. My library didn’t have a copy that I could borrow for free.  The nearby Chapters bookstores didn’t have a copy in stock.  I could order one, but objected to actually paying for it.  Jim sensibly reminded me that I had obtained the copy of Malleus Malificarum(Wiki link) thru Inter-Library Loan; I could do the same with this one.

The book eventually arrived, not from the gigantic Toronto Library system, but from the King Township Public Library – Nobleton branch. King Township is part of what is known as the Holland Marsh, the most fertile part of Southern Ontario, north of Toronto.  Nobleton is a town of 4000 located within it.  Why this rural area would have a copy of this book, when the metropolis doesn’t, is a mystery.

I was in love with it before I even got through the introduction. It introduced me to the word ‘catenas’, which are things or occurrences that lead inevitably, like links in a chain, from one to the next.  Like the chain they describe, I linked it to two other words I already knew, ‘catenary’ which describes the shape of a free-hanging chain, (Think McDonalds Golden Arches – or the St. Louis arch.) and ‘concatenation’, which is the formation of a chain of events.  I know!  There’s only two people in the world who give a shit about this verbal trivia – and I’m both of them.

This book describes Europe from about 1500 to 1550, just at the end of the Dark Ages, and the beginning of the Renaissance. Martin Luther and Henry the Eighth both split from The Church, and it was losing control, and its collective mind.  Catholics tortured and burned Protestants at the stake.  Protestants tortured and burned Catholics.

This book should be required reading for all the blindly-believing ‘Good Christians’, especially Catholics. It describes over two hundred years of some of the most sinful, licentious behaviour of The Church, from the local priests, right up to the Archbishops and Pope.  The Church was operated for the benefit of the religious leaders.

Tithe money bought opulent palaces and jewels and extravagant clothing – and wars to conquer countries to wring more money from. While thousands starved in the fields, the Pope threw lavish, drunken parties.

Sex was a competitive sport. The Vatican supported two whorehouses, which explains people with the name Pope.  They are descendants of bastard sons.  Many convents operated as brothels, funneling money from the nobility and rich merchants into The Church.

Positions in The Church were bought and sold, so that the buyers could gain more power and income. Several Popes simply appointed friends and relatives.  One Pope made Bishops of two young nephews who had absolutely no religious training.  Indulgences were handed out like Halloween candy.  If you gave The Church enough gold, you could commit any act, and still go to Heaven.

I’ve run into most of this information piecemeal, but it was both pleasant and disturbing to see it all laid out in an all-you-can-sin buffet. The religiously-naive would be horrified to see the quiet, historical listings of all the mistakes of the ‘Infallible’ Popes, the changes in the ‘unchanging’ Catholic Church, and the gamut of sins of all the ‘Holy, Sanctified’ religious leaders.

Until this time, many rulers, both religious and nobility, were illiterate and ignorant – and proud of it. Peasants knew only what they were told. Even the elite were only vaguely aware of occurrences at any distance, and days, weeks, months after they occurred.  After Gutenberg perfected the printing press, more people learned to read, and knowledge began flowing – the beginning of the end for the Church’s control.

The Church had invented Purgatory as an extortion racket. It all came to a head when one Pope wanted money to wage yet another war.  The selling-indulgences scheme had folded faster than a Kardashian at a spelling bee, so the Pope announced that, for those who ‘donated’ enough gold, time spent in purgatory by relatives could be reduced or eliminated by his prayers.

The now widely-read Martin Luther published a tract questioning if that were true, and asking why the Pope wouldn’t do so merely for the sake of supposedly good Christian souls and their obedient kin still here on Earth, and not for the money, “like some brazen harlot”.

While it could still use some updating and improvement, the Catholic Church is a thousand times better today than it was five hundred years ago. If you’d like a look at a time when peasants were regarded as worth less than the animals they kept, and society was run to wretched excess by hypocritical, entitled rulers, both secular and religious, this would be an enlightening book.   😯

Reading Challenge

I just want to make it perfectly clear. I may – or I may not – participate in and/or successfully complete the 2016 Reading Challenge, shown below.  Since reading is always good for you, I suggest you consider trying it.  Next year, I may or may not tell you how I did.  For now, I’ll tell you how it would have turned out, applied to 2015.

Reading challenge

A book published this year

Since the year is still very young, I’ll list ‘The Fold’, an alternate dimension Sci-Fi by Peter Clines. It was released late in July/15.  I received it from the Library on January 3/16, and returned it on January 7/16 because there was another person with a reservation against it, waiting to read.

A book you can finish in one day

‘Refuting Evolution’ was only 132 pages. I could have finished it in a day, but since I often read three books at a time, I didn’t.  As a tween, pre-television, I once took out two Hardy Boys mystery books from the library at 7:00 PM, and had one of them finished by 9:00.

A book you’ve been meaning to read

At any given time, I have 20+ books ahead of me. I (eventually) mean to read them all.  I read one book by Faye Kellerman, but possess a hard-cover book by her husband Jonathan Kellerman, which I’ve had for almost 15 years.  Maybe I’ll get around to it this year.

A book recommended by your librarian or book seller

Both my regular book-lady at the market, and librarians, see my eclectic choices and know better than to suggest anything. Book-lady just makes me aware if any books from my preferred-authors list have come in.

A book you should have read in school

I read them all in school. I had my 6 yearly book reports in by the end of September.  I read sections of English Lit texts that weren’t even assigned.

A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child or BFF

Nobody chooses for me.  I inherit the occasional book from the son’s overflowing library.  Ted @ SightsNBytes told me about the ‘Repairman Jack’ series.  Jim Wheeler recommended ‘A World Lit Only By Fire’.  BrainRants suggested ‘Guns, Germs And Steel’, which I am currently reading, now that the Library finally notified me that it was ready to pick up.

A book published before you were born

Are you kidding?? I have an autographed, first-edition of The Ten Commandments.  In 2015 I read ‘Malleus Maleficarum’, and ‘Cymbalum Mundi’, both written around 1500.  I own The Collected Stories of Sherlock Holmes, from the 1880s.  In 2014 I borrowed ‘The Bible Unmasked’ from a local university library.  The hardback was dated 1906.  I have 1960s, paperback copies of Ralph Milne Farley’s ‘Radio Planet’, written in 1914, and the original Buck Rogers novel, published as a serial in 1918.

It is possible, though not likely, that another such old book may arise in 2016, but I’m not going out of my way, just to fill an online quota.

A book that was banned at some point

Banned where? Boston?  USA?  Iran?  I read books which hold relevant interest for me.  Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Satanic Verses just don’t do it.  See ‘Quota’ above.

A book you previously abandoned

Again with the kidding! Any book I choose must hold at least some value.  Even if I find I’ve chosen poorly, I slog through to the end.  The only book I’ve ever abandoned, unfinished, was L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘Dianetics.’  After a month, still not done, I said, Fun’s fun – but this ain’t it.  He didn’t take it seriously, why should I?

A book you own but never read

I hereby solemnly swear to finally read Jonathan Kellerman’s 2001 hardback, ‘Flesh And Blood’ this year – probably around June. Take me to task if it doesn’t show up on next January’s list.

A book that intimidates you

The 1200 page size of ‘Hell’s Gate’ was a bit intimidating, but I stuck with it to the end. Both ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ and ‘Cymbalum Mundi’ were written in Bible-style English.  ‘Mundi’ was also allegorical, and almost indecipherable.  My thanx to the female scholar who added pages of notes to explain.  Manchester’s ‘World’ was dense.  If I can understand them, they don’t intimidate me.  If I feel I won’t understand, I simply don’t read.

A book you’ve already read

It would have to be science fiction. All other books are traded in for newer ones.  With so many ahead of me, I seldom go back.  In 2015, I reread Heinlein’s ‘The Door Into Summer.’  I may pull out a couple more this year.  I’m considering downloading a $2 Kindle version of ‘The Dark Light Years’, by Brian W. Aldiss.  It’s easier than digging into the storage area under the basement stairs.

I’ve got a shitty memory, but I don’t understand those who reread, and re-reread books.  Like the neighbor who boasted that he’d seen ‘Titanic’ 8 times – the boat sinks, everybody drowns, the hero ain’t gonna make it this time.  Didn’t you get it the first time?

Read me! Then go out and read something else – and tell us about it.