Monthly Archives: August 2013

Matt Adrian, It is Folly to Assume My Awesome Lies Dormant: the Paintings of the Mincing Mockingbird; I Have Heard My Praises Sung In Screams: The Paintings of the Mincing Mockingbird Volume II

Title: The Paintings of the Mincing Mockingbird, Volume I: It is Folly to Assume My Awesome Lies Dormant; Volume II: I Have Heard My Praises Sung in Screams

Author: Matt Adrian

Publication Information: Mincing Mockingbird, 2010, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-615-35804-8 (vol. 1); 978-0-615-79531-7 (vol. 2)

Library of Congress Classification: PN6231.B46

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Adrian, Matt—Humor
Adrian, Matt—Catalogs
Painting—United States—Catalogs
Birds in art—Catalogs

Under the name of the Mincing Mockingbird, Matt Adrian sells his paintings of birds. In two books, Adrian has images of his paintings accompanied by odd, bizarre and downright funny captions which, from what I can tell of his web sites, are apparently the titles of the paintings. The Frantic Meerkat, which can be found on the Mockingbird web site, is not only birds but different animals, including humans, with silly captions.

(2013-08-24 007)

The God of the Meadow

My favorite bird has always been the owl, and they are well-represented in the books: the snowy owl who gets tired of leering; the owl believing that he/she is the meadow god sent to punish the sins of mice; another snowy owl that rejects fellowship and admits to being a “dark sun” of rage. There are many different birds, but I could only recognize a few of them. The hummingbird on a sugar high made me laugh as did the profile of the dodo; if cloned, this bird’s first act would be to kill us all. Fair, since humans hunted the species into extinction. Then there’s the bird that didn’t finish high school but kept sea monkeys alive for two weeks (how many of us can say that?) and another who heard the moon laugh (and once was enough).

Whimsies Incognito in Tarrytown sells not only Adrian’s books but also his bird paintings. The large selection of bird paintings have contracted over the past several months until only four remain. There were a few really nice paintings of owls. Unfortunately, I did not buy them when they first came and now they are gone. I will have to wait for the next shipment; more bird paintings should be back in stock before the end-of-year holidays.

Adrian’s paintings are very nice, but combined with the titles/captions/whatever in the books, the result is just laugh-out-loud funny.

L. Sprague de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall

De Camp-Lest Darkness FallTitle: Lest Darkness Fall

Author: L. Sprague de Camp

Publication Information:  New York: Ballantine Books, 1983

ISBN: 0-345-31016-0 (i.e., 978-034-5310-16-3)

Library of Congress Classification: PS3507.E2344

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Time travel–Fiction

This is an old one, and a good one.

When I was young, I used to be an avid science fiction reader. I remember L. Sprague de Camp’s The Tritonian Ring fondly.  I still have the book. It was so much, with the protagonist being a cynical hero that, in the end, just gave up and walked away from a potential drawn-out fight with his brother for the rule of their city.

The protagonist of this book is Martin Padway, an American graduate student in Rome doing research for his Ph. D. On the first page, the idea of time travel is introduced as Padway’s host, Tancredi, discusses his idea of time “pockets” simply appearing here and there and people, who just disappear and are never seen again, having fallen through and into the past. Thus the entire premise of the book is introduced.

Padway falls into one of these holes, going from fascist Italy (the original copyright is 1939 and explains why there’s a remark about Mussolini) into Ostrogothic Italy. Rome is in ruins and civilization is slowly sinking into the Dark Ages. Now known as Martinus–to the general public he will later be known as Mysterious Martinus–Padway begins his attempt to save Western civilization from decline.

The first order of business is to get money, so he sells the coins he has for their gold and silver, making friends with a Goth who knows Latin. Slowly, Martin learns the Germanic spoken by the Ostrogoths, and secures a loan (after teaching modern math to the accountants of the banker) at a high interest rate–far higher than today’s rates. With the money, Padway invents brandy, which quickly becomes a hit and makes him a wealthy man. Then Padway “invents” a printing press and then a telegraph.

Right away Padway runs into problems with religion. The Ostrogoths, converts to Arian Christianity, are heretics in the eyes of the the mainstream Christians, being the Romans and the Byzantines, who later enter the picture. Nonetheless, the Goths tolerate the range of Christians and their beliefs. Padway knows history, and he knows that Justinian, an orthodox Christian and a zealot, would be a horrible master. Also, the disastrous war waged by Justinian’s armies lasted two decades, bringing Italy back into the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire but at a terrible price. The peninsula was completely ravaged and it would be centuries before the damage could be undone.

Sorcery is leveled at Padway, so he has to fight for his survival, eventually using his wealth to bribe an influential bishop.  In the end, Padway ends up serving as the quaestor of the king whose life he saves. He’s able to defeat Justinian’s armies, throw back an attack by the Franks, and also crown a new king. He explains away his “gift” as not so much being able to see the future but to see “paths” that can be changed if those around him listen and act accordingly. He tells them his religion is Congregationalist, coming from America, which no one has ever heard of.

What is perhaps most interesting of all in this book is the alien nature of Ostrogothic society, and that of the last of the Romans living under Gothic rule. There is no sense of a nation-state as we are used to; identity at this time was very fluid. Vandals and Alemani serve in Italy under the Ostrogoths. The “kingdom” as such is held together by the nobles who follow the king; a council of nobles elect–and can depose–a king. The Goths overall distrust those who read and write; they are mostly illiterate.

The Ostrogoths have no idea of cohesion; the reason to fight is for honor and booty, nothing more. Padway desperately tries to introduce military organization and tactics from the far future, but the Ostrogoths do not understand the purpose. Even the idea of the early type of Roman government is alien; the Romans resent Gothic rule and refuse to help, preferring the orthodox Justinian as their ruler. There is no other word for it: these medievals are stupid by our standards, seeing nothing past what already exists. There is no interest in being inquisitive and no interest in discovering the unknown or questioning the status quo; religion explains everything.

A really fun book, and a quick read.

Alan Furst, Mission to Paris: a Novel

Furst-Mission to Paris (2012-08-14 058)Title: Mission to Paris: a Novel

Author: Alan Furst

Publication Information: New York: Random House, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6948-4

Library of Congress Classification: PS3556.U76

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Motion picture producers and directors—United States—Fiction
World War, 1939-1945—France—Paris—Fiction
Paris (France)—History—1940-1944—Fiction

I used to read a lot of fiction as a child, but I usually read non-fiction. I got this book at a BookExpo a few years ago. This book is an easy read, and I really enjoyed it.

This novel is set in Paris in 1938. The protagonist, Frederic Stahl, is an actor living in California. He is really Franz Stalka, born in Vienna forty years ago. Surviving the First World War, Stahl eventually immigrated to the United States and eventually found himself as a movie star—not as big as Cary Grant or Marlene Dietrich, but people usually recognized him. A Lothario, Stahl likes women. A lot. Though Stahl never fought in the war, he is a rather brave and ethical man—whose character is sorely tested.

Finding himself in Paris to make a movie for Warner Brothers, Stahl settles into the city that he had lived in twenty years before. Right away he finds himself in the middle of web of intrigue. Because he’s not a naturalized citizen (Stahl never got around to filling out the papers for U.S. citizenship), he is viewed by the Nazis as a citizen of their Third Reich, and as such he should join their cause. Therefore, they use their operatives in Paris to bring Stahl to Germany.

I know something of the Second World War because of my graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh. However, my work primarily centered on southeastern and Central Europe. Whenever the German occupation of France was brought up by colleagues, I heard the same remark: there was more collaboration in France than the French wanted to admit. Now I understand what they meant.

French politics and society were polarized. A lot of Nazi money (probably confiscated from the German Jews) poured into France, given to French sympathizers of Hitler or simply the greedy who saw no problem in stopping anything that remotely threatened Franco-German relations, like rearmament. Strikes, protests and urban disturbances continued to erupt as supporters of rearmament fought those in appeasing—couched in the term of “eternal friendship”—with Germany.

Stahl plays the cat-and-mouse game for a while with the German supporters and agents until he realizes that his life may be in danger. He ends up in the U.S. Embassy. The Americans are trying to gather as much information on the Nazis, and Stahl ends up working as a spy—which really does endanger his life.

This book is a quick read, and I really enjoyed it.

Look What’s New at the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. There’s a big browsing section of what new books the library bought.

004Title: A New New Testament: a Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts

Editor and Commentator: Hal Taussig

Publication Information: Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-79210-1

Library of Congress Classification: BS2361.3

Dewey Decimal Classification: 225.52

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Bible. New Testament—Criticism, interpretation, etc.
Christian literature, Early—History and criticism

Usually I pass right by religious texts, but this one gave me pause and I ended up taking it out.

A New New Testament: a Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts is the traditional New Testament supplemented with ten added works from early Christianity not included in the traditional canon.

Hal Taussig, the editor and commentator, chaired a group of scholars who sat down and decided which ancient texts to add. (Their short bios are included.) Several, like The Gospel of Mary (probably Magdalene) and The Gospel of Thomas, were “lost” until recently discovered, many coming from the Nag Hammadi Library, found outside the Egyptian village in 1945. (Appendix 2 lists the books in each codex.) Of these, several manuscripts may now exist, copied at different times with subtle changes. Other texts, such as The Acts of Paul and Thecla, were never lost, just not included in the canon.

The Acts of Paul and Thecla is surprising. The revered St. Paul does not look so good in this work. He is seen as hesitant and negligent in his dealings with Thecla, a woman who wants to be baptized. Taking matters into her own hands, Thecla BAPTIZES HERSELF then PREACHES the gospels of Jesus to anyone who will listen, becoming a disciple.

No wonder the Christian writer Tertullian attacked this book in the 2nd century. Throughout this book, Thecla is seen as a leader standing up to government authority and cultural biases, all the while maintaining her faith. Ironically, this book was popular throughout the Middle Ages and was viewed as an appropriate reading for women and missionaries.

Taussig refuses to use the term “Christianity” because no one is sure when this term came into existence. Instead, he calls the early Jesus people “Christ movements,” plural because there were many different belief systems in existence early-on. I taught a politics and religion class at Purchase College, the State University of New York, in 2001 and I used the term “Christianities,” but the meaning is the same. There were many different versions of Christianity with radically different views of Jesus and God.

What we have today is Pauline Christianity, that version of Christianity which St. Paul taught and endorsed: Jesus as God, the Trinity, etc. This version of Christianity was adopted by Emperor Constantine; henceforth, all other Christianities were now viewed as heretical. The three major branches of Christianity (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) and any splinter groups are Pauline Christianity.

There is so much here. Each book, including those in the traditional New Testament, is introduced by Taussig. He includes a short bibliography at the end of every entry. The book also has: an overall introduction; Q&A on typical things asked about the New Testament; a companion section, consisting of nearly 100 pages of research; a bibliography; and subject and scripture indices.

ISBNs Added

You’d think that being a librarian I would have remembered to add the International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) to the reviews I’m doing, but I was so interested in including the Library of Congress class numbers and subject headings, that I overlooked them.

Before I get too many reviews to fix, I’ve gone back and added them. Henceforth, the ISBN will be in the new reviews.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Look What’s New at the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. There’s a big browsing section of what new books the library bought. This book I happened to come across and was happy that I did.

003Title: 101 Classic Toy Trains: Best of the Postwar Years

Author: Roger Carp

Publication Information: Waukesha, Wis.: Kalmbach Books, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-87116-410-0

Library of Congress Classification: TF197

Dewey Decimal Classification: 625.19

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Railroads—Models—Collectors and collecting
Models and modelmaking—History

This book is fun.

With all color pictures, Carp lists the 101 best trains and accessories (in his opinion) that have been released in the postwar period. Though Lionel trains dominate the entries, there are other companies whose trains, like Gilbert and Marx, that make the list. Even Plasticville, known to anyone who has anything to do with toy trains, gets a plug as one of the best-created accessories. Each entry not only gives the history of the item being discussed, but some of the corporate history of the toy manufacturer that created it. Carp is the editor of Classic Toy Trains magazine, so he knows his facts.

If you love toy trains, this is the book for you.

Matthew MacDonald, WordPress: the Missing Manual

057Title: WordPress: the Missing Manual

Author: Matthew MacDonald

Series: Missing manual

Publication Information: Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-449-30984-8

Library of Congress Classification: TK5105.8885.W66

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
WordPress (Electronic resource)
Blogs—Computer programs
Web sites—Authoring programs

Just a quick plug. I have found this book to be extremely helpful in my creation of my WordPress blogs.

Of course I haven’t read it cover-to-cover, but I have consulted it on several occasions, reading the parts that were relevant to me. I am using the WordPress site to host my blogs, so I cannot comment on whether or not this book would be useful for others with their own hosted-site.

Like all types of manuals, I have found some of the information dated. The copyright is 2012, but I assume the people behind WordPress have been tweaking their product. For example, the editing of a gallery has changed. According to MacDonald, by clicking on the box in the Post visual tab will not allow you to open and edit an existing gallery. When I clicked on the box, two icons in the upper left of the box appeared. Clicking on the first one opened the gallery I created so that I could edit it.

(To be fair, when I watched a WordPress video on how to create a way for readers to contact the blogger. I was told to click on an icon but the icons shown were gone; instead, buttons had replaced them. So what is on the WordPress site isn’t necessarily current, either.)

It’s hard to keep manuals up-to-date, but overall I found the information in WordPress to be very helpful. I went from knowing virtually nothing about WordPress to feeling much more confidant as I post and tweak my blogs to make them what I want. I just started a blog back in February to document my 3 months in Greece, and I knew virtually nothing about the site. Now I know much more.

I bought my copy, but this title should be available in your local public library.

John Lithgow, Drama: an Actor’s Education

(2013-07-12 133)Title: Drama: an actor’s education [UNCORRECTED PROOF]

Publication Information: New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-173497-7

Library of Congress Classification: PN2287.L473

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Lithgow, John, 1945-
Actors—United States—Biography.

As stated, this is an uncorrected proof, which I got at one of the publishers’ functions for librarians the day before Book Expo America a few years ago. John Lithgow attended, but no one got a chance to talk to him. He read the foreword of his autobiography to those assembled and then left. The foreword deals with his father’s recovery from a serious operation and his bouncing back to his jovial self before his death less than two years later.

Lithgow’s book is about his life as an actor: the pitfalls and the privileges that come with the job. However, his father is always off in the wings, so to speak, as Lithgow recounts his life and adventures on the New York stage as well as in Hollywood. Lithgow’s father comes back into the autobiography on a regular basis. His father had a big impact on his life.

Lithgow’s father wanted to be an actor but ended up directing plays and went wherever there was work. He took his family with him as he moved from town to town. This took a toll on young John, who would make friends in his new town only to leave a year or so later and to have to start all over again. This type of moving affected him deeply and probably helped create what Lithgow called his “delayed adolescence.” His father never offered comforting words to console his son; as the autobiography progresses, his father’s fatal flaw emerges.

There is no doubt that Lithgow loved his father, but his father—like all fathers who are, after all, only human—was never there to give support and advice as Lithgow grew up. Lithgow can remember his father being there for celebrations and all the good memories he has of family functions. However, whenever there was a problem or crisis his father, though present, never gave his opinion or advice. Lithgow married at 21 and recounts that his father never offered him any advice about how much work a marriage is, or that he was too young to get married. Lithgow later divorces his first wife after a string of affairs that he has over the years, scarring himself, his ex-wife, and their young son.

Lithgow does not give any details about the “wild parties” held by the cast of the various plays in which he acted. He mentions these parties early in the book. It is only within the last thirty or so pages that he admits to his infidelity. He then discusses how leads in plays and movies very often end up falling in love, at least until the end of the production, when reality returns.

I never paid much attention to John Lithgow (I pay little attention to Hollywood overall), but this was an open and honest portrait of someone who has been on the stage and before the camera for decades. From his childhood to his second marriage, Lithgow recounts his life and experience as an actor with candor and humor.