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© 2004-2016 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Celebrity Gets Tongue-Bath, Big Surprise

I watched NBC’s Commander in Chief Forum last night. It was even worse than I expected: Matt Lauer treated Clinton like a hostile witness, Trump like a celebrity. I guess that’s what they mean when they say the media grades Trump on the curve: celebrities aren’t expected to know much, and it’s somehow unfair to call them out the same way you’d call out a politician.

Where to even start with Trump? Three months ago he complained about Japan not paying enough for American military protection and not having a bigger military of its own. Why, you’d almost think he’d missed history class the day the teacher explained that as part of Japan’s surrender in 1945 it agreed to pay for building and maintaining American bases on its soil (which it does to this day) and to have only a token self-defense military of its own, too small to threaten its neighbors. But Trump’s lack of knowledge about our military relationship with Japan didn’t seem to bother anyone else; god knows his other displays of ignorance are so magnificent this one seems trivial in comparison.

I’ll tell you where I start … and end … with Trump:

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He’s a birther. What else do you need to know?

There probably isn’t a Facebook or Twitter user out there who hasn’t unfriended or blocked some obnoxious asshole or another. So far the only ones I’ve blocked have been birthers. I messaged each of them before pulling the plug, telling them I couldn’t be friends with racists. Each of them responded with a variation of this: “I’m not a racist, I just have legitimate concerns about Obama’s citizenship.” Sorry, you’re a racist and we’re done. And I have always been done with Trump.

Are the debates, if Trump doesn’t make up some excuse to weasel out of them, going to be a repeat of what we saw on NBC last night? One of the scheduled moderators, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, has already lowered the bar by saying it’s “not my job” to challenge what candidates say during the debates. If I thought for a minute that meant not challenging anything either candidate says, I might take heart that the moderators will at least be even-handed. But you watch: they’ll challenge and fact-check Clinton on almost everything she says … not-challenging will apply only to Trump.

Trump won’t talk about his birtherism. Journalists and reporters have decided to go along with that. When’s the last time you heard any of them ask Trump about it, to his face? Prediction: if Clinton brings it up during the debates, the moderators will try to shush her. And then they’ll ask about her emails.

Tell you what, if I were Hillary I’d seriously consider not answering any more email questions. I’d say what Trump says about his birtherism: I don’t talk about that. See how far that gets me. What the fuck, the media’s in the tank for Trump anyway.

It’s all down to voters, particularly those of us who won’t let the media pull the wool over our eyes. Let’s pray there are enough of us.

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Tuesday Bag o’ Whatever

whatever_tote_bagI made excuses and skipped the gym for an entire week. Yeah, busy yadda yadda … but coulda shoulda. Happy to report I’m back at it as of this morning, and have now added treadmill time to my workout. It’s a far better way to start the day than sitting down at the computer first thing and reading the same old shit on Facebook.

Hurricane Newton is working its way up Baja California and the Sea of Cortez, and the skies in southern Arizona are clouding over. It will no longer be a hurricane by the time it gets here, but we can hope for cooler temperatures and some rain.

When I came home from a visit to the air museum Friday afternoon, the cat carrier was on the kitchen island and Donna was holding our old girl Chewie in her lap. It was time. Chewie, who had her 21st birthday last month, was ready. She didn’t make a peep on the way to the vet’s, and she went peacefully and quickly. We buried her in the back yard that night, marking her grave with a stone.

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Departed this station September 2, 2016: Chewbacca, aka Chewie

The dogs are upset, more so because a week ago our daughter Polly, who had been living in our guest bedroom, moved out and took her two cats with her. We always insisted Polly keep those cats out of our sight, but Chewie and the two dogs knew they were behind the closed door of that bedroom. Now there’s no Chewie, no strange cats behind the door … I pray the dogs aren’t thinking “Maybe we’re next,” but they’re definitely on edge.

Polly moved in with her new boyfriend. Some of her stuff is still here, and she still has furniture at her former boyfriend’s house in Ajo. Her life probably isn’t any less chaotic than it has been, but she’s working, she has a car (our old Lincoln), and she has a place to live that isn’t under her parents’ noses, so that’s good, right? I hope it lasts (by which I mean I hope this guy marries her and that saying so out loud won’t jinx it) … we love our daughter, but we don’t want her moving back in.

It feels strange to have the place to ourselves after sharing it with an adult child for a year and two months. I was going to say this suddenly roomy and peaceful home will take getting used to, but who am I kidding? We’re already used to it, and might even change the locks to make sure we stay that way! All kidding aside, cross your fingers for Polly, okay?

Many are asking why the media, instead of exclusively picking at Hillary Clinton’s emails or minor issues with her and her husband’s charitable foundation, isn’t giving air time to Trump’s many for-real scandals. I was scratching my head about that, because I see a lot about Trump’s scandals on social media and the political and news websites I read daily … and then it dawned on me that I’ve almost totally switched over to alternative media: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, political websites.

I’ve given up on network and cable news. I turn on NPR in the morning, but mentally tune out their political reporting. I only read the New York Times when friends pass on links to articles and op-eds that sound interesting (and aren’t NYT’s trademark Hillary-bashing). I turned my back on mainstream corporate media precisely because they do indeed focus on imaginary Hillary Clinton “scandals” while giving Donald Trump a free pass. But that’s not what’s happening on social media and the web, where lots of people are asking hard questions about Mr. Trump.

Am I worried the mainstream media will do to Hillary Clinton what they did to Al Gore in 2000? Yes, a little. They’re certainly trying. The skepticism about the mainstream media’s message I see on social media and the web does give me hope, however. After all, not everyone was fooled in 2000, and Al Gore did win the popular vote. I still think Hillary Clinton will win both the popular and electoral college vote, and by a comfortable margin.

And that, my friends, is all the political blogging I can stomach this morning.

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Air-Minded: PASM Photoblog VI

Pima Air & Space Museum is getting ready to open a new display hangar for WWII-era aircraft and artifacts. Not all the new exhibits are here … some are coming from as far away as Australia and England … so the official grand opening date is still up in the air, but the “soft opening” is set for Tuesday. Yesterday, museum volunteers were allowed in for the first time, even though the restoration team was still moving aircraft and exhibits around inside, with all the attendant dust and commotion you’d expect.

I saw several aircraft that have been at PASM for a while, moved over from other hangars: our Bell P-39 Airacobra, the Nakajima Hayabusa fighter, the Canadian Bristol Bolingbroke, and our B-25 Mitchell. As always in my photoblogs, you can click on the thumbnails to see the original full sized photos on Flickr.


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Airacobra

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Hayabusa

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Mitchell

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Bolingbroke


New to the museum (and to me): a Canso (Canadian-built PBY Catalina), a Consolidated Privateer (naval version of the B-24 Liberator), the fuselage of a Lockheed Lodestar, and a Bat (an early anti-shipping radar-guided rocket-propelled bomb carried by Privateers in the last year of WWII).

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Canso

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Privateer

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Lodestar

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Bat


Still to come? I know we’re getting a P-40 Warhawk and a Spitfire. There are rumors of a P-47 Thunderbolt and P-38 Lightning. Parts and pieces of a wrecked Soviet Ilyushin IL-2 Shturmovik have been in the restoration hangar for years, and I understand they’re finally going to put it back together for display, along with two Japanese suicide planes that have been sitting in a storage room, the Tsurugi and a trainer version of the Okha Cherry Blossom. Some of these exhibits will go into the new display hangar, some into other hangars.

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Shturmovik

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Shturmovik

Tsurugi Kamikaze plane in Sep 2013

Tsurugi

Okha "Cherry Blossom" flying bomb trainer in Oct 2012

Okha trainer


Oh, I almost forgot: our pretty little 1950s French fighter-bomber, the Dassault Mystère IV, is now parked outside on fighter row.

Dassault Mystère IV

Mystère

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Mystère selfie

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Mystère

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Expanding the Ministry

2013-10-12 16.55.29Aye, I do some ministerin’. I signed up for a mail-order Universal Life Church ordination about 15 years ago in order perform weddings for Hash House Harrier friends. Word spread, and before I knew it I was also marrying non-hashing friends and relatives, then random couples (no disrespect intended, if any of them are reading this) off the street.

Last year I was asked, for the first time, to officiate at a memorial service. At the time I thought well, that circle’s now complete. I knew the young lady who died, and maybe that made writing and performing her memorial service harder. I don’t know. Maybe it’s always hard.

A few days ago our friend Ann asked me to officiate at a memorial for her father, who died last week. I didn’t hesitate. I can’t say I knew Ann’s dad, but we had met and he’d made an impression on me. Ann already had some readings in mind, and the two of us worked together on the ceremony.

Donna and I met everyone in the library of the historic Arizona Inn yesterday morning: Ann and her husband Ross, her sister Susan from Montana, the deceased’s spouse Kenneth, and Robin, an old friend of Ann’s dad. I managed to get through the ceremony and the readings without tripping over too many words. The seven of us had a long lunch at the Inn afterward, and if things work out Ann and Ross might drop by this weekend, maybe even visit the air museum on Labor Day to ride on one of my tram tours.

Ann and Ross live far away, in Melbourne, Australia. They came to Tucson every year to visit Ann’s dad, and we’d catch up with them. I don’t expect they’ll be back after this. A trip to Australia’s not in the cards for us. This’ll probably be our last time together. We’ll remain friends, of course, staying in touch by mail and Facebook and all that, but still. It’s a sad time for many reasons.

I mentioned working at the air museum Monday. I forgot Labor Day is also a volunteer day, and was making plans to do some smoking and grilling before the light clicked. Maybe I’ll pick up some ribs later today and fire up the Fortress of Smoke™ Sunday instead.

Construction on the air museum’s new exhibit hangar is finally complete. The “soft opening” is Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. There’ll be an official public opening early in 2017, after a few newly-acquired WWII aircraft have arrived and been put on display. But there’s some cool stuff in there now, including two aircraft I haven’t gotten a close look at yet, a PBY Catalina and a Privateer, and today they’re opening up the new hangar just for us, the volunteers. I’ll be there later this morning, armed with DSLR camera and tripod, and you can expect a new Air-Minded photoblog soon.

Our daughter Polly’s moving out of the guest bedroom and into her new boyfriend’s place. She hasn’t slept here for a couple of weeks; in fact we’ve barely seen her at all. Sometime while we were away yesterday she must have come back to fetch her cats and some of her clothing. I don’t know what’s next for her, but since you’ve shared some of our experiences with her over the past 14 months, I’ll continue to keep you posted.

Have camera, will travel. Back soon.

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Recharging My Battery

A good motorcycle ride will do that every time.

Here’s a four-minute GoPro video I put together yesterday after a ride to Arivaca, one of the oldest settlements in southern Arizona. The town is located just 11 miles north of the Mexican border, dead center in one of the Southwest’s busiest drug smuggling and migrant corridors. Toward the end of the video, in fact, you’ll see me stopping at a “temporary” US Border Patrol checkpoint (a polite fiction: that checkpoint’s been there as long as I’ve lived in Arizona, 19 years now).

Arivaca’s one of my favorite local area rides, a 150-mile round trip from my home in northeast Tucson. Getting there involves riding from one corner of the city to the other, then south on Interstate 19 through Green Valley to Amado … a blah ride, nothing to write home about … but the payback comes on Arivaca Road, a nearly-deserted two-lane blacktop through gorgeous country with rolling hills and curves. You have to keep an eye out for wandering cattle (it’s open range country down there), but what a ride. Each of the short clips I spliced together to make this video was filmed on the road to and from Arivaca.

I stopped at the Gadsden Coffee Company in Arivaca, a popular destination for motorcyclists, and enjoyed a cup of dark roast under the shade of a tree. An hour later I retraced my way home, making a quick selfie stop at the old Longhorn Grill in Amado.

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A nice day, my Sunday, and I hope yours was too.

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Dog Days

It’s National Dog Day. Everybody gets a belly rub!

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While we’re at it, let me plug a favorite Twitter account, @DogSolutions.

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So peace. Such soothe. Deg best antidote to times of hate.

My cell phone rings all the time now. Spam, scams, once in a while someone calling the Tucson Police Department’s seized property division (transpose two digits and you get me instead). This is a new thing: sure, we get spam calls on the landline all the time, but up to now only a few on our cell phones. Suddenly it’s several a day. I don’t answer unless it’s someone I know, but still, what a pain in the ass. Our cell phone numbers are on the national Do Not Call list; obviously they’ve found a way around that.

Yesterday the office landline started ringing. Our old office phone doesn’t have caller ID so I answered. It was a robocall from a credit union. I was about to hang up when I realized the recorded message was from the credit union that handles our car loan. It instructed me to fax an insurance document. What, they couldn’t call in person or send a letter? Am I wrong in thinking that’s not how you conduct business, that if it’s official, you call in person or send a letter by post? In the end I hung up, but made sure to tell Donna about the call. Turns out Donna was on it: they’d sent a real letter last week and the paperwork they wanted was in that day’s stack of outgoing mail.

If I die first, the worst that’ll happen is Donna will have to hire a kid to work the remotes so she can watch Call the Midwife. If Donna dies first the cars will be repossessed, the utilities cut off, and the house foreclosed before I get a handle on the checking account and monthly bills.

Oh, for the life of a dog!

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Paulgram, Instagram, Abstigram

Did you know I write email newsletters from time to time? They’re called PaulGrams, and I just sent one out this morning. You have to subscribe to get them; the signup box is on the left sidebar under PaulGram (duh). Just enter your email address and click “Subscribe” (duh again). Don’t worry, I won’t flood your inbox with them … the first one went out on Christmas Day, 2015, and today’s newsletter was just number three.

The latest PaulGram celebrates my 21st anniversary of publishing online. The original Half-Mind Catalog went online in August 1995, the humble beginning of today’s vast pwoodford.net publishing empire. Gosh, where does the time go? And when do I start getting paid?

Speaking of web empires, I now have Instagram and Pinterest accounts, and have posted lots of photos. Link up if you’re interested, and I’ll follow back.

Back in March I marked another anniversary, my ninth year of not drinking. I’ve learned not to toot my horn about that too often. People are defensive about drinking—my Hash House Harrier friends in particular—and they don’t like wet blankets and party poopers. But over the last few years I’ve seen drinking expand into places and situations that were once thought inappropriate. If you don’t live in a state that still enforces blue laws, you can now drink in movie theaters and even department stores, and I’m talking hard liquor. Where next? The DMV?

I was raised to believe there are times and places for drinking, and that the surest sign of alcoholism is starting to drink at the wrong times and places. When I first quit drinking, nights were the hardest thing to deal with, because that had always been drinking time. Places and situations were easier to avoid. I stayed away from bars, avoided friends who drank heavily, and made sure I had a bailout option—a car stashed somewhere nearby—for when the hash circle started to drag. Later on, once I was sure I wouldn’t be tempted again, I loosened up.

I had an easier time stopping than most people (I don’t know why, I just did). At first, though, I felt like this woman, who talks about “dog-paddling through the booze all around me.” How hard must it be for people who need to quit when everyone around them, almost everywhere they go, at almost any time of day, is drinking? Unless you go live with the Amish, it’s difficult to keep drinking culture at arm’s length.

It’s especially hard for young people, those who least want to listen to anti-drinking talk, because they’re going to live forever and they can quit any time they want, etc. On my other blog I’ve written about sexual assaults at hash events. Most hashers are young, and most of them drink. The kind of hash events where sexual assaults have taken place—the ones I know about, anyway—are pretty much all about drinking. Knowing what we know about college drinking and campus rape, it’s pretty obvious there’s a connection between drinking culture and rape culture. I’m not saying one causes the other, but there is a clear connection, as strong at the hash as it is on campus. Hashers don’t want to hear that shit, neither do students … and neither did I, when I was younger.

Speaking of drinking, are we sure Donald Trump doesn’t? I’m starting to have my doubts.

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Paul’s Book Reviews: Memoir, Essays, Fiction

“Rivers perhaps are the only physical features of the world that are at their best from the air. Mountain ranges, no longer seen in profile, dwarf to anthills; seas lose their horizons; lakes have no longer depth but look like bright pennies on the earth’s surface; forests become a thin impermanent film, a moss on the top of a wet stone, easily rubbed off. But rivers, which from the ground one usually sees only in cross sections, like a small sample of ribbon—rivers stretch out serenely ahead as far as the eye can reach. Rivers are seen in their true stature.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh, “North to the Orient

north to the orientNorth to the Orient
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
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Whenever I read anything by or about Charles Lindbergh, I feel a personal connection. That, in turn, engenders a feeling of connection to Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It’s entirely illusory, this connection, but strong nonetheless: Lindbergh was an icon to me, still a heroic figure when I was a boy in the 1950s, quite possibly a major influence on my decision to become an aviator later in life. Anne was the beautiful woman who married this heroic figure, the most famous man in the world at the time, who went adventuring with him as copilot and radio operator, who suffered with him after the kidnapping and death of their first child, who stuck with him when his reputation bottomed out in the late 1930s and early 1940s, who became an environmentalist, who found her voice as a writer.

Yes, adults who had been around in the late 1930s and early 1940s knew Charles Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer, anti-semite, and racist. They wanted to keep their heroes, though, and didn’t allow any of that to be taught in schools. As far as children in the 1950s knew, Lindbergh was as a pure a hero as he was in 1927 when he flew from New York to Paris. I learned about the other stuff as an adult, along with revelations of bigamy: a secret wife and children in Germany, children by yet other women.

None of this lessened my admiration of Anne, or my desire to read something she’d written. Learning later still that Anne herself had feet of clay and had had more than one extramarital affair—not that a woman of her era would ever write about either her own husband’s or her own infidelities—made me want to read her even more. Even her own embrace of fascism during the heyday of Hitler, which damaged her reputation along with Charles’, did not dissuade me.

I chose “North to the Orient,” her first book, the memoir of a epic 1931 flight of exploration to map potential air routes across the roof of North America and westward to Russia, Japan, and China.

This is a fascinating, lyrically-written little book; an engrossing read, conveying—without unnecessary detail—what it was like to pioneer air routes that had never been flown before: the preparation, the equipment and survival gear so meticulously packed into compartments and pontoons, Anne’s experiences learning to send and receive Morse code from the cockpit and the constant reeling out and in of the long trailing antenna,, navigating by compass and landmarks below, harrowing descriptions of blind descents in fog.

Her descriptions of the places they visited, places only a handful of people had ever been to, are fascinating and well told: isolated trapping outposts and Eskimo villages, the Kamchatka Peninsula, remote Japanese islands, teeming China. Some of her casually-related details will jar modern sensibilities; in particular Anne’s acceptance of the cultural separation of European whites from everyone else as the natural order of things, so apparent in her descriptions of tiny Canadian and Alaskan settlements, where the few white inhabitants segregated themselves from indigenous inhabitants.

Anne was a shy woman who had been raised to efface herself; this is ever apparent in her writing. I now want to read her later diaries and letters (there are several collections of these in print) to see how she developed as a person once her husband’s heroism had faded, once she herself had experienced adversity and discontent, once she had become her own woman. I don’t know what I will find, but that’s part of the adventure.

fields of fireFields of Fire
James Webb
4_0

I took my sweet time getting around to reading this famous Vietnam War novel: 38 years, in fact. Vietnam was huge in my life, though like many other young men of my generation I didn’t go. I had a deferment. I protested while other young men my age fought. I have always felt guilty about that. I think most of us—the draft dodgers, the lucky ones with deferments—came to feel that way, some sooner, some later. Over time, we came to admire those who answered what they felt to be the call of duty.

I use the word duty intentionally, because James Webb exemplifies it, both in his novel and his career in government and politics. I met the man in Washington DC in the 1980s. He was a deputy secretary of defense and I was an Air Force major sent to brief him on a readiness program my command was developing. He radiated duty. He was the kind of man words like principle and probity and rectitude were invented for. At the time I knew he had been a Marine officer in Vietnam and that he had been wounded there. I did not know about his novel, but when I got back to headquarters everyone told me about the book.

Huh. This review is turning out to be more about me than about the book. Funny how that happens when Vietnam, and having not served there, looms so large in one’s life.

“Fields of Fire” is as gritty and realistic as it gets, from shitting in catholes to ringworm and intestinal parasites to being pinned down by relentless machine gun fire from a tree line on the edge of a rice paddy. It’s hard today to read of gooks and VC and starving villagers, but that is how it was and Webb never flinched from it. It’s hard to read of fragging, but that was part of it too. It’s hard to read of young marines becoming so inured to war and to the Vietnamese they were nominally sent to assist that they would strip a dead girl naked just to see her pussy. But that too is how it was, and Webb includes it all. It is almost unbelievably intense; one fire fight after another, dead comrades left and right; but that too is how it was, and Webb captures it all.

Webb succumbs to preachiness in one final chapter, when the college boy Goodrich comes home—minus the leg he lost in a firefight that resulted from his own carelessness and which cost the lives of the best men in his platoon—and Goodrich’s father speaks for James Webb (I think), lecturing about duty, but this is a mere page in what is otherwise the most intense novel of ground warfare I have ever read.

This book. It’s like “The Call of the Wild,” a book that should be in every young man’s library. It’s the seminal novel of the Vietnam war. Shame on me for putting the experience off for so many years, and yes, experience is the word I meant to use. “Fields of Fire” is to be experienced, not merely read.

girl with giftsThe Girl with All the Gifts
M.R. Carey
4_0

I used to love a good zombie movie, but a zombie book? After wading through “World War Z” a few years ago I thought I’d paid my dues. Zombie stories are best told in movie format, nice and short. The stories are so simple, after all … you don’t need more than an hour and a half to satisfy your zombie hunger, and you certainly don’t need to spend days reading a 450-page novel about the poor creatures.

But then Hollywood cashed in on George Romero’s originality, and the zombie movie genre became diluted with hundreds of knockoffs. Buried in that pile of cinematic crap, however, two British films stood out: “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.”

I don’t know if there’s any intentional connection between those movies and M.R. Carey’s novel, but “The Girl with All the Gifts” goes deep into the 28 Days/28 Weeks universe, deeper than I expected, and is a marvelous read: exciting, fascinating, satisfying. Of course it’s all bullshit, this zombie stuff, but what great bullshit this novel is!

By which I mean I was wholly taken in; I entered M.R. Carey’s universe and engaged with the characters and the situations they found themselves in as if they were real. The only time I was tempted to say “Oh, come on!” was when the intrepid band of humans (and one zombie) find the safe haven of an unmolested armored research vehicle in the heart of an abandoned and looted London, but I forgave the author that small deus ex machina.

This is a hell of a good read. A beach book among beach books, the zombie novel.

partly cloudy patriotThe Partly Cloudy Patriot
Sarah Vowell
3_5

“The Partly Cloudy Patriot” is a collection of magazine pieces, radio readings, and original essays (the title piece, for example), similar to Sarah Vowell’s earlier collection “Take the Cannoli.” There is no unifying theme, as with later books like “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” “Unfamiliar Fishes,” “The Wordy Shipmates,” and “Assassination Vacation.”

Unless, that is, you enjoy reading anything Sarah Vowell writes, as I do, in which case the theme is Sarah Vowell herself: her worldview, her likes and dislikes, her life, her family. Here’s part of the review I wrote after reading “Take the Cannoli”:

“Sarah is a great observer of people, places, moods, trends, culture, and society at large. She is also a disarmingly frank observer of herself. I always feel, after reading Sarah Vowell, as if I’ve just had a long conversation with an unusually open and honest friend.”

I have yet to read Sarah’s first book, “Radio On: a Listener’s Diary.” That’s next, and then I’ll have to wait till she writes something new. It won’t be easy.

hero of franceA Hero of France (Night Soldiers #14)
Alan Furst
2_5

I started noticing the change in Alan Furst’s writing two novels ago. This is from my review of “Mission to Paris” (Night Soldiers # 12):

“Furst’s latest, ‘Mission to Paris,’ seems different from earlier novels in his Night Soldiers series. It is not as atmospheric, not as noir. Furst’s omniscient narrator is more omniscient than normal: one feels Furst explains more than is strictly necessary.”

I’m not nearly as down on Furst’s new style as other fans. Here are some detailed objections listed by another reviewer:

  • All nuance has been obliterated in favor of simplistic moralizing and reeking explicitness
  • Lyrical, well composed prose has given way to a direct, factual-reporting style
  • Sex and nudity have been shoved in for purposes of titillation only, in ways that add nothing to the plot or characterizations
  • The realistic gritty-noir moody tone has been replaced by that of a commercial, superficial action-thriller

These comments are spot on, unfortunately. The last three Night Soldiers novels read less like novels than outlines of novels, with characterization, world-building, and nuance yet to be added.

Mind you, a hell of a great Alan Furst novel could be built upon the tale he tells in “A Hero of France.” The story is gripping, almost certainly based upon fact: actual wartime activities and accomplishments of what were most likely several resistance fighters, rolled together and attributed to the fictional Mathieu and his accomplices.

This tale, though, is told in documentary style by an omniscient narrator, and because characterization is absent, along with the feel of occupied Paris (so very much present in earlier Furst novels), so too is tension and suspense. Overall, a disappointment.

the north waterThe North Water
Ian McGuire
2_5

I won’t say much about “The North Water” because there isn’t much to say, nor does there seem to be a point to the novel. It’s the tale a doomed whaling voyage, filled with doomed characters, some of them evil, and the evil that results from evil. Maybe that’s the point. It struck me, though, that the point was simply to be grim.

You know you’re in for gothic nastiness when you start to encounter words like fetor and incohate. Mr. McGuire deploys these words in lavish fashion to describe cold blooded murders, bouts of vomiting, spurts of diarrhea, gouts of blood. Oh, did I mention ichor? There’s lots of that as well. Along the way are drownings, clubbed seals, gruesome injuries, a captain’s plan to sink his ship and kill his crew for a little insurance money, and an ill-used Irish surgeon’s revenge.

All very grim, as I mentioned. Yes, it’s a page-turner, but other than that I got nothing out of it. How the publisher managed to get a book-cover blurb from the sainted Hilary Mantel I cannot imagine.

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