Stuff I’ve Been Reading: A Monthly Column (8/14)

Hark! A Vagrant–Kate Beaton
Kate Beaton is my favorite comic artist working today.  What’s so great about her?  First off, her background in literature and history give her a supply of topics that goes way beyond the navel-gazing of many of her contemporaries.  Secondly, her drawing style is flat-out hilarious.  She draws sexy hunks and traitor babies and obscure figures from Canadian history better than anyone.  And thirdly, she somehow managed to skewer musician John Mayer in a comic about the French Revolution.  I never would’ve guessed that possible, but Kate Beaton found a way and earned a fan for life in the process.  I laughed aloud at least a half dozen times while reading Hark! A Vagrant and highly recommend it.

Cats I Have Lived With–Beth
Beth wrote and illustrated a book about all the pet cats she’s had in her life.  She then printed up a hardback copy on a self-publishing website and gave it to me for my birthday.  I enjoyed the book so much that I read it twice.  You can read her WordPress post dated August 15th for more information about this charming book.

A Game of Hide and Seek–Elizabeth Taylor
This is the second NYRB Classics novel I’ve read this year about what happens to love when the couple is separated by distance and time and then reunite later in life.  The other book, Stefan Zweig’s Journey Into the Past, read like it had been written by a man who’d never kissed a woman.  There was just something false and made-up about it.  Elizabeth Taylor’s book, on the other hand, felt painfully honest and featured sections that I suspect must’ve been taken from real-life.  A Game of Hide and Seek is the better book in every important way and one of the best serious novels I’ve read this summer.  Oh, and it makes reference to one of my favorite movies, David Lean’s Brief Encounter.  Points for that.

Revenant–Kat Richardson
If after 420 pages, the entire book comes down to whether one of the characters plays the flute, then there is something seriously wrong.  It doesn’t even matter if it’s a creepy magic flute made out of a human bone.  The fact that there’s a flute at all is a sure sign that major mistakes have been made somewhere along the way.  This ninth and final book in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series is, by far, her worst effort yet.  It’s truly a shame as the series had such potential early on.

Now that the series is over, I’d like to quickly revisit what I had to say about the first eight books.  (This was going to be a stand-alone post, but I’ve decided to include it here.)

  1. Greywalker: If you’re interested in the paranormal, but aren’t a fourteen year-old girl with a crush on a fictional vampire, then you might want to look into the series.
  2. Poltergeist: Kat Richardson’s writing gets confusing whenever Harper enters the Grey.  I’m not sure if it’s sloppy writing or if the author is trying to convey a sense of the nebulous nature of the Grey.
  3. Underground: The third book, Underground, is definitely my favorite of the three I’ve read.  It’s about what lives (and kills) in the boarded up areas beneath Pioneer Square.
  4. Vanished: Although I liked Greywalker and Underground, I’d have to say that Vanished is my favorite book in the series.
  5. Labyrinth: Harper’s boyfriend Quinton has the ability to make machines that can detect paranormal activity.  You’d have to be pretty smart to do that, right?  Then why does it take him three paragraphs to realize that the items on the top of a box were placed inside after the items on the bottom?  It seems like the concept of stacking would be an easy one for a guy who can make ghost detectors out of parts bought from Radio Shack.
  6. Downpour: Kat Richardson’s sixth Greywalker novel was better than her fifth, but I wonder what was going through her head when she wrote pages 262-3. I’ve heard that there’s an organization that gives a Bad Sex Award to the author who has published that year’s worst sex scene. I’m going to try to find them online and nominate those two pages.
  7. Seawitch: 3½ stars (out of 5)
  8. Possession: Kat Richardson isn’t the worst author I’ve ever read, but she’s definitely the least talented one I’ve read eight books by.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere–ZZ Packer

hark a cat

(Hark! Four Books)

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On Urban Fauna and Quadrupeds

Every year around this time I buy a few packs of the Allen & Ginter trading cards out of a sense of curiosity and nostalgia.  Although most of the cards feature baseball players, I have little interest in them; I’m more interested in the absurd subsets that have nothing at all to do with sports.  I’ve written about these strange cards before in posts about a big tree & literary sexism and Henry Rollins & the Pope.

The subset I’m most fascinated with this year is called Urban Fauna.  It features 10 cards of animals you might find in your house or yard.  There’s a pigeon, a raccoon, a bat, etc.  The best one, of course, is the squirrel.  The odds of getting an Urban Fauna card in a pack are 1:288.  I’m not buying 288 packs just to get stuck with the cockroach, so I bought Sciurus carolinensis on eBay.  Here she is:

squirrel 2014 (front)

The keywords I used to find the card on eBay were ginter + squirrel.  I was surprised when I got results that had nothing to do with this year’s Urban Fauna subset.  You see, although today’s Allen & Ginter cards are put out by Topps, the original Allen & Ginter company manufactured tobacco and cigarette cards back in the 1800s.  The original company released a 50 card Quadrupeds set in 1890 that also featured a squirrel.  I bought that one too!

squirrel 1890 (front)A better writer would probably now have something interesting to say about how the squirrel from 2014 is smiling directly at the viewer and apparently wants to come inside for a cuddle and some snacks, while the squirrel from 1890 looks like a wild animal that would scratch out your eye (or at least run away) if approached.  Then that better writer would probably say something about what that means.  I’m not sure what they’d say, but I’m fairly certain they’d use the word “anthropomorphism”.  Not me.  All I’m going to do is link to the backs of the cards:

  • The back of the 2014 card can be seen here.
  • The back of the 1890 card is here.
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The second worst beer I’ve had this year…

…came in the best bottle.  I’m talking about the Grätzer Ale from New Belgium (in conjunction with 3 Floyds Brewing).  Look, the bottle has zombies riding bicycles all over it.  The alpha zombie even has some brains in her bike basket.  That’s the attention-to-detail I look for when picking out my alcoholic beverages.

gratzer ale

Not shown: the zombies on the bicycle built for two!

It says right there on the bottle that the grätzer has “a bitter bite” and a “slightly sour finish”, so I knew going in that I probably wouldn’t like it all that much.  I only bought it because I wanted something zombie-specific to drink when I started watching the fourth season of The Walking Dead.  I’d say the brewers did a good job describing their beverage.  It wasn’t for me, but I managed to drink the entire thing and keep it down.  I was back to feeling normal after an hour and a ginger ale.

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Upright book + garden gnome = post

I just finished up a three-day computer-free weekend.  I usually have to fight through a computer-free day, but this long weekend was no problem at all.  I wasn’t even tempted to check in on the internet, play Words With Friends, or spend hours rearranging my digital music collection for no apparent reason.  I sat around reading and watching old Downton Abbey episodes (SPOILER: Mrs. Patmore’s fancy man is only interested because she’s such a good cook!).

The entire weekend I kept expecting something fun to happen that I could write about once I got back on the computer, but the only post-worthy thing that happened was when I walked upstairs and tossed my journal on the bed and it landed like this:

upright journalI didn’t notice it at the time as I’d flung the book into my room and walked back downstairs without even looking.  I was surprised when I saw the book standing upright a few hours later.  I wonder how many times I’d have to toss my journal to get it to land that way a second time.

I sure do need a new bedspread.

My second highlight of the weekend involved laundry.  Yes, if my journal hadn’t balanced itself that way, then this post would be about how I air-dried my floppy Reds hat by sitting it on top of a garden gnome.

garden gnomeComputer-free weekend…woo-hoo!

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Casey cracked up. Pete, Bob, Gary, and George disappeared.

I was going through a box of old sports memorabilia last week when I found my dad’s autographed Casey Stengel baseball.  He got the ball signed when he was a kid and continued to play with it for many years, eventually ruining what would now be a valuable autograph.  When I asked him why he played with a baseball signed by a Hall-of-Famer, my dad said, “It was the only ball I had.”

Even though the ball got thrown around and smashed with bats for years, Casey Stengel’s signature is still visible on the ruined, cracked-up leather.  It’s right there on the sweet spot in faded red ink.  Have a look:

casey stengel

(Casey Stengel)

Now the thing about this baseball is that my dad has always insisted that it used to be covered with autographs.  He even claimed that it once had Pete Rose’s signature on it.  Although there are spots where random bits of green ink can be seen with the naked eye, there’s nothing legible or anything that even slightly resembles a full autograph.  Pete Rose on a Casey Stengel ball, yeah right!

Well, I decided to get to the bottom of this mystery and see what would happen if I took pictures of the baseball and then manipulated them with digital filters and image editing tools.  Would I be able to draw out the invisible remnants of long-faded autographs?  If so, would I be able to identify the players?  I had no experience with this sort of thing, but it sounded fun and I gave it a try.  My results are shown below.  The pictures on the left are the before-shots, of course.  The ones on the right are the same images after I ran them through the filters.

I surprised even myself by finding a signature on my very first picture.  It looked like “Bob Taylor”.  I knew Pete Rose began playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1963 and that Casey Stengel retired as the New York Mets manager in 1965, so I took a look at the rosters for both teams for the 1963-65 seasons.  Sure enough, the Mets had a catcher named Bob Taylor.  He started playing for them in 1964.

My second picture wasn’t as clear, but now that I had the year narrowed down a bit, I soon identified two more New York Mets signatures.  The last name on the top one began with a prominent K- and ended in -LL.  I dug around a bit and discovered that a pitcher named Gary Kroll joined the team on 8/7/64.

The last name on the signature immediately below Gary Kroll’s appeared to start with ALT-.  Another look at the roster revealed an outfielder named George Altman.  The thing about these two players is that they were only on the Mets together for 53 games…from 8/7/64 through the end of the season on 10/4/64.  I dug up the schedule for that year and noticed the Mets only played two games in Cincinnati (where my dad lived) during that time period.  Yes, my dad most likely got these autographs at a Reds vs. Mets game in Cincinnati on either 8/25 or 8/26/64.  He would’ve been thirteen.

The final picture shown above features some indecipherable gibberish up at the top.  Although it appears that the word ends with -Y, it doesn’t seem long enough to be both a first and a last name.  And nobody on either team had a signature that resembled that.  I must admit I’m stumped on that one.  But that doesn’t really matter at all, because right beneath the gibberish is Pete Rose’s autograph as clear as day.  Hah!

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This one’s (also) for the ladies.*

Do you remember that photograph I posted last year of Marion smoking a cigar and drinking a beer on a tiny lakeside pier?  Well, I’m happy to report that I found the companion shot of her future husband doing the exact same thing at the exact same spot on the exact same day.  According to the information written on the backs, Marion and Herb visited a place called Twin Lakes on July 17th, 1938.  Here’s the Herb picture from that day:herb on the pier
And while I’m here posting vintage beefcake shots, I suppose I should also share this undated one of Herb rising out of the lake.  I spent a good five minutes with a magnifying glass trying to figure out who the person floating behind Herb was, but I just can’t make them out.  Is it Marion?  Mary Fife?  Arnold Timm?  Colin Firth?  We’ll never know.

herb goes swimming

[* = The (also) is in there because I already had a post entitled "This one's for the ladies."]

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Let’s Totally Smotch!…and other pictures from Seattle.

Here are eleven ten photographs I took on my most recent trip to Seattle. You can hover your cursor over the individual shots for more information.

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The music lasts all day.

The three pictures in this post show the music I acquired before, during, and after my recent trip to Seattle.

It was a slow few weeks leading up to the trip and I only got a couple records and a few CDs.  Highlights included Andrew Bird covering the Handsome Family, the new Luluc, and a Willard Grant Conspiracy CD that somehow managed to come out last year without my knowledge.

before seattle

(before seattle)

My stay in Seattle featured daily stops at Everyday Music along with visits to at least three other record shops.  I came away with a lot of stuff.  I got more Luluc, new reissues by the Jayhawks and the Dream Academy, the Jeff Lynne/ELO tribute I’d been looking for since 2010, rarities by a bunch of performers starting with the letter T, some cheap replacements for things I accidentally sold, The Rebel Kind: Girls With Guitars 3, a Chris Von Sneidern collection personalized in silver ink to someone named “Hideo”, a handful of radio comps that I intended to cherry-pick and discard but ended up keeping, and hard-to-find jazz by Larry Young and Don Wilkerson.  The best thing, though, is the CD up at the top left of this second picture.  That’s Beth’s copy of Ida’s Live at Angel Hall.  Yes, after hearing about my troubles tracking down a copy, she decided to give me hers as a birthday present.  Thanks!

seattle music


Although I celebrated my birthday while I was out in Seattle, I didn’t get some of my presents until I returned home.  Many of the things shown in this final picture were belated birthday presents.  Others are things I ordered like a comp of cat-related songs called Feline Groovy and the Loser Edition of Luluc’s Passerby on blue vinyl.  (Yes, Luluc is in all three pictures.)  I should also point out that I found one of the 25 signed copies of Richard Thompson’s Salford Sunday 7″ at Everybody’s for $4.99.

after seattle

(after seattle)

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45 Germans in a Cave

This photograph had been sitting in a pile at the local antiques shop for the last two years.  I must’ve flipped by it at least a dozen times.  Four dollars always seemed kind of steep to me, but I recently noticed the writing on the rock and realized I might be able to do an online investigation if I could figure out what was written there.  Four dollars suddenly seemed like a great bargain.  I bought the photo, scanned the rock as clearly as I could, and then did a search on my best guess, “Kermannshohle”.  I didn’t find anything there, but I soon discovered that Hermannshöhle is a tourist cave in Germany famous for its bear bones.

hermannshohleI then did an image search on the cave and found many similar photographs taken in the exact same spot, one as recently as 2012.

While I’m here, I would like to draw your attention to the girl wearing the kerchief and the floral print dress over on the left.  Despite the fact that she’s wearing socks with sandals, she’s definitely the coolest of the tourists.  She’s probably one of those child detectives we’re always hearing about.  I should also mention that the blurry lady next to the crouching woman wasn’t actually there that day; she’s the ghost of someone who was eaten by a cave bear years before.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think the old mustachioed man on the right was somehow responsible.  The detective is probably there investigating him.  I’m not sure what happened next, but I know the old mustachioed man totally flipped out when he noticed the ghost in his souvenir photo.

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Reading Rainbow

I noticed a few weeks ago that I only had six books left on my Books to Read Shelf.  That’s about the number I like to keep on there and significantly fewer than I had at the beginning of the summer.  I also noticed that if I moved the Chekov collection from the far left over to the right and switched around two of the NYRB Classics, then I’d have a rainbow.  So that’s what I did.  I also took a picture:

reading rainbow

(the book on the far right is a deep purple)

Then today I suddenly decided that this picture from last month was post-worthy.

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