The next Robert B Parker?

Perhaps that is overstating  a little and is probably not fair to  Ace Atkins. But when you are the guy chosen to continue the Spenser series, it is  a valid question. The answer to our question will have to wait until Spring, 2012 since that is the  release date for the book, Lullaby, book #40 in the Spenser series and the first to be written by Atkins.

When I  first read the article, it was with a mixture of hope and   uncertainty. The hope of course that the series could continue and the    apprehension that  perhaps the new guy could not hack it. But based on the April 29 press release my worries may well be unfounded. Joan Parker, who is the author’s  widow, is very excited about Mr Atkins  and the future for the series. Now the only problem is having to wait until next year to read the finished product.

In the interim, I will continue to work on my Spenser collection and wait for the  further adventures of Spenser and Hawk. Let us hope however that this example of a character outliving his author will be a good thing.


August 14, 2011 Posted by | Literature | , , | Leave a comment

John Adams

Just finished the David McCullough bio of John Adams and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard to do justice to such a lengthy book about such  a towering historical figure. Some initial thoughts. The author commented  in his intro that we cannot learn enough about our funding fathers, a sentiment with which I very much agree. Makes me once again wish that I had majored in history in college. My presidential reading continues to remind me of my lack of historical education. I shudder to think of how American history is taught or not in public schools today.

It was delightful to read the many excerpts from the letters of Adams and his wife Abigail. Their correspondence numbered well over a thousand missives of which about half have been published. It is quite remarkable how enduring was their relationship in light of the quantity of time they spent apart. Over the course of their first 14 years of marriage they had been apart over half that time. Of course with communication and travel in those days being what it ways, even their communication was difficult. Letters from the United States to France or England of Holland took months and sometimes never made it at all. There as at  least one incident in which  a packet of her letters was lost at sea when an American diplomat about to be captured by the English threw them overboard along with other sensitive documents.

i observed to my wife after finishing the book that I probably knew more about the Adams’ family and its manner of living than of my own parents, thanks to their prolific correspondence. In contrast, Adams’ contemporary,Thomas Jefferson,destroyed all such family correspondence. His was  somewhat limited however,since his wife Martha died at age 33.

There is much to write about in reflecting on the ” colossus of independence” as Jefferson called him and I will attempt to do some justice to our second President, who seems  to me as somewhat overlooked in the pantheon of early American leaders.

June 27, 2010 Posted by | History, Literature | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Taking the Plunge

I  guess that I would not qualify as  much of a collector. As a little person, I faithfully collected baseball cards for a while. i even reached the lofty status of over 500 hundred cards, which  I actually thought was a significant number. Big lol there, huh?  And I do have a horror story of sorts about their demise but it was completely self inflicted. Upon reaching the ripe old age of 15 or 16  i decided I was too old for such tomfoolery and threw them away. Only years later when I met a fellow who put his son through college by buying and selling said cards, did I realize the error of my ways.

Since that  ill-fated effort I have done little if any collecting, until now. As  I make mention of from time to time, I am a big fan of the late Robert B  Parker and in particular, his Spenser series of novels. There are  39 in print with a few more in the pipeline. I have read most of them and reread several. Finally, I decided to take the  plunge and begin to acquire my own collection. For now, I plan to eschew the online approach and instead make use of a delightful local resource.

We have in Elizabeth City an establishment known as  The Recycled Reader. It is  a small used book store that has been around since 1997. I have visited on occasion but not purchased prior to yesterday. Now, I find myself the happy owner of my first 3 Spenser novels. Welcome to  Cold Service, Potshot and  School Days with more to follow. Maybe there is something to that collecting thing after all!

May 4, 2010 Posted by | Literature | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Holiday that should be Bigger!!

Today is Presidents’ Day, a day set aside tat to honor/remember those 43 people who have held the highest office in the land. I guess technically it is more designed to honor Washington and Lincoln since their birthdays are close on the calendar. I think that it probably does neither of the above things very well, if at all.

It is  a federal holiday of course, so those of us who are postal workers take part. Schools seem to sorta use it or not, depending on the need for making up days lost to weather. ( I’m guessing most of them are using it today as  a school day.) Banks seem to go with an either or approach.

I know, we used to have a day for George and Abe but they were consolidated  when Martin Luther King, Jr day was added as  a federal holiday. Both of those actions were correct, I believe. I’m not advocating an extra holiday just a better use of this one. I remain convinced that our educational system does not  do well in educating its “charges” about our presidents. History, after all, is dull and boring, is it not? In our technologically advanced society, the greatest emphasis needs to be elsewhere.

I have been a big history fan for  a long time. However, I did not become  a fan until college. I have no great recollection of history teachers or subjects from public school, so the lack of emphasis is not  a recent occurrence. My college history professors undoubtedly “juiced” up the subject in ways until now unknown to me.

So, what better aspect of American history to know than the men who have served in the White House(all but Washington, of course). So, a number of years ago, I began my quest to read at least one each president. That has proven to be   a daunting  task, as I have observed before. The tally right now is at 21, which is almost half of the total. Te problem lies in the dearth of books about the less familiar guys. You probably know them little if any. There is Harrison(William Henry and Benjamin) , Hayes, Taylor, Fillmore, etc. Libraries, at least our size, have either nothing about them or books dating  of  50+ years old.

My mission continues ever so slowly and perhaps will one day be complete. I remain convinced that those who do not history are” doomed” to repeat it .  And  perhaps, just as telling, events  and actions in the current administration have a  historical precedent , sometimes deliberately.

I leave with this thought. President Obama’ s Oval Office desk is the same one used by Rutherford B  Hayes. It is known as the Resolute desk and was  a gift  from Great Britain. The desk was constructed  from the timbers of the British ship of the same name. To think that every president since Hayes ( except Johnson, Nixon and Ford) has used the desk is just a small example of the fascinating things we learn from our history.

Maybe you have no wish to read about all the presidents. Fine. I have a friend and fellow blogger who specializes in Washington and attempts to keep pace with new books that are still published. Maybe better than some of the  “fancy fiction”, huh?

February 15, 2010 Posted by | History, Literature | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Release of the Rogue

You may have heard that there is  a new book coming out tomorrow. Shouldn’t be an event that is very newsworthy. After all, there are around 250,000 books published annually in the United States( including re-releases) and the vast majority are like  95% of the Screen Actors Guild membership. They get very little notice. It is estimated that the average paper back sells about 15,ooo copies while such numbers are hard, if not impossible to find for hardcovers. Interesting as to why, but not really important. Suffice to say that most books are published with little acclaim.

However, a book is coming out that has already been widely cussed, discussed, analyzed, fact-checked and perhaps even read. It is Going Rogue by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. If the adage holds that any publicity is good as long as one’s name is spelled correctly, this book will be a whopper. By the way, Rush will interview Ms Palin tomorrow. She has spoke with Oprah already and I believe Barbara Walters is due.  There have been several folks talking about the book as well.

First, the Associated Press, who used a total of 11 people to fact check the book. They found a total  of 6 errors which figures out to about 2 people per error. Wonder if they fact checked either of the President’s books. Nah, already know that answer.

Anyway, here we go. So called conservative David Brooks says you can’t taker her seriously  and she is a joke. CBS elder statesman Bob Schieffer called her an amusement with no political future.  Good old MSNBC  guy, Joe Scarborough said comparing her to Howard Dean is an insult to Dean’s intelligence. Former Vermont gov, DNC chair, Howard the screamer, one and the same. Sure are talking a lot about someone who doesn’t matter, huh?

November 16, 2009 Posted by | Literature, Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Shoot Low Boys, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies”

Yes, I was, am, I guess a fan of the late Lewis Grizzard, a southern author and humrist non pareil. I suppose I was introduced  to him when living in Georgia  in the late 70’s and early 80″s. I could always  get  a  laugh by just reading aloud  the names of his  books.  His columns  themselves  were always treasures. I learned that he was actually born in Ft Benning, next door to where we lived in Columbus. I knew from his writings that he suffered  from heart trouble,which was finally the cause of his demise at age 48.

Just recently, I piped up  about  one of his books at work and one of the guys I work with  exlaimed  how happy he was to learn he was not the only Grizzard fan in the world and would so inform his wife.

Now, after that overly long intro, I guess I should shed some light on my choice of that phrase for my title. I sort of put my own spin on things sometimes to have a phrase suit a  situation. And so it is this time. I have taken this title and doubtless used it in a way the author never intended. For me, in  a more or less humorous way, it means setting ones expectations low enough so that they are easily attainable.

Now, don’t jump to the conclusion that I have no high expectations, for surely there have been some along the way. But you must admit that low ones are easier to meet than the higher ones, each and every time.

A couple of examples might suffice. UNC  football has never attained the lofty heights of basketball. There have been some very good years,some great players( Julius Peppers, Lawrence Taylor, Don McCauley and of course Choo Choo Justice) but never  a period of excellence that was maintained for long. So we aim lower as fans and hope against hope that now is different and that Butch Davis will be the guy. I would use some work related examples from over the years, Suffice to say, they have existed.

Am I a pessimist, perhaps. Truly a glass that is half full has got to be half empty as well.  But in an  effort to fight that natural born pessimism, remember that the 2010 elections will be here soon enough. You are welcome.

August 27, 2009 Posted by | Literature, Sports | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Small Things

225px-abraham_lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portrait1I just  finished an excellent book written some 50+ years ago by noted author Jim Bishop. The book was entitled The Day Lincoln Was Shot . Mr Bishop subsequently wrote a similar book about the assassination of President Kennedy. Much of the information was at least familiar  to me and some very well known.Things like the who, the what, the where and to a degree, the why are somewhat common knowledge.

I was still very intrigued by the thoroughness of Mr Bishop’s work (research of a number of years) and the ability to immerse this reader  in 19th century Washington, D C. and its environs.

He began the book early in the morning of April 14,1865. Approximately, 25 and one half hours later, it ended with Mr Lincoln’s death and  a brief epilogue detailing what happened to those involved most intimately with the plot and its consummation.

Perhaps, what intrigued me most was the small details, things that went unnoticed at the time, but which played a vital role in what transpired. There were many but I will attempt to discuss only a few of them.

As you read these, attempt to place them in the context of the time and allow yourself to wonder, if they had been just slightly different, would the tragedy have still occurred.

Some days before April 14th, a small group had reserved seats for a play at Ford’s Theatre. They failed to show by the end of act I, so as was theatre policy, their seats were given to someone else. When the party finally arrived, the ticket seller Thomas Raybold  was chagrined and attempted to atone. As fate would have it, the presidential box was  the only  one available. When he arrived with his partyMr Raybold,  iscovered the door was locked but did not attempt ocate a key. Employing somewhat relentless force, he managed to break the lock and seat his patrons. In the excitement, he forgot about the broken lock on the presidential box and did not report it.Some four weeks and three days later, a man named  Booth would have easy access.

The second instance involves a law enforcement officer named  John F Parker, a rather dissolute man with an inferior work record. He  was  assigned  to the 4PM -12 midnight shift as Mr Lincoln’s  protection . For starters he was three hours late that night and was described at one point as half- amused, half-blank that evening. After getting Mr Lincoln and his party settled, he manned his post outside for an hour or so. At 9 pm became bored, went outside and invited an acquaintance next door for a drink. Mr ;Lincoln’s box was thus unprotected.He was not seen again until 10am on April 15th. He was sent home and remained a policeman in good standing for three years.

And yes, April 14th was Good Friday that year. The vagaries of history are rich indeed. Do you not wonder if those referred to above, along with others  similar to them had any realization of the part they played in the death of a president. It seems proven again, that history that is well written trumps fiction most any day.

April 1, 2009 Posted by | History, Literature | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spenser to my rescue

Robert Urich (right) as Spenser, Avery Brooks ...

Image via Wikipedia

Obviously, to post won out over not posting and aren’t we  all fortunate? Just kidding. I was undecided  whether to write about something  I liked or to vent about the lengthening list of people who have the distinct ability to get on my nerves, without even trying, I might add. Since  that list seems never-ending I shall let it wait for another day. I suppose that  I should provide an example or two. How about Whoopi Goldberg, Barbra Streisand and Rosie O’Donnell?                                                                                                                                                    Over  I have come in recent yeras  grown to enjoy author Robert B  Parker. Mr Parker has written for over 25 years but we have only been reading his work for the last 4-5 years . He is a novelist who has done most of his work in the context of three series . The longest running of these and my favorite involves a detective known in the books as Spencer, like the poet , as the character is wont to say . Some people might remember a short- lived tv series based on this character who was portrayed by the late Robert Urich . I don’t want to spoil the joy of your discovery with the writer or the character but rather share enough to whet your appetite . I actually like the books enough  to reread them . Anyway, Spencer is a tough , hard boiled guy from Boston with a ” main squeeze ” named Susan and a best buddy known only as Hawk who is as tough if not more so than Spencer. Our hero is a private eye by trade because he got fired  as a cop due to issues with authority . He is a former boxer, a gourmet cook and extremely literate . My favorite characteristic by far is his wit and  he is  not bashful to share same in any and all situations . I would thoroughly enjoy sharing 20 or 30 of my  favorite Spencerisms but will just pass along a couple which are paraphrased . A new client comes in and asks if he is Spencer and he replies,yes and proud of it . Two guys want to rough him up a bit and he tells them it doesn’t seem fair, so maybe he’ll keep one hand in his pocket to even it up. It actually is much funnier in context.  So check out Mr Parker and Spencer, et. al and have a great read .

September 26, 2008 Posted by | Literature | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment