The Tattered Banner


I read this before. Or most of it. I can’t remember when, but it must have been long enough to go that plenty was surprise to me, though not the broad strokes.

A young man is preternaturally talented with the sword. Or supernaturally talented. This fantasy world is mostly magic free after similarly talented swordsmen (whose talent was nearly or perhaps actively magical) rose against wizards.

The hero is reasonably charming, but a little vague in his depiction. The story is of the young man being guided into accidentally setting in place conditions for a coup, after which he must flee the are and the book ends. I gather there are sequels.

‘A Warning’ By Anonymous


Anonymous is not an intellectual. S/he is not a member of the conservative intelligentsia. You may think that this is a good thing. A good advisor to the president need not be one, but it just seems to me that s/he wears their learning, such as it is, not so much lightly as shallowly. A few sprinkled quotes from the Founding Fathers and great leaders of the past (a bit of classical “learning” and the occasional snippet from the Gipper or, rather, his speechwriters) but their understanding of ethics, as a field of study is thinner than even that annoying Starbucks philosopher talking to loudly to his embarrassed girlfriend. They refer to classical thinkers because they both need to pad their moral case and because they want to show they know that stuff (I don’t think they really do; I don’t think they actually read Cicero’s De Officiis. I think they did more run just read a Wikipedia article, but something much less than actually reading him. Which, by the way, you should. He’s really good.

Anonymous could be seen as, despite their protests, another kind of emblem of Trump’s inability to attract the best, or even adequate, people. They seems like the kind of frat boy douchebag who was hoping for a Marco Rubio presidency. Someone shallow and shamelessly political, who has never had a real job, but who can do a passably tolerable impression of a man with some principles for the kind of reader who doesn’t read beyond the first two paragraphs of any newspaper not about a hockey fight or one of Marco’s Sunshine State compatriots doing something blissfully stupid involving alligators, the highway patrol, and a can of coffee that has been repurposed to hold his dope.

The anecdotes are frequently a mixture of the nonspecific and publicly known. You don’t need a senior administration official to tell you that John Kelly had a horrified look on his face when His Obesity defended the Nazis in Charlottesville.

There was one newish sounding nugget, though. When Trump is about to push a lawyer to do something patently illegal, he scans the room for people who might be taking notes and screams at them to stop.

Also, I think they are a man. But that’s neither here nor there and based on my own hidden prejudices, I suspect.

So why did I read another one of these Trump histories? I have sworn off them more times often than I have sworn to delete my Facebook account.

Well, the short version is that we were at the Northeastern Library (the little one was getting her first library card), which is an awesome library. Better, frankly, than the other two I visit regularly. The selection of books visible upon even a cursory examination were so exciting. Including this one. I should have known something was up when there wasn’t a waiting list, when it was just sitting there. Typically, these kinds of self flagellatory tomes have a longish waiting list of people ahead of you in the queue.

A sidebar or a point of personal privilege, perhaps. Anonymous gives us some classical tidbits. If you’ve ever seen the movie or the play The History Boys (and I highly recommend it), you might remember the term ‘gobbets.’ Little bits of poetry or seemingly irrelevant knowledge used to illustrate a point or just liven up the text. Anonymous does a lot of that.

Several of their ‘gobbets’ are about Athens. Going beyond the Athens of Socrates and Pericles, the city remained famous for centuries as the center of philosophy. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if it became a sort of university town in later antiquity. De Officiis is in the form of a letter to Cicero’s son (in fairness, they also knew this) who is studying in… Athens. Cicero slight laments that his son is studying under a Stoic teacher and asks him to look kindly upon the Skepticism of his own training. Gore Vidal writes, in Julian, about the titular emperor (in his pre-purple days) similarly going to Athens as a sort of intellectual finishing school.

Might not that Athens, the Athens long past its imperial glory and the days chronicled in Platonic dialogues, have also been wonderful? A place of nearly pure learning. To go as a young man and learn the arts of being virtuous or as an older man and bask in the golden light of a culture of philosophical inquiry? I say ‘man’ because I think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have been so nice to be a woman there, if better than many other places.

Oh, and someone, not me (I don’t write in books; not even my college textbooks), did a little freelance copyediting.

‘Upstate‘ By James Wood


I previously only knew the late critic as a critic, but in the post mortems on his career, this novel was mentioned. A deceptively simple tale of… not family dysfunction. Not really. I mean, yes, but not exceptionally so, not in this day and age.

There’s a paterfamilias who raises his two daughters after his wife left him. He is the primary figure whose thoughts we hear, but Wood likes to unexpectedly switch to one of his two daughters.

The set up is father and sister visiting the oldest daughter because her boyfriend warned that she was struggling badly (a history of depression and anxiety).

Everyone is well drawn and pace is simultaneously brisk and leisurely. The mood is well reflected in the two main settings: fading, formerly industrial Northumberland and snowy, cold upstate New York.

‘TekLab’ By William Shatner (But Not Really)


This third Tek novel combines cyberpunk neo-noir with kitchen sink melodrama and denouement that’s so bats–t crazy that words fail me, but it does involved star crossed teenage lovers, a vengeful android in the shape of his creator’s dead brother, and a drug trade funded terrorist organization devoted to placing England under the presumably benevolent rule of King Arthur II. And I guess they decided to end the novel without talking about how the hero slept with his girlfriend’s friend (who also built the homicidal android), so I guess that means she never finds out and monogamy is overrated in the future.

‘Flower Fairies Of The Autumn’ By Cicely Mary Barker


I saw this old book of 1920s, pastoral, children’s poetry at the library when the little one was getting her first library card and felt an immediate urge to get. It reminded me of some books I had had when I was young (Beatrix Potter is still a favorite of mine).

Well, my little loved it and made me finish the whole thing when we read it for her bedtime book.

She loved that the poems are called songs (though she called my singing flat). We have also been reading The Hobbit together (if it’s been a while, you, like me, may have forgotten how magnificent a tale teller and stylist he can be) and she loves the songs that appear in it and often implores me to go back and read the first two poems in that book again.

Perhaps this is a sign that I can begin to inculcate her in my love of poesy?

TekLords


I have to say, despite all the conditional praise I am inclined to heap upon TekLords, it ends with the most ridiculous deus ex machina since Russia made Trump president of the United States. The hero, handsome, yet weather beaten Jake Cardigan, launches an attack on the cartel’s headquarters but fails to find the cure to the plague afflicting. Don’t worry says his private investigator partner, Sid Gomez, I found everything we need in that room over there.

That being said, it is surprisingly good. I would actually classify it as being almost lighthearted cyberpunk wrapped around a detective novel (it’s too breezy to be noir).

I have learned that the actual ghostwriter was Ron Goulart (I wasn’t sure when I read TekWar, who I have never read under his own name. I’m a little sad to know for almost certain that William Shatner didn’t write it, but that should in no way detract from his overall awesomeness nor from the absolute fact that he was the greatest Star Trek captain. Only children don’t understand this.

My praise of TekLords brings to mind what I said recently about the high standards I have for literary fiction. This paperback throwaway is not half as good as Essex Serpent, but they are not competing on the same playing field and are, perhaps, entirely different sports (one is tennis and the other professional wrestling?). But is this the right attitude to have?

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