Peoria, Tazewell, And Woodford: Here, There & Everywhere

A list of excellent books reviewed in 2015 by Professor Mike Foster

2015 Books

  1. HOTTER THAN A MATCH HEAD by Steve Boone. Lovin’ Spoonful founder and bassist ends up as sailing marijuana smuggler between points south & Maryland. John Sebastian could be tyrannical, as could drummer Joe Butler. Zal was fun. Jan. 2, 2015.
  2. TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD by Tim Federle. Literary cocktail recipes.
  3. THE HISTORY OF ROCK & ROLL IN TEN SONGS by Greil Marcus. Pompous & over-written doodah masquerading as brilliant pop history.
  4. THE BEST OF THE NEW YORKER’S REJECTED CARTOONS: “Too sick, too sexy, or too weird.” Yes indeed.
  5. ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and
  6. THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll for Jan. 23 Far Westfarthing smial. I read afresh in fine Grosset & Dunlap colorful illustrated hardbound vs. my rubber-banded & over-marked 1974-2005 teaching copy of THE ANNOTATED ALICE. Madeleine went with us because Emma and Megan were in the hospital and Frank was in Carolina for Caterpillar. MGC was gooder than gold & made a remark about Harry Potter that raised nine pairs of eyebrows. Adam Smith said if we’d clad her in a blue gown & a white apron & brushed her long blonde hair out, she could’ve passed for Tenniel’s Miss Liddell.
  7. ONE WAY OUT by Alan Paul. An oral history of the star-crossed and self-destructive Macon-bacon psychedelic blues boys, the Allman Bros. Only four of the original six alive to tell the tale. God bless Derek Trucks, drummer Butch’s nephew.
  8. AMPHIGOREY III by Edward Gorey, bought on our 45th anniversary trip to Chicago where we saw the splendid Gorey show at the Loyola University Museum of Art. An ongoing project.
  9. ON THE ROAD WITH JANIS by John Byrne Cooke (Alastair’s son) who was Joplin’s road manager. See note on the Allman Bros. Band, #7. Heroin: bad. Booze: bad.
  10. UPDIKE by Adam Begley being read concurrently with the Cooke book.
  11. JERRY LEE LEWIS: HIS OWN STORY by Rick Bragg. He wasn’t a Killer, but he wasn’t a very nice man.

In April, 1968, he was playing a Sunday night gig at a redneck bar on Milwaukee’s south side. I bussed down from Marquette with another ’68 English major classmate.

Jerry Lee was drinking Jim Beam out of a beer stein. The first set was all C&W weepers like “What Made Milwaukee Famous.” My buddy & I were leaning up against a bar just to stage left while I tried to retract my college semi-hippie long hair back into my head by will power. No luck.

He had to pass by me on his way up to do the second set. As he did, I said “Do ‘High School Confidential’.” He whirled around on his boot heel. I thought he was going to clock me.

Instead, he replied “AW RIGHT, HORSE!”, slapped my hand in a low five, hit the stage, threw his leg over his piano, roared out, “Open up your door, honey, it’s your Jerry Lee here that’s a-knockin’.”

The rest of the set was stone Sun records rockers.

Wayne and I escaped just before the set’s end to take the last bus back to N. 13th and E. Wells and our apartment. “Let me tell you something baby, I’m a-gonna give you some good news!”

  1. SPECIAL DELUXE by Neil Young. Both monomaniacal and egomaniacal.

He names his car and draws them with colored pencil, badly. He’s full of ideas, mostly bad.

Drops names we never heard of nor will, except for his new main squeeze Daryl Hannah near the end.

Beautiful waitresses, incontinent dogs, unfinished projects.

A self-portrait of the artist as an auto salvage yard proprietor.

  1. WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR by Molly Guptill Manning. A tale of how American Services Paperbacks (ASEs) helped GIs like my dad get through the war against Hitler & his book-burning Nazis and revived the moribund reputation of The Great Gatsby, although Fitzgerald died in 1940 and never knew.

The eventual result: the GI Bill and the education of many of my professors. A gift from Megan. I’ve read all or part of 85 titles. Finished Feb. 6.

  1. BECOMING RICHARD PRYOR by Scott Saul. First and most, this is an unflinching portrait of my hometown, Peoria, in all its racist, vice-ridden, corrupt, sinful, lawless glory. Richard is not its favorite son, but he’s legitimate.

Witnesses include Jimmy Binkley (RIP in late January), Jimmie Bell (I did stories about him for The Prairie Sun and Living Blues from 1976 to 1981), and erstwhile Fish drummer Cecil Grubbs, who once said to me “Jimmie Bell could’ve been a great musician if he hadn’t wasted so much time being a gangster.”

  1. SPRIGHTLY RUNNING by English poet (“A Song For Major Eatherley,” which I read at Marquette in 1966 and never forgot) John Wain.

A partial autobiography (Wain was only 35 in 1960 when he penned it), its description of growing up in rural England and going down to Oxford where C.S. Lewis was his tutor and Wain was a sometimes visitor to Inklings sessions at Lewis’ rooms in Magdalen at age 20 are fine fly-on-the-don’s-wall eyewitness to literary history.

Finished Feb. 6.

  1. SOUND MAN by Glyn Johns. He recorded & produced Steve Miller Band, Rolling Stones, Who, Eagles, Led Zep, Clapton, Faces, and The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus. Miller may’ve been the most ego-centric.
  2. BLOGGERS, BURGERS, & COPS by Brandon S. Hovey. I finished an international Russian-Chinese-German espionage thriller set in Morton (who knew?) by my young (25 in June) blog co-editor Brandon on Feb. 7. Gatehouse Publishing appears as Barbican. And so on.
  3. HOT WIRED GUITAR: JEFF BECK by Martin Power. Everything you wanted to know about Jeff Beck and much, much more. He’s brilliant but flightier than Neil Young. The Young equation holds up in his desertion of bands, love of old cars, and general unreliability. I began this book in 2011 or 2012 and finished it Feb. 10 during the first half of what would be a 64-44 Marquette Wargles loss to Xavier.
  4. THE BEATLES ARE HERE by Penelope Rowlands, a Vogue editor. It reads like a fashion magazine. Contributors include a lot of girls. The best stuff is by musicians: Janis Ian, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel, bassist Will Lee. The worst stuff is by screaming teenyboppers now turned into old ladies.
  5. MAKING RUMOURS: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE CLASSIC FLEETWOOD MAC ALBUM by Ken Caillat with Steven Siefel. Read at Megan’s Feb. 13 and 14. Cognac, cocaine, champagne, reefer, rifts, drunkenness, cruelty, and a hit record.
  6. OF ALL THE GIN JOINTS IN THE WORLD by Mark Bailey illustrated by Edward Hemingway. Cinema scandal, Hollywood bistros, and cocktail recipes. Tallulah Bankhead was “ambisexual.” Mae West was teetotal which made her films with W.C. Fields difficult. Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson once got into a post chili-and-booze farting and belching contest that Liz won handily. Broderick Crawford and Frank Sinatra once got in a bar-room brawl that ended when Broderick ate Frank’s toupee and choked on it. Everybody was drunk, drugged, promiscuous, and pugnacious.
  7. TOLKIEN AT EXETER COLLEGE by John Garth. Published in 2014, this collegiate biography is a 64-page prequel to TOLKIEN & THE GREAT WAR (2003) which I read in Canterbury Christ Church College semi-detached home on Monastery Street, beginning a friendship with the author. Read this again for a Mythlore review completed on Feb. 22. Completed review revision on March 23.
  8. NO SIMPLE HIGHWAY: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD by Peter Richardson. “There goes the only guy who knows what it’s like to be me,” said Bob Dylan at Jerry Garcia’s funeral. The freedom of form and expression and music that the Dead embodied was killed by heroin. “We will survive” (“Touch Of Grey”): well, sort of. But not unchanged. Completed Feb. 24.
  9. THE DREAM CYCLE OF H.P. LOVECRAFT: DREAMS OF TERROR AND HORROR. For the Friday, Feb. 20, Far Westfarthing Smial. Horribly horrid horrific horrific horror, cacodemoniacally refulgent of soporific stories. Jo & Adam Smith & I downed thumbs on it but ponsor Bob Killion said it influenced many better books. Oh, so why didn’t we read those? The Pekin Quintet seemed to like them. Oy.
  10. YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler. Megan’s Christmas gift to Jo. Ditzy lady who’s done some fine SNL comedy. Tina Fey’s BOSSYPANTS is a better and funnier autobiography. Finished March 4.
  11. WHAT’S EXACTLY THE MATTER WITH ME? By P.F. Sloan and S.E. Feinberg. Megan’s gift, finished March 5. Despite the kvetching, another sad (indeed tragic) and compelling tale of a ‘Sixties songwriter screwed by writing partner Steve Barri, Papa John Phillips, producer Lou Adler, and so on. He wrote “Bittersweet” for The Robbs, whose drummer from Oconomowoc, Craig Krampf, was a Marquette poet who later played on helped with The Sloan Ranger’s kind-of comeback disc. Jo and I danced to Dee Rob & The Robins on our first date in 1964. I got to tell Craig that when he played banned songs with “Let Freedom Sing” band at an ICCJA spring meeting at WIU in 2000 or so.
  12. CITY OF STAIRS by R.J. Bennett for March 20 smial. Too long (452 pages), too plotless, short on fantasy but long on confusion.
  13. THE LONG WAY HOME by Louise Penny. A superb Inspector Gamache except for the confusing ending, which I read four times and finally sent Ms. Penny a “Whaa?” query as a FB PM when I finished it March 22.
  14. THE DINNER by Herman Koch (pronounced “cook” or “cock?”) for Club Marilyn redux is a Dutch mishmosh of ultra-violence & bad choices & the worst brotherly relations since Cain & Abel. Carol’s pick. Eat your damned dessert, will you? Finished March 22.
  15. THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY by Paul Fussell. A superb work of the effects of World War I (and to a lesser extent, WW II) on literature and life. Read on my Kindle for many months. Fussell takes no notice of Tolkien or Lewis and, in Adam Schwartz’ view, misreads David Jones about the redemptive power of soldiers’ suffering and sacrifice. Completed March 25 before Club M. at Donnelly’s with Carol and Nancy.
  16. BIRDSONGS by Jason Dean. Extra point for working in the songs of The Byrds. The rest is a Velveeta mystery. Finished March 29 during NCAAs.
  17. OPEN SEASON by Archer Mayer. Velveeta Light. Too many coincidences, characters entering late, etc. March 30, 2015.
  18. A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block. Unresolved. Who did them? A waste of two days. An unholy mess. April 4, Holy Saturday.

34., 35., 36., 37     THE PATRICK MELROSE NOVELS by Edward St. Aubyn. Gorgeously descriptive chronicles of loathsome deeds and vile characters. Read between Friday April 3 and Wednesday April 8.

NEVER MIND: Patrick the boy’s abusive (in every way possible) father and his evanescent mother.

BAD NEWS: Patrick goes to New York to fetch his dread dead dad’s ashes and embarks on a drug spree (heroin, cocaine, downers, uppers) of horrifying dimensions.

SOME HOPE: Patrick cleans up his drug life (all but whiskey and wine) but not his bent self.

MOTHER’S MILK:  Patrick as the father of two sons and the decay of his mother. New miserable experiences.

Loaned to Jo. As my Spalding ’65 friend & associate pep rally & chocolate drive skit-writer Tim Gura wrote me, “It’s hard to imagine why anyone would give this to someone they liked.” 

 

  1. THICKER THAN WATER by G.M. Ford. A Leo Waterman mystery. That’d be blood. Lots of it. April 12.
  2. Ellin (sic) Stein’s THAT’S NOT FUNNY, THAT’S SICK, a history of the whole Harvard Lampoon/ National Lampoon / Saturday Night Live / movies therefrom ill-fated humor consortium that Megan Foster Campbell last December.

Two bits of significa:

Howard Shore of THE LORD OF THE RINGS film-scoring fame was SNL’s first musical directory & Carl Bernstein & this then-wife Nora Ephron wrote the lead story in the NL’s NOT THE NEW YORK TIMES parody about Pope John Paul John Paul, “the first Polish Pope,” dying 15 minutes after election.

Later, of course, Bernstein, who spoke at Bradley University this week, co-authored a biography of the real first Polish Pope, John Paul II.

I have an autographed copy of same thanks to Eric Ockerhausen of Silver City, New Mexico.

What’s the Latin word for “karma”?

  1. THE TOMBS OF ATHUAN by Ursula K. LeGuin. The second in the Earthsea trilogy. Adam Smith’s choice for Far Westfarthing smial April 17. At least it was short: 164 pages.
  2. SO, ANYWAY by John Cleese. Dry and droll, this humorous tale of a humorist’s life most resembles John Wain’s SPRIGHTLY RUNNING, #15 above. It least resembles #39, THAT’S NOT FUNNY, THAT’S SICK, the SNL, Lampoon pathography above. How refreshing to read a tale of a star writer & performer & movie-maker & television star where the only substance mentioned is champagne. Finished Monday, April 20.
  3. FIRST THRILLS edited by Lee Child. Short short stories of the thriller genre. Unfortunately, this includes zombies, dead men living, and other gruesome hack (literally) jobs. Our in-car Buick boredom book begun last year. Finished Friday, April 24.
  4. LONGITUDE by Dava Sobel. Foreword by Neil Armstrong. Here’s a bit from BOOK DRUM review: Longitude recounts the story of one of science’s greatest leaps forward: the development of a clock accurate enough to determine a ship’s longitude.  The stimulus was a £20,000 prize offered by Act of Parliament in 1714.  It took clockmaker John Harrison forty years of genius, hard work and political battles to win the prize.

Dava Sobel begins by explaining the great need for a reliable longitude method.  Sailors have always been able to determine their latitude by the length of the day, but working out longitude was a much greater challenge.  Multitudinous shipwrecks resulted from confusion over longitude, including that of a Royal Naval fleet in 1707 which led to the establishment of the Longitude Prize.

The most likely candidates for the prize were astronomical: comparing the position of the stars relative to the moon to predictions made in almanacs.  This complex method had various drawbacks, not least the absence of the moon for several nights each month.  Nevertheless, the astronomical method had powerful supporters who were less than impressed by the suggestion that the problem could be solved with a humble clock.

 The theory is simple: if you know the local time as well as the time at a reference longitude (e.g. London), then it is a trivial matter of arithmetic to work out the longitudinal difference.  The challenge is building a clock that can hold the reference time with sufficient accuracy throughout a sea voyage of many months.  The longitude problem boiled down to the precision of a clock mechanism.

John Harrison was the Yorkshireman who, in pursuit of the prize, dedicated his life to developing ever more accurate clocks.  His first three (H1, H2, H3) were large brass ensembles that introduced a number of important innovations, including the bimetallic strip and caged roller bearings.  However they failed to impress the astronomy-biased Board of Longitude, despite successful sea tests – and, more importantly, failed to satisfy their maker.  H4, a tiny pocket watch of elegant design, was the real breakthrough, paving the way for marine chronometers on which every seaman would come to depend.

Nevertheless, prizing the prize money out the Board proved as hard as creating the legendary H4, partly due to the powerful opposition of Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal and a rival for the prize.  Ultimately, King George III had to intervene on Harrison’s behalf to procure his rightful winnings.

Longitude details all the twists and turns of the invention of the first marine chronometer, as well as recounting its further development by other clockmakers.  And it remembers with fitting praise the man who did so much for navigators the world over.”

 

  1. A BLINK OF THE SCREEN by Terry Pratchett. This 2013 collection of shorter fiction is Pratchett at his Pratchettiest, beginning with precocious juvenilia written and published at age 13, with dips into Discworld (Granny Weatherwax and assorted witches), apolaustic Arthuriana, wicked wit (“Santa Claus was coming. Either that or he was just breathing hard.”), and crazed creativity. I was hooked from A.S. Byatt’s foreword on. Enriched by 16 vivid visions of full-page illustrations by Josh Kirby, this is a fine kettle of fun. Finished May 12 for May 15 Far Westfarthing smial meeting.

 

  1. CLOUDS OF WITNESS, by Dorothy L. Sayers, re-read for the first time in 30 years, and blessedly, it’s much better than I’d recalled. Murder, sex, quicksand at Peter’s Pot, and the real villain gets slain and the real innocent is spared.

But is a bone-headed older brother, in this case the Duke of Denver, an English fiction staple?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”

– Hebrews 12:1

 

  1. WHOSE BODY? by Dorothy L. Sayers. The first Wimsey mystery, and not the best, but the embryonic journey of the great noble detective has begun.
  2. 46. THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB by Dorothy L. Sayers. I finished The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club at 2:50 June 9 and straight on into Strong Poison, which introduces Harriet Vane (Sayers’ self-portrait) in the dock accused of murdering her lover.
  3. STRONG POISON by Dorothy L. Sayers. “The question acted like the drawing of a champagne cork. The whole party’s bottled-up curiosity about the Vane case creamed over in one windy gust of stinging froth.”

–Ch. 12.

June 13, 2015: I just completed the fifth book in my Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey spree.

STRONG POISON: check.

Quite fine.

If ever I taught a class on the Wimsey mysteries, I’d make “Find The Allusion’s Source” a part of the regular assignments.

King Cophueta? The Edward Burne-Jone Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painting is a longtime favorite. Tennyson likewise wrote a poem, “The Beggar Maid,” about the legend.

  1. MURDER MUST ADVERTISE by Dorothy L. Sayers. No Vane. Strains credulity. Great fun nonetheless. June 16, 2015.
  2. HOUNDED by Kevin Hearne was a lot of fun to talk about: Reed Wallbom’s pick.

Finished just in time for our Far Westies meeting on June 19.

The Adams (Smith and Roloff), Christine & Reed, and we were there.

 

We digressed into raccoon-killing stories & discovered Adam Roloff once lived near the ancestral Foster manse, 2636 Prospect Road, on E. McClure, like three blocks away. But of course, Fosters were long gone as of 1976.

 

  1. LIVE RIGHT AND FIND HAPPINESS (BUT BEER IS MUCH FASTER) by Dave Barry.

A hoot and a holler.

A Father’s Day gift from Megan on June 21 finished on June 22.

Any book I finish within 24 hours after it was given to me, despite laughing so hard that I coughed, cried, snickered, snorted, slept from 11 to 8, and got verklempt at the end when he wrote about the bris of his first grandson is a book that I will strongly suggest Megan’s mother reads.

 

  1. WE NEED NEW NAMES by NoViolet Bulawayo, Zimbabwe native, 292 pages.

 

Finished at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 23. for 2 p.m. June 24 Club Marilyn at Donnelly’s Irish Pub with Carol May & Nancy Varness.

 

Nancy’s choice. It ended better than it began.

 

Well-written, with the lilt of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. First-person tale-teller’s Darling’s life, who we meet at age ten, is slightly better after she moves from Budapest (Zim) to Detroit and Kalamazoo.

 

But like Peter Pan, she is “poor little betwixt and between,” neither at home in Africa or America.

 

Superb use of the nominative gift: Bastard, Mother Of Bones, Rev.Revelations Bitchington Mborro, Bornfree, Bastard, Bin Laden is the bookends.

 

  1. UNNATURAL DEATH by Dorothy L. Sayers, was completed at 7:55 p.m. on Saturday, 27 June, after a robust supper of penne with eggplant, ricotta, parmagiano, and mozzarella, with a deconstructed salad and Neapolitan ice cream for dessert with Emma Claire and Madeleine Grace.

Fine fun before supper playing airplane with eleven stuffed bears, with my Big Bear, who came to me in January, 2007, with my hip replacement surgery, the ursine senior aboard.

Then they played horse-riding with Sugar Cane and Raisin Cane.

Jo and the grand-girls did jigsaw puzzles as I finished this mystery begun on June 17, right after MURDER MUST ADVERTISE,

So we were all solving puzzles.

No Harriet Vane, but Miss Climpson and her “Jesutical” tactics and wonderfully underlined and italicized letters to Lord Peter are hilarious epistolary chapters and the old nosy spinster shines on brightly.

The murder, as it turns out, of a rich old heiress has as its MacGuffin, as in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, a will at issue.

Bunter and Inspector Parker Shine, and fortunately doesn’t turn the Scotland Yard man into Hercule Poirot’s Lestrade to Nick Danger’s Lt. Bradshaw.

This is one I’d never read or viewed.

So on to Lord Peter Views The Body, conveniently included as the last 20% of this Kindle edition.

But first, reviewing baby pictures with Emma, Megan, and grandma Jo.

 

  1. LORD PETER VIEWS THE BODY by Dorothy L. Sayers, completed at 3 p.m. on Monday, June 29.

Three novellas (so far) involving a grisly artistic murder and attempted murder, an attempted diamond heist, and a lost will wherein a young Communist heiress and her mother could inherit much if her Uncle Meleager’s crossword puzzle clues to said will, with rhyming couplet clues and puzzle squares numbered both Romanically and Arabically, can be solved.

Appended as the last 20% of UNNATURAL DEATH, the third tale ends with Bunter querying Lord Peter about a South African quadruped that is six letters, beginning with “Q.”

On with the game!

 

  1. THE NINE TAILORS. Completed at 3:35 p.m. on Friday, July 3, my eighth of the 14 in this Wimsey re-reading festival that began in May.

The book began in a blizzard on New Year’s Eve and ends in flooding a year later. The floods are quite apt for reading in central Illinois this past month.

A bit I had remembered finally turned up at 99% .

Wonderful for the church architecture and campanological lore.

The murderers are hanged and everybody rejoices with Rev. and Mrs. Venables,  the village and countryside of Fenchurch St. Paul, Lord Peter, and Bunter, who reveals hitherto unknown talents as a comedian to the refugees of the flood.

I quite understand why Jim Croegaert​ and Peggy Schneider​ say that this is their favorite Wimsey tale.

  1. THE FIVE RED HERRINGS.

Finished at 9:20 p.m. on July 20.

Scotch trains, painting fraud, time-tables, and the murder of a bloke named Campbell who richly deserved it.

Painting, trout-fishing, ticket-punching inspection, four flavors of forgery, and to my surprise, one of the red herrings was the stinker.

The ninth book in this serial re-reading, slowed by Rolling Stones, cricket, and my own so-called writing.

Not so much as a haggis, but plenty of bacon and eggs and whiskey.

Cheers to Laird Peter Wimsey & the guid men and true of Caledonian justice with a Pimm’s No. 1 Cup.

On to HAVE HIS CARCASE, with Harriet Vane reappearing.

  1. HAVE HIS CARCASE.

Set in Wilvercote or Wilverton on the southern English coast, with a posh English hotel and a throat-cut stranger on a rock, this is one of the books finished on the road to and from Mythcon 46 in Colorado Sorings between July 28 and Aug. 6.

From between the 70% to 80% mark, altogether too much ditheration with Harriet & Peter trying to break codes and ciphers.

When the guilty ascertained, they stroll away without so much as a fiddle-dee-doo-dah-day.

  1. Three novellas in Sayers’ HANGMAN’S HOLIDAY appended to CARCASE. Jo won THE COMPLETE LORD PETER WIMSEY STORIES collection at Mythcon not for the $7 I bid on the silent part but for $13 due to shills jacking up the bids.
  2. Listened to over the course of the early part of this year: Tom Shippey’s Great Courses HEROES & LEGENDS: THE MOST INFLUENTIAL CHARACTERS OF LITERATURE, featuring 24 half-hour lectures on Frodo Baggins, Beowulf, Odysseus, Queen Guinevere, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Huckleberry Finn, Lisbeth Salander, Elizabeth Bennett, Uncle Tom, Harry Potter, Sancho Panza, Dracula, The Wife Of Bath, Robinson Crusoe, James Bond, and nine more.
  3. SLOW BURN by G.M. Ford featuring Seattle detective Leo Waterman listened to in-car between July 28 and July 31. Dead funny. Many right-on in-jokes (“Everyone knew her as Nancy”) about dueling steakhouses.
  4. CHUMP CHANGE by G.M. Ford on the road back to Metamora Aug. 3-5. Grimmer & bloodier than SLOW BURN but satisfying mystery fare is this Waterman.
  5. GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers, number 12 in my 2015 Lord Peter re-reading.

Back to what I have long felt (and reviewed as) the best Wimsey and Vane.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers reviewed by Mike Foster; published 2004.

Some would argue that re-reading a mystery is as senseless as laundering a Kleenex. Wad it up and throw it away, or better, trade it in at your local used bookstore and get a fresh one for the next time you feel the sneeze of the need to read detectively coming on. 

Once the reader knows the resolution of the riddle, why ponder the puzzle again?

The answer, to be sure, is for the love of the tale and the way it is told: not just its plot, but its characters, its setting, and its style.

This is not to dismiss plot. Sayers was a charter member of the Detection Club, begun in London in 1929. Other members included Agatha Christie, A.A. Milne, and Baroness Orczy. G.K. Chesterton was its first president; Sayers succeeded E.C. Bentley as its third. Affirming the primacy of plot, the oath of initiation read in part: “Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them, using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or an Act of God? Do you solemnly swear never to conceal a vital clue from a reader?”

Sayers keeps her oath. Of course, readers of detective stories hope to solve the puzzle themselves before book’s end, and yawn when it’s too easy and rage when it’s a trick. Kudos to any first-time readers who solve this one; I didn’t. For the record, a third reading reveals at least three clues, each set over a hundred pages apart, that illuminate the mystery for the sagacious armchair sleuth.

This 1936 novel, the penultimate of her fourteen books featuring the brilliant but brittle Lord Peter Wimsey, is Sayers’ masterpiece. It succeeds despite abstaining from the genre’s usual essential: a murder (or murders) most foul.  Vile letters and vandalism in the honeycombed atmosphere of an Oxford women’s college are the vehicles of villainy here.

Sayers defies another convention: the heroic detective is neither protagonist nor center of attention. In fact, Lord Peter does not appear until p. 302 of 501.

Harriet Vane stars instead.  Sayers introduced this character, who, not unlike the author, is an assertive Oxford-educated professional writer, in <I>Strong Poison<I>, wherein Wimsey saves her from the gallows. In <I>Have His Carcase<I>, his unrequited love for Harriet is intertwined with the mystery. Sayers intended <I>Gaudy Night<I> to be the last of the series, but was persuaded to add the coda <I>Busman’s Honeymoon<I>.

In a 1925 letter praising Chesterton’s “How to Write a Detective Story”, Sayers wrote that “on the whole, I do not care for a love interest in a detective story…because it is unnecessarily foisted on a story that would be complete without it.”

<I>Gaudy Night<I> would be a masterful mystery without the romance, but it is a better book for having it. It adds a second tension: not only must we wonder about discovering the villain, but also discovering the hero: will Harriet at last come to love Peter as he loves her?

Sayers writes:

“Accepting rebuke, he relapsed into silence while she studied his half-averted face. Considered generally, as a façade, it was by this time tolerably familiar to her, but now she saw details, magnified as it were by some glass in her own mind… The glitter of close-cropped hair where the neck-muscles lifted to meet the head. A minute sickle-shaped scar on the left temple. The faint laughter-lines at the corner of the eye and the droop of the lid at its outer end. The gleam of gold down on the cheekbone. The wide spring of the nostril. An almost imperceptible beading of sweat on the upper lip and a tiny muscle that twitched the sensitive corner of the mouth. The sun-reddening of the fair skin and its sudden whiteness below the base of the throat. The little hollow above the points of the collarbone.”

In another artful touch, a sonnet Harriet begins on p. 244 she finds completed by Peter on p. 394. A grudgingly admiring “Damn him!’ is her first response: “It was not one of the world’s great sestets, but it was considerably better than her own octave: which was monstrous of it.”

This novel has another love interest: Oxford.

“It might be an old and an old-fashioned city, with inconvenient buildings and narrow streets where the passersby squabbled foolishly about the right of way; but her foundations were set upon the holy hills and her spires touched heaven.”

I finished my second reading under those gleaming, dreaming spires in 1998; this re-reading was like souvenir picture postcards of that beguiling bookish Eden. We witness the love story’s resolution in New College Lane on the last page and yearn to nip down to The Turf to toast it with a Scrumpy Jack.

True, many mysteries age like bad American beer. But the best of them deserve to be laid down like a fine wine and savored again every several years.

Dorothy L. Sayers is such a vintner of fine tales, and “Gaudy Night” is her most magnificent vintage.

Fifth time around, it was even better than I had recalled.

I had recalled the culpritess and the general motive, but the general horrors and mystery particulars were fuzzy, and so even though the red herrings never hooked me, it may well be the best Wimsey.

The long-awaited happy ending is sealed with a kiss at one of our favorite spots in Oxford.

Finished on Aug. 21.

Onto BUSMAN’S HONEYMOON commingled with C.S. Lewis’ THE PILGRIM’S REGRESS: WADE ANNOTATED EDITION and RINGO WITH A LITTLE HELP.

  1. STONE MATTRESS by Margaret Atwood.

Finished Aug. 13; Jo’s pick for Aug. 14 Far Westfarthing smial.

Nine tales of mostly older people, this macabre collection is as cozy as murder, arson, and found corpses.

The title tale is the best.

Overall, solid as a stone mattress.

A good book for discussion, I should think.

Now back to either/both C.S. Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress: Wade Annotated Edition or Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.

Cubs lead Brewers, 9-2.

  1. BUSMAN’S HONEYMOON by Dorothy L. Sayers.

The funniest and plummiest of the Wimseys.

Harriet and Peter discover that old Noakes who sold them their honeymoon home in the country told no one about the new ownership.

The nasty old fraud is found dead and the murderer is discovered.

Background on how Bunter came to be Peter’s valet and a tour of the ducal palace before the killer goes unrepentant to the gallows.

Mercy is served to the surviving victims by virtues of his Lordship.

Read between Aug. 22 and 24, much of it on the road to and from the Firefly Grill for The Second Annual Foster-Campbell Family Food trip.

Now back into the Lewis pilgrimage.

  1. THE COLLECTED WORKS OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR: selections.

 

   Yesterday I finished Busman’s Honeymoon and read “The Artificial Nigger,” “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” and “Parker’s Back” for Flannery O’Connor stories to be discussed at our book club at Donnelly’s Pub Wednesday afternoon.

 

    Others I’ve completed are “Good Country People,” “The River,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “A Temple Of The Holy Ghost,” “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” “Revelation,” and “Judgment Day.”

 

    I may tackle “The Displaced Person” this afternoon.

 

    That would make twelve.  Aug. 25 for Club Marilyn.

 

  1. THE PILGRIM’S REGRESS: WADE ANNOTATED EDITION by C.S. Lewis, edited by David C. Downing.

 

Aug. 29

 

Good to have my reading of Pilgrim’s Regress done.

 

The review will be a wholly terror.

 

“He that hath understanding in himself is best;

He that lays up his brother’s wisdom in his breast

Is good. But he that neither knoweth, nor will be taught

By instruction of the wise–this man is naught.”

–Hesiod, quoted byLewis as an epigraph prefatory to Book Eight, “At Bay,” p.137.

Composed in August, 1932,

Errata: p. 150, Chesterton’s book is correctly called The Everlasting Man, not Everlasting Man.

From p. 172:

Mother Kirk: ‘You have come a long way round to reach this place…But it is very well.’

‘What must I do?’ said John.

‘You must take off your rags’ said she, ‘…then you must dive into this water.’

‘Alas,’ said he. ‘I have never learned to dive.’

‘There is nothing to learn, said she. ‘The art of diving is not to do something new but simply to cease doing something. You have only to let yourself go’

Evokes The Hobbit, A Christmas Carol, Out of the Silent Planet.

JRRT & CSL first met on 11 May, 1926 in the first year of JRRT’s professorship in Oxford.

It was Lewis’ first book published under his own name as well as his first religious work.

 

  1. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess, Sept. 2.

My choice for Sept. 4 Far Westfarthing smial.

A dystopia wherein little Alex, 15, an unholy terror of amoral violence, is “cured” through medical-psychological therapy.

This edition included a new final chapter not present in the book I read during junior year at Marquette, 1966-67.

It poses some complicated questions about sin and free will and the conjunction of horoschov and horror show

 

  1. RINGO: WITH A LITTLE HELP by Michael Seth Starr, Sept. 5.

Richie was loved and usually lovable. He was the Beatles go-between with each other. His mother Elsie & “step-ladder” Harry loved him generously.

He was the right drummer for the best band ever.

His best studio stuff was from 1967 on. The first 310 pages took us up to 1985, and the last 50 to the present. He went from two bottles of vodka or brandy a day to broccoli and sobriety.

Whatever it takes.

 

  1. FARMER GILES OF HAM by J.R.R. Tolkien, finished Sept. 11 for Starved Rock Smials Summit III on 9/12.

 

This edition is annotated by Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull.

 

Since I’d taught the tale as lead-off JRRT fiction from 1978 until 2008, not many surprises here, except for the brief fragment about Giles’ son George and his pig-herder and faithful follower Suet.

 

A delight to read. Precious information on evolution of the tale.

 

  1. 1965 by Andrew Grant Jackson.

 

A heavenly hell of a year in music, society, politics, war, sex, and so on.

 

Marred by fact errors (“Wendy,” not “Don’t Worry, Baby,” was the B-side of “I Get Around) and omissions, but nonetheless, a year that altered and illuminated our time.

 

Finished Sept. 15.

 

  1. SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR by J.R.R. Tolkien, annotated version by Verlyn Flieger, with ornate Bodleian Library drafts and notes on the ancestry of Smith and his wife and her family.

 

Read for fourth annual Urbana Theological Seminary JRRT conference in Champaign on Sept. 19.

 

The Q & A was the best part. It usually is.

 

Exhausting fun.

 

Or at least exhausting.

 

  1. SUCKER’S PORTFOLIO, early bad Kurt Vonnegut stories, much inferior to the similar dustbin purge THE PRICE WAS HIGH, early bad F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 

At least the title was truth in advertising.

 

Sept. 28, 2015.

 

  1. RUSSIAN ROULETTE by Mike Fierici. A free twofer mystery Jo got that lasted exactly one trip to get a hair cut with Kathie Smith on Sept. 29, 2015.

 

  1. GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT by Robert Graves. Bought in American National WW I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, on Aug. 5.

 

From Oxford to the hell of the Great War, his dire progress recorded.  Poet Graves knew everyone, especially Siegfried Sassoon.

 

Other friends or acquaintances include Owen, Hardy, Maesfield, the Sitwells, the Morrells.

After the war, he taught in Egypt.

 

Worked as an unsuccessful shopkeeper in Oxford near Wootton. Married an adamant early feminist; although they had four children, that did not finally work out.

 

The third World War tome of this year, after John Garth’s TOLKIEN AT EXETER COLLEGE and Paul Fussell’s THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY.

 

Finished during the Cubs 6-3 defeat of the Cardinals to even the NLDS baseball playoff series at 1-1 on Oct. 10.

 

  1. THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: HOW THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ROWING TEAM TOOK HITLER’S GOLD AT THE 1936 OLYMPICS by Daniel James Brown.

 

For Club Marilyn Oct. 21. Fascinating lore of wily Nazism nearing full black evil flower & clean-cut poor lumberjack lads. The coxswain found out just before the games that his family were refugee Jews.

 

A love story, or ten, immured in there. My erstwhile Marquette junior-year J-professor Albion Ross covered the 1936 games, including crew, for the New York Times.

 

One of the better books I’ve read this year.

 

  1. THE HAIGHT by Jim Marshall.

 

An oversize and ponderous book, a photographic history of  San Francisco 1965-69, that I read during Cubs decline and fall ti the Meta in the NLCS, swept, Oct. 21.

 

Wistfulness inducer, Apt. 11, N. 13th Street, Milwaukee, senior year at Marquette, 1967-‘68.

 

Posters, performance shots, and one fish-eye fold-out of all the bands c. 1968 that evokes the famous “Great Day In Harlem” photo that hangs on cousin Gino’s wall—or did.  Except in that 1938 shot, all the drummers, trumpeters, sax cats gravitated together. Here it is band by band.

 

“To be young then was very heaven.”

 

  1. THE WARDED MAN by Peter V. Brett.

 

Horridly horrid horrifying horrific horror, Adam Roloff’s pick for the Far Westies.

 

A bloody f. mess.

 

No love, just rape.

 

Too many killed messily.

 

The worst smial book of the year.

 

Finished 10/28 for 10/30.

 

  1. MEDIUM RAW: A BLOODY VALENTINE by Anthony Bourdain.

 

Not as outrageous bot more outraged than KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL.

 

Bipolar restaurant kitchen tales that increased my admiration for the hard work that goes on before the server brings your Irish sausage or oysters on the half-shell or T-bone steak to the table.

 

Especially fish dishes.

 

Finished Nov. 3.

 

  1. MY MAN JEEVES by P.G. Wodehouse.

 

Plum at his plummiest.

 

Except for three non-Bertie and Jeeves stories that snuck into this like Aunt Agatha into a Drones Club smoker, true to form.

 

Nothing of the quality of “The Great Sermon Handicap” or “The Purity Of The Turf,” but Jeeves is always shimmeringly correct.

 

Nov. 4.

 

  1. CARRY ON, JEEVES by P.G. Wodehouse.

All Jeeves, every story, although the last one is from his point-of-view instead of Bertie’s and so a bit of a Milk Dud in the Swiss chocolates.

 

Nov. 7.

 

  1. TITUS GROAN by Mervyn Peake. Published in 1946. Apparently C.S. Lewis liked the Gormenghast cycle, of which this is the first.

 

Finished Nov. 18 for Nov. 20 Far Westfarthing smial.

 

In-progress comments:

 

I began TITUS GROAN Nov. 6, noting that the introduction was written by Anthony Burgess, author of my last pick A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. I like the decayed Wodehouse feel of it and the names: Rottcodd, Fuschia, Flay, Sepulchrave, Mrs. Slagg, Swelter, Steerpike, Prunesquallor. Only 379 pages to go.

 November 6 at 5:52pm

Mike Foster Up to p. 82 of TITUS LXXVII. “The Frivolous Boat” poem reminds me of our January read, Lewis Carroll. Moreover, it would be a good name for a band. So would Bright Carvers and The Cool Room.

Mike Foster P. 122. Like Poe but funnier. Twisted Woods is another good band name.

Prodigiously prolix, evanescently exquisite.

Besides Wodehouse and Carroll, GROAN also evoked the ending of Lewis PERELANDRA, the murkier moments in Charles Williams, and tales of creaky old mansions filled with madmen and memories.

The last sixty or so of its 396 pages were like a marathon in molasses.

First final overall impression: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?

 

  1. RIGHT HO, JEEVES.

A full-length Jeeves & Bertie, full of the juiciest characters & events from the legendarium.

‘ “Very well, then,” I said coldly. “Tinkerty-tonk.”

And I meant it to hurt.’

Completed on St. Cecelia’s Eve, Nov. 21, snowed in by the first flakes of the season which became a blustery blizzard.

 

  1. KRAMPUS: THE YULE LORD by Brom.

Santa Claus from Hel.

A heady mix of Norse myth, Tolkien, rock & roll and country music, and all that goes with them.

Rated “R” for violence and language.

Finished on Dec. 1 for Dec. 4 Far Westfarthing smial session.

 

  1. BENEDICTION by Kent Haruf (rhymes with “sheriff”).

 

A hardware store proprietor living in the bleak hardscrabble country of Colorado’s high plains dies slowly of cancer over 265 pages, the fifth in a series set in the same locale, published 2014.

 

Finished Dec. 6 for Dec. 8 Club Unmarilyn meeting at Donnelly’s on Dec. 8.

 

Quibbles: lack of quotation marks with dialogue; difficulty in realizing some family scenes were bedside hallucinations and not real.

 

Best scene: eight women aged 8 to 80 go skinny-dipping in a stock tank on a hot summer day.

 

Not much fun to read but I admire it more after our long (1-3:30) session.

 

 

  1. DARK CORNERS by Ruth Rendell.

 

Published in 2015, this psychological thriller is Rendell’s last and, along with The Killing Doll, one of her best.

 

A semi-successful writer living in Maida Vale, London, Carl Martin, leases his upstairs flat to a repellent cur whose non-payment of rent is the thin edge of an ever-thickening wedge.

 

Driven to obsession and tears by this exploitative swine’s impositions, Martin finally spontaneously kills him by battery with a heavily-laden knapsack.

 

Then the dead man’s fiancée turns up as the new lodger, vile as the villain, so he tries to kill her.

 

Martin’s derangement costs him his career, his sobriety, his sanity, and his beloved Nicole. At the end, he confesses to the police.

 

The tale recalls Emile Zola’s 1876 Therese Raquin.

 

Finished on Dec. 10.

 

 

  1. THE NATURE OF THE BEAST by Louise Penny.

 

This year’s killer-diller-thriller Inspector Gamache Three Pines mystery with that wonderful cast of local characters: Ruth the cranky poet, who aptly quotes Yeats’ “The Second Coming;” Gabi and Olivier, the gay B&B proprietors and chefs; Clare the widowed painter; Myrna the bookstore proprietor; assorted cops and CSIS and old hippies and small-town merchants and horrid villains who seek the rough beast of Armageddon.

 

One of her best.

 

Finished Dec. 19.

 

 

  1. ADVENT IN NARNIA by Heidi Haverkamp, a gift from Second Friday group chum Kathy Leson.

 

Although I share Tolkien’s tepid enthusiasm for these tales, some tasty morsels in the daily bites:

 

“Have you ever considered that feasting at Christmas (cookies, chocolate, smoked salmon, champagne etc.) could be a celebration of the coming of Christ rather than just an indulgence or lapse in your diet?” (p. 57)

 

Finished on Christmas morning, Dec, 25.

 

 

 

 

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One comment on “A list of excellent books reviewed in 2015 by Professor Mike Foster

  1. John Moffatt
    February 5, 2016

    Ah, so what else have you been up to Professor?
    Now I know what I’ll be reading…for the rest of my life.
    Thank you.

    Like

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