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

Book Review Extravaganza by Mike Foster


A Christmas gift of my elder daughter Martha, begun Dec. 26 and finished Jan. 4.

One GI contributor was named Bradley and he said that it was assumed that he was a fortunate son of Gen. Omar Bradley.

“How do you think I feel,” said a black buddy of his. “My name is Westmoreland.”

The songs we were dancing to and playing from 1964 to 1975 back in the USA were quite different when heard in country in the bloody and mismanaged butchery that was the Vietnam experience.

“As seventeen-year-old boys, we danced with the apocalypse and it cooked our hearts.”

–Alfredo Vea, p. 218.


MARCH: BOOK ONE by United States Representative John Robert Lewis with Andrew Aydin and graphic artist Nate Powell.

It’s American history of the struggles against racism told in graphic novel form.

I won this in an Illinois Central College Library Sweepstakes by correctly guessing how many times the library staff would dress in the same color during fall semester, 2015.

I think I guessed eight.

Or six.

125 pages, published by Top Shelf Productions, Marietta, Georgia, 2013.

Megan brought it over on Jan. 2.

I finished it Jan. 13.

It begins, after a flashback dream Lewis has of the fateful crossing o the Edmund C. Pettus bridge with Martin Luther King, Jr., to the morning of Obama’s first inauguration eight years ago, Jan. 20, 2009.

This true tale of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and SNCC’s non-violence and de-segregation, it begins in spring, 1940, and the first volume ceases with the Nashville mayor ordering the integration of that city’s lunch counters.

Lewis’ autobiography flashes back to spring, 1940, when his father bought a cotton, corn, and peanut farm in Pike County, Alabama, for $300.

The boy John especially loves taking care of the chickens. He raised feisty bantams, big meaty docile brown-egg-laying Rhode Island Reds, Dominiques (called “Dominickers” by we old poultry pokes to exorcise the memory of The Singing Nun).

Given a Bible by an uncle at age 5, Lewis learns to read from it and preaches to the cluckers in his chicken shed, reading Jesus’ Semon on the Mount and the Eight Beatitudes.

He could not eat his flock when one of their number was harvested for Sunday dinner.

Inspired by Pres. Obama’s final, stirring State of the Union Speech last night, Jan. 12, I returned to this book this morning.

Highly recommended it is.


  1. ALLEN KLEIN: THE MAN WHO BAILED OUT THE BEATLES, MADE THE STONES, AND TRANSFORMED ROCK & ROLL by Fred Goodman, birthday gift of Megan Foster Campbell​.


“Now he worships at the altar of a stagnant pool

And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled

For man is opposed to fair play

He wants it all and he wants it his way.”

— Bob Dylan​, “License To Kill.”

I just finished Fred Goodman’s Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out The Beatles, Made The Stones, And Transformed Rock & Roll, 302 pages, Megan’s birthday gift, on Jan. 18.


Recommended it is.


Of all of the famous clients enriched by his sometimes devious deeds, after his death on July 4, 2009, only Yoko and Sean Lennon attended his funeral.


The only famous eulogist at his memorial service was the Rolling Stones 1962-1967 manager Andrew Loog Oldham.


Short review: he was the best of guys, he was the worst of guys.


  1. STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson, 2013, 386 pages.


“Do not look to the executioner for the reason his blade falls.”

–Abraham in STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson, p.224.


To Peoria we must go at 4:30 for 5 to 8 p.m for Far Westfarthing smial January meeting on “Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson, a dystopian futuristic cowboy movie on paper set in Newcago.

“’Piping is the most sublime sound y’all have ever heard,’ Cody explained , gesturing widely as we walked down the corridor to the hideout. ‘A sonorous mix of power, frailty, and wonder.’” –p.250.             


Finished 4 p.m., Jan. 22.


  1. THE TIN CUP by Spalding Slevin, 35 pages, 1995


A gift of his second eldest son, my fine friend Tim Slevin (Sept. 25, 1946-May 22, 2013), who is never mentioned in it.


But cursillo is, and Tim persuaded me to make my first cursillo in November, 1968, while I was teaching at Spalding Institute, my rookie year.


It started me on my long trek back home to Mother Church.


Spalding was a traditional (slight understatement) Catholic


Once in 1967 when Tim and I had spent a week up Janesville at Heard Manor gallivanting about with the erstwhile Tempests, The Heard, Tim warned me.


“My dad is going to ask you if we went to Mass, and he’ll separately from me, so tell him yes, when he asks you what the readings and homily were like, tell him it was about the Beatitudes and father preached on each one of the eight.”


Of course, he hadn’t cone to Mass.


Of course, Spalding asked me.


Of course, I passed but I think Spalding suspected flim-flammery.


Quite rightly.


This book floated up at my bedside on Monday, Jan. 25.


I finished it at 4:30 on Wednesday, Jan. 27.




Published by Time-Life Books, 2012. 112 pages.


A gift of my erstwhile ICC student Todd Nelson, this slim book boasts superb photos, little-known (by me anyway) musical and personal lore, and a happy ending, with Paul driving off into the Rt. 66 sunset with his third wife, Nancy Shevell, by his side, as she still is.


  1. FORTUNATE SON by John Fogerty.


This is the self-told tale, 549 miserable paranoid, delusional, self-abusing, and self-pitying pages, of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s singer, songwriter and front man.


He ends up hating everybody, even and especially his brother Tom and his two other bandmates, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, and most of all his Fantasy Records patron and boss, Saul Zaentz.


He finally marries a South Bend girl, Julie, and they seem to be living happily ever after.


Finished Feb. 3, on the 56th anniversary of the day the music died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper.


Both Holly and Dion, who sold his $36 seat on the plane to the Bopper, are far greater talents.


MARCH: BOOK TWO by United States Representative John Robert Lewis with co-writer Andrew Aydin and graphic artist Nate Powell.  

An autobiography of 187 pages, including the original text of Rep. Lewis’ address at the March on Washington in 1962 before Bayard Rustin and assorted clerics and bishops and cautious souls toned it down.

Published by Top Shelf Productions, Marietta, Georgia, in  paperback.

It’s the second volume of Lewis’ American history of the struggles against racism told in graphic novel form.

I finished the first volume on Jan. 13.

I finished this on Feb. 12 on a day when Rep. Lewis’ questioned Democratic Presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders’ claims to have been active in SNCC back in those days.

As with the first, recommended.

College, high school, and public libraries should have this book.

THE BROKEN SWORD by Poul Anderson, published in 1954.

Finished Feb. 26 for the Far Westfarthing smial meeting that afternoon.

Bloody pastiche of Tolkien, Scandidvian and Irish and English and Germanic myth, and the darkest takes of THE KALEVALA.

It has some good-one liners: “’the fierce riot of their love”…”the wolf-fanged wind”…


I completed it for the smial just as we pulled into the Peoria Pizza Works parking lot at 4:58.


A splendid session with eight of the nine (Reed Wallbom: excused absence: business in Denver) present.


Quite good to have Melody Green back again—a founding Far Westie along with Bob Killion.


A lively bunfight: we liked the book yet had enough quibbles to make for a good meeting.


THE BROKEN SWORD is a pousse-cafe of Irish, English, Finnish, Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Christian myth that was Poul Anderson’s connection to CONAN THE BARBARIAN (he ghosted some of them) and the wash-house sink


Our host Gary had a new Irish whisky, Hell-Cat Maggie, that Adam Smith and I agreed was quite sloshworthy.


Jo and I got a ten-inch hyper-thin vegetarian pizza with cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, but no olives.


I like them in martinis but not on pizzas.


Earendel riding high in the east on our drive home.

AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE by Beryl Bainbridge, published in 1989.


Finished March 17.


Set in Liverpool in 1950, this tells the tale of a repertory theater that endeavors a Christmas production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, my favorite fairy tale since 1952, when I was five, first read in the novelized version, my first “grown-up” book when I was six.


The heroine is Stella, abandoned by her flighty Julia Lennon-esque mother who fled to London, living in a rooming house with her uncle Vernon Potter (J.K. Rowling, anyone?) and aunt Lily, who are the proprietors.


Stella is 15, going on 16, a cynical old soul in a dowdy young virgin’s body.


It reminded me that while roar of the grease-paint and the smell of the crowd can be fun (I was typecast as Mr. DePinna, the daft man who builds fireworks in the Spalding Institute-Academy of Our Lady senior class play in 1964), theater people can be a trial.


Great gossip: “The Cock of the North invited her to his wedding,” said Grace. “And there was a rumour that John Galsworthy once left her five guineas under the spine of his breakfast kipper.” (53)




“Stella had been brought up to believe that Catholicism was a plague rather than a religion…Angels at the foot of the bed and the devil at their back, they drank like fishes and bred like rabbits. After midnight Mass on Christmas eve the street was desperate with maudlin men with bloodied noses and bruised knuckles singing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ as they urinated through that railings.” (71)


When the actor designated to play Mr. Darling and Capt. Hook his forced to leave the cast and the London actor O’Hara is called up to save the play, Stella is smitten.


She has him and he her. He renames her “Stella Maris,” Star of the Sea.


Bittersweet hilarity abounds: a drunken priest denies the philosophy of English boys going to die because of the recent horrors of World War II.

Barrie had, in fact, excised Peter’s line “To die will be an awfully great adventure” in 1916 and thereafter following the death of Lt. George Llewelyn-Davies, the model for the boy Pan, slain by a sniper in France.


A daft cricket match between the cast and crew of Peter Pan and the treasure Island team is played, but with unfortunate consequences.


Quite a good book. It will send me back to Andrew Birkin’s J.M. Barrie and The Lost Boys, as well as Barrie’s own The Little White Bird and both the play and novel versions of the story who couldn’t grow, who was, of course, Barrie himself.


A “Peter Pan” piece for my “Off The Shelf” column in Gilbert magazine that I wrote in 2003.

 “Peter & Wendy” (also published as “Peter Pan”) by J.M.Barrie

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is one of literature’s most ambivalent characters, blessed and cursed with eternal youth, his name a touchstone for pluck, courage, and charm. This poignant tale of the boy who would not grow up has a strength born of long revision before attentive audiences: first, the Llewelyn-Davies boys that Barrie beguiled with improvised stories about Peter in Kensington Gardens in 1897.

In 1904, Barrie risked his reputation as a popular comedy-of-manners playwright by dramatizing the story of Peter, Wendy and her brothers, the Lost Boys, and one of English literature’s most delightfully over-the-top villains, Capt. Jas. Hook. The play was a stunning success from opening night on.

Seven years later, Barrie distilled the story of Peter into a novel, and it did what fiction can do that drama cannot: it let us inside the heart of the story.

Tragedy had come to Barrie by then: his marriage had failed. Then in 1907 the father, and in 1910 the mother of the five boys who’d inspired Barrie to create Peter Pan died, cancer-claimed too suddenly. In the aftermath, fishing with the orphaned boys up in Scotland, Barrie wrote “Peter and Wendy”, giving the story a different, bittersweet ending, a meditation on escape and recovery—recovery for all but Peter himself.

Joseph Schwartz has written of Chesterton’s 1913 denunciation of “Peter Pantheism” that “one would think that Peter, the essence of ‘sincere adventurousness’, would enchant the author of  ‘The Ethics of Elfland’…The combination of innocence and truth with an unexpected dark side should have pleased Chesterton, and perhaps it did.”

But Chesterton accused Pan of the sin attributed to Mr. Darling early in the story: cowardice. “He admitted it would be a great adventure to die; but it did not seem to him that it would be a great adventure to live.”

J.R.R. Tolkien would also criticize Peter’s choice in “On Fairy Stories”: “Children are meant to grow up, and not become Peter Pans.” But Tolkien also finds what Chesterton missed: an ethic of Neverland: “it is one of the lessons of fairy-stories…that on callow, lumpish, and selfish youth peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity, and sometimes even wisdom.”

“Peter and Wendy” shows that by 1911, Barrie had seen perils, deaths, and sorrows that he had not expected when he’d begun telling the story to the boys 14 years earlier.

For now amid the wit, there is wistfulness. The comedy is explicit; the tragedy, implied. The descriptions of Neverland are suffused with a subtle sense of melancholy and mourning yet to come. The nightmares that trouble Peter, the brooding doubts that torment Hook, the difficult choices that mature Wendy are incarnated in the novel version.

Barrie accounted for the lives of Wendy, her brothers Michael and John, and the six Lost Boys.
“It is sad to have to say that the power to the power to fly gradually left them”
“All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is scarcely worth saying any more about them.You may see the twins and Nibs and Curly any day going to an office, each carrying a little bag and an umbrella. Michael is an engine-driver. Slightly married a lady of title and so he is a lord. [A fine kettle of jest, for Slightly was the Bluto of the Lost Boys.] You see that judge in a wig coming out at the iron door. That used to be Tootles. The bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children was once John.
Wendy was married in a white dress with a pink sash.” (p. 233)

First-time readers, especially the young ones, may miss this. Re-readers will not, and that is one reason to take this off the shelf in the playroom. This book is that rarest of works: one that rings true at six, truer at twenty-six, and all too true at sixty. Barrie’s tone, both credulous and wry, speaks to both those who believe in fairies and those who no longer can.

The droll humor is still there, and the fatal charm of Peter, too, but this is a children’s book for older children—meaning all of us.




TRIGGER WARNINGS by Neil Gaiman, 2015.


Finished March 24 for Far Westfarthing smial book discussion-with-beer-and-pizza at the Peoria Pizza Works on March 25.


Assorted poems, short stories, and such from 2004, the year that Jo and I met Gaiman, to 2015.


She chose this book. A few C+s, several B+s, but overall, an A- volume.


Seven have checked in for the Pizza Works smial with the Far Westfarthingers at 5.


Plotwise, the stories are a bag of allsorts.


The American Gods item, the penultimate tale, is one of the best.


The Sleeping Beauty-Snow White mashup and “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” and the prose poem about the landlady at a Brighton hotel are is splendid as well


Gaiman writes exquisitely.


We met him in Ann Arbor in 2004 at a Mythcon.


We both wish that we had read him before then.


He gave a superb keynote speech about loving books as a boy and his three great influences: G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S Lewis.


I look forward to the septet discussion and perhaps another wee dram of Hell-Cat Maggie.









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This entry was posted on April 8, 2016 by in Mike Foster and tagged , .
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