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

Mike Foster’s 2016 Books Continued


THE CUB FAN’S CHRISTMAS WISH AND OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES by Mike Foster and Bill Knight, completed April 23.

A pleasant surprise arrived in the mail on Monday, April 25, Bill Knight sent me the original 1983 edition of The Cub Fan’s Christmas Wish And Other Christmas Stories.

We had made a Tolkien-C.S.Lewis sort of agreement to write one story set in the past, our “Wish,” set in the brownstone apartment building just over Wrigley Field’s left field wall on Waveland Avenue.


One was set in the future, Bill’s “A Space Story,” and for the one set in the present, he recycled my Prairie Sun “Another Christmas Carol,” the punch-party fable wherein all the records in our old bricks and boards case come to life on Christmas Eve at midnight and Bo Diddley guides Stevie (me) around.


I’d quite forgotten that tale, written in the early 1980’s judging by the presence of the Stray Cats and The Blasters.


Boy, were those three stories (ahem) good.


No Cubs game so I read this instead.


It was a fine substitute.


THE BOXCAR CHILDREN by Gertrude Chandler Warren, finished on April 25.

A childhood favorite of Jo’s and mine, it turns out that it was likewise liked by daughter Megan and grand-daughter Mad, whose teacher had read it to her.

When we talked about it before supper Sunday, she remembered them building the swimming pool by damming up the creek.


I showed her the silhouette illustrations in my Kindle version.


I first read it when I was 8 or 9.


I checked it out from the Prospect road branch of the Peoria Public library about six blocks north of 2636, where I’d grown up.


Sixty years later, it’s still comfortable and comforting.


And they lived happily ever after.




THE LAST WISH: WITCHER 1 by Andrjez Sapkowski.


Good Far Westfarthing smial meeting at the Peoria Pizza works Friday, May 6, although there was, uh, radical disagreement on the quality of The Last Wish, a book that read like a template for a game because it was.


I read 45% of 360 pages.


“As the tomcat said, when he kissed the skunk, “Though it’s been grand / I’ve enjoyed about all of this that I can stand’.” –Homer & Jethro’s version of “He’ll Have To Go.”


What was the last wish?


That mystery went unresolved.


Jo and I loathed the book and enumerated the reasons why.


We still had fun, but I got busted for being an English professor and valuing good writing, plot, character, setting, and loathing pointless sex & violence.


Blaming it on the translator & extolling the game the book spawned cut no mustard or cheese with me.


Adam R., who has played 11 hours (!) of the game, and sponsor Bob Killion really praised it.


Reed said he kinda enjoyed listening to it and Christine liked the same chapters (it was disjointed short stories) that I thought were acceptable.


Our absent Far Westies, Melody and Adam Smith. (“cardboard cliché’), didn’t like it.


I really wish Adam Smith had been there for the smial.


He has been eloquent, rational, and lucid in his demolition of The Last Wish last night and this morning.


Oh well.


On to Watership Down, I think, on June 3.




GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers.


My sixth or seventh or eighth reading, finished May 10 for a Club Unmarilyn meeting that keeps getting postponed, finally to be held May 25.

It was even better than I had remembered.


I recalled who done it, and why, early, and saw bad things about to happen with long-ago foreshadowed dread.


Here’s a review written after my third go-round:


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 Strong Poison, wherein Wimsey saves her from the gallows. In Have His Carcase, his unrequited love for Harriet is intertwined with the mystery.

Sayers intended Gaudy Night to be the last of the series, but was persuaded to add the coda Busman’s Honeymoon.

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.”

Gaudy Night 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.



WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams.

I re-read this for the first time since it came out in paperback decades ago as Melody Green’s choice for June 3 Far Westfarthing smial.

It’s better than I’d recalled.

The epigraphical allusions that open the chapters are brilliant, and Adams writes very well.

Its lapinology is remarkably accurate, and I do know a bit about bunnies.


Rabbit Hill and The Tough Winter written and illustrated by Robert Lawson, who wrote Ben & Me, are more palatable rabbit tales.


Jo and I began watching the cartoon version, which gave Adam Roloff nightmares after he saw it as a child, on June 5.


The film is well done, but indeed it would be cauchemar fodder for anyone under ten.




Highly recommended.

I finished the book on June 12.

Thinking of Prince’s death and Eric Clapton’s neuropathy-caused retirement, I read this:

[In 1978 at age 31 Carl] “now suffered from excruciating back pain–a common affliction among guitar players and bassists who perform standing up–that led him to self-medicate. The back problem had started as early as 15 BIG ONES [released in 1976], much of which he recorded lying on the studio floor.”

Readers will be reminded of the dud albums they put out: 15 BIG ONES, THE BEACH BOYS LOVE YOU, M.I.U ALBUM, KEEPING THE SUMMER ALIVE, etc.

Carl died too young at age 51.

Lung cancer.

By then, he was clean and sober, although he was never an abuser like his older brothers Brian and Dennis.

Like Roy Orbison, his voice never cracked on a high note. But on his last show, on Nov. 19, 1997, it cracked on his masterpiece “God Only Knows.”

He died not long after on Feb. 6, 1998, surrounded by his family and his friend Jerry Schilling.

He is buried near his mother, Audree Love Wilson, in Westwood Memorial Park near UCLA.




It was a Christmas or birthday gift from one of the Foster ladies.

I finished this on June 16, 2016, fifty years minus 32 days from the date of his death.

Poorly edited and laid out.

It lacks an index.

The photos are dark and minuscule.

Nonetheless, it is worth reading.

Brawls, booze, babes, and Texas rock and roll.

Randy was bassist in the Bobby Fuller Four.

He drove his mother’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88, reeking of gasoline and blood from the towed trailer full of his older brother’s stuff, from Los Angeles back home to El Paso.

When Pres. Johnson visited El Paso, the Bobby Fuller Four did a Beatles parody “We love you, LBJ” to impress Lucy Baines Johnson.

She was insufficiently impressed.

Everyone is there: erstwhile associates of Ritchie Valens,  Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, The Beach Boys, a high school girl named Stephanie (later Stevie) Nicks, Phil Spector sitting in on piano, Jerry Miller before he played lead guitar with Moby Grape, future Led Zeppelin sound engineer Terry Manning, Jack Ruby who was the Texas mobster who killed JFK’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 24, 1962,  The Standells,  Herman’s Hermits, Nancy Sinatra, eventual Charles Manson murder victims Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring,  former Mouseketeer Tommy Kirk, Boris Karloff, Dean Martin’s daughter Claudia,  record producer Bob Keene, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, Dick Dale & The Deltones, erstwhile WLS-AM disc jockey Dick Biondi. Tommy James & The Shondells, and many more.

Was Bobby murdered by the Los Angeles Mafia?

Or was it suicide?

Randy thinks he was killed.




Like many on my 2016 list, a gift from a Foster woman.

I completed it on the afternoon of Monday, June 27.

Peter Yarrow deserves a spot in the title.

Albert Grossman is the Shadow.

Wald points out that amplification transformed the bantering jesting Dylan into the silent, surly star those of us who’ve seen his shows since 1994 have witnessed.

Newport begat Monterrey begat Woodstock begat Summer Camp and so on.

Pete Seeger emerges with his halo intact.


This book is recommended with reservations due to some fact errors: “Dave ‘Tony’ Glover” later corrected to “Tony Glover,” the Minneapolis blues harmonica whose records Dylan stole. “Spider John” Koerner, “Snaker” Dave Ray, and Tony “Little Sun” Glover were a mainstay at the Avant Garde coffee house in Milwaukee in 1964-66, both as a trio and singly.

To be fair, many of the most egregious errors were committed by “respected” news organs like TIME.



Completed July 4 for Aug. 5 Club Unmarilyn Meeting with Nancy Varness and Carol May.


Carol’s selection.


Of the three Larsons that I have read, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY and IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS, this may be the best.


Of the 1,959 of the LUSITANIA’s passengers and crew, only 764 survived the torpedoing in St. George’s Channel between Ireland and England on the last morning of their trans-Atlantic voyage from New York City.


Total deaths, including three German stowaways in the brig, amounted to 1,198, including 123 Americans.


Only six of the 33 infants aboard survived.


Six hundred passengers were never found.


Several survivors later committed suicide.


On April 6, 1917, Pres. Woodrow Wilson finally declared war against Germany.


He should have done it in 1915.


But at least he had happily remarried.


A few years later, U-20 commander & LUSITANIA nemesis Kptlt. (captain) Walther Schwieger steered his new submarine into a minefield.


“Sunk” was his one-word obituary.


I finished DEAD WAKE a bit before 11 p.m. on Independence Day.


Like almost everything else in The Great War, here stupidity, chance, and mismanagement led the heartbreaking death of innocents and the loss of priceless literary and artistic treasures.


Churchill and the Admiralty’s actions were not admirable.

It’s rather like the British generals & War Office in World War I who made the trenches as miserable as possible to persuade the troops that they would be home by Christmas.







Monsooned Mardi Gras murder mystery featuring lawyer Tubby Dubonnet, a N’Awlins native, and a cast of comical characters and vicious villains.


Quite good up until the disappointing non-ending.


Completed on a Metamora monsoon day, July 6.



High towers and strong places: A political history of middle-earth. timothy R. Furnish, Ph.D. Canada: Oloris Publishing Company, 2016. Illustrated by Anke Eißmann. Maps and diagrams by Aaron Siddall. 171 pages.  ISBN 978-1-940992-51-8-53500-5. Softcover. $10 direct from publisher.


Ohio State professor Timothy R. Furnish writes at the end of this book that he “holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, African, and World History only because the history Department at The Ohio State University would not let him specialize in the chronicles of Gondor.”


That fact is regrettable; his interest in the imagined history of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium shines on brightly in this study.


Furnish, whose three prior books have been studies of Islamic history, has served as a consultant to the United States military, and states that he “much prefers Middle-earth to the Middle East; his favorite character is Theoden; and he also fences saber in his spare time—usually, but not always, left-handed.”


His photograph shows him to be a tall, bald, and mustached with a sword that more resembles a weapon of Middle-earth than the fencing gymnasium.


He begins his study by stating that “I first read The Hobbit when I was 16, in the fall of 1976….Over the years, Tolkien has seeped into my mind as well as my soul, fusing with my other areas of interest and expertise, both personal and professional, world and Middle eastern history; eschatology; comparative politics; military topics and weaponry.”


He adds that he has “re-read the trilogy numerous times.” “I’ve also lost count of how many times I’ve watched Peter Jackson’s excellent movies set in Middle-earth—yes, the extended editions.” (1)


He ends it by stating “This book was not supposed to be written.” (145)

This tome includes 47 pages of end-notes, one of acknowledgments, three about the author, map- and diagram-maker Aaron Siddall, and illustrator Anke Eißmann, and twelve of “Works Cited,” beginning with “Air Force Chief Of Staff Reading usaf, 2014” and followed by “Alfred The GreatWikipedia.” Unfortunately, it lacks an index.

Dr. Furnish has a predilection for random bold-facing, quotation mark usage, and italicizing. Even more unfortunate is his tendency toward arguable assertions:


“’Many critics and readers have viewed Tolkien as simplistically pacifist or [alternatively] war-loving, by reading shallowly…or simply disregarding the presence of war in the works altogether. What they miss by reading him this way is a well thought-out, realistic, and realistic philosophy of war [emphasis added {by Furnish}]. Critics of Peter Jackson’s movies of tended to side, de facto, with the more pacifist approach in their taking Jackson to task for allegedly over-stating the more martial aspects of Middle-earth history. But while Tolkien was far from a “war-monger,” he also eschewed pacifism both personally (he volunteered to fight in World War I) and as creator of Middle-earth.” (14)


While there is much to admire in this book, Furnish’s egocentricity and prolixity dulls the luster of his brighter observations.


Case in point:


“I fenced briefly during the late Carter / early first Reagan administrations, abandoned it for 30 years, then took up epee and saber recently in my early 50s. Among the inevitable aches, pains, and injuries, it’s certainly given me at least a theoretical appreciation for what real and fictional warriors in pre-gunpowder eras would’ve faced. In addition, I spent almost five years in the U.S. Army, both enlisted and commissioned, in the 1980s and 1990s.” (15)


As Furnish writes elsewhere (;


“During the Reagan years, I was an Arabic linguist in the 101st Airborne Division; later I was commissioned and trained as a (Christian) Army chaplain, although eventually opting for an academic, rather than a military-pastoral, career.  My personal research specializations are Islamic eschatology (end of time beliefs), Mahdism, Islamic fundamentalism, jihadism, the Hidden Imam and how all of these relate to modern politics.”  


But enough modern militaristic quibbles.


Later, in “Races and Realms of Middle-earth,” its first chapter, the book asserts that “The Lord Of the Rings is not though of primarily (or even nominally) as a novel about politics—but insofar as any power struggle is decidedly political, and the trilogy is rife with such struggles, it is truly quite political; the same holds true of the First and Second Age tales of Middle-earth. The many battles and wars of this Secondary World were not fought sans political aims, but to defend not just kingdoms of Men, but Elves, Dwarves,  and other races against the depredations and attacks generated primarily by two prevailing evil figures, the satanic Morgoth and, later, his former lieutenant Sauron, both of whom deployed evil (or misguidednot ” (26)



Award-winning Tolkien scholar Dr. Thomas Shippey writes:

“Timothy Furnish’s work brings the politics of Middle-earth out of the background and into sharp focus, demonstrating once again the richness and consistence of Tolkien’s world. I look forward to the sequel [Bright Swords and Glorious Warriors: A Military History of Middle-earth], which will turn to military strategy and tactics.”

One is reminded of a couplet from the woefully under-rated play “Cymbeline” by William Shakespeare:

“Golden lads and girls all must / As chimney-sweepers, come to dust” (Act IV, scene ii).




A magnificent murder mystery set in Bath.

I can say no more.

I figured it out, but there were more red herrings than at a Moscow fish-mongers shop.

The murdered actress richly merited killing

Read on the way to and while in Mineral Point during Brouhaha XLII.

Finished on Aug. 12.




Loaned by Frank Schmidt and read outside Pendarvis, Wisconsin, in 43 minutes while the more able-bodied Brou Crewsters toured that venerable Cornish community.

Hilarious & hip.

Finished on Aug. 12.



CRASH by Allison Brennan.

A woman detective story read by the author.

We finished listening to it as we crossed the Wisconsin-Illinois line coming back from Brou 42 Aug. 12.



THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde, edited and annotated Nicholas Frankel

Complete, unexpurgated, and illustrated edition for Sept. 23 Far Westfarthing smial meeting.

Selected by Christine Wallbom.

Wilde at his wildest.

Splendid, superb, as well as curious and queer in both senses of those last two words.

Finished Sept. 23.



TREE AND LEAF by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Containing the poem written about, to, and for C.S. Lewis “Mythopoeia,” the brilliant definition essay “On Fairy-stories,” and the final JRRT fiction that I taught in my Tolkien course at Illinois Central College and Bradley University from 1978 to 2008, the autobiographical allegory “Leaf By Niggle.”

Read for Oct. 1 Smials Summit IV in Milwaukee.

The mind and the mastery of that man boggles even on the eleventy-first re-reading.

He is, indeed, the author of the century.

Or, indeed, for all time.

Finished Sept. 28.



LEAF BY NIGGLE by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Read by Derek Jacobi of I, CLAUDIUS & VICIOUS television fame.

As many times as I have read & taught this tale, this 49-minute reading, this brought some new nuances unnoticed to the story.

So said I to the dozen at Smials Summit IV at the Riverfront Pizzeria on Oct. 1 in Milwaukee.

Sept. 29.

THE GRAVE MAN by David Archer,

Another Audible book, a detective espionage hostage terrorist thriller with more twists than all the pretzels in Germany and Milwaukee.

Jo and I finished listening to this on the way home from the latter locale on Oct. 3.


BLOODHOUNDS by Peter Lovesey.

Another locked-room murder mystery set in Bath, about a murder mystery reading club, the Bloodhounds, whi are perusing(wait for it!) locked room mysteries.

Theft of a precious postage stamp, the “Victoria Black,” whose purloining is predicted by artful quatrains, is the starting point.

But soon these poetical clues begin to prophesy murders of the Bloodhounds.

Every time the reader is sure of the killer’s identity, he turns up dead.

The real villain is a far-fetched choice, but it’s a fair and credible solution.

Lovesey’s CID Peter Diamond is a plump and cantankerous detective, the antithesis of Lord Peter Wimsey.

Finished on Oct. 19.




Erstwhile ICC English Department colleague Nancy Varness’ choice for the All Soul’s Day meeting of the Club Un-Marilyn book triumvirate at Donnell’s Shamrock Pub on Nov. 2.

Any book whose endpapers contain a map if Timbuktu starts out with a three-length lead with this reader.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on October 28, 2016 by in Mike Foster and tagged , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: