Home : Ex Libris : 1 July 1998

ex libris reviews

1 July 1998

Never plead guilty!
Rumpole of the Bailey


In This Issue:
Automation and Applecarts

Careful readers will observe that the Ex Libris website looks very much the same this month as last month. However, they will be misled. Until this past week, the Ex Libris website was maintained entirely by hand. Every byte of text, every hyperlink, was entered by hand by yours truly. Then, about a week and a half ago, I finally realized how to automate the process. No more typing hyperlinks! No more updating the "Authors by Name" index by hand! Those days are gone for good, courtesy of the Expand macro processor, a nifty utility of my own devising. The curious may consult the "Frequently Asked Questions" page.

We had another busy month of reading aloud; authors include Terry Pratchett, John D. MacDonald, and John Barnes. I read less on my own than I sometimes do, but still managed to get to books by Tim Powers, L.E. Modesitt, Jr, Greg Bear, Carl Hiaasen, and John Mortimer.

Actually, I've got nothing to say about applecarts; it just sounded nice in the title.

In Times to Come

Books on the soon-to-be-read stack include more by Dorothy Dunnett, Bernard Cornwell, and Elizabeth Peters.

-- Will Duquette

Books to Read Aloud

by Will Duquette

By Terry Pratchett

Jingo is Pratchett's latest Discworld book, just published in hardcover in the United States; they leapfrogged Hogfather, which we read last March as a British paperback. It is also the latest "Guards" book, continuing the saga of Commander Samuel Vimes' rise in the Ankh-Morpork aristocracy despite his steadfast refusal to do anything aristocratic. It also provides us with our best look yet at Leonard of Quirm, Super-Genius.

The city-state of Ankh-Morpork has been at peace with its neighbors for some decades, peace being so much more profitable. Then, two fishermen, one from Ankh-Morpork and one from Al-Khali across the sea, discover that the ancient island of Leshp, of myth and legend, has risen above the seas as mysteriously as it had once vanished. Immediately the land rush is on, and war is in the air.

Jingo is not the best Discworld book to date, but we enjoyed it.

Nightmare in Pink
By John D. MacDonald

This is the second of MacDonald's Travis McGee books. We were eager for something to read aloud after finishing Jingo, so we gave it a go. It was interesting, and we both enjoyed it, but there were certain passages that were a little too syrupy. This is only the second book, and I'm already tired of McGee's "Sex is too important to waste on people you don't really love" philosophy. Granted, I agree with it, up to that point...it's the codicil I have problems with: "but I'm a free spirit, if you try to get me to commit to anything long term, we'll both end up hating each other." In other words, the relationship has to be just meaningful enough, without meaning too much. The "McGee as sexual healer of the sexually frigid" motif ages rapidly as well.

On the other hand, the title was amply justified by an utterly chilling description of McGee's imprisonment in a mental institution by the Bad Guys.

One For The Morning Glory
By John Barnes

I read this to myself just before Dave was born, and in my review I said it was a gem. It still is, and Jane has enjoyed it immensely. Definitely recommended.

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

The Drawing of the Dark
By Tim Powers

One of Power's earliest books, I rather expect that its sales were hurt rather than helped by its cliche sword&sorcery title, and that is a pity, because the title doesn't mean what you think it means. This is also the first of Powers' stories about what really went on behind the scenes of various historical events.

In this case, the event in question is the siege of Vienna by the forces of Sulieman in 1529 AD, where western forces held the line against Islam. In Powers' hands, this becomes a tale or armies and battles, but also of heroes, the Fisher-King, and one very special brewery. It's a lesser work, but a good one.

The Chaos Balance
By L.E. Modesitt, Jr

Yet another Recluce novel, The Chaos Balance follows directly upon the events of Fall of Angels, which I reviewed last year. It provides a little more insight into the beginnings of the culture found in The Magic of Recluce and the other Recluce books, but it follows pretty much the same old pattern. It's considerably better than The Soprano Sorceress, though.

By Greg Bear

I've been a fan of Greg Bear for many years; at his best, he's very, very good, and I'm sorry I can't praise Slant more highly. It's a good, well-written, interesting book, and I'd have enjoyed it very much if I hadn't previously read John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Like Stand on Zanzibar, it explores a culture through many eyes, including that of the media; it features a self-aware super-computer; it has a somewhat cynical view of the world. It's a much different world (and a more decadent one) than Brunner's, but the book itself has the same flavor--the 1990's taken to their logical conclusion, instead of the 1960's. And, like Snowcrash, the 'Net is a major factor, as is a manufactured virus that causes previously normal people to go off their heads and spout gibberish.

I'm not accusing Bear of plagiarism, by any means, and there is much in Slant to like, but I wish it didn't have such a derivative feel. On the other hand, it has some really unsettling kinks all its own....

A Purple Place for Dying
By John D. MacDonald

Mona Yeoman, a poor little rich girl, brings Travis McGee to Texas to help her get a divorce from her husband. Travis isn't interested; it's not the sort of thing he does. It doesn't matter, though, as she doesn't last long enough to be particularly pushy about it. I have to give MacDonald points for this one: although not entirely devoid of cliche, the book surprised me several times. It has several of the problems I noticed in the previous volumes (see above), but on the whole is best of the three.

Stormy Weather
By Carl Hiaasen

I wasn't sure whether I'd read any more of Hiaasen's books after Strip Tease, but I was looking for light reading, and Hiaasen wrote the introduction to the current editions of the Travis McGee novels, and one thing lead to another, and well....

Anyway, Stormy Weather is less spicy than but just as sleazy as Strip Tease, and even funnier if you don't let the premise get you down. South Florida has just been devastated by a hurricane. Unlicensed contractors converge on the disaster area. Angry citizens hunt down building inspectors and mobile home salesmen. Insurance fraud is plotted. A bozo honeymooner with a video camera and no compassion is dragged through the Everglades wearing an electric dog collar by a former governor of Florida. In short, it's got everything you could want, and more besides! I couldn't possibly read this one aloud (it's still juicier than I'm comfortable with), but gosh it was an enjoyable ride.

The First Rumpole Omnibus
The Second Rumpole Omnibus
The Third Rumpole Omnibus
By John Mortimer

John Mortimer has written nine books about aging English barrister Horace Rumpole, affectionately known as "Rumpole of the Bailey", and his wife Hilda, "She Who Must Be Obeyed". The nine books, mostly collections of short stories, are neatly packaged in the three omnibus volumes listed above. I've had the first two omnibuses for some years, and the recent publication of the third prompted me to reread the first and second as well. It was well worth it.

Rumpole, who refers to himself as an "Old Bailey Hack", is a staunch defender of the frequently indefensible, a barrister who never prosecutes, but frequently persecutes judges and opposing barristers alike. All in all, I'm not at all sure I'd want to meet Rumpole; I certainly wouldn't want to be one of his colleagues, or "learned friends," as they are called in England; but between the covers of a book, he's absolutely charming.

It's only fair to say that Jane's not entirely thrilled with Rumpole, mostly because I keep laughing, and distracting her from her own reading.

Children's Books

There's a Hair in My Dirt
By Gary Larson

Yes, that Gary Larson, long-time cartoonist of "The Far Side". It's the heartwarming (?) story of a young worm who finds a hair in his dirt at the dinner table. And when he complains, his father tells him a story about a princess named Harriet, a nature-lover, who walks through the woods gushing about the glory all around her. And after relating her enthusiasm for each scene, the worm's father tells what's really going on under the serene, pastoral surface.

This would be a sick, rather twisted, unpleasant book, except that the worm's father is correct. Princess Harriet really is wearing rose-colored glasses, and daddy's telling the truth about the world of nature. As such, it's a good antidote to the kind of ignorant environmentalism spawned by a love of warm, furry animals. And, to an adult, it certainly is funny in a dark way.

What There's a Hair in My Dirt isn't, is a children's book. It looks like one: it's a tall, wide, thin hardback book with a brightly colored slipcover, just like all the nice books in the kids' section of the store. It looks, at first glance, like a good birthday present for a five or six-year-old niece or nephew. Resist the temptation, unless the child is of an age to think that "gross" and "cool" are synonyms. In that case, fetch it home with all speed, as they won't be disappointed.


Jean Simpson had this to say:

I enjoyed reading your web pages. Can you please provide me with some information on why reading aloud is so important for adults as well as children. I once heard a lecture on the subject stressing the importance for educators, teachers, etc to have the skill of reading aloud.

Your help will be greatly appreciated.

As it happens, I don't have any particular credentials in this area, other than having read quite a few books to Jane and David; nevertheless, I gave it my best shot:

Hmmm. I suppose I'd never thought of reading aloud as *important*, but rather as fun and entertaining. But I'll take a whack at it anyway.

  • If you can read aloud well, that will help you speak well aloud, and the value of that in today's business world is obvious.

  • Reading aloud to my son entertains him, and gives him new vocabulary, and should in the long run interest him in reading himself.

  • Reading aloud to my son involves me in his life; it's something we can do together.

  • Reading aloud to my family entertains all of us, stretches our attention spans, and strengthens our imaginations.

  • But most of all, we enjoy it. That's really the main thing.

A friend of ours likes to say, "A child who can read is never bored." I think she really meant, "Tell me you are bored, and I'll find something for you to do that you'll enjoy less than reading a book."

Jean was kind enough to respond as follows:

Thank you!!!!

I appreciate you giving my question some thought.

The reason for the question is that I did some graduate work at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, CA. One of my instructors, Dr. Betty Jones included aloud reading as part of the requirements of her course for us, teachers. I have been teaching adults and I include, as part of the course, a reading of their choice to share with their colleagues. Each class seems to enjoy the exercise.

thanks again, Jean

I also received correspondence from a fellow named Vincent, which I quote part of below:

Dear Will &/or Jane,

Sorry for the intrusion. But while surfing the net for information on The Musketeer Saga I found your site. It's very informative. I was wondering if you would be so kind as to provide me with the ISBN's for the following Titles so I can have my local bookstore obtain the books for me. They tried by Author and Titles but were unsuccessful in getting the full collection. Only one title was located.

If you could provide the ISBN for the above books, I would be most appreciative. I had no idea there was more to the Musketeer's than "The Three Musketeers" and "The Man in the Iron Mask" until I found your website....Thank you for your time reading this letter and thank you if you are able to help.

Sincerely, Victor

Naturally I sent the ISBNs along to him. Every so often we do get a request like this, generally tendered with an apology. To be honest, we don't get that many letters each month; a few minutes of research in our library is well-worth the affirmation of a nice letter. Rest assured, if you request something outrageous, we'll politely let you know!

Have any comments? Want to recommend a book or two? Think Will's seriously missed the point and needs to be corrected? Like to correspond with one of the reviewers? Write to us and let us know what you think! You can find the e-mail addresses of most of our reviewers on our Ex Libris Staff page.

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