ABIBLIOPHOBIA

January 10, 2018


Abibliophobia is the fear of running out of reading material.  Basically, just look up the Greek root-phobia and add whatever word you are afraid of, replace the ending with -o- and couple the results with phobia.  If you have any experience with libraries, the Internet, the back of soup cans, etc. you know there is more than enough material out there to be read and digested. It amazes me that this word has just “popped” up of the last few years.

Now, the World Wide Web is a cavernous source of reading material.  Indeed, it’s a bigger readers’ repository than the world has ever known, so it seems rather ironic that the term abibliophobia appears to have been coined on the Web during the last three or four years. It would seem impossible for anyone with regular access to the Internet to be an abibliophobe (someone suffering from a fear of running out of reading material) or to become abibliophobic when more and more reading matter is available by the hour.  Let’s look at just what is available to convince the abibliophobic individual that there is no fear of running out of reading material.

  • There Are More Than 440 Million Blogs In The World. By October 2011, there were an estimated 173 million blogs Nielsen estimates that by the end of 2011, that number had climbed to 181 million. That was four years after Tumblr launched, and in May 2011, there were just 17.5 million Tumblr blogs.  Today, there are over 360 million blogs on Tumblr alone, and there are millions more on other platforms. While there are some reliable statistics on the number of blogs in 2011, things have changed dramatically with the rise of services like Tumblr, WordPress, Squarespace, Medium and more. Exactly how many blogs there are in the world is difficult to know, but what’s clear is that blogs online number in the hundreds of millions. The total number of blogs on TumblrSquarespace, and WordPress alone equals over 440 million. In actuality, the total number of blogs in the world likely greatly exceeds this number. We do know that content is being consumed online more widely, more quickly, and more voraciously than ever before.
  • According to WordPress, 76.3 million posts are published on WordPress each month, and more than 409 million people view 22.3 billion blog pages each month. It’s interesting to see that there are about 1 billion websites and blogs in the world today. But that figure is not as helpful as looking at the other statistics involving blogging. For example, did you know that more than 409 million people on WordPress view more than 23.6 billion pages each month? Did you know that each month members produce 69.5 million new posts?
  • Websites with a blog have over 434% more indexed pages.
  • 76% of online marketers say they plan to add more content over the 2018 year.
  • There are an estimated 119,487 libraries of all kinds in the United States today.
  • It is estimated that there are 000 libraries in the world. Russia, India and China have about 50.000 each.

Thanks to Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, the written word flourished after he invented the printing press.  Gutenberg in 1439 was the first European to use movable type. Among his many contributions to printing are: the invention of a process for mass-producing movable type; the use of oil-based ink for printing books; adjustable molds; mechanical movable type; and the use of a wooden printing press similar to the agricultural screw presses of the period. His truly epochal invention was the combination of these elements into a practical system that allowed the mass production of printed books and was economically viable for printers and readers alike. Gutenberg’s method for making type is traditionally considered to have included a type metal alloy and a hand mold for casting type. The alloy was a mixture of lead, tin, and antimony melted at a relatively low temperature for faster and more economical casting.  His invention was a game-changing event for all prospective readers the world over.  No longer will there be a fear of or absence of material to read.

CONCLUSIONS:

I think the basic conclusion here is not the fear of having no reading material but the fear of reading.

  • If I read, I might miss my favorite TV programs.
  • If I read, I might miss that important phone call.
  • Why read when I can TWEET?
  • Why read when I can stream Netflix or HULU?
  • I’m such a slow reader. It just takes too much time.
  • I cannot find any subject I’m really that interested in.
  • I really have no quite place to read.
  • ___________________ Fill in the blanks.

Reading does take a commitment, so why not set goals and commit?

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HILLBILLY ELEGY

November 9, 2017


Hillbilly Elegy is without a doubt one of the best-written, most important books I have ever read.  A remarkably insightful account of J.D. Vance growing up in a significantly dysfunctional family but only realizing that fact as he became older and compared his family with others.  As you read this book, you realize it is a “major miracle” he escaped the continuing system of mental and physical abuse prevalent with poor, white, Eastern Kentucky “hillbilly” families.  When moving to Ohio, the abuse continued.  Even though financial conditions improved, conditions remained ingrained relative to family behavior.

 I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.” That’s how J. D. Vance begins one of the saddest and most fascinating books, “Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Published by Harper, this book has been on the NYT best seller list since its first publication and has rarely dipped below number ten on anyone’s list. Vance was born in Kentucky and raised by his grandparents, as a self-described “hillbilly,” in Middletown, Ohio, home of the once-mighty Armco Steel. His family struggled with poverty and domestic violence, of which he and his sister were victims. His mother was addicted to drugs—first to painkillers, then to heroin. Many of his neighbors were jobless and on welfare. Vance escaped their fate by joining the Marines after high school and serving in Iraq. Afterward, he attended Ohio State and Yale Law School, where he was mentored by Amy Chua, a law professor and tiger mom. He now lives in San Francisco, and works at Mithril Capital Management the investment firm helmed by Peter Thiel. It seems safe to say that Vance, who is now in his early thirties, has seen a wider swath of America than most people.  The life he has lived during his adolescent years is absolutely foreign to the life this writer has lived.  This makes the descriptive information in his book valuable and gives a glimpse into another way of life.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is a regional memoir about Vance’s Scots-Irish family, one of many who have lived and worked in Appalachia for generations. For perhaps a century, Vance explains, the region was on an upward trajectory. Family men worked as sharecroppers, then as coal miners, then as steelworkers; families inched their way toward prosperity, often moving north in pursuit of work.  Vance’s family moved about a hundred miles, from Kentucky to Ohio; like many families, they are “hillbilly transplants.” In mid-century Middletown, where Armco Steel built schools and parks along the Great Miami River, Vance’s grandparents were able to live a middle-class life, driving back to the hollers of Kentucky every weekend to visit relatives and friends. Many families, on a regular basis, sent money back to their relatives in Appalachian Kentucky for aid and support consequently “keeping their boat afloat”.

Middletown’s industrial jobs began to disappear in the seventies and eighties. Today, its main street is full of shuttered storefronts, and is a haven for drug dealers at night. Vance reports that, in 2014, more people died from drug overdoses than from natural causes in Butler County, where Middletown is located. Families are disintegrating: neighbors listen as kitchen-table squabbles escalate and come to blows, and single mothers raise the majority of children (Vance himself had fifteen “stepdads” while growing up). Although many people identify as religious, church attendance is at historic lows. High-school graduation rates are sinking, and few students go on to college. Columbus, Ohio, one of the fastest-growing cities in America, is just ninety minutes’ drive from Middletown, but the distance feels unbridgeable. Vance uses the psychological term “learned helplessness” to describe the resignation of his peers, many of whom have given up on the idea of upward mobility in a region that they see as permanently left behind. Writing in a higher register, he says that there is something “almost spiritual about the cynicism” in his home town.

Mr. Vance mentions Martin Seligman as being one psychologist that aids his efforts in understanding the “mechanics” of his family life. Commonly known as the founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman is a leading authority in the fields of Positive Psychology, resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism. He is also a recognized authority on interventions that prevent depression, and build strengths and well-being.

Learned helplessness, in psychology, a mental state in which an organism forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable,” presumably because it has learned that it cannot.  This describes the culture that Mr. Vance grew up in and the culture he desperately had tried to escape—helplessness.

Vance makes the proper decision when he enlists in the Marine Corps for four (4) years.  This action took place after high school graduation.  Just graduating from high school is remarkable.  The Marine Corps instilled in Vance a spirit in which just about anything is possible including enrolling and completing study at Ohio State University and then going on to Yale Law School.  He escapes his environment but has difficulty in escaping his lack of understanding of how the world works.  There are several chapters in his book that give a vivid description of those social necessities he lacks. “You can take the boy out of Kentucky but you can’t take Kentucky out of the boy”.  This is one of my favorite quotes from the book and Vance lives that quote but works diligently to make course corrections as he progresses through Yale and beyond.

In my opinion, this is a “must-read” book. As a matter of fact, it should be read more than once to fully understand the details presented.  READ THIS BOOK.

WHO IS MITCH RAPP

June 7, 2017


I have had the great opportunity to travel to several countries over my not-too-short-lifetime.  Most of that travel has been for business purposes but even though you are engaged for long periods of time you do pick up various indications relative to culture, even pop culture.  In my opinion, we here in the United States and the western world have by far the very best heroes.   Literature and certainly the entertainment professions are replete with men and women selected to “save us all”.  I’m not too sure if this is good or bad.  Maybe we are looking for that “white knight” to ride in and solve all of our problems then ride off leaving us happy and forever content.  I personally feel that white knight may be found by looking in a mirror.

At any rate, the list below is just a partial list of “heroes” we look for to write all wrongs, deliver us from alien invaders, purge our country from evil—you get the picture.

  • James Bond
  • Jason Bourne
  • John Wick
  • Neo and Morpheus
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Philip Marlowe
  • Ripley
  • Wonder Woman
  • Captain America
  • Iron Man
  • Han Solo
  • Luke Skywalker
  • Rocky Balboa
  • Harry Potter
  • The Terminator
  • Jimmy Lee Swagger
  • Jack Reacher
  • Mitch Rapp

I would like to concentrate on the last one—Mitch Rapp.  Mr. Vince Flynn created Mitch Rapp and penned the following action-packed novels with him as the main character.

  • American Assassin (Mitch Rapp #1) (2010) ​ ISBN 9781416595182
  • Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp #2) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595205
  • Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp #3) (1999) ​ ISBN 0671023195
  • The Third Option (Mitch Rapp #4) (2000) ​ ISBN 0671047310
  • Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp #5) (2001) ISBN 0671047337
  • Executive Power (Mitch Rapp #6) (2002) ​ ISBN 0743453956
  • Memorial Day (Mitch Rapp #7) (2004) ​ ISBN 0743453972
  • Consent to Kill (Mitch Rapp #8) (2005) ​ ISBN 0743270363
  • Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp #9) (2006) ​ ISBN 0743270371
  • Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp #10) (2007) ​ ISBN 9780743270410
  • Extreme Measures (Mitch Rapp #11) (2008) ​ ISBN 9781416599395
  • Pursuit of Honor (Mitch Rapp #12) (2009) ​ ISBN 978141659516
  • The Last Man (Mitch Rapp #13) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595212
  • The Survivor (Mitch Rapp #14) (2015) ​ ISBN 9781476783451
  • Order To Kill (Mitch Rapp #15) (2016) ​ ISBN 9781476783482
  • Enemy Of The State (Mitch Rapp #16) (2017) ​ ISBN 9781476783512
  • Term Limits (not part of Mitch Rapp series) (1997) ​ ISBN 0671023179

I have read most of Mr. Flynn’s novels involving Rapp and I can tell you he is a most interesting man.

Mitch Rapp attended Syracuse University, where he majored in international business and minored in French. He attended Syracuse on a lacrosse scholarship and became an All-American due to his amazing speed and aggressive style of play. Rapp was also offered a scholarship by the University of North Carolina, but turned that down because his high school sweetheart Maureen was attending Syracuse.  Rapp had known Maureen since he was sixteen years old.  She was tragically killed in the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  One of thirty-five (35) Syracuse students died that day while returning from a semester overseas.

Nearly a year after Maureen’s death, Rapp was recruited into the CIA by Irene Kennedy. He began training the week after graduating from Syracuse. Only twenty-three years old at the time, Rapp did not go through the standard CIA training program at “The Farm,” outside Williamsburg, Virginia. Instead, for a year straight he was shuttled from one location to the next, sometimes spending a week, sometimes a month. The bulk of the training was handled by Stan Hurley, a former CIA operative, who taught him “how to shoot, stab, blow things up, and even kill with his bare hands.” In other words, he was schooled in firearms and marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, and explosives. Endurance was stressed. There were long swims and even longer runs. Between all the heavy lifting, they worked on his foreign language skills. Since he had minored in French at Syracuse, within a month at the CIA he was fluent in the language. He was then taught Arabic and Persian and could passably speak Urdu and Pashto. He also spoke German and Italian. He is ambidextrous, but naturally left-handed.

Rapp then became an operative of the Orion Team, a highly secretive organization supported by the CIA but definitely outside the Agency. It is funded by money diverted from congressionally funded programs. The job of the Orion Team in a nutshell is to take the war to the terrorists. It was formed in response to the Lockerbie disaster by the then CIA director of operations Thomas Stansfield. The unit operates in secret, independent, national security apparatus and circumvents the leviathan of politics that bypasses impediments like the executive order banning assassinations. The team is headed by Rapp’s recruiter, Irene Kennedy, whose official role is as director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

Rapp has been the Orion Team’s star operative almost from the day he started and has been honed into the most effective counterterrorism operative in America’s arsenal. He’s spent significant amounts of time in Europe, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia collecting intelligence and when the situation called for it, dealing with threats in a more final manner.

Officially, Rapp has nothing to do with the U.S. government; rather, he is referred to in the business as a private contractor. Rapp lives a life completely separate from the Agency. His cover is that of a successful entrepreneur. With the help of the CIA, he runs a small computer consulting business on the side that just happens to do a fair amount of international business, which gives him the cover to travel frequently. To keep things legitimate, Rapp often does indeed conduct business while abroad.

One of Rapp’s aliases is Mitch Kruse. In the special ops community, he is often known only by his call sign, “Iron Man” after the annual Ironman Triathlon in which he has participated on several occasions and has twice won. His only remaining family is his brother, Steven Rapp, a millionaire financial genius. Mitch and Steven grew up in McLean, Virginia.

Throughout the books, Rapp works with several special operations units including Navy SEALs and DEVGRUDelta ForceAir Force Special Operations Command, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). He also has close ties with “SEAL Demolition and Salvage Corporation”, a private military company specializing in underwater salvage such as getting rid of debris for ports and shipyards and training law enforcement divers, but whose employees also work from time to time as freelance operatives for the CIA. The company is owned and operated by Scott Coleman, former commanding officer of SEAL Team Six and friend of Rapp.

Flynn has crafted a remarkably complex character and has the ability to put that character in situations you would expect a “normal individual” to die from.  He has the uncanny ability to weave a story line that has one surprise after another.  This is truly a remarkable feat.  I love his books for this reason and one more—he is a master craftsman with words.  Truly gifted.

One caution—read “The American Assassin” first.  This book gives you the background or Rapp beginning with his days at Syracuse.  It takes you through all of the training used to produce a lethal weapon.  I strongly recommend the Mitch Rapp series for your summer reading.


BIOGRAPHY:

Born in Louisiana in 1925, Elmore Leonard was inspired by Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Leonard’s determination to be a writer stayed with him through a stint in the U.S. Navy and a job in advertising. His early credits include mostly Westerns, including 3:10 to Yuma. When that genre became less popular, Leonard turned to crime novels set in Detroit, Michigan, including Get ShortyJackie Brown and Out of Sight. The prolific writer died in Detroit on August 20, 2013, at age 87.

Famed Western/crime novelist Elmore John Leonard Jr. was born on October 11, 1925, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The early part of Leonard’s youth was largely defined by his family’s constant moves, which were the result of his father’s job as a site locator for General Motors. Not long after his 9th birthday, however, Leonard’s family found a permanent home in Detroit, Michigan.

It was in Detroit that Leonard got hooked on a serialization of the Erich Maria Remarque novel All Quite on the Western Front in the Detroit Times. The book became an inspiration for Leonard, who decided he wanted to try fiction writing as well. He wrote his first play that same year, when he was in fifth grade, and would go on to write for his high school paper.

After graduating from high school in 1943 and serving three subsequent years in the U.S. Navy, Leonard returned home and enrolled at the University of Detroit. As a college student, he pushed himself to write more, and graduated in 1950 with a dual degree in English and philosophy. Still an unknown, however, Leonard didn’t have the means to strike out on his own as a writer. Instead, he found work with an advertising agency, using his off time to draft stories—many of them Westerns.

When the popular demand for Westerns waned in the 1960s, Leonard focused on a new genre: crime. With stories often set against the gritty background of his native Detroit, Leonard’s crime novels, complete with rich dialogue and flawed central characters, earned the writer a group of dedicated readers. It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that Leonard truly became a star. The man who never got enough publicity buzz, according to his fans, was suddenly appearing everywhere. In 1984, he landed on the cover of Newsweek under the label the “Dickens of Detroit.” Hollywood came calling shortly after, and many of Leonard’s novels were adapted into movies, including the crime smashes Get Shorty and Jackie Brown.

THE HOT KID:

That’s where we come in.  The title “HOT KID” refers to young Deputy U.S. Marshal Carl Webster, a quick-drawing, incredibly slick young man who wants to become the most famous lawman west of the Mississippi, and does little to hide his vanity. At fifteen (15) years of age, Webster witnessed the vicious Emmet Long shooting an officer in a drugstore robbery, but what rankled him the most is that Long snatched away Webster’s peach ice-cream cone and called him a “greaser.” Webster gets his revenge six years later by making Long the first in what will become an impressive list of vanquished outlaws, and he seals his fame with a cool catchphrase: “If I have to pull my weapon, I’ll shoot to kill.” (Funny how often he “has” to pull it.) Webster’s chief rival is Jack Belmont, the black-hearted son of an oil millionaire who’s out to show up his dad by knocking off more banks than Pretty Boy Floyd. Both stand to gain from the purple pen of Tony Antonelli, a True Detective magazine writer who follows the story as it develops, and plans to stretch his two-cents-a-word bounty to the limit.

In the “The Hot Kid” , bank robbers have become so common that “thief” seems close to a legitimate occupation, right alongside gun moll, bootlegger, and prostitute. Set over thirteen (13) years in ’20s and ’30s Oklahoma and Kansas City, the book is populated by characters looking to make names for themselves, joining legends like Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly, and John Dillinger in headlines and crime magazines across the country. In this world, notoriety means more than money, and that counts for figures on both sides of the law, who engage in a game of one-upmanship that has little to do with the usual interests of crime or justice. Though Leonard doesn’t sketch them as broadly as the colorful hoods found in his contemporary crime novels, the ambitions of these larger-than-life characters take on infectiously comical dimensions.

READER COMMENTS:

I certainly enjoyed the book and must admit it was my first Elmore Lenord read.  I do NOT know why I have not stumbled upon his works before since he has written eighty-seven books.  I think his is an acquired taste.  There is absolutely no doubt, at least in my mind, about his writing ability.  The very fact he has remained a “top read” over the years is a testament to his style being accepted by most avid readers.  He is concise and brief with rhetoric. He knows how to paint a story and keep the reader interesting.  This is not one of those books you cannot put down, but it is one you definitely want to finish.  In changing from Westerns to Crime, he maintains your interest to the point you really must find out how the darn thing ends.  I can definitely recommend “The Hot Kid” to you. It’s fairly short and will involve a couple of days on and off or your time.  READ IT.

I like to include reviews of others who have read this book.  I do this frequently. Remember, there is not much difference between a lump of coal and a diamond.  Everyone has their own perspective and that’s what I like to do with the comments below.

DAVID:   FOUR STAR:  My first Elmore Leonard novel. He’s a terse, pacey author, and The Hot Kid is pretty much Hollywood in a book, but a nicely-filmed Hollywood with engaging if not terribly deep characters.

ANDREW P:   FOUR STAR:  This book came to my attention in an unusual way. I just listened to the audible version of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill and at the end the author gives some recommendations on audio books. ‘The Hot Kid’ was one that he praised so I used my next audible credit on it.

EVA SMITH:  FIVE STAR:   In one of life’s little coincidences, I was sorting through books and came across two by Elmore Leonard. I’d read them so long ago that I’d forgotten most of the plot points and the writing was so good that I gave both of them a re-read. Mr. Leonard picked that week to die so I saw it as a sign that I should seek out more of his books. Just finished “The Hot Kid.” Excellent.

BENJAMIN THOMAS:  FIVE STAR:  Elmore Leonard is a writer after my own heart. He started with westerns and then turned to crime fiction, becoming one of the best-selling crime fiction writers of all time. When I saw the audio book, “The Hot Kid” on the library shelves this time, I just couldn’t pass it up because I knew I’d be in for a treat. I also needed a relatively short book this time so I could complete it before the end of the year.

JEFF DICKSON:  FIVE STAR:  A really, really good tale by Leonard. Story is of a hot shot U.S. Marchall (sp) in Oklahoma and Kansas City area during the depression years and one particular inept criminal he goes after. Highly recommended.

STEVE:  TWO STAR:  This might be my last Leonard novel. Starts out strong, but then the conversations begin sounding familiar. This is probably a good beach book for some, but I found that the writing was a bit too breezy, the dialogue a bit too hip. At this point in his career, I’m tempted to say Leonard can write these in his sleep, but there’s some nice historical details that shows he’s not on auto-pilot. For those who like Leonard, and his period pieces, check out a lesser known title, The Moonshine War.

As always, I welcome your comments.

BLACK LIGHT

March 25, 2017


Black Light is the second in a series of books written by Stephen Hunter with Bob Lee Swagger as the main character.  You might have seen the movie “The Shooter” which told the story of Bob Lee and how he was accused of being an assassin and how he exacted revenge on his accusers.   That was the first book in the Bob Lee Swagger series.

I do NEED TO TELL YOU, it is NOT a book for the politically correct.  If you are a snowflake looking for a safe place when offended, you will not be amused.  The language is “R” rated as well as text describing multiple acts of absolute violence.  The discovery of a young black teen-ager who has been raped and strangled to death is detailed and extremely gruesome.  FAIR WARNING.

Former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger has finally put his past behind him until he meets Russell Pewtie.  Pewtie wants to write a book about Bob Lee’s father, Earl, who was a state trooper in Arkansas. He died in a shoot-out in Blue Eye, Ark., in 1955.  The link between Pewtie and Bob Lee, ties the first three Hunter novels together. This link is that Lamar Pye, the escaped con who almost killed Pewtie’s father in Dirty White Boys, turns out to be the son of one of the men who killed Earl. Behind that death, lies a forty-year-old conspiracy somehow tied to the brutal murder of a young black teenager mentioned above.  Earl Swagger was investigating that murder on the day he died. The plot is fast-paced, well-constructed and builds to a pulse-pounding night ambush that echoes the finale of Point of Impact but that stands on its own as a classic one-on-one confrontation. Other echoes of the earlier novels sound as well, giving this one the feel of a recapitulation, or a farewell. But then Hunter has set a high standard for himself-and while this novel doesn’t match the escalating craziness of Dirty White Boys or the stone-cold efficiency of Point of Impact, it should seal his reputation as an author who not only can write bestselling thrillers, but write them exceedingly well.

Mr. Hunter, in my opinion, is a MASTER “wordsmith”. He demonstrates the remarkable ability to craft a story that could have multiple endings.  His writing style is very purpose-driven and gives the reader the sense of “I cannot put this down until I read one more chapter”.  In Black Light, the last three chapters leave you with the thought—“I did not see that coming”.  The ending is just that surprising.

I would now like to give you some idea as to reviews posted online from individuals who have read Black Light.  As you can see, readers are as enthusiastic as I about Hunter’s writing.

Mike Fench— Another 5-star book in the Bob Lee Swagger series! This book features Bob Lee looking into the death of his father, Earl, an Arkansas State Trooper shot in an attempted arrest of 2 killers. Kept me riveted from beginning to end WARNING: This book is far from being PC!

Rick– Some negative reviews have called ‘Black Light’ predictable, racist and violent. Yeah, what’s your point? Look, this is a book in Stephen Hunter’s ‘Bob Lee Swagger’ series. Swagger is an ex-Marine sniper in the south. He hunts bad guys. Violent? I should HOPE so!  As he so often does, and does so well, Hunter reprises characters from past novels. It’s like running into old friends (or enemies, as the case may be), but knowing these recurring characters is NOT a prerequisite for enjoying any of the Hunter novels.

Susan— And this one is the best Stephen Hunter yet. This guy can flat tell a story. Some of the plot is not even interesting (I’m just not fascinated by the intricacies of various guns) but even so, his stories are just so compelling.

Michael Burke— Never lets up for a minute you’re in it from beginning to end it hardly gives you time to breath. The writing is spare and still fulsome I enjoyed the pictures it paints of the Arkansas hills in the dust and sweat. And of several very interesting characters who I look forward to reading about in the future.

Christopher Bunn— Best thriller I’ve read in a very long time. Solid characters. Great motivations. Excellent pacing. Good dialogue. Very intriguing plot twists that advance with just enough foreshadowing and hints to keep you hooked, but not enough information to allow easy guessing. Perfect villain. Hunter knows what he’s doing. Refreshing to read a book that maintains all the way to the end, particularly these days. Rare thing.

Each to his own.  The reviews above are samplings of five star ratings that several readers have given this book.  I can certainly agree that Black Light is a book worth reading, if for no other reason, the writing style of Mr. Hunter is amazing.  A truly great author.

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

THREE DAYS IN JANUARY

January 31, 2017


In looking at the political landscape over the last fifty (50) years I can truly say I have no real heroes.  Of course, ‘beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder’.  Most of our politicians are much too concerned about their base, their brand and their legacy to be bothered with discerning and carrying out the will of the people. There are two notable exceptions—Sir Winston Churchill and President Dwight David Eisenhower.  Let’s look at the achievements of President Eisenhower.

DOMESTIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

  • Launched the Interstate Highway System. Also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, this act came into effect on June 29, 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it. It authorized $25 billion for 41,000 miles of interstate highways to be constructed in the United States.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the Act that created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which provided for the peaceful and collaborative exploration of space.
  • The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. Launched the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which ultimately led to the development of the Internet. (Cry your eyes out Al Gore!)
  • Established a strong science education via the National Defense Education Act
  • Sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce federal court orders to desegregate public schools
  • Signed civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote by African-Americans. After declaring that “There must be no second class citizens in this country,” PresidentDwight Eisenhower told the District of Columbia to use their schools as a model of integrating black and white public schools. He proposed the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 to Congress, which he signed into law. The 1957 Act created a civil rights office within the U.S. Justice Department and the Civil Rights Commission; both departments had the authority to prosecute discriminatory cases and voting rights intrusions. They were the first significant civil rights laws since the late 19th Century.
  • Opposed Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and contributed to the end of McCarthyism by openly invoking the modern expanded version of executive privilege.
  • Desegregated the Armed Forces: Within his first two years as president, Eisenhower forced the desegregation of the military by reinforcing Executive Order #9981 issued by President Harry Truman in 1948.

FOREIGN POLICY ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

  • Deposed the leader of Iran in the 1953 Iranian coup d’̩tat .
  • Armistice that ended the Korean War: Eisenhower used his formidable military reputation to imply a threat of nuclear attacks if North Korea, China and South Korea didn’t sign an Armistice to end the three-year-old bloody war. It was signed on July 27, 1953.
  • Prioritized inexpensive nuclear weapons and a reduction of conventional military forces as a means of keeping pressure on the Soviet Union and reducing the federal deficit
  • First to articulate the domino theory of communist expansion in 1954
  • Established the US policy of defending Taiwan from Chinese communist aggression in the 1955 Formosa Resolution
  • Forced Israel, the UK, and France to end their invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956
  • Sent 15,000 U.S. troops to Lebanon to prevent the pro-Western government from falling to a Nasser-inspired revolution

ACCPMPLISHMENTS PRIOR TO BECOMING PRESIDENT:

  • Becoming a five-star general in the United States Army
  • Serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II
  • Serving as the supervisor and planner of North Africa’s invasion in Operation Torch in 1942-43
  • Successfully invading France and Germany in 1944-45, attacking from the Western Front
  • Becoming the first Supreme Commander of NATO
  • Becoming the 34th President of the United States for two terms, 1953 until 1961

All of these accomplishments are celebrated in a new book by Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney. Bret Baier, the chief political anchor for Fox News and talented writer Catherine Whitney, have written a book that comes at a timely moment in American history. I found a great deal of similarities between the transition of Eisenhower and Kennedy relative to the transition of Obama and Trump.  Maybe I was just looking for them but in my opinion they are definitely there.  “Three Days in January” records the final days of the Eisenhower presidency and the transition of leadership to John F. Kennedy. Baier describes the three days leading up to Kennedy’s inauguration as the culmination of one of America’s greatest leaders who used this brief time to prepare both the country and the next president for upcoming challenges.

Eisenhower did not particularly like JFK.  Baier writes: “In most respects, Kennedy, a son of privilege following a dynastic pathway, was unknowable to Ike. He was as different from Eisenhower as he could be, as well as from Truman, who didn’t much care for him.” Times of transition are difficult under the very best of circumstances but from Eisenhower to Kennedy was a time, as described by Baier, as being a time of concern on Eisenhower’s part.  There were unknowns in Eisenhower’s mind as to whether Kennedy could do the job.  Couple that with Kennedy’s young age and inexperience in global affairs and you have a compelling story.  During those three days, though, Eisenhower warmed up to Kennedy.  There was a concerted effort to make the transition as smooth as possible and even though Kennedy and his staff seemed to be very cocky, the outgoing President was very instrumental in giving President-elect Kennedy information that would serve him very well during his first one hundred days and beyond.

On January 17, 1961, three days before inauguration ceremonies, Eisenhower gave a notable and now-prophetic farewell speech in which he looked into the future, warning Americans about the dangers of putting partisanship above national interest, the risks of deficit spending, the expansion of the military-industrial complex and the growing influence of special interest groups on government officials.  Eisenhower’s concerns have become reality in our modern day with technology outpacing legislation and common sense to oversee development of hardware that can destroy us all.  This book is about those three days and brief time-periods prior to and after that very meaningful speech.

If you are a historian, a news junkie, or someone who just likes to keep up, I can definitely recommend this book to you.  It is extremely well-written and wonderfully researched. Mr. Baier and Ms. Whitney have done their research with each reference noted, by chapter, in the back of the book.  It is very obvious that considerable time and effort was applied to each paragraph to bring about a coherent and compelling novel.  It, in my opinion, is not just a book but a slice of history.  A document to be read and enjoyed.

SNIPER’S HONOR

July 4, 2016


A good friend of mine “turned me on” to the writer Stephen Hunter.  Until recently, I had never read Mr. Hunter but can now definitely recommend his work to you.  He is a marvelous writer and an accomplished “wordsmith”.  The manner in which he assembles thoughts and transforms those thoughts into meaningful sentences is truly amazing.

Sniper’s Honor is about retired sniper Bob Lee Swagger and the adventures he faces while trying to discover the post-WWII life of the “White Witch”.  Ludmilla Petrova or Mili was a sniper for the Russian Army during WWII.  She seemingly disappeared toward the end of the war in the year 1944. Killed—maybe, but the events leading up to her disappearance were erased from the German and Russian records. Swagger teams with his old friend Kathy Reilly to unearth the story of the deadly and beautiful Russian sniper, Ludmilla “Mili” Petrova.   Petrova stands in for the real-world female Soviet snipers who fought the German in the German invasion of Russia.

Despite racking up enough kills to earn the nickname “White Witch,” Petrova has disappeared from the historical record. This disappearance intrigues Reilly, a correspondent for The Washington Post. Stalin’s government loved to portray women snipers as heroes, so why not glorify one so photogenic? How had she earned the ire of the Kremlin, and what sort of end had she met?  Sensing a great feature story, Reilly emails Swagger to ask about the Mosin-Nagant 91, a weapon Mili would have used. The opening question brings Swagger into a journey far more dangerous than a historical fact-finding trip; there are people who don’t want this seventy (70)-year-old mystery solved.

Let me give you a sense of Hunter’s writing with the following two excerpts from Sniper’s Honor.

“They were on a plain under a dome of sky. All was flatness. It was an infinity of flatness under the towering clouds of the Ukrainian sky. It was a battle reduced to its essential elements with no distractions, almost an abstraction: the existential flatness of the plain to the horizon, the vaulting blue arch of cloud-filled sky, the sense of tininess of men and machines on this construction that only a mad god could have invented. The tanks lurched ahead.”

Another characteristic of Hunter’s writing is his ability to freeze a moment and draw a word picture of everything that happens within the span of a second or two. At one point, he takes a couple of pages to describe the flight of a bullet from a rifle barrel to — and into — a bad guy. The images become quite graphic, but you bear with it because the target so richly deserves his fate:

“The bullet struck him on a lateral transective angle approximately six inches below his left ear, that is, a bit lower than the root of his neck on the torso, a little in front of the medial line of the shoulder, issuing a sound that reminded those nearby of a crowbar slamming into a side of beef.”

This was the challenge Swagger took on in unearthing the truth to her activities and life after the war.  Let’s first take a look at the writer’s bio.

BIOGRAPHY:

Stephen Hunter was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in Evanston, Illinois. His father was Charles Francis Hunter, a Northwestern University speech professor who was unfortunately killed in 1975.   His mother was Virginia Ricker Hunter, a writer of children’s books.  After graduating from Northwestern in 1968 with a degree in journalism,  Hunter was drafted for two years into the United States Army where he served as a ceremonial soldier in The Old Guard (3rd Infantry Regiment) in Washington, D.C.  He later wrote for a military paper, the Pentagon News.

He joined The Baltimore Sun in 1971, working at the copy desk of the newspaper’s Sunday edition for a decade. He became its film critic in 1982, a post he held until moving to The Washington Post in the same function in 1997. In 1998 Hunter won the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the criticism category, and in 2003 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

Hunter’s thriller novels include Point of Impact (filmed as Shooter), Black Light and Time to Hunt, which form a trilogy featuring Vietnam War veteran and sniper Bob “the Nailer” Swagger. The story of Bob Lee Swagger continued with The 47th Samurai (2007), Night of Thunder (2008), I, Sniper (2009) and Dead Zero (2010). The series has led to two spin-off series: Hot SpringsPale Horse Coming, and Havana form another trilogy centered on Bob Swagger’s father, Earl Swagger, while Soft Target (2011) focuses on Bob’s long-unknown son, Ray Cruz.

Hunter has written three non-fiction books: Violent Screen: A Critic’s 13 Years on the Front Lines of Movie Mayhem (1995), a collection of essays from his time at The SunAmerican Gunfight (2005), an examination of the November 1, 1950 assassination attempt on Harry S. Truman at Blair House in Washington, D.C.; and Now Playing at the Valencia (2005), a collection of pieces from The Washington Post. Hunter has also written a number of non-film-related articles for The Post, including one on Afghanistan: “Dressed To Kill—From Kabul to Kandahar, It’s Not Who You Are That Matters, but What You Shoot” (2001).

Hunter is a firearms enthusiast, well known in the gun community for the careful, correct, and in-depth firearm detail in many of his works of fiction. He himself shoots as a hobby, saying “many people don’t understand, shooting a firearm is a sensual pleasure that’s rewarding in and of itself.” You can certainly tell from the Swagger series of books he knows firearms.

CONCLUSION:

This was a great read for me and a book I can definitely recommend to you. Four hundred (400) plus pages of work, extremely descriptive, very concise, detailed, and yet moving very quickly.  The last chapter is a REAL shocker and pulls the entire story together.  DON’T READ THE LAST CHAPTER FIRST.

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