Hello to my readers. I’m your new Page Turners editor. Many thanks to Tom Elliott, who did such a good job for so many years. I’m going to try to follow his good lead.
You may be curious about what qualifies me to be a reviewer. I think the only true qualifications are that I have opinions and I’m willing to write them down. Besides that, I’ve written book reviews for 13 years for the San Diego Horticultural Society newsletter. (If any of you are writing books about gardening or farming, send ’em along. You may get a double review.) In addition to reviewing, I write books. I have two published with my writing partner, Richard Lederer: American Trivia and American Trivia Quiz Book. I also have four novels in the drawer, waiting to be discovered. Finally, I teach creative writing to senior citizens, which is a lot more fun than you might guess.
Back to Mensa, this is an interesting job. In the last three months, since Tom wrote his last column, I have received 44 books for review. Among the 44 are12 novels, 3 acrostic books, 3 books of poetry, 2 cartoon collections, 3 memoirs, and assorted nonfiction, some of general interest and some highly technical.
Although I can’t review that many in one month, I’m astonished and delighted that so many Mensans are such good writers.
One Mensan has told me that I shouldn’t review anything that’s self-published. I disagree. There are many reasons to self-publish besides the old cliché about vanity, and a lot of quality books are being done that way. So send me anything. I make no guarantees, but I’ll do my best.
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And speaking of self-publishing, one of the more interesting books in my collection this month is Harm’s Way Trilogy by Tom Pettit. It’s a trilogy because it’s the story of three important battles in U.S. history: the D-Day battle on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944; the battle of Tarawa in the Pacific in November 1943; and the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. The three chapters were created at three different times to be done as staged readings.
What’s really special about them is that they’re narrative poems. I’m sort of tone-deaf to poetry. If I read a hundred poems, it may be that one speaks to me. The rest are just words. So the chances that I would pick up a book of narrative poems about war in a bookstore are zero. My eyes would have swept across the cover and kept on going. How lucky I am that fellow Mensan Tom Pettit sent me this book.
It has an interesting organization. The neatly laid-out stanzas of the first (Omaha Beach) and third (Bull Run) poems alternate with paragraphs of randomly indented prose. Photos and drawings are inserted where appropriate. It all works. It’s visually appealing and draws the eye along.
The second poem (Tarawa) does not have the prose segments, but it is followed by four short biographies of the four men who earned Congressional Medals of Honor in the battle.
In my writing classes, the first question we usually ask an author is, “Who is your audience?” At first glance, you might say Harm’s Way Trilogy is written for men, but I think it will appeal to women also and to teenagers, male and female.
The author compares this book to epic and narrative poems of primitive times. He writes, “We fervently wish this trilogy will be read and re-read, in solitude and aloud, perhaps even by small groups sharing the reading in family rooms or classrooms.” At first I thought that sounded sort of odd, but having read this book, I think it’s a good idea. Teachers might look at how they could use the poems in junior high or high school settings. I think it’s a given that they will generate lively discussion.
Harm’s Way Trilogy (ISBN 978-0-6923223-0-7) is a short paperback book, only 60 pages, but the list price is only $5.95. I think it’s a bargain.
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I’ve had two friends who refused to consider Alcoholics Anonymous because of the religious component. One said, “I just don’t like this ‘higher power’ stuff.” That’s why A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous by John Lauritsen caught my eye.
Nonbelievers have been part of A.A. since before its first organizational meeting in 1930. They worked to moderate the language about the place of God in the recovery process, but were unable to eliminate it.
Lauritsen, who has been a member and sober for more than 46 years, thinks that even this attenuated focus on God drives people away from the program they need. He has written this 120-page critique to see if he can create a discussion about what he sees as a serious problem. To critique it, he first has to describe it, so the reader will get a quick orientation to the history and methods of the organization.
This book will probably be of interest to anyone who is in A.A., and it also fits in with the contemporary discussion about the place of religion in America. A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous (ISBN 978-0-9437422-3-6) costs $12.00.
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Now you get three reviews for the price of one. I love acrostics, and this month I have three books of them by two different authors: Acrostica I and Acrostica II by Michael H. Dickman and Kids’ Krostics: Puzzling Penguins—and 49 More Amazing Animals by his colleague Cynthia Morris.
I can’t really tell you much about Ms. Morris’s book, because when she saw it, my 14-year-old granddaughter said, “Wow! Cool!” The last time I saw her, she was working on the second puzzle. I don’t think you can get a much better recommendation than that.
Ms. Morris has been constructing acrostics for 10 years and offers some free on her website, AmericanAcrostics.com. Kids’ Krostics (ISBN 978-0-9895081-1-7) is paperback and sells for $8.99.
Michael Dickman’s Acrostica I and Acrostica II each includes fifty of his best puzzles for adults, and he promises us two more books to come. He recommends them as good practice for CultureQuest or Jeopardy or just for enjoyment. That’s good enough for me. These 134-page paperbacks each sell for $12.95. Volume I is ISBN 978-0-9908877-0-6. Volume II is ISBN 978-0-9908877-2-0.
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Here’s a mini-preview of the 2015 AG. Karl William Heckman will be speaking on his memoir Watertight: How I Survived the Submarine Service without Losing My Mind. If his talk is as interesting as his book, it will be a “don’t miss” event.
Heckman writes in his introduction, “The equation determining life or death in a submarine is simple. If the number of surfacings does not equal the number of dives, your children become fatherless. The slimness of that margin for error kept us vigilant and demanding of our shipmates.”
The author has written about the process of becoming a submariner and the experience of life on a sub. He served aboard the USS Seawolf and the USS Parche. Watertight (ISBN 978-0-9913985-0-8) is 375 pages long in hardbound for $29.00. It’s also available as an eBook. It includes an interesting appendix of “Acronyms, Terms, and Insults.” Who can resist?
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I said above that a lot of poetry doesn’t speak to me, but I did enjoy Passages of Time and Life: New and Selected Poems by Virginia Stevens Smith. Titles like “An Exuberance of Birds,” “Demon Anger” and “Squirrel’s a Courting” are enticing. “Electric Has No Past” touches on the new world of electronics; “. . . To talk with you, / We learn thumb-speak. / Your lives are but a screen, / Filled with cryptic symbols, / Writ from an empty room.”
This slim paperback of 56 poems has much to recommend it. Passages of Time and Life (ISBN 978-1-5061653-2-5) is available for $5.97.
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Probably the most interesting title of any of this month’s book is Remembering Willie Nelson: The Science of Peak Memory by Jeremy E.C. Genovese. Dr. Genovese is an Associate Professor at Cleveland State University in Ohio. A tagline on the back cover of his book asks if you’d like to have a memory like Google. As someone who is rapidly approaching the issue of senior moments, I raise my hand to volunteer.
Dr. Genovese tells us that “a growing body of research has given us tools and techniques for real memory improvement.” He promises that new methods can reduce forgetting and substantially decrease the time and effort of learning new material. You can check out his blog at peakmemory.me/ and listen to an interview with him at herewearepodcast.com/node/11 if you want to know more about his ideas.
Remembering Willie Nelson (ISBN 978-1-93733275-6-9) is available as a 282-page paperback for $14.95. It’s also available on Kindle.
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I have a number of other interesting books that I’ll try to get to next month. Unfortunately, several people forgot to send in their Book Review Submission Forms with their books. Maybe Dr. Genovese can help them remember.