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March 19, 2023

Sunday Morning Book Thread - 03-19-2023 ["Perfessor" Squirrel]


Welcome to the prestigious, internationally acclaimed, stately, and illustrious Sunday Morning Book Thread! The place where all readers are welcome, regardless of whatever guilty pleasure we feel like reading. Here is where we can discuss, argue, bicker, quibble, consider, debate, confabulate, converse, and jaw about our latest fancy in reading material, even if it's nothing more than the abstracts for an online conference. As always, pants are required, especially if you are wearing these pants...(astute pants enthusiasts will note this is the exact same model from last week--pants are photoshopped in.)

So relax, find yourself a warm kitty (or warm puppy--I won't judge) to curl up in your lap, warm up some leftover corned beef and cabbage, and dive into a new book. What are YOU reading this fine morning?


Today's pic is of the Yangzhou Zhongshuge, a library/bookstore in China. This is one example where form seems to trump function, in very interesting ways. The reflective floors give the illusion of floating through a tunnel of books. The zig-zag shape in the ceiling is meant to evoke the image of a winding river. The adult reading room is reminiscent of an arched cathedral (to me at least), even though the ceilings are not that high. Very strange building, but one I could probably lose myself in. Of course, with L-Space being what it is (see Terry Pratchett's Discworld), I might exit from an entirely different library...


When you read a story, do you ever get a sense that you are just seeing a very tiny slice of the main character's life? Although a fairy tale might end with, "and they lived happily ever after," we know that people in the real world don't get to have that experience. After the hero and his bride ride off into the sunset, their relationship will have its ups and downs, just like the real world, though we'll most likely never get to see that. Unless the author writes a sequel, which does happen sometimes.

Often, characters will refer to their past exploits, usually to either give us some exposition related to their current adventure or because they are demonstrating some character development, or both. However, unless the author gives us a flashback or extended exposition, we seldom get to see all of the details of their past exploits. For instance, a throw away line in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Sussex Vampire" indicates that Sherlock Holmes had an encounter with a giant rat of Sumatra:

"Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson," said Holmes in a reminiscent voice. "It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared. But what do we know about vampires?"

Believe it or not, that one line, in a rather obscure Sherlock Holmes story written late in Doyle's career, has created a small cottage industry of authors attempting to fill in that gap. What is the giant rat of Sumatra? What was the adventure? Was it supernatural? Alien? Scooby-Doo-esque? Since Doyle never gave Holmes an official narrative around the giant rat of Sumatra, we'll never know what he intended.

Most authors will give their characters a colorful past to flesh them out. Michael Ende (The Neverending Story) is unusual in that he gives many of his side characters future adventures, without describing them in detail, to illustrate that each character, each story, truly is neverending. He gives a short description of their future exploit, but then says, "that is another story for another time."

Do YOU have any favorite characters that have unexplained adventures in their past (or future)? Do you ever imagine what the details behind those stories might be? Do characters have lives beyond the stories in which they are found?





Noodle Incident -- A Noodle Incident is any event from a character's past which is never fully explained and is possibly too ridiculous to be believed. This trope comes from a Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin stresses that he can't be blamed for what happened during the incident in question. I'm sure all of us Morons have at least ONE Noodle Incident in our past...*cough*SquirrelAtStonehenge*cough*

Comment: One of the books I read this week, Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra is one of many attempts to describe a "Noodle Incident" mentioned in passing in the Sherlock Holmes Case Book story "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire." Holmes simply says that this is "a story for which the world is not yet prepared." and leaves the details up to the imagination of the reader.

Black Comedy -- This is a subgenre of comedy and satire where serious events are treated in a lighthearted manner, while still portraying them as the negative events they are. Usually involves a lot of death, violence, crime, insanity, drug abuse, racism, sexism, etc. A large part of Black Comedy is taking something that is usually portrayed as serious and exaggerating it for comedic effect. For instance, A Series of Unfortunate Events starts out with making young children orphans when their parents are killed in a fire and then making their situation worse and worse throughout the series, even as the narrator continues to warn the reader that things *always* get worse for the Baudelaire children.

Comment: Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming by Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley is an excellent example, as the main character is a demon who engages in demonic activity, such as playing poker with his fellow demons using human body parts as currency. Then complaining when the body parts he's harvesting for his Frankenstein-Monster-like creations don't measure up to his expectations. Lots of humorous digs at classical fairy tales, such as Cinderella and especially Sleeping Beauty (or Napping Beauty in this story). The latter character attends a ball hosted by the former, and is almost kidnapped to become a Sultan's concubine by one of the attendees. She's not happy about that. Meanwhile Prince Charming finds a magical sword (Excalibur) that convinces him to slay a group of wandering merchants because they looked evil. Oh, and the sword betrays him to a group of demon knights who almost roast Prince Charming for dinner. That's Black Comedy in a nutshell.



We're going to try something different and start off with an ANTI-recommendation. Just as it's useful to find books that are good to read, it can be just as useful to identify books to avoid. Feel free to post more ANTI-Recommendations in the comments below...

This month's family book read is done and over with, thank God. My daughter chose, and here is my ANTI-recommendation: Hollow Beasts by Alisa Lynn Valdes. It happens to be this month's Amazon Prime Free Book.

Wokeness level: eleventy. It has everything--white supremacists who kidnap young latina women, Hispanic American game warden and sheriff, wolves, Hispanic American sheriff who thinks there should be a border wall (author frowns on this), grrrl power, one nice white guy, adoption, corrupt Democrats (whose only purpose appeared to be the author's shock that there could be such a thing as corrupt Democrats).

I don't know how this author gets to be a NYT best selling author. Her prose is mediocre, at best. She can't tell a story without preaching.

Despite all of that, there are good points. She does try to balance her stereotypes with characters from "her side" who also do bad things. Several of the characters do the right thing, even when it would be easier not to. Pro-adoption, in the sense that a pregnant teenager did not seek an abortion (she wanted to keep the baby rather than give it up, but at least did not try to kill it).

Overall, 1/2 star.

Posted by: Dash my lace wigs! at March 12, 2023 08:38 AM (OX9vb)

Comment: This one of the problems of modern writers. They are so, so keen on inserting ***THE MESSAGE*** (cue Critical Drinker's voice) that they are forgoing the basic elements of storytelling. Slavery is wrong. Period. It doesn't matter who does it. I've read a number of books recently that featured slavery in some fashion or another and the authors are one and all consistent in portraying slavery as bad. You don't have to insert additional messages. The book I recently finished had Sherlock Holmes teaming up with a Black Muslim ship captain (a former slave himself) and a Chinese druglady to take down a slavery ring masterminded by hyperevolved rats (it makes sense in context). And yes, there were some bad English colonialists, but again, it made perfect sense in context.


Starting some fluff called Bring me the Head of Prince Charming, by Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley. We shall see.

The other thing I am reading is IRS instructions on certain investments. Ugh!

Posted by: NaCly Dog (u82oZ) at March 12, 2023 08:42 AM (u82oZ)

Comment: NaCly Dog's comment reminded me that I, too, have this book in my library and it was flagged as "unread" so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It's a lot of fluff, poking fun at the demonic supernatural realm, while turning a standard fairy tale inside out. Weirdly, the picture of the castle on the back cover is reminiscent of Neuschwanstein Castle, which was built almost 900 years after the story takes place (AD 1000). The premise is that every thousand years, the forces of Good and Evil have a contest to see who will dominate for the next thousand years. An argument could be made that the forces of Good may have lost in AD 2000.


With all of the woke and cancellation going on, I would recommend picking up a copy of Empire by Niall Ferguson. Empire is the story of the rise and fall of the British empire, and the colonies they set up. Were it to be published today, it would certainly be attacked, as it documents that British colonialism benefited those lands where it was installed. True colonialism was about installing the infrastructure and rules of the home country on the colony, so that those colonized were given the tools to grow and the rule of law, something that was lacking in every colonized land. If one looks at the former British colonies after independence, every one is well ahead of its neighbors, excepting those that have been taken over by Marxists after separation. The book is an enjoyable read, and well documented, and full of the facts that so annoy those that disparage the British empire.

Posted by: Thomas Paine at March 12, 2023 09:15 AM (cPQrn)

Comment: By now, we as a species should be well-versed in the forces of colonialism and how they work. We only have thousands of years of documented history to show us. Yet, still people seem to think that Empires will last forever and that the world can be dominated by a few for all time. The British Empire was neither wholly good nor wholly evil, which is true of most empires. For all their faults, the British brought a great deal of stability, education, and civilization to remote parts of the world that had never known that those things were possible.


I am currently reading Memoir of Hungary 1944-1948 by Sandor Marai.

It concerns the time after WWII up until the full communist takeover.

The book starts with an anecdote of a family drinking party just as the National Socialists were all running for the exits in Hungary. (It seems they were aware that if they didn't drink up all the wine, the approaching Russians would)

One guest turns the subject to whether they should be supporting the German alliance.

Sandor Marai posits that no one needs the German alliance. A guest, a bit drunk at this point shouts, "I am a National Socialist! YOU can't understand this because you are talented. But I'm not, and that is why I need National Socialism! YOU can't possibly understand... Now it's about us! The untalented! Our time has come!"

With this prophecy, the National Socialists move out, and the International Socialists move in, and the time of the untalented begins. (Sound familiar?)

This forms the main theme of the memoir, of untalented people rising to great power, and talented people selling their souls to gain power/fame, up until the author can no longer live in Hungary and flees to America.


Posted by: Taft at March 12, 2023 09:36 AM (6Aj7n)

Comment: It really is sad to think that we are not being ruled by truly elite, enlightened people, but by the dregs of mediocrity. It would be *slightly* more palatable if we knew that the people in charge really could back up their so-called "expertise" with notable achievements. As it is, these people would fail to run a frozen banana stand. Yet they have control of all the levers of power in society. Calling them "untalented" is being charitable. Is there such a thing as "anti-talented?" *sigh*

More Moron-recommended reading material can be found HERE! (684 Moron-recommended books so far!)



  • Gamearth by Kevin J. Anderson -- Like the Guardians of the Flame series, this involves a table top role-playing game that suddenly becomes real for the players. One of them gets a bit annoyed by this and tries to destroy the game world. The series as a whole has a rather neat twist at the end.


  • Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra by Alan Vanneman -- He manages to capture the essence of a Sherlockian tale, while adding in some extraordinary elements that take Holmes a bit out of his comfort zone.
  • Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming by Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley -- An amusing tale of one demon's attempt to win control of Earth for the next thousand years by subverting a classic fairy tale.
  • "The Sussex Vampire" by Arthur Conan Doyle -- The story that mentions in passing the giant rat of Sumatra. Also features this memorable quote from Watson: "I have read, for example, of the old sucking the blood of the young to retain their youth." This is about the limit of Watson's knowledge on the subject of vampires. Naturally, there is a simple, elegant solution to this puzzle...
  • Forgotten Realms - The Harpers 5 - The Ring of Winter by James Lowder -- An explorer goes searching for a legendary artifact in a fantasy version of Dark Africa (with dinosaurs!). Another "fluff" novel because I just needed something light and entertaining this week.

That's about all I have for this week. Thank you for all of your kind words regarding the Sunday Morning Book Thread. This is a very special place. You are very special people (in all the best ways!). The kindness, generosity, and wisdom of the Moron Horde knows no bounds. Let's keep reading!

If you have any suggestions for improvement, reading recommendations, or discussion topics that you'd like to see on the Sunday Morning Book Thread, you can send them to perfessor dot squirrel at-sign gmail dot com. Your feedback is always appreciated! You can also take a virtual tour of OUR library at libib.com/u/perfessorsquirrel. Since I added sections for AoSHQ, I now consider it OUR library, rather than my own personal fiefdom...

PREVIOUS SUNDAY MORNING BOOK THREAD - 03-12-23 (NOTE: Do NOT comment on old threads!)


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