Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Course Corrections

Course Corrections: 
One Man's Unlikely Journey 
by Larry J. Nevels
(iUniverse / 1-462-01636-7 / 978-1462016365 / July 2011 / 316 pages / $18.95 paperback / $28.95 hardcover / $7.69 Kindle / $8.49 Nook)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Course Corrections is the late-in-life memoir of Larry J. Nevels, 1945-2011. Commander Nevels died last year, a retired, carrier-qualified Naval aviator, among other achievements, after a most humble and unlikely beginning. On one level the book he put together is a classic American rags to riches story ("riches" being defined in terms of personal reward rather than mere pelf). That is, it is a testament to gumption, persistence, several doses of luck, and the out-of-the-blue generosity of people who must have sensed his innate drive and decency. On another level, it is simply a terrific read. CDR Nevels had a great memory and a practiced story-teller's eye for detail and timing.

He was born into a broken, dysfunctional family who scorned those who went to college as effete snobs. His "home life" was hardly that, since he lived in a number of foster homes and occasionally struck out on his own when he was barely a teenager. Buoyed inexplicably by great faith, endurance, and optimism, he survived into high school, where he was given timely nurture (and a home) by a legendary teacher and life lessons from a tough, caring football coach. Their support led him to a football scholarship at a good college, and that, with several more strokes of luck, led him to Navy flight school and a long, successful career as a Naval aviator.

Whether one reads for inspiration or entertainment, Course Corrections is a fine book. I shook my head many times, laughed out loud a few times, and admittedly got misty eyed more than once. Few people know more great stories than old Navy veterans, and few Navy veterans know more great stories than old Naval aviators. I'll relate an example from the second category if I may. It's a sea story of the PG-13 variety, and concerns one of the crewmen on his plane rather than CDR Nevels himself.

Naval aviators must endure long deployments away from home, many of which are extended unexpectedly and bring considerable strain to family life. One of CDR Nevels' crewmen once telephoned his wife that he was finally returning home. Come meet the plane, he told her, "with a mattress strapped to your back." Her response: "Don't you worry about me. Just make sure you're the first one off the plane!"

For my part, as a long-time indie author, I have to say that the copy editing of the book leaves something to be desired. The book was rushed into print: only four months after it was published, CDR Nevels succumbed to a protracted battle with cancer. Still, potential readers should know that these problems are small and do not in any way detract from the impact of the prose. The book is great entertainment, documents the life of a remarkable person, and stands as an inspiration to those who read it.

I would never have discovered this book if my wife had not been a high school classmate of CDR Nevels. He visited our town, the town where he graduated from high school, in later years, and I came to know him as a calm, well-adjusted person, with nothing unusual about him except perhaps his life in the Navy. (I had been a non-career surface officer in the Navy myself, so we shared a certain bond.) My wife and I once stayed at the bed and breakfast he and his wife maintained in Fredericksburg, Texas, where we admired his renovation of a period pioneer Texas home and enjoyed his hospitality. Neither she nor I had any inkling of his extraordinary path to the present until we learned of his book.

Course Corrections is a sterling example of the value of independent publishing. I can't imagine any of the literary-industrial complex big four (or is it big three?) taking a risk with a book like this. That's their misfortune. This is a fine, fine book and it is worthy of a much wider readership. CDR Nevels said, of his career in aviation, that the number of his takeoffs equaled the number of his landings, and that is one of the best things you can say about a career as a pilot. My wife and I can only wish this extraordinary man a happy landing on his final journey.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Boys Will Be Boys

Boys Will Be Boys:
Media, Morality, and the Coverup of the Todd Palin Shailey Tripp Sex Scandal

by Shailey M. Tripp (with Vickie Bottoms)

(CreateSpace / 1-470-09102-X / 978-1-470-09102-6 / February 2012 / 280 pages / $21.50 / Amazon & B&N $19.35)

 Boys Will Be Boys is the true story about a young woman who met Todd Palin, probably not inadvertently, in late 2006, just as his wife was being elected Governor of Alaska. Shailey Tripp was working as a substitute teacher at a school in Wasilla when she one day had the honor of being the enforcer of ladylike behavior in the school cafeteria. One of Todd Palin's daughters, Shailey does not specify which daughter, was continually breaking in the cafeteria line and acting most unladylike. Due to the ages at the time, this had to have been either Bristol or Willow Palin. My bet would be preteen Willow. Shailey Tripp did her duty and sent the child home with a note for her parents and Todd did his parental duty and showed up at the school to discuss the issue. Thus began a relationship that would travel through occasional sexual dalliances until it culminated (allegedly) in an interstate prostitution ring. Somebody famous would become the pimp and a certain substitute teacher, who also worked at a massage parlor, would become the prostitute. In case you are wondering how the teacher could also work at a massage parlor, the story is that this particular massage parlor was not one of those massage parlors until Todd Palin sweet-talked his way into the massage therapist's ear.

That's all the plotline you are going to get from me. Some of you may have read pieces of the story in The National Enquirer a couple of years ago. If you want to read the whole story, right from the massage therapist's hands, then this is the book for you. Here is one more little tidbit for you: Shailey Tripp also gave a massage (without a happy ending) to an unpregnant Governor Palin in March 2008. There lies the rub. (I couldn't resist!)

Here are my usual book review criticisms, of which I have become legendary at PODBRAM. There is as yet no Kindle or other e-book version of this book. Unlike all the other reviews I have written here at PODBRAM, this one derives from a PDF of the book. I did that on purpose because, if you have followed my writings on my main author blog, you know that I have been intimately involved with this subject matter for nearly four years. I knew beforehand that many police reports and other documents had been scanned into the book and that the ability to increase the font size would be beneficial to my old eyes. (Cue Sgt. Pepper: "When I'm 64".) When you read the print version, you might have to squint a bit to read the details of many official documents included in the Appendix that substantiate many of Ms. Tripp's seemingly outlandish claims. You may be a little annoyed by the full-size, rather than half-size, paragraph indents throughout the book, as well as much of the content that seems to be a little too often repeated. One segment spanning several pages appears to be literally repeated. In her favor, the number of common proofreading mistakes in a self-published book have been kept within reason. I do think it a bit strange that the subtitle is not included on the cover, though.

Boys Will Be Boys is a very important contribution to American political culture. Anyone who wishes to know the whole truth of our recent national politics should read it. Of course they should read my own Paradigm Shift, too, but that's another story... or is it?

See Also: A very different perspective at NIAFS.

Monday, February 20, 2012

This Mobius Strip of Ifs

This Möbius Strip of Ifs
by Mathias B. Freese

(Wheatmark / 1604947233 / 978-1604947236 / February 2012 / 186 pages / $10.95 / Kindle $9.99)

Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM
Mathematician and physicist Clifford A. Pickover has called the Möbius strip “a metaphor for change, strangeness, looping and rejuvenation.” Like the surface of a Möbius strip, the thirty-six essays folded into This Möbius Strip of Ifs ultimately have no front or back or beginning or end because Mathias B. Freese views his life, his work and his world as a continuous and open-ended process of awareness without the conventional limitations of meaning or dogma.
In “Untidy Lives, I Say to Myself,” Freese writes “That awareness of the moment or the one after that is about all this old man wants at this point in his life. I am working—by not working—on being ‘spot on’—love that phrase. A pastrami sandwich and a good pickle and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda is an epiphany for me if I am aware of it.”
Like the other eighteen essays in Part I, Knowledge is Death growing out of Freese’s experiences as a writer, teacher and psychotherapist, “Untidy Lives” explores the raw awareness and infinite potentialities open to individuals who risk true autonomy. The “risk,” as Jane Holt Freese suggests in her introduction, is that “to know who we are requires that we ‘die’ to many ideas we have about ourselves. Paradoxically, this ‘death’ quickens awareness, makes us more alive and sensitive.”
In “Teachers Have No Chance to Give Their Best” and “The Unheard Scream,” Freese—who taught for twenty-two years before becoming a therapist—decries the fact that school systems don’t provide environments conducive to learning. We have regimentation and conformity with energy being “siphoned off into empty rituals” in a system that conditions students and teachers to accept rote truths rather than to explore oneself without boundaries.
In “Jefferson,” Freese describes the profound and lasting impact of reading the words inscribed in the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial during a college-years Washington, D. C. visit: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
“I felt I was Moses before the burning bush, on hallowed ground,” writes Freese, “as those words were inscribed in flame into my mind—alas, not my heart. I etched them info myself. I have never forgotten them.”
Readers of these essays may infer that Jefferson’s words opposing a Constitutionally recognized state religion became for Freese, if not a mantra, a Möbius-strip axiom that threaded its way in loops within loops through every aspect of his life and work. Jefferson’s influence is certainly apparent when, in “Introductory Remarks on Retirement from a Therapist” and “Therapist as Artist: A Short Talk to the Stony Brook Psychological Society.” In Freese’s view (and no doubt in Jefferson’s) therapists help clients find self-truths rather than conditioning them to adapt to society’s truths because “society is essentially corrupt and corrupting.” The therapist, then, sees life as an artist sees life.
In addition to Jefferson, the truths of Jiddu Krishnamurti, Nikos Kazantzakis and Albert Camus weave the essays in This Möbius Strip together into a unified whole. Freese is the Freese he is not only because of his parents’ lack of parenting and the personal suffering following the loss of a daughter and a wife, but because of his formless evaluation and appreciation of the work of these men. Their spirits remain close at hand in the Freese’s essays about education, therapy, writing and book reviewing and the Holocaust in Part I, Knowledge is Death as well as in the film essays in Part II, Metaphorical Noodles and the family recollections in Part III, The Seawall.
Freese’s Metaphorical Noodles celebrate the work of passionate actors and filmmakers who fought for artistic freedom in a movie business that pushed conformity with the same fervor as school systems and preachers: Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre, Federico Fellini, Orson Welles, and Clint Eastwood. Freese’s The Seawall celebrates family, from his daughter Caryn, who committed suicide in 1998, after a long battle with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) to his wife Rochelle, who died in an automobile accident in 1999, to his “wayfarer” Grandma Fanny and World War II veteran Uncle Seymour.
In the final essay, “Reflections on Rummaging,” Freese summarizes everything else in this astute and profoundly engaging collection of essays while sitting in his garage with several boxes containing the collected records and mementos of a lifetime when he thinks that the riches and adventures of the world can’t give him what he needs most: “To enter into a moment of awareness—I’m not greedy—in which I can feel and experience congruity with myself.”
Somewhat cautionary, occasionally prescriptive, and always uncompromising and unapologetic, This Möbius Strip of Ifs offers readers the observations of one man’s lifetime of bucking the system and seeking a harmonious environment for the ever-awakening psyche within.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of four novels, including the contemporary fantasy “Sarabande.”

See Also: The i Tetralogy

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Distant Cousin: Recirculation

Distant Cousin: Recirculation
by Al Past

(CreateSpace / 1-460-94624-3 / 978-1-460-94624-4 / February 2011 / 324 pages / $13.95 / Kindle $4.99)

Let me begin by saying that this is one of the most accurately proofread books I have reviewed for PODBRAM. I found exactly one extraneous word and the use of ellipses in dialog is a little overdone, but the buck stops right there. However, there are a few glitches in the formatting of the print version that I read. I cannot speak for the Kindle version, of course, and I am aware that the majority of the readers of Dr. Past's legendary Distant Cousin books read them on a Kindle, so maybe these formatting issues are somewhat irrelevant. The problems boil down to two issues. First, the front matter is all but nonexistent, and this makes the printed book appear amateurish at first glance as soon as the first page is turned. Al could spend a little time on this and the book would have a much more professional look. In contrast, the back-matter is outstanding! The final page, describing Ana Darcy's personal website, should be added to the first four books in the series. (Of course I realize this is out of the question for the print versions, but this page could easily be added to the Kindle ones.) The second formatting issue is more complicated (and more annoying). Recirculation should have been only about 200 pages, possibly lowering the price even further. The font is too large, the text is not justified, and each page begins with a new paragraph. I understand technically how this happened, but I am sure most readers would be quite confused by it. The result is that many pages containing a few large paragraphs show large expanses of white space at the bottom. Pages with many short paragraphs of dialog are less affected. Readers of a future DC6 would probably appreciate it if Al would work on some of this technical mumbo-jumbo.

I can see it coming already. Ana's half-alien, genius son will be exposed by nosy media personnel. Somebody in the editing room will see that boring footage that the gossip show left on the cutting room floor and all hell will break loose! The best thing about Recirculation is the storyline and the Spielbergian character development, as is the case with the four previous Distant Cousin books. This part of the friendly space alien saga features the teenaged twins, Julio and Clio. We learn much more detail about Julio's engineering acumen and Clio discovers healing powers she did not realize she had. There is a section of the book that takes me back to the Don Juan books of the wonderful Sixties when Clio goes to Mexico to meet with a traditional healer. Ana's flying pod takes the crew on yet another adventure, leaving the reader salivating for DC6. What more could the readers ask?

There is a lot I could say about the plot, but of course I won't. If you have gotten this far in the series, you already know what to expect. The best thing about the Distant Cousin books is that the reader can so easily visualize the movie in his or her head with very little provocation. The storyline is new, yet familiar. The essence of Spielberg's Close Encounters or E.T. remains pervasive throughout. The characters and dialog tell the story. The whole thing is show, don't tell in a manner that any reader can appreciate. The storyline flows, the characters develop comfortably, and you feel as if you are so glad that you know these people! I was particularly pleased with the pacing of this fifth in the series, the way it begins slowly and gradually accelerates to the end. Personally this is my third favorite, behind Reincarnation ( DC3) and Distant Cousin, and clearly ahead of DC2 (more action and less character development) and DC4 (emphasis on new ancillary characters rather than Ana Darcy). My final grades are: formatting C-, editing and proofreading A+, storyline A.

"Hey, Joe, come over here a minute. Have you seen this? I know most people would think that kid is just shining on his captive audience for a goof, but I've heard of that fancy thing he's talking about. It's been discussed in certain scientific papers. Some experts think it will be a real breakthrough. I'm going to make a few calls...."

See also: Distant Cousin
Distant Cousin: Repatriation
Distant Cousin: Reincarnation
Distant Cousin: Regeneration
Interview with Dr. Al Past