Monthly Archives: March 2014

Book Review: Going Commando

Going Commando by Mark Time

Going Commando by Mark Time is a memoir of one man’s time in one of the most respected military organizations in the world: The Royal Marines. Even as a United States Marine in boot camp, we learned that we were related to the Royal Marines. We are sort of younger brother following in the same footsteps. This book did bring back memories boot camp for me. Drill Instructors never ending pleasure of making one suffer, inspections after inspection, and the beat down of physical training, all came back to me, and of course some smiles. 

I was also caught up, like Time, in doing something that I was told I couldn’t do. I waited until the end of high school before joining; Time was 16 when he joined. Likewise, we were both readers and loved maps. Time describes boot camp or Commando training which is essentially Marine Corps boot camp, Marine Combat training, and Advanced Infantry Training. I was also surprised that the Royal Marines used the USMC physical test as part of their training. 

Time also brings back memories I have of combat boots with the plastic “cheese grater” inserts, yells of “Pain is weakness leaving your body” and “It doesn’t hurt once the pain is gone.” Marines are tight knit group on both sides of the Atlantic. In America the Marines have the lowest ratio of officers to enlisted men of any of the services. In the UK it goes a bit further. Royal Marine officers have no special academy and routinely are in the same classes as recruits. We both share that elite service aloofness. It seems that we both enjoy picking on our air forces and in the 1980s the Royal Marines stepped it up. One of the more popular t-shirts “You can turn a frog into a prince, but you can’t turn a prince into a Royal Marine.” commemorated Prince Edward washing out of Royal Marine training. 

This book was a rare pleasure. It let me learn about the Royal Marine’s training and at the same time, remember my experiences. This book is a great read for those with military experience and even those with some interest in the military will enjoy this book. Time tells his story, and with some humor, about facing a very difficult task and succeeding — Blood, sweat, toil, and tears. One thing that that caught my attention is the author’s name: Mark Time. In Marine Corps close order drill, the command “Mark time, march” means marching in place. The term carries a meaning off the parade deck too. It means doing nothing or waiting, staying in one place. Clearly this Mark Time, was not making time in the Royal Marines. Semper Fi.

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Book Review: Mysterious Acts by My People

Mysterious Acts by My People by Valerie Wetlaufer

Mysterious Acts by My People written by Valerie Wetlaufer is a collection of nine years of work. Wetlaufer holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. Her MFA is from Florida State University. Wetlaufer also holds degrees from Bennington College — a BA in French and an MA in teaching. She is also the author of three chapbooks. 

Wetlaufer has an impressive educational resume, and things like that sometimes intimidate me as a reviewer with a small college resume and an MA in political science. I have no educational background in poetry, and only in the last year developed an interest poetry beyond a few well known names. Poetry has since become my favorite reading, and I only use Goodreads Giveaways for poetry. Going through the list of offerings I came across: “Mysterious Acts by My People is a fearless exploration of love, grief, violence, and humor.” So I entered and won. The book arrived promptly. It was signed and included a bookmark and the author’s business card. The note in the book said I hope you enjoy the poems. I thought this is nice; it should be right up my alley. 

However, I found myself in that “outside your comfort zone” place in reading. There is violence, and humor. The love is something that hit me as a very surprised, “Wow.” The grief is soul wrenching. The poem “Twins” and the “The Fourth Miscarriage” will rip your heart out. “City of Salt” and “Your Body will Haunt Mine” are powerful and very moving poems of the loss of a loved one. “Anger Endures” continues the sense of extreme loss. 

There is humor in the collection too. One line is burned into my brain is from “Instruction Piece”: “I live in the belly of a wail, swimming the ocean.” The play on words is near perfection. 

The violence and sex are graphic, perhaps a bit more than I expected. I had read poetry from the LGBT community before and enjoyed it. Feelings are the same no matter who you love. Wetlaufer, however, left me feeling a bit different, not offended, but maybe a bit embarrassed reading it. But that too is not quite correct. At times, I would get caught up in the poetry and come back and think, “Did she really say what I think she said?” Other times I caught what she said, but the words softened the bluntness. There is power in what is being written, immense power, enough to knock you over, but Wetlaufer’s use of words makes everything seem as it should. She made this former Marine blush, yet at the same time see the raw beauty in her words. 

I will admit I was not fully prepared for the subject matter in this collection. Perhaps the elk on the cover distracted me. Perhaps, only reading the opening lines of the introduction made me think of something else. Contemporary poetry is, in my experience, a few hits and many misses. Mysterious Acts by My People is a hit. After reading this collection, despite most of it being outside my personal experience, my first thoughts were, “My God, this woman can write.” The poems in this book will stay in my mind for some time to come. Wetlaufer does something that is both difficult and rare. She is able to take someone with completely different experiences and have them feel like they are part of her experiences. She has the ability not just to tell you what she felt, but to have you experience what she felt. Absolutely amazing collection.

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Book Review: The Daring of Paradise

The Daring of Paradise by Brian Day is an edgy collection of poetry. Religion is the topic of this collection and not necessarily in a reverent way. Being raised a Catholic, but not having set foot in a church or having any serious thoughts about religion in decades, I was still left with a slightly uneasy feeling. Much like a school kid getting his first look at a Playboy magazine, there is a feeling of guilty, wrongdoing, but at the same time a need to continue looking. The same feelings are present for me in reading The Daring of Paradise. So, needless to if you are a conservative Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, you may not want to read this book. 

“Jacob, Wrestling” presents the Biblical story of Jacob, but with Jacob wrestling God instead of a man or angel. This wrestling is violent with an almost sexual undertone to the bodily contact. Not the connotation of a Sunday School lesson. Likewise “Pursuing our Pleasure in the Body of Christ” brings the same nearly erotic imagery. The writing is well done and despite the subject matter this is not crucifixes in a bottle of urine or a dung painting of Mary. This is complex and thought out. This is a collection that will have plenty of reviews, all of them either five star or one star with very few taking a middle ground. 

“Hunting” brings us St. Peter on the rooftop in The Acts of the Apostles and God telling Peter to kill and eat. In the next stanza tells Krishna and the Khandava forest fire. Both events produce a blood bath for the animals of earth. Peter and Krishna next meet at heaven’s butcher shop and see first hand the carnage of the multitude of mutilated animals, their skins reclaimed from shoes and belts. Religion and the pleasures of the kill. 

No religion is spared in Day’s collection. Several figures meet: Jesus and Buddha Commiserate”, “Krishna and Jesus in Algonquin Park”, and “Guru Nanak and Jesus”. Although Christianity is the subject of most poems there is plenty of variety in the subjects. Gay men want to be Mary in “A Wish to be Mary”:

We all want to be seared by the need of God, 
to have this night blazoned with the mark
of pure scalding, to be wreaked 
with a blessing that exceeds human shape.

The Daring of Paradise provides a paradox. While it may be sacrilege for the those who believe in any of the religious faiths mentioned in the collection, it would be almost meaningless to those with no understanding of the several religions used. Here is a collection for those who understand the faiths of the world, yet do not hold to any of them with much or any conviction. Perhaps these are poems for the Epicurus in all of us.

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Book Review: Against the Light

Protect me 
my island
and make sure the land we share
does not split in two
carrying you away
With trembling hands I hold you back
from the shore and feel you
Slipping slowly
slowly.

Lugano 5:50 

Against the Light by Tiziano Broggiato is a short collection of poetry. Broggiato was born in Vicenza, Italy in 1953 and has other work published in Italian. The poems are translated by Toronto poet Patricia Hanley and Italian born Maria Laura Mosco. 

Against the Light is a more of classic style of poetry in its message and its form. The poems were written in Italian and translated into English. What also makes this collection nice is that the Italian appears on the left page and the translation on the right. Although I do not read Italian, it is nice to see the layout side by side. It offers a visual comparison to the form of the work. 

The collection opens with a haunting, but beautiful. The poem “Flight’s Elegy”. It captures the pain of the great cost and urgency of a father protecting his son from a pursuing enemy, and his son’s unanticipated reply. Other poems cover a range of subjects from Jewish children rounded up in Nazi occupied Poland. There are themes that include death, snow, and Biblical references. There is a mixture of pastoral and urban. This is one of the rarer collections where nearly all the poems managed to strike a chord with me. 

Broggiato, even in translation, shows power and artistry with words. He can turn a few well chosen words into grand images and emotions. He demonstrates rare skill and mastery. An outstanding collection and well worth reading and keeping. A near perfect example of classic poetry in modern writing.

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Book Review: The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway is a look back at the planet earth from the year 2393. Oreskes is the professor of History of Science at Harvard and previously served as professor of history and social sciences at the University of California San Diego. She holds a PhD in Geological Research and History of Science from Sanford University. In addition to the a great number of professional papers, she is also the author of Merchants of Doubt

How will history look back at the latter half of the twentieth century and the beginning half of the twenty-first century? How will the future look on what we are doing today? The answer is not very favorable. Oreskes takes a look at civilization and the how we got where we are today by playing a thought game. What would a researcher in 2393 find when studying the century spanning roughly from 1950 to 2050?

To put things into perspective, I studied history as an undergraduate in the 1990s. To look back 400 years into the past as Oreskes is doing, we need to see what the was world like 400 years ago. In America, Jamestown was being settled and the first African slaves are being brought to British North America. In Europe, Galileo is forced to recant. In the British Islands, the English Civil War is being fought, and John Napier is inventing logarithms. Things look rather backward from today’s standard. But, at the same time it must be remembered that people are acting as they best saw fit. Even still, man should have been smart enough to know enslaving people was wrong and that the church should not dictate to science, but then man does something he does quite well; he rationalizes.

Today we have that same rationalization process, but our rationalizations have a far more serious effect on the entire planet. The warning signs are all around us, changing weather patterns, rising CO2 levels, glaciers and ice retreating, and species being threatened with extinction. We rationalize though. We have independent sounding think tanks tell us that it’s just normal change. What those think tanks don’t tell us is who funds them: those who have an interest in selling the very things causing climate change.

The first part of the book is filled with information that is all around us that we refuse to see. From 1761 through 2012, 365 billion tons of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere. Half of that 365 billion tons has been released since the mid-1970s. The 1970s, we as a people, believed that the best way to deal with pollution was to dilute it. Soon taller smoke stacks were built to help spread the pollution away from the local area, but there is only so much dilution before you reach saturation.

The future did not have all the answers either, Attempts to correct the problems sometimes increased the damage. The look back did show some current examples, like natural gas. Using cleaner burning natural gas (fracking), as a clean alternative to coal would have helped. But rather than using natural gas to replace coal we use it in addition to coal.

An interesting study of political philosophy is included. Western thought from Classical Liberalism and Neoliberalism (conservatism in the US, Friedman and Hayek), which viewed individual rights and economic freedom as ideals, contributed to the problem. Unregulated industry and the idea that government is not the solution, but the problem contributes to burning through of resources without regard to the consequences. Communism is not the answer either; it proved its failure quicker than its opponent’s. The political tie in is important and interesting because it shows how we got to where we are and why we are choosing to do nothing about it.

The book concludes with Conway interviewing Oreskes. The Collapse of Western Civilization is sure to stir up some controversy and meet harsh resistance, much like Galileo did. Climate change remains a hotly debated subject in America, but, then so does evolution. I think we in the West refuse to see the writing on the wall. We want to use our resume as proof that we are right. We won the cold war. We create technology. We have a powerful military. We enjoy a very high standard of living. We cannot be wrong. Thirty years ago the adult population could ignore what we are doing to the planet. Chances are they would not live to see a catastrophe. But as we continue to burn through resources at an increasing pace with little regard to the consequences, that catastrophe moves closer and closer to the current generations. One day it will be here, and then nothing will stop it.

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Book Review: Katja from the Punk Band

Katja from the Punk Band by Simon Logan

Katja from the Punk Band by Simon Logan is the introductory book in the Katja series. Simon is the author of the industrial fiction novel Little Things To Fill Up The Void and three collections of short stories. He is also the author of Get Katja.

A few months ago I read Get Katja, the second book in the series, and loved it. This week I was happy to find Katja from the Punk Band was available to me. I dropped everything else and jumped on this book. I was not disappointed. Katja, along with most people, want off the island and on to the mainland. The island is dreary, dark, and depressing. There are chemical drug gangs and drug lords and life resembles life on the worst side of town. The mainland is may not be perfect, but it is a step up. 

Here, as in Get Katja, the story is told from the point at all main characters and the reader will be jumping back and forth in time. When characters encounter each other it leads up to a climax, and then the story back tracks and is told from the other characters view point. It might sound a bit dizzy, going back and forth, but here it is done in such a way that is completely logical and fits well together. Everything revolves around Katja, and she is the nucleus of the book. The other characters move in and out like electrons around the nucleus of an atom sometimes moving closer and other times moving away. 

The book’s description calls Katja Jackie Brown meets the Sex Pistols, and I am at a loss to come up with a better description. Several plots, several main characters all working together in a punk rock environment makes this book hard to put down. This is not my usual reading material, but as a diversion I find it highly enjoyable. I am a Katja fan.

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