Tuesday, December 31, 2019

"Read a Lot, Forget Most of What You Read, and Be Slow-witted". --Montaigne

 Books Read 2019

If you're a runner, I suppose finishing a marathon is an ultimate goal.  You collect a runner's high and hold a badge of honor.  For reading, my goal for 2019  was to read 100 books.  Yesterday I finished the year with 102. If you're raised in the midwest, you're not supposed to brag but I will share this with Goodreads since the site is about sharing our reading experiences. And like a runner, there were times on the journey when I was exhausted but there were probably more moments of experiencing a reader's high. What did I learn?  It pushes you to read outside your normal area of interest but don't be too structured about what you plan to read.  Be open and go with the flow of your current interest. 

Here are some stats on types of books read:

Travel/Place - 14
History - 14
Non-fiction 11
Novels - 9
WWII - 7
Digital World - 8
Art - 5
Biography -5
Poetry - 5
Memoir - 5
Photography - 4
Language - 3
Sci-Fi- 3
Philosophy -2
Civil War - 2
Professional - 2
Essay - 1
Children's - 1

Hard to pick but my top ten books, in no particular order:

1.  Divine Proportion: Phi In Art, Nature, and Science, Priya Hemenway and Amy Ray
2. Colossus of New York, Colin Whitehead
3. Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives In World War II, Adam Makos
4.  Honorable Exit: How a Few Brave Americans Risked All to Save Our Vietnamese Allies at the End of the War
by Thurston Clarke
5. Overstory, Richard Powers
6. The Sitwells, John George Pearson
7. Gutenberg to Google, Tom Wheeler
8. The Snow Leopard, Peter Mattheissen
9. Contemporary American Painting, Encyclopedia Britannica
10. Abandonings: Photographs of Otter Tail County, MN, Maxwell MacKenzie

Some miscellaneous notes:
--Read two books with the same title: Spain
--Good to read a children's book once in a while for perspective: the one I read was about making crayons
--Did not read more than two books by the same author
--Read a book about the first of the American Revolution and a second about the last year
--unconsciously read several books on themes of nature (Overstory, Sand County Alamanac, Snow Leopard, Divine Proportion ) that make me appreciate nature more.  
--read several books on early voyages to America (Voyage Long and Strange, Undreamed Shores, Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake)

Will I do this for 2020?  Probably not but I'm glad I did it as a personal goal. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

November 7-8: Springfield, IL to Quincy, IL

November 7-8: The overnight in Springfield, the log report the hotels were filled up with 700 Republicans.  Before leaving Springfield, John bought arctic overshoes to cope with the mud.   

In the little town of Ashland, they spot American Crayon 30 Blendwell and Chroma points.  John says it boosts their spirits to see something from Sandy. 

They overnight in Quincy where the natives seem to be enjoying themselves on a Saturday night. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

November 6: Indianapolis, IN to Decatur, IL

The crew is up at 6:30 to leave Indianapolis but not before buying mud hooks, and then buying more mud hooks.  Lynn Curtis looks very blue according to Earl.  Without road maps they rely on locals for directions.  Without good dope they go off course.  The roads turn from gravel to mud and they resort to putting mud chains on tires.  When they drive into a ditch, they are pulled out by a local farmer in a Ford truck They drive late into the night to reach Decatur, IL.  The crew's big ambition is to be in Kansas City by Sunday. 

The rest of their entries are consistently succinct: Mud. Mud. Mud.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ten Cent Trail Across the U.S. - The Journey Begins November 4

Exactly one-hundred years ago today, November 4, 1919, my grandfather John Whitworth convinced three of his hometown friends to attempt a cross-country drive under the cruelest of conditions.  The men were inexperienced, the car was subject to regular breakdowns, and the highways were a series of unmapped dirt roads. This was still an era when passenger trains were the only acceptable means to cross the continent.  Anyone who attempted such a journey by automobile was likely to be considered eccentric or foolish or both. To the drivers of today, however, the four young men would be considered pioneers.
During the month of November, I'll be posting excerpts from 
the logbook my grandfather kept of their journey from 
Sandusky, Ohio to Pasadena, California.
The car they drove was a 1915 Fiat Riviera. My grandfather recorded the mileage, location, time, and comments on the road about
 the people, places and things that he witnessed. He captured the 
experience through a series of black and white photographs.

John Whitworth and Henry Harbrecht

Earl Curtis (John's cousin) and Henry Beilstein

Log entries for November 4: Sandusky, OH to Springfield, OH

All that's left of the Fiat: the Radiator emblem

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Modern Library

When my parents died, I inheirted their libraries.  One set of 28 books were from The Modern Library series. 

The series was created in 1917 with the intent to provide American readers with inexpensive reprints of what were considered important European titles and a few contemporary American books. 

The books were issued in compact, hard-cover with a textured cloth in two-tone finish and without dust jackets. (There are different color schemes but I've never figured out if there is a signficance to the color combinations.)  The series adopted a running torchbearer as its logo.  The Modern Library was sold in 1927 to a new publisher, Random House, lead by editor Bennett Cerf. Random House added more titles over time billing tself as “The Modern Library of the World’s Best Books” but kept its mission the same.  The series, published thorough the 1930s, reached some 280 titles and covered authors from Aristotle to Zola.  

I recall seeing their distinctive dark spines on our book shelves as a kid but they looked too intimidating to explore except for one--Famous Ghost Stories (this edition is dog eared and the spine split at the seams because I carried it around for a time but read only a couple of stories).  

I doubt I'll ever read them all but they make a cozy collection for a small shelf and when in doubt, you'll always have one of the world's best books available. 

 For a history of The Modern Library see this one given to the Book Club of California

Sunday, July 7, 2019


Duel at the Haiku Coral

Junior fought a haiku duel
with the old witch
and won!

Beach Combing

Everyone is a collection of stories
and when they die
their stories scatter
washing up on different shores
to be discovered by beach combers
or stay buried under the sand.

Eternity Road

Driving eternity road
in an 18-wheeler of flammable emotion
the rest stops are shuttered
except for the coin-operated machines
offering heroism, selfishness, and endless confusion.

Dark and Light

Dawn and dusk and the boundaries are’t clear
but I see rivers of darkness
rushing through the night
Curl away the brown wrapper and there’s a new morning

Here Be Monsters

Dark poetry drove sailors over the edge of the map.

I Saw This in a Movie

A figure on the horizon
the hero waits

too long
deceived and disarmed
but if he had acted too soon
it would have been murder.

Battle of the Bands:

Honorable idiots vs. Imbeciles for Hire
Wrong Again vs. Revenge Men
Favorite Phantons vs. Real Imposters
Fancy Types vs. Russian Tattoo

Traces of Robert Frost at my Graduation

The end of college
was an evening view on a hilltop
looking east
but I forgot all those people and possibilities
out west.

Asleep After Indian Food

I entered the wrong dream
someone else’s family nodding their skulls
but I got to feel the smart dust on my galaxy brain.

Another Absurdist Oxymoron Dialogue Overheard at the Bus Stop

“I thought infinity was farther away than this?”
“Maybe you’re looking at it from the wrong end.”

Who or What

He wasn’t interested in what the man was saying
only to whom he was saying it.

She wasn’t interested to whom the woman was talking
only what she was saying.

Solitude Times Three

The lone boy
alone in his house
all alone in his town.


We’re cozy here
with our beach bonfire,
tiny intellects and changing seasons
sending our sparks to the stars
Our fires burn down
leaving nothing but sleeping embers.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Saturday, June 1, 2019


Cartoons present a wide and nearly inexhaustable spectrum so with this list, I'm emphasizing my disclaimor that the lists presented are completely random and based on whatever I happen to have lying around.  After a couple of cups of coffee this morning, here's a few.

Favorite Haunts, Charles Addams (1976).  A collection of Addams "greatest hits" from the leading cartoonist for the New Yorker who inspired the Addams Family TV show and unacknowledged god father of dark humor.  As a kid, I spent many a rainy Saturday afternoons in our basement flipping through the different Addams cartoon collections.  Inheirited from my parents book collection.  

Cat, Tiny Footprints, Two Guys Fooling Around with the Moon, Whack Your Porpupine, B. Kliban (1975-1982).  B.Kliban started with cat meat loaf drawings and moved on to other more surreal subjects. Bizaar and slightly distrubing, I bought most of them in the local mall where I grew up and even had them at collecge where someone was always picking them up.

Unscientific Americans, Parallel Universes, Roz Chast (1986).  Delightfully skewed views of personalities and places in the world.  Lucky enough to buy one her books from the author at a book fair in New York in 2007.

Work is Hell, Love is Hell, School is Hell, the Big Book of Hell, Matt Groening (1988-2003).  Before there was the Simpsons, Matt Groening created cartoon books of Hell.  Bought at various book stores.  

Saul Steinberg, Whitney Museum of American Art (1978).  Steinberg's work borders between cartoon and art.  Another New Yorker featured artist and designed one of their most iconic cover's, The New Yorker's View of the World that has been copied and paradoied.  A Christmas Gift from my mother 1983 with the inscription ...getting this thing was next to impossible...

Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers, Walter Hoving (1961).  Not really a cartoon book but including because its many illustrations can border on the comic if you're feeling ironic.  This was a childhood book my mother bought to assist my sister Ann and me with learning some basic table manners. Something of the opposite effect took hold and Ann would always hold up the illustrations of what not to do.   Inheirited from parents book collection. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Summer 1969

I crashed my Matchbox Ferraris
on home-made gravel roads
Saturday nights
the thunder of stock car engines
traveled miles across cornfields
the Doppler effect
making their revolutions rise and fall
like the din of a faraway battle
the thunder lasted a thousand summers
but maybe it was five or six.

My parents' guests laughed and drank
on the patio under the shadows of an 80-year old
oak tree spared by the contractor
leaving it encircled like a druid meeting place
for the first time humans cast their shadows on the moon
I ran from our black and white TV
to the patio with urgent dispatches
The Eagle has landed
Stepping off the LEM now
not one Christopher Columbus among the guests
to come watch TV with me.

Morning was the hum of a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower
marching up and down the yard
spinning silver steel against green grass
but in the afternoon
sprawled on the lawn
it was the transient drone
of an unseen plane
following a care-free flight plan
threshing its blade through the hot blue sky
and after it's gone
I can still inhale the smell of cut grass.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Five Cent Amusements

The dunce did a dance
with his cup of love.


The fox in the dark
makes the house dogs bark


Most everything is expectations
that never happen.

Weather is the first gift from nature.


On stage with my fears
every day I walk out the door


Soon my time
will be someone else’s time


After the storm
broken branches
on the dark pavement
look like overgrown tarantulas.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Words Useful Foul and Savory

Masters of the Universe

Coffee shop idlers
everyone at the center
of their MacBook universe.

Supreme Coffee Brain

After the large latte
and venti dark roast
there were fifteen minutes
where I was at the mountaintop
master of all knowledge
or at least a Sunday New York Times 

Then, slowly
my foot slipped from the summit
and I spiraled down the caffeine chasm 
crushed in an avalanche
of my pedestrian ignorance

Sound Memory

The sound that comes
from one small town is the place
where I was young.

Outspeak the Dark Music

Frantic man yelling
in the distance
to fugitive listeners

Leaf and star
burn at night

The destiny of diamonds
is dust

Bonehouse is the body
said Beowolf

Words I Like


You're No Haiku

Shark fin
old gin
make you grin

Minor Word Distortions

Company Panic
Steel Plates in Head
Home Despot
Artist Rectal

Band Names + Songs

Stage Presence - Last Noise
Milton’s Angels - Robbed of My Heart
Death Trick - Idiot of Man
Bad Samaritans - Red Changes Everything

Memory Tricks

If life is so precious
we shouldn’t forget any of it,
or come equipped with better memories.

Sunday, January 20, 2019


Out west
a murmuration of black starlings
flash semaphores from the setting sun
while in stoic slowness
bison stride across the tributaries.

In the north
their distant cousins
the musk ox
steam and scowl
under frosted scruffs.


Sunday, January 13, 2019



Portrait 1: Outside and Inevitable


The hermit grew delusional and portentous
about the outside and the inevitable
with dire moods invading his home

no more did he trust the press, phones
or the outside world in general.

During the day he activated his nocturnal headshrinker
Then again
he never thought he would ever be caught
violating the rules of day-night psychology.

Last words from the smashed and dying shortwave radio
warned that
 many inoperable ruptures 
frustrate the dreams of obstinate
 yet sentient beings.


Portrait 2: Elves Themselves

More benign than translucent
we prodded the tremulous elves 
into buses 
and provisioned them with crudites
for the expedition ahead.
Up north
when evil weasels find Etruscan elves elusive
they often turn to Elvis

and thoughts of industry
A rival tribe of trolls with souls

escaped into their underground game rooms.


Portrait 3: The Surreal Revolution

In his delirium,
the Archduke felt no remorse
when he consolidated his crockery
in the museum's sarcophagi
Below the parapets
scenes of the surreal revolution...
-Roving gangs of octogenarians feared nothing
but the lunar eclipse.

--A compendium of rhinoceros blubbered pluperfect odes.
--A barber refusing to abide by
the Vizier’s holistic manifests.

--Men in overgrown mutton chops
looked superfluous
but proved a fateful distraction

to the Bishop's defrocking.

--Justice was meted out for those that abandoned participatory architecture.

--More inflatable obelisks were deployed to allow the competition to continue
--Chocolate milk went on sale at the infanticide
but went unreported in the media.
Desirous of additional conspiracies
the man from afar said it all.


Portrait 4: Unreported Explorers

Finding the planet's fastidious pulchritude tolerable
Captain Des Jardins waded into the hoards

The incredulous hermaphrodites
of the Southern Hemisphere followed suit

The Francophile circumnavigation of the Chukchi Peninsula was
obstructed by the isthmus so he resorted to his dirigible.
On the camping trip
my daughter was chided for not bringing deodorant.
Do you think Daniel Boone would have used deodorant?
The sounds of disco fever wafted in tender tones
over the lonesome prairie.
Closer to home

my collapsible recumbent bicycle helped make many
new friends and leap frogged other bike technology
Over the time horizon
Conquistadors reclined in their mukluks on the charpois

Portrait 5: From a Military Standpoint

Eskimos should have more escalators on their frigates.
A kerfuffle erupted over the issuance
of a new and improved blunderbuss
The adoption papers went missing
after the adorable Panzer leader
executed a pincer movement in western Ukraine
A wounded Brevet Major General excoriated
the cheating charlatans of his command
and uttered unexpurgated oaths

“Tinker-bell in espadrilles equals fashion overkill.”
“Grandpa said you have to take care of the baby
while she gets tattooed.”

“I care not for your javelin experiments

and instead find favor with transubstantiation
and the simple pleasures of saltine crackers.”

“Fortify my carousers with embellishments and rectitude.”
Over the ridge
the violin marching band stormed the fortifications
without a single heartbreak.


Portrait 6: In Stores Now

At the motley, old haberdashery
preposterous dramas of amputation and pillow talk played out

amid a magnificent assemblage of gewgaws and gimcracks
In the aisles
pranksters never settled the great debate
between itching powder and sneezing powder.
The stock clerks favored his action items
but my checklist was supreme.
In the hubbub
the constable was so flummoxed

he put the kibosh on the kabob sellers and bamboozlers.
Contrast smartly 
the superior gamesmanship of Chico and the boy

allowing them to extricate the harpsichord from the estuary.
The hobos condemned the blubber display in the town square
while at the same time
 admiring its primordial qualities 
by stealth
At headquarters
not even Zeus, Napoleon and Trump
could restructure the postal rates

for the next fiscal year. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Returning to my random lists of books on my shelf after several years. I had to pause for a while after several moves that put my library into a state of of upheaval.  After moving from out of a house with built in bookshelves, I've had to keep my books stacked and double shelved on small shelves or stuffed in liquor boxes sitting in an attic.  I've finally been able to build shelves in my current house and see my books again.  Since then, I've also inherited books from both my parents who have passed away in the last few years. 

Write it Yourself - Part II

One of my first lists were books about diaries and journals including one of the most famous diarist - Samuel Pepys.  Write It Yourself - Part I

Diaries, journals, logs, notebooks -- may be for an audience of one to recording daily life or possibly as a record moments in history.  Diaries cover the widest spectrum of human experience -- the drama of war (Guadalcanal Diary or the introspective thoughts of a romantic like the seven volume Diary of Anais Nin).  Journeys are a large sub-genre of journals and within that there is the sub-sub genre of ship's logs.  

I have a soft spot for diaries.  I've kept a journal since I was 18 thanks to a high school graduation gift. I also inherited a diary from my paternal grandfather during his time as a second lieutenant in the US Army in WWI and a log book from my material grandfather recording his 1919 cross country drive across the country. 

Here's a few of those on my shelves:

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002), by David Sedaris (2017).  Diary of the humorist and writer David Sedaris from his early college days to his days become an established writer.  Bought new at an airport bookstore.


Guadalcanal Diary, Richard Tregaskis (1943).  Embedded with the U.S. Marines Tregaskis tell story of the U.S. Marines fighting the Japanese in 1942.  Bought used at the State Department book store.  Library stamp from Russell C. Heater.  Dust jacket encourages readers to buy War Bonds.  

Tregaskis followed on the next year with Invasion Diary (1944) about the invasion of Sicily. This one also bought used at the State  Department book store and once owned by Bruce Collmus of Norfolk, Virginia.  One of several war diaries.http://compulsivelyaimless.blogspot.com/search?q=guadalcanal

Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763 (McGraw Hill 1950).  Boswell was 20-something young man in London seeking a commission in the Queen's Guard.  Lots of meals, connections, and debauchery.  Inherited from my mother's library. 

The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor from the year 1775 to 1841 (1988). Nagle joined the British Navy at the time of the American Revolution and served in American waters, later fought with Commodore Nelson's fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. His adventures took him to India, China and Australia. He died peacefully at the age of 80 in Canton, Ohio. Excellent color plates illustrating the era Nagle served. Bought used but can't remember where. A sample of one of the several ships logs from my library the subject of an earlier blog: http://compulsivelyaimless.blogspot.com/search?q=nagle

The Diary of Anais Nin, Vols. 1-6 (1931-1966)(1976).  Born in Paris she wrote about art, love affairs and observations about the world. Inherited from my mother.

Notebooks 1942-1951, Albert Camus.  Nobel laureate Camus kept journals of his ideas and outlines of his future books.  Covers the period of German occupation of Paris during which Camus was part of the underground resistance.  Bought used at the State Department book store.

The Reagan Diaries, Ronald Reagan (2007).  Edited by Douglas Brinkley, the diary covers the date of the Reagan's first day in office January 20, 1981 until his last, January 20, 1989.  Reveals his personal reactions to Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher.  Christmas gift.

The Journals Of Francis Parkman (Vols. I and II)(1947).  Parkman was a historian and adventurer who traveled the back country of New England, Canada, the Great Lakes, Europe and the American west.  His journals served as the basis for The Oregon Trail.  Can't recall where I bought them-- a used book store, possibly one in Amherst, MA.