2018 Reading Challenge – Update #1

In case you missed it and are curious, the details of this year’s reading challenge can be found here. As in past years, each category calls for a separate book, so you cant’s use the same book to fulfill two or more categories. So saying, here is my first update on the books I’ve read so far.

Forests of the Night

Forests of the Night by David Stuart Davies is the mystery I chose to start the year. It is set in London during World War II. Due to an accident during the protagonist’s military training, he never saw action, and was unable to return to his previous employment. He has set himself up as a private detective. He is hired by a couple to find their daughter. His case soon turns into a murder investigation. As in most mysteries, his personal and professional life merge. I enjoyed this book, which was the first in a series of books. There is a lot of detail about the hardships of living in London during the war. I would recommend this book.


Profiles in Courage

Profiles In Courage by John F. Kennedy was my second book of the year, and was first published in the 1950’s. I first read this book in 1965. It was required reading for all incoming freshmen at Indiana University that year, as I recall. The then Senator Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1957. President Kennedy’s assassination was still fresh in our memories, so I doubt if many students shirked that requirement. It was only years later that I heard that most of the writing was done by Theodore Sorensen. The book is about the courage shown by seven different Senators who voted contrary to the opinion of their party and constituents, for what the Senator believed was in the best interests of the country. Their actions often caused them to lose subsequent elections. It isn’t something you see in these days. I wish more politicians today were as courageous.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The Girl In The Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz is an authorized continuation of the Millennium series conceived and started by Stieg Larsson. I chose it as my Part of a Series choice. Larsson died after finishing the third book in the series. There are many people who believe that nobody else could or should write about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist, but the publishers obviously disagree. I have to admit that most attempts to carry on a series after the death of the original author seem to lack something for me. The most obvious examples for me are the James Bond and Sherlock Holmes stories. Nobody who followed Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle caught the heroes as well as far as I’m concerned. Saying that, I enjoyed this book. Some of the character reactions seemed off, but for the most part I have no trouble accepting this book into the Millennium series.


Swords and Scoundrels

Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight was the book I read as my Science Fiction or Fantasy selection. The book falls into genre of Sword & Sorcery; and it has plenty of both. The two main protagonists, Vocho and Kacha, are former members of the Duelist Guild. Both are excellent swordsmen; each looks out for the other; each has secrets; and each has weaknesses. I enjoyed reading this book. Since it is the first volume in a trilogy, I will be reading the other two books as time provides. It is difficult to read everything that I want to read because I try to read a variety of types of books for the challenge. I’ve done this to myself.



Numero Zero

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco is my choice for a book written in the 2010’s. It was Eco;’s last published novel before his death in 2016. He revisited a familiar topic, conspiracy theories. As is often the case, I find myself wondering how much of the theory is right and how much is wrong…or is there coincidence involved. This novel is shorter than any other book I’ve read by Eco, but it still full of densely written lists and transitions from one event to the next. I’ll admit that I occasionally scanned or even skipped over entire paragraphs. But in spite of that quibble, I found the book quite enjoyable. Reading Umberto Eco is well worth your time.

A look back

While out driving one morning

It is still winter, but we have had some warm sunny days lately. I took this picture while returning home from the library a few days ago.


A friend of mine recently moved to Cologne (Köln), Germany (Deutschland). She has been posting pictures, and sending me pictures that she has taken in the short time she has been there. I must admit to a wave of nostalgia sweeping over me when I started looking at those photos. I’ve written before about being stationed in Heidelberg when I was in the military. Some of those memories popped back into my mind.

I decided that rather than just jumping into my writing, I should first go back and look at everything that I had previously posted. I found that a) I hadn’t mentioned Heidelberg in a post for nearly five years, b) one of the few stories I mentioned was about drinking wine with a guy with whom I was stationed, and c) when I did mention Heidelberg it was mainly in relation to music albums that I bought there. By the way, writing about music was originally a focus of Classical Gasbag.

In this post I want to expand on my story about drinking wine with my buddy. As I mentioned before, my friend’s name was, and perhaps still is, Lou. When we were able, and when the weather permitted, we would walk to the student section of downtown Heidelberg, buy a bottle of wine, and cross the bridge to sit on the bank of the Neckar River.

Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, was said to love the beauty of the Neckar River and Neckar Valley. I agree that the valley is beautiful, but when I was in Heidelberg, the Neckar was one of the most polluted rivers that I had ever seen. Lou and I, however, weren’t as much interested in the river as with the coeds who came to the river bank to work on their tans.

But we also spent the time passing the bottle back and forth while we talked about the state of the world. In our case, the world revolved around the war in Vietnam and rock and roll. We talked about what we would do when we got out of the army. We talked about the girls we had been dating when we were shipped to Germany. And we occasionally talked about politics. I’m sure that our conversation became more profound as we neared the bottom of the bottle.

By the way, the wine we chose was not a wonderful Riesling, but rather a cheap bottle of strawberry flavored wine that Lou introduced into my life. I guess you could say that it was a German version of Boone Farm. What were we thinking?