Shrapnel: Short Stories – #bookreview

Shrapnel: Short Stories
James Lloyd Davis

Available in soft cover and Kindle editions
ISBN 9798681904472

James Lloyd Davis’s Shrapnel is a well-written, engrossing, and entertaining collection of nearly 50 short stories. True to the book’s title, most of the works in Shrapnel are stories spanning a few pages at most. Indeed, some of them appear, at first glance, to be fragments, shrapnel-like moments of life shaped into fiction or prose poems. Yet, they stand on their own as individual stories.

Many of Davis’s short stories have appeared in literary magazines in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. One my favorites in this collection, “Standup gigs in zendos make you cry,” spans a mere page and a half, yet its ending made me laugh outloud, and I’m still chuckling as I recall it a few days later. The book’s opening story, “Knitting the Unraveled Sleeves,” is much longer, a dozen pages, and it is a powerful tale of love, fate, and the will to survive. It was published in the anthology Best New Writing 2013 and selected for an Editor’s Choice Award in this Eric Hoffer Award collection.

Shrapnel is Ohio writer James Lloyd Davis’s first short-story collection.
He is now working on a novel.

Confession: I knew James Lloyd Davis back the 1960s, during the early days of the Vietnam War. We served together on the same ship, the destroyer USS Higbee (DD-806). I knew him then as “J.L. Davis.” I was a petty officer third class and one of the ship’s ten radio operators who worked around the clock in shifts of three, with a chief radioman allegedly supervising us. Davis, also part of the radio gang, was a year or two younger than me. He was a two-stripe seaman apprentice also known as a “radio striker.” His main job was to carry typed-out radio messages to the ship’s officers and get them read and signed. My job included operating several different radios, sending and receiving messages via Morse code or radio teletype and handing Davis messages to carry up to the ship’s bridge or down into the “officers’ country” living quarters. During the ten months before my enlistment ended, we spent a lot of time in dangerous waters with the Seventh Fleet off the coast of North Vietnam and South Vietnam. And there were a lot of urgent radio messages flashing back and forth between the White House, the Pentagon, the U.S. Seventh Fleet, and even our small, expendable ship.

I already had intentions of becoming a writer someday, and I had taken a couple of journalism classes in high school and during my disastrous freshman year in college (after which I went on active duty from the Navy Reserve). It turned out that James Lloyd Davis knew a lot more about writing than I did. I still remember him quizzing me about the writers I had read, particularly Ernest Hemingway. I had to confess that I knew a few famous authors’ names, but realized I was woefully unprepared to discuss any of their books or their writing styles. After my enlistment ended, I returned to college and lost track of Davis and other crew members. But I never forgot that encounter: You can’t be a writer without being a reader. I became a reader and writer and have had a decent, if unspectacular, career writing newspaper stories, magazine articles, poetry, books, book reviews, and screenplays. Via the Internet, I managed to get back in touch with some of my shipmates, including Davis, a few years ago while writing Dark Signals, a memoir about my time aboard DD-806. I haven’t seen him since 1965, but now and then, we still exchange an occasional message. He lives in northeast Ohio, in town of Cuyahoga Falls.

Thanks for challenging me those many years ago, J.L. Of course, I do have to grin a bit now when I see these words in your short story “Being Che”:

“Maybe Hemingway got it wrong, a disillusioned old man, a suicide walking when he changed your life with his words…and perhaps you were wrong to listen.”

Holding your book and also thinking back on all that I have gotten to do, I’m very glad I listened…to you both.

Si Dunn

Giving Cheap Consideration to Getting an Online MBA

Master of Business Administration? There’s nothing cheap about getting an MBA, even online. But, in the midst of your “house arrest” during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be getting intellectually antsy and pondering (or even daydreaming about) getting an online MBA. Hey, a million crazier things are happening now, so why not? And, hard-pressed universities increasingly are eager to get your cash.

One way to keep inflating your online-MBA trial balloon (or pop it with a reality pin) is to pick up some cheap used books on key curriculum topics.

For example, managerial accounting is one subject usually encountered early in an MBA program. Read a book or two about it, take some notes along the way, and judge for yourself how helpful it truly might be to invest, say, $10,000-$20,000 and a couple of years’ time toward getting an advanced business degree.

New textbooks can be quite expensive, even in ebook format. So a more economical approach is to order an older-edition used textbook online. Some things will not be quite up to date in a worn textbook that’s now five or ten years old, or so. But fixed and variable costs, break-even point calculations, and the profit equation are among the many key business concepts that don’t change much over time.

Before you buy a used college textbook, however, I recommend something a bit more breezy. Managerial Accounting for Dummies by Mark P. Holtzman.

Please don’t think I am impuning your intelligence. Holtzman’s book is livelier reading than textbooks you will face in an MBA program. And, especially if your background is in small (or very small) business, it can help you get a feel for some of the manufacturing and big-service-firm topics you will have to deal with later in dense, formal texts that may cost up to $300 or more.

When I finally decided to check out a thick, MBA-level textbook, I went online and found an inexpensive, well-worn copy of Cost Accounting: A Managerial Emphasis.

Also, I picked up a handy study guide: The Essentials® Cost & Managerial Accounting (Research & Education Association). It’s packed with facts, formulas, and concepts that will appear and reappear in MBA classes and papers. So far, I’ve invested less than $30 on deciding if I truly want to pursue an MBA.

This approach–look cheaply before you leap and have to pay big bucks–can work with many other fields and lifestyle changes, as well. Give it a try.

Si Dunn

Photo by Si Dunn, Sagecreek Productions, LLC.

 

In Business without Bookkeeping or Accounting Skills?

This happens in “normal times” and it’s happening amid the COVID-19 job-loss crisis: launching a one-person small business without any knowledge of bookkeeping or accounting.

I did that a few years ago and have relied mostly on simple bookkeeping software that also creates basic financial statements. But now, as I begin to plan some modest future expansions for my small business, I am wanting to know more about the changes and additions I may need to make to my bookkeeping and accounting.

There are many books to choose from, and you should check out several (new or used) and make choices if you are, like me, finding that you need to know more than the sole-proprietor basics.

These two books are meeting my needs so far:

Accounting for Non-Accountants by Wayne A. Label.

Bookkeepers’ Boot Camp: Get a Grip on Accounting Basics by Angie Mohr.

Suggestions for others are welcome and will be mentioned in a future post.

Si Dunn

More than 20 years ago, Molly Ivins Saw Republicans for What They Currently Are

You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You

Politics in the Clinton Years

Molly Ivins

Random House

To mix a few metaphors, Donald J. Trump is merely the slippery tip of the greedy iceberg in America’s 2019 political train wreck. If you don’t believe it, read this book by an often prescient and funny writer and political commentator, the late, but definitely great Molly Ivins.

You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You is an eye-opening collection of her political observations published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Progressive, The Nation, and the New York Times in the final years of the 20th century. Many of her acerbic observations are still spot-on today, in some cases frighteningly so. We may think we are in dangerous and uncharted new waters now, yet the same killer sharks and deadly currents presently swirling around us were here 20+ years ago and have merely gotten more intense and potentially deadlier.

Our political system has been thoroughly corrupted, and by the usual suspect–money, what else?” she wrote in this 1998 book. “The corruption is open, obscene, and unmistakable. The way campaigns are financed is a system of legalized bribery. We have a government of special interests, by special interests, and for special interests. And that will not change until we change the way campaigns are financed.”

Today, while armed with political mortars on social media, we have frequent back-and-forths over who is or is not an “enemy” of the people. Ms. Ivins warned back in 1994 that “when politicians start talking about large groups of their fellow Americans as ‘enemies,’ it’s time for a quiet stir of alertness. Polarizing people is a good way to win an election, and also a good way to wreck a country. Stay alert.”

Those are just a few of the many still-valid warnings in this well-written book.

“One must admit,” she wrote in 1998, “the Republican Congress has a certain antic charm. Many of them are apparently genuinely convinced that government is Evil.  ‘Vote for me, I’m against government’ seems an unlikely slogan, but there it is. Having come to the capital to ‘change the way Washington works,’ they proceed to make it worse….As a card-carrying small-d democrat, I find the level of hatred for government both sad and dangerous.”

Si Dunn

accident disaster steam locomotive train wreck

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Is this how Mary Shelley actually invented science fiction? – #bookreview

Outcasts

A Novel of Mary Shelley

Sarah Stegall

Wings Press paperback

Many readers know that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) often has been credited with inventing science fiction when she wrote Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, first published in 1818.

But why and how did she decide to write it, beyond her famous involvements with the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, plus others during an unexpectedly cold and dreary summer holiday in Italy in 1816? What emotions and other triggering events might have been involved in her decision? Could something from her past, before Shelley and the others, have played a bigger role than suspected? 

California novelist Sarah Stegall’s mid-2016 book weaves a compelling, engrossing tale built around possible answers to these questions. Despite what literary historians generally agree is “known” about the birth of Frankenstein, Outcasts throws new light (and shadows) onto other possibilities, from unexpected directions.

Si Dunn

In ‘One Red Thread,’ a man tries to fix events in his past – #bookreview

One Red Thread

Ernie Wood

Tyrus Books – paperback

What if you could go back a few years into your own past without using massive arrays of equipment and consuming most of the world’s energy in the process?

In Ernie Wood’s 2015 novel One Red Thread, architect Eddy McBride discovers an easy, sensory-driven way to simply stroll back into his past for short periods and observe events that shaped,  or nearly destroyed,  his present.

“History is never diminished,” he realizes. “It’s still here.”

Of course, Eddy understands that he is not supposed to try to change anything that has happened. Nor is he supposed to interact with people who include younger versions of himself and his brother and other relatives. To do so may cause serious consequences once he walks back into his own time.

But Eddy can’t help himself; he wants to fix things and soften perceived wrongs. Likewise, he can’t keep his discovery secret from his wife and his business partner.

What else happens in the book? A lot, but you must read it to find out for yourself.

Ernie Wood is an excellent writer who knows how to tell a good story and pack depth into the paragraphs he builds from generally short sentences. However, One Red Thread is not — to use a reviewer’s cliché — “a fast read.” Nor is it science fiction, beyond the ease of Eddy’s time travel. It is a tale of current relationships and how they are affected by mysteries, hurts and tragedies from the not-too-distant past.

The best way to read this worthy book is to take your time. Savor the interactions among characters who continue living within their present, as well as, past settings.

Si Dunn

 

 

JUPITER by Ben Bova – #bookreview

Fifteen years after its publication, Ben Bova’s 2001 science-fiction novel Jupiter is a curious but still-engrossing tale focusing on conflicts between religion and science during life-threatening explorations of Jupiter.

Bova offers imaginative descriptions of what could lie beneath Jupiter’s thick, color-banded clouds and how explorations might occur. His story remains thought-provoking, both from a scientific standpoint and religious standpoint. And it remains good reading.

Si Dunn

Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, Vol. IX – #bookreview

Recovery-IX-MOCKUP

 

Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, Volume IX

Edited by Donna M. Kabalen de Bichara and Blanca López de Mariscal

Arte Público Press – hardback

 

Four topics are considered key within the works of Hispanic writers in the United States: memory, testimony, femininity, and identity.

This important book from Arte Público Press pulls together a dozen essays exploring those topics, written by literary scholars in the United States and abroad. Some are offered in English, and some are in Spanish.

These works originally were presented at the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project’s biennial conferences in 2010 and 2012. The conferences were sponsored by the University of Houston, Rice University, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Consulate of Mexico, Bank of America, the Houston Endowment, the Institute of Hispanic Culture of Houston, and the City of Houston’s Houston Arts Alliance.

The more descriptive titles for the book’s four sections are:

  • Recovering Memory
  • Culture and Ideology
  • Autobiography, Testimony and Resistance Writings
  • Femininity and Identity

The book, the editors say, is intended to be “an important tool for scholars of literature written in Spanish within the United States, particularly in terms of its contribution to studies about themes related to the Mexican Revolution, as well as the Hispanic voice, national identity, and culture.”

Many relevant issues are explored within the book’s four main sections. Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, Vol. IX and its 12 contributors offer significant insights into the contributions of Latino writers within the United States, in time periods ranging from the Spanish Colonial era to the 21st century.

Si Dunn

 

 

It’s All in the Genes! Really? – A view from the turbulent interfaces of science, religion, creation, evolution, faith and reason – #bookreview

It’s All in the Genes! Really?

Dr. Gerard M. Verschuuren

(CreateSpace paperback, Kindle)

 

Dr. Gerard M. Verschuuren is a human geneticist who also holds a doctorate in the philosophy of science. Now semi-retired, he focuses on speaking and writing and has gained a following for his thoughtful views and opinions regarding “the interface of science and religion, creation and evolution, faith and reason.”

In his latest book, Dr. Verschuuren passionately argues that “DNA is not all there is” to human life. “If  human beings were really nothing more than DNA,” he writes, “then it must have been the DNA of two scientists–the ones who discovered DNA, Watson and Crick–that discovered DNA. Think about that statement for a moment–DNA being discovered by DNA. If Watson and Crick were really nothing but DNA, then Watson’s and Crick’s DNA must have discovered itself. That would be real magic. That would be like the magic of a projector projecting itself or a copy machine copying itself.”

On that latter point, perhaps we are not all that far now from 3D printers being able to print copies of themselves. Nonetheless, Dr. Verschuuren makes some excellent arguments on behalf of numerous questions that we humans have pondered and debated for perhaps most of the existence of our species. For example, where does morality come from? Where do religion and rationality come from? And what are the roots and limits of human “free will”?

This well-written book provides an overview of recent genetic research and why there is a certain amount of truth to “It’s all in the genes.” Dr. Verschuuren, however, also makes compelling cases, on several fronts, for why he now believes “there is more than genes in life.”

Si Dunn

(Note: One quick improvement could be made to this book. The rear cover text in the review copy I received has several unneeded hyphenations that should be fixed at the CreateSpace publishing site. People do judge books by their cover, including the rear cover text.) 

 

Heist and High – A true tale of prescription drug addiction, crime, prison, and a second chance at life – #bookreview

Heist and High

Anthony Curcio and Dane Batty

(Nish Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

This is both an engrossing true story and an important cautionary tale about what can happen when someone becomes addicted to prescription painkillers.

Anthony Curcio was an outstanding high-school athlete and promising college football player who quickly became addicted to Vicodin after suffering a relatively minor sports injury.

Heist and High clearly and graphically recounts his painful descent, starting with lying about his need for refills and then stealing prescription painkiller medications from family and friends. Soon, he was both working and stealing to support a $15,000-a-month drug habit. But even that wasn’t enough. He meticulously planned and then carried out the robbery of  a Brink’s armored car, taking about $400,000 in a heist that made national headlines.

The well-written book also explores how Curcio almost completely destroyed his family while he abused other drugs as well as painkillers and then ended up in federal prison, enduring hell-on-earth confinements for five years. Finally, it shows how Curcio began to turn his life around and strive to reconnect with the people on the outside who still loved him despite his crimes.

Published near the time of his release in 2013, Heist and High ends up as a story of hope, but one that no doubt also will be tested, likely for many years to come, by Curcio’s actions and his continued commitments to family, friends and others around him.

“My addiction was so ruthless,” he writes. “It robbed me of all my morals, all my integrity and really everything that made me human. It nearly robbed me of my entire life.”

Si Dunn