Book Review
Transforming Cincinnati
ArtWorks Cincinnati

It would be nearly impossible to spend any time at all around Cincinnati and not notice that its mural population has been increasing. I’ve noticed but I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand that ArtWorks Cincinnati, a name I sometimes noticed being associated with a new mural, wasn’t just a company hired to paint some pictures on some walls. I started to understand that aspect of Cincinnati’s murals just a little when ads for Transforming Cincinnati started to appear that included pieces of the back story. At that point I thought I understood the book’s title but, as I learned when I attended the big premier nearly two weeks ago, that was probably what I understood the least. The official launch took place on November 18 at a “Book Premier & Artist Signing” hosted by Joseph-Beth Booksellers. I attended with the idea of getting a copy with a few autographs in it. I got so much more.

Part of the back story I was starting to hear concerned Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory challenging ArtWorks to create murals for each of the city’s 52 neighborhoods. That was in 2007 and ArtWorks was already well established. Their previous projects included 2000’s Big Pig Gig where 425 full sized fiberglass pigs were decorated and displayed around Cincinnati. For those who don’t know, Cincinnati was once the largest pork-producing city in the world and was known as “Porkopolis”. In the decade since they accepted the mayor’s challenge, ArtWorks has completed 147 murals in 37 neighborhoods.

That is essentially what I knew when I arrived at the launch. John Fox, the book’s editor, served as MC for a panel of artists who answered his questions and told some stories. Thinking I understood the book’s title, I expected to hear about how a mural had transformed an ugly building or brought some brightness to a dreary corner, and how all those murals worked together to transform the city. I did hear a little of that but I also heard about how the projects had transformed people. It wasn’t long before I grasped the connection between ArtWorks and “creative job-training”. The fact that I don’t live in Cincinnati proper is the only excuse I have for not seeing this earlier. ArtWorks doesn’t just go into a neighborhood and paint a mural they think is cool. They work with the neighborhoods to design a mural that is appropriate and they do it — and create the mural itself — with the help of young apprentices. When possible, those apprentices come from the mural’s neighborhood. As ArtWorks founder Tamara Harekavy explains in the book’s introduction “These usually are the teens’ first paid jobs, certainly the first time they’ve been paid to make art.” That is creative job-training in every sense of the word.

As I listened, it became apparent that it wasn’t just the teen apprentices who were transformed. Designers, project managers, and teaching artists were all affected by the projects. Even famed nature artist John Ruthven, who helped reproduce his painting “Martha, The Last Passenger Pigeon” on a six-story building, talked glowingly of working with the teens and seeing his work on such a giant scale. The mural was painted in 2013 when he was 89. That’s Ruthven on the left side of the photo. Tamara Harekavy is on his left, then mural artists Jonathan Queen and Jenny Ustick, and book designer Christopher A Ritter.

So what about the book? All I’ve talked about so far is my buying experience. Well, it’s a fairly large format (9 x 12) photo book about murals. Therefore the bulk of its pages are filled with pictures of murals and more pictures of murals. These are typically accompanied with the names of everyone involved and that includes the Youth Apprentices. But there are also descriptions (and pictures) of the process, extra information on some murals, and a couple of maps showing mural locations. Many of the mural pictures are, as might be expected, an accurate as possible recording of the actual mural and nothing else. Others show a considerable chunk of the mural’s surroundings. This is something the book’s creators made extra effort to do since the murals are intended to fit into and enhance their locations. There are also several fold-outs that provide wonderful four-page views of selected murals including the aforementioned “Martha, The Last Passenger Pigeon”.

Transforming Cincinnati, ArtWorks Cincinnati, Orange Frazer Press (November 2017), 9 x 12 inches, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1939710-765
Available from ArtWorks CincinnatiOrange Frazer Press, and in store at Joseph-Beth Booksellers Cincinnati.

Book Review
The World from My Bike
Anna Grechishkina

Wow! This is one of the most captivating books I have ever held in my hands. It is the product of one of the most determined woman I have ever met on one of the most exciting adventures I can imagine. Claiming to have met Anna  Grechishkina is actually something of a stretch. At the 2014 Route 66 Festival in Kingman, Arizona, she joined some festival attendees for dinner. Our “meeting” consisted of a second or so of eye contact and a group hello. But I learned of her dream and her plans to fulfill it and I have followed her journey from that point on.

That journey had started just over a year before when she left her home in Ukraine to travel the world on a motorcycle. In that time she had traveled east through Russia then south through Asia and Australia. From Kingman she would cover much of the US then turn south and ride along both coasts of South America before jumping across the Atlantic to Africa. I believe she was in Tanzania when The World from My Bike was completed. As I write this, Anna has just reached Sudan.

I confess to being surprised by the book even though I certainly should not have been. Pre-publication descriptions made it clear that the book was not organized either chronologically or geographically. I know I read that, and have to think I understood it, but it apparently didn’t really sink in. Until I actually opened it and started “reading”, I foolishly expected a standard model travelogue with dates and miles and maps and such. As Anna herself explained in those pre-pub descriptions, The World from My Bike is organized “…according to the emotions I felt at different stages of my journey.”

On the other hand, maybe I intentionally resisted that understanding. I must also confess that I might have turned away from a book I thought was nothing but personal emotions. But regardless of whether I accidentally or intentionally sidestepped the description, I’m sure glad I did. My silly preconceptions might otherwise have caused me to miss out on something wonderful.

There are 365 photographs in the book. I didn’t count them. That number is given in the book’s preface. That three paragraph preface is just about the largest collection of words in the entire volume. It might be exceeded, but only slightly, by the five paragraphs that appear on the back cover. A date and location is given for every photo and most are accompanied by a bit of text. Sometimes the text relates to a specific picture.

The town was alive, rich and arrogant. But diamonds which were the main reason for the town’s existence started to deplete , and the town of Kolpanskop in Namibia eventually turned into a ghost town as its inhabits left all their possessions behind and rushed for another shaky hope. Little by little sand took over what was once the subject of admiration and luxury

But more often it expresses a thought that is augmented by the picture.

Everywhere I go I am a stranger. Well respected, welcomed and even admired, but a stranger. No matter how many interesting stories I tell, I am a passer-by and observer, and soon I will be gone. The most I can expect is to leave good memories behind me.

And sometimes it simply provides some practical real-world advice.

If you wait a few more minutes and don’t rush back home straight after the sun went down you’ll see kaleidoscope of colors and forms which might surpass even beauty of the sunset.

The photographs are beautiful by themselves. There are, of course, numerous images of stunning scenery, but there are also street scenes and photos of people including several riveting portraits. The word “exotic” popped into my American mind many times.

There are 150 pages in the book. Those I did count. They are not numbered. There are four sections — Happiness, Challenges, Lessons, and Fun — but there is no table of contents. It would be meaningless without page numbers. This is not unique. In fact, the organization is very similar to that of Hues of my Vision by Ara Gureghian, another motorcyclist. It no doubt registers more with me here largely because of my own faulty expectations of something linear. This organization is clearly the correct one. There are a few places where two or three pictures work together to complete a thought but, for the most part, the book can be opened anywhere and happily experienced without turning a page.

The book can be purchased at The World from My Bike and I absolutely encourage you to get one. It’s a dandy.

Book Review
50 @ 70
Denny Gibson

This could be the charm associated with third attempts, or it could be the out associated with third strikes. Seriously, though, I doubt it is either. Neither of my first two books, By Mopar to the Golden Gate or A Decade Driving the Dixie Highway, were hits, but neither were they whiffs. They were, to stay with the metaphor, fouled off and I’m still at bat.

50 @ 70 follows the others in form. It’s a travelogue with lots of pictures and it documents a particular accomplishment. The accomplishment it documents is the visiting of all fifty of the states that make up the USA. That, of course is the “50” in the title. “70” comes from the fact that I hit my fiftieth state just days ahead of my seventieth birthday.

Not all states are covered; Thirty-four were already logged before I started paying attention. The sixteen states that are covered are not covered evenly. After a couple of chapters to set the scene, each chapter deals with a trip that led to one or more new states. The last two trips led to Alaska and Hawaii and together fill about half of the book. North Dakota was reached on the way to Alaska, while the rest of the book is shared by the other thirteen states.

50 @ 70 is available as a Kindle download (with color photos) as well as a paperback. Either may be purchased through Amazon and the purchase of a paperback there includes the ability to acquire the Kindle edition for a couple bucks. I’ve also set up an eBay listing in order to make providing signed copies easier. I can’t offer access to the Kindle download or the potentially free shipping of Amazon but they can’t ship books with my scribbling in them.

50 @ 70, Denny Gibson, Trip Mouse Publishing, 2017, paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 142 pages, ISBN 978-1976189371.

Signed copies available through eBay.

Reader reviews at Amazon are appreciated and helpful and can be submitted even if you didn’t purchase the book there.

Book Review
2 for $6 on Route 66
Debra Whittington

I wish I had $6 or even 6¢ for every time I’ve stood by an old motel or diner and wished that the aging walls could talk. There are no talking walls here but 2 for $6 on Route 66 does contain the memories of someone who spent a whole lot of time with some very interesting walls. Author Debra Whittington married into the motel business; The man she married was born into it.

In 1954 Mark Whittington’s parents built a motel on the west side of Tucumcari, New Mexico. They sold it after a few years, but before the decade was over they were building another one on the east side of town. Mark went off to college, met Debra, and the two were married just about the time he graduated. Another motel came up for sale just a few days before the wedding and Mark’s dad, thinking it would be a good business for the young couple, bought it. With little notice and less input, Debra found herself more or less in charge of a motel where she would interact with travelers on Historic Route 66 for nearly thirty years.

2 for $6… is divided into two main parts. Whittington calls the first part “History of the Area”. The subject area is centered on Tucumcari and the history includes that of Tumcumcari’s main drag, US-66. Some of what’s written here will be familiar to anyone who has looked at all into the history of Sixty-Six and other early highways but it is necessary background for the local details that Whitting relates. Many of those details she gathered from people who lived in Tucumcari long before she arrived. I personally enjoyed references to the town’s two Ozark Trails markers and descriptions of early cars and campgrounds.

Things get more personal in the book’s second part, “One Family, 50 Years in the Motel Business”. The first few chapters of this section give the history of the Whittington family’s motel experience before Debra arrived. It starts with that first motel, the Golden W, they built in 1954. Then on to the second, the Sahara Sands, built in 1959. The motel’s name and giant sign came from a motel in Amarillo, Texas, that was turning into a Holiday Inn.

The book’s name comes from the Sahara Sands period. A rash of motel construction in the mid-1960s resulted in Tucumcari having more rooms than tourists. During a 1965 price war, a hand-painted “2 for $6” sign went up in front of the Sahara Sands. A photo of the sign, which still exists, is in the book.

The motel that was purchased in 1978 was the Pony Soldier. It was built in 1964. Once Debra has described the extensive work that went into getting it ready to reopen, she proceeds to share lots of stories of her time there. What results is a picture, painted from the inside, of operating an independent motel in one of Historic 66’s hot spots. It’s funny, sad, scary, and heart-warming. It might be similar to pictures that could be painted of many other motels but it’s Debra’s picture and it’s unique. And it exists. the inside story of most of those other motels haven’t been recorded and probably won’t be.

2 for $6 on Route 66, Debra Whittington, 2015, 8.6 x 5.5 inches, 140 pages

I believe the book is available in several shops in Tucumcari. I bought my copy in the coffee shop at the Historic Route 66 Motel. According to a review at Route 66 News, the book is available direct from the author  “by sending $10 plus $3 shipping in the U.S. in check or money order to Debra Whittington, Debra Whittington, 923 S. Hawthorne St., Tucumcari, NM 88401″

Book Review
Onramps and Overpasses
Dianne Perrier

You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. Or, sometimes, by reading the title. That was the case for me with Onramps and Overpasses and the impression I got from the title and cover pretty much explains why it stayed on the unread pile so long that I don’t remember where it came from or why I have it. The cover is a nicely done long exposure photo of cars on a divided four-lane highway passing through what looks to be a rather scenic area. The title reinforces the image of high-speed limited-access roadways. The subtitle, “A Cultural History of Interstate Travel” does a better job of describing what’s inside but the preconception created by the cover and title led me to overlook the word “cultural” and misinterpret the word “interstate”. In my opinion, Perrier goofed on the cover and even more so on the title. Those are, however, virtually the only mistakes she makes here.

A concept central to any view of American transportation history is that new roads follow old paths. As we all know, expressways superseded two-lanes which paralleled railroads which ran beside pioneer trails which followed Native American paths which mimicked animal traces. The new routes were rarely exact duplicates of what came before but they were similar. Hunting parties might take advantage of a shortcut too restrictive to be used by a herd of bison. Steam engines were simply unable to climb slopes that a man on horseback might. Paths might not precisely follow what came before but they passed through the same corridor. Perrier’s book is organized around the current set of interstate highways but her story is of what came before and why the corridors those interstates follow exist and are important.

She includes anecdotes from and descriptions of various periods in the development of each corridor. This is the “cultural” flavoring of history that I’d missed in the sub-title. That these corridors were and are the paths of travel between states is the intended meaning of the word “interstate” that I initially took to mean the multi-lane expressways we commonly identify by that word. Once I picked it up and discovered how off my expectations were, I didn’t want to put it down. As I was enlightened by plenty of details, I was entertained by stories and sidebars. I’m just sorry it took me so long to look beyond those four lanes of car lights.

You can’t judge a sister by looking at her brother.
You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.

— Willie Dixon, 1962

Onramps and Overpasses, Dianne Perrier, University Press of Florida (November 15, 2009), 9.3 x 6.5 inches, 352 pages, ISBN 978-0813033983

Movie Review
The Vietnam War
Ken Burns & Lynn Novick

This isn’t a very deep review. It is, however, a very deep and sincere recommendation. The eighteen hour documentary is simply the best thing I’ve seen in years. PBS broadcast the first of ten episodes on September 17. I watched it and the next one, and was hooked. Circumstances kept me from watching the remaining episodes when broadcast, but I did eventually see them all via online streaming. It was announced that the stream would only be available through October 15 but it still appeared to be functioning on the 17th. Check The Vietnam War for details and other sources.

There’s no question that one reason I found this production so engaging is its familiarity. I recall many of the described events from when they happened in the 1960s and early 1970s. There was both a refreshing of memories and a filling in of unknown details. But there was also plenty of totally new information, particularly concerning the earliest years, that made me realize things were even more screwed up than I thought they were; And I thought they were really screwed up.

Burns and company pulled together a lot of sources in an attempt to present every aspect from every angle. The result probably isn’t perfect but it’s mighty close. Recent interviews with a variety of participants help illuminate some of those angles and add insight and credibility.

I was more on the sidelines than not, but I was there. Watching this movie made me remember some of the clearly stupid and arguably evil things my country did. Someone in their 20s or 30s for whom the Vietnam War is more ancient than World War II was for me, won’t have those memories to be reawakened. We will see the history telling aspect of the movie differently. But I can’t imagine anyone watching this epic and thinking of it as nothing but a history report. Seeing the divisiveness associated with the Vietnam War in the divisiveness of today seems unavoidable to me. I believe that the twentysomethings of both the 1970s and the 2010s can’t help but see some similarities.

If you’re looking for a little entertainment that will take your mind off the world, this ain’t it. This will, in fact, press your mind firmly against the world of fifty years ago and help it remember and/or understand that world. I’m betting it will also get your mind thinking about the world of today although it probably won’t help in understanding it.  

Concert Review
Paul Simon
Riverbend Music Center

A couple of recent posts spoke of how “I’m not moving like I used to.” Neither am I going to concerts like I used to. I still like live music and often catch both local and big time performers in smallish venues but when it comes to large venues and super stars, I’ve become pretty selective. I don’t like the large crowds and the various hassles that go along with them. I don’t like the large ticket prices. Adjusted for inflation, the third row Beatles ticket I bought for $5.50 in 1966 would cost $41.64 today. My twenty-first row seat at Saturday’s Paul Simon concert was more than twice that ($91.50) though that might be justified. The sound system did seem much improved over three Vox amplifiers and some microphones. But most of all I don’t like the outrageous and unavoidable fees that are stacked on top. Those fees added more than 25% to the Simon ticket. How the hell did we let that happen?

So when I do attend a big crowded high-priced musical affair you can bet it’s someone I really want to see. It’s probably someone I’ve wanted to see for a long time but just never quite managed so that seeing them has become something of a bucket list item. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that the performer and I are both within kicking range. That was the case with last summer’s Steely Dan concert and is the case with a Van Morrison show I’ll be attending this fall. It was the case with Paul Simon.

Maybe Paul’s lost a little vocal range or can’t kick as high as he once did but how would I know? He delivered every thing I hoped for. The songs he played came from every part of his career and I knew almost all of them as did almost all of the audience. The eight piece band made me think of a cross between the Mothers of Invention and the E Street Band. They weren’t quite as tight as the E Street Band but the range of instruments and the levels of talent were pretty close. And they weren’t as loose as the Mothers but they did show a ton of flexibility. Everybody played multiple instruments — even the drummer played a mandolin at one point — and they were all good.

Paul played an acoustic guitar for “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and when the song ended a stage hand approached with a solid-body electric and they swapped. As Paul was strapping the new instrument in place he responded to shouts from the foot of the stage with “You want to hear it again?” The acoustic guitar came back and Paul and the band delivered another rousing verse or so. Maybe he’s done that before. Maybe he does it a lot. But it seemed spontaneous and we all loved it.

There were two encores. Paul had carried a baseball cap on stage and it hung on his mic stand through most of the show. I believe he carried it off with him at the end of the first set but might be wrong. I know he did after the first encore because it was on his head when he and the band came out for the second. He held it up and explained that the lower case ‘e’ on the hat represents the Half Earth Project which will receive all profits from the current tour. I am only slightly familiar with the project, which proposes to dedicate half the surface of the Earth to nature, but do not doubt its worthiness. In  my mind, both the project and Paul’s contribution connect with “How much is enough?” One species doesn’t need or benefit from manipulating every inch of the earth. One rock star doesn’t need or benefit in any real way from grabbing every dollar on earth. Paul and many musicians continue to perform long after banking enough money for several lifetimes because that’s simply what they do and folks like me and the road crews appreciate it. Wouldn’t it be a great thing if more people accepted that there really is such a thing as enough. The band did three songs in the first encore and four in the second. Then Paul brought them all to the front of the stage for a bow. Many shook hands with fans before walking off . Paul remained on stage alone.

He picked up a guitar and stepped to the mic. “Anger is addicting,” he said, “and we are becoming a nation of addicts. Look around and see who the pushers are.” That’s what I remember and what I recorded on my phone as I left my seat at concert’s end. Another review has it slightly different and there are reports of other variations at other concerts. He then ended the show with “The Sounds of Silence” which I’d been waiting to hear live since 1965. When it was over he moved a few feet to his left and stood the guitar in front of him. He seemed to study the crowd as he allowed the crowd to study him. After a few moments he moved to the other side of the mic and did the same thing. Aloha.

Book Review
Sorry’s Run
Joani Lacey

I’ve not read a lot of fiction lately. I used to. There was a time when I sucked down a fair amount of science fiction and historical fiction along with a smattering of aged classics. Sorry’s Run is none of those. It is, however, just about everything else. If pressed to place it under a single heading, I guess I’d call it a mystery. It’s a mystery where learning what was done is at least as much fun as learning who done it. Beneath the book’s central plot is an intriguing layer of occult, a tolerable touch of romance, and frequent and appreciative glimpses of the Ohio River and the country it flows through. It is set in the real world of today although it’s a world whose edges are not always crisply defined.

I know Joani Lacy as a performer. She sings in a band fronted by husband Robin and can cover Patsy Kline as well as anyone I’ve heard. When her first novel was published in 2008, I was interested but not enough to seek it out. It was, after all, fiction and my reading stack was filled with the other stuff. When that first book turned into a trilogy it became a little more intimidating and slipped even farther down the “to read” list. Sorry’s Run is a standalone that got me to experience an author I’d been putting off for years.

I expected skillful writing and was not disappointed. Lacy’s words paint a clear picture of the fictional town of Sorry’s Run as well as provide views of multiple sides of New York City. The story’s main character was born in the small Kentucky town of the title, had a highly successful career in the big city, and gets this story started with a return to her roots. Cultural differences between the two locations are noted but not exploited. Skill is also evident in the pacing. Revelations, whether of some new insight into a character or of some sharp plot twist, seem to occur naturally and some of those twists are really quite sharp.

Even though I more or less expected Lacy’s writing to be skillful, I was impressed. I was even more impressed with her imagination. Skillfully relating a story is one thing; Creating a story worth telling is quite another. Sorry’s Run is a story worth telling. Not because it explains how to cure some disease or answers the question of life but because it’s entertaining. I’ll say no more because being surprised is a big part of enjoying this book. The reader isn’t bombarded with surprises (Pace is, as I said, one of this book’s strong suits.) but there are plenty and they never stop. The very last page both surprised me and made me very happy. That’s a mighty good way to end a book and it was, I think, no accident.

Sorry’s Run, Joani Lacy, iUniverse (April 21, 2016), 9 x 6 inches, 380 pages, ISBN 978-1491792971

Movie Review
From War to Wisdom
Daniel R. Collins & Josh Hisle

I might not even be aware of this movie’s existence if I didn’t know one of the directors. Maybe someone else will learn of it only because they know me. If so, that’s a good thing. And it’s also a good thing if someone learns of the movie by stumbling onto this blog post without knowing either of us. If either of those things happens and someone watches From War to Wisdom who otherwise would not, I’ll be a happy man. It’s a movie that deserves to be seen with a story that needs to be heard.

It is primarily a story of Afghanistan and Iraq combat veterans. To some degree it is a new version of the oft told tale of guys going off to war then having difficulty returning to the civilian world. It’s a view that the tagline “When the war ends, the real battle begins” encourages and the movie’s general organization supports. The film’s front end focuses on the war and the second half focuses on the return. The “off to war” part is made extra effective through the use of gripping footage shot by embedded journalists Mike Cerre and Mike Elwell. The “difficulty returning” part is made personal through excerpts from interviews with those having the problems. But excerpts from those interviews also appear in the film’s early scenes and create a solid connection between the two halves.

Creating a marker between the halves is a text only shot. In front of the shot we see returning soldiers marching between welcoming signs and banners then being dismissed to reunite with their families while veteran Hans Palmer describes the time as “the proudest I’ve ever felt in my life.” Following the text is a scene with Josh Hisle talking about needing a “place to decompress — every day.” He’s sitting outside his apartment waiting for everyone else in the complex — his “area” — to go to sleep. “It’s not insomnia,” he says. “It’s duty.”

Five panels fade from one to another in that near midpoint text shot. The number of troops killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan is mentioned along with the average number of veterans — a gut-wrenching 22 — that commit suicide each day. The last phrase is “many veterans are taking it upon themselves to help their fellow warfighters to truly come home.” That’s what this movie is about. It’s what makes this more than another war sucks story.

War does suck and From War to Wisdom makes that clear. It also makes clear the serious damage that war can inflict on those who survive it and it tells the stories of some of the veterans who overcame that damage. Then the stories go a little farther. Some of those veterans not only overcame their own issues but have made major efforts and established ongoing organizations to help others overcome theirs.

There’s Common Ground on the Hill’s Veterans Initiative that Josh Hisle was instrumental in establishing after he personally benefited from the Common Ground experience. There’s The Battle Buddy Foundation that veterans Kenny Bass and Joshua Rivers created to help other veterans obtain service dogs like Atlas who makes a normal life possible for Kenny. There’s New Directions for Veterans that was established in 1992 by a pair of Vietnam veterans and is represented in the film by Iraq veteran Matthew Lorscheider. Matthew does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of this film when he says “That’s what we did in the military. Help a buddy out. I’m not going to stop now.”

There are many other examples of veterans helping veterans both in the film and out. They are bright spots and their successes are to be celebrated but they aren’t enough to make From War to Wisdom a feel good movie. It is, however, an encouraging movie and an informative one. Most of the veterans that appear in the film fought in either Afghanistan or Iraq. There is one notable exception. He’s a Vietnam vet who’s legal name is now Ragtime. He is a stained glass artist who teaches at Common Ground and started 1,000 Points of Peace back in 2006. The warriors recorded in this film say many wise things; The “wisdom” in the title is there for a reason. But I found a couple of Ragtime’s utterances particularly memorable. I don’t really think it’s a generational thing but maybe. From Ragtime: “America forgot what it was supposed to be doing… but I remember.”

The movie’s website lists a number of ways to see it. They include purchasing a DVD or watching online as either a rental or purchase.
DVD Online

This is my third movie review. When I did the second, I had actually forgotten the first (which I called a video review) and repeated a line about being even less qualified to review movies than books. I had done a few book reviews before starting this blog so doing some here didn’t feel too awkward. I wasn’t quite as comfortable with music reviews. I remember the circumstances behind that first one. Josh Hisle was working on an album and I knew I wanted to review it when it came out. I reviewed other albums so it would not be the first. Josh got distracted. Not by something shiny but by this movie. Between it and his work with Common Ground and being a full time husband, father, and student there was no time left for an album. That’s OK. It’s a lot more than OK. The album still hasn’t been released but we instead have this movie which I have a hunch is going to do a whole lot of good for a whole lot of people.

Even though I’m still waiting for that album and this is the first chance I’ve had to review a Josh Hisle product it is not his first mention here. He was the subject of this blog’s ninth post (There’s Something Happening Here) in 2011 and appears in at least three trip journal entries: February 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, and October 10, 2011.

Book Review
Vigilante Days and Ways
Nathaniel P. Langford

This book was first published in 1890. The link at the end of this article points to a version published barely a month ago. Despite it being well over a century old, some think it worth reading and someone considers it worth republishing. Why others consider the 127 year old writing worth reading I cannot say but I know why I enjoyed it. It’s filled with stories I’ve watched unfold on TV or in a movie theater or read as fiction. Those tales of frightened town folk, evil bullies, crooked sheriffs, and cowardly henchmen that thrilled me in my younger days were all legitimate. The basis of many plots played out in the numerous TV westerns of the 1950s and ’60s can be recognized in the real world events that Langford documents. This book is filled with characters very much like the assorted outlaws encountered by the horse riding heroes of my youth. Men similar to some of those heroes are also present although they don’t stand out quite as clearly. Few real world heroes wear a pair of pearl handled revolvers and a white hat.

The edition I read was published in 1996 by American & World Geographic Publishing. The front cover is pictured above. On the back in an excerpt from the introduction that Dave Walter wrote. He speaks of the “flowery, often melodramatic Victorian prose”. He calls for it to “be relished rather than disdained”. I agree but I have seen reviews that call it distracting so it’s clear that the “relish” is in the eye of the beholder. To me it adds yet another layer of authenticity to the first person accounts. I guess I just plain enjoy reading about villains who “vociferated” in a land that “swelled gradually into a circumference of heaven-kissing mountains”.

By definition a vigilante is without legal authority. Today, in most of the world and certainly in the USA, that is universally and entirely a bad thing. That was not quite the case in the Montana Territory of the 1860s and 1870s. Yes, US laws technically applied but enforcement was at best sparse and often non-existent. This was especially true in the instant “cities” that sprang up around gold and silver discoveries and those “cities” attracted plenty of men ready to do their prospecting with a gun rather than a pick and shovel. So, even if you want to call all vigilantism a bad thing, there can be no argument about it being the lesser of two evils when the other is rampant robbery and murder. Langford was a vigilante and is undoubtedly a key participant in many of the events he documents although he never identifies himself. He doesn’t, in fact, identify many of the vigilantes and it seems likely that the only names mentioned belonged to men no longer living at the time of writing.

Yes, it’s an old book filled with archaic Victorian prose and characters that you might think of as stereotypes. But its stories were recent history when written and those characters weren’t stereotypes but prototypes. If names like Alan Ladd, Randolf Scott, and Glenn Ford bring back pleasant memories, you just might like this book.

Vigilante Days and Ways, Nathaniel P. Langford, Independently published (January 20, 2017), 9 x 6 inches, 411 pages, ISBN 978-1520424460