Tag Archives: Writing

A Non-exemplary English Major Claims his Crown

Summer 2017 Book Reviews


Thinking about a house in LA, lying in bed this morning at about 4 AM half awake and the color yellow seemed somehow important, because it had something to do with that house—maybe I remember the house as being yellow. Was it? Or maybe it was that the kitchen or the wall in that little nook was yellow, with the small table where we used to sit and drink coffee and talk with Doctor “Dick” Kocher, our favorite English Professor? I don’t know.

It was a dream. But then, there was some very complex thought in the dream about aging, memory, and the difficulty of communication, which I understood as my brain was presenting it to me (and isn’t this the grand tease of dreams? That as they are happening they seem so brilliant, and we seem so brilliant to be dreaming them, but when we return to the mundane “real world” and wakefulness, we can barely recall the substance, much less the brilliant detail of our brilliance.) So of course, I can hardly remember any of it now. It was a dream.

I had hoped to finish writing about my trip to France (“The Great France Art Tour of 2017”), but that is becoming one of those long narratives that will take a great deal of effort and probably time to complete. Nevertheless I am working on it.

Meanwhile, somehow it occurred to me that it might be of interest to share with you some of the books that I’ve been reading lately. As you probably remember, I have never been a very good reader, and have struggled to finish as few as eight books a year outside of technology publications. I am no idiot, but I am not the exemplary English Major. I’m proud of my friends and colleagues from my college days, who can spout off stanzas of Wordsworth and remember lines of Blake. Me? I can remember Green Lantern’s oath. “In brightest day, in blackest night…” whatever. I probably judge myself more harshly on this than anyone else, but I have decided it is time to catch up!

I am writing this using “dictation”. The Macintosh usually understands what I am saying—although I am not convinced that speaking is any faster than typing—especially with all the corrections. So pardon some non-standard formatting and punctuation, because I, claiming the crown of the non-exemplary English Major, probably won’t correct it all.

For these books I’ve lifted a few descriptions and blurbs to save a little time. (I will enclose these in quotations without the source. You may assume it’s the book description on Amazon.com, for which I have included a minefield of potentially income-generating links!)

Hillerman_Fly_on_the_wall_coverThe fly on the wall Tony Hillerman If you enjoy Hillerman, you’ve probably read this one; it’s a pre-Navaho Police book, using most of his basic plot techniques, suspense, the ticking time bomb, etc., in this case using a journalist as a detective. Nothing great. “A good read.”

McBride_Good_Lord_Bird_coverThe good Lord bird – James McBride  A picaresque/historical novel, by this Award winning, African American author, it’s about a young freed slave who passes himself off as a girl, having many adventures, and ending up with John Brown at the raid on Harper’s Ferry. A book with an engaging first-person narrative reminiscent of Little Big Man or one of the Flashman adventures (of course, Flashy was at Harper’s Ferry too!). I confess I laughed aloud in a number of places. Deeply researched and historically accurate (for a novel), its humor is inconsistent—which is to be expected I guess, given the subject matter.

http://amzn.to/2gViFPEThe autobiography of Mark Twain Samuel Clemens I imagine this is standard reading for all English majors, and I started it, but did not get too far. The Introduction to this older edition went on endlessly about Twain’s difficulty in writing it, finding his voice, all the variant releases, etc. In the end, I don’t care. It didn’t hold my attention. 


Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz Ever since my very good friend Anne gave me The Complete Annotated Sherlock Holmes I’ve been a Holmes fan. “The game is once again afoot in this thrilling mystery from the bestselling author of The House of Silk, sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, which explores what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls.” The author’s ability to impersonate Doyle’s style is fun, but I will not recommend this book. In fact, I say DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. The plot itself contains an annoying gimmick. Really annoying. Don’t bother.

LIfe_of_Pi_Martel_CoverLife of pi – Yann Martel I was looking for an ebook from my local library and this caught my attention: escaped zoo animals, survival on a boat. I did not see the movie, so I had no idea what I was getting into. It had that odd part at the ending, reminiscent of the Tin Drum, where the whole narrative is called into question and you wonder if in fact he was on the boat with the tiger and other animals, or really humans, and all that suggests about cannibalism etc.. But I enjoyed the adventure, back-and-forth narrative style, and the explanations of zoos and zoo animals throughout.

A_Month_in_the_Country_Carr_CoverA month in the country – J.L.CarrTom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter’s depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

The above sounds like the parody of some overdone, silly romance. Really this is a beautiful novel, with a little mystery, a little romance, and a bit of information about restoration of old paintings. It seems as if it could easily have been written shortly after World War I instead of it’s actual origin, published in 1980.

Genius_of_Birds_Ackerman_CoverThe genius of birds Jennifer Ackerman This non-fiction book supposedly reveals the recent discoveries about, and studies of, the intelligence of birds. Starts with the premise that most of us assume birds are just “dumb” animals. This assumption is a huge one, since at this point in history, most people have experienced—or at least are aware of—birds using tools, having complex communications, navigational abilities, and so on.

I have a prejudice against this book. Early on, the author labels quail “on the dumber side” of bird intelligence! Then she revels in the brilliance of a Chickadee chirping in different ways to communicate not just the presence of a predator, but of the proximity and type of predator. Those specific communications are exactly the kind that our quail Peep-sight used to share with the rest of the family to warn of a Red-Tailed hawk overhead, a snake in the bushes, or the dreaded basketball rolling in his direction.

If you like the sort of well researched tomes that explain scientific information for the masses, I suppose this book is okay. But I found myself going to “skim mode” for most of it because there’re just too many words about brains and brain development. Great insomnia cure.

H_is_for_Hawk_MacdonaldH is for Hawk – Helen MacDonald This  book was recommended by a few friends as another “bird adoption book” (since they are aware of my personal weakness for those – see Peep-sight ). I have started and stopped twice trying to read “H”. Written by a British woman who loves words. Lots of words. All kinds of words. Too many words. And it seems to be way more about her father and personal loss of family than about the bird…

History_of_Jazz_GioiaThe History of Jazz – Ted Gioia  An excellent, well written, and deeply thorough reference. It took me at least a hundred pages to get into this book. I love jazz and wanted to learn more about it. And if I were more patient, and it weren’t a library book, I might have finished it. But after 2 extensions, and trying to read fast, I stopped just when it was getting interesting – Be Bop and Cool Jazz. I could read more about that era, but I really don’t want to hear any more about Dixieland and Big Bands!!

Chasing_Cezanne_Mayle_CoverChasing Cezanne – Peter Mayle A lightweight novel about art forgery from the well-known author of the non-fiction “A Year in Provence”. Fun reading because of the descriptions of the South of France (where I was going to be traveling). Coming over the high road on the drive to Monte Carlo, it was really a treat to know something about Cap Ferrat sitting on the azure sea below.

Year_in_Provence_MayleA Year in Provence – Peter Mayle  I enjoyed reading a chapter or two of this non-fiction book, but it was an ebook from the library, and the system kept crashing and making me re-download it. So I will use inconvenience as my excuse for losing interest.

Rock_With_Wings_HillermanRock with Wings – Anne Hillerman  No matter how much we want this author to bring back Jim Chee and Lieutenant Leaphorn after her father’s death, it just isn’t happening. Now we have Chee’s wife, Manuelito, and her annoying sister, and aging mother who take up most of the book. Ms. Hillerman put a bullet in Leaphorn’s head in her first “comeback” novel and the poor Lieutenant may never completely recover – saving her the challenge of making him a decent and reliable character, or one that she ruined. Poor Chee is even more of a boob than he was in the past. I finished this, but I don’t think I’ll read another.

Master_and_Commander_O'BrienMaster and Commander  – Patrick O’Brien  My college Professor Dr. Kocher is probably thinking, “Why in God’s name haven’t you read any of these Royal Navy sailing books by now??” And I don’t know. My brother has read all twenty and been pestering me for years to try one. The only thing close I have ever read is Moby Dick. Master and Commander is wonderful storytelling with interesting and likeable characters, although the depth and vocabulary of sailing knowledge is a bit daunting. I looked up a lot of references and skipped or relied on context to understand the rest. There are twenty of these?? I may tackle another one some day.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/518Njq32XkL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Return of Little Big Man – Thomas Berger  Another “picaresque”. After absolutely loving Berger’s Arthur Rex, I was sorely disappointed by his muddled Teddy Villanova hard boiled detective spoof. But somehow I had missed that he wrote a sequel to Little Big Man! I found this in the used book sale at the library, and read a Kirkus review before starting it, just to lower my expectations. (It actually got good reviews.)

I haven’t read Little Big Man in thirty five years, but remember really liking it. This book picks up from the original, explaining how Jack Crabb could come up with more narrative (since he was over a hundred and presumably near death in the last one). What a pleasure to read! We spend a little time with Wild Bill Hickock, and more with Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, and near the end, as much as I want to keep reading, I want to slow down because you just know things are not going to end well for Jack’s friend Sitting Bull. I especially enjoy Berger’s ability to put us into the first person narration of Jack Crabb, who in turn, expresses so well the “different” way in which Indians see things. This book is a gem.

Murder_of_Sonny_Liston_AssaelThe Murder of Sonny Liston – Shaun Assael I’m slogging through this book, which has its moments, but is mostly pretty dull and poorly written. I am a captive audience though, because Assael is writing about the time when I lived in Las Vegas—the 60’s and 70’s—when in addition to the Mob, we had Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and the Beatles visit our city. It’s kind of a shock to me that I never realized that the casinos were SEGREGATED. But then again, I never went to the casinos. He writes a lot about “the race riots”, which I vaguely remember in my mainly white Las Vegas school as fights between ten or fifteen kids of different colors, completely overblown by the press and school administrators. He doesn’t mention what I always thought was the main cause, the abrupt de-segregation of schools by busing, with little preparation or sensitivity, and on all sides, our ignorance and inexperience with people who are “different” which created fear and tension. We’ll see what happens. But I’m pretty sure Sonny Liston is going to be murdered.

And for now, that’s all she wrote!!

— Christo

Now there are THREE!! All William J. Plummer books now available as ebooks.

Friends, students, and colleagues who have known me for many years might know I grew up in Las Vegas, they might know I raced dirt bikes, hitchhiked up and down the West Coast, and teach T’ai Chi. But very few are aware of my upbringing with a pet Gambel’s quail and “an unusual household of pets”, described in some detail in books that my father wrote and that were published with moderate success and fame, in the early 1970’s. Curious? Well, here’s your chance!

ALL THREE of my dad’s books, previously published by Henry Regnery Company, and out of print for about thirty years, are available in ebook editions from Crossroad Press at select online publishing locations (see links below) for a very reasonable $3.99 each. IMAGINE owning all three of the complete and enhanced electronic editions for less than $15.00!

Enlivened with newly updated photographs — In addition to all the functionality of ebooks (searching, syncing bookmarks across devices, touch access to definitions, and so on), all three books have been updated with a new “Meet the Author” biography, a preface to the ebook edition, and improved photographs (in some cases never before seen.)


In A Quail in the Family, the pen illustrations of the Regnery paper edition have been replaced with beautifully scanned and cleaned versions of the original photographs from which they were derived.

Friends_of_the_Family_thumbFriends of the Family features similarly replaced photographs. And because the quality of some of the photographs was so bad—I mean the ones I took with my Kodak Instamatic when I was…twelve—I have added public domain photos of several of the animals from the stories. (Thank you Wikipedia and all contributors of public domain photos!)


Five of a Kind in the book edition contained ample photographs of the “Five Ladies”, but some were grainy, and all in black and white. Now, all have been replaced with improved scanned versions, many in color!!

Links to the ebooks:

Amazon Link to Kindle Books by William J. Plummer

Apple link to Audiobook by William J. Plummer

Here’s my promotional blurb for “Friends”, which should give you a pretty good idea of what all three books are about…

Friends of the Family by William J. Plummer—Re-join the Plummers, who adopted and raised “Peep-sight” the Gambel’s quail rooster of A Quail in the Family. In this second book, William Plummer describes the family’s adventures with birds, rodents, snakes, lizards, and other animals–the visiting and resident members of the Plummer menagerie in Las Vegas. We learn of the rescue of “Beverly” the Desert Tortoise from the Nevada Nuclear Test Site; playing “dogfish” with “Georgia” the beagle; “Squeaky”, a kangaroo rat who occasionally left his open cage to make nocturnal household explorations, and “Ellery” the caiman–who resided for a time in his own backyard pool. And we first meet “Carrie”, “Rose”, “Red-Leg”, “Pearl”, and “Brownie”, the five charming female quail whose complete tale is told in the book Five of a Kind.

UPDATE: Thursday, December 15, 2022 – My father, William J. Plummer, passed peacefully on December 5, 2022. He was, as he might say, “Going on ninety-six.” I’ve updated the links to his Amazon Author page and the Audiobook of “Quail” on this page. There’s also a “Quail and Friends” web site where I hope to add some of Bill’s unpublished stories—and maybe a few of my own—in 2023.



2016, a Design Update for the Blob

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis

In what I hope is only the beginning of my re-invigorated interest in blobbing, I have, for 2016, paradoxically changed the design of the “christoplummer” blog to WordPress “Twenty Twelve” because the design met my two main requirements: “responsive”, and “free”. It’s clean, easy to read, and doesn’t pretend AFACT to be a clone of Goggle, Middle, Hybrid, or any of the other writing sites. But don’t get too enamoured with it, because it will probably change!

Why the change? Change is in the wind. Change happens. Change changes whether you like it or not. Now that I have been liberated from my BDC corporate job, I will change.

Tally Ho!


Immune to the Plague of So

I have finally become immune. But it took a long time.

It used to drive me to distraction how so many people start every response to a question with the word, “So…” Bad enough to notice this the first time or two, like seeing one dead honey bee, but then to start noticing it more and more, every freaking person who is interviewed, everybody who answers a question, the whole freakin’ hive is sick! This is not the simple popularity of a word that everyone seems to be using. (Remember around the turn of the century when suddenly everything was “tony”? “The tony shops on Rodeo Drive.” “Carrying a tony leather purse she exited the Mercedes…” But at least “tony” is a word that serves a purpose.) The plague of “so” isn’t even as mundane as the migration of the word “epic” from surfing to a descriptor of everything else that is awesome, amazing, spectacular. And it’s not just kind of dumb and dopey like using the word “dope” as an adjective to describe what? Something is cool? After all, it’s a word that has plenty of legitamate uses—just not at the beginning to the answer of every question. No, it’s closer to habitually stuttering, “Uh…” before saying anything else. Or, “y’know” sprinkled all over an otherwise sensible narrative. Starting every answer with “so” is just obnoxious.

For awhile I wanted to blame this tsunami of bad syntax on the millennials, since it seemed it was always some  young Silicon Valley genius who was answering a question about how he earned his billions, and why his one trick app had such incredible engagement, starting his explanation with, “So…” And, of course, for me the WORST part of “so” is the implied and unspoken message of tolerance and patience, “So…since you ask, and you’re just not as smart as I am, I will deign to explain it to you in a way you can understand.” But it wasn’t just them; everyone was doing it.

Whenever, rarely, I  heard a speaker begin  a response or explanation without “So..” I let out a whoop of  triumph. But it didn’t happen often. In protest, I tried to ban “so” from my own writing and speaking. And I decided I just couldn’t write about the plague of so because I was TOO EMOTIONAL about it. Give it some time. Maybe it will blow over. Even Ebola burns itself out, right?

Anyway, (anyway? so?) – I’m over it. I’m  done. I gave up. I hardly even notice anymore. Answer the question any way you want. I don’t care. I’ve been so exposed, so overexposed, that I don’t even notice any more. I am immune to the plague of so.


It’s Still Too Hard to Write!!

I am a writerI have written. All I want to do on this blob is write the things I want to write. I have things to say, I want to write and post them. When I started this blob, it was my intention to create and write it on my iPad, push the limits of the device, find the best solutions, and prove it was possible. It’s been a hard battle, and a frustrating one. Because the awkwardness and stupidity and inconvenience of using the available tools have created a hesitation on my part to write when I want to. Pain—mental or emotional—is a powerful conditioner. And I have been conditioned to just hold off on my writing. Or to summarize my thoughts into tweets. An interesting exercise, reducing it all to the least number of characters. But tweeting is not writing. 

WordPress Hah! Until now, I’ve been fighting with the “official” WordPress app for the iPad. It was free. It was official. It ought to work well. Instead it was buggy, slow, awkward. Infuriating at times. I have over many years, as a surfer of technology, had to be patient, waiting for the improvements that were so obviously needed, the ideas that had not met fruition. The mistakes in interface and execution that needed to be fixed. Sometimes we could take a huge leap from one OS to another, such as DOS to MacOS and make these great advances in a single step. Too often, that step would open our eyes to the new limitations and sometimes we had to wait, again. A revolutionary tool like the Mac, when first released, was hindered by hardware limitations—a single 128k floppy drive, making it necessary to “swap” disks to save a file, or load a program. It seemed like forever before Apple could manufacture and release a second, external 128k drive (and for only $400!!) We had to wait for Microsoft Word for the Mac before we could create documents longer than 20 pages, because Apple MacWrite saved to MEMORY not DISK. These limitations now seem inconceivable! But with the iPad, with iOS, it is the same.

I’m trying BlogPad Pro. The fact that I have written these few paragraphs already is encouraging. It is not a beautiful App, but it seems fairly well designed and very functional. I want to check out the Markup and HTML support. And in a moment, I will see how well it can post a quick blob entry. Wish me luck friends!

Written on my iPad!!!