“The Bad Seed” (Post 1/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/2 [June 27]


William March’s classic horror tale (and final book), published in 1954. I read the Vintage edition paperback.

4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 2

Seen the Movie: No (1956 version); No (1985 version)

The Plot:

A mild-mannered 1950s housewife is raising sweet-looking Rhoda, an eight-year-old serial killer.

The Bad Seed is written in third person, staying mainly with Christine Penmark as she discovers her daughter’s terrible secrets. March allows us into other characters’ heads at times (including the building’s maintenance man and Christine’s upstairs neighbor), but he never lets us know what Rhoda is thinking. We observe her actions, expressions, and outward reactions but they seem like an alien trying to mimic proper human behavior. March’s success in The Bad Seed is making Rhoda an unsettling, inhuman blank. She’s a great horror villain; justifying any action to get what she wants (she will kill for trinkets) and seeing no worth in the lives of others.

March stands damn close to the level of Truman Capote, Shirley Jackson and Ira Levin in his ability to build excellent plots one strong sentence at a time. There are no signs of struggle or elbow-nudging; March maintains incredible command and confidence. Like Levin, he is deftly constructing a machine of finely tuned pieces. The Bad Seed anticipates so much of Rosemary’s Baby (review) that I’m convinced Levin was an admirer, though Levin ultimately did a better job. He wasted nothing in his trim tale while March’s story spends 30 pages stalling before the climax. Other than that, The Bad Seed is excellent, wicked fun.

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“Christine” (Post 3/3)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

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[56] Reference:

Sheb Wooley was singing “The Purple People Eater.”


Shelby Fredrick “Sheb” Wooley (1921 – 2003) was a character actor and singer, best known for his 1958 novelty song “The Purple People Eater.” He was also in High Noon, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Rawhide. Wooley is also credited as the voice actor who produced the Wilhelm scream sound effect.

[57] Reference:

Both of them played chess as if maybe they thought Ruy Lopez was some new kind of soft drink.


The Ruy Lopez, also called the Spanish Opening or Spanish Game, is a chess opening named after 16th-century Spanish bishop Ruy Lopez de Segura.

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“Christine” (Post 2/3)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

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[25] Reference:

Loads up the Nibroc dispenser with paper towels.


The first properly mass-produced paper towels were Nibroc Paper Towels, first produced in 1922 at the Cascade Mill on the Berlin/Gorham New Hampshire line (I am mentioning this because I have been by this mill a ton of times and I’m delighted to have this piece of trivia). William E. Corbin, the inventor (and later mayor of Berlin, New Hampshire) used his own last name spelled backward for the brand. When he died, he was called “the father of paper towels.”

[26] References:

A couple of times I had gone with him on sunny summer afternoons to marinas along King George Lake and Lake Passeeonkee.


From context, it sounds like Dennis is talking about lakes near the Pittsburgh area. There is a Lake George in New York, but it is an eight-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

Looking up Lake Passeeonkee only brings up references to Christine.

I think King made up both for the book. Continue reading

“Christine” (Post 1/3)

Christine 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

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Stephen King’s 1983 novel. I read a lovely first edition.

2 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 3

Seen the Movie: No

The Plot:

High school football-star Dennis and awkward, acne-cursed Arnie are best friends. The summer before their senior year, Arnie impulsively buys a run-down 1958 Plymouth Fury. When Arnie becomes dangerously obsessed with the car, Dennis uncovers its past and finds an evil at work on his friend.

Or, the killer car story.

I accept the premise. My problems are not with the ridiculousness of the plot. I will not ask how or why Christine exists. She does and that’s fine.

I am going to ask why this book runs nearly five hundred pages, why it switches from first person to third (and back again), and how it justifies leaning on nightmares and visions instead of real action. (No one dreams as on-the-nose as Stephen King characters. No, sir.)

Christine is uneven and indecisive, more first draft than finished product. King would have had a solid novella on his hands if he had edited it down to the essentials. Instead… Continue reading

“Cat’s Cradle” (Post 2/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/2


He held a glass of champagne, which was included in the price of his ticket. That glass was to him what a fishbowl would have been to a normal man, but he drank from it with elegant ease – as though he and the glass could not have been better matched.

The little son of a bitch had a crystal of ice-nine in a thermos bottle in his luggage, and so did his miserable sister.

(p.80) Continue reading

“Cat’s Cradle” (Post 1/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 classic. I read a 1970s Dell edition. I wish I knew who designed the cover. 

4 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Atomic bomb creator Felix Hoenikker has left his last great invention to his three children: Ice-nine, with the power to destroy all life. His children muck it up, of course.

Cat’s Cradle might be Vonnegut’s most pop-culture-referenced book. I’d heard of ice-nine before I ever read it (not that I had idea idea what it was). Vonnegut’s invented terms for his invented religion have also taken on lives of their own. He establishes this religion, Bokononism, effortlessly (also handling a large cast) in less than two-hundred pages.

There are also 127 “chapters” fit into those pages; more like snapshots and set-ups/punchlines than a traditional narrative.

If you’re looking for plot, motivation and character depth, Cat’s Cradle will fall flat. As a thought- and conversation-starter, it’s wonderful.

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