Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Straight Man

By Richard Russo

Russo is also the author of Nobody's Fool, which was made into a 1994 movie with Paul Newman, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith.

After the prologue, the first chapter of the book is called "Occam's Razor." If, like me, you don't really know what that is, then here is a link to a web page about it: Occam's Razor. It seems to me that Occam's Razor is the idea that, in seeking to understand something, go with the solution that uses the simplest, most proven explanation. Like if something keeps nibbling the food in your kitchen at night, it is most likely rats and mice not fairies and elves.
The main character, William Henry Devereaux, Jr., keeps trying to apply Occam's Razor to the events in his life. He is so fond of it that he has named his dog Occam. I don't know if he succeeds that well at it though. Hank is an English professor who seems to be at war with everyone in the English department at the university where he teaches. This is probably because he is a smart ass; his favorite activity is goading everyone with whom he comes into contact except for his family and a few friends. He is so addicted to getting a rise, he even teases animals:

They [a flock of ducks] are easily faked out, too, as if they've been too long separated from their better instincts, too often seduced by baser ones. Their heads rotate on their otherwise motionless bodies, and when I take my hands out of my pockets and make a flicking motion, tossing imaginary popcorn along the bank, the birds start toward me, trailing V's on the placid surface of the pond...waddling up out of the water and quacking around on the brown grass in search of what I've pretended to throw them...I take my hands out of my pockets to show the troops I have no popcorn, no stale bread, no candy. Some of the smaller ducks shove off the bank again and begin their slow return, offering a parting, disillusioned quack or two.

Other than being a prize jerk, Hank is struggling with what he thinks is a urinary stone which is causing him various symptoms. Meanwhile, the university is going through a financial crisis of sorts (while continuing to build a new technical arts wing) and people are afraid of losing their jobs. Hank, who is chair of the department, is constantly being approached by coworkers who want some reassurance that they are not going to be cut, which Hank refuses to give them, gaining himself even more enemies than he had before do to his irreverent and aggravating attitude to almost everything. As the crisis builds and Hank's urinary symptoms worsen, eventually something is going to have to give way. Oh and by the way, according to Hank, virtually everyone in the English department is a loser who will never be more than what they are, including himself. As he declares, '"I wish you would promote mediocrity...Mediocrity is a reasonable goal for our institution."'
This novel is about a man in crisis, even if he doesn't want to admit it. He is going down, unable to cope with the pressures of his job. He disguises his desperation with a flip attitude but his body is crumbling. He is not an evil man, even though his main joy seems to be baiting the unwary. He certainly likes to make his little jokes, viewing almost everyone as straight men in his little comedy routine.

I can't say I cared much for this novel, especially the main character, Hank, who is a jerk. Oddly, while reading this book about Hank the smart ass jerk, I was also reading Rabbit, Run about Rabbit, the jerk who leaves his pregnant wife and baby son and Lolita about Humbert the pedophile jerk. What an unfortunate combination, knee deep in jerks all around.

New Words
Elided: to elide means to omit. "Simplicity and justice require that thought and deed not be carelessly elided."
Syllogisms: a syllogism is a method of presenting a logical argument. In its most basic form, the syllogism consists of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. "He [William of Occam] died of the Black Death, and he never saw it coming until it was upon him, a dirty, brutish, democratic foe who argued with William in precise, elegant syllogisms, defeating all the philosopher's logic and unifying in swift death, as life never could, the conflicting impulses of reason and faith that had shaped his life."

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Host

By Stephenie Meyer

Hostile and implacable aliens have completely taken over the Earth and their motto is leave no survivors! Every human must captured and destroyed! But these sneaky little bastards don't use guns or bombs in their war against humanity. Theirs is the ultimate cruelty ... they are body snatchers! They implant their tiny worm-like bodies into their victims and they take over, destroying the human mind and absorbing their memories, thus blending into human society. By the time humanity figured out what was going on, it was too late. Still a few ragtag bands of resistance fighters are holding out on the fringes of the now alien society.
How do these aliens justify this ruthless takeover? Well, they are just nicer than we are! We don't deserve to survive because we are too mean and violent.
One of these aliens, Wanderer, is a bit of a misfit. Although she has lived on many planets and occupied several different host bodies, she has never really found the place were she felt at home. So she ended up on the alien's latest conquest, Earth, planted in the body of Melanie Stryder.
Melanie Stryder, along with her brother Jamie and her boyfriend Jared, have managed to escape the alien occupation. One day Melanie sees a cousin of hers on TV and decides she has to go find her. She leaves Jamie with Jared and sets off alone to find her cousin. In the process, she is captured. She tried to kill herself by jumping down an elevator shaft, but the superior alien medicine has repaired her body only to insert the tiny Wanderer into it.
Wanderer wakes up in Melanie's body to the unwelcome discovery that Melanie is still hanging on inside the body's brain. Although Wanderer has control of the body, Melanie lingers in the brain, arguing and fighting with Wanderer. As Wanderer becomes more familiar with Melanie and her memories of Jared and Jamie, she too starts to care about those who are nearest and dearest to Melanie's heart.
The other aliens begin to suspect that all is not right with Wanderer and a Seeker is placed to watch her. The Seeker mission is to seek out and capture any remaining humans and Melanie's memories may hold the key to discovering more human holdouts.
Wanderer doesn't like the Seeker at all, and on a trip to Arizona, she manages to elude the Seeker. Giving in to Melanie's need to see Jamie and Jared, Wanderer sets off into the desert to find them. Hiking in the Arizona desert is not for neophytes and Wanderer is nearly dead when she is found by a band humans and is taken into their cave hideout.
These humans are not happy to have Wanderer among them. Fortunately for her, Jamie and Jared are part of this group and Wanderer is not summarily killed. Instead, she becomes a willing captive, which makes Melanie inside her very happy, happy to be with her little brother and happy just to be near Jared. Wanderer's sufferings at the hands of the humans are rather harsh, but not as harsh as they could have been, given the anger of the survivors. She bears their anger and never fights back because the aliens don't get angry. Eventually the people come to trust her and she becomes a part of their little survival group, giving them inside information and access they desperately need. As Wanderer worms (ha-ha) her way into the hearts of this struggling community, she begins to understand the crime her kind has committed against humanity.

This was an interesting and absorbing story. At first, it was rather disconcerting that the whole story is told from the point of view of the alien, Wanderer. The outrage of destroying the personality of the host bodies is not dealt with very deeply, although Wanderer does come to realize that taking over humans for the "good" of the species is a ridiculous justification for destroying the very essence of what it is to be human. Also, although this is touted as an "adult" novel from an author that has specialized in young adult fiction, the sex never goes beyond kisses and cuddles, which just didn't feel right. I kept waiting for the real deal and it never appeared. I think she missed an opportunity to develop her alien character more deeply by having Wanderer experience physical love.
Another quibble I have with the book is the ending, which I felt was a little too soft. I kept wanting the humans to confront their alien oppressors and that never happened. They continue to exist on the outskirts of the alien society and never force their conquerors to confront the enormity of their crime against humanity.
But otherwise, I did enjoy the book a lot. The other worlds are only touched on lightly, but sound fascinating. Stephenie has a marvelous imagination and paints a detailed and engaging picture, even frightening in how easily these insidious aliens were able to take over and rule the world without a shot being fired. I hope she writes more science fiction and I am looking forward to reading those stories.


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Life and Times of the Thunderbold Kid

By Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa in the United States in the 1950s and 60s. He revisits his childhood in this interesting and often very funny memoir. Finding lots of material in his own family, his friends and neighbors and his school, Bryson paints a picture that is both charming and amusing, visiting a time in American culture that is now consigned to history.
He also paints a very beguiling picture of the city of Des Moines, describing tree-shaded hills, graceful family homes and vanished restaurants and stores. He takes us back to a time when downtown was the place to shop and to eat, before fast food joints and national chains and malls changed the urban landscape into the sprawl of today. I enjoyed this part too, but I think it would probably be more appealing to those who have been there and seen that.
He also visits the national preoccupations of the time ranging from the atomic bomb to anti-communist hysteria to teenage delinquents. Although he is quick to say that the majority of America's youth were law-abiding and conservative, some of his funniest stories concern the antics of his friends who plot and scheme to steal beer, even going so far as to break into and empty a beer warehouse and who also have a plan to explode a confetti bomb on the front lawn of their school. The bomb goes off prematurely and explodes inside their own home, causing thousands of dollars of damage, even knocking the house slightly off its foundation.

I really enjoyed this book, it was laugh-out-loud funny. When I read a funny book this is what I want, a book so funny that I just have to laugh. I wish all books that claim to be funny could be as amusing as this one.
Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. I am always quick to grab a new Bryson the minute I spy it on the shelf. Bryson never disappoints, so far his books are always amusing and informative.

For another review see Suite101.com.

New Words
Squamous: scaly, flat, and plate-like. "You could also get small artificial ice-cream cones made of some crumbly chalklike material, straws containing a gritty sugar so ferociously sour that your whole face would actually be sucked into your mouth like sand collapsing into a hole, root-beer barrels, red-hot cinnamon balls, licorice wheels and whips, greasy candy worms, rubbery dense gelatinlike candies that tasted of unfamiliar (and indeed unlikable) fruits but were a good value as it took more than three hours to eat each one (and three hours more to pick the gluey remnants out of your molars, sometimes with fillings attached), and jawbreakers the size and density of billiard balls, which were the best value of all as they would last for up to three months and had multiple strata that turned your tongue interesting new shades as you doggedly dissolved away one squamous layer after another."
Bifurcated: Bifurcate means too separate, split, or divide. "So earthy devastation became both a constant threat and a happy preoccupation of that curiously bifurcated decade."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Undead and Unreturnable

By Mary Janice Davidson

Fourth in Davidson's Undead series about vampire queen Betsy Taylor, this one finds Betsy in the midst of her wedding plans to vampire king Eric Sinclair when her cop friend Nick shows up to tell to beware of a serial killer who is preying on women of Betsy's type, tall and blond. Betsy dismisses his concerns since she is a vampire and more than capable of dealing with any threat posed by a would-be killer. Still she is forced to deal with the killer when Cathie, the ghost of his latest victim, shows up demanding justice.

This was the first novel in this series that I had come across. It stands on its own, but reading the first three books probably would have been helpful. Lots of characters from the previous stories show up in this one, in fact they trot in and out of the story constantly. I had to make a list just to keep track of them all.
Even though a killer is running amok, the novel doesn't really focus on that part of the plot. Mostly it is about Betsy rocky romance with Sinclair. They have their little spats and disagreements, many of which concern the impending wedding, and then they have torrid makeup sex.
There are lots of intriguing characters in the story, like Betsy's demon sister Laura and George the Fiend who lives in the basement. I would have liked more of the story to be about them. Lots of other characters make brief appearances designed, I guess, to provoke conflict between Betsy and Eric so they can quarrel again and screw again.
Betsy is queen of the vampires but she seems totally unsuited to the job, coming off as ditsy and silly. The novel doesn't really go anywhere as the serial killer plot is not the main focus of the story. It's a pretty shallow story aimed mainly at leading the reader on to the next one in the series. Some of the characters and ideas in the book are really interesting but this novel just wasn't that compelling or even all that funny. Although I have read that the first three books are supposed to be pretty good.
For another review see Crescent Blue Book Views.

Killing Bridezilla

By Laura Levine

Part of the Jaine Austen mystery series, this novel finds Jaine facing financial difficulties that force her to take a job for the last person she ever imagined working for, her high school enemy, the rich and spoiled Patti. Patti is getting married and she needs Jaine to write the vows for the wedding. What Patti wants is for Jaine to rewrite the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. Patti wants something more upbeat, something like from the sitcoms Friends or Seinfeld. Jaine's mind boggles at the task but since she needs the money she knuckles under and gets to it.
Patti, high school bully and general mean girl, hasn't changed in the years since school. Her wedding is turning into a regular high school reunion as she calls upon her old classmates to help with the wedding. Indeed, she met her hubby-to-be at a recent reunion and even though he was married, it was love at first sight.
Patti has run-ins with virtually everyone as the big day approaches. It isn't really much of a surprise when, during the big wedding day balcony scene, Patti falls from the balcony to her death. Investigators discover the balcony railing was tampered with.
Number one on the cops suspect list is the grooms ex-wife. But as Jaine discovers, lots of people had reason to hate the bride. As Jaine looks into the murder, she attracts the attention of the killer.

This is the first book I have read in the Jaine Austen series and I enjoyed it a lot. The author is a skillful and funny writer with a lengthy resume including writing for the Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, and Three's Company. She also contributes material to Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. In this novel, her heroine Jaine has lots of goofy and humiliating encounters, encounters that would send a more sensitive character into permanent exile. Like when her date for the wedding is exposed as a hired escort and like when Jaine lights some hapless schmuck's hairpiece on fire, also at the wedding. All in all, this book was a lot of fun to read and I am looking forward to reading more from this talented author.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hollywood Crows

By Joseph Wambaugh

Things have changed in policing since Wambaugh first began writing his gritty cop dramas decades ago. He explores these changes in this story about the Hollywood Crows. Crow is short for Community Relations Officers. These cops serve as liaisons with the Hollywood community and generally handle quality-of-life types of complaints, like complaints about squatters and cars parked in other people's parking spaces; easy stuff that doesn't generally entail a lot of risk.
Filled with Wambaugh's usual cast of oddball characters, this story is a fun look at the behind scenes lives of these so-called Crows. Despite their cushy jobs, some of these Crows get tangled up in a nasty custody dispute. Strip club owner Aziz and his gorgeous and unscrupulous wife Margot are divorcing. Each one is convinced that the other is determined to take their young son away and disappear with him. They are going to do whatever it takes to stop the other, even if it means someone has to die. Margot, beautiful and cunning, set sights on one of the more vulnerable Crows in her plot to gain permanent custody of her child and Aziz uses his criminal contacts to go after Margot.

Wambaugh's novels are always a great look at the behind scenes world of cops and this story is no exception. The Crows are characters and the problems they deal with, while not earth-shaking, are still fun and interesting. The child custody plot was thrilling and exciting and also very sad to watch these two people at war over their young son. I really enjoyed this story. Wambaugh has done his usual stellar job with the Hollywood Crows.

For another review of this book see BookReporter.com.

Blasphemy

By Douglas Preston

Isabella is supercollider whose mission is to discover that moment in time when the universe came into existence, the big bang. Costing millions of dollars, the brain child of ego-maniacal physicist Hazelius and set in the middle of nowhere in the American desert, the powers-that-be in Washington DC begin to wonder what the heck is going on out there as this massively expensive project is producing no results. So they send ex-CIA agent Wyman Ford to infiltrate and investigate the team of scientists and discover what is really going on with Isabella.
The locals would like to know what is going on with Isabella also. A small-time local preacher contacts a powerful televangelist with his concerns about the supercollider project. The televangelist latches onto the preacher's concerns and rouses his audience against the project, claiming that its true goal is to prove that God does not exist. Hoards of overwrought fundamentalist Christians rally in the desert, determined to bring Isabella down.
Meanwhile Ford discovers that the hang up with Isabella is that the supercollider is not peering into the past but is being taken over by a being that claims to be God. Knowing things that no one else could know, it has convinced some of the scientists that it is what it claims to be. But before the scientists and Ford can investigate further, the facility is overrun by the raging Christian mob.

Exciting at the beginning, this novel falls flat at the end. The plot twist at the end turns it from an fascinating look at the idea of God into just another mass-market thriller. I found the portrayal of the fundamentalists nasty and hateful. True, televangelists probably are a bunch of slimy worms. But I doubt the average Bible-believing Christian is willing to commit murder just because some televangelist flaps his big mouth. At least I hope so! Anyways, I just don't like stories whose main thrust is Christian bashing. And the plot twist was just a big let-down.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Me of Little Faith

By Lewis Black

I am not real familiar with the work of comedian Lewis Black. The only times I have seen him is when he appears on the late night talk shows. I remember from those times that he is one of those angry, acerbic comedians. Since I enjoy reading funny books, when I saw his new book I decided to check it out.
In this book, Black comments on religion and faith, telling of his own spiritual experiences, including transcendental moments he felt when taking drugs. He also talks about his experiences with a psychic whom he feels has real ability. It was kind of surprising that a man that pretty much dismisses religion gives such credence to drug experiences and psychics. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
Anyway, I was hoping for a laugh out loud funny book, but this wasn't it. Sometimes his musings were mildly humorous. Towards the end of the book is a play he wrote and performed in, The Laundry Hour, which I found boring and a chore to wade through. About the only thing in the book that I thought was really funny was "An Airline Traveler's Prayer," in which a frustrated Lewis declares that, "I want to tear off my clothes and run on all fours onto the tarmac and bark at the planes like a dog." Now that was funny.
For people who enjoy reading religious ponderings, this book would probably be a good read. But for me, I just wanted a good laugh which I mostly didn't find in Me of Little Faith.

New Words
Granfalloon: A term coined by Kurt Vonnegut, it is a group of two or more people who imagine or are manipulated to believe they share a connection based on some circumstance of little or no real significance. "But more than that, it was when I read Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle that I really understood my feelings about Israel. It's there I read about granfalloons and other false groupings. I felt like a Jew, I was a Jew, but I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an Israeli."
Kol Nidre: the holiest Jewish prayer which is recited several times on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. "The spooky strains of the Kol Nidre, the sense of foreboding that God was getting out his pen to write my name in the Book of Death, and just sitting with all those people."

Sitting Bull

By Bill Yenne

A look at the life of one of the most famous Native Americans, Sitting Bull, author Bill Yenne reveals the truth about the great Lakota leader, carefully pointing out how terribly Sitting Bull was misrepresented to the American public of that time.
Born in the early 1830s in what is now known as South Dakota, Sitting Bull, or as he was named then, Jumping Badger, grew up in a time when the white man was a very rare sight in Sioux territory. This territory was a vast area including Nebraska, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and up into Canada. In fact, a treaty had been signed granting these lands to the Sioux, protecting them from being settled by American citizens. Too bad for the Sioux when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. Greed always wins out whenever it comes to a choice between gold and respecting native people's sovereignty.
Naturally, Americans wanted access to the gold and naturally the Sioux didn't want foreigners exploiting and destroying their sacred holy Black Hills. And naturally, when the Sioux resisted this violation of the treaty, they were the ones labelled as treaty breakers and they were the one punished for standing up for their right to control their own lands.
Sitting Bull, a visionary who foresaw the massacre of American soldiers at Custer's last stand on the Little Bighorn and who also foresaw his own death at the hands of his own people, tried to save his people from destruction and preserve a way of life that had existed for thousands of years. Ultimately, due to the heartless elimination of the vast herds of bison, Sitting Bull and his people were forced to surrender or starve. Powerless to resist American encroachments, forced on to reservations, stripped of guns and horses, the Sioux could only protest verbally as their vast territory was divided and opened to foreign settlement.
As a result of this despair, many of them turned to a new religious movement, the Ghost Dance, which promised deliverance and a return to life as it was before the white man. Those in charge of the reservation and those in Washington DC mistakenly linked Sitting Bull to this movement. Sitting Bull himself had strong doubts about the Ghost Dancers. But white hysteria demanded something be done to stop the perceived "Indian uprising" so Lakota Sioux police were sent to take Sitting Bull into custody. In the process, Sitting Bull was shot and killed, ending his life just as he had foreseen.

This was an illuminating book about a man who deserves his place in American history. As the book points out Sitting Bull was a man of vision, who struggled to preserve his people even if it ultimately meant surrender. The story of his life as detailed by Bill Yenne is the classic story of Native people's fates all over the world. This was an interesting book about a very interesting man.

By the way, the term Sioux is felt by some to be derogatory. However it is a convenient term for the various tribes that compose the Sioux Nation. It is just easier to use and more familiar to most. So no offense was meant by the use of the word Sioux in this blog.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Sarum

By Edward Rutherford

This massive novel tells the story of the area around the British city of Salisbury, starting from early prehistoric times and up to the 1980s. In a series of loosely connected stories, Rutherford lays out the history of this place which includes the famous Stonehenge site, the construction of which is also dealt with in this novel. Also detailed is the construction of Salisbury Cathedral, a famous and beautiful building, dating from the 13th Century.
Rutherford traces this history through a handful of fictional families, running from lowlife river people, through craftsmen and farmers and including the landed gentry. He drops into his character's lives at key moments in history, such as the first appearance of the plague in Britain and Britain's struggles with Napoleon. He also mentions the American revolution as an influence on British attitudes towards the rights of the individual, an idea that didn't have much weight at that time in Britain.

Necessarily, to cover such an immense span of time, the story is somewhat piecemeal. The key families substitute for the characters one would normally follow in a novel. To do so, Rutherford gives these families traits that carry through the centuries, such as big heads, thin faces, or cold dispositions. I doubt that such traits would remain consistent unless the families were totally inbred. Still, it is a device to engage the readers in a bunch of new characters every few chapters. This is the novel's biggest weakness, the lack of identification with characters that are constantly changing despite the author's effort to make them nearly identical to their antecedents. It's a big topic, and, as a kind of mini-history of England it was pretty interesting. Not surprisingly some parts are more engaging than others. I sort of lost interest in the story as it moved up into the later centuries, the 18th, 19th and 20th. For the most part, despite the unavoidable disjointedness of the story, it was an entertaining and informative read.

New Words
Agger & cambered: An agger is the built-up foundations of a Roman road, sometimes surviving as a long bank of earth. To camber means to give a slight arch to. "This was the famous raised agger. Then on top of this they packed chalk, a handspan deep and cambered down from the centre, to ensure that the road surface would be well drained."
Haruspices: The plural of haruspex, a man trained to practice a form of divination called haruspicy, the study and divination by use of animal entrails, usually the victims of sacrifice. "What had become of the old values -- the stoicism of the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius, the solid virtues of the Roman gentlemen who read the classics, consulted the haruspices and built shrines for their ancestors?"
Pallium: a woollen vestment conferred on archbishops by the Pope. "New bishoprics were founded and the archbishop received his pallium from Rome."
Decurions: A decurion was an officer in charge of ten men in the ancient Roman army; also a member of local government in the Roman Empire. "For under the late empire it had been possible for decurions to obtain exemption from the financial burdens of holding local offices by taking priestly orders, and many local landowners had entered the priesthood for this reason."
Quartan: A fever whose symptoms recur every four days; recurring every four days; especially in designating a form of malaria with such symptoms. "As for Bishop Roger, he had hardly been seen since his return, and there were rumours that he was sick with a quartan fever."
Exchequer & chirograph: Exchequer is the financial department of the royal government; the treasury. Chirograph is a writing which, requiring a copy, was engrossed twice on the same piece of parchment, with a space between, in which was written the word chirographum, through which the parchment was cut, and one part given to each party. "There was a separate court and exchequer for the community; and there were a number of towns where the official records of all moneylending transactions were kept in the archae, the great chests for holding these chirograph documents."
Villeins & heriot: A villein is a non-free man, owing heavy labor service to a lord, subject to his manorial court, bound to the land, and subject to certain feudal dues, but better than a serf. The heriot is, in feudal law, the right of a feudal lord to take a tenant's best beast or other chattel on the tenant's death. "For although the villeins and free tenants who should have worked his land had gone, he still had the right to the heriot tax payable when a peasant died."
Demesne: the land on a manor not held by free or villein tenants but directly cultivated for the lord by an agent. "During the previous year he had paid high wages to cultivate at least part of his own demesne lands."
Murrain: any of several highly infectious diseases of cattle and sheep such as anthrax; the word means death. "And he had been hard hit, like many others, by a murrain which had carried off most of his sheep."
Woad: common name of the plant Isatis tinctoria whose leaves are used to make a blue dye; the dye made from the plant Isatis tinctoria. "Only two months before he had imported a load of twenty-five tons of woad for making dye through the port of Southampton on which he had made a handsome profit."
Chequers & close: Close is an enclosed place, especially land surrounding or beside a cathedral or other building; also a narrow lane or alley. Chequer is a square. "'That's the place with the best views,' he would say: for from Harnham you could see the whole city - cathedral, close, market place and chequers laid out as clearly as on one of Speed's maps."
Bye-laws: Bye-law or by-law is a law that is less important than a general law or constitutional provision, and subsidiary to it; a rule relating to a matter of detail; as, civic societies often adopt a constitution and by-laws for the government of their members. "Soon he was familiar with the complex set of bye-laws that regulated the villagers' intense cultivation of their jointly owned flocks and hedged fields."
Prebendary: A prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral. A prebend is a type of benefice, which usually consisted of the income from the cathedral estates. A canon is a priest serving a cathedral or collegiate church or a member of a religious community living under common rules and bound by vows. "Many a rector or prebendary lived like a gentleman and at Sarum at least, the dean lived like a lord."
Tractarians: also called the Oxford movement, Tractarians wanted to reform the Anglican church, to go back to the Catholic roots of the English church; their views were expressed in series of tracts, thus the name Tractarians. "I have Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Tractarians, and others who may be anything."
Trenchant: keen, incisive; penetrating; forceful; effective; clear-cut. "Porters nodded absently as Ebenezer Mickelthwaite, agent to Lord Forest, expressed these trenchant views."