A former savings and loan in downtown Pomona, and its towering pole sign, is the subject of my Wednesday column. This had seemed worthy of a “brIEfly” paragraph at the end of a column when I made an inquiry for information, but the idea expanded, as ideas sometimes do.
Joan Didion’s “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” essay, about the Lucille Miller murder trial of 1965, was about the Inland Empire and set partly on Alta Loma’s Bella Vista Drive. I visit to talk to a longtime homeowner, and also excerpt comments from readers about my recent column on Didion, who died last month, all for Sunday’s column.
Following up on the recent fire that gutted Ontario’s city-owned Fallis House, I write about the old Casa Blanca Hotel, which it turns out once stood across the street. It too fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1998. History is fragile, folks! That’s the subject of my Friday column.
I take my annual look back at my reading life of the previous year in Wednesday’s column. For anyone keeping track, the word “tsundoku” makes its almost obligatory appearance.
Did you see our Dec. 26 (print) story on the boundaries of the Inland Empire? We’d done a survey on what readers think they are and presented the results, some of which were a surprise. I dig into them and pull out some that particularly struck me for Sunday’s column.
The owner of San Bernardino’s beloved Super Burrito has retired after 43 years behind the order window. Art Santoya’s mother opened the takeout stand in the 1960s and he took the reins in 1978. He told almost no one he was retiring because he didn’t want a fuss. I interview him for Friday’s column.
The above photo collects what I read in 2021 all in one place, in four stacks on my living room floor: from left, mass-market fiction, nonfiction, fiction and nonfiction about or from Southern California, and lastly, fiction of a literary bent.
By my count, I read 43 fiction books and 34 nonfiction, not quite the overwhelming victory for fiction I had hoped for, but better than 2020, when fiction was leading by only one. (Here’s my 2021 post.) Fourteen were audiobooks from libraries of books I owned physical copies of; these are enjoyable and helped me speed up through my backlog.
More egregiously, of my 77 books, only 11 were by women, either as writer and editor or, in four cases, as co-writer or -editor with a man. (Whoever compiled the Bourdain book, by the way, is uncredited — so probably a woman, right?) I’ll try to do better in 2022.
My most-read authors were Edgar Rice Burroughs, 14; John D. MacDonald, six; and Mark Twain, four. I completed the John Carter of Mars series and all the Tarzans I care to read, and got through half the remaining Travis McGee mysteries. And I’m in sight of finishing all of Twain’s major works.
As the above indicates, few of my 77 books were new or recent, and most weren’t even recent purchases. I’m continuing to work my way through a deep backlog of books bought back to 2002 and still unread. Tell us what you read in 2021, if you like, and whatever trends you noticed in your own reading.
1. “King Kull,” Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter
2. “The Prince and the Pauper,” Mark Twain
3. “Emperor Fu Manchu (Fu Manchu #13),” Sax Rohmer
4. “A Princess of Mars (John Carter #1),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
5. “The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (Travis McGee #10),” John D. MacDonald
6. “The Gods of Mars (John Carter #2),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
7. “Warlord of Mars (John Carter #3),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
8. “Dress Her in Indigo (Travis McGee #11),” John D. MacDonald
9. “Anthony Bourdain: The Last Interview,” Melville House, publisher
10. “Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews,” Jonathan Cott, editor
11. “Inlandia: A Literary Journey Through California’s Inland Empire,” Gayle Wattawa, ed.
12. “Desert Oracle, Vol. 1,” Ken Layne
13. “The Lady in the Lake,” Raymond Chandler
14. “The Long Lavender Look (Travis McGee #12),” John D. MacDonald
15. “Tarzan Untamed (Tarzan #7),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
16. “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” David Sedaris
17. “Becoming Ray Bradbury,” Jonathan R. Eller
18. “Our Towns: A 10,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,” James Fallows and Deborah Fallows
19. “Tarzan the Terrible (Tarzan #8),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
20. “A Tan and Sandy Silence (Travis McGee #13),” John D. MacDonald
21. “The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft
22. “Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery,” Scott Kelly
23. “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain
24. “A Long Way Down,” Nick Hornby
25. “Thuvia, Maid of Mars (John Carter #4),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
26. “My Middle Name is Color,” Dee Marcellus Cole
27. “The Game-Players of Titan,” Philip K. Dick
28. “Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series,” Gary Gerani, ed.
29. “The Chessmen of Mars (John Carter #5),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
30. “The Squares of the City,” John Brunner
31. “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” Baroness Orczy
32. “The Scarlet Letter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne
33. “The Scarlet Ruse (Travis McGee #14),” John D. MacDonald
34. “The Master Mind of Mars (John Carter #6),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
35. “Marooned on Mars,” Lester del Rey
36. “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” Robert A. Heinlein
37. “The Brothers of Baker Street,” Michael Robertson
38. “San Bernardino, Singing,” Nikia Chaney, ed.
39. “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Noah Isenberg
40. “American Moonshot,” Douglas Brinkley
41. “Secret Stairs,” Charles Fleming
42. “A Fighting Man of Mars (John Carter #7),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
43. “Writing Los Angeles,” David Ulin, ed.
44. “Preserving Los Angeles,” Ken Bernstein
45. “Becoming Los Angeles,” D.J. Waldie
46. “Holy Land,” D.J. Waldie
47. “The Life and Times of Los Angeles,” Marshall Berges
48. “The Turquoise Lament (Travis McGee #15),” John D. MacDonald
49. “Surviving in a Ruthless World: Bob Dylan’s Voyage to ‘Infidels,’” Terry Gans
50. “The Swords of Mars (John Carter #8),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
51. “Kidnapped,” Robert Louis Stevenson
52. “Girlz ‘n the Hood,” Mary Hill-Wagner
53. “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians,” Mark Twain
54. “Tarzan and the Golden Lion (Tarzan #9),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
55. “The Record Store Book,” Mike Spitz and Rebecca Villaneda
56. “A Man on the Moon,” Andrew Chaikin
57. “More Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” Susan Straight and Douglas McCulloh
58. “Always Running,” Luis Rodriguez
59. “To Your Scattered Bodies Go,” Philip Jose Farmer
60. “Photos of People at the March on Washington, August 18, 1963,” TM and D.D. Givens
61. “All of the Marvels,” Douglas Wolk
62. “Benchley — Or Else!” Robert Benchley
63. “Is This Anything?” Jerry Seinfeld
64. “Men and Cartoons,” Jonathan Lethem
65. “Synthetic Men of Mars (John Carter #9),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
66. “Tarzan and the Ant Men (Tarzan #10),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
67. “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” David Sedaris
68. “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” Robin Sloan
69. “The Essential Groucho,” Stefan Kanfer, ed.
70. “The Portable Hawthorne,” Malcolm Cowley, ed.
71. “The American Claimant,” Mark Twain
72. “Girl in a Band,” Kim Gordon
73. “Llana of Gathol (John Carter #10),” Edgar Rice Burroughs
74. “Funny Girl,” Nick Hornby
75. “Historic Mission Inn,” Barbara Moore, ed.
76. “Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever,” Ellen Weil and Gary K. Wolfe, editors
77. “Inter State,” José Vadi
I asked readers on Facebook (and in my column) to name one thing that gives them hope in 2022 and compiled the best. I also included a little about the new year and my recent booster shot experience. That’s all in Wednesday’s column, the first written in 2022. (Jan. 2’s was written Dec. 30.)
Books acquired: “My Week Beats Your Year: Encounters With Lou Reed,” Michael Heath and Pat Thomas; “Murderers and Other Friendly People,” Denis Brian; “Monogram,” G.B. Stern
Books read: “The Portable Hawthorne,” Malcolm Cowley, ed.; “The American Claimant,” Mark Twain; “Girl in a Band,” Kim Gordon; “Llana of Gathol (John Carter #10),” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “Funny Girl,” Nick Hornby; “Historic Mission Inn,” Barbara Moore, ed.; “Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever,” Ellen Weil and Gary K. Wolfe, editors; “Inter State,” Jose Vadi
And that’s a wrap on 2021, as December has come and gone. Let’s memorialize it via my December reading — and yours.
“Portable Hawthorne” (1968): I went into this collection admiring Hawthorne, and by the end, after selected journal entries and letters, ranging from observational to heartfelt to self-deprecating, I became a real fan. Usually that stuff seems like padding, but here they really expand our image of him. The germs for potential stories from his notebooks, each a sentence or two, include the one that led to “The Scarlet Letter.” On such a slender thread was literary history made.
“American Claimant” (1892): Banged out in 71 days, this late novel is a satire on aristocracy vs. democracy, but unfortunately it’s got multiple themes and tones, none well developed, and the result is nearly incoherent. Of course this has its moments — it’s by Twain, after all — and there’s his famous admonition to readers that no weather would be found in the book. But there’s a reason this book is scarcely available in print.
“Girl in a Band” (2015): Some of the reviews on Goodreads of this memoir by the Sonic Youth singer and bass player are so petty and misogynistic. I was impressed how the guarded Gordon opened up to write about her mentally ill brother and other personal travails, revealing a vulnerable person behind her stoic persona. Besides rock, she had careers in the art and fashion worlds, crossing paths with now-familiar names, especially in NYC in the 1970s. She’s observant, candid and tough-minded. I like the book more than I like Sonic Youth.
“Mission Inn” (1998): A visual and textual tour, floor by floor, of the rococo Mission Inn hotel in Riverside. An informative, if dry, semi-official history.
“Funny Girl” (2014): A 1960s aspiring comic actress in the mold of Lucille Ball moves from the sticks to London and lands a starring role in a BBC series that becomes a sensation. A portrait not only of a good-hearted heroine but of Swinging London as the stodgy nation loosens up, told with Hornby’s characteristic humor and heart. That said, the last section, which jumps ahead 50 years to a reunion, kind of peters out.
“Llana of Gathol” (1948): ERB’s last completed Barsoom novel, this upholds the high standards of the series and, due to being serialized in four parts, the story rarely drags and just keeps building to peaks. Callbacks to many previous characters and encounters add to the fun. It’s as if ERB were taking a victory lap. Also, out of nowhere, John Carter makes a Babe Ruth joke and knocks it out of the park. Mars’ low gravity helps.
“Harlan Ellison” (2002): The 30-page biography at the start is useful, and the authors flesh it out from there with chapters on his writing for SF, men’s magazines and TV and with an exploration of themes in some of his better stories. His copious nonfiction is barely mentioned. A nice try at producing an overview and at taking him seriously, but the approach is a bit academic for a figure as outrageous as Ellison.
“Inter State” (2021): Raised in Pomona in Southern California, Vadi uprooted himself to relocate to Oakland in the Bay Area, two outsider cities perfect for an outsider like him, an aging skater and mixed-race thinker, unsure where he belongs other than that it’s got to be in California. He likes to lurk, to bear witness, whether it’s to skater spots, dive bars, SF’s tech transformation, Oakland’s gentrification or his farmworker grandfather’s journey, as he seeks to grasp “this disjointed mosaic of a state.”
That’s eight books for December, and 77 total for the year, if I counted correctly. Huzzah! Wouldn’t have believed it possible. Listening to 14 audiobooks this year (including the Gordon and Hornby books this month) made a big difference, and reading continued to be my go-to leisure activity, especially with movie theaters either off-limits or inadvisable for much of the year.
Hawthorne was the clear winner this month, with Gordon, Burroughs and Vadi jostling for runner-up status.
Here’s how these books got into my hot little hands. Ellison, Twain and Burroughs date to 2011, when they were bought at St. Louis’ late Patten’s Books, LA’s late Sam Johnson’s Bookshop and LA’s very much alive Last Bookstore, respectively. In 2015, I got Gordon at a Live Talks event in Santa Monica, signed, and Hornby at a Vroman’s event in Pasadena, also signed. (Gordon signed mine at a distance, silently; Hornby and I had a friendly chat across the table.) Hawthorne came from North Hollywood’s Iliad Bookshop in 2018 for a mere $2. In recent weeks, Mission Inn was bought at the Local History Book Fair in Riverside and Vadi at Vroman’s in Pasadena.
Books ranging across 11 years of purchases, all packed into one month — whew.
How was your month of reading? Don’t be shy, or at least hide your shyness behind a friendly comment.
Within days I’ll post my annual numbered list of all my 2021 books. If you keep up with these posts, you will have seen them all, but it’s always nice to put them all in one place and see what they add up to.
Next month: I’m playing it by ear.
I felt like I ought to write about Joan Didion, and did so in Sunday’s column. If you haven’t read her great but somewhat insulting essay “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” you should.