Reading log: February 2009

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Books bought this month: “The Loved One,” Evelyn Waugh; “Lies, Inc.,” Philip K. Dick; “The Best of S.J. Perelman.”

Books read this month: “Slan,” A.E. van Vogt; “Slippage,” Harlan Ellison; “A Graveyard for Lunatics,” Ray Bradbury; “Nightmare in Pink,” John D. MacDonald.

As in January, I finished four books, and in a short month too. Also, based on buying three books and reading four, I should catch up on my backlog in about, oh, 400 months.

The books I bought, btw, were from Second Story Books’ closeout sale. Don’t know when I’ll get to them, but I’m glad to have them. What put the Perelman book over the top: Its intro is by (ahem) Sidney Namlerep.

“Slan” is a classic sci-fi novel about telepaths known as slans who are outsiders from society, hated and feared. “Fans are slans” was a longtime rueful saying among the outsiders in SF fandom. Van Vogt’s writing (and it’s pronounced “van Vote”; thank you, Dwain Kaiser) is propulsive, but kind of clunky. This one, while diverting, didn’t quite live up to its rep.

“Slippage” is a collection of stories by Ellison, a much-lauded fantasist, published in ’97, and is his most recent work. I went through an Ellison phase in high school, then moved on, although I’ve continued to add his books to my shelves — they’re usually out of print and notoriously hard to find, meaning you have to horde them. “Slippage” has a few clunkers, but mostly it’s a very fine book, with many tones and voices.

“Graveyard” is the second in Bradbury’s trilogy of loosely autobiographical novels about old L.A., this one about a Hollywood studio circa 1954, a dark secret, a cemetery and stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Trifling but enjoyable.

(I then went back and skimmed the first book, “Death is a Lonely Business,” about a series of deaths and disappearances in Venice, Calif., circa 1940, which I’d initially considered plotless and purple-prosed. After the even looser “Graveyard,” “Death” came to seem foggily atmospheric and even a bit grand.)

Finally, MacDonald’s second Travis McGee mystery. McGee leaves his Ft. Lauderdale houseboat for NYC to pay a debt to an old army pal whose daughter’s fiance died in a mugging. Or was it a mugging?

I have the feeling the 21 McGee books are going to blur together like James Bond movies, all of them enjoyable, none of the plots especially memorable. But the writing is fine stuff. A favorite passage comes as McGee muses to himself after a fruitful chat with a banker:

“…I suspected that he was annoyed with himself for talking perhaps too much and too freely. There is only one way to make people talk more than they care to. Listen. Listen with hungry earnest attention to every word. In the intensity of your attention, make little nods of agreement, little sounds of approval. You can’t fake it. You have to really listen. In a posture of gratitude. And it is such a rare and startling experience for them, such a boon to ego, such a gratification of self, to find a genuine listener, that they want to prolong the experience. And the only way to do that is to keep talking. A good listener is far more rare than an adequate lover.”

Being a good listener is half the trick of being a good reporter. If I ever learn the other half, you’ll be the first to know.

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  • Ramona

    John D. MacDonald, Travis McGee, “color”ful mysteries. I’d forgotten about the series. I read them some time back interspersed with other mystery/crime writers. Thanks for reminding me.

    Glad to see someone else is reading and using real books instead of a Kindle or the internet. To me, there’s nothing quite so soothing as sitting down to lunch with a paperback in one hand and a panini in the other.

    Carry on.

  • Doug from Chino Hills

    What I like about the John D. MacDonald books is that they’re enjoyed also by my dad and grandpa (still going fairly strong at 88, though he’s taken to reading the same books over and over, which serves kind of like comfort food, I think). So I can read them and share the experience with two other generations. And, I guess, with David Allen, should I ever meet up with him and get to talking about books. (To clarify, Dave: you’re much closer to my generation than dad’s or grandpa’s.)

    [Whew. — DA]

  • Dwain Kaiser

    Personally my favorite “novel” by A.E. Van Vogt would be The Voyage of the Space Beagle (short stories made into a novel). I enjoyed the two Null-A novels also, but, I’ll admit that they do tend to be a bit confusing at times. The weapon shop novels were also a lot of fun (The Weapon Shops of Isher, then The Weapon Makers… I seem to remember a couple of versions of the first out there).

    Dwain Kaiser
    Magic Door – Quality Used Books
    In the Heart of the Art Colony

  • RichP

    The John D. MacDonald novels need to be spread out over the years. While each is an entertaining few hours, the same Travis McGee philosophy palls after a while. Carl Hiaasen is a worthy successor, quite tongue in cheek although sometimes very gory, but with the same attitude about the loss of natural Florida to development.

    Ross MacDonald was an excellent successor to Raymond Chandler for SoCal noir mysteries. Ross Thomas wrote a fine set of politically oriented stories, based out of DC but set all over the US plus the rest of the world.

    [I’m in no hurry on the McGees for just the reason you state. I let five months go by between “The Deep Blue Goodbye” and “Nightmare in Pink,” and that felt about right. Of Chandler, I’ve read only “The Big Sleep” (twice) but intend to go back for the rest sometime. Ross MacDonald also bears investigation. — DA]