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.