Books bought this month: “The Pleasure of My Company,” Steve Martin; “Maps and Legends,” Michael Chabon; “City Lights,” Dan Barry; “The World of Jimmy Breslin,” Jimmy Breslin; “Metropolitan Diary,” Ron Alexander; “Have Space Suit, Will Travel,” Robert Heinlein; “The Rolling Stones,” Robert Heinlein; “In Defense of Food,” Michael Pollan.
Books read this month: “Here Is New York,” E.B. White; “Between You and I,” James Cochrane; “Concrete Island,” J.G. Ballard; “The Soloist,” Steve Lopez; “Driving Blind,” Ray Bradbury; “The Subway Chronicles,” ed. Jacquelin Cangro; “Dandelion Wine,” Ray Bradbury.
Seven books read in May? Not bad. Although the first two were quite slim.
“Here is New York” (received as a birthday gift in March): A slim essay on the Manhattan of 1948, masterfully written, closing on a powerful premonition of a 9/11-type event but mostly looking back wistfully on a swiftly fading era of city life. A favorite line, from the 1949, one-year-later foreword: “The Lafayette Hotel, mentioned in passing, has passed despite the mention.”
“Between You and I” (bought in April off the sale table at a B&N in Chino Hills): I considered adding a spoiler alert for those who don’t want advance word on the difference between discreet and discrete (“tactful” and “individual,” respectively). Cochrane is as mystified as me as to why people write “could of” for “could have.” Not all the Brit’s choices travel across the pond, but for a grammar book, it’s fun
“Concrete Island” (purchased at Powell’s Books in Portland in 2007): A mention somewhere of the hilarious premise prompted me to hunt this down. It’s a Crusoe-like tale of an architect in 1970s London whose car goes off an overpass, marooning him on an “island” below the freeways. A gem.
“The Soloist” (received as a birthday gift in March): Even if, like me, you read all the LA Times columns this is based on, the book fleshes out the story. More nuanced than the movie. Gasp, Lopez isn’t an emotional cripple with his ex-wife as his editor!
“Driving Blind” (bought several years ago): Late-period Bradbury has its ups and downs. And I’m never sure if it’s him or me. This collection of 21 stories, if not classic, was at least consistent, varied and surprising (although the first two stories were clunkers). Standouts: “House Divided,” “Fee Fie Foe Fum,” “Nothing Changes,” “Someone in the Rain,” “Madame et Monsieur Shill,” “Virgin Resusitas” and “Mr. Pale.”
“Subway Chronicles” (loaned by a friend): The shortage of “name” writers may put some off, but this is a neat little collection of essays, best experienced in short bursts, of NYC subway encounters and transit ruminations. A favorite: Leigh Stolle’s “Transfer,” in which a subway mishap involving her Kansas parents opens a window into their lives.
“Dandelion Wine” (owned since the ’70s): I read this Bantam paperback as a teenager but dug it out in preparation for reading the sequel. A warm, sun-dappled evocation of a small-town Illinois summer, 1928. The occasional fantastic elements (the Happiness Machine?) seem out of place. Mostly, though, this is about porch swings, trolleys, grandma’s cooking and new sneakers. In the top rank of Bradbury books. A minor thrill: Bradbury signed it for me in Pasadena in 2000.
You’ll have to wait until next month to hear about the sequel. Best I can do for a cliffhanger, folks.