Books bought this month: “Pulp Culture,” Frank M. Robinson and Lawrence Davidson; “The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories,” ed. Ray Bradbury.
Books read this month: “Farewell Summer,” Ray Bradbury; “From the Dust Returned,” Ray Bradbury; “Collected Shorter Plays,” Samuel Beckett; “Vanishing America,” Michael Eastman; “Metropolitan Diary,” ed. Ron Alexander; “Near-Life Experiences,” Jon Carroll; “A Purple Place for Dying,” John D. MacDonald.
Halfway through 2009, I’ve read 31 books, including seven this month. Also note that this month I limited my purchases to two. Progress on two fronts! (I own an embarrassing number of unread books.)
Bradbury, “Farewell Summer” (bought in 2007): In May I reread “Dandelion Wine” for the first time in 30 years. This month I followed up with the 2006 sequel, which is slimmer but has more plot. Supposedly at least part of the book comprised leftovers from 1957′s “Dandelion,” but with its preoccupation with the elderly and the passage of time, “Farewell Summer” reads more like a product of the octogenarian Bradbury. A lot of people found it a letdown, but I think they were romanticizing the original. And I thought the sequel’s “controversial” ending audacious and funny.
Bradbury, “From the Dust Returned” (bought 2002): Continuing my march through Bradbury’s latter-day output, I turned to 2001′s “From the Dust Returned.” Like his pseudo-novels of the ’50s (and “Dust” has been in the works that long), this is really a story collection with interstitial elements. Delicate, lyrical and mysterious, and largely successful.
Beckett (bought at the college bookstore circa 1986): I liked “Waiting for Godot” and then bought this book, which compiles 29 short plays. (Now how much would you pay?) And then didn’t read it for more than 20 years. It still has the Illini Union Bookstore sticker on the back. “All That Fall,” “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “The Old Tune” are particularly good. Some of the rest might be improved by seeing them live. Some, which consist almost entirely of diagrams and stage and lighting directions, barely exist on the page at all. Now that’s minimalism.
Eastman (bought in April): This photography book features still lifes, without people, of charming and/or decrepit storefronts from around America, especially the photographer’s native St. Louis. You’ll know from that description whether that appeals to you. I liked it. Not high art, but not gimmicky — just a sober meditation on America, commerce and transience.
Carroll (bought in 2007 at Book Baron’s closeout sale): This is a collection of Carroll’s 100 (alleged) best feature columns from his first decade (’83-’92) at the SF Chronicle. A cat lover, gardener and father, Carroll’s perspective isn’t for everyone, but most of these hit the mark for me. Disarmingly funny and disarmingly touching. My favorite: “Cold Hands, Warm Heart,” p. 77, in which he wistfully recalls walking through the snow with his young daughter.
MacDonald (bought in 2008 at Babbling Books in Ontario): This is the third in the Travis McGee mystery series and another solid entry. A two-page musing about college and go-getter students includes this gem of a sentence: “They were being structured to life on the run, and by the time they would become what is now known as senior citizens, they could fit nicely into planned communities where recreation is scheduled on such a tight and competitive basis that they could continue to run, plan, organize, until, falling at last into silence, the grief-therapist would gather them in, rosy their cheeks, close the box and lower them to the only rest they had ever known.”
Alexander (bought in May at Strand Books in NYC): NYC as small town? This book, like the NYT column it’s drawn from, presents gentle vignettes, often laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes wistful, of real-life chance encounters and overheard comments. For some reason I like the column better than this best-of, but it was still a welcome tonic, best taken in small doses.
What will the second half of 2009 bring? I dunno, but I’ve gotta stop reading so much. Writing all these capsules is exhausting.