Reading log: July 2009

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Books bought this month: “A Deadly Shade of Gold,” John D. MacDonald; “Just When You Thought It Was Safe: A Jaws Companion,” Patrick Jankiewicz.

Books read this month: “Now and Forever,” Ray Bradbury; “In Defense of Food,” Michael Pollan; “3 Times Infinity,” ed. Leo Margulies; “Dave Barry Does Japan,” Dave Barry.

Four books read in July brings me up to 35, although it was a tough month. I’ve been reading “Robinson Crusoe” off and on since June and I’m still not quite halfway in. I like it, but it was written in 1719, and it’s not an easy read.

I read the Bradbury book (bought in 2008) in one gulp on a day-trip by train to L.A. Published in 2007, it’s comprised of two novellas. First one is set in a creepily perfect small town without children. Promising, but to my mind the plot takes a couple of wrong turns. Second one is an SF version of “Moby Dick” in which a spaceship chases a comet. Better than it sounds.

Pollan’s book (bought in May, published in 2008) is subtitled “An Eater’s Manifesto.” Said manifesto is seven words long: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This respected journalist’s slender book, about the perils of the Western diet, argues quietly but persuasively that whole foods are best, nutrition science has made us less healthy, and supermarkets and fast food should be avoided. Easier said than done, but it’s food for thought. Pollan was in the documentary “Food Inc.,” a compressed version of the pro-organic, anti-industrial food argument.

The Margulies anthology (bought used in St. Louis a few years ago) collects three SF novellas from the ’40s and ’50s. I’ll list them in descending order of interest: “Destination Moon” by Robert Heinlein (the first men on the moon may not make it back), “The Golden Helix” by Theodore Sturgeon (a planet reverses evolution) and “Lorelei of the Red Mist” by Ray Bradbury and Leigh Brackett (a sword-and-sorcery thing on Mars). I bought it for the Bradbury story, which read nothing like Bradbury, so overall this was a disappointment.

Realizing that July was drawing to a close and I’d finished only three books, the least any month so far this year, I grabbed the Dave Barry book off the shelf. I bought it used earlier this decade, I think in St. Louis. It looked like a quick-ish read and it was; I read it in about a week, finishing on Friday the 31st. Whew.

Rather than a collection of Barry’s humor columns, this is one of his original books. He visited Japan for three weeks in ’91 and wrote an observant, funny, fish-out-of-water account of the experience. Japan at the time was viewed as a threat, but Barry doesn’t see things that way.

He talks about plastic food, tentacled food, Japan’s civility and politeness, its industriousness and also its conformity. He makes fun of America and its lousy service, rudeness and hostility but concludes that America is better at having fun (Japan would never produce a James Brown, he notes).

I like Barry’s work an awful lot, while admitting his distinctive voice sometimes becomes schtick. That’s the peril of the limited space of a newspaper column. Here, though, he can relax and stretch out. He can even be serious now and then if he wants. This might be his best book. And the chapter on Hiroshima will make you cry.

So, four books down this month. Join me in September for another Reading Log to learn if I can do that again. Also, to learn if I finished “Robinson Crusoe.”

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  • John Clifford

    Oooh, I hope you finish “Robinson Crusoe” so you’ll answer the age old question, “What Did Robinson Crusoe Do With Friday on a Saturday Night?” and I don’t have to read it to find out.

    Love your reading log.

    [Ha ha. And thank you. -- DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    Each year I have set a goal to read 30 books… over the two-month summer I get as a teacher. And I’ve only accomplished it once in the five years I’ve done that (but I have read at least 20 each time). With a shorter school year summer this time, I only reached the minimum of 20 in ’09, sadly.

    Props to you!

    [Twenty in two months or so sounds pretty good to me. -- DA]

  • http://www.hughcmcbride.com hugh.c.mcbride

    Impressive results thus far, DA — but yer gonna have to pick up the pace a bit if you ever hope to get into that Karl Rove/GWB book-readin’ competition :-)

    [If I were Leader of the Free World instead of a newspaper columnist, perhaps I'd have more time on my hands. -- DA]

  • Gary Mizumoto

    That’s certainly an eclectic list. Can I suggest one? “Pound for Pound,” a novel by F. X. Toole, the author of the short story “Million Dollar Baby.” It was published posthumously and is also a boxing story. It is one of the best non-noir L.A. novels I’ve read.

    [Thank you, Gary. -- DA]

  • JohnTee

    This is about a book, so I’ll drop it here:

    In “Thin Air,” by Robert B. Parker, an LAPD cop named Samuelson tells Spencer, “When the Sheriff’s department got her they sent her out to detox in Pomona.”

    This conversation appears in Chapter 17, on the second page in the edition I have.

    A grumble: I find no obvious way to communicate important stuff like this except by commenting on an article in your blog. Do you have an email address at the paper?

    [I do. It's in the fine print at the end of every column. Why it can't be added to the blog's home page as well is a mystery. -- DA]