Reading log: August 2009

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Books bought this month: “The Call of the Wild,” Jack London; “A Canticle for Liebowitz,” Walter M. Miller Jr.; “One Fearful Yellow Eye,” John D. MacDonald; “The Prisoner of Zenda,” Anthony Hope; “Kidnapped,” Robert Louis Stevenson; “Mind Fields,” Jack Yerka and Harlan Ellison; “Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto,” Anneli Rufus.

Books read this month: “Ray Bradbury,” Wayne Johnson; “Robinson Crusoe,” Daniel Defoe; “The Call of the Wild,” Jack London; “Ray Bradbury (Writers of the 21st Century),” Joseph Olander and Martin Greenberg, eds.

First, how do you like the photo? Pictured are my four books from August, arrayed on my living room floor. I’ve gone back and added photos to the seven previous Reading Log entries, which you can find, if so inclined, in the “Books” category. Thought these entries could use some spicing up.

As you can see, it was another four-book month on the reading front, and another month in which I bought more books than I read. Travel (that involves visiting cities with bookstores) will do that. Look for a similar situation in September.

As for what I read, this month’s books represent more evidence that I’m on an esoteric path, one not to be emulated. Really, two out of four completed books are studies of Ray Bradbury’s fiction? And I’m afraid next month’s choices are going to seem even more arcane. Well, I’m reading what I’m reading, not picking books with an eye toward public consumption.

I won’t belabor the Bradbury books: I found them in 1994 at a science fiction bookstore in Berkeley days before moving away from the Bay Area, knowing they might not be of great interest but also knowing if I didn’t buy them, I might never see them again. Fifteen years later, having not seen them again in a store, I read them.

The study by Johnson is worth tracking down if you’re deeply into RB: It explores his themes and preoccupations with clarity. The other book is turgid and academic. All I could do was skim it. The bibliography at the back is useful, however.

“Crusoe,” bought a couple of years back, will be the subject of an upcoming column. Suffice it to say here that while not easy reading, it repays attention.

“The Call of the Wild” is that rare book that I read the same month that I bought it. I got it because it’s the Big Read choice in Pomona this fall. It’s told from the point of view of a dog kidnapped from his Monterey-area life of luxury and taken to the Yukon to work as a sled dog.

I was expecting, and dreading, to read the dog’s “thoughts,” but it’s nothing like that. Buck observes life around him in a way that seems more instinctual than anything else. He becomes more real than any of the humans in the book. As E.L. Doctorow says in the introduction to the Modern Library edition I read, “Call” is a coming-of-age book involving a dog, who over the course of the book sheds rather than gains civilization. But it’s not written in an ironic way; it’s just a good adventure story.

It’s probably the book more of you have read than anything else I’ve listed here this year (it was my 38th book of 2009, btw). Hadn’t I read it in school? It’s possible — it seemed vaguely familiar, and yet I had no recollection of having been assigned it. Well, whatever, I liked it this time.

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  • Doug Evans

    I’ve said it before, but these blog entries are among my favorites… maybe because I get to read vicariously through you? And the pictures are a nice touch!

    Both Call of the Wild and Robinson Crusoe are on my classics-I’ve-never-read-and-won’t-feel-fully-well-read-until-I-do list (and me an English Lit. grad!). I’ve got way too many books I’ve picked up over the years piled all over the house, and I guess my thought is, once I get those read, I’ll catch up on the classics. But like you, I just keep adding to the pile. So good on you for crossing two off the list! All right, my list, but still, it’s good.

    Quoting you: “I’m reading what I’m reading, not picking books with an eye toward public consumption.” Exactly as it should be! The randomness… maybe I mean subjectiveness… is what makes it fun.

    [Glad to hear it, Doug. Certainly my choices aren't calculated in the sense of trying to impress anyone. But I have had a plan, which is to plow through the last two decades of Bradbury's career, plus assorted ephemera from previous decades. You'll see even more of that in September. Once that's accomplished, I hope next year to vary my selections more. -- DA]

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

    … another month in which I bought more books than I read …

    Reading a few good books, & buying a few more — sounds like a good month to me :-)

    I’m going to join Doug in the “English Lit Majors Hall of Shame” by admitting that I, too, have failed to spend an appropriate amount of time marooned with Mr. Crusoe. I think “Call of the Wild” was one of the assigned books in high school that I actually did read, & I agree with your observations re: the four-legged protagonist & the skill with which his experiences & transformation are portrayed by Jack London.

    And because I can only assume that Internet-izens across the globe can’t bear the thought of another sleepless night spent wondering what McBride’s perusing these days, here’s my list (sorry, no photos):

    * Currently reading: I’m about halfway through “The Sportswriter” by Richard Ford.

    * On deck: Just received a wonderful three-book delivery from Amazon — Ted Kennedy’s memoir, “True Compass”; Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon adventure, “The Lost Symbol”; and Joe Posnanski’s look at the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, “The Machine.”

    [I'm happy to receive your list of what you're reading and what's on deck, and that goes for anyone out there. -- DA]

  • RK

    DA,

    For your September reading list, don’t forget to find your copy of Bless Me Ultima! (If you can’t find it, I have a few (dozen) copies you could borrow).

    And if you still remember how the book ends, maybe you could tell me. Unlike To Kill a Mockingbird or The Maltese Falcon, there isn’t a movie of Ultima that I am aware of, so I am actually going to have to read this one… JK! :]

    Anyway, hope to see you around the Rancho Cucamonga Libraries during the Big Read. The kickoff is tonight and in a couple of weeks, Edward James Olmos will be stopping by.

    RK

    [If Olmos can stop by, surely I can. I read "Ultima" two years ago when Pomona picked it for its Big Read and still have my copy -- which I'll have to crack, since I have indeed forgotten how it ends. -- DA]

  • april lemesh

    David,

    Enjoy your column and your blog and I do check often the books you have read each month.

    Just a quick comment. Remember a few weeks ago when everyone in the country wanted to know what the President’s book list was for his vacation? No one asked about Michelle Obama’s book list. What’s with that? Was everyone thinking she would be too busy with the children to read?

    What do you think?

    [Well, he's a greater figure of fascination; he's the Leader of the Free World, whereas she's "only" Mrs. Leader of the Free World. Sure, though, I'd be curious to know what she's reading and others (women, especially) would be curious too. Besides, whatever she's reading, or interested in (such as gardening), has some influence on his thinking, right? -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Well, y’all asked…

    Currently reading: Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens… along with two or three other much shorter books. I’m choosing Little Dorrit to share because back in 1998, when I was 30, I made a deal with myself that I would read one Charles Dickens book a year until I’d gone through them all, which I calculated would take 15 years, until I reach 45. Eleven years later, I’m proud to say I’m still at it. Some books are better than others… it’s taken me a while to get into Little Dorrit, but I’m really enjoying it now. Long book, though! Next up: Tale of Two Cities.

    I don’t often get to share about my Dickens project… thanks for the opportunity! :-)

    Dave, give congrats to Hugh up there on his upcoming nuptials… in just over two months he’s marrying a friend my wife and I have known for 17 years. If you ever have the opportunity to spend an evening drinking wine and chatting with Hugh and his bride-to-be, take them up on it. They’re getting married on our anniversary, too, which they say is coincidence, but c’mon… 364 other days in the year and they pick our wedding date. We know better.

    [Hugh, up there above us, congratulations. (Suddenly I feel like we're on Hollywood Squares.) Doug, your Annual Dickens Project is just the sort of ambitious, systematic, oddball long-term project I can get behind. Someday I'd like to tackle Dickens myself. In college I read Great Expectations and liked it but haven't ventured beyond that. -- DA]