Books bought this month: “Keaton,” Tom Dardis; “The Short Novels of John Steinbeck”; “The First Men in the Moon,” H.G. Wells; “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Robert Louis Stevenson; “Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure,” Richard A. Lupoff; “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey,” Homer; “Local Knowledge,” B.H. Fairchild.
Books read this month: “Carson of Venus,” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “One for the Road,” Ray Bradbury; “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and Other Plays,” Ray Bradbury; “Ray Bradbury, An Illustrated Life,” Jerry Weist; “Yestermorrow,” Ray Bradbury; “Escape on Venus,” Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I said last month that this month’s reading list would be even more arcane and I wasn’t kidding. Six books read, two by Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan) and four by or about Ray Bradbury. Feel free to stop reading this entry immediately.
As I may have mentioned before, I’ve been plowing through everything by Bradbury published since 1989, as well as assorted ephemera from previous years that had escaped my notice. Loved him as a boy, gave up reading him (but kept buying him) as an adult. In the past year I’ve gone through about 20 (!) books, with another 10 (groan) left. Can’t finish ‘em all in 2009, but I hope to finish another five.
Such is the price of fandom. Catching up on his output feels like something I should do in honor of his impact on my childhood, as well as because he’s the writer I’m most likely to identify as my “favorite.” He’s 89 and can’t have a lot of years left, and I would like to be able to say, if only to myself, that I’ve read all his work rather than that I gave up on him two decades ago.
This month I read a 2002 collection of stories (just okay), a 1975 collection of three plays (good), a 1991 collection of essays (good) and a 2002 coffee table book of photos, book jackets, paintings, drawings, etc., from his career (diverting, if you’re a fan). In other words, I can’t honestly recommend any of them. That said, some of the essays, the ones about urban planning (especially in L.A.) and what makes a compelling, walkable shopping district — a public plaza, lots of chairs, late hours, certain types of shops — were pretty interesting. Did you know he helped conceptualize Horton Plaza in San Diego?
The two Burroughs novels were numbers 3 and 4 in his five-book Venus series, the one starring Carson Napier, the pride of Pomona College. The plots wear a bit thin by the fourth book, in which Carson and his mate, Duare, keep blundering into new hostile tribes (three or four of ‘em), are enslaved and separated but manage by coincidence and million-to-one chances to reunite. Still, the stories are breezy and ERB’s dry humor comes to the rescue again and again.
A favorite passage from “Carson,” when our hero approaches a palace door and a sentry gives him attitude: “I guess putting a man in front of a door anywhere in the universe must do something to him. The tremendous responsibility implicit in such a cosmic assignment seems to remove all responsibility for good manners. I have seldom known it to fail. When it does, they must immediately transfer the man to some other form of activity.”
Next month: more Bradbury, more Burroughs, and at least one curveball.