Books bought this month: “The Art of the Lathe,” B.H. Fairchild; “Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest,” B.H. Fairchild; “Usher,” B.H. Fairchild.
Books read this month: “The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories,” ed. Ray Bradbury; “The Art of the Lathe,” B.H. Fairchild; “Richard II,” William Shakespeare; “Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow,” ed. Ray Bradbury; “Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest,” B.H. Fairchild.
2009 is winding down and so is my year of reading. Yet in November I raged, raged against the dying of the light by galloping through five more books. Why, you’d think it was March or something.
This month saw me read two collections by Claremont poet B.H. Fairchild, two fantasy anthologies from the 1950s edited by my boy Ray Bradbury and, just to mix it up, a play by William Shakespeare.
The Fairchild books were fine stuff, and acclaimed: “Art of the Lathe” (1998) was a National Book Award finalist, “Early Occult Memory Systems” (2003) a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. The working class, oil fields, the desolation of the small-town Midwest, memory, baseball, jazz, old movies and art are among his subjects. Anyone who can base a good poem on “Creature From the Black Lagoon” should earn our admiration.
The Bradbury-chosen anthologies (featuring only one Bradbury story between the two of them) were intriguing, full of surprising choices. Authors such as John Cheever, John Steinbeck, E.B. White, Christopher Isherwood and others who aren’t fantasy writers managed to have written something with a fantastic element, and that was good enough. Bradbury was obviously trying to legitimize his chosen field. Many of these stories originally appeared in the New Yorker.
Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery,” is represented in each book, with stories that make me want to read more by her. Ditto with Robert M. Coates, whom I’d never heard of before. His story “The Hour After Westerly,” in “Timeless,” is about a New England commuter who loses an hour on a drive home through the country and remembers none of it; he later retraces his possible route and finds hints he made quite an impression. The whole thing is tantalizingly elusive.
The “Dr. Lao” book is long out of print, although I found up a copy a few months back for $3. The “Timeless” book is out of print too, but less far, and ’70s editions can still be found at used bookstores.
As for Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” a production of that was performed recently at Pomona College and I thought I’d reread the play, for the first time since college, before seeing it. It’s one of his history plays and, while not his A material, even his B material is nothing to sneeze at.
(I wrestled with whether to count it as a book since technically I read it from an 1,800-page, closely spaced “Riverside Shakespeare” textbook of the Bard’s complete works. But one can buy any of Shakespeare’s plays separately, it took me six hours over a week to read it and I’ve read books this year that didn’t take me that long. So I counted it.)
This brings me to 55 books for the year. I’ve already finished a 56th and am expecting to end the year at 58. No point in running up the score.