Reading log: December 2009

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Books bought this month: none.

Books read this month: “Usher,” B.H. Fairchild; “The Bradbury Chronicles: Stories in Honor of Ray Bradbury,” William F. Nolan and Martin H. Greenberg, eds.; “The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury,” Sam Weller.

Three books read this month was my lowest monthly total yet, but why not, as I handily surpassed my 2009 reading goal of “30, 40 or even 50″ books and coasted to a nice finish. Grand total: 58.

I’ll have more to say about this in my column in a few days — try to control your mounting excitement — so here I’ll focus on December.

“Usher” was my fourth poetry collection this year by Fairchild and was published in 2009 to acclaim. Any book with an Edward Hopper painting as its jacket is off to an excellent start as far as I’m concerned. Whether writing about a movie usher, an armless and legless sideshow freak or a panicked and procrastinating student studying for a final exam, Fairchild’s poems are good stuff.

(I’ve interviewed him for a column that ought to appear in the next week or two.)

The two Bradbury-related books were saved to read the same month solely to capitalize on the oddity of their both having the same title, if different subtitles. Yes, even reading plans can have their own in-jokes. We must motivate ourselves however we can.

The Nolan-edited collection was published in 1991 as a 50th anniversary tribute, with various writers supplying stories inspired by his. At various points I would stop, remind myself this wasn’t part of the canon and wonder why I was reading it. As with any anthology, the results are uneven, but in the end, I actively enjoyed one-third of the stories and most of the rest were at least okay.

The biography, the first and only, was published in 2005 and written with Bradbury’s cooperation and with full access to his files. Bradbury has had an interesting life, and I especially enjoyed the tales of his poverty-stricken beginnings as a writer. At his wedding, he tried slipping the minister a few bucks as payment, at a point when he had only $20 in the bank. The minister returned the envelope, saying, “You’re a writer, aren’t you? You need this more than I do.”

I did read more than these three books. Closing in on finishing my long march through my unread Bradbury, I cherrypicked the otherwise-uncollected stories from two 100-story anthologies, “The Stories of Ray Bradbury” (1980) and “Bradbury Stories” (2003), adding up to another 200 pages. But those books don’t “count,” since even though I’ve read the other 170 or so stories, in some cases it’s been 30 years, and I’d rather reread them in the original collections at some point.

In other words, having read three books I felt like reading and feeling no need to run up the score, I used the remaining days of December to mop up.

Besides the 58 books I read this year, I also read 36 cartoon-related books: a few graphic novels, some comic book reprints in paperback or hardback, and numerous reprint books of vintage comic strips. I certainly could count all those in my total. An oversized page of, say, three Little Orphan Annie strips of 1931 probably has as many words as most novels, and those collections were over 300 pages each. Technically, then, I read 94 books.

But my goal for this year involved reading more prose, and that I did. Fifty-eight books, up from 24 in 2008. Hats off to Larry, as Del Shannon once sang, and hats off to me too.

As for 2010, I’m going to keep reading.

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  • Doug Evans

    Dave! Enjoyed the book update as always. Here’s a question and a comment for you:

    Question: If you start a book in 2009 and finish in 2010, where does that fall on your count? I mean, it’s gotta be 2010, but does that feel like cheating since you were already into the book when the year started?

    Comment: I think you mentioned in an earlier blog that among the collected comic strips you’re buying are the Popeye strips. I got volume 4 for Christmas (having already received 1-3) and I’m having fun reading “Plunder Island” to my six-year-old daughter, a couple of pages at a time for bedtime reading. She seems to be enjoying the whole thing but I think she’s getting a particular kick out of Wimpy. “You bring the ducks!”

    Happy New Year to you! Here’s to 58+ more books in 2010…

    [Ah, the Plunder Island sequence, a masterpiece of suspense, but one that finds time for Wimpy's frequent fake invitation to enemy and friend alike: "I'll have to have you up to the house sometime for a duck dinner. You bring the ducks." Nice to know the younger set finds that funny 75 years after publication. As for books that straddle the years, there is mild guilt, but I can live with it. I wouldn't leave one page for another year or anything, but I did read 2/3 of a Melville book at the end of 2008 to avoid getting mired in another "Moby-Dick" situation where one book consumed the first 2 1/2 months of the year. No such dilemma arose this time because I didn't get more than a few pages into anything before New Year's. -- DA]

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

    Echoing Doug, kudos on your accomplishment & thanks for another update — the monthly DA “book report” is always an enjoyable stop on my lap ’round the Internets …

    Prompted by the great photos that have accompanied your monthly reading roundup of late, here’s a question for you (and the esteemed Mr. Evans, should he meander through these parts again):

    What are your thoughts/experiences with digital readers (i.e., Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook & even iPhone)?

    As a habitual late adapter of technology (didn’t get an iPod — a device that I looooove, by the way — ’til 2008), I’m a long way from making a purchase. But I’m definitely intrigued.

    I’m most attracted by the ease of purchase, ability to carry & access multiple titles, & what look to be eye-friendly interfaces. I’m also enamored by the promise/potential that digital readers may hold for the future of newspapers & magazines.

    Not so thrilled about current pricing, digital rights management issues & of course loss of tactile experience of readin’ “real” books, mags, papers.

    As much as I enjoy flipping through the album racks at Rhino, digital music has significantly enhanced my listening & collecting experience, & I can only assume that making what feels like the inevitable leap to digital reading will do the same.

    So, as I asked a few paragraphs ago — whaddaya think ’bout all this, DA (& DE)?

    ['m imagining my blog with a photo each month of a Kindle lying on the floor! Hugh, I'm a late adopter too, or even a non-adopter, and haven't held a Kindle, etc., yet, so I can't speak to the ease of reading. (A New Yorker piece put the Sony Reader and iPhone above the Kindle.) I don't find the idea of a digital reader abhorrent, it's somewhat intriguing, but as a cheapskate the price is a concern, my shelves are groaning with unread books and it appears the e-reader technology is evolving, so I'm in no rush. I think they're here to stay, though, not a fad. The tablet concept for magazines and newspapers holds potential. You're up, Doug. -- DA]

  • Mary Kent

    I’m not Doug, but can I comment? I’m just as frugal as you guys are and not the least desirous to have the newest gadget on the block. However, I am a reader and read somewhere between 2 to 3 books a month. The Kindle intrigued me because I could have much of my library in one slim device and could conveniently take it anywhere. I did pay top dollar seven months ago ($359 then, now $259…sigh) but my daughter and I have used it heavily, never paying more than $9.99 per book. They say the payoff for owning a Kindle is about 2 years because of the savings on purchasing electronic books. Not so! It will take me years longer because we are reading & buying more books but is that really so bad?

    The newest device reader is the Nook by Barnes & Noble ($259), which has 1 million e-books available compared to the 400,000 available on Kindle and 200,000 on Sony ($299). The Nook & Sony also have the capability to download books from local libraries, which is a clear edge over the Kindle. You’ll need your computer to download books for the Sony Reader, though. They are working on a model with wireless downloading that should be in the market soon. Given all that I think the best e-reader for your money is the Nook.

    I don’t regret my high-price purchase because I use it everyday and take it everywhere I go. I’m always waiting for my daughter to get off from school, track practice, music lessons, doctor’s visits and it’s nice just to pull it out and have something to read while waiting.

    Do I miss the feel and read of a book? Yes! And every so often when Kindle doesn’t have a book I want to read (recently “English Patient”), I just go to the library and pick it up for a nice change of pace.

    Happy reading!

    [To answer your first question: No. Just kidding. Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed response, Mary. You make a good case for e-readers in general. Your recommendation regarding a particular brand is obviously unbiased too since it's for a device other than your own. Your turn, Doug. Or whoever else wants to chime in. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    I’m in a geeky conversation about books, and I’m being asked for my input! Hey, junior-high-school-age Doug of twenty-nine years ago: Hang in there. You will find your people.

    I actually don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said above… but that’s never stopped me before, so here I go. Like Dave, I have whole shelves of unread books I have to get to, and like everyone who’s commented, I love the look and feel of books, so I don’t see myself ever giving up the paper kind (and hopefully they won’t ever go away). But! Having said all of that, I’d love to have a hand-held book device.. I think about that when I’m at the car wash, eating by myself in a restaurant, waiting for my daughter at the bus stop, sitting in a doctor’s office, whatever. Books aren’t always convenient to carry around in those situations. Well, actually, in those situations they are, but that kind of steps on my point. You know what I mean. What I’d love most of all, I think, is the Living in the Future idea. At last, like those guys on Star Trek, I’d have whole libraries in the palm of my hand. Alas, it’s the money factor that’s stopping me… an indulgence I just can’t justify at this point.

    One of the members in the book club I’m in has a Kindle. When we’re sitting at the table picking the next book, he picks up his Kindle and has the book downloaded by the time we, er, put down our spoons? Wipe our faces with our napkins? It’s visual images like those that maybe explain why I don’t have a column in the paper. But the point is, there’s no reason in the world why I would need to do something like that, but boy would I love to be able to. (The closest I get now is placing holds on library books from my home computer and having them shipped to my local branch… which is still pretty cool, and free, figuring in the taxes I’m paying anyway, so I’ll take it.)

    Another note: Slate ran a review of book readers a while back, and the conclusion was: wait a year or so for the next generation because they’ll be cooler than the ones we have now. I’m doing that by necessity, but my thought is that that’s true for everything. If you’re always waiting a year for the next cool item to come along, you’ll always be waiting. My friend, and Mary above, are using and enjoying their Kindles now, and good on them for doing so. Though per Mary’s recommendation I’d probably go with the Nook. Those are snazzy-looking machines. (And now I can’t find the link on Slate so maybe I dreamed the whole thing.)

    Two more points: It’s 2010, so I need to accept that junior high was actually thirty years ago.

    And: Congrats again, Hugh, on your wedding last month!

    Whoo-hoo! Funnest comment thread ever. :-)

    [Wheee! OK, everyone, put down your spoons. Seriously, that was a great comment, Doug, not that I would expect anything less. And you're right about the next generation of everything being better and cooler. Next year's e-readers will almost certainly be better. Meanwhile, people who bought a Kindle two years ago will have had three years of enjoyment... DA]