‘Rain Man’ inspiration dies

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Kim Peek, 58, a savant who inspired the title character in the Oscar-winning movie “Rain Man,” died Dec. 19 of a heart attack. Screenwriter Barry Morrow is pictured at left with Peek. (Unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character, who repetitively talked about his “excellent driving skills,” Peek had limited motor skills.)

My understanding is that Morrow lived in Claremont when he wrote the screenplay. I don’t know if he’s still around town or not.

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A wish for 2010

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This sign is in the window of Tattle Tails, a children’s clothing store on Yale Avenue in Claremont that closed at the end of December after 15 years. The owners obviously kept a stiff upper lip.

The owners seem to be planning on a rebirth. The sign on the store’s door reads: “Join us! for the grand re-opening February 2012.”

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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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