Books bought this month: “Happy Days,” Samuel Beckett; “Three Coins in the Birdbath,” Jack Smith; “Baghdad by the Bay,” Herb Caen; “The Lottery and Other Stories,” Shirley Jackson.
Books read this month: “Waiting for Godot” and “Happy Days,” Samuel Beckett; “A Study in Scarlet,” A. Conan Doyle; “Baghdad by the Bay,” Herb Caen; “Three Coins in the Birdbath,” Jack Smith.
It’s a new year, but numerically the reading goal for 2010 remains the same: 50 books. Other than that, there’s no firm plan for the year, other than more literary fiction and a wider variety of books. Also, to make progress on my backlog, I hope to buy fewer books this year. Wish me luck on that score.
For January, my main goal was to avoid Ray Bradbury, a fixture of my 2009 reading logs; he was present in each of the 12 months. In that, I was successful, although I did sneak in a few stories. I also read three of the four books I bought in January. That was another strategy to get myself to slow my buying. They were all purchased at Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood, arguably the best secondhand bookstore left in the L.A. area.
I inched along my fiction shelf by rereading “Waiting for Godot” and buying and reading “Happy Days,” both by Samuel Beckett. “Godot” is existentialist vaudeville and essential reading for the literary minded. “Happy” is an absurdist parable about a woman who tries to find the best in her lot as her options narrow in a literal sense, buried up to her waist in sand at first and later up to her neck, her beloved husband virtually invisible and uncommunicative. A proto-feminist work (1961) and one of Beckett’s most touching plays.
“A Study in Scarlet” is the first Sherlock Holmes novel. I’ve been wanting to read/reread all the Holmes books — I read two-thirds of them in childhood — for years and the movie version, while it hasn’t enticed me into a theater, put the idea on the front burner. There’s an undeniable thrill in watching as Holmes and Watson meet and move into 221B Baker Street. We also learn in passing that Holmes is an excellent boxer, a fact the filmmakers ran with.
That said, a quarter of the book is a flashback to the establishment of the Mormon colony in Utah (!) and the pacing suffers as a result. It’s perhaps not the best book to start with.
My plan is to read a Holmes book every month or so — there are nine — so look for more Holmes as the year grinds on.
“Baghdad by the Bay” is a 1953 book by longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. Caen can’t have known every soul in San Francisco, but you can almost believe that he does, as well as every inch of its soil. This anecdotal account of his city is peopled by cops, judges, lawyers, hash slingers, bums, bartenders, tycoons, writers, doormen and dames, and his observant eye, lively prose and wordplay (“Skid Rowgues,” “stuccommunity”) keep his prose jumping.
“Every big city has its Skid Road, the home of the homeless, where pockets and hearts are always empty and pawnshop windows are always full” is a typical line.
Balancing out the California section of this month’s reading log is the first book by Jack Smith, “Three Coins in the Birdbath.” Smith may have been the quintessential L.A. Times columnist. This 1965 book is a collection of repurposed columns whose subject matter rarely strays from his Mount Washington home. Smith’s quiet wit makes even the mundane sparkle.
Some may find this domestic stuff dull, and even a fan like me will say it’s not a page-turner, but I liked it. (Chris Erskine mines similar territory today.) “Birdbath” is a product of what we think of as the classic period of L.A., when a home and a backyard represented the California dream.
Now, does anyone have a reading goal this year — a certain title or author — or a comment on any of the above?