Books bought this month: “Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed,” Harlan Ellison.
Books read this month: “The Thin Man,” Dashiell Hammett; “Pulp Culture,” Frank M. Robinson and Lawrence Davidson; “Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust,” Nathanael West; “The Sign of the Four,” A. Conan Doyle; “Best Music Writing 2002,” Jonathan Lethem, ed.
Choosing to ignore Chairman Mao’s dictum “To read too many books is harmful,” I made it through five books in January and, as seen above, five more in February: two mysteries, a classic L.A. novel, a collection of music essays and a coffee table book about pulp magazines.
I’ve owned Hammett’s “The Thin Man” for a very long time and have intended to get to it since reading his “The Maltese Falcon” in fall 2008. I liked “Thin Man” more than “Falcon,” as it turns out, although this could be because the movie version of “Falcon” overshadows the book and because I’ve never seen the Thin Man movies (but now I want to).
I read “The Sign of the Four,” Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel, in the 1970s and had long wanted to revisit it. From the first paragraph about Holmes’ cocaine and morphine addiction, it’s a grabber, moreso than “A Study in Scarlet.” A noncompletist reader could start here.
“The Day of the Locust” is often called the best Hollywood novel ever, despite having been written in the 1930s; I haven’t read enough Hollywood novels to compare, but despite some startlingly good passages, “Locust” is sour and grotesque. “Lonelyhearts,” a 60-page piece that shares the book, is about an advice columnist and is even more disturbing. They’re both okay but not my cup of tea. I bought this one used in 2008 in L.A. at Gene de Chene Bookseller (which has since closed).
“Pulp Culture,” which I bought last summer at Rhino Records, is a collection of eye-popping, lurid and lovely covers to pulp magazines of the Depression era, when a dime or quarter could buy you a thick magazine of fiction on cheap pulpwood paper. “Culture” has wry captions (the authors don’t take this stuff too seriously) and short chapters that give an overview of the various pulp genres. Breezy, informative and fun.
“The Best Music Writing 2002,” bought used a year ago at Book Alley in Pasadena, might seem dated, but most of the essays are as interesting for a committed music fan as ever and aren’t about music of that year anyway. Topics include Ralph Stanley, J-Lo, the Beatles, the Strokes, power ballads, the recording of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and Korla Pandit, who was a turban-wearing organist on TV in L.A. in the ’50s who is posthumously discovered to be black, not Indian. That one might be the best piece in the book.
As for the lone book I bought, I own almost all of Ellison’s stuff, but this one’s a rarity, a small-press collection of essays. Up until now it was known to me only as a listing in his “other books by the author” page. It was so far off my radar I didn’t even have it on my want list. So when I found it at Book Alley, I snapped it up.
Now, a few words about strategy. To try to finish 50 books in 2010, I arranged to read five per month in January and February. With 10 books behind me, I can (if I choose) “relax” with four per month for the rest of the year. This might allow me to work in a handful of longer books to go along with the 200-page average I’ve been hitting.
My big book of the year may be Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” his travel memoir of the Western U.S. of the 1860s; my edition runs 800 pages with textual notes and such and after a month of off-and-on reading I’m around page 200. I could devote all my reading time in March to it and might not finish, which would really blow my schedule (and result in a photo of a blank floor), but I’m going to read it as I can and try to finish in April or May.
So: Have you read any of the above? What are you reading now?