Books bought: “The Complete Humorous Tales and Sketches,” Mark Twain; “Mark Twain’s Other Woman,” Laura Skandera Trombley; “Earth Abides,” George R. Stewart.
Books read: “Solar Lottery,” Philip K. Dick; “The October Country,” Ray Bradbury; “Roughing It,” Mark Twain; “Endgame,” Samuel Beckett.
Another four-book month, this time comprising sci-fi, fantasy, an American literary classic and a play. Three unread books were added to my groaning shelves. This means that if I maintain this pace of reading/receiving, I’ll be caught up in, oh, 400 months.
“Solar Lottery” was Philip K. Dick’s first novel and involves a future Earth in which everyone on the planet is a player in a lottery that could elevate any of them to the world dictatorship. Dick, of course, is best known for visionary writing that was turned into “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and other films. Never popular or well-paid in his lifetime, he cranked out about 50 books, many of which aren’t very good, and “Solar Lottery” is one of them; the plotting is a jumble and the ideas don’t gel. But we all have to start somewhere.
Bradbury’s “The October Country,” from 1955, comprises the best of the out-of-print “Dark Carnival,” plus four “new” stories. Among the half-dozen or so must-read Bradbury books, this collection of his earlier, macabre stories includes “The Small Assassin,” “Skeleton,” “The Lake,” “Homecoming” and “Uncle Einar,” five of his best-loved pieces. Most of the others are no slouch either.
Twain’s travelogue of the Old West is sprawling, episodic, frustrating, padded and brilliant. It’s also partly imagined, which this scholarly edition details in an equally sprawling notes section that is both welcome and beside the point. Marvel at Chapter 16, as fresh as Sedaris, in which Twain picks apart the Book of Mormon. The drunk’s all-digression monologue in Chapter 53 is a hoot. And in Chapter 73, during a visit to Hawaii, young Twain grabs a board and goes “surf-bathing”!
I spent two months reading “Roughing It,” in between other books. I finished it with a couple of days left in April and decided to plow through something short to maintain my four-book pace. So I turned to Beckett’s “Endgame,” which I’ve owned for years but never read, although I once saw the play performed live.
It’s an allegorical four-character play, in which one character is dying, his son is tired of helping him and his parents live with them in side-by-side trash cans. I prefer “Godot,” but “Endgame” is still devastating, not to mention devastatingly funny.
It was satisfying to tackle the 800-page (ooof) “Roughing It,” and to do so without throwing off my schedule (even if it took me two months). I’m back to normal-sized books now, but I’ll try to work in another doorstop or two before the year’s out.
So, what are you reading, and have you read any of the above?