Reading log: April 2010

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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?

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  • Dee

    I have read “October Country” and especially liked “Uncle Einar.” If memory serves me correctly, I believe the character was based on one of Bradbury’s relatives. My favorite, though, has always been “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” I’d like to read “Dandelion Wine,” but the library always seems to be out.

    [It's worth reading. And you're right about Uncle Einar's inspiration. -- DA]

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

    Congrats on another fine month of reading, David — and extra special congrats on having finally completed your wild & wooly voyage w/ Mr. Twain. (Nice to see the return of the ol’ blue backdrop, too!)

    After a strong March, I reverted back to half-Allen status in April, adding only two novels to my list:

    * The Long Goodbye (Raymond Chandler)
    * The Big Nowhere (James Ellroy)

    Love the LA noir genre, & it’s been interesting to note the similarities & differences between how Chandler described what was then contemporary LA & how Ellroy portrays the period from the vantage point of five-plus decades later.

    [Two novels in a month is nothing to sneeze at. Hang on...ah, ah, ah...oh, it went away. See, what did I tell you? -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    I’m a little late to the party, but an entertaining post as usual. Always fun to catch up with what another reader is reading. Two, when you count Hugh, and Hugh should be counted.

    David, did you see this article, posted yesterday on Slate? It’s in honor of the publication of an Everyman’s Library collection of Bradbury’s short stories. The article makes the claim that Bradbury is a major source of modern American mythology, and has the story descriptions to prove it.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2252825/

    Last month I shared here in the comments how I was tackling Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion,” to ensure my geek credentials once and for all. I’m pleased to say I finished it and have moved on to the follow-up, “Unfinished Tales,” which is exactly what it sounds like: writings Tolkien left unfinished at his death. I’m enjoying these more than I was expecting, but there is, as I said last time, a serious dearth of humor and Hobbits, and these would only be for the die-hard fan (which some would say about “The Lord of the Rings” in the first place).

    I’ve read some of Philip K. Dick’s stuff, but not the one you posted above. I’m always interested in where the books come from: is that one you found in a used book store, or one you’ve had for a while that you finally crossed off your list?

    [I've owned the PKD book for several years. Endgame is probably 20 years old, Roughing It maybe 10. October Country is my childhood copy! (I have read that before, but not since the '70s.) Thanks for the Slate link; that was news to me. After "Unfinished Tales," maybe you can tackle Tolkien's "Collected Grocery Lists." -- DA]