Reading log: October 2010

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Books acquired: “Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews,” Sam Weller; “Motherless Brooklyn,” Jonathan Lethem; “Dress Her in Indigo,” John D. MacDonald; “The Invisible Man,” H.G. Wells.

Books read: “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury; “From the Land of Fear,” Harlan Ellison; “The Fortress of Solitude,” Jonathan Lethem.

Our theme, such as it is, this month is the letter F, with one to three of ‘em in each title (including implied F’s in Four-Fifty-One). Would’ve been better had I finished four or five, but I could only get through three. Hey, at 500 pages “Fortress” is one of the longer books I’ve tackled this year.

“Fahrenheit,” which I’ve read twice before, was a must because it’s Pomona’s choice for its Big Read citywide reading program. “Fortress” was chosen because not only have I meant to read it for a few years, but its author is a big deal who’ll be teaching at Pomona College starting in January, and if I’m going to interview him (as I hope to), it’d be nice if I’d read his most famous novel. I rounded out the month with “From…Fear,” an Ellison collection that’s been sitting on my shelf a while.

“Fahrenheit 451″ only improves with age. In the 1970s, when I first read this 1953 novel, it simply seemed like a science fiction story. I read it again circa 2004 when the book’s wall-consuming televisions began to seem less fanciful. That’s even more true in 2010; ditto with the “seashell radios” everyone sticks in their ear. Bradbury even posits a future in which women routinely give birth via Caesarean section to avoid trauma, which I believe has also largely come to pass. I still prefer “The Martian Chronicles” and have to say that in its hard edge and action “Fahrenheit” is unlike almost anything Bradbury ever wrote. But it’s for the ages.

“The Fortress of Solitude,” published in 2003, is a semi-autobiographical novel about a bohemian white kid growing up in a mixed-race Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1970s amid Marvel comics, gentrification, funk music, stoop ball, graffiti and drugs; the story then propels forward into 1999 to deal with the aftermath. Densely written, obsessively detailed and literary, it’s probably too weird for the average reader, but I liked it and expect to read more by Lethem (such as “Motherless Brooklyn,” which I’ve already bought).

“From the Land of Fear,” from 1967, is an SF-oriented collection of stories by Ellison, including “Soldier” in two versions, as a short story and as a teleplay Ellison wrote for “The Outer Limits.” Some good stuff, but it’s one of his weaker books.

These three constitute books 43, 44 and 45 for me in 2010. My goal of 50 is within striking distance.

For those who want to know where these books came from, this copy of “451″ was bought at Brand Books in Glendale around Labor Day, “Fortress” came from the Book Rack in Ventura in 2008 and “Fear” has been in my possession long enough that I can’t remember where it came from!

Anyone read any of the above? Surely some of you have read “451.” Or share what you’ve been reading. It can have any letter in the title you like.

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  • hugh.c.mcbride

    Hmmm … Burning books, a lonely white dude & The Land of Fear … Perhaps a certain someone spent a big too much time watching Glenn Beck during his recent vacation from blogging & column-ing?

    (I kid because I care :-)

    Scary to think that, between Fahrenheit 451 & 1984, one could cobble together a fairly spot-on portrait of life in 2010. Have had both of these novels on my “to-reread” list for some time — here’s hoping that this post causes me to bump ‘em up a bit.

    Since I failed to comment on your Sept. round-up, the following is a two-month report of my reading activities:

    * White Jazz (James Ellroy)
    * Glimpses (Lewis Shiner)
    * Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling (Beth Raymer)
    * LA Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City (John Buntin)
    * The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Stieg Larsson)
    * UnMarketing (Scott Stratten)

    Timing-wise, the LA Noir history was ideal, as I was about 30 pages from the end when I took the Esotouric bus tour of many sites from the book, hosted by the writer (John Buntin).

    “Glimpses” was perhaps the most disappointing of the bunch, as a bunch of glowing reviews & an intriguing subject matter (time travel & great 60′s music!) boosted my expectations too high going in.

    “Hornet’s Nest” provided a satisfying ending to the “Millennium Series” three-novel arc — though it’s always sad to know you won’t have the opportunity to spend any more time with characters that you’ve come to enjoy/admire/appreciate.

    “UnMarketing” was a well-put-together account about building relationships via social media marketing (a work-related topic), & “Lay the Favorite” was an intriguing glimpse into the life of professional gambling & local bookmaking.

    And, of course, White Jazz was another opportunity to spend some time in the mind of James Ellroy. ‘Nuff said.

    With 30 books for the year, I’m five past my goal of 25, & hoping to hit 35 before the big ball falls in Times Square. Only thing that I see standing in my way from hitting that revised goal is if I have to dedicate considerable time & effort to organize a Tea Party intervention for my favorite Daily Bulletin columnist/blogger :-)

    [Have no fear -- although Stephen Colbert would hate to hear me say that. Thirty-five for the year, or even 30, would mean you've abandoned your idea of doing half what I was doing. Unless you're trying to encourage me to read 60 or 70 books...which isn't going to happen. Btw, I own "Glimpses" but haven't read it, so your disappointment is, um, discouraging. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Hey, Hugh, save some space on the internet for the rest of us!

    It’s been a while since I’ve read Fahrenheit 451. Usually science fiction can make fairly good generic predictions about the future, but will often get the specifics wrong. Bradbury got those you mention above pretty spot-on. It must be something for him to have lived to see so many of his predictions come true, especially when he didn’t necessarily mean them in a good way.

    Here’s my recent round-up of my book reading (like Hugh, this spills over from September through October):

    Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin: a girl comes of age in both Ireland and Brooklyn in the 1950′s. Written by an Irish guy.

    Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner. Pulitzer-Prize winner! Fictionalized account of a real-life East Coast artist and writer who follows her husband as he moves about helping to settle the American West.

    In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez. Fictionalized account of four sisters in the Dominican Republic who battle the corrupt Trujillo regime in the 1950-60′s. Three sisters are killed by Trujillo’s agents, which is not a spoiler, since that’s revealed on the first page, and also this is a true story, though novelised for the book.

    Those three books were read as part of two book clubs that I’m in, and I’m grateful, because I would never have picked them up or even heard of them if it weren’t for the clubs. They were all worth it, but Angle of Repose was the best. Also the longest.

    On my own I managed to read one and start another: I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, prompted partly by Hugh’s reading of the same, and enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the next two.

    Having finished that one, and looking at my shelves of years-worth of unread books I’ve picked up over the years, I started re-reading The Lord of the Rings for my fourth time. This was inspired by my reading earlier this year two books of Tolkien’s unfinished works that his son edited and published after his death. Now when the characters in LOTR refer to ancient kings or elves or whatnot that lived thousands of years before current happenings in the book, I’ll have a little clearer idea what they’re talking about. Or maybe not. Elvish names all kind of sound the same, and they all start with ‘E’. That Tolkien!

    Hokey smoke, this turned into an essay. I think Hugh and I together have just about used up the internet.

    [Hey, save some Internet for me! Doug and Hugh, thanks for making up for lost time with your comments on two months' worth of reading. I'd start having my Reading Log cover two months at a time as well, except then you might only comment every four months. -- DA]