Reading log: January 2011

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Books acquired: “The Drawn Blank Series,” Bob Dylan; “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Ray Bradbury.

Books read: “Tarzan of the Apes,” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer; “A Tapestry of Life: The World of Millard Sheets,” Janet Blake and Tony Sheets; “The Polysyllabic Spree,” Nick Hornby; “Bright Orange for the Shroud,” John D. MacDonald; “Exploring Form: John Edward Svenson, An American Sculptor,” David Svenson.

How’s your New Year’s so far? Mine’s been busy, if burying your nose in books while sitting immobile qualifies. I read six, not a bad start for 2011, in which I’ll again attempt to read 50 books or more, mostly long-ago acquisitions that have gone unread.

It’ll be the usual hodge-podge approach involving idiosyncratic choices, and of no practical use to anyone, really, but despite occasional thoughts of giving up this monthly chronicle I decided to keep it going at least another year. Sharing these bulletins of my progress spurs me to continue reading and allows you hardcore bookfolk to comment about your own bookishness, voyeuristically peep at mine and perhaps feel superior from time to time at my lame choices. (Next month I’ll be a ripe target.)

Still, it’s a new year, and I’ve already shaken things up by stacking my books for the photo. Shocking. For continuity I also arranged them in the usual on-their-backs posture.

I started the year off with the first in the “Tarzan” series. Parts of this book will seem familiar even if you’ve never read it: the English boy raised by an ape, fighting for supremacy among his tribe, teaching himself to read. But the part where he learns French, or the climax in the wilds of Wisconsin (!), are undreamt-of in Johnny Weissmuller’s world. The plot is steeped in coincidences, but as pulp literature, full of action, emotion and a whiff of grandeur, this is hard to beat.

I’ve been curious about the Fu Manchu series since reading Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu comic (in which the son of Fu Manchu teams with an aged Sir Denis Nayland Smith to thwart his pop’s schemes) back in the ’70s. In “Insidious,” the first book, the climaxes every 20 pages make for an unsatisfying read, as do the yellow peril stereotypes. On the other hand, Fu is a great pre-Bond villain and the intensity is almost feverish. A flawed pulp classic.

“Polysyllabic” collects Hornby’s book columns from The Believer magazine. A Believer-reading friend thinks Hornby’s pieces are self-indulgent, and I can’t say the analyses added many books to my must-buy list (although he did make me want to read “David Copperfield”). But gathered together, these columns chart the highs and lows of a reading life. Also, they’re laugh-out-loud funny. Hornby takes books seriously, but not reading, and not himself. His pieces, by the way, are a model for these blog posts but are much longer, not to mention much better.

Next we come to two books about classic Inland Valley artists. “Tapestry,” produced for a retrospective at the L.A. County Fair in 2007, is a career-spanning collection of Sheets’ watercolors and oils with his most famous work, including the iconic “Angels Flight,” and many lesser-known paintings. The two essays, one by Sheets’ son, offer a helpful analysis and biography.

“Exploring Form” is a very readable biography of an iconoclastic sculptor from Montclair whose work includes maternal and animal subjects. A nice tribute to father from son with loads of photos.

“Bright Orange” is the sixth in the Travis McGee mystery series. A lot of series this month, eh? There are always a few gems of insight in any McGee book. Here’s one about communication: “A friend is someone to whom you can say any jackass thing that enters your mind. With acquaintances, you are forever aware of their slightly unreal image of you, and to keep them content, you edit yourself to fit. Many marriages are between acquaintances.” Settling into its Florida locale, the sixth McGee is the best so far.

By my standards, none of the above are ancient purchases. “Tarzan” may date to the ’90s, “Fu Manchu” and “Polysyllabic” to around ’05, “Bright Orange” to ’09 and the two artist books to last year.

What are you reading, and do you have any reading goals for 2011?

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

    *Six* books in the first month? OK, now you’re just showin’ off :-)

    Seriously, props to you for starting the year in such a literarily fine fashion. If my math is correct (disclaimer: English major!), you’re on pace for 72 this year — not that I’m trying to put any pressure on you, of course …

    As for my reading goals, I am once again setting off in pursuit of the vaunted “Half-Allen” (25 books in 12 months). I didn’t have quite the start you did, but I did polish off two of Walter Mosley’s “Easy Rawlins” mysteries (Cinnamon Kiss & White Butterfly).

    I’m currently about halfway through “The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower,” a nonfiction work that alternately follows Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double for the infamous shower scene in Psycho) and an unassuming serial killer who was operating in LA around the time that the Hitchcock classic was being filmed.

    On a somewhat related note, I like the “stack” photo that accompanies your traditional display of books read. Can we look forward to 11 more innovative arrays? A pyramid, perhaps? “909″ spelled out in novels? The mind whirls at the possibilities …

    [Do not disembark from the blog until the mind stops whirling. How did your "Half-Allen" plan go in 2010? You announced it but I don't think you followed up. (You did say as of October you'd read 30. Maybe you ended up more of a "5/8-Allen.") Good luck in 2011. I don't think you'll have to read 36. -- DA]

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

    Hey, thanks for remembering!

    I actually ended up reading 36 books last year, which I’ll categorize as either a “1/2 Hypothetical Future Allen” or “more than I was aiming for.” (Upon further review, I think the latter will be better for all concerned parties :-)

    Don’t know that I’m up for a run at 50, but I’m hoping to at least make it back to 35 in 2011.

    [Thirty-six is a respectable tally, as is 35. -- DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    This is when reading gets tough, as the school year resumes after the winter break. Only three read in Jan.:

    Grahame-Smith, S. (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)
    Martin, N. (Our Lady of Immaculate Deception)
    Schrieber, J. (Red Harvest)

  • Paula Harmer

    My goal for 2011 was 50% of what you do, and you’re going to make it unattainable if you do six books a month!

    I did manage to read 2: “Honey for a Child’s Heart,” Gladys Hunt, and “Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series # 1,” James R. Benn, the former a plea to parents to read to and with their children. A lot of information on choosing quality reading to do with your youngsters. The latter a fictional mystery set in England and Norway during World War II. Historically accurate and an enjoyable yarn to boot.

    This month, perhaps something more challenging, I needed an easy entry. :)

    [Maybe you'll finally finish "Madame Bovary" then, eh? -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Always enjoy reading your posts about what you’ve been reading! And the comments left by your readers, as well. Especially that Hugh guy. He’s pretty funny. He seems like he’d be a fun guy to know*.

    The “spinal” photograph looks really cool. And, hey… I suggested that in last month’s blog post! Go me!!

    Of the books you read: I’ve read that first Tarzan, though no others, though I did read all of Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books and loved them. I’ve also read parts of that Nick Hornby book standing in a bookstore aisle. (I’ve read David Copperfield twice! If you’re looking for a book nerd to compare notes with… or even lend you his copy of the book… I’m your guy!)

    Of the books I read: I finished The Return of the King, which means I’ve finished my fourth reading of The Lord of the Rings. Go Tolkien! or maybe: Go, me! I also read several Tolkien reference books that I purchased with Christmas gift cards, given that one doesn’t really read reference books as much as refer to them. I loves me some Tolkien!

    Also, for the two book clubs I’m in, I reread The Catcher in the Rye, and read Room by Emma Donoghue. As for the first: several in the book club wanted to kick Holden Caulfield in the rear, but I enjoyed it as much as my first time through. As for Room: harrowing stuff. I would never have picked it up on my own, but I’m glad I read it.

    And, hey! You blogged about eReaders! Heck, you *got* an eReader! I think I’ll go comment on that now.

    *Full disclosure: I know Hugh.

    [Fun as always reading your comments, Doug. Go you! -- DA]