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” and “Fu Manchu” date to 2001, “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?