Reading log: September 2011

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Books acquired: too many to list.

Books read: “Into the Beautiful North,” Luis Alberto Urrea; “Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Across the Borderlands,” Michael Chabon; “The Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain.

Where did the summer go? So many activities left undone, so many books left unread (unless you’re Will Plunkett).

On the other hand, my 2011 tally of books read this month encompassed numbers 48, 49 and 50, including a fat volume I’d meant to get up the nerve to read for a year or more. All had travel as part of the title, balm after a travel-less summer.

Urrea’s “Into the Beautiful North”: A charming, sometimes slapstick tale of a Mexican girl inspired by “The Magnificent Seven” to bring home seven men from America to repopulate her village. Urrea gets in some jabs at American attitudes about Mexicans, terrorism and immigration and captures the wonder and strangeness of America to the visitors.

Chabon’s “Maps and Legends”: Recommended for entertainment-universalists who will dote on lines like “we may have forgotten how fundamental such stories-within-stories have always been to popular art from Homer to ‘Green Acres.’ ” Essays on Sherlock Holmes, His Dark Materials, American Flagg, etc., are coupled with more personal pieces. The longest of those, about Yiddishness and golems, were the least interesting to me.

Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad”: The clear winner this month was Twain’s chronicle of an 1867 “pleasure excursion” by boat to Europe and the Holy Land in which he took part. Did you know Twain penned five travel narratives? He offers observations and descriptions of France, Greece, Italy, Syria, Palestine and Egypt on a trip that covered 20,000 miles. It’s often laugh out loud funny as he pokes fun at himself, fellow passengers, natives and customs, including the prevalence of dubious religious relics. Five hundred pages and well worth the armchair journey. (Cutting it close, I finished the book on Sept. 30.)

Urrea’s book was purchased new this spring because it was the choice for Claremont: On the Same Page, a community reading effort. The Chabon and Twain books were bought new at various Borders a couple of years ago. (Sigh.)

Oh, and I read most of the Twain book on my e-reader, using the paperback for its explanatory notes in the back. I downloaded a Project Gutenberg copy that had the original illustrations, a nice bonus. The fact that the edges were wearing away of my paperback (the curse of the otherwise appealing Modern Library editions) after a week of gentle reading was encouragement to set it aside.

With 50 books under my belt for 2011, meeting that goal for the third straight year, my intention is to continue on the same track as in September, with fewer, longer books, many of which have been on my shelves for a lot longer than the above.

How was your September, and your summer, of reading? Any reading plans for fall?

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  • Will Plunkett

    Was that “too many to list” due to cleaning out those Borders closures, David?

    I had a dull reading month, amount-wise. But I enjoyed the four titles, enjoyment-wise. (??)

    Angleberger, T. (The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and Darth Paper Strikes Back) These are really short young adult books, about an outcast kid who offers Jedi advice at McQuarrie Middle School through his Yoda finger puppet, and his rival with a Vader one.

    Martin, D. (This is a Book) Hilarious at times, amazingly creative at others, Demetri Martin is Steven Wright with far more talent and observations.

    Quinn, S. (The Dog Who Knew Too Much) The 4th book in the Chet and Bernie mysteries. Love this series, and I eagerly expect the newest books on release day.

    [Thanks as always, Will. And, yeah, Borders closeouts combined with other purchases, including a complete Sherlock Holmes paperback boxed set from the '70s for $5 (!) from the Claremont Forum, made a "Books acquired" listing too unwieldy. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Five books read this past month! Well, five books finished… I started all of them before the month began. But still counts! Much better than my July total, which was two, and my August total, which was, erm, zero. Here are the five new notches under my belt! (All of which, to paraphrase Will above, I enjoyed, enjoyment-wise.)

    The Hobbit, read out loud to my daughter. We’ve been working on this one for almost exactly a year, fitting it in between readings of the Harry Potter series. Having finished that, we were able to move full-time into this one and finished up. Now, at my daughter’s request, we’re into the first of the Lord of the Rings books. Don’t know how long that will keep up, as those aren’t so much geared toward kids, but I’ll have fun while it lasts.

    Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson: A book club pick I would never have picked up on my own, but one I really enjoyed. If anyone reading this works for Masterpiece Theater (now, I guess, called “Masterpiece”), this would be a light-hearted pick for that series. If it wasn’t already being adapted into a movie, which apparently it is.

    Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline: Geeky, science-fiction-y, ’80s, fun. Intended and recommended for anyone who grew up in the ’80s. Especially if you were a nerd.

    The Sentry, by Robert Crais: An entry in Crais’ Joe Pike series, an offshoot of his Elvis Cole series. Private eye stuff. I like Crais and I liked this book. Listened to this on CD.

    And! I’ve been saving this up for last… I finished Great Expectations! I started this one last January, and read at it off and on over the ensuing nine months… I didn’t want it to end. Loved it and can’t wait… well, I can, but am looking forward to… Our Mutual Friend, the last complete novel Dickens finished and the second-to-last book on my fifteen-year-long read-one-Dickens-novel-a-year reading list. I started when I was thirty; I’m now 43. I’m getting old. Fortunately, Dickens keeps getting better, though he was always great.

    In terms of your list, David, I’ve read the Chabon book you mention and enjoyed it too. Isn’t there a chapter on Tolkien in there too? …I just checked my copy and it turns out there isn’t. Well, he mentions Tolkien somewhere. I’m sure of it.

    Fun times! Glad to have five successes to report and not another goose egg! See you all next month!

    [Thanks for checking in, Doug, and congrats on five books finished. Two of my books (not Innocents Abroad) were begun last month. I'm currently wrapping up a collection of short stories that I started last year. No shame in that and no need for a Maris-like asterisk. As a boy I got only halfway through the LOTR cycle so maybe you can read it to me too. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    For the record: I wrote “five new notches under my belt” up there. I sort of wish I hadn’t phrased it that way.

    [I hadn't noticed, but it's true that notches, even metaphorical ones, are usually made on the actual belt, rather than, um, under it. -- DA]