Books acquired: “Last Night at the Lobster,” Stuart O’Nan; “The Green Ripper,” John D. MacDonald; “Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever,” Ellen Weil and Gary K. Wolfe; “Two Years Before the Mast,” Richard Henry Dana; “Tarzan the Terrible” and “Swords of Mars,” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Zora Neale Hurston.
Books read: “Short Stories,” Mark Twain; “Supreme Courtship,” Christopher Buckley; “Stan’s Soapbox: The Collection,” Stan Lee; “Dave Barry in Cyberspace,” Dave Barry.
October was a sibilant month, with each title I read having two or more S’s or S sounds. Seems silly? Well, anything for a theme, and after deciding to finally finish the Twain and read the Stan Lee, I found two matching titles to round out the month.
“Short Stories,” more commonly found as “The Signet Classic Book of Mark Twain Short Stories,” is 700 pages was read off and on for 14 months. As the short story wasn’t Twain’s metier, these sketches, fables, tall tales and sentimental fiction won’t make anyone forget Poe and Hawthorne. Yet Twain was a born storyteller. “The Invalid’s Story,” about a man in a train’s baggage car who mistakes a shipment of Limburger cheese for a rotting corpse, is a jaw-dropper. So is the scathing “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg,” which takes aim at human folly and scores a bull’s-eye.
“Supreme Courtship,” published in 2008, is about a president whose choices for a Supreme Court vacancy are rejected by the Senate for petty reasons. He then nominates a wildly popular Judge Judy-type TV figure whom the Senate wouldn’t dare vote down. Hijinx ensue. As a rule, I’m wary of fiction intended to be funny, but Christopher Buckley won me over within a few pages. From the president who loves to bowl to the Washington eminence with four Ns in his surname, the characters are well wrought and the constitutional crisis plausible, in a comic way. I like the way Buckley slips in a quote from his dad, too.
“Stan’s Soapbox” is a slim compilation of every Stan Lee column from 1967 to 1980 from the pages of Marvel Comics, plus a timeline and contextual essays. I’ve read all the columns before but it’s nice to have them in one place, plus it was produced as a benefit for aging comics creators. It’s not without problems, though. If this is meant as a loving tribute, why did no one bother to proofread the Soapboxes after retyping them? There must be one or two mistyped words per page. Sheesh. (The worst is when an upcoming comic, “Odyssey,” is called, in succession, “Oddyssey” and “Ossyssey.”) Other than that, a nice little book for comics nostalgists, although Stan’s tendency in later years to push product makes his monthly columns tougher to take when read one after another.
“Dave Barry in Cyberspace” is a book by the humor columnist, who turned out to be a computer geek, and was published in 1996, before computers and the Internet were ubiquitous. In 2011, a book like this is dated in ways Barry’s other books aren’t, which he sort of anticipates when he writes that its information “would be of immense practical value if not for the fact that it all became obsolete minutes after I wrote it.” So this is something of a time capsule and not among his best. Still, it’s often funny, many of his observations hold true (even in 1996, it seems, having an AOL email address wasn’t cool anymore) and his surprise short story (!) about two ordinary people who meet online in a chat room is a successful stretch.
For those who like to know where and when I got the books, the Twain was purchased at Cameron’s Books in Portland in 2010, the Buckley was a birthday gift in 2010 (hi Caroline!), I bought the Stan Lee book online earlier this year and the Dave Barry book was bought used a few years back, details forgotten.
This brings me to 54 books read for 2011, with hopes of getting to 60.
What have you been reading? And have you read any of the above? Post away, bibliophiles.