Reading log: October 2011

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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.

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  • John Clifford

    I’m kinda sorry I don’t keep track the way all of you here do. I do know that I read Red Breast by Jo Nesbo, a nice mystery book set in Norway, then switched to non-fiction reading The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind by Ivan Illich and Pitzer English professor Barry Sanders. I seem to be on a non-fiction tack as I was at Barnes and Noble last night (hiding from the Trick or Treaters) and purchased and began reading Just My Type by Simon Garfield, which is all about typefaces and typography (this should enhance my street cred as a total print/publishing geek).

    [Your street cred is always good here, John, although you should consider the source on that one. Thanks as always for commenting. And I applaud you for avoiding the Halloween kids by spending the evening in a bookstore. -- DA]

  • hugh.c.mcbride

    Super-sensational series of sibiliant selections, sir!

    October was a non-alliterative four-book month for me:

    * BLOWBACK – The fourth installment in Bill Pronzini’s long-running “Nameless Detective” series. Nothing like the unique “discovering” an author & then finding out he/she has written 20+ books — taking first steps down what promises to be an entertaining & intriguing path.

    * ELEPHANT GIRL (A HUMAN STORY) – A memoir by author & blogger Jane Devin. Powerful account of a difficult personal history portrayed (as is always the case w/ Ms. Devin) in stunning prose.

    * THE CRIMES OF JORDAN WISE – A non-”Nameless” novel by Bill Pronzini, this one addressing the aftermath of committing three “perfect” crimes.

    * OUT STEALING HORSES – A quiet novel by Per Petterson, in which a widowed older man reflects on adventures & mysterious tragedies of his younger days.

    These four bring my 2011 total to 48 — just two short of my goal for the year. Want to give you & your readers a shout-out for getting me this close to this accomplishment, David. Though I’m a lifelong reader, it was your monthly reading reviews that prompted me to start setting aside a few minutes of each day for leisure reading again.

    I think I hit 40 books last year, & should be past 50 by mid-month. If I can keep on this half-a-hundred pace for the foreseeable future, I’ll have no complaints. Thanks for getting me back on track, Mr. Allen!

    [You're welcome, Mr. McBride. I'm pleased to hear this blog helped inspire you to read more. I was a lifelong reader who, like you, had lapsed to a degree; it's satisfying now to average a book a week, and for a third straight year. Thanks for sharing your October reading and early congratulations on nearing your 2011 goal. -- DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    Only two in October, but both were excellent reads:

    J.Steinbeck (East of Eden). I thoroughly enjoy Steinbeck; I have yet to read something of his that I did not like. I put this just behind Grapes of Wrath and Travels With Charley among my favorites. It was long, but it was recommended by a couple colleagues, so I dug into it over about a two week-period.

    R.Pacilio (Meetings at the Metaphor Cafe) He spoke to some of the students at our school, then we got to meet-and-greet with him after. Good teaching, inspirational stories.

    David, I’ve read most of Dave Barry’s books, and I agree that Cyberspace doesn’t hodl up as well as his others. I read a bio of Stan Lee, but compiling his columns in one might be a good read. Excelsior!

    [I thought you, and Judi Guizado, might chime in on the Dave Barry book. Haven't read East of Eden, in part because of its daunting length (that's what she said). I have an omnibus of six short Steinbeck novels, bought at the Steinbeck Museum in Salinas a couple of years back, and I haven't even read those yet! -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Hey, Hugh’s back on the reading blog! Welcome back, Hugh!

    This will be an easy month for me… only one book read, and not a great one at that. I bought Penn Jillette’s “God, No!” on my iPad… I was promised a funny book on atheism; what I got what a rambling, occasionally amusing book on what an amazing person Penn Jillette is. I also read and graded a lot of student papers… and collected and didn’t grade (yet!) a whole lot more… It’s been that kind of a semester. Next semester should be easier! All the comments above about setting aside a little time each day for leisure reading are getting to me.

    I’ve started two other books (both science fiction; yay sci-fi!) so hopefully next month I’ll have a little more to report than just one book I with I hadn’t spent money on.

    Oh, and I’m still reading The Fellowship of the Ring to my eight-year-old daughter… we’re getting close to the end, so assuming she doesn’t bail, I’ll be able to add that to my count, too. And since I just reread the book myself last January, this will be my first book to count twice on the David Allen Reading blog… and in the same year, no less!

    Happy reading, everyone!

    [At least you read one (and some of your grading, and some of FOTR), which is nothing to sneeze at. For any of you thinking of sneezing, think twice. Thanks for commenting without making me ask you to, Doug. -- DA]