Books acquired: “Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By,” Anna Jane Grossman; “The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick,” Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, eds.
Books read: “The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion,” Brian M. Kane; “Vineland,” Thomas Pynchon; “Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece,” Domenic Priore.
To finish off 2011, I read three books in December to bring my total to an even 60. (A complete list will appear here soon.) After hitting 35 before July 1, I concluded to aim for 60 rather than 70 and get in some longer books. For December, that meant finishing a very wordy book about the “Prince Valiant” comic strip, a dense 400-page novel and, as lagniappe, a volume about the Beach Boys’ unreleased-until-2011 “Smile” album.
“Prince Valiant Companion”: I was expecting a more user-friendly guide to the Prince Valiant universe, one that would compile every known Foster interview or contain thoughtful analysis. The actual book is for the uber-fan, which I thought I was until laboring to read the 60 pages of tiny type recounting every PV adventure, 1937-2009. OK, and some of the interviews later in the book were interesting, but for diehards only. Also, the synopses are laden with typos uncorrected in the 17 years since the first edition. Is this really “definitive”?
“Vineland”: This novel by the famously reclusive Pynchon was published in 1990, 17 years after his previous book, “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and was deemed a disappointment on that score. The plotting is untidy, the sentences twisty, but I liked it. Any novel that tries to make sense of the ’60s from a Reagan-era perspective yet also makes room for ninjas and a cameo by Godzilla is all right by me. Also, loved the tossed-off names, such as More is Less, “a discount store for larger-size women.”
“Smile”: This is a book about the famously unreleased 1967 album by the Beach Boys, which was rerecorded by Brian Wilson in 2004 to great acclaim; the original 1967 tapes finally came out late this year. I almost gave up on this book on page 2 due to the writing. (For one thing, a quote by Van Dyke Parks on page 1 describing someone as “a gyro, gear-loose kind of a fella” shows Priore didn’t get Parks’ reference to the Disney mad-inventor character Gyro Gearloose.) But I’m glad I kept going because there was worthwhile info and analysis about “Smile” and Beach Boy internal dynamics amidst the fanboy worship.
I’m reading several other books with an eye toward a boffo start for 2012. Seventy is a possibility.
As for where the above books came from, “Valiant” was bought this year at Comics Factory in Pasadena, “Vineland” was a birthday gift in 2010 (hi, Mason!) and “Smile” was bought at Rhino Records a couple of years ago.
What were you reading in December?