Reading log: November 2011

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Books acquired: “The House That Sam Built,” the Huntington Library; “Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California 1945-1975,” AMOCA; “Aldo Casanova: A Retrospective,” Scripps College; “This Shape We’re In,” Jonathan Lethem; “The Tomb,” “Tales From the Cthulhu Mythos Vol. 2,” H.P. Lovecraft; “Take My Picture Gary Leonard”; “Louise de la Valliere,” “The Man in the Iron Mask,” Alexandre Dumas.

Books read: “The Sheltering Sky,” Paul Bowles; “In a Sunburned Country,” Bill Bryson; “Golden Apples of the Sun,” Ray Bradbury.

November was a sunny month around the ol’ reading log. Glancing at the titles, we had sky, sun and sunburns. Luckily we were wearing sunscreen as we read.

“The Sheltering Sky” is the month’s literary effort, a 20th century classic about a trio of expatriate, bohemian New Yorkers who circa WWII travel to the Sahara and gradually lose themselves in its immensity and foreignness. I admire the 1990 movie version and finally got around to reading the novel, which is better, although kind of existential and depressing.

“In a Sunburned Country,” by contrast, was cheerful throughout. A travel narrative by Bill Bryson, who’s made a career of such books, this concerns Australia, which he argues persuasively, and often hilariously, is a wonderland that deserves to be better known. He layers in recent and ancient history, chats up the locals, visits lots of museums and an equal number of pubs and details many of the creatures that can kill you (there are loads). One of my favorite books of the year.

“Golden Apples of the Sun” is a 1953 story collection by my boy Ray Bradbury, one of his first, and the first to incorporate some of his mainstream fiction alongside the fantastic stuff. “A Sound of Thunder,” “The Flying Machine” and “The Fog Horn” are three of his best and most famous stories. Most of the rest are awfully good too. I’ve read “Golden Apples” before, but I was a wee lad at the time, so it was nice to return to this, especially after all the time I spent a couple of years ago reading all his recent, often subpar stuff.

“Sky” was bought at Borders Montclair circa 2009, “Sunburned” was pressed into my hands by Darlene Scalf (hi Darlene!) and “Apples” is my beat-up, secondhand copy bought in Illinois circa the mid-’70s.

This brings me to 57 books for the year. This morning I finished No. 58, I’m one-third of the way through a difficult novel that will be No. 59 and I expect to squeeze in something else as No. 60 before year’s end.

What are the rest of you (Hugh, Doug, Will, John, the absent Paula, etc.) reading?

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  • John Clifford

    Finished the book I was reading at the beginning of the month and have just finished Los Angeles Noir 2 edited by our guest speaker at the Maltese Falcon screening, Denise Hamilton. It’s a collection of short Noir stories all based somewhere in LA. It includes stories by Raymond Chandler, James Cain, Walter Mosley, and Kate Braverman among many others. Kind of a fun diversion.

    I’m now looking at the stack of books trying to decide what goes next.

    [Mulling your options can be more fun than actually reading the book. Thanks, John. -- DA]

  • hugh.c.mcbride

    I knocked off three books in November, bringing my grand total to 50 (which was my goal for the year — yay, me!).

    * TWOSPOT (Bill Pronzini & Collin Willcox) – Pronzini’s “Nameless Detective” & Willcox’s Lt. Frank Hastings team up (somewhat) to solve a murder & stop a conspiracy to assassinate Fidel Castro. Interesting approach — alternating sections, written from each characters’ perspective — but not as strong as the four previous entries in this series.

    * MAIGRET LOSES HIS TEMPER (Georges Simenon) — I “discovered” Commissaire Maigret of the Paris Brigade Criminelle while scanning the Rancho Library stacks for something that looked interesting. An enjoyable read in an intriguing location, & one in a long series of Maigret novels.

    * TRUE DETECTIVE (Max Allan Collins) — One of the highlights of my reading year thus far. This is the first in Collins’s Nathan Heller series, which follows the exploits of a cop-turned-private detective in 1930s Chicago.

    Collins weaves Heller into real-life historical events (in this book, the Chicago World’s Fair & the assassination of Mayor Anton Cermak) & has him interacting with “real” folks (including boxer Barney Ross & mobster Frank Nitti). Collins does an excellent job of bringing a time & place to life, creating/interpreting memorable characters, & crafting an intriguing plot. I’m already about 1/2way through Heller #2, TRUE CRIME.

    Hope to put another three or four notches in the ol’ bookshelf this month, which should bring my 2012 total to 53-ish. And then we’ll set the counters back to 0 & do it all again!

    [I was going to ask if you were taking December off after reaching your goal for the year, but then I got to the end of your comment and saw you're still charging ahead, and good for you. And good for Hugh. Thanks for the recap. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    I was sitting here thinking, “Gosh” (I often start my internal monologues with “gosh”), “I wish I was keeping a running total of the books I’ve read like Hugh and David do,” and then I thought: “Hokey smoke, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, for the past several years, right here on David’s reading log!! All I have to do is go back through the comments and total up the books I’ve read!”

    I don’t know why that’s never occurred to me before. So that’s exactly what I did! And my total so far this year, counting this month: 27. Which is 27 more books than any of my neighbors have read this past year (probably not true, and also, I’m really, really hoping my neighbors don’t read this blog), but isn’t, you know, 50.

    Next year!!

    Books read this past month:

    * ISAAC ASIMOV’S WONDERFUL WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION 1: INTERGALACTIC EMPIRES — A book picked (this is true!) partly because I was looking forward to typing out that whole title here on the blog. But also I’m still the sci-fi nerd I was back in junior high, and books like these take me back to those more innocent days. Which means I’m going to get punched in the stomach after gym class, so I’m not so much looking forward to that, but I did enjoy this book, a 1983 collection, nominally edited by Asimov, of intergalactic-empire-related short stories by various sci-fi stalwarts. Good stuff!

    * THE UNNAMED (Joshua Ferris) — A book club pick (picked by me!) about a man with an uncontrollable compulsion to walk. This affects his life, and by “affects” I mean “ruins.” Not exactly an upper of a book, but well worth reading. I’m curious to see what my fellow book club members think (I’ll find out in two weeks).

    * THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING — Read out loud to my eight-year-old daughter, who’s still going strong with this series. We’re much farther along than I ever thought we would be, and she’s showing no signs of wanting to stop. Mt. Doom, here we come! (You know… Mt. Doom… where Frodo has to journey to destroy the Ring of Power… Oh, never mind.)

    I don’t think I’ll hit 50 books total by the end of this month, but hopefully once school is out I can cut a few more notches in the ol’ bookshelf (thanks, Hugh, for the phrase!). Happy reading, everyone!

    [From knowing that your internal monologues begin with a Mayberry-esque exclamation to worrying that someone will punch you in the stomach (possibly one of your insulted neighbors), this was another in a string of excellent Doug Evans comments. I'm glad you got to type that absurd Asimov title too. He'll be in an upcoming Reading Log, probably January's, but with a much shorter title. -- DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    Having time off at Thanksgiving (instead of Black Friday hunting), I was able to get four read. I think I broke the 60 book barrier on the year with these.

    Two more Star Wars novels: Kemp, P. (Riptide), and Karpyshyn, D. (Star Wars Old Republic: Revan). They were okay, nothing spectacular.

    A short Steinbeck “play-novella” (Burning Bright). Very short (not quite 100 pages) and simple, but described as a morality play about four main characters and the birth of a child.

    Selznick, B. (The Invention of Hugo Cabret). This is the inspiration for the new Scorsese movie Hugo. Very good; it’s like a graphic novel (over 550 pages, but more than half are pencil drawings). I eagerly await seeing the movie, if it’s anything close to the book.

    [Will, nice job with four books over a long weekend, and 60 for the year. Thanks for checking in. -- DA]