Reading log: December 2011

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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?

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  • Dee

    I’m reading The Deerslayer on my new Christmas Kindle. Many of the older books are now in the public domain and are available for free online. It’s an opportunity to read some of the old classics that I probably wouldn’t go out and buy.

    [I agree, that’s a benefit to having an e-reader. — DA]

  • John Clifford

    After not doing much pleasure reading during the start of Dec. I got a goodly number of books for Christmas. I’m currently half way through (and should finish today or tomorrow), Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Investions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.

    Interestingly, this is not a “Hollywood Starlet” book but the story of how Hedy Lamarr, with the assistance of composer George Anthille, invented a way of jamming German U-Boat topedoes and by extension, spread-spectrum, which is the basis for how our wifi works today. (Since I haven’t finished, I may understand all this a little better before the new year commences.)

    Who knew?

    [I’ve read a couple of articles about that book and it sounds fascinating. — DA]

  • DebB

    I, too, received a Kindle for Christmas and was surprised how many books are free or very inexpensive. I bought the complete works of Jane Austen for 99 cents and am working my way through “Sense and Sensibility” now. They also have a lending library if you are a Prime Member, but I haven’t looked into that yet to see how extensive it is.

    The e-reader has many advantages, but so does a printed book. Certainly a graphic novel or anything with any images would be much better in printed form. But I like how the Kindle sits neatly on the table while I’m eating lunch – no need to hold the pages open.

    I didn’t get much reading done before Christmas, but this week I read “Coming Back” by Marcia Muller, one of my favorite authors. When an author writes a series using the same character, they have to decide whether or not to let the character age over the years. Muller’s character does, and I find it really interesting.

    Also this week I read the first “nameless detective” book by Muller’s husband, Bill Pronzini. I’ve been unable to find his older books, even used, at a reasonable price. But I did find it for my Kindle at about the price of a used paperback.

    [Deb, thanks for the comment. — DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    Four books in a month seems to be my standard number, aside from the summer joy.

    J.Steinbeck (Winter of Our Discontent). I’ve been spoiled by the books I first read when introduced to his works. This one, set in New England after WW2, is about a “nice guy” who is “just” a grocery clerk. It was okay, but not on par with Steinbeck’s other novels.

    D.Miller (The Book Whisperer). This was recommended by a colleague at school, about how to get students to want to read. I found it a little preachy and less interesting than its suggestion.

    JK.Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces). Another recommendation by a different person. Won the 1981 Pulitzer, but while it was well-written and plot-twisty, the storyline and characters were awful.

    L.Martin (River of Heaven). I picked it simply because I noticed I’d read three other Martins this year. He was a Pulitzer finalist for another novel, but this small Midwestern town mystery/secrets story was flat for my tastes.

    That brings my year up to 69 books, about 18,000 pages. Here’s to a literary 2012… at least up until Dec. 21st.

    [And hopefully beyond, if the Mayans let us. Congrats on a good year, Will, even if your December was kind of a dud. — DA]

  • Don J

    Your list is ironic, Dave, because Pynchon hung out w/the Beach Boys while living in the South Bay in the mid-60’s…