Reading log: January 2012

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Books acquired: “Fire and Rain,” David Browne; “Kafka Americana,” Jonathan Lethem and Carter Scholz; “The Long Lavender Look,” “The Empty Copper Sea,” John D. MacDonald.

Books read: “I, Robot,” Isaac Asimov; “Like I Was Sayin’,” Mike Royko; “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It,” Ogden Nash; “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” Austin Grossman; “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon,” Philip K. Dick; “I’ll Mature When I’m Dead,” Dave Barry; “I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay,” Harlan Ellison; “As I Lay Dying,” William Faulkner; “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” Harlan Ellison; “Take My Picture Gary Leonard,” Gary Leonard; “Party of One: A Loner’s Manifesto,” Anneli Rufus.

Welcome to my first Reading Log of 2012, the feature where I chart my reading month-by-month, and you chime in with comments about your own reading life.

You may recall that over the past three decades or so I’ve accumulated a shameful number of unread books, close to 550. Yikes! (That includes some childhood favorites that I’ve read but intend to reread, and some omnibus books and anthologies, like the complete Shakespeare, that I’m counting as multiple books. But still.)

Between purchases and gifts, that number hasn’t budged much despite three years of reading 50 to 60 books per year. But at least my backlog is slowly getting fresher.

This year I’m planning to focus on short books (200 pages or less) in an attempt to sweep away some of the easier ones on my shelves. If I can read, I dunno, 75 this year, including a lot of SF, a few literary classics and the final three Sherlock Holmes books, that would be satisfying. But you never know what a year will bring, and thus, I reserve the right to switch gears and delve into gloomy Russian epics.

I’m off to a good start, polishing off 11 (!) in January. That’s too many to talk about, and even for the photo I had to stand on a footstool. But there weren’t so many that I had to lay them out in a field and charter a plane for an aerial shot.

Just for fun, the first nine use the personal pronoun in the title, sometimes twice. I started some of them last fall, arranging to finish them in January for a month of “I” books. Oh, we must get our jollies somehow. With a week left in the month and no more “I” books to read, I found two with similarly narcissistic titles to round out the month.

Favorites of the 11 would be Nash’s light verse, Dick’s short stories and Rufus’ defense of 24-hour wallflower people. Biggest disappointment was Barry’s latest. I think Will Plunkett was similarly disappointed by it in a comment here last year.

As for the books’ provenance, “I Have No Mouth” was bought in about 1981, with Nash’s and Royko’s acquired in the mid-1980s. Nice to have three oldies out of the way. The rest were purchased in the past decade; notably, Rufus’ was purchased at the excellent Green Apple Books in San Francisco and Faulkner’s at the Faulkner House museum and gift shop in New Orleans.

February will bring a much shorter list of books. i’ll be starting from scratch today with a new, as-yet-unchosen book.

Now, what are you reading, and do you have any personal reading goals for the year?

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  • Doug Evans

    11 books! That’s amazing! Congrats!

    I got through two… “The House of Silk” by Anthony Horowitz and “Zero History” by William Gibson.

    “House of Silk” is apparently the first Sherlock Homles sequel authorized by the Conan Doyle estate, which makes me wonder what’s up with all those hundreds of other Sherlock Holmes sequels that have been published over the years. Good story! Kind of grim. Elements of the plot could never have been published back in Conan Doyle’s day, but it reads enough like a classic Holmes tale that you could picture good old Watson typing this out, or however Watson wrote his stuff.

    “Zero History” is the third of a trilogy that Gibson has written. I enjoy his style of writing but I never really get why we’re supposed to care about what’s happening in the story, or why the characters do, for that matter. But, heck, if he keeps publishing, I’ll keep reading.

    Both of those books were read on my iPad (the same one I’m typing on now!)! I love you, iPad.

    Any thoughts on the difference between the I, Robot books you read… The original book and the Ellison adaptation? And then maybe on the horrible Will Smith movie that was eventually made? Oh, man, do I have thoughts about that movie.

    Here’s to next month, and to maybe more than two books for me!

    [I was hoping someone would ask about a specific book or two so I could comment here rather than make the post longer. The Asimov collection was a little disappointing, my taste being more for people-oriented stories rather than scientific puzzles; the Ellison screenplay was faithful to the spirit of the stories but with a pronounced "Citizen Kane" approach to Susan Calvin. Didn't see the Will Smith version but it can't have been as ambitious or adult as Ellison's. Oh, and after learning only recently about "House of Silk," I was especially interested in your views of it. -- DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    Only four this month…

    Barry, D. & A. Zweifel (Lunatics) In the same vein as Dave Barry’s other fiction novels, but not as LOL-worthy.

    Clare, C. (City of Bones) A young adult book I read for my sci-fi book club, until I realized I had the right author but wrong genre.

    Fisher, C. (Wishful Drinking) Memoir of the Star Wars actress, much of which I’d heard before.

    Pacilio, R. (Midnight Comes to the Metaphor Caf) Sequel to his first book, about the senior year of his fictional students. Nice story.

    [Thanks, Will. I'll probably be back in the four-book category in February. It's four more than most people read. -- DA]

  • hugh.c.mcbride

    OK, Dave — the “11 books right out of the gate” thing was bad enough, but then you have to go & include a Faulkner novel in your initial batch of “some of the easier ones”? Now you’re just showin’ off :-)

    Prior to reading your awe-inspiring list, I’d been somewhat impressed with myself for having made it through five books in January. (OK, I’m still a bit self-impressed with my total — just less so than I was last night.) My January reads:

    * THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND (Max Allan Collins) — #3 in Collins’s “Nathan Heller” series, which follows our hero from the mean streets of Chicago to a foxhole in Guadalcanal, a spell in a psychiatric hospital, and back to the Windy City. Another stellar outing.

    * THE JAMES DEANS (Reed Farrel Coleman) — A “Moe Prager” mystery, with shades of the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy story, as the mysterious death of a campaign volunteer leads to the downfall of a promising politician. Not the best book I read this month, but not the worst, either.

    * FLY ME TO THE MORGUE (Robert Randisi) – The final (so far) entry in Randisi’s “Rat Pack Mystery” series, and, unfortunately, probably the weakest entry, too. I’ll always be hard-pressed to resist a detective mystery set in 1960s Las Vegas & involving Frank, Dino, & the boys — but this series may have run its course. If so, it was a grand ride.

    * NEON MIRAGE (Max Allan Collins) – Nate Heller #4, in which our hero gets tied up with Ben “Don’t Call Me Bugsy” Siegel, Virginia Hill, & Siegel’s grandiose plans to build a hotel & casino in the barren wasteland between McCarran Airport & Downtown Vegas (a little place now known as “The Strip”). Had I not already been an avowed M.A.C. fanboy before this novel, I would’ve been by the end.

    * THE GOLIATH BONE (Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins) – A few weeks before he died, Spillane gave his longtime friend & occasional collaborator Collins an unfinished manuscript & detailed notes for this final “Mike Hammer” novel. This was my first encounter with the legendary private eye, & it was unfortunately an underwhelming experience. That said, this novel sent me to the beautiful Rancho Cucamonga library for a copy of “I, The Jury” — which was Spillane’s first Mike Hammer, published in 1946.

    And yeah, my recent obsession with detective fiction is showing no signs of waning. Even has me toying with trying my hand at the genre myself. Think anyone would be interested in an action-packed series about a mild-mannered newspaper columnist who prowls the streets of the Inland Empire at night, fighting crime & finding great diners to review?

    [I suspect my mother would like it. It did cross my mind to track down "I, the Jury" for my January reading but I stuck to books I already owned. Despite what I said, the Faulkner was not exactly easy, but at about 270 pages with big print, it was as ambitious as I got last month. As for MAC, I'm wondering if you've read his Ms. Tree comics? They've never been collected in book form, although it's bound to happen eventually. They're well worth reading. -- DA]

  • DebB

    I finished my re-read-through of the full set of Ngaio Marsh novels, featuring Roderick Alleyn of the CID. This month I read the last 4 or 5 (they’re fairly quick reads).

    Then I went on to discover some new-to-me authors by reading the first book in their various series. I got these free for my Kindle from Amazon (like drug dealers – they give you the first hit free, then once you’re hooked you gotta pay). These included:

    DEADLY GAMBLE by Connie Shelton, a mystery novel set in Albuquerque featuring an accountant as the sleuth, which I liked enough to purchase the second novel:

    VACATIONS CAN BE MURDER by Connie Shelton. Featuring the same sleuth, but set on her vacation in Hawaii. Interestingly, there are some obvious differences in the background of the sleuth from first book to second. She went from merely an accountant blundering around in her first investigation, to being highly experienced in investigating financial fraud.

    OLD WORLD MURDER by Kathleen Ernst, featuring a museum collections expert in Old World Wisconsin, an actual state (national?) park along the lines of Colonial Williamsburg. Good enough that I may purchase the next book.

    SAINTS PRESERVE US by L.K.Ellwood, featuring a professor at a Catholic university (in Florida?) whose ancestor was being made a saint. Not bad, but I’m not rushing to buy the next one.

    Because you mention Mark Twain fairly often, I decided to purchase a Kindle collection of all his novels and stories, but so far have only ready the jumping frog story.

    [Impressively long list, Deb, and between you and Hugh, you've got the mystery genre sewn up. As for Twain, Kindle packages for him, Dickens and others are amazing: Everything for, like, $3. Awfully daunting, though, so I'm just reading the books or uploading them as I want them. -- DA]

  • John Clifford

    Yikes, I didn’t complete anything in January. Not sure what’s going on with that. However I’ve got three books currently in the works that I should be able to include in the March list.

    You all really put me to shame.

    [Buck up. Your day, or month, will come. -- DA]

  • Dominick Damo

    Nice list, As I Lay Dying is my favorite book, and I can’t ever seem to keep a physical copy in my hands for more than a few days; someone always wants or needs a copy. I give them away.

    I often find myself at Barnes and Noble’s sitting down on a fluffy couch powering through half of the novel before leaving…

    Also, Philip K. Dick was insane (quite “literally” !), though I find his story lines, like most sci-fi, difficult to stay interested in. I do love his ideas/theories however.

    Which is why I was really pleased to find “The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick” at a library in Eugene, Oregon when I was staying there. It’s essentially a collection of essays he wrote throughout his life, outlining plot ideas and theories that were the basis of his novels, etcetera.

    As for what I’ve been reading recently, I’ve been reading many Henry Miller novels, as much as I can get my hands on.

    The guy was a genius–and an influence upon the Beats, especially Jack Kerouac. What amazes me most about him is his intensity, and that never lets up throughout the book. I’ve described his books as a permanent climax, a permanent high– a rollercoaster ride with no start or end. It starts off at the peak, and never lets up. They’re almost exhausting if you can’t digest or keep up with the man.

    He is intensely spiritual, mystical, and existential–but with optimistic conclusions. He constantly references Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, etc, but instead of saying “but this is why we are doomed”, as they said, he said “but this is why life is beautiful.”

    Essentially his novels are semi-autobiographical fiction, which sounds like a paradox, but that is Miller in a nutshell: paradoxical.

    He is the master of combining the High and Low-brow; his books were the target of obscenity laws in most countries and could only be widely found in Paris, France until the 1960′s.

    Out right pornography combined with mystical, spiritual insights and hilariously, brutal observations about humanity was Miller’s trademark. His sexploits are a blast to read, the man was downright obscene. However, like most closed-mined people and censors in general, they labeled him a pornographer, when “philosopher” would have been more apt.

    He loved life and couldn’t get enough of it. His books are pure ecstasy, joy, and spontaneity. George Orwell was his biggest advocate in his lifetime, saying this about him:

    “Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses.”

    Not exactly the kindest words, but that can be a spot on interpretation of his writing. Like most good literature, it can be hard to pin down sometimes.

    In any case, you can (and should) pick up Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer by the man. Probably at any local library, but I think your best bet would be the Claremont one.

    [Welcome to our discussion, Dominick. Reading between the lines of your comment, I think you're hinting that you like Henry Miller. Wrong? Sorry, couldn't resist. Thanks for commenting. I'm so overloaded with books that I'm not really looking for anything new. -- DA]