Reading log: February 2012

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Books acquired: “Best American Music Writing 2003,” Matt Groening, ed.; “The Woman in Black,” Susan Hill; “The Moveable Feast, revised edition,” Ernest Hemingway.

Books read: “The Pleasure of My Company,” Steve Martin; “This Shape We’re In,” Jonathan Lethem; “Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California 1945-1975,” AMOCA; “Aldo Casanova: A Retrospective,” Scripps College; “The Valley of Fear,” A. Conan Doyle; “The Space Merchants,” Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth; “Starburst,” Alfred Bester.

Seven books this month, all randomly chosen, although all were short, in keeping with my goal for 2012 of sticking mainly to under-200 page books.

“The Pleasure of My Company”: Narrated by a man with obsessive compulsive disorder, whose observations range from spot-on to hopelessly deluded, this short novel is laugh out loud funny as well as surprisingly sweet. Looser and more relaxed than “Shopgirl,” which was paralyzingly cautious, “Pleasure” is recommended to admirers of “Roxanne.”

“This Shape We’re In”: I’d wondered what this was after seeing the title in Lethem’s “Books by…” list. What this is is a lark, a 55-page snack involving a handful of human-like characters who exist in “a shape” that is apparently a living mammal of some sort and who navigate among the organs. Inessential, but weird and silly.

“Common Ground”: The exhibit book that accompanies Pomona’s American Museum of Ceramic Art’s wide-ranging look at SoCal’s ceramics history, this was professionally put together and beautifully photographed. I’m not a ceramics guy, but the text was informative, albeit didactic. If you’re interested in ceramics, this is a good overview.

“Aldo Casanova”: The Claremont artist mailed me a copy of this book himself a few weeks back; it’s a Scripps College publication of a few years ago about a retrospective exhibition of his work. Interesting stuff, which I read and absorbed over a lunch break. But it’s between two covers, so it counts here.

“The Valley of Fear”: I hate to disagree with Sherlock Holmes, but this isn’t nearly as remarkable a case as he keeps exclaiming. Also, Watson is barely present and half the book is a flashback. But even not-great Holmes is awfully enjoyable. (I read this on my Kobo e-reader but since I own a paperback version, I photographed that.)

“The Space Merchants”: This SF novel about a future America literally run by marketing and advertising forces was really ahead of its time and has dated hardly at all in 60 years, probably because the concept, the writing and the narration by a gung-ho adman is so gleefully cynical. It even has pro-environment themes nearly 20 years before the first Earth Day.

“Starburst”: A rock-solid collection of Bester’s short fiction, including the award-winning “Fondly Fahrenheit,” which isn’t even the most impressive story here. Not only are Bester’s plots interesting, but his prose is confident and propulsive. You can tell you’re in good hands from the first paragraph of each story.

This puts me at 18 books for 2012, and I’ve already finished one in March. (Vacation helped.) So, it’s your turn: Read anything good in February? You had 29 days, you know.

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  • John Clifford

    Well, I only managed to get through 2 books in the short month.

    A Covert Affair: When Julia and Paul Child Joined the OSS by Jennet Conant. If you’re looking to learn anything about the Childs (no, not children, although that really looks wrong), this might not be the book for you. It’s mostly about a friend of theirs, Jane Foster, who was accused in the ’50s of being a soviet spy. The Childs are just a couple of folks who worked with her in the OSS during WWII and I guess it seemed like a way to sell the book. A good read overall, but a little misleading. (although it was a NY Times bestseller.) 335 pages.

    The second book I read was A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum (probably would have been a good book for you to have read, David, to prepare for the London trip). This book was in a chronological order which looked at an object and its significance in showing us the history of the world and how it helped us to discover interesting facts about our past. It starts with a primitive stone axe and ends with a credit card and a solar lamp. All are objects on display at the British Museum. This was originally a radio series so the text is short and concise. Very interesting at 658 pages.

    [If you read 1,000 pages during February, John, no one is going to call you a slacker. That probably equaled all seven of my books! — DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    Darth Plagueis (J.Luceno). One of the best Star Wars books I’ve read in a long time. It’s about the Emperor before he was the Emperor.

    Shadow Games (M.Reaves & M.K.Bohnhoff). Another SW novel, with an interesting mix of characters and scenarios.

    The last two books in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Fast reads, no way these are real young adult genre books. Some surprises; I look forward to the film out this month soon.

    Rancho Cucamonga (P.Emick). Finally, Rancho made it into book form in the Images of America series. This was more of photos with extended captions. And some errors!?!

    [Errors? Shocking. Thanks for the contribution, Will. I had heard of Hunger Games but had no idea what it was (books? a video game?) or what it was about until seeing the movie trailer. Seemed potentially interesting. — DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Welcome back and congrats on an impressive number of books read with an impressively large science fiction showing in them! I don’t know if that sentence makes as much sense written out as it did in my head but everyone knows what I mean. I made it through four books this month, which I’m proud of. (I’m still coming off the pain and embarrassment of last August, when I read zero.)

    *A Bend in the River, by V. S. Naipaul. A book club pick, set in an unspecified post-colonial country in Africa. A dud, as far as I’m concerned, which surprised me, since Naipaul has won the Nobel Prize for his body of writing. I’d never read him before and after this book I have no plans to read him again. When people shy away from reading the classics because they’re afraid they’ll be dull and plodding… this is what they’re afraid of.

    *The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Another book club pick, but thankfully, this one was really good. Liked by all the members of our club, which is hard to do. A product of our foster care system has trouble dealing with people, but learns she can interact with the world through flowers. That description really doesn’t do the book justice. Recommended! Somebody take away Naipaul’s Nobel Prize and give it to Diffenbaugh.

    *There Won’t Be War, edited by Bruce McAllister and Harry Harrison. A collection of optimistic science fiction stories in which the world isn’t destroyed by war, including works by authors such as Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard, Frederick Pohl (mentioned by David above), etc. I’ve had this book since the ’90s and finally sat down to read it last month, squeezing it in between book club picks. Interesting tidbit: the book, originally conceived in 1988, finally came out in 1991, right after the fall of the Soviet Union rendered most of the stories and probably, for many potential buyers, the whole purpose of the book obsolete. Interesting tidbit number two: McAllister, one of the two editors and a highly regarded if not well-known science fiction author in his own right, was one of my professors at the University of Redlands.

    *The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Read this to my nine-year old daughter. She keeps asking questions that shows that she’s not always following the plot; on the other hand, she keeps wanting me to continue, so I gladly keep reading aloud to her. I loves me some Tolkien!

    That’s a better showing than I’ve had in many a reading blog comment. Once again, welcome back, David, and Keep the Reading Alive! Or something like that.

    The Hunger Games was a really good book!

    [Now that I’ve penned a Reading Log and have comments by Will, John and Doug, I feel like I’m back home. Doug, thanks as always for the cogent commentary, not to mention the loopy commentary, and I want to see this as a blurb on the next reprint of “A Bend in the River”: ” ‘When people shy away from reading the classics because they’re afraid they’ll be dull and plodding… this is what they’re afraid of.’ — Doug Evans, The David Allen Blog.” — DA]

  • John Clifford


    As a Star Wars fan I can’t help but mention that at the Animation program at the Pomona Fox on Sunday, one of the guests of the main speaker was Melissa Kurtz, daughter of Gary Kurtz, the producer of both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. While a simple relationship to someone who was a main mover with Star Wars is usually enough to pique my interest, it turns out that she was also one of the Jawas. And as my friend Steve Leiva noted, “And a darn fine Jawa she was too!!”

  • DebB

    I didn’t have much work this month, so I sailed through a number of free or very cheap Kindle downloads:

    In Plain Sight, On The Run, and Stranded, all by Lorena McCourtney. In January I read the first book of the series – Invisible – so I went ahead and finished the series as it stands so far. All are murder mysteries, featuring a 60-something widow traveling the country in an RV, running from some pesky killers out for revenge, encountering and solving murder wherever she goes, and accumulating various friends and animals in the process.

    Whirlpool, Riptide and Undertow, also by Lorena McCourtney (figured I might as well be consistent). These are also mysteries, all set in a small town on the Oregon coast. Some of the same characters re-occur, but each book features a different set of main characters. Kind of solves the problem of the same amateur detective constantly running into murder (would you feel safe being friends with Jessica Fletcher?).

    All of the above are fairly short (the paperbacks average about 320pgs) and quick reads. They’re also considered Christian fiction, in that all the main characters either are already Christians or become so by the end of the book.

    In addition, I read Skein of the Crime by Maggie Sefton, and Mummy Dearest by Joan Hess, both continuations of series I’ve been reading.

    So, eight books in February, but all fairly light reading. When I don’t have work, I don’t get out much….

    [Six books by one author? Wow! Lorena McCourtney owes you lunch, Deb. (If she can get you out of the house, that is.) — DA]