Reading log: March 2012

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59479-books 047.jpg

Books acquired: “Anguished English,” Richard Lederer; “The Hunger Games,” Suzanne Collins; “Tower of Glass” and “The Man in the Maze,” Robert Silverberg; “Tarzan” Nos. 9, 10, 11, 13, 14 and “Warlord of Mars” No. 4, Edgar Rice Burroughs; “Night,” Elie Wiesel; “The Sugar Frosted Nutsack,” Mark Leyner; “Bugf#ck: The Useless Wit and Wisdom of Harlan Ellison,” Arnie Fenner, ed.

Books read: “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” Italo Calvino; “Summer Morning, Summer Night” and “Switch on the Night,” Ray Bradbury; “Like the Night (revisited),” C.P. Lee; “Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed,” Harlan Ellison; “Last Night at the Lobster,” Stewart O’Nan; “Night,” Elie Wiesel.

The days may be longer, but in March, night descended upon my reading life. Every title this month has the word “night” in it. I had enough such unread books to fill a month, and then I bought one more. Let me shed some light on the titles.

“If on a winter’s night a traveler”: A very clever meta-fictional novel about the act of and joy of reading. In some ways it’s the ultimate novel, made up as it is of multiple first chapters, and yet I can’t say I raced through it, and the conceit dragged a bit toward the end. But the ending was brilliant. I read much of this in Europe but finished it at the start of March.

“Summer Morning, Summer Night”: Most of the stories here can be found in other Bradbury collections, and the unpublished vignettes are awfully slight. That said, having more of Bradbury’s Illinois tales grouped together is welcome, and nobody writes about summers like him. Not up to the level of “Dandelion Wine,” though.

“Switch on the Night”: A picture book about overcoming the fear of nighttime via a clever, typically Bradburian premise (don’t switch off the lights, switch on the dark), with illustrations by the masterful Leo and Diane Dillon. I don’t know if it works as a children’s book or not, but as an RB fan I’m glad to have finally read it. Also, even savoring the illustrations, this took me eight minutes to read. I need more books like this.

“Like the Night (revisited)”: Fannish, but for devotees of Dylan’s confrontational 1966 tour, a useful account by one who was there, and who tracked down others who were too.

“Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed”: While less convinced of Ellison’s status as one of history’s great essayists than the editor, I’m an admirer. This is kind of a grab-bag, with the best pieces being the most surprising: a magazine profile of Steve McQueen, a first-person account of the March on Montgomery and an enthusiastic endorsement of a video dating service. Obscure (I found this copy last year for $40), but indispensable for his fans.

“Last Night at the Lobster”: An absurdly mundane premise — the last day of operation at a suburban, and snowbound, Red Lobster — becomes something low-key and heroic in this slim novel about a touchingly conscientious manager, the employees who show up, or don’t, for their last shift, and the retirees, bad parents and office group that show up for service. Carefully observed, sympathetic and occasionally hilarious.

“Night”: Spare, haunting and more terrifying than anything at the multiplex, this Holocaust memoir deserves every bit of its reputation.

As for how these books came into my possession, “Winter’s night” was a gift from a friend (Hi Mary!) about, um, seven years ago; the Bradburys were purchased on Amazon and at Bookfellows in Glendale, respectively, in the last year; “Like the Night” is a few years old and I’ve forgotten its origin; “Sleepless” came from Book Alley in Pasadena; “Lobster” was bought at Subterranean Books in St. Louis last year; and “Night” was bought at the Claremont Forum bookshop on March 27 on a whim and read almost immediately. Who knew I could do that?

As we end the first quarter of 2012, I’ve read 25 books, which would put me on track to read 100 if I thought there was any way to keep up this pace, which I don’t. Not without a lot more children’s picture books. (Recall that some of my 11 books in January were begun last fall.) But I’m doing all right. Coming up in April: books with numbers in their titles.

Now let’s turn matters over to you. What have you been reading, and what did you think?

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  • Will Plunkett

    (3rd attempt to post)
    I teach Night to my freshmen every few years, and it never fails to make an impact on them.

    With Spring Break in March, I got to read more in that time than the whole year up to that point so far.

    Two John Steinbecks (The Pastures of Heaven, The Moon is Down) that I hadn’t read yet. Both were short, but I preferred PoH because it was set in Steinbeck’s usual central CA, but MiD, set in World War era Europe.

    Two humor books, Bill Cosby (I Am What I Ate… and I’m Frightened! ) and L.Murray (Teach Yourself Stand-Up Comedy). Surprisingly, neither was really funny, but I did get some ideas for writing lessons for my students from the second book.

    Three Star Wars books (Wrath of Darth Maul, Secret Missions #4, and Apocalypse).

    One not-a-part-of-a-mutiple-book-category (Rudolfo Anaya) Aburquerque, about the city (that is supposedly the correct spelling that a painter erred in when making the train stop sign that visitors assumed was the correct way). I liked the characters and the storyline was easy to follow, but not too simplistic.

    [Will, thanks for hanging in there until your comment went through. -- DA]

  • John Clifford

    Only 1 book in March, but worked on another that will be discussed in April.

    Eduardo Galeano’s Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everything. I had previously read his Memories of Fire and was excited to find this one at City Lights in San Francisco on a birthday trip this month.

    Galeano is a Uruguayan journalist, writer and novelist. This book, like Memories, is a collection of stories, usually only 2-3 paragraphs long which together tell the story of the history of civilization. It doesn’t focus on one continent, religion, or race, but intermingles the stories, myths, and histories of everywhere and, through juxtaposition, makes strong statements.

    One series of stories are titled: The Devil is Muslim, The Devil is Jewish, The Devil is Indian, The Devil is Black, The Devil is a Woman, etc. and each story tells how various religious beliefs have demonized different groups.

    I highly recommend this. An easy read but thought provoking.

    [That does sound interesting. Belated happy birthday, John, and nice to hear you're already anticipating your comment on next month's Reading Log! -- DA]

  • DebB

    I’ve heard that the publishing industry, much like the music industry, is in a shambles, and this month I read a couple books that were examples of that.

    Over the last few years I’ve been noticing a lack of decent editing and proofreading in some of the novels I read. Since Christmas I’ve been reading through many of the free or very cheap Kindle books from Amazon, some of which are self-published. That might explain the poor sentence structure, misspellings, missing words, commas in the wrong places, incessant ellipses, etc., except that I’ve come across the same errors in books by major authors.

    This month I read a book called “For the Love of Livvy.” The story itself was not bad, but there were many places where the sentence structure was very poor, making it difficult to understand without a couple readings. For me, that ruins the flow of the story and I don’t enjoy it as much. In addition, the characters lacked real depth, and the whole set-up is a fairly blatant copy of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels.

    On the other hand, I also read “This Body of Death” by Elizabeth George (all 873 pages!). She’s been a highly successful author for many years, and apparently her publishers pretty much allow her to call the shots. The book was very well written, great depth to her characters and story – but 873 pages? Honestly, was there no editor brave enough to write “delete” in a few places? (Martha Grimes’ book “Foul Matter” might have been written with authors like George in mind. It’s a hilarious send-up of the publishing industry – I highly recommend it.)

    In addition, this month I also read:

    “Death of a Lovable Geek” by Maria Hudgins. Set in Scotland with an older heroine, enjoyable

    “Face in the Creek” and “Persons Missing or Dead” by Cliff Black. I’m enjoying this mystery series set in the Four Corners area. Seems to be self-published, but either he knows a decent editor or is a good self-editor!

    “Never Sorry” by Edie Claire. Set in Pittsburgh, enjoyable also.

    [Six books? You're on fire, Deb. (I notice none were children's picture books either.) Really long novels can be like really long movies, a sort of self-indulgence on the part of a writer or director whom no one feels can be told no. But of course there are great long novels and movies too. As for editing, fact-checking of nonfiction seems to have gone out of style (I still can't get over "City of Quartz" referencing "Rod Sterling" as the host of "Twilight Zone") and simple proofreading of fiction also seems passe, making one wonder what editors do. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Happy Easter, everyone! And: yay, reading log!! Always enjoy these, as I think I say every time, and here’s the two books I managed to get through this past month:

    *Almost Dead, by Assaf Gavron. Book club pick. Excellent! Really entertaining… funny and macabre all in one blow. Alternating chapters tell the story of a Jewish resident of Israel who keeps narrowly avoiding being killed in terrorist attacks, and the suicide bomber who eventually decides that the aforementioned survivor has to go. That description sounds like there’s nothing funny in the book at all, but the dry matter-of-fact way it’s told carried me on through. Apparently quite controversial in its native Israel (the book is translated from Hebrew by the author) for its quasi-sympathetic portrayal of the suicide bomber. Recommended!

    And!

    *The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain. A noir classic I’ve always meant to read and never had. It’s short! And well-deserving of its reputation! And, in a living-in-the-future moment, I read it on my iPad, having downloaded it from the San Bernardino County Library system! In other words, I checked it out of the library without leaving my living room chair! THE FUTURE, I AM IN YOU. Note: no actual postmen nor doorbells play any kind of a role in the story. I had to go to wikipedia to figure out what the title meant. Which I won’t share here, because: spoilers.

    To comment on David’s post: When I first read that March’s theme was “Night,” I wondered if the Elie Wiesel book would be included… and sure enough, it was. That’s a book I’ve never had the courage to read… I’ve read several fictionalized accounts of the Holocaust, which are horrible enough, but reading an actual memoir seems like it might take too much out of me… Well, Weisel had to live it; the least I can do is read it, I suppose. Maybe I’ll make it a future book club pick of my own and force myself to read it that way.

    To comment on the commenters’ books: John Clifford’s description of Eduardo Galeano’s “Mirrors” sounds really intriguing. And I think editing might be a dying skill, sadly… But not by me! Check out this post! Not on typographical error to be found!! (Now that I’ve just written that, I’m sure I have doomed myself to at least one typo somewhere in this post.) And, Will: I always have to cut and past my comment here in this window and re-post from scratch… my comments never go through the first time.

    Till next month!

    ["Night" has the virtue of being short, just over 100 pages. Any more might be too much to bear. There's no uplifting ending or attempt to find something good, but Wiesel's prose is artful, and the book is powerful without being a tearjerker. Oh, and I read "Postman" a couple of years ago and liked it very much. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Aaaaugh!! I want to pretend I typed “past” and not “paste” on purpose, coming just one sentence as it did after my typo crack… but, nope, that was an honest-to-goodness typo.

    Aaaaugh!!

  • Doug Evans

    And… “Not on typographical error to be found!”?? OK, I’m going to stop looking at these to find my own errors, but that one, which *has* to have been on purpose… was not on purpose.

    Sigh.

    [The Typoman Always Blogs Twice! Or something like that. -- DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    I never think to include the books I read (re-reading) along with my students, just the new ones for myself.

    There’s a sort-of trilogy around Night by Wiesel: Night (the memoir of his time in the camps), Dawn (fictional, but still thematically related to the first book), and Day (also called The Accident, which to be honest, was harder for me to read than Night).

    [Night, Dawn and Day? Heh. Wiesel could have provided his own theme for a month of my reading...although three books related to the Holocaust in one month by one man would have been a tough slog. -- DA]