Reading log: April 2012

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Books acquired: “Fear of Music,” Jonathan Lethem; “Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson,” Kevin Avery, ed.; “The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike,” Philip K. Dick; “Farewell to Manzanar,” Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston.

Books read: “One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko,” Mike Royko; “Double Star,” Robert Heinlein; “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” Philip K. Dick; “The Man With Nine Lives,” Harlan Ellison; “My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew,” Robert Benchley; “Going Like Sixty,” Richard Armour; “1000 Record Covers,” Michael Ochs.

For April all my books had a number in the title. When you have a large backlog of unread books, you can pick and choose like that. As you can see above, I hit numbers 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 60 and 1000.

Had time allowed, I could also have read “The Three Musketeers” and its sequel “Twenty Years After,” not to mention “Our Friends From Frolix 8,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “1,001 Arabian Nights” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Those are ones I own; you can probably think of others I could have bought, like “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Let me go through there in numerical order.

Mike Royko’s individual collections can be hit or miss. “One More Time,” which winnows down 30 years of columns into a best-of, is a winner. He sticks up for Rodney King, predicts OJ will go free, eulogizes John Belushi, forces the Veterans Administration to help a destitute vet and critiques his own feet. Royko could go for the jugular, the tear ducts or the funny bone. His writing, especially his closers, are frequently astonishing.

In “Double Star,” an out-of-work ham actor is hired to impersonate a missing world leader to keep the cause of peace between Earth and Mars alive. Amusing and inventive. This was my first Heinlein since reading “Stranger in a Strange Land” as a teenager.

In “Three Stigmata,” one drug enables the user to mentally escape a hellish existence and enter a sort of Barbie-and-Ken playset. Then a competing drug surfaces that may allow the user to escape life permanently and even meet God. But does it, and is meeting God a good thing? A remarkable novel, one that deserves to be better known.

The other half of an Ace Double with Ellison’s “A Touch of Infinity,” “Man With Nine Lives” is about revenge and its futility. It’s been out of print for 50 years and Ellison so far hasn’t followed through on promises to rewrite and expand it. Not up to his best, but not bad. (In his bibliography, Ellison insists on calling this book “The Sound of a Scythe,” his preferred title; it took me 25 years to realize there was no such book, which happened only when I found this.)

“My Ten Years in a Quandary” is not Benchley’s best, being comprised mostly of very short pieces, and yet even these trifles can be giddy fun: “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, except that you asked me to tell you the story of the London model who didn’t drive men mad. You don’t remember that, do you? I suppose that next you’ll be saying that you aren’t even reading this.”

Richard Armour’s books used to dominate any bookstore’s Humor section and now he’s slipping into obscurity. “Going Like Sixty” is a look at the pluses (grandchildren; free time; no one minds if you leave a party early) and minuses (decrepitude) of growing older. Genial but unmemorable. I got it because he was a Claremont resident.

From the famous to the obscure, “1000 Record Covers” presents 1000 record covers, just like the title says. In a neat touch, some otherwise unrelated covers are paired by common design elements or themes. Some of the older covers show the lack of respect given to rock musicians: sloppy photo cutouts and reuse of photo shoots across two album covers. And it was fascinating to see how many black artists were shoved off their own record jackets to appeal to whites.

As for where the books came from, most were acquired in the past five years, although I don’t always remember where. “Stigmata” is the oldest and has probably been on my shelves 20 years or more. And it was my favorite book of the month. Tsk, tsk.

This brings me to 32 books read in four months, a relatively torrid pace for me. May promises a month of random book choices, including some art books, a couple of mysteries and possibly a collection by Ambrose Bierce.

What are the rest of you reading? Jump right in and let us know. Or feel free to name books with numbers in the title.

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  • barbara f

    Paul Nelson … glad you grabbed what promises to be a fascinating read!

    [It was a birthday gift, from a friend who knows my tastes, and I was happy to get it. -- DA]

  • Will Plunkett

    Just one: Jeff Dunham’s Arguing With My Selves. I’ve enjoyed the ventriloquist’s comedy routines, and some of the behind-the-scenes shows. I liked how his characters interjected their own comments through his autobiography.

    [Thanks, Will. And if past is prologue, summer vacation means Will will be tearing through a book every few days and leaving us all awestruck. -- DA]

  • John Clifford

    Didn’t complete anything in April, but should be able to at least finish the three books I’m currently working on in May (especially since I’ve got an east coast trip coming up which means plenty of time in airports and on planes).

    [Then we'll stand by (airport joke). Enjoy the trip. -- DA]

  • DebB

    This month I discovered Joanne Fluke and her Hannah Swensen series of mysteries. Hannah owns a cookie shop in Minnesota, and the books are peppered with descriptions and recipes of cookies, candies and other baked goods. Fairly light reading, hard to get through without salivating. I’ve read the first four: “Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder”, “Strawberry Shortcake Murder”, “Blueberry Muffin Murder” and “Lemon Meringue Pie Murder”.

    Also read Elizabeth Peters’ “The Seventh Sinner”, about a group of students in Italy, one of whom is murdered in a catacomb.

    [Sounds like you binged on the cookie mysteries, Deb! Now I'm wondering if Hannah ever foillows the proverbial trail of crumbs to the culprit. -- DA]

  • hugh.c.mcbride

    THIRTY-TWO books in the first four months?!? Yowza! I miss two Reading Logs & I return to discover that the ol’ Marathon of Books has turned into a sprint (and I’m still sitting on the side of the track tying my shoes).

    [I'd like to request a moment of silence in honor of the metaphor that I beat to death in the previous sentence.]

    [Thank you.]

    Almost embarrassed to say that I only added 3 books to my 2012 tally in April – bringing my total to 14 for the year (which means that I’ve spent 4 months reading about as much as Mr. Allen knocks off on a Metro ride from Claremont to LA).

    OK, self-flagellation aside, here’s what I read in April:

    * FORGETFULNESS (Ward Just) – An aging painter who once did a few “odd jobs” for the CIA now lives with his wife in a remote village in the south of France. When his wife is murdered during a hike in the nearby mountains, there are questions about whether this was a random act of violence or revenge from years gone by. Challenging topic (murder, espionage, torture, demons from one’s past) presented in a surprisingly contemplative manner.

    * DEAD MAN’S HAND (Otto Penzler, ed.) – A collection of crime fiction short stories all involving poker, featuring a few promising names in the list of authors. I opened this book with great expectations. I closed it with the thought, “thank heavens *that’s* over with.” Underwhelming at best.

    * BORKMAN’S POINT (Hakan Nesser) – Just your standard “small-town Swedish ax murderer” story. Apparently this is an early entry in a series of mysteries featuring Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren. In keeping with my inadvertent April theme, I wasn’t blown away by this one, but I’ll probably give the series another chance somewhere down the road.

    Final thoughts on the month:

    1. Nothing I read quite reached the level of Mike Royko’s classic critique of his feet (but then again, could fill libraries with prose that doesn’t reach those heights). [I found "One More Time" in a Goodwill store in West Virginia a few years back - and believe you me, the book was the best thing about the entire trip. As you report, David, Royko's genius absolutely spans the decades.]

    2. Clearly, I’m going to need a “Will Plunkett in summertime” surge to get back on track toward my goal of 50 for the year (and to get within shouting distance of our esteemed blogger).

    3. I guess this is what I deserve for missing two consecutive Reading Logs. Lesson learned, indeed :-)

    [At least you've admitted your error, Mr. McBride. That's the first step toward redemption. Glad to have you back, and I look forward to your massing of the troops for a summertime surge. Then you can mow down books as if they were rats. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Yikes! Reading blog has gone to Archives, which means I’m past my self-imposed deadline! Well, I’ll sneak in here anyway, and share that I read one book in April… not great; better than zero… “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (kind of suspect with this crowd I don’t need to type that). Read it for a book club at which it was admired by all, as you’d suspect a still-beloved classic might be. Some in the group had read it before (me!) and for some it was the first time. Also, some had recently seen the movie, but not all of us had (it’s been at least twenty years for me), so we talked a little about book/movie variations.

    And that’s all I got except I’m hoping for a count of at least three for this month. Not much to brag about maybe around here, but I’d like to be able to get through more than one a month. If only to cut down a tiny bit on my giant stack of unread books.

    Hey, I read Double Star (the Heinlein book) back in college! And I used to check out Richard Armour books from the library all the time in high school… I was an odd kid, but he was funny… but, sadly, I haven’t even thought about him in years, as apparently neither has America. Hard to be a humorist and last through the ages, maybe. (Mark Twain looks down on me and chuckles.)

    Good to have Hugh back! Till next month, everyone!

    Doug

    [I noticed this morning that the Reading Log had slipped off the home page and thought, "Guess we won't be hearing from Doug." And yet here you are anyway. Thank you! I assumed someone here would have read "Double Star," and it turns out to be you. Anecdote: Early last month on a sunny Sunday afternoon I had my vintage Signet paperback face down on an outside table at Coffee Bean in Claremont. A woman of about 60 passes by and pauses. Then she says, "'Double Star'?" A true aficionado. She told me I'd enjoy it, and I did. -- DA]