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.