Reading log: May 2012

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60480-books 052.jpg

Books acquired: None (thank goodness)

Books read: “Robert Fawcett, the Illustrator’s Illustrator,” Manuel Auad, ed.; “Grand Master of Fantasy: The Paintings of J. Allen St. John,” Stephen Korshak; “Doonesbury and the Art of G.B. Trudeau,” Brian Walker; “His Last Bow,” A. Conan Doyle; “Fear of Music,” Jonathan Lethem; “Paul’s Boutique,” Dan LeRoy; “The Devil’s Advocate, an Ambrose Bierce Reader,” Brian St. Pierre, ed.; “Press Boners,” Earle Tempel; “Bugf#ck: The Useless Wit and Wisdom of Harlan Ellison,” Arnie Fenner, ed.; “Barrel Fever,” David Sedaris.

May was a big month of good old-fashioned random reading for yours truly: 10 books, no theme, just clearing away a variety of unread tomes.

To summarize, in the order above: two books about prominent 20th century magazine illustrators; one book about a prominent 20th and 21st century cartoonist; the eighth (of nine) Sherlock Holmes mysteries; two books in the 33 1/3 series about record albums, one on the Talking Heads, the other on the Beastie Boys; a best-of for a contemporary of Mark Twain; a 1967 collection of newspaper errors; a pocket-sized book of quotations by a writer I like; and a popular humorist’s first book.

No point in summarizing my thoughts on so many books, but the “Doonesbury” book is worthwhile for fans, the Holmes and newspaper books were my favorites, and the Bierce, Sedaris and Ellison books my least favorites, although each had its moments. The newspaper and Beastie Boys books may become the subjects of columns.

About half of the books are recent purchases (the “Doonesbury” came from Borders’ closeout sale), “Press Boners” was bought at Book Baron’s closeout a few years ago, the Sedaris was a birthday gift eight years ago (ulp) and the Bierce was a gift in 1988 (double-ulp). But I get to everything eventually.

These 10 (!) books put me at 42 for the year, for anyone keeping track (hi, Hugh).

Enough and me and my books. What about you and your books?

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  • John Clifford

    Well, May was a big month for me too. But not as big as yours. I actually finished 4 books (that airport/plane time helped immensely).

    Partners In Crime: A Rafe Buenrosto Mystery by Ronaldo Hinojosa. A police mystery based in a Texas border town. This was published by a small press and the author is a professor in creative writing at University of Texas. Unfortunately, the typos and other difficulties of the text (at one point two entire chapters repeat) made it a bit difficult. But it was interesting as it had a very definitely “hispanic” voice.

    Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: This is a non-fiction book by a research psychologist who also won the Nobel Prize in Economics. It’s about how our brain works and especially how we make decisions. He was one of the psychologists who studied how economic markets work and how people respond to perceived risks. A very difficult work to get through (418 pages), but well worth it.

    The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley (1919): This is the original Zorro story. While this year’s Pomona Community Read (Together We Read) program will feature Isabelle Allende’s book Zorro, I had read it about a year ago. To get myself into the whole Zorro thing I decided to go back and read the original, which I did on my wife’s Amazon Kindle Fire. Allende’s book is the backstory for this swashbuckling hero of California, and particularly the Pueblo at Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mission. A fun read if not up to the literary standards of Allende.

    The Swerve * How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt: This National Book Award winner is a historic account of Poggio Braccolini, a scribe/secretary (in the truest sense that he was the keeper of secrets) to the original Pope John XXIII (who was deposed and his name stricken until the 20th century when another pope took that name). But most of all he was a humanist book hunter who went around and tried to find “lost” books in the monasteries in pre-Gutenberg times. His discovery of a book (hand-written) by Lucretius and its influences on society is the actual subject of the book, but the book hunting is the real story.

    All in all a good reading month. Perhaps I can sneak in a few pages at the Pomona council meeting this evening.

    [Who knows, your four books may trump my 10 books as far as pages. Especially with those repeated chapters, ha ha. I've already made myself a note to look for "The Curse of Capistrano." -- DA]

  • DebB

    A couple months ago I pulled a book from my “waiting to be read” shelf and finally read it. It was written by Charlotte and Aaron Elkins, and I enjoyed it very much. After finding that Aaron Elkins has for many years been writing a mystery series featuring a physical anthropologist, I bought the first one for my Kindle and have been enjoying them since. So far I’ve read the first five: “Fellowship of Fear”, “The Dark Place”, “Murder in the Queens Armes”, “Old Bones” and “Curses!” (the first one or two I read in April).

    I’ve read a couple more Charlie Parker books this month: “Reunions Can Be Murder” and “Competition Can Be Murder”. Also continuing the cookie jar books: “The Sugar Cookie Murder” and “Peach Cobbler Murder.”

    Finally, realizing that I read too fast and can’t afford to keep up this pace, I’ve decided to re-read my collection of Raymond Chandler, and am currently in the middle of “The Big Sleep.”

    However, after reading John’s mention of Zorro, I went to Amazon and found at least 4 Kindle versions of “The Curse of Capistrano.” After reading the reviews, I purchased the newest one (the fewest errors, according to the reviews) for a mere $2.99. I loved the Zorro TV show when I was little!

    [Maybe you need a library card, Deb! Or have you blazed through everything at the library too? -- DA]

  • John Clifford

    Deb, be sure to read Isabelle Allende’s book as well. It really rounds the characters out, especially if you watched the TV show. The original Zorro character was a bit one dimensional.

    I also understand that there is a new Zorro film in production based on the Allende book. No Antonio Banderas, because it requires a young Zorro/Don Diego. Should be good.

  • Will Plunkett

    Summer has begun, meaning it’s time for summer reading!

    I only had time to really get to read the last week or so, but I still got to five books.

    Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. It took a long time to fit into my “real life” so it was started in April and done this month. There were multiple PAGE length paragraphs (including one multiple page length SENTENCE) and very heavy on the details. I liked it; sometimes humorous, sometimes touching; sometimes creative. It was just so thick to digest.

    Sarah Silverman’s The Bedwetter. I thought it might be like George Carlin in its insight and comedic commentary. Nope.

    Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar. I attended the same talk as David, and so I have now officially read the entire book. Simple style but well done.

    Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson’s Peter and the Sword of Mercy. An add-on to the 3-part young adult series of Peter Pan’s adventures (somehow I missed book #3). Not bad.

    John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back. A colleague recommended this YA novel, after she met with the author and had a student/author Skype interview. The book is well-constructed, with great dialogue and plot scenarios. I just cringe at finding myself in print and on-screen so creepily (meaning characters’ actions and situations mirror my own life far too closely).

    This year’s Rancho library summer reading program theme is “Dream Big Read,” but I haven’t read a book specifically with the dream motif. Yet.

    [No, but you've added another mention of Isabel Allende to the comments section of this post, and that's something. Thanks, Will. -- DA]

  • Ted Melendez

    Only 1 book for me for the Month of May. Kevin Mitnicks book “Ghost in the Wires”. A
    pickup at the Ontario library’s new release section. Could only make it 110 pages before giving up.

    a lot of the computer tech stuff information in the book is incorrect. Also the book is pretty much a ripoff of the Frank Abagnale book/movie “Catch me if you Can.” I think Mr. Mitnick was a pretty predictable criminal and ran out stories 80 pages in and decided to use the movie storyline to fill the rest of his book.

  • hugh.c.mcbride

    Hello to you, too, Mr. Allen :-)

    May was by far my best month this year. Ten, count ‘em, T-E-N books this month. Brings my total to 25 for the year, or halfway to my 2012 goal.

    Won’t subject y’all to summaries of them all, but as May’s reading list focused on noir & hardboiled detectives, suffice it to say that the month was chock-full of bombshell blondes, crooked cops, and grizzled gumshoes.

    It may also have been the best month of my reading life in terms of evocative titles:

    - Las Vegas Noir (Todd James Pierce, ed.)
    - Money Shot (Christa Faust)
    - Choke Hold (Christa Faust)
    - A Bullet for Cinderella (John D. MacDonald)
    - Deadly Beloved (Max Allan Collins)
    - Hit Man (Lawrence Block)
    - Little Girl Lost (Richard Aleas)
    - Songs of Innocence (Richard Aleas)
    - Fade to Blonde (Max Phillips)
    - The Killer Inside Me (Jim Thompson)

    In addition to being a month of tremendous fiction, May also marked my first all-digital month. I purchased the newest product from Barnes & Noble, the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight. Can’t say enough good things about this excellent e-reader. I remain a huge fan of actual printed material, but I am most definitely enamored with the Nook.

    [Hugh, congratulations on 10 (!) e-books (!!) with evocative titles (!!!). Not having to manually turn pages must have sped you up. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Three books this past month! Bringing my year-to-date total up to whatever I’ve done the previous four months plus this one! I’m too lazy to look it up. Here’s what I read:

    -A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. This was a book club pick. An 11-year-girl solves crimes in 1950′s England. Third in a series… Kind of in an interesting idea but not enough to make me want to read the others. “Red herring without mustard” is apparently an actual well-known dish in England but, hey, red herring! Because it’s a mystery! So there. Also: who picks the third book in a series for a book club?

    -Slan by A.E. Van Vogt. A science fiction classic I’d never read. Interesting idea: a mutant race of telepaths tries to survive on earth while being hunted by us “norms” (my word; not from the book). Written in that over-analytical style so popular with science fiction authors of the time (the time being the late 1940s), such that every character has to explain out loud whatever he or she is doing or thinking in lengthy page-long paragraphs. It reads as though the author has never taken part in an actual conversation between two people, either verbal or telepathic, which I guess I can forgive him that last one.

    Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. Another book club pick. Set in the near future, a schlumpy thirty-nine-year-old sad-sack falls in love with a damaged Korean-American twenty-something, all the while dealing with the effects of an financially bankrupt and post-9-11 police-state America. Here’s the thing, people who don’t regularly write science fiction and think they have a good idea for a futuristic plot no one’s thought of before: we’ve seen it all before, and better executed than anything you’re doing! (I’m looking at you, James Cameron with your Avatar.) Anyway, this book had a few good ideas (that science fiction has been exploring since the twenties), two completely unsympathetic main characters, and is not recommended by yours truly, though it was apparently a book beloved by critics when it came out a couple of years back, showing that most book critics need to leave their comfort zone and read more actual sci-fi. I have spoken.

    I am currently finishing up The Return of the King with my daughter, and am two-thirds through A Game of Thrones, and I recently got hold of three Isaac Asimov books I last read in high school, so hopefully I’ve have all those to report on next month!

    Curious: I’m almost completely unfamiliar with Ambrose Bierce beyond “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”… What about him made him one of your least favorites last month? Dated? Just not funny? Good but not as good as the other books you read?

    Happy reading, everyone!

    [The Bierce collection was 330 (oversized) pages and he just wasn't worth that much devotion. I liked his stories (Civil War, supernatural) and parts of his Devil's Dictionary, but a little of his commentary and journalism went a long way; it was, as you surmised, dated and not that funny. I'd recommend a less expansive collection. Enjoyed your commentary above. I read Slan maybe three years ago and didn't get what the fuss was about either. The idea of the book used to resonate as a metaphor for SF's outsider fans. -- DA]

  • Doug Evans

    Hey, you’re right! I just did a blog search… you talked about the book back in Feb ’09, and your opinion matches mine. (Same edition of the book, by the way!) Also, based on the comment I left back then, my grandpa was still alive (he made it one more year), I was still signing myself “Doug from Chino Hills,” and I was hinting strongly that we should get together and talk about books! (Something which, for the record, we now do regularly, though not just to talk about books.) These blog posts are like little diary entries!

    [Yours and mine! -- DA]