Reading log: October 2012

Books acquired: “Conversations With Jonathan Lethem,” Jaime Clarke, ed.

Books read: “Weird Heroes Vol. 1,” Byron Preiss, ed.; “Zorro,” Isabel Allende; “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes,” A. Conan Doyle; “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar,” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “Doomsman/Telepower,” Harlan Ellison/Lee Hoffman.

October was a heroic month, at least in my reading life. Knowing I would be reading the Allende version of Zorro, Pomona’s community read, I used that as an excuse to pick other  books with larger than life characters.

“Weird Heroes” was a late 1970s series of eight paperbacks featuring modern takes on positive heroes by SF and comics writers, with a few pen and ink illustrations by comics-friendly artists. This first one was a mixed bag and unsatisfying, but it was an interesting idea.

“Zorro,” at 400 pages, is perhaps more Zorro than you need, but it provides a convincing origin for the 1840s character that involves the San Gabriel Mission, Spain, Portugal, pirates and royalty.

In “Jewels of Opar,” the fifth in the series, Tarzan suffers a blow to the head and loses his memory, reverting to his ape-like ways. Meanwhile, Jane is kidnapped, which I suspect will be her role in many of the remaining 19 books. Overall, an enjoyable entry in the series. Also, I might have a crush on La, the priestess of Opar. If anyone knows her, please let her know she does not have to choose a mate from the gnarled, grotesque men of her hidden kingdom because she has an admirer in the Inland Valley. Thanks.

“Casebook” is the final Holmes story collection by his creator. Not up to the quality of the earlier books, although it’s arguably better than “Valley of Fear,” but for fans, the pleasures of spending time with Holmes and Watson sweep away any petty criticism.

As for “Doomsman/Telepower,” that’s two short novels in one, both involving soldiers of the future. Published in 1967, after Ellison had begun winning SF awards, “Doomsman” is a novella he cranked out in 1958 that is laughably awful. (Four pages after telling us a character being tortured no longer has eyes, he looks at someone.) I’m not sure the publisher had his permission to rescue the story from magazine oblivion. Making matters more embarrassing, despite its cheapjack cover and publisher, this is among the easier Ellison books to find at used bookstores. Lore has it that Ellison at least once was asked at a convention to autograph a copy and instead bought it from the fan and tore it up right in front of him. “Telepower,” by the way, is far better.

I’d had hopes of reading another Fu Manchu book — the next one is “President Fu Manchu,” a timely title — but I ran out of time. Soon. My five books in October brings my total this year to 71; I’m now aiming for 80.

I’ve owned these books anywhere from a few weeks (“Zorro”) to two decades (“Doomsman,” which still bears the $1.25 price tag from Atlanta’s Book Nook, marked up from the original 50 cents due to its out-of-print status). “Weird Heroes” I owned as a teen, never read, sold, then bought back four years ago for another try. Reading that and “Doomsman” meant a lot due to their longtime presence in my life, even if the contents weren’t so hot. “Casebook” was bought this year but is another book I owned as a boy, and read all or most of back then. “Tarzan” was bought at Pasadena’s Book Alley in 2001.

What have you been reading? I’m sure you’ve all been making heroic efforts.


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  • Bob House

    If you were to marry the Princess from the Jewels of Opar, She would be La de DA.

    • davidallen909

      Another reason it’s meant to be.

  • Bob House

    If you were to marry the Princess of Opar, she would be La de DA.

  • Doug Evans

    I did it! I read six books this past month! This after having read zero the month before (though see below for more details on that)… Go me!

    Here’s what I got through…

    *Carte Blanche, by Jeffrey Deaver. The latest James Bond
    novel, authorized by the Ian Fleming estate. This is an “updating” of Bond,
    starting the Bond saga from scratch and putting Bond firmly in the new
    millennium. This makes this book kind of like the most recent Bond movies,
    though there’s no other connection between them. Bond, in this book, fights a villain who is a wealthy international trash-disposal expert and who also gets aroused by dead bodies, so: yuck. There’s a terrorist plot that Bond has to uncover and stop or thousands will die… Not the world-is-at-stake stakes that shows up in many over-the-top Bond films, so all the more realistic for that, but maybe just that much less exciting, too. Entertaining enough for readers (like me) who enjoyed the Fleming books and want more; people looking for an updated, well-written, action-packed Bond can stick with the movies. (I finished this book last month, incidentally, and then forgot that I had done so, so alter my monthly reading stats accordingly!)

    *The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Read for a book club. A family goes through a tragedy and betrayal and learns to stick together. And it’s all told from the point-of-view of a dog! Sounds like that shouldn’t work as a book, at least not to me, but it does. Also lots of stuff about car racing, which I know nothing about, but the book serves to make it interesting. The dog likes it! The friend who chose this book for our club ranked it up there with “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a book that changed his life… I wouldn’t quite put it there, but I’m glad I read it.

    *The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco. Another book club pick. Hey, Umberto Eco! Look at me (well, my book club) be all literary! A dense and hard-to-follow book that details the (fictional) life of the guy who forged “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the document detailing the supposed Jewish plot to take over everything and which has caused a lot of untold real-life suffering and death over the last century. Lots of politics and history! About which I knew/know nothing… Also the main character is a creep and murderer and zealous anti-Semite… you don’t really want to spend too much time with him, and he’s the narrator of the book. Having said that… It was a fascinating if kind of a tough read, and I’m glad I read it, though I should point out that I’m one of the only members of the book club who made it all the way through.

    *Prague Fatale, by Philip Kerr. Another in the “Bernie Gunther” detective series set in Nazi Germany… Gunther, a detective trying to do his job and keep his soul in a country where millions are being systematically murdered because of their ethnicity, tries to solve a murder in a country house (Heydrich’s country house in Prague, forcibly taken from a Jewish family, so not your typical English countryside-type murder mystery) and keep his girlfriend out of trouble. Gunther gets his man, more or less, though he doesn’t quite succeed in saving the girl, but since everyone involved, including the dead guy and possibly even Gunther himself, is already a murderer by virtue of having massacred hundreds of Jews and Czech citizens, it’s hard to see that any kind of justice is served. I’m making this sound really bleak… Gunther is a fascinating and tortured character, determined to still do the right thing as best he can in a world turned insane around him. (I read the previous book in this series back in August and was luke-warm on it… This one is definitely back on track.)

    By the way… Two books this month with “Prague” in the title!
    Not a theme I picked on purpose but there you are.

    *My Life and Hard Times, by James Thurber. A book picked up for a dollar in a discount book store. Slight (I read it in one night) but a lot of fun! Humorous stories from Thurber’s early life in a turn-of-the-last-century small town in Ohio. I partly picked it up to see how much things have changed since then… Turns out people are the same all over. Favorite story was one where the townspeople mistakenly get the idea that the reservoir dam has burst, and they all start running in a panic until they stop. My one sentence description doesn’t do it justice, but it had me giggling silently in bed trying hard not to wake my wife.

    *True Grit, by Charles Portis. Picked up also on the cheap and a fun read! Very deadpan narration from the 14-year-old girl at the center of the action (though written from her perspective as an adult looking back) which I love. She doesn’t know she’s being funny which makes it all the funnier. And the action is just as tense as in the recent film, which is true even though I knew what going to happen. Somebody should turn this book into a movie! Twice!

    Phew! That was a lot of typing. Thanks for the log, David! Always fun to read what you’ve been up to, and the other regulars as well…See you all here next month! Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      I feel like I’ve already read one book this month: Doug’s comment. Seriously, I’m always flattered to receive a comment as long as my original post. And look at you (well, your book club) being all literary, yes, but look at you (unlike your book club) finishing the literary choice. Go you!

      Oh, and in an odd coincidence, it’s been quite some time since I thought about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but just this morning I came across a reference to it (in the introduction to a collection of Will Eisner’s Spirit stories; Eisner’s last work was a graphic novel about the Protocols), and here you are with my day’s second reference to it. Meaningless, but a curious coincidence.

  • Sigh . . . , did not finish any books in October. Have gotten through 680 pages of the book I started at the end of September. I’ll be so glad when the election is over and I can get back to the important things in life.

    • davidallen909

      We’ll welcome you back next month with open arms, John. If you’re 680 pages into a book and haven’t finished, you’re obviously in it for the long haul.