Reading log: November 2012


Books acquired: “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” Sean Howe; “Dreams and Schemes,” Steve Lopez; “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Jonathan Lethem; “The Wonderful World of Robert Sheckley,” Robert Sheckley; “The Day After Tomorrow,” Robert A. Heinlein; “Los Angeles, the Architecture of Four Ecologies,” Rayner Banham; “The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race,” Paul Krassner.

Books read: “My L.A.,” Matt Weinstock; “Orange County,” Gustavo Arellano; “Farewell to Manzanar,” Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston; “Translating L.A.,” Peter Theroux; “This is Claremont,” Harold Davis, editor; “Ancient L.A.,” Michael Rochlin.

For yours truly, November was a month of California books. In the order presented above, my choices were a 1947 book of lore and facts about L.A. by a famous newspaper columnist of the day; a history of Orange County combined with a family history by the OC Weekly editor and “Ask a Mexican!” columnist; a famous memoir of the Japanese-American internment camp experience; an exploration of L.A. as it stood in the 1980s and early 1990s; a 1947 history of Claremont, then a mere 60 years from its founding; and a collection of three essays about aspects of L.A.’s past that influence its present.

I liked all the above, but my favorite was Theroux’s. He¬†wrote “Translating L.A.” in 1994 as a transplant to LA who had lived through the riots and two major earthquakes and felt his adopted city was misunderstood and caricatured. He ranged throughout L.A., including Watts, East LA and the Inland Empire, to report on what he saw and ponder what it meant. Open-minded, slyly funny, perceptive. He even rode Metrolink from Union Station to Riverside for the final chapter, further endearing his book to me.

How did the books fall into my hands? “My L.A.” came from Magic Door Books in Pomona (I think I bought it on my first visit), “Orange County” from the remainder bin at Montclair’s Borders, “Translating LA” from (I think) Brand Books in Glendale, “Farewell to Manzanar” from the Rancho Cucamonga Library’s Big Read earlier this year, “This is Claremont” from the Antique Gallery in Pomona and “Ancient L.A.” from Half Off Books in Whittier. All were obtained in the past five years or so.

For a change of pace, for the photo I laid out the books in my laundry room. I have a small bookcase there too.

These six bring my total to 77 books read for the year. (As I bought seven this month, I didn’t make any headway on my backlog, but at least my backlog is slowly being refreshed.) My plan is to read a leisurely three in December, to top off at 80 for 2012. Although I might knock off an extra one or two.

What’s everyone else been reading, in between shopping, cooking turkey and bouts of the flu?

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  • DebB

    This is an incredibly busy time of year for me, between work, family, Christmas gifts, et al. I think I read one book at the very beginning of November, and I can’t even remember what it was! I started another just before Thanksgiving, and I’m going to have to start it again whenever I get back to it. Otherwise I’ll have no idea who the characters are or what they’re doing.

    • davidallen909

      Even the great are allowed to stumble now and then, Deb. Usually you’re telling us about a half-dozen books or more. You’ll be back at it soon.

  • John Clifford

    Finally finished Cultural Amnesia by Clive James. The subject is more weighty than I had anticipated and at 851 pages it took this slow reader a couple of months to complete. The book is a compendium of short biographical sketchs of nobable authors of the past century with a quote or two from each of them. Then the author goes on to discuss the quote and why we, as a culture, need to remember them and not fall to a cultural amnesia.

    The sketches and quotes/discussions are alphabetical and range from Anna Akhmatova to Stefan Zweig, with visits to Louis Armstrong, Dick Cavett, Tony Curtis, Duke Ellington, Fellini, W.C. Fields, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles de Gaulle,Terry Gilliam, Hegel, Hitler, Kafka, Keats, Mao, Proust, Sartre, Tacitus, and Margaret Thatcher, among the 60 individuals covered. Most of the theme seems to be what each of the authors did/didn’t do/reacted to/didn’t react to, the Nazi takeover of Germany and WWII and the holocaust. While this was an overriding theme, it was not exclusive.

    An interesting compendium of philosophy.

    • davidallen909

      You don’t read a lot of books, John, but you more than make up for it by reading some big, deep ones. Having no idea who Akhmatova or Zweig are, you’re two up on me.

  • Its silly but I read all five of Richard Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series, mainly because my son was reading them and i wanted to know what he was reading. If those books were written when i was his age, they would have easily been my favorites as i am a big fan of mythology. When i pulled out my old copy of Bullfinch, however, i couldn’t get him interested in taking a look. Maybe in a few more years…

    • Not so silly… I read the first Percy Jackson book for the same reason (my nine-year-old daughter was reading them and wanted to share with me). Then we saw the film and I was disappointed, although my daughter was fine with it. My daughter pores over my childhood copy of D’Aulaires Book of Greek Mythology… made for kids, available on Amazon… Maybe your son would like that?

  • Those sound like fun books! I’m a fan of Gustavo Arellano’s writing, and of reading original editions of books published in the 1940s and thereabouts, though I haven’t done too much of that. I read, I think, four books last month…

    *Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan… See my comment to Nicholas below… I actually read this last month and forgot I had, so: seven for last month! Yay!

    *The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons… A graphic novel, but voted one of Time Magazine’s Best Novels of the 20th Century, so I’m counting it! Read for a book club. Last read by me when I was in my teens, so interesting to re-visit after twenty-five years. Still holds up but with the lessening of the threat of nuclear war, which felt so imminent back in the ’80s and which drives the plot of the book, the book possibly loses a little of its mojo.

    *The Litigators by John Grisham… Lent to me by my dad, and a fun read! Light stakes, compared to some of Grisham’s stuff, but engaging and likable characters, even with their flaws.

    *Life of Pi by Yann Martel… Borrowed from a friend; I didn’t realize the movie was coming out at the same time I was reading the book. Good book! Worth the hype! Curious to see the film now, about which I’ve also heard good things.

    Also! I’ve made kind of a dent in this year’s entry in my fifteen-year-long read-one-Charles-Dickens-book-a-year project. I’m 131 pages into the 796-page Our Mutual Friend. Next’s year’s book won’t be nearly as long because, sadly, Dickens died before finishing it.

    Looking forward to next month when I’ll go back through these logs and see how many books I’ve read for the year. Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Two commenters out of four read Percy Jackson in the past few weeks? Interesting! Your timing on “Pi” was likewise excellent. I intend to see the movie but haven’t yet. (My plan is to watch “Life of Pi” in Claremont, then walk a few paces to the new restaurant I Like Pie.)

      I remain impressed by your Dickens plan. Like Desmond on “Lost,” you’ve saved “Our Mutual Friend” for (almost) last.

      What did you think of the “Watchmen” movie compared to the graphic novel? I reread it before seeing the movie and, all props to the GN for being original, left with the controversial opinion that the movie improved on it.

      • I really liked the movie, and was surprised by the lukewarm reaction it got from both critics and audiences! Thought it was very faithful to the spirit and story of the book… If I had to choose, I’d go with the book, just because it had more in it (for which I don’t fault the movie; that’s just what happens). I think the movie may have been hurt by what I alluded to above: Since we all knew we survived the ’80s, watching a bunch of characters try to figure out how to survive maybe didn’t quite pack the punch that reading the original comics had. Curious: in what ways did the movie improve on the novel for you?

        • davidallen909

          Jettisoning the giant squid (not literally!) improved the ending, or at least made it less ridiculous. Some of the difference for me was tone; the comic at times took itself too seriously and the movie didn’t. I really liked the movie, and when I read the comic again afterward, it was slightly disappointing.

          • I felt that way too upon first watching the movie… Changing the nature of the “threat” (not to get too spoilery here) tied the book back to its own plot and didn’t introduce a concept out of nowhere (the squid) for the audience to suddenly accept. But after a bit of thinking… the squid as a representative of an extra-dimensional race is an ongoing threat (well, so the earth thinks) that all humanity will constantly need to on guard against… and thus need to be united. So no war. But the “threat” in the film takes off at the end of the movie… the damage he (supposedly) has done is done, and no more will be coming… No reason for the nations on earth to not start hating each other and threaten another war again. Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, so maybe that issue was addressed! Anyway… Liked the movie and still don’t understand the lack of love it was shown!

      • PS: I keep forgetting my Lost/Desmond connection… That’s really cool! Now I need to find an island to live on and an enigmatic tycoon’s daughter to woo and all.

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      I read The Watchmen earlier this year, after my daughter checked it out of the library. With Superman Died, which I read a couple of years ago, that makes two extended comic books in the last third century for me (and few, if any, short ones).

      I bought a copy of Farewell to Manzanar before the end of the month, maybe it will be part of the backlog I finish in December along with the similarly short (and aclaimed) Hiroshima by John Hersey.

      Finished in November:

      Nemesis, Isaac Asimov, 1989. His last solo novel, above average for him, albeit he was best at shorter lengths. Of course, above average Asimov is a strong recommendation.

      Don’t Know Much About Geography, Kenneth C. Davis, 1992. An excellent bathroom book, in that it comprises short sections. Much less here than in his better known Don’t Know Much About History; he Geo book contains little of anything new to a moderately well educated person. If you really know little about geography, this is worth reading, but I’ve read much better on the subject.

      Sleuths of the Century, Jon L Breen & Ed Gorman, eds. A sampling of 20th century crime fiction, with short fiction by most prominent authors of the times, but not always featuring their most famous characters. Above average, and a good supplement for crime fiction fans who normally just read novels.