Reading log: December 2012

Books acquired: “Reading Comics,” Douglas Wolk; “My Ideal Bookshelf,” Thessaly La Force, ed.; “Becoming Ray Bradbury,” Jonathan Eller; “My Bookstore,” Ronald Rice, ed.; “The Onion Book of Known Knowledge”; “Earth (The Book),” the Daily Show staff; “The Rock Snob’s Dictionary,” David Kamp and Steven Daly.

Books read: “Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!,” Sean Howe, ed.; “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” Sean Howe; “Marvel Comics in the 1970s,” Pierre Comtois.

For December, having read 77 books the previous 11 months, I decided to take it easy and read three, for a nice round total of 80. I wanted to read a history of Marvel Comics that had just been published, and that reminded me that the author had edited a book of essays about comics, which I had received as a gift a year ago and hadn’t read. A third comics-related book had been on my shelves unread for a year. And, as Stan Lee might grandly have titled an issue of the Fantastic Four: “Lo, There Shall Come a Theme!”

“Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!: Writers on Comics”: Extra credit if you can cite the origin of the title. The writers in question include Jonathan Lethem, Glen David Gold, Aimee Bender and Gary Giddins. There’s some slumming, and some overreaching, but most of these essays convey the writers’ obsession with the comics in question, which is leavened with self-mockery before they plunge back in. Marvel gets more ink than DC, but a few oddball choices sneak in, and it’s refreshing to read real writing about comics.

“Marvel Comics: The Untold Story”: Based on the notes, Sean Howe did a tremendous amount of research, but it never overwhelms the narrative; instead, he pulls choice bits of information from far and wide as he compresses 75 years of Marvel history into 432 pages, striking a balance between artistic triumphs, office politics, business machinations and creative egos, and giving each decade its due. Even for a longtime fan, there are surprises, setbacks and plot twists galore.

“Marvel Comics in the 1970s: An Issue By Issue Field Guide to a Pop Culture Phenomenon”: This valentine to notable Marvels of the 1970s ignores the mainstream titles to concentrate on the good, weird stuff: Master of Kung Fu, Conan, Killraven, Deathlok and the like. Comtois is too smitten with Barry Smith and glosses over Steve Englehart’s Captain America, but his taste is pretty good. The mini-essays get repetitive, and no one seems to have edited him. I liked it anyway.

My apologies, by the way, for the poor photo above; it was so cold, my camera (kept in my glove compartment) was fogged over, and I decided it wasn’t worth the time to try again another day.

So, 80 books for 2012. Not bad, and by far the most books I’ve read in a year since childhood. It’s probably downhill from here. For one thing, I stuck mostly to books under 200 pages, with a few exceptions. I have enough short books to do that again, but probably won’t. I’ll write more my year in reading in a column any day now, and will also list here all the books I read.

Currently I’m reading “On the Road.” What else will 2013 bring? I have so many unread books, years and years worth I’m afraid, that I’ve already changed my mind a few times in recent weeks about how I’d like to approach them this year: a lot of short books, or a few long books, or the books I’ve owned the longest, or all my science fiction, or the usual mix-and-match being among the options. Guess I’ll just start reading and see what happens.

What did you read in December, and how was your reading year? Do you have any reading goals for 2013?

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  • DebB

    I was so busy this month that I started the same book twice before I gave up! Now I’ll have to start it again to remember what’s going on.

    There was a PBS documentary called The Atom Smashers – is that the reference?

    • davidallen909

      No, but good guess. And I’m shocked you didn’t finish any books in December — although you deserve a break after all your six- and eight-book months.

      • DebB

        OK, found it, or them, actually. One in the DC Comics realm and three in Marvel Comics. A mixture of good guys and bad guys, it seems. May be where the PBS doc got its name, too.

        I’ll be back on the reading track soon, especially since one of my Christmas gifts was a $50 Amazon card!

  • On the Road. Bleh. How I loathed it. At least it was short.

    Eighteen this year, down from 22 in 2011:

    Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired and Secretive Company Really Works – Adam Lashinsky

    The Road to Verdun: World War I’s Most Momentous Battle and the Folly of Nationalism – Ian Ousby

    The Wehrmacht In Russia – Bob Carruthers (maybe made worse in the Kindle version, but it was poorly written and very poorly edited, almost like it was a translation)

    Bismarck: The Final Days of Germany’s Greatest Battleship – Niklas Zetterling

    On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society – Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

    Why Classical Music Still Matters – Lawrence Kramer

    After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1995 – Konrad H. Jarausch

    Ball Four – Jim Bouton

    Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball – Wayne Coffey and R.A. Dickey

    Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success – Ken Segall

    We Are DEVO! – Jade Dellinger and David Giffels

    The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

    One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season – Tony La Russa

    How Should We Then Live? – Francis A. Schaeffer

    Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton

    The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis

    Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce – Stanley Weintraub

    The Ramones’ Ramones (33 1/3) – Nicholas Rombes


    Bible, The – God (not in entirety)

  • John Clifford

    Last month I went a little lighter and read Cloud Atlas. I wanted to see the movie but it was here and gone before I got there.

    The book is interesting in that it tells several stories then moves to another story further in history, referencing in some way the previous story, then when it gets to the center of the book in a far future, it rewinds the stories and revisits each of them (this time in reverse chronology, so you end at the beginning). Kind of fun and a good light read for the holiday season.

    Now back to non-fiction as I’m currently reading Turing’s Cathedral and have The Black Swan (The Impact of the Highly Improbably) queued up. Although I might sneak in a bit of fiction.

    As for your reading, I highly recommend just start reading and see what happens. The whole categories thing seems a little Obsessive-Compulsive to me. Go with the flow.

    • davidallen909

      You might be in rare company if you think of Cloud Atlas as light reading — it strikes me as narratively challenging. Good for you for having read it. Similarly, I’m reading On the Road because there’s a movie version. As it’s in limited release, it ought to be breaking wide after I finish the book, unlike blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Cloud Atlas.

      You’re right about the Obsessive-Compulsive aspects of my semi-ordered reading, of course. There will almost always be some level of mental categorization going on, if only as a way of making my books backlog seem less overwhelming, but perhaps it should be less overt. That said, my December books were ones I wanted to read at that moment, and grouping them was a spur to actually doing so.

  • Hello David!

    Four books for me this past month:

    *Between the Lines, by Jodi Picoult and her daughter Samantha van Leer. Young adult stuff. An outcast teenager falls in love with a prince in a fairy tale; luckily for her, the prince is alive and falls in love with her too, and the book then becomes a quest to get him out of his fairy tale and into our world. Read for a book club; the consensus of the club is that Picoult’s (high-school aged) daughter probably did most of the writing.

    *The Passion of Artemisia, by Susan Vreeland. A novel based on real-life Renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi, the first female artist to break into the male-dominated art world, and a rape victim back when the victims of rape were viewed as at least as culpable as their rapists (not that that view doesn’t still hold with some). Over-written for my taste, but I never knew anything about this artist, and was glad for the chance to broaden my cultural horizons.

    *A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Read in honor of the Christmas season, of course, but I don’t think I’ve ever read the book before, though of course I know the story and have seen countless film adaptations and even saw Patrick Stewart perform it live as a one-man show back in the nineties. Good stuff! Scrooge actually has a sharp sense of humor (though he’s still a bitter guy, of course), which I don’t think has really come across in the filmed adaptations I’ve seen.

    *2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke. It might seem like I should have read this two years ago (well, three, now), going strictly by the title, but the book was published 30 years ago, back in 1982, and I got my copy as a Christmas present from my mom and dad back then. Which I know because my mom inscribed the inside. So in honor of the thirty-year anniversary of its being in my possession, I pulled it from the shelf and re-read it. Good stuff! A lot more rationally-based than the rather mystical film it’s a sequel too (it’s more of a sequel to the 2001 film than to Clarke’s own 2001 novel). And fun to read to see what’s different about Clarke’s 2010 as compared to the real one: The Soviet Union still exists; China has had a second Cultural Revolution and has closed off almost all contact with the rest of the world; the characters don’t have laptops or cell phones, but do have wrist bands that buzz when they get a call (though they still have to walk over to the wall unit to answer). And of course we have a moon base and there’s a spaceship heading to Jupiter and so on. Not the mention the black monoliths.

    …And I’m on page 232 of 796 in this year’s (actually last year’s; I’m behind) one-Dickens-book-a-year book, Our Mutual Friend. (Desmond from Lost has nothing to fear from me yet).

    Any mention in the Marvel Comics history book of Star Wars? I’m a proud owner of the original 107-issue run (plus three annuals and the four-issue Return of the Jedi mini-series) of that title, and I’ve since read that the license to that series (which Stan Lee was initially unenthusiastic about) saved Marvel from a comics slump and possible bankruptcy back in the ’70s. So I helped with that. Yay me!

    Loved the Sunday Sherlock column! And I recommend the BBC series… entertaining enough for the layperson such that my wife and daughter enjoyed it, but many, many name-drops of canonical items for the hard-core fan to sink his/her teeth into. (For example, the “I purposefully don’t know how the solar system works” is mentioned.)

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Thanks for the thorough comment, Doug. Next time I might let you write the blog post and then simply run my own post as a comment! Ha ha.

      Wait, how did you not read Christmas Carol before? (Not that I’ve read it, but I’m not working my way through Dickens.) Did it not count somehow, because it’s a story rather than a novel?

      The Marvel history book does indeed discuss Star Wars over several pages and its surprise success. (Your 30 cents probably made the difference in saving the company.) Stan was skeptical but thankfully let Roy Thomas pursue the adaptation of a movie that wouldn’t be released until the third issue (of six) was out. The book has an index, so you can look it up, read that section in the store and put it back (although you’ll likely find yourself looking up random other references).

      • Yes… Didn’t include Dicken’s Christmas stories in my one-book-a-year project… I decided to just concentrate on the novels, leaving out short stories (what we’d now call novellas, I guess) and non-fiction works. Maybe someday I’ll go back and pick up the extras. (In the meantime… I’d been thinking of starting with Mark Twain once I finished Dickens, but now I’m leaning toward Jane Austen… another author I feel like, “I should really have read those books,” but have never made time for. But I’ll get to you, Twain!)

        And yes, I think I will check out the Star Wars portion of the Marvel book in my local B&N… I’ll feel like I’m reading about myself! Being more of a Star Wars/sci-fi nerd than I am a superhero nerd, I didn’t get the Atomsmashers reference… I googled “Atomsmasher” (both DC and Marvel had characters named Atomsmasher?) but still don’t understand the “Give our regards…!” quote!

        • davidallen909

          “Give our regards to the atomsmashers!” is what a pretty girl yells to Peter Parker after she and the high school gang laugh off his invitation to see a new science exhibit. He goes alone, gets bitten by a radioactive spider, and the rest is history. This scene takes place in Amazing Fantasy 15, the first Spider-Man comic.

          Since the book is made up of essays by semi-famous writers about their secret love of comics, the title in this case is a kind of self-deprecatory comment about their hobby being mocked by outsiders. How’s that for an explanation?

          As for this nonsense about you possibly putting Twain behind Austen, we’ll have to talk, Doug (cue ominous music).

          • Pretty girl heckles a nerd in one of the most iconic comics of the 20th century! I get it now! And I’ll probably add that to my list of things I sometimes say that makes me sometimes sound goofy.

            Saw a collected works volume of Jane Austen at Costco today… Held off on buying it, thanks to an ominous voice backed by ominous music echoing inside my head…