Reading log: January 2013

Books acquired: “The Accordion Repertoire,” Franklin Bruno.

Books read: “Around the World in 80 Days,” Jules Verne; “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Ray Bradbury; “The Brazil Series,” Bob Dylan; “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” Joan Didion; “Holy Land,” D.J. Waldie; “America (The Book),” Jon Stewart and The Daily Show; “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac; “Icons of the Highway,” Tony and Eva Worobiec; “Exile on Main Street (33 1/3 series),” Bill Janovitz.

Welcome to my first Reading Log of 2013! This is the monthly feature where I track the books I read the previous month and you share your own reading habits, as well as reacting to anything I’ve read, generally if you’ve read it yourself or have meant to. What I’m reading is, almost without exception, books from my own collection. It’s rare that I read anything current. I like fiction, science fiction and related genres.

Seemed like a good idea to remind us all what this is all about as well as to welcome newcomers who wonder if this is a book review column. It’s not. It’s simply that I’ve accumulated an embarrassing number of books over the years. This begins Year 5 of my intensive effort to reduce my backlog. Tracking my reading by month encourages me to keep going, as well as providing a haven for fellow book lovers to gab.

I know I read differently because of these Reading Logs. If I weren’t grouping books by month, or sharing what I was reading for that matter, my book-by-book choices would be different. If I didn’t have an end-of-month deadline, I’d read fewer books, too. But there is an element of entertainment and performance here, and frankly, with several hundred unread books around the house, virtually all of them of interest, it’s kind of all the same to me which ones I read when. And so, some months I gather books with a loose connection, if only in my own mind.

Such was the case in January, when I read books that at least purported to be about places and/or travel. One benefit was that all six of my bookcases were represented this month. If left to my druthers, I might sit in my room and read only sci-fi. The fact that this grouping in effect forced me to read the Didion and Kerouac books, which I’d owned for close to a decade, was another plus. (The first essay in Didion’s book is about a 1964 murder case in Alta Loma, and I feel better about myself for having finally read it.)

You don’t want to read commentary about nine books, do you? Especially after this preamble? To take them in the order listed up top, there was a comic adventure novel about a bored Englishman who bets he can circumnavigate the globe at a then-breakneck pace; Bradbury’s last book of stories; a book of paintings by the songwriter; a classic book of 1960s essays, many about California; a poetic memoir about Lakewood, Calif.; a satirical look at American history written as a mock textbook; a novel of Beat generation America; a book of photos of theaters, diners and the like from the western U.S.; and, finally, a song-by-song look at the Rolling Stones album “Exile on Main St.”

My favorites of the above would be “Slouching,” “America,” “Icons” and “Exile.” Verne’s book, by the way, I began reading on the bullet train between London and Paris on Feb. 24, 2012, and put down almost immediately. Yes, it took me almost 11 months to read a 200-page book. It didn’t grab me, needless to say, its characters being so broad, but I read a chapter every now and then, determined to finish. I read the whole thing on my Kobo e-reader but, reloading the text simply for a photo seeming impractical, I used my paperback copy for the photo.

As always, your comments are encouraged. Next month: books with food titles. Yum!

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  • DebB

    This was a slow reading month for me, only 5 books. Still, it was better than December when I started the same book 3 times and never finished it. I did finally start AND finish it in January. My list:

    Little Tiny Teeth, by Aaron Elkins. The teeth refer to piranha, and I enjoyed the book as I have all the books in this series.

    Nasty Breaks, also by Aaron Elkins and his wife Charlotte. An interesting series about golf and murder.

    Unraveled (A Knitting Mystery), by Maggie Sefton. Lots of wool, lots of coffee drinking….

    Sweet Hearts, by Connie Shelton. A little magic, a little love, a little murder…

    Phantoms Can Be Murder, also by Connie Shelton. Purchased this one at the beginning of November and finally got to it!

    So, you way outdid me this month! And you have much more variety than I do. Hopefully I’ll do better this month.

    • davidallen909

      It can be good to stretch a little. But not too far!

  • Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem is still riveting. I live a 2-minute walk from Bella Vista Avenue where Lucille and “Cork” Miller of “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” lived before that fateful night on Banyan Street “where it happened.” I assigned it years ago at Cal Poly and became fascinated with the story. The Ontario Library has the Daily Report’s trial transcripts on file; she was convicted not on the evidence, but because Don A. Turner, the Assistant DA, painted her as a woman who “wanted everything, a woman motivated by ‘love and greed.'” I even found her lawyer, Harold Lance, who swore she was innocent and years later still quite broken up about the outcome.
    I never knew the address but just Googled it: 8488 Bella Vista Avenue. I’m going to take a walk and see if it’s still standing.

    Didion’s description of our area is still razor-sharp: “Here is where the hot wind blows and the old ways do not seem relevant, where the divorce rate is double the national average and where one person in every thirty-eight lives in a trailer. Here is the last stop for all those who come from somewhere else, for all those who drifted away from the cold and the past and the old ways. Here is where they are trying to find a new life style, trying to find it in the only places they know to look: the movies and the newspapers. The case of Lucille Marie Maxwell Miller is a tabloid monument to that new life style.”

    • davidallen909

      Oooh, a “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” fan. (That’s the leadoff essay in the book.) Might have to write a column about it in a couple of years, on the 50th anniversary of the murder. The fact that the L.A. papers had the Cucamonga trial on the front page virtually every day, according to Didion, was startling.

      Didion’s description of the area and those who lived here was perhaps a little dismissive — so what else is new? — and yet may well have been accurate at the time, before we became just another LA suburb.

      • Just got back from my walk, and something very funky has been done to the addresses in that block. Starting from Sapphire heading east, the house numbers on the North (even) side of the street don’t progress in a pattern: 8306, 8308, 8310, 8318, 8376, 8396, 8400, then the barricade between Bella Vista on the Sapphire side and the Carnelian side. Google Maps says the house marked 8400 is actually 8500! And there are no Street Views.

        • davidallen909

          This will make a Joan Didion bus tour of the Inland Valley a dicey proposition.

  • As mentioned last month, I read Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson, which is the story of the development of the modern computer at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. While Turing is in the title, and he was the inspiration for the way that computers work today, the focus of the book is on John VonNeumann. It was interesting how the confluence of wartime bomb trajectories, the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs and the need to make fast calculations created the framework for machines that “think” and can do so much more than just math.

    The non-fiction can be daunting, so I broke it up with some VERY light reading in Jasper Fford’s 2011 book,One of Our Thursdays is Missing. I got a Google Next tablet on which I’m running Kindle software. This is the first book that I read on that device.

    This is one of a slew of sequels to his The Eyre Affair which take place in the book world, where book people hang out and have lives dependent on the readers of their books but also independent with crimes and other misdeads. Thursday Next is a real world detective who visits the book world from time to time when things get out of hand. I’ve been a fan of this series since in The Eyre Affair, Thursday’s uncle Mycroft kept showing up in the background of the Sherlock Holmes books. Good fun.

    • davidallen909

      I’ve considered getting The Eyre Affair, being a fan of Bronte’s book, but haven’t. Maybe someday.

  • I read four! Well, three. Well, four.

    *Robots and Empire, by Isaac Asimov. Last summer I re-read three of Asimov’s robot novels I’d last read in high school. By the end of the third, both Asimov and I were running out of steam, even though this one, the fourth in the series, was sitting on my shelf looking at me. So last month I finally pulled it down. Glad I did! Not the greatest book in the world, or even the greatest Asimov book, but entertaining enough, and a nice conclusion to this part of his robot/foundation stories. And now I can look back at my copy and not feel guilty.

    *The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Recommended by a friend, and bought on my Kindle for a discount price of $3.99. Good! Also a movie from last year about to come out on DVD.

    *Robot Visions, by Isaac Asimov. So after finishing Robots and Empire as mentioned above, I realized I had read all of Asimov’s novels featuring his detective Elijah Baley and robot buddy R. Daneel Olivaw characters, but had missed a short story starring the two. So I found this book, a selection of Asimov’s robot short stories (including several from “I, Robot,”), and ordered it online (thanks,!). Intended to read just that one story but ended up reading the whole book. Junior-high-age me liked it a lot, and since junior-high-age me isn’t all that different from 44-year-old me, I had fun.

    *The Black Box, by Michael Connelly. The latest in Connelly’s detective Harry Bosch series. Good stuff! But I actually read this in December and forgot to list it… Not sure if I should count this as a 2013 book or retroactively add it to my 2012 list!

    Alas, didn’t make any headway in Our Mutual Friend, thanks to those other books above. How was the Bradbury? I’m one of those who found Bradbury’s later output less meaty than his earlier stuff… He seemed to have lost his darker edge, which probably means he was a happy guy but made the stories have less bite. And, man, did he fall in love with the exclamation points!!

    Hey, I’m reading The Eyre Affair right now! Re-reading, actually, this time as a book club pick. Highly recommended by me! I’ll have more to share next month.

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • The Eyre Affair is quite good. He’s now written 7 in the series all with Thursday Next as the main character. The series is really starting to peter out to me, but still fun. He’s also written a book called Shades of Grey (not 50) which takes place in a world where color is rationed and comes to you via plumbing as CMYK and the world lives by the laws of Munsell (Albert Munsell developed color theory at the end of the 19th and beginning of hte 20th centuries). For someone in the print industry, it was as much fun as Eyre Affair is to literary types.

      • davidallen909

        I wonder if Shades of Grey has gotten a sales boost from buyers who mistook it for the other books.

      • I read the Thursday Nexts up to (I think) “One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing”… A clever concept, but maybe one or two books too far past the point of sustainability. I’m glad my book club’s assigned the first book; it’s fun going back to the start. I’d forgotten how damaged Thursday was at the beginning. Once she gets things sorted out, the series kind of loses its reason for being. I haven’t read Shades of Grey (either version!), but I read Fforde’s two “Jack Spratt” books… a noir detective series set in the world of fairy tales… Fun, but another concept that probably can’t last more than two or three books.

    • davidallen909

      I’ve only known you for four years or so, Doug, but after learning that junior-high-age-Doug and 44-year-old-Doug are very similar, I feel as if I’ve known you all your life.

      The movie of Perks is quite good, and I believe the screenplay was written by the author.

      Good to see you’ve completed Asimov’s Robot Series, even if you’re lagging a bit on that Dickens guy.

      The Bradbury was thin and unmemorable, if enjoyable enough. At least I’ve now read it, which means I’ve now read all his books at least once. Yay! I’m still rereading the early, better stuff, now and then (I hope to get to Machineries of Joy and The Martian Chronicles this year), and I have a couple of obscurities still unread. The critical consensus seems to be that by 1960 or so his best years were behind him. There did seem to be a loss of intensity and an increase in sentimentality. Not to mention exclamation points!!

  • Skip

    Hi David,
    The Accordion Repertoire? Glad to see you’re finally getting interested in Polka music.
    Skip the Polka DJ

    • davidallen909

      Skip’s all-polka show can be heard on KSPC-FM on Saturday mornings. He can also be avoided during those same hours.