Reading Log: February 2013


Books acquired: “Readings,” Michael Dirda.

Books read: “Angry Candy” and “Strange Wine,” Harlan Ellison; “Witch’s Milk,” Peter De Vries; “Smith on Wry,” Jack Smith; “The Hunger Games,” Suzanne Collins; “A Moveable Feast,” Ernest Hemingway.

Pardon my tardiness in bringing this monthly nerdfest to you on the 12th, but staycation intervened. (If you’re the type who skip my Reading Logs, then my putting this off until mid-month ought to merit a chorus of thanks.)

For February all my books had titles involving food or drink, or lack of same. What inspired it was noticing that the recent acquisitions area of my bookshelves had “A Moveable Feast” and “The Hunger Games” side by side. Heh. That got me wondering if I had other books with related titles, and I did, enough for a month of reading.

That meant two books by Harlan Ellison, whose oeuvre I’m working my way through. “Strange Wine” is from 1978, “Angry Candy” from 1988. Like most story collections, they’re inconsistent, but I liked both, with “Candy” being the better of the two.

Had everyone but me read “The Hunger Games” by now? It was almost comically compelling and readable. They should make a movie out of it. Oh, wait.

You likely haven’t read the out of print “Smith on Wry” from 1970, a collection by the late L.A. Times columnist, but I love his humorous essays about his family, his neighbor, himself and goings on about town. This one also has his first encounter with Mr. Gomez, the subject of his next and most celebrated book.

Hemingway’s memoir of his days as a poor, struggling writer in Paris, “A Moveable Feast” pays tribute to the city and strips away a lot of the myths he’d built up around himself (while creating new ones, naturally). Candid, generous, funny and surprisingly warm. (In retrospect, Dylan’s “Chronicles” seems partly inspired by EH’s approach here.) This “restored edition” is evidently closer to Hemingway’s wishes than the version his widow compiled in 1964.

Finally, De Vries’ “Witch’s Milk” is a short novel that was turned into a movie, “Pete and Tillie,” with Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett. The book is comic and tragic both, a De Vries specialty.

I ran out of time to read the other half of the De Vries book, “The Cat’s Pajamas,” so the official reading count for this month is 5 1/2 books. (I’ve since read it. Next month you’ll see the book cover and spine again and another 1/2 a book in my count. Math is hard.)

Where and when did I acquire these books? Hemingway’s was bought, appropriately, at Paris’ Shakespeare and Co. on the Left Bank during my vacation last year. “Angry Candy” was bought used at Logos in Santa Cruz maybe eight years ago. “Hunger Games” was a birthday gift last year. Smith’s book was bought used at, I think, Bookfellows in Glendale about four years ago. “Witch’s Milk” was found used at Powell’s in Portland, Ore., in 2007. And “Strange Wine” was bought new somewhere in the Midwest, likely at a Waldenbooks in Mattoon, Ill., circa 1982. I read nearly half of it at the time. This time I read it from start to finish. Three decades later, its pages give off a fine bouquet, like wine.

Have you read any of the above — a likely possibility in the case of “Hunger Games,” certainly — and what have you been reading?

Next month: Lots of very, very short books. Plus “Cat’s Pajamas.”


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