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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  • DebB

    No, you’re not the last to read “Hunger Games” – I have yet to read it. Here’s my list for February:

    “Come to Grief” and “Whip Hand”, both by Dick Francis. Really like his writing, but I always have to wonder if the horse racing industry is/was as dicey as he makes it sound. Purchased both of these at the Book Exchange in Montclair,

    “Where Have All the Birdies Gone?” and “On the Fringe”, both by Aaron and Charlotte Elkins. The last (so far) in this golf/murder series.

    “The Fugitive King”, “The Bug Funeral” and “Shell Game” all by Sarah Shaber. Also the last (so far) in this series featuring a professor of history and anthropology in North Carolina.

    “Pray For Us Sinners” by L.K.Ellwood. Once more – the last in this series of only two (so far) .

    Finally – “Moving Violation” by Melanie Jackson, the first in a series featuring a diminutive meter maid/cop hopeful. Can’t say I really liked the main character, so I’m not sure I’ll continue with the series.

    So I wrapped up three series in February, tried a new one, and continued with the fabulous Dick Francis. Nine books – that might be a record, enabled by being down with a head cold for several days mid-month.

    • davidallen909

      Sounds like a milestone month, Deb — and you made the best of a head cold, too.

      Book Exchange, eh? I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been inside. I always suspected it was all or mostly romance paperbacks (I went into a store like that in Covina and within a minute or two was walking out!) but, if you bought mysteries, I guess it’s not.

      • DebB

        Nope, definitely not just romance! All genres, fiction and non, hard-cover and paperback, including recorded books. Give it a shot – it’s closer than Glendale!

  • Doug Evans

    Yay, Jack Smith! (This is the shortest comment I’ve ever left on the Reading Log… More to come, I promise! But right now I’m in the middle of class… a reading class, fittingly enough… and should probably get back to teaching.)
    But… yay, Jack Smith!

    • davidallen909


  • Doug Evans

    I read five books in Feb!

    “The Eyre Affair” by Jaspar Fforde. (Book club pick!) A character can jump in and out of books. I’ve read it before. Good stuff! Not a hit with all members of the book club but heck with them.

    “The Snowman” by Jo Nesbø. (Listened to on CD, purchased at Costco). A cop in Norway hunts a serial killer. One of those Scandinavian crime novels that are becoming so popular over here. Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo! Good read!

    “The Return of the Thin Man” by Dashiell Hammett. Not so much a novel as a collection of three screen treatments Hammett wrote for Hollywood to be used as sequels to “The Thin Man.” The first two were used, the second not. Pretty good! I’ve seen the films too so it was interesting to compare.

    “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. (Another book club pick.) The true story of an Olympic runner who crashed in the Pacific during World War II and was a Japanese POW for three years. Harrowing! Really hard to read at places but, not to spoil too much, the guy (Louis Zamperini) not only survives but he’s still alive at 96 and attends the West Hollywood Presbyterian Church my dad’s cousin goes to. By the author of “Seabiscuit.” They’re turning this one into a move too, apparently.

    “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. (Yet another book club pick. I’m getting a little ahead of the meetings.) ’80s nostalgia meets science fiction in a novel set in an ’80s-themed virtual reality circa 2045. I’ve already read this one and commented on it here on the reading log, though I don’t remember when. Very run to read but probably only for readers who were geeky teens in the ’80s. I’ll be curious to see (this Monday!) how the slightly older, non-geeky members of the club felt about it.

    Of David’s books listed above… I’ve read “Hunger Games,” would like to read “A Moveable Feast,” have read other books by Jack Smith, including his famous “God and Mr. Gomez” (in which Jack Smith has an epiphany that God’s name is “Random Chance,” to which Mr. Gomez replies, “No, señor, God’s name is ‘Dios'”), and I bought “Angry Candy” years ago but gave it away unread in one of my infrequent book purgings which was a really stupid thing to do.

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Your book club must be on fire. Three books in one month? What’s it called, the Overachievers Book Club? Tell them to tone it down. Also, tell them to like the books you choose.

      • Doug Evans

        Heh! I’m so long-winded in these things as it is that I try to condense my comments down a little… but I could have been a little clearer! I’m actually in two books clubs… one at work and one that meets in my house. “The Eyre Affair” was last month’s work-book-club pick, and “Unbroken” was chosen for my home-book-club (that my then-six-year-old daughter named “The Good Books Book Club.” I like it.) I got a head start on “Ready Player One,” a work-book-club pick due to be discussed today… in just about an hour, in fact. I’d better get moving. And actually none of them were my picks, but I did choose the April book for the work-book-club: “The Barbarian Nurseries,” a novel by Pulitzer Prize winning LA Times journalist Hector Tobar (who grew up in Whittier!) (I grew up in Whittier, which is why that is exciting). I’ll update next month with how it goes over!

    • John Clifford

      I wrote about Jaspar Fflorde last month. Love his sense of humor. Also have read Snowman and The Redbreast by Nesbø. Very well written crime novels.

  • Dara Allen

    I saw the movie, “The Hunger Games,” because I had enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in “Winter’s Bone” so much. I then wanted to read both books also. (To me, the book is almost always better than the movie. Because of Ms. Lawrence’s acting abilities, however, her movies may be the exception for me.) My fastest read this month was “The Importance of Being Seven,” by Alexander McCall Smith. I enjoy almost all of his many series of books. Each of his series has its own “cast of characters” and each new book continues from where the last one ended.

    • davidallen909

      Hi Mom!

  • John Clifford

    February was a good month for me. While I didn’t complete The Black Swan that I started in late Jan., I did read two novels and a short piece on my tablet.

    Traveling in Space by my high school friend / college roomate, Steven Paul Levia, is a light look at a first encounter with aliens who stumble across earth. They think that they’re the only life in the universe and then discover us. It’s our society as it might be viewed by others. Very interesting and worth the read. It’s available from Amazon for eReaders or in paperback.

    A free eBook was Aldus Huxley’s Ape and Essence. A weird tale about a movie producer who wants to make a movie of a strange author’s screenplay. The movie within the story has apes as the dominant species. Weird but worthwhile read.

    Then I read Mark Twain’s speech before the Historical and Antiquarian Club of Hartford, titled On the Decay of the Art of Lying. Classic Twain wit. And at 86 Kindle pages, a fast, fun read.

    • davidallen909

      I’ve heard of Ape and Essence but had no idea what it was about. Embarrassingly, I’ve never read Brave New World, a lapse I’ll need to rectify one of these days.

      The Twain speech sounds promising. Even the title is hilarious!