Reading Log: March 2013

Books acquired: “Waging Heavy Peace,” Neil Young; “Dylan: The 5 Minute Visual Bob-ography,” Roy Gyongy Fox; “The Swerve,” Stephen Greenblatt.

Books read: “The Accordion Repertoire,” Franklin Bruno; “The Pearl,” John Steinbeck; “The Cat’s Pajamas,” Peter De Vries; “Selected Poems,” e.e. cummings; “Kafka Americana,” Jonathan Lethem and Carter Scholz; “Adventures in Pet Sitting,” Michael Arterburn; “From Bauhaus to Our House,” Tom Wolfe; “Anguished English,” Richard Lederer; “The Elements of Style,” William Strunk and E.B. White; “My Shorts R Bunching: Thoughts?” G.B. Trudeau; “How to Kick the War Habit,” T. Willard Hunter; “Leaves of Grass” (1855 Edition), Walt Whitman; “The End of the Tether,” Joseph Conrad; “Ask the Dust,” John Fante; “An Education: The Screenplay,” Nick Hornby; “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder; “Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway,” Dave Barry; “Housekeeping vs. The Dirt,” Nick Hornby; “The Rock Snob’s Dictionary,” David Kamp and Steven Daly; “Candide,” Voltaire; “Dylan: The 5 Minute Visual Bob-ography,” Roy Gyongy Fox; “The Mezzanine,” Nicholson Baker.

I can look at the spine of any unread book on my shelves and within a minute be mad at myself that I haven’t read it. There’s even less excuse in the case of some of my slimmest books, the ones that could be read in a couple of days, or even in an afternoon. So in March, I gathered up all the latter and read as many as I could, which turned out to be 22.

Low-hanging fruit, as far as my unread books go, and it was high time I went for it. All these books were 200 pages or less, usually quite a bit less. Other than two on my nightstand that I read over the course of the month, none took me longer than three days. For the first 11 days of March, assisted by a staycation, I read a book a day, everything from the top of the list above through Willard Hunter’s book.

It was an interesting experiment and it accomplished what I’d hoped, which was to clear some of the most obvious books from the unread category. Twenty-two books — or, more accurately for this blog’s purposes, 21 1/2, as I read the other half of “The Cat’s Pajamas & Witch’s Milk” in February — is far too many to discuss here. “Our Town” and “Housekeeping vs. The Dirt,” a collection of book reviews, were among my favorites. Feel free to ask in the comments section if any title above strikes your fancy.

To take the photo below, I got on a stepstool. One dismaying fact about the photo above: I shot it so that I could easily crop the photo from the right, and as I began to do so, I realized that of the seven visible books on the shelf, I’ve read one. (Of the ones hidden behind, only two are unread.) I decided to leave the photo as is.

Conrad’s “The End of the Tether” is the oldest book from my collection read this month, dating to my childhood; I read the other half of it, “Heart of Darkness,” back then but never read the longer piece. (My procrastination habit began early.) The Dave Barry book, which was disappointing by the way, was bought upon publication in 2001. All the others are more recent, including one that was given to me this month and was read almost immediately; it took only 15 minutes, but it’s between two covers, so I counted it.

Twenty-two books was fun. At various points, I would finish a book one afternoon and be faced immediately with the choice of which one to start next. I was on fire, reading-wise. I could have employed an aide whose job would have been to toss me the next book. Some blazing-fast readers go through normal-sized books every day or two, but for most of us, we linger over a book for a week or more. This was a novelty.

Twenty-two doubles my previous best and will not be repeated, at least not before retirement, or the collapse of the newspaper industry. I’m not looking forward to either. I may have enough slim books left for another month: say, 10 books, one every three days. But the low-hanging fruit is gone. Onward to another month of the typical five or six books.

As always, we want to hear what you’ve been reading. Even if you read only one book, take heart, because surely it was longer than anything I read last month.

Next month: He reads five or six books.

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  • DebB

    Wow – this is awesome! Wait, you actually READ “Elements of Style”?! I’ve been in the communications industry for many years and I’ve never known anyone who actually read it, as opposed to just using it for reference. Very impressing list, even if they’re all thin volumes. The variety of your reading list always impresses me, too.

    I read, and actually performed in, “Our Town” when I was in grade school. Don’t remember a thing about it!

    My list for March:

    “Dead Man Falls” and “Turkey Ranch Road Rage” by Paula Boyd. Humor and murder in small-town Texas. A little hard for me to read because of the manipulative mother, so I don’t know if I’ll continue this one.

    “Morning Cup of Murder” and “Building Blocks of Murder” by Vanessa Gray Bartal and Rebecca Tocheff. Another series with a love triangle – who will she choose? when will she get a spine? – mixed in with the mystery. Makes me long for the old Agatha Christie days.

    “Uneasy Relations” and “Deceptive Clarity” by Aaron Elkins. The first is a continuation of one of my favorites series. The second is the first of a series with a different main character – enjoyed it enough to continue the series.

    “Miss Silver Comes to Stay” by Patricia Wentworth. Wentworth was a contemporary of Agatha Christie, and Miss Silver – her detective – is a little Miss Marple-like. I enjoyed this one. Unfortunately, the Kindle books are priced like hardcovers, so I’ll have to start haunting the used book stores.

    Finally, “Nice Class of Corpse” by Simon Brett. The first in the Mrs. Pargeter series, it gets mixed reviews on Amazon but I enjoyed it enough to continue the series.

    • davidallen909

      A friend also was surprised, or perhaps dumbfounded, that I’d read “Elements of Style.” Maybe I wasn’t supposed to read it, maybe no one is, but I did.

      I felt like “Our Town” is familiar to everyone but me, being America’s most-produced play (I think), but somehow I’d avoided it up until now. Borders had a stack of copies on display during its closing sale and I bought one. Truly excellent, and both grimmer and more avant-garde than the Frank Capra-esque story I was expecting.

  • John Clifford

    Wow, 22 and here I thought I was doing really well with 3. But then . . .

    I finally finished The Black Swan: The impact of the Highly Improbably by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. A weighty slog through economic uncertainty and the impact of unexpected events. At least I had read Think Fast, Think Slow, which somewhat prepared me for this one.

    That one was a traditional PRINTED book. But with my new Nexus tablet and the Kindle Reader, I was able to enjoy a couple more “books” in March.

    Wearing the Cape: A Superhero Story by Marion G. Harmon was a fun romp in a world where a part of the population suddenly gets super powers and how they organize themselves and either become Super Heroes or Super Villains.

    Then I read celebrity food guy Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. A very interesting look at his life in food from his earliest days working as a dishwasher to becoming something of a celebrity chef (although he disdains the concept of the celebrity chef). I enjoy his TV programs and he seems to really have a love for food. This particular eBook comes bundled with his other book Medium Raw and I’m sure that will be one I’ll be working on in the near future.

    April’s only a few days old and I’ve already read about 1/3 of Dante’s Divine Comedy (decided to buy a prose translation in preparation for Dan Brown’s new thriller which is supposed to revolve around Dante).

    While I love “Books,” this e-Reader thing sure makes it easy to read anywhere and I’ve always got it close at hand as I have my calendar, maps, email, etc. on the same device.

    • davidallen909

      Your three might have represented the same total number of words as my 22, you never know.

      I’m not familiar with Wearing the Cape, but it sounds like something I’d like. In turn, you might like Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman, a superhero novel told alternately from the villain’s and heroes’ perspectives.

      Liked how you put books in quotes when referring to ones you read virtually. Enjoy your e-reader and let us know what you think a few weeks or months down the line. Some readers decide having the Internet so handy (on tablet readers) is distracting simply because they can so easily abandon a book for time-sucks like email.

  • Doug Evans

    I did four! Not, um, 22, but still…

    “Robot Dreams” by Isaac Asimov… A companion to Asimov’s “Robot Visions” that I read back in January. Surprisingly, not all of these stories were about robots, though I guess you could argue that robots were dreaming them. (I’m on an Asimov short-story tear! Reading another collection right now.)

    “Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams” by Gareth Roberts. I had fun typing that whole title. A novelization of a Doctor Who script written by Douglas Adams (of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame) back in the ’70s that was never filmed due to a work strike at the BBC. Entertaining! But probably for Who fans only, which was probably evident as soon as I typed the words “Doctor Who.”

    “The Nerdist Way” by Chris Hardwick. Hardwick is a stand-up comedian and the host of “The Nerdist” podcast (which is now a TV show on BBC America). He wrote a how-to book on channeling your nerdy powers into becoming a more productive person. I like him and the book was entertaining but it may be easier to follow his nerdly advice and change up your life if you don’t already have a career and family to think about.

    “The Silent Stars Go By” by Dan Abnett. Another Doctor Who novel! Pretty good! If you’re a Who fan. See above.

    Also I read some Doctor Who graphic novels! This was certainly a Who month for me (topped off on Sat. when the new season premiered)! In fact, that whole list was pretty danged nerdy… Maybe that was my theme last month!

    How was the Joseph Conrad? I went through a brief Conrad phase right out of college and liked him. I’ve meant to go back… Maybe he’s the guy I’ll start reading once a year when I finish my 15-year read-one-Charles-Dickens-book-a-year project.

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      I’ve liked Joseph Conrad since reading “Heart of Darkness” as a teen, and I had a college class in which we read “The Secret Agent” and “Under Western Eyes,” two more that I liked. The prof said “Lord Jim” was overrated, and so even though it’s his best-known, I’ve still never read it.

      I’d never read “End of the Tether” because it seemed like a lesser book, one you never hear about. But it turned out to be a good pairing with “Heart” — it’s another African tale — and affecting. It’s about a dignified old sea captain who must work past retirement to support his daughter. Tragedy strikes and he wrestles with whether to finish out the remaining few weeks of his contract to get his money to help her, even though he’s endangering the ship by doing so.

      Well done, and with an unexpected ending. You could do worse than do read Conrad’s oeuvre after Dickens’. Of course, you could also do better. *cough Twain cough*

    • John Clifford

      As a Who fan I’m also enjoying the once a month showings on BBC America of the past Drs. This past week was the 3rd Dr as portrayed by John Pertwee. He was my first Dr as I started watching in the late 70s. He was earth and time bound so had to battle aliens who threatened earth.