Reading Log: April 2013

Books acquired: “Gather Yourselves Together,” “Ubik: The Screenplay,” Philip K. Dick; “Beginning to See the Light,” Ellen Willis; “Diners,” John Baeder.

Books read: “The Early Worm,” Robert Benchley; “The Columnist,” Jeffrey Frank; “The Best of Jack Williamson”; “Over the Edge,” Harlan Ellison; “The Planet of the Apes Chronicles,” Paul Woods.

Welcome back, book nerds! Time for another installment of my monthly series of what books I read the previous month. As predicted here last month, April saw me back to my usual five books, as opposed to the 22 super-slim volumes (almost an oxymoron) that I read in March.

My 2013 total is now an even 40. While that would seem to put me on track to read 120, 80 seems more likely, given that I’ve read all the very short books I own and that there are some longer books I want to get to this year (including a complex one for June).

My April books have one thing in common: They were purchased at the same store, Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., in the course of visits in 2007 and 2010. Powell’s is a book-lover’s mecca, four floors and one city block of books, both new and used. I’ve been thinking of another trip to Portland but have felt sheepish because not only don’t I need any more books, I haven’t even read all the ones I’ve bought in that very city. Reading those would make me feel better about buying more.

What I read this time was, in the order listed above, a solid collection of Benchley’s humor essays, a very funny novel about a blowhard Washington columnist, a best-of story collection spanning 50 years (1928-1978) by a SF grand master, a so-so story collection by Ellison and a book about my guilty pleasure, the Planet of the Apes series.

I was embarrassed to buy it, of course. I do have that much self-awareness. As I opened it up, three years later, to read a few pages each night at bedtime, I thought, why am I reading this? Why would I spend a month of my life reading about Planet of the Apes? But I stuck with it, soon loved it and almost wish it were longer.

Best book of the month, though, is “The Columnist,” which pulls off the neat trick of being narrated by someone who’s clueless (the classic unreliable narrator) and yet still imparting all the information we need to judge him by.

I had 10 Portland-purchased books left to read and now I’m down to five. Not sure when I’ll get to those, as I have other things right now I want to read, but at least I’ve read all the ones from my first visit and cut the total in half.

Your turn. What have you been reading? Surely nothing about the Planet of the Apes.

Next month: Three or four random books, one of them from a library.

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  • Doug Evans

    First of all: Shout-out to my fellow Doctor Who fan (or “Whovian”) John Clifford! The Third Doctor was my first Doctor too… I literally ran behind the couch to hide from the monsters when watching those shows back in the early seventies.

    Second: Powell’s is the most amazing place on earth… well, the Taj Mahal might beat it, I guess, but I’ve never been to the Taj Mahal… and I’ve got a stack of books purchased there that I have yet to get to as well. Good for you for making a dent!

    Three books for me last month!

    Nightfall and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov. Continuing my reading of Asimov short story collections… This was a paperback published back in 1969 that I picked up in a used book store a couple of years ago. Some stories were better than others, as is the way of these things, but Asimov’s so enthusiastic about his own writing that I just let him sweep me along.

    The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from the LA Times. A young couple in Orange County fight and storm out of the house separately, each thinking they’re leaving their three kids in the care of the other. When they both haven’t returned after a couple of days, the Latina nanny left behind takes the kids on a public transportation tour across Southern California, trying to find their grandfather. The scenario strains credibility a little bit but I enjoyed Tobar’s take on the different parts and lifestyles of Southern California (a gated OC community, downtown LA, Santa Ana) and the clash of cultures between two young up-and-comers and their Spanish-speaking nanny.

    The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read this a couple of years ago but this was the audio edition, read by actor Martin Shaw. The Silmarillion is an acquired taste, even for Tolkien fans, but I like it, and Shaw did an amazing job reading it.

    Don’t feel sheepish for your Planet of the Apes love! Of course, I’m the guy who read two Doctor Who novels (as well as three Who graphic novels that I left out of the count) last month, but heck, it’s not as if that’s all we’re reading, and so what if it was? Reading is reading! Whether we’re reading Milan Kundera (whom I’ll be reading next month for a book club, which is why I’m throwing his name around) or the Planet of the Apes or the planet Gallifrey (where the Doctor hails from!), it’s all good!

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      I wonder how many others are reading Milan Kundera and Dr. Who novelizations? Or, for that matter, Planet of the Apes fannishness and James Joyce, which is what I’ve transitioned to at bedtime? As you say, reading is reading…although there’s reading and then there’s READING.

      • John Clifford

        My daughter, a 23 year old, was introduced to the Dr. during the Christopher Eccelston year and has been faithful ever since. While she was at NYU, she discovered that The Strand Bookstore had a bunchy of Dr. Who books (from previous Dr.s) in French. Since she reads French she found it an enjoyable way to find out more about previous Dr.s.

        • Doug Evans

          My ten-year-old daughter is a fan, too… Started during the Tennant years, but after she got hooked, we went back to the first episode of the new series and watched them in order. I want to show her some Pertwee and Tom Baker eps but I’m not sure how she’ll deal with the ’70s-era pacing and effects! Doctor Who novels in French sound really cool (except I don’t read French!).

  • John Clifford

    This last month saw me, again, using my Google Nexus tablet to read a couple of books. As stated last month, I read Dante’s Divine Comedy (Inferno, Pergatorio, Paradisio) in a prose translation by David Bruce. I was a little taken aback by his insistence on having the denizens of the afterlife comment on things that would happen in the future, such as scientific discoveries well past Dante’s time, which I checked in some of the poetic versions and they’re not there (obviously). But checking back in the poetic versions made me really appreciate the prose version as the poetry version I checked was mostly incomprehensible.

    I followed that up with the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. This was a scanned version from Google’s initiative to scan all of the books in the world’s libraries. As such it had some interesting “translations” from the optical character recognition software, but was not the worst I’ve seen/read. The book from Macmillan’s Pocket American and English Classics series was published in 1921 and includes, beside the fairly short autobiography, a number of Franklin’s writings from Poor Richard’s Almanac and letters sent while he was in England and France.

    As someone involved in the printing industry, Franklin is something of a hero, so it was fun to read his story.

    • davidallen909

      I’m impressed you read Dante. I bought a version of it cheap when Borders closed, John Ciardi’s translation I believe, but haven’t gotten to it (so what else is new?). Franklin I read for a college class in autobiography. Great book. His self-deprecating humor made it an enjoyable read.

  • DebB

    I’m a little late this month, and I’ve lost track of the paperbacks I read. Do you keep your books set aside or keep a list or something, so you can remember them for the monthly recap?

    Here’s my list:

    “A Glancing Light” and “Old Scores” by Aaron Elkins. The other two in the series I started in March. I like Elkins’s writing, but unfortunately I’m coming to the end of what he’s written so far!

    “Mrs., Presumed Dead” and “Mrs. Pargeter’s Package” by Simon Brett. I’m enjoying this sort of quiet series I started in March. The main character is around my age, and I like her style!

    I read a couple novels by Dick Francis, and enjoyed them very much (staying up until 3:00 a.m. one night to finish one!). But like I said, I’ve lost track of which ones they were.

    Also by Dick Francis – “Field of Thirteen”. This is a collection of 13 short stories written throughout the years for various magazines and other publications, including one for “Sports Illustrated” that takes place during the Kentucky Derby. Even though his novels are murder mysteries, these short stories were not. Generally they were about people trying to pull a scam or some other crime, and getting their come-uppance, often in a darkly humorous way.

  • Dara Allen

    I’ve been reading every spare minute the past two weeks, with 3 great books to enjoy. I’ve finished Kent Haruf’s “Benediction,” and am now taking turns reading “Mom & Me & Mom” by Maya Angelou, and “Until I Say Good-Bye” by Susan Spencer-Wendel. Haruf’s book follows his excellent “Plainsong” and “Eventide.” (He takes his time writing them, but each one has been worth the wait.) Angelou’s book gives us a colorful picture of her mother’s influence, which enhances Angelou’s earlier autobiographic works. Spencer-Wendel’s book is an autobiography about life as a forty-something mother with ALS, a presently incurable condition, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She is a woman of great courage, who has chosen to live her life as fully and joyfully as she can.

  • davidallen909

    Deb, I keep a list (a piece of paper in which I log each title and author for the year), set the books aside (stacked on a shelf) and log them on Goodreads. My mind may not be a steel trap, but my system is!