Reading Log: May 2013

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Books acquired: “The Adventures of Solar Pons, Vol. 1,” August Derleth; “The Baker Street Letter,” Michael Robertson; “Granddad, There’s a Head on the Beach,” Colin Cotterill; “Inside Benchley,” Robert Benchley; “Scoop,” Evelyn Waugh; “Will in the World,” Stephen Greenblatt; “A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator and Other Travels (Library of America),” Mark Twain; “Woe is I,” Patricia O’Connor; “The Slide,” Kyle Beachy.

Books read: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan; “Ulysses,” James Joyce; “Boogers are my Beat,” Dave Barry.

Three may be the fewest number of books read in a single month since I started writing these monthly blog posts. Then again, “Ulysses” could have been a month all to itself, representing the single most complex book I’ve ever read, and three weeks of solid reading. It was 650 nearly incomprehensible pages. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” was very readable, but it was 450 pages. Two tough picks in a row.

“Omnivore” is all about where our food comes from. Pollan visits an Iowa corn field, follows a steer to a Kansas feed lot (where it eats Iowa corn), can’t get a tour of a slaughterhouse but describes the process, then eats a McDonald’s meal, the ultimate end product. He also visits organic farms, some industrial, some not, and also tries to construct a meal entirely out of items he gathers himself, including a wild pig he hunts and kills. Eye-opening and dismaying, and highly recommended.

“Ulysses” may end up the subject of a column. It’s the famous novel about a single day  – June 16, 1904 — in the life of some Dubliners, mostly Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, and every single thing that happens to them, is said to them or that runs through their minds. You might say it’s the ultimate celebration of the common man, except that the common man can’t read it, Joyce’s prose being notoriously dense and, at times, completely unpunctuated. So, “Ulysses” is easier to admire than to love, and at times easy to hate.

The point is, I can now brag for the rest of my life that I’ve read “Ulysses,” and that’s  nothing to sneeze at.

I read “Omnivore” because the Upland Library chose it for the library’s first community read. “Ulysses” I bought in 1998, from the Montclair Borders, when it was named the best novel of the 20th century by Time magazine; I read it now because a friend challenged me to read it by June 16. He’s not even halfway through, which may mean I’m a sucker.

I might have stopped there at two books for the month, but I had six days left after finishing “Ulysses” and decided to squeeze in something short and unpretentious. You can’t get much more unpretentious than a Dave Barry collection with “boogers” in the title. I’d put this one in the middle range of his books, with some of his shtick growing tiresome, for me at least, but with enough surprises to be enjoyable. “Boogers” may have come from Amazon shortly after publication in 2003.

Thus, three books for May. Not a great number, but they added up to a somewhat more weighty 1,350 pages. I’ll return to more sensible books in June.

You’ll notice from my list up top that I bought a lot more books last month than I read (sigh). All nine came from various St. Louis bookstores. So, have you read any of my three books, or my nine purchases? More importantly, what did you choose to read in May?

Next month: I read some of my oldest unread books.

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  • John Clifford

    In May i read the second of the two book set on my reader, Medium Raw, by Anthony Bourdain. This one was a much mellower fella who even had good things to say about Emeril, much different from the first book I read in April. Success, the birth of a daughter, and age seem to have made him a little bit nicer of a guy.

    I also read a REAL book, Tana French’s Faithful Place. French writes here about an cop in Dublin who is faced with a 20 year old murder which is VERY personal to him and his being reunited with his totally dysfunctional family and the “fun” that ensues.

    Not a bad couple of books.

    • davidallen909

      So in May we each read a book set in Dublin. What are the odds? Thanks as always for commenting, John.

  • Doug Evans

    Congrats on Ulysses! Happy Bloomsday coming up!

    I read six… I think that may be a record for me here on the blog!

    *Cannery Row by Steinbeck… A classic I’d never read and had always meant to. Inspired by a weekend trip in April I took with my family to that part of the world.

    *Still Alice by Lisa Genova (book club pick)… Story of a fifty-year-old woman who gets Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Sad!

    *The Rest of the Robots by Isaac Asimov… A 1969 paperback picked up at Half Off Books (formerly Little Old Bookshop) in Whittier… By the title alone, I figure I’ve now read all of Asimov’s robot stories! Well, close enough to count.

    *The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde… Another classic I’d never read. Downloaded a pdf of a google-scanned nineteenth-century edition and read that. Because I am a nerd.

    *Water Music by T.C. Boyle (another book club pick, different book club)… Based on the real-life travels of nineteenth-century explorer Mungo Park, whom I’d never heard of. Took about 100 pages for me to get into both the story and Boyle’s style, but I was totally caught up in it after that.

    *Night Moves by Randy Wayne White… The latest in his “Doc Ford” series that I read every year.

    Now I’m making my way through book two of the Game of Thrones series, which means I don’t think I’ll hit six this month. That’s OK.

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      What if there’s a sequel, “More of the Rest of the Robots,” say, or “The Rest of the Robots, Vol. 2″? But yes, you’ve probably got them all, or all-ish.

      I haven’t read Dorian Gray, although it came loaded on my e-reader, so it’s there whenever I want it. I did read Cannery Row a few years ago, when Claremont chose it as its community read. I liked it. Apparently, Sweet Thursday is a sequel of sorts, but I haven’t read that.

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I don’t keep a formal log, so I need to guess what I finished last month as opposed to the one before, and if the book is not nearby, I might forget to include it.

    I count six in May: 1 nonfiction, 2 SF, 3 crime fiction. I decided some time ago I would be a good boy if I balanced each pleasure fiction with a nonfiction, or at least a “literary fiction”, but I gave up and decided 1 NF/month was good enough, and LF 4 to 6 per year wasn’t bad, and who cares about the ratio, because I almost never watch TV.

    Blue Sky Dream, David Beers: Beers’s memoir growing up in Silicon Valley as a baby boomer son of an engineer in the spook world of Lockheed space programs. Well done, IMO, and I have inside knowledge (his generation, his dad’s vocation, but not in the spook world, but but I did deal w/ that Lockheed in the Star Wars days).

    Killer in the Rain, Raymond Chandler: A collection of short fiction, originally published in pulp magazines, he later cannibalized into his novels. Any Chandler fan would enjoy this.

    Chasing Darkness, Robert Crais: A typical Elvis Cole – Joe Pike crime novel, above average, not special.

    Exit Music, Ian Rankin: Inspector John Rebus’s last case, except that he recently unretired. This is one of the weaker books in the series, but I think it is one of the best series of crime fiction.

    Maze of Worlds, Brian Lumley: Sequel to House of Doors, which I have not read, and will not since the sequel gives away the entire plot of the original. Still, an entertaining story for SF or fantasy fans.

    We, Yevgeny Zemyatin: Could be classified as literary fiction, since it was written in in 1920/1921, except it is somewhat obscure. More along the lines of 1984 and Brave New World than the works of Jules Verne and HG Wells, this is a benchmark work in SF, although not necessarily in the list of top 25 SF required reading list for general readers.

    I’ve read a number of books on DA’s list over the last 6 months since I commented last on the Reading Log, 8 + parts of 2 others. On these:

    I did read Ulysses a long time ago, but more than a decade earlier I was introduced to the style and location (in time, not in space) by Philip Jose Farmer’s takeoff Riders of the Purple Wage. RPW is much shorter, easier to read, and IMO, of much greater in substance and subject, but alas, it is SF and has not had nearly the same respect. DA favorite Harlan Ellison gets credit for publishing this in the original anthology Dangerous Visions. While Ellison did publish a successor anthology Again, DV, he has long been vilified by many in the SF community for sitting on the 3rd volume for 40 years. He (I believe) paid for the stories, but did not publish them, and they remain unpublished, so authors remain unread and unpaid for subsequent publication.

    Farewell to Manzanar was good, and Hiroshima (John Hersey, 2nd ed. with followup) made a good supplement.

    The Road, by McCarthy, was below mediocre. My daughter read ny copy for a school English class, and was forced to over-analyze it to death, so I totally understand her comment, by someone who loves reading: “Dad, can I burn this book?”. The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver, was also required, but that turned out to be excellent.

    I did read Franzen’s The Corrections last year, and it was pretty good.

    • davidallen909

      Wow, thanks for the epic comment, Richard. Doug Evans can only gape in wonder and vow to write even more next month.

      As long as you’re reading you’re ahead of most of the population, so no need to feel too bad about not reading more of this or that. But I know what you mean. It’s healthy to stretch now and then to read something difficult or out of your comfort zone.

      Dangerous Visions has been on my shelf for years and I intend to get to that in the next year or two. I hadn’t known that PJF’s Purple Wage story was a Ulysses sendup or homage, but that’s good to know, and maybe I’ll at least read that story soon. (I also own Again DV and perhaps one day will own the Last DV, if it’s ever published.)

      As a point of clarification, I haven’t read The Road, or anything by Cormac McCarthy for that matter, but perhaps someone brought it up in the comments section.

  • DebB

    Kind of a slow month for me: only 4 books. I’ve been spending my time planning a pirate birthday party for a 4-year-old friend!

    “Classic Revenge” and “Deadly Policy” by Mitzi Kelly – the first two in her Silver Sleuths series. First off, I was just a little insulted when she kept calling a 48-year-old “elderly”! The books were OK, mostly good characters, good stories.

    “The Blond Leading the Blond” by Jayne Ormerod, about a woman who inherits the family fortune from an aunt she never knew, and then becomes a suspect in the aunt’s death.

    Since receiving my Kindle, I’ve been buying books from their extra low-cost lists. Initially I felt like this would give me a chance to read some authors who were good writers but never “made it big”. Now I’m starting to realize that they never made it big because they are just so-so authors – very formulaic. Both of the book series above, as well as some others I’ve read lately, have one character who is older, feisty, irritating, demanding, manipulative, etc. They are supposed to be funny and lovable, but I’m really getting sick of these people!

    By contrast, I read “Mrs. Pargeter’s Pound of Flesh”, next-to-last (so far) in a series by Simon Brett, and enjoyed it very much. A unique set of characters, good plot, well-written.

    I guess every genre has it’s formula books. The trick for me is being able to afford the good non-formula ones!

    • davidallen909

      How old is Mitzi Kelly, 12? Sheesh. If that’s her rather than a clueless character talking, that’s just dumb.

      I’m likewise skeptical of free books, putting them in the you-get-what-you-pay-for category, other than public-domain classics, of course.