Books acquired: “Pulling a Train,” “Getting in the Wind,” Harlan Ellison; “The Incredible Double,” Owen Hill; “On Reading,” Andre Kortesz.
Books read: “Approaching Oblivion,” “Spider Kiss,” Harlan Ellison; “Phoenix Without Ashes,” Edward Bryant and Harlan Ellison; “The Book of Ellison,” Andrew Porter, ed.; “Elvis: The Illustrated Record,” Roy Carr and Mick Farren; “Much Ado About Nothing,” William Shakespeare.
Hope summertime is treating you book lovers well. My July was something of a repeat of June, although I don’t think of this as summer doldrums, but rather a surprisingly single-minded attack on some of my oldest unread books. It’s like I’m rushing my bookshelves and screaming “Tora! Tora! Tora!” or maybe “Don’t read until you see the whites of their spines!”
My six books in July, like my six books in June, were all tomes that date to my boyhood in bucolic Illinois, and somehow unread, all or in part, until now. Instead of the five Harlan Ellisons and one rock music book of June, in July I diversified by reading four Harlan Ellisons, one rock music book and one Shakespeare play. Crazy, man, crazy.
I’m trying to finish Ellison’s fiction and am making great strides, with only a half-dozen books left (er, not counting the two recently published books I acquired in July). “Approaching Oblivion” was perhaps the height, or nadir, of his “message” fiction — it was published in 1974, which says it all; “Spider Kiss” is a good, early (1961) rock novel about an Elvis/Jerry Lee Lewis figure; “Phoenix” is a fun novelization of a ’70s TV pilot that today might make a dandy “Under the Dome”-type miniseries but, as a novel, leaves you hanging; and “Book” is hagiography, not worth the reading.
The Elvis book, from 1982, discusses each LP, 45 and EP to that date, with commentary and biography; the authors’ judgments are sharp and they dismiss much of his prodigious output while praising the highlights. I learned a lot, perhaps all I really need to read about his often-sad life, and was pointed in the direction of a few albums I didn’t have, “Lovin’ You” and “From Elvis in Memphis” notably.
I saw the recent Joss Whedon movie version of “Much Ado,” done in modern dress in his LA backyard, but with the original dialogue, and it might be my favorite film of 2013 so far. (Runners-up: “Frances Ha,” “The Way, Way Back,” “Before Midnight.”) Seemed like a good time to read the play, which turns out to be awfully good too. Who knew? Beatrice is practically 21st-century modern, and her proto-feminist attitude and dialogue, and the transformation she effects on Benedick, are astonishing. Also, it’s really funny.
I read the play out of my ginormous “Riverside Shakespeare” college textbook, which has every play. I read “Richard II” a couple of years ago and said you’d be seeing this book a lot more often here, and instead this is its first appearance since then. I’ll try to pick up the pace.
It’s satisfying to have whittled down the number of really, really long-lived books in my collection, even if there’s still 50 or so left, plus most of Shakespeare’s plays.
What did you read during July, or have you been snoozing under a beach umbrella, a novel regretfully untouched by your sunscreen-streaked fingers?
Next month: A lot fewer Harlan Ellison books. (Probably.)