Reading Log: July 2013

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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.)

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  • DebB

    I continued my course of re-reading Lillian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” series. They are classified as mysteries, but the mystery element is really secondary, and they are all pretty light reads – enjoyable for summer. I think I got through 6 or 8 of them in July.

    I purchased some new books for my Kindle at the very end of the month, and some are from new-to-me authors. So for the next reading log I should have something more interesting to say!

    • davidallen909

      Always glad to have you here, Deb, no matter what you’re reading. No cause to fret.

  • Denise Pappas

    I just finished the four book series “Lonesome Dove”. The story was excellent for the most part, but a few parts were a little gruesome for my tastes.
    A word to the wise for anyone interested in reading it… don’t get too attached to any one of the characters.

    • Doug Evans

      (Possible spoilers in this comment!) I’ve read those! Well, the first three. I haven’t read “Streets of Laredo” yet thanks to the sad thing that happens toward the end of “Lonesome Dove.” But I own it! Maybe enough time has passed that I can handle it now. By the way, I read somewhere that a character from book three was, er, “written out” between books three and four because Larry McMurty was unhappy with the TV Lonesome Dove sequel and wanted to be clear that his universe had nothing to do with the TV one.

      • Denise Pappas

        Um…”written out”…yeah. Like I said, don’t get too attached.

  • Doug Evans

    I read five!

    “The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale” by Thomas Nickerson among others. The last of the “Whaleship Essex” books I was reading back in June. I am now an expert on the loss of the whaleship Essex. Go ahead, ask me anything. (Don’t really.)

    “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” by Allison Hoover Bartlett. True story of a book thief, and a glimpse into the world of rare books and the book dealers (and thieves) who love them. Reads, like a lot of true-story books I’ve read, as though it were a magazine article stretched to book length, which the story can’t really sustain. And the real life criminal is free once again (the police and the courts don’t treat book stealing with perhaps the seriousness that they should), so hang on to your books!

    “Way-farer” by Dennis Schmidt. Read for a book club. An odd cross of science-fiction and martial arts, published back in 1978. Page after page of martial arts philosophy. Which I skimmed. Since the whole thing is set in the future, why not just pull out a laser pistol and shoot somebody? Why all this philosophizing? The book club in question meets in a couple of weeks… I plan to ask all of these questions then. I’ll probably be told that the answer lies within the question itself, or something, and then be sent on a quest to discover my own way. Which, if I could take off in a spaceship, I’d probably do.

    “Tortilla Flat” and “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. Look at me reading Steinbeck! I’ve never really read him before, and me an English Lit major and all. Hey, he’s good! Though maybe I could have given “Tortilla Flat” a miss. I’ve got several more lined up, so look for more on him in the next reading log!

    And! I’ve made headway in Charles Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend” and in the fourth Game of Thrones book, “A Feast for Crows.” Both of those I’m reading on my mini iPad I got for my birthday! (I LOVE YOU, MINI IPAD.)

    I had the exact same edition of that “Phoenix Without Ashes” as a kid! (They may have only made one.) I never made it all the way through… I think I was a little young for it… but I remember to this day Ellison’s scathing introduction in which he rips into Hollywood and the perils of trying to create a TV show! Good old Harlan!

    Till next month: Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Ellison’s introduction might be better than the book!

      Re Steinbeck, be wary of making promises you can’t keep (see my broken promise about Shakespeare)! I reread Of Mice last year and was amazed. Less so by The Pearl earlier this year. I haven’t tried Tortilla Flat but it’s in my Steinbeck anthology so I’ll get to it.

      If you don’t want to read books like Way-farer, you shouldn’t have joined the SF/Kung Fu Book Club. Which probably goes dark after this month because what else would you read? Seriously, I was trying to picture which of your two or three book clubs would assign a forgotten, if not misbegotten, 1978 martial arts/SF novel.

      Now that you’re an expert, I have a question about the Essex. I’ve heard it was sunk by a dolphin. True or false?

      • Doug Evans

        Dolphins can be killers!

        Heh! That book club is a very eclectic club… A bunch of friends from work, an almost equal mix of women and men. One of the members likes to pick books that he read in high school, books that had a big impact on teenage-him, so while other members are choosing Wallace Stegner (yay!) or V.S. Naipaul (boo!), this member has had us read The Dark Knight Returns, The Watchmen, the first book of the Raymond Feist “Riftwar” fantasy series, and now Way-Farer. He’s definitely exposing some of the club members to books they would never pick up on their own!

        • davidallen909

          Oh, now that makes perfect sense: Someone is picking books from their childhood. I imagine finding copies for everyone to read is part of the fun!

  • DebB

    Dickens, Shakespeare, Steinbeck … I feel like such a lightweight!

    • davidallen909

      Oh, hush. The Steinbeck novel is about 100 pages, and let’s not forget Doug set Dickens aside to read Game of Thrones.

      • Doug Evans

        “…to read Game of Thrones” WHICH COUNTS AS LITERATURE because I make the rules.

  • John Clifford

    A little late getting to this but I only completed one book in July (still trying to tackle the complete Plato–about 1/3 through, but I’ve already inserted 2 books so August will be a little better).

    I was at the second Saturday art walk in Pomona when I noticed at the dA Gallery that local artist/author Kate Thornton had a sci-fi book out. While I didn’t buy the paperback version on sale there, I did go online and purchased it for my e-reader. “Spaced Out: Interplanetary Voyages of the Linda Rae,” is a collection of short stories around space pilot Cookie Sullivan who pilots her ship the Linda Rae between the moon and Mars. As a private cargo ship, she ferries interesting cargos and nefarious characters and hangs out in seedy space bars.

    While not Dickens, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, or even Ellison. A good romp and a fun summer read.

    • davidallen909

      That sounds like retro (rocket) fun. My August is going terribly: I’ve read 50 pages of a novel that I’m going to set aside or abandon, 60 pages of two movie-by-movie Hitchcock books I’m reading as I work my way through his oeuvre, bits of a 1,300-page Ellison best-of and most of the new issue of the Believer magazine. I’ve gotta get it in gear!