Reading Log: August 2013

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Books acquired: none.

Books read: “Troublemakers,” Harlan Ellison; “Googie Redux,” Alan Hess; “Diners,” John Baeder; “Dave Barry’s Money Secrets,” Dave Barry; “The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe.

Five books sounds all right, doesn’t it? Oh, but what a trial August was. By the 10th or so, all I had accomplished was reading 50 pages of a novel that I abandoned (Susan Straight’s “Take One Candle Light a Room”) and reading the latest, music-themed issue of the Believer magazine. Then I got into gear and picked some random books to read.

Ellison’s “Troublemakers” is something of a best-of for the YA market; about half the stories were new to me. Not a bad collection. Hess’ “Googie Redux” is the definitive book on midcentury coffee shop architecture. (It will inspire a series of posts here.) “Diners” consists of photorealistic paintings of East Coast and Southern diners and the artist’s stories of his diner obsession; not what I was expecting, and if I could take back the time and money spent on this book, I would. “Dave Barry’s Money Secrets,” from 2006, is worth reading if you like him, because it was very funny.

Lastly, “Rue Morgue” collects Poe’s three detective stories in one slender volume; it was surprising to see how many detective story tropes were created right here (aloof, ultra-rational detective, slightly dense narrator/friend, bumbling police, even a locked room murder). That said, the tales are more like puzzles than stories you care about.

I acquired these books within the past 10 years at Borders Montclair (Ellison), the Hammer Museum gift shop in Westwood (Hess), Brand Books in Glendale (Baeder), Small World Books in Venice (Poe) and a used bookstore I can’t recall (Barry).

For me, August came in like a lamb, a confused one at that, but went out like, not a lion, but maybe a leopard. Even that’s a bit fierce. Maybe an emu.

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  • DebB

    Something about August – mine started out rough, too, with my mom in the hospital for a few days. She’s OK now, but I spent a lot of time sitting around a hospital room trying to keep her company.

    Even so, I managed to finish a surprising number of books:

    Finished all I have of “The Cat Who…” books. I don’t have the last two and don’t think I’ll bother with them. The last few I read were showing the decline of the author, and reviews show the last two go downhill even more.

    “Cinnamon Roll Murder” by Joanne Fluke. The most recent in this series about a cookie baker, her family and friends, and the murders they manage to get caught up in. Light but enjoyable – makes you crave sugar.

    “McNally’s Secret” by Lawrence Sanders. The first in a series about a young man in Florida doing investigations for his father’s law firm. Enjoyed this one – I’ll see where they go from here.

    “Bitter Sweet” and “Sweets Galore” by Connie Shelton, about a cake baker, her family and friends, and the murders they manage to get caught up in. More serious, better-written, this is an author I really enjoy.

    By contrast, I read the first two books in the “High Heels” series, and found them pretty frivolous, so much so that I abandoned the third book (I bought all three as a set for a couple dollars or so) after the first few chapters. I’ve come to realize I prefer a set of characters that grows and ages, rather than characters that are the same in each book, especially when they are annoying to begin with.

    “Skull Duggery” by Aaron Elkins. I love this series about a forensic anthropologist, even though there is a lot of technical skeletal language. It’s so well-researched and well-written.

    Finally, “Mrs. Pargeter’s Point of Honour” by Simon Brett. The last book in a series about an mature widow solving murders with the help of her husband’s former associates in crime. Finished this one at 11 p.m. on the 31st!

    Phew! 10 books this month, thanks to no work, too much heat, and too much stress.

    • davidallen909

      The important thing is you read a lot. Just kidding, that’s unimportant. Glad to hear your mom’s better.

      Since you mention finishing your last book at 11 p.m. on the 31st (simply so you could mention it here?), I’ll confess that I finished the Poe book late on the 1st. I felt like including it before moving on to September’s books.

      Hey, it’s my blog, and I make the rules!

      • Doug Evans

        Time for my confession: I finished “Maya’s Notebook,” which I talk about above, at 1:00 am on Sep. 1, and yep, I was staying up to finish it so I could include it in the book log!

        • davidallen909

          Greater love for a blog hath no man!

  • Allan

    I don’t remember if you’ve mentioned picking up a copy of Lou Reed’s “The Raven” in one of your record-store trips. Features vocals by The Green Goblin, Nucky Thompson, and David Bowie.

    • davidallen909

      I love Lou but have avoided his past few records, including that one. Quoth the fan, “Nevermore.”

  • Doug Evans

    I read six books! Much better than the August a couple of years ago when I finished none.

    Three from Steinbeck: “Sweet Thursday,” “The Pearl,” and “The Red Pony.” I’ve finished most of Steinbeck’s short novels… I just have “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden” to go and I’ve read all of his best-known stuff. Kind of a random goal I set for myself in June. “Sweet Thursday,” btw, is a sequel to “Cannery Row,” featuring most of the main characters but with a completely different, almost jokey feel…apparently influenced by Steinbeck’s love of Li’l Abner, of all things! Critically drubbed upon release and now almost forgotten by the public. I can’t say anything to change anyone’s mind about that.

    “Another Part of the Galaxy” (ed. Geoff Conklin) and “Beyond the End of Time” (ed. Frederik Pohl). Two science fiction short story collections I purchased at Powell’s Books in Oregon at the beginning of the month (yay, Powell’s!). Both original editions, one published in 1966 and the other in 1952. I was surprised to see that Fred Pohl was still alive when I googled him earlier this month… 93 years old!… but, in a sad coincidence for this book log, he just died two days ago as I type this. The last of the giants of the golden age of science fiction!

    “Maya’s Notebook,” by Isabel Allende. Read for a book club (my wife’s pick!). The rather unlikely adventures of a teenage girl, cutting back and forth between her life as a runaway and drug addict in Las Vegas, and a small island off the coast of Chile, a year later, where her grandmother sends her to escape her earlier life. I’d never read anything by Allende, so I’m glad to have done it, but I’m not sure if this is representative of her most acclaimed stuff.

    That Edgar Allan Poe edition looks really cool! I think I read those stories way waaaay back in junior high.

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      I was curious about “Sweet Thursday” after reading “Cannery Row” in 2007 but never ventured beyond curiosity. Sounds like I made a wise choice (or non-choice). Steinbeck was prolific and my impression is he was very hit-or-miss. A newsroom colleague swears that his King Arthur book is brilliant, but I don’t know that that’s an accepted viewpoint.

      “Travels With Charley” is famous non-fictiony Steinbeck (even though I think it’s been determined to be part fiction), but you seem to be sticking to famous fictiony Steinbeck. Funny how you’ve squeezed that goal in amidst your Dickens novel-a-year completism…”oh, now I also think I’ll read all of Steinbeck’s best in one year.”

      You didn’t say anything about “The Pearl.” I read that earlier this year, and liked it, although it read like a fable.

      Isn’t the name Groff Conklin? What a great name. And I hadn’t heard Pohl had died — boo!

      • Doug Evans

        Yes… “Groff!” Not “Geoff.” Thanks!

        I realized after I’d posted that I’d left out “Travels With Charley” as a famous Steinbeck that I haven’t read. I want to read that one, too… especially since we’re getting a dog tomorrow! (I’ll leave the King Arthur one till maybe later in my life.)

        “The Pearl” and “The Red Pony” were both very good! “The Pearl,” according to wikipedia, is based on an actual fable. In the original, the protagonist is a young boy; Steinbeck aged him to be a husband and father to add to the poignancy. “The Red Pony” was not at all what I excepted and I liked it all the better for that. I will share more after you’ve read it!

        I was going to share all of that in my original post but I’ve been trying to edit myself down in these things, so I don’t write the equivalent of a doctoral thesis each time! (It’s a little easier when I read three books by the same author!)

        And I haven’t given up on my man Dickens… I plan to resume “Our Mutual Friend” this month or next and to finish it by Christmas. It’s, um, two years late, according to my self-imposed timeline, but I think Dickens would understand. Though thirty-year-old me (the me of 15 years ago) might be a little disappointed.

  • Dara Allen

    My favorite book in August was “Educating Esme” by Esme Raji Codell. The author wrote about her first year of teaching fifth-graders in a big-city school. (I was particularly interested in her story because I had taught fifth-graders the first three of my 39 years in the classroom.) Esme’s experiences were quite different from mine, as most of her students had troubled lives at home and many learning difficulties. She also had many “battles” with her principal and fellow teachers who were not as dedicated to the students as Esme was. I hope that many teachers, and anyone else who enjoys reading about people who refuse to give up in the face of adversity, will find and enjoy this exciting book!