Books acquired: “Los Angeles in the Thirties: 1931-1941,” David Gebhard and Harriette von Breton; “A Small Place,” Jamaica Kincaid.
Books read: “Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson,” Kevin Avery, ed.; “Chronic City,” Jonathan Lethem; “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Harlan Ellison.
To end 2013, I read three books in December. Two of them have a subtle connection.
“Afterthought” is a biography and best-of of the late Paul Nelson, in the late 1970s and early 1980s an editor and reviewer at Rolling Stone, and prior to that the A&R man who signed the New York Dolls, and prior to that a folk music writer who introduced Bob Dylan to Woody Guthrie’s music and memoir. Nelson met a sad end as a virtual recluse in NYC. Among his friends was Jonathan Lethem, now of Claremont, who is quoted extensively in the biography and whose novel “Chronic City” has as its main character a pop culture visionary based on Paul Nelson.
The Nelson book was a labor of love on compiler/biographer Kevin Avery’s part. I liked this book a lot, even if watching Nelson’s slow-motion decline was a queasy part of the appeal. Lethem’s novel, meanwhile, was giddy fun for this fellow pop culture aficionado, who was fascinated by the mixture of fact and fancy and the Philip Dickian flourishes.
(Amusingly, I discussed “Chronic” on New Year’s Eve with a friend who’s read more Lethem than I have. I told him it was by far my favorite. He said it was by far his least favorite. “I was embarrassed for him for having written it,” he said. There’s no accounting for taste, especially other people’s.)
So this was a case of perfect timing. Had I read “Chronic” earlier, it might not have meant so much to me. The Ellison book made sense to read for another reason, and not just that it has “city” in its title; in November I read another Trek book, the last of the Blish adaptations and my first Trek reading in maybe 35 years. As Hillary said (Edmund, not Clinton), it was there. Before lifting myself out of whatever slough of despond led me to read it, I read the only other Trek book I have, Ellison’s teleplay of his famous episode. I’m an Ellison completist and would have got to it eventually.
The teleplay is good, of course. So was the finished episode. Ellison’s heavily footnoted, spittle-flecked 73-page rant about changes to his script 30 years earlier contrasts neatly with D.C. Fontana’s calm, six-page explanation of how and why his script was rewritten. Dismaying from a writer of Ellison’s abilities. Shouldn’t he be above this sort of thing? What with the lousy layout and cheap presentation, it looks like some nut’s homemade fanbook. Suggested alternate title: “Ego on the Edge of Losing It.”
I was embarrassed for him for having written it.
How was your reading month? Did you squeeze in anything between gift shopping and eating? Coming soon: a list of every book I read in 2013. (Or you can piece it together yourself by rereading the previous 11 of these.)