Reading Log: January 2014

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Books acquired: “Orange Blossoms Everywhere: The Story of Maud and Delos Lovelace in California, 1953-1980,” Mary Thiessen.

Books read: “Alone Against Tomorrow,” “Deathbird Stories” and “Shatterday,” Harlan Ellison; “18 Best Stories,” “The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe; “Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By,” Anna Jane Grossman; “Betsy-Tacy,” “Betsy In Spite of Herself,” Maud Hart Lovelace; “Orange Blossoms Everywhere,” Mary Thiessen.

A new year! A fresh start! I had a busy reading month, and much of what I did was mop up a few books begun last year. The fresh start must begin in February. Also, I read some children’s books. And I thought my 2013 reading list had some whimsical choices.

As you’ll see from the above, I read three by Ellison, two by Poe. These were the leftovers from last year, all of them story collections on which I’d made some or much headway but hadn’t got around to finishing. It was satisfying to complete them.

Of the Ellisons, “Tomorrow” and “Deathbird” are classic collections, relatively easy to find at used bookstores, and worth tracking down. The Poe “18 Best” collection, with an introduction by Vincent Price, lives up to its title. It’s got all the major stories and two or three so-so ones. Some collections miss a good one or two or, more commonly, tack on an extra 15 or 20 very minor ones. “Usher” skips “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” which is among Poe’s best, and has a couple of head-scratchers.

But “Usher” does include Poe’s only novel, a seafaring tale with supernatural elements; Lovecraft’s novel “At the Mountains of Madness,” which I read a couple of years back, is an obvious homage. If you read enough, suddenly everything makes sense.

Poe is a writer I read as a boy, and returning to his work has been illuminating, as well as entertaining. He’s as good as you remember, at least until you get into the weedier stuff. And have you read “The Tell-Tale Heart” as an adult? I don’t know if I got as a boy how hilarious that story is. The narrator is a nutcase who wants us to believe he’s sane. It’s almost like Poe is ribbing his own style.

I also read two of the Betsy-Tacy children’s books, and a little book about their author, for a couple of columns I’m writing. Look for those soon. It was research, but enjoyable research. If you’ve read these, you’re encouraged to comment.

Lastly, “Obsolete,” a pseudo-encyclopedia of things passing us by, was okay, but a bit thin and strained. If I could, I’d take back the time I spent reading it. “Going, Going, Gone,” from 1994, is along the same lines and much better done.

Let’s see, the three Ellisons, and Poe’s “18 Best,” all date to my Illinois days; “Usher” was bought at Powell’s in Portland in 2010; “Obsolete” I got from Amazon a year or two ago; the Betsy-Tacys were checked out from the Pomona Public Library; and the book about their author was a gift from the Betsy-Tacy Society.

So that’s January. What have you been reading? Do you have any reading goals for the year? I’m going light on those myself after last year almost obstinately ignoring most of the goals I’d sketched out. Although I do have ideas of what I want to read, especially in the next three or four months, my only specific goals are to read Ellison’s first “Dangerous Visions” anthology, one Shakespeare play to be determined and — why not? — “The Three Musketeers.” How about that?

Next month: a few books given to me as birthday gifts…a year or more ago.

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  • DebB

    Only two for me this month:

    “Looking for Yesterday” by Marcia Muller
    “Dying on the Vine” by Aaron Elkins

    Each is the most recent in a series by the author, and I enjoyed them both. The first takes place in San Francisco and environs, the second in Italy – it’s nice to get away from Pomona on occasion, even if there’s murder involved!

    • davidallen909

      True, you don’t have to be in Pomona to experience murder…although it helps. Thanks for being the first to comment!

  • Doug Evans

    Loved this post and I loved the Betsy-Tacy one, though I’ve never read a Betsy-Tacy book. (Also, shout-out to my friend Sandra who made an appearance in the Betsy-Tacy column!) I’m such a book nerd that the thought of your reading books you’ve owned since Illinois and finally crossing them off your list appeals to me.

    I read six in Jan!

    “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie. Formerly titled “Ten Little Indians” (with a much more unfortunate title before that). Read for a book club. I’ve never read Christie before, so I’m glad the club picked it. A ridiculous scenario but a fun read.

    “Doctor Who: Ten Little Aliens” by Stephen Cole. The first of the 11 Doctor Who eBooks I got for Christmas. Fun, but fairly gory, which is kind of odd for Doctor Who (horrible stuff can happen on the TV show but it’s mostly off-camera). And! I totally didn’t realize this when I started to read it but the title is a deliberate homage to Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” which I was simultaneously reading (see paragraph above)! Coincidence?? Well, yeah, coincidence, but still pretty cool.

    “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. Great book! Found it for one dollar at the Chino Hills Library used book store, making this the odd contemporary best seller that I chose on my own and didn’t read for a book club, though I’m thinking I may choose it for a club once my turn comes round again.

    “The End of Eternity” by Isaac Asimov. A classic of his I’d never read. Instead of space, this one is about time travel. Enjoyable!

    “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. Read for the same book club above, meaning I’m a little ahead. By the author of “Bel Canto,” which the club read earlier. Really good book! One of the reasons I’m glad to be in my two book clubs is that I get exposed to books like these I’d never pick up on my own.

    “The Future of Us” by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. Young adult novel with an intriguing premise… two high school kids in 1996 pop an AOL CD-ROM into their computer and suddenly find themselves reading their Facebook posts from 15 years in the future. Clever idea, but: too much teen-age angst; not enough mind-bending sci-fi. Or as I put it in a one-sentence review: I wanted more Future and less Us. This was my choice for a book club that met this last Saturday, and while we all agreed the book wasn’t great, we also agreed that sometimes the least-liked books lead to the best discussions. Lots of talk about our own teenage selves and if we would change anything in our past if we could, which, since most of us were sitting next to our spouses, we were mostly careful to say that we wouldn’t.

    For this month… Another Asimov, a Steinbeck, the second of my Doctor Who eBooks, and then I plan to get back into Game of Thrones… the goal is to get caught up with that series, and then finally (finally!) get back to “Our Mutual Friend”! Which at this point feels more like “Our Mutual Former Acquaintance.” Looking forward to next month’s birthday-gift-related post. Happy reading, everyone!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I finished 6 in Jan.

    Year’s Best SF 8, DG Hartwell editor 2001 collection of 2000 stories, good to excellent

    Globalhead, Bruce Sterling 1992. A collection of (mostly) SF stories published 1985-92. Uneven.

    A Conspiracy of Silence – The Health and Death of Franklin D Roosevelt, Harry S Goldsmith MD 2007 This was more about the author’s quest to obtain the suppressed information, but interesting nonetheless, except for an overlong section on the politics of Truman’s selection as VP when the insiders knew FDR was dying.

    Man Plus, Frederick Pohl, 1976. Good mainstream SF about turning the first astronaut to Mars into a cyborg.

    Mystic River, Dennis Lehane 2001. Formula crime fiction author takes his shot at the Great American Novel, and it isn’t a bad attempt.

    The Green Hills of Earth, Robert Heinlein. A collection of short fiction originally published 1941-49, it is of most interest to real Heinlein fans, as most of the stories are on the simplistic side and best for the Junior High set.

    As for books read by others, I read the Poe tales and The End of Eternity more than 40 years ago, but I remember both fondly.

    • davidallen909

      Thanks, Rich. That was an eclectic selection (although you didn’t have any Betsy-Tacy books). I own Green Hills of Earth and expect to be reading that this spring or summer.

  • John Clifford

    Embarrassed to say only 1in January. I devoured Malcom Gladwell’s “David and Goliath.” He describes why perceived underdogs are often better equipped to topple the “big guys.”

    • davidallen909

      I’d like to think Gladwell’s principle applies to Pomona.

      • John Clifford

        From you mouth …..