Books acquired: none.
Books read: “Ubik,” “Ubik: The Screenplay,” Philip K. Dick; “Waging Heavy Peace,” Neil Young; “The Swerve,” Stephen Greenblatt; “Stranger Passing,” Joel Sternfeld.
Welcome back to my monthly recap of what I read the previous month, as I navigate among the shocking number of unread books on my shelves and share the results.
As the shortest month, February would have been a good time to devote to extremely short books. Instead, as it was the month before my birthday, I opted to read books friends gave me for my last birthday.
(I’m terrible at reading books gifted to me, I’m ashamed to say, and I could profitably spend five or six months catching up on past gifts stretching back a couple of decades. Well, here’s a month, and that will have to suffice.)
Three of my books this month were gifts: “Ubik: The Screenplay,” “Waging Heavy Peace” and “The Swerve.”
Sensibly, first I read “Ubik,” the novel on which the unproduced screenplay was based. Even more shamefully, this is another of the books I’ve owned since I was a teenager and never read. Is my entire reading life about guilt? Anyway, this month provided an excuse to read it, and I’m glad I did, because it was the best book all month, one of Dick’s wackiest, full of humor and contemporary-seeming concerns about privacy in a world in which telepaths are everywhere.
You know it’s going to be great when a CEO, confronted with a vexing problem, tells his underlings, “I’ll consult my dead wife,” and it’s only page 2. He does it, too: The dead are kept in glass coffins in “moratoriums” — ha! — and awakened upon request for conversation. The plot involves a group of people who find the 1990s fading around them as 1939 re-emerges. Is reality changing, or does it only seem to be changing because they’re actually dead and don’t know it? It’s the usual mind-bending stuff. Dick’s screenplay wasn’t as good as the novel but made for a good companion piece.
Neil Young’s memoir hops around in time and place as the muse takes him. Similar to Dylan’s “Chronicles,” in that it’s not a straight autobiography but a book that focuses on random moments; dissimilar, in that it’s shaggy, off-the-cuff, overlong and kind of a mess. Young comes off as a big dork with his Lionel trains and other geeky projects and yet as far more normal than you’d expect. Refreshingly relaxed, but at 500 pages, maybe too relaxed. A sequel is promised/threatened.
I’d never heard of Lucretius or his poem “On the Nature of Things,” so everything in “The Swerve” was new to me. Yes, yes, the subtitle (“How the World Became Modern”) is awfully bold, but then, it’s a subtitle, meant to hook you to buy the book. Personally, I got the book as a gift (maybe the subtitle hooked the friend who bought it for me) and, as it’s not the sort of thing I normally read, I was dubious. But I’m glad I read it: It was fascinating.
Lastly, “Stranger Passing” was loaned to me by a friend last month. Random-seeming portraits of people around the country, doing whatever it was they were doing: shopping, sitting, buying gas, nursing a child. The individual photos didn’t make an impression on me, but collectively it’s a portrait of America. All the subjects retain a certain dignity, even the shopping cart wrangler on the cover.
(That book was so large I couldn’t fit it flat on a shelf for the obligatory spine photo, so I propped it up. The weird cover deserves to be seen again anyway.)
So that was my February in books. How was yours? As always, you’re encouraged to share your own reading below.
Next month: 31 days of colorful books, i.e., with a color in their title.