Books acquired: “Urban Tumbleweed,” Harryette Mullen.
Books read: “The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop,” Lewis Buzbee; “The Red Pony,” John Steinbeck; “Darker Than Amber,” John D. MacDonald; “The Green Hills of Africa,” Ernest Hemingway; “The Green Hills of Earth,” Robert A. Heinlein; “Outlaw Blues,” Paul Williams.
Six books read in April, each with a color in the title. What a reading rainbow, to quote a phrase. I’d plotted out potential titles three or four years ago, which made finally reading them all the more satisfying as well as something of a relief. Also, some of the books go back quite a ways.
I was supposed to read Hemingway’s “Green Hills” back in college for a Hemingway class but didn’t make it. Years ago I abandoned the other unread one on the syllabus, “Death in the Afternoon,” out of disinterest in hundreds of pages of nonfiction on bullfighting, but I did always hope to read this one, about a safari. The first chapter is where Hemingway’s famous comment about all American literature springing from “Huckleberry Finn” comes from.
Well, I learned that hunting is hard work: Even when Hemingway kills an animal, he might have to track it for hours and then never find it. Not without interest, especially some of the nature descriptions and the byplay with his father-in-law. He undercuts his own myth. But he also reinforces it, and despite the rigors he’s privileged and oblivious. A little boring, a little sad. This wasn’t for me.
I hadn’t read a Heinlein in two years so this seemed like a good month to read his “Green Hills,” a collection of short stories from the 1940s. I liked it. Most have a cheerful optimism about space flight, human relations and the promise of the 20th century that, while dated, scratches a certain itch. The final, and longest, story, “The Logic of Empire,” is an anti-slavery allegory and a worthwhile early attempt at melding politics and SF.
“The Red Pony” I’d read as a teen, but I read it again as part of a Steinbeck omnibus of short novels that I bought in 2009. All I’d remembered was the birth scene. I liked it this time, and even found it reminiscent of Bradbury’s (later) “Dandelion Wine,” particularly the section about the old man who’s a little like a time machine.
Buzbee’s “Yellow” is a memoir about his days as a bookseller and publisher’s rep in the Bay Area, as well as about his lifelong love of bookstores and books. He sprinkles in a history of books and bookselling. Unexciting, but a gentle, reflective tome for those who like bookstores and the sense they impart of being alone among others.
“Amber” is the seventh Travis McGee mystery novel. As with Heinlein, it had been a couple of years since I’d read one, and I’m glad to have finally cleared whatever mental block had kept me from progressing. That said, this one had its unsavory aspects, so that even though I like the series, this may not be among the better entries.
Lastly, “Outlaw Blues” is a collection of writings circa 1967-68 by the man who may qualify as the first rock critic. Offers a look at how a segment of hippie rock intellectuals viewed the scene, when each release seemed to be advancing the youth movement: Loved the Byrds, Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Beach Boys and the Doors, had no use for the Beatles. Idealistic, woolly-headed, charming.
As mentioned, Hemingway’s book dates to college, although I’ve switched editions since then. Williams’ was bought at a used bookstore in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in 1993. Heinlein’s is of more recent vintage, also used, as was MacDonald’s; and Buzbee’s came from a visit to Powell’s in Portland in 2010.
Your turn: What have you been reading?
Next month: In which I’m all wet.