Reading Log: June 2014

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Books acquired: none.

Books read: “All the President’s Men,” “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein; “President Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer.

“Doonesbury” repeats this spring reminded me that Nixon resigned 40 years ago this August, and that made me think this would be a good summer to read the two Watergate books on my shelves. So I did.

I really liked “President’s Men,” which was published in early 1974. Told in the second person, it follows the two reporters as they chase leads, hit brick walls, knock on doors, meet a source in a parking garage and occasionally flub a story. These were two intrepid guys, and they were far more dedicated than I am, or any reporter I’ve ever known. Another thing I learned: Woodward was a registered Republican. Rather than trying to bring down a president, he and Bernstein were both shocked and disturbed that the trail of Watergate led as high as it did.

With that finished, did I want to read the 500-page “Final Days,” an inside look at the last months of Nixon’s presidency? I thought I’d read it a while and see. Well, I thought it was fascinating, and there was no question of not finishing it. In this one, private meetings and conversations are quoted as if they’re unfolding in front of us, reconstructed either by interviews with the participants or with people they shared their version of events with. It’s a neat trick that allows for privacy-invading scenes like Nixon forcing Kissinger to pray with him, and if asked Kissinger could plead that he wasn’t one of the direct sources.

Normally I’d say these sort of books aren’t my thing, but the subject was one that has always held an interest for me because Watergate occurred on the edge of my consciousness, being 9 and 10 at the time, and I was glad to finally know more about it. (I’m likely to write a column about it in August.)

Obviously I read “President Fu Manchu” the same month as something of a joke. But it legitimately was the next book in the series; I’d left off with book 7 a couple of years ago and I was overdue for book 8. In this one, the only volume set in America, the evil genius (and here I’m referring to Fu Manchu, not Richard Nixon) is pulling the strings of a populist candidate for president who would institute a dictatorship. Online sources say the 1936 novel pulls from real events involving Huey Long and Father Coughlin. So that’s neat, although the novel is otherwise the least distinguished so far.

One weird side-note: Fu has a lair reachable by a river tunnel under New York’s Chinatown, and the hidden entrance is referred to as his “water-gate.” You can’t make this stuff up.

I don’t recall where I got any of these three books, although I’ve had “Final Days” for maybe 10 years, picked up “President’s” maybe five years ago, and “President Fu” around the same time, all used.

What were you reading in June? Speak a little louder, I’m not sure my secret taping system is picking you up.

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  • DebB

    I’m not reading anything these days (maybe an over-reaction to last year when I read 8 or more books in a month). I just wanted to note that your copy of “President’s Men” must have been a movie tie-in, since it has Hoffman and Redford on the cover, rather than the actual reporters!

    • davidallen909

      Yes, “Movie Tie-In Edition”! Definitely fixes that book in time. Next I’m gonna rent the movie. I’ve seen it, but not for years.

  • Mark Allen

    Ah, the year’s midway point. Only 14 finished, putting me behind last year’s pace of 33. Bah! Bah, I type!

    Leisure: The Basis of Culture – Josef Pieper

    Walking Since Daybreak: A Story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Heart of Our Century – Modris Eksteins

    1913: The Eve of War – Paul Ham

    The Gateway Arch: A Biography (Icons of America) – Tracy Campbell

    Design Crazy: Good Looks, Hot Tempers, and True Genius at Apple – Max Chafkin

    Copse 125: A Chronicle from the Trench Warfare of 1918 – Ernst Jünger

    C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet – Alister McGrath

    The Subversion of Christianity – Jacques Ellul

    What I Saw in America – G.K. Chesterton

    The Night Lives On: The Untold Stories and Secrets Behind the Sinking of the Unsinkable Ship – Titanic! – Walter Lord

    Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics – Ross Douthat

    The Politics of God & the Politics of Man – Jacques Ellul

    War by Timetable: How the First World War Began – A.J.P. Taylor

    Steel Fist: Tank Warfare 1939-45 – Nigel Cawthorne

    I’ll single (or quadruple) out The Gateway Arch (which describes how the memorial was a scheme that crippled the city despite its glorious icon), Copse 125, The Subversion of Christianity, and The Politics of God & the Politics of Man.

    • davidallen909

      Huh, I bought the Arch book during my visit in May. Looked like the first readable book on modern St. Louis history. I expect to read it in the near future.

      • Mark Allen

        I always bought the official history that the riverfront was a derelict wasteland. Turns out it was far from it, but landowners got the federal government to buy their land *and* create an artificial shortage of real estate. Brilliant!

  • WendyE.

    Just checked out The Book Thief. The only copy available was large print. Still need my glasses to read it. I love getting older!

    • davidallen909

      It’s fun, isn’t it? Wheee!

      At this stage it’s become easier for me to remove my glasses and hold the book a foot from my face than to adjust how I’m holding it. The future may bring other eyesight challenges.

  • Doug Evans

    I read four!

    “Time and Again” by Jack Finney. Read for a book club. A classic time-travel novel which I’d never read before. I could have stood a little more traveling through time and a little less falling in love, which is a big part of the plot, but still a very enjoyable read. And Finney certainly researched his 1890′s New York before sitting down to write.

    “Doctor Who: Players” by Terrance Dicks. The sixth in the ongoing 50th-Anniversary Doctor Who eBooks I’m reading… And my favorite so far! Fun time travel stuff featuring a plot to kill Winston Churchill. Not nearly as gory as the books up to this point have been. Enough with the gore, Doctor Who authors. (This book features the sixth Doctor. In case anyone reading this knows what I’m talking about and wonders which Doctor it is. That person would probably be me, but there it is.)

    “Killing Floor” by Lee Child. The first in the popular Jack Reacher thriller series. This is a Dad book, meaning the kind of book my dad likes. I liked it too. Purchased for a dollar at the Chino Hills Library. Yay, Chino Hills Library! By coincidence, a member of a book club I’m in chose the fourth book in the series to read for an upcoming month, so I’ll be reading another one soon. Good thing I liked it.

    “A Feast for Crows” by George R.R. Martin. The fourth in the Game of Thrones series. Actually begun by me last summer and finally finished last month. I’ve enjoyed this whole series so far… Now I get to read number five, which is out already, and then wait with the rest of the world for number six. Martin is notorious for taking a long, long time between books.

    Up next: a big Steinbeck novel that I didn’t manage to finish in time for this blog post, the seventh in the Doctor Who series, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche that takes place in Brazil… and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a little further along in the ever-looming Our Mutual Friend?

    I liked the theming behind this month’s post and I chuckled to see the “President Fu Manchu” show up with the other two!

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • John Clifford

      Oh, lord, the 6th Doctor? The one with the curly hair and the multi-colored coat and the question marks on his collar! I started with the third Doctor (John Pertwee was great) and went through 5 but dropped out of the Dr. Who universe when this guy came in. Didn’t pick up again until Christopher Eccleston’s great comeback for our favorite Gallifreyan. Now wouldn’t even think of missing an episode.

    • davidallen909

      Time and Again is a famous one. The only Finney I’ve read is Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

      I like how you gave us a preview of July. I skipped doing that myself this time because I wasn’t sure what I would be reading. Probably a month of random books.

  • John Clifford

    Bad month for reading. School quarter ended so no more train trips into town until next week. The ONLY book I completed this month was one that I wouldn’t even consider including here because of its brevity, but it is currently #7 on the LA Times bestseller list and has been on the list for 26 weeks. It’s a little book we picked up on our trip to wine country at Copperfields Book Store. Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book is a book of pictures from the iconic little kids series (I think I read of of them to either my son or daughter) with life lessons like “Turn off the TV from time to time . . . and crack open a book!” (that was 2 pages).

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I read seven in June: 2 non-fiction, 2 SF, 1 fantasy, 1 crime, 1 western.

    The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson, 1989. This is a poor attempt at a humorous travelogue of USA.

    American Gods, Neil Gaiman, 2001. This contemporary fantasy was quite a story, and it turned out to cover similar ground (geographically) as Lost Continent. Both included stops at the marker for the (supposed) geographic center of the 48 contiguous states. Gaiman is weird, but fun, and sometimes deep, and this was the best of my month.

    The Martian Race, Greg Benford, 1999. A competent story of the first people to reach Mars, but it considerably underestimates costs.

    Ethan of Athos, Lois McMaster Bujold, 1986. This was one of the earlier novels in her classic space opera, the Vorkosigan series, but stands alone and does not involve its main characters except by mention, just one lesser character.

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, 2010. This popular science book, mostly about unraveling what happened, is too weird to be true except it pretty much is. Lacks died of an aggressive cancer, her cancer cells were cloned without permission of anyone in the Lacks family, and ended up being the basis for much of human cell research for over half a century after her death in 1951. This was close to my best of the month.

    The El Murders, Bill Grainger, 1987. This police procedural set in Chicago is rather gritty and cynical in the Wambaugh tradition; above average.

    Buffalo Girls, Larry McMurtry, 1990. This is a fictional account based on the latter part of the life of Calamity Jane, and is really about the passing of the American Wild West and the creation of its mythology. While not LM’s best, so-so for him is still above average.

    Better late than never, I note that on DA’s usual schedule, this wouldn’t be late.

    • davidallen909

      You’re right, I got this post out early, so your belated response is right on schedule. As usual, you’ve picked a good array of books. The only one I’ve read is the Bryson, which I mostly hated. He seemed mean-spirited. People on Amazon say it’s his worst book. I gave him another chance and read his Australia book, In a Sunburned Country, which I loved.

      • Richard_Pietrasz

        I enjoyed Bryson’s growing up memoir, set in Des Moines a few years ahead of my, and it brought back memories of my very young years in the northeast (Schenectedy, Salem MA). In that one, he was occasionally taking off with a serious embellishment, but I thought he identified those clearly. Lost Continent made me question whether or not the rest of the memoir, the Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, was not similarly embellished.

        I also do not care for drive-by tourism, where almost all the time is spent on the road, and stops usually brief and spent on photo ops. My wife loves doing this, as long as someone else is doing the driving.