Reading Log: October 2014

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Books acquired: none

Books read: “The Machineries of Joy,” Ray Bradbury; “Chips Off the Old Benchley” and “No Poems, Or Around the World Backwards and Sideways,” Robert Benchley; “The Tomb and Other Tales,” H.P. Lovecraft; “God and Mr. Gomez,” Jack Smith.

Welcome back, bookworms! (“Thank you, Mr. Allen.”) Time to share what we read in October. I’ll start: Five books, all from favorite authors.

I’ve read a book per year by H.P. Lovecraft for four years now, one by Jack Smith per year for three and the same for Robert Benchley for a couple of years, I think. And Ray Bradbury is, of course, one of my absolute favorites, one whose oeuvre I’ve been rereading; it’d been a year or two since I read anything by him.

“Machineries,” from 1964, is where Bradbury started softening, a process that only picked up momentum from here, alas. Still, it’s got some sharp stories amid the gauziness.

I read Benchley’s “Chips,” a posthumous collection of humorous essays that had been published but uncollected, over a few weeks; it was disappointing. Dusting off my Benchley books, I noticed that “No Poems” had a note inside of the 13 essays I hadn’t read in the slightly shorter British edition that I’d had previously. Why hadn’t I gone ahead and read them when I bought the book three or four years ago? No idea, but I went ahead and read them, completing a second Benchley book this month. The extras weren’t so hot, but the book as a whole is much better than “Chips,” with a lot of prime material.

Lovecraft’s “Tomb” had a lot of marginal material too, as it’s plumped out with some teenage stories and later fragments. But the bulk of the collection is in the Lovecraft mode of atmospheric, slightly purple horror.

Lastly, 1974’s “God and Mr. Gomez” by Smith, the late L.A. Times columnist, is his most famous, telling the story of his and his wife’s decision to commission a Baja vacation home from a man named Romulo Gomez, who is quite the character. People love this book, the only one most people know; my guess is that’s because it hangs together as a book better than collections of random or related columns, and because building a getaway in a foreign country appeals to dreamers. I liked it, but didn’t love it.

As for the origins of these books in my life, “Machineries” dates to childhood, “Chips” may go back 20 years and “No Poems,” “The Tomb” and “Gomez” are relatively recent, probably within the past five or six years. I think “Gomez” came from Bookfellows in Glendale (It’s signed, by the way), “The Tomb” from downtown LA’s Last Bookstore in 2011 and “Machineries” from the long-gone Double R Book Nook in Olney, Ill.

So that was my October. I wanted to read a Dave Barry book, or finish another Poe collection, but that’s okay. I kept pace with four authors and that was satisfying. I have more books by each to read and will steadily make my way through them.

What have you been reading?

By the way, the photo below is extra-boring because the Benchleys don’t have dust jackets; that’s “Chips” on the upper left and “No Poems” at upper right.

Next month: another month of weird heroes.

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  • John Clifford

    2 this month. “The Man From Beijing” by Henning Mankell is an exciting thriller that takes place in in Sweden, but quickly moves around the world to Beijing, London, Nevada, and other locals. It also has some interesting political ideas around Swedish and Chinese interests.

    On my eReader I read a Nero Wolfe story “The Rubber Band” by Rex Stout. A good, quick read that is as fun as ever. Wolfe is just one of the most interesting literary inventions around and the 1930s setting is always fun. BTW: I got this 2-book set for $1.99 from BookBub, an online (email) service that alerts me to eBooks available for Free up to $2.99. Some of them are classics, some are probably never going to be much, but some are pretty good from major authors. Just another way to do some “shopping.” Kind of reminds me of the old Book-of-the-Month catalogs we’d get in snail mail.

    • davidallen909

      I loved Nero Wolfe and read most of the books as a teenager. One of the greats.

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      I read one Nero Wolfe decades ago, and one this year or last, and enjoyed them, but he is not on my list of those whom I must pick up cheap if I haven’t read it.

      Nero Wolfe is clearly one inspiration for Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, one of which I read not long ago.

  • Doug Evans

    Six books! A couple of them read while on vacation in Mexico, so that was fun.

    “Doctor Who: Beautiful Chaos” by Gary Russell. Last month’s Doctor Who eBook. This featured the tenth Doctor and, for me, the end of my Doctor Who eBook series… I asked for 11 Who eBooks last Christmas and got them, only to realize that I’d already read the book featuring the 11th Doctor. Amazon nicely credited my account the cost of the book (even though I’d received it as a gift). Any future Doctor Who books will be ones I’ll have to purchase myself.

    “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” by Dai Sijie. Read for a book club. A rare and fortunate occurrence: one of my books clubs chose a book I already had on my shelf, thus allowing me to knock one notch off my giant pile of unread books lying around the house. A semi-autobiographical story set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Short and enjoyable (also sad) and highly recommended.

    “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman. Read for a different book club. Sounded great: a retelling of the last days of the Masada, the Jewish settlement that, history tells us, committed a mass suicide rather than let themselves by captured by the Romans. Sadly this book, told from the point of view of four women at the Masada, reads more like a romance novel than anything else. Long, breathless, not at all what I wanted. Halfway through the book I was willing to start throwing people of the cliff myself just to get the thing over with.

    “The Log of The Sea of Cortez” by John Steinbeck. My favorite of this last month. Steinbeck and his buddy “Doc” Ed Ricketts led a marine biology surveying trip up and down the coast of Baja California. Science and philosophy ensue. I read this while sitting on a Mexican beach looking at the Pacific Ocean. A different kind of trip, but still. Afterward, I read on wikipedia that Steinbeck’s soon-to-be ex-wife Carol accompanied them on the trip, though she’s nowhere to be found in the book. Hmm. Also: on almost the very last page there’s a quote from our man Lucretius and his “On the Nature of Things”. Go, Lucretius!

    “Crashed (A Junior Bender Mystery #1)” by Timothy Halliman. Fun quick crime novel I first heard about on the internet because the series has been optioned for a TV show. The main character is a thief with a heart of gold who robs from the rich and who helps out the down-and-out. Goofy but entertaining. I’ll probably read more in the series.

    “Daughter of the Empire” by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurst. Read for one of those book clubs mentioned above (I’m ahead in my book club reading). A fantasy novel, chosen by the member of the book club who picks books he liked in high school. Enjoyable, but not one I would have picked up on my own. Two more books in this series but: meh.

    Good old Jack Smith! I read “God and Mr. Gomez” back in the eighties but would like to read it again… Now that I am a father and a homeowner, I think I’d get more out of it. Plus it would pair nicely with the Steinbeck mentioned above, seeing as how they both take place in Baja California. Note to self: check to see if parents still have a copy of the book.

    Always enjoyable seeing what other readers are up to. Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Hope you’re able to reread “Gomez” at some near-future point so I can hear what you think of it now.

      As for Steinbeck, I wonder if his lawyer, or just delicacy, prompted him to leave his soon-to-be-ex out of his book?

      A few years ago I found a slim book by the skipper about his version of the voyage and it seemed like an uncomfortable trip in some ways due to personal tensions. I gave it to a friend as a present so all I did was flip through it or I could be more specific.

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    October was a good month for my reading, seven books, including several classics, and a decent mix.

    Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1899. This classic did not impress me as the best of Conrad, and was tougher to read and less informative than the non-fiction version, King Leopold’s Ghost, which I read earlier this year.

    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers, 1940. This classic novel of life in southeast USA in the first half of the last century is quite good, every bit as worthy as works by Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and others.

    Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, 1962. I expected this classic NF account of the costs and dangers of chemical pollution to be dated, but the story remains the same, with different chemicals, and this book played a major role in at least stalling off some of the dire predictions of what could happen if policy did not change.

    Homegoing, Frederick Pohl, 1989. This SF tale of alien contact was quite good, but somewhat spoiled by a rushed ending.

    Get Shorty, Elmore Leonard, 1990. This is about the movie business; not his best, not his worst, which means above average for crime/caper fiction.

    Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, Tracy Kidder, 2003. This is one heck of a NF story about an impressive man who accomplished a lot for a lot of people. It is not obscure, but should be better known and more widely read.

    The Golden Age of Science Fiction, ed. Groff Cronklin, 1946 (original publication titled The Best of Science Fiction). There are a number of stories here that are well known classics. The rest are well worth reading, too, for those interested in what the best of SF was in the past, mostly 1925-1945, but some decades earlier.

    On the DA list, I read many of the Jack Smith columns on his Baja retreat when they were published, and enjoyed them a lot. I’ve read a fair bit of Bradbury, some Lovecraft and Benchley, but not those books, although perhaps parts of them.

    • davidallen909

      Another good list, Richard. Of yours, I’ve read only Heart of Darkness, two or three times. I like Conrad but am not well-read in him, having read Secret Agent and Under Western Skies in a college class but not Lord Jim or the others. Someday I hope to read him more comprehensively.