Reading Log: March 2015

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Books acquired: “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” “Citizen,” Claudia Rankine; “Girl in a Band,” Kim Gordon; “The Ballad of Bob Dylan,” Daniel Mark Epstein.

Books read: “Vulcan’s Hammer,” “The Cosmic Puppets,” “Dr. Futurity,” “The Man Who Japed,” Philip K. Dick; “Early Ontario,” Ontario Library Staff; “More Baths Less Talking,” Nick Hornby; “The Incredible Double,” Owen Hill; “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil,” George Saunders; “The Dark Side of the Earth,” Alfred Bester; “No Room for Man,” Gordon Dickson; “Pulling a Train,” “Getting in the Wind,” Harlan Ellison; “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” “Citizen,” Claudia Rankine; “Three Early Stories,” J.D. Salinger; “A Small Place,” Jamaica Kincaid; “The Genocides,” Thomas Disch.

March was a big month — for small books. Once again I saved up short books to read all in one month. I got to 17. This included a couple that were read almost entirely in late February and, heh-heh, finished off in March. It was all about volume.

Represented in the stack is poetry (Rankine), SF (Disch, Bester, Dickson, Dick), book criticism (Hornby), mysteries (Hill), literary fiction (Saunders, Salinger), local history (Ontario Library), pulp fiction (Ellison, and dig the two covers below that form a single image!) and geographical essay (Kincaid).

This is too many to run through in detail, obviously. I’ll say that the best would be “Citizen” and “A Small Place,” both of which are brilliant. Bester’s stories weren’t far behind. The Philip K. Dicks were minor but enjoyable and I love Hornby’s essays. The two I didn’t care for were the Saunders (everyone says he’s great but that this one, which I bought off a remainder table, is rubbish, so I’ll give him another chance) and Dickson’s, a classic that didn’t do anything for me. The others were kind of in the middle.

It was satisfying to blow through so many books, a little better than one every two days, not that they were finished that regularly. Got through some that had hung around for a long time — “Vulcan’s Hammer,” among Dick’s worst, had been on my shelves unread since the early 1980s — and two that I bought in March, at Skylight Books in Los Feliz, and quickly folded into my month of reading.

What have you been reading and have you read any of the above?

Next month: More old books, but far fewer of them.

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  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I thought my month was big with 15.

    Non-fiction:

    The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion, 2004
    Rickover, Norman Polmar and John B Allen, 1982
    Blacks on John Brown, Benjamin Quarles (editor), 1972
    The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell, 2000/2002
    Rich Dad, Poor Dad; Robt. Kiyosaki & Sharon Lector, 1997/1998
    The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Robert Darnton, 1984/2009

    Fiction:

    Callahan’s Legacy, Spider Robinson, 1976
    The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway, 1952
    Happy to Be Here, Garrison Keillor, 1981
    Monument Rock, Louis L’Amour, 1998
    Nova Swing, M. John Harrison, 2007
    The Hard Way, Lee Child, 2006
    The Life of Pi, Yann Martel, 2002
    Son of Man, Robert Silverberg, 1971
    The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins, 1971

    The Old Man and the Sea was very short and Rickover was long (745 pages by goodreads count), and they were my books of the month, along with The Friends of Eddie Coyle, all excellent. The big duds were Nova Swing (PK Dick award winner, which might have made sense for innovation 25 years earlier) and Son of Man (from the peak period of a great SF writer, but duds happen).

    For more details, I am on goodreads.com as Richp, where I have comments on all recent books I’ve read. And, thanks to a note from me, the author of Pomona A to Z is not an efficiency expert. Our DA is now credited properly. Since I read all or most of the columns, if I need a short book for my list, I know an easy picking.

  • John Clifford

    A great month. Actually go through 4.

    During Jan/Feb, the Lovely Mrs. C was reading Nick Horby’s “Ten Years in a Tub” and ended up gifting me with some of the books he mentioned that she felt I would like (early March birthday).

    First up was an eBook that I got, “Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman,” by James Gleick. I had seen a one-man stage play with Alan Alda as Feynman and was intrigued. A very good biography of long-time Cal-Tech professor and one of the physicists on the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. A good read.

    Next was one of the Hornby inspired gifts, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot. A biography of the African-American woman and her cervical cancer cells, which were unique in that they would continue to propagate without dying. They were the basis for the smallpox vaccine, the polio vaccine, and with major biological breakthroughs in every decade. They were shot into space in some of the early space flights and were subjected to the early atomic bomb tests. This is the story of both the cells and the woman, and her family. Spoiler alert: The woman and her family never saw a penny from cells that made some pharmaceutical companies millions of dollars and continue to do so.

    Another of the Hornby inspirations was “How To Live or A Life of Montaign,” by Sarah Bakewell. This is the story of the author who invented the concept of the essay and his influence (and sometimes frustration) on philosophers in the century+ since original writings. A true story of the renaissance in France and the influence that is continued to be felt today.

    Finally, just to not be so heavy after all the non-fiction, an eBook piece of fluff, “Armed and Fabulous,” the first Lexi Graves mystery by Camilla Chafer. A lot of cultural references make it feel like it’s relevant, but really it’s not relevant, and not very well written. But it was fun and distracting.

    Heavier stuff next month but also planning on reading a Dr. Who book that was a gift from my daughter as well as another Dr. Who book that I picked up on BookBub.

    • davidallen909

      Thanks for the recap — and the preview. I’ve read the contents of the Hornby omnibus as the four individual volumes, and in fact the one I read in March has the Bakewell and Skloot recommendations.

      Claremont chose the Skloot book for its On the Same Page community read a couple of years ago. At the time, it didn’t seem appealing, but Hornby did make it seem fascinating.

      Of the Bakewell, he said it was riveting, even though he claimed he couldn’t read a single sentence by Montaigne without falling into a deep slumber.

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      I’ve read the Feynman bio by Gleick (and Feynman’s autobio and further reminiscences), and the Henrietta Lacks story by Skloot. Both were quite good.

    • Doug Evans

      Hey, Doctor Who! If that Doctor Who BookBub book is “Blood Cell,” I read it and really liked it. Interesting choice of first-person narrator. I’ll be curious to get your take!

  • DebB

    Well, I’m still on track for my 2048 books in December! This month I read 4, double last month. All four, however, had been read several years ago, so I moved through them quickly. They were all by Ngaio Marsh, all written in the 1930s, all mysteries featuring Scotland Yard Chief Detective Inspector Alleyn. I’ll most likely continue to re-read the series for a while, at least, but hopefully have time to toss in a new book now and again!

    • davidallen909

      So by one measure, you’re one-fourth of the way to your goal. Ha! Good luck on doubling your monthly total again by reading eight books in April.

  • davidallen909

    Your 15 represented more reading than my 17, as well as some awfully fine reading. Thank you for setting Goodreads straight! I’m sure the best-selling efficiency expert would thank you as well for clearing his bibliography of a Pomona tome.

  • Doug Evans

    I read 8 books! Not 17, or even 15, but I’m still pleased.

    “The Martian” by Andy Weir. (Read for a book club. My pick!) Really fun book about an astronaut left behind on Mars who has to survive till help can come. Started out as a free one-update-a-month blog on Weir’s site; now a best-selling novel and, in a few months, a movie starring Matt Damon. Way to go, Andy Weir!

    “The Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction” edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin H. Greenberg. A BookBub purchase so thank you, John Clifford! Fun collection of old-timey science fiction tales.

    “Duma Key” by Stephen King. A good one; not as tossed-off as some of King’s books have been. Way to go, Stephen King!

    “The Chandler Apartments” by Owen Hill. I first read about this one here on the David Allen blog! Berkeley-based non-licensed private eye and book dealer has adventures and solves crimes. And commits crimes. Well, he is non-licensed. A little too much time spent sneering at suburban middle-class types, which, whatever, kind of describes me, but still fun.

    “The High Window” by Raymond Chandler. The third in my read-one-Chandler-a-month reading. I spent this whole book thinking Chandler should have called it “The Brasher Doubloon,” since that’s the object that everyone is chasing after, but then I got to the end and realized why he called it “The High Window” (which I won’t spoil here), so that’s maybe why he’s a classic novelist and I’m not. Way to go, Chandler! (Notice that Owen Hill didn’t score a “Way to go.” Maybe shouldn’t have spent so much time sneering at the middle class, Hill!)

    “Doctor Who: The Blood Cell” by James Goss. The twelfth Doctor and his companion Clara have adventures. Thumbs up. A BookBub purchase, so thanks again, John Clifford!

    “Divergent” by Veronica Roth. Another book club read. I liked this book when it was called “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games.” This one here: not so much. Another young adult type finds love and learns to believe in herself in a dystopian future. For what it’s worth: my twelve-year-old daughter ate this series up. Maybe that’s what I’ll share at the book club meeting.

    As for David’s books: how was the Hill sequel? And I was happy to see Alfred Bester up there, and that he got such a high rating from you. I’m currently reading “Virtual Unrealities,” a posthumous collection of his stories (with a title that would have meant nothing to him), so I figure there’s a lot of crossover between the two books. Good stuff!

    Next month: that Bester collection, an overdue Steinbeck, another Chandler, another book club book, and probably more. But maybe not eight. Till then: happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      I like how you and John have adopted my “next month” teaser. My Bester collection had “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed,” one of his most famous stories, and six (?) more. It wouldn’t surprise me if all or most were in “Virtual Unrealities” as he only had two or three story collections.

      I’ve forgotten the plot of the first Hill book already, but the second one got a little silly and seemed not as good as the first. I still liked it, though, mostly from the milieu. As for the attitude, a little sneering-at is good for the soul.