Reading Log: April 2015

booksapril3

Books acquired: none.

Books read: “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “R is for Rocket,” “S is for Space,” “The Vintage Bradbury,” Ray Bradbury; “My Ideal Bookshelf,” Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount.

Greetings, readers! Welcome to the latest installment of my ongoing chronicle of stuff I’ve been reading — and your own ongoing chronicle, if you’re a regular commenter.

April saw me reading four — count ’em, four — books by my main man Ray Bradbury, as well as one unique art book.

As careful readers may recall, a few years back I read all the late period Bradbury, much of which was subpar, frankly; this led me to revisit his early classic work, which I hadn’t read since boyhood. That’s been a happier experience.

This time I read his 1962 novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” which proved a pleasant surprise. I had only vague memories of the book and of the lackluster movie version, but the writing is poetic and matters of age are explored in intriguing fashion. The plot concerns two best friends, a father who feels old before his time, a creepy carnival and a merry-go-round that erases years from your age, a year for every turn, but at a price. This is arguably Bradbury’s last fully realized work, with the possible exception of “From the Dust Returned” in 2001.

“R is for Rocket” and “S is for Space” are mid-1960s collections aimed at the young adult market, such as it was back then. They’re grab-bags but worth seeking out for fans, as a few of the stories are otherwise unavailable. “The Vintage Bradbury” is a 1965 best-of that has most of his classic stories, aside from “A Sound of Thunder” — is it possible what’s now his best-known story wasn’t so well-regarded then? — with only a few weaker selections that betray his mainstream aspirations. But the ones that verge on horror (like “The Small Assassin,” about a mother convinced her baby wants to kill her), have a gleefully nasty edge. “Vintage” is fairly easy to find used and is worth the effort. It will suffice until he gets a Library of America collection.

At this point I’ve re-read Bradbury’s work through the mid-’60s, with only three or four books to go after this before I’m back to where I started.

“My Ideal Bookshelf” is a fun book about books. A variety of creative types — writers, artists, chefs, fashion designers, graphic designers, musicians and more — were asked to compile a shelf of books that they particularly like or that define them in some way. An artist painted such a shelf with the real spines of the books, facing a page in which the person is interviewed about their choices or reading life.

I’m using it as an autograph book and, since its 2012 publication, have collected five contributor signatures, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kim Gordon, Pico Iyer, Jonathan Lethem and Francine Prose. More to come (I hope)!

That book was purchased at Vroman’s in Pasadena; the others all date to my childhood.

What were you reading in April? Probably a greater variety of authors or subjects than my choices.

Next month: More sf, but not by Bradbury.

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  • DebB

    Well, I didn’t make it to 8 last month, so I guess I won’t make 2000-plus in December. But I did read 6, all by Ngaio Marsh whose Inspector Alleyn series I’ve read in the past. In some ways it’s like revisiting a place I’ve been before and enjoyed. In other ways it’s a bit disconcerting how little I remember! Sometimes I think I go through a book so quickly that I forget the details just as quickly.

    • davidallen909

      If you didn’t read 8 in April, I suppose you won’t get to 16 in May. It can be neat to revisit an old favorite, whether it’s a book or a movie or what have you; you may remember some element of it but very little else. But, yes, it can be disconcerting at how quickly, and completely, the whole experience fades.

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I read 7 last month, a bit below my needed average to hit 100 for the year, but this still leaves me ahead of schedule after a big March.

    Nonfiction:

    Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq, Rescued by an Italian Secret Service Agent, and Shot by US Forces. Giuliana Sgrena, 2006.

    Ghengis Khan. RP Lister, 1969.

    The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Frederick Douglass, 1845.

    Fiction:

    The Awakening and Selected Short Fiction. Kate Chopin, 1899.

    The Crooked City. Robert Kyle, 1954.

    The Color Purple. Alice Walker, 1982.

    A Fire Upon the Deep. Vernor Vinge, 1992.

    I maintain my attempts at branching out my reading, with 6/7 authors new to me at book length. The best fiction was the short stories of Chopin, whom I had not been familiar with; I have never read a better collection. The best novel was The Color Purple. The biggest disappointment was A Fire Upon the Deep, which was ordinary at best, too long and sometimes too cute, but managed to win a Hugo. Ghengis Khan, based on near contemporary sources, covered his early life and rise to power, and it was quite good. Crooked City is classic noir fiction, surprisingly modern in its premonition of police misconduct in modern times, and is wonderfully obscure: my rating and review was only the second in Goodreads. The Douglass is a deserved classic, mercifully short given the gruesome subject (his slave years), although truly interested readers might be interested in an edition that contains all three of his autobios. Sgrena’s story is a disjointed ramble, and the essential details are available in the web articles that can be read in a much shorter time.

    Of the books with intros, I suggest skipping them, at least until after reading, because they tend to water down the impact of the main text.

    I read at least 3 of the Bradbury’s (R, S, and Wicked), likely before DA did, as I am older and also read them young.

    I’ve read fewer by Ngaio Marsh, 2 that I can remember. I find her work above average, but not my favorite.

    • davidallen909

      I read Douglass and Chopin for college classes. That’s high praise you offered for Chopin (“I have never read a better collection”); she didn’t devastate me, and I really don’t even remember it, other than having a vaguely positive impression. (Like DebB below, plots usually begin fading before I’ve even finished a book.)

      Definitely Chopin was better in my view than Sarah Orne Jewett, whose “Country of the Pointed Firs,” which I tried reading for college at about the same time as Chopin, I found unreadable. But that may have been me.

      Usually I can’t help myself from reading the intro first, but you’re right: If they don’t spoil the plot, they tend to tell you more than you need to know to enjoy the book.

      • Richard_Pietrasz

        It was the short stories of Chopin that really got to me. The novel The Awakening wasn’t nearly as good, although it deservedly created quite a stir in its time in USA. At least the intro didn’t say a certain major character was much like another in a prominent, somewhat older novel I have also read recently.

  • John Clifford

    A record month in April (guess the train trips helped). Read 6 full books and a novella (an add-on to one of the books but at 100+ pages it was nonetheless part of the accomplishment).

    First, yes Doug, I read the ebook version of Dr. Who “Blood Cell” by James Goss. A fun read with the 12th Dr. It was fun reading the Dr. with Peter Capaldi’s Scottish accent, especially after reading, “Shada,” a paperback version that was a birthday gift from my daughter, which featured the fourth Dr.

    Shada is a special story in the Who Universe as it was a teleplay by Douglas Adams (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Dirk Gently,” etc.) who was on the staff of Who at the time. The script was being produced when the BBC was hit with a strike and the show was never completed, thus never aired. This is an adaptation of the original script by Gareth Roberts, who is a current writer of Who. The earth part of the story takes place in the 1970s and involves a Time-Lord prison planet and a notorious Gallifreyan criminal, with all of the Dr. Who stuff and a bunch of Douglas Adams non sequitur’s thrown in.

    Next up was a non-fiction ebook, “The Library at Night” by Alberto Manguel. This was described on BookBub as a history of museums, but it was actually more an encomium to the library. The author describes his own library, how he organized it, the shape and size of it, the manner of putting together the collection, and compares it to libraries from Ashurbanipal, to Alexandria, to the British Library, and all manner of libraries, public and private throughout history. A fascinating read and you DO actually learn a lot about the history of libraries.

    One of the authors that the lovely Mrs. C has always recommended was Italo Calvina, so I picked up “Invisible Cities” when it appeared on BookBub. It was interesting. The surrounding conceit was that it was a conversation between Marco Polo and Kubulai Khan regarding the cities within the Khan’s empire that Polo had visited. However, the descriptions of the cities were more about the nature of cities in general than about specifics. The time is distorted as he speaks of some of the cities and arriving there by plane. All of the cities seem to be fictitious. Not the page-turner I was hoping for, but a thoughtful read, with some interesting philosophical questions.

    Another eBook that I read was a Rizzoli & Isles novel by Tess Gerritsen, “The Mephisto Club.” A potboiler mystery, very forgettable (I really can’t remember the plot and am disinclined to review it).

    Lastly was another mystery/procedural series that inspired the TV series Bones. “Bones Never Lie” by Kathy Reichs is a good romp. If you’ve read the series, a lot of continuing story arcs are included, but even if you haven’t read any of the others, the story of a serial killer is fun. At the end of the paperback book was a 100 page novella, Swamp Bones, about pythons in the Everglades, a contents to catch as many as possible, and, of course, bones found there as well. The books are different than the TV show, but the character of Temperance Brennan is fun regardless.

    Next month will probably not be as productive as this but will at least include a novel by a friend and perhaps a vampire story.

    • davidallen909

      Congratulations on a big month. Also, for using the word “encomium”!

      On a weird sidenote, last night I was in Old Town Pasadena at a stoplight facing a corner that once had a high-end bookstore. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of the obscure chain that had it. But one of your book titles reminded me: Rizzoli’s.

      • John Clifford

        Glad I could help.

        Re: encomium, I was originally going us use Paean there but thought it might be confusing to some.

    • Doug Evans

      Yay, “Blood Cell”! I read “Shada” too, back in 2013, and just realized I never replied to your comment to share that Jon Pertwee is my first Doctor as well… Started watching him on PBS back in 1974. I was young enough (first grade!) to be one of those people who watched Doctor Who from behind the sofa. Truly scary stuff!

      http://www.insidesocal.com/davidallen/2013/04/02/reading-log-march-2013/

  • John Clifford

    Oh, and Something Wicked is my favorite Bradbury book. And I’ve also read a LOT of his work.

    • Doug Evans

      Great book, and actually, I remember liking the movie, too, but I was young and maybe not a great judge of cinema at the time!

  • Doug Evans

    I read five! And rememberd one that I forgot to mention in January’s update, so I guess that makes my total six or something.

    “Virtual Unrealities” by Alfred Bester. A posthumous collection of short stories, published in 1996, with a title that would have been incomprehensible to Bester and that all but screams, “It’s the 1990s! You kids with your X-Files and your Game Boys will love this book! We swear!” Several crossover stories between this and “The Dark Side of the Earth” that David commented on last month. Classic stories by a classic author (some, mostly the earlier ones, better than others). Recommended!

    “A Treasury of Science Fiction” edited by Groff Conklin. Fun early collection of science fiction stories, published in 1948, that I found at Books Redux in Yorba Linda (a place worth checking out, the next time any of you are in Yorba Linda!). Always a little weird for me to hold in my hands a book published 67 years earlier, not to mention twenty years before I was born.

    “The Lady in the Lake” by Raymond Chandler. The fourth in the Philip Marlowe series. I like this one because it partly take place in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead, name-checking Crestline, where my wife’s mom owned a hardware store, and the University of Redlands (or “Redlands University,” as the book calls it), where my wife and I went to school. Hey, I talked about this book on David’s blog way back in February, 2009, in a non-reading-log-related post! And I just realized I said a lot of the same things, so I could have just posted the link and saved myself a paragraph:
    http://www.insidesocal.com/davidallen/2009/02/02/super-without-the-bowl/

    “Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror” by Mike Tucker. A library eBook (thank, Los Angeles Public Library!). A fun 12th Doctor book, giant insects from another planet invading the earth, as they do, with some clever time travel thrown in. Not as good as “Blood Cell” that John Clifford and I read, but still fun.

    “The Long Valley” by Steinbeck. A classic collection of short stories published in 1938. Really good; contains classic stories like “The Chyrsanthemums”, “The Snake”, and “The Red Pony”, which I didn’t reread having already read that one in book form a couple of years ago. Also, “The Murder,” in which I learned that an appropriate response when you catch your wife cheating on you is to shoot your wife’s lover point blank in the head while he’s lying next to her and then whip her till her shirt sticks to her skin with blood, because local law enforcement will let you off and the spark will be restored to your marriage because your wife now respects you for being a man. That story may not stand the test of time.
    And, from January: “Moriarty” by Anthony Howoritz. An authorized-by-the-Conan-Doyle-estate Sherlock Holmes pastiche by the author of “The House of Silk” which I read a couple of years ago. Fun and recommended! I thought I had the twist figured out about 1/4 of the way through the book, so much so that I bragged to my parents about it. I was very, very wrong.
    I love early Bradbury. In all of those books, was one of the stories “All Summer in a Day,” about a little girl on Venus who wants to see the sun? Years after I first read it, upon a re-reading, I realized I may have inadvertently named my daughter Margot after the little girl in the story (I don’t think I did, but who knows?).
    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      1) Never brag to your parents. Let your parents brag about you.

      2) Loved your recap and commentary on “The Murder.” Indeed.

      3) “All Summer in a Day” was not in any of those collections, but I know the story.

      4) I kind of want to change my name to “Groff Conklin.”

      Doug, thanks as always for participating! I should give you a trophy.

  • Dara Allen

    In April I read two non-fiction books: Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison and Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. Robison’s book is a fascinating account of his life with Asperger’s, which was not diagnosed until he was 40. KISS fans might particularly enjoy his tales from traveling with the group while creating special effects for their performances. The other book was about life as a girl on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression, written by a retired English professor. It was an amazing story of the work children were expected and able to do at that time in history.

  • Marilee Weiss

    Anyone out there reading The Goldfinch? I can’t put it down.