Reading Log: June 2015

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Books acquired: “Open City,” Teju Cole; “The Imperfectionists,” Tom Rachman; “A Pail of Air,” Fritz Leiber; “Slogging Toward the Millennium,” Bill McClellan; “A Walker in the City,” Alfred Kazin; “Eat Mexico,” Lesley Tellez.

Books read: “The Best of Fritz Leiber,” Fritz Leiber; “The Other Glass Teat,” Harlan Ellison; “The Point Man,” Steve Englehart.

June was not a shining month for me, book-wise, in a couple of ways: It was a rare month in which I bought more books than I read (I really try to avoid that), and I read only three books, not the usual four or more.

On the other hand, those three total nearly 1,100 pages, and two of them have languished unread since the early 1980s, so this wasn’t such a bad month. And to have bought only five books on a vacation in which I visited four bookstores demonstrates remarkable restraint, at least in my eyes. The sixth book is by a friend and was a must-buy.

Overall, then, it wasn’t such a bad month. The books weren’t bad either. I want to single out the Leiber collection, which based on the store stamp came from Ventura’s Book Rack, I would say about five or six years ago, although it may really have been bought at Ralph’s Comic Corner in the same city. I hadn’t read anything by Leiber, a respected fantasy writer, but I’m glad I read this. Most of the stories are distinctive and a few were remarkable, such as “The Man Who Never Grew Young.” It’s one of those pieces of writing where when you realize what he’s doing your mouth falls open. I bought another out-of-print Leiber collection on vacation just to have one around.

Ellison’s book is the second of two that collect his LA Free Press columns on TV from the late ’60s and early ’70s; as before, his essays are more about youth culture, politics and the times than about TV. But this does serialize a script he wrote for “The Young Lawyers,” as well as present two blistering, over-the-top columns after the episode was filmed and aired in a manner not to his liking. The copy I read is from the ’70s, purchased in the past decade, but I have an ’80s edition that I got when it was published, making “The Other Glass Teat” one of the older unread books on my shelves.

I got 150 pages into a 450-page third book that there was no way I was going to finish in June. Rather than finish only two books this month, I set that aside (look for it next month) to read the 350-page, but breezier, novel by Englehart, a well-known Marvel Comics scripter of the 1970s. I bought it used a couple of years after its 1981 publication but never felt compelled to read it. It’s about a San Francisco disc jockey who gets embroiled in mystical doings, which Englehart ends up explaining at more detailed length that was probably good for his plot. “The Point Man” is still commonly found in used bookstores, and he’s since written one or two sequels.

We’re halfway through 2015 and I’ve managed to stick, more or less, to my reading plan for the year. I’ve read 35 books, but as 17 of those were read in one month (March), and with some large books ahead of me, I’m not going to get much past 50 this year. My next six months are likely to involve more old science fiction, with a smattering of fiction and nonfiction (my annual Jack Smith book still lies ahead). How was your month, and are you reading what you hoped to be reading?

Next month: That book I started in June (assuming I finish it), and more.

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  • Richard_Pietrasz

    This column showed up more than 9 hours early, likely a record! I’ve read the Lieber collection at least twice, once several years ago, once not long after publication. It was pretty good. For fans of SF of that era, I recommend all the books I’ve read in that series of Ballantine “Best Of …” SF authors. I learned to buy them without knowing much about the author beforehand, and was never disappointed.

    This was another big month for me (14) in the number of books read department, and quite good in quality, although in the last week or so I indulged in the familiar instead of expanding my horizons.

    Nonfiction:

    A Crack in the Edge of the World, Simon Winchester 2005
    Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach 2003
    Perestroika: New Thinking For Our Country and the World, Mikhail Gorbachev 1987
    T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, Walter Alvarez 1997
    Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage of Wall Street, Michael Lewis 1992
    Rise of Russia, Robert Wallace 1967

    Fiction:

    Forever Free, Joe Haldeman 1999
    The Natural, Bernard Malamud 1952
    The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje 1989
    Moby Dick, Herman Melville 1851
    Lord Peter Views the Body, Dorothy L. Sayers 1928
    The Fourth Galaxy Reader, HL Gold 1959
    The Bat, Jo Nesbo 1997
    Hollywood Moon, Joseph Wambaugh 2009

    The nonfiction was a pretty good selection. T. Rex and the Crater of Doom stands out as the best title, clearly inspired by pulp SF, but written by one of the lead scientists behind one of the greatest discoveries of my lifetime. Perestroika is politically extremely important, but not always easy to read. Liar’s Poker should be read by all investing for retirement, in order to get an attitude about those who work in the business. The others were good, too.

    The fiction was more of a mixed bag. I did get a classic or three out of the way, of which The Natural was disappointing (Malamud knew too little of baseball for his background), Moby Dick about as expected (too long winded, but digressions included some funny parts, not necessarily intentional), and The English Patient was better than expected, but I did not know what to expect. The Galaxy reader fulfilled my expectations of being a very good collection, Lord Peter was light and entertaining as usual, and the others so-so or less. Wambaugh had lost his edge to formula and pandering, and The Bat wandered off too much.

    I give my public thanks to Doug Evans for passing on his copy of the Galaxy Reader, as he offered last month. Once arrived, it was first in line for my next book, and did not last long as unread. For anyone interested in being the next reader of this copy, let me know below, otherwise it goes to a charity store where I know it will not languish.

    My longer reviews are available at goodreads.com, by Richp.

    For the half year, I’m at 66, well over pace for my goal of 100. 28 of those are NF, so I am doing well at reading more of that. New authors account for 28 F + 22 NF, so I have also done a real good job there. This reading log has really helped once I made the effort to report monthly, and to help my log at home I started using goodreads.com, which has also helped (much shorter turnaround on feedback). Several of these books made various top book lists of various types.

    Next month, I aim to complete a nerdish 3 month theme, which I hope to reveal at that time as being completed.

    • Doug Evans

      You’re welcome for the Galaxy book! Congrats on 66 read so far, and holy cow, you read Moby Dick in the middle of those others? That’s one of my favorite books, but man, is it long. I’ve made it all the way through twice, and have started it again several more times, including last December. Hard to find time for a book that big! I hope to finish my third full reading by the end of this year. David wrote a column about his reading of it back in 2008, which apparently is no longer online, but the Claremont Insider makes a mention of it: http://claremontca.blogspot.com/2008/04/david-allen-on-reading-moby-dick.html

      Hadn’t heard of those Ballentine “Best Of…” books before this but they sound like a great way to get introduced to different Sci Fi authors. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

  • Doug Evans

    Six books for me! Actually, five, but I forgot to include one last month.

    “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (the book I forgot from last month). A troupe of Shakespearean actors wanders the countryside twenty years after a plague has wiped out most of the world’s population. That description does not do the book justice, which is at times sad and funny and, heck, both at the same time. One group of survivors are living in an airport, which they had just planned to stop at between flights, the way we do, before the plague struck and they ended up spending the next twenty years there. I share that because I read that part while waiting for a flight in an airport. It was eerie. I liked this book so much I may make it my book club pick when next my turn comes around.

    “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins. Read for a book club. A girl, actually an alcoholic woman, sees something she’s not supposed to see from a train, and the story goes on from there. Sort of this year’s “Gone Girl,” in terms of popularity and “I didn’t see that coming!”-ness. A fun read.

    “The Winter Queen” by Boris Akunin. Crime novel originally written in Russian, read on the recommendation of a friend. Well written as well as funny, which I wasn’t expecting. The start of a series, so I may be back for more.

    “The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler. Maybe Chandler’s best-regarded Philip Marlowe novel. Marlowe meets a drunk named Terry Lennox; adventures and deaths ensue. A good one, but, heck, they’ve all been good. One more Marlowe novel to go in July and then two collections of short stories.

    “Miracle in Seville” by James Michener, illustrated by John Fulton. I took a trip to Seville for a week this past month to visit my wife’s family and planned to read “Death in the Afternoon” by Hemingway because Spain and bullfighting and all, but got caught up in “Wolf Hall” (see below) so never cracked the cover. Instead I read this book while I was there. Interesting (to me) story about “Miracle”: my wife and I visited Seville twenty years ago and two years later I found this book at a Barnes and Noble and bought it for her. Flash forward to last month and there’s the book… several copies, actually… on my in-laws’ shelf. It turns out that the illustrator of this book, John Fulton, was a fairly famous American bullfighter and artist, a friend of Michener’s (he has a role in Michener’s “Iberia”), and, get this, a friend of my wife’s family! He has passed away, sadly, so we never got a chance to meet him. But little did I know when I bought the book almost twenty years ago that there was a family connection. As for the story… I’ve never read Michener before and his writing struck me, at least here, as kind of plodding. But an intriguing story and the illustrations were great.

    “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel. Man, this was a good one. The story of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII, that’s been turned into a Broadway play and a miniseries that played on PBS and on and on. Well, not really on and on, but those two are enough. Started this last summer but got swept up in other books… I’m looking at you, “Our Mutual Friend”… so I’m glad to get it knocked off my to-read list. I’m well into the sequel so look for that to show up next month.

    As for David’s books: I had a copy of Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” when I was younger but never read it. Maybe I was too young. Now that I can handle a little more nuance in my fantasy protagonists, I’d like to give it another try. I picked up that Ellison a couple of years ago in Powell’s in Oregon and read a few pages… the section on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I think… and liked it but put it back. (If there was no section on ST:TMP, than I have the wrong book.) I think a little Ellison, at least his nonfiction, goes a long way for me… I’m sure I agree with a majority of his opinions on the world and things, but man, can he be cranky!

    Next month! Along with the Chandler and the sequel to Wolf Hall… a detective novel by LA author (and Chandler fan) Steph Cha, whom David mentioned in a column a while back, that “Death in the Afternoon” book I mentioned above, and maybe a science fiction book or two if I can fit it in. Plus, my other unfinished book from last summer, “Doctor Zhivago.” That’s all pretty ambitious so we’ll see.

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Doug, that was a particularly interesting — and international! — month of books. (It helped that there were no Doctor Who e-books.)

      You’re thinking of a different Ellison book, probably “Harlan Ellison’s Watching.” Mine stops in 1972 and is about TV. But he was cranky then, too.

      I hope you haven’t boxed yourself in by naming so many “next month” books. The world is watching.

      • John Clifford

        Sigh. Trashing Dr. Who?

        Harlan has always been cranky. A friend who knew him during the 70s loved to jibe him about his screenplay for “The Oscar.” That would REALLY make him cranky.

        • Doug Evans

          Speaking on behalf of my man David… I don’t think he’s trashing the good Doctor as much as saying that not being tied down to a Doctor Who ebook freed me up to read all kinds of stuff.

          On the other hand… Maybe David has secretly hated Doctor Who all this time? David, if only you knew how many times the Doctor has saved our earth from alien invasions, both from outer space and from inside the earth, you wouldn’t speak so glibly of him!!

          • davidallen909

            Pardon my glibness! But, yes, it’s a combination of you being freed up and also you not having a series book in your list.

      • Doug Evans

        Yes! “Ellison’s Watching”! That was the one. A collection (as amazon.com just reminded me) of his movie review columns from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as other sources.

        Sadly… there’s never been much of a correlation between my “Next month!” predictions and what I actually end up reading, mainly because I keep buying and reading new books, both physical and electronic, despite my constant promises to myself that I won’t do that. I’m… I’m weak. Maybe someday science will have a cure for people like me.

        BTW! I meant to share that “Blind Moon” by local author Kenneth Calhoun, that David wrote about back in February, is currently on sale as a Kindle book for $1.99. I bought it so look for it so show up in next month’s log. Or the month after that. Thanks again to John Clifford for turning me on to Bookbub which told me about the sale!

        David’s column: http://www.dailybulletin.com/arts-and-entertainment/20150203/black-moon-novelist-kenneth-calhouns-awakening-began-in-rancho-cucamonga

  • DebB

    I didn’t keep track this month, because I’m still re-reading the Ngaio Marsh books, but I think it’s somewhere between 4 and 6. I’m heading off on vacation today, and I bought the newest Martha Grimes book to take with me. It gets mixed reviews – some feel her age is catching up with her – but I want to decide for myself.

    • davidallen909

      Thanks for squeezing in a blog comment before your vacation — and happy vacation!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    This was another big month for me (14) in the number of books read department, and quite good in quality, although in the last week or so I indulged in the familiar instead of expanding my horizons.

    Nonfiction:

    A Crack in the Edge of the World, Simon Winchester 2005
    Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach 2003
    Perestroika: New Thinking For Our Country and the World, Mikhail Gorbachev 1987
    T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, Walter Alvarez 1997
    Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage of Wall Street, Michael Lewis 1992
    Rise of Russia, Robert Wallace 1967

    Fiction:

    Forever Free, Joe Haldeman 1999
    The Natural, Bernard Malamud 1952
    The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje 1989
    Moby Dick, Herman Melville 1851
    Lord Peter Views the Body, Dorothy L. Sayers 1928
    The Fourth Galaxy Reader, HL Gold 1959
    The Bat, Jo Nesbo 1997
    Hollywood Moon, Joseph Wambaugh 2009

    The nonfiction was a pretty good selection. T. Rex and the Crater of Doom stands out as the best title, clearly inspired by pulp SF, but written by one of the lead scientists behind one of the greatest discoveries of my lifetime. Perestroika is politically extremely important, but not always easy to read. Liar’s Poker should be read by all investing for retirement, in order to get an attitude about those who work in the business. The others were good, too.

    The fiction was more of a mixed bag. I did get a classic or three out of the way, of which The Natural was disappointing (Malamud knew too little of baseball for his background), Moby Dick about as expected (too long winded, but digressions included some funny parts, not necessarily intentional), and The English Patient was better than expected, but I did not know what to expect. The Galaxy reader fulfilled my expectations of being a very good collection, Lord Peter was light and entertaining as usual, and the others so-so or less. Wambaugh had lost his edge to formula and pandering, and The Bat wandered off too much.

    I give my public thanks to Doug Evans for passing on his copy of the Galaxy Reader, as he offered last month. Once arrived, it was first in line for my next book, and did not last long as unread. For anyone interested in being the next reader of this copy, let me know below, otherwise it goes to a charity store where I know it will not languish.

    My longer reviews are available at goodreads.com, by Richp.

    For the half year, I’m at 66, well over pace for my goal of 100. 28 of those are NF, so I am doing well at reading more of that. New authors account for 28 F + 22 NF, so I have also done a real good job there. This reading log has really helped once I made the effort to report monthly, and to help my log at home I started using goodreads.com, which has also helped (much shorter turnaround on feedback). Several of these books make various top book lists of various types.

    Next month, I aim to complete a nerdish 3 month theme, which I hope to reveal at that time as being completed.

    • davidallen909

      Rich, you always contribute a good array of books, and I’m pleased to hear this Reading Log has helped you read more and keep track.

      I often reflect that I read more, and differently, because I need to have something to report here. If I weren’t doing this, for instance, I’d have continued with my long anthology rather than stop to read The Point Man. And there would be no reason to ever group books together.

  • John Clifford

    Did well at the end of the Spring quarter. Read 3 ebooks and 1 paperback, 2 of them non-fiction and one of them a Young Adult book (OK, so I’m not).

    The YA book was “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. Alexie’s writing, as always was very good. Some of the language might be a little rough for YA, but based on the young adults I’ve met, nothing they haven’t heard before.

    I stared the month (and ended last month) with an interesting biography “Kepler’s Witch” by James A Connor. I didn’t know that the mathematician and author of the laws of planetary motion, was faced with his mother being arrested and tried as a witch and how it impacted his life. A really interesting read although I was a little put off by the always shifting chronology.

    The final ebook was a book called “The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained” by DK books and a bunch of contributors. This was a chronological survey of the most influential philosophers from Socrates and Plato through to all of the modern philosophers. Basically philosophy for dummies, but I did learn a lot.

    The paperback I read was “Top Secret Twenty-One” by Janet Evanovich. This is the 21st numbered Stephanie Plum book (no I haven’t read all of them so I have to go back and pick up from about 5) and, while it’s mindless, is worth it for the scenes with Stephanie’s Gramma Mazur.

    • davidallen909

      You read an interesting range of books in June too, John. I’ve sometimes thought I would like to know more about philosophy, in the same way I’ve thought I would like to know more about mythology. My brain, however, refuses to memorize the names of mythological characters, and my attempt to read the Durants’ “Story of Philosophy” (or whatever it’s called) was short-lived for similar reasons. I just can’t seem to keep these sorts of things straight.

    • John Clifford

      i knew I had forgotten one. up my total to 5. i finally got to probably the only Kurt Vonnegut book that I hadn’t read, “Slaughterhouse 5.”

  • davidallen909

    Rich, you always contribute a good array of books, and I’m pleased to hear this Reading Log has helped you read more and keep track.

    I often reflect that I read more, and differently, because I need to have something to report here. If I weren’t doing this, for instance, I’d have continued with my long anthology rather than stop to read The Point Man. And there would be no reason to ever group books together.

    I own several of the Ballantine “Best of…” books, although I think Leiber’s is the first I’ve read. PKD’s will be read soon, and I’ve got Weinbaum’s, DeCamp’s and Pohl’s waiting.

  • davidallen909

    There are perhaps two dozen of the Ballantine books, and they seem definitive at least for their era, although story choices are of course subjective. Each has an intro by another SF great. Poul Anderson introduced the Leiber volume. And thanks for trying to find my Moby column.