Reading Log: December 2016

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Books acquired: “How to Find Old Los Angeles,” Kim Cooper with Dick Blackburn

Books read: “The Wishbones,” Tom Perrotta, “The Puppies of Terra,” Thomas M. Disch, “Of All Things!” Robert Benchley

Happy holidays! I read three books in December, enough to get me to 40 for the year, a modest goal that had seemed out of reach for most of the year. Then I stopped. (But I did other bookish things, which I’ll explain.)

December’s reading consisted of a 1997 mainstream novel, a 1966 science fiction novella and a 1921 collection of comic essays.

Fans of “High Fidelity” will especially love “The Wishbones,” another look at a rock fan, in this case an early-30s guitarist in a wedding band who’s having trouble accepting adult responsibilities. Does he really want to marry his high school sweetheart, whom he’s been dating for 15 years off and on, and live in the suburbs? I liked it, and it’s funny, but it lacked some of Nick Hornby’s verve and depth and I suspect will prove easier to forget.

“Mankind Under the Leash” was the original, and better, title of Disch’s “The Puppies of Terra,” in which benevolent invaders have domesticated humans as pets, except for the dingoes who remain wild. Told in the first person by a human pet named White Fang with a mock-David Copperfield tone, this is cute at times, but exceedingly slight. In short, kind of a dog.

“Of All Things!,” Benchley’s first collection, has its moments, starting with the dedication to the inventor of the Bessemer steel converter and continuing through the preface, which merely reproduces the Declaration of Independence, but most of what follows is lesser Benchley, light but rarely outright funny. He hadn’t hit his stride and there’s no use pretending. He did, however, make a crack about the world being divided into two types of people, and I had to wonder if that was already a thing or if he might have invented a line still used today.

I had these books largely wrapped up by mid-month and could have squeezed in another one or two, but instead tackled an overdue project, which was to take a close look at a few books that didn’t seem worth reading cover to cover.

Each got an hour or two of my time. Among them were Pete Townsend’s memoir, “Who I Am”; a fannish Beach Boys essay collection, “Back to the Beach”; and a biography of the band The Replacements, “Trouble Boys.” I like all three acts, but not enough to read 300 to 400 pages about them. One book, “American Silent Film,” looked like it might be of enough interest to read in full, so I put it back. In all, I disposed of 10 books in 11 days.

From there, I started a book that I had wanted to read this fall and now hope to finish in January.

As for where these books came from, “Wishbones” was gifted from a friend who was moving away around 1999, “Puppies” was bought at Patten’s Books in St. Louis in June and “Things!” must have been bought in the ’00s, but I don’t remember the circumstances.

How was your December, readers? If you’re still reading, feel free to come back Jan. 1. I thought I’d get this post out of the way so I can move on to my annual column and blog post on what I read for the year.

Next month: a book I had wanted to read this fall and, I hope, one I’ve meant to read for seven years.

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  • Bob House

    “How to Find Old Los Angeles” – Claremont connection: Dick Blackburn is the older brother of a Claremont High 1965 classmate. He was also cowriter of, and acted in, the deeply weird 1982 movie, “Eating Raoul.”

    • davidallen909

      Wow! I would not have expected either of those things — another reason this job is so fun.

  • DebB

    No reading for me this month – too much Christmas squeezed around work. Maybe January will be better!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I was still reading, but still did not finish another book. Here are my seven finished in December, which got me to 103.

    Nonfiction:

    Laws of the Game 2016/17. IFAB, 2016.

    Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Railway That
    United America. Stephen Ambrose, 1999.

    Fever Pitch. Nick Hornby, 1992.

    Fiction:

    The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side. Agatha Christie, 1962.

    Andromeda Strain. Michael Crichton, 1969.

    Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World in Four Parts by Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon & then a Captain of Several Ships. Jonathan Swift, 1726.

    A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens, 1843.

    Laws of the Game is a complete rewrite of the Laws, although the actual changes in the laws themselves were quite minor. I consider it to have been poorly written and organized, which I suspect contributed to I* making an error which fortunately made no difference on the outcome of the game.
    (Contributed to I is awkward, but me making an error seems worse. If I am wrong I presume the grammar cops will let me off with a warning, no harm, no foul, but a violation.) A nerdly book, but when one’s hobby is the world’s most popular sport, does nerd still apply? This is sort of a re-read for me, but this is not just an updated edition.

    Nothing Like was a great story, but the Ambrose attitude (and title) I found hard to take. The railway did not unite America: it crossed USA from east to west, and it led to the completion of the genocide of the Native Americans in USA.

    Fever Pitch is my first Hornby, but my second football book this month. Dull and repetitive at times, the last third of the book, where Hornby is more mature, was the best. While his obsession was still immature, at least he understood it much better.

    The Mirror Crack’d is not my first Christie, but it is my first Marple. I knew Christie was a good writer, but the amateur detective, especially one who is not a survivor of the victim, is extremely rare and I classify these tales as gimmick fiction. In addition, I was affected by my occasional exposure to one of the Marple actresses, Angela Lansbury, as a character in Murder, She Wrote, and found that character to be obnoxious and condescending. As a result I expected a competent novel but not necessarily one that would inspire me to read another, but this turned out to be quite good, if not great.

    Andromeda Strain was a decent thriller but not a great one. I found this to be one of the lesser Crichton’s, and there are more of those than the better ones, and even the latter are best characterized as cheap thrillers even if they sometimes are built on an interesting speculation, as this one was.

    Travels was literally fantastic, and pretty good overall. The satire was wicked, which I like, and the writing comes across well, especially for a 390 year old book. So I have two books that are more or less SF, and neither of them at all in the mainstream of the genre.

    A Christmas Carol is what it is, a story we all know well but many of us have not read in its original wording. I read it Christmas day, finishing it walking my dog viewing the lights in my neighborhood, a fun experience.

    Overall this was not a big month for me in book and word count, but I did move out of my rut of the previous two months. I did cover each of four centuries, which is quite something. The biggest news is that Laws and Christmas Carol were my first two ebooks, downloaded for free from FIFA and

    • davidallen909

      Congratulations on seven books, 103 books, your first Marple, breaking out of a rut and giving ebooks a shot!

      I’ve read two of yours, Fever Pitch and Mirror; I have no recollection of the latter (in my defense, that was four decades ago, but I kept reading Marple/Christie so I must have liked it) and recall liking the former, but not loving it. (There’s a film version with Colin Firth that isn’t bad.) I like Hornby overall and got to meet him at a book signing a couple of years ago.

      I would hope to read Gulliver’s Travels at some point and A Christmas Carol too; like you, I feel like I know the story, yet I have never read it. Your reading experience of it sounds perfect.

  • John Clifford

    Well, I’m going to claim 3 because I didn’t get in here in November and the third one was finished just at the end of that month.

    The November read was “IMP: A Political Fantasia” by my former college roommate and friend since High School, Steven Paul Leiva. This is a fantasy story about a very right-wing American president who is visited by an imp who emerges from his right ear and shows him how things might be if he continues on his path. Very “Christmas Carol” in its form. Written before the election it isn’t really about “Trump” but could be applied possibly. A great read which should be interesting to some.

    Next was a Sara Paretsky V.I. Warshaski novel, “Killing Orders.” I love these stories about Chicago PI Victoria Warshawski (call me V.I.) who is well drawn and a lot of fun. This one involves helping a relative and getting involved in church matters, all good fun.

    Then I finished off the year with a light autobiography, “Dick Van Dyke: My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.” A not very well written tome as the string of stories don’t really connect together much of the time. Sometimes you think, that was an interesting story, but how do those four paragraphs relate to the rest of the book? An easy read and something that could be consumed even during the major conspicuous holiday season (which I participated in full force, thank you very much).

    For Christmas I received 4 new books, including another Sara Paretski Warshawski story, along with “Tangled Vines” about the Cucamonga and southern California wineries; “Masters of the Mission Inn”; and the newest Harry Bosh story by Michael Connelly, “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” which I was intrigued by because of the descriptions of other Bosh stories read here. That’s the one I’m reading now and I’m almost half way through.

    Hope everyone’s new year of reading is enjoyable.

  • Doug Evans

    Chiming in on the reading log!

    I read six in December:

    “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman (1974). A science fiction classic, read for a book club. Maybe more interesting as a look at how 1974 viewed the future than as a story in its own right, though the internet is full of raves as to how great this is. Still, it’s a classic that I’ve long meant to read (though, sadly, it wasn’t one my giant-stack-of-unread-books), and I’m glad to have finally read it.

    “St. Nick” by Alan Russell (2013). An down-on-his-luck police officer in San Diego agrees to pose as a department store Santa to catch a ring of shoplifters. A Christmas miracle ensues. I’m making this sound kind of stupid but this was a fun read. And, I bought it for only $.99 as an Amazon ebook! Speaking of Christmas miracles.

    “Before the Golden Age: Book 2” collected with commentary by Isaac Asimov (1974). The second book in Asimov’s collection of stories that thrilled and inspired him as a young kid.

    “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith (1950) Another classic I’ve long meant to read, purchased cheap as an Amazon ebook a while back, so I guess I’ll count it as one my giant-stack-of-unread-books, even though it’s not a physical book and it wasn’t in a stack. Anyway: fun psychological exploration of these two guys who meet on a train and agree (kind of) to murder each other’s nemeses. Later turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock and even later (kind of) into a film with Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal.

    “The Sea” by John Banville (2005). This one won the Man Booker Prize back in 2005. I’m guessing those Man Booker people don’t go in much for comedies. This was a fairly bleak story about an unpleasant guy who witnessed a tragedy as a kid and in pretty day times is mourning the death of his wife. Yay! Also, lots of big words. So, props for being a literary work, I guess, but between this and a Doctor Who novel, say, or a Planet of the Apes novel (I threw that in for David!), I’d go with Who (or Apes). Which is maybe why the Man Booker people have never asked me to be on their prize committee. I don’t even need you, Man Booker people! I’ve got the David Allen Reading Log to give me all the reading validation I need! Anyway: back story to this purchase: I bought this a few months back at Magic Door Used Books because it’s set in Ireland and I knew that I would be going to Ireland on vacation in December. Which brings me to:

    “Dubliners” by James Joyce (1914). My favorite of the month, a well-deserved classic I’d never read made all the more pleasurable because I was reading it while in Dublin (well, Lucan, eight miles outside of Dublin). A collection of 15 short stories (maybe “vignettes” would be a better word) set around the turn of the last century. The stories didn’t always have recognizable plots (I had to go to Wikipedia more than once to figure out exactly what had happened in a story), but man, can that guy write.

    Speaking of Joyce: I read “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” twenty-four years ago while backpacking through Europe (though not Ireland), so next up, I guess, would be “Ulysses,” but I don’t know if I’m brave enough to tackle that just yet. But I’m really glad I read “Dubliners”!

    And so much for reading in 2016. Here’s to a happy and book-filled 2017!

    • davidallen909

      You could always follow the Ulysses Twitter feed, in which it’s being tweeted a sentence at a time, maybe one per hour. I’ve seen similar ones for Howl, Moby-Dick and Finnegans Wake. That can’t be the ideal way to consume any of them, but it’s a clever idea, and some of the lines out of context are kind of cool. (Note: They are probably cool IN context too, but you know what I mean.)

      Of your books, I’ve read Dubliners, back in college, and remember being very impressed by it. The film version of The Dead, by John Huston, is great too.

      Funny thing about The Sea, and this will be the only funny thing about The Sea because the book itself is super-depressing: When you said last month you were going to read it, I thought, Uh-oh. But I held my tongue, curious to hear what your reaction would be without it being colored by my opinion. And yours was the same as mine, except that you read it to the end. I bought a copy at Powell’s three years ago, read about 45 pages and decided this was not the book for me. And either it’s in my sell stack or I traded it somewhere already.

      Wouldn’t that be something if I traded it to Magic Door — and you own my copy?