Reading Log: July 2017

Books acquired: “The Newspaper in Art,” Garry Apgar, Shaun Higgins, Colleen Striegel; “The Green Eyes of Bast,” Sax Rohmer

Books read: “Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything,” Jennifer Keishin Armstrong; “Julius Caesar,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” William Shakespeare; “From Bill, With Love,” Bill McClellan

Let’s be clear: I did not read the “Riverside Shakespeare” omnibus pictured above, although I did lug it around much of the month to read two of the plays therein. “Are you reading the encyclopedia?” a restaurant server asked me humorously. No: an encyclopedia would be lighter.

I read two plays I hadn’t read in decades. First, “Julius Caesar.” After the controversy over the NYC version with a Trump-like Caesar, a refresher course seemed in order for a play I read for the first and last time in high school. Caesar dies at the hands of his would-be friends, only one of whom has pure motives, and from there, things don’t go as the conspirators had hoped. It’s an uh-oh-now-what cautionary tale about deposing a leader. Complex and endlessly quotable, this repays rereading. Consider my viewpoint unimpeachable.

After enjoying that one, and while still in Shakespeare mode, I decided to tackle a second, “Antony and Cleopatra,” a sequel of sorts. It turned out I had read this one in college (a few underlines in the introduction were the giveaway) and had completely forgotten I’d done so, although elements of the play seemed familiar once I was reading it. Marc Antony, post-eulogy for his late emperor, takes up a life of dissipation with the queen of Egypt before returning to battle. Cleopatra is among Shakespeare’s more complex female characters — at least, that’s what it says in the introduction I dutifully marked up — and this play may be underrated.

As for the “Seinfeld” study, I started it with high hopes and yada yada yada, it was average. Some good stories from the writers, though; it’s amazing how many plots, even the outlandish ones, came directly from personal experience.

In “From Bill, With Love,” the bard of St. Louis returns with a collection of his Post-Dispatch columns spanning two decades. The first half is love stories about local people, the second half a scattering of favorite pieces: features, gripes, personal takes and laments for his dying industry (and mine, too). Sly, heartfelt and sweet.

I picked up my Shakespeare in college (Follett Bookstore, University of Illinois, 1985), McClellan at St. Louis’ Subterranean Books in 2016 and “Seinfeldia” as a birthday gift this year.

The first half of August I’ll be traveling, which may give me more time to read or may give me less, depending on how preoccupied I am with the details of my journey and whether I spend my in-flight time reading, watching movies or sleeping. I’m taking a couple of intimidatingly long novels with me and hoping for the best all around.

How was your July? Were you shading your face with a book while lounging by a pool, or using a book to fan yourself with?

Next month: Escapism.

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  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I finished 9 in July.


    Zeitoun. Dave Eggars, 2009.

    The Last Season. Eric Blehm, 2009.

    Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Jared Diamond, 2004.


    The Island of Dr. Moreau. HG Wells, 1896.

    Athabasca. Alistair MacLean, 1980.

    Life Form. Alan Dean Foster, 1995.

    Whip Hand. Charles Williford, 1961.

    Ethan Frome. Edith Wharton, 1911.

    U is for Undertow. Sue Grafton, 2009.

    The nonfiction was all pretty good. The fiction was mostly pulp, especially Whip Hand, except for Ethan Frome which deserves its status as a classic. I was in the mood for pulp so my choices were appropriate.

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      More comments. Zeitoun was about one man’s experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina, including a nightmare encounter with an out of control criminal injustice system. The Last Season is about the disappearance of Randy Mortenson, a park ranger in the high Sierra, and is a really good book. Collapse is ambitious and long, but well worth reading.

      Ethan Frome is short and worth reading, but often read by HS students who lack the life experience to understand it. Athabasca is the weakest MacLean I have read. Moreau is deservedly a classic and pulp SF at the same time. The others have good moments but are mostly routine. Moreau and Whip Hand were free ebooks, the others acquired for less than a dollar on average from thrift and library stores.

      • davidallen909

        You had a good, and inexpensive, month. We both liked Moreau. Ethan Frome is a famously slim classic that I may have read immediately post-college. Or not: I know I owned it but can’t remember anything about it.

  • DebB

    I read a book last month!! And got it in just in time, too. On Saturday I forced myself out of the house with the enticing plan to buy a new book at Barnes & Noble. I found their $5 classics table and picked up two of those, plus another at regular price.

    The first one I read was The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’d read it as a child but not since, and enjoyed it as much now as I did then.

    With any luck I’ll be able to contribute to your reading log again next month – I’ve gotten started already!

    • davidallen909

      I checked out that table too, but without adding any fresh unread books to my list. I have never read The Secret Garden. Glad you enjoyed it — and contributed here.

  • Doug Evans

    I read exactly two last month… I always think of summer as the time of year when I’ll really buckle down and make a dent in that Giant Stack of Unread Books, but it turns out summer is my busiest time of the year and the time that I read the least. I think I would have learned that after 49 years of living but it always comes as a surprise to me.

    I read:

    “The Girl Who Talked to Animals” by Bruce McAllister (2007)


    “Contact” by Carl Sagan (1985)

    “Girl” is a collection of short stories written by the underrated and not-nearly-famous-enough author Bruce McAllister, who also happens to be a former professor of mine at the University of Redlands. One of the stories in this collection, “Kin,” was featured by Levar Burton as the first story of his new podcast “Levar Burton Reads” (which is highly recommended, by the way), and listening to that story made me pull out this collection, which I purchased at Powell’s shortly after it was published but sadly never read. Really, really good stuff. Apparently (according to a Facebook post by Bruce) the story’s appearance on Burton’s podcast has increased sales of this and other of Bruce’s works, and that’s all to the good.

    “Contact” is Sagan’s mid-eighties science fiction novel about our making contact with an alien species through the power of radio telescopes, later made into a film starring Jodie Foster. I read this when it first came out and last month pulled it off my shelf and read it again, some thirty-two years later. I like the way Sagan views the universe and I’m sad he’s no longer with us. The President of the United States in his novel is a pro-science woman, which, considering recent historical events, made me a little sad.

    I had planned to read at least three more science fiction novels (including two Doctor Who novels!) last month as well as Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” which I’ve owned since the TV series first premiered in 1980 but which I’ve never read. But as I said in the first paragraph above, my summer got away from me. We’ll see how I do this month. In the meantime, have a great vacation, David, and happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Next summer, perhaps you’ll think to yourself, “Is summer a good reading time for me or my busiest time? Hmm, let me check my Reading Log comment from 2017. The answer might be there, and I can set my expectations accordingly!”

      I haven’t read “Contact,” but the film version is kind of a snooze for me (the friend who loaned it to me thought it was great), and Matthew McConaughey’s character was truly annoying.

      I’m one-third of the way through my vacation and I’m on page 54 of the novel I started at the airport, so this is not shaping up as a good reading month for me either. Ironically, I may find more reading time once I’m back to my regular schedule.

      August might be my own two-book month — if I can finish this one and slip in a short one.