Reading Log: September 2017

Books acquired: “This is How You Lose Her,” Junot Diaz; “True Stories of Claremont, CA,” Hal Durian

Books read: “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer,” Philip K. Dick; “Prometheus 2017: Four Artists From Mexico Revisit Orozco,” Rebecca McGrew and Terri Geis, eds.; “How to Win a Pullet Surprise: The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Our Language,” Jack Smith

I’ve kind of settled into a three-a-month groove, it seems. In September I read my annual Jack Smith book, my annual Philip K. Dick Valis trilogy novel (the third and last) and a catalog for a museum show at Pomona College.

The latter I read for work, pretty obviously, and while I didn’t have to finish it, I did, so I could add it to the ol’ Reading Log. It’s got a plethora of images of Jose Clemente Orozco’s mural “Prometheus” as well as readable-to-academic text about it and him, and about the four contemporary artists whose work is part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA show here.

Smith’s 1982 book collects his LA Times columns on language usage. He’s no Edwin Newman or William Safire, as he admits, but he writes about spoonerisms, famous last words (many of which he doesn’t believe), student errors (see title) and more with his usual grace and wit. Worth seeking out.

Dick’s novel, his last completed work, isn’t science fiction and technically isn’t part of the Valis trilogy (his in-progress next novel would have finished off the trilogy), but that doesn’t really matter. It’s a fictionalized look at Bishop Pike, investigating religious, ethical and moral concerns and, why not, the death of the 1960s. (It opens in 1980 with the death of John Lennon, then backtracks to circa 1971.) I liked it.

Three-quarters of 2017 has passed. I’ve read 33 books so far, with hopes of another nine or 10 by year’s end. How was your September, readers, and your year to date?

Next month: one or two more “annual” writers are read.

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  • DebB

    Just one for me this month: Dorothy Gilman’s “Uncertain Voyage”. This novel was on my shelf of books I’ve read, but I didn’t remember it at all. It’s a story of a woman recovering from a mental breakdown who takes a European cruise and becomes involved in espionage and intrigue, through which she discovers her inner strength and mental health. Not great, not bad.

    • davidallen909

      Dorothy Gilman of Mrs. Polifax fame! But with an unmemorable, non-Mrs. Polifax novel, it seems. Well, better luck in October, Deb.

    • Terri Shafer

      I read all the Mrs. Polifax books and loved them! I’ll have to check this one out, sounds interesting.

  • Doug Evans

    I read six!

    “The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The Next 25 Years” by Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman (2016). Back in February I read “…The First 25 Years,” which took us through the creation of the Star Trek series through the last of the films with the original cast. This book covers the creation of the “Next Generation” sequel series and the other series and films that have come after, though not the most recent film nor the “Discovery” series that’s airing now. I love “Next Gen,” but not so much the other sequel series, and I’m not all that into the new films, so this book wasn’t as interesting to me as the first one, but still good stuff, and oral histories are super easy to read and get through quickly.

    “Nine Tomorrows” by Isaac Asimov (1959). My man Asimov collects nine of his best stories up to that point, including two certified Asimov classics, “The Last Question” and “The Ugly Little Boy.” I’d say this was one of my favorite books from last month, but actually, they were all good.

    “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan (1980). Before last month, I’d read every book by written Sagan except this one, which is weird because it was the “Cosmos” TV show that turned me on to Sagan and science back in 1980, and my family has owned a copy of this book (from the Book of the Month Club, I think) since that time. My copy was purchased at a Borders closing sale, but even then it took me a while to make the time to sit down and read it. Great stuff and worth the 37-year wait. Sagan ends this book with a cautiously optimistic view of the future, believing that people were starting to wake up to the importance of looking past nationalism and of taking care of our planet. He was wrong.

    “Island: The Complete Stories” by Alastair MacLeod (2000). A literary-type book I’d never heard of before, which I picked up at a used book store in Big Bear (where I also got the archaeology book I wrote about last month). These stories are all character portraits set on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and not a lot happens plot-wise in them. People get old, times change, the sea keeps coming and going. Since there’s not much else going on, you really gotta like the writing in a book like this, and fortunately, I did. I’m always aware in the back of my head of my Giant Stack of Unread Books which I should be working my way through, but sometimes it’s fun to just stumble across a book and enjoy it, and that’s what I did here.

    “Camino Island” by John Grisham (2017). A fun lightweight book about a book heist: all of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s original manuscripts are stolen from Princeton (where they apparently are actually housed) and spirited away to the basement of a bookstore on the coast of Florida. A down-on-her-luck writer is recruited to befriend the slightly-shady bookstore owner and get the manuscripts back. We want the manuscripts to be returned safely, but we also get to like the bookstore owner, and we don’t want him to be caught. Entertaining stuff! I read in an interview that Grisham’s books are always called by critics “beach reads,” so he decided to go ahead and write a book that takes place on a beach.

    “The Late Show” by Michael Connelly (2017). Connelly, who writes the Bosch novels (now an Amazon Prime series!), creates a new character here, Renne Ballard, a police detective who filed an unsuccessful sexual harassment claim against a supervisor, and as a result is banished to the “late show,” the late-night shift that no one wants. Like “Camino Island,” this was a lot of fun, though it will never be put on the same shelf as something like “Islands: The Complete Stories.” Well, except in my house, I guess. Funny side note: one of the murder victims in this book is a struggling part-time actress whose IMDB page lists a small appearance in an episode of “Bosch.”

    Of David’s books: my next-door neighbor growing up had a copy of “How to Win a Pullet Surprise,” which I remember looking at. I think it was the first time I’d ever heard of a Pulitzer Prize, as well as realizing how English can be made to be funny, or at least realizing that people could write books about how English can be funny.

    Next month: A Cthulu book (that I meant to read last October!), another collection of Asimov, not as good as the one above, and whatever else I stumble across.

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Glad to read that you liked Cosmos even though 1) you’re living in a portion of the future Sagan described and 2) “He was wrong.”

      I hope to be reading a full-on Lovecraft book this month myself. Cthulhu lives!

    • Terri Shafer

      I have “The Call of Cthulhu and other weird stories” ordered from the library & it should be here any time, so I guess I’ll be reading with you guys. I haven’t read Lovecraft and am anxious to try him out. I hear he was quite an influence on Stephen King! 😉

      • Doug Evans

        All hail Cthulhu! (Actually, don’t really hail him.. bad things happen when you do.)

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I finished nine in September, three nonfiction, six fiction.

    Nonfiction –

    The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win WWII. Denise Kiernan, 2013. This was a good history overall, but marred by a bit of propagana.

    Cleopatra: A Life. Stacy Schiff, 2006. A historic celebrity biography which is pretty good, it emphasizes her years interacting with the Roman leaders, which coincide with both her adult and reigning years. Schiff does a pretty good job of sorting out probable truth, probable lies, and assigns much to the maybe category where it belongs.

    The Introspective Engineer. Samuel C. Florian, 1996. A civil engineer covers a number of topics in engineering after looking back on his career and participation in various professional committees. These include ethivs, credentialing, education, and the place of engineering and technology in modern society. I found it interesting, even though my experience has led me to some diffetent views.

    • davidallen909

      Huh, you and Doug both read a Grisham last month. I feel left out. I haven’t read any of yours, but I believe my parents read some/all of the Father Brown mysteries. My reading of Antony and Cleopatra in July did make me curious what is known about her, but as with a lot of mild impulses, it hasn’t translated into even reading her Wikipedia page.

    • Terri Shafer

      Richard, it seems that we do have some of the same reading interests. I have read The Girls of Atomic City and Cleopatra. And I have The Innocence of Father Brown but haven’t read it yet, however, I am reading The Man Who Knew Too Much by Chesterton right now. I hadn’t read Chesterton before but wanted to, so am enjoying it.

  • Terri Shafer

    Hello David, I enjoy reading your book blog every month and thought I needed to start joining in! I’ve always loved reading and since I retired I’ve been able to read a LOT more! So here was my September:

    1) A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles — this is my first by Towles and I really enjoyed it! It inspired me to read more Russian writing, so I read short stories: The Nose by Nikolai Gogol and The Bet by Anton Chekhov. And I also finished a three-month reading of:

    2) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky — I pieced it out a little per day and I enjoyed it quite a bit (I read War and Peace earlier this year!). I think I’ll keep on with the Russian novels if I can.

    3) The Time Machine by H.G. Wells — I’ve read others by Wells but never this one & I thought it was time. I liked it pretty well.

    4) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux — can you tell I’m trying to catch up on the classics?! But since I can’t live on classics alone, I read:

    5) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by (who else?) Philip K. Dick — I appreciate your read this month, David! I read The Man in the High Castle last month. I’m enjoying him quite a bit. And that futuristic read lead me to:

    6) Make Room! Make Room! by HarryHarrison — this is the book that the movie “Soylent Green” was based on. It is very interesting to me to see what the writers of the 60’s thought “the future” was going to be like. So then for some lighter reads:

    7) Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent — this was a recommendation from David’s mother — and I Always read what she recommends to me! I loved this one!

    8) The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith — I really enjoy this author, but he almost writes faster than I can read. I’ve read 49 of his and have several more that I need to read to catch up with him!

    9) Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara — this was OK. I like the original story so much that I was disappointed in this book.

    10) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman — from the best seller list. I enjoyed this funny, but sometimes sad, fiction story of a dysfunctional woman, how she got this way, and how she changed her life over time.

    Hope this wasn’t too much detail, but I’m really enjoying my reading, and I like to interact with others who seem to enjoy reading as much as I do. And knowing David from “way back” I know he enjoys his books! Happy Reading for October!

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      Welcome to this reading club, and ten is a big month.

      I read Time Machine many years ago, and once again, and Make Room twice too, plus the PKDick, we tend to have similar tastes here but always willing to explore.

      I was going to write I most likely read 9 tomorrows as it is on my sister’s bookshelf and I know I read most of the stories, plus Cosmos, so now I did.

    • Doug Evans

      Welcome aboard, Terri! I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much detail around here, but then, I write a mini-doctoral thesis here each month, so I may not be the best judge. I just finished reading “Gentleman in Moscow” last week, and enjoyed it as well. Looking forward to your future posts!

      • Terri Shafer

        Thanks Doug. And, yes, I’ve enjoyed many of your theses over the past months 😉
        Glad you enjoyed “Gentleman in Moscow.” I’m going to try to get to Towles’ “Rules of Civility” soon & see how I like it.