Reading Log: December 2017

Books acquired: none

Books read: “The Woody Allen Companion,” Stephen Spignesi; “True Stories of Claremont, CA,” Hal Durian; “Readings,” Michael Dirda; “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen; “Happiness is Warm Color in the Shade: a Biography of Artist Milford Zornes,” Hal Baker

December sent me off in style with five books read. I didn’t read them all stem to stern that month, but they were all finished in December. It was a fine way to end the year.

The month’s deepest read was Springsteen’s acclaimed memoir, and the longest too at 510 pages. A leisurely, detailed look at his childhood and formative years, stardom and middle age, Springsteen alternately builds up his mythology and tears it down. He’s unsparing as he lays bare his failings and the mental problems that he inherited from his troubled father, and unstinting in his generosity to the love of his life. Pure Springsteen, his 2016 memoir is ruminative, moving, powerful, incantatory and jokey. No wonder he’s the Boss.

Dirda’s book, published in 2000, is a collection of his Washington Post book columns, for which he has won a Pulitzer. He’s better read than the rest of us, but he’s so matter-of-fact about his reading that I found myself jotting down titles of interest rather than cursing him — although now and then I did roll my eyes. While occasionally precious, he’s funny too, such as his essay about how little he can remember about the books he loves. Winningly, his vision of good reading embraces “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as much as “Hamlet.”

The 1992 book about Woody Allen was a gift from a friend circa 1993, and it never occurred to me to sit down to read the collection of trivia, movie synopses and the like, from his early TV work through his stand-up, films, essays and plays. But it’s the only book on its shelf that is unread, and I might have simply sold it if not for the nice inscription. So I put it by my bedside and, over a few months, read it cover to cover. Current only through 1992’s “Shadows and Fog,” this has the benefit of predating the last 25 years of his movies, few of which have enhanced his reputation and many of which have been crummy. Definitely for the confirmed Woodmaniac, if any remain.

Two of my selections this month were local in nature and published in 2017.

The Zornes biography, written by his son-in-law, is a warm recollection of the local watercolorist who died in 2008 at age 101. Frankly, the writing and copy-editing are not professional, but if you’re interested in Zornes, this has a lot to recommend it, including insights, stories and a lot of quotes and facts from the man himself, who was interviewed on tape during a long road trip. And of course the pages are enlivened by many reproductions of paintings and sketches, plus photos.

Durian, a retired teacher and history columnist, has lived in Claremont more than 50 years. His book is made up of short essays on various people, places, incidents and facets of life around town, including a few local controversies. It’s a nice effort. I don’t know that he’s quite captured Claremont in all its glory and contradictions, but he’s not overly reverent and I learned a few things I didn’t know. It’s a limited edition of a mere 100 copies. I attended one of his talks and he gave me one.

The Zornes book was checked out from the Pomona Public Library, long may it wave; the Springsteen was a gift; and the Dirda was bought in 2013 from Magic Door Books in Pomona.

All told, I made it through 45 books in 2017, which isn’t bad, even if it’s about 1/10 of what I’d have liked to have read.

How was your December, readers?

I’ll be posting a list of my year’s books soon and a column is likely to follow.

Next month: shadows and light.

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  • DebB

    I spent my New Year’s Eve reading a book I’d received as a birhday gift from my niece, and read it start to finish that day! It’s called “Big Little Lies”, by Liane Moriarty, and was a New York Times bestseller. A note on the cover says it’s soon to be an HBO series starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, but since I don’t get HBO, it really doesn’t matter to me (I tend to prefer books, anyway).

    The book is about a group of parents of new kindergarten students at a primary school in Australia. It begins at a fund-raiser where someone dies (we don’t know who), then jumps back 6 months and we see the story develop as we get to know all the kids and parents. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and definitely recommend it.

    I also “read” a book, also a gift from my niece, called “The Year of Cozy”, by Adrianna Adarme. The reason for the quotes is that this is a book full of recipes, craft ideas and general lifestyle suggestions, so I really leafed through it rather than reading every word. But I enjoyed it and plan to make one of the recipes today!

    This year I hope to make more time for reading. Since Sue Grafton’s death I’m thinking maybe I’ll re-read her series, starting with “A” and pick up the books I’m still missing (U – Y).

    • davidallen909

      I’ve heard of the (upcoming?) show Big Little Lies but didn’t know anything about it or that it was also a book. Yeah, I’m pretty happy to have read, say, The Man in the High Castle without feeling like I need to watch the TV version.

      Thanks for contributing, and hope to see you here more in 2018.

    • Terri Shafer

      Deb, I’m so glad you enjoyed Big Little Lies! I have really enjoyed Liane Moriarty’s books. I’ve read three. Try “The Husband’s Secret.” I liked it a lot!

  • tartofdarkness

    Hi! November was my “India” book indulgence. December was my Appalachian reading. I reread “Hillbilly Elegy” — I highly recommend it. Then I went into fiction set in the general region. Children: The Yearling, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows. I bought but haven’t read yet a book about a dog in the swamps “Goodbye My Lady”. Adult Fiction: I was most interested in reading about women’s lives so I went to Harriette Arnow: The Dollmaker, Hunter’s Horn and Mountain Path. The first two were rereads, the last I read for the first time. My mind has just blanked though. I read a few other similar books by various authors. I ordered The Tall Woman but haven’t read it yet.

    One of my favorites out of all of these is “The Yearling”. The reason I love it is Marjorie Rawlings descriptions of plant and animal life in the Volusia area back in the 1930s (or so). As a Biologist I spent a lot of time in this reread looking up the plants and animals she writes about. It would be so much fun to write a flora and fauna concordance! Okay. So that’s my idea of fun!

    I ended December and started January rereading John LeCarre’s Smiley novels. Tinker, Tailor is a masterpiece.

    lastly “Big Little Lies” on HBO is indeed out as a series. It stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon and it was a surprise hit for last season. I’m gonna watch it eventually ’cause it sounds really intriguing.

    Hope everyone has a great reading New Year!

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      Welcome to this book blog. The comment section was starting to look bleak in terms of numbers, but DebB came back after a hiatus and Terry Shafer joined in a few months ago. Maybe John Clifford will return someday; he has given me a few very good recommendations.

      I read one of yours, Old Yeller over a half century ago, when I was the right age, and likely more than once since it sticks with me. The Yearling is a classic I have not read, but may do so this year; I have been trying to have a wide reading range and a kid’s book fits in now and then. Hillbilly Elegy is on my list of books to acquire when I see it cheap. Thrift stores, Friends of Library, free ebooks from Project Gutenberg, and the like are my primary sources for obtaining books: the prices are right, and I have no shortage of really good books.

    • davidallen909

      Welcome! I believe you commented on my FB page a month or two ago and it’s nice to see you migrate here to the blog itself where you can be more a part of the discussion. Come back anytime!

      You probably saw that I read Hillbilly Elegy in November. Other than that, I haven’t read any of yours.

    • Terri Shafer

      Hi Tart! Nice to have you here. I am very interested in Hillbilly Elegy! I’m glad to see you recommend it. I’ll try to get to it soon.
      I also like the children’s books you read. I have read all of those except The Yearling which I keep promising myself I’ll read. I have a copy sitting right here. I’ll try to move it up on the list 🙂

    • Terri Shafer

      Just downloaded “Hillbilly Elegy.” I’ll let you know what I think!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    My December book list is in moderation or some such category.

    It was quite a while since I commented here on books read by others until my response yesterday to tartofdarkness. I try to catch up here and now for about three months worth.

    Read by me: Puppet Masters, probably in the top half dozen of Heinlein; Gulliver’s Travels, which I listed here under its real title and I seem to have a higher opinion than a couple others; Earth Abides, I have an unread copy too, but I read a different copy decades ago and I agree with those who consider this a SF classic; Cosmos, we laughed at the billions and billions when we watched the original telecast but applaud the series and its book; I Claudius, I did not watch the Masterpiece theatre version but enjoyed the original and its sequel is in one of my many unread piles; Spiderman Joins Forces with Dr. Octopus, there was a time when graphic shorts and serial novels were an important part of my reading repertoire; and that Burgess Meredith Twilight Episode, one of my favorites even if the punchline is easily diluted by the abundant availability of a certain critical commodity for the reading public. There is a maybe I read list, or maybe it was different one by that author, and a large list of other books read by same author.

    • Terri Shafer

      I love that Twilight Episode with Burgess Meredith and all those books he finally had time to read! Poor guy :'(

  • Terri Shafer

    I like your book list for December, David. I have not read any of them. But even though we’re supposed to hate Woody Allen now, I just can’t help but like his sense of humor. I don’t know if you remember when we talked about Woody Allen books I was reading — in 1981!! I keep a list so I can remember 🙂 Anyway, I bet the one you read in December was pretty good!

    • davidallen909

      I’ve forgotten, not surprisingly, but if you were reading Getting Even, Without Feathers and/or Side Effects, his three essay collections, those were/are brilliant and had a big influence on me, and I was reading them around ’80-82 too!

      • Terri Shafer

        Yes — Getting Even and Side Effects! Loved those!

  • Terri Shafer

    Well, I got to 13 in December. But I think I’m going to decrease my goal for 2018 because I’m going to try to tackle several of the LOOONG classics that I’ve been putting off. I hope I can do it! I’ve started with Doctor Zhivago 🙂

    December, 2017:
    The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands – Stephen King, 1991
    Wow! I hadn’t read Books #1 & #2 since 1989 (!), and I didn’t know if I’d remember enough to know what was going on. But the lead-in to Book #3 gave enough explanations for me to figure out quite a bit so it turned out to be pretty easy get back into it. I listened to the audio book (Frank Muller did a phenomenal job!!) and the 18 hours went by in a flash. It is fast-moving and action-packed, and I’m going to try not to wait 30 more years to get on with this series!

    Artemis – Andy Weir, 2017
    Another wonderful book by Andy Weir! This one is different than “The Martian” but it is still filled with his marvelous sense of humor that kept me laughing out loud!
    It is the story of Jazz Bashara who is a smuggler on the moon — yes, she lives on the moon. And she is quite a character! She is very smart, talented, and skilled in many areas, and it really gets her into trouble! There is lots of drama, intrigue, and action in this book. And if you read “The Martian” you know how much technical and scientific information he puts in (you can skim over the detailed lessons on welding and not miss too much!), so it is my opinion that this will make an even better movie than a book. Even though a lot of the information his includes is pretty interesting, such as
    specifics on living in the moon’s atmosphere as compared to the earth, the difference in the gravity there and all the things they have to do to make the moon livable. Andy Weir seems to have thought of every detail. So put on your seat belt and hang on — it’s a wild ride! 🙂

    The Pecan Man – Cassie Dandridge Selleck, 2013
    This is a very well-told (and well-written) fictional story of a woman’s part in sending a man to prison — for something he did not do. It takes place in the south in the 1970’s through 2000. Ora Lee Beckworth (57 years old at the beginning of the story) tells the history of a tangled story that happened kind of suddenly, about the decisions that were made and lies that were told at the time, and how it affected all involved over the next twenty five years.
    It is a sad story and a happy story. It moves along very quickly, is not very long, and leaves the reader with a warm feeling. And the best part is Ora Lee herself! She is feisty and confident, but never lets others know how unsure of herself she is. But when she takes the bull by the horns, she really gets things done!
    I had not heard of this book before and only read it because it was a “book club pick.” But I’m really glad I did and highly recommend it to others! I think you’ll love it 🙂 (David, I recommended it to your mom!)

    Sourdough – Robin Sloan, 2017
    I enjoyed this exciting tale of — wait for it — baking bread! It was kind of strange and magical, but very interesting! I just wish I could have tasted some of that bread 🙂

    Dead Wake – Erik Larson, 2015
    A very interesting history of the sinking of the Lusitania. I found out a lot about WWI which I was glad to learn.

    Turtles All the Way Down – John Green, 2017
    This YA novel, through the eyes and thoughts of high school student, Aza, tries to convey to the reader how a mental illness feels in a person’s head. And it’s pretty scary, and difficult, but still hopeful. I have heard the author speak of his own battle with mental illness, and he says that this story mirrors his own struggles, and he wanted to let others know how it feels.
    Above and beyond that, though, the book includes a mystery that Aza helps to solve, along with friendship and dating issues.
    I thought it was very good, and I recommend it.

    The Cricket on the Hearth – Charles Dickens, 1845
    I loved this, and it made me realize how much I have been missing Charles Dickens (since I haven’t read him for awhile)! I love his wordplay, fun with language, and his sense of humor overall.
    It’s a very, very sweet story about couples in love that think that they are each cheating on each other, and there’s a blind girl and a cricket, and then they’re not cheating on each other, and they all live happily ever after….oh, sorry for the spoilers — but it’s Charles Dickens. What were you expecting?!
    I don’t mean to be flip about this story, but I really liked it and it put me in a good mood. I hope you have as much fun with it as I did 😉

    Dear Fahrenheit 451 – Annie Spence, 2017
    This is a fun read! This librarian writes letters to books and tells them what they have meant to her in her life: some inspiring, some scary, some boring, some need to be discarded off the library shelves (they just never get checked out!)! This author’s sense of humor makes this a rollicking ride with lots of recommendations and some warnings. Anyone who reads will enjoy this light-hearted but earnest book — about books!

    The Innocence of Father Brown – G.K. Chesterton, 1911
    I enjoyed these short story mysteries all solved by Father Brown! He’s a quiet, unassuming priest who observes everything and puts it all together to solve the mystery. He reminds me a little bit of Miss Marple 😉

    The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende, 1982
    I had to work really hard to finish this book — almost 500 hundred pages! I thought it would never end. And I kept feeling bad because everyone seems to love it, and I just didn’t like it at all! I understand that it is magic realism. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude this year, and although I liked it well enough, I didn’t need another one almost like it. But I still get to mark it off my list!!

    Messenger, 2004 & Son, 2012 (Books #3 & #4, The Giver Series) – Lois Lowry
    I am so glad I finished this series! I really liked The Giver and thought I liked it enough to let it stand alone. However, after reading the next three books, I’m so glad to see how it ended! The next stories, which seem at first to have no connection to The Giver, finally come together and all is explained. And they are all so quick and easy to read. I would especially recommend this series to Middle School age kids, but I really think anyone/everyone can enjoy this series, and also learn from it 🙂

    The Black Tulip – Alexander Dumas, 1850
    I very much enjoyed this tale of drama around the development, growth, theft, and recovery of the Black Tulip in Holland of the 1670’s. Throw in some romance and suspense, fear, hatred, and forgiveness, and add in a prison and a couple of mentions of the guillotine, and you have Dumas’ formula for a very exciting and tantalizing story. Read it — It’s fun!!

    • davidallen909

      You had a good month, Terri, and a good mix. We’re awaiting Doug Evans’ comments, but from conversation I believe he read one of the same books as you this month. What are the odds?

      • Doug Evans

        I did, in fact! But… I’m going to keep everyone in suspense. Well, everyone but David, since he knows the book. Getting started with the new school semester, which means I’m behind in the reading log, but I’m enjoying reading the comments and replies and plan to post my own very soon!

        • Terri Shafer

          We’re waiting with bated breath…..

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      Innocence of Father Brown was a few months back for me. Dead Wake is my most recent start, but for a change the dog decided to walk instead of just sniff so I did not get past the first page.

  • Doug Evans

    I’m here! I read four books last month! Making it 70 for the year; 12 less than last year, but I’ll still claim it.

    “Alone in Berlin” by Hans Fallada (1947). Alternately titled: “Every Man Dies Alone”, so pick whichever upbeat title you prefer. A German exchange student that we hosted six years ago gave me this book the first day we met her. That means I’ve had this book since September, 2011, and it’s one of the ones in the Giant Stack of Unread Books I’d felt the most guilty about never having read. I finally read it! A novel based on a true story of a German couple who lose a child in World War II and undertake a surreptitious campaign of composing anti-Hitler postcards and leaving them in various places around Berlin for others to find. The story doesn’t end well, either for the fictitious couple in the book or their real-life counterparts, but it does end up being an inspiring story of people choosing to do the right thing, no matter how small and no matter how severe the consequences. The author, Fallada, was himself under suspicion during the whole Nazi reign, spent time in a psychiatric institution, was addicted to alcohol and morphine, wrote this book in a blazing fast 24 days and died a few days before it was published. None of that sounds very cheerful, which is maybe why it took me so long to finally get around to reading this book, but I’m very glad I did. (I let our German host daughter know that I finally read her book!)

    “Wonder Boys” by Michael Chabon (1995). Another one from the Giant Stack. A college professor and author cheating on his third wife and suffering from writer’s block has adventures. That description wouldn’t on its own make me want to read the book (what’s more boring than an author writing about an author trying to write a book?), but I like Chabon’s writing, and this book turned out to be a lot of fun. A glimpse behind the scenes: a friend found my copy of this (as yet unread) book on my bookshelf, asked to borrow it, really liked it, and it was thanks to her recommendation that I finally sat down and read it. Thanks, friend!

    “Wonder Valley” by Ivy Pochoda (2017). Two books with the word “Wonder” in the title in the same month! Not part of any grand plan. This got a strong recommendation in the LA Times, so I ordered an ebook copy from the library and read it when it came in (showed up in my inbox, more accurately). An entertaining noir-type story that takes place over two alternating timelines in two locales: Downtown LA and Wonder Valley, a fictional setting in the desert just outside Joshua Tree. (Update as I type: I just looked it up. It’s not fictional. Apologies, Wonder Valley!) Anyway, a fun read, and for another behind the scenes glimpse: I finished this book while staying in a hotel in Santa Monica, where we spent three days with friends over the winter break, and the final scenes in the book take place in Santa Monica. I could look right outside my hotel window to see where everything happened! Kind of.

    “Cricket on the Hearth” by Charles Dickens (1846). Hey, it’s the book that Terri read! I read all those Dickens novels several years ago (and got my name in the paper!) but I have never read all of Dickens’ Christmas stories, which seems like a deficiency on my part. I read “The Christmas Carol” a few years back, and talked about it here on the blog, but I’ve decided to tackle the remaining stories one by each year until I get through them. I maybe didn’t get as much out of this book as Terri did (I prefer cranky Scrooge to these slightly too-sweet characters), but Dickens is always a great writer, and it’s always fun to lose oneself in nineteenth century London, especially at Christmastime.

    Looking forward to the year-end round-up! Hello to the new commenters on here, Happy New Year to the regulars, and happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      At last it can be told: Cricket on the Hearth is the shared book this month! What a weight off my mind to have this secret out in the world. OK, maybe it wasn’t so bad.

      For Terri and anyone else’s edification, my column on Doug and Dickens can be read here:

      https://www.dailybulletin.com/2015/01/22/chino-hills-man-had-a-dickens-of-a-reading-plan/

      (It was published three years ago this month. I’m surprised it’s still online, but glad of it.)

      I haven’t read any of yours and had the same thought about Wonder Boys that you had going in. In fact I sold my unread copy. There are plenty more floating around used bookstores and libraries if I ever decide to try it.

      • Terri Shafer

        Nice article, David! I must read more Dickens!

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      Wonder Boys was first Chabon, K&K my second in 2013 or before, and Yiddish Policeman’s Union in my unread pile. I liked it, enough I was willing to tackle K&K within a year of acquiring it.

      Wonder Valley does not ring a bell with me as SBC, but I probably noticed it on a map. The name is to generic to stick in one’s head like Lucerne Valley, a combination of a moderately uncommon name known to many of us for dairy products.

    • Terri Shafer

      “Cricket on the Hearth”! Yay!
      I love how much you’ve put into your Charles Dickens reading! I just read David’s article — so cool! I’ve read 5 of Dickens’ (the 4 big ones plus “Hard Times”) and would like to read some more. I have “Bleak House” on my list for this year — we’ll see!

  • davidallen909

    Richard, thanks for participating as usual and my apologies for not realizing your comment was stuck in the “moderation” queue. (Our ultra-sensitive software flagged it because of Mr.Rutan’s first name — sheesh.)

    I’ve read the Nick Adams Stories and share your opinion. Adams wasn’t much of a character, but he was in a few excellent stories, like Big Two-Hearted River, The Killers and the Three-Day Blow. I love the bit in the latter where he’s drunk but to show he’s sober he collects all the spilled peaches and carefully puts them back in the can, even the ones from far underneath the stove, ha ha.

  • Terri Shafer

    Richard, I really liked The Accidental Tourist (read it in 1986!!!). I have read all of Anne Tyler’s books. Her characters are all so quirky. I like her a lot.
    I also read Peter Pan this year (I mean 2017). Interesting character — a little scary too!