Reading Log: June 2018

Books acquired: “Europe Through the Back Door,” Rick Steves

Books read: “Make Room! Make Room!,” Harry Harrison; “The Door Into Summer,” Robert Heinlein; “Knockin’ on Dylan’s Door,” the editors of Rolling Stone; “The Glass Key,” Dashiell Hammett; “Re-Enter Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer

June was a good month: I read five books, in a sequence I had sketched out four or five years ago. (If you read the titles, they almost form a little narrative of their own.) It took me getting to the 12th book in the Fu Manchu series for me to pull it off.

These five books averaged 200 pages, or a bit less, so the retirees among you might have polished them off in five or six days. Oh, to have read them in a week or so, and have had another 15 or 20 books of the same complexion ahead of me! Still, I’m happy to have read these and crossed them off my various lists.

By the way, it didn’t occur to me until putting this post together that even my lone book purchase of June fits the theme. That was unintentional. But funny.

In short: “Make Room!” (1966) is a classic dystopian novel about a miserably overcrowded NYC faced with food and water shortages. It was the basis for the movie “Soylent Green,” but does not have cannibalism as an element. It’s worth reading.

“Door Into Summer” (1957) involves a man in 1970 cryogenically frozen to wake up in the glorious world of 2000, but who also has some unfinished business in the past to resolve via time travel. It’s a little complicated, but enjoyable. The narrator even visits Riverside and Big Bear.

“Dylan’s Door” (1974) is a collection of Rolling Stone reportage about the singer-songwriter’s 1974 tour after eight years off the road. Very inessential, obviously. When this book came out, only a handful of Dylan books existed, and I used to see it in bibliographies and wonder about it. It was fun to finally stumble across a copy and to have read it.

“Glass Key” (1931) is one of Hammett’s five novels, with only “The Thin Man” still to be written. (I’ve read all but “The Dain Curse.”) “Key” is about a political fixer and his pal who is not a detective but who is shrewd enough to figure out a murder plot anyway. Unconventional but very good.

“Re-Enter” (1957) is the 12th of 14 Fu Manchu books. Yet another narrator loses his head over a mysterious woman (this happens in nearly each book), and Fu tries to double-cross the commies to help the U.S. with a kind of missile defense shield. It’s one of the lesser entries in the series.

“Make Room!” and “Glass Key” were the winners this month. As far as their purchase, it looks like all five date to the pre-blog period of the ’00s, when I was buying a lot of books and reading very few. So they’ve been waiting for me patiently.

How was your June, readers? Let us know what you read and what you thought in the comments section. I’ve already finished two books for July, but I also have to pause to study up in advance of a late-August vacation.

Next month: a little housekeeping of a lost rancho.

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  • DebB

    It looks like I read quite a few this month, since I had lots of resting time after surgery mid-month. I have been going back through some old books in my Kindle, re-reading a few of them and then purchasing the newer books in the series and reading those. So…

    Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries (a cozy series) by Maria Hudgins: I had the first four, so I read those and then purchased and read nos. 5 & 6. I enjoyed these partly because of the protagonist (Dotsy Lamb) and partly because of their varied locations around the world.

    Marge Christensen mystery series (another cozy) by Patricia K. Batta: I had just the first one, and enjoyed that enough to purchase the remaining 5. But as I got farther along I started noticing a little deterioration in both the books and the writing. Sometimes it seemed as if the printed books had been fed through an OCR and no one went back to check that all the words were correct. So in places it read a little like auto-correct on a phone. In one book a whole chapter was repeated. Then the writing also got a little careless – the amateur detective suddenly knew a clue that only the police knew. Or all of them suddenly knew a clue that hadn’t been revealed to us. I found myself thinking “how do you know that?” I don’t know if there will be more books, but I’m not sure I’d bother to read them.

    Then I read two that were completely new to me:

    Site Unseen (Emma Fielding Mysteries) by Dana Cameron. This was made into a movie on the Hallmark Channel, but I wanted to read it anyway. I mostly enjoyed it and will probably read more.

    The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway Mysteries) by Elly Griffiths. The story was a little strange: a child disappears, then 10 years later another goes missing. This is where the book starts, and as the amateur detective helps to solve it, one of her cats is murdered. Online reviewers say this seems to be a theme in this series (ugh). And the whole tone of the book is dark and cynical. But the thing that bothered me most about the book was that it is almost entirely written in third person present tense, which really gets old quickly. I doubt I’ll read any more of these.

    I ended the month by revisiting my old friend Bernie Rhodenbarr, Lawrence Block’s gentleman burglar who turns, a little reluctantly, into a crime solver. I read the first book, Burglars Can’t be Choosers, and enjoyed it almost as much this third time through. This series is a hoot, good mysteries but pretty funny, too.

    I’m going to have to look for the Dashiell Hammett book. I enjoyed The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.

    • davidallen909

      “Burglars Can’t Be Choosers”! That’s funny.

      Re OCR, my publisher scans columns of mine for my last book (and the next one) and that was the first time I’d heard of OCR. And yes, weird little errors get introduced. You have to read the text closely to catch them!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    In terms of David’s books this month, I remember rating Make Room very highly, which is a bit more from previous rating decades lago. Glass Key was good not great by itself; for the best in political crime fiction read Ross Thomas. The Heinlein was not much when I previously reported. My lakluster previous opinion
    remains : so what

  • Terri Shafer

    Regarding your reading, David, I just read Make Room! last September and really enjoyed it! It made me think —
    After I read the book I watched the movie, which, as you stated was quite different than the cannibalistic Soylent Green. But fun to see what they thought the future would look like!

    I haven’t read any other of yours, but have read one Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land), but since that was years ago (1989!!), I don’t remember much about it. I don’t remember hating it though.

    I’ll report my reading soon!

  • Doug Evans

    I read four! One less than David NOT THAT THIS IS A COMPETITION.

    “Anansi Boys” by Neil Gaiman (2005). A sequel, of sorts, to Gaiman’s “American Gods,” now being filmed for its second season on a STARZ channel near you. In this one, the African spider god Anansi (called “Mr. Nancy” here) dies (spoiler for the first three pages) and his son, who doesn’t know he is the son of a god, deals with the consequences. Gaiman’s characters can occasionally be a bit twee, but he’s always a good writer and his stuff is always fun to read. Five stars from me on Goodreads!

    “Persuader” by Lee Child (2003). The seventh in the Jack Reacher series. In this one, as you can tell from the title (joking! you can’t tell anything from these titles), Jack Reacher and his folding toothbrush get involved in settling an old score with a guy whom Reacher thought he’d killed ten years ago. Also, the bad guys are smuggling drugs. Or something. Anyway! These books are simultaneously super fun and goofy as all get-out, and I’m gonna keep reading ’em.

    “The Moving Target” by Ross Macdonald (1949). The first of the long-lived Lew Archer private eye series. Really good, though Archer and the plot could have stepped right out of the pages of a Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler book (in fact, Archer’s named after Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s ill-fated partner in “The Maltese Falcon”). Apparently, at least according to Wikipedia, the books will get a little more psychologically dense as we go along. Unlike the Jack Reacher books, which I’m getting month by month from the library, I’m trying to collect the Lew Archer series, so it may be a while before I get to the next one. Macdonald originally published this one under his real name of Kenneth Millar, before he started to use the pen name “John Macdonald,” before confusion with the John D. MacDonald of Travis McGee fame led him to his final pseudonym “Ross Macdonald.” The More You Know!™

    “Dilvish, the Damned” by Roger Zelazny (1982). Hey, it’s Dilvish! That won’t mean anything to anyone but 12-year-old me, but: it’s Dilvish! I read a book back when I was about twelve called “The Changing Land,” about a guy named Dilvish who had spent two hundred years in hell and had come back to earth looking for revenge for the sorcerer that had banished him in the first place. I had the vague sense that I was in the middle of a story, but liked it nonetheless. Turns out, as I found out last month while browsing the shelves at Magic Door Used Books, that “The Changing Land” was a novel-length sequel to a series of short stories featuring Dilvish, originally published from 1965-1981. The stories were collected into a book called “Dilvish, the Damned,” which oddly enough was published the year after “The Changing Land,” which means anyone reading the two books in publication order was reading them backwards (like me! Also, I waited 35 years in between.) Enough back story! The original stories collected in “Dilvish” were a lot of fun, especially to the 12-year-old still inside of me, and since the Magic Door also had “The Changing Land,” look for my write-up of my reread of that next month. Oh: Dilvish has a demon horse made out of metal called “Black,” and they banter a lot. It’s pretty cool.

    As for David’s books! I’ve read books by Harrison, Heinlein, and Hammett, but not those books (“The Glass Key” is one that’s been in my Giant Stack of Unread Books for years, in a beautiful Everyman’s Library edition, no less). Congrats on knocking five books off your Giant Stack, David, and see you all here next month!


  • Terri Shafer

    I read kind of an unusual mix of books in June, and I see that several only got 3 stars. But:
    3 = I liked it
    4 = I liked it a lot
    5 = Superb!! Hit all the marks for me!
    So let’s start with a 5!!

    The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, 1894, 5★s
    I really enjoyed this tale of intrigue and suspense. No wonder there have been so many movies made of it since 1913!!

    The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad, 1910, 3★s
    Short story, it was pretty good (though I’m not a great Conrad fan).
    Description from Goodreads: “A young man sets out on his first voyage as captain, aboard a vessel and among a crew that are equally unfamiliar to him. A mysterious night-swimmer climbs aboard, and, in keeping the presence of this fugitive a secret, the skipper risks both his captaincy and the safety of his ship. A test of nerve in the Gulf of Siam ensues.” Worth the read!

    Half-Truths and Semi-Miracles by Anne Tyler, 2018, 3★s
    I enjoyed this short story about a woman who had the ability to heal people of their physical ills….sometimes.
    Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors, and I have read all of her books! But this wasn’t my favorite. I don’t think it was quite long enough to get a full characterization that would turn Susanna into one of Tyler’s unusually quirky personalities. And it didn’t have much of an ending. That said, it is a short story, and they don’t always have a full story or ending, IMO.
    I’m glad I read it, but I’m really looking forward to her new book “Clock Dance.”

    Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson, 1934, 3★s
    I really enjoyed this cute story of a woman (written and set in the 1930’s) living in an English village, needing money, who decides to write a book, which — to her surprise — is quickly published. She writes about what she knows, which is her village life, including all of her neighbors and friends! She does change their names, but unfortunately for her, they all read the book and figure out who she is writing about — and they are not happy!! And the fun and English village “drama” ensues 😉
    There is also a sequel “Miss Buncle Marries,” and I enjoyed this enough that I am going to go ahead and read it next. I hope it is as enjoyable as the first book.

    Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson, 1936, 3★s
    Another cute and relaxing read. I guess I’ll go for Book #3 “The Two Mrs. Abbotts” next 🙂

    The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian, 2018, 4★s
    I enjoyed this tantalizing tale of a flight attendant, who (by her own admission is a heavy drinker and fairly promiscuous – especially on her overseas flights) wakes up in Dubai to her lover having a slit throat and wondering if she might have done it! The story unfolds bit by bit and keeps you guessing as to what will happen next. I am a big Chris Bohjalian fan, and am glad to read another of his books!

    It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, 1935, 4★s
    Wow! Powerful! And scary…..
    Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite authors and he measured up to my expectations again.
    What really impressed me is that he wrote (published) this in 1935….before WWII! I know at that time they had been through WWI, the depression, and knew something was brewing in Germany. But this book is pretty shrewd and predictive for not knowing the future and the extent of what was about to come! And for being written 83 years ago, it is scary to read with what is happening today……

    Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark, 1981, 3★s
    This is a quirky and “darkly humorous” book about a woman living in London in 1949, trying to gather material for the book she is writing. She gets a job as the secretary for the ‘Autobiographical Association’ helping people “pre-write” their memoirs. Several unusual things happen, like the manuscript for her book getting stolen by the association’s director and the members of the group starting to play out scenes from her book!
    I had only read “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark, and liked it. But this was pretty different! It kind of had a postmodernism feel to me, which is not my favorite, but I was glad for this experience.

    Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, 1825, 3★s
    This novel in verse, was written beautifully (couldn’t quite figure out how the translator got the rhyming Russian translated into rhyming English — that must have been a chore!). However, since I was listening to the audio version, I’m sure that I didn’t give it the attention that it deserved, and I know I didn’t get enough of the story to appreciate it fully. However, Pushkin is so highly touted in Russian literature that I wanted to try something of his (and this one is supposedly Pushkin’s own favorite). I may try something of his that is not written verse sometime just to give him another try, but it may be awhile…

    West with the Night by Beryl Markham, 1942, 3★s
    Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman. Interesting story! I read Out of Africa last month and then this one was chosen for our Book Club read, so I ended up reading a lot of stories about living in Africa in the 1920’s and ’30’s. Ultimately, I enjoyed this one more than Isak Dinesen’s (which was just a collection of stories — I never could tell how they got a whole movie out of that one!). This one had a little more story to it and was a little easier for me to follow.
    I think that Beryl Markham was quite a colorful character during her time, and maybe would even be today!

    • davidallen909

      Terri, when you read this many books, the odds improve that we will have overlap. And we did: I’ve read and enjoyed It Can’t Happen Here (as you likely remember, as I read it last year) and Prisoner of Zenda (as you likely don’t, as I read it maybe three years ago). It was so much fun! And of course, from your comment below, you read one of mine this month, Make Room! Make Room!

      Thanks as always for your contributions here!

      • Terri Shafer

        Hey, just wanted to let you know that I had lunch with your parents today!! And we had such a good time. Also — they gave me a copy of your 2nd book! I can’t wait to read it! I’ve put it on my bookshelf between Thoreau’s Walden and Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 😉
        Also, our lunch server gave me his copy of “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch — so I came out pretty good “bookwise” at this lunch!!
        But mostly I always enjoy visiting with your parents, they are great people 🙂

        • davidallen909

          Ehh, they’re all right. 🙂

          I own Walden and Zen both and haven’t read either. Ugh!

          Hope you like Getting Started. (If you give it a BOMB rating, your comment may get mysteriously lost in the moderation system…)

          • Terri Shafer

            Hahaha!! I’ll let you know… 😉

  • davidallen909

    Thanks, Doug! So you’re going to read the two Dilvish books in the correct order, eh? That should be fun for you. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of the novel following the stories, even though I’d never heard of these books or this character before. Such is the power of the Reading Log.

    I have never read a Ross Macdonald, to my mild regret, and while I knew he was really Kenneth Millar, I did not know RM was his second attempt at a pen name. Yes, the mystery world is slightly confusing enough with a Ross and a John Mac (even with lower- and uppercase Ds). But two John Macs would be too, too much.

  • Terri Shafer

    Doug, I love Neil Gaiman’s books! I especially like to hear him read his own books, which is unusual because authors don’t often read their own books well. But he does a fantastic job!!
    I didn’t think I liked Anansi Boys quite as much as some of his others. However, from your comments I am now understanding that I read them out of order! I read this one two years before I read American Gods!! I’m sure I was not getting everything that was going on. I did like American Gods quite a bit though. Thanks for straightening me out!! 😉

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    Really late to “this” month’s party, but not compared to many remember when column comments, I finally add my baker’s dozen.


    Issac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, And The Deadliest Hurricane in History. Erik Larson, 1999. This is about the hurricane and flood in Galveston TX in 1900, the worst in USA history so far, no where near what has happened elsewhere. Larson’s earliest, and far from best, but above average for most writers.

    The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief. Ben McIntyre 1997. Worth was the inspiration for Moriarty of the Sherlock stories. Pretty good.

    In the Shadow of Man. Jane Goodall, 1971. This recounts the first expedition of Goodall into Africa studying chimpanzees. Must reading for the interested, at least OK for average readers.

    Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey From Oppression to Freedom. Yangzom Brauen 2009. Brauen’s mother and her mother made the walk, and the Chinese were oppressive but somehow the parasitic monks are not viewed from that perspective. OK, not a wasted read but hardly a must read.

    Dead Man Walking. Helen Prejean 1993. For those at all interested in the death penalty issue this is a must read. Innocence v guilt is not involved here. US Roman Catholic thinking on social issues is an important second issue.

    • davidallen909

      Never too late to weigh in and catch up. Interesting choices and nice range as usual, Richard. I’ve read Call, Zenda and Left Hand in the past few years, enjoying all three.

      • Richard_Pietrasz

        Or Wild Prisoner Darkness, add a few intermidiate letters and I think we may have a hit title.

        • davidallen909