Reading Log: October 2018

Books acquired: “Ritchie Valens: The First Latino Rocker,” Beverly Mendheim; “Our Towns,” James and Deborah Fallows

Books read: “The Doom That Came to Sarnath and Other Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft; “Echo Round His Bones,” Thomas M. Disch; “Banking on Beauty,” Adam Arenson; “O Pioneers!” Willa Cather

Did we all remember to turn back our clocks, or were we too busy reading? Anyway, welcome to another Reading Log, where the frost is on the pumpkin, or it would be if it weren’t 84 degrees outside.

Personally, I finished four books in October. I did not “fall” down on the job. Three fiction, one nonfiction. To wit:

“The Doom That Came to Sarnath” was my annual H.P. Lovecraft read. This was made up of early fantasy stories in the mode of Lord Dunsany, a couple of collaborations, a poem and a few pre-Cthulhu stories. Overall, the weakest of the eight HPL collections I’ve read. The notes by editor Lin Carter do help put it all into context.

“Echo Round His Bones” (1967) was my sort-of-annual Thomas Disch read. In this one, a military man is dispatched via matter transmitter to the Mars base to deliver the top-secret message that America’s nuclear arsenal should be released against the Russians. But the transmission process is flawed and a duplicate of everyone is created for a shadow world. The anti-war message, and anti-Vietnam War message in particular (in 1967 no less), is commendable. The explanations of the matter transmission and the “echoes” it creates are pretty much impossible to follow, and Disch’s authorial voice as narrator is intrusive. Interesting, but neither here nor there: too complicated for light entertainment and too cheerful for literary fiction.

(Incidentally, I bought a bunch of the hard-to-find Disch books five years ago at a used bookstore in Goleta and have now read four — only one of which I liked. I’m beginning to regret the whole exercise. Except that chronologically, the next one is a classic. We shall see.)

“Banking on Beauty” (2018) was the subject of a column earlier this year. It’s about the partnership of Millard Sheets and Howard Ahmanson that produced the artsy Home Savings branches around Southern California in particular. It’s well illustrated and rigorously researched. It’s a bit much for the general reader, if any there are, but the book fills a gap in midcentury modern architecture history and tells a uniquely suburban SoCal tale of art and good taste being brought to the masses via a philanthropic businessman and an artist who was happy to sign on with a corporate client.

Lastly, “O Pioneers!” (1913) is a classic by Willa Cather spanning about three decades in the settlement of a Nebraska town. Even at a slim 180 pages, her novel has an epic heroine, one who outshines her petty, small-minded brothers in business. Cather’s descriptions of the Nebraska landscape are loving and lovely and her sketches of the Swedes, Germans and Czechs who settled the prairie so far from their home are enlightening and empathetic.

So “Pioneers” was the month’s clear winner, and also the one more of you are likely to have already read or to consider reading. Although I’d bet Rich P. has read “Echo.”

But what of you all? What did you read in October?

As for how these books entered my life, “Echo” was bought at Goleta’s Paperback Alley in 2013, “Sarnath” came from DTLA’s Last Bookstore in 2017, “O Pioneers!” came from Borders (RIP) — I’d have said circa 2011, but as it doesn’t show up in a search of this blog, maybe more like 2007 — and “Banking” was contributed by Claremont Heritage (I was writing about Adam Arenson’s Heritage-related visit to town) in 2018.

My four books made this, I think, my last big month of 2018. There’s a good chance I’ll only finish four or five over the last two months of this year, including two relatively complex nonfiction volumes, my oldest unread books, that I really want to read before another year goes by. Do you have any year-end reading goals?

Next month: a hairy time.

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  • Doug Evans

    I read three!

    “The Girls” by Emma Cline (2016). The “It” book of two years ago. Cline tells a fictionalized version of the Manson murders, told from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl from an unhappy home who stumbles across a group of people who call themselves the “Family” who invite her in and accept her for who she is and then go off and kill some people. Which, intriguing plot, but waaaay too overwritten for my taste. Whether you like this book or not may depend on who you are. A lot of female reviewers I’ve read (Doug: cite sources) like the first half of the book, describing our main character’s disaffected childhood, and were turned off by the second half of the book, describing the lead-up to and the aftermath of the murders. I had the exact opposite reaction. Reading about a suburban teen being bored is not why I read, but I suppose those reviewers don’t read too many books about robots and spaceships, so it all evens out. Further: just about every review talks about Cline’s writing as “gorgeous” and “poetic,” Way too many metaphors, and not in a fun, Chandler-esque way, and way way too many sentence fragments used to end paragraphs. Is that poetic, or an affectation? Examples!

    “She lay back on the bed, studying her nails. Pinching the skin of her upper arm.”

    “I was distracted by their tales of sorrows, both harrowing and banal. Complaints of evil fathers and cruel mothers, a similarity to the stories that made us all feel like victims of the same conspiracy.”

    “When I looked at Teddy’s freckled face, a surge of impulsive, virtuous affection passed through me—he was like a little brother. The gentle way he’d mothered the barn kitten.”

    And my favorite, after our protagonist has stolen some money: “The sun and trees and blond hills beyond seemed to promise great freedoms, and I could already start to forget what I’d done, washed over by other concerns. The pleasing meaty rectangle of the folded bills in my pocket.” (What on earth?)

    Anyway: not recommended, but again, many people love it. And, for the record: I read this for a book club, and this was my pick. The regret for choosing the wrong book.

    “A Clash of Kings” by George R.R. Martin (1999). Here I am with Book Two of the A Song of Ice and Fire series! (Book One being “A Game of Thrones”.) As I shared last month, I decided on impulse back in August to reread these, on the possibly overly-optimistic assumption that the long-awaited Book Six will be coming sometime soon, and I’m enjoying the heck out of them, though they have slowed my monthly count way down. As I babbled about last time, reading the series, then watching the TV show, then re-reading the series is the way to go with these books. So many references and foreshadowings that you’ll flat out miss the first time through (when you’re not supposed to know what’s coming anyway, so it’s fine). I’ve also found a blog written by a guy who has read through the series ten times ( who writes a review after each chapter, which has further slowed my reading, since after I read a chapter I go to his blog to see interpretations and connections that I’ve missed (usually: all of them). Totally fun, but it’s doubling my reading time. I’d actually hoped to finish Books Two and Three in time for this month’s blog, but I’m only halfway through Book Three, so… it’s going slower than I thought.

    I did enjoy Richard P’s comment last month about how “the best part of GOT was reaching the back cover so I could say that was it.” I obviously disagree, but that did make me laugh!

    “Gone Tomorrow” by Lee Child (2009). Reading the Game of Thrones books didn’t stop from my reading my monthly Jack Reacher book! This is number 13 in the series, and if I stopped to think about it, I could probably remember the plot. One doesn’t read these so much for character growth and relatable situations but rather to get caught up in the action and then put the book down and move on with one’s life, and with that goal in mind, these books are more than succeeding. At least with me. All those reviewers who loved “The Girls” might not agree.

    I’m up to 50 books for the year! My total for 2017 was 70, and the year before that, 82. I’m not going to hit that this year. Blame George R.R. Martin! And that blog guy (the GOT guy, not David Allen).

    Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      I won’t even get to 50. But I’m reading happily!

      GRRM *is* releasing an “in-universe” GOT book…as you probably know?

    • Terri Shafer

      Doug, thanks for the info on “The Girls.” I have seen it around so much but wasn’t sure if I should/would read it — I won’t! Thanks for reading it for us so we don’t have to suffer through it!! 🙂

    • Terri Shafer

      Doug, thanks for the info on “The Girls.” I have seen it around so much but wasn’t sure if I should/would read it — I won’t! Thanks for reading it for us so we don’t have to suffer through it!! 🙂

      • Doug Evans

        You’re welcome! But keep it mind, it was almost universally praised upon publication, so maybe my review shouldn’t be the last word… On the other hand, life’s too short to read bad books, so feel free to stick with my recommendation and give it a miss!

  • Doug Evans

    I haven’t read any of your books, David, but I found the column where you visited all those bookstores and bought the Thomas Disch books:

    I’m curious about someday reading Disch, and “O Pioneers!” has always struck me as a classic I should read but haven’t. Query! You mention finding a Willa Cather book in that same Goleta bookstore that you almost bought but didn’t. “O Pioneers!” perchance, or did you already own that one?

    • davidallen909

      I mentioned finding a Thomas Disch book in that bookstore that I almost bought but didn’t. That was “On Wings of Song,” and I later bought it elsewhere…but haven’t read it.

      • Doug Evans

        True, but a couple of paragraphs before that, you wrote: “I quickly found a Willa Cather novel that would serve as a pity purchase if necessary. But it wasn’t.” No big deal, of course; I just thought it would be funny… amusing? mildly diverting?… if you ended up actually reading the Willa Cather book (not the same copy, naturally, since you didn’t purchase the one at Goleta) in a reading log that also mentioned one of the Disch books. Now that I typed it all out… it’s not all that funny. Or even mildly diverting. However, I really enjoyed that column, and it was fun finding it and reading it again!

        • davidallen909

          Oh, I see what you mean. (I had skimmed the column too quickly and didn’t see Cather’s name.) I realize I forgot my usual paragraph about where these books came from. I will go back and add that!

          And thanks for finding that column. It was a favorite and I’m a little surprised it’s still online after five years.

  • Terri Shafer

    David, Yes, of course, I have read “O Pioneers!”! And I loved it! I read it at OCC with Dr. Paddick (did you have him for any literature classes?). Anyway, I really enjoy Willa Cather and plan to read more of hers in the very near future 🙂

    • davidallen909

      I really liked Mr. (he wasn’t Dr. then) Paddick and had him for two or three classes. He was a quirky but interesting teacher who seemingly would rather have been in a university setting than a junior college. When he called on us, it was always “Mr. This” or “Ms. That.” He visited NYC every summer for cultural enrichment.

      He told me the three best novels were Emma, Bleak House and Middlemarch. Or maybe simply the three best English novels. I think I mentioned that on this blog a few months ago without dropping who had said it.

      • Terri Shafer

        Yes, he was very interesting! And now that you say that, I’m not sure if he had his doctorate or not ( I would have had him before you), it’s been so long but I thought I heard him referred to as “Dr.” at some point. I might have to ask your dad if he remembers 🙂

  • Terri Shafer

    David, Yes, of course, I have read “O Pioneers!”! And I loved it! I read it at OCC with Dr. Paddick (did you have him for any literature classes?). Anyway, I really enjoy Willa Cather and plan to read more of hers in the very near future 🙂

  • Terri Shafer

    David, Yes, of course, I have read “O Pioneers!”! And I loved it! I read it at OCC with Dr. Paddick (did you have him for any literature classes?). Anyway, I really enjoy Willa Cather and plan to read more of hers in the very near future 🙂

  • Terri Shafer

    My favorite this month was:
    God and Mr. Gomez by Jack Smith, 1974, 261 pgs, 5★s
    Wonderful book! Thank you guys for recommending Jack Smith to me!!
    I loved this story of Los Angeles journalist, Jack Smith, and his wife, Denny, having a vacation home built in the late 1960’s in Baja California by Mr. Gomez. It was adventurous (the Mexican roads were terrible!), mysterious (was the house really theirs, should they trust Mr. Gomez with the deeds?), with a little danger (rattlesnake alert!), and a lot of Jack’s dry humor thrown in (will they have water? will the refrigerator work? why does the fireplace smoke up the whole house? Mr. Gomez’s response: “It will be fine. You will still be living here in five hundred years.” 😉
    I highly recommend this book, I enjoyed reading it every day, and am missing it already 🙂

    The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1890, 129 pgs, 4★s
    I enjoyed this Sherlock Holmes story. And even though we get so much of him nowadays on TV and in movies, it’s fun to read the original!

    Penelope: A Comedy in Three Acts by W. Somerset Maugham, 1912, 155 pgs, 3★s
    Such a cute little play about Penelope and how she deals with her unfaithful husband. Somerset Maugham does it again!

    The African Queen by C.S. Forester, 1935, 256 pgs, 4★s
    I loved this story of Rose & Charlie going down an African river (with rapids!) in an old beat up boat — “The African Queen.” Their goal is to get to the lake in central Africa where a German ship patrols (WWI) and try to torpedo it “for England!” As they travel down the river they encounter many exciting adventures, and also enjoy a very interesting, and sweet, relationship.

    I liked it a lot, but I was not quite satisfied with the ending, and thought “Why didn’t Forester write the ending as……” Well, come to find out I have seen the movie (45-50 years ago!!!), and as I looked up the movie ending, I found that that was the ending that I longed for! So, even though I do not remember much of the movie, something must have stuck.
    And although I kept imagining Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, the characters in the book did seem to have their own personalities (not just copies of the movie actors).

    One thing that I think the book had (and could delve more deeply into) that the movie didn’t, was Rose’s blossoming into a woman, realizing that her missionary brother was not the only kind of man in the world, and her appreciation for Charlie. Also, understanding Charlie’s need for Rose’s particular kind of love and bravery was heartwarming.

    All-in-all, there was much more to this book than just an adventurous trip down an African river! I highly recommend it!

    Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour, 1975, 208 pgs, 4★s
    What a raucous, swashbuckling adventure tale of the onset of the Sackett family starting in 1599!! I had never read anything by Louis L’Amour and was impressed with the writing style and skill (I don’t know what I expected!), and the action and adventure! Yes, it was a little far-fetched, but it really held the reader’s attention and was fast-paced, making you want to continue with the next book right away!
    I read this for Book Club, I really enjoyed it, and would recommend it, especially if you’ve been in a reading slump — this is a real pick-me-up!!

    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, 2001, 639 pgs, 4★s
    I enjoyed this story of cousins, Joe and Sammy, and their growing from childhood to adulthood in the comic book era.
    I liked the writing and the story and each of the characters. However, it was a little slow-paced and perhaps longer than it needed to be (IMO). Other than that, I am glad I finally read this one that had been on my list for a long time!

    Less by Andrew Sean Greer, 2017, 273 pgs, 3.5★s
    I’ll give this a weak 3.5 stars. It is the story of Arthur Less, an author who is going around the world to find himself — or lose himself. Interesting enough, but didn’t knock me off my feet. I did enjoy the writing style though. I just expected a little more from a Pulitzer Prize winner.

    Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), 2018, 647 pgs, 4★s
    I enjoyed this continuation of the story of Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin. And I look forward to the next installment. I gave it 4 stars because I like the main characters so much.
    That being said, this one was a little long and drawn out. The other books were 450 – 500 pages and this one was a hefty 650. It gave lots of details that finished a little abruptly in the last two chapters. When I read book #3 I didn’t want it to end! I was ready for this one to end….

    Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, 1895, 418 pgs, 4★s
    This turned out to be pretty deep — the pressures of society end up overcoming the main characters. If you’ve read Thomas Hardy before, you probably already know that this will not be a happy book. However, it is one that will really make you think!

    • davidallen909

      Terri, I’ve read an alarming number of your books: Jude, Kavalier, Sign of the Four and Mr. Gomez. I’m happy you enjoyed Jack Smith so much!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    Of David’s books, I have not ready any, even the Disch.

    As best I remember, of Disch’s best I read 334, On Wings of Song, and Brave Little Toaster (inititial publication in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction). All worth reading, but Toaster only because it was so much fun.

    I read a different Lovecraft collection, and Pioneers not yet. Banking is a book I would pick up and read if I came across it cheap.

    • davidallen909

      I have 334 and On Wings of Song (and The Prisoner, Camp Concentration, Fundamental Disch and The Man Who Had No Idea) awaiting me.

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    16 in October, 8 NF and 8 F, my most numerous month here. I have a theme this month, discovered in preparing this comment: 9 books have titles beginning with “The “. Isn’t that an amazing coincidence, since I did not try to do this?


    Standard Operating Procedure. Philip Gourevitch, 2008. This is about the well publicized torture and captivity of largely non-combatant prisoners of US military in Iraq in the first few years of the second US land invasion. I was unimpressed with Gourevitch’s effort. He added little to what was widely published when this was exposed.

    Iceland. Franz-Karl von Linden et al (text), Hel Weyer, von Linden (photos), 1974. This is a German publication marking the millenial of the settlement of Iceland. Icelandic authors wrote most chapters. Geology leads, biology and history are also prominent. Worth reading for an Icelander descendant like me; I liked it.

    In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Michael Pollan, 2007. Pollan criticizes the food industry push to substitute known nutritional ingredients as a substitute for what is not known in detail. Eat real food, more plants, less animal stuff.

    The Right Thing. Scott Weddle, 2003. US submarine captain drove his sub into a fishing boat, sinking it and killing most aboard. He does not figure out it was not just a tragic mistake.

    The Big Thirst: The Marvels, Mystery, and Madness Shaping the New Era of Water. Charles Fishman, 2010

    • davidallen909

      I read Pollan’s book a few years back and, while I’m not sure I’m eating more plants as a result, the philosophy did stick.

      • Richard_Pietrasz

        I noticed a while back, but at least a couple of years after it happened, your friend and colleague New Diner Guy converted to the all plant diet. I was still a relatively young man with a desk job who liked to eat a lot but did not want to get fat that plant food fills the belly with a lot fewer calories.

        I have met few authors of books I have read, but I have a coincidence story involving bibliography/reference sections of two books and my household. One of the scientists featured in Tuxedo Park was Lee DuBridge, whose memoirs of the time were recorded and read by author Jennet Conant, who did interview him apparently. I had a brief conversation with DuBridge in 1982; we sat next to each other in a lecture by Hanoo Kanamori, a seismic scientist. A Kanamori authored paper is referenced in the Alaska earthquake book. Closely related, but not in the literary world, a graduate of the Institute of that lecture is visiting my (formerly her) home. When one reads a lot, many coincidences occur, many of which are not random.

  • Richard_Pietrasz


    Snow. Orhan Pamuk, 2002. This is a complicated novel with revolutionary Turkish politics and age 40ish male female relation. I am not sure what to think, and many critics like it.

    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Junot Diaz, 2007. Another highly acclaimed novel, about the expat Dominican Republic community and the home one. I am also not sure what to think of this, but I could relate more closely.

    The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath, 1963. As a novel, this is weird. As a more or less memoir of suicidal depression, it is deservedly a classic.

    The Sands of Windee. Arthur Wupfield, 1931. Crime fiction featuring a half aborigine dectective named Napoleon who is very good and only does intetsting cases; it is an interesting story set in the Australian outback. There is both racial sterotyping and understanding.

    The Stars Like Dust. Isaac Asimov, 1951. Asimov’s first novel written as such, it was his least favorite and mine for good reason. We are all entitled to learning curve.

    The Phantom of the Opera. Gaston Leroux, 1910. The first half or so had good parts but dragged some, but the last third was really good.

    The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories. Sarah Orne Jewitt, 1896. This was assembled, introduced, and highly recommended by Willa Cather. I have learned not to read intros due to spoilers, and once I read the book I do not bother to catch up most often. Mostly old ladies in southern half of coastal Maine do social calls and nothing really happens of any importance. Jewitt did something right, as even I am among the many who enjoyed this.

    Beloved. Toni Morrison, 1987. This is a weird ghost story, complicated by jumps in time place and reality. I think it could have been signicantly better, but it is still a powerful novel.

    • davidallen909

      I read Phantom in the early ’00s and remember liking it, which is about all I remember. I own signed novels by Pamuk and Diaz, but not those ones, gained at Claremont speaking engagements, and have yet to read either.

      That Jewett book was supposed to be read for a college class of mine, one with enough books on the docket that we weren’t really expected, or wouldn’t be tested, on them all. Post-college, I read only a few pages before her style turned me off and I abandoned it. That probably wasn’t fair.

      The intro to O Pioneers! — which I read after the novel, knowing it would indiscriminately spoil the story — said Jewett prodded Cather to leave her magazine staff job and pursue fiction full-time. So we both thought about Jewett in October.

      • Richard_Pietrasz

        Required reading often brings about distaste, especially if students are expected to analyze the work excessively. And some books are best enjoyed by most readers later in life, and Jewitt fits that category.

        My nonfiction list is likely in your moderation queue.

        • davidallen909

          Retrieved! — along with a September followup comment of yours.

    • Terri Shafer

      Richard, I read The Bell Jar in high school, The Phantom only recently & enjoyed it, and Beloved last year and didn’t liked it at all!
      But I also wanted to let you know that I just now finished “King Leopold’s Ghost” that you recommended in relation to Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness.” So interesting!! It certainly explained a lot. I really did not know anything about the history of the Congo or Africa in general, and I learned so much! Thanks a lot for the heads up on that one 🙂

      • Richard_Pietrasz

        I suspected I led you to read King Leopold’s Ghost. He has other major books too.

        We do influence each others’ readimg choices, although not explitly in most cases. I read Prisoner of Zenda after you brought it up, for one example

        • Terri Shafer

          Good! I like recommendations from others and am happy when they enjoy books that I’ve suggested also! 🙂

  • DebB

    This month I continued (and finished) Clara Benson’s Angela Marchmont series, begun in September. I read books 5 through 10, plus a couple short stories – one a prequel and one a Christmas story that takes place after Mrs. Marchmont returns to America and (theoretically) gives up detecting. I enjoyed this series and was sorry to see it end.

    As a result, I picked up A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia, the first book in the same author’s series about Freddy Pilkington-Soames. Freddy started as a character in the Marchmont books and now has his own series. While I enjoyed it, I’m not sure Freddy quite does it for me. I started the second book but it’s going slowly.

    I haven’t read any of David’s books, but of the other’s books, I’ve read The Phantom of the Opera and The Sign of Four. Loved the Phantom movie, so the book was a little tame. But Doyle’s Sherlock is always good reading!

    I’m now into full Christmas gift- and decoration-making mode, so I’m not sure how much more reading I’ll get to the rest of this year. And those pesky (admittedly formulaic) Hallmark Channel Christmas movies – difficult to read when those are on!

    • davidallen909

      Thanks for contributing, Deb, and we’ll see you here the next time we see you — if not during the holiday season, then in the new year.

  • Dara Allen

    In answer to David’s and Terri’s question about Mr. or Dr. Paddick, Ken says he “thinks” it is Dr.!

    • Terri Shafer

      Thank you, Dara!! 🙂