Reading Log: January 2019

Books acquired: “Can and Can’tankerous,” Harlan Ellison

Books read: “Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 rpm Records,” Amanda Petrusich; “Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles,” Jonathan Gold; “After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame,” Lynell George

Belated January, readers. I can’t say I’m particularly excited to share my reading from January, for a couple of reasons. I finished the last book on Jan. 13, which seems like forever ago, and a bout with pneumonia, from which I’m still suffering as I type this, has not only separated this Reading Log further from my actual reading but sapped me of the usual enthusiasm.

Well, we must muddle on, mustn’t we? So here are summaries of my three January books, none of which have any relation to any other, other than their all being nonfiction. Huh, and December was all nonfiction too, wasn’t it? What is happening to me?

Do Not Sell (2014): Why does a tiny subset of collectors focus on obscure music in an outdated form, 78 rpm records? It’s probably half about the content and half about fetishizing the past, Amanda Petrusich concludes after her deep dive (which includes an actual scuba excursion into a river in search of 78s). Still, she decides they’ve done the world a favor by rescuing blues, jazz, country, gospel and other music that would otherwise have been forgotten. Her exploration of this subculture is carefully observed, affectionate and, naturally, very funny.

Counter Intelligence (2000): Jonathan Gold’s only book to date, collecting some 290 reviews from the ’90s. I could never figure out how or why to read it. But then he died, I pulled it off the shelf and read one or two reviews nightly for roughly seven months, and that was perfect. Outdated, sure, but many spots are still in business, and the reviews are enlightening about different cuisines. Sometimes, they’re mic-drop hilarious: “I’m all for stately homes, but if hungry people had political clout, Hong Kong Low Deli is the kind of thing the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission might be dedicated to preserving instead of a bunch of old buildings that don’t even have restaurants in them.”

After/Image (2018): This collection of essays, reportage, memoir and photographs never cohered for me. Whoever wrote the back cover and inside flap seemed to struggle as well to sum up what the book was about. Lynell George, a journalist formerly of the LA Times, has thought a lot about L.A., but possibly too much; she seems offended that over four or five decades, L.A.’s built environment has changed and newcomers want to write their own stories. (Also, there must be an average of one copy-editing mistake per page, mostly involving oddly placed, punctuation. And yes, that comma was intentional and an example of what I mean.)

That’s that for the summaries, and I suppose I did all right at that. “Do Not Sell” came used from Powell’s Books in Portland in 2016, “Intelligence” was bought used at Glendale’s old Brand Books circa 2006 and “After/Image” was a birthday gift last year. It was the thought that counted.

What did you read in January, readers? Also, as this is the first Reading Log of the year, anyone want to share reading goals for 2019?

Mine include reading the last four books from my last Powell’s visit (before visiting again); keeping up with my annual authors Smith, Heinlein and Benchley; and reading my oldest unread books, from the mid-’90s. And yes, I know that sounds ridiculous. I’d like to be finishing off the remainder of my 20th century books, but there are just a few too many. Ah, life.

Next month: modes of transit.

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  • Doug Evans

    The Reading Log! Huzzah!

    Once again, David, sorry you’ve been so sick, but glad you feel like you can type up a few blog posts. Hopefully you’ll be back to your normal posting schedule soon.

    I read four in January!

    “It’s Been a Good Life” by Isaac Asimov, edited by Janet Jeppson Asimov (2002). This book is a condensation of Asimov’s three published memoirs, as well as some letters he wrote, an essay about science, and his personal favorite of his own short stories, “The Last Question.” In other words, stuff I’ve already read. At the time of this book’s publication, the memoirs were out of print, so this book was the only way to get the material in them. Now, ironically, this book is out of print, so the only way to buy it is stumble across it in a used bookstore and grab it as a pity purchase, which, as you’ve probably guessed, is what I did. Asimov’s always great, but I rated this book two stars on Goodreads, only because if you’re looking for out-of-print editions of Asimov’s memoirs, stick with the original three. Read ’em the way he wanted them read.

    This book is important, though, in that it was the first confirmation from his family that he had died of AIDS (contracted from a blood transfusion in 1983). At the time of his death, in 1992, an AIDS diagnosis was still controversial enough that his doctors recommended keeping it secret, which the family agreed with. Ten years later, they changed their minds, and here we are.

    “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke (1953). I came across this one in the Lending Library at Cafe con Libros on Second Street in Pomona. I read it decades ago, but have always meant to someday reread it, being the science fiction classic that it is. Any movie you’ve seen (Independence Day, Arrival) that features a bunch of alien ships instantaneously appearing all over the earth owes a debt to this book. Good stuff… a little dated in its portrayal of women and minorities (one matter-of-fact use of the n-word, which has not held up), but the main character in the second half of the book is a black man, very unusual in 1950’s science fiction.

    By the way, the Lending Library is exactly what it sounds like: you walk to the back of Cafe con Libros, pick out a book or books that you want, tell the cashier at the front that you’re borrowing them, and you’re on your way. The cashier did take my name and email, but I haven’t heard from them. It seems to be on the honor system that I’ll give the books back. (Which I totally will do, to be clear.) Quite a system! I borrowed two, so look for the other one in next month’s reading log.

    “The Affair (Jack Reacher #16)” by Lee Child (2011). Go get ’em, Jack Reacher! This one is a prequel that takes place six months before the first book (set and published way back in 1997) and explains how Reacher came to leave the U.S. Army, where he was a Military Policeman for 13 years, and became a guy who hitchhikes around the country with only a toothbrush, which he’s been doing for the last 22 years now. Fun stuff for the fans here, like the first time he sees a travel toothbrush, and decided he likes what he sees. If a person wants to start reading the Jack Reacher series, this is a possible place to begin, or you could do it like I did and start with book #1.

    “The Feral Detective” by Jonathan Lethem (2018). There is a non-zero chance that Jonathan Lethem might be reading this, since he lives in the area and knows David (in which case: hello, Jonathan!). So! I will say that this book succeeds in everything Lethem set out to do and is getting great reviews. I enjoyed reading the parts set in Upland and Claremont, as well as Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, where my family and I spent three days this past January (and which is where, incidentally, I bought the Asimov book noted above). As for my reaction to the book as a whole: I think that, in the future, rather than read quote/unquote “literary authors” take on pulp/noir genres such as detective novels, I’ll just keep reading the original detective novels.

    As for 2019 reading goals? I’ll be reading the Jack Reacher series until August, I still have the two remaining Game of Thrones books to finish, and I got four Doctor Who ebooks for Christmas (remember a couple of years ago when I read all those Doctor Who ebooks?). More than that, though, I have set a long-term goal to read one book a month from my Giant Stack of Unread Books. I’ve made similar goals before and haven’t kept them, so we’ll see what happens, and even if I stick to it, I’ll be reading from the Giant Stack for at least the next eight years (and that’s if I stop buying new books completely, which I’ve never been able to do). But as of right now, that’s what I’ve planned!

    This Reading Log has been a fun part of my life for almost ten years now, and I’m glad you felt well enough to send this month’s Log out into the world. Feel better, David, and happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Thank you, Doug! I enjoy compiling these and they make a handy reading diary of sorts, one that seems more valuable the more years that pass.

      And I *do* remember that year when you read all those Doctor Who ebooks.

    • Terri Shafer

      I haven’t read any of yours this time, Doug. But it sounds like you have some ambitious plans for 2019. I like your goal of reading down your “Giant Stack of Unread Books,” but from experience — I hate to tell you this — the stack usually gets bigger not smaller! 😉

  • Terri Shafer

    I read a few good ones last month, some not so good. And set a few goals! Glad you’re feeling better, David!

    The Admirable Crichton by J.M. Barrie, 1902, 4★s, very interesting!

    The Wonderful O by James Thurber, 1957, 3★s, unusual

    The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah 2★s, don’t waste your time!

    Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 3★s, read for a challenge, didn’t love it

    The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin 5★s, Really interesting! Loved it!

    From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne 3★s, Fun and surprisingly accurate for being written before there were even airplanes, much less any kind of rockets!

    The House of Unexpected Sisters (#18) by Alexander McCall Smith 4★s, a series I like, it was still good

    Sounder by William Armstrong 3★s, poor dog :'(

    The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain 3★s, devious, deceitful, duplicitous, but cool!

    Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin 4★s, really enjoyed this one — one of the Great American Read’s Top 100

    The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield 5★s, gothic, mysterious, lots of swirling mist — very good story, well-written

    The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery 5★s, made me feel good!

    If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin 4★s, didn’t make me feel good, but I’m glad I read it!

    Goals for this year:
    I usually try to read some that I’ve been putting off for many years (2018 = Vanity Fair and Hunchback!). This year I am hoping to get to Bleak House, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Caine Mutiny, Crime and Punishment, and maybe Tom Jones — currently halfway through Daniel Deronda. I might also try to work on Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series (I’ve read 1-3, need to get to 4-7, I’m currently 40% through IT!). Of course, lots of others that I’m drooling over, classic and some best sellers with a few children’s books thrown in (The Yearling, Swallows and Amazons). It’s fun to plan and then see how far I can get. So, Happy Reading to all in 2019!

    • davidallen909

      I cracked up at your super-abbreviated reviews this time, Terri! I’ve read a few of yours: Ben Franklin in college, From the Earth to the Moon as a teen, Postman a few years ago.

      You have ambitious plans for 2019 that will put most of us to shame. Doug, our resident Dickensian, will eagerly await your review of Bleak House. I’m impressed you’re halfway through Daniel Deronda, which appears to be about 900 pages.

  • Hugh C. McBride

    OK, hopefully 10 days late isn’t too late to contribute here!

    My literary year got off to a solid start in January. I moved five books into the “read” column, which means (checks math) I’m 10% of the way toward my annual goal of 50!

    Inspired by Terri Shafer, I’ll try to keep my reviews brief (though I doubt I’ll do as fine & succinct a job as she did):

    * THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE (Michael Connelly) – Solid addition to the Harry Bosch series. Connelly’s ability to stay true to his character while taking him in new directions & allowing him to age & is a wonder to behold.

    * THE FERAL DETECTIVE (John Letham) – This will not be my favorite novel of the year. (Or as Doug Evans might say, three thumbs up!)

    * SCREWED (Eoin Colfer) – Down & dirty noir. A worthy sequel to PLUGGED. If there’s ever a third entry in this series, I’ll be here for it.

    * BROKEN GROUND (Val McDermid) – My first encounter with this renowned Scottish crime writer. Hope it’s not my last.

    * GIRL IN SNOW (Danya Kukafka) – Intriguing portrayal of the aftermath of a murder, told from the alternating viewpoints of a weird kid, an odd girl, and a conflicted cop.

    In addition to getting through half a hundred books this year, my other reading goals for 2019 are to add some authors, genres, & titles from outside my “comfort zone” of mysteries & crime fiction, and to comment on every one of your Reading Logs within two weeks of publication date.

    • davidallen909

      You’re off to a good start, both with five books and with commenting within 10 days!

      One question: Does “Girl in Snow” take place Feb. 21 in the higher elevations of Rancho Cucamonga? Well, it could have…

      • Hugh C. McBride

        Hmmmm …. I’m thinking “Girl in the Rancho Cucamonga Snow” couldbe an intriguing short story, set over the course of a few intense hours in the Inland Empire. 🙂

    • Terri Shafer

      Glad I was an inspiration to you, Hugh! I’m not always so brief, but thought I’d try it this month 🙂
      I haven’t read any of your books this month, but you’re well on your way to your 50 book goal!
      I am interested in Eoin Colfer. I haven’t read him before but have been looking at the Artemis Fowl series. I know it is YA, but it looks pretty good. I looked up the Daniel McEvoy series and it looks interesting, too. I see it’s crime/mystery, but it looks like there is some humor thrown in — that always draws me in! I’ll have to look into it!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I will likely be last to chime in this month.

    Only one nonfiction:

    A Water Odyssey: The Story of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Schwarz, Joel; 1991. A 50th MWD anniversary pat on its own back, this gives a short account of MWD and the major water projects that deliver water from outside the district. It leaves out almost all the local projects.

    Fiction:

    A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)
    Le Guin, Ursula K. 1968. Sorcery and a few swords, aimed at the juvenile (now called Young Adult) market. Well done and reasonably short.

    From the Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon
    Verne, Jules. 1869. Good not great. This was published as two short novels written about 7 years apart, but it does not really work without both parts. Verne gets some of the basic physics stuff right, but most of the science and tech is way off by the standards of its time. But the satire on the weapons business is superb.

    Life Probe. McCollum, Michael. 1983. Competent first contact space opera, marred a bit by a colonialist attitude.

    The Underdogs. Azuela, Mariano. 1916. This is apparently the first novel of the Mexican Civil War, originally published as a serial in El Paso. Short, and not the best story, but I think it contains a lot of truth and I rate it my book of the month.

    Atonement. McEwan, Ian. 2001. There are parts of this book where I enjoyed both the writing and the story. Unfortunately those parts were just a few. Most of this book was a tedious setup, then one character got old and the rest were ignored.

    • davidallen909

      Richard, I knew we’d see you sooner or later, and congratulations on the keyboard.

      I was a fan of Harold and the Purple Crayon as a tyke and reread it a few years ago when I found a hardback with all four of the books on a discount table at Borders. Johnson is also responsible for Barnaby, a delightful comic strip of the 1940s that’s been reprinted recently; it’s about a Harold-ish boy who is visited by a Fairy Godfather whom his parents never see and who has only minimal magic powers.

      I’ve read the first part of Verne but am not sure I realized there was a second part! And I own a Washington Irving collection, still unread, with a lot of the Geoffrey Crayon material. One of these days…