Reading Log: March 2019

Books acquired: “Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018,” David Kipen, ed.; “Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery,” Scott Kelly; “The Library Book,” Susan Orlean

Books read: “Edgeworks Vol. 1,” “Edgeworks Vol. 2,” “An Edge in My Voice,” Harlan Ellison; “The Blood of the Lamb,” Peter De Vries; “A Pleasure to Burn,” Ray Bradbury

As promised, March was a month of edginess, at least as far as book titles was concerned. three with “edge,” one with “blood,” one with “burn.” Your gentle columnist and blogger must have mayhem on his mind.

But it wasn’t as bad as all that. They’re just titles!

I kind of cheated with the “Edgeworks” books, by the way (speaking of edginess). Each collects two Ellison books. In the case of Vol. 1, I hadn’t read “An Edge in My Voice” and hadn’t read a portion of “Over the Edge,” which Ellison revised with a few uncollected stories for this volume. Introductions were also new. So I counted it. But I also counted my separate volume of “Voice” because I actually read the book that way. And then, for real cheating, I counted Vol. 2, which collects two books I’d read separately earlier this decade, because I realized I hadn’t read the new introduction (20-some pages).

Ehh, what are you going to do. I just wanted it on the record that I’d read them and this is the handiest way to do so. I should probably count them as 1 1/2 books rather than 3. Make a note of it at home. Anyway:

“Edgeworks Vol. 1” (1996): First in a projected 20 volumes that became 4 volumes, another aborted series that aimed to present the complete Ellison and stopped even sooner than Pyramid/Ace did. Behind a somewhat generic cover lie two very different books with “edge” in their titles, one collecting fiction and the other nonfiction. The fiction side swaps in some otherwise-unreprinted stories, and there’s a new, long introduction. Completists will want this, but otherwise, collecting these volumes seems unnecessary. That goes for “Vol. 2” (1996) as well: It’s got the early rock ‘n’ roll novel “Spider Kiss” and the ’80s story collection “Stalking the Nightmare,” which has a Stephen King foreword.

“An Edge in My Voice” (1985): Akin to Henry Rollins’ long 21st century run as an LA Weekly columnist, Ellison’s yearlong stint for the alt-weekly in the early 1980s brought a recognizable name with a sometimes angry, profane style. For good or bad, Ellison was less focused, churning out columns that often ran 2,000 to 5,000 words on whatever topic(s) occurred to him. Nearly 40 years on, most of them are still fun to read, and he won a PEN Award for them.

I’d been reading “Voice” from my nightstand, a column per night, since late January, wrapping up in late March.

“The Blood of the Lamb” (1961): De Vries was a purveyor of lightly comic novels, many excellent, but “The Blood of the Lamb” wrestles with life, death, fatherhood, medical science, the capriciousness of fate and man’s relationship with God (if any). Yet the tragedy is balanced as on a knife’s edge with De Vries’ trademark humor. A tour de force. I can’t imagine what readers at the time thought; it’s as if “Weird” Al Yankovic released “Blood on the Tracks.”

“A Pleasure to Burn” (2010): Collects published and unpublished Bradbury stories from the early 1950s that carry social comment, especially about a conformist culture, like “The Pedestrian,” and book burnings, primarily through two novella versions of the story that evolved into “Fahrenheit 451.” Both are similar to each other but different enough from the novel (no immersive TV, no “green bullet” audio capsule, less Mechanical Hound), for example) to be worth reading for devotees. Frankly, I didn’t think I’d be able to finish this 300-pager as I started it around March 22. But a Metrolink weeknight trip, with an hour wait at Union Station for my train home, gave me the opportunity to read 90 pages, and then I finished March 28. Huh. Bradbury isn’t too demanding, it must be said. I even had time to get a good start on a book for April.

Also, I skim-read “Fahrenheit 451” over the weekend to refamiliarize myself with it and better understand the changes for the finished product. It’s a great book, no question, but in some ways I liked the earlier versions better; there’s less gasbaggery from the fire chief (Bradbury’s skills do not include realistic dialogue), and the addition of Faber coaching Montag from afar via the earpiece seems awkward and manipulative. Give me half a book, or at least 3/8, for this one. Hey, my score is improving.

“Lamb” was the clear winner this month. And not because March came in like a lion and went out like a (wait for it) lamb.

Let’s see, I got the “Edgeworks” volumes via mail order upon publication in 1996. (I’ve already read Vol. 3 and never bought Vol. 4, which had no new material other than an introduction, I don’t believe.) “Voice” was bought in 2012 at Stories in Echo Park. “Lamb” came from Pasadena’s late Cliff’s Books circa 2004, after I read an excellent New Yorker profile of De Vries. And “Burn” was acquired from Glendale’s late Book Fellows in 2011.

As usual, I’m pleased to have knocked a few older books off my to-read list. Much more to come.

How was your March, readers? Please let us know in the comments. Feel free to cheat if you wish. I’m afraid I’ve set a bad example for you all.

Next month: dreams and unreality.

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  • DebB

    Late February/early March I was having some health problems, so I guess I felt the need of “comfort reading”! I found myself re-reading the Gideon Oliver books (third time around), and remembering surprisingly little about most of them. I suppose that’s good, in a way – allowing me to enjoy them once more!

    Finally I read a new (to me) book: Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. I think this was her first book, and her style isn’t quite fully developed yet. She often starts her books somewhere in the middle of the story, then goes back (sometimes back and forth) to bring us up to date. She sometimes changes voice without warning. Here she also tosses in short (one or two page) anecdotes from complete strangers as background. It can all get a little confusing if you’re not paying attention. But in later books I think it was pretty effective.

    This is the story of three sisters – triplets, two of which are identical and the third fraternal. Two are married, one with children, one wants children but can’t, one doesn’t but gets pregnant anyway, one gets divorced, etc. Kind of a slice of life for triplets in Australia, I guess. I did enjoy it, but not as much as some of her others.

    • davidallen909

      Hope your health problems are cleared up, Deb. I like that you turned to books for comfort rather than telling us you’d watched hour after hour of daytime TV or something.

    • Terri Shafer

      We missed you last month, Deb! Sorry you weren’t feeling well, but glad you got some good reading in 😉
      I love Liane Moriarty’s books!! I’ve read several but have not read Three Wishes. I sometimes like to read authors’ books that they wrote at different times in their careers and compare the writing. I like your description of the contrast in her writing from then to now. I’ll have to look into that one 🙂

      • DebB

        Thanks, Teri! Do try Three Wishes – not her best but still worth reading. Also, I’m in awe of you reading Bleak House. I used to read Dickens, but after I tried unsuccessfully three times to read The Old Curiosity Shop I gave up.

        • Terri Shafer

          I have not read The Old Curiosity Shop, but will probably try it sometime. Hope it’s better for me than it was for you! 🙂
          I will definitely keep Three Wishes on the list. I really like Moriarty’s books!

  • Terri Shafer

    I think I got to some pretty decent ones this month!

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
    Love this one! It was a re-read for Book Club, but it had been so many years since I had read it that I enjoyed it all over again!

    Bleak House by Charles Dickens
    I finally got to this one! And you might wonder how a well-read person like me 😉 has not read Bleak House — I was just daunted by its size! But I read it with a Goodreads group (that gave me a boost) and also (we have not had the “audio book talk,” so I don’t know how this will go over here — but I am a big audio book proponent!!) I listened to the audio book and the reader was so wonderful that I didn’t want to stop listening — and we’re talking 40 hours!! I am a big Dickens fan, have read several of his and will read more, but I can’t read them in a row (pretty wordy), so I’ll probably plan another one for next year. But I absolutely love his writing style, the era, and his sense of humor. It was a joy!

    The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1) by Philip Pullman I’ve been meaning to read this YA series for several years and am finally getting to it. It is pretty exciting and suspenseful. I have already started Book 2.

    Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
    I read this for Book Club, but had never heard of it or the author before! I’m guessing some of you here are familiar with it. Written in 1959, it is the story of nuclear war. America is almost totally decimated except for a small town in Florida. It tells what the people there go through and what they have to do to survive. Yes, it was written in the 1950’s, so some things are different than now, but it feels pertinent to our current times. I think it would be even more difficult for us to survive now because we are so much more dependent on technology. A very interesting and scary tale!

    The Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
    A sad story of two sisters in the early 1900’s in New York City, after one of the sisters gets involved with a man who, unbeknownst to her, is a drug addict, and how it affects both sisters. A good Wharton tale.
    Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth – My only nonfiction this month. So interesting, so sad, but what a fighter this woman was! Glad to read this one.

    Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly
    I read this one through NetGalley, where readers get books before they come out for sale, in exchange for an honest opinion and review. This book comes out on April 9th.
    It is a prequel of the author’s first book “Lilac Girls” which takes place during WWII in which Carolyn Ferriday (who is a real person, you can actually visit her home in Connecticut) is a main character, helping German women who have been held in concentration camps. “Lost Roses” takes place during WWI in which Carolyn’s mother (also a real person) is a main character helping Russian women who have fled from Russia and the devastating war and revolution that are going on there. It is a pretty good story and I like Kelly’s writing style and attention to historic details.

    • davidallen909

      For most of us, Bleak House would consume a full month, if not all or most of two or three months. You being you, you managed to read, gulp, six other books the same month. I am goggle-eyed. And I’m glad you liked the book. Doug Evans, who unlike me has read Bleak House, will be more legitimately thrilled. (He read one Dickens a year, so your thought of waiting a year for your next is a proven strategy.)

      I’m curious if you did other things during those 40 hours, and what you’re able to do (and what you’re not able to do) while concentrating on someone reading aloud, or do you mostly just sit and listen?

      I have not read Alas, Babylon (Rich P. surely has), but I have a tiny Alas, Babylon story. It was among the very few SF books published by Bantam, and so in any Bradbury paperback of my youth, the page where Bantam lists related books that it published had little more than Dhalgren by Samuel Delany, A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter Miller and, yes, Alas, Babylon. I never knew if it was truly a SF classic or if Bantam had no idea what it was doing when it came to SF…or both.

      • Terri Shafer

        Well…..I do not just sit and listen. I listen while I’m doing things around the house — kind of brainless work like cleaning the bathroom. Instead of dreading it, I think “Oh good! I get to read a book!” haha!
        I used to drive to school (about 30 min.) & listen on the way (you know the road to Flora is pretty much a straight shot, an easy drive). I can sometimes cook, but no new recipes (thinking required), laundry, gardening, walk on the treadmill,etc. You know?
        So, I usually have an audio book, an ebook, & a print book going at the same time (and sometimes more). I am a constant reader, if I have 5 minutes (or even less sometimes), I’ll pull out a book (or my phone) and read a little bit. I don’t have to have long blocks of time to sit & read. I know everybody doesn’t read that way, but it works for me! 🙂
        P.S. You should read Alas, Babylon!

        • davidallen909

          If you can squeeze in reading during routine activities and even in five-minute down time moments, no wonder you’re able to shine so brightly here on the ol’ Reading Log, Terri. If you ever do have “long blocks of time to sit and read,” watch out, world!

          • Terri Shafer

            Haha!! 😉

          • davidallen909

            This op-ed about audiobooks from Sunday’s LA Times caught my eye and I’m sharing the link here. The writer mentions having listened to three very long Dickens books, without naming them. But surely Bleak House was among them. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-wilentz-listening-audio-books-20190414-story.html

          • Terri Shafer

            I read that article this morning!! And thought of our conversation here. I love it!
            It made me look into listening to Infinite Jest — then she talked me out of it. Probably for the best 😉

          • Doug Evans

            I came here to link to that very article, and look at David being all on top of it. But: yay, audio books, and yay, op-ed articles in favor of audio books!

        • Doug Evans

          Preach! Audio books totally count! As long as we’re reading the unabridged versions and getting every word. I listen in the car on the way to the two colleges at which I teach, as well as doing yard work, washing dishes, etc. I love how Amazon’s “Whispersync” keeps track of where I am in a book, so I can be listening to a book on my iPhone while washing dishes and then open my Kindle when I crawl into bed and the book is right where I left off. Kind of creepy, now that I type that up, but pretty cool at the same time.

      • Richard_Pietrasz

        I almost certainly read Alas, Babylon in the days when I absorbed SF novels at a rate of over one a week in my teens and early twenties. At least it has been listed in my head as being on the read list since those days, and is now eligible for a reread, although Earth Abides by George Stewart is higher on the list and exists not too far down in my great unread pile.

    • Hugh C. McBride

      I read ALAS, BABYLON when I was in high school. (This means I read it a long, long time ago, and that I most likely didn’t give it the attention it deserved.) May need to re-visit that one one of these days. And A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN should definitely make it into my list one of these days.

      I’m impressed by your conquest of BLEAK HOUSE – but I don’t know if I’m up to the challenge that you & Doug Evans have kinda/sorta set here. That said, y’all have my greatest appreciation for your Dickens-related accomplishments. 🙂

      • Terri Shafer

        I think the friend who suggested “Alas, Babylon” for book club also read it in high school, which would have been about 45 years ago for her (& I’m not far behind!). But, surprisingly, I’d never even heard of it!
        I definitely think you should read “A Tree…” and you might try a shorter Dickens book rather than just diving into Bleak House. Most of his writing is written in this style and with the same sense of humor. Just keep him on a back burner until you’re ready 😉

    • Doug Evans

      Hello, Terri! I’ve read the first four of your six books, and as I was going down the list, I kept thinking, “I read that! I read that! I read that! Hey, I read that, too!”, which is a first for me here on this blog. I loved Bleak House… I’ve shared here in the blog (and in a newspaper column!) that it’s my favorite Dickens (though I recall the main female character getting a bit cloying as the book goes on… more than made up for by the dark cynicism of the ongoing “Jarndyce and Jarndyce” court case and its resolution!). And I read “Alas, Bablyon” in junior high school, and was sufficiently creeped out and frightened by its depiction of a post-nuclear war US. Watching “The Day After” on TV a few years later didn’t help.

      • Terri Shafer

        Yes, I was so happy to love Bleak House as much as I did. Someone else I talked to thought Esther was just a little too sweet, I kind of enjoyed her though. She was so self-deprecating! I liked that too 🙂
        And almost all the characters in the book were so extreme as to be nearly unbelievable, but I think that was part of Dickens’ fun!
        I probably won’t read another of his for a little while but must decide which to read next. I’ve read several but would still like to get to Little Dorritt, The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Our Mutual Friend. Any suggestions or favorites there?

  • Hugh C. McBride

    It was another five-book month for me, which put me at 15 by the end of March, 30% of the way toward my annual goal of 50:

    * REINCARNATION BLUES (Michael Poore) – The hero of this story is Milo, who has been reincarnated more than 9,900 times. In between his visits to the mortal realm, he spends time with his girlfriend, Death (who also goes by the name Suzie, and who is seriously considering a career change). This novel has great potential, but ultimately comes up short. It evokes comparisons with Neil Gaiman, Tom Robbins, & Christopher Moore – but for me at least, those comparisons were along the lines of “I bet those guys would’ve done a much better job with this concept.”

    * THE VANISHING STAIR (Maureen Johnson) – This is the second book in the “Truly Devious” series, in which a student at a prestigious boarding school attempts to solve a decades-old mystery while simultaneously attempting to unravel a series of present-day whodunits. The first book was excellent, this one was even better. Definitely looking forward to the third entry in the series.

    * ONE HUNDRED NAMES (Cecilia Ahern) – This book would make an excellent Hallmark movie. Whether you think that’s a compliment or a critique is up to you (and most likely reflects your view of Hallmark movies). I went into this with decidedly non-Hallmark expectations, so I was a bit underwhelmed. But setting those expectations aside, I think Cecilia Adams did a solid job crafting a narrative that will definitely appeal to folks who appreciate this type of novel.

    * LONG WAY DOWN (Jason Reynolds) – The day after his brother’s murder, 15-year-old Will grabs a pistol & sets out for revenge. On the elevator ride down from the seventh floor to the lobby of his family’s apartment building, he encounters the ghosts of many loved ones whose lives were lost to gun violence. This book is written in verse, which makes it a quick but powerful read.

    * BEING PEACE (Thich Nhat Hanh) – The author is a Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, and peace activist. This book is a summary of his approach to living a mindful, compassionate, interconnected, and ultimately peaceful life. I read this a few years ago, & re-read it in March. I don’t typically return to books I’ve already read, but this is a more-than-worthy exception. I anticipate that last month’s re-read won’t be the last time I pick up this masterpiece.

    • davidallen909

      Thich Nhat Hanh was someone I’d never heard of until he was cited in Paul Williams’ “The 20th Century’s Greatest Hits,” which I read a year or two ago. And here he is in your monthly reading list, and as a favorite to boot.

      Cecilia Ahern’s publisher should definitely quote your review on the back of her book: “a narrative that will definitely appeal to folks who appreciate this type of novel.” OK, perhaps not.

      • Hugh C. McBride

        There’s a huge souvenir store in Las Vegas that used to have a massive sign that proclaimed “If it’s in stock, we’ve got it!” I like to think that my Ahern blurb continues this trend of absolute truth in marketing 🙂

        • davidallen909

          “Old Path, White Clouds” was the book by Thich Nhat Hanh that I’d heard about, btw.

          • Hugh C. McBride

            Thanks, David. Just looked that one up & added it to my “to read” list.

    • Terri Shafer

      You’re certainly on your way to 50, Hugh!
      I haven’t read any of yours, but several of the authors are familiar. I recently read “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds, and I’ve read a couple of Maureen Johnson’s. Both of these authors are pretty good YA authors, a genre that I enjoy off and on.
      And I have read a few of Cecilia Ahern’s — when I’m in the mood for light reading. We’ll say it’s ‘entertaining.’ 😉

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I also finished five in March, a low total for me these past few years. It is both the median and the mode of the books finished distribution here so far, and will almost certainly remain such.

    Nonfiction:

    Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff. Mahoney, Rosemary. 2007. This was an interesting “adventure” travel book. Mahoney did go off on her own, but not off the beaten path. Her one scare was some guy in his own boat, but he was just an ordinary guy who brought his young children with him and turned out to be no threat whatsoever. This supplements my last year book Midaq Alley by Nahguib Mahfouz; modern ordinary Egyptians are modern ordinary people, which should not really surprise anyone. There is a touch of Huck Finn and Lewis and Clark about this, something about great rivers and islands.

    My Secret War. Drury, Richard S. 1979. Drury was one of the US bomber pilots who transformed the Plain of Jars in Laos into the Plain of Bomb Craters. At the time of publication of the paperback edition, he was still largely clueless as to what really happened, even if his reports are accurate about his personal experience.

    Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell, Malcolm. 2005. I always find Gladwell interesting and thought provoking. His books are far more anecdotal than rigorous, but they do reference sources. His chapter on US police violence is very good; he avoids an obvious tentative conclusion (some cop kills occur because they feel safe enough to get away with it), but sometimes it is better to offer the path to truth rather than state an ugly one and get censored by criticism.

    Fiction:

    Stormy Weather. Hiaasen, Carl. 2007. If one novel best exemplifies Hiaasen’s major body of work, this is it. I still enjoyed this, but I have read enough of these that I am jaded.

    Rogue Dragon. Davidson, Avram. 1965. This is routine sword and dragons with a veneer of science fiction. It was noticeably below Davidson’s, but still a pleasant diversion and not too long. My copy is a first edition, published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and slowly crumbling to bits.

    I kind of cheated around my version of David’s Edgeworks. I read the first third of an omnibus of omnibi (is that the proper word?) titled Three Times Three: Mystery Omnibus. Each of three parts comprises a stand alone novel, a novelette (novella length in the SF community) and three short stories, total volume over 800 pages. I did not find the three volumes listed separately in Goodreads, but wanted to list a book out of the first third. I subbed Rogue Dragon (ineligible for GR as it was only part of a magazine, but eligible because it was later published as a book). The novel in the first third was Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, which I first read over thirty years ago, again a half dozen or so years ago and recently enough I did not want to read again so I did not. I hope to reconcile this month: one short work not in the omnibus, and the omnibus itself.

    • Terri Shafer

      Hey Richard, I read Blink last year and really enjoyed it! I definitely need to read another Malcolm Gladwell soon. I’ve heard good things about his other books too.
      And I’m going to add “omnibi” to my vocabulary — I love it! 😉

    • davidallen909

      Water seeks its own level, as do Reading Log tallies.

    • Doug Evans

      I’ve mentioned “Lady in the Lake” twice over the years here on David’s blog… once way back before the reading log when David asked his readers what we had done on Superbowl Sunday in lieu of watching the game (I’d read “Lady in the Lake”), and again when I did my Chandler re-read a few years later. What I remember most about it is that it mentions the University of Redlands: my alma mater! Though Chandler calls it “Redlands University.” It’s all good.

  • davidallen909

    “Jack Reacher could probably use a good psychologist, by the way.” Nice one. Also: “George R.R. Martin can’t even procrastinate correctly!” I could give GRRM some good tips. As could you, come to think of it, since you’re likely our final commenter of the month. Also: Groff Conklin is, if not the best name ever, certainly in the Top 10. Amirite??

  • Hugh C. McBride

    To the Jack Reacher psychiatrist comment & Groff Conklin, may I add:

    1. GRRM
    2. novelisation (British spelling!)
    3. The More You Know!™

    The rest of us are just reviewin’ books, but Doug Evans is makin’ art around here …

    • Doug Evans

      Thanks, Hugh! Hope I’m not setting the bar too high for myself! 😀

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I am almost certain I read Opus 100. I remember it was a big deal at the time but it did not take long before it wasn’t anymore.

    I have read a few Groff Conklin anthologies, although not that one. His name belongs in an Asimov story.

  • Terri Shafer

    Doug, I haven’t read any of yours or David’s this month. But I am reading an Isaac Asimov as we speak (which is new for me!). I’ll let you know how that goes!

    • Doug Evans

      I’ll be curious to read your reaction to the Asimov! If you like it… there’s about 499 to go! 🙂