Books acquired: “The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style,” Nelson George
Books read: “Dreams and Schemes,” Steve Lopez; “The Simulacra,” “Lies Inc./The Unteleported Man,” Philip K. Dick; “Only Apparently Real,” Paul Williams; “The Colour of Memory,” Geoff Dyer; “The Orange and the Dream of California,” David Boulé
April is the cruelest month, they say. For me it was dreamy, at least based on the titles of the books I read. Or if not dreamy, then unreal or not to be trusted.
I read six, even though you’ll see seven books pictured above. Explanation to come.
“Dreams and Schemes” (2010) collects the best of the LA Times columnist’s first decade on the beat. I’d read all these in my daily paper but was happy to read them again. Lopez has a lively voice that keeps his paragraphs moving. His topics shift too, from politics to slices of life to human interest. In an early one, he hires a day laborer to fill his passenger seat so he can take the carpool lane across the county. Several of the later ones are about the city’s marginalized, including a half-dozen about the homeless musician who went on to inspire his book (and movie) “The Soloist.” In the concluding column, they’re invited to the White House.
“The Simulacra” (1964) is one of several Philip K. Dick (and -related) books this month. He was a master at questioning reality, after all. As with many of his novels, the plot is almost impossible to describe, being overstuffed with ideas. It’s set in a near-future America in which the government is a fraud and the president is an android, married to an eternal first lady who’s been in office 76 years. We also follow the last legal psychiatrist in America, a psychokinetic pianist who thinks his body odor is lethal and a jug band duo who specialize in classical tunes. I’d rate this second-tier PKD.
“Lies Inc.” (2004)/”The Unteleported Man” (1984): This is a special case. Dick wrote a novella-length version in the 1960s, wrote an expansion to turn it into a novel that wasn’t published and started to revise it for publication prior to his death. That’s the 1984 version. Then a few missing pages turned up, misfiled among his papers, and that became “Lies Inc.,” which places his expansion material where he apparently desired it, which was 3/4 of the way through part 1 rather than at the end, scrambling the time sequence and making the effect more experimental. I read “Lies Inc.,” assuming it would be definitive, and decided it is now my least favorite PKD. Then I skimmed “Unteleported Man” over an hour to see what was different. Well, it made a little more sense and had a more chipper ending. I preferred that version, even if it’s still not a very good book.
What’s it about? Millions of emigrants are making a one-way trip to another world’s promised paradise. But is that world all it’s said to be, or is this an interstellar version of the final solution? There are parallels with “The Man in High Castle,” but overall this is one of his potboilers like “Vulcan’s Hammer” or “Dr. Futurity.”
Anyway, I’m putting a slash between the titles and counting this as one book, completing my penance for stretching a point with my Harlan Ellison reading last month. You’re welcome.
“Only Apparently Real” (1985): I liked it, but it’s for fans only, a modest attempt at biography and analysis. It’s made up largely of Q&As with Dick conducted by a friend who was later executor of his literary estate. An awful lot of the conversations concern a then-recent break-in at his home, about which Dick characteristically spun a great many conspiracy theories, which are entertaining to a point, and then tiresome.
“The Orange and the Dream of California” (2014): Photos and memorabilia from the days when citrus was king and marketing oranges was a way to market California and a fantasy lifestyle of gentleman farmers, snow-topped mountains and perfect weather. The text sketches the history and underlines the ironies and dissonances.
“The Colour of Memory” (1989): A warm, funny debut novel that follows a group of friends, all smart, around age 20 and underemployed by choice in late 1980s England. They hang out, drink beer, listen to “Sketches of Spain” and try to avoid getting burgled. There’s no plot, but plot is overrated, right? Often very funny, it’s also lyrical and elegiac for a time and circumstance the narrator understands needs to be remembered before it fades.
“Colour” is the literary winner this month, followed by “Dreams and Schemes.”
You might find it interesting to know that I read Lopez’ book at a pace of one column per night from mid-January to mid-April, and likewise read Boule and Williams from my nightstand too, a little per night in recent weeks. “Simulacra,” “Lies Inc.” and “Colour” were my only daytime books.
I bought Dyer at Powell’s in 2016 (it’s the last of my purchases from that trip); Lopez from Vromans in Pasadena in 2012; “The Simulacra” I know not when or where, but many years ago; Williams at Glendale’s defunct Brand Books in 2008, “Unteleported” from Next Chapter Books in Canoga Park in 2009, “Lies Inc” the same year (appropriately enough) from somewhere forgotten. Boulé sent me his book last November after I wrote about his donation of memorabilia to the Claremont Colleges Library.
How was your April, readers? I hope any cruelty was confined to the pages.
Next month: Shakespeare and lesser lights.