Reading Log: June 2019

Books acquired: “American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith,” Daniel Okrent, ed.

Book read: “Collected Stories,” Willa Cather

Usually it’s “Books read,” plural, but not in June, where I finished only one. It’s pictured by its lonesome, fore and aft in this post. Well, it beats my occasional joke here that one day, if I don’t finish a book, I’ll present a photo of a blank spot on my floor and another on a bookshelf.

I started this 512-page collection of 19 stories by Willa Cather during my vacation home in late May and read it fairly continuously through June. I considered setting it aside to read one or two shorter books but decided to just plow ahead. By June 28 I had one 12-page story left. But as I was leaving that morning for San Diego, I didn’t want to pack a book that (as I was taking the train) I would finish by Baldwin Park and then have to lug around all weekend.

So, I read that last story the first chance I had: July 1. Technically, then, I really didn’t finish a book in June. But I’m counting this one anyway.

I had read two Cather stories in college: “Paul’s Case” and “Neighbor Rosicky,” both of which I admired. “Rosicky” is particularly warm. They made me want to read more by her. Other than the slim “My Mortal Enemy,” about which I can recall nothing, I didn’t read any more Cather until “O Pioneers!” last October.

I bought “Collected Stories” in 1998 at the Rancho Cucamonga B&N in a burst of enthusiasm along with three other books: “Walden,” “A Short History of the World” and, incongruously, Jerry Seinfeld’s “Seinlanguage.” I read the latter almost immediately. It’s telling that, two decades later, the others remain unread. Obviously I liked the idea of reading these heavier books, but it’s the lightweight, barely-a-book that I read. Until now.

Last year I actually culled “Collected Stories” from my shelves and put it in a “sell” box, but then I sheepishly retrieved it after enjoying “O Pioneers!” “Collected” was among the oldest unread books on my shelves and I decided to face up to it at last.

As with any complete collection, this has its ups and down. Excellent: “Coming, Aphrodite!”, “A Gold Slipper,” “Paul’s Case,” “‘A Death in the Desert,'” “Neighbor Rosicky,” “Old Mrs. Harris,” “Tom Outland’s Story.” I liked several more. But some, especially the earliest pieces, too influenced by Henry James, weigh things down. “The Old Beauty” and “The Diamond Mine” are among the stories centered on a person the other characters find more fascinating than we are likely to. On the other hand, having so many stories focused on women makes an impression.

So, I’d give it 3 stars out of 5. I liked it, but I didn’t really need a complete Cather set. On the other hand, it was the best book I read in June! By the end of 2020, I would hope to have read “Walden” and “A Short History of the World.”

Incidentally, I have five books going on my nightstand, all of which I made progress on and which will pop up on the Reading Log in the coming months as I finish them. So it’s not like I only read Cather during June. Brief pause while I pull my tattered shreds of dignity more tightly around myself.

How was your June, readers? More productive than mine, I’m sure. Let us know in the comments field.

Next month: on the road.

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  • Terri Shafer

    David! I’m so proud of you that you didn’t sell a Willa Cather book! It should be on a special shelf under a spot light! 😉
    As you can tell, I’m quite a Cather fan. I’ve read five, and plan to read more.
    And by the way, I had lunch with your parents today! So fun! I just love them! And your mom gave me your newest book, can’t wait to get started!

    I only read 10 this month — haha! 😉
    But it seems like a lot of them were sad! 7/10!! Hope to get to some happier ones in July 🙂
    So here we go:

    DAISY JONES AND THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2019, 368 pages
    I thought this book was amazing — I’m so glad I read it!

    The basic story is of a 1970’s band and how they rise to stardom. Then Daisy Jones, a newcomer to the rock scene, opens for them at a few concerts, and they decide to do an album together, hence, “Daisy Jones and The Six.” Thus, the story of what happens between Daisy and Billy, the lead singer and general leader of the band; of the reactions of the other band members at what is happening at the time; the interactions of some of the band members with each other; and how all of these things go together to make a very interesting, even though possibly typical, story of what happened in the ’70’s (and future) to rock and roll bands with all the accompanying temptations: sex, drugs, alcohol and groupies. But with the way it was written, it was just really, really good!! I thought the author did a very good job of writing, and I even wrote down some quotes that I wanted to remember. It was just that kind of book.

    I originally thought it was a book that was so hyped in the media that I would be disappointed, but I wasn’t at all. Also, I listened to the audio version, and I enjoyed that a lot. It was a full cast of readers, and as the premise was of all the band members being interviewed, it was like the mike was set up in front of you and each character was giving his/her side of each of the scenes as they happened. So cool!

    I highly recommend this as a cool, summer read, especially since the summer of 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock! Enjoy! 🙂

    WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? by Edward Albee, 1962, 272 pages
    While reading this play, I could just hear Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor railing at each other! It really makes me want to see the movie 🙂

    THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford, 1915, 368 pages
    I had never read anything by Ford, but knew that he was a drinking buddy and fellow writer of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Anyway, I ended up enjoying is because I expected it to be a war-themed story (more like Hemingway’s books, which aren’t my favorite) because of the title. But it turned out to be much more like Fitzgerald’s style of book, though I think I enjoyed Ford’s writing more. Although it was a sad story, it was set in the 1920’s which I enjoy reading about.

    DODGERS by Bill Beverly, 2016, 304 pages

    This is the story of East and three other boys, LA gang members all, who are sent by East’s uncle, to kill a key witness in an upcoming trial, who is hiding out in Wisconsin. When things go awry, East must figure out what he wants out of life, and how he’s going to get it.

    I read this for book club. It was not a book I would ever have picked out, I wouldn’t read it again, and I don’t think I’d recommend it to a friend — But…I liked it.

    It was very well written, it made me want to keep reading. It was sad, depressing, the setting was very stark overall, there wasn’t a lot of drama — and even when there was, it was kind of low-key.

    Again, I don’t think this book is for everyone — But…I liked it 😉

    ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline, 2013, 273 pages
    This was a re-read for book club, and I liked it even better the second time around!! Gave it an extra star this time! 😉
    I liked learning about the orphan trains in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s. Poor kids :'(

    LIZA OF LAMBETH by W. Somerset Maugham, 1897, 128 pages
    I am a big Maugham fan, and I so enjoyed Liza of Lambeth, his first novel. It is not very long, it is pretty sad, but it also has parts that had me laughing out loud!

    The story is about Liza, a young factory worker, who falls in love with a married man, and things don’t go well, as you one might expect. And even though the ending is kind of abrupt, it is well worth the read.

    THE FIRE NEXT TIME by James Baldwin, 1963, 106 pages
    Such a powerful book and writer! Still relevant today!

    GERMINAL by Emile Zola, 1885, 592 pages
    I enjoyed Zola’s writing of this sad story of French coal miners in the 1800’s. Such an abominable situation for those people, but a very good book by Zola!

    SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron, 1979, 562 pages
    Wow! This book about ate my lunch!! It was SO long for me! I really enjoyed Styron’s writing though and may have to read something else by him sometime. Another sad one :/

    MY ITALIAN BULLDOZER by Alexander McCall Smith, 2017, 240 pages
    So fun! Finally one that wasn’t sad!!
    Paul Stuart, a Scottish food writer, goes to a small village in Italy to finish one of his books. However, he gets into a little “dust-up” with the car rental agency, and after a short trip to an Italian jail, he ends up with a bulldozer as his transportation! He also meets several interesting people and has a few small adventures along with a little romance.
    This is just a short, cute, easy read that makes the reader smile 🙂

    • davidallen909

      We were supposed to read “The Good Soldier” for a college class but I didn’t get around to it. (Typically we were assigned a lot of books but would be tested on about half of them, so those of us pressed for time decided some were optional.) I’ve heard only good things about it. Glad you liked it.

      Has your Cather reading included any of her short stories?

      You will probably find my book one that will make you smile, that is, if you manage to finish it.

      • Terri Shafer

        You might give The Good Soldier a try sometime & see what you think. Maybe your college professor wasn’t all wrong (or maybe he was! ).

        I have not read any of Cather’s short stories that I can remember, besides Paul’s Case, which I read in school but I don’t remember! You know where I can buy a good book of Cather’s “Collected Stories” anywhere? 😉

        I will let you know which of your stories makes me smile, and I’m pretty sure I’ll manage to finish it! Looking forward to getting started 🙂

    • Doug Evans

      Hi Terri, I read that Dodgers book and talked about it here. I liked it!

      Also, I read that David Allen book, and thought it was pretty good, as I recall. Pay close attention to page 96!

      • Hugh C. McBride

        I bought DODGERS about a year or so ago. Every few weeks, I think about reading it, check out the description, then think, “Ya know, I don’t know if I’m ready for something this bleak at the moment.” Will have to take the proverbial plunge on this one soon.

        • Terri Shafer

          Yes, Hugh, it’s a little bleak, but it made me just want to keep on reading. I think you should give it a try sooner than later and we can all compare notes! 🙂

      • Terri Shafer

        Yes, I forgot that you had read Dodgers. I was just so surprised to like it!
        And I’m anxious to get started on “that David Allen book.” Looks like I’m going to have to start on page 96! 😉

        • Terri Shafer

          I just started “that book” and page 96 was certainly fascinating!! 😉

  • Doug Evans

    Congrats on your one book, David, and no shame in only having one! As I’ve written various times in various ways over the years on this blog: It’s one more book than most people in the country read last month. (Sometimes I say “my neighbors” instead of “most people in the country” but on the extremely remote chance that any of my neighbors will see this, I don’t think I should say that.) Willa Cather is definitely an author I feel like I should have read that I haven’t. I don’t even think I read any of her short stories in college.

    I read four last month!

    “Twice Upon a Time” by Paul Cornell (2018). The last of the Doctor Who novelisations that I bought way back when. This one novelises the last TV episode of the 12th Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, and introduces the 13th and current Doctor (and the first female portrayal), played by Jody Whitaker. Good episode, good novelisation of same, but I may give the Doctor Who ebooks a break for a bit. Have I mentioned before here on this blog that the Doctor is all the same character, but as an alien, when he (now she) gets grievously injured, his (her) body completely changes, thus allowing a different actor to step in and play the role? I believe that I have.

    “Night School” (Jack Reacher #20) (2016) and “Past Tense” (Jack Reacher #23) (2018) by Lee Child. It’s the last two books in my ongoing Read-all-the-Jack-Reacher-books project! (I didn’t read all of these in order, which is why the numbers are a little messed up.) I feel like, after a year and a half and 23 books, I should have a lot to say here, but actually I don’t. They were fun and I’m glad to have read them, and I definitely plan to keep on reading as Child keeps on publishing them. I can’t remember the plots of many (most?) of the books, and none of the characters really stick out, except for Jack Reacher himself, because he really is an odd duck. Still: light, breezy reading, excellent for an airplane or the beach, or just sitting around the house looking at my Kindle when I should have been grading papers. Lee Child is no Charles Dickens, but I think Lee Child himself would say the same thing, and wouldn’t be bothered by it.

    “The Reckoning” by John Grisham (2018). The latest Grisham, featuring a mystery in a small southern town in the fifties and also a flashback to the Bataan Death March of ten years earlier. This really reads as though Grisham read about the horrors of Bataan, wanted to write a book about it, and created a murder mystery to wrap around the main character’s experience of the March. It all doesn’t really tie together that well, but I appreciated the opportunity to learn a little more about the March, as horrible as it was.

    Next month! After reading three books this past month written just last year, and after taking a year and a half to read all of the Jack Reacher books, I’m tackling the classics. We’ll see how I do with that, and I’ll see all of you here next month! Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      You’re right, my one book is more than most Americans read last month. And if they did read one, it probably wouldn’t be by Willa Cather, which is their loss.

      Regarding Doctor Who, I believe there’s the barest chance that you’ve explained the character before. But it’s always good to bring it up again for those who’ve missed your 37 previous explanations. (Hee, hee!)

      Congratulations on finishing the Jack Reacher series. Doug Evans to Lee Child: “Please, sir, may I have another?” I thought it was cool how you by golly read one every month, if not more than one. If I had that kind of focus, I would have finished all the series that I so intermittently read.

      So you’ll be returning to the classics, eh? [whispers: “Read Mark Twain, read Mark Twain, read Mark Twain”]

      • Doug Evans

        Oh yeah, Mark Twain! The plan, such as it is, is to read classics I already own (the much-heralded “Giant Stack of Unread Books”), and, alas! I don’t actually own that many books by Mr. Twain… but I do have at least one! Given to me by a friend! It’s on my nightstand! So look for that one… soonish?

      • Terri Shafer

        Yes, yes! What David just whispered!! 😉

    • Terri Shafer

      Good luck with tackling the classics, Doug! I’m excited to see what you decide to read!!
      [Just a heads-up: You might not want to start with Tom Jones. I started on June 1st and only about 60% finished!!!!]

  • Hugh C. McBride

    David: I posted my monthly update last night. When I submitted, I got a message that it was awaiting moderation. If it disappeared, please let me know & I’ll re-send. Thank you!

    • Doug Evans

      Hugh: Did you, by any chance, read a book about that giant white whale, Moby Richard? That’s how I often get sent to moderation…

      • Hugh C. McBride

        I didn’t write about ol’ Moby – but my post was somewhat Melville-esque in terms of length, which may have triggered the spam alert. (Or maybe Mr. Allen has wisely decided to review my random babblings before allowing them to be shared with this followers.)

        • Terri Shafer

          Reading you guys’ comments is better than reading a book!! Lol 😉

  • davidallen909

    Hugh, it sounds like you enjoyed 10 of your 11, which means you’re doing something right. Speaking of which, I can’t help but notice that you read 10 more books than I did in June, which I believe would be 1000% more. Good show. P.S. from Jerry Seinfeld: “Stop looking at me, Mr. McBride.”

    • Hugh C. McBride

      I say we view this as a team effort. Between the two of us, we averaged six books read last month. (I knew my high school math classes would eventually come in handy!) I don’t anticipate hitting double digits in July, though – I started this month with James Ellroy’s latest, THIS STORM, which is a looong one.

      • davidallen909

        I like being part of your team! You make me look good.

  • Terri Shafer

    Hugh, Wow! Ten Books! Looks like you read some good ones.
    I’m so glad you enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow! I loved that one and recommend it whenever I can. I think it would make a marvelous movie!