Reading Log: July 2019

Books acquired: “Star Light, Star Bright,” Alfred Bester; “The Best of,” “Tunnel Through Time,” Lester del Rey; “The Discomfort Zone,” Jonathan Franzen; “The Best of,” Raymond Z. Gallun; “Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa,” Nathaniel Hawthorne (!); “The Essential Hemingway,” Ernest Hemingway; “The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper,” John D. MacDonald; “A Ghost at Noon,” Albert Moravia; “The Brothers of Baker Street,” Michael Robertson

Books read: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Robert M. Pirsig; “California Dreamin’ Along Route 66,” Joe Sonderman; “On the Road With Bob Dylan,” Larry “Ratso” Sloman; “The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style,” Nelson George

Regards, readers! The above mass of “books acquired” can be explained rather simply: I took a vacation at Powell’s City of Books, conveniently located within the city of Portland, which is served by an airport. I bought seven books at Powell’s and its main branch, plus four graphic novels, and in Seattle, my next stop,I  picked up another three from visits to five bookstores.

That overshadows the “books read” list, but if you’ll take a second look, you’ll see I finished four books, all nonfiction and all with transportation as a sort of theme, at least in their titles.

Let’s run through them, starting with “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (1974). Have you read this? A reader, who was a motorcycle buff, gave me a copy in late 1997 and wrote in it: “Some alternative reading for the holidays. Perhaps you’ll find ‘some humor’ in it.” Exactly why he put quotes around “some humor” wasn’t clear. Anyway, some 22 holiday seasons later, I packed it in my bag for my San Diego trip and got started on it there.

The experience got off to an auspicious start. At breakfast one morning when I was only around page 25, a fellow diner, probably in his early 60s, saw the cover and told me how much the book had meant to him over the years. He planned to read it again, for the third or fourth time, in an attempt to understand it better.

Outside the restaurant, a man who may have been homeless walked past me dragging a large piece of cardboard. He too looked to be in his early 60s. He saw the cover in my hand and said with a knowing smile, “That’s a classic.”

Alas, over the next three weeks no one remarked upon the book. And it’s a very weird one. I did not find much humor in it.

“We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption” (p. 323) is an unusual message in a book hailed as a countercultural classic. I liked the motorcycle journey and father-son stuff, found the “metaphysics of quality” lectures baffling and rolled my eyes at the philosophy class drama. Your (motorcycle) mileage may vary. It’s a polarizing book, with people either loving it or hating it, and for those who love it, my congratulations.

“California Dreamin’ Along Route 66” (2019) was sent to me by the publisher, Arcadia Books. It’s a nice (B&W) collection of postcards, Caltrans images and recent photos of surviving buildings with capsule histories beneath. One favorite: When a truck slammed into a Victorville diner in 1962, “the cook prepared the driver a sandwich and then shut down the place for repairs.” Downside: The rigid formatting of these Arcadia books can get numbing.

“On the Road With Bob Dylan” (1978) is a book I resisted reading since buying a copy circa 1980, not able to persuade myself to read nearly 500 pages about the Rolling Thunder Revue tour, even if the headliner was my favorite artist. Recently I decided to read it after realizing I couldn’t part with a book I’d owned so much of my life. But since my copy was in near-perfect shape, but wouldn’t be if I read it, I sprung for a beat-up, trade paperback reissue found for $6.

Just as expected, the tour account is self-indulgent, although self-mockingly so. But it was a fun read, and Ratso deserves props for insinuating himself into the tour to the point he was able to quote Dylan’s wife, mother and the headliner himself. Minor note: This “revised edition” didn’t fix typos from the original. Poor Eric Andersen, still remembered here as Anderson.

“The Hippest Trip in America” (2014) traces how “Soul Train” began and how it evolved. I watched the show in its 1970s heyday, marveling at the glimpses of black life. My hometown apparently had no black people at all. While the book has fun anecdotes, a dozen or so dancer profiles is too many, and the shortage of photos is a drawback. That many of the interviews came from a then-current VH1 documentary rather than from original reporting is disappointing. So the book is a bit superficial, coming off as more of a prose tie-in to the movie than a standalone product.

So, my favorite book is the one on Dylan, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend any of them, especially for people not already interested in the topics. The only one I disliked, though, was “Zen.”

As noted, “Zen” and “Route 66” arrived as gifts, nearly 22 years apart. “On the Road” was originally bought at, probably, a B. Dalton in 1980; the edition I read came from LA’s Last Bookstore a few weeks ago. And “Hippest Trip” was bought used at Claremont’s Rhino Records a few weeks ago as well.

How was your July, readers? Did you read books or simply maintain motorcycles or go California dreamin’? Let us know in the comments.

Next month: books about food.

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  • DebB

    For a minute I thought you were going for an “est” theme this month – Bester, Lester, and two “Best of”s. You had a pretty good book-shopping vacation!

    I actually have something to contribute this month. I read four:

    The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie. I’ve read it several times but I had an evening with nothing to do and just grabbed it off the shelf. It’s Poirot’s first case, and enjoyable even after a few readings.

    Decider, Dick Francis. I might have read this one too, because it was on my shelf. But I didn’t remember it, so maybe not. As with all Francis’s books, it centers around a race course, in this case with some family drama, and murder and mayhem ensue. Enjoyed it!

    Purrs and Peril, Jinty James. The first in a series of cozy mysteries where the main character owns a Norwegian Forest Cat and a bakery named after it. Really too much fluff for my taste.

    Madam, Will You Talk, Mary Stewart. I guess my mystery-author education is lacking because I’d never heard of Mary Stewart (or forgotten her if I had). I bought this from an Amazon Kindle promotion, and I’m so glad I did!

    It takes place in Provence, and centers around a young English woman on holiday who befriends a boy on holiday with his stepmother. The murder has taken place before the book starts, and there are various plots twists (of course) and mistaken identities. I enjoyed this very much, and purchased another of her books, The Moon-Spinners (which became a Disney movie). Hopefully report on that one next month.

    • davidallen909

      Oooh, a cliffhanger! Thanks for chiming in, Deb (with the promise of another comment next month).

      Yeah, I made some good purchases! I do my best to buy almost no books at all anymore while I focus on my backlog, a strategy that’s working out for me. But friends give me books for Christmas and birthdays, I buy one now and then for work or personal reasons, and then on vacation I’ll allow myself a few purchases, especially in Portland.

      • DebB

        BTW, sorry about what my Dodgers did to your Cards. To quote the Reese’s ads: Not sorry!

        • davidallen909

          After we swept you in St. Louis in April, it was your turn to sweep us in LA…alas.

    • Doug Evans

      Fun list. I know about Mary Stewart! My mom and grandma really liked her (along with Agatha Christie); I remember that one of Stewart’s books that I saw on our bookshelf growing up is titled “Touch Not the Cat,” which is weird but intriguing. She also wrote a trilogy of novels based on the King Arthur legend which I read as a teenager and really enjoyed.

    • Terri Shafer

      Hey Deb, glad to hear from you! I really like Agatha Christie. Glad you enjoyed The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
      Also, I really like Mary Stewart! Years ago I read The Hollow Hills, The Crystal Cave, and The Moon Spinners. And just last year I read Nine Coaches Waiting. I like that old, dark, gothic feel that her books have 🙂

  • Doug Evans

    Of your books, David: we own a copy of “Zen,” though I’ve never read it. Based upon your recommendation: maybe I won’t. I learned in college that Julian Hawthorne, as a grown man, was one of the most popular authors of his time, so much so that Nathaniel Hawthorne was mostly remembered as “Julian Hawthorne’s father, who also wrote some books.” This was at the same time that Melville was almost completely forgotten. So: take that, 19th century pop culture! You think you’re all that, but you ain’t.

    • davidallen909

      Did not know that about Julian Hawthorne. He must have been the Jakob Dylan of his era. (Because the joke for a while was “Jakob’s dad is a musician too?” But now he’s not such a thing and Bob is a thing again.)

  • davidallen909

    Hey Doug! Congratulations on reading eight books off your own shelves — if we can count the one that you couldn’t find, bought new, and then found the original of. And we can.

    I have not read any of yours, although I’ve seen the Age of Innocence film (by Martin Scorsese!). No, I have not even read Catch-22 or Gulliver’s Travels. Someday, perhaps.

    I’m sure your grandpa knows you’ve been busy these past 42 years and understands.

  • Terri Shafer

    Well, David, I was going to start with “I am so jealous that you read “Zen” and I haven’t got to it yet, even though it’s sitting right here on my shelf!” But I might take back the ‘jealous’ part and maybe say that I’m happy you read it and I didn’t! No — I’ll probably go ahead and read it sometime because I would like to know what it’s all about (the man with the cardboard has made me a little curious about it). It just isn’t on the top of my list :/

    I haven’t read any of the others on your list, but I did read some others! :

    THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean, 2018, 336 pages (Book Club read)
    I really enjoyed this book about the Los Angeles Public Library’s 1986 fire.
    It gives details about the fire, but also about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and also of libraries in general. It gives some information about librarians in history, and the importance of books and information, which, of course, we all know.
    But the author also describes the importance of libraries in the lives of the patrons, not just for books, but other service, information, and shelter (homeless) needs, and how each must be dealt with.
    It really turned out to be a much more interesting book than I had anticipated.

    THE HAPPY PRINCE by Oscar Wilde, 1888, 32 pages (GR short story group read)
    Sweet story. We should all learn from it.

    THE DIARY OF A WIMPY KID by Jeff Kinney, 2004, 224 pages
    Cute book! It would be interesting to read it as a child or with a child to see how a younger person would take it this story 🙂

    IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? by Mindy Kaling, 2011, 222 pages
    Cute! I enjoyed it!

    ONCE UPON A RIVER by Diane Setterfield, 2018, 464 pages
    I just love the way this author writes! So mysterious and magical! I liked her “The Thirteenth Tale” a lot and enjoyed this one equally as much.
    This story starts off with a man stumbling into a riverside pub with a little girl in his arms, presumably drowned in the river. But shortly thereafter they find that — she’s alive! The rest of the story revolves around finding out who the girl is and who she belongs to. There are several peripheral stories, but the author artfully weaves all of them together making the reader want to keep reading, keep reading! And I did! I highly recommend this one 🙂

    THE LIBRARY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, 2017, 368 pages
    Just a nice easy read about a woman in Ireland trying to get her life back together after a nasty divorce. She is employed by the local public library that the city council may be closing down shortly. The community bands together to save the library — hurrah! And they all live happily ever after — well…kind of. But it does have a happy ending 😉

    THE CAINE MUTINY by Herman Wouk, 1951, 576 pages
    I really enjoyed this story of Willie Keith and his trials and tribulations on a minesweeper in WWII. Very well written, easy to read, held my attention right to the end — I highly recommend it!

    OK, MR. FIELD by Katharine Kilalea, 2018, 224 pages
    Well…that was quite a ride — and weird. I’m not even sure where I came up with book or why I decided to read it. I’m just glad it wasn’t long!

    WIVES AND DAUGHTERS by Elizabeth Gaskell, 1866, 679 pages
    A classic that I needed to read for a GR Bingo challenge. Mostly a soap opera about and man and the everyday lives of his new wife, daughter, and new step-daughter. They go round and round, until….. the author dies before she finishes the book!! Why didn’t anyone tell me this! Well, we mostly knew how it was going to end, so the publishers kinds of smoothed it out. But that was kind of a surprise to me!

    THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES by Henry Fielding, 1749, 975 pages
    Funny, rowdy, looong, but if you pace yourself, I think you’ll enjoy this one!
    It’s just kind of funny that we expect they wouldn’t have written about these things in the 1700’s — but it proves that nothing much has changed! 😉

    TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis, 1968, 224 pages
    I really enjoyed this tale of Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn going after the killer of Mattie’s father. All the characters were entertaining. There was lots of drama, and even a little hint of romance. This was a fun summer read 🙂

    • davidallen909

      I kind of want to take out my calculator and add up all those pages. But I was too lazy, so I did it in my head, and got roughly 4,000. Nice work, Terri.

      I expect to be reading Library Book this fall, and as you know, I read Tom Jones DECADES ago, dahling.

      • Terri Shafer

        Hahaha! I am laughing out loud! I knew I was about 35 years behind you on Tom Jones! Just glad to finally read it 🙂
        Yes, it was a lot of pages this month. But some overlapped from June. I started TJ on June 1st and maybe part of Caine Mutiny. So I can’t say I read all of those in one month. But I really did read them! 😉

  • Terri Shafer

    Hey, Doug! Glad you started clearing up your book mess — I think the neighbors were starting to talk! 😉
    I have read Catch-22 (didn’t love it but glad I read it), Age of Innocence (I love Wharton’s books), and Gulliver (didn’t care for it but as a “well-person”….).
    And I guess we’ve found out who is and isn’t “well-read” here — David! How haven’t you read Catch-22?!! Tsk tsk! 😉
    I do think you should read it — I think you would appreciate the way it is written and the sense of humor in it. But it really is a very strange book! 🙂
    Good job, Doug!