Reading Log: September 2019

Books acquired:Β “A Tan and Sandy Silence,” “The Scarlet Ruse,” “The Turquoise Lament,” John D. MacDonald; “Sweet Thursday,” John Steinbeck; “The Best of Edmond H. Hamilton,” Edmond H. Hamilton (duh); “The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft

Books read: “The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan,” Kevin Dettmar, ed.; “Counter-Clock World,” Philip K. Dick; “A Canticle for Leibowitz,” Walter M. Miller, Jr.; “Can and Can’tankerous,” Harlan Ellison

It’s not really c-c-c-cold, but I may as well pretend it is, the better to introduce my reading for September, all of them with titles that employ at least one C.

It came about like this: I wanted to read “Cambridge Companion,” and in fact had been slowly reading it on my nightstand all summer, while also desiring to get to “Counter-Clock,” one of the oldest unread books in my collection. (Not exactly unread, as I’d read and discarded an earlier copy in the early 1980s, but I’d been wanting to read it again as an adult who now loves Philip K. Dick.)

“Can and Can’tankerous,” a recent acquisition, fit the theme, and out of nowhere I realized so would “Canticle for Leibowitz,” which I’d owned for a decade and had had no plan to read. So, with a cackle, I added that C-book to the stack.

With that accounting, let’s get to the books.

“Cambridge Companion” (2009):Β Targeted to the college curriculum, this collection of essays about Bob Dylan is by design academic. For the rest of us, it’s definitely for the committed Bobhead. The first half’s thematic essays are often turgid, although Alan Light’s on Dylan as performer stands out. The back half, with commentary on eight albums, is much stronger, with Carrie Brownstein on “Blood on the Tracks” and Jonathan Lethem on “Infidels” (the reason I bought the book) being particularly good. Editor Dettmar is a Pomona College prof of my acquaintance, btw.

“Counter-Clock World” (1967):Β In the near future, time has begun running backward, which means the dead are returning to life in reverse chronological order. They include a black nationalist spiritual leader (think: MLK) whose return might upset society. There are serious concerns here about what exists beyond the grave, as well as a lot of hilarity about saying “goodbye” upon meeting, smoking cigarette butts back into full cigarettes, muttering “food” as a curse, wanting to eat in privacy and babies crawling back into the womb. Perhaps also a sign of the topsy-turvy world, the most powerful government agency is the library, which has commandos. Not in PKD’s first tier, but impressive and a personal favorite.

“Canticle” (1959): The conceit of a grocery list treated as holy relic makes for a compelling back-cover come-on, but the novel takes the matter of faith after a nuclear holocaust much more deeply and seriously. Thoughtful and well-written, this has flashes of humor, an ethical underpinning and a despair over the ability and willingness of mankind to destroy the planet.

“Can and Can’tankerous” (2016): A decent final book by Ellison collecting his 21st century output. I’d say two-thirds of the stories are entertaining, one-third weak. (I could have done without the Sarsaparilla Alphabet’s 26 brief, unrelated vignettes) I don’t know if Ellison was self-publishing for monetary or control reasons or because nobody wanted to work with him, but either way, it’s a little sad that a writer of his stature self-released this oddly sized, print-on-demand book. All that said, it’s an envoi to a long, remarkable career.

Have any of you read “Canticle”? I know Doug Evans has, and surely the absent Rich P. has as well. It’s the best book this month, although “Counter” was my favorite.

These books came into my hands as follows. “Counter-Clock” was bought by mail in 1994 from the legendary, and now defunct, The Other Change of Hobbit store in Berkeley. “Leibowitz” was bought at the likewise legendary-and-defunct Shakespeare & Co. in Berkeley in 2009. “Cambridge” was bought used in December 2018 from North Hollywood’s legendary, still in business Iliad Bookstore. “Can” was a Christmas gift, arriving this January via Amazon, an obscure online retailer with which a few of you may, perhaps, have dealt.

In other words, they arrived over the course of a quarter-century and were dispatched all in the same month. C-c-c-crazy!

Next month: books about Los Angeles.

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  • DebB

    Sadly, nothing more heady for me this month than Westways and AARP mag. But I’m curious – you said Canticle was the best book but Counter was your favorite. How do you define “best” as opposed to “favorite”?

    • davidallen909

      Perceptive question! I recognize that “Canticle” is a fine, ambitious book, one that’s stood the test of time and that I enjoyed. But in gauging my own reactions, I got more pure pleasure out of “Counter-Clock.”

      Part of that is the book, part is its status as the first PKD novel I read, back in high school, and I loved it. Along the same lines, I soon read a second, “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.” It’s a more serious novel, without a gimmick, and my high school self was a bit disappointed. I recognized that “Flow” was “better” in a literary sense, but it was less fun.

      If I hadn’t read “Counter-Clock,” or another one that would have left an equally indelible impression, I wonder if I would have become a fan? “Flow” really derailed me for many, many years.

      I will be rereading “Flow” in the near-ish future (maybe later this year, maybe early next year) and we’ll see how my adult self reacts!

      • DebB

        Yes, I think I get the distinction. There are quite a few books that are “classics” and considered “good” books. But I really enjoy me a good Christie much more! I have “To Kill a Mockingbird” that’s just been sitting on the shelf, waiting to be read.

        • Terri Shafer

          Oh, but you should at least dip into “Mockingbird.” I think you’ll enjoy some of the characters and then get into the story. Give it a try! πŸ™‚

  • davidallen909

    Kate Chopin and Mark Twain, though. Nice.

    • Terri Shafer

      I agree with David!

  • Rinaldo Darke

    I read “A Canticle for Leibowitz” many years ago and have recommended it many times. Excellent.
    September’s best books:

    “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks
    A book restorer works on an old Jewish prayer book and flashbacks tell the story of other who have handled it over the past 500 years.

    “A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
    Spillane didn’t write short stories, but his family and Collins collected fragments and turned them into quite good “Black Mask” type stories.

    “Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality” by Tomsky Jacob
    A very interesting insider view of the hotel industry from the guy in charge of the front. It is very well written and very entertaining.

    “Vic and Blood: Stories” by Harlan Ellison
    This includes the classic “A Boy and his Dog” plus a prequel and a sequel which is the beginning of a never finished novel.

    • davidallen909

      RD, nice to hear from another Canticle admirer. You had an interesting slate of books, too. I have kinda-sorta read “Vic and Blood,” in that I’ve read Boy, the prequel and the script that makes up the sequel, just not in this collected form.

    • Terri Shafer

      I read “People of the Book” and really enjoyed it!

  • Hugh C. McBride

    I read five books in September, which brought my 2019 year-to-date total to 55.

    * JOHN WOMAN (Walter Mosley) — A young fella named Cornelius Jones grows up within a dysfunctional family. He kills a man, disappears for a few years, & re-emerges as a controversial professor of history named John Woman. Prof. Woman is teaching at a university that may or may not be a front for a cult-like organization that may or may not not be trying to surreptitiously influence the future of the world. We’re a long way from Easy Rawlins here. The plot & many of the characters are problematic, but Mr. Mosely knows how to keep the pages turning.

    * THE SENTENCE IS DEATH (Anthony Horowitz) — This is the second in a whodunit series that features a writer named Anthony Horowitz and a private investigator named Daniel Hawthorne. It’s a relatively light read, and not nearly as metafictional as you’d expect from a novel whose author is also a character. I have not read the first book (THE WORD IS MURDER), & after reading this one, I’m not in a big rush to do so. This is by no means a terrible book, just one that didn’t resonate with me.

    * THE REAL LOLITA: THE KIDNAPPING OF SALLY HORNER AND THE NOVEL THAT SCANDALIZED THE WORLD (Sara Weinman) — Sarah Weinman is a talented writer & thorough researcher. Unfortunately, the conclusions she reaches in this book seem a bit too speculative & strained. THE REAL LOLITA sets out to accomplish two things: to rescue Sally Horner’s story from the dark recesses of forgotten history, and to prove that her story was central to Vladimir Nobokov’s creation of LOLITA. Ms. Weinman makes progress toward both of those goals, but she’s unable to locate the evidence she needs to fully realize either objective. This book is well-written, highly readable, and extremely interesting. Unfortunately, it falls just short of being the definitive account that it aspires to be.

    * HOUSE MADE OF DAWN (M. Scott Momaday) — This book won the Nobel Prize for Fiction in 1969, and is recognized as a landmark novel that brought significant new interest to Native American literature. The plot follows a character named Abel as he returns to a New Mexico reservation after serving in World War I. Abel kills a man, serves time in prison, moves to Los Angeles after being released, and then returns to the reservation to care for his dying grandfather. The imagery in this book is powerful & evocative, but the narrative is challenging at times to follow. I think I need to read it again to fully appreciate all it has to offer.

    JULIET TAKES A BREATH (Gaby Rivera) — Juliet is a Puerto Rican college student from the Bronx who is trying to understand who she is & how she fits into the world. The night before leaving for an internship with a renowned feminist author in Portland, Juliet comes out to her family, which does not go as well as she had hoped. Her time in Portland exposes her to new ways of thinking about feminism, gender, sexuality, race, relationships, and a host of other vital topics. This is a powerful book with the type of main character that we don’t see often enough in popular fiction. The novel has its flaws, but it addresses important issues from an underrepresented perspective, and I’m glad I read it.

    • davidallen909

      It sounds like you had one clear winner, Hugh, and four so-so reads of greater or lesser success. That’s how reading months go sometimes. Luckily, there are always more books in our queue, and the promise of greatness. That’s what keeps us going.

      • Hugh C. McBride

        Yeah, some months are better than others – but time spent reading is always time well spent.

        From your update this month, I’ll definitely be adding “A Canticle for Leibowitz” to my to-be-read list. I recall hearing that title years ago (it’s definitely a title that catches your attention – or at least, it caught mine) – but I don’t think I knew what the actual novel was about. Sounds fascinating. Hopefull it’ll show up in one of my reports here before too long.

        • davidallen909

          I didn’t summarize “Canticle” very well, so I’m pleased what I did say was enticing. It’s in part about a future Dark Age in which scholars try to preserve whatever written knowledge remains from the 20th century, no matter how scanty or puzzling. So it’s satirical, but that’s only the top layer.

    • Doug Evans

      I’ve read Mosley and Horowitz, though not these particular books, and I’ve liked them (I recommend “Moriarty” by Horowitz… fun solution to the mystery that took me by surprise). And, yes, chiming in on the comments just below this one: I recommend “A Canticle for Leibowitz!” I’ve read it twice and really enjoyed it both times. Go, Leibowitz!

    • Terri Shafer

      Hugh, I read “The Word is Murder” by Anthony Horowitz and liked it. I’m planning on reading this second book sometime. I hear that “The Magpie Murders” was also pretty good. Maybe you’d like one of those two better.

  • Doug Evans

    I read one! Which isn’t a lot? But more than some! Not more than some on this blog, I mean, but more than, say, my neighbors read last month, which, let me say for the umpteenth time, I really hope my neighbors aren’t regular readers of the David Allen Reading Log.

    “Selected of Shorter Writings of Mark Twain,” edited by Walter Blair (1962). This was an entertaining selection of Twain’s writing from across his career, collecting humorous essays, short stories, and pieces from larger works. I would have preferred a little more introduction from editor Blair placing each selection in context, but maybe he decided Twain mostly speaks for himself, and maybe he’s not wrong. And! This was a gift to me from David Allen, and inscribed to me by David on the title page. Thank you, David, and I’m glad to finally place this on the “read” (past tense) list!

    Speaking of putting books on the “read” list: I did read a second book this month: “You Know Me, Al,” by Ring Lardner. This book is included as part of a larger collection, “The Portable Ring Lardner,” given to me over ten years ago by my grandparents, knowing that Lardner is famously funny and thinking I would enjoy him. Alas, I never found time to read the book before my grandparents passed. I have decided that as part of my Year of Finally Reading Books Given to Me as Gifts (see my reading of “Gulliver’s Travels” in August and Twain this past month), I’m finally going to read this book, but out of respect to my grandparents, I’m not going to count it as a finished book here on the Log until I read the whole collection.

    “You Know Me, Al” tells the story of a gullible, self-centered rube hired to pitch for the Chicaco White Sox, who writes letters home to his friend Al describing his adventures, which mostly consist of his making bad decisions and being taken advantage of by others and not realizing it (the humor comes in the disparity between what he says happens to him and what we understand is actually happening). David read this book back in 2017:

    http://www.insidesocal.com/davidallen/2017/05/01/reading-log-april-2017/

    and wrote this: “It would be wrong to call the result hilarious, but amusing, sad and infuriating, yes.” I wish I had remembered that before I read it, because I kept thinking, “When does this get funny?” David’s comment is spot on. David also said the main character “might be presidential timber,” and that’s not wrong either.

    For next month: I hope to finish the Lardner book, I’m reading the newest book in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, and I got caught up in re-reading “The Hobbit,” but in a slightly unusual version, about which more next month. Happy reading, everyone, and see you all in November!

    • Hugh C. McBride

      “I got caught up in re-reading “The Hobbit,” but in a slightly unusual version, about which more next month.”

      You have no idea how much I hope this means that you read the book in Klingon.

      • Terri Shafer

        That is hilarious!

      • davidallen909

        …translated from the original Elvish.

    • Terri Shafer

      Sorry Doug, I haven’t read any of your “book” this month πŸ˜‰
      But looks like you’re moving right along on your reading plans!

  • Terri Shafer

    Sorry everybody, but I had quite a bit of reading time this month! So I put them in star order (I had two 5 star books this month!). But I have to start out with the book I appreciated the most!! πŸ˜‰

    ON TRACK by The David Allen, 2018, 384 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    This was so good, David! I appreciate your parents giving me the book to read, so I have to give them some credit (besides birthing you!); and Dave takes all the credit for discovering your talent “genius” when you worked on
    Yearbook! πŸ˜‰ Now he wants you to sign our book! We’ll have to work on that! πŸ™‚

    Here’s the review that I posted on Goodreads:
    “I enjoyed this book so much! Of course, being a personal friend of the author makes me even more excited and proud! David’s wit and humor keep you on your toes as you read along. Also, since it is a collection of newspaper columns from 2001-05, it feels a little like time travel. It is fun to read about how different things have changed in the last twenty years, especially some of the comments about technology. David, did you ever get cable TV or a cell phone?!

    As my brother lives in that same area east of Los Angeles, it was fun knowing, and also learning, a little bit about the region. I highly recommend this book, especially if you live in the Inland Valley area!”

    STONER by John Williams, 1965, 278 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    I loved this one! The writing was just beautiful!
    I don’t know if you go in for beautiful writing or not. If that is not important to you, it might not end up to be your favorite, but that’s what made the book for me. It is the story of William Stoner’s life, a sad story, low drama, but in the end I just really enjoyed it. I see why people give John Williams’ writing such high acclaim.

    THE YEARLING by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1938, 513 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    This may be my favorite book ever!!
    I know this is considered a children’s book, but I think that everyone should read it. I really don’t think that children could appreciate the beautiful writing, the fun the author had with the language,
    –the way the people talked to each other was really fun and added so much to the book — and the beautiful, kind and understanding character of the father would make everyone wish to have a father like Penny. He may be my favorite character in any book.
    And, of course, you must cry at the end because it’s such a tear-jerker, so be prepared.
    It’s sweet, it’s sad, it’s funny, it’s joyful. I just loved everything about it and did not want it to end! Read this book! πŸ˜‰

    TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney, 1970, 399 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    I love time travel! And this book stood with the best of them! There was mystery and romance and drama, and the inevitable question of “have I done anything to change history?” !! I highly recommend this one! πŸ™‚

    THE MAGIC SHOP by H.G. Wells, 1903, 32 pages(short story), β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    A fun little story! Magical and mysterious and the end makes you wonder if this really is the end… πŸ˜‰

    UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE by Bel Kaufman, 1964, 368 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    Loved this one!

    TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis, 1998, 493 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    This audio book was 21 hours, and I loved every minute of it! It was fun, silly, fast-moving, thought-provoking (the details of time travel) and well-written. I was glad to have read “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome, to which Willis was paying homage. This one reminded me a lot of P.G. Wodehouse, who is one of my favorites. I will definitely be reading Connie Willis again!

    OUR SOULS AT NIGHT by Kent Haruf, 2015, 179 pages — re-read for Book Club, β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    This was a nice book to end the year on, but a little sadder than I was expecting.
    It is a story about an elderly couple, each widowed, who decide to spend the nights together to keep from being lonely; and about the reaction of their community and family members. Also, it is written without any quotation marks or he said/she said in the dialogues. IMO, it made it feel like you were watching the story through a window rather than being in the room with them. It is a small detail, but it gives a different feeling to the book. I enjoyed it very much.

    I, ROBOT by Isaac Asimov, 1950, 224 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    I loved reading this science fiction book about what the author, living in the 1950’s, imagined would happen in the future. Although, much of his predicted future is already in our distant past!
    So different — so much the same — kind of scary!!

    JUST KIDS by Patti Smith, 2010, 304 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    This was a very interesting telling of two lives during a fascinating era in New York City. A very different lifestyle than I would ever have dreamed of living!! It was well-written and not too long, but got Patti’s point across of her deep feelings for Robert. I could feel her emotions, even though she did not write in a dramatic way. Overall — I liked it!

    ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D. Taylor, 1976, 288 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    This is a difficult story of an African American family, in the South, in the 1930’s, who own land, while most of the other families in the area work for a rich, white farmer who pays them poorly.
    There is lots of drama, all told by one of the four children in the family, Cassie, the only girl. She is very feisty and must learn her “place” even though it is very hard for her.
    This is an award winning book, and I can see how children could learn a lot from reading it. Although, as I said before, it could be a little scary for some, and it’s pretty sad because of some of the dramatic things that happen. However, if you like the book, there are several others in the series!

    CROSSTALK by Connie Willis, 2016, 480 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    This was a cute story about people accidentally becoming telepathic and all the trouble it causes. It was fun, with some drama, mystery, and romance thrown in. I enjoyed it for a light, amusing read.

    GIDGET by Frederick Kohner, 1957, 154 pages, β˜…β˜…β˜…s
    This was a really fun look back at the ’50’s surf scene. I was interested to learn that Gidget was based Frederick Kohner’s own daughter, Kathy, and her experiences on the beach with “the crew,” learning to surf.
    P.S. It was mentioned that one of “the crew” went to Pomona College πŸ˜‰

    THREE WOMEN by Lisa Taddeo, 2019, 304 pages, β˜…s
    It’s on all the best seller lists right now but I didn’t care for it :/

    Happy Reading in October!!

    • davidallen909

      I like how you read a Connie Willis book, said “I will definitely be reading Connie Willis again,” and then a few entries down, here’s another Connie Willis book. You are a woman of your word!

      If you have a print copy of Gidget, could you tell me the page number, or send a photo of the page, on which Pomona College is mentioned?

      I’m a little surprised, but pleased, that you liked I, Robot. Just Kids has been on my shelves a few years, waiting to be read.

      Of your other books, the one by David Allen sounds fascinating. I will definitely be on the lookout for a copy!

      • Terri Shafer

        Yes, I have a copy if you need to borrow it! πŸ˜‰

        I will be happy to get the Pomona College info from the Gidget book — I just have to get the book back, which is no problem. I’ll let you know as soon as I get it! And as you know — I’m a woman of my word! πŸ˜‰

  • davidallen909

    Doug, I’ll be interested in your thoughts on the rest of The Portable Ring Lardner (whatever it consists of), having read Haircut and Other Stories and Gullible’s Travels. I’m glad you liked You Know Me, Al even as a non-baseball fan. Cluelessness transcends all petty boundaries.

    And of course it’s great that you read, and liked, The Shorter Works. Since Mr. Twain wasn’t available to sign your book, I was pleased to do so at your request.

    Perhaps Mr. Twain will sign Terri’s copy of On Track?