Reading Log: November 2019

Books acquired: none

Books read: “The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum,” Stanley Weinbaum; “Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd,” John Bengtson

Happy December! Are you finding time to read despite the holidays? (Or because of the holidays? We don’t judge at the Reading Log.) As you can see above, I got in two books in November. One is in the landscape format and was too long to fit on my usual shelves for a photo showing its spine, so I had to improvise by placing it atop some large books, with the other book, a mass market paperback, on top. My two editions of the Science Fiction Encyclopedia and three film guides are no doubt excited to get some screen time.

“Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum” (1974): This is a collection of 12 of the 21 stories penned in the 1930s by Stanley Weinbaum, often considered the first great science fiction writer. He died of cancer less than two years into his writing career. His story “A Martian Odyssey” is a classic, in part because he created a truly alien race, but one I’d never read until now. Faced with an otherwise unfamiliar table of contents, I had feared that Weinbaum would be a one-trick pony. So it was a delightful surprise to find every story here enjoyable. Also, to find that “Odyssey” had a sequel, and that characters in some other stories recurred too. This is dialogue-driven, essentially cheerful SF, one where the male hero usually gets the “girl,” but a lot of fun to read. This book is the first Ballantine Best of, a series that grew to 21 volumes collecting short stories by many classic SF writers.

“Silent Visions” (2011): A remarkable feat of detective work, this matches up background images shot on location in Harold Lloyd’s silent films against vintage and modern photos of the same streetscapes. There’s usually some clue in the background — a street sign, a business name or a notable building — that allows Bengtson to determine the location. Neat, eh? One surprise is that in LA, for all its teardown reputation, a majority of the buildings remain at least semi-intact after 80 or 90 years. Another is that we’re not 100% sure how Lloyd filmed the “Safety Last!” clock stunt. That’s the one where Lloyd appears to hang off a clock face several stories above downtown L.A. Here’s a link to a snippet of the film to refresh your memory. (Let me add that Bengtson’s educated guesses sound correct. It involved building a fake two-story facade on a downtown rooftop and shooting from angles that preserve the illusion.) With multiple photos per page, the book’s page layout can be a challenge to follow, and I admit I considered giving up at times. But patient people who dote on LA and/or NYC history and silent films will be delighted.

And that’s about it. I finished these two in mid-month, upon which I read bits of three other books, but nothing I completed by the end of November. I thought about delaying the Reading Log for a week to enable me to finish a third book…but the thing is, I may end up reading only two books in December, so why rob from Peter to pay Paul?

Both my books this month were purchased within the last decade, which isn’t something I can say very often. Weinbaum was bought used in 2011 from Whittier’s Half Price Books and Bengtson followed in 2012 via (hiss) Amazon.

How was your November, readers, and do you have any reading plans for the last month of the year?

Next month: a literary biography, if you want to know the truth (that’s a hint as to the subject).

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  • Doug Evans

    I read four! Three more than I read in either September or October, so I’m doing better than I have been.

    “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens (2018). Read for my book club. The “It” book of last year with an intriguing if unlikely main character and a murder mystery to boot. Based on a true story? Maybe so! (This article gives away the end of novel, which: boo!, and also seems a little mean-spirited to me, so click as you will.)

    “Blue Moon (Jack Reacher #24)” by Lee Child (2019). It’s Jack Reacher! Reacher helps out a kindly old couple in hock to a loan shark and stumbles into the middle of a turf war between rival Ukrainian and Albanian gangs. This book has a body count higher maybe than all the rest of the novels put together and then ends with Reacher hopping a bus and leaving town, because that’s what he does. This is the first Reacher book I read after the completion of my two year Read Every Reacher Book project, and it felt nice to just be able to read it without having to cross it off my list and see how many more I had to go.

    “The Guardians” by John Grisham (2019). The latest by John Grisham. I’m all set to give Grisham a break for a while, but my dad bought this in hardback while visiting a relative in a hospital, and gave it to me when he finished, so here we are. The plot involves an innocent man sent to death row, and the efforts of our tiny band of underpaid protagonists to get him out. Exciting enough, but more of a lecture than a story at times (Grisham is a big supporter of The Innocence Project, and well he should be). There’s also a haunted house scene that was weird.

    “Jude the Obscure” by Thomas Hardy (1895). For a change of pace: a novel published at the end of the century before last, instead of in the last two years. Terri read this a year ago October, and I’m just going to quote her: “This turned out to be pretty deep — the pressures of society end up overcoming the main characters. If you’ve read Thomas Hardy before, you probably already know that this will not be a happy book. However, it is one that will really make you think!“ I agree! I also read this one in an interesting manner: via the “Obsure” podcast by comedian Michael Ian Black, who picked up his wife’s college Penguin edition of the book and decided to record himself reading the book out loud and commenting on it as he went along. It took 75 episodes and a year and a half but he did it. And I did too! His asides are genuinely funny, but he also gets caught up in the characters and their fates just like Terri and I did.

    Terri’s comments:

    As for David’s books: I’ve read “A Martian Odyssey” and its sequel and really liked them. I wish Weinbaum could have been with us longer, and I’d like one day to read more by him. I have a large trade paperback on Harold Lloyd’s films, though not the book David read, and I have two of Lloyd’s Christmas ornaments from his tree, which, according to this article, was a big deal back in the day. My uncle bought the ornaments for my grandpa at the auction mentioned in the article, and both of them having passed on, the ornaments came to me. They’re framed together with a postcard of the tree (the same picture featured in the article).

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      I had never heard of Lloyd’s Christmas tree — that LAT story was odd and kind of delightful — and I’m likewise surprised and delighted to hear you own a couple of the ornaments.

      Lloyd is having a mild resurgence, with four of his movies now on Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection.

      That “Obscure” podcast sounds funny, but also like something I will never actually listen to. The book is so depressing that there’s certainly room for comedy at its expense, but also for admiration, since as I recall it’s also pretty great.

      Congratulations on four books, Doug!

    • Terri Shafer

      Good month, Doug!
      What did you think of “Crawdads”? It has been SO publicized everywhere that I shied away from it. But I will probably end up reading it at some point. Let me know, is it worth it?

      Also, I guess I’d better watch what I say here if I’m going to be quoted! When I read what you wrote, I thought “I wrote that? Hey, not too bad!” 😉
      Glad you enjoyed Hardy. The more I read him, the more I like him!

      • Doug Evans

        I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t shared my actual opinion of “Crawdads”! I enjoyed it, unlike Laura Miller, the author of that Slate article I linked to (the one where she spoils the ending), and it sparked a good discussion in our book club. So, my vote is: yes, go ahead and read it! The main character is just a little… by which I mean a lot… unbelievable, but once you get past that, it’s a fun and a fast read.

        • Terri Shafer

          Thanks! I’ll give it a try. I’m thinking my own book club will probably end up reading it next year.

  • Rinaldo Darke

    The best from November

    “The Night Fire” by Michael Connelly 5 stars.
    The new Harry Bosch/Renee Ballard cop novel.
    All you could ask for.

    “Blue Moon” by Lee Child 4 stars
    What Doug Evans said.

    “A Second Chance” by Jodi Taylor 4 stars
    My SF book this month. St Mary’s does historical research by means of time travel. This is the third in the series and they visit Agincourt and the Trojan War to find out what really happened.

    “Heart of Barkness” by Spencer Quinn 4 stars
    Ninth in the fun private eye series about Chet the dog and Bernie, the detective. Chet tells the stories for a really smart dog’s point of view.

    “Mucho Mojo” by Joe Lansdale 4 stars
    Second in the series about two Texas buddies who get involved in rough, tough crime stories.

    “Twisted Twenty-six” by Janet Evanovich 4 stars
    The new book (26th in the series) about Trenton, NJ bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. Lots of fun here.

    • davidallen909

      Welcome back, Rinaldo. Six books, all of them 4 stars or above? You enjoyed yourself in November. I suspect I would like the Jodi Taylor books.

    • Doug Evans

      Good month, Rinaldo! But.. “best from November”? Does that mean you read more than six and just picked the best from the pile?

      • Rinaldo Darke

        Yes, I read four more but they were not good enough to mention. Me = 45 years as a bookseller.

        • davidallen909

          Welcome back, Rinaldo. No wonder your choices were 4 stars or above. You’re selective!

  • DebB

    I managed two this month – that’s two more than last month! Both were by Mary Stewart: Touch Not the Cat and My Brother Michael.

    The first was about a young British woman who returns to her family estate after her father’s death. She’s hoping to find the “lover” with whom she has been mentally communicating all her life. Murder and mayhem ensue, and in the end she is surprised when the lover is finally revealed.

    The second is about a young British woman (of course) traveling in Greece who takes a wild chance for adventure when she is mistaken for someone else. Murder and mayhem ensue (of course) but all is solved in the end.

    I’m really enjoying Mary Stewert. Her books are a little different from the Agatha Christie formula, with a little more action and unusual twists (like the mental communication).

    Hopefully I’ll have a little extra reading time between Christmas and New Year!

    • davidallen909

      From zero to 2 in one month: Is that the reading equivalent of zero to 60? Nice job, Deb. Those do sound different from Christie, where the main action is Poirot waxing his mustaches. Good luck for December!

    • Doug Evans

      I think I shared before on this blog that my mom had a copy of “Touch Not the Cat” when I was growing up. I always thought that was a weird way to tell someone not to do something.

      • DebB

        I was curious about it, too, when I first saw the title. Turns out it is (in the story) a family motto from medieval days.

        • Doug Evans

          Makes sense! And as a family motto, “Touch Not the Cat” does sound cooler than “Hey, Don’t Touch the Cat!”

    • Terri Shafer

      As you know, Deb, I love Mary Stewart! I need to read another one of hers soon.
      I am reading one right now for book club that I think you might enjoy. It is “Murder for Christmas” by Francis Duncan (1949). It is in the genre of Agatha Christie with all of the quaint English Christmas setting, the amateur detective is Mordecai Tremaine and, of course, there will be a murder! You might look into it! 😉

      • DebB

        Thanks, Teri! I’ll write it down and look into it later in the month when I hopefully have more time.

  • Nikki Villalobos

    I got through seven in November:

    Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink. He’s one of the minds behind the Welcome to Nightvale podcase, and the book really shows that, even though it isn’t set in that particular city. It’s weird. Good. But weird.

    She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. These are the reporters that broke the Harvey Weinstein story, and this book documents part of that process. It goes over how they gathered information, and what they found out. Great book.

    Know My Name by Chanel Miller. She was the Emily Doe part of the Brock Turner case. This book is upsetting on many levels but important. I wouldn’t suggest reading it back to back with She Said the way I did.

    The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara. This was wonderful and I found myself so invested in the life of a woman I didn’t even know existed. It’s a pretty light read, part biography part…I’m not sure. The author provides us some of her background and takes us along with her as she learns more about Patrick, the journey and struggle she had finding information on this facinating woman.

    Watchmen by Alan Moore. This graphic novel was amazing. I honestly hadn’t had high expectations, even having read all the stuff about how fantastic this book was. Graphic novels haven’t really been my thing. This was nuanced, the characters felt real, they were flawed, things were difficult for them. I finished it and found myself wanting more.

    V for Vendetta by Alan Moore. The art style on this graphic novel threw me off a little. I did find it interesting noting the differences between this and the movie, though. Both stand up on their own. This offers more overall though, as is usually the case when there is a book source for a movie.

    Christine by Stephen King. For his creepy car books, I prefer From a Buick 8, but this was alright. It felt a little long, though. The pace didn’t hold up for the whole book.

    • Terri Shafer

      Nikki, the only one of yours that I have read is Christine and that was many years ago. I liked it pretty well though. But it looks like I may have to look into “From a Buick 8” if you liked it better!

    • Doug Evans

      Congrats on seven books! I read and really liked “Christine” back in the day, which was 1985, I think. I was a nerdy kid in high school at the time so I identified with the main character (at least up to the part where he purchases a car that kills people). I felt the way about “Watchman” that you did, and I did it old-school style: purchasing the issues one by one as they came out (again, this would have been the mid-80s). I haven’t seen the new “Watchmen” sequel series on HBO, but I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about it, so if you’re wanting more, maybe that’s the way to go?

  • Terri Shafer

    I haven’t read either of yours, David, but they look interesting!

    I only read eight this month, but I am also reading a couple of books that I won’t actually finish until almost the end of December (before midnight on the 31st!!!). So, I read more pages than this, but I can’t count them as finished books (yet!)

    THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED by John Boyne, 2013, 304 pages, 4****s
    I loved reading this ghost story during the Halloween season! John Boyne is such a good author. I really enjoy his books.

    This story tells of a mother who has died but her ghost goes to extremes to stay close to her two children. Unfortunately, she won’t let anyone else get close to them. Therein lies the trouble, especially for the six governesses who have been hired in the last year (really bad for a few of them!). I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, so I won’t go any further. But I will say that there is a twist at the end that makes the story even more interesting and chilling.
    I really enjoyed this one!

    CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by Andre Aciman, 2007, 248 pages, 3***s
    I read this one because I’d heard a lot about the movie. The book was interesting. I liked that it was set in Italy. It sounded very beautiful. But the story was narrated by a 17-year-old boy, and it was very serious and dramatic, with lots of teenage angst. It wasn’t bad, and the ending was better than I thought it was going to be. But I don’t think I’ll plan to see the movie.

    RABBIT, RUN by John Updike, 1960, 320 pages, 3.5***s
    Oh. My. Gosh!!! What was that about?! This is really a strange book about a young man with no maturity, no sense of responsibility, and absolutely no guilt for how he treats his wife, women in general, his children…shall I go on?!
    This is my initial reaction after finishing the book. I had heard of it for so many years. I even started it once and didn’t like it at all. But after being encouraged by others, I decided to go ahead with it. In the end it was better than I expected — and also worse! 😉
    After reading reviews by other readers, I don’t feel so all alone. My reaction is similar to others.
    Now that I’m calming down, I will say that I really enjoyed Updike’s writing style. And knowing that it was written 60 years ago, there was the feeling of a different era. But, still…… wow!
    All that being said — as much as I didn’t expect myself to say this — I may have to read some of the future “Rabbit” books (there are four more!) just to see what happens to Harry and to see if he ever grows up!!

    SOLD ON A MONDAY by Kristina McMorris, 2018, 344 pages, 3***s
    I read this for book club. It was a little light-weight but an interesting enough story about a couple of reporters during the Prohibition/Depression era trying to find out about what happened to a couple of kids that were “sold.”

    THE THANKSGIVING VISITOR by Truman Capote, 1967, 37 pages, 4****s
    I had read Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” so wanted to read this one too. They are both stories of himself as a small child and some of his memories of those holidays. They are both cute 🙂

    THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty, 2012, 367 pages, 4.5 ****s
    I’m giving this one 4.5 stars! I really enjoyed it! I listened to the audio book that was read by Elizabeth McGovern, and she did such a good job that I think she increased my enjoyment.

    It is the story of Cora, who chaperones a young girl, Louise, in New York City for one summer of dance classes. Cora and Louise are from Wichita, and the story goes on from that summer to give Cora’s background and where she came from, as well as going on into both women’s futures. There are many stories (several going at one time!), and lots of history as the story begins in the early 1920’s and ends somewhere in the 1980’s (I think).

    It is well written and thought out, giving good descriptions of the people and places throughout the book. I highly recommend this one!

    VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GROVE by Karen Russell, 2013 243 pages, 4****s
    A set of very interesting short stories. In reviews, this book is listed as magical realism and fantasy. And it certainly is that! I think I’m going to try Russell’s “Swamplandia!” next.

    THE GOOD NEIGHBOR: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, 2018, 416 pages, 4****s
    This was a very well-told, well-written biography of Fred Rogers. There is lots of history of his family and where he came from. Lots about how he got to be ‘Mr. Rogers.’ And information about how no one could believe that he was for real, but he really was!

    I only read this because the ebook just happened to be on a short hold through my library, so I thought I’d try it. Then suddenly Mr. Rogers is everywhere! But I’m glad I read it while the new movie is coming out and there are many interviews to be heard about him! It all just added to my enjoyment of this book 🙂

    • davidallen909

      Eight books is plenty anyway, Terri. Thanks as always for participating and keeping things lively.

      I know what you mean about reading pages in November that didn’t count. One of my books hit the “done” pile on Dec. 2!

      • Terri Shafer

        Been there, done that! 😉

    • Doug Evans

      I’ve been working on some fairly large books too, including two large collections of short stories and a “History of the Hobbit,” which includes all the drafts of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” which means it’s about three times as long as just reading “The Hobbit.” Also I’m working on that Ring Lardner collection that my grandparents got me a long time ago. Making my way through those books is part of what kept me from completing more than one book each back in September and October.

      I’ve always been curious to read those “Rabbit” books by Updike, but I’ve wondered if maybe they’re a little self-indulgent? They sound to me like a New Yorker-type story where all the main characters seem like the kind of people who would write stories for the New Yorker.

      • Terri Shafer

        You’re probably right about the Rabbit books. I had always heard of them and wanted to see what they were all about. I wasn’t crazy about it. I think you should at least read the first book and tell me what you think!
        Also, I’m thinking of finally giving The Lord of the Rings a try in 2020. What do you think?

        • Doug Evans

          Hello Terri! I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings… so much so that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it (including once out loud to my daughter, whom I was surprised was up for listening to the whole thing)… but if you haven’t done so already, I’d start with “The Hobbit,” which is a lot of fun and which I’d recommend to anyone. I know several people who have started and couldn’t finish Lord of the Rings (including David!), but I’ve never met anyone who read The Hobbit and didn’t enjoy it.

          I’ll give the Rabbit series a try! I have always wanted to read them… regardless of how likable the main character may or may not be, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a series of books taking us through the life of a person.

  • Hugh C. McBride

    Shamefully late to this month’s update, but wanted to be sure my November reading made it into the historical record. I read four books last month – three of which were relative duds, & one of which was one of the best of my reading year.

    The three from the “so-so” category:

    ALL THE THINGS WE LEAVE BEHIND (Riel Nason) – A 17-year-old girl named Violet is left to run her family’s antique store in 1970s Canada while her parents are off trying to find her brother, who abruptly left town shortly after graduating from high school. There’s also a mysterious estate that Violet has to try to acquire for the store. Complications ensue, surprises are revealed.

    DARKNESS THE COLOR OF SNOW (Thomas Cobb) – A late-night traffic stop on an icy road turns deadly. The cop & the driver (who was killed) had once been friends, but a falling-out years ago had led to significant lingering animosity. Like that long-ago friendship, this book starts with promise, but ends poorly.

    THE MAN WHO SAW EVERYTHING (Deborah Levy) – In the late 1980s, a man is hit by a car in the crosswalk outside Abbey Road studios prior to leaving for a research trip to East Berlin. Years later, he’s hit by another car (possibly driven by the same man) in the same location. In between (and in the aftermath) of these two incidents, complications arise.

    The masterwork:

    THE GREAT BELIEVERS (Rebecca Makkai) – A powerful novel about the devastation of the AIDS crisis among the gay community of Chicaco in the mid-1980s. This novel alternates between scenes set in the 80s & ones in the 2010s. The modern-day scenes address how the few characters who survived continue to be affected by what they had endured 30 years prior. A stellar novel, one that resonates long after you’ve reached the final page.

    • davidallen909

      Maybe it’s worth reading three so-so books if the fourth is a masterwork, eh? Thanks for putting your November reading on the historical record and entrusting the results to the Reading Log. The shame isn’t in participating late, it’s in not participating at all. Also, there’s no I in team. Where am I going with this comment??

      • Hugh C. McBride

        If you ever get tired of the “respected author & beloved columnist” lifestyle, you’ve clearly got a future in the movitational poster development industry, Mr. Allen!

    • Doug Evans

      Hey, it’s Hugh! Happy to see you commenting on here this month. I can see why you thought the first three books that you mention might be worth reading. From your description, they all sound intriguing. “Sounds intriguing” doesn’t always equal “intriguing,” though. Here’s to a better ratio of duds to best in December!