Reading Log: September 2020

Books acquired: “In the Country of Women,” Susan Straight; “Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick,” Lawrence Sutin

Books read: “In the Country of Women,” Susan Straight; “Juliet, Naked,” Nick Hornby; “She,” H. Rider Haggard

Welcome to fall! We’re in the home stretch of 2020, three-fourths of the way through what’s described as the most tumultuous year since 1968, and the way things are going, let’s hope we all make it.

At least the Reading Log soldiers on. What could be more vital, after all, than sharing what books we read?

I’ll start. Hey, it’s my blog. I read three books in September, all about women, although just one was written by a woman.

“In the Country of Women” (2019): Women don’t have Homeric odysseys in literature, Straight writes, but she sets out to tell a version of an epic involving the women in her family going back generations, who traveled from the Deep South, Canada and Europe, not always at their choosing, to end up in Southern California. A memoir that’s more about others than about herself, and addressed as much to her daughters as to us. We should all be so lucky as to have a gifted writer research our family tree.

“Juliet, Naked” (2009): A reclusive musician releases the demo versions of his classic breakup album of 20 years earlier, and its merits spark a fight between a couple whose relationship is in stasis: He’s an obsessive fan who thinks it’s brilliant, she’s not and says it’s a bunch of malarkey. The musician, it turns out, agrees with her. Not especially dramatic, and about 2/3 of the way through the story foundered for a bit, but thankfully it ends on an unexpected note. It’s heartening how a writer known for his lad books (“High Fidelity,” “Fever Pitch,” “About a Boy”) has turned his attention in recent years to writing from women’s perspective, and done so successfully (this male would say). He even casts a dim eye on the lad’s concerns, and reminds us that normal people are allowed to like music on normal, non-obsessive terms. We lads can always stand to hear that again.

“She” (1887): I knew little more than that the tribal ruler in question was addressed as “she-who-must-be-obeyed,” a phrase later employed by certain British men to describe their possibly battle-ax wives. My expectation here was that our adventurers would encounter a fearsome tribal chieftess who might only be brought to heel by a brutal hero. That proved very wrong. Ayesha is among the most beguiling characters of adventure fiction, and unlike almost all the rest of them, needless to say, she’s a woman. (And what a woman.) Sure, a bit fusty, given its Victorian origins, but imaginative and thrilling.

“She” would be my favorite of the month, although I could recommend all three.

I bought the Haggard omnibus in 2008 at St. Louis’ Patten Books (RIP); I will count each novel of the three contained within as its own novel (I mean, why not?) and hope to get to “King Solomon’s Mines” within the next year. “Juliet, Naked” was bought in 2011 at Borders Montclair (RIP). “In the Country of Women” was bought this month at the Barnes & Noble in Montclair; the chain was promoting the book in September, giving it its own display table. I don’t tend to read books that have their own display table and enjoyed the novelty.

I’ve already finished a book in October, one started back in May (!), so that’s a relief; two or three more will follow.

What did you read in September, folks? Let us know in the comments, as usual.

Next month: some earthy reading, dig?

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  • DebB

    I managed six this month, although one of them was more like a novella.

    I finished (and loved) the James Herriott series with All Things Wise and Wonderful and The Lord God Made Them All. The first contains his war years and the chapters switch back and forth from his veterinary practice to his military service. The second does a similar thing, but switching to two different times in the 1960s when he accompanied a shipment of livestock to European countries. I found those very interesting. I’ll say again what I said last month about the first two books – I’d forgotten how many laugh-out-loud moments there are.

    Next I read A Study in Stone by Michael Campling. I was a 99-cent email offer for my Kindle, so I chanced it. It was short, and not bad, but I was glad I’d only paid 99 cents. It’s classed as a mystery, but involves not murder but a message on a stone that solves a bit of family history. Like I said, not bad, but I haven’t rushed to buy another in the series.

    Then the second half of the month I read another three Miss Silver mysteries: In The Balance, The Chinese Shawl, and Miss Silver Deals with Death. All in the more classic Christie/Miss Marple style, and I enjoyed them very much.

    • DebB

      As an addendum to my post: I don’t know how many of you receive emails from Amazon or other book promoters with lists of new books. But have you noticed how many of them tack on “A Novel” as if it were a subtitle? I looked through a recent Amazon email and I bet more than half the books added that phrase to their titles!

      • davidallen909

        I don’t get enough solicitations to have recognized that as a thing, but I’ve seen it, and now that you’ve brought it up, likely I’ll see it all the time now!

        • Hugh C. McBride

          Potential new title for this here page:
          The David Allen Blog: A Blog

          • Terri Shafer

            Oh, that’s good! David’s going to jealous that he didn’t think of that one!

          • DebB

            That’s funny!!

      • Terri Shafer

        I haven’t noticed this in particular, but I get lots of promotional emails for books. I’ll keep an eye out for that. I does seem a little unnecessary.

    • Terri Shafer

      Deb, I haven’t heard of the Miss Silver series. I’ll have to look into it. If it’s like Christie’s Miss Marple books, I think I’ll like these. Miss Marple is my favorite!

      • DebB

        I read one Miss Silver a few years ago and enjoyed it. I’m not sure why it took me this long to continue with the series. The main difference between her and Miss Marple is that Miss Silver is actually a private detective. But she’s otherwise very much like MM.

  • Terri Shafer

    David, I like your books this month (not that I don’t like them every month). I read Juliet, Naked ten years ago, so that means I don’t remember much at all! But I’ve read several of Hornby’s books and tend to enjoy then a lot (my two favorites so far are High Fidelity and About a Boy).
    And – I also acquired a Haggard omnibus; however, I paid $.25 at a yard sale! I haven’t read any of it yet, but She, King Solomon’s Mines, and Allan Quatermain are all on my list. Thanks for thoughts on She, I’m encouraged that I’ll like it!

    I have 13 on my list for this month:

    I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown, 2020, 112 pages, 5*****s
    Wow! Powerful!

    The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington, 1918, 288 pages, 4****s
    I read this to satisfy a challenge. It is considered a classic, and I enjoyed it. But it turned out to be kind of a “riches to rags” story and was sad. It was a good book, though 🙂

    On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, 2007, 166 pages, 4****s
    I ended up liking this one better than I thought I would! It is sad, but after I listened to the 30 minute author interview at the end of the audio book, I understood a little more what McEwan was going for. It was a nice discussion, and I thought it really rounded out the book.
    It is about a young couple who meet, fall in love, get married — and then comes the wedding night. Well, to say the least, it doesn’t go well, and the scene is fairly graphic. But you really get the idea of what is going on and how both people feel, and then follows what happens after. The psychology of the situation is pretty interesting, and it’s a short book, so the details don’t go on forever.
    I say “give it a try!” 🙂

    Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, 2017, 306 pages, 4****s
    Very powerful! And written in an interesting format. I highly recommend it!

    Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol, 1963,128 pages, 4****s
    This one was so much fun! It’s written at about a late elementary level. It has the reader try to solve the mystery at the end of every case. Then you can flip to the back of the book to see if you were right, or to get the correct answer. It was really fun! I think a lot of kids would like it — I certainly did (I used to be a kid, once!)! 🙂

    Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, 2017, 343 pages, 3***s
    Wow! What a trip!
    This one is really strange! I know it won a lot of awards, but I listened to the audio book, and I don’t know if I could have gotten through it without Nick Offerman and David Sedaris! AND the other “more than 100” readers! It was interesting, but — all I can say is Wow! and Good Luck!

    The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield, 1922, 159 pages, 4****s
    I so enjoy Katherine Mansfield’s writing! It’s beautifully descriptive with intriguing story lines and a little added humor thrown in. Very enjoyable — I highly recommend it!

    Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, 1994, 256 pages, 4****s
    An amazing story about a very brave girl!
    David, your mom recommended this book to me five years ago and I’m just now getting to it! Now I see why she liked it 🙂

    Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, 2019, 388 pages, 5*****s
    Malcolm Gladwell is so good at explaining his topics with amazing research. I learned so much from this book! He goes into great detail, backed up by research at every turn, on what we expect from, and how we react to, strangers, and why. It is just amazing! Another good one from Gladwell!

    Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, 2000, 312 pages, 4****s
    I unexpectedly enjoyed this book, and I was glad I listened to Anthony Bourdain read the audio book. He told of so many interesting things that go on in the restaurant industry — some of them things you might not want to know! 😉
    But it was all very entertaining and fascinating. Of course, Anthony Bourdain was a fairly brash, aggressive personality, as you may know, so be prepared for him to say whatever comes to his mind and in whatever words you may, or may not, want to hear him say! But, I guess, that’s part of the dark “underbelly” of the restaurant business. And if you know what to expect, it just becomes part of the story.
    This book was written in 2000 so, of course, it is very sad because he does not know the future of his life, and we do. So, although I didn’t know if I wanted to read this because of his passing, in the end I really did enjoy learning about his life and his passions. He lived an interesting life and lived it to the fullest.
    Also, if you enjoy food, you’ll certainly like this one! Bon appétit! 🙂

    Monogamy by Sue Miller, 2020, 338 pages, 4****s
    This seems just to be a quiet story of a woman reviewing her marriage and her life. It was not dramatic in any way, it felt kind of soft and smooth and slow — very “Sue Miller,” I think. I’ve read several of hers but not for quite awhile. I first thought “What is this book about?” but then I just kind of let it flow over me, and that felt better. In the end, it felt good. If you are a Sue Miller fan, you’ll enjoy this one 🙂
    (Also, she read the audio book. Her voice was felt very calming.)

    Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse, 1947, 242 pages, 4****s
    Jeeves and Wooster always have fun adventures!

    An Irish Country Welcome (#15) by Patrick Taylor, 2020, 368 pages, 4****s (available October 6th)
    It is always a joy to visit the small Irish village of Ballybucklebo, this “episode” being set in 1969. I love the many references to the historic things that were happening at the time. And Doctor Fingal O’Reilly is always willing to give history lessons to one and all from the past. It really is very educational!
    It’s heartwarming; it’s funny, with some sadness and lots of joy included. If you’re reading this series or if you just enjoy a nice comfy read, I think you’ll be very pleased with this one!

    • Hugh C. McBride

      I have “connections” to three of the books on your list, Terri:

      * I *loved* the Encyclopedia Brown series when I was a young ‘un. Glad you enjoyed it as well! I’ve often wondered how popular these books are among today’s younger generation (I guess first someone would have to explain to them what an encyclopedia is, right?) For what it’s worth, one of the reasons encyclopedias are no longer en vogue, Wikipedia, tells me there are 29 books total in the series.

      * I read Anatomy of a Face a few years back and I found it to be captivating.

      * I’ve been meaning to read Kitchen Confidential for a long, long time …

      • Terri Shafer

        Yes, you should definitely read it! I think you’ll like it 🙂

      • Doug Evans

        My family introduced me to Anthony Bourdain a few years ago, after his death, sadly. I wish I’d known about him earlier, just because he is an entertaining presenter, and I wish he’d been able to find the peace here in life he was apparently unable to find.

    • davidallen909

      I read and enjoyed, if that’s the right word, On Chesil Beach; there’s a film adaptation from a year or two ago that I haven’t seen.

      Encyclopedia Brown was my main man in my elementary days. I’d forgotten the format, with the Ellery Queen-like opportunity for the reader to solve the case. There must only have been a half-dozen books in the series when I was reading them and I wished there were more.

      Magnificent Ambersons is also famous, or infamous, as an Orson Welles movie, his follow-up to Citizen Kane, It was re-edited by the studio and an upbeat ending was shot. So it’s kind of a mess. But still of interest.

      I read one George Saunders story, a novella (title forgotten), and was glad to be done with it. He might be too experimental for me.

      I have not read, seen or heard Anthony Bourdain. A friend gave me a book of interviews with him for my birthday and I need to read that. He’s someone I would probably like, but as a non-TV person I just haven’t sought him out or encountered him.

      Can I say I’m relieved that you give Monogamy 4 stars?

      • Terri Shafer

        Ha! Very cute! Dave’s also happy 😉

        I did read Saunders’s short story compilation Tenth of December. I wasn’t crazy about it. I guess I should have learned from that experience :/

    • Doug Evans

      Good month, Terry! I read and loved Encyclopedia Brown as a young ‘un, and I read “Lincoln in the Bardo” about a year ago and really enjoyed it, but David ain’t wrong: it’s pretty experimental. Since each character literally talks for a sentence or two before another takes over, I was wondering how that would play out in audio form. If they don’t keep identifying the characters by name, as they do in the book, you’d really have to pay attention to the voices to follow what was going on.

  • Doug Evans

    I read four!

    “The Wycherly Woman” by Ross Macdonald (1961). #9 in the Lew Archer series. Archer keeps plugging along, solving crimes that cross his path, and I keep enjoying them. I’m officially halfway through the series (with a collection of short stories to go after that).

    “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1965” and “1970”, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr (1965). Two books from the same series, purchased at different times from different book stores and finally read. What I didn’t realize when I bought them: 1965 is the first book of the series, and they were really taking the “World’s Best” thing seriously, with translated stories from Czechoslovakia and Holland, among other places. The 1970 book (in which they’ve mostly given up on the “World’s Best” thing, with most of the stories coming from the USA or England) is, surprisingly, the last in the series. The two editors apparently had a falling out, and they each continued their own version of a Year’s Best Sci-Fi, Wollheim going with “The Annual World’s Best SF” and Carr’s being called “The Best Science Fiction of the Year.” I have later books from both of those series sitting on my shelf. I never knew the back story before.

    The 1970 “World’s Best” book is perhaps most notable for including Harlan Ellison’s classic “A Boy and His Dog,” which, to my surprise, is immediately followed by a story written by my old University of Redlands professor Bruce McAllister. Quite a year!

    “Ill Met in Lankhmar and Ship of Shadows: Two Novellas” by Fritz Leiber (1970, 1969). Kind of a cheat, but maybe not a cheat: “Ship of Shadows” is in the 1970 “World’s Best” just mentioned. I read that and did a little googling on Leiber and realized that this book, a collection of two of his most famous novellas, was available for purchase (cheap!) for the Kindle. “Lankhmar” features Leiber’s famous Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser characters, whom I’ve known about for forty years but whose stories I have never read. So I bought the book, read “Lankhmar”, didn’t reread the “Ship of Shadows” since I’d just read it, and counted the whole thing as a book for the David Allen Reading Log. And liked it! I want to visit more of the world of Fafhrd and his buddy the Gray Mouser. Once I knock down the Giant Stack of Unread Books a little.

    As for David’s books, I read “She” 25 years ago while traveling through Spain and really liked it, and “About a Boy” is one of my Giant Stack of Unread Books that I hope to get to one day.

    Next month! The next Lew Archer book and the super-long “The Mirror & the Light”, and, if that doesn’t take me to the end of the month, which it probably will: one of the books from the Terry Carr “Best of” sci-fi series (also featuring a story from my prof Bruce McAllister!). Happy reading, everyone!

    • davidallen909

      Congratulations on getting halfway through the Lew Archer series (with a collection of short stories to go after that)!

      I’m familiar with the names Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from various fannish readings, their being on the periphery of the Robert E. Howard etc. sword and sorcery stuff I was reading in the ’70s, but I’ve never read one either. They’re probably tough characters, but the name “Gray Mouser” doesn’t make me want to read about them. “Fafhrd” isn’t that compelling either.

      (Those are no doubt unfair judgments, especially since I’ve read and really enjoyed some of Leiber’s stories. But then, with a world of books to get to, unreasoning prejudices against some of them may be for the best. After all, a part of me does think I should one day read the Lew Archer series…)

    • Terri Shafer

      I haven’t read any of yours this month, Doug. But wanted to let you know that I’m trying to get to Rabbit at Rest, however, it hasn’t happened yet! Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks!

  • davidallen909

    Thanks for posting, Hugh. Even a bi-monthly comment is better than no comment at all, or than a quarterly comment for that matter. I believe the jury of your reading peers, as you called us, will show leniency in your case. Although honestly, would it be so bad if we threw the book at you?

    I was at Skylight Books on Sunday, looking title by title in its very good LA/California section, and saw a 2018 book about the Dodgers’ arrival in LA, title now forgotten. It made me think, what was the name/author of that more recent book about the Dodgers’ arrival in LA? You have now provided that answer.

    • Hugh C. McBride

      I highly recommend Stealing Home. I only knew the broad strokes of the Dodger Stadium story (immigrants pushed out to lure MLB team), but I had no idea how many folks were affected, how long they’d been there, or that the city had been working to evict the residents of the Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop communities long before Mr. O’Malley thought about bringing his ballclub west. Nusbaum does a nice job of establishing an authoritative historical record without losing sight of the humans who were directly impacted (or who were responsible for that impact).

  • Terri Shafer

    Hugh! Of course, we were all waiting with bated breath — Waiting to Exhale — and now we can!! Haha!
    I have The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell on my list for this month (not sure if I’ll actually get to it in October, though)! I’ll see if our opinions match or not. I’ll be sure to let you know, but — “don’t hold your breath.” 😉

    • Hugh C. McBride

      Thanks so much, Terri! I definitely hope you enjoy ol’ Sam’s adventures when you get to them. I think the problem for me is that I went into it expecting one type of story, & I got something different. Plus, the other two books I read recently were so different & so powerful, that this book suffered by comparison. Looking forward to reading your response in an upcoming Reading Log!