Joe and Helen Draper of J & J’s Fish & BBQ in Pomona have always had posters of Barack Obama and his family, MLK and other Black figures in their restaurant. Now they’ve added Kamala Harris images. I talk to the couple, both 75, about their lives and their hopes for the Biden-Harris administration in Sunday’s column.
Have you hiked Mount Rubidoux in Riverside? I hadn’t, but now I have, an outing I recount in Friday’s column.
I return to the topic of Walter Knott’s 1920s berry farm and stand in Norco, with some fresh information. Also, I inspire a Montclair councilman to clean out his house and I recall an encounter with Tom LaBonge, the former LA councilman who died last week, all in Wednesday’s column.
Items about Frank Zappa and the California Jam festivals, a suddenly timely local theater production and a highly unfortunate vote make up Sunday’s column.
There was such interest in my columns on a recent Baez biography and on a concert she gave at her former high school in Redlands, I decided to devote Friday’s column to her Redlands years to coincide with her birthday Saturday. She lived in the city for five years in her childhood and taught herself to sing during that period by experimenting in the shower.
Gathering together some odds and ends, I share reader responses to recent columns on Rancho Cucamonga’s name, drive-in theaters, the Harada House and more, all in Wednesday’s column.
In an annual, much-loved ritual (by me, at least), I gather up all the books I read the past year — all the ones still in my possession, that is, which leaves out audiobooks and others borrowed from local libraries — for a photo and a roll call of sorts. (Here’s the 2019 post.) It’s a fun exercise for me and, with them all off my shelves, lets me also shift the ones I no longer want to a sell pile. It should probably be all or almost all of them, but usually it’s more like one-fourth.
You’re encouraged to comment on your own reading for 2020, such as number read, nonfiction vs. fiction, trends in your reading and such. I’m always a bit surprised at the amount of nonfiction this self-defined fiction guy reads; this year it was a bare win for fiction, 27 compared to 26 nonfiction. Almost all my books were published some or many years ago; my only 2019-20 reads were Callaci, Straight, Best SF, Madigan, Mantel and Cummins, with one 2021 book thanks to an advance copy.
1. “Walden and Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau
2. “Europe Through the Back Door,” Rick Steves
3. “The Golden Man,” Philip K. Dick
4. “The Golden Scorpion,” Sax Rohmer
5. “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today,” Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
6. “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol. 1, 1929-1964,” Robert Silverberg, editor
7. “The Fourth Galaxy Reader,” H.L. Gold, editor
8. “Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019,” Carmen Maria Machado, guest editor
9. “Ecology of Fear,” Mike Davis
10. “Wrath of Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer
11. “That’s Amore,” Diana Sholley
12. “Hail, Hail Euphoria!,” Roy Blount Jr.
13. “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Jonathan Lethem
14. “Bob Dylan in America,” Sean Wilentz
15. “Love is a Mix Tape,” Rob Sheffield
16. “100 Cassettes,” Dennis Callaci
17. “Wolf Hall,” Hilary Mantel
18. A Short History of the World,” J.M. Roberts
19. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” Mark Twain
20. “The Twilight Zone Companion,” Marc Scott Zicree
21. “Death in Venice,” Thomas Mann
22. “Bring Up the Bodies,” Hilary Mantel
23. “Written in My Soul,” Bill Flanagan
24. “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,” Philip K. Dick
25. “Crime and Punishment,” Fyodor Dostoevsky
26. “The Prisoner,” Thomas M. Disch
27. “Camp Concentration,” Thomas M. Disch
28. “Extra Innings: Fred Claire’s Journey to City of Hope and Finding a World Championship Team,” Tim Madigan
29. “Sonnets and Narrative Poems,” William Shakespeare
30. “The Comedy of Errors,” William Shakespeare
31. “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” William Shakespeare
32. “Henry VIII,” William Shakespeare
33. “The Mirror & the Light,” Hilary Mantel
34. “In the Country of Women,” Susan Straight
35. “Juliet, Naked,” Nick Hornby
36. “She,” H. Rider Haggard
37. “Leaves of Grass,” Walt Whitman
38. “The Wind in the Willows,” Kenneth Grahame
39. “American Dirt,” Jeanine Cummins
40. “A Handful of Dust,” Evelyn Waugh
41. “Joan Baez: The Last Leaf,” Elizabeth Thomson
42. “Just Kids,” Patti Smith
43. “Younger Than That Now: Collected Interviews With Bob Dylan,” James Ellison, ed.
44. “About Aging,” Josephine Smith
45. “A Good Life,” Ben Bradlee
46. “Larger Than Life: The Playboy Interviews,” Stephen Randall, ed.
47. “Not Dead Yet,” Phil Collins
48. “Eternally Yours,” Jack Smith
49. “Books: A Memoir,” Larry McMurtry
50. “A Passion for Books,” Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan, editors
51. “My Bookstore,” Reginald Rice, editor
52. “Booked to Die,” John Dunning
53. “Always a Song,” Ellen Harper
My annual column on my reading of the past year is a bit different this time: less about titles or recommendations, more about the act of reading itself during a stressful year. That’s my Sunday column.
Books read: “Books: A Memoir,” Larry McMurtry; “A Passion for Books,” Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan, editors; “My Bookstore,” Reginald Rice, editor; “Booked to Die,” John Dunning; “Always a Song,” Ellen Harper
Hot on the heels of my November Reading Log, posted only two weeks ago, here’s December’s. If 2020 proved nothing else, it’s that time is elastic.
November’s RL was delayed due to blog difficulties, you may recall; December’s is on time or a bit early because I also need to put together my annual list with photo of all my 2020 reading. That’ll be up within a day or two. If you have comments to make about your entire year of reading, that’d be a fine place for it.
My December was devoted to books on books. That is, except for a late-arriving book about music, which I wanted to get read and which serves as a contrapuntal harmony to the rest.
“Books” (2008): A chatty account of McMurtry’s introduction to books as a child, his love of books and his side career as a book scout and book seller. Short chapters (some less than a full page), loosely written, repetitive at times (he explains on four occasions that referring to a deceased person as “late” is “Botswanian”). It can read at times like a commercial for his Texas bookstore. But it’s casually engaging and often amusing.
“A Passion for Books” (1999): Some delightful pieces here, especially John Michell’s about history’s famous bibliomaniacs, and the interspersed New Yorker cartoons were a nice break. By the end, though, this was more about collecting and caring for first editions than about having a passion for reading. Not the fault of the book, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for.
“My Bookstore” (2012): 84 writers pen short essays on their favorite indie bookstore, representing about 35 states and stores both nationally famous (Powell’s, The Strand) and obscure except to those who love them. Put together in 2012, this shop-local tome was meant as a bulwark against Amazon and ebooks. Repetitive (read a half-dozen of these essays and you’ve read them all), but enjoyable if you love bookstores. Since this is the Reading Log, I would imagine that’s all of us. (An updated version with a few added stores, and no subtractions, was published in 2017.)
“Booked to Die” (2001): A police detective who’s good with his fists (too good, in fact) and collects Faulkner in first editions quits the force and opens a used bookstore. But he also needs to take care of some unfinished business involving the murder of a book scout. This mystery set in the world of bookmen — the first in a series starring Cliff Janeway — was pressed into my hands by a good bookman, which is only right. I learned a lot about the book trade while being swept up in a compelling story. But then, I like books.
“Always a Song” (2021): A calm, clear-eyed look back at the folk movement from someone on its periphery as a retailer (Claremont’s Folk Music Center), friend, family member and occasional musician, who went from being a red diaper baby to getting an invitation to the White House. Valuable as a female perspective, besides being well-observed, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious. Note: Book was a gift of the author. Expect a column later in January.
I started one other book, “Great Books” by David Denby. Halfway through the introduction, I decided this was not a book I wanted to read. (I’d owned it about 15 years and had always been intrigued by the premise of the author returning to college for a couple of Western Civ/Great Books courses. Ah, well. I did read his chapter on “Heart of Darkness.”) A few days later, Harper gave me an advance copy of “Always a Song,” which will be published in late January, and as luck would have it, I was free to start it immediately.
The most purely enjoyable book of the month was “Booked to Die,” with “Always a Song” rewarding as well for anyone with an interest in folk music. The others were too hit or miss.
“Song” aside, these were, as is often the case, rather long-lived in my unread books collection. (Will I never run out?) “Bookstore” is from 2012, a gift from my mom; “Booked to Die” is from 2010, a gift from the late Dwain Kaiser; “Books” is from 2008, a gift from reader (in both senses of the term) Jim Strodtbeck (he marked a page with a very funny anecdote regarding “Moby-Dick,” about which I had written recently; and “Passion” is a year or two older, a purchase (imagine that) from Bookfellows in Glendale. So, five books, four of them gifts. There’s more where those came from.
How was your December, readers? Let us know in the comments.
Next month: royalty.
Since I have a New Year’s Day column this year, I asked readers their thoughts about 2021: Will it be better, or more of the same? Those thoughts and more in Friday’s column. Also: Happy New Year.