Column: In ‘Hondo,’ John Wayne has a ranch ‘east of San Dimas’

The 1953 movie has a classic bit of “local” dialogue. For its 70th anniversary, I watch the movie again, quote the full exchange and explain how the Louis L’Amour novel of “Hondo” is actually a novelization of the movie rather than the movie being an adaptation of the book, as I’d assumed. All that is in my Wednesday column, which misses the 70th anniversary by two days (but who’s counting?).

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‘Truly a columnist’s columnist’

Photo by Gustavo Arellano

I had dinner in Santa Ana two weekends ago with journalist and LA Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, writer Susan Straight and journalist Cynthia Rebolledo after Gustavo and Susan’s event at LibroMobile, the subject of my column last Friday. Gustavo, seated across from me, asked to take my photo after our food arrived but before I dug in. I agreed, without asking why.

Well! On Saturday morning, a week later, I opened Gustavo’s weekly newsletter, to which I subscribe, to find that he’d featured me. Gosh! He wrote about the event, our dinner and our long association. And he used the restaurant photo seen above. Ha! I like the picture; I think it captures my amused tolerance.

Gustavo’s write-up about me is very generous, with lines like these: “He’s the best type of columnist, too – the one that gets better as the years go on, that continues to learn and documents a region until you don’t know a region unless you know the columnist.”

It’s not for me to say if any of that’s true, but certainly I continue to learn, I like to think I’ve gotten better and if I’m a must-read, well, that’s a goal, albeit one that to my mind remains elusive. (Especially given the very poor reader numbers for my column on the Santa Ana event, cough.) You can read his newsletter here and judge for yourself.

And Gustavo: thank you!

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Column: Sculpture of dog in RC has critics sniffing

A sculpture of a 12-foot dog, made of steel, slightly abstracted and painted bright yellow, stands outside Rancho Cucamonga’s new Bark at Central Park dog park. It’s got its detractors, both online and at the dog park, but some admirers too, including me. I round up opinion, speak to the artist and tell the tail, er, tale in my Sunday column.

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Column: Susan Straight swaps stories outside swap meet

Last Saturday I headed to Santa Ana to see an appearance by Riverside writer Susan Straight, who would be interviewed by a journalist friend, making this event a twofer. Then on Monday night I headed to La Verne to see an appearance by writer Reyna Grande, who’s not local (nobody’s perfect). Why did I cover two events during my off-hours? Whatever it takes, baby, especially during a shortened workweek. Read about ’em in my Friday column.

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Column: How Ontario reacted to JFK’s assassination 60 years ago today

JFK’s assassination caused a scramble at the Ontario Daily Report, but the late-morning news was able to be included in the evening edition Nov. 22. The next two issues offer a window into the immediate impact on daily life. I offer some highlights and perspective in my Wednesday column, appearing Nov. 22, 2023, 60 years to the day later.

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Column: There’s an art to getting to LACMA by transit

I make my first visit to the L.A. County Museum of Art in ages and as usual do so by transit, also incorporating a Koreatown restaurant into my outing. Details are in my Sunday column.

After I asked in Wednesday’s column if anyone would like to read about this trip, only one person responded — affirmatively, to be clear. At that point, I was halfway through writing the column. What can I say, it seemed like it would make a good column, especially so with a short workweek coming up.

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Reading Log: October 2023

Books acquired: “Mexican American Baseball in the Inland Empire,” Richard Santillan, Mark Ocegueda and Terry Cannon; “No Place for a Puritan: The Literature of California’s Deserts,” Ruth Nolan, ed.; “Mojave Project Reader, Vol. 3,” Kim Stringfellow, ed.

Books read: “The Best of Edmond Hamilton”; “The Best of Fredric Brown”; “The Best of Henry Kuttner”; “The Green Ripper (Travis McGee No. 18)” John D. MacDonald

Happy November! Here’s where we look back at our October reading. Everyone fall in!

I promised I’d read “mass market paperbacks,” and so I did. They’re from a fairly narrow band: three of the four are from the same single-author anthology series of the ’70s, while the fourth is the last Travis McGee mystery of the ’70s. I’m glad I managed to read the latter just to give this Reading Log post a modicum of variety.

I love these “Ballantine Best of” books, of which there were 22. I own 15 of ’em. Officially the “Classic Library of Science Fiction,” they’re good look-backs at various science fiction writers of the ’30s to the ’60s, with many but not all of the biggest names represented, plus several nearly forgotten writers. The books collect somebody’s idea of the writer’s best stories or novellas over 350 to 400 pages, including an afterword by the author, if he or she were still living.

I’ve found them all at used bookstores, never seeking any out online, although it will probably come to that at some point, as most of the remaining seven I have yet to see copies of. For now it’s been fun to have a list of author names to quickly scan for in the SF section and to be delighted if a store has one or two.

As it is, I’ve bought them faster than I’ve read them. Before this month I’d read only six of my 15. So I resolved to find a free month and read at least two, or in this case three. In one swoop, the number I own but haven’t read dropped from nine to six. Huzzah! That said, one of them was read in stages starting in the summer and was wrapped up at the end of September. The lesson learned is that reading two of these in a month — close to 800 pages in all — is about all I’m likely to be able to accomplish again.

As for Travis McGee, you know that I’ve been slowly but doggedly reading this classic series over the past few years. I’ve now read 18 of the 21. I may get to No. 19 in December, we’ll see. The end is in sight for 2024.

Here’s the rundown for the month:

Best of Edmond Hamilton (1977): An entertaining collection that spans nearly half a century. Some of the earlier stories are either derivative or silly, like the one in which our entire solar system is moved by enormous rockets helmed by pilots, as if the planets were spaceships. But the stories are clever and fun, and by the time of “What’s It Like Out There?,” about an astronaut who like a military commander has the delicate emotional task of informing the relatives of his crewmates about their deaths, Hamilton has adapted to a modern, grimmer style. I don’t necessarily need to read more Hamilton, but I’m glad I read this one. (Bought at San Luis Obispo’s Phoenix Books in 2019.)

Best of Fredric Brown (1977): I didn’t know any of the stories aside from “Arena” and “Puppet Show,” both great (“Arena” was adapted for one of the most famous “Star Trek” episodes), but these are smoothly written tales by a storyteller who knows how to rope you in and keep you reading. Brown’s playfulness never comes off as strained. The short-short stories interspersed throughout are palate-cleansing fun. (Bought at Minneapolis’ Uncle Hugo’s SF Bookstore in July.)

Best of Henry Kuttner (1975): This has strong stories like “Mimsy Were the Borogoves,” “What You Need” and the Fritz Leiber-like “Nothing But Gingerbread Left,” the likable space opera of “The Big Night,” fun ones like “Housing Problem,” some middling stories and then dogs like “The Proud Robot.” In other words, this collection is about 100 pages too long based on the quality, but that could be more a knock against the compiler than against Kuttner. Ray Bradbury’s introduction is warm but vague; he doesn’t refer to any of the stories or mention Kuttner’s wife and frequent collaborator, C.L. Moore. For my tastes, one of the weaker Ballantine Best entries. (Bought in 2016 at St. Louis’ Patten Books.)

The Green Ripper (1979): Possibly the most violent book in the series, as Florida’s McGee goes undercover to join an apocalyptic cult in Northern California to shut it down and exact revenge for the killing of his girlfriend-who-saw-too-much. An effective and emotional change of pace for the series, with McGee as action hero. But as he says in relief after he’s able to discard his alter ego, he felt like two people. I prefer the unadulterated original. (Bought in 2011 at St. Louis’ Patten Books.)

Quality-wise, this was a decent month, with no dogs. The Fredric Brown collection was the month’s best and might appeal to a non-SF fan (but not an SF-hater). The McGee was pretty good, but probably not one to start with. Or maybe it is; it certainly seemed to anticipate the 1980s, or maybe wrap up the ’70s cult movement.

Right now I’m at 56 books read for the year, including two finished already for November, which might be a big month. While I won’t get everything read that I’d hoped to read this year, I’ll knock out a few more.

How was your October? Give us the exclusive, please. Speak directly into the comment field and don’t be nervous.

Next month: City life.

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