Column: For a top organ, this church pulled out all the stops

Claremont United Church of Christ’s organ has more than 4,000 pipes and was designed by the same people as the famed organ at Disney Hall. On Sunday, an organist from the Notre Dame Cathedral will give a recital. I take a tour of the organ’s inner workings. Also, three more items, all involving — why not? — classical music, all in my Friday column.

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Column: 3 presidents, future or past, called IE home

Three U.S. presidents, future or past, called the Inland Empire home: LBJ, Eisenhower and Ford. Also: news that former Kmart and Sears stores in Riverside may be turned into apartments has me wondering what’s next; more about late newspaper owner Mel Hodell; two public appearances by me take place this week; and Twentynine Palms makes Westways. All this fills up my Wednesday column.

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Column: A tip of the hat to Toby Keith’s bar and grill

Toby Keith’s death reminded me (eventually) that his name had been on a bar and restaurant at Victoria Gardens until 2015. I refresh everyone’s memory about this local tie-in to the singer who died earlier this month. Also, as the downtown Pomona Starbucks serves its last customers, I’m there to bear witness. And, finally, theater seats are there for the taking at Palm Springs’ Plaza Theatre before the space is renovated. All this is in my Sunday column.

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Column: Doing an end run around Super Bowl Sunday

Once again, I opted out of Super Bowl Sunday. Instead, I drove to L.A., read my newspapers, met a friend for lunch, did a Secret Stairs walk, returned home for some hassle-free shopping in Montclair, then walked around a nearly empty Claremont Village. Some of you told me what you did rather than watch the game. I share the results in my Wednesday column. (And mention that I’m taking Friday’s column off.)

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Column: Beach mural by Millard Sheets washes up at museum

Remember the enormous Millard Sheets mural, previously from a Home Savings branch in Santa Monica, that was undergoing repairs on the floor of the old Claremont High gym last summer? Whether you do or you don’t, the mural is now ensconced outside the Hilbert Museum of California Art in Orange, which is about to reopen after a renovation and expansion. I visit, take in the mural, get a walk-through of the museum and share the results in my Sunday column.

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Column: Hello to new city manager; goodbye to ‘Downtown Pops’

I interview Pomona’s new city manager, only the second woman to have the job, and pay tribute to Larry Egan, an important figure downtown, whose memorial service I attended. Wednesday’s is an all-Pomona column, and probably my last for a while, as I really need to turn my attention again to San Bernardino and Riverside. But it was fun to be back on the beat. And my Starbucks column got people talking.

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Reading Log: January 2024

Books acquired: “California Characters,” Charles Hillinger

Books read: “Empire of the Summer Moon,” S.C. Gwynne; “A Song for a New Day,” Sarah Pinsker; “The Quest of the Sacred Slipper,” Sax Rohmer; “Breakfast in the Ruins,” Michael Moorcock; “The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike,” Philip K. Dick; “The Big Goodbye,” Sam Wasson

Happy New Reading Year! I believe I am allowed to say that even in February given that it’s the first Reading Log of 2024. Also, it’s my blog, not to be overbearing or anything (cough).

I’m looking forward to this year. For one thing, my pre-pandemic backlog is a mere 18 books. Although some of them are gonna be bears. Five of them add up to 3,000 pages and won’t be easy to slide into the schedule without making them the month’s sole book.

After that there are another 52 books acquired from 2020 on. About one-third of these were gifts of some sort. I’ll try to knock off one or two per month, just as I did last year.

(They do pile up. Someone promised just Friday to reward me for participating in an upcoming event by giving me three books. A part of me wanted to cry. And then my birthday is in March, which will mean more books. It’s hard to catch up.)

About one-fourth of my pandemic-era books are local histories, some of which overlap with the gift books. I’ll work these in as well and may accelerate things with an entire month of them.

In other words, a certain amount of strategy will (continue to) go into my monthly choices. It’s all well and good to take the “read whatever you like” philosophy, but if I don’t want to save all my friends’ gifts to the end, or make you read about local history books for four months straight, much less have to read local history books for four months straight myself, I feel the need to draw down the backlog in a balanced way.

On to January’s reading. This was a “theme” month of sorts with titles that seem to take us from nighttime through a morning routine. Silly, yes, but it spurred me to read six books, including one by our pal PKD that I’d been trying to work into my schedule for, literally, a decade. The situation has thinned out enough that the time was now, and boy, was it satisfying. Two, by Pinsker and Gwynne, were listened to as audiobooks to speed things along.

“Empire of the Summer Moon” (2010): I’m no western history buff, so the stories of the Parkers and the end of the Comanche nation were all new to me, and unexpectedly fascinating. Gwynne’s writing and his choice of detail keep things moving. (Received as birthday gift in 2022.)

“A Song for a New Day” (2019): If nothing else, give Pinsker and her 2019 novel credit for prescience: After a disease outbreak, public gatherings are outlawed and people retreat into private spaces, order goods online and social distance in restaurants, transit and elevators. Those crazy science fiction writers! Where do they get this stuff? The story itself is pretty sharp too, alternating between an idealistic touring musician and a naive rep for a virtual-concert corporation as they try to navigate a changed world and hang onto their principles. Pinsker has toured as a musician herself, and it shows. Winner of the 2020 Nebula Award for Best SF Novel. (Bought at Portland’s Powell’s Books in 2022.)

“Quest of the Sacred Slipper” (1913): The usual Rohmer froth involving an emotional male British narrator, a bewitching exotic woman, mysterious Eastern sects and a fanatical mastermind. However, this is in the Middle East, not China, the protagonist doesn’t end up with the woman, Fu Manchu is nowhere in sight and the sacred slipper is a religious relic that even the authorities admit is better off in local hands rather than the British’s. Casually racist at times, definitely a product of its era, but a fun read. (Bought at LA Paperback Book Show in 2009.)

“Breakfast in the Ruins” (1971): Experimental, and somewhat confusing, as our white protagonist has a homosexual encounter in the present (1971) with a Nigerian, lives out 18 imagined (?) lives in the past, and gradually trades places, or races, with his partner. Even if I didn’t entirely understand it, it was never less than interesting. (Bought at Anaheim’s Book Baron in 2022, partly to fit into this month’s concept.)

“Man Whose Teeth” (1960; 1984): PKD’s mainstream fiction, most of it unpublished in his lifetime, is interesting but not entirely successful. This novel is one of the better ones, following two dysfunctional marriages and a hoax involving a possible Neanderthal skull that leads to other complications. Set in the rural Marin County of the late 1950s, the events are set in motion by an irascible real-estate man who is quick to anger and who can’t let go of a grudge. (Bought at Claremont’s Rhino Records as remainder in 2013.)

“Big Goodbye” (2020): A deep dive into the making of “Chinatown” and the milieu in which it was created. It was a surprise to learn that Polanski rewrote Towne’s script so extensively and yet accepted no credit. In a way the story behind one movie doesn’t seem worth blowing up to book length. But it’s a milestone movie, and this did make me want to see it again, as well as watch the supposedly middling sequel, “The Two Jakes.” (Received as birthday gift in 2022.)

“A Song for a New Day” was this month’s winner. “Summer Moon” was awfully good too, if a bit dense. The others were all of medium interest. It was a good month.

So I’m off to a good start for 2024. How was your January, readers? And what goals might you have for the year?

Next month: three (?) books gifted to me.

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