Books acquired: “Wonder,” R.J. Palacio; “Tangled Vines,” Frances Dinkelspiel.
Books read: “After 1903 — What?,” Robert Benchley; “The Best of Philip K. Dick,” Philip K. Dick; “The Big Orange,” Jack Smith.
September was a three-book month, which seems to be the groove I’ve fallen (autumn reference?) into of late, now that my shorter books are mostly out of the way. One of the three is among my favorites of 2015, even if it was published four decades ago.
Benchley’s book (published in 1938), the title of which is probably meant to mock the notion that civilization peaked in this or that year of the speaker’s lifetime, is his usual collection of whimsical essays. There seem to me to be fewer classics here than other books of his I’ve read, meaning more smiles than horselaughs. The pieces, which appear to have been written for newspapers rather than magazines based on references and brevity, seem less thought out than usual, but they certainly go down with the customary Benchley smoothness. Amusing more than hilarious, but amusing is good.
Dick is revered for his novels, in part because he pretty much abandoned the short form by the time he hit his stride as a novelist. But his stories are often very good, and by exploring a simple idea (or telling a sort of extended joke) they avoid the ungainliness of some of his novels. This is a solid collection of stories, with two, Imposter and Paycheck, clever enough to have inspired movies. Not a dud in the bunch. This is another of the mid-’70s Ballantine “Best of” books by SF authors discussed here previously.
And so to Jack Smith. These mid-1970s pieces explore 30 attractions around LA and Orange County, including the Farmers Market, Rose Bowl Flea Market, Watts Towers and, inevitably, Disneyland. Forty years on, most of these attractions are still around but altered, while a few, like Lion Country Safari and the Pike, are vanished, making this a record of a different time.
Smith is gentle, descriptive, witty and respectful, and these articles for Westways magazine are delightful. If you love LA and its history — i.e., you think reading a mid-1970s view of SoCal is appealing rather than pointless — you might want to track this down. This if the fifth of Smith’s 10 books that I’ve read, and tied with “Jack Smith’s L.A.” as my favorite. (The overpraised “God and Mr. Gomez” might be my least favorite.)
I bought the Benchley at Powell’s in Portland two years ago, Dick at my hometown used bookstore in Illinois in the early 1980s (and never read until now — another one crossed off the list) and Smith at Acres of Books in Long Beach maybe six years ago. More about that in a separate blog post, if I remember.
How was your September? Hit the comment button and let us know.
Next month: “Wonder,” plus probably two more.