Books acquired: “Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,” Frances Dinkelspiel.
Books read: “Wonder,” R.J. Palacio; “A Pail of Air,” Fritz Leiber; “The Halloween Tree,” Ray Bradbury.
Just as I predicted last time, October was another three-book month. It was a so-so month aesthetically as well: one solid book, two ehh books.
“Wonder,” a young adult novel from 2012, never quite grabbed me, although a lot of people love it, and it certainly has elements to recommend it. It’s the story of a boy with a facial deformity who has never attended public school, and what happens when he does: He’s ostracized, he makes friends, he’s bullied. It’s charming, touching and funny at times, a little unrealistic at others.
“A Pail of Air,” Fritz Leiber’s first collection of stories, from 1964, was pretty good. I read a “best of” collection earlier this year and was impressed. This had some overlap, and a couple of the stories didn’t wow me, but this was worth reading. I expect I’ll read more by him.
“The Halloween Tree” is a Bradbury young adult novel from 1972. I’d read it years ago and don’t recall thinking much of it, and that was as a young adult. A reference to it recently reminded me of it and I was surprised I hadn’t put it on my list to reread. As it was October, the time seemed right to read it again. Originally it was meant to be an animated special by Chuck Jones, but that fell through and Bradbury wrote it as a novel instead.
The story attempts to give a history of Halloween via travel to see ancient Egypt, witches and Notre Dame by a group of trick-or-treating boys led by a mysterious Mr. Moundshroud. (Nary a girl appears.) Bradbury’s prose style reaches what some might consider its height but what I think is its nadir: over-the-top lyricism in support of a very flimsy story.
On the other hand, Bradbury devoted a few pages to the Mexican Day of the Dead, with its candy skulls, cemetery visits, candles and altars, decades before the holiday became widely known. The boys think it’s great, exclaiming: “Mexican Halloween is better than our Halloween!” So there’s that.
“Wonder” was given to me by the Friends of the Claremont Library, “Pail” came from Patten Books in St. Louis in June and “Tree” was a long-ago purchase, probably late ’70s, from my hometown used bookstore.
What did you read in October? And did your month fare better than mine?
Next month: A book about wine, and more.