Reading Log: May 2024

Books acquired: “The Lonely Silver Rain” (Travis McGee No. 21), John D. MacDonald; “All That I’m Allowed,” Ellen Harper and Marguerite Millard

Books read: “Fundamental Disch,” Thomas M. Disch; “Free Fall in Crimson” (Travis McGee No. 19), John D. MacDonald; “The Green Eyes of Bast,” Sax Rohmer; “Have Space Suit — Will Travel,” Robert A. Heinlein

Where is the year going? I’m writing about my reading from the year’s fifth month, starting books for the sixth month and contemplating what might get read or held over for the seventh month.

My May was devoted to pocket paperbacks, all of them purchases from the pre-pandemic period. That means all four were among my oldest unread books — as well as among the smallest. All were fiction, another reason for me to like the month.

All were written in the 20th century: Two are science fiction, a third is a mystery and a fourth is a mystery of sorts, although with supernatural elements. Here’s the rundown:

“Fundamental Disch” (1980): The first half of this roughly chronological collection is interesting to great, the back half interesting to dull. I knew going in that Disch, so often chilly and cerebral, was not the writer for me, yet found myself impressed by some of these, including “Descending” and the short, thoroughly silly “Dangerous Flags.” It was telling that the midpoint story cited by Disch as the one in which he found his voice, “Angouleme,” is where he lost me. (Bought in 2013 at Goleta’s Paperback Alley.)

“Free Fall in Crimson” (1981): No. 19 in the Travis McGee series is as consistently good as the rest. McGee is hired to try to learn why a well-off businessman was beaten to death at a highway rest stop. What might the circumstances have to do with outlaw bikers and a movie production involving hot-air balloons? McGee’s personal timeline is fudged here, with the former Korean vet of his 1964 debut now in 1981 simply saying he served in a war we lost in Asia. But he’s aged enough (around age 40, give or take) to decide to call in backup for the big confrontation rather than go it alone. MacDonald’s writing remains sharp, vivid and funny. Of one opponent, McGee says: “He was in that peak of physical conditioning which would cause him to get winded by changing his socks.” (Bought in 2012 at North Hollywood’s Iliad Books.)

“Green Eyes of Bast” (1920): Sax Rohmer novels are usually exciting and fun, in a century-old antique way. This one — involving mysterious murders in London, a woman who might be part cat and a reclusive doctor on a crumbling estate — has its moments of atmosphere, interest and novelty. But the plot is murky and convoluted. I had to guffaw when one character exclaimed, as if commenting on the story: “Good God! It’s hardly credible!” Any novel that ends with 20 pages of explanatory monologue by the villain is not a model of sound construction. (Bought in 2017 at Pomona’s Magic Door Books.)

“Have Space Suit — Will Travel” (1958): This is the first of Heinlein’s “juveniles” that I’ve read, and it’s fantastic: smart, suspenseful, heartfelt, funny. The educational bits of science or math can get tedious, even with RAH’s colloquial language. But reflecting the slide-rule era, he makes those subjects, and education in general, seem like high callings. And the 10-year-old girl genius as supporting protagonist is a winner. (Bought in 2009 at St. Louis’ Dunaway Books.)

As is often the case, my reading choices were idiosyncratic and fusty. No one is coming to me to see what they should be reading right now, nor should they. “Have Space Suit” is the only one of the four I could recommend unreservedly. (And “Dangerous Flags.”) I listened to the Full Cast audiobook version of “Space Suit,” worthy of old-time radio.

I enjoyed the month. For another thing, it got me within striking distance of the end of the McGee series. I finally went on eBay to find the last book, the only one I didn’t own. In a decade of hunting used bookstores for the series, I’ve never once seen it in the 1990s edition to match the rest of my collection. It must have had a low print run.

For some context, I started the year with 20 pre-pandemic books. (It was 18, but then two that were in the “sell” box, both of them Heinlein juveniles, were retrieved before a trip to the bookstore.) I’ve read eight of the 20, four of them this month alone, and discarded a ninth (“The Big Book of Adventure Stories”). That leaves 11 — plus another 55 from the past five years. Can I read all 11 this year? It’s possible. I’m partway through two of them. But there are more recent purchases I want to read too, so we’ll see.

I’ll be reading a melange of books in June, with some nonfiction as well as a novel or two.

What did you read last month? Did your May flower? Let us know in the comments, pilgrims.

Next month: not one book on the Mission Inn, but two.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Reading Log: April 2024

Books acquired: “Perris, California,” Rachel Stark; “Jelly Roll Blues: Censored Songs and Hidden Histories,” Elijah Wald; “Dune,” Frank Herbert

Books read: “The Odyssey,” Homer; “Conversations with Jonathan Lethem,” Jaime Clarke, editor; “Inland Empire and San Gabriel Valley Movie Theatres,” Kelli Shapiro; “The Harris Company,” Aimmee L. Rodriguez and Richard & Robin Hanks; “Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult,” Michelle Dowd

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Since April 1, to be exact. Not sure when or if the Reading Log has ever been delayed until the 11th of the month, but as noted this blog fell into a sort of coma and needed IT to revive it.

It wasn’t serious, once the right person was found to handle it. Still, the pause felt like a health scare, a sort of wake-up call. In response, this blog promises to eat right and exercise more, right after finishing these snacks.

Here’s what I (dimly recall having) read in April: one epic poem, two Inland Empire history books, a collection of interviews by an author and a memoir.

“The Odyssey” (possibly 8th century B.C.): Whereas The Iliad, read last December, is nothing but fighting, The Odyssey is a soldier’s journey home. It’s got a lot of famous, imaginative bits: the Trojan horse, Scylla and Charybdis, the Cyclops, the Sirens, the contest to shoot an arrow through the hooks on 12 axes, the delaying tactic of each night unraveling the day’s cloth weave. Some of the emotional territory is surprising, even remarkable, particularly Penelope’s slowness to recognize and embrace Odysseus upon his return after 20 years. Homer, he’s all right. I see bright things ahead for this promising young talent. (Bought in 2009 at San Luis Obispo’s Phoenix Books.)

“Conversations with Jonathan Lethem” (2011): The existence of these “conversations” books is kind of a wonder, and they have their pleasures. They also have their frustrations: The same ground is covered in interview after interview, and some of the interrogators are easy to lose patience with. Regardless, Lethem’s responses are thoughtful, intelligent and offhandedly witty. Although the most recent conversation is from 2010, this is still useful for admirers. Also, the story of his onetime California vanity plate (SQUALOR) is a scream. Note: Yours truly has himself had conversations with Jonathan Lethem, who moved to Claremont around the time this book was published. He’s thoughtful, intelligent and offhandedly witty, and also a nice fellow. (Bought in 2012 at Boyle Heights’ Libros Schmibros.)

“Inland Empire and San Gabriel Valley Movie Theatres” (2024): Behind this ultra-descriptive title lie photos of, well, Inland Empire and San Gabriel Valley movie theatres of the past. They were compiled with what must have been a fair amount of sleuthing, along with basic details on each venue’s life and times, all arranged in the usual rigid but get-‘er-done Arcadia format. Only a few of these theaters still operate and most are no longer standing. If you’re interested in (see title), as I am, this was put together with you in mind. (Received from the publisher in March.)

“Harris Company” (2008): As with the other heavily formatted Images of America books, this is history as told through pictures and captions, and the photos, usually documentary or promotional in nature, are often very dull indeed. Still, this slender book does its best, even in fragmented form, to tell the story of the Inland Empire’s premier department store (RIP). The introduction, as short as it is, provides a good overview of the central role Harris’ played in local lives in the era when people would dress up to spend a day there. (Bought in April at the History Day event in San Bernardino.)

“Forager” (2023): In some ways, this memoir feels sketchy and incomplete; hard details on The Field are there, but scattered about. This is more about what the young Dowd experienced and recalls from her childhood in a Christian cult started by her grandfather, who believed he was a modern-day prophet who would live to 500. Well, it can’t help but be interesting, right? Dowd is skillful enough to get out of the way of her story. But it’s not entirely satisfying. Note: She’s a Chaffey College professor of my acquaintance and subject of a recent column of mine. (Bought at a B&N in April.)

Not a bad month. The Harris and theaters books were read for professional purposes, notes taken, in bed before slumber (few books are simpler to put down than a book of captioned photos). Homer and Dowd were largely consumed as audiobooks, with reference to the text. Dowd read her book. Homer, needless to say, did not, but Ian McKellen (!) filled in admirably.

Also, the Lethem interviews book was skimmed, skipping here and there. I read enough of it to count it. Same in March with “Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops,” a fact I neglected to point out at the time. I did not read enough of “Monogram,” same month, to count it, having read 40 pages and abandoned it. Until “Conversations” and “Hoops,” no book here had ever not been read word for word, to my recollection. It was a judgment call to conclude that the book did not need to be read in full to feel as if I’d read it and to render an opinion.

Ehh, I’m 60 now, you know? Life is short and it’s past time to lighten up.

I abandoned another book in March and didn’t make note of it. “The Big Book of Adventure Stories” (Otto Penzler, editor) was bought in 2011 at a Borders during the closeout sale. It’s nearly 1,000 pages of pulp stories of an adventurous turn. A paragraph or two into the first, rather musty story, I realized this was not one I wanted to read, and that the book was not what I’d wished it was.

My hope had been that these would be men’s-sweat stories of explorers in pith helmets falling into quicksand and brigands smeared with honey and tied to anthills. But these were, while not necessarily literary, for pulp-magazine scholars. So I read about 100 pages of stories by writers whose names I recognized and was curious about, like Clark Ashton Smith and Cornel Woolrich, then let it go.

I’ve still got one very long pre-pandemic purchase to read, “Middlemarch,” but dropping this literal “Big Book” was a relief.

OK, enough from me. How was your April, readers? That is, if you remember. Let us know in the comments, please.

Next month: fiction, science and otherwise, in pocket paperback form.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Column: Silent Book Club chapters launch (softly) in IE

Silent Book Clubs are spreading around the world. Designed to avoid assigned reading and small talk, you bring your own book, read silently and afterward can discuss your book, or not. I attended the first meeting of the Twentynine Palms chapter last Sunday while up there for a getaway. A Redlands chapter started the same day and a chapter in Rancho Cucamonga began last December. I write about the concept (and my book choice) in my Sunday column.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Reading Log: March 2024

Books acquired: “The Collapsing Frontier,” Jonathan Lethem; “Solito: A Memoir,” Javier Zamora; “Inland Empire and San Gabriel Valley Movie Theatres,” Kelli Shapiro; “The Freaks Came Out to Write,” Tricia Romano

Books read: “Station Eleven,” Emily St. John Mandel; “Anecdotes on Mount Rubidoux and Frank A. Miller, Her Promoter,” Glenn Wenzel; “Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops: A Memoir,” Allison Hong Merrill; “Mexican American Baseball in the Inland Empire,” Richard Santillan; “The Earp Clan: The Southern California Years,” Nick Cataldo

How can this be April? I started a list of goals for the year, never went back to finish it, and already the year is one-fourth done. That’s ridiculous. Maybe I should write off 2024 and start planning for 2025.

Well, here we are. Nothing to do but make the best of what’s left of the reading year. Which, to be fair, IS nine whole months. We can get a lot done in nine months! Even if we didn’t get a lot done in three months.

In March I read one acclaimed novel and four nonfiction books, three of the latter about the Inland Empire. And all were gifts — more on that later. Let’s get started.

“Station Eleven” (2014): Intricately constructed and gracefully written, this was a modest pleasure to read. Yet very little happens, and there must have been a reason, besides a busy schedule and deliberate reading pace, that I rarely surpassed 20 pages a day. I liked it without ever quite finding it compelling. Post-pandemic, this post-plague novel carries an extra punch, of course, as in this line: “…this illness Hua was describing was going to be the divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through his life.” Yep. (Birthday gift from a friend, 2023.)

“Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops” (2021): Starts off strong, with the author, an immigrant who speaks little English, arriving home to find that her husband and in-laws had moved all his stuff out without telling her. Whoa! But much of what follows has an oddly cheerful tone or a shallow point of view. Can I trust the writer’s version of events? And as there’s no attempt to connect her story to anything bigger, like the immigrant experience, why am I reading this? (Aside from the book being a gift, I mean.) When the man-of-her-dreams ending arrives, well, good for her, but it doesn’t make for satisfying reading. (Birthday gift from a friend, 2023.)

“Anecdotes on Mount Rubidoux” (2010): We have to cut local history some slack. The people compiling it for us are almost always history buffs willing to dedicate untold hundreds of hours to a topic, while not being professional writers. This book has a lot of facts and dates about Riverside’s signature natural feature, Mount Rubidoux, and its place in town as scene of what may be America’s first sunrise Easter service, among other things. It’s a tough read, but for my purposes, useful. (Gift of the author, 2022.)

“Mexican American Baseball in the Inland Empire” (2012): This is one of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America photos-with-captions local histories, collecting private photos of teams and players from the ’30s to the ’60s, when Mexican American ball players had their own teams, leagues and stars. Rounding up the photos and information seen here, and in companion volumes about L.A., Orange County and other regions, was socially important. In book form it doesn’t make for very interesting reading, to be honest, and the snapshots are very similar and rudimentary. But the overall story of working-class people using sport as a release valve and social glue, forming community among themselves while being largely shut out of mainstream society, comes through. (Gift of a friend, 2023.)

“The Earp Clan” (2006): We all know of Wyatt Earp and his brothers’ exploits as lawmen in Tombstone, Arizona, probably through movies like “The Gunfight at the OK Corral,” “My Darling Clementine” or “Tombstone.” But that was only a couple of years of their lives. Most of them spent decades in San Bernardino County, around Redlands, Colton or San Bernardino. This book gathers up that information. With a chapter devoted to each family member, this gets rather repetitive; the wagon train that brought the Earps from Iowa is described a half-dozen times. Again, though, this was useful for me; I took notes and am thinking of how or when to write a capsule history in my column. (Gift of the author, 2023.)

Also during March, I got 40 pages into “Monogram,” a 1936 memoir by G.B. (Gladys Bronwyn) Stern before abandoning it. This was a 2021 Christmas gift from my brother, at my request. I’d seen a complimentary mention in a Robert Benchley essay (“Shattered Illusions”): “G.B. Stern, in her delightful book ‘Monogram’ (which, for my money, contains about everything that a book needs)…” Couldn’t help but be curious.

“Monogram” is not a traditional memoir and has almost no facts at all. Stern just lets her mind wander, changing subjects at will. She examines objects in her room, like a glass figurine, and sees where they take her, digression after digression. It’s a neat trick, but one I didn’t care to spend another week on. Here’s a piece about the book from The Neglected Books site, by someone who finds stuff to like, in “Monogram” and Stern’s seven other sort-of memoirs, and yet never finished any of them.

Now, about these books, and last month’s, as a whole.

After knocking out a half-dozen books in January. in February it seemed wise to concentrate on gift books, ones given to me by friends or occasionally by a writer friend or publisher. Sometimes the books are local in nature. Sometimes they are books in which I am quite interested, most obviously if I used a bookstore gift card to buy them (those are gifts of a sort); other times, I have no investment in the books at all, but a friend thought I would like them.

In February I read four such books and ended up acquiring one more. It seemed best to repeat the experiment in March, which is a good thing, because while I read five, and abandoned a sixth, another four came in. Birthday month, you know.

Out of 14 books finished so far in 2024, 10 were gifts. I still have, gulp, 23 gift books. I could spend the year reading nothing but those, and whatever fresh ones arrive. But that’s not really the direction in which I want to go. Instead, I’ll try to polish off one or two per month, on average, and maybe devote another month to ’em before year’s end. This may only keep me from falling further behind, but that’s something, right? Meanwhile, I’ll return my focus to my remaining pre-pandemic purchases.

OK, enough from me, and probably more than enough. What about you? What did you read, or abandon, in March? Sound off in the comments, please.

Next month: I hit my second Homer.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Reading Log: February 2024

Books acquired: “Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers,” Riverside Art Museum; “Shot in the Heart,” Mikal Gilmore; “Good-bye to All That,” Robert Graves

Books read: “Letters to My City,” Mike Sonksen; “Collidoscope: de la Torre Brothers,” Riverside Art Museum; “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou

For 2024’s second month, I decided to chip away at the backlog of books given to me by friends, writers or publishers. This was a good plan. But although I read three, three more arrived (one of which I managed to read the same month). So the month was a little like running in place, but at least I didn’t fall further behind, right?

Here’s what I read:

“Letters to My City” (2019; revised 2023): A winning combination of L.A. neighborhood histories (Florence-Firestone, South Central, North Long Beach and others), tributes (to Huell Howser, a beloved teacher, the 562 area code) and poetry, some of which lists streets, writers or cities by name, a la Chuck Berry, to great effect. “Who’s rockin’ the populace in the postmodern metropolis? LA authors.” Third-generation Angeleno Sonksen loves LA’s present as much as he does its past, a rare and welcome thing. As a prose writer, he’s an enthusiastic amateur, but he’s earnest and he pays close attention. I like and admire this book. (Copy sent to me in December 2023 by the author.)

“Collidoscope” (2024): This is a museum catalog for one of the opening exhibits from the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture in Riverside in 2022, with overall and detail photos of the pieces as well as some text about Einar and Jamex de la Torre, who live and work on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Their glass sculptures and lenticular art (think of 3-D baseball cards) are often silly or scatological and sometimes evoke wonder with their panoramic sweep and myriad of details. (Copy sent to me by the museum.)

“Caged Bird” (1969): Angelou’s first memoir, this tells the story of her childhood, bouncing between locales and parents/grandparents, as seen through a child’s eyes and memory, with some pieces unknown or only guessed at. Generous, warm, well-observed and the funnier and more vivid for it, and sometimes shocking. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Angelou, effectively, although I sped it up to 1.25 because she read so deliberately. (Copy bought in September 2023 at Pasadena’s Octavia’s Bookshelf with a gift card, but primarily read via a library borrow of the audiobook.)

I can’t really recommend “Collidoscope,” unless you saw the exhibit and want a memento, but the other two books might interest you, and surely I don’t need to tell you that “Caged Bird” is a modern classic. You may well have read it yourself.

Two other gift books were in progress during February, but I didn’t get them read in time. One was finished March 2, after I wrote the bulk of this post and had uploaded the photos. But there’s no rush; it can wait for my March Reading Log. Since I expect to only get to three or four books, I’m going to make that another gift-book month. And it’s my birthday month, which will mean — more gift books!

I’m looking forward to April and May, when I can get back to some pre-pandemic books. In the meantime, what did you all read during February? Let us know in the comments.

Next month: “Station Eleven” and more.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

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.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Books read, 2023

Welcome to my annual post looking back at my year in reading! At the bottom is a list of the books I read in 2023, in chronological order. Up top is a photo of them all in one place. After this group photo, most were returned to my shelves and about one-fourth went into a “sell” box. (For comparison, here’s my 2022 list of books read.)

The year’s total was 63 books: 33 fiction, 30 nonfiction. That is, if we count Homer and Dante as fiction, but other poetry as nonfiction, which seems fair to me. A scant 10 of the 63 were written or co-written by women. This is, I think, largely a function of my backlog, which is primarily made up of pre-21st century books.

2023 was a pretty good year, one in which I kept chipping away at my fabled backlog. To use the pandemic as a diving line, and it’s an obvious marker for us all, I began the year with 58 books purchased before the pandemic and ended the year with only 18.

By the end of 2024 I fully expect to have read those remaining 18, all received from 2009 through 2019. (A few of them are quite long — hello, “Middlemarch” and “Big Book of Adventure Stories,” each nearly 1,000 pages! — so it’s no slam dunk. But at one or two per month, it’s doable.)

Finishing those will definitely be progress as that relatively modest effort will catch me up on 11 years of past purchases and bring my reading into the pandemic era (and what an era it was, eh?). Note that only one of the 18, “Middlemarch,” is by a woman.

Women are better represented in the pandemic era: I have 52 unread books acquired from 2020 through 2023 on my shelves and 21 are by women. It’ll probably take me through 2025, or slightly beyond, to read all those books and whatever else is acquired, by purchase or gift, by then.

Almost one-third of those 52 are local history books about the Inland Empire or California, by the way, some of which I will be reading in 2024. They may get their own month or two to keep them from piling up further. They were acquired for work purposes and they should be helping me out now, not later.

In 2024 I also expect to read a little of everything else: more Ballantine Best of books of various old-time SF authors, some general fiction, some nonfiction. And almost certainly I will read the final three Travis McGee mysteries. I read three in 2023, so surely I can read three in 2024. I don’t own the last one yet, not having seen a copy, but also not having needed to seek it out. eBay, here I come.

How was your own year in reading? What are your reading goals for 2024? Comment below if you like.

  1. “The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere.,” James Spooner;
  2. “The Ballad of Bob Dylan,” Daniel Mark Epstein;
  3. “Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down,” Tom Dardis;
  4. “Woe is I,” Patricia O’Conner;
  5. “Baseline Road,” Orlando Davidson;
  6. “The Season to be Wary,” Rod Serling;
  7. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino;
  8. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories,” Washington Irving;
  9. “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour,” Scott Skelton and Jim Benson;
  10. “Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery,” Robert Arthur, ed.;
  11. “A Ghost at Noon,” Alberto Moravia;
  12. “Night Gallery,” Rod Serling;
  13. “Night Gallery 2,” Rod Serling;
  14. “Klara and the Sun,” Kazuo Ishiguro;
  15. “The Adventures of Solar Pons: Regarding Sherlock Holmes #1,” August Derleth;
  16. “The Naked Sun,” Isaac Asimov;
  17. “The Dreadful Lemon Sky (Travis McGee No. 16),” John D. MacDonald;
  18. “Buster Keaton Remembered,” Eleanor Keaton and Jeffrey Vance;
  19. “Get Back,” John Harris, ed.;
  20. “An Ordinary Life: Poems,” B.H. Fairchild;
  21. “Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins,” Mark Twain;
  22. “When Teddy Came to Riverside,” Glenn Wenzel
  23. “The Best of Frederik Pohl”;
  24. “The Best of Keith Laumer”;
  25. “Slow Learner,” Thomas Pynchon;
  26. “He Kept His Day Job: Fanfare for the Common Musician,” Dan Bernstein;
  27. “Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom,” Carl Bernstein
  28. “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World,” Mark Twain;
  29. “A Kiss Across the Ocean: Transatlantic Intimacies of British Post-Punk and U.S. Latinidad,” Richard T. Rodriguez;
  30. “The Empty Copper Sea (Travis McGee No. 17),” John D. MacDonald;
  31. “Waste Tide,” Chen Qiufan;
  32. “Looking to Get Lost,” Peter Guralnick;
  33. “Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,” Stephen Greenblatt;
  34. “Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories,” Frederik Pohl;
  35. “The Wonderful World of Robert Sheckley,” Robert Sheckley;
  36. “The Broken Bubble,” Philip K. Dick;
  37. “Myth & Mirage,” Riverside Art Museum;
  38. “The Inferno,” Dante Alighieri;
  39. “Purgatorio,” Dante Alighieri;
  40. “Paradiso,” Dante Alighieri;
  41. “Mark Twain’s Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years,” Laura Skandera Trombley;
  42. “The Imperfectionists,” Tom Rachman;
  43. “Sweet Thursday,” John Steinbeck;
  44. “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf;
  45. “Dickens and Prince,” Nick Hornby;
  46. “A People’s Guide to Orange County,” Elaine Lewinnek, Thuy Vo Dang and Gustavo Arellano;
  47. “West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire,” Kevin Waite;
  48. “Octopus’s Garden: How Railroads and Citrus Transformed Southern California,” Benjamin T. Jenkins;
  49. “Foucault in California,” Simeon Wade;
  50. “After the Dome Fire,” Ruth Nolan
  51. “The Best of Edmond Hamilton”;
  52. “The Best of Fredric Brown”;
  53. The Best of Henry Kuttner”;
  54. “The Green Ripper (Travis McGee No. 18)” John D. MacDonald;
  55. “Bad City: Peril and Power in the City of Angels,” Paul Pringle;
  56. “Mojave Project Reader Vol. 2,” Kim Stringfellow;
  57. “A Walker in the City,” Alfred Kazin;
  58. “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone,” Olivia Laing
  59. “Tokyo Ueno Station,” Yu Miri;
  60. “The Fiddler in the Subway,” Gene Weingarten;
  61. “Read Me, Los Angeles: Exploring L.A.’s Book Culture,” Katie Orphan;
  62. “Humpty Dumpty in Oakland,” Philip K. Dick
  63. “The Iliad,” Homer
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email