Reading Log: April 2022

Books acquired: “Mecca,” Susan Straight

Books read: “Try to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place,” Joan Frank; “King Solomon’s Mines,” H. Rider Haggard; “Bob Dylan: Performing Artist Vol. 3, 1986-1990,” Paul Williams; “Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft; “Wildsam Field Guide: Joshua Tree,” Rachel Worby; “Radio Free Albemuth,” Philip K. Dick; “Lyrics 1962-2001,” Bob Dylan; “Henry V,” “Troilus and Cressida,” William Shakespeare

We’re one-fourth of the way through 2022. Well, I am, at any rate; don’t mean to speak to anyone else. If you’re still working on 2020, I won’t judge. My April reading amounted to nine books: four nonfiction, three fiction, two plays. I’ll run ’em down for you.

“Try to Get Lost” (2020): The subway cover pulled me in, as did the title, which seemed to promise that the author would urge us to ramble and explore. Instead, these essays were almost anti-travel, if they were about travel at all, and they tended toward gloom. Somewhat enjoyable regardless, but the overall impression is sourness.

“King Solomon’s Mines” (1885): Allan Quatermain is 55 and admits to being a bit of a coward, although he’s in the thick of the action as he and two compatriots, joined by a third, cross a desert in search of the fabled diamond mines of King Solomon and get embroiled in a civil war. Yes, the colonialism and indiscriminate hunting make this a sometimes-uncomfortable read, but overall it’s straightforward, thrilling entertainment, full of charming displays of stiff-upper-lip British reserve in the face of danger.

“Performing Artist Vol. 3” (2004): A deep dive into a somewhat fallow period, when Dylan decided to devote himself to the road and 100-150 concerts a year. Williams gets lost in the weeds analyzing tour swings and even individual concerts and setlists, and his enthusiasm can be embarrassing. His first Dylan book covered 13 mostly prime years in fewer pages. But for fans, this has some value; the observations are frequently insightful and this is still a little-explored phase of Dylan’s career.

“Joshua Tree” (2021): An orientation to and appreciation of the desert, with useful tips and history. While designed to be toted, this is less of a practical book of answers than one worth reading at leisure and in full.

“Albemuth” (1985): PKD was coming to grips with his recent visionary experience and figuring out how to transmute it into fiction. A first crack at what became “Valis,” and published after his death, this beats a lot of “found among his papers” novels, and it’s better than about half of his real books. As for Ferris Fremont, a proto-fascist American president modeled on Nixon and whom the Soviets refuse to criticize because he’s covertly working for them: boy.

“Witch House” (2004): One of three Penguin volumes collecting virtually everything by HPL, and fetishistically annotated, this concentrates on his dreamy, sometimes Dunsanian tales. Like its counterparts, this gets the job done. It also means taking the so-so or “interesting” with the good.

“Lyrics 1962-2001” (2004): All the lyrics from “Bob Dylan” through “Love and Theft,” including to songs left off the albums but later released. Can’t be relied upon, as lyrics here and there were revised after the fact and others rely on drafts that don’t match the recordings. Alternately poetic, witty, inspiring and gnomic, his verses are best heard, not read. Quite a body of work, though, with expressions that have entered the vernacular. Someone ought to give him a Nobel.

“Henry V” (1599): Nationalistic and with little nuance, this isn’t the Bard at his best. But it’s got some stirring speeches and a few lines that have passed into everyday use: “once more unto the breach, dear friends” and “band of brothers.” If only Bill got a royalty every time someone used that phrase.

“Troilus and Cressida” (1602): The fabled Trojan War is taken down a peg as Shakespeare kicks a little dirt on everyone involved and mocks Helen of Troy as a cheap flirt. A few too many characters, without much of a center, and to be honest I couldn’t keep the two sides straight. Yet it’s one of the Bard’s more unusual efforts, and I appreciate its cynicism toward love, war and everything else.

This was a month of three-star books, with “Performing Artist” and “Get Lost” coming in at two stars. In other words, some good reading, but nothing outstanding. “King Solomon’s Mines” was the best of the lot, with “Radio Free Albemuth” in second.

About the “Lyrics” book, an explanation may be in order. While reading Paul Williams’ two previous Dylan studies, one in the early 1990s, the other a couple of years ago, I listened again to all the albums while following along with the lyrics. This got me through everything in Dylan’s first lyrics book, “Writings and Drawings,” which ended in 1973, and then most of this one. This third and, sadly, final Williams book then got me through the rest of the lyrics. I had not considered the lyrics book as one that was unread or needed to be read, but once I got to the last page, I thought, well, why not include it? I read the whole thing. It just took me almost 30 years.

The two Shakespeare plays are in my omnibus bought in 1984, but for ease of reading/carrying I checked out individual books from the Pomona Public Library; the PKD was bought in 2002 at Pasadena’s Book Alley and constitutes the oldest unread book on my shelves; the Williams was bought in 2004 from the author and the lyrics book the same year from Borders; the Haggard is from St. Louis’ Patten Books in 2008; the Frank was bought in 2020 from Phoenix’s Changing Hands (on my last vacation before everything shut down); the HPL was bought this year from LA’s Last Bookstore; and the Joshua Tree book was purchased in March from Acme 5 Lifestyle in Yucca Valley. Is that 38 years of books? It might be.

Oh, and as you’ve noticed, my Shakespeare reading plan (TM) proceeds. I started the year with 15 plays left (of the 38); now I’m down to 10. At this rate I will finish the rest in 2022.

Note that I bought one book in April and received none, unlike March, when birthday gifts piled up. Thus, I made some progress against my backlog. I doubt I’ll have another nine-book month this year, but there’s some good reading ahead of me.

How was your April in reading? Your comments will let us all know.

Next month: Manhood for amateurs in Mecca.

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Reading Log, March 2022

Books acquired: “Get Back,” The Beatles; “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino; “Empire of the Summer Moon,” S.C. Gwynne; “The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood,” Sam Wasson; “Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways,” Evelyn McDonnell; “King of the Jews: The Greatest Mob Story Never Told,” Nick Tosches; “The Mojave Project Reader Vol. 1,” Kim Stringfellow; “Joshua Tree: Wildsam Field Guides,” Rebecca Worby, ed.; “A People’s Guide to Orange County,” Elaine Lewinnek, Gustavo Arellano, Thuy Vo Dang

Books read: “Suite Alice of Riverside, Tahoe and Laguna,” Barbara Burns; “Everything Now,” Rosecrans Baldwin; “Tom Sawyer Abroad & Tom Sawyer Detective,” Mark Twain; “The Best of L. Sprague de Camp”; “It Calls You Back,” Luis J. Rodriguez; “Ramona,” Helen Hunt Jackson; “All’s Well That Ends Well,” “Measure for Measure,” William Shakespeare

Here we are, one-fourth of the way into 2022, and if that sounds startling, wait until next month when it’ll be one-third. My reading pace is better than expected, and possibly better than desired (more on that later), counterbalanced by new arrivals to my shelves. I read eight in March while acquiring nine — gulp. Only the last three listed above were purchases, with the first six being birthday gifts. I feel a little like I’m running in place, or reading in place, a status that will change as spring progresses and turns into summer and the “books acquired” section shrinks (let’s hope).

Well, let’s get on with it. Here are my summaries of what I read in March.

“Suite Alice” (2020): Local history from Riverside on an important but overlooked California businesswoman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the manager of the famed Mission Inn. Burns makes a good case for Alice Richardson’s vision and impact and for why history has minimized her contributions in favor of her better-known brother, who built the hotel.

“Everything Now” (2021): An up-to-date look at L.A.: homelessness, inequality, self-help culture, fires, an actor’s struggles and more. With a lot of original reportage, this is insightful and compassionate, but clinical (chapters are called lessons, with sections numbered like 6.0, 6.1, 6.2, etc.). A worthy heir to Mike Davis’ class-based, relentlessly negative view of the city, which is refreshing for a while, then tiring.

“Tom Sawyer” (1892/1896, 1982): Keep your expectations low for these two novels for children, collected in one book in 1982 with the original illustrations. “Abroad,” about an impossible balloon trip from Missouri to the Sahara Desert and back, is slight, and embarrassing in its depiction of Jim. “Detective” is stronger, sending up the tangled plots and explanations of mystery stories while also touching on Twain’s fascination with doubles and dual natures.

“de Camp” (1978): De Camp was educated across history, science and language, and his stories are slightly fussy as a result, and not particularly deep. They’re amusing, though, like the one about the haunted house that is disassembled, leaving behind haunted lumber. Whimsical, unpretentious tales of a type that long ago fell out of favor, and we may be the poorer for that. Also, “A Gun for Dinosaur” treats the idea of a time-traveling safari more rigorously, but less poetically, than did Bradbury.

“It Calls” (2011): In this sequel to “Always Running,” Rodriguez is honest about his failings, which seem to be legion: gangs, machismo, broken relationships, a wandering eye, absent parenthood, anger, drink, drugs and more. It’s to his credit that he gradually pulled himself out of all that, and he has a lot of sharp observations along the way, but that doesn’t mean 400 pages doesn’t get tedious.

“Ramona” (1884): I listened to the 1995 audiobook version read by Boots Martin, who really throws herself into it. She’s over the top, but then, so is “Ramona,” a romance where all emotions are heightened. This is abridged, which I didn’t realize until later, yet it’s probably all the “Ramona” most of us need. Campy and dated, but kind of fun regardless, especially if you live in Southern California and like history. Every time Martin as Ramona lovingly says “Alessandro!,” take a drink.

“All’s Well” (1603): The heroine gets her man after great effort, but since he hardly seems worthy of her, it’s hard to say if this ends well or not. Has its moments, though, and a title that has passed into the vernacular ought to be worth something.

“Measure” (1604): Another bed trick, just as in “All’s Well,” but this story of a morally hypocritical leader and a prisoner facing unjust punishment is clearer and better executed (pun intended), with a strong female lead, and the jokes are funnier too.

None of these was better than 3 stars out of 5, and some were more in the 2-star category. De Camp was the most genial and “Measure for Measure” the best of the lot.

I checked out “Ramona” from the Pomona Public Library just to have it in the photo while downloading the audiobook from the LA County Public Library system; the Shakespeare volume is also from Pomona, checked out because it’s portable, unlike my all-in-one book bought for college in 1984. So those two plays are my oldest unread books (or “books”) this month.

Twain came from Glendale’s Brand Books in 2003; de Camp from the Covina Bookshop in 2007 (where, at $2, it was a “pity purchase” to make up for the time I browsed, and one that was to haunt me for 15 years — sigh); the others were all picked up in late 2021, Burns and Rodriguez from the authors and Baldwin from a Little Free Library in Los Feliz.

I hit my kinda-sorta monthly goals for this year: a Shakespeare (two), a book by a woman (two), books bought in the ’00s (two), recent books (two). I might be boxing myself in, though.

To be at 20 books already is a surprise, especially when I’d expected to average four or five per month, due to some longer books that I was hoping, and am hoping, to tackle. For good or ill, instead I’ve been knocking out some shorter or midsized books (de Camp was 360 pages, Rodriguez 400, both on the long side for me this year). I’m unsure if I’m having trouble slowing down or focusing, or if blazing (for me) through 20 is simply what I feel the need to do.

April is likely to be more of the same, five to seven books, given that I have three in progress, plus an audiobook. After that, maybe I can read something longer off my list.

Readers, how was your March in books, or your (gasp) first quarter in books? Reply below, please. We have to keep our files updated.

Next month: H.P. Lovecraft listens to Bob Dylan while exploring King Solomon’s Mines in Joshua Tree…or something like that.

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Reading Log: February 2022

Books acquired: “Anecdotes on Mount Rubidoux and Frank A. Miller, Her Promoter,” Glenn Wenzel

Books read: “Tunnel Through Time,” Lester del Rey; “Time Out of Joint,” Philip K. Dick; “Slow Days, Fast Company,” Eve Babitz; “The Man Who Was Thursday,” G.K. Chesterton; “The Future of Another Timeline,” Annalee Newitz; “20 Days With Julian and Bunny by Papa,” Nathaniel Hawthorne; “Record Store Days,” Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo

I devoted February to unread books on my shelves with titles involving time. (Recall my “next month” teaser last month: “It’s about time.”) And even in the year’s shortest month, I read seven. Here are my recaps:

“Tunnel” (1966): With one scientist father widowed and the other divorced, there are no mothers to ask if they’re out of their minds sending their sons back to the age of the dinosaurs on a rescue mission. And a good thing, because a mother would have stopped this plot in its tracks. This has all the ’60s YA fun promised by a title as fantastic as “Tunnel Through Time.” And that cover!

“Joint” (1959): The earliest PKD novel that reads like a PKD novel, as he finds his great theme: How do we know anything around us is real? Sure, we’re paranoid, but might they be out to get us anyway? And as protagonist Ragle Gumm begins to suspect his reality is a construct, he wonders: Is it possible the whole world really does revolve around him? Turns out it does.

“Slow Days” (1977): Babitz’s essays about her life in and around LA in the 1970s are fizzy, gossipy and deceptively casual, but purported to have gone through multiple drafts to get there. Sometimes subtle and profound, like “Heroine,” a punning title, sometimes giddy or hilarious. She’s close-minded about Palm Springs, open-minded about Bakersfield, and loves LA unreservedly. At times she comes off like a hedonistic airhead, but notice how many great writers and artists she invokes knowledgeably. A true original.

“Thursday” (1908): The nest-of-spies plot is thrilling and disorienting. Then it becomes absurd and nonsensical, and the whole thing becomes even more dreamlike as an allegory for (I think) faith. I went from really liking this to being a little regretful that I’d read it. Well, I’ve never read anything like it, so there’s that. (I listened to a library audiobook of this one, with some reference to my paperback.)

“Timeline” (2019): In this alternate history, abortion in 2019 is illegal, so a group of women time travelers attempt to “edit” the timeline a century ago to head off the moralists and grant women more rights. The novel’s other thread follows a 1990s teenager who loves riot grrrl music and finds she needs an abortion. A blast of politics, feminism and fun, and even more urgent in 2022 than upon publication.

“20 Days” (1851/2003): These daily journal extracts from a three-week period in which Hawthorne had sole care for his 5-year-old son are a delight. They play together, go on walks, fetch milk. Dad deals with Julian’s bedwetting and a wasp sting. He regularly refers to him fondly as “the little man” or “the old gentleman.” They visit with Mr. Herman Melville. And fairly often Hawthorne admits his chatterbox son is driving him nuts.

“Record Store Days” (2009): A kind of oral history of record shops, comprising facts, history, anecdotes and lore as told by shop owners, managers, musicians and fans. Moderately entertaining but a little iffy, like a singer’s mid-career album you enjoy well enough to put on your shelf but aren’t sure you’ll ever play again.

This was a strong month, with “Joint,” “Slow Days,” “20 Days” and “Another Timeline” all standouts and “Tunnel Through Time” enjoyable for what it was. If we’re keeping track, this month was four fiction, three nonfiction, with two women authors represented.

Speaking of the passage of time, I picked these books up over a period of 17 years, starting with PKD in 2004 from Glendale’s Bookfellows. After a long gap, I got Chesterton in 2011 from the Borders closeout sale (after 11 years unread, this purchase seems less like a bargain); Callamar and Gallo in 2012 via Amazon (I must have thought I needed it in a hurry, LOL); del Rey and Hawthorne in 2019 from Portland’s Powell’s; Newitz in 2021 from B&N (with a birthday gift card); and Babitz this year from Echo Park’s Stories shortly after her death.

How was your month, readers? Let us know in the comments, please — and remember, time’s a-wastin’.

Next month: Back to random books.

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Reading Log: January 2022

Books acquired: “The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft; “Slow Days, Fast Company,” Eve Babitz; “Myth & Mirage: Inland Southern California, Birthplace of the Spanish Colonial Revival,” Riverside Art Museum

Books read: “Zappa,” Barry Miles; “Intimations,” Zadie Smith; “They Climbed the Mountain,” Glenn Wenzel; “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” William Shakespeare; “Liner Notes,” Loudon Wainwright III

Happy New Yea — wait, we’re a month in. Well, welcome to our first Reading Log of 2022, in which I share what I read, month by month, and you do the same (unless you don’t; that’s your business).

Unlike 2021, when I read one, or occasionally two, Edgar Rice Burroughs novels per month, and in half the months read one of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries, I expect my reading this year to be less structured.

I’m thinking I will concentrate on my oldest unread books, from the ’00s, and my newest unread books, from 2019-on. (The backlog shrinks, but the struggle is real.) Also, with 15 (of 38) Shakespeare plays left, and having read zero last year, I want to get to some of those, if not many or all of them. Lastly, I’m going to try to read, or at least average, one book by a woman each month.

I don’t have a numerical goal for the year and never do. After 77 last year, 50 would be nice. Because I’d like to get to a few longer books, feeling freer to have, say, a three-book month would be helpful. I got so locked into reading a minimum of five books last year that other than a couple of thick anthologies, nothing was very ambitious.

Of course after all that, January ended as a five-book month, and February is off to a promising start too. Well, we’ll see how the year goes. Meanwhile, here’s what I read in January.

“Zappa” (2004): Miles gathered up existing research and didn’t talk to anyone, although he did interact with Zappa at various points in his life. Still, this is a decent effort at explaining Zappa, placing him in context and detailing his cultural impact. Miles is unsparing on Zappa’s misanthropy, need for control and inability to self examine. Certainly puts the “critical” in “critical biography,” and the book is the better for it. I’m not a fan, btw, but am curious about his life.

“Intimations” (2020): Moments and thoughts from the early weeks of the pandemic, which Smith memorably calls a “global humbling,” and with a closing essay, written post-George Floyd, on another sort of virus, that of racism, unconscious and not.

“They Climbed the Mountain” (2021): Climbing Mount Rubidoux is a daily ritual for some in Riverside and a onetime jaunt for visitors. Wenzel devotes chapters to notable people, some local, some well-known, who made the climb on foot, by car or by horse and buggy, including one president, one future president, writers, songwriters, ministers and magnates.

“Verona” (1593?): No phrases entered the language from this one, the plot is a little confusing, the motivations thin, the wrap-up unconvincing and, as they say, problematical. One of the lesser plays, but worth reading, of course. And it has Launce, one of the Bard’s great doofuses.

“Liner Notes” (2017): I own the book but listened to the audio version. As a fan, it was a treat to hear this natural performer perform his book by a lively reading and by singing the occasional song in full or in part that illustrates his personal stories. “My mom’s mom died when my mom was 7” was a great lyric, but it really sinks in when it’s joined to the story of how his mom was orphaned. No singer-songwriter has so doggedly chronicled his life as a father, husband, son and sibling as LW3. He’s still a neurotic cad, and no doubt more fun to listen to than to know. But he’s fun to listen to. The reclamation of a few of his father’s old Life magazine columns is a bonus.

Huh, so that was four nonfiction, one fiction — not how I see myself, but how I sometimes am anyway. February should be almost the reverse.

Where these books came from: The Zappa was a gift in 2004; I’ve referred to it for various columns over the years (and am cited in the endnotes for a silly anecdote about Zappa’s teenage years), but never sat down to read it until now. The Shakespeare is included in an omnibus from my college years, although for portability I checked out a version from the Pomona Public Library. The others are more recent: Wainwright from Claremont’s Rhino Records in 2020, the audio version a few weeks ago from Amazon; the Riverside from the author in 2021; and Zadie Smith from St. Louis’ Subterranean Books last summer.

Tell us in the comments not only about your January in reading but about any reading goals for 2022. In general, do you have a plan in mind, anything you want to accomplish? And thank you kindly.

Next month: It’s about time.

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Books read, 2021

The above photo collects what I read in 2021 all in one place, in four stacks on my living room floor: from left, mass-market fiction, nonfiction, fiction and nonfiction about or from Southern California, and lastly, fiction of a literary bent.

By my count, I read 43 fiction books and 34 nonfiction, not quite the overwhelming victory for fiction I had hoped for, but better than 2020, when fiction was leading by only one. (Here’s my 2021 post.) Fourteen were audiobooks from libraries of books I owned physical copies of; these are enjoyable and helped me speed up through my backlog.

More egregiously, of my 77 books, only 11 were by women, either as writer and editor or, in four cases, as co-writer or -editor with a man. (Whoever compiled the Bourdain book, by the way, is uncredited — so probably a woman, right?) I’ll try to do better in 2022.

My most-read authors were Edgar Rice Burroughs, 14; John D. MacDonald, six; and Mark Twain, four. I completed the John Carter of Mars series and all the Tarzans I care to read, and got through half the remaining Travis McGee mysteries. And I’m in sight of finishing all of Twain’s major works.

As the above indicates, few of my 77 books were new or recent, and most weren’t even recent purchases. I’m continuing to work my way through a deep backlog of books bought back to 2002 and still unread. Tell us what you read in 2021, if you like, and whatever trends you noticed in your own reading.

1. “King Kull,” Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter

2. “The Prince and the Pauper,” Mark Twain

3. “Emperor Fu Manchu (Fu Manchu #13),” Sax Rohmer

4. “A Princess of Mars (John Carter #1),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

5. “The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (Travis McGee #10),” John D. MacDonald

6. “The Gods of Mars (John Carter #2),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

7. “Warlord of Mars (John Carter #3),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

8. “Dress Her in Indigo (Travis McGee #11),” John D. MacDonald

9. “Anthony Bourdain: The Last Interview,” Melville House, publisher

10. “Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews,” Jonathan Cott, editor

11. “Inlandia: A Literary Journey Through California’s Inland Empire,” Gayle Wattawa, ed.

12. “Desert Oracle, Vol. 1,” Ken Layne

13. “The Lady in the Lake,” Raymond Chandler

14. “The Long Lavender Look (Travis McGee #12),” John D. MacDonald

15. “Tarzan Untamed (Tarzan #7),” Edgar Rice  Burroughs

16. “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” David Sedaris

17. “Becoming Ray Bradbury,” Jonathan R. Eller

18. “Our Towns: A 10,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,” James Fallows and Deborah Fallows

19. “Tarzan the Terrible (Tarzan #8),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

20. “A Tan and Sandy Silence (Travis McGee #13),” John D. MacDonald

21. “The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft

22. “Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery,” Scott Kelly

23. “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain

24. “A Long Way Down,” Nick Hornby

25. “Thuvia, Maid of Mars (John Carter #4),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

26. “My Middle Name is Color,” Dee Marcellus Cole

27. “The Game-Players of Titan,” Philip K. Dick

28. “Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series,” Gary Gerani, ed.

29. “The Chessmen of Mars (John Carter #5),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

30. “The Squares of the City,” John Brunner

31. “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” Baroness Orczy

32. “The Scarlet Letter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne

33. “The Scarlet Ruse (Travis McGee #14),” John D. MacDonald

34. “The Master Mind of Mars (John Carter #6),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

35. “Marooned on Mars,” Lester del Rey

36. “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” Robert A. Heinlein

37. “The Brothers of Baker Street,” Michael Robertson

38. “San Bernardino, Singing,” Nikia Chaney, ed.

39. “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Noah Isenberg

40. “American Moonshot,” Douglas Brinkley

41. “Secret Stairs,” Charles Fleming

42. “A Fighting Man of Mars (John Carter #7),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

43. “Writing Los Angeles,” David Ulin, ed.

44. “Preserving Los Angeles,” Ken Bernstein

45. “Becoming Los Angeles,” D.J. Waldie

46. “Holy Land,” D.J. Waldie

47. “The Life and Times of Los Angeles,” Marshall Berges

48. “The Turquoise Lament (Travis McGee #15),” John D. MacDonald

49. “Surviving in a Ruthless World: Bob Dylan’s Voyage to ‘Infidels,’” Terry Gans

50. “The Swords of Mars (John Carter #8),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

51. “Kidnapped,” Robert Louis Stevenson

52. “Girlz ‘n the Hood,” Mary Hill-Wagner

53. “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians,” Mark Twain

54. “Tarzan and the Golden Lion (Tarzan #9),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

55. “The Record Store Book,” Mike Spitz and Rebecca Villaneda

56. “A Man on the Moon,” Andrew Chaikin

57. “More Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” Susan Straight and Douglas McCulloh

58. “Always Running,” Luis Rodriguez

59. “To Your Scattered Bodies Go,” Philip Jose Farmer

60. “Photos of People at the March on Washington, August 18, 1963,” TM and D.D. Givens

61. “All of the Marvels,” Douglas Wolk

62. “Benchley — Or Else!” Robert Benchley

63. “Is This Anything?” Jerry Seinfeld

64. “Men and Cartoons,” Jonathan Lethem

65. “Synthetic Men of Mars (John Carter #9),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

66. “Tarzan and the Ant Men (Tarzan #10),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

67. “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” David Sedaris

68. “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” Robin Sloan

69. “The Essential Groucho,” Stefan Kanfer, ed.

70. “The Portable Hawthorne,” Malcolm Cowley, ed.

71. “The American Claimant,” Mark Twain

72. “Girl in a Band,” Kim Gordon

73. “Llana of Gathol (John Carter #10),” Edgar Rice Burroughs

74. “Funny Girl,” Nick Hornby

75. “Historic Mission Inn,” Barbara Moore, ed.

76. “Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever,” Ellen Weil and Gary K. Wolfe, editors

77. “Inter State,” José Vadi

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Reading Log: December 2021

Books acquired: “My Week Beats Your Year: Encounters With Lou Reed,” Michael Heath and Pat Thomas; “Murderers and Other Friendly People,” Denis Brian; “Monogram,” G.B. Stern

Books read: “The Portable Hawthorne,” Malcolm Cowley, ed.; “The American Claimant,” Mark Twain; “Girl in a Band,” Kim Gordon; “Llana of Gathol (John Carter #10),” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “Funny Girl,” Nick Hornby; “Historic Mission Inn,” Barbara Moore, ed.; “Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever,” Ellen Weil and Gary K. Wolfe, editors; “Inter State,” Jose Vadi

And that’s a wrap on 2021, as December has come and gone. Let’s memorialize it via my December reading — and yours.

“Portable Hawthorne” (1968): I went into this collection admiring Hawthorne, and by the end, after selected journal entries and letters, ranging from observational to heartfelt to self-deprecating, I became a real fan. Usually that stuff seems like padding, but here they really expand our image of him. The germs for potential stories from his notebooks, each a sentence or two, include the one that led to “The Scarlet Letter.” On such a slender thread was literary history made.

“American Claimant” (1892): Banged out in 71 days, this late novel is a satire on aristocracy vs. democracy, but unfortunately it’s got multiple themes and tones, none well developed, and the result is nearly incoherent. Of course this has its moments — it’s by Twain, after all — and there’s his famous admonition to readers that no weather would be found in the book. But there’s a reason this book is scarcely available in print.

“Girl in a Band” (2015): Some of the reviews on Goodreads of this memoir by the Sonic Youth singer and bass player are so petty and misogynistic. I was impressed how the guarded Gordon opened up to write about her mentally ill brother and other personal travails, revealing a vulnerable person behind her stoic persona. Besides rock, she had careers in the art and fashion worlds, crossing paths with now-familiar names, especially in NYC in the 1970s. She’s observant, candid and tough-minded. I like the book more than I like Sonic Youth.

“Mission Inn” (1998): A visual and textual tour, floor by floor, of the rococo Mission Inn hotel in Riverside. An informative, if dry, semi-official history.

“Funny Girl” (2014): A 1960s aspiring comic actress in the mold of Lucille Ball moves from the sticks to London and lands a starring role in a BBC series that becomes a sensation. A portrait not only of a good-hearted heroine but of Swinging London as the stodgy nation loosens up, told with Hornby’s characteristic humor and heart. That said, the last section, which jumps ahead 50 years to a reunion, kind of peters out.

“Llana of Gathol” (1948): ERB’s last completed Barsoom novel, this upholds the high standards of the series and, due to being serialized in four parts, the story rarely drags and just keeps building to peaks. Callbacks to many previous characters and encounters add to the fun. It’s as if ERB were taking a victory lap. Also, out of nowhere, John Carter makes a Babe Ruth joke and knocks it out of the park. Mars’ low gravity helps.

“Harlan Ellison” (2002): The 30-page biography at the start is useful, and the authors flesh it out from there with chapters on his writing for SF, men’s magazines and TV and with an exploration of themes in some of his better stories. His copious nonfiction is barely mentioned. A nice try at producing an overview and at taking him seriously, but the approach is a bit academic for a figure as outrageous as Ellison.

“Inter State” (2021): Raised in Pomona in Southern California, Vadi uprooted himself to relocate to Oakland in the Bay Area, two outsider cities perfect for an outsider like him, an aging skater and mixed-race thinker, unsure where he belongs other than that it’s got to be in California. He likes to lurk, to bear witness, whether it’s to skater spots, dive bars, SF’s tech transformation, Oakland’s gentrification or his farmworker grandfather’s journey, as he seeks to grasp “this disjointed mosaic of a state.”

That’s eight books for December, and 77 total for the year, if I counted correctly. Huzzah! Wouldn’t have believed it possible. Listening to 14 audiobooks this year (including the Gordon and Hornby books this month) made a big difference, and reading continued to be my go-to leisure activity, especially with movie theaters either off-limits or inadvisable for much of the year.

Hawthorne was the clear winner this month, with Gordon, Burroughs and Vadi jostling for runner-up status.

Here’s how these books got into my hot little hands. Ellison, Twain and Burroughs date to 2011, when they were bought at St. Louis’ late Patten’s Books, LA’s late Sam Johnson’s Bookshop and LA’s very much alive Last Bookstore, respectively. In 2015, I got Gordon at a Live Talks event in Santa Monica, signed, and Hornby at a Vroman’s event in Pasadena, also signed. (Gordon signed mine at a distance, silently; Hornby and I had a friendly chat across the table.) Hawthorne came from North Hollywood’s Iliad Bookshop in 2018 for a mere $2. In recent weeks, Mission Inn was bought at the Local History Book Fair in Riverside and Vadi at Vroman’s in Pasadena.

Books ranging across 11 years of purchases, all packed into one month — whew.

How was your month of reading? Don’t be shy, or at least hide your shyness behind a friendly comment.

Within days I’ll post my annual numbered list of all my 2021 books. If you keep up with these posts, you will have seen them all, but it’s always nice to put them all in one place and see what they add up to.

Next month: I’m playing it by ear.

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Reading Log: November 2021

Books acquired: “It Calls You Back,” Luis Rodriguez; “Fun With Your New Head,” Thomas M. Disch; “Inter State,” Jose Vadi

Books read: “All of the Marvels,” Douglas Wolk; “Benchley — Or Else!” Robert Benchley; “Is This Anything?” Jerry Seinfeld; “Men and Cartoons,” Jonathan Lethem; “Synthetic Men of Mars” (John Carter #9), “Tarzan and the Ant Men” (Tarzan #10), Edgar Rice Burroughs; “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” David Sedaris; “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” Robin Sloan; “The Essential Groucho,” Stefan Kanfer, ed.

Here we are in December, looking back at November, as 2021 heads into the home stretch. If we have any books we desperately want to get to or to wrap up, better snap to it.

I did my part in November, as you can see: nine books. They encompass five books of nonfiction and four of fiction (unless it turns out “Tarzan and the Ant Men” is a true-life account). Let’s run ’em down.

“Marvels” (2021): Subtitled “A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told,” Wolk’s book is the result of his reading 17,000 Marvel comics, which he doesn’t recommend, and thinking deeply about them, which he does. He covers the basics in a way friendly to new or lapsed comics readers. Yet his observations, insights and reader tips had this lifelong Marvel fan jotting notes, nodding in affirmation or grunting in surprise. His section on the Shang-Chi series of the 1970s-’80s as an unsung gem was especially welcome. That he likes modern and classic Marvel both is to his credit. As Stan Lee might have enthused: “Face it, True Believer, this one has it all.”

“Benchley” (1947): Published after his death, this is a mixed bag of good stuff and dregs, some of which read as if written on a deadline with little inspiration. Still, even lesser Benchley has its pleasures. One gem is about how he likes reading mystery novels but that he’s always lost at the end during the dense monologue by the detective of how the crime was pulled off.

“Anything?” (2020): This compilation of Seinfeld’s stand-up bits is arranged by decade going back to the 1980s, and hearing him read them — I listened to the audiobook while referring at times to the hardcover — gives a semblance of hearing them live. His delivery is less friendly than on his show, and some of the ’00s jokes come across as semi-hostile. Overall, it’s funny-to-hilarious, of course, and this book is better than his early “Seinlanguage.” The short autobiographical introductions per decade might make us wish for a full memoir — although I won’t hold my breath.

“Cartoons” (2005): The most straightforward story, “Vivian Relf,” was the most affecting. The others, from near-realism to comic absurdity, had their pleasures, but the overall impact on me was slight. As an example of how times change, when the first story, “The Vision,” was published, Lethem had to explain within the story who the obscure Marvel character was, and now, after “Avengers” movies and the “WandaVision” TV series, he’s recognized by millions.

“Synthetic Men” (1939): In his ERB bio, Richard Lupoff called this one “thoroughly bad,” which made me go in expecting the worst. Well, OK, it’s somewhat formulaic, and Ras Thavas (from Book 6) is back, as is his brain transferral surgeries. A fast-growing mass of vat-created protoplasm that threatens to overwhelm Barsoom, though, that’s new. If this one is no gem, it’s no embarrassment either.

“Ant Men” (1924): Tarzan runs into two warring cities of people 18 inches tall, arrogantly thinks he can take on an entire army single-handedly, gets captured, wakes up and finds himself 18 inches tall (although for the longest time he can’t figure it out and thinks everyone else has grown). A fun outing, somewhat different, but disappointing compared to Lupoff’s rave, in his ERB bio, that this was the best entry since the first. The Ape-Man series continues for 14 more novels, by the way, but I plan to stop here.

“Owls” (2013): There’s a more a generous spirit underlying most of the autobiographical pieces than before: more sympathy and reflectiveness, less mean-spiritedness and snark. It’s (dare I say it) a sign of growth. The one about the hygiene and food in China is, as they say, problematic, and the six fictional essays using other voices as narrator are hit or miss. On this one too I listened to the audiobook of a volume I own, and Sedaris reads it himself, a plus.

“Mr. Penumbra” (2012): A clever story involving modes of communication old and new: email, letters, cassettes, a Walkman, cell phones, the internet, lead type and, most crucially, books and e-readers. The plot involving a 500-year-old secret society in robes gets into a less self-serious version of Dan Brown territory, and the big reveal is slightly incomprehensible. But the likable narration helps a lot. I listened to the audio version of this as well.

“Groucho” (2004): A worthy attempt to collect and preserve some of Groucho’s writings and quiz-show quips. The section of freelance pieces is too long, since most were only middling, and weighed down what was otherwise a great pleasure of letters and script excerpts. Still, a neat idea, one that salvages a lot of out-of-print or uncollected material.

Overview: Not a dog in the bunch, although the Benchley was pretty iffy. “Marvels” is my favorite, trailed by “Owls,” and then everything else. By listening to audiobooks downloaded from a library, I managed to squeeze in three extra books this month, largely while driving. What great times we live in, eh?

These books fell into my life over a course of 17 years: Wolk came from his publisher and Seinfeld as a birthday gift from a friend, both in 2021; Sedaris was bought at his 2015 appearance at Scripps College and signed by the author; Sloan was bought on a road trip in 2013 from Half Moon Bay’s Bay Books; both ERBs came from the Black Ace Paperback Show, Tarzan in 2012 and Mars in 2011; Benchley was bought at Pasadena’s estimable Book Alley in 2011, while Lethem came the same year via North Hollywood’s Iliad Books; and Groucho was picked up at Berkeley’s Moe’s Books in, gulp, 2004.

As is usually the case here, the pitfalls of my past book-buying habits are revealed for all the world (or at least a half-dozen of you) to see. In no rational world should the ERB books have sat on my shelf unread for a decade; same with the Lethem book, which even at my pokey pace took only about five days to read. My excuse, of course, is that I’ve read hundreds of other books this past decade, many far older than these. I wish I hadn’t been so profligate in years past in padding out my shelves, as if a book shortage were on the horizon and I needed to stock up. Ah, me.

How was your November, readers? Let us all hear about it in the comments, please. Onward to our December reading!

Next month: 2021 ends, as does the John Carter series.

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