Reading Log: February 2023

Books acquired: none

Books read: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino; “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories,” Washington Irving; “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour,” Scott Skelton and Jim Benson; “Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery,” Robert Arthur, ed.; “A Ghost at Noon,” Alberto Moravia

I teased this month as “Night time is the right time,” and as you’ll see, all five books — two novels, two story collections and one TV series history — have titles that seem to involve ghosts, haunts or bedtime stories. Most were — whew! — read during broad daylight.

“Once Upon a Time” (2021): Loose and baggy, this prose version is different from the movie in various ways: willing to explore byways of character and setting, to emphasize character over action and to share Hollywood insider chatter of the era. It’s often uproariously funny. But as Tarantino devotes page after page to the intricate concept of the “Lancer” TV pilot as if the characters were real people, you’ll wish an editor had yelled “cut!” (Birthday gift in 2022, but I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Jennifer Jason Leigh, while referring to the book.)

“Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1819): “Sleepy Hollow” is almost an American myth and “Rip Van Winkle” isn’t far behind. The only other entry here that would qualify as a short story is “The Spectre Bridegroom.” The rest of this collection is made up of essays about Irving’s rambles around London. If he’d rambled around New England instead, he might have contributed more to our national literature. Charming and witty to a point, but only an English major like myself would attempt to read this, and I’d rather have read Hawthorne. (Bought in 2011 at Borders’ closeout sale.)

“Night Gallery” (1999): A lovingly compiled episode guide to and history of the oft-maligned anthology that will always live in the shadow of “Twilight Zone.” I read this word for word while watching the series (both took me more than two years), and the detailed summaries and reactions to each episode were useful. They might be maddening if read in isolation. In other words, probably not a book you’re going to tote with you on a solo lunch. Worth noting that this is longer than Zicree’s tidy TZ book despite NG having far fewer episodes, and that last year it was supplanted by an updated version twice as long as this. (Bought from Amazon in 2020.)

“Ghostly Gallery” (1962): I may have checked this out from the library as a lad, or did I merely admire its cover? I don’t think I read it, but it’s familiar, at any rate. Charming presentation and interesting selection of stories geared to what is now the YA market. Coming to this as an adult, I found the stories to be hit or miss, and thus overall a disappointment. There are very slight emendations, like removing references to liquor bottles from Henry Kuttner’s “Housing Problem,” a classic that is one of the book’s high points. (Bought from the Upland Friends of the Library bookstore in 2018.)

“Ghost at Noon” (1954): “What makes a woman stop loving her husband?” asks the cover copy of my 1956 paperback. How about if he is self-absorbed, prone to anger, demanding, whiny, self-justifying, obtuse and quick to assume the worst about her thoughts and feelings rather than ask what they are? I ended up with as much contempt for this guy as his wife has. I can’t tell if this is what Moravia intended or not, but either way this scrutiny of a failing marriage is often unpleasant reading. Jean-Luc Godard filmed it as “Contempt.” (Bought from Portland’s Powell’s Books in 2019.)

This is another of those months that come along too often: ones with no standout book. I’m kind of a tough critic, but also one who chooses idiosyncratic books and, sometimes, pays the price. (Don’t cry for me, Reading Log.)

To be fair, “A Ghost at Noon” was a novel that I’d read something positive about and had high hopes for, but was disappointed by. As I purged my shelves a year ago, I considered reading only the two famous Washington Irving stories and then selling the book, but I decided to keep it and to read the whole thing. I don’t know that I would characterize that as a mistake exactly, unless it turns out I have only weeks to live, in which case, yeah.

Anyway, the only book I could recommend, with reservations, to a general reader is Tarantino’s, which I hadn’t even wanted to read. Go figure. I liked “Night Gallery” and liked the book, let me add, but it’s only for diehards.

How was your February, readers? We’ll anxiously await your comments.

Next month: Let the sun shine in.

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Reading Log: January 2023

Books acquired: “Bad City,” Paul Pringle; “Chasing History,” Carl Bernstein

Books read: “The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere.,” James Spooner; “The Ballad of Bob Dylan,” Daniel Mark Epstein; “Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down,” Tom Dardis; “Woe is I,” Patricia O’Conner; “Baseline Road,” Orlando Davidson; “The Season to be Wary,” Rod Serling

Happy New Year from the Reading Log! Here I’ll track my reading (and book acquisitions) for 2023, a month at a time, as I’ve been doing for more than a decade now. And where you are always encouraged to do the same via the comments function.

In January I read two biographies, a grammar book, a graphic novel, a detective novel and a collection of novellas. Let’s dive in.

“Baseline Road” (2023): This noir novel is set in Claremont, California, and environs in 1972, when a San Bernardino County sheriff’s investigator (male) and a Claremont Police detective (female), both best friends, team up to solve a post-Kent State bombing at the Claremont Colleges from two years earlier. It’s certainly of local interest due to the number of proper nouns (streets, restaurants) and it’s a skillfully told mystery besides. Not as dark and poetic as Kem Nunn’s “Pomona Queen,” the obvious local antecedent, but Davidson, a Claremont Colleges alumnus of that era, creates a couple of likable leads and keeps things moving. (Advance copy provided by the publisher.)

“Ballad of Bob Dylan” (2011): Having read a shelf full of Bob books, I nearly skipped this quirkily structured bio, and the first part, about a concert from 1963 that the author attended as a teen, is so hyper-detailed I almost gave up. Thank goodness I didn’t, because this may be the most illuminating Dylan biography of all, full of sympathy, wit and insights. There’s a new, credible version of the ’66 motorcycle accident, the sweet story of Dylan’s lifelong friendship with Larry Keegan, and surprises about his ’90s road band. Dylan comes across here as more human than he does anywhere else. (Pro tip for the audio version: If you speed it up to 1.25, Bronson Pinchot talks at a normal pace.) (Birthday gift in 2015.)

“Keaton” (1979): Serviceable, relatively compact biography of Buster Keaton that touches most of the bases and interviews people in his circle — Keaton died in 1966 — still around in the ’70s. Keaton was a more obscure figure in 1979 than he’s become since, and he’s often today more highly regarded than Chaplin. This bio is curiously scant on Buster’s ’50s-’60s comeback, with no mention of his Twilight Zone episode, now the only role the average person might know him from. Speculates with some persuasiveness about how the rough treatment from his father onstage as a boy in their vaudeville act may have made Buster curiously passive the rest of his life, and how the alcoholism that wrecked his career was not understood as a disease in Buster’s day. (Bought in 2009 at Santa Cruz’s Logos Books used for $3.)

“Woe is I” (1996): Brisk, cleverly written guide to grammar. The advice is sensible in nearly all cases. But O’Conner’s faith in “his” as an all-purpose pronoun, preferable to “his and her” and definitely to “their” — “Anyone entering must show his ticket” — was dated even upon publication in 1996 and is worse today. One takeaway from reading all these rules, almost all of which I had internalized as a native-born speaker and careful writer, is how daunting English must be to learn as a newcomer. (Bought in 2013 at St. Louis’ Patten Books.)

“High Desert” (2022): A chronicle of a time and place as a misfit teen, who is a Black punk fan, searches for his tribe in a mostly white desert town and on a visit to NYC. One thing I liked about this was how honest Spooner is in his recollections: how he was uncommunicative with his well-meaning mom, ghosted a friend who needed him, and knew almost nothing about anything. And there’s a refreshingly playful spirit amid the teen angst and subcultural explorations. (Bought in 2022 at Skylight Books in Los Feliz.)

“Season to be Wary” (1967): This collection of three novellas was published between “Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery” and showed that Serling could translate his ideas into prose effectively. He later adapted two of these, “The Escape Route” and “Eyes,” for the terrific Night Gallery pilot. The other, “Color Scheme,” is about a racist in the South who gets his comeuppance and was, Serling said, considered too hot for TV. It still packs a punch. I bought this circa 1981 at, possibly, the Bargain Bookshelf in Decatur, Georgia, based on the store stamp inside, while visiting my grandfather and read it almost immediately. Having watched “The Night Gallery” on DVD the past couple of years in dribs and drabs, I felt like reading this again. So I did.

This was a hodge-podge of a month, and in other circumstances I would not have elected to read so much nonfiction, but that’s how it worked out. February should balance things out.

While how this year will go in reading will unfold over the next 11 months, my answer is different at the start of February than it would have been at the start of January. I was planning to try to read a bit less this year (!), shooting for, say, 52 books rather than last year’s 80, to allow time for other pursuits. But here I was knocking off six books in January. February should bring four or five. There’s just a lot of books on deck that I’d have liked to have gotten through last year, if last year had had, you know, 16 to 18 months. So, maybe I’ll aim for 60 books.

I expect to read many of my oldest books, ones bought from 2007 to 2013 or so, including a few heavyweight literary works; some purchases from the last couple of years; some gifts from friends that have shamefully languished unread; at least two of my four remaining Mark Twain books; a couple of the Ballantine Best Of science fiction anthologies; and some if not all of my remaining half-dozen Travis McGee mysteries.

How about you? What did you read in January, and what sort of reading goals do you have for 2023?

Next month: Nighttime is the right time.

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Books read, 2022

Here’s what I read in 2022, all in one place: a photo of every book, and, below, a list of them, culled from my monthly Reading Log blog posts.

The giant Shakespeare anthology at left contains the 15 (!) plays I read last year, so the photo has fewer books than the list. (But I did include the two Shakespeare books I’d checked out from the Pomona Public Library before returning them Tuesday.)

All told, I read exactly 80 books. That breaks down to 33 nonfiction and 47 fiction, weighting this list toward fiction more decisively than usual. 2021’s list had only one more fiction than nonfiction. For someone who considered himself a literary person, that was a surprise, which I somewhat course-corrected last year.

Of the 80 books, 20 were written by women; I made a concerted effort to read at least one book per month by a woman after someone, understandably, pointed out the disparity in 2021, when the number was around 8. Some of these 20 were among my favorites.

I’m a little hamstrung on the gender breakdown because most of my reading is from a vast but diminishing backlog of unread books, and almost all of those are by men, a result of favoring older books, before women were better represented in the field.

I didn’t get to everything I wanted to read last year — does anyone? — with the remaining half-dozen Travis McGee mysteries untouched from where I left off in 2021. But it was satisfying to finally finish off Shakespeare’s canon: all 38 plays, the sonnets and the lyric poems.

I own them all in a college anthology bought for various classes in 1984. I counted all the individual items as unread books. And in my completely obsessive personal list of unread books in chronological order of acquisition, this 1984 anthology was the oldest, with the next-oldest being from 2002.

I’m proud, or at least relieved, to report that after focusing on Shakespeare and my oldest ’00s books in 2022, including “Don Quixote,” my oldest unread book is now from 2007. Well, it’s progress; when I started reading seriously again, circa 2009, I still had a few books from the ’70s and plenty from the ’80s and ’90s. Another couple years and I may be caught up to the start of the pandemic.

How was your own year in reading? Feel free to comment below.

  1. “Zappa,” Barry Miles
  2. “Intimations,” Zadie Smith
  3. “They Climbed the Mountain,” Glenn Wenzel
  4. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” William Shakespeare
  5. “Liner Notes,” Loudon Wainwright III
  6. “Tunnel Through Time,” Lester del Rey
  7. “Time Out of Joint,” Philip K. Dick
  8. “Slow Days, Fast Company,” Eve Babitz
  9. “The Man Who Was Thursday,” G.K. Chesterton
  10. “The Future of Another Timeline,” Annalee Newitz
  11. “20 Days With Julian and Bunny by Papa,” Nathaniel Hawthorne
  12. “Record Store Days,” Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo
  13. “Suite Alice of Riverside, Tahoe and Laguna,” Barbara Burns
  14. “Everything Now,” Rosecrans Baldwin
  15. “Tom Sawyer Abroad & Tom Sawyer Detective,” Mark Twain
  16. “The Best of L. Sprague de Camp”
  17. “It Calls You Back,” Luis J. Rodriguez
  18. “Ramona,” Helen Hunt Jackson
  19. “All’s Well That Ends Well,” William Shakespeare
  20. “Measure for Measure,” William Shakespeare
  21. “Try to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place,” Joan Frank
  22. “King Solomon’s Mines,” H. Rider Haggard
  23. “Bob Dylan: Performing Artist Vol. 3, 1986-1990,” Paul Williams
  24. “Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft
  25. “Wildsam Field Guide: Joshua Tree,” Rachel Worby
  26. “Radio Free Albemuth,” Philip K. Dick
  27. “Lyrics 1962-2001,” Bob Dylan
  28. “Henry V,” William Shakespeare
  29. “Troilus and Cressida,” William Shakespeare
  30. “Orange County, A History and Celebration,” Steve Emmons
  31. “Manhood for Amateurs,” Michael Chabon
  32. “The Disappointment Artist,” Jonathan Franzen
  33. “Mojave Project Reader Vol. 1,” Kim Stringfellow
  34. “Mecca,” Susan Straight
  35. “Madame Bovary,” Gustave Flaubert
  36. “King John,” William Shakespeare
  37. “The Silent Invaders,” Robert Silverberg
  38. “Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton,” John Bengtson
  39. “Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews,” Sam Weller
  40. “The Caves of Steel,” Isaac Asimov
  41. “Exhalation,” Ted Chiang
  42. “Earth Abides,” George R. Stewart
  43. “Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways,” Evelyn McDonnell
  44. “Without Apology,” Jenny Brown
  45. “The Portable Conrad,” Joseph Conrad
  46. “Steve Gerber: Conversations,” Jason Sacks, editor
  47. “Explore Riverside Together,” Lorna Jenkins
  48. “Titus Andronicus,” William Shakespeare
  49. “Kim,” Rudyard Kipling
  50. “Star Light, Star Bright,” Alfred Bester
  51. “Tender is the Night,” F. Scott Fitzgerald
  52. “Intimacies,” Katie Kitamura
  53. “Voices From the Street,” Philip K. Dick
  54. “When the Sleeper Wakes,” H.G. Wells
  55. “The Long Tomorrow,” Leigh Brackett
  56. “A World of Its Own: Race, Labor and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970,” Matt Garcia
  57. “Natural Consequences: Intimate Essays for a Planet in Peril,” Char Miller
  58. “The Joy Luck Club,” Amy Tan
  59. “Henry VI Part 1,” William Shakespeare
  60. “Henry VI Part 2,” William Shakespeare
  61. “Henry VI Part 3,” William Shakespeare
  62. “Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race,” Paul Krassner
  63. “M Train,” Patti Smith
  64. “Walking L.A.,” Erin Mahoney Harris
  65. “The Fabulous Riverboat,” Philip Jose Farmer
  66. “Allan Quatermain,” H. Rider Haggard
  67. “Don Quixote,” Miguel de Cervantes
  68. “I Hope This Finds You Well,” Kate Baer
  69. “Cymbeline,” William Shakespeare
  70. “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” William Shakespeare
  71. “This is How You Lose Her,” Junot Diaz
  72. “How We Got Here: The 70s,” David Frum
  73. “Hondo,” Louis L’Amour
  74. “A Place at the Nayarit,” Natalia Molina
  75. “Being Mortal,” Atul Gawande
  76. “A Winter’s Tale,” William Shakespeare
  77. “Coriolanus,” William Shakespeare
  78. “The Tempest,” William Shakespeare
  79. “My Pinup: a paean to Prince,” Hilton Als
  80. “Sis Fuss,” Nikia Chaney
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Reading Log: December 2022

Books acquired: “My Pinup,” Hilton Als; “From Dickens to Prince,” Nick Hornby

Books read: “How We Got Here: The 70s,” David Frum; “Hondo,” Louis L’Amour; “A Place at the Nayarit,” Natalia Molina; “Being Mortal,” Atul Gawande; “A Winter’s Tale,” “Coriolanus,” “The Tempest,” William Shakespeare; “My Pinup: a paean to Prince,” Hilton Als; “Sis Fuss,” Nikia Chaney

One last Reading Log for 2022! In December I read nine books: four nonfiction, five fiction, including the last three Shakespeare plays I’d never read. Over four-plus decades I read all 38 plays, the sonnets and the lyric poems. It was an achievement and a satisfying way to wrap up 2022.

Here’s what I read in December and what I thought:

“The ’70s” (2000): Despite the orange cover and infinity logo, this ’70s study is about economic and social policy, not the heyday of “Soul Train.” But it was edifying for a ’70s child to learn about inflation, the oil embargo, terrorism, busing and other ’70s greatest hits. The conservative writer uses them to explain America’s rightward turn in the 1980s as a course correction, contending that the unsung ’70s were more influential than the lauded ’60s. Can you dig it? (Bought used in 2005 at Long Beach’s defunct Acres of Books; signed by the author during an appearance in 2018 at Claremont McKenna College: “For David, with every good wish, Another David.”)

“Hondo” (1953): This is actually a novelization by L’Amour of the decent John Wayne movie, itself based on a L’Amour short story, and thus while it launched L’Amour’s career, it doesn’t indicate one way or the other whether he could plot a novel. Surprisingly, this is as much a romance novel as a Western. It’s a little hokey with its taciturn white protagonist who knows the Apache ways, but it’s all right, and the attitudes about Apaches are fairly respectful. But I doubt I’ll ever read another L’Amour. (Bought used in 2004 at SLO’s defunct Leon’s Books due to my knowing there was a San Dimas reference, just as there is in the movie version. Mostly I listened to the audio version checked out from the LA Public Library.)

“The Nayarit” (2022): A close look at an Echo Park restaurant begun by Molina’s grandmother, who sponsored dozens of immigrants from her home state of Nayarit, employed them and even acted as chaperone in the case of young women, and also how her Nayarit restaurant cut across geographic and ethnic lines to become part of L.A. It’s a tribute to the unseen impact that one well-loved business can have, its ripple effects across a community. The writing can be formal and academic at times, but the human stories shine through. (Bought from Riverside’s Cellar Door Books in 2022, a day before Molina’s appearance at Pomona College, where I got my copy signed.)

“Being Mortal” (2014): Makes some thought-provoking points about our reluctance to talk honestly about end of life issues (illness, old-age homes, decline and death) and how medical care focuses on trying to fix the unfixable and prolong life at all costs rather than offer dying patients their best days. That said, I groaned every time a new case study was introduced — ugh, *another* person to keep track of! (Birthday gift from a friend in 2021. Mostly I listened to an audio version checked out from the LA Public Library.)

“A Winter’s Tale” (1610-11): Mad jealousy, a sundered friendship, a child abandoned to the wild, repentance, reunion, love and a deft sleight of hand at the end: This is a play of extremes that comes to a very satisfying, almost magical conclusion. And it’s got possibly the greatest, craziest stage direction in the canon: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” (From my 1984 college Shakespeare anthology, although I checked out a more portable version from the Pomona Public Library; same with the next two entries.)

“Coriolanus” (1607-8): What makes a good general does not always make a good civilian leader. Coriolanus is an elitist who thinks he’s above the rabble, a fault his enemies exploit. Built around an unlikable character, albeit one with some admirable qualities, this is a nuanced play about politics, hubris and the ingratitude of the people. Also, about the perils of listening to one’s mother, at least if her name is Volumnia.

The Tempest” (1611): Not quite his last play, but this fantasy piece about a shipwreck on a mysterious island on which magic is real reads like a self-conscious farewell by the playwright to his audience. In part because this is so different from most of his canon, and because some of the dialogue seems to comment on retirement, acting and the willing suspension of disbelief, it comes across as Shakespeare’s most personal work, the one where he seems the most real. It’s one of his shortest plays, but affecting.

“My Pinup” (2022): A very personal response to Prince and what it was like as a gay black male to meet him, revealing of both subject and author. If you like Prince, this essay in book form is inessential but of interest; at about 25 cents per page pre-tax (46 pages, $10), only you can decide if it’s worth your money. (Bought for a Prince-fan friend, but it’s so short I read it myself first.)

“Sis Fuss” (2013): A poetry cycle about a Black man from boyhood to middle age by a San Bernardino poet. Affecting, amusing at times. (Gift of the author in 2021.)

Notice that as I clear my backlog of unread books, two of the above were purchased, in 2004 and 2005, at used bookstores that are no longer in existence, and that in fact have been closed for some years. Ah, me.

With these nine books, my total for 2022 was an even 80 books. The last two books above were read in the last few days of 2022 to get me to a nice round number rather than ending at 78 or 79. Eighty isn’t my record, that would be 82, but 80 was neat.

How was your December, readers? — if you can remember all the way back to 2022, that is.

Within days I’ll be posting my annual list of every book I read in 2022. You can save your full-year stock-taking for that post if you like, or you can get it out of the way here. Whatever moves you. Any plans for 2023 reading on my part will be included in the Reading Log post for January; a month in, I might have a better idea what my goals will be. Right now, I’m just mopping up 2022.

And boy, it sure was nice to finish off Shakespeare after all these years.

Here’s to another year of reading!

Next month: A Buster Keaton biography, and more.

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Reading Log: November 2022

Books acquired: “A Place at the Nayarit,” Natalia Molina; “Waste Tide,” Chen Qiufan; “I Hope This Finds You Well,” Kate Baer; “The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft

Books read: “Allan Quatermain,” H. Rider Haggard; “Don Quixote,” Miguel de Cervantes; “I Hope This Finds You Well,” Kate Baer; “Cymbeline,” “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” William Shakespeare; “This is How You Lose Her,” Junot Diaz

As 2022 races to a close, here’s my penultimate Reading Log for the year. Somehow — I’ll explain how — I managed to finish not only a doorstop, but five books more. Allow me to recap.

“Quatermain” (1887): Yes, the quest for a “great white race” rumored to be in a remote part of Africa is risible, and a stretch in the middle about the customs, art and architecture of the Zu-Vendi people is recommended to insomniacs. But mostly this adventure story — a direct sequel to “King Solomon’s Mines” — trots along, and in telling it Haggard has a lot to say about loyalty, bravery, love, male friendship and aging. This is nonsense at a very high level. It’s the third and final novel in an omnibus bought in 2008 at St. Louis’ Patten’s Books. Mostly I listened to a very well done audiobook with one man adopting many British accents and creating clearly differentiated characters.

“Don Quixote” (1615): Up until this point, I considered “Moby-Dick” the greatest novel I’d read, and maybe it still is. Or is that “Don Quixote”? It’s certainly a lot funnier. A thorough delight: playful, nimble, mocking, thoughtful, metafictional, consistently hilarious. Far better than I’d dreamed. I wrote a column about reading it. I bought the Penguin translation in 2003 at B&N and, nearly two decades later, started it in mid-October 2022 before switching to the Edith Grossman translation, bought in 2011 at Borders during its closing sale. Mostly I liked the physical feel of the Grossman paperback, but it also seemed to take fewer liberties, and I liked that the footnotes were at the bottom of each page rather than at the back as in the Penguin.

“Finds You Well” (2021): Others’ words are on the left hand page, with the erasure poems (using only select words from the text on the left) on the right. Some of the originals are trollish comments or sales pitches directed to Baer. Others are supportive, and still others are misogynistic or hateful quotes taken from newspapers. Some of her erasures are cutting, others were so emotionally powerful they made me gasp or choke up, a few didn’t quite land for me. Overall, brilliant. Bought at San Francisco’s Green Apple Books on vacation earlier in the month after having clipped a positive review.

“Cymbeline” (1610): Said to be Tennyson’s favorite, but most of us will rate this in the middle of the pack. For one thing, the titular king isn’t very interesting, the play is scarcely about him and a surprising number of plot threads are only introduced in Act 3. However, Imogen is one of Shakespeare’s better women characters, and the last scene does a marvelous job of pulling all the strands together. Overall, enjoyable. Checked out from the Pomona Public Library.

“Two Noble Kinsmen” (1614): It’s believed Shakespeare wrote about half of this one, including the first and last acts, and John Fletcher the rest. Better than you might think for being part of the Shakespeare apocrypha; the scene where besties Arcite and Palamon politely help each other on with their armor before their duel has an Alphonse-and-Gaston flair, for instance, and I didn’t see the ending coming. Marginal, but not bad. Included in the copy above from the library.

“Lose Her” (2010): I listened to the audiobook. Its streetwise language and rhythms benefit from Diaz’s reading; he knows a lot about flow and punching up jokes. These linked stories can be funny, can be affecting, can disarm you, but to be honest, they are too earthy and vulgar for my taste. It’s possible that listening to the audiobook version, with Diaz’s voice in my ears, emphasized aspects that would have been easier to glide over on the page. Paperback bought at a 2017 appearance by the author at Scripps College. My copy is signed.

As you can see, of my six, two were plays that took about five days each to read, two were listened to as audiobooks and one was a poetry collection weighing in at 81 pages. As mentioned last month, I got October’s books out of the way early to get a running start on “Don Quixote,” which I wrapped up after 40 (!) straight days of reading. It would have made a month on its own and no one would have begrudged me, not least myself. Nice to knock off five more, though!

What did you read in November, everyone? And have you read, or attempted to read, “Don Quixote”? Let us know in the comments.

Do you have certain books you want to read before 2022 ends, for whatever reason? There are two or three dozen books I’d have liked to have gotten to this year, and in some cases I would never have guessed I wouldn’t get to them — while being surprised at some I did get to. I may end up with another six-book month in December and as for the thrust of what I want to accomplish, you’ll find that below.

Next month: The last three Shakespeare plays (I hope!) that I haven’t read.

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Reading Log: October 2022

Books acquired: “When Teddy Came to Riverside,” Glenn Wenzel; “Through the Doors of  the Mission Inn, Vols. 1 and 2,” Joan C. Hall

Books read: “Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race,” Paul Krassner; “M Train,” Patti Smith; “Walking L.A.,” Erin Mahoney Harris; “The Fabulous Riverboat,” Philip Jose Farmer

We’re in the home stretch of 2022, with only two months left (you heard it here first). For any books we want to finish this year, we’d better get cracking. October was, as promised, a month of books that would seem to involve traveling slowly: bicycle, train, riverboat and on foot. That’s not necessarily what they were really about, but I liked the modes of travel involved and thought I’d make a month of them.

What I did not read this month is possibly more interesting than what I did read. But I’ll come back to that. First, what I read.

“Bicycle” (1997): Has a range of material from throughout the countercultural writer’s career going back to 1958. Sometimes great, more often dated, as you’d expect from satire. I bought the book at a 2012 college appearance by Krassner, who signed it: “To David, Thanks for ghost-writing this book…” It’s a keeper for that alone. (Bought at the Claremont McKenna Athenaeum.)

“Train” (2015): An undercurrent of grief and loss runs through these diary-like excerpts of Smith’s life: travels to Japan, Berlin, Iceland and Tunisia, endless cups of coffee at her favorite cafe, the purchase on a whim of a forlorn house on Rockaway Beach. Because she’s Patti Smith, she can’t help being arty and pretentious (you’ll lose patience with her at various points), but she winningly shares her unexpected obsession with TV detective shows. (Bought at her Live Talks LA appearance at the Orpheum Theatre.)

“Walking” (2008): After completing the last walk of 38, I can say I’ve finished this book! It only took me 11 years to get around to them all. Since supplanted by an updated 2020 edition, with some new walks or revamped routes. (Bought somewhere, possibly the Hammer Museum gift shop, in 2011.)

“Riverboat” (1971): Not so fabulous, this follows “To Your Scattered Bodies Go,” which I found mildly interesting — coincidentally, I read it one year ago this month — but I’m not going to continue with this series. I like the concept, in which everyone who’s ever lived on Earth is resurrected along an enormous river, but the overarching plot involving the aliens who built Riverworld, and one dissident member seeking to help a dozen notable revived Earthlings, isn’t compelling to me. This wasn’t satisfying as an individual novel. Farmer’s inclusion of a historically accurate Sam Clemens was the only thing that kept me reading. It’s telling that I read it from my nightstand, about five pages per night, without picking up the pace toward the climax; in fact, I put it down four pages from the end, then finished it the next day. (Bought at Anaheim’s former Book Baron in 2007.)

“Walking” was the most useful, as I toted it around the L.A. area for 11 years. That and “Secret Stairs” got me through the pandemic; while I’d bought both books in 2011, I’d only done about one-third of each when the world shut down. From 2020 on, I did all the rest, finishing “Stairs” in 2021, then (slowly) turning my attention back to “Walking.”

“M Train” is the best of the lot as far as a good read, although I’m not really part of the Patti cult and can’t fully recommend it. In other words, don’t bother with any of my books this month — sigh.

More generally about this month, it was a successful attempt to finish some older books that required minimal time on my part, allowing me to spend much of the month reading something longer. “Train” was mostly listened to as a borrowed audiobook, “Bicycle” was read off my nightstand and finished a couple of days into October, “Riverboat” took its place and “Walking” only required my doing the two last walks.

Thus, a week into October, I started “The Portable Crane,” as in Stephen, starting with the usual pretentious editor’s introduction, and suddenly I lost all interest in reading the next 550 pages. Much of the contents (various short stories, “The Red Badge of Courage”) I had read in college or subsequently, and I decided I didn’t need to read them again, at least not now. I did reread “A Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” then put this book, unexpectedly, in the sell box.

What now? Well, the other long book I’d hoped to read in 2022 was “Don Quixote,” and I dove into it. It’s fantastic. As November starts, I’m halfway through its 940 pages. Either I will finish it in November or I’ll set it aside at mid-month, read something else and then finish in December. But I’m on my way.

How was your October, readers? What have you been up to? Let us know in the comments, please.

Next month: “Don Quixote” (maybe).

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Reading Log: September 2022

Books acquired: “A Kiss Across the Ocean,” Richard T. Rodriguez; “Through the Doors of the Mission Inn, Vols. 1 and 2,” Joan Hall; “When Teddy Came to Riverside,” Glenn Wenzel

Books read: “A World of Its Own: Race, Labor and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970,” Matt Garcia; “Natural Consequences: Intimate Essays for a Planet in Peril,” Char Miller; “The Joy Luck Club,” Amy Tan; “Henry VI Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,” William Shakespeare

Fall to, readers! Time to account for how we spent the final days of summer and the first days of autumn, at least from a book-ish standpoint.

I managed to finish six, thanks to extending the month an extra four days and delaying the Reading Log. An explanation awaits. To summarize the above titles, my month-plus involved a nonfiction book about the Inland Empire and San Gabriel Valley, a second nonfiction book on the environment that has a focus on Claremont, a popular modern novel and three plays about the 15th century.

“A World of Its Own” (2001): Garcia focuses on a few cities in LA’s eastern hinterlands to explore the Mexican American experience via the citrus industry, dance halls, a white-owned dinner theater with Latino performers and fumbling attempts by whites at intercultural understanding. Lots of valuable information, although the writing can be academic at times. (A gift in 2006 of the late Cande Mendoza.)

“Natural Consequences” (2022): A slim collection of 40 short essays about California wildfires, forests, drought and public lands by an environmental historian and gifted writer. A section at the end uses Claremont, the author’s home and mine, as a microcosm, touching on development in a fire zone, the delights of a city center with bakeries and coffee spots, and old contractor stamps on sidewalks. (Advance copy from the publisher.)

“Joy Luck Club” (1989): Highly enjoyable novel made up of a series of stories centered on women and their mothers and mothers and their daughters. Or did you know that already? (Free copy from the Rancho Cucamonga Public LIbrary’s Big Read in, uh, 2016. Is it too late for me to participate? But basically I listened to an audiobook version.)

“Henry VI Part 1” (circa 1590): A decent if awkward start to Shakespeare’s run of history plays. The portrayal of Joan of Arc as a tart who was in league with demons is certainly, er, different. Best, cruelest line, spoken in disdain above the corpse of a noble slain on the battlefield: “Him that thou magnifi’st with all these titles/Stinking and fly-blown lies here at our feet.” (This and next two are from my 1984 Riverside Shakespeare anthology bought as a college textbook, although I borrowed these more portable volumes from the Pomona Public Library.)

“Henry VI Part 2” (circa 1591): Reads more like the Shakespeare we know compared to Part 1. And, as I near the end of the Bard’s canon, it was a pleasure to finally encounter the famous line “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!” The context is that it’s spoken by an anti-intellectual idiot during a half-baked insurrection. Who says Shakespeare has nothing to tell us anymore?

“Henry VI Part 3” (circa 1592): Kings are captured, kings escape; partisans switch sides; Edward throws over his fiancee; various people are stabbed. The passive Henry can barely rouse himself to defend his crown, leaving that to his son and wife, both strong characters, and friends who might wonder why they are bothering, because Henry just isn’t that into them. As our young people say, it’s a lot.

The “Henry VI” trilogy of plays are not in the first (or second) rank of Shakespeare, but they’re an interesting extended effort and his first history plays, recounting the War of the Roses. They continue into a fourth play, “Richard III,” which is better, and which I read a few years back. Anyway, I extended my reading month just to read “Part 3,” which I started Sept. 30 and wrapped up Oct. 4.

“World” had a lot of interest for me and I really should’ve read it years ago. It’s obviously for the local-history-minded. “Joy Luck” is of course a modern classic and a rare novel where the characters are almost all female.

What did you all read in September? Rake them all together like fallen leaves and tell us about them, please.

Next month: Traveling slowly.

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Reading Log: August 2022

Books acquired: “Intimacies,” Katie Kitamura; “Bibliophile,” Jane Mount; “Natural Consequences,” Char Miller; “Breakfast in the Ruins,” Michael Moorcock; “Slowly Down the Ganges,” Eric Newby; “A Song for a New Day,” Sarah Pinsker; “Killer, Come Back to Me,” Ray Bradbury; “My Name is Lucy Barton,” Elizabeth Strout; “Vintage Munro,” Alice Munro

Books read: “Star Light, Star Bright,” Alfred Bester; “Tender is the Night,” F. Scott Fitzgerald; “Intimacies,” Katie Kitamura; “Voices From the Street,” Philip K. Dick; “When the Sleeper Wakes,” H.G. Wells; “The Long Tomorrow,” Leigh Brackett

September begins the final third of 2022. But in the Reading Log we’re looking back at August, the end of the middle third. I read six books, all fiction, with the titles forming a sort of story from nighttime to wakefulness, at least to my mind. Silly, sure, but this approach got me through some of my oldest unread books, so it worked. Let me run ’em down.

“Star Light” (1978): The second of two British editions of Bester’s 1950s short SF, each story has a witty, confident intro by the author. One story and two nonfiction pieces were new to me; one of the latter is a stylish 25-page biographical sketch about his writing career. (Bought at Powell’s Books in 2019.)

“Tender” (1934): Starts slow, and you wonder what it’s about and why you should care. Having brought the novel with me on a trip, I stuck with it rather than giving up as I might have done at home, and gradually came to like and then love it. (Bought at Borders, RIP, in 2008 from a sale table at half price, only to have the book hang around unread for the next 14 years, which wasn’t much of a bargain.)

“Intimacies” (2021): A translator whose role is to remain neutral finds herself in a series of ambiguous encounters that she has trouble parsing. She begins to wonder if neutrality is for her. I found the narrator’s vague unease and discomfort, and Kitamura’s run-on but clear style, both compelling. I read this in three days, very fast by my standards, and that should count for something. (Bought this in August at Book Culture in New York City.)

“Sleeper” (1899): Great title and concept, in which a man who sleeps for 203 years, then suddenly awakens, is venerated as the hope of mankind. This has its moments, but they’re interspersed between very dull exposition about this future society. A few racist comments are a downer too. Also, Wells wasn’t much for romance in his novels: The most emotional moment is when the Sleeper and his love interest, throbbing with emotion, “clasped hands.” (Bought at Glendale’s Brand Books, RIP, in 2005.)

“Voices” (2007): One of PKD’s early mainstream novels that weren’t published in his lifetime and which if they had might have changed his trajectory away from science fiction, for which we’d be the poorer. Ah well. “Voices” has some of his later hallmarks, is rarely dull (but also rarely exciting) and offers a glimpse of life in the Bay Area of the early 1950s. The main character’s psychotic break is well-realized and disturbing. Misses PKD’s humor and imagination, though. (Bought at Berkeley’s Moe’s Books as a remainder in 2013.)

“Tomorrow” (1955): After cities are destroyed by a devastating nuclear war, America essentially turns Amish, because the anti-technologists the only ones who know how to survive without modern comforts. A boy who’s unsatisfied with that life goes off in search of the Camelot he’s heard about. Once he finds it, he’s not sure he likes it any better. Thoughtful and unexpected. (Bought at Anaheim’s Book Baron, RIP, in 2007.)

Overall, a pretty good month, with “Intimacies” one of my 2022 favorites and “Tender is the Night” and “The Long Tomorrow” both standouts as well.

With two-thirds of the year passed, I’m at 55 books, for me a blistering pace. I may slow down to read a couple of long ones, but I’d say 70 is an achievable goal, possibly 75, and either would be my second-highest total since I’ve been keeping track (my high is 82).

As always there are a few dozen books I wish I could get out of the way before the calendar gets replaced: titles that have lingered on my shelves since the ’00s, the rest of Shakespeare’s plays, gifts from friends, books I have been seriously intending to read for a half-dozen years or more and which almost certainly will be crowded out until next year (or, in some cases, later). Ah, me. But I’ll get to a few choice ones before New Year’s. (If you’re wondering, my total unread book count is down to 113, unimaginable a few years ago.)

My “books acquired” section is on the long side: nine. That’s made up of one book from New York, one from a store in Orange where I have trade credit, one from a Little Free Library, one advance copy of a soon-to-be-published book that I will be reading for work and five from Powell’s in Portland (two stores). Under the circumstances, I like to think I showed admirable restraint, given that I visited six stores. I even walked out of NYC’s The Strand and The Mysterious Bookshop without any purchases.

How was your August — besides hot, I mean — and do you have any reading goals for the last part of this year?

Next month: The natural consequences of a world of its own.

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