Books acquired: “The Orange and the Dream of California,” David Boulé
Books read: “The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage,” Todd Gitlin; “Haircut and Other Stories,” Ring Lardner
November, the penultimate month. Perhaps you are racing toward some reading target; me, I’m gliding toward year’s end by finishing a certain goal.
That would be reading the last unread books from the Northern California period of my life (1986-1994), and yes, I am properly chagrined at having books this hoary on my unread list. But I’m near to no longer having them on my unread list, just as I knocked off the last (with an asterisk or two) hangover books from my Illinois period (birth-1986) a couple of years back. Progress!
Over 2018 I’ve read five from my Bay Area years, by Hawthorne, Kafka, Hammett and Dick (two); this month I read “The Sixties,” and I’m largely through the final one, which will be a December book.
Sometimes these long-held books turn out to be gems; other times the reason they hadn’t been read until now becomes obvious, i.e., that I wasn’t into them but couldn’t admit it to myself consciously. If they were all in the latter category, I might junk all my old books, but they aren’t, and there’s no obviously differentiating point to allow me to make that determination. The five mentioned above were all good to great, for instance, and I’m glad I read each of them.
And I won’t disparage “The Sixties,” a chronicle (from 1987) of the student protest movement, of which Gitlin was among the leaders. I learned a fair amount; it’s just that 440 small-type pages proved to be far more than I wanted to know about the subject, especially at this late date.
Actually, one of the tidbits that most struck me was about the 1950s and concerned the lunch counter protests against Woolworth’s, which began with four black college students in suits and ties sitting at the counter in Greensboro, N.C., all day, refusing to leave when they were ignored. The next day, they returned with 25 more students, some in ROTC uniforms; the third day with double the number; by the fifth day, with 300. Allow me to quote:
“At its luminous best, what the movement did was stamped with imagination. The sit-in, for example, was a powerful tactic because the act itself was unexceptionable. What were the Greensboro students doing, after all, but sitting at a lunch counter, trying to order a hamburger or a cup of coffee? They did not petition the authorities, who, in any case, would have paid no heed; in strict Gandhian fashion, they asserted that they had a right to sit at the counter by sitting at it, and threw the burden of disruption onto the upholders of white supremacy. Instead of saying that segregation ought to stop, they acted as if segregation no longer existed. That was the definitive movement style, squarely in the American grain, harking back to Thoreau’s idea of civil disobedience…”
Of course the 1960s stuff was often fascinating too: I learned, or was reminded, that the Kennedy brothers were inconsistent champions of civil rights and that MLK peaked at the March on Washington, both characterizations bringing these icons down to earth as human beings, and also that the student protest movement was relatively coordinated nationally.
Still, I was reading this book from Nov. 1 to 25, an awfully big chunk of time for what I got out of it. I protest!
“Haircut,” by contrast, was right up my alley. Lardner was a master of real-world speech; most of these stories are told exclusively through narration, letters or diary entries, and each reveals character, often unwittingly, and usually hilariously. The flighty teenage girl in “I Can’t Breathe” strings along three young men, all of whom believe they’re engaged to her; the would-be lovers of “Some Like Them Cold” grow close and then apart via correspondence.
As for these books’ provenance, Gitlin’s was bought at Green Apple Books in San Francisco in 1993, while Lardner’s, also used, came from Downtowne Books in Riverside in 2001. There is a sly joke in reading “Haircut” and “The Sixties” in the same month; and as two of my oldest unread books, they both cried out to be read anyway.
I’m up to 44 books read in 2018 and am likely to end the year at 47, being well into all three I intend to read this month.
How was your November, readers, and are we nearing, or accomplishing, any particular goals?
Next month: big names in music.