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.