Books acquired: “Three Early Stories,” J.D. Salinger; “Mockingjay,” Suzanne Collins
Books read: “Dangerous Visions,” Harlan Ellison, ed.; “Mind Fields,” Harlan Ellison and Jack Yerka; “Eye in the Sky,” Philip K. Dick; “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Zora Neale Hurston; “One Fearful Yellow Eye,” John D. MacDonald
Four or five years back, fresh from making a list of the title of every unread book on my shelves, I brainstormed potential theme months where titles played off each other. It was one way of grappling with, or coping with, a frankly overwhelming number of books, around 550 at the time.
Quite a few of those groupings have been used since then, or rendered obsolete as titles have been peeled away, but September brought one of those themes: sight. Some of these books are relatively recent to me, but two have been on my shelves for decades, and reading them was satisfying indeed.
“Dangerous Visions” is the landmark science fiction anthology of all-original stories that were considered envelope-pushing in 1967, generally too literary or adult to be marketable, and hardly a rocketship among them. I bought my copy around 1982 and was too daunted by its 500-plus pages to read it. But now I have, and I’m glad, do you hear? Seriously, it deserves every accolade it’s received, and even in 2014 made for great reading. A handful of the stories didn’t do much for me, but there’s not a clunker in the bunch, and many are brilliant.
“Eye in the Sky” has been on my shelves just as long, and maybe a year or two longer. Dick’s third published novel, I believe, this was the first that read like the Philip K. Dick we know and love, a crazy plot about a group of strangers injured in a science accident who learn that they haven’t really regained consciousness after all but instead are living in realities controlled by each of them in turn. Marvelous and hilarious.
“Their Eyes” is a more recent purchase. Written in 1937, it was among the first novels to star an African-American woman, and she’s quite a creation, strong and independent. This was a strong month.
“Mind Fields,” alas, was disappointing, late-period Ellison in which he wrote stories to accompany Yerka’s already finished paintings. Cute idea, and inventive, but none of the stories would stand alone. Bought this a couple of years ago.
“Yellow Eye” was a good Travis McGee mystery, eighth in the series, and despite a faintly ridiculous plot, it has all the hallmarks, such as McGee’s asides. This time he muses on modern art, credit cards, the Playboy philosophy and Chicago. He’s down on all of them. I read some of the McGees in the early ’80s, but not this one; it’s a relatively recent purchase.
So, five books, of which three were vastly entertaining and a fourth was a fun read. Not a bad month at all. And I’m down to 441 unread books — more than I’d like, but having restricted my book-buying this year, the number is dropping fast.
(A side-note: For anyone familiar with “Dangerous Visions,” I’ll mention that I actually read the trade paperback, 35th anniversary edition for ease of handling — I hated to mess up my nearly mint original pocket paperback — and that sometime next year I intend to get to the sequel, “Again, Dangerous Visions,” which is considerably longer.)
If you read anything in September, or have ever read any of these books, won’t you comment below?
Next month: Some old, annual favorites.