Reading Log: March 2016


Books acquired: “Heart Like a Starfish,” Allen Callaci; “On Wings of Song,” Thomas Disch; “Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters,” Anne Mellor; “Mary Shelley: A Biography,” Muriel Spark; “Larger Than Life: The Playboy Interviews,” Stephen Randall, ed.; “Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements,” Bob Mehr; “Jose Clemente Orozco: Prometheus,” Marjorie Harth, ed.; “The High Crusade,” Poul Anderson.

Books read: “The Last Man,” Mary Shelley; “The Last of the Best,” Jim Murray; “The Last Laugh,” S.J. Perelman; “The Penultimate Truth,” Philip K. Dick.

Let me tell you about last month: My books all had a variation of “last” in the title. That’s been an idea of mine for a while. Having an unread book with “penultimate” in the title cried out for grouping it with books with “last” in their titles, and I had three, enough to round out a month.

Thus, my reading month encompassed an 1820s English novel, a collection of 1990s sports columns, a collection of 1970s humorous essays and a 1960s science fiction novel. Despite the similar titles, that’s not a bad range.

I liked them all despite almost giving up on two of them. It had never occurred to me, really, to read the Jim Murray book, which someone in our office, I think, gave me to a number of years ago, and S.J. Perelman’s baroque humor kind of gets on my nerves. But I started Murray’s book and just kept going. He really was a terrific writer, with a great ability to turn a phrase, crack a joke or make you think, sometimes all at once. I read this Perelman for the last quarter, compiling some autobiographic essays about the likes of the Marx Brothers and Dorothy Parker, but decided to try the earlier bits too, his usual New Yorker essays, and they connected just enough that I kept reading them, too. I don’t remember when I bought it, but it’s been a while. These were Murray and Perelman’s last books, hence the titles.

The Dick novel is from his fertile ’60s period and takes a jaundiced look at war, peace, government and propaganda. Most of humanity has gone to live underground due to an atomic war and was never told that the war ended years before. The elites on the surface continue transmitting lies that the war is still raging so they can have the Earth to themselves. My copy has been on my shelves since (sigh) the early 1980s. It was quite good.

I bought “The Last Man” at Berkeley’s Moe’s Books seven years ago after an enticing mention in the comic book series “Y: The Last Man” and only now got around to reading it. Shelley’s novel, published a few years after “Frankenstein,” is about a plague that wipes out most of humanity; it’s little-known, and was out of print for more than a century (!), but is now considered the first post-apocalyptic fiction.

The first third reads like a romance by Sir Walter Scott as the characters and setting in royal England are introduced, with the plague getting its first mention a few pages into the second section. But once it hits, it hits. The science fiction is minimal in this story set in 2075 — it may have been hard in 1825 to imagine a world 250 years ahead, and so people are still riding in horse-drawn carriages — but it’s really about the characters anyway, and the book can be quite emotional. Personally, I’d rate “The Last Man” very highly, even above “Frankenstein,” and it inspired me to seek out a couple of books on Shelley, which I hope to get to later this year.

One reason I’m so far behind in my reading is months like this, when I read four but acquired eight. It’s unusual for me to buy any anymore, much less four, and another four were gifts.

How was your March, readers? Read (or acquire) anything good?

Next month: nothing with “next” in the title, but rather one of my “books acquired” from above, and maybe one or two more.


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Reading Log: February 2016


Books acquired: “Forgotten Bookmarks,” Michael Popek.

Books read: “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 30th Anniversary Issue (October 1979),” Ed Ferman, ed.; “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus,” Mary Shelley.

A mere two books this month, and to make matters worse, one of them’s not strictly a book. That would be a squarebound issue of a 1979 magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which published a book-like 30th anniversary edition of some of its best work. (That was 36 years ago, by the way.) I bought it used in the early 1980s and never read it, a recurring theme of these posts. but it’s been filed like a book on my SF shelves all these years, and recently I decided to read it.

At 320 pages, it’s got a lot of classic stories: “All You Zombies…” by Heinlein, “Flowers for Algernon” by Keyes, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Miller, “The Quest for Saint Acquin” by Boucher, and many more. Personal to Doug Evans: There’s an Asimov story, “Dreaming is a Private Thing.”

As a casual SF fan, it’s long past time that I familiarized myself with these stories, and I’m glad I did. I read everything, by the way, even the book review, the unimpressed critique of “Alien” and the classifieds (“Health newsletter by biochemist,” “Send 25 cents for catalog of Scientifantasy books and pulps,” “Self-mastery newsletter,” “Japanese Girls Make Wonderful Wives”), and I tried working the acrostic, but couldn’t finish it even with some cheating from the Internet. Does anyone have the solutions from the November 1979 issue? Or know a seven-letter word for “Atreides clan,” a five-letter word for “Amorous caller from planet core” or a 12-letter word for “Inflammation of the eye”? Thanks anyway. (“Herbert” might be the Atreides clan solution, come to think of it.)

That lone sort-of book might well have been it for February, but I squeezed in “Frankenstein,” which I’d read in boyhood and repurchased a few years back. The movies bear only a passing resemblance to the novel, in which an ill-described monstrosity is created in vague fashion, lumbers off and returns later to torment its master, in part by delivering a 43-page monologue.

Of course it’s a great book anyway, one that has captured the imaginations of readers, moviemakers, artists and more for centuries, but it’s not precisely what you would expect. It’s more about the scientist’s guilt at having unleashed a monster upon the world than anything else.

“Frankenstein” was bought in Portland in 2010 at a small bookstore, not Powell’s, as a pity purchase after arriving near closing after a long bus ride across town and not wanting to leave empty-handed. I bought the magazine at some Midwestern used bookstore or other in the early ’80s.

I’m a ways into three wildly different books for March, with hopes of finishing all three plus a fourth, all with a certain theme expressed in the titles, but we’ll see how that goes. One of them is by Mary Shelley, by the way. How was your February, and have you read “Frankenstein”? Or solved acrostics?

Next month: The last and the next to last.


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Reading Log: January 2016


Books acquired: none.

Books read: “Slogging Toward the Millennium,” Bill McClellan; “The Hour After Westerly,” Robert M. Coates; “Long After Midnight,” Ray Bradbury; “The Day After Tomorrow,” Robert M. Heinlein; “Twelfth Night,” William Shakespeare; “Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement,” Rodney Rothman; “Now Wait for Last Year,” Philip K. Dick.

One month into 2016 and I’ve knocked off seven titles. That sounds good, doesn’t it? Great start to the year and all that. I read much of the first three titles above in December, though, which means seven is inflated and likely to be my high for the year. Uh-oh: That means for the next 11 months, it’s all downhill. From optimism to despair, all in one paragraph. This is why I’m a professional, because I’ve got range.

Anyway, my books for the month are, in the order above, a 1990 book of newspaper columns from St. Louis; a book of literary short stories from the 1940s; a 1978 Bradbury collection; a 1940s sci-fi novel; a Shakespeare comedy circa 1602; a 2006 humorous memoir; and a 1960s sci-fi novel.

The Heinlein was problematical as it was quasi-racist, and weak stories outnumbered strong ones in the Bradbury. The Shakespeare play wasn’t among his best, although even so-so Bard is very good. The first line is famous: “If music be the food of love, play on…”

Coates is out of print and neglected, but this was a very good book, with the title story worthy of “The Twilight Zone.” McClellan tells a good story. Dick’s novel was among his best. Rothman’s memoir may be of the most general interest.

Feeling burned out at 28, the TV writer hit upon a neat idea: Why not move to Florida and test out retirement by living in a senior community, playing shuffleboard and eating early dinners? It’s funny, as you’d expect, but he learns to take the retirees seriously as individuals, and there’s an undercurrent of sadness about the end of life.

Did you notice all the titles dealt in some way with time or the calendar? Yes, that was on purpose, a loose way to bring in a variety of books. Oh, and despite the photo, obviously I didn’t read the entirety of “The Riverside Shakespeare,” only one play within.

Where did my books come from? The Shakespeare is my college textbook, collecting all his works in one massive book. My copies of Bradbury and Dick date to the early 1980s. The others are from the past decade. Can’t remember where my Heinlein came from. Coates and Rothman were bought at Powell’s in Portland in 2013. McClellan was bought in St. Louis last year.

How is your reading year beginning? I hope it went well but is all uphill for you.

Next month: maybe only one book. 🙁


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Books read, 2015


2015 saw me complete 53 books, down from 68 in 2014; in fact, this is my lowest total since 52 in 2010. Were my books last year longer overall, or did my interest slacken? Possibly both. But there can’t have been more than a couple of days that I didn’t pick up a book at all. My Wednesday column takes a broader look at my year.

Below, in chronological order, are the books I read.

  1. “Black Moon,” Kenneth Calhoun
  2. “Clans of the Alphane Moon,” Philip K. Dick
  3. “The Moon is Down,” John Steinbeck
  4. “The First Men in the Moon,” H.G. Wells
  5. The Glass Teat,” Harlan Ellison
  6. “Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant,” U.S. Grant
  7. “Vulcan’s Hammer,” Philip K. Dick
  8. “The Cosmic Puppets,” Philip K. Dick
  9. “Dr. Futurity,” Philip K. Dick
  10. “The Man Who Japed,” Philip K. Dick
  11. “Early Ontario,” Ontario Library Staff
  12. “More Baths Less Talking,” Nick Hornby
  13. “The Incredible Double,” Owen Hill
  14. “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil,” George Saunders
  15. “The Dark Side of the Earth,” Alfred Bester
  16. “No Room for Man,” Gordon Dickson
  17. “Pulling a Train,” Harlan Ellison
  18. “Getting in the Wind,” Harlan Ellison
  19. “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” Claudia Rankine
  20. “Citizen,” Claudia Rankine
  21. “Three Early Stories,” J.D. Salinger
  22. “A Small Place,” Jamaica Kincaid
  23. “The Genocides,” Thomas Disch
  24. “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Ray Bradbury
  25. “R is for Rocket,” Ray Bradbury
  26. “S is for Space,” Ray Bradbury
  27. “The Vintage Bradbury,” Ray Bradbury
  28. “My Ideal Bookshelf,” Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount
  29. “Martian Time-Slip,” Philip K. Dick
  30. “The Zap Gun” Philip K. Dick
  31. “Our Friends From Frolix 8,” Philip K. Dick
  32. “The Stars My Destination,” Alfred Bester
  33. “The Best of Fritz Leiber,” Fritz Leiber
  34. “The Other Glass Teat,” Harlan Ellison
  35. “The Point Man,” Steve Englehart
  36. “Again, Dangerous Visions, Vol. 1,” Harlan Ellison, ed.
  37. “Again, Dangerous Visions, Vol. 2,” Harlan Ellison, ed.
  38. “Still Room for Hope,” Alisa Kaplan
  39. “A Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Jules Verne
  40. “Why LA? Pourquoi Paris?” Diane Ratican
  41. “Deus Irae,” Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
  42. “Valis,” Philip K. Dick
  43. “After 1903 — What?,” Robert Benchley
  44. “The Best of Philip K. Dick,” Philip K. Dick
  45. “The Big Orange,” Jack Smith
  46. “Wonder,” R.J. Palacio
  47. “A Pail of Air,” Fritz Leiber
  48. “The Halloween Tree,” Ray Bradbury
  49. “Tangled Vines,” Frances Dinkelspiel
  50. “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Vol. 1,” H.P. Lovecraft and others
  51. “I Sing the Body Electric!” Ray Bradbury
  52. “Old Cucamonga,” Paula Emick
  53. “The Preserving Machine,” Philip K. Dick

How was your year in reading? I didn’t come close to getting to all the books I’d have liked, but I read what I wanted to read, including many books by favorite authors. And the Steinbeck (No. 3) was especially good.

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Reading Log: December 2015


Books acquired: none

Books read: “Old Cucamonga,” Paula Emick; “The Preserving Machine,” Philip K. Dick

This post is about as close as I’ve come to my idea of someday not reading anything for a month and posting a photo of a blank floor. Two books is a light month, but it’s something, though, isn’t it?

“Old Cucamonga” is the subject of my Jan. 3 column, so there’s little more to say here. As it’s all photos and captions, one or two per page, this was a good nightstand book, something that could be read easily and put down just as easily, with no plot threads to lose. I have a lot of these Images of America books at the office, most of which I haven’t read, but I should.

The Philip K. Dick book, “The Preserving Machine,” is a collection of stories, his first. There was some overlap with “The Best of Philip K. Dick,” which I read earlier in 2015, and I wanted to end the year by reading the other stories and finishing this off. Overall, this was pretty good, with several excellent stories, including the one on which “Total Recall” was based. I ended up rereading or skimming the ones I’d already read because the details had slipped away.

I did read more in December, but purposely didn’t finish anything. Three books are in progress for a theme month in January based on time.

“Old Cucamonga” was purchased at an event in November, while Dick’s came from Ralph’s Comic Corner in Ventura maybe three years ago. I also have a British paperback of “Preserving Machine,” with one less story, from Pomona’s Magic Door Books; I read that and then shifted to the U.S. edition at the end.

For the year, I read 53, my lowest total in a while. I may have lost a step this year, but then again, my impression is that I read some longer books. I’ll write my traditional column on my year’s reading this week.

In the meantime, how was your December?

Next month: time, in book rather than magazine form.


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Reading Log: November 2015


Books acquired: “M Train,” Patti Smith; “Old Cucamonga,” Paula Emick; “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” David Sedaris.

Books read: “Tangled Vines,” Frances Dinkelspiel; “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Vol. 1,” H.P. Lovecraft and others; “I Sing the Body Electric!” Ray Bradbury.

It was a three-book month no matter how you look at it: I bought three and read three. Unfortunately, the ones I read weren’t the ones I bought, but their time will come. The three I bought were all signed by the authors, which is cool, either in advance (Smith) or in front of me (Emick, Sedaris).

“Tangled Vines,” which was sent to me by the publisher a few weeks ago, has already been the subject of a column. I focused only on the Cucamonga bits, but there’s a lot more to the book, half of which, in alternating sections, deals with a notorious winery arson of 2005. The rest delves into wine’s history in California. It’s very readable and stays away from the wine-snob attitude that can make this sort of thing an eye-roller for us plebes. It’s really just a slice of California history. Oh, and the author signed it in front of me.

The other two books I read this month are totally different. Also, their writers are dead, so these books must go unsigned. I reread a Bradbury from childhood and read the first of a two-volume horror anthology.

The latter has a story by Lovecraft and further stories by his friends and acolytes, among them August Derleth, Henry Kuttner, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, all involving in some fashion HPL’s squid-like Elder Gods. It was fun, but hit or miss. I’ll get to the second volume next year.

The Bradbury, from 1969, is from his most ecstatic period, opening with a Whitman quote and progressing through stories that often avoid fantasy entirely to qualify as mainstream fiction. To my mind it’s among his weakest books, with thin plots and overly poetic monologues by everyone involved, and by my subjective count only five of the 18 stories were up to snuff.

(My copy, from childhood, fell to pieces. But like a good Bradbury fan, I have a spare.)

In short, “Tangled Vines” was the month’s winner.

How was your November, readers? And how are you hoping to finish off your reading year? What with holiday activities, and a few friends with birthdays, even an introvert like myself may find reading time scarce. I’m hoping to finish up a couple of things and start some books for January.

Next month: I finish up a couple of things, etc.


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Reading Log: October 2015


Books acquired: “Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,” Frances Dinkelspiel.

Books read: “Wonder,” R.J. Palacio; “A Pail of Air,” Fritz Leiber; “The Halloween Tree,” Ray Bradbury.

Just as I predicted last time, October was another three-book month. It was a so-so month aesthetically as well: one solid book, two ehh books.

“Wonder,” a young adult novel from 2012, never quite grabbed me, although a lot of people love it, and it certainly has elements to recommend it. It’s the story of a boy with a facial deformity who has never attended public school, and what happens when he does: He’s ostracized, he makes friends, he’s bullied. It’s charming, touching and funny at times, a little unrealistic at others.

“A Pail of Air,” Fritz Leiber’s first collection of stories, from 1964, was pretty good. I read a “best of” collection earlier this year and was impressed. This had some overlap, and a couple of the stories didn’t wow me, but this was worth reading. I expect I’ll read more by him.

“The Halloween Tree” is a Bradbury young adult novel from 1972. I’d read it years ago and don’t recall thinking much of it, and that was as a young adult. A reference to it recently reminded me of it and I was surprised I hadn’t put it on my list to reread. As it was October, the time seemed right to read it again. Originally it was meant to be an animated special by Chuck Jones, but that fell through and Bradbury wrote it as a novel instead.

The story attempts to give a history of Halloween via travel to see ancient Egypt, witches and Notre Dame by a group of trick-or-treating boys led by a mysterious Mr. Moundshroud. (Nary a girl appears.) Bradbury’s prose style reaches what some might consider its height but what I think is its nadir: over-the-top lyricism in support of a very flimsy story.

On the other hand, Bradbury devoted a few pages to the Mexican Day of the Dead, with its candy skulls, cemetery visits, candles and altars, decades before the holiday became widely known. The boys think it’s great, exclaiming: “Mexican Halloween is better than our Halloween!” So there’s that.

“Wonder” was given to me by the Friends of the Claremont Library, “Pail” came from Patten Books in St. Louis in June and “Tree” was a long-ago purchase, probably late ’70s, from my hometown used bookstore.

What did you read in October? And did your month fare better than mine?

Next month: A book about wine, and more.


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Jack Smith, correspondent


Jack Smith, the LA Times columnist who died in 1997, is still spoken of with reverence among those who recall his insightful observations, gentle humor and lively prose. I missed him in his prime but am catching up on his books. I own them all and have read half so far, spacing them out to one per year. (I also wrote his Wikipedia entry a few years back.)


All 10 were purchased at used bookstores, and as signed copies are relatively easy to find — the man must have done a lot of bookstore events — I’ve bought only signed copies, except for his last, posthumous book, of course. Many have a short inscription to the buyer as well. The one above is so simple and witty.


At the late, lamented Acres of Books in Long Beach, perhaps six or eight years back, I had my choice of two copies of “The Big Orange” — one that was signed traditionally, and one that had something better.


“Jack Smith’s letters to me” reads an envelope taped inside, “and some Jack Smith columns.”


Evidently the book belonged to one Constance Gramlich. Inside the envelope is a postcard and a letter, each addressed to her.


The letter came first, postmarked Sept. 7, 1966. Evidently Smith had recently written about student letters for the column that Gramlich was commenting on. It’s a great little letter, and Smith, in print an inveterate flirt, does not disappoint here, either. Click on the letter for a larger view.


Four years later, Gramlich received a handwritten, but more terse, reply from Smith, who it seems had been laid low by illness. The date is Nov. 9, 1971.


Alas, the columns Gramlich had saved — perhaps the ones that inspired the letters? — were not in the envelope. But I treasure my very own Jack Smith correspondence.

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Reading Log: September 2015


Books acquired: “Wonder,” R.J. Palacio; “Tangled Vines,” Frances Dinkelspiel.

Books read: “After 1903 — What?,” Robert Benchley; “The Best of Philip K. Dick,” Philip K. Dick; “The Big Orange,” Jack Smith.

September was a three-book month, which seems to be the groove I’ve fallen (autumn reference?) into of late, now that my shorter books are mostly out of the way. One of the three is among my favorites of 2015, even if it was published four decades ago.

Benchley’s book (published in 1938), the title of which is probably meant to mock the notion that civilization peaked in this or that year of the speaker’s lifetime, is his usual collection of whimsical essays. There seem to me to be fewer classics here than other books of his I’ve read, meaning more smiles than horselaughs. The pieces, which appear to have been written for newspapers rather than magazines based on references and brevity, seem less thought out than usual, but they certainly go down with the customary Benchley smoothness. Amusing more than hilarious, but amusing is good.

Dick is revered for his novels, in part because he pretty much abandoned the short form by the time he hit his stride as a novelist. But his stories are often very good, and by exploring a simple idea (or telling a sort of extended joke) they avoid the ungainliness of some of his novels. This is a solid collection of stories, with two, Imposter and Paycheck, clever enough to have inspired movies. Not a dud in the bunch. This is another of the mid-’70s Ballantine “Best of” books by SF authors discussed here previously.

And so to Jack Smith. These mid-1970s pieces explore 30 attractions around LA and Orange County, including the Farmers Market, Rose Bowl Flea Market, Watts Towers and, inevitably, Disneyland. Forty years on, most of these attractions are still around but altered, while a few, like Lion Country Safari and the Pike, are vanished, making this a record of a different time.

Smith is gentle, descriptive, witty and respectful, and these articles for Westways magazine are delightful. If you love LA and its history — i.e., you think reading a mid-1970s view of SoCal is appealing rather than pointless — you might want to track this down. This if the fifth of Smith’s 10 books that I’ve read, and tied with “Jack Smith’s L.A.” as my favorite. (The overpraised “God and Mr. Gomez” might be my least favorite.)

I bought the Benchley at Powell’s in Portland two years ago, Dick at my hometown used bookstore in Illinois in the early 1980s (and never read until now — another one crossed off the list) and Smith at Acres of Books in Long Beach maybe six years ago. More about that in a separate blog post, if I remember.

How was your September? Hit the comment button and let us know.

Next month: “Wonder,” plus probably two more.


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Column: ‘Pomona Reads!’ celebrates writing, reading

Sunday’s column starts with news of Oct. 3’s inaugural “Pomona Reads!” book festival, with events for young and old, and well-known authors in attendance. I’ll be there too with “Pomona A to Z.” Come check it out. Also in my column: an event at Mitla Cafe involves writer Gustavo (“Ask a Mexican”) Arellano; scary movies are creeping into the Ontario library; and a farewell to my optometrist, Joe Trezza.

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