Books acquired: none
Books read: “Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books,” Paul Collins; “Mary Shelley: A Biography,” Muriel Spark; “John Carter of Mars,” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “The Divine Invasion,” Philip K. Dick.
The dog days of summer were a good time for me as a reader, yielding my first four-book month since March. I read a book about books, a literary biography with criticism, an entry in a classic science fiction-adventure series and a modern-ish science fiction novel.
In “Sixpence House,” an American bibliophile relocates temporarily with wife and toddler to Hay-on-Wye, the small Welsh town with 1,500 people and 40 antiquarian bookstores, where he observes UK life, thinks about books and quotes amusingly from rare ones. Slight, perhaps — some find it twee and annoying, or un-American because he’s (gasp) critical of things like our health care system — but to my taste this was witty and gentle. If you think you would like it, you probably would.
After reading “Frankenstein” and (especially) “The Last Man,” I wanted to know more about Mary Shelley. “Mary Shelley: A Biography” helped. The daughter of a famous feminist (who died days after giving birth) and a famous philosopher, she ran off with the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, had five children with him (four of whom died, not atypical for the era) and soldiered on after Shelley’s death. Hers is one of the great literary stories of the 19th century, even if she’s often relegated to the role of Shelley’s wife rather than a great writer in her own regard.
Spark’s writing, alas, was neither here nor there, a fascinating life was made less so, and in the conclusion, the points she said she’d made hadn’t made any impression on me. Oops. You might be better off with her Wikipedia page, although I have a second Shelley tome awaiting me, one that seems more feminist and provocative.
“John Carter of Mars” is, surprisingly given the title, the last in the John Carter of Mars series. I own but haven’t read the previous 10, but saw no reason to stick to the order in this case, as No. 11 is composed of two novellas and required no previous knowledge. The better one was meant as the first part of a novel that was never written. The other was said to have been ghost-written by a Burroughs son. This slim book is an addendum to the whole series and sends it off with a whimper. Nice to have it out of the way. On the other hand, what boy, or former boy, can resist a story titled “The Skeleton Men of Jupiter”?
Lastly, “The Divine Invasion” is the middle part of Dick’s Valis trilogy but is so loosely related that one doesn’t have to have read the first, “Valis.” God has been exiled to a far world by Belial. He chooses two emigrants to be a new Mary and Joseph to carry his son to Earth to redeem it in hopes this time it will take. A serious (mostly), audacious, quasi-mystical disquisition on God, Satan, good and evil, this is one of PKD’s finest, most realized novels, and to my mind a step up from “Valis.”
Where’d I pick up these books? The Collins and Burroughs books were the last of my unread Powell’s Books purchases from 2013 (the former from the Burnside location, the latter from the main store). I wanted to read them before my next trip to Portland, occurring within days! The Spark bio came from the Iliad in North Hollywood earlier this year. The Dick novel was bought off eBay a few years ago.
How was your August, readers?
Next month: I go all Mexican on you.