Straight answers? That’s because the talk is by Susan Straight. That and three Culture Corner items, plus my weekly plug for this blog, make up Sunday’s column.
Books acquired: “After 1903 — What?,” Robert Benchley; “Sixpence House,” Paul Collins; “Howards End is on the Landing,” Susan Hill; “Early Bird,” Rodney Rothman; “John Carter of Mars,” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “More Baths Less Talking,” Nick Hornby; “The Sea,” John Banville; “Then We Came to the End,” Joshua Ferris; “The Hour After Westerly,” Robert M. Coates; “Catching Fire,” Suzanne Collins.
Books read: “The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley 1945-1985,” Harold Nelson; “The Shuttered Room and Other Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft with August Derleth; “No Doors, No Windows,” Harlan Ellison; “A Room With a View,” E.M. Forster.
Four books this month, all with related titles. That’s just me amusing myself — someone builds a house with a shuttered room and no doors or windows, except for a room with a view! — but it’s also me nudging myself to read four books I’d been meaning to read for some time. If only I’d had time for Hammett’s “The Glass Key,” Dickson’s “No Room for Man,” maybe Heinlein’s “Door Into Summer.”
The Maloof book was the catalogue for a Huntington exhibit in 2011; it’s a little pedantic, but it’s got a bio, lots of photos, and page-length bios of Claremont-area artists, so for my purposes, it’s a good reference.
The Lovecraft collection is the usual creeping-horror stuff. A little less fun than the two others I’ve read, probably because it’s more Derleth than Lovecraft. I’ve owned this maybe three years.
The Ellison I’ve owned for 30 years, unread. Yipes! A collection of thriller and crime stories, largely, from ’50s and ’60s magazines, they benefit from being direct and uncomplicated.
Forster’s novel was bought at Borders in Montclair when it closed two years ago. This 1908 romance involves a proper young English woman on a tour of Italy who meets an eccentric English father and son and doesn’t know her own mind well enough to realize she likes the son. Back home, she becomes engaged to a starchy snob. But then — ! Well, why spoil it. Forster’s writing is warm and amused by the travelers (a couple of reverends, two spinster sisters, a woman who fancies herself artistic and unconventional, etc.) and by human failings. One of my favorite books this year. My next task is to rent the Merchant Ivory movie, which I saw long ago.
You’ll notice a lot of books in the “acquired” list; those were all bought at Powell’s in Portland on a short vacation in mid-month. (I have a column written about this trip but haven’t had a chance to get it into the paper yet, what with one thing and another.) A couple of nonfiction books about books, most of the rest are fiction. God knows when I’ll get to any of them.
Your turn, now, to chime in with whatever you’ve been reading.
Next month: My reading catches fire (see final title in “Books Acquired” section).
Sunday’s column has news about community reads launching in Pomona (“Farewell to Manzanar”) and Claremont (“Take One Candle Light a Room”), plus some vignettes and cultural items.
Books acquired: none.
Books read: “Troublemakers,” Harlan Ellison; “Googie Redux,” Alan Hess; “Diners,” John Baeder; “Dave Barry’s Money Secrets,” Dave Barry; “The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe.
Five books sounds all right, doesn’t it? Oh, but what a trial August was. By the 10th or so, all I had accomplished was reading 50 pages of a novel that I abandoned (Susan Straight’s “Take One Candle Light a Room”) and reading the latest, music-themed issue of the Believer magazine. Then I got into gear and picked some random books to read.
Ellison’s “Troublemakers” is something of a best-of for the YA market; about half the stories were new to me. Not a bad collection. Hess’ “Googie Redux” is the definitive book on midcentury coffee shop architecture. (It will inspire a series of posts here.) “Diners” consists of photorealistic paintings of East Coast and Southern diners and the artist’s stories of his diner obsession; not what I was expecting, and if I could take back the time and money spent on this book, I would. “Dave Barry’s Money Secrets,” from 2006, is worth reading if you like him, because it was very funny.
Lastly, “Rue Morgue” collects Poe’s three detective stories in one slender volume; it was surprising to see how many detective story tropes were created right here (aloof, ultra-rational detective, slightly dense narrator/friend, bumbling police, even a locked room murder). That said, the tales are more like puzzles than stories you care about.
I acquired these books within the past 10 years at Borders Montclair (Ellison), the Hammer Museum gift shop in Westwood (Hess), Brand Books in Glendale (Baeder), Small World Books in Venice (Poe) and a used bookstore I can’t recall (Barry).
For me, August came in like a lamb, a confused one at that, but went out like, not a lion, but maybe a leopard. Even that’s a bit fierce. Maybe an emu.
Books acquired: “Pulling a Train,” “Getting in the Wind,” Harlan Ellison; “The Incredible Double,” Owen Hill; “On Reading,” Andre Kortesz.
Books read: “Approaching Oblivion,” “Spider Kiss,” Harlan Ellison; “Phoenix Without Ashes,” Edward Bryant and Harlan Ellison; “The Book of Ellison,” Andrew Porter, ed.; “Elvis: The Illustrated Record,” Roy Carr and Mick Farren; “Much Ado About Nothing,” William Shakespeare.
Hope summertime is treating you book lovers well. My July was something of a repeat of June, although I don’t think of this as summer doldrums, but rather a surprisingly single-minded attack on some of my oldest unread books. It’s like I’m rushing my bookshelves and screaming “Tora! Tora! Tora!” or maybe “Don’t read until you see the whites of their spines!”
My six books in July, like my six books in June, were all tomes that date to my boyhood in bucolic Illinois, and somehow unread, all or in part, until now. Instead of the five Harlan Ellisons and one rock music book of June, in July I diversified by reading four Harlan Ellisons, one rock music book and one Shakespeare play. Crazy, man, crazy.
I’m trying to finish Ellison’s fiction and am making great strides, with only a half-dozen books left (er, not counting the two recently published books I acquired in July). “Approaching Oblivion” was perhaps the height, or nadir, of his “message” fiction — it was published in 1974, which says it all; “Spider Kiss” is a good, early (1961) rock novel about an Elvis/Jerry Lee Lewis figure; “Phoenix” is a fun novelization of a ’70s TV pilot that today might make a dandy “Under the Dome”-type miniseries but, as a novel, leaves you hanging; and “Book” is hagiography, not worth the reading.
The Elvis book, from 1982, discusses each LP, 45 and EP to that date, with commentary and biography; the authors’ judgments are sharp and they dismiss much of his prodigious output while praising the highlights. I learned a lot, perhaps all I really need to read about his often-sad life, and was pointed in the direction of a few albums I didn’t have, “Lovin’ You” and “From Elvis in Memphis” notably.
I saw the recent Joss Whedon movie version of “Much Ado,” done in modern dress in his LA backyard, but with the original dialogue, and it might be my favorite film of 2013 so far. (Runners-up: “Frances Ha,” “The Way, Way Back,” “Before Midnight.”) Seemed like a good time to read the play, which turns out to be awfully good too. Who knew? Beatrice is practically 21st-century modern, and her proto-feminist attitude and dialogue, and the transformation she effects on Benedick, are astonishing. Also, it’s really funny.
I read the play out of my ginormous “Riverside Shakespeare” college textbook, which has every play. I read “Richard II” a couple of years ago and said you’d be seeing this book a lot more often here, and instead this is its first appearance since then. I’ll try to pick up the pace.
It’s satisfying to have whittled down the number of really, really long-lived books in my collection, even if there’s still 50 or so left, plus most of Shakespeare’s plays.
What did you read during July, or have you been snoozing under a beach umbrella, a novel regretfully untouched by your sunscreen-streaked fingers?
Next month: A lot fewer Harlan Ellison books. (Probably.)
Books acquired: none
Books read: “Ellison Wonderland,” “Paingod and Other Delusions,” “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World,” “Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled” and “Stalking the Nightmare,” Harlan Ellison; “The Kinks: The Official Biography,” Jon Savage.
There is a theme of sorts in the list above, and it’s not just that five of the six are written by the same guy. All six date to my youth in Illinois and either had not been read by me since then, or had never been read at all.
I made a list of these books a couple of years ago, as best I could determine it from memory or used-bookstore stamps inside (either unread/unfinished books, or ones by Bradbury, Dick and Ellison, whom I’m rereading), and have whittled the list down a bit, one now and then. It occurred to me to devote a whole year to them, there being about the right number for that, but that seemed impractical. Do I really want to spend a year reading nothing but books three decades old? Also, there might be a good reason I didn’t read them before now.
So, here’s one month. As I have more Ellison books from that period of my life than anything else, and I was getting into them again, I decided to just go for it and focus on him, while also reading a biography of the Kinks (God save the Kinks!), also unread all these years, during odd hours. It worked out well for me, although as a reader of this blog, your mileage may vary. In the case of Ellison, I read four of his 1960s story collections, plus one from 1982. I had read about 2 1/2 of the above back then. (Story collections are easy to stop reading.)
Am not sick of him yet, and will do more of the same during July.
Liven this post up, please, by telling me the more varied reading you did during June!
Next month: more of the same, God help us.
Sunday’s column follows up my June 16 column about the greatest — or is it the worst? — novel of the 20th century, James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” I was pleasantly surprised by how many readers responded; more than for the typical column. And by how extreme many of the reactions were.
In honor of Bloomsday, today’s column is about James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” which I recently read.
To update the column, a handful of us are either meeting at my friend Dustin’s house, or taking in the Bloomsday event at Westwood’s Hammer Museum. If you’re curious to know more, the “Ulysses” Wikipedia entry is a good introduction, and this piece from The Economist on why the book matters, and why you really do have time to read it, is short and entertaining.
Incidentally, I have to point out that the book has references to Leopold and Molly Bloom’s previous apartment on “Ontario terrace,” and there’s also a reference to “upland hay.” Nothing about the goddess Pomona, though.
Books acquired: “The Adventures of Solar Pons, Vol. 1,” August Derleth; “The Baker Street Letter,” Michael Robertson; “Granddad, There’s a Head on the Beach,” Colin Cotterill; “Inside Benchley,” Robert Benchley; “Scoop,” Evelyn Waugh; “Will in the World,” Stephen Greenblatt; “A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator and Other Travels (Library of America),” Mark Twain; “Woe is I,” Patricia O’Connor; “The Slide,” Kyle Beachy.
Books read: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan; “Ulysses,” James Joyce; “Boogers are my Beat,” Dave Barry.
Three may be the fewest number of books read in a single month since I started writing these monthly blog posts. Then again, “Ulysses” could have been a month all to itself, representing the single most complex book I’ve ever read, and three weeks of solid reading. It was 650 nearly incomprehensible pages. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” was very readable, but it was 450 pages. Two tough picks in a row.
“Omnivore” is all about where our food comes from. Pollan visits an Iowa corn field, follows a steer to a Kansas feed lot (where it eats Iowa corn), can’t get a tour of a slaughterhouse but describes the process, then eats a McDonald’s meal, the ultimate end product. He also visits organic farms, some industrial, some not, and also tries to construct a meal entirely out of items he gathers himself, including a wild pig he hunts and kills. Eye-opening and dismaying, and highly recommended.
“Ulysses” may end up the subject of a column. It’s the famous novel about a single day – June 16, 1904 — in the life of some Dubliners, mostly Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, and every single thing that happens to them, is said to them or that runs through their minds. You might say it’s the ultimate celebration of the common man, except that the common man can’t read it, Joyce’s prose being notoriously dense and, at times, completely unpunctuated. So, “Ulysses” is easier to admire than to love, and at times easy to hate.
The point is, I can now brag for the rest of my life that I’ve read “Ulysses,” and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
I read “Omnivore” because the Upland Library chose it for the library’s first community read. “Ulysses” I bought in 1998, from the Montclair Borders, when it was named the best novel of the 20th century by Time magazine; I read it now because a friend challenged me to read it by June 16. He’s not even halfway through, which may mean I’m a sucker.
I might have stopped there at two books for the month, but I had six days left after finishing “Ulysses” and decided to squeeze in something short and unpretentious. You can’t get much more unpretentious than a Dave Barry collection with “boogers” in the title. I’d put this one in the middle range of his books, with some of his shtick growing tiresome, for me at least, but with enough surprises to be enjoyable. “Boogers” may have come from Amazon shortly after publication in 2003.
Thus, three books for May. Not a great number, but they added up to a somewhat more weighty 1,350 pages. I’ll return to more sensible books in June.
You’ll notice from my list up top that I bought a lot more books last month than I read (sigh). All nine came from various St. Louis bookstores. So, have you read any of my three books, or my nine purchases? More importantly, what did you choose to read in May?
Next month: I read some of my oldest unread books.
This might be a preview of my next Reading Log, provided I can finish the darned book. That would be “Ulysses” by James Joyce, which clocks in at 644 pages and is famously hard to read. It’s about the unheroic lives of a bunch of Dubliners on one day: June 16, 1904. It’s been called the best novel of the 20th century (and a lot of other things).
A friend, and a bunch of his friends, are trying to read it by June 16, which is known to fans as Bloomsday, after protagonist Leopold Bloom, and my friend invited me to join them. He’s planning a dinner party that night — the menu of which had better not feature kidney and liver, two of Bloom’s dietary mainstays. (I think he’s going to make corned beef.)
This was the encouragement I needed: I bought my copy 15 years ago (the receipt is inside, showing that I bought it at Borders in Montclair on July 24, 1998) and never had the nerve to read it.
I’m up to page 220, after nearly a week of dedicated reading (and a couple of weeks of nibbling prior to that). Have you ever read it, either by choice or for a class? Tried to read it? Thought of reading it?
I can see why it’s famous, although I’m admiring it more than loving it.