Reading Log: March 2014


Books acquired: “Who I Am,” Pete Townshend; “Walkable City,” Jeff Speck.

Books read: “Silverlock,” John Myers Myers; “Tales From the ‘White Hart,’” Arthur C. Clarke; “The Woman in Black,” Susan Hill.

Only a three-book month here. Is that better or worse than a three dog night? Regardless, all three of my reads last month had significance for me.

“Silverlock” I’ve owned since the early 1980s but never got around to reading. For one thing, it’s 500 pages; for another, the hype that helped sell it — separate introductions by SF heavyweights Poul Anderson, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle — also inhibited actually reading the thing. “You’ll get drunk on ‘Silverlock,’” “an odyssey of the human spirit,” etc., etc. I could never bring myself to read it, yet I could never bring myself to sell it either.

Now that I’m back to taking my bookshelves seriously, I read it, and you know, “Silverlock” was darned good, a picaresque adventure in the Commonwealth of Letters in which nearly every character is taken from literature or legend: Don Quixote, Paul Bunyan, Robin Hood, Leatherstocking, the Green Knight, and dozens more. Great fun, and recommended if you’re well read, or if like me you can fake it.

That book consumed nearly four weeks. I managed to squeeze in two short books on vacation, a collection of scientific shaggy dog stories by Clarke, told by a tall-tale spinner in a London pub, and Hill’s Gothic horror novel, set in England, from 1992. I liked both of those. (The latter was made into a slightly creepy, slightly silly movie in 2012.)

They meant a little more to me because in London two years ago I’d stumbled across a White Hart pub in the vicinity of the one Clarke frequented; research shows that this one is modern and Clarke’s hangout was really named the White Horse, but no matter, I wanted to read the book ever since. Hill’s book I bought during that trip at Foyle’s; I used the receipt as my bookmark. Happy sigh.

Clarke’s book was bought used at a Bookmaster in Arizona some six years ago, and “Silverlock” came from a used bookstore of my youth, the Double R Book Nook in Olney, Ill.

All three books have a color in their title, and I have so many more of these that April looks likely to have more “color books.” I’m wrapping up a yellow and have started a green, with a red, a blue and an amber in the wings, and a white, a black, a gold, another blue and another green probably out of reach unless April has 60 days.

Of my two acquisitions this month, the first was a birthday gift and the second was bought at BookPeople in Austin, my first book purchase of 2014. I’m trying to cut down.

What have you been reading? And has anyone read, or even heard of, “Silverlock”? It’s kind of a cult classic, hence the hard-sell introductions in my 1980 edition, but deserves to be better known.

Next month: a riot of color.


Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Reading Log: February 2014


Books acquired: none.

Books read: “Ubik,” “Ubik: The Screenplay,” Philip K. Dick; “Waging Heavy Peace,” Neil Young; “The Swerve,” Stephen Greenblatt; “Stranger Passing,” Joel Sternfeld.

Welcome back to my monthly recap of what I read the previous month, as I navigate among the shocking number of unread books on my shelves and share the results.

As the shortest month, February would have been a good time to devote to extremely short books. Instead, as it was the month before my birthday, I opted to read books friends gave me for my last birthday.

(I’m terrible at reading books gifted to me, I’m ashamed to say, and I could profitably spend five or six months catching up on past gifts stretching back a couple of decades. Well, here’s a month, and that will have to suffice.)

Three of my books this month were gifts: “Ubik: The Screenplay,” “Waging Heavy Peace” and “The Swerve.”

Sensibly, first I read “Ubik,” the novel on which the unproduced screenplay was based. Even more shamefully, this is another of the books I’ve owned since I was a teenager and never read. Is my entire reading life about guilt? Anyway, this month provided an excuse to read it, and I’m glad I did, because it was the best book all month, one of Dick’s wackiest, full of humor and contemporary-seeming concerns about privacy in a world in which telepaths are everywhere.

You know it’s going to be great when a CEO, confronted with a vexing problem, tells his underlings, “I’ll consult my dead wife,” and it’s only page 2. He does it, too: The dead are kept in glass coffins in “moratoriums” — ha! — and awakened upon request for conversation. The plot involves a group of people who find the 1990s fading around them as 1939 re-emerges. Is reality changing, or does it only seem to be changing because they’re actually dead and don’t know it? It’s the usual mind-bending stuff. Dick’s screenplay wasn’t as good as the novel but made for a good companion piece.

Neil Young’s memoir hops around in time and place as the muse takes him. Similar to Dylan’s “Chronicles,” in that it’s not a straight autobiography but a book that focuses on random moments; dissimilar, in that it’s shaggy, off-the-cuff, overlong and kind of a mess. Young comes off as a big dork with his Lionel trains and other geeky projects and yet as far more normal than you’d expect. Refreshingly relaxed, but at 500 pages, maybe too relaxed. A sequel is promised/threatened.

I’d never heard of Lucretius or his poem “On the Nature of Things,” so everything in “The Swerve” was new to me. Yes, yes, the subtitle (“How the World Became Modern”) is awfully bold, but then, it’s a subtitle, meant to hook you to buy the book. Personally, I got the book as a gift (maybe the subtitle hooked the friend who bought it for me) and, as it’s not the sort of thing I normally read, I was dubious. But I’m glad I read it: It was fascinating.

Lastly, “Stranger Passing” was loaned to me by a friend last month. Random-seeming portraits of people around the country, doing whatever it was they were doing: shopping, sitting, buying gas, nursing a child. The individual photos didn’t make an impression on me, but collectively it’s a portrait of America. All the subjects retain a certain dignity, even the shopping cart wrangler on the cover.

(That book was so large I couldn’t fit it flat on a shelf for the obligatory spine photo, so I propped it up. The weird cover deserves to be seen again anyway.)

So that was my February in books. How was yours? As always, you’re encouraged to share your own reading below.

Next month: 31 days of colorful books, i.e., with a color in their title.


Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Column: Betsy-Tacy writer embraced Claremont and her fans

Sunday’s column follows up Wednesday’s, on Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy children’s books, by recounting her years as a Claremont resident, from 1954 to her death in 1980, and gathering up stories from a couple of people who met her. They contacted me after my Jan. 1 column asking for information about her. I’m glad I did, because this whole thing worked beautifully.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Reading Log: January 2014


Books acquired: “Orange Blossoms Everywhere: The Story of Maud and Delos Lovelace in California, 1953-1980,” Mary Thiessen.

Books read: “Alone Against Tomorrow,” “Deathbird Stories” and “Shatterday,” Harlan Ellison; “18 Best Stories,” “The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe; “Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By,” Anna Jane Grossman; “Betsy-Tacy,” “Betsy In Spite of Herself,” Maud Hart Lovelace; “Orange Blossoms Everywhere,” Mary Thiessen.

A new year! A fresh start! I had a busy reading month, and much of what I did was mop up a few books begun last year. The fresh start must begin in February. Also, I read some children’s books. And I thought my 2013 reading list had some whimsical choices.

As you’ll see from the above, I read three by Ellison, two by Poe. These were the leftovers from last year, all of them story collections on which I’d made some or much headway but hadn’t got around to finishing. It was satisfying to complete them.

Of the Ellisons, “Tomorrow” and “Deathbird” are classic collections, relatively easy to find at used bookstores, and worth tracking down. The Poe “18 Best” collection, with an introduction by Vincent Price, lives up to its title. It’s got all the major stories and two or three so-so ones. Some collections miss a good one or two or, more commonly, tack on an extra 15 or 20 very minor ones. “Usher” skips “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” which is among Poe’s best, and has a couple of head-scratchers.

But “Usher” does include Poe’s only novel, a seafaring tale with supernatural elements; Lovecraft’s novel “At the Mountains of Madness,” which I read a couple of years back, is an obvious homage. If you read enough, suddenly everything makes sense.

Poe is a writer I read as a boy, and returning to his work has been illuminating, as well as entertaining. He’s as good as you remember, at least until you get into the weedier stuff. And have you read “The Tell-Tale Heart” as an adult? I don’t know if I got as a boy how hilarious that story is. The narrator is a nutcase who wants us to believe he’s sane. It’s almost like Poe is ribbing his own style.

I also read two of the Betsy-Tacy children’s books, and a little book about their author, for a couple of columns I’m writing. Look for those soon. It was research, but enjoyable research. If you’ve read these, you’re encouraged to comment.

Lastly, “Obsolete,” a pseudo-encyclopedia of things passing us by, was okay, but a bit thin and strained. If I could, I’d take back the time I spent reading it. “Going, Going, Gone,” from 1994, is along the same lines and much better done.

Let’s see, the three Ellisons, and Poe’s “18 Best,” all date to my Illinois days; “Usher” was bought at Powell’s in Portland in 2010; “Obsolete” I got from Amazon a year or two ago; the Betsy-Tacys were checked out from the Pomona Public Library; and the book about their author was a gift from the Betsy-Tacy Society.

So that’s January. What have you been reading? Do you have any reading goals for the year? I’m going light on those myself after last year almost obstinately ignoring most of the goals I’d sketched out. Although I do have ideas of what I want to read, especially in the next three or four months, my only specific goals are to read Ellison’s first “Dangerous Visions” anthology, one Shakespeare play to be determined and — why not? — “The Three Musketeers.” How about that?

Next month: a few books given to me as birthday gifts…a year or more ago.


Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Books read, 2013


I don’t mean to seem to be all about numbers, but when you’ve let your unread books pile up, as I’ve done, measuring your progress takes a higher priority than it would otherwise. For this photo, I piled up the books I read in 2013. Since I began reading intensively again, I’ve read 75 in 2013, 80 in 2012, 60 in 2011, 52 in 2010 and 58 in 2009. Hey, that’s five years! Five years and 325 books. No sense in stopping now, so I’m going to keep reading.

Authors most represented in 2013: two each by Suzanne Collins, Nick Hornby and Jonathan Lethem; three by Dave Barry; and, er, 16 by Harlan Ellison. (Or 15. “Ellison Wonderland” and “Earthman, Go Home” are the same book with different introductions. I count them as one.) Last year, this author list was longer, with multiple authors in the two-, three- and four-book list. I guess this means, Ellison aside, that a lot of my reading was one-offs.

How did I not read any Mark Twain for two straight years?! Definitely I’ll read “A Tramp Abroad” this year. Of course, last year in this space I said I’d be starting it “any day now.” I won’t make that promise, but I will read it.

Sunday’s column is about my reading from last year. Below is a list of every title.

1. “Around the World in 80 Days,” Jules Verne

2. “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Ray Bradbury

3. “The Brazil Series,” Bob Dylan

4. “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” Joan Didion

5. “Holy Land,” D.J. Waldie

6. “America (The Book),” Jon Stewart and The Daily Show

7. “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac

8. “Icons of the Highway,” Tony and Eva Worobiec

9. “Exile on Main Street (33 1/3 series),” Bill Janovitz

10. “Angry Candy,” Harlan Ellison

11. “Strange Wine,” Harlan Ellison

12. “Cat’s Pajamas and Witch’s Milk,” Peter De Vries

13. “Smith on Wry,” Jack Smith

14. “The Hunger Games,” Suzanne Collins

15. “A Moveable Feast,” Ernest Hemingway

16. “The Accordion Repertoire,” Franklin Bruno

17. “The Pearl,” John Steinbeck

18. “Selected Poems,” e.e. cummings

19. “Kafka Americana,” Jonathan Lethem and Carter Scholz

20. “Adventures in Pet Sitting,” Michael Arterburn

21. “From Bauhaus to Our House,” Tom Wolfe

22. “Anguished English,” Richard Lederer

23. “The Elements of Style,” William Strunk and E.B. White

24. “How to Kick the War Habit,” T. Willard Hunter

25. “Leaves of Grass” (1855 Edition), Walt Whitman

26. “The End of the Tether,” Joseph Conrad

27. “Ask the Dust,” John Fante

28. “An Education: The Screenplay,” Nick Hornby

29. “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder

30. “Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway,” Dave Barry

31. “Housekeeping vs. The Dirt,” Nick Hornby

32. “The Rock Snob’s Dictionary,” David Kamp and Steven Daly

33. “Candide,” Voltaire

34. “Dylan: The 5 Minute Visual Bob-ography,” Roy Gyongy Fox

35. “The Mezzanine,” Nicholson Baker

36. “The Early Worm,” Robert Benchley

37. “The Columnist,” Jeffrey Frank

38. “The Best of Jack Williamson”

39. “Over the Edge,” Harlan Ellison

40. “The Planet of the Apes Chronicles,” Paul Woods

41. ”The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan

42. “Ulysses,” James Joyce

43. “Boogers are my Beat,” Dave Barry

44. “Ellison Wonderland”/”Earthman, Go Home,” Harlan Ellison

45. “Paingod and Other Delusions,” Harlan Ellison

46. “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World,” Harlan Ellison

47. “Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled,” Harlan Ellison

48. “Stalking the Nightmare,” Harlan Ellison

49. “The Kinks: The Official Biography,” Jon Savage

50. “Approaching Oblivion,” Harlan Ellison

51. “Spider Kiss,” Harlan Ellison

52. “Phoenix Without Ashes,” Edward Bryant and Harlan Ellison

53. “The Book of Ellison,” Andrew Porter, ed.

54. “Elvis: The Illustrated Record,” Roy Carr and Mick Farren

55. “Much Ado About Nothing,” William Shakespeare

56. “Troublemakers,” Harlan Ellison

57. “Googie Redux,” Alan Hess

58. “Diners,” John Baeder

59. “Dave Barry’s Money Secrets,” Dave Barry

60. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe

61. ”The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley 1945-1985,” Harold Nelson

62. ”The Shuttered Room and Other Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft with August Derleth

63. “No Doors, No Windows,” Harlan Ellison

64. “A Room With a View,” E.M. Forster

65. “Catching Fire,” Sizanne Collins

66. “Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Bittersweet Story of 1970,” David Browne

67. “Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic,” Dan Auiler

68. “Henry Bumstead and the World of Hollywood Art Direction,” Andrew Horton

69. “The Art of Alfred Hitchcock,” Donald Spoto

70. “The Films of Alfred Hitchcock,” Robert Harris and Michael Lasky

71. “Mudd’s Angels,” J.A. Lawrence

72. “Casablanca,” Richard Anobile

73. ”Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson,” Kevin Avery, ed.

74. “Chronic City,” Jonathan Lethem

75. “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Harlan Ellison

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Reading Log: December 2013


Books acquired: “Los Angeles in the Thirties: 1931-1941,” David Gebhard and Harriette von Breton; “A Small Place,” Jamaica Kincaid.

Books read: “Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson,” Kevin Avery, ed.; “Chronic City,” Jonathan Lethem; “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Harlan Ellison.

To end 2013, I read three books in December. Two of them have a subtle connection.

“Afterthought” is a biography and best-of of the late Paul Nelson, in the late 1970s and early 1980s an editor and reviewer at Rolling Stone, and prior to that the A&R man who signed the New York Dolls, and prior to that a folk music writer who introduced Bob Dylan to Woody Guthrie’s music and memoir. Nelson met a sad end as a virtual recluse in NYC. Among his friends was Jonathan Lethem, now of Claremont, who is quoted extensively in the biography and whose novel “Chronic City” has as its main character a pop culture visionary based on Paul Nelson.

The Nelson book was a labor of love on compiler/biographer Kevin Avery’s part. I liked this book a lot, even if watching Nelson’s slow-motion decline was a queasy part of the appeal. Lethem’s novel, meanwhile, was giddy fun for this fellow pop culture aficionado, who was fascinated by the mixture of fact and fancy and the Philip Dickian flourishes.

(Amusingly, I discussed “Chronic” on New Year’s Eve with a friend who’s read more Lethem than I have. I told him it was by far my favorite. He said it was by far his least favorite. “I was embarrassed for him for having written it,” he said. There’s no accounting for taste, especially other people’s.)

So this was a case of perfect timing. Had I read “Chronic” earlier, it might not have meant so much to me. The Ellison book made sense to read for another reason, and not just that it has “city” in its title; in November I read another Trek book, the last of the Blish adaptations and my first Trek reading in maybe 35 years. As Hillary said (Edmund, not Clinton), it was there. Before lifting myself out of whatever slough of despond led me to read it, I read the only other Trek book I have, Ellison’s teleplay of his famous episode. I’m an Ellison completist and would have got to it eventually.

The teleplay is good, of course. So was the finished episode. Ellison’s heavily footnoted, spittle-flecked 73-page rant about changes to his script 30 years earlier contrasts neatly with D.C. Fontana’s calm, six-page explanation of how and why his script was rewritten. Dismaying from a writer of Ellison’s abilities. Shouldn’t he be above this sort of thing? What with the lousy layout and cheap presentation, it looks like some nut’s homemade fanbook. Suggested alternate title: “Ego on the Edge of Losing It.”

I was embarrassed for him for having written it.

How was your reading month? Did you squeeze in anything between gift shopping and eating? Coming soon: a list of every book I read in 2013. (Or you can piece it together yourself by rereading the previous 11 of these.)


Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Column: Closing the book on Mrs. Nelson’s after 28 years


La Verne’s Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop shuts its doors Sunday (!), a speedy end for the store’s closing sale. Sunday’s column pays tribute.

Above, Shawn Carlson helps daughter Megan, 6, compose her thoughts for a message for the Memory Wall behind them. Below, Judy Nelson, left, goes over details with employee Annie Bigelow toward closing time Thursday.


Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Mrs. Nelson’s to close

Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop, 1030 Bonita Ave. in La Verne, announced Friday that it will close after 28 years. The children’s book specialist has cut prices in half and will close when the stock is depleted or Jan. 31, whichever comes first. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune has the story here.

Mrs. Nelson’s was the subject of one of my columns in 2010 and a related blog post. Owner Judy Nelson blogged in 2010 upon her store’s 25th anniversary that year, recounting highlights that included author appearances.

I’ve been to the store a few times over the years, including for a couple of author appearances, the highlight being when I met and interviewed cartoonist Jules Feiffer in 2000. (I regret I didn’t ask him to sign a book for me, but at the time that struck me as an unprofessional way to end an interview.) Very sorry to hear they’ll be closing.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Reading Log: November 2013


Books acquired: “The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister,” Chris Nichols.

Books read: “Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic,” Dan Auiler; “Henry Bumstead and the World of Hollywood Art Direction,” Andrew Horton; “The Art of Alfred Hitchcock,” Donald Spoto; “The Films of Alfred Hitchcock,” Robert Harris and Michael Lasky; “Mudd’s Angels,” J.A. Lawrence; “Casablanca,” Richard Anobile.

As a sort of hobby, I’ve been watching Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, in order, from the beginning in the 1920s to the end in the 1970s. It’s taken me roughly three years of intermittent effort, but it’s been worthwhile, as I revisited some old favorites and found some new favorites. Hitch made a bunch of so-so movies too, especially in the early days, but I won’t hold that against him.

As I went along, I read a couple of film-by-film guides, by Harris and Lasky and by Spoto. In November I focused on watching the last four movies and in doing so finally finished those two books. Huzzah! Harris and Lasky’s is okay, more of a coffee table tome, while Spoto’s is more serious.

Along the same lines, I read two other Hitch-related books, one on “Vertigo,” perhaps his greatest movie, and one on Hollywood art director Henry Bumstead, an Ontario native whom I interviewed a decade ago for a feature and who designed sets for four Hitchcock films. Those books were useful for specialists.

I rounded out the month with two other movie or TV-related books: “Casablanca” presents stills from the movie paired with all the dialogue, an interesting way to experience the movie; the “Star Trek” book is the 13th and last in the series of Bantam paperbacks that adapted all the original episodes. I would call this one a guilty pleasure except it wasn’t all that pleasurable.

I owned all the Trek books as a lad, through No. 12; a year or two ago, I found them through No. 11 at Calico Cat in Ventura, with the same covers I previously owned, and couldn’t resist buying them. I tracked down the other two somewhere since then. So I read the one I hadn’t read before and can scratch that off my reading list.

I bought Bumstead’s book from the man himself (but only read bits of it at the time); bought “The Films of Hitchcock” at the Book House in St. Louis around four years ago; can’t recall where or when I got “Vertigo” or “Casablanca,” but got them in the past decade; and bought Spoto’s book, published in 1976, in ’76 or ’77. As most of his 50-some films were unavailable to me then, only the ones that popped up TV, I read just a few of the analyses originally.

You have no idea how satisfying it is to have now read this book cover to cover after some 36 years of ownership.

I’m up to 72 books read for 2013 and am eyeing three for December. One is 460 pages, but it should be a slam dunk as I’m 380 pages into it already.

How was your November, reading-wise?

Next month: a 460-page book, and a couple more.


Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email