Reading Log: October 2013


Books acquired: too many to list!

Books read: “Catching Fire,” Sizanne Collins; “Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Bittersweet Story of 1970,” David Browne.

This is a first: a month in which I read only two books. Going back to the start of these Reading Logs in January 2008, at minimum I’ve read three, on a few occasions, especially toward the end of a year. But two! That’s getting dangerously close to one. In my defense, they did total 750 pages, and I read about 200 more from another, longer book I hope to finish in December, about rock critic Paul Nelson.

October was a busy month. It took me the first eight days to read the second “Hunger Games” novel because, what with one thing or another, I couldn’t put together more than a lunch hour daily to read. Then I left on an extended vacation and didn’t have time to read more than 30 pages per day of “Fire and Rain,” and usually only 10. Back home, and after two weeks of daily but incremental progress, I took a Metrolink trip and — at last — had time for 90 pages. I read the last 25 the next day. Whew.

“Catching Fire” was highly enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the movie this month! It’s funny how easy it is to get caught up in these fantasy worlds. I bought this book in September at B&N Montclair.

“Fire and Rain” — note how I read two books with “fire” in the title? — was a friend’s gift a year or two ago. Published in 2011, it focuses on the transitional year of 1970, when three major pop groups broke up and James Taylor went from semi-obscurity to great fame. I liked it. Lots of fascinating detail and anecdotes. Garfunkel at least once hitchhiked to a concert. Taylor, despite his Mr. Mellow reputation, was a heroin addict. Joni Mitchell had flings with Crosby, Nash and Taylor (not at the same time). Still and Nash were both pursuing Rita Coolidge. Paul McCartney sued his former bandmates on New Year’s Eve 1970 just to ruin their year! Oh, those lovable moptops.

About all I did to my books backlog this month was increase it by buying a bunch more. That’s how it goes. I’ll do better in November. How’d you do in October?

Next month: the Master of Suspense winds up all over my floor.


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Column: A bookman’s tour of California: 9 days, 14 stores

Sunday’s column is the second and last about my recent vacation, focusing on all the bookstores I visited as I drove around California. Not that I ever kept track before, but 14 must be a personal record. Even if you don’t care about bookstores, I hope you enjoy the column.

Side-note: In this column, which I wrote last week, finishing on Friday, I mention knocking CDs off my want list from “Louis Armstrong to Ma Rainey.” Alphabetically speaking, I could have written “Louis Armstrong to Lou Reed,” as I remembered before publication that I’d also picked up a Reed box set (for a mere $10). It seemed cooler to give props to the more-obscure blues singer, though, so I left the reference alone. And technically, what I wrote was absolutely correct, as Lou’s box wasn’t on my want list but represented an impulse buy due to the price.

But: How randomly awesome would have been to have had Lou’s name in my column the very day news of his death circulated? He was one of my musical heroes, from the Velvet Underground forward.

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Column: For once, these newspaper typos are intentional

Friday’s column is about newspaper typographical errors, namely, the ones collected in a quaint 1960s paperback. I think the column gets funnier as it goes along as the typos begin piling up in your brain. Hope you enjoy it.

Insider fact: I wrote this column in the summer — of 2012. It’s been languishing ever since. I thought it would be a good perennial that could run during a vacation, but when vacations and holidays came, I had other material that was more timely to use. No harm keeping a column in your vest pocket. You never know when you might need one. Also, it took me a while to figure out a good photo to go with it.

Last week, with another vacation looming, I took another pass through the column to tweak the wording here and there, then took the paperback out to a row of newspaper racks in Claremont for a photo idea I’d come up with. I held the book to obscure the LA Times, not that it really mattered, since the Daily Bulletin in the rack is lost in the glare. And thus was a column born, more than a year after its conception!

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Reading Log: September 2013


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).


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Reading Log: August 2013

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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.

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Reading Log: July 2013

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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.)

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Reading Log: June 2013


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.


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