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.)


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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.


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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.

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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.


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Beverly Cleary Children’s Library, Portland, Ore.


Children’s author Beverly Cleary left Portland, Ore., for Ontario to attend Chaffey Junior College from 1934 to 1936, in the days when the college was on the Chaffey High campus in Ontario. Tuition was free, which was inducement to get her to make the move. She lived a few blocks away and, her sophomore year, worked at the Ontario Public Library.

An effort to name Ontario’s children’s room for her failed in 2006. Portland, where she lived from ages 6 to 18, named the children’s room of its main library for Cleary in 1997. I shot these while checking out the library on my vacation in September. It was serendipity, as I’d forgotten having read that the library had a room named for her. But there it was.

The city also has a Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden depicting characters from her books.


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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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