Reading Log: June 2016


Books acquired: “Preston Falls,” David Gates; “From Bill, With Love,” Bill McClellan; “The Fiddler on the Subway,” Gene Weingarten; “The Silent Invaders,” Robert Silverberg; “The Best of Henry Kuttner,” Henry Kuttner; “The Puppies of Terra,” Thomas M. Disch; “Marooned on Mars,” Lester del Rey.

Books read: “Forgotten Bookmarks,” Michael Popek; “The Complete Stories,” Flannery O’Connor.

Greetings, bookish ones! We’re halfway through 2016, a year that (among many other things) has seen me read 19 books, my slowest pace since I started these blog posts in January 2009 (a mini-essay that included the offhand promise, “If I remember, I’ll write one of these posts each month”).

In my defense, if one must defend one’s reading pace, a few of these books have been long, including one of this month’s. Too, though, I’ve taken fewer Metrolink trips, which would reliably provide time to read 50 or 100 pages, and my coffeehouse visits, rather than give me reading time, have given me laptop/wifi time.

So I’m on pace for a mere 38 books. That’s 38 more than most Americans are likely to read this year, but not up to my usual standards. I have a pretty good idea what else I’m likely to read this year, give or take, and while I might put on a burst of speed and get to 40, at this point 35 or 36 seems more likely.

Well, let’s get to what I did read. All of June, the last week or so of May and the first day of July was spent reading the 550-page “Complete Stories” by Flannery O’Connor. She’s the author of the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” read by many, including me, in school. Generations of students have quietly and humorously rendered the title as “A Hard Man is Good to Find.” But it’s a great story. In a college class, we read at least two of these 31 stories.

This book has haunted my shelves ever since, awaiting the day when I would read the whole thing. That day finally came — over a period of about six weeks. Actually, I intended only to reread those two stories and abandon the book, but then I read another, and another, and gave in, committing to the whole thing.

O’Connor, who died in 1964, was a Southern writer who wrote about the South in mid-century. Her stories can be funny and horrifying, sometimes at the same time, and most have a devastating impact. Some find her stories too cruel, her characters too idiotic, and it’s true too that her concerns, often race and class, as well as morality and duty, are repetitive. I ate these up. O’Connor should be as well known as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and she’s more consistent than either. Highly recommended.

“Forgotten Bookmarks” was compiled by a bookhound who photographs unusual items left in books acquired by his family’s used bookstore. He has an enjoyable blog. I expected to enjoy this book more than I did; the problem, I think, is that too many of the items are curiosities like letters left in 19th century books. There just wasn’t much fizz here.

That book was a gift from earlier this year, while O’Connor’s dates to my college days, probably 1985. There’s a sticker on the back from the University of Illinois campus bookstore, although I’m pretty sure I bought it at the campus used bookstore, Acres of Books, now long gone. Aside from my Shakespeare omnibus, from which I read a play now and then, “Stories” was the oldest unread book in my possession. My goal the past couple of years was to finish all my “Illinois” books by June 2016, 30 years after my move to California, and I almost made it. Onward to California books!

You’ll note I bought seven books in June, the result of visits to six bookstores, most of them while on vacation. I’ll post soon about the lone non-vacation store.

How was your June, readers, and how is your year shaping up at this halfway mark?

Next month: the end times (in a manner of speaking).


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Reading Log, May 2016


Books acquired: none

Books read: “The Autobiography of Mark Twain,” Charles Neider, ed.; “Stalking the Feature Story,” William Ruehlmann.

First off, sorry for the slight delay this month in writing and posting this; the holiday put me behind, as did a brief illness. Hope you haven’t forgotten what you read in May.

It was another two-book month for me, both of them nonfiction. One is a handbook from 1979 on reporting; the other is the 1959 edition of Twain’s autobiography.

“Stalking” wasn’t bad despite being pre-Internet. I don’t know that I learned a lot from it at this stage in my career, but the story examples were worth reading and the admonition to pay close attention to details, no matter how minor, is worth heeding. (See what I did there?) I bought the book in Portland in 2010 at Cameron’s, one of the “other” used bookstores in the town dominated by Powell’s. In part, it was a pity purchase, but it did seem potentially useful.

Twain’s book was bought circa 1985 at my college bookstore, I think for pleasure rather than a class. All I’d ever read from it is the last chapter, to which I must have been directed somewhere along the way; it’s about the death of one of his daughters and was written just months before his own death.

There are multiple editions of the mass of writing and dictation known as the Autobiography, all compiled after Twain’s death in 1910. Neider’s was the third and was considered definitive, I think, until the whole thing was published in three volumes the past few years, to great acclaim, in part due to the sections suppressed earlier. I suspect many who bought the books, which collectively run about 2,500 pages with notes, never bothered reading much of them. They certainly intimidate me.

Neider’s 500-page edition seems like a sensible version in which the material is organized chronologically and, at least as he tells it, material which is nothing more than newspaper clippings with Twain’s commentary was left out. He laments that several days’ dictations on the subject of religion weren’t available at Twain’s surviving daughter’s request.

What’s left is somewhat unsatisfying as autobiographies go, as Twain didn’t write about a lot of stuff you’d wish he’d write about, such as writing “Huck Finn,” or famous people he met (other than Bret Harte and Robert Louis Stevenson). Instead, he writes at length about his childhood, which was fun to read, and about his family. There’s also an extended section about General Grant, whose memoirs Twain published.

Twain is not one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, but with stories this good, who cares? This was a highly enjoyable book, often hilarious, and surprisingly often will move you to tears, especially regarding the deaths of his wife and two of his daughters, sections in which his grief, still fresh as he wrote, spans the years to strike home. Flawed as the book is, he comes across as a three-dimensional figure, sometimes bumbling and foolish, unable to understand business matters or things that are clear to his young daughter, and of course witty and perceptive.

I started reading my original copy, the brittle cover of which began to loosen about 60 pages in; at that point, rather than destroy it, I checked out a more modern, easier to read version from the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library. That’s what’s in the photo.

Those were my two books. How was your May — if you recall?

Next month: ehh, probably two more books, one of which is 550 pages.


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Reading Log: April 2016


Books acquired: “Empire,” Lewis DeSoto.

Books read: “Heart Like a Starfish,” Allen Callaci; “Empire,” Lewis DeSoto.

Only two books this month, neither one very long, but there are two unusual aspects for me: 1) both are local and 2) both were published in 2016. Who says I can’t mix it up?

“Heart Like a Starfish” is a memoir about a librarian/rocker’s heart transplant (at age 47) and his recovery (coming along excellently). It’s no Lifetime movie tie-in: Callaci, who lives in Claremont, purposely jumbles the timeline and he works in plenty of references to his passions, which include Springsteen and Star Wars. He’s a friend, one about whom I’ll be writing in my column, and this is published by my own publisher. But it’s pretty good.

“Empire” is a photo book about the Inland Empire by native son DeSoto, a professional photographer and artist, and published in collaboration with Riverside’s Inlandia Institute. The photos emphasize nature, desert and the less-lovely aspects of the Empire: dead grapevines, river washes, an auto scrapyard, the Salton Sea. I can imagine many people flipping through it and thinking, “What the hell?”

But I could appreciate his viewpoint, his single-frame photos and his panoramas, and his essays are arguably as strong or stronger than the images, as the longtime Napa resident recalls his San Bernardino boyhood. He writes of grid streets, stucco boxes, smog, asthma, mountains, canyons, the electrical feeling before the Santa Anas blow and the vineyards and orchards that were replaced by big-box stores, warehouses and parking lots.

“No place I have experienced,” he writes in the introduction, “offers the full range of elements that compel and inspire — the vast public works, the neighborhoods both grand and beat down, the air fragrant with citrus and acrid from smog and industry. Cool pine breezes waft off the snow, and hot blasts of wind are scented with creosote. It is the Empire. It is everything.”

Many photographers, by the way, can barely spell, so to have one in DeSoto who writes better than me is, frankly, discouraging. I may have to quit and go into retail.

Or maybe just sit home and read. As this two-slim-book month attests, my reading life is in a kind of lull. I’m 100 pages into a 500-page book, and 160 pages into a 300-page book, with hopes of finishing both this month. (Both are from the 20th century and have nothing to do with this area, putting me back on familiar ground, in a weird way.) Over the weekend I read a total of about 10 pages, in between CD and Blu-ray booklets, newspapers and comic books, all of which are reading but none of which count. Matters improved Monday, when I read 40 pages. Maybe I’m back on track.

How about you folks? How was your April, and did you read anything good? Or at least more than 10 pages over the weekend?

Next month: two books, if I get off the dime.


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Happy 100th, Beverly Cleary


Children’s author Beverly Cleary, writer of more than 30 books, many starring Ramona and Beezus Quimby and their friends, turns 100 today.

She was born Beverly Bunn in McMinnville, Oregon, on April 12, 1916. When her family moved to Portland, a school librarian encouraged her to write. She attended Chaffey Junior College, on the Chaffey High campus in Ontario, during the Depression, from 1934 to 1936, because tuition was free. She boarded the first year at 328 Princeton St. and her sophomore year worked at the Ontario Public Library.

That was the end of her time here, but she memorialized that time, and more of her early life, in her 1995 memoir, “My Own Two Feet.”

The Washington Post interviewed Cleary in mid-March and she sounds sharp and in good spirits. She spends her days reading the newspaper and books. Today she plans to have carrot cake in a low-key event at her retirement home in Carmel.

Her publisher promotes April 12 as Drop Everything and Read Day, although this year they’re making an entire month out of it.

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Reading Log: March 2016


Books acquired: “Heart Like a Starfish,” Allen Callaci; “On Wings of Song,” Thomas Disch; “Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters,” Anne Mellor; “Mary Shelley: A Biography,” Muriel Spark; “Larger Than Life: The Playboy Interviews,” Stephen Randall, ed.; “Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements,” Bob Mehr; “Jose Clemente Orozco: Prometheus,” Marjorie Harth, ed.; “The High Crusade,” Poul Anderson.

Books read: “The Last Man,” Mary Shelley; “The Last of the Best,” Jim Murray; “The Last Laugh,” S.J. Perelman; “The Penultimate Truth,” Philip K. Dick.

Let me tell you about last month: My books all had a variation of “last” in the title. That’s been an idea of mine for a while. Having an unread book with “penultimate” in the title cried out for grouping it with books with “last” in their titles, and I had three, enough to round out a month.

Thus, my reading month encompassed an 1820s English novel, a collection of 1990s sports columns, a collection of 1970s humorous essays and a 1960s science fiction novel. Despite the similar titles, that’s not a bad range.

I liked them all despite almost giving up on two of them. It had never occurred to me, really, to read the Jim Murray book, which someone in our office, I think, gave me to a number of years ago, and S.J. Perelman’s baroque humor kind of gets on my nerves. But I started Murray’s book and just kept going. He really was a terrific writer, with a great ability to turn a phrase, crack a joke or make you think, sometimes all at once. I read this Perelman for the last quarter, compiling some autobiographic essays about the likes of the Marx Brothers and Dorothy Parker, but decided to try the earlier bits too, his usual New Yorker essays, and they connected just enough that I kept reading them, too. I don’t remember when I bought it, but it’s been a while. These were Murray and Perelman’s last books, hence the titles.

The Dick novel is from his fertile ’60s period and takes a jaundiced look at war, peace, government and propaganda. Most of humanity has gone to live underground due to an atomic war and was never told that the war ended years before. The elites on the surface continue transmitting lies that the war is still raging so they can have the Earth to themselves. My copy has been on my shelves since (sigh) the early 1980s. It was quite good.

I bought “The Last Man” at Berkeley’s Moe’s Books seven years ago after an enticing mention in the comic book series “Y: The Last Man” and only now got around to reading it. Shelley’s novel, published a few years after “Frankenstein,” is about a plague that wipes out most of humanity; it’s little-known, and was out of print for more than a century (!), but is now considered the first post-apocalyptic fiction.

The first third reads like a romance by Sir Walter Scott as the characters and setting in royal England are introduced, with the plague getting its first mention a few pages into the second section. But once it hits, it hits. The science fiction is minimal in this story set in 2075 — it may have been hard in 1825 to imagine a world 250 years ahead, and so people are still riding in horse-drawn carriages — but it’s really about the characters anyway, and the book can be quite emotional. Personally, I’d rate “The Last Man” very highly, even above “Frankenstein,” and it inspired me to seek out a couple of books on Shelley, which I hope to get to later this year.

One reason I’m so far behind in my reading is months like this, when I read four but acquired eight. It’s unusual for me to buy any anymore, much less four, and another four were gifts.

How was your March, readers? Read (or acquire) anything good?

Next month: nothing with “next” in the title, but rather one of my “books acquired” from above, and maybe one or two more.


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Reading Log: February 2016


Books acquired: “Forgotten Bookmarks,” Michael Popek.

Books read: “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 30th Anniversary Issue (October 1979),” Ed Ferman, ed.; “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus,” Mary Shelley.

A mere two books this month, and to make matters worse, one of them’s not strictly a book. That would be a squarebound issue of a 1979 magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which published a book-like 30th anniversary edition of some of its best work. (That was 36 years ago, by the way.) I bought it used in the early 1980s and never read it, a recurring theme of these posts. but it’s been filed like a book on my SF shelves all these years, and recently I decided to read it.

At 320 pages, it’s got a lot of classic stories: “All You Zombies…” by Heinlein, “Flowers for Algernon” by Keyes, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Miller, “The Quest for Saint Acquin” by Boucher, and many more. Personal to Doug Evans: There’s an Asimov story, “Dreaming is a Private Thing.”

As a casual SF fan, it’s long past time that I familiarized myself with these stories, and I’m glad I did. I read everything, by the way, even the book review, the unimpressed critique of “Alien” and the classifieds (“Health newsletter by biochemist,” “Send 25 cents for catalog of Scientifantasy books and pulps,” “Self-mastery newsletter,” “Japanese Girls Make Wonderful Wives”), and I tried working the acrostic, but couldn’t finish it even with some cheating from the Internet. Does anyone have the solutions from the November 1979 issue? Or know a seven-letter word for “Atreides clan,” a five-letter word for “Amorous caller from planet core” or a 12-letter word for “Inflammation of the eye”? Thanks anyway. (“Herbert” might be the Atreides clan solution, come to think of it.)

That lone sort-of book might well have been it for February, but I squeezed in “Frankenstein,” which I’d read in boyhood and repurchased a few years back. The movies bear only a passing resemblance to the novel, in which an ill-described monstrosity is created in vague fashion, lumbers off and returns later to torment its master, in part by delivering a 43-page monologue.

Of course it’s a great book anyway, one that has captured the imaginations of readers, moviemakers, artists and more for centuries, but it’s not precisely what you would expect. It’s more about the scientist’s guilt at having unleashed a monster upon the world than anything else.

“Frankenstein” was bought in Portland in 2010 at a small bookstore, not Powell’s, as a pity purchase after arriving near closing after a long bus ride across town and not wanting to leave empty-handed. I bought the magazine at some Midwestern used bookstore or other in the early ’80s.

I’m a ways into three wildly different books for March, with hopes of finishing all three plus a fourth, all with a certain theme expressed in the titles, but we’ll see how that goes. One of them is by Mary Shelley, by the way. How was your February, and have you read “Frankenstein”? Or solved acrostics?

Next month: The last and the next to last.


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Reading Log: January 2016


Books acquired: none.

Books read: “Slogging Toward the Millennium,” Bill McClellan; “The Hour After Westerly,” Robert M. Coates; “Long After Midnight,” Ray Bradbury; “The Day After Tomorrow,” Robert M. Heinlein; “Twelfth Night,” William Shakespeare; “Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement,” Rodney Rothman; “Now Wait for Last Year,” Philip K. Dick.

One month into 2016 and I’ve knocked off seven titles. That sounds good, doesn’t it? Great start to the year and all that. I read much of the first three titles above in December, though, which means seven is inflated and likely to be my high for the year. Uh-oh: That means for the next 11 months, it’s all downhill. From optimism to despair, all in one paragraph. This is why I’m a professional, because I’ve got range.

Anyway, my books for the month are, in the order above, a 1990 book of newspaper columns from St. Louis; a book of literary short stories from the 1940s; a 1978 Bradbury collection; a 1940s sci-fi novel; a Shakespeare comedy circa 1602; a 2006 humorous memoir; and a 1960s sci-fi novel.

The Heinlein was problematical as it was quasi-racist, and weak stories outnumbered strong ones in the Bradbury. The Shakespeare play wasn’t among his best, although even so-so Bard is very good. The first line is famous: “If music be the food of love, play on…”

Coates is out of print and neglected, but this was a very good book, with the title story worthy of “The Twilight Zone.” McClellan tells a good story. Dick’s novel was among his best. Rothman’s memoir may be of the most general interest.

Feeling burned out at 28, the TV writer hit upon a neat idea: Why not move to Florida and test out retirement by living in a senior community, playing shuffleboard and eating early dinners? It’s funny, as you’d expect, but he learns to take the retirees seriously as individuals, and there’s an undercurrent of sadness about the end of life.

Did you notice all the titles dealt in some way with time or the calendar? Yes, that was on purpose, a loose way to bring in a variety of books. Oh, and despite the photo, obviously I didn’t read the entirety of “The Riverside Shakespeare,” only one play within.

Where did my books come from? The Shakespeare is my college textbook, collecting all his works in one massive book. My copies of Bradbury and Dick date to the early 1980s. The others are from the past decade. Can’t remember where my Heinlein came from. Coates and Rothman were bought at Powell’s in Portland in 2013. McClellan was bought in St. Louis last year.

How is your reading year beginning? I hope it went well but is all uphill for you.

Next month: maybe only one book. 🙁


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Books read, 2015


2015 saw me complete 53 books, down from 68 in 2014; in fact, this is my lowest total since 52 in 2010. Were my books last year longer overall, or did my interest slacken? Possibly both. But there can’t have been more than a couple of days that I didn’t pick up a book at all. My Wednesday column takes a broader look at my year.

Below, in chronological order, are the books I read.

  1. “Black Moon,” Kenneth Calhoun
  2. “Clans of the Alphane Moon,” Philip K. Dick
  3. “The Moon is Down,” John Steinbeck
  4. “The First Men in the Moon,” H.G. Wells
  5. The Glass Teat,” Harlan Ellison
  6. “Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant,” U.S. Grant
  7. “Vulcan’s Hammer,” Philip K. Dick
  8. “The Cosmic Puppets,” Philip K. Dick
  9. “Dr. Futurity,” Philip K. Dick
  10. “The Man Who Japed,” Philip K. Dick
  11. “Early Ontario,” Ontario Library Staff
  12. “More Baths Less Talking,” Nick Hornby
  13. “The Incredible Double,” Owen Hill
  14. “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil,” George Saunders
  15. “The Dark Side of the Earth,” Alfred Bester
  16. “No Room for Man,” Gordon Dickson
  17. “Pulling a Train,” Harlan Ellison
  18. “Getting in the Wind,” Harlan Ellison
  19. “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” Claudia Rankine
  20. “Citizen,” Claudia Rankine
  21. “Three Early Stories,” J.D. Salinger
  22. “A Small Place,” Jamaica Kincaid
  23. “The Genocides,” Thomas Disch
  24. “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Ray Bradbury
  25. “R is for Rocket,” Ray Bradbury
  26. “S is for Space,” Ray Bradbury
  27. “The Vintage Bradbury,” Ray Bradbury
  28. “My Ideal Bookshelf,” Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount
  29. “Martian Time-Slip,” Philip K. Dick
  30. “The Zap Gun” Philip K. Dick
  31. “Our Friends From Frolix 8,” Philip K. Dick
  32. “The Stars My Destination,” Alfred Bester
  33. “The Best of Fritz Leiber,” Fritz Leiber
  34. “The Other Glass Teat,” Harlan Ellison
  35. “The Point Man,” Steve Englehart
  36. “Again, Dangerous Visions, Vol. 1,” Harlan Ellison, ed.
  37. “Again, Dangerous Visions, Vol. 2,” Harlan Ellison, ed.
  38. “Still Room for Hope,” Alisa Kaplan
  39. “A Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Jules Verne
  40. “Why LA? Pourquoi Paris?” Diane Ratican
  41. “Deus Irae,” Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
  42. “Valis,” Philip K. Dick
  43. “After 1903 — What?,” Robert Benchley
  44. “The Best of Philip K. Dick,” Philip K. Dick
  45. “The Big Orange,” Jack Smith
  46. “Wonder,” R.J. Palacio
  47. “A Pail of Air,” Fritz Leiber
  48. “The Halloween Tree,” Ray Bradbury
  49. “Tangled Vines,” Frances Dinkelspiel
  50. “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Vol. 1,” H.P. Lovecraft and others
  51. “I Sing the Body Electric!” Ray Bradbury
  52. “Old Cucamonga,” Paula Emick
  53. “The Preserving Machine,” Philip K. Dick

How was your year in reading? I didn’t come close to getting to all the books I’d have liked, but I read what I wanted to read, including many books by favorite authors. And the Steinbeck (No. 3) was especially good.

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Reading Log: December 2015


Books acquired: none

Books read: “Old Cucamonga,” Paula Emick; “The Preserving Machine,” Philip K. Dick

This post is about as close as I’ve come to my idea of someday not reading anything for a month and posting a photo of a blank floor. Two books is a light month, but it’s something, though, isn’t it?

“Old Cucamonga” is the subject of my Jan. 3 column, so there’s little more to say here. As it’s all photos and captions, one or two per page, this was a good nightstand book, something that could be read easily and put down just as easily, with no plot threads to lose. I have a lot of these Images of America books at the office, most of which I haven’t read, but I should.

The Philip K. Dick book, “The Preserving Machine,” is a collection of stories, his first. There was some overlap with “The Best of Philip K. Dick,” which I read earlier in 2015, and I wanted to end the year by reading the other stories and finishing this off. Overall, this was pretty good, with several excellent stories, including the one on which “Total Recall” was based. I ended up rereading or skimming the ones I’d already read because the details had slipped away.

I did read more in December, but purposely didn’t finish anything. Three books are in progress for a theme month in January based on time.

“Old Cucamonga” was purchased at an event in November, while Dick’s came from Ralph’s Comic Corner in Ventura maybe three years ago. I also have a British paperback of “Preserving Machine,” with one less story, from Pomona’s Magic Door Books; I read that and then shifted to the U.S. edition at the end.

For the year, I read 53, my lowest total in a while. I may have lost a step this year, but then again, my impression is that I read some longer books. I’ll write my traditional column on my year’s reading this week.

In the meantime, how was your December?

Next month: time, in book rather than magazine form.


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