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.