Reading Log: October 2017

Books acquired: “True Stories of Claremont, CA,” Hal Durian; “Buster Keaton Remembered,” Eleanor Keaton and Jeffrey Vance

Books read: “The Puppet Masters,” Robert Heinlein; “The Toynbee Convector,” Ray Bradbury; “One Hundred and Two H-Bombs,” Thomas M. Disch; “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” H.P. Lovecraft; “Love Conquers All,” Robert Benchley

Greetings, readers. We’re well into fall and the end of 2017 is in sight, which is something of a relief. But that also means that if we have reading goals, time is running out on achieving them.

Of the (now) 266 unread books on my shelves, some authors are represented multiple times. I try to read at least one per year by many of them to gradually whittle down the backlog. While progress may not be as great as wished for, I looked at my row of Robert Benchley books recently and realized that after one per year for seven years, I’ve now read almost all of them.

October’s choices were made up entirely of give-or-take perennials.

From Heinlein’s classic period, his 1951 novel “The Puppet Masters” is about an alien invasion by big slugs who control individuals by (ugh) attaching themselves to humans’ spines. It’s clever, propulsive and genuinely creepy. Also, the government-mandated nudity angle was funny. Hey, how else are you going to know if your neighbor, or your congressman, is controlled by a slug nestled between their shoulder blades if you can’t see them in the buff?

Bradbury’s 1984 story collection is the last of his regular books that I hadn’t read or reread; a few years ago I picked up shortly after this point to read his copious number of late-period books that I’d never had the heart to read (most did indeed turn out to be disappointing), then started over at the beginning to reread his classic ones.

“The Toynbee Convector” is a terrible title, a tipoff of what’s to come. Of the 23 stories, only five (Trapdoor, The Love Affair, A Touch of Petulance, West of October and At Midnight, in the Month of June) have the old snap. Some of them are old but never collected, I believe.

Most of the rest are sad, aimless or eye-rollers. Unpleasantly, several semi-autobiographical stories are about an adulterer, and nine (I started keeping track, it was such a thing) involve a grown man weeping. There is some lovely writing, of course, such as about the Family, a Bradbury staple: “Some were young and others had been around since the Sphinx first sank its stone paws deep in tidal sands.” Still, as a fan, I warn you: Do not start with “The Toynbee Collector.”

I bought a bunch of Disch’s out of print books four years ago when I encountered them at a used bookstore in Goleta. Here’s the third one, an early collection of stories. Some are shaggy dog shorts, surprisingly silly for a writer who would attain Disch’s stature. The whimsical “Dangerous Flags” is a hoot. Many of the other stories are fair to good. To my mind only “The Return of the Medusae,” weighing in at a mere two pages, has a breath of mystery to it.

Lovecraft is another favorite; I read the five books by him I had, one per year, and in March bought two more to keep me going. The title novella is a 141-page dream adventure starring Randolph Carter, with no dialogue until the end and no chapter breaks; it’s appropriately strange and lovely, but conversely hard to get invested in. The remaining five stories also involve dream worlds. Worthwhile if, like me, you’re doing a deeper dive into HPL.

The essays in Benchley’s second book, from 1922, already mark him as a very funny stylist and observer of life, whether he’s writing about neighbors offering unsolicited advice as he tries to garden, contradictory exhortations from the stands during baseball games and the mental gymnastics required to translate Roman numerals. (The title, like ones to follow, gives no hint of its contents.)

“Love Conquers All” has the added bonus of a long section of his literary pieces, many of them very loose reviews of books nobody else would review, such as a train timetable, “Bricklaying in Modern Practice” and “The Effective Speaking Voice.”

I bought that one in 2001 at Pasadena’s Book Alley, the Bradbury in 1991 at Santa Rosa’s Treehorn Books, Disch in 2013 at Goleta’s Paperback Alley, Lovecraft at LA’s Last Bookstore and Heinlein sometime in the 2000s.

How was your October, reading-wise? Please let us know in the comments.

Next month: new, different authors.

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Column: Winner of church car raffle feels driven to volunteer

Sometimes one column leads to another. In July I wrote about the efforts at St. George Catholic Church in Ontario to raise money to repair the roof of its 1923 building, the next major part of which was a car raffle. The woman who won the raffle proved to be a good story in herself, a very active volunteer at the church who is of modest means and who bought a single $5 ticket. Corrina Garcia is the subject of my Friday column.

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Restaurant of the Week: Schaefer’s Food N Drinks

Schaefer’s Food N Drinks, 6939 Schaefer Ave. (at Euclid), Chino; open 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Schaefer’s opened over the summer, and a source at City Hall soon recommended the tacos. A few weeks later, when I was in Chino for my book talk, a friend brought up Schaefer’s and said it was a burger place. Realizing it was lunchtime, I decided to head over.

It’s in a new Stater Bros. center large enough to have several other eateries and businesses. Across Schaefer to the north are crops, and in fact the whole area is caught in an interesting transition, with a lot of empty land, some new tract homes and some farmland. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Schaefer’s is a new venture by Joe and Angie Guillen, who did catering for 30 years before opening a restaurant, according to a story posted inside. It’s a sit-down restaurant with a full bar and which features “from-scratch recipes,” a sign proclaims.

The menu has burgers and Mexican food, which is how it could be described as specializing in either, plus salads, sandwiches and a full breakfast menu that includes menudo. That first visit, I had the Frisco burger, one-third pound on parmesan cheese bread ($12), very good, plus thick-cut fries. It was very filling.

Figuring I should give the other half of the equation a try, I returned for a carne asada burrito ($7.50) on a lunch break. The lunch pricing means you get a drink, in my case an iced tea, for only $1 more. That’s a good deal. The burrito was rather light on the carne asada and I wasn’t impressed. But that’s okay. I think Schaefer’s is a winner.

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LA County Arboretum

I’d never been to the L.A. County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia until October, when a friend and I met up there after years of idle talk. We met shortly after the 9 a.m. opening on a Saturday that promised to hit triple digits and did by the time we left around noon.

In the meantime, we paid our $9 admissions and wandered portions of the 127-acre grounds. The Arboretum was established in 1948 on Lucky Baldwin’s old spread. Paved paths wind past trees, flowers and native plants, as well as a pond and the Queen Anne home, formerly Baldwin’s, that became famous due to TV’s “Fantasy Island.” Baldwin also imported Australian peafowl. Descendants roam as well, a fun sight even if none displayed its colors for us.

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Column: Jack Smith didn’t win a Pulitzer, only a ‘Pullet Surprise’

A short tribute to the late Times columnist Jack Smith and his book “How to Win a Pullet Surprise” begins Sunday’s column, followed by a bunch of Culture Corner items and a Valley Vignette.

The Smith item, by the way, wasn’t especially premeditated; I cranked it out one afternoon a couple of weeks ago in some spare time and set it aside for when I needed something to fill space. It came in handy to lead off a column at the end of this busy week, and besides, it’s past time my admiration for Smith’s work was expressed at some length in print — not that it’s a secret to regular readers of this blog.

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Restaurant of the Week: Frary Dining Hall, Pomona College

Fray Dining Hall, Pomona College, 347 E. 6th St., Claremont; open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with afternoon breaks

I’ve made a slow circuit of the dining halls of the Claremont Colleges, hitting Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer and Scripps over the past few years. Since they’re open to the public, they’re fair game for a Restaurant of the Week.

The food at all the above is pretty good and varied too, with potentially more vegetarian and vegan options than many restaurants, thanks to the ethical, philosophical and gastronomic attitudes of the college population. And the chance to mix in a collegiate environment may be a nostalgic experience for post-collegians. The dining is almost certainly better than you remembered.

Pomona College’s Frary Hall (hours and menus here) is the granddaddy of the dining halls, opened as it was in 1929. I went there for lunch recently with two friends, one of them a colleges employee.

The environment is the best of the dining halls, a grand space with cream walls, dark wood and a soaring, arched ceiling. It’s the Hogwarts of the Inland Valley. (A Potter fan might really like a meal here.) And you get to see the “Prometheus” mural by Jose Clemente Orozco.

My friend said Frary has the worst food of all the colleges. And the choices that day did not inspire: not one but two nacho bars (if there was a difference, we failed to discern it), pizza and dim sum. Meanwhile, over at Pitzer, they were feasting on blackened pork loin with nectarine avocado salsa and broccoli.

We had nachos and dim sum, which consisted of vegetable spring rolls, pork siew mai, cha su bao and meatless Hoisin meatballs, with three dipping sauces.

It was all acceptable, and washed down with papaya mango iced tea. Dessert offerings consisted of cookies and fried cheesecake. I’ve seen soft serve, hand-scooped premium ice cream, brownies, pastries and more at other colleges. As the president might tweet about the photo below: “Sad!”

Still, for $14 for a visitor, the price for an all-you-can-eat buffet is all right, and the quality beats the inedible Hometown Buffet by a mile. But Frary might be due for an upgrade.

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