Usually I attend only one Montclair City Council meeting per year, but here I’ve gone to two in a row. At the first one, some council members reversed their decision on a 30 percent raise to return to the original proposal of 55 percent. Monday night they made it official — with two dissenters. I report out from the entertaining meeting in Wednesday’s column.
Books acquired: none
Books read: “Pale Gray for Guilt,” John D. MacDonald; “The Shadow of Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer; “Glimpses,” Lewis Shiner; “Beginning to See the Light,” Ellen Willis
Greetings, aesthetes! (It sounds better than “nerds,” doesn’t it?) Welcome to this blog’s first Reading Log of 2018.
I started the year off with a quartet of books I’d been planning but failing to read for a few years, all with a kind of shadowy, half-seen tint to the titles. Like life, but unlike old movies, it was not a black and white month.
First up was my first Travis McGee mystery since 2014. Sheesh, I liked the idea of reading at least one per year, but the seroes got away from me. But here was Book 9 (of 21) waiting for me. McGee calls himself a salvage expert: He goes after things of value that are considered irretrievable, and claims half if successful. Then he returns to his boat-bum lifestyle in Florida, taking his retirement in installments, as he puts it, until the next case comes along.
“Pale Gray” involves real estate speculation and stock market scams, which get a bit complex. On the other hand, because the case concerns a dead friend, McGee is an avenging angel. He also suffers in various ways for his otherwise-envious lifestyle, making this entry more emotional and vulnerable than usual. First published in 1968, the attitudes in “Guilt” like the others can be a little dated. But MacDonald sure can write. In fact, there’s a fine maxim in it: “In any emotional conflict, the thing you find hardest to do is the thing you should do.” Chew on that.
Next up was the 11th (of 14) books in the Fu Manchu series, which I’ve been reading intermittently since roughly the Civil War, or so it seems sometimes. This one was published in 1948, 35 years after the first (and 11 years before the last), and by this point Fu Manchu and his nemesis, Sir Denis Nayland Smith, are practically old friends.
The plot involves a device under development that could disintegrate metal, which of course would include most weaponry, and thus is of great interest to America’s enemies. In attempting to foil the communists from seizing this mighty “transmuter,” the devil doctor is practically the savior of mankind. Oh, Fu, we hardly knew ye.
“Glimpses,” from 1993, won the World Fantasy Award, but it’s basically “High Fidelity” with a dose of magic realism. A rock ‘n’ roll friend recommended this years ago, it was duly placed on my want list and, years later, a bookstore browse finally turned up a copy — autographed, no less.
The late-30s protagonist of this novel set in the late ’80s tried to belatedly grow up while also engaging in wish fulfillment by hallucinating great lost albums by the Beach Boys, Doors and Hendrix into reality (or not). Recommended for music nerds — sorry, aesthetes. I’m one and I was enthralled.
Lastly, “Beginning to See the Light,” from 1992, is a collection of ’66-’79 essays on rock music, current events, women’s rights and Jewishness by Ellen Willis, one of the first rock music critics. She went on to write on other topics, as can be seen above, and became newly appreciated when much of her work was reissued after her 2006 death.
Some of these essays are dated, of course, but they reflect their times and offer a perspective on the ’60s, often from the vantage point of the ’70s, by someone who was there and lamented how others came to dismiss the era. Many of the essays are still relevant, sometimes depressingly so. (Peace in the Middle East, for one, seemed quite possible four decades ago.) Willis’ prose is dense but clearly reasoned and stated; she argues her positions well. Favorite essay title: “Abortion: Is a Woman a Person?,” wherein she tackles various anti-abortion arguments and (in my view) demolishes them. See above for her continuing relevance. The book left me wanting to read more by her.
As for where these books came from, MacDonald was bought in 2011 at North Hollywood’s Iliad Books and Willis in 2013 from Glendale’s Brand Books (RIP). The other two were probably bought in the mid-2000s, prior to the blog, the Rohmer possibly from eBay and “Glimpses” from Glendale’s Book Fellows (also RIP).
It was satisfying finally getting to these books. The good feeling should continue for a while, as February’s books are also going to be ones I’ve meant to read for quite some time (six years, in one case), and that theme may continue into mid-year, unless something comes up that needs to be read for work or I’m otherwise derailed.
How is your new year starting, and what did you read in January? Post away.
Next month: Hello, darkness, my old friend.
Sunday’s column begins with an update on Pomona’s Magic Door Books, which is still open even though the plan was to close at the end of 2017. Then I sock you with some Culture Corner items and more, ending with a Valley Vignette.
I attended Wednesday night’s appearance at Scripps College by Krista Suh, the driving force behind the pussyhat movement. And beforehand I got to interview her for about 20 minutes. She’s the subject of my Friday column.
Tamsui River Taiwanese Cuisine, 2855 Foothill Blvd. (at Fulton), La Verne; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Tamsui River is on the old Person Ford site in La Verne, now apartments with some restaurants and retail facing Foothill Boulevard. The restaurant has gotten high marks, but I hadn’t been there until just before Christmas, when a Chinese food-lovin’ friend was in town and I suggested we try it out.
The L-shaped dining room is moderately sized, with an area separated by glass for a larger party. We were seated in a booth and examined the expansive menu of more than 100 items: soups, dumplings, noodles, seafood, etc.
We got sauteed lamb with scallions ($14, above), smoked duck noodle ($11) and pork soup dumplings ($9).
The lamb, similar to the cumin lamb that I’ve had elsewhere, was my favorite. We liked the XLB dumplings (below), even if they wouldn’t make me forget Din Tai Fung’s. We were surprised that smoked duck noodle came as a soup (bottom), since it wasn’t listed under soups, but there was nothing wrong with it.
The menu didn’t have photos of any dishes, so the names weren’t always a great help for two non-experts. And a few of the names were both puzzling and amusing, like “modeling dessert.”
Kidding aside, we liked the food. I wouldn’t say it’s San Gabriel Valley level, but for local Chinese, it’s in the upper ranks. As a foodie acquaintance who was leaving said as he passed our table, “This is a good place.”
Also, you know a Chinese restaurant is authentic when the menu isn’t online and they can’t be bothered to even have a Facebook page.
Ophelia’s Jump has gambled on presenting the sorts of modern, edgy plays common in LA and uncommon out here, and found success. Now they have a permanent space after bouncing among venues the past six years. I profile the couple behind the group and catch a dress rehearsal of “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” for Wednesday’s column.
Saturday afternoon I attended not one but two art openings. The first was at the Ontario Museum of History and Art, which is focusing on the latter for “Diversity and Inclusion.” Over four rooms, it’s got paintings, collages, drawings, sculpture, embroidery and probably something I forgot, all offering a look at the African-American experience.
It was well-attended, and at times the galleries were actually crowded. Probably half the attendees were black, a nice sight in Ontario and at a local art event. That and the strong turnout should be encouragement to do more such shows. Besides, most of the art was really strong.
After that, I headed for Cal Poly Pomona for “Positively 4th Street,” an ode in paintings, drawings, assemblages and text to LA’s 4th Street viaduct. It’s a small show, but likewise evocative. Below is Richard Willson’s “The Approach.” He and Roderick Smith did the art and D.J. Waldie provided text and an essay on the bridge’s history. I introduced myself to Waldie and got his autograph in my copy of “Holy Land.”
Find the exhibit on the 4th floor of the University Library through April 12.
All in all, a pleasant, visually stimulating afternoon across two counties.
Sometimes ideas get stashed away until the time is right: a local woman whom I knew had a connection to Mahatma Gandhi. I had hoped to pursue that last August, the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, but ran out of time. But the 70th anniversary of his assassination was another milestone. The woman behind the Upland angle is the subject of Sunday’s column.
A local woman was on “Jeopardy!” on Monday. She used to work here in our newsroom! Not surprisingly, then, she gave me an interview about the experience. After that come six Culture Corner items and a Valley Vignette, all in Friday’s column.
The State, 7900 Kew Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily
The Redlands gastropub The State (it’s on State Street) has expanded west to Victoria Gardens, where it took over the old Ra Pour space. Three friends and I had lunch there in December.
It’s a large spot with an oblong main dining room and then a patio. (It was a cold afternoon and we didn’t investigate the option when asked “would you like to eat outside?”) There’s a full, elaborate bar with cocktails and more. The motto: Kitchen * Beer * Whisk(e)y.”
Between the concrete floor and the cranked-up music, one friend said: “My first comment: ‘loud.'” We could hear him, though. And as at that point they were playing such soul oldies as “I’m Your Puppet,” “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” it wasn’t in me to object.
The menu has upscale versions of classic comfort food, but other items too: starters, salads, burgers, sandwiches, main courses and desserts. (One unappealingly named entree is Airline Chicken — although surely it’s a better version.)
Two got the portabella sandwich ($12), one with a salad as the side (free), the other with fries ($1). Both called it “average.” The bread looks great.
Another got steak and egg tacos ($8), which the server cautioned would be small as a main course. The warming proved accurate, although they were enjoyed.
I got the apple harvest salad with chicken ($11 + $4), light and tasty, and some of us shared the poutine ($13), the Canadian comfort food of fries topped with cheese curds, braised short ribs and gravy. That was a real winner. “I would definitely come back” and “delicious” were the comments.
Meanwhile, TVs silently played “Casablanca” — easy enough to fill in the dialogue on that — and other old movies or clips. Nice backdrop. The state of The State is strong.