Reading Log: March 2016

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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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Snack attack

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A gift basket of Frito-Lay items was delivered to our newsroom during my vacation. This was in response to my item March 27 about the Frito-Lay plant across the street from our Rancho Cucamonga office constructing an eight-story warehouse for its snack products prior to distribution. An editor kindly locked the basket in her office until my return today.

I’m not a big snacker, and even if I were I couldn’t eat all this, so I set it out for the staff, after taking a couple of items for later consumption. We’ll consider the basket a welcome gift from our new neighbors. No word yet on my idea of a chute to connect the warehouse to our breakroom…

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Restaurant of the Week: Hamburger Mary’s

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Hamburger Mary’s, 3550 Porsche Way (at Inland Empire), Ontario; open daily

The existence of a Hamburger Mary’s in Ontario may say something interesting about the Inland Empire market. The gay-friendly chain has locations in West Hollywood, San Francisco, where it started, and Long Beach — and, since August 2015, Ontario. (As well as a few other metro areas around the country.)

Ours is near the 10 Freeway off Inland Empire Boulevard, a little east of Haven and within hailing distance of Benihana. It’s a restaurant with a full bar and, most nights, drag shows or other entertainment. Like I said, it’s something relatively unusual in these parts.

Uninterested in drag shows or bars, I met a friend there for a sedate weekday lunch after a local restaurateur told me the burgers were amazing. The restaurant interior resembles a Marie Callender’s and was quiet for lunch, evidently not the case in the evenings.

It’s worth noting that upon our entrance, two employees by the greeter station continued their conversation without acknowledging us — we must have arrived at an inopportune time for them — but a server hustled over to seat us.

The menu has appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps and, naturally, burgers, which can be ordered as ground chuck, chicken, turkey, ahi tuna, salmon or black bean vegan. I got the Meaty Mushroom Burger ($13), my friend had the chipotle chicken wrap ($10).

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The wrap (grilled chicken, mixed greens, cheddar jack cheese, black beans, avocado and dressing), with a side of cole slaw, was deemed acceptable. “It’s hard to get excited about a chicken wrap,” my friend admitted.

My burger (half-pound ground chuck, grilled mushrooms, cheddar and jack, lettuce and tomato) was very good, and a little messy. The bun didn’t seem firm enough; after cutting the sandwich in half, I had to eat each half fairly quickly to hold it together. The seasoned fries as my side were above average.

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Mary’s has a bar island in the middle, a few sofas besides all the booths and tables, and kitschy decor that includes photos of Marilyn and Audrey Hepburn, posters from “Casablanca” and “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman,” stuff like that. The bill arrived in a high-heeled shoe. Heh.

Hamburger Mary’s was all right, and it’s got arguably the best burger in Ontario (but not the Inland Valley). It’s not really my kind of place, I don’t think, but it might be yours.

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On vacation

I’m away from work this week, burning up my birthday and anniversary holidays from work and three vacation days. Efficient, eh? More bang for the buck.

That said, a Wednesday column will appear, written last Friday, and a Restaurant of the Week will pop up on Thursday as usual. I’ve been a little backlogged on those, to the extent that last week’s restaurant turned out to have closed between my visit (mid-February), preparation of the post (late February) and publication (late March). So I’ll go ahead and run the one that’s ready to go and hit the ground eating when I get back.

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Restaurant of the Week: Souvlla Greek Grill

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CLOSED

Souvlla Greek Grill, 1945 N. Campus Ave. (at 19th), Upland; open daily

In mid-February, finding myself near the Colonies Crossroads Center and very hungry, I went looking for food. I pulled into the western half of the center with the intention of going to zPizza, and that’s when I saw Souvlla. I’d heard about it back when it opened, in 2014, and then, as sometimes happens, forgot the whole thing. Rather than go to the familiar pizza place, this was definitely worth a try.

It was past 8:30 p.m., which is about the time the Inland Valley goes to sleep, but Souvlla would be open until 9, so I went in.

The menu has gyro sandwiches, salads, plates and a list of sides, rice bowls and burritos (!). It’s not traditional Greek, clearly. I got a gyros plate ($11) with lamb, rice and a salad. As a fan of Greek food, I thought this was decent, comparable to Cafe Moderno in Montclair or Saca’s in Claremont. That said, I was nonplussed to see the option of a pork gyro instead of lamb and am not sure what to make of it.

A few minutes before 9 p.m., the music was shut off, a sign that we shouldn’t get too comfortable. It was me at one table and three people, who’d arrived after me, at another. We left at the same time about 10 minutes later. But I understood: The Inland Valley needs its beauty sleep.

Update: Before this post could be published, the restaurant closed.

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Millard Sheets’ (and a copyist’s) ‘Angels Flight’

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Leaving the Pomona City Clerk’s office a few weeks back, I was surprised to see a copy of local boy Millard Sheets’ famous 1931 painting “Angels Flight” on a wall. It’s a crude version of the original, below, which is in the collection of LACMA. Here’s an appreciation from the LAObserved blog. There were student paintings hanging elsewhere on City Hall’s second floor and this might be part of that effort; an even cruder “Angels Flight” was among them.

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