Reading Log: February 2018

Books acquired: “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures,” Ben Bradlee; “We’ll Always Have Casablanca,” Noah Isenberg; “Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California,” Adam Arenson

Books read: “The Left Hand of Darkness,” Ursula K. Le Guin; “Gather, Darkness!” Fritz Leiber; “Lest Darkness Fall,” L. Sprague de Camp; “A Scanner Darkly,” Philip K. Dick

February was a dark month on the ol’ Reading Log, and not just because of Punxsatawney Phil, who predicted six more weeks of winter. (I don’t know how Pennsylvania is faring, but more winter has proved true for Southern California.) No, it was also a dark month because all four books had “dark” in the title.

Man, I had meant to read these precise books the past six years or so but didn’t get around to it, a testament to my deep backlog of unread books. “Lest Darkness Fall,” inspired by “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” has been waiting since I read Twain’s classic in April 2011.

(Incidentally, a couple of years ago I mentioned the title of Twain’s novel to a bookish friend in his mid-30s and he had never heard of it, nor could he wrap his mind around the title: “A what? Say that again. ‘A Connecticut’ what?” He broke up laughing. Huh.)

Anyway, this was a strong month. All four books were very good to excellent.

Le Guin’s 1969 novel has become a classic. (I owned it as a teen, sold it without ever attempting it in one of my frequent book purges, and bought it again a decade ago.) An emissary of a confederation of planets lands on one whose leaders either don’t believe him or see no reason to join up. The visitor slowly realizes how little he understands and how his prejudices are getting in the way of his own acceptance of these other-worlders, whose genders alter every month. A beautifully written, strangely enveloping novel.

Leiber’s 1950 novel is said to be his first good one. I admit I bought this ’60s copy because it was so well-preserved. A holy war between priests and witches isn’t what it seems on either side. Full of strong and slightly mysterious characters and visual writing. I read his “Best of Fritz Leiber” and “A Pail of Air” story collections in 2015 and became an admirer.

In de Camp’s 1941 novel, a scholar of the ancient world is hurled from the 20th century back to 6th century Italy, where he introduces innovations like the telegraph and “predicts” future events, and thus tries single-handedly to prevent the Dark Ages from falling. An early alternate-history novel, this owes a lot to Twain, but de Camp uses less satire, more plain humor and a deep knowledge of his subject. A lot of fun, and at 208 pages it gallops along quite unlike a lot of stately SF novels.

(By the way, Lyon Sprague de Camp once said he saw little need to write under an assumed name because his given name sounded more like a pseudonym than most pseudonyms.)

Finally, Dick’s 1977 novel, which was adapted for a 2006 film by Richard Linklater. I saw that movie and stuck my ticket stub inside the front cover of my unread copy. Nearly 12 years later, I finally read the book and used the stub as my bookmark.

In near-future Southern California, the drug Substance D is burning out the brains of the addicted, which is almost everyone, including those assigned to entrap them. One undercover agent is so undercover, he’s tasked with spying on himself, and that’s only one twist in this classic of paranoia, government surveillance and the dark side of the ’60s. Both absurdist and tragic, this late-period novel is one of PKD’s best and most personal.

These “dark” books made for an unusually strong month, as I said, one that leaves me lighter of spirit. It felt good to get all of these out of the way after intending so long to read them. Ditto with the “shadow”-titled books of January.

I can no longer remember where or when I bought these, other than de Camp coming from Brand Books in Glendale and Le Guin from Ralph’s Comic Corner in Ventura, and all of them falling into my hands in the first decade of this century.

That’s enough from me. How was your February, readers? Post away below.

Next month: a hornbook, a guidebook, and regular books too.

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Column: Fan’s website for Grauman’s cements its lore

I met Grauman’s Chinese Theatre fan Kurt Wahlner in Pomona in January for the neon dragon christening. We had a nice chat, aided by the tidbit that a lot of the research on his graumanschinese.org website was done at the Pomona Public Library (long may it wave).

I took his photo by the neon dragon, thinking he might make a good column. Upon further reflection, meeting him at Grauman’s itself seemed like a better photo opp and a chance to go into more depth on the subject. And so, Wahlner and his website are the subject of Sunday’s column.

The first and only film I saw at the theater was 1996’s “Independence Day,” when my parents were in town on vacation. (According to Wahlner’s site, it played five weeks.) I meant to mention that in the column but forgot. So I definitely needed a refresher on the theater, which my meet-up with Wahlner provided.

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Column: Home Savings financier banked on beauty

Painter Millard Sheets was also the designer of the classic Home Savings thrift branches, a career that is explored in a new book, “Banking on Beauty.” I write about that book and that work in Friday’s column. Above, the former Home Savings at Second and Garey in downtown Pomona, now owned by Western University of Health Sciences with Chase Bank on the lower level.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cross Court Cafe

Cross Court Cafe, 3410 Pomona Blvd. (at Temple), Pomona; open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Pomona is home to many wonders, among them the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club, which contains the Cross Court Cafe, a rare spot for Indonesian food. I wouldn’t have known any of this if LA Weekly, of all places, hadn’t written a restaurant review about it that was forwarded to me by a reader.

Looking for a place to meet a Chino Hills friend (everyone should have a Chino Hills friend), I picked the cafe near Cal Poly Pomona. Once through the doors, non-members have to be buzzed in — just say “restaurant” or “cafe” — and the cafe is down the hall. It’s an unprepossessing place, a few tables embossed with the club log, a paper menu taped to the wall and an order window. The couple who runs the cafe will probably be found seated in the dining area but will scurry to assist you.

Indonesian fried rice is the item to get ($7.50), a melange of sausage, pork and fried egg in a crispy rice with bits of garlic, shrimp paste and fish sauce. This was hearty and very tasty. We also had stir fry noodle ($6), not bad, and steamed egg custard buns ($3), a dessert we liked. I had a taro smoothie ($4) and she had a passion fruit green tea ($2.25).

Three weeks later, I had to be at Cal Poly for an interview about its mariachi ensembles and used that as an excuse to go back to Cross Court Cafe. This time I had pad see ew ($8), or maybe an Indonesian dish similar to pad see ew — it wasn’t clear and it wasn’t on the menu. That was good too, and I got a milk tea with boba ($2.75). But if I return, it will be for the Indonesian fried rice.

The cafe seems to be open much of the day and into the evening, except for a break in the afternoon. I was there past closing without realizing it and the cafe owner let me out.

It’s possible, I think, to rent a court as a non-member, but we didn’t try. It was fun to watch people play for a few moments who know what they’re doing.

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Two views of Magu

The painter and sculptor Gilbert “Magu” Lujan was featured in my “Pomona A to Z” series of columns in 2004, representing the letter M. A pioneering figure in the Chicano art movement, and in later years a resident of the Pomona Arts Colony, he died in 2011. But he’s still remembered.

Lujan’s work was the subject of a PST: LA/LA show, and across from the dA Center for the Arts in downtown Pomona, a utility box’s mural pays homage. See above. I suspect the (Grauman’s?) dragon is a reference to his most-seen work, the Hollywood-themed decor of the Hollywood and Vine Metro station. Magu’s pose is clearly based on the portrait by my colleague Will Lester for my column about him, which is included in my “Pomona A to Z” book. If the artist’s name turns up, I’ll credit him/her.

Update: Antonio Mejia is the name of the painter. Thanks to Chris Toovey for the credit.

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Restaurant of the Week: Nuno’s Bistro

Nuno’s Bistro, 2440 W. Arrow Route (at Monte Vista), Upland; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday

Nuno’s is Claremont-adjacent, and probably considered Claremont by most who visit and Montclair by many of the rest; it’s in the College Park center that also has a Legends, Bakers, Juancho’s and Noodle World Jr.

Nuno’s is an offshoot of the definitely-Claremont Euro Cafe up on Base Line, which specializes in Portuguese food. Nuno’s, run by the family’s son, is a more elegant version with table service. Pronunciation note: There’s no tilde in the name, which should be pronounced “noo-nose.”

I’d seen it and heard good things, but on my occasional cheap, solo dinners in the center, I would look in at the dimly lighted Nuno’s, see couples and groups drinking wine and being convivial, and decide it was not for the likes of me. A convivial friend who’s been there a few times with his wife said my sense of the scene was accurate. But he and I recently met up there for lunch, which is more my speed.

It’s a modernist space, all high ceilings, bare floors and art on the walls, with a three-sided bar and light pouring in during the day. The menu, which doesn’t seem to be on the Nuno’s website no matter how many times you click on the “menu” tab, has a sort of generalized European fare, with breakfast, tapas, pizzas, salads and sandwiches. Lunch specials range from $25 to $36, so prepare yourself accordingly.

But there is lower-priced fare for the wage-slave budget. I had the crepe marieke ($11), with crimini mushrooms, spinach and cheese inside a buckwheat crepe, a fried egg on top and truffle oil drizzle. I liked how it sounded and liked how it tasted. This came with a side of fruit: grapes, strawberries, blackberries and melon, a refreshing accompaniment.

My friend had the BLAT ($14), with applewood-smoked bacon, tomato relish and levain bread, not to mention L and A. He liked it, singling out the “hot snap” of the piri piri aioli. (“Piri piri aioli” is so fun to type I’m doing it again.)

Of the dinners, he said he’s liked the patatas bravas, thought the charcuterie was OK and didn’t like the paella.

Let me note, too, that the service was of the friendly but low-key quality one rarely encounters in these parts.

I’m glad I gave Nuno’s a try. It’s one of the better local restaurants. And lunch is relaxed enough that your casual, low-budget and not so convivial columnist may return.

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Column: At German eatery, owner’s jokes are the wurst

Kristine Konefat boxes up a strudel for customer Jack Cohen at Upland German Deli, the area’s sole German restaurant. (Photo by David Allen)

They’ve been serving up German food at Upland German Deli since 1977. And the owner loves kidding her customers — although she’s so straight-faced, sometimes they don’t know it. (Ask for a to-go box and see what happens.) I’ve been meaning to introduce myself to the owners and interview them ever since I got back from Germany last August. Last week I finally got around to it, a story that is told in Wednesday’s column.

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