Reading Log: April 2021

Books acquired: “West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire,” Kevin Waite; “Is This Anything?” Jerry Seinfeld; “Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing,” Peter Guralnick

Books read: “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” David Sedaris; “Becoming Ray Bradbury,” Jonathan R. Eller; “Our Towns: A 10,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,” James Fallows and Deborah Fallows; “Tarzan the Terrible” (Tarzan No. 8), Edgar Rice Burroughs; “A Tan and Sandy Silence” (Travis McGee No. 13), John D. MacDonald

Happy May, book mavens! We’ve made it through four months of 2021 and things are looking up. I’ve had both my vaccinations, with full effect a week away, and of late have resumed sitting indoors at coffeehouses and restaurants when weather drives me indoors. Like Sunday afternoon, as I write this, when it’s 61 degrees and overcast. It’s nice to have an indoor option again besides my house.

I read five books in April, just as I did in January, February and March, illustrating the steady-state theory of book completion. My five include my monthly Burroughs and MacDonald novels and nonfiction books about cities, a favorite author and an amusing fellow’s life. You may well have read the latter yourself.

“Me Talk Pretty” (2000): The first half is largely about his American life up until middle age, the second about finding true love, moving to France and attempting to adapt and learn the language. Thankfully, that still leaves room for how he flunked a Mensa test, his father’s inability to throw away food and a bowel movement that won’t flush. I listened to the audiobook for most of this, but the print version has a few essays not on audio, and the audio has a couple of extra bits that aren’t in print. Listening to Sedaris read his own work was a treat.

“Becoming Ray Bradbury” (2011): This is a biography focused on his life and writing, but mostly about his writing, through 1953. For admirers only, and as one, I have mixed feelings. At many points I thought, I do not need to know which books Ray bought in 1943, or about what he gushed in a letter to Henry Kuttner in 1944. That said, I finished it, I do have a better understanding of his progression as a writer through “Fahrenheit 451,” and the completist in me may well read the next two books, which cover the rest of his life and career. But not right now.

“Our Towns” (2018): With the federal government gridlocked and aiming low, this journalist couple, traveling by small plane and powered by curiosity (and craft brews), visit small cities and towns that are where the vanguard of change is occurring. There may be a few too many municipalities featured and the details get repetitive. But this is an earnest, optimistic rejoinder to those who think the only examples of reinvention are in major coastal cities. Also, for us locals, the chapters on Riverside, San Bernardino and Redlands are a draw. I listened to the audiobook because the husband and wife authors read it, charmingly.

“Tarzan the Terrible” (1921): A continuation/wrap-up of “Tarzan the Untamed,” this eighth novel has adventure, strange races, the hunt for the missing Jane and a ride on the back of a dinosaur. Also, many confusingly similar names. Not as strong as “Untamed,” but fun. This isn’t his fault, but the back cover gives away the identity of a figure ERB carefully left unnamed until four pages from the end. I would have screamed the cry of the maddened bull ape but didn’t want to alarm the neighbors.

“Tan and Sandy” (1971): Travis McGee, who’s seemed to be on the sunny side of 30 up to this point, begins wondering here in Book 13 if he’s losing his edge. MacDonald still had his, fortunately: We’re 1/3 of the way in before it’s even clear there’s a mystery to solve. It’s a good one, and McGee is put to the test. Also, regarding his penchant for “saving” women with a broken wing, therapy that involves bedding them, McGee calls himself on his own BS, a welcome surprise.

Sedaris is the winner this month, with the McGee a close second.

When did these books fall into my clutching hands? Sedaris was bought in, gulp, 2002 at the Claremont McKenna Athenaeum after a talk by the author and it’s signed to me — after I told him I write three columns per week, he wrote: “To David, I feel for you.” Tarzan was bought in 2011 at St. Louis’ Book House. Bradbury was a gift in 2012. “Our Towns” came free with a conference in Ontario in 2018 that I attended purely to hear the authors, who signed my book, Redlands native Jim writing “From a fellow Inland Empire writer.” McGee was bought in 2019 at Goleta’s Paperback Alley.

Note that two of these were “read” largely via audio, one in late March/early April and the other in mid-April. Listening to books in my car has been a neat way to squeeze in one or two extra books, and also to knock off, in this month’s case, two books I wasn’t sure when I’d get to in print; instead, they could be put in the “read” category with little effort on my part. I like it.

As for Burroughs and MacDonald, whose books I’ve been reading this year at a one-a-month pace, it was touch-and-go in April. Mired in the Tarzan novel for nine days, I decided to jettison my regimen during May; then I zipped through the McGee in five days and reconsidered. Lots of excitement and cliffhangers here in the Reading Log, eh? For May I’m likely to read both authors, even though they take up half of each month. I may have to put one or the other on hold at some point or I’ll never read the 900-page “Writing LA” anthology, or much of anything else. But I’ll keep going for now.

What about you all? How was your April of reading, not to mention your April of life? Update us in the comments, please. Behind every Reading Log comment is a person who cares.

Next month: A return to Barsoom and a visit to the International Space Station.

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Column: Rooster figure offers something to crow about

After an item last month about a rooster figure atop an Upland grain elevator in the 1960s and ’70s, a few readers pointed out other examples of fiberglass poultry in the area. I round those up, so to speak, for Friday’s column, along with news of a penny found in a real chicken, a local woman on “Wheel of Fortune” and the haves and have nots of Chino Hills.

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Column: Song about wine has notes of Cucamonga

I use the excuse of the Filippi Winery news of last month to resurrect the story of the Grateful Dead song, “Pride of Cucamonga,” that takes its name from a Filippi product. It could’ve been a paragraph, but since it’s been, gulp, 16 years since I last wrote about this bit of immortality, might as well drag it into the sunlight again for a new generation. Also, more about the old days of wine-tasting in the Inland Valley, a centenarian in Fontana gets the COVID vaccine and a virtual talk will explore Pomona’s LGBTQ history. All of this is in Friday’s column. Now how much would you pay?

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