Friday, July 19, 2013

I'm back...and I read some books while I wasn't here

So, I'm back.

It's been a month, exactly, as it turns out. A month without Internet access. A month of mostly really hot weather here. A month of rarely going anywhere except to go to CVP to do volunteer work or to the grocery store. A very rare early morning or late evening walk over to 7-11, because it's been too hot the rest of the time. That's about it.

So, what have I been doing?

I've been reading. A lot. Fourteen books in the month. 5,638 pages.

I haven't gone on a reading binge like this in ages. As much as I love to read, I'm sort of selective about what I read (although you probably wouldn't think so by the list of things I've been reading), and many times I can't manage to find anything I really want to read in that quick a succession. I think I've only started one book that I didn't finish in the month, and it really must have not made much of an impression because, sitting here, I can't recall what it was.

These are the books I've read while I've been away from here:

1) On the Trail of the Assassin, by Jim Garrison (1988; 406 pages) NF - purportedly
2) Private Eyes, by Jonathan Kellerman (1992; 525 pages) F
3) The Hard Way, by Lee Child (2006; 477 pages) F
4) Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960s, by William L. O'Neill (1971; 442 pages) NF
5) Terminal Freeze, by Lincoln Child (2009: 429 pages) F
6) Bare Bones, by Kathy Reichs (2003; 383 pages) F
7) The Family, by Ed Sanders (1971; 323 pages) NF
8) Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry (1974; 502 pages) NF
9) Kingdom Coming, by Michelle Goldberg (2006; 242 pages) NF
10) A Wanted Man, by Lee Child (2012; 405 pages) F
11) Anarchy Evolution, by Greg Graffin and Steve Olson (2010; 290 pages) NF
12) Deception, by Jonathan Kellerman (2010; 332 pages) F
13) Lies (And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them), by Al Franken (2003; 379 pages) NF
14) Danse Macabre, by Stephen King (1983; 437 pages) NF

I call Garrison's book "purportedly" non-fiction because it presents one particular conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy's assassination, the one championed by Garrison himself. He presents it as the truth, but it is not widely accepted as fact, not least because by the end of it he manages to throw in just about everything but the kitchen sink. It is an interesting book, however, even if one does not accept the theory he outlines. It was one of the main sources for Oliver Stone's film "JFK", which in itself makes it an interesting book. It is probably so much hokum, but I'm not sorry I read it.

I'm not sorry I read any of these books, and I'm really glad that I discovered a couple of them. Some were re-reads, although at least one of them - Deception - was not a deliberate re-read; I realized about a third of the way through that I had read it before. Another of the re-reads - Helter Skelter - was a re-re-re-re-re-read. It's a book I've read every two or three years since I first read it in 1976. Scariest book I've ever read, honestly, because of my proximity to the Spahn Ranch when Charlie Manson was living there and sending out his killing parties (I was in junior high at the time, and lived 7.8 miles - according to Google Maps - from Spahn).

Probably the most surprising book, and maybe my favorite discovery of the summer, was Anarchy Evolution. Greg Graffin is the founder of a punk band, Bad Religion, as well as a PhD in zoology who has taught at UCLA and Cornell University. It's an interesting combination, and he has some interesting things to say. I have to admit that I'm not familiar with his music, since I haven't ever been much of a punk fan. But if his music is as interesting as his writing is, I'm going to have to do some exploring, I think.

A couple of the books I read have to do with history and politics in the US. Coming Apart looks at the United States in the 1960s, and the thing that makes it interesting is that it was written shortly after the Sixties ended. I found it fascinating to contrast the writer's outlook on the Sixties with the conventional wisdom about that era today. Also interesting for approximately the same reason is Al Franken's book, which was written after 9/11 but before the end of George W. Bush's first term in office as President of the United States. The first thing that is interesting to me is that he was writing the book from outside the political establishment in Washington, but he is now a US senator from Minnesota. He's part of the system now. Also interesting are his takes on some issues and people in light of the events that have occurred since the book was published. The book is also fun simply because before he was a politician, Franken was a comic, and some of his commentary in the book is very, very funny even as it is relevant to the time it was written.

I don't have that much to say about the fiction I've been reading. Kellerman and his Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis novels are old friends. On the other hand, I've just discovered Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. I wasn't sure I would like his writing when I started reading The Hard Way, but within just a few pages I was hooked. On the other hand Terminal Freeze, by Lincoln Child (no relation to Lee, as far as I know), was my least favorite of the books I've read in the past month. I'm not saying that it was not a good book, or that it was a bad book. It was a little more predictable than I would have liked. But I finished it, and I'm not accustomed to reading through entire books that don't engage me by, say, page fifty or so.

Danse Macabre was another re-read. This is another book I re-read every few years or so. I think Stephen King is a terrific writer, for all the fact that I don't read all of his fiction and that I think he could do with an assertive editor from time to time (certainly not always, however). I like the way that reading his writing is almost always like sitting and having a conversation, and this comes through most strongly in his non-fiction. This book is a discussion of all things horror in the years 1950 through 1980 (although he takes a few detours further back in the history of the genre). He knows his subject well, and he writes about it a thoroughly engaging way (although he would probably disagree with my use of the word "thoroughly"; he writes in another of his non-fiction books, On Writing, that "ly" words are not the writer's friend). I've learned a lot about writing from reading Danse Macabre, and also from reading On Writing, although I haven't quite absorbed his advice about those "ly" adverbs just yet.

So. As I said, I'm back, and Internet gods willing and the creek don't rise, I'm back on a regular basis. It's been difficult not being able to blog in the past month. So much has been going on in the world. I might still write about some of those going forward; some of those situations are ongoing and even some of those that aren't are probably still worth kicking around a little bit.

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