Friday, March 21, 2014

An Experiment with a Reading List, Amidst Other Things

Today is my 30th birthday, which, outside of the pursuit of a steady career with a pension that I know is an important component of getting older, means that it's time to write what I really want to write, to pull my future books into the present. I have two immediate ideas for biographies, one about the relatively controversial making of one of the first movies I ever saw, when I was 5 years old, and two ideas for novels. I'm not sure where to begin yet, but I know that the facts I can get for one biography are near me in Boulder City, while seeking more information via e-mail, the only way to do this. I know that just like my first book, some of the research will be monotonous, but the ultimate goal matters most: I want to be published again by the time I'm 35. Originally, I wanted to be published by the time I turned 30, but existing in Southern California didn't inspire any movement toward that goal. Plus, there was the fervent desire to move from there, which, from 2007, took five years. That was also an emotionally taxing time. Here, in Southern Nevada, it's a lot easier to write, to be inspired by what's around me. The Las Vegas Valley doesn't close in around you. It gives you time and space to think about what you want to do, what you want to pursue, what you want to be. We may not have a solid core of community as others know it, but I like that people can simply be here, in any way they wish. And while I still don't like it, I'm gradually getting used to the transience around me. In fact, while a substitute aide at Nate Mack Elementary yesterday, doing recess field duty after my lunchtime, one of the kids I know from my day of being the substitute P.E. aide two weeks ago, came up to me to tell me that he and his parents are moving to Portland, Oregon during spring break.

Now, I've heard of people moving back to the east coast, moving to California, moving to Arizona, but this is the first I've heard of Portland, Oregon. An interesting change from the usual suspects, and from what I've heard of Portland, I think he's going to have a very interesting, creative childhood there.

Anyway, my main reason for this post is not only to say that I intend to continue my "Where Was I When I Read That?" series, but that I'm also going to start a new series, an idea I had this morning, looking at the bottom two shelves of books in my left-side bookcase at the side of my room. It's there that I have Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley, owing to my interest in piano jazz, that will also be a major focus in my life from now on, really all kinds of jazz, but more with the piano and saxophone.

This book was at the top of a list I created in my account on the Henderson Libraries website, which I was originally very much against being changed when they created a new design and system for the website. I thought the previous one, which I've ironically long forgotten, was better and more personal, more community-centered, but this one has worked out just as well. And just like Facebook keeps changing, I simply get used to it.

Before my family and I moved from Las Vegas to Henderson, I created a list in my Goodreads account called "Henderson Library Needs," which included books I had checked out in the Las Vegas-Clark County system, but didn't have a chance to read, though I still wanted to read them. And since the Henderson Libraries also had them, I could read them there, being that where I am in Henderson, I want to support the Henderson Libraries more.

After we moved, and after I got a Henderson library card, I found that I could make lists on this website of anything I wanted, be it books, DVDs, or jazz, though I haven't yet done the latter. And I decided to create a list called "Books to Put on Hold." It started out small, 10, 15 books at a time. Now it has 191 books, starting with Thelonious Monk, starting with the aforementioned book, sitting next to me under Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones, of which I'm on page 127. I deleted that Monk listing after I checked out that book, and so Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music by Thomas Fitterling now graces the top of the list.

A lot of these listings are based on passions of the moment. When Peter O'Toole died, I looked for his two autobiographies and found Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers. That's #6 on this list.

Further down the list is Moneywood: Hollywood in its Last Age of Excess by William Stadiem at #42, which I noticed in February when there was an Oscars-themed book display at the Green Valley Library that I kept restocking as a volunteer. While I don't write movie reviews anymore, I still study movie history. That is an inextricable part of my life.

And so on. Different books based on different interests, and all waiting to be read. Some are a block of related works, such as wildflowers, and others are one-off. And the list will surely grow. But even with that, I want to do something else new for this blog, that of writing about this list as I read either each book or two or more at a shot. I want to see if there is more to this list than just the obvious themes and interests, if they are related to each other more than those. It begins with Robin D.G. Kelley's biography of Monk, and we'll see what emerges as I read them in order. Some of them are also connected in a "Where Was I When I Discovered It?" kind of way, especially when I was a substitute library aide at different elementary schools and spotted some of these books. A few are part of the week that I ran the library at Lewis Rowe Elementary solo. I have plenty of stories about the pleasure of doing that.

Ultimately, I want to see how these books might be connected further. That, I think, will make this a lot of fun. Plus, it'll be a way to keep writing about books during those times that I'm in between book reviews. Not next week, though, since I have to read The Plover by Brian Doyle for an April 1 deadline for BookBrowse, but certainly afterward.

Monday, March 3, 2014

To Finish or Not to Finish?

If you don't like a book, don't finish it. Or skim through the rest to find out what happened for your own edification and then leave it behind forever.

It sounds easy, but not when you're devoted wholeheartedly to a character or a series, like I am to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, that seventh of a ton, orchid-loving, shut-in-by-choice gourmand. Oh, I like Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's legman, well enough, especially his love of milk, and all the stories are always from his perspective (I may be wrong about this, so be gentle if I am), but I love spending time in that Manhattan brownstone with its floors containing Nero Wolfe and Archie's office, Fritz Brenner's holiest-of-holy kitchen, with all the culinary masterpieces that emerge from it; Wolfe's and Archie's bedrooms, and, of course, the plant rooms where the orchids are, where, without fail, with some extreme exceptions (such as gunfire bursting through the plant rooms, decimating them), Wolfe is there from 9-11 a.m. and 4-6 p.m., all of it tended by his gardener, Theodore Horstmann.

I haven't yet read all of Rex Stout's journeys into one of my favorite worlds, nor have I read all of Robert Goldsborough's continuations, taken up 11 years after Stout died. I did read Goldsborough's first continuation, Murder in E Minor, but probably have to reread it again because I don't remember much about it. I do remember that it placed Wolfe and Archie in the 1970s, which was an interesting change. I loved his prequel to the series, Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, so I thought I'd have something to look forward to every time Goldsborough has a new Wolfe novel out, although Archie Meets Nero Wolfe was the first one since 1993.

His latest Wolfe novel is called Murder in the Ball Park, and it seems to place Wolfe and Archie quite a while after they first met, which, judging from Wolfe reading Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe, is 1948.

I'm on page 112. I've been on page 112 for the past day and a half, partly because I've been busy with freelance research work, but mostly because every page brings a new frustration. The mystery of who assassinated state senator Orson Milbank during a baseball game at the Polo Grounds does not move along. And by placing this story at a time that I'm sure Stout himself covered feels to me as if Goldsborough, by this act, wants to be considered in the same league as Stout. To me, he isn't. A different author can play with what a previous author has left behind, but with reservations, if that world has been so well-established, as this one was by Stout.

In this novel, Goldsborough plays too fast and loose with how Wolfe and Archie operate, even who they are. I could never imagine Wolfe saying "Egad" in reaction, as he does at the beginning of chapter 14. "Phooey" yes. I've read that and it works. Maybe Wolfe has said "Egad" during Stout's time writing him, but it most likely was smoother than it is here. Also, I love reading Wolfe's speeches to potential murder, or otherwise, suspects for that reason. Goldsborough had a fine handle on it in the prequel, so I don't understand why there's a sudden inability to do it here.

With Wolfe's eating habits, I can accept Georgia ham broiled, as he has for breakfast in bed one morning. but I wince at squash with sour cream and dill and avocado with watercress and black walnut kernels. That seems very un-Wolfe like and certainly un-Fritz like. And it does not at all speak to the enormous love Wolfe has for fine food and the opinions he holds forth on it. It's as if Goldsborough just drops them in to meet what's expected of a Wolfe story, without getting into why.

But once again, it's the snail's pace of the story that nearly kills my interest in this novel. Wolfe and Archie do investigate every angle in every novel and novella and short story, but it is never this slow. There have been novels in Stout's repertoire that have not been entirely up to snuff, but still move along swiftly enough. Here, we meet every possible suspect, each less interesting than the next, including a barely-written mob boss who would have been more fascinating in Wolfe's presence if he and Wolfe had been permitted to have a discussion about their different sides of life, their ways of living. Something like that. Not very long, but Wolfe is worldly, and there would have been a lot of potential in that.

I'm up to the part where the late state senator's lover and former press secretary has decided to run for his vacant seat, and still I crawl through one page and then another. It's not that I feel I'll be doing Wolfe a great disservice if I don't finish this. This is a different Wolfe, a Wolfe that was better in the prequel, and maybe he's just as good in Goldsborough's '70s-set versions. Plus, there's so much talk here between Archie and others, including New York Gazette man and Wolfe resource Lon Cohen, but it's not even entertaining or useful talk. It's just enough to push the story along without feeling, without what usually makes these stories a joy to read. There's not much joy in this one.

Throughout the rest of the day, I'll think about whether to push along, to see it through to the end, or skim. I'm such a fan of this series that in the now-rare times that we go to a buffet in Las Vegas or Henderson, I always order milk to drink, as a salute to Archie Goodwin. I know this is Goldsborough and not Stout here, but Wolfe is still Wolfe to me, despite the "Egad." It's hard to shake off devotion.