Reading Journal for September 2013

It’s been a tough month, with some personal issues coming up, so it’s all audiobooks this month. I have a copy of Terry Pratchett’s Dodger that’s my very next book, and it’s still sitting where it was in August.

Once again I’ve been doing the serious pillage on Librivox, which is a site that produces free audiobooks from works in the public domain.  Click the images to go through to the Librivox catalogue.

Hollywood: its manners and morals by Thomas Dreiser.

This is a really interesting work, originally published as four lengthy magazine articles. It’s about how people get ahead in the Hollywood of the 1920s, and lifted the lid on the casting couch, and other abusive practices. Short, punchy and a great antidote to Hollywood’s myth-making about itself.

Recommended for film history fans.

Fighting the Flying Circus by Eddie Richenbacker. This is a memoir of the commander of the “Hat in the Ring” Squadron, the most successful American squadron in the First World War. The author had a fortunate war, and his text reads a little like propaganda. He does occasionally say things critical of himself, and he broods a little on how callous he has become concerning the deaths of his friends, but generally it’s all a steady march toward victory, success and honor. This makes it less interesting that a similar book reviewed below.

20 000 Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne

The pace of this book is poor, because the big reveal (the whale that’s destroying shipping is a submarine) is given away by the cover of most edition, or simply by the book’s fame. Then there is a chapter on how the technology works, which is interesting as a historical document, but not truly germane to the plot.

The plot, such as it is, is weak, being a catalogue of marvels, rather than anything driven by the characters. Hard to recommend, except to steampunk buffs.

High adventure coverHigh Adventure: A narrative of air fighting in France by James Norman Hall

Of the three air ace books listened to in the last few months, I find this one the most interesting. Hall, an American, served in a French squadron, so he had better equipment than his countrymen (who, as Richenbacker in the previous book complains, were given neither modern machines or parachutes).

His book is structurally odd, as it was published before the conclusion of the war: its final chapter is a letter written by Hall from a POW camp. Its self-effacing humor reminds me most of Vet in a Spin by James Herriot. Recommended to those interested in military history of the period, and those who like autobiographies generally.

Mike cover

Mike: A Public School Story by P.G. Wodehouse

A strangely unfunny Wodehouse, about boys at public school playing tricks on each other and their teachers. There’s an awful lot of cricket, taken far more seriously than necessary.

Hard to recommend – Wodehouse completists?

Planet of Dread by Murray LeinsterPlanet of dread cover

A short novella of a very early type: the monsters on the new world are giant Earth creatures created by a failed terraforming project. Interesting to those who like the tropes of the Rocket Age, but a problematic text in many ways. Why is the female crewman in charge of cleaning the rocket? I was kind of hoping, since she was the love interest, that Crewman Carol was going to turn out to be a Polish man, like the recent Pope also named Carol. Alas, the twist was that even in the future, the love of a good woman, a large sum of money, and a convenient rocket will make any criminal good.

Unbearable bassington coverThe Unbearable Bassington by Saki

As Saki’s first novel I suppose I should cut him some slack. Witty, but not as witty as his later short pieces. Terribly cruel to his characters, but not quite so charmingly as later.

Recommended for people who like class satire; Oscar Wilde fans, for example.

Librivox Coffee Break Collection 6

A series of interesting recordings, about food and drink in this particular collection, each less than fifteen minutes long. Great for falling asleep to, I find. Also good for coffee breaks, of course.

I also completely caught up on Welcome to Night Vale.

Set aside:

John Silence by Algernon Blackwood: too slow, not spooky and the first case involves a man who has been possessed by Kali because he took a strange drug called “cannabis”.

R Holmes and Company: again, slow. The lead character is the son of Sherlock Holmes and the daughter of A. J. Raffles. I was hoping he’d be a Victorian Dr McNinja, but no such luck.