Thursday, June 10, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of June 10, 1991

The RNG sent me to one end of my chosen time period (2007) last week, and, this week, it sends me to the other end. It makes me think something is wrong, but it works, for now, so I'll go with it. And so here's what I was reading this week, way back in 1991.

But first, a technical note. I started my notebook at the beginning of December 1990, and kept track of what I read each week (including magazines, listed by total number of pages as if I got points for weight) through the end of September 1991. After that I settled down to a normal, reasonable list of books finished or abandoned by date. So this list is actually "Week Ending 6/15/91," and it gives a picture of how deep I was into how many books that I gave up on not too long afterward.

I also neglected to include author's first names, so I may have to do a little reconstruction.

Marcia Muller, Ask the Cards a Question

This is the second Sharon McCone novel; the first was Edwin of the Iron Shoes, and I'm not sure when I read that. (I did read Muller's The Shape of Dread in early May, and it was newish then, so maybe I read the one I could find and then jumped back to the older ones the Mystery Guild had available.) I liked catching up to this series a lot, and I enjoyed reading along with it for at least the first half of the '90s: I found that it bogged down with a too-large cast, all centering around the law firm (or legal-aid group? something like that) where McCone worked. It eventually turned into too much ongoing soap opera and not enough mystery from this book for me, but the first roughly dozen books were solidly to my taste.

I don't seem to have covered any Muller books read at the time on this blog; I apparently gave up on her before 2007. 

Robert Parker, The Widening Gyre

This is the tenth Spenser book, from 1983. I was reading them out of order, since I'd hit Looking for Rachel Wallace (#7, 1980) the same week as the Muller. I did keep reading this series into the Days of the Blog, so you can find a couple of Parker books covered and some other thoughts in my archives. My memory is that this book was early enough that Parker was still writing relatively normal mystery novels, in which his hero actually went places and did things, instead of just standing around talking to Hawk and Susan about how awesome the three of them are, and waiting for the plot to resolve itself around the force of their awesomeness. (I may be exaggerating.)

Sue Grafton, "G" Is For Gumshoe

This was the then-book book in the series, published the year before. I'd also just read the first one ("A" Is For Alibi) during that same early-May week I was reading Muller and Parker. My pattern of binging on mysteries for seven days at a time was already solidly established, and I think I filled in the missing books over the next year or so. In memory, this series started well, got stronger through about this book, and then kept a steady peak to somewhere around M. I've only written anything about the books from S on, and I've been in mostly this-is-OK-but mode for them.

Bill Pronzini, Jackpot

This was the then-new book in the series, but I'd been reading Pronzini for a while at that point. (My mystery tastes were formed by Chandler and ran forward at first entirely in that vein: Ross Macdonald and then a bunch of more derivative male writers of relatively tough male PIs. Working for the book clubs taught me a lot of things, but one of the first things I learned, from then-Mystery Guild editor Maryann Eccles, was that women also wrote mysteries, and many of them were much better at it. You wouldn't think a guy who went to Vassar would need that lesson, but oh well.) I don't remember almost anything about any of the Nameless Detective books, which is probably why I stopped reading them: he felt pretty blank to me, a random PI who liked pulps and had the usual murder cases.

The Pronzini books I do keep coming back to are Gun in Cheek and Son of Gun in Cheek, collections of "differently good" mystery writing - they are wonderful, perfectly chosen and presented by Pronzini as an editor.

Joseph Hansen, Early Graves

Another mystery - the 1988 entry in the Dave Brandstetter series. Brandstetter was an insurance investigator, making him on of the few series heroes with a good reason to actually investigate crimes and strange occurrences. He was also gay, which seemed like a much bigger deal in the '80s. I liked these a lot at the time: Brandstetter had a real life and his job actually made sense and the mystery plots were strong and well-organized. But the series seems to have fallen entirely out of print and been forgotten.

Joan D. Vinge, Heaven Chronicles (typescript)

I note here that it became a November 91 Selection. Since it was a fixup of short fiction published as a mass-market paperback by Warner Questar (no shade thrown, but they had a small budget and had a hard time competing with bigger fish in those days), my guess is that we were in one of our periodic "where the hell is all the decent SF?" frenzies. I don't remember it well, but I liked it then, and Vinge has been dependably good before and since.

Various Periodicals

1127 pages of them! Well, let's remember that I was commuting, and that this was the fat days of magazines, when ad pages ran without stopping through the tundra of an ecosystem that never dreamed it could crash. But, yes, I was keeping track of pages read every week - it was my big metric to show productivity during my unemployment from Dec of 1990 through April of 1991, and I kept it up as long as I was tracking reading by week.

Chris Claremont, Grounded! (galleys, began)

This is the sequel to FirstFlight, and I finished reading it the next week - the two books became the SFBC omnibus High Frontier, a Featured Alternate in December 1991. They were nearish future SF about a tough woman space pilot who seemed to be a gender-swapped Chuck Yeager in Space! I had forgotten that they existed at all, or that Claremont (the comics writer, the guy who did X-Men for a million years and made them the biggest thing in the world) ever wrote novels at all.

Michael McCollum, The Clouds of Saturn (galleys, began)

I note here that I read 56 pages and that the SFBC rejected it. I don't think I've read anything else by McCollum since, so I don't have an appreciable opinion on his work. 

James Lee Burke, Black Cherry Blues (began)

Back to the mysteries! This was the third in the Dave Robicheaux series, published in 1989. I don't know if "alcoholic" was shorthand for "serious PI novel," but Dave also had a drinking problem (among other problems; I don't think he was actually seeing ghosts in this book, but that and other things would come later), much like Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder, whose novels were magnificent things up to this period. So maybe I thought "alcoholic male detective" equaled "classy serious mystery." I was young; let's blame me. This is a series I stopped reading for no reason: I liked all of the books I read, and thought he was a great writer (I even read some of his literary stuff along the way; he's also a college professor). I think I had several of these on the shelf at the time of my flood, and just never started rebuilding: I bet a lot of my reading life has a dividing line like that.

Peter Nicholls, The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (continue)

I read 181 pages of the 1979 edition this week, having read 129 pages the week before. I'd read 206 the week after, skip it entirely the week ending 6/29, and get the last 156 pages in the first week of July.

And, yes, I was reading an encyclopedia straight through: I think I also did that for other genre reference books over the next few years. (The '95 second edition of this book, not so much. I did get a copy, and did read a hell of a lot of it, but never tried to plow right through that brick.)

Under the entries for that week, I did the totals, as I always did in those days: 3003 pages, 429/day. Remembering that a third of that was magazines, and half or more of magazine pages were ads in those days, it means less than it could. Also remembering that even the books were a mixture of encyclopedia, paperback, hardcover, typescript, and unbound galley pages, it was a completely useless metric unattached to anything in the real world...which is why I soon gave it up.

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