Book Logs: 2021

I can finally report – after two frustrating years – that I had a very satisfactory book-reading year in 2021. As I mentioned in last year’s Book Logs post, I did re-read some books from my past but that didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. I enjoyed a couple excellent non-fiction books – and one dud – and I freed myself of some of my “reading rules” I’ve talked about in the past and that was met with varying degrees of success. I also read and re-read a couple titles that I will be presenting on my Words With Wellsy segment on Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation radio show podcast in 2022.

Most of 2021’s line-up.

As every year starts for me with Elvis Week, I spent the first week of 2021 re-reading some Presley biographies. And as I like to read a long novel in the winter, I decided to revisit a book that really resonated with me as a young adult, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned; unfortunately, the years have dulled its impact. The ship was soon righted with one of the most enjoyable – and fitting – books I’ve read in awhile.

Natalie Wood reads to Dennis Hopper and Nick Adams.

Flying Through Hollywood is the memoir of Sam Arkoff, one of the two founders of my favourite movie studio, American-International Pictures. This fun, breezy book recounts AIP’s creation of a whole different way of making movies; taking the B movie template and expanding it into explosive, audacious entertainment. My copy is signed by Arkoff in a dedication – not to me but its still cool. Then I celebrated the coming of spring with a book by one of the founding members of my favourite band. My copy of Gregg Allman’s autobiography is a test copy with some incomplete design elements. Gregg’s honest, casual and conversational style made it highly enjoyable.

Sticking with the biographies/memoirs, I found Sally Field’s book, In Pieces, incredibly compelling. I’ve always loved and respected the girl who played Gidget on TV and rode with the Bandit but the harrowing story she presents made me see her in a new light and respect her all the more. The book on Jackie Gleason was equally tough because of its honest depiction of Jackie as a jerk. Another entry in the pantheon of artists for whom you need to separate the man from the performer to enjoy their work.

Then in the summer I read a book that blew my mind when I first read it some 20 years ago. Timothy White’s The Nearest Faraway Place tells the story of the Beach Boys through the lens of their forebears’ westward migration. It goes on to encompass the whole of Southern California culture in the Fifties and Sixties. While I’d be hard pressed to find subject matter more interesting to me, this re-read inexplicably fell flat. I’ve been talking a lot about wanting to revisit books I’ve loved in the past but the experiences with F. Scott and with White’s book bring in another aspect of this practice; certain books resonate with you at certain times of your life. As you change and mature, its possible these same books won’t carry the same weight with the older you.

In the summer, I read the summer/beach-based Jaws by Peter Benchley and literally could not put it down. I finished it in days, a quick read for me. In 2021, I explored the music of Shuggie Otis and was surprised to learn he was the son of Johnny Otis. Reading about Johnny, the Greek bandleader and impresario who lived among the African Americans, I was stunned at his versatility. I learned he wrote Listen to the Lambs, based in part on the Watts riots, and ordered it from AbeBooks. Not without a certain appeal, it proved a long slog and I struggled through the second half.

A re-read of Hank Mancini’s autobio was enjoyable and it was a return for me to the Beatles in autumn. My family and I have often visited with the lads – particularly A Hard Day’s Night – in the fall and in the late summer I purchased all of the Beatles albums on CD at a garage sale and this set up an autumn read of a Beatles book – a story I haven’t explored in years. Shout! was a business-like and pleasant look at an historic musical phenomenon. Tied in nicely with the later release of the Beatles’ doc Get Back. Finally read the Jerry Lee Lewis book I’ve owned for maybe 20 years, Great Balls of Fire! and this helped spur me on to a trilogy of articles on the Killer which I wanted to write before Lewis goes to meet Houdini.

I was kind of surprised that in 2021 I read 23 books, up four from last year and maybe the most books I’ve ever read in a year. In last year’s post, I talked of releasing myself “from some ‘reading rules'” and also re-reading some books. The re-reads were only 33% successful but I’ll try again in 2022. My “rules” include reading certain types of books at certain times of year and I don’t think I’ll change that much as that is something I enjoy; reading summer-type books in the summer, etc. I look forward to another enjoyable year of reading and of sharing some of my findings on social media and on the Cocktail Nation. Click “Follow” on my home page here to not miss a post. Stay tuned and I encourage all of you to…pick up a book.

My rating out of 5 represents my overall experience with the book

The Beautiful and Damned — F. Scott Fitzgerald πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Borden Chantry — Louis L’Amour πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants: From the Man Who Brought You I Was A Teenage Werewolf and Muscle Beach Party — Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Enter the Dragon — Mike Roote πŸ“š

The Goodbye Look — Ross McDonald πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

My Cross to Bear — Gregg Allman with Alan Light πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat — Erle Stanley Gardner πŸ“š πŸ“š

In Pieces — Sally Field πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

The Garden on Sunset — Martin Turnbull πŸ“š πŸ“š

The Great One: The Life and Legend of Jackie Gleason — William A. Henry III πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

The Private Practice of Michael Shayne — Brett Halliday πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, and the Southern California Experience — Timothy White πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Jaws — Peter Benchley πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

McQueen — William F. Nolan πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Quentin Tarantino πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Listen to the Lambs — Johnny Otis πŸ“š πŸ“š

American Graffiti — Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz and George Lucas πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Did They Mention the Music? The Autobiography of Henry Mancini — Henry Mancini with Gene Lees πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation — Philip Norman πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Great Balls of Fire! The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis — Myra Lewis with Murray Silver πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Ironside: The Picture Frame Frame Up — William Johnston πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

Christmas with Ed Sullivan — edited by Ed Sullivan πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š

A Christmas Carol — Charles Dickens πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š πŸ“š



  1. I was interested in your comments about going back to some books you’ve previously enjoyed and finding the re-read a little empty. Do you think this is because, in terms of biographies and factual stuff, the magic and the mystery that led to the sense of discovery, has kind of gone? By that I mean, we no longer have to rely on the biographer to learn about people or things we are interested in…I’ve previously mentioned that I clung to a couple of paragraphs about Creedence Clearwater Revival in a rock and roll encyclopaedia for years because that was all I could find out in the days before internet – now we can go online and read the actual court documents for Fogerty vs Fantasy Records…Stars that we follow now online become their own biographers effectively, and fan feeds on social media give us daily images and facts.

    I think now for a bio to be in any way compelling, there has to be something in the writing style or the writer’s enthusiasm for the subject (I wonder who I could be thinking of πŸ™‚ ), or unique access to information, to hold your attention, otherwise you might just as well do a Google search and find out for yourself.

    • You make good points; as usual. With the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, I suppose I am not as impressionable as I once was and the poignancy of that novel was neutered. I could no longer relate to the main character as I could when I was young and so that connection is gone.

      With The Nearest Faraway Place…I just don’t know. I had read it once, I knew about White’s research so reading it again was not quite as stunning. The digressions into skateboarding, etc. seemed almost like detours away from the action. I guess, like you say, I’ve acquired much knowledge since I first read the book and what it told me this time…I dunno; I already knew it. I feel bad, kinda. I wished I had loved it the second time. But I think it’s a big ask to attempt to experience something again for the first time. Onward…..

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