Catching up on the reading

Okay. Well, since the last time I wrote about the books I read was for April, I guess you could say a lot has happened. Or, also, not much, depending on how you’re looking at the state of the world.

I’m not working much, though I did do a commercial shoot and am preparing to work on a History Channel show. Still waiting out the health crisis. Only, maybe I’m not reading as much as I was, at least not during March and April. Seems like I’m busier, even if I don’t have much going on. Weird phenomenon.

Anyway, a lot to catch up on – at least as it relates to books. So, let me get started.

May – August Reading Lists

Books Read:

Books purchased:

To say that the month of May got away from me would be an understatement. I left Alaska, made it back to Florida several weeks later, then left again to visit some creative friends in Atlanta, all the while avoiding people as best we could. And in all that time, I didn’t read as much as I should have. I listened to only two audio books in my travel time, instead opting to listen to music. I also didn’t stop to take many photographs as, with the country still in lockdown, I thought it more prudent to keep to myself. Which means missing out on landmarks and assorted travel attractions.

One such casualty of the pandemic is that bookstores and libraries were closed for a while. I had purchased books at Parnassus, in Ketchikan, in early March – just before the closures started. The next time I was able to step foot into a bookstore was May. I’ve lost the card, but it was a nice used bookstore along with a collection of specialty books. There, I purchased three used books, and one new.

On missing bookstores, there’s a certain smell to them. Something that I would say is lacking in any other establishment, save, perhaps, the library. It’s a smell I’ve enjoyed for many years. Probably one of the reasons I’ve accumulated as many books as I have. Book lovers always bring up the smell. But smells cause us to recollect memories, and if our first experience with that smell is positive, it makes sense to keep coming back to it.

I digress. The new book I purchased was a UK import for The Gates. It’s a story of a how a boy and his dog stops his neighbors from opening the gates of hell in the neighborhood. At least, I hope the duo wins. I haven’t read it yet. But the name John Connolly was familiar to me, and I couldn’t figure out why. It’s only recently when I was clearing out my Amazon Wishlist that I realized I had several books by him saved there for me to track down later. It’s hard to say what about those books caught my eye in the first place, but I’ll have a better idea once I dive into Gates as whether I want to track down his other works, like Nocturnes or the Charlie Parker series. 

Poland was a recommendation from long ago – a Q&A session with Neil Gaiman via Twitter. It’s the second Michener novel I’ve acquired, the first being Alaska. The latter was an Audible book, and at early sixty hours of listening time, I haven’t delved into it yet. Honestly, it’s a lot of unread books I have. But, as John Waters has said, “Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.”

Let me take this segue to mention the audio book for Ready Player One. For starters, the performance by Will Wheaton was an excellent portrayal. This was my first time with the book, though I had read Cline’s second novel, Armada, maybe five or six years ago. I had seen the movie, though, and the biggest surprise to me was how much the film adaption deviated from the source material.

The characters were the same, and the protagonist, Parzival, aka Wade Watts, was a youth who enjoyed spending time in the Oasis (the virtual reality immersive community) more so than he liked the real world. The alliterative name was homage to superhero creations such as Bruce Banner (Hulk), Peter Parker (Spiderman), etc. (Fun side note: Stan Lee said that he chose alliterative names for his characters so that it would be easier for him to remember who’s who while working on various storylines.)

It spanned more time than the film seemed to take, which made the romance between Parzival and Art3mis more believable. Also, there were some raised stakes which the film adaptation simply didn’t delve into, such as the murder of one of the main characters. And while it’s now been a couple of months since I listened to it, I do recall thinking that this was one I would listen to again. On top of that, the sequel, Ready Player Two, is scheduled to be released on November 24th. Wil Wheaton is recording the audio adaptation.

Did some bouncing around through some books, including short stories by Kiernan, Gaiman, and Yolen; read a few essays and pieces from Didion’s collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and got into some Japanese fiction – including the first four volumes of Vampire Hunter D, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, with illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano. 

A few things about me. First, I’ve liked works of fantasy since I was a boy. Maybe it was stories of biblical characters performing incredible feats read to me before bed. Or the Lord of the Rings series I was given by my dad. Or maybe, I’ve just always hoped that there was a little bit of magic in the world. Regardless, it’s been a consistent theme in my reading throughout. 

Second, I also like scary stories. Some of the earliest books I can remember reading were Goosebumps by R.L. Stine. And I read a lot of them. I got turned by a vampire novel once, which did curb my horror reading for a bit. I don’t recall the book, and I’m not even sure I was a teenager yet when I read it. But there was some sort virus that this vampire was spreading, and it ate the flesh off a dog. It may not have even been that graphic, but my predilection towards animals is such that, in that moment, I was turned off of the genre for a while. Even in fiction, I don’t like bad things to happen to animals.

Third, the language I studied in high school was Japanese. While I’ve not kept up with it over the years, I can still understand a little. And while I read the Japanese fiction in English, the culture and their style of storytelling has always interested me. 

Speaking of fantasy, Butcher’s urban fantasy series The Dresden Files had another release, which I read once I could get a digital copy of it. Peace Talks is an imperfect story. It’s an arc that’s been cut in half, presumably to allow for the release of Battle Ground later this year. Perhaps the next release will be a longer novel, which would make sense to split the story into two. However, as Butcher’s novels have generally followed a clearly delineated story to its resolution, this one stops shortly before (what I would assume to be) the final confrontation. Even with novels that have ended in cliffhangers, like 2010’s Changes, the story arc concluded before ending the novel. 

Still, I like what the writer does, and I’m not going to criticize him for leaving the reader to want more. I’ll just be sad if, like the publisher has announced, he’s planning to end the series after the 25th book. But, since Battle Ground is number 17, it seems like we have some time before we burn that bridge.

The Martian was fantastic. A friend had told me to read it back in 2012. I wish I would have taken the suggestion then. Unlike Ready Player One, the film adaptation for Martian stuck pretty close to the story line. The novel seemed to have more science in it, so if you like that kind of thing, it’s definitely worth it. Additionally, following along with a protagonist’s thought process is much easier to do on paper, where thoughts can be written out, as opposed to film, where it almost always has to be spoken. Experiencing the thoughts of a man attempting survival on the Red Planet, alone, can be much more gripping than watching Matt Damon do the same, no matter how good his portrayal was. (And I really enjoyed the film. Actually, I think I saw it for the first time on a cross-Atlantic flight in 2017.)

Just a few other things of note. When I was young, don’t ask me when, my father gave me a copy of a book about a boy who was taken from his home by pirates. At least, I think that was the story. I don’t remember the name of the book, author, or the protagonist. As I was leaving the aforementioned book store, I saw Stevenson’s Kidnapped, which may have been the book. 

Carnival Row was the second audio book I listened to, and it was okay. Didn’t quite enthrall me, but was a decent enough listen. And the two weightier nonfiction titles, Deep Work and Tao of Physics. I’ve barely scratched the surface of Tao, but I’ve become more interested in the Universe and its interconnected as of late. I need to sit down with that one, but there never seems to be a shortage of good books to take up my attention. 

Deep Work was something I learned about from a podcast, maybe even the Tim Ferris Show. By the by, it could have been Marketplace, Hidden Brain, or something else altogether. Newport writes a good imperative – do the work that matters. Set aside time to do that work, try and prevent distractions from creeping up. and produce. That’s the best way to make something. 


April Reading List

April 2020

Books Purchased:

  • None…

Books Read:

  • Death Masks – Jim Butcher
  • Blood Rites – Jim Butcher
  • Dead Beat – Jim Butcher
  • Proven Guilty – Jim Butcher
  • White Night – Jim Butcher
  • Small Favor – Jim Butcher
  • Turn Coat – Jim Butcher
  • Changes – Jim Butcher
  • Ghost Story – Jim Butcher
  • Cold Days – Jim Butcher
  • Skin Game – Jim Butcher
  • Vikram and the Vampire – Richard Francis Burton
  • Journeys through the Inside Passage: Seafaring Adventures Along the Coast of British Columbia and Alaska – Joe Upton (unfinished)
  • On Language: Chomsky’s Classic Works Language and Responsibility and Reflections on Language in One Volume – Noam Chomsky (unfinished)

It’s been nearly two months since I’ve ventured into a book store or, longer still, a library. That’s an inordinately long time for me, someone who enjoys the smell of books – the feel of the paper and bindings.

Bookshop is a useful tool for picking up some new books and supporting local bookshops (I wrote about it more here, but I haven’t shopped online there yet).

Small sacrifices, I suppose, in favor of the common good. I dare not even try and buy something on Amazon as, a) their shipping schedules are slightly off, and, b) I’m still making my way through the country with no real address to ship to.

However, not needing to buy new books, I delved into my digital library to consume the Dresden Files books once again. I’d read the series before, starting back in maybe 2011 or 2012. Butcher is releasing not one, but two new Dresden novels this year, and I wanted to get reacquainted with the wizard detective.

In truth, there are the two collections of short stories, Brief Cases and Odd Jobs neither of which I’ve read, that I’ll likely pick up as well.

But all of my reading this month was digital. In Alaska, my roommate lent me a couple books to read, but I didn’t get into them before I had to return to the lower 48.

Next up was Vikram, a book that I discovered through an Easton Press email. A long time ago at a discount book store, I found a copy of Tad Williams’s Child of an Ancient City. I read it at some point, probably in the early- to mid-nineties. But upon seeing the email from Easton Press I could not recall the title. So I started looking.

The book, if I still have it, is somewhere in storage. I don’t have access to many of the books I own. Googling all that I remember, I slowly made progress. Finally, I identified the title.

The connection was that Vikram was an Indian raja who was told stories by a vampire spirit occupying itself with taking the time to tell stories. Ancient City also dealt with a vampire (which was in India, according to memory, but turned out to be Armenia), and storytelling in a contest to decide whether the vampire would feed entirely on the party of explorers or not.

The book was illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt of the Brothers Hildebrandt and even included an acknowledgment to Sir Richard Burton, author of Vikram and the Vampire. 

Journeys was something I began reading from the Internet Archive

I’m sitting on a stack of unread books – of the digital variety now. Tools of TitansThe Very Best of Caitlín R. KiernanA History of JapanDeep Work, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem. While traveling I was also hoping to listen to some audiobooks, and yet I’ve remained fairly distracted on the trip. Those that I want to listen to most are: How to Defeat a Demon King in Ten Easy Steps, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt BoeUnconventional Success, and Washington by Ron Chernow.

There hasn’t been as much time to read since leaving Alaska. More aptly, I’ve been distracted throughout. Too much time in thought, perhaps. One of the most pervasive deterrents to my focusing has been an abundance of time. Which is not something that I thought would ever be a problem.

So, while April gave me ample opportunity to delve into the Dresden series, I’m hoping May will bring a variety of story, along with more certainty about the state of affairs within the country.

A new reading habit

In pandemic-lockdown, I’ve nearly finished the entire Dresden Files series from Jim Butcher. I’ve really only the short story collections to go. So coming upon this new idea for a reading habit could help me ease into whatever I start reading next.

In the book The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth, author James Altucher suggests that every day you should read:

  • 10% of a nonfiction book to get ideas
  • 10% of an inspirational book
  • 10% of a high-quality fiction book
  • BONUS: Read a game-related book (or play a mental game like chess)

Additionally, for some very interesting reading, this article from Aug. 6, 2016, the New York Times reveals some of Altucher’s failures that led to his giving advice in the first place.

The Book Catch Up

This is going to cover December, January, February, and I might as well include March. I’ve done significantly more reading over the past two weeks, owing to a nation in lockdown.

Books Bought:

  • Alchemy & Mysticism – Alexander Roob
  • Basketful of Heads #2-5 – DC Comics
  • The Dollhouse Family #1-3 – DC Comics
  • The Low, Low Woods #1-2 – DC Comics
  • Alaska – James. A Michener
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe– Kij Johnson
  • Certain Woman of an Age – Margaret Trudeau (Audible Original)
  • The Science of Sci-Fi – Erin MacDonald (Audible Original)
  • Caffeine – Michael Pollan (Audible Original)
  • Alaska: The Harriman Expedition, 1899 – Burroughs, Muir, et al.
  • Coming into the Country – John McPhee
  • Children of the Raven: The Seven Indian Nations of the Northwest Coast – H.R. Hays

Books Read:

  • Light the Dark – (unfinished)
  • Horizon – Barry Lopez (unfinished)
  • Arctic Dreams – Barry Lopez (unfinished)
  • An Innocent Abroad: Life-Changing Trips from 35 Great Writers – Editor, Don George (unfinished)
  • Walden, or, Life in the Woods – Henry David Thoreau (unfinished)
  • Tip of the Iceberg – Mark Adams (unfinished)
  • Children of the Raven: The Seven Indian Nations of the Northwest Coast – H.R. Hays (unfinished)
  • Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
  • Basketful of Heads #2-5 – DC Comics
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • The Call of the Wild – Jack London
  • The Modern Minimalist Budget – Brian Night
  • Principles: Life and Work – Ray Dalio
  • Locke & Key, Vol. 1 – Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
  • The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern
  • The Ballad of Black Tom – Victor LaValle
  • Vagabonding – Rolf Potts
  • Storm Front – Jim Butcher
  • Fool Moon – Jim Butcher
  • Grave Peril – Jim Butcher
  • Summer Knight – Jim Butcher

December 2019

I almost did it. I almost went a whole month without purchasing a book. Alas, I didn’t make it. This month is a new month, a new year, some may call it a new decade, even though it’s kind of, technically the last year of this current decade. (If you want to debate that, I’d just ask to please consult the Farmer’s Almanac.) ¹

Anyway, my purchases were limited to a few comics, one esoteric edition from Taschen, and a couple audiobooks begotten by credit rather than cash. Audible credit, that is, of which I had a few left, as I subscribed last year.

I didn’t read as much as I had intended. Not nearly. Working an extra gig during the holidays ate into my free time, and I was a bit more tired than I expected.

The only “book” I purchased was Alchemy & Mysticism. I found a special edition on Easton Press, but then tracked down a Taschen copy for significantly less. Again, trying my best to not be frivolous with my money. I didn’t have time to dig into it, but it’s an art book showing the advance of early Western imagery and mysticism throughout the ages, from Pythagoras to William Blake. Is it a practical book to add to my collection? One I’ll read while sitting fireside and absentmindedly scratching my dog behind his ears?

No. No, it’s not. Yet, one of these days I will sit down and write out some of the things clunking around in my head, and a book on philosophical and alchemical history would, at that time, prove very useful. Plus, it’s nice to look at.

Joe Hill’s Basketful of Heads, on the other hand, I did read. I really enjoyed it.

January 2020

January introduced me to the writing of Cheryl Strayed. Wild had been on my radar as a movie since it premiered in 2014. I’ve still yet to see it, but the Reese Witherspoon project garnered a lot of attention, and I remember being vaguely aware that it was based on a book. But, 2014 was a busy time for me, and I didn’t think much about traveling until nearly two years later.

So I got ahold of this book, and the first thing that strikes me is how open Strayed is. Actually, the very first thing is that she chucks her remaining hiking boot over a cliff after the first one fell down into the woods below. Now, I’ve always liked my hiking boots – they are pretty comfortable, a pair of Merrells I got for my first long-distance trip. But I couldn’t imagine walking anywhere without the boots on while I was traveling, especially not with my pack on. It just didn’t seem practical.

So, that was a good introduction to the book. Got me interested right away. Moving on from there, it was how open she was regarding her grief, her inability to rationalize decisions, acting instead on impulse. And how those decisions had reverberating negative effects attached to them, all in an attempt to get her life back on course. Or, perhaps, onto a very new course that would take her to a better destination.

The solo trek was the vehicle of that recorrection. I can understand that intimately, and while this book may have been more useful to me several years ago, it certainly came into my life at a good time – right as I was preparing to spend six months in Alaska for my own bout of reorientation.

Coincidentally, in 2018 I had purchased The California Field Atlas, which I wrote about for that books post, and in it were contained some watercolor maps and highlights regarding the Pacific Crest Trail. Another coincidence: that books posting had also been delayed, and I condensed several months into one post again. You’d think this was a common occurrence for me… ²

Another book I looked at was An Innocent Abroad. I didn’t read much. Don George’s introduction about love and innocence and France; Strayed’s contribution about her trip to Andorra, Spain; and one or two others. I’d had the eBook for I don’t know how long. It was only after checking it out from the library on one of my visits and cycling through my digital library did I know I had it.

With as much as I love to travel you think I’d be a voracious consumer of travelogues. Yet that hasn’t been the case. I’ve tended to steer towards episodic fiction or fantasy (Butcher’s Dresden Files, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, etc), or I followed an author who I admired (such as Neil Gaiman, Tim Ferris, or Seth Godin).

I suppose that I would rather experience the destination myself, or, more particularly, the journey to get there. Somehow reading about travels never really holds up.

For instance, writing this now I’m watching a juvenile bald eagle fly over the woods by the Tongass Narrows. You can tell it’s a juvenile because the crown of its head has yet to develop the white feathering, maintaining a youthful dark color. Probably three years old or younger. And I could describe the spread of its wings, feathers parted at the tips as if to reach out to thermal blasts; the looping, soaring pattern it’s taking as it either hunts or is taking a leisurely flight to a perch; or the majestic nature of birds in flight, their long-ago inspiration for us as a species to try and take to the skies. But it’s not a good enough description for me. I feel inept in giving it, and don’t visualize well when I’m reading it.

All that being said, when I read Draft No. 4 last year, I sort of got inspired by McPhee’s writing. He’s got a book on Alaska, Coming into the Country, which I found at the local bookstore. It was on my to-read list, so I decided to get it. I haven’t started it yet, as there is a great deal of local interest information I’m supposed to read before the season starts – for my job up here. When I’ve become proficient in that information, then I’ll branch out into other Alaska tomes, starting with McPhee.

Another book of Alaska, Call of the Wild, got finished this month. I don’t remember if I’d read it before. The ending of the tale didn’t seem familiar to me at all. And I struggled to get through some of these parts.

I build up emotional attachments to well-fleshed characters. Buck, the protagonist, is a dog. For some reason, either my general love-of-animals or the fact that I have a goofy dog back home, Buck was instantly likable for me. And he went through some terrible things. Some of the other dogs had it worse than him.

From London’s perspective, it wasn’t easy been a sled dog. Life in the Klondike wasn’t easy for man, so how could it be for an animal? London had a long enough experience as a gold-miner to develop scurvy and nearly be killed. And he was horrified by the dead horses up by White Pass. I believe he saw the treatment of animals and knew that connection with them was better than abuse.


Mark Adams’s Tip of the Iceberg was what I was trying to finish. I didn’t. But, I got a gist.

Adams decided to retrace (as best he could) the route of the Harriman Expedition, an 1899 voyage that the railroad tycoon Edward H. Harriman put together. “His plan was to outfit a large steamship as his private yacht and survey the coast of Alaska… His steamship would sail up the Inside Passage and visit its best-known spots: lawless Wrangell; Skagway, epicenter of the Klondike Gold Rush; the old Russian capital, Sitka; and Glacier Bay…” ³

I learned from Adams about the fur traders (which I learned more about from Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams, including the habit of old-world whalers to trade goods and services with the sturdier indigenous natives of the arctic regions), the gold rush, and the oil pipeline: Alaska’s three booms that brought much attention to the area from the outside world.

The State of Alaska could encompass Texas, California, and Montana (size-wise, the second-, third-, and fourth-largest states in the Country), as well as having room left over. Including to fit the whole of New England. It’s 663,300 sq. miles, or roughly 1.16% of the Earth’s above water terrain. With a population of less than 800,000, it’s impressive to think about. Acres per capita, it’s about 1 person every 468 acres. Until the tourist season.

Pandemic notwithstanding, “each summer a million cruise ship passengers make the same scenery hajj as the Harriman Expedition. The most recent data [Adams] could find showed the Inside Passage had catapulted over Las Vegas and Orlando to become America’s number-one tourist destination.”

Watched Locke & Key on Netflix, so got my hands on Volume One of the graphic novel, collecting issues #1-6. It’s a compelling story, told by a capable storyteller. The illustrations by Gabriel Rodriquez add tone and ambiance to the story, and I read through it pretty quickly. As I said before, I didn’t put the Stephen King/Joe Hill – father/son dynamic together until I started doing some research.

Black Tom is a novella that had also been on my list for a while, crunching into the Cthulu mythos. It’s the tale of Horror at Redhook told from the point of view of a Harlem Renaissance jazz guitarist and flim-flam man. He knows some of the eldritch elements within the city and is taken with a summoning of one of the old ones.

There’s a lot here for such a short story. Racial tension, class divides, horror, and suspense. This interview with the author on Fresh Air reveals some of the issues with racism that this story dives into.

Which led me into…


I had two choices to start: Principles by Ray Dalio or The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. In 2014 I had read The Night Circus, and I remember it pretty vividly. I was in DC reading it, and then I got sick, and I was in West Virginia staying with a friend of mine. Anyway, that feels like a lifetime ago. But I enjoyed its looping narrative and was excited when Starless Sea was released. I opted for that one.

It kind of defies interpretation. As it says, “He is a metaphor. And sometimes a pirate.” What I can say about it is that it feels like a love letter to books and reading, which sits well with me. I too love books and reading and can appreciate that aspect of it. There are also cats, and bunny pirates, and more that defy explanation.

I then decided to break open Principles. This book came highly recommended, and I’d heard Dalio speak before. It’s not a traditional business text, but it is chocked full of information that made me think. I think some key takeaways were:

  • Think for yourself to decide 1) what you want, 2) what is true, and 3) what you should do to achieve #1 in light of #2.
  • …develop your own principles and ideally write them down, especially if you are working with others.
  • Dreams+Reality+Determination=A Successful Life
  • You must be willing to do things in the unique ways that you think are best
  • Pain+Reflection=Progress

There’s a systemization of problem solving and idea generation that is advanced and unique. If that kind of thing interests you, I recommend the book. The way is segmented makes it easier to read than just straight theory, which helps its digestibility. But there is a great deal of information contained in it.

And, of course, after two weeks of work preseason, we went into lockdown mode. In this time I’ve been writing and reading; generally just messing around. With Jim Butcher’s new Dresden novel scheduled to release on July 14th, I decided to reread the series. I put down the first four books in the last week of March, while also studying about Ketchikan, Alaska, and generally investigating anything I found of interest. This much free time has been a boon for my imagination, if not for my wallet and, perhaps, my overall sanity.

They tell me it’s okay to talk to myself. And, well, who am I to argue…?

And there you have it. Much of the last four months of my reading life. I set a personal goal this year to read a book a week. I haven’t been doing well with that, what with the busy schedule I was keeping back home. All this time in seclusion in The Last Frontier is allowing me to catch up.

Plus, I’m kind of cheating since I’ve read the fifteen Dresden novels before. But I’m also revisiting Walden, the writings of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, a few screenplays, and some of the collected early writings of Neil Gaiman. In April I have a few books on Alaska to add to the reading list, which I hope to have finished in the next few weeks. And in May, I will post the April reading information, and not wait another four months.

At least, that’s what I keep saying to myself. Out loud…

  1. Afternote: This train of thought was relevant four months ago. Not so much now. I still hold we’re in the last year of the decade, however.
  2. This had me thinking a lot about procrastination, and time management, and, you know, doing things you like doing because you like doing them. I’m going to be posting on that topic over the next few weeks.
  3. Harriman was also responsible for the theft of numerous totem poles from here in and around Ketchikan, which I have learned a little about, but I am continuing my research and will write about at length later.
  4. “A whopping 47.9% of domestic tourists take an Alaskan cruise each year. This stat might be a bit surprising, given the time and effort it takes to get all the way up to Alaska, but a quick look at photos changes everything. The glaciers and stunning ice formations are well worth the trip. Next in line is Orlando, the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” and Las Vegas is a step behind Florida.”

Just a quick one

Today I wanted to share a couple of things.

First, the new short-format podcasts from Tim Ferris on Books I’ve Loved. There are two of these so far, the first with Ferriss’s suggestions, and the second with book suggestions from Seth Godin and Esther Perel.

Also on books, this Laura Vanderkam article on How to Make Time to Read, from Medium.

My recent posts have been about books and reading, and these two offerings seemed to fit right in.

Why books?

Another thought following the past two posts. Why books?

I was in Amsterdam two years ago, riding the tram across town, and there were passengers in large numbers reading books. The same was true in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, etc. Not when I take the bus or train here in the States. Why are books still so popular over there, while not so much here?

I may explore that in more detail when I travel over there next (not sure when).

But as for now, I know that I like my books. I like reading them. I like bookstores and libraries. And that’s not going to change.

What I Read, November 2019

Books Bought:

  • Summer – Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • Awareness – Anthony De Mello
  • Hellblazer #1 (2019) – DC Comics
  • Basketful of Heads #1 (2019) – DC Comics
  • Doctor Strange Annual #1 (2019) – Marvel Comics
  • Eternal Thirst of Dracula Book 2 #1 (2019) – American Mythology Productions
  • Eternal Thirst of Dracula Book 2 #2 (2019) – American Mythology Productions
  • The Collector’s Dracula Book One (1994) – Millennium Publications
  • Nosferatu: Plague of Terror #1 (1991) – Millennium Publications
  • Nosferatu: Plague of Terror #2 (1991) – Millennium Publications
  • Nosferatu: Plague of Terror #4 (1992) – Millennium Publications

Books Read:

  • Monsters Among Us: An Exploration of Otherworldy Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms, and Odd Phenomena – Linda S. Godfrey
  • Dracula: A Mystery Story – Bram Stoker
  • Basketful of Heads #1 (2019) – DC Comics
  • Doctor Strange Annual #1 (2019) – Marvel Comics
  • Eternal Thirst of Dracula Book 2 #1 (2019) – American Mythology Productions
  • Eternal Thirst of Dracula Book 2 #2 (2019) – American Mythology Productions
  • The Collector’s Dracula Book One (1994) – Millennium Publications

I hadn’t intended such a horror-themed collection for November, but let’s go ahead and start back at the beginning. October.

As I was picking out books for the month of October, browsing my shelves for unread titles and walking around the library, I happened upon Godfrey’s Monsters Among Us. It was a little heftier than some of the others I was looking at, so I waited to start it until the last moment. It missed its inclusion into October’s list so it got stuck here.

In Monsters Among Us, paranormal researcher Linda Godfrey speaks with people who have had and does investigative work regarding unusual events. These events take the form of upright dog creatures, individuals transforming into beasts, mysterious lights, household supernatural occurrences, and other strange items. When it comes to the mysterious you run into the very typical kinds of questions:

  • How accurate is the reporting of the event?
  • How trustworthy are the witness statements?
  • How far off-pitch is the reporter’s opinion on the subject?
  • And, of course, what actually happened?

Now in general, I tend to believe some things well within the realm of wu-wu. Mysterious forces, supernatural occurrences – I think that there is plenty we don’t understand as a race, and perhaps we’ll never understand. That being said, some items here gave me pause. Logical fallacies in the way the conclusions were made for instance. I have a thing about logical thinking, and incorrect use of syllogisms is one of my pet peeves. (Why, I couldn’t even begin to tell you.)

And still, this book had me wondering. I find myself looking around, checking the woods as I drive. There are places I’ve marked on the map that I want to visit: Skinwalker Ranch in Utah and Black River Falls in Wisconsin. I like the unknown. I think more of the world should be unknown.

That is a good segue to Dracula. Man, this book consumed my month. Partially due to my only giving it about thirty to forty-five minutes a night. But I was committed, and I was going to finish it. So I did.

I like what was said about it in the foreword: “Dracula is one of those books people are familiar with, without ever reading.” And how true that is. I had tried reading this book years ago, but it was beyond me then. It would have been beyond me now, was I not so intent on getting through it. The language is heavy, told in first-person narratives either as journal entries, articles, logbooks, or letters, memos, and telegrams. It runs fairly chronologically, but with some jumpiness.

For a book over one-hundred twenty years old, it still works very well. Though the world is smaller than it was then, what with the internet, telephones, and airplanes, the quiet corners of the world could still hold unknown horrors (as Linda Godfrey tried to illustrate). As a matter of fact, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is a partial adaptation of Dracula, imagining the vampire curse arriving in a sleepy New England town, rather than in London.

And I like the characters better than what I’ve seen in the film adaptations. Lucy isn’t as flirty, and much more likable. Harker has a hard time but owns up to what needs doing. Van Helsing isn’t one-note, but rather himself fights against science to accept the possibility of such horror. And Dracula, who is barely present as an actual character throughout much of the novel, is the mystery, and the terror. And I think that’s where the sticking power of the book lies – in his absence, more than his presence.

It’s like Spielberg’s Jaws. What with so many mechanical problems, the shark wasn’t able to be in many of the scenes it was planned for. And yet, most film historians agree that’s what makes the movie effective. That it stays hidden.

In Barry Keith Grant’s Quick Takes Book, titled Monster Cinema, he writes, “Betokening the importance of the monster’s physical difference, monster movies are often structured around the gradual reveal of the creature or creatures, building suspense and expectation in viewers until the inevitable ‘money shot,’ a dramatic peak when the monster in all its intended hideousness is fully shown.”

Of course, Stoker’s Dracula looks fairly human, if one of “extraordinary pallor.” Only when the monster is revealed can the protagonists envision the nonhumanity. “Dracula is a gothic horror novel, an adventure novel, and a character study of evil, all in one book.”

Sometime during the month, and in my reading of Dracula, I was informed of DC Comics partnering with Joe Hill to release a series of horror comics. Well, I tracked down Basketful of Heads at a shop I used to frequent in Longwood while I was on my way to a gig in Orlando. Issue one is all set-up, with criminals on the loose, hero and heroine in a house with the potential for catastrophe, and a magical Nordic axe. Issue two came out on Wednesday, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

So, being in the comic shop I perused some other titles. I picked up some Dracula comics, and a few Nosferatu issues to complete a four-issue arc. Also Doctor Strange and Hellblazer. November remained a month of delving into the unknown.

The other books I purchased were Knausgaard’s Summer to complete my four seasons, and Awareness – one of Timothy Ferriss’s most recommended books. I’ll read that in December.

And that, as they say, is that. The lineup for December is less classic-heavy, I assure you. I’m currently eyeing a book by Bill Bryson, or maybe The Adventures of Tintin. We’ll see where the mood takes me. Until then…

Spooky spooky books


October 2019

Books Bought:

  • Meet me in Atlantis: Across Three Continents in Search of the Legendary Sunken City – Mark Adams
  • Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around WILD ALASKA, the Last Great American Frontier  – Mark Adams
  • Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
  • The Pine Barrens – John McPhee

Books Read:

  • The Final Solution: A Story of Detection – Michael Chabon 
  • Riding the Bullet – Stephen King
  • Joyland – Stephen King
  • Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife – Mary Roach
  • Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life – Terry Brooks (unfinished)
  • Book of Sketches – Jack Kerouac (unfinished)
  • Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss (unfinished)
  • Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender – David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. (unfinished)
  • Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel – Rolf Potts

Ahh, October. For nearly a decade I’ve said that October is my busiest month of the year. I usually seem to be involved in a theatre production, working on my own projects, and making time for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. My first Horror Nights was in (oh dear lord) 1993. I’ve only missed a couple of years since, and most years I go multiple night.

So, onto the reading. Final Solution and Riding the Bullet were both short reads. Not much more than stories, really. I took on Joyland next. Having finished Joyland, I have this notion about Stephen King. What he writes are human stories about growing up and loss. What he uses to relate to his reader are horror and suspense.

I’ve not read many of King’s books (Salem’s Lot; It; Desperation are three that I remember reading previously), so this assessment of mine is based only on what I have read. But it seems to me that King’s writing focuses on the human connection between his characters in the face of immense horror. Joyland didn’t have immense horror, but enough of the supernatural element to provide a chill. And the serial killer’s identity is one that leaves you guessing until the end.

Mary Roach’s Spook was something I had seen at Barnes & Noble in the Science section last year I think. Good overall, it was a quasi-historical examination of how we’ve been looking for proof of the afterlife for centuries. Proof is something that, when used to speak of afterlives, can only be used in a loose sense.

Various experiments were described, such as weighing the newly deceased. audio recording, sensory experiments in high-risk operations, etc. I learned about the Society for Psychical Research, whose focus is the study of events and abilities classified as paranormal or psychic in nature.

Her determination at the end was really the only place it could go, given the research she did, but I suppose it does leave you wanting more. Assuming you are interested in afterlife studies.

Other than that I perused a number of books. I read a bit of Kerouac, Ferriss, Hawkins, and Potts, as well as Terry Brooks’s Magic. I like books on writing craft, and since reading Draft No. 4 by McPhee, I decided to look to some other writers. I also made it through the first couple of pages of Mark Adam’s Meet me in Atlantis, as well as a book Seven Schools of Yoga, by Ernest Wood. Both will likely be on November’s reading list, time permitting.

Of the four purchased books, three came in used. Into the Wild and Pine Barrens I got at a library book sale. Tip of the Iceberg was new but discounted. Again, I’m counting my pennies. But, it speaks to my love of the last American frontier – Alaska. It’s amazing looking up at what could be clouds, but are actually mountains off in the distance.

And with that, another Halloween season has closed. I carved a pumpkin this year, the first in many years. I also ate candy intended for trick-or-treaters. They still had plenty though. And I read. They weren’t all that spooky, but they were fun.

Meditation on books

There are all kinds of readers. Readers who do so for leisure. Redears who only open a book when ordered to do so, or to reference a particular entry. readers who long to learn new facts, or explore new worlds. There are those who read for escape, for enlightenment, or for research. No one reader’s reason is better than another’s. The book doesn’t care.

The book itself is an extension of the human mind – a storage unit for thought. Long before the digital age, the books was developed to store, curate, and disseminate knowledge. The book welcomes all.

Bibliophiles, on some level, understand this. And I believe that all bibliophiles are readers first, whereas not all readers will become bibliophiles. Yet they all have the capacity for it – it just takes the right book.

May Reading

Books Bought:

  • A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction – Terry Pratchett
  • Views: Art & Industrial Design of Roger Dean – Roger Dean
  • Anasi Boys (Audiobook) – Neil Gaiman (Read by Lenny Henry)
  • Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid – Douglas Hofstadter
  • The Elegant Universe – Brian Greene
  • In Search of Frankenstein – Radu Florescu
  • Lycanthia, or The Children of Wolves – Tanith Lee

Books Read:

  • Kraken – China Mieville (unfinished)
  • The Dispatcher – John Scalzi
  • The Rooster Bar – John Grisham
  • Black Klansman – Ron Stallworth (unfinished)
  • The Intelligent Investor – Benjamin Graham (Revised Edition) unfinished
  • Godel, Escher, Bach – Douglas Hofstadter (unfinished)

The month was busier than the last, and I wasn’t able to commit as much time to books as I would like. The only reason Dispatcher and Rooster Bar were finished was owing to their relatively short page counts. Black Klansman was a shorter one also, but I didn’t get it finished in the last week of the month.

I spent some time with Benjamin Graham’s book, one of the seminal works on investing. I had first purchased it back in the early 00s, possibly at the recommendation of my father. But I didn’t give it that much attention.

Since I started investing again maybe eighteen months ago, and this was on my to-read list, I picked up another copy used (the first one is somewhere in storage). The advice has stood up over time owing primarily to its simplicity – invest in companies that have good value for the price. I’m maybe five chapters in, and it’s got some heft to it.

A lot of these books were revisits. Anasi Boys, Godel et al., and Slip of the Keyboard were all something I had at least perused in the past. The first two I’ve owned, but repurchased for convenience. Pratchett’s I had read some selections from, but not owned previously.

Most of the month was spent reading grants, rather than books. It was scoring time for one of the committees I’m on, and I had thirty organizations to score. So I bought a few books to remind me that I will eventually read everything I own (I hope).

Hofstadter, Greene, Florescu, and Lee were purchased secondhand at a little book store I found. The latter two I was unfamiliar with, but picked them up owing to my preoccupation with the supernatural. Lycanthia is supposed to be a fun werewolf novel. I’ve come across Tanith Lee once or twice, but am otherwise unfamiliar with her work.

I greatly enjoyed Rooster Bar. I’m not sure what it is about the prose style Grisham uses, but it flows easily and moves quick. It had been several years since last reading but me of his novels, and I had forgotten what I liked about them. This was a nice refresher.

Elegant Universe I may take with me on my trip tomorrow, but I’m always conflicted about which book to bring on travels. I try and go light, and who knows what bookstores I may find while out and about.