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.


April Reading

Books Bought:

  • My 1980s and Other Essays – Wayne Koestenbaum
  • Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books – Michael Dirda
  • Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad – Austin Kleon
  • Critique of Pure Reason – Immanuel Kant
  • Plato: Collected Dialogues – edited by Edith Hamilton
  • The Secrets of Closing the Sale – Zig Ziglar

Books Read:

  • Money: Master the Game – Tony Robbins
  • The Essential Rumi (Translated by Coleman Barks) – unfinished
  • The Intelligent Investor – Benjamin Graham (Revised Edition) unfinished

After listening to the Tim Ferriss Show, mostly catching up on episodes I’ve missed, I heard him compliment Tony Robbins’s Money. I had audio book credits through Audible, and decided to give that one a try. So far I’m enjoying it. Some similar threads to Intelligent Investor – a book I’ve had for years but didn’t read much.

I’ve been an investor, and at times a speculator, over the past fifteen years. Mostly I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had success in school with Finance: Micro- and Macroeconomics; & Managerial and Financial Accounting. But mostly I just played around.

I had my first 401(k) in 2004, when I went full-time with NASCAR (prior to pursuing a career in the arts). In five years I think it went up to just over $10,000. I rolled that over into an IRA actually rather recently, in 2014 or 2015. Then, in 2016, I cashed out that IRA entirely. It was at the height of my dark period, and I was getting out of the country for a while.

I think even though I’m back in the country, I’m still somewhere else. My friend Anthony tells me that it’s been a three-year wake-up call, and now I get to be who I was supposed to be in the first place. Honestly, he may be right.

So I’ve been re-looking into the financial markets – which I did used to enjoy learning about.

I’m also newly into Audible, which I had cancelled maybe a decade ago… I like the physical book, more than I did audio or digital. However, I’m finding much more time spent driving or traveling in general, and the convenience of that audio book is nearly impossible to beat. After going from South of St. Petersburg to Daytona and back a few times last year – enough to listen to Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek twice, I decided it was time to re-up Audible.

As for Rumi, just another staple in my go-to perusal section. I’ve been thinking about the tavern-goer:

This drunkenness began in some other tavern. When I get back around to that place, I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile, I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary. The day is coming when I fly off, But who is it now in my ear who hears my voice? Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? I cannot stop asking.

If I could taste one sip of an answer, I could break out of this prison for drunks. I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way. Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

This is one of those constant quandaries that invades my thoughts, and reading Rumi not only gives it the poetic air, but also expands my thoughts on the problem itself. Knowing others who share your thoughts, your concerns, makes the load of those concerns a little lighter – even if this person has been deceased for quite some time.

My book purchases were impulses mostly. I knew the name Koestenbaum, but hadn’t read anything before by him. Browsings seems similar to Ten Years in the Tub, which I’ve yet to finish, but it’s right up my alley. I read Steal like an artist before, so I wanted to read Keep Going for a while. Kleon always has something fun and inspiring to say.

Two books of philosophy, for my downtime reading… (here’s hoping I get a lot of downtime). And Zig Ziglar came at the recommendation of Godin, and as I’m working in sales right (along with my other gigs) I thought improving those skills couldn’t hurt.

March Reading List

March, 2019

Books Bought:

  • The Essential Drucker – Peter Drucker
  • The Effective Executive – Peter Drucker
  • The Intelligent Investor – Benjamin Graham
  • Kraken – China Mieville
  • This is Marketing – Seth Godin

Books Read:

  • This is Marketing – Seth Godin
  • Kraken – China Mieville (unfinished)
  • The Aspirational Investor – Ashvin B. Chhabra
  • Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss (unfinished)

For March, I didn’t get a whole lot done. Bought a few used books, read a little. March was a transitional month, one job shifting to the next. The last week in March was the first week of work, and it was a lot of hours in the new role.

This is Marketing – quintessential Godin. For whatever reason, any time I listen to him I generate ideas left and right. It’s motivational, and I enjoy everything about his work. I have The Icarus Deception around somewhere, and I may need to reread that as well soon.

Kraken, off to a strange start. The mystery grabbed me finally, about sixty pages in, but I don’t know if it will keep hold of me. I’m curious to see how it all plays out. It reminds me a bit of Christopher Moore, but with less humor. Maybe not less humor, but different humor. And I miss Leon already…

The Aspirational Investor came recommended, so I gave it a try. My money in the markets usually goes up and down, and I just put more in every month. At some point I may do more with it. That remains to be seen. This book was fine, but it wasn’t really new information. I did like the three-tier breakdown of risk, which I’ll likely use in my investments.

And then Ferriss, which I just pull from time to time. This month, reading about acroyoga has led me to further exploration of that activity.

Books books books (and then some)

Books sometimes aren’t read. They’re purchased. They’re kept, usually. Some of the more popular ones get read quickly once acquired (Grisham, Patterson, Grafton, Steele). Others linger, like David Foster Wallace, Ron Chernow, Robert Pirsig, and James Joyce.

I once read the entirety of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, with the exception of the thirty-page speech that John Gault gives towards the end of the novel. I just couldn’t stay focused that long.

Now I will often quote John Waters (of Hairspray fame) who says: “Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.”

Even Nick Hornby’s book Ten Years in the Tub (which I’m still working through) mentions that books we buy and don’t read reveal something about the person we are, or at least want to be.

I notice this type of inconsistency throughout my life. My girlfriend keeps telling me that I need to watch The Dallas Buyer’s Club. It’s on Netflix, I own the movie on Blu-Ray, and I have yet to watch it. Every night that I’m visiting, if we’re lying in bed thinking of things to watch, she asks, “Tonight?”

“No.” By the time we get to bed, it’s too late for that kind of movie. I don’t really watch tv in bed, unless I’m staying with her. Not anymore.

So, movies that are going to invoke thinking require a chunk of time and the attitude that such a movie is going to require. The seriousness. And I think books are the same way.

We tear through the legal mysteries and thrillers. Rejoice in the light-hearted fantasies and romances. But when it’s time for those books that are going to fire more neurons than we’re comfortable with, we have to give them time.

Maybe that’s a result of the way our culture is, throwing so much at us all the time. Our neurons feel so inundated with information that it’s hard to devote a full allotment of attention to anything that we think could be challenging material.

January Reading List 2018

January 2017

Books Bought

  • Later Essays – Susan Sontag
  • Urban Monk – Pedram Shojai

Books Read

  • Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
  • Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware
  • The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden
  • The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit – Michael Finkel
  • The Art of Stopping Time – Pedram Shojai (Unfinished)
  • Urban Monk – Pedram Shojai
  • Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill (Unfinished)
  • The Wasteland and Other Poems – T.S. Eliot (Unfinished)

In trying to get back to monthly updates on reading, I’ve found myself doing extensive personal development of which whittling down my reading list was a considerable part of. This month I finished three novels, put a dent in nonfiction selections, and opened up February for diving in to the writing of Sontag.

In usual fashion, my reading selections unveiled themselves to me an air of synchronicity, and I started the audio book of Shadow and Bone at the same time I opened the hardcover edition of Bear and the Nightingale. Both take place in Russia, though Shadow’s depiction of the place is significantly altered to create a fantastical tone. Though in both, drinking kvas and wearing a kaftan is commonplace.

I discovered in my listening that Shadow was a book for young adults, whereas Bear needn’t have been; likely had not intended to be at all. Both carried strong female protagonists, each with a destiny that they neither understood nor could retreat from.

The formal antagonist of Shadow was introduced in a clandestine manner, while Bear’s antagonist, aptly called the Bear (or, Medved), was an elemental force, (What is this word? Not personified, but giving living characteristics to an unloving thing?) Anthropomorphized into the one-eyed terror that fed off fear and worship.

I enjoy retreats into the fantastical, and oftentimes gain some insight into more mundane matters simply by the exploits and endeavors of characters deftly written. Something about both called out my more naturalistic side, and in The Stranger in the Woods, I was introduced to a man named Christopher Night, who spent twenty-seven years in the Maine woods in solitude. Called a hermit, in those twenty-seven years he had said that he had contact with only one other person, and that was a brief exchange where Hello was the only word spoken. (Though one other encounter where no words were spoken was also mentioned.)

This man had returned to nature. Regrettably, for those twenty-seven years he had been burgling the local summer camp and other vacation cabins for food and supplies, but that he remained in solitude, fighting cold winters and possible discovery, is a feat of remarkable will. In this book, and also the works of Pedram Shojai, I felt my desire to escape growing to overwhelming levels.

Urban Monk spoke to my esoteric longing, and I found renewed vigor in the search of both spirituality and in reclaiming my health. Over the past year I’ve mentioned my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis several times, but haven’t gone into much detail. That will be changing in the coming year.

The rationale behind this blog was to have a space to air my thoughts, which had taken on a darkness as I progressed through a dark night of the soul. In favor of keeping a facade I neglected posting some of the darker inspirations, which I suppose defeated the purpose. Shojai presented wonderful information on using traditional Taoist techniques in modernity to live a balanced lifestyle. One of the elements that I needed the most work on was this blog, and what I was using it for, other than forum for my reading lists.

He presents Art of Stopping Time as a Gong, or a practice to be continued on. It’s 100 individual activities to be done, one day at a time, in an effort to becoming more inhabited in your body and in your environment, and if you don’t like it, give you the impetus to change it. Much of my personal development has also been focused on this.

Book purchases started being rather light. I’ve known for some time that I needed to focus on paying down debt, and I’ll further discuss that in later posts. This month I picked up Urban Monk after hearing Shojai’s interview on Bulletproof Radio. Also I was somehow led to the essays of Sontag, and I decided to give it a whirl. This is the Library of America publication, and I have a few of these for other authors as well (Kerouac’s poems, Lincoln’s speeches, etc.).

The unfinished books of the month will likely carry over to next month, or at least I’ll think about reopening them. I hadn’t gotten very far into any of those.

Until next time!

In the heat of August nights

August 2017

Books Bought:

  • Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero
  • The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice – Deborah Adele
  • Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  • Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession – Ian Bostridge
  • On Writing – Stephen King
  • The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories – H.P. Lovecraft
  • The Icarus Deception – Seth Godin
  • The Once and Future King – T.H. White
  • Invisible Acts of Power: Channeling Grace in Your Every Day Life – Caroline Myss 

Books Read:

  • Welcome to Night Vale – Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor (unfinished)
  • Awake in the World – Michael Stone (unfinished)
  • Religion for Atheists – Alain de Botton (unfinished)
  • Tibet: Opposing Viewpoints – Greenhaven Press (unfinished)
  • It – Stephen King (unfinished)
  • Full Wolf Moon – Lincoln Child
  • The Icarus Deception – Seth Godin
  • Tribes – Seth Godin
  • A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age – Daniel J. Levitin
  • Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom – Thomas E. Ricks (unfinished)
  • The House of the Worm – Mearle Prout (Short story)
  • Manuscript Found in a Milkbottle – Neil Gaiman (Short story)
  • Blood Monster – Neil Gaiman (Even shorter comic)
  • Invisible Acts of Power: Channeling Grace in Your Every Day Life – Caroline Myss (unfinished)
  • Ten Years in the Tub – Nick Hornby (Aug ’04 – Oct ’04)

The month came and went much as anticipated. Work has ramped up, days at different locations across Central Florida, nights at rehearsal, and plans, as they most frequently do, change at the drop of a hat. Several of those plans were unfinished books. 

First of all, Welcome to Night Vale I had been meaning to read for some time. I had learned of the podcast (not listened to it yet either) and then the book, possibly through a spot on NPR. I thought I’d knock the novel out pretty quickly. Well, best laid plans and all that. I could not find a groove to read it in. It’s witty, it’s playful, and it borders on the absurd (all things I immensely enjoy in my reading), and yet I struggled to get through the first hundred and fifty pages, at which point I decided I would put the book down. That’s not quite halfway.

If you make it halfway through a book, you might as well keep reading it. Prior to the half, you should have some options at giving it up. Film critic Mike D’Angelo wrote about watching the first 10 minutes of a movie in much the same way I’m describing the principle of setting down the book before getting to the midpoint. “Basically, I give the movie 10 minutes to grab my attention. Most of them [non-reviewed or poorly-reviewed films] fail, and get turned off at that point. If I’m still interested, though, I’ll watch for another 10 minutes. There are two more potential bail-out points at 0:30 and 0:40; if I still want to keep going after 40 minutes, I commit to watching the entire film, even if it turns awful later” (My italics added).

Obviously ten minutes with a book is not enough time to give you the full breadth of what you’re sitting down with. But you can probably get a feel for whether you’re going to like it or not. Anyway, Night Vale just didn’t grab me in the way I wanted to be grabbed. It could be an off month for reading, though, and I do accept fault for some great books that I just can’t get through. (I’m looking at you, A Hundred Years of Solitude; Great Expectations; and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.)

In an odd twist of fate, I got a bookstore email advertising the new Night Vale novel, It Devours!. And the guilt just keeps piling on.

Awake in the World, Religion for Atheists, and Invisible Acts maintain a pretty consistent theme. Spirituality, theology and philosophy keep me interested, and I do tend to gravitate towards those nonfiction titles, when I’m not in the mood for escapist fiction. All remain unfinished, as my intention was more ambitious than I was capable of achieving. Alain de Botton’s book is something I learned about while listening to On Being, oh, some months ago. I was fascinated in listening to his interview, and planned to get the book. The concept of what atheism lacks in terms of how the non believers interact is the fundamental point of the study, and I got through a swath of community before finally understanding that it wasn’t to be finished this month.

Now I’m neither overtly religious, nor am I an atheist. One of the problems I have with religions is typically a group-think mentality, where heretical views are shunned out of hand. Atheism, conversely, I feel leaves little sense of wonder to the Universe, so vast and amazing that try as we might for generations to come, we’ll only scratch the surface of understanding it. So, I fit somewhere along the interior of the scale.

Ms. Myss’s book was assigned for the book club at yoga studio I practice at. In addition to not reading the bulk of the book (and at just a couple of hundred pages, I really am only making excuses), I was not able to attend book club, and let them know in person that I had barely cracked it open.

Awake in the World is a book of excerpts from talks given by the author, Buddhist and yogi Michael Stone. It’s a continuation of my exploration of the yogic arts, meditation, mindfulness, relaxation, spirituality and the like. This was a nice, quick read, and I enjoyed the tone of this book for much. Some takeaways include the paradox of entering life fully while still existing in the realm of language and thought, the practice of yoga as it applies to living (not just practicing forms, and the inherent duality in the commonality of the Universe. Boom! (That is the sound of my mind being blown. Feel free to imagine doing the outstretched hands beside my head as well).

I purchased Yamas & Niyamas to read at a later time, or to study over the course of my yoga practice.

Both of Godin’s books also touched on faith or religion in one form or another. I had remembered reading The Icarus Deception a few years ago. As a matter of fact, it was one book I commonly cited as inspirational to my planning back then, before the “incident.” (The incident, which at some point I’m sure I will be comfortable enough to describe in detail in a post, or several, was round about a year and a half ago. I’m still seeing the effects of that incident, and the choices I made following. It’s one of the reasons I dedicated myself to keeping this blog.)

Going back to Godin, Icarus is a book I would suggest to everyone, but especially those who are artists, or creatives; those who feel stuck at work, or capable of doing great things yet don’t know where to start; and those who are searching for their purpose. I sat there with about twenty new projects popping to my head, and I just wish I had the time and resources to go after them all right now. Tribes I had also read before, but didn’t remember it until I was a few chapters in. For me, not as resonant as Icarus, and yet still bursting with anecdotes and suggestions for being a leader.

Two other nonfiction books were Churchill & Orwell, and Field Guide to Lies. I finished the latter but not the former, though I enjoyed both in what I did read. I really only got through pre-WWII information in Ricks’s book. The two men lived extraordinary lives, and I was particularly taken by the section on Churchill’s love life, such as it was.

In Lies, it’s a lot of information. Basically, unless you know the source of statistical data, you should probably be dubious of what you’re told anecdotally or by the media.

Additionally, I’ve had a feeling of Halloween nearly this entire month. Part of that is owing to It, which I decided to read prior to the film coming out. At over a thousand pages in its paperback version, I had my work cut out for me. I made it halfway this month, and intend to finish it off for next month.

Full Wolf Moon was an odd little read, but I enjoyed the suspenseful nature of it. I’ve had a love affair with lycanthropy since I was a young boy. (I believe all young boys like werewolves, or like to be scared of werewolves. That’s normal, right?) Yet, and not to give away much, the villain wasn’t quite what I anticipated, and the supernatural elements left me equally unfulfilled. It seemed to me to be a right-brainer’s werewolf book.

Feeling in the spirit of a pagan holiday nearly two months away, I picked up copies of Call of Cthulu and Meddling Kids. Hell, even Hamlet has a ghost! I picked up this copy because it was an Arden printing, and on sale.

Let me mention Edgar Cantero, who I discovered several years ago with The Supernatural Enhancements. I enjoyed the book, loved the premise, the style, and the writing. I had been out from work for a week with a flare-up of arthritis, and started reading it. I finished it within a day or two. When I learned that he had a new work coming out, this one a loose take on Scooby-Doo, well, yeah, I had to get that. Hoping to read it over the next few weeks, as I’m giving It my full-ish attention.

Winter Journey and On Writing (King again) are books that I’ll read over the coming months, interspersed within my other endeavors. For those of you unfamiliar with Schubert’s Winterreise, and if you like male operatic singing, give it a listen. It’s lonely, sad, and evokes the seasonal isolation of snowy winter. Nothing like sunny Florida.

Then there’s Once and Future King, a lovely edition in yellow that is added to my book shelf more for aesthetic than reading. Somewhere I have a beat-up paperback of the book, along with a similarly ragged copy of The Book of Merlyn.

In spare time (hah!) I was able to knock out a couple short stories. Neil Gaiman remains generally my favorite author, and I had purchased his Humble Bundle a few years back as well, and still had some unread works in there. Honestly, I haven’t finished View from the Cheap Seats or even started Norse Mythology. So, that’s in my pile of books waiting for me to show them love and affection.

I found a journal entry, maybe from early last year, where I wrote, “…why I buy books. I seem to buy them to avoid reading what I have.” Then I come across this little gem in Ten Years in the Tub: “[So Many Books author Gabriel] Zaid’s finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph, when he says that ‘the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.'”

As I think about my growing library, and how long I’ll continue collecting thoughts about what I’ve read, I look forward to knowing that I could spend a small fortune on books. Or, maybe I’m just resigned to the fact. Time to get another bookshelf.