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 still furloughed. 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 back home 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.

Weekly Rundown

A Valentine’s Day rundown. Mostly worked this week. But, some things:

Reading: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. This had been on my to-read list for a couple of years, and I couldn’t remember why I originally put it on. What started as a novella on a Harlem street-hustler (in a moderately magic-filled world) spiraled into Lovecraftian horror. I enjoyed it – a fun, quick read – though I still can’t recall what was it that made me jot it down originally…

Listening: Bach’s Cello Suites. My favorite is 1, which is a ubiquitous piece, but all of them are lovely. I’ve always enjoyed cello music. I’ve been told it’s because the cello makes a sound closest to the human voice of all the instruments. I don’t know if that’s true, but I wanted to revisit some cello music, particularly Bach.

Learning: About Alaska. Currently looking over some information regarding the 1899 Harriman Expedition. Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt was an admirer of the reports of flora and fauna being assembled by the team of the expedition, but it didn’t stop Roosevelt from dismantling Harriman’s railroad company in 1904 in antitrust litigation.

And more on personal libraries, following up from the earlier post:

Returning to simplicity

“On a basic level, there are three general methods to simplifying your life: stopping expansion, reining in your routine, and reducing clutter.”

– Rolf Potts, Vagabonding

Long before I discovered minimalism or the Kondo-method, there was a book I had read discussing the hows and whys of long-term travel. And I wasn’t ready for it when I first read it, back in 2003. The world was where I’d wanted to be, but I had a lot holding me back. It wasn’t until 2016 that I took significant steps toward making the dream of long-term world travel a reality.

Still, I combat the clutter and spending in my life. Having finished Strayed’s Wild, a portion of me wants to rid myself of nearly all my things, the bulk of which are already in a storage unit. She burned books after she read them, nightly, lightening the load of her pack to make walking just a tad easier.

We’ve all moved, and know that each time we lift that heavy piece of furniture we think that next time it’s not coming with us. But what about the smaller pieces, the things that don’t add value to our life anymore – things we just carry out of familiarity? Wouldn’t moving on be easier without them?

Maybe they’re not all material. Maybe some things we carry our internal – things that don’t serve us. Maybe those are the most important things to let go of…

Weekly Rundown

What I’m reading: I read very little this week. Best of intentions and all, but time slipped away. I did start perusing An Innocent Abroad, compiled travel wisdom by Don George and published by Lonely Planet. But, not enough to actually call it reading.

What I’m listening to: Die Winterreise by Franz Schubert. I learned of this song cycle five or ten years ago, and I listen to it every winter. It’s 24 pieces, poetry set to music, following a man’s journey into the snow to rid himself of his departed, lost love. Quintessentially German.

What I’m spending time on: The Witcher on Netflix, starring Henry Cavill. I hadn’t followed the phenomenon that is The Witcher, from a fantasy franchise based on the series of books from Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. But the show has garnered some attention, and I wanted to see what it was all about. A man fighting monsters in a world with wizards, elves, and dragons.

What I’ve shared:

Weekly Rundown

The week that was, Dec. 20th. More work; started making end-of-year plans; brainstorming goals for 2020. The next ten days will be pretty crammed full. But I had some good highlights this week.

What I’m reading: Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process edited by Joe Fassler. Oddly enough, I first started reading this a year ago, December 2018. I did not finish it, but something made me pick it up this week. I have the Kindle edition, and with reading on my iPad I sometimes find it less intrusive when I don’t continue reading. The unfinished book stays on my nightstand, screaming at me to pick it up again. The iPad doesn’t say much at all. But led to Jack Gilbert while reading this, so I’m curious to see what other gems may come out of it.

What I’m listening to: Not impeachment proceedings, and only some Christmas music. This week I bounced mostly from podcasts to trying to pick the next audiobook I want to dive into. I’ve got several in the queue, but I haven’t been quite ready to pull the trigger on one. I’m hoping inspiration strikes.

What I’m spending time with: This week it’s a quote – “If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.” I hadn’t read Jack Gilbert before. I may have read that bit in Light the Dark last year, but I didn’t feel it like I feel it now. Another quote which has some meaning to me comes from another Jack, this one named Kerouac. “I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.

Other things of interest this week:

 

Live Bravely

“If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.” – Jack Gilbert

In Light the Dark, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Big Magic) wrote about finding the work of poet Jack Gilbert (no relation). Shortly after reading this over the past few days I came across a quote by Benjamin Franklin which stated, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.” And the two seemed to complement each other.

Elizabeth writes, “Live bravely when you’re young, we say. And maybe again when you retire, if you play your cards right. Jack Gilbert refused that argument: No, I’m just going to live that way every single day of my life, thanks.”

What would that look like? To live bravely throughout our days? For Jack Gilbert, who worked at steel mills before becoming a poet, that looked like a Pulitzer nomination for his first book. Then, accepting relative obscurity, he went to live and travel in Europe and Asia. He published five collections in five decades, and two novels. But he stayed away from mainstream literature and academia.

But he lived truthfully, to himself, and to others. He experienced life and sampled all it had to offer. Fellow poet and lover Linda Gregg said of him, “”All Jack ever wanted to know was that he was awake—that the trees in bloom were almond trees—and to walk down the road to get breakfast. He never cared if he was poor or had to sleep on a park bench.”

Life is different for all of us, but bravely living it will leave a mark on those around us regardless of who we are or where we come from.

In other words, do something worth writing.

 

 

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.