The first books of Autumn

September 2019

Books Bought:

  • Coldheart Canyon – Clive Barker
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe
  • Dooms Day Book – Connie Willis
  • The Best Plays of 2000-2001 – Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
  • The Photographer’s Handbook – John Hedgecoe
  • Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris
  • Four Metaphysical Poets: An anthology of poetry by Donne, Herbert, Marvell, and Vaughn – Richard Willmott
  • HTML & CSS: design and build websites – Jon Duckett
  • Japanese Ghost Stories – Lafcadio Hearn

Books Read:

  • Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss (unfinished)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
  • The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury
  • From the Dust Returned – Ray Bradbury
  • Draft No. 4 – John McPhee
  • Book of Sketches – Jack Kerouac (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

To start, I went very lean on purchasing books this month. But, Michael, there are nine books on the list! And, we know from reading these posts, you don’t always remember all the books you purchased!

True enough. However, the first eight books were picked up for a grand total of $3 (well, $2.60, and I told the woman to keep the forty cents). I perused two libraries this month, and purchased books from their Friends of the Library book sale. Three paperbacks for a dollar, and no more than $0.50 each on the others. I had planned on not buying any more, but books bring me great joy, as does shopping for and reading them.

Ghost Stories was an impulse buy, but purchased with rewards so no money was switching hands. It was a lean month for me in general, with not a lot of money coming in from gigs or otherwise. On lean months, I try and not overindulge. But I’m also a compulsive book shopper…

Anyway, that more or less explains the purchases. Dooms Day Book looked familiar to me. Rather, the author did. Connie Willis. I looked on the inner flap, but couldn’t see why I knew the name. After returning home, I saw in a stack of books Blackout, by Connie Willis. A sci-fi book with time travel and historical themes, both Blackout and Dooms Day Book explore similar adventures.

A few of the others I picked up as text books – Photographer’s HandbookBest PlaysMetaphysical Poets, and HTML & CSS. I didn’t want to add many narrative books to my stack – I have a large stack of to-reads. But books that I could flip through and study as I needed – something I didn’t need to read cover-to-cover – that was easy enough to justify.

In the reworking of my website, the web design book was a nice find, especially only at a dime.

In the reading column, I’ve mentioned before that I took a deep dive this month into Ray Bradbury. This was spurred on my a dream in which a dark carnival came to town, so I listened to Something Wicked This Way Comes on audiobook. Then I checked out Halloween Tree (audiobook) and From the Dust Returned.

I noticed in these books that Bradbury has a way of using descriptive language that is metaphorical and highly symbolic, utilizing long sentence chains to expound upon the descriptors.

Once, as a boy, sneaking the cool grottoes behind a motion picture theatre screen, on his way to a free seat, he had glanced up and there towering and flooding the haunted dark seen a women’s face as he had never seen it since, of such size and beauty built of milk-bone and moon-flesh, at to freeze him there alone behind the stage, shadowed by the motion of her lips, the bird-wing flicker of her eyes, the snow-pale- death-shimmering illumination from her cheeks.”

“They went down the steps in single file and with each step down the dark got darker and with each step down the silence grew more silent and with each step down the night became deep as a well and very black indeed and with each step down the shadows waited and seemed to lean from walls and with each step down strange things seemed to smile at them from the long cave which waited below.”

At times this language presents a unique challenge – following along the metaphorical rabbit hole and trying to keep up. The way in which Bradbury’s mind worked must have been nothing short of magical. And that’s why I go to books – for the magic they contain.

Some books I just opened and read for inspiration. Book of SketchesTools of TitansLetting Go, and Vagabonding. Potts’s book I’ve read twice before. Once in 2003, and again in 2016. I think I first learned of it from an interview on NPR. I couldn’t find that interview online, but here is a collection of interviews Mr. Potts has done over the years.

I didn’t fully understand my wanderlust in 2003. In 2016, fresh off a breakup and contemplating future life choices, I decided I would travel to Europe. I thought it would be three months, but instead expedited the trip by shortening it – one month in Europe, and I’d leave in three weeks. The first thing I did was take Vagabonding off the shelf and give it another read.

This dogeared copy has copious notes, highlights, underlining, and scribbling in it. Tucked away in its folds are recipes, airline itineraries, shopping lists, phone numbers, and fortune cookie fortunes. And as I prepare (mentally, practically, and financially) for the next adventure, it will no doubt receive new bits of scribbles and other scree.

Kerouac’s Book of Sketches influenced my style of journaling, perhaps more so in 2017 when I first picked up a copy, but even still.

“7 Feb ’17
Sitting in the car at church.
Early, which is unusual for me.
I stopped at the library, after
my first workout in weeks.
I love the shelves upon shelves
of books.
I don’t know what it is about
them.
Walking through the aisles, I’m excited
at one I’ve read.
Look at some I’ve never heard
of.
Try to pronounce names, places.
Ideas roll over me at the sheer
volume of pages,
Waiting to be held. Read.”

That was the day I found Book of Sketches. That’s when I started writing in my small Moleskine using a more poetic flow, rather than straight prose. My other journals still see me writing in normal patterns. When I remember to write in them.

I committed to more reading this month, and did better than I had the previous month. I also wanted to write more, and read John McPhee’s essays on writing contained in Draft No. 4. When it comes to writing, I’m of two minds – the first being akin to Just Do It. When Stephen King was asked what of pencil he used to write, his response was, “Blackwing 602 #2 pencil, longhand”. (You can read a full page on writing advice over at Seth Godin’s blog.) Because Mr. King shows up every morning at the same time, writes, and then calls it a day. He has a routine, and that’s where he has built his writing practice.

At the same time, knowing about other’s routines and their processes for writing is both interesting, and occasionally helpful. Like how Rolf Potts in Vagabonding describes his take on reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People for the first time: “…a charming mix of common sense (“be a good listener”), good advice (“show respect for the other man’s opinions”), and antique notions (“don’t forget how profoundly women are interested in clothes”).

Writers and their habits are similar – sometimes you can come away with good advice for your own work. Other times, it won’t apply to you. So, no, the type of pencil Stephen King uses doesn’t matter to me. However I did like learning that Neil Gaiman used a fountain pen to write in his journal. As a matter of fact, now that I’ve written with fountain pen for a few months, I can’t imagine going back. (I am trying not to deep dive down the fountain pen rabbit hole. A friend of mine has, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again.)

Back to McPhee, his communicating of his process is straight-forward and highly informative. Ben Yagoda, of The Wall Street Journal, burbs the book by saying, “Draft No. 4 belongs on the short shelf of essential books about the craft.”

What works for me is McPhee’s storytelling:

“Robert Gottlieb replaced William Shawn as the editor of The New Yorker in 1987. If eccentricity was a criterion for the job, Bob was qualified. At one point, he had a toaster in his office that erupted two slices of plastic toast every hour on the hour.”

In my hunting for a quote to put here, I chose the opening lines of the essay Editors & Publisher. I then proceeded to read the next eleven pages, simply because I couldn’t seem to make myself stop reading. This will be one that I come to again and again over the years.

The books I re-read comprise a short list. In my last home they had their own shelf. Currently I don’t have the room for that, but hopefully my next house will be brimming with bookshelf space.

That list is:

  • Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere
  • Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book
  • Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October
  • William R. Forstchen’s Arena
  • Rolf Potts’s Vagabonding 
  • Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception
  • Timothy Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Work-Week
  • And now – John McPhee’s Draft No. 4

What I’ve Read

Time frame…?

Books Bought:

  • Plato: Complete Works – Edited by John M. Cooper
  • NORTH: Finding Place in Alaska – Julie Decker, editor
  • Raven Steals the Light – Bill Reid & Robert Bringhurst
  • Travels in Alaska – John Muir
  • Nature Writing – John Muir (Library of America edition)
  • 100 Tough Questions for Japan – Itasaka Gen

Books Read:

  • Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss (unfinished)
  • Wilderness Essays – John Muir (unfinished)
  • How to Watch a Movie – David Thomson (unfinished)
  • On National Parks – John Muir (unfinished)
  • Lycanthia; or The Children of Wolves  – Tanith Lee (unfinished)
  • The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  • The Eye Never Sleeps: Striking to the Heart of Zen – Dennis Genpo Merzel
  • Emerson: Essays and Lectures – Ralph Waldo Emerson (unfinished)
  • The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

Well, who knows. It seems like April was the last time I wrote about my book purchases and reading. So… Here’s a list. It is probably incomplete. I look at a lot of books.

During the months of May-July, my work was highly demanding. But not the real work. Just the work for a paycheck. And the pay wasn’t even that good. Sometimes it’s about trying things – picking them up, seeing if you like them. If not, you put it down and walk away.

Highlights – Alaska was the big one. I purchased two books in Alaska: Raven and NORTH. The latter was published by collaboration with the Anchorage Museum and University of Washington Press. It includes works of art in the museum collection and essays about the Last Frontier.

To say that I was moved by Alaska would be an understatement. It was magnificent, and I cannot wait to go back.

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I like to pick up books when I travel. They’re not the lightest souvenir, but I’ve always had a connection with books. In Ireland, I purchased a used copy of On the Road. In Germany, a Lutheran hymnal. While in Prague, I got a handmade notebook.

Raven Steals the Light is a collection of Native myths from the Haida people. The Raven is a trickster, and a spirit, and a god. “The Raven, who of course existed at that time, because he had always existed and always would…” It recounts many native tales of the beginnings of things, and reasons for things.

I had a lot of false starts with books. Oscar Wao, for one. I tried, but couldn’t quite bring myself to read it. Same with Emerson. Same with Lycanthia. With Muir and Thomson. I just could not bring myself to read much.

Partly I think it’s owed to my having a lot on my mind. Hence I’ve been reworking my routines. I have now been reading each night before bed, settling into Name of the Rose for about 30-45 minutes a night. Sometimes less, if I’m really tired. Umberto Eco is interesting. I remember trying to read this book shortly after graduating high school, while sitting in a wing backed cushioned chair at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t get all that far into it.

It throws you Latin, and Italian, and maybe a splattering of French. Monastic terms I’m only vaguely familiar with, and some that I’ve never heard. Under all of that though, there is mystery and intrigue. A young monk has died mysteriously. If suicide, how did the window close behind him? If murder, is the assailant man (and thereby monk?), or something infernal? The Sherlockian monk William of Baskerville will use all his reasoning to get to the bottom of it.

It led me to discover the Italian mini-series, so I’m trying to find somewhere to watch that – with subtitles, preferably.

I added the two Muir books to my collection – I had been reading some essays by him before going to Alaska. I hope to finish at least one collection of his this year. Also the writings of Plato. I found this book used, and the fact that it was edited by Edith Hamilton caught my attention. I had done some myth research two years, reading over Hamilton as well as Joseph Campbell, and I wanted to see what sort of commentary was included in this book. I haven’t gotten around to opening it though.

I did just pop open Tools of Titans. I had picked it up on sale in December, and was just reading about Ferriss’s compulsion to record data.

I’m a compulsive note-taker. To wit, I have recorded nearly every workout since age 18 or so. Roughly 8 feet of shelf space in my home is occupied by spine upon spine of notebook upon notebook. That, mind you, is one subject. It extend to dozens. Some people would call this OCD, and many would consider it a manic wild goose chase. I view it simply: It is the collection of my life’s recipes.

I too take many notes, and have amassed a pile of notebooks. Not like Ferriss – not to that extent – but I’ve been jotting things down since I was in high school, and I’ve got notebooks with varying degrees of use on my shelves, in the garage, and in storage. If I had my way, this is what my house would look like:

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Maybe my next house…

Week’s Highlights

Some of the things that caught my interest this week.

  • Stu Larsen’s “I Will Be Happy“. This may be my new travel anthem for a while. I had listened to George Ezra’s Wanted on Voyage, especially on my last trip to Europe. (Barcelona was a particular favorite.)
  • Fountain Pen usage. After listening to Neil Gaiman’s interview on the Tim Ferriss Show, where he talked about Moleskine and Leuchtturm notebooks, and the fountain pens he uses, I decided to look into breaking out some pens that I’ve had stashed away for quite a while. I usually use Uni-Ball Vision Micro, but I’m always willing to try something new.
  • “How Not to be Boring”. This was an interesting video that I think came to me from one of the few newsletters I didn’t unsubscribe to. There’s a lot going on here, and I think it touches on charisma, introversion, honest and truthful exchanges with others, and self-discovery.
  • Godel, Escher, Bach. This is a book I came to through Seth Godin’s blog some years ago, and I started reading it but never finished. While perusing a used book store a couple of weeks ago I found a well-thumbed copy, and I decided to give it a go. It’s been my go-to nonfiction for the past week, and I’m excited to make a dent in this tome.

Time is a finite resource

How do you spend it? What does your currency go towards? Are you doing things that make you happy?

Some of the more pervasive questions I’ve been asking myself of late. Over the past two years I’ve had roughly 4 different jobs, and I’m currently interviewing for a new position. (Several, actually, across disparate fields.) I’ve had okay “jobs”, and tended to excel in them. However, much of the work has been hollow. Or left me feeling hollow.

Certainly it’s a societal norm to trade hours for money. And we trade the best years of our life away in a notion that we’ll enjoy our retirement that much more.

Yet I’ve been reading the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (finished it, and have actually begun rereading it). It’s one of those books that resonates with me. The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin was another. Business-focused, creative, and with just enough balls to say that the system may be wrong.

When I was a president of a board, I recall bumping against the mindset often; the mindset that was resistant to change because “it’s the way we’ve always done it.”

And if that’s the kind of mindset I have to fight tooth-and-nail with, is that really how I want to be spending my time?

I think not.

Job hunting

I’ve been actively seeking a job for about a month. The current telecommunications work I’m doing has me traveling to much, and enjoying it too little. I’m reshaping my life. Lifestyle design, as Tim Ferriss calls it.

It’s odd, how things line up. When I started reading 4-Hour Work Week, I was in my final weekend of Evita. The show about Argentinian Eva Peron, and here the author is talking about tango in Argentina.

Some might call it coincidence. But I call it serendipity. My life has been filled with too many “coincidences” for it not to be something more.

For instance, I’ve never found a job looking for one. Yet, I’ve been working since I was 15. And in numerous positions. Somehow, every time I need a job, I get offered one. When I’m not even looking.

The past month nothing has come available for me. And yet over the past week, so much has happened. I’ll be hosting my own radio program (much like how Eva had her own weekly show in Evita…) and it looks like I may be going back into fundraising.

Without even trying. Serendipity.

The Art of Stopping Time

I’m often contemplating the lack of time that I have. Mostly I believe it’s self-inflicted. For instance, I’ve signed on to two new shows over the coming six months, and I’m currently working up in Georgia.

For starters, we all have problems. Little foibles that make us who we are, the struggles that define us. Or, that we assume define us.

In some of my recent reading, I’ve found that we can exert more control over how we spend out time. Get off the social media (I barely use it myself now). Quit checking email (but what if I miss something?). We’re all guilty of time-wasters. The things that we tell ourselves are important, when really it’s just FOMO: fear of missing out.

I like this tale from Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

-found on BeMoreWithLess.com