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.

Monthly Reading

February 2018

Books Bought:

  • The Emerging Mind: The Reith Lectures – Vilayanur Ramachandran
  • Get in Trouble: Stories – Kelly Link
  • A History of Japan – H.R.P. Mason & J.G. Cainer
  • Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore – Lance Parkin

Books Read:

  • Later Essays – Susan Sontag (unfinished)
  • Head Strong – Dave Asprey (unfinished)
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century – Timothy Snyder
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil DeGrasse Tyson
  • American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For – David McCullough
  • Origin – Dan Brown

“Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’ barely gettin’ by.” But, I’m usually at work at 8, which means leaving the house by 7. Hopefully I get home by 6 in the evening. Then rehearsals typically start at 7, though when the show started tech week on the 19th last month we were expected at 6:30. That means for the first couple of weeks of February, I didn’t get much reading time.

Tried to make up for it though! Went through a lot of essays this month, purely by accident. Had picked up the Sontag in January purely by happenstance. Have only read three essays in the book, the first three from Under the Sign of Saturn, originally published in 1980 and collected in Later Essays. The three are “On Paul Goodman”, “Approaching Artaud”, & “Fascinating Fascism”.

A week or so ago, I wrote in my journal: “…her seeming mastery of language and the written word is staggering. As I read (or try to read) her essays, the sheer polysyllabic content is overwhelming. I’ve never seen [contemporary] writing (that I can recall) of such eloquence and yet so confusing.”

I say this with respect and admiration, for as many times as I may have to reread a sentence, I know I’m getting something from it. I’m thinking. I need to read her with a notebook nearby, because ideas flow from her writings and I can’t help but grab them and get them onto paper.

Interestingly enough I purchased a secondhand copy of Antonin Artaud’s The Theater and its Double (still unread) several years ago, and while reading Sontag’s critique of Artaud I think I’ve decided to leave it unread, at least for the time being.

So as I delve into Sontag, I seem to be neglecting the prose that I’ve been accumulating (Resurrection BluesTo Kill a MockingbirdA Darker Shade of Magic). The only fiction I managed to consume this month was Dan Brown’s Origin, a novel of the ever-vigilant symbologist Robert Langdon. (Cue Willem Dafoe’s, “Symbolism, symbolism…”)

The book had its triteness, certainly. But parts of it kept me guessing, and I love the research that goes into Brown’s novels. Also, a part of the story takes place in Budapest, which I visited last year for the first time, so it was enjoyable to hear about things that I recall seeing. (Just watched Red Sparrow as well, and it too had scenes in Budapest. I did very much like my time in Hungary.)

The technological futurism and physics-based universal beginnings had a through-line in my reading to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics. This man is highly informative, fun, and I greatly enjoyed reading this book. My favorite part was in his describing of English astronomer William Herschel, who in 1781 discovered the planet Uranus. Herschel wanted to measure the temperature of light, and using a prism split a sunbeam into its component parts – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. (Tyson: “Yes, the colors do indeed spell Roy G. Biv.”)

Placing a thermometer in each strand of colored light, and one for control just adjacent to the red, which he assumed would be room temperature, he took his readings. Yet, the “control” thermometer ended up rising higher than the red light. Again, Tyson:

“Herschel wrote:

‘[I] conclude, that the full red falls still short of the maximum of heat; which perhaps lies even a little beyond visible refraction. In this case, radiant heat will at least partly, if not chiefly, consist, is I may be permitted the expression, of invisible light; that is to say, of rays coming from the sun, that have such a momentum as to be unfit for vision.’

Holy s#%t!”

I had the pleasure of the audio book the first time through, so hearing Tyson saying, “Holy shit!” was worth the listen alone. But even prior to that, knowing that in the 18th Century this astronomer discovered basically the farthest planet from us in our solar system was attention-grabbing. Tyson loves this material, and it comes through in how he writes it, and how he speaks about it. And it makes the reader just a little more interested in the science, I believe.

Two more books of essays, On Tyranny and American Spirit had to do with what it means to be American, ranging from the beginning of our Nation to today. Enthralling, overall. From McCullough I learned about the founding fathers. About the feud between Jefferson and Adams and how they reconciled (I believe aided by Benjamin Rush), and that they both died on July 4th, 1826. Adams’s last words were, “Jefferson still survives,” yet Jefferson had just five hours preceding Adams.

Some of McCullough’s speeches, collected in American Voices, reverberate with hope, and love for the history of this Country. He shows great admiration for our founding fathers, and in reading his works I’ve found a renewed interest in the early American experiment (also owing to the successful Broadway hit Hamilton.) McCullough writes of history as Tyson writes of physics: with unbridled affection.

For all the optimism that Voices espouses, On Tyranny presents a more pragmatic and cautionary view of the state of our Nation. Snyder writes in his prologue:

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct. As the Founding Fathers debated our Constitution, they took instruction from the history they knew. Concerned that the democratic republic they envisioned would collapse, they contemplated the descent of ancient democracies and republics into oligarchies and empire… In founding a democratic republic upon law and establishing a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers sought to avoid the evil that they, like the ancient philosophers, called tyranny.”

What follows are twenty warnings, nineteen of which are accompanied by short essay, cautioning the reader that much of the divisiveness of the past two years looks frighteningly similar to the rise of fascism in Europe during the thirties and forties. The author, Levin Professor of History at Yale University Timothy Snyder, makes convincing arguments, and uses case study and rhetoric to show the potential danger. Yet he advises that the citizenry can make a difference, not to rely on populist sentiment, and be careful  as to avoid complacency.

Some might argue that On Tyranny is a thinly veiled criticism of President Trump and the way in which he ascended to the presidency. My response would be, we need more criticism, lest democracy itself die.

In my *cough* *cough* free time, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Some of my favorites are Marketplace, Echoes, On Being, and Bulletproof Radio. Occasionally I will drink my morning coffee bulletproof, meaning with butter and MCT oil (or coconut oil). Having been diagnosed with RA back in 2012, I recently decided that I wanted to see how far I could hack my system.

I’ve barely gotten into chapter one on Head Strong, so no progress to report yet.

The Alan Moore bio and Kelly Link book were remanded purchases. Any time I walk by those bins, I find myself fishing for at least ten minutes through the titles that they have available. A History of Japan was a purchase prompted by my brother asking me a simple question about imperial history, and I couldn’t recall. For years I was hypnotized by Japanese culture and history. I picked it up for reference, and have been begun Japanese language lessons to refresh my dismal vocabulary.

Emerging Mind is part of a larger collection of books on thought I’m acquiring, for something I intend to write later this year. One part philosophy, one part science. For the rest of March, I think I’m focusing on Sontag.

Until next time…

Unerring Independence

On 2 July, 1776, the Continental Congress declared freedom from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was signed 4 July, 1776, and the majority of signatures were given to this document in August.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

John Adams said of this new nation, “It was patched and piebald policy then, as it is now, ever was and ever will be, world without end.” We see even today the unique challenges and opportunities of this “American Experiment”.

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist I, pleads to the people, “Yes, my countrymen, I own to you that, after having given it an attentive consideration, I am clearly of opinion that it is your interest to adopt [the Constitution]. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.”

Two-hundred forty-one years later, we stand with history at our backs. The great men and women of American upbringing, countless immigrants who have made these lands their homes, masters of industry and political prowess; they made way for what we now experience – the boons of prosperity, and the burdens we endure.

When this government was founded, it was a upon a belief of freedom from tyranny, and these new “Americans” died for this conviction.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Two documents: a Declaration and a Constitution. These are the backbone of America. We, the people… We comprise everything else. One no greater or lesser than any other. The military is our great skin, protecting us from external forces, and ensuring “common defence.” The three branches of government allows for “domestic Tranquility,” “Justice,” & promoting the “general welfare” of the citizenry.

The “Blessings of Liberty” are ours, and it is with great pride that one can call themselves an American. The political tides will change from time to time in this Country, and it is still at best “patched and piebald policy.” But the belief in this experiment, this liberty and justice for all, guides the people of this Nation towards the unknown future, as it always has done.

George Washington had this to say in his farewell address:

“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”

In closing, I am of the opinion that people may fail, and policies may falter. But the notions with which this Country was established will remain in perpetuity, so long as someone still remains that will say they are American. Happy Fourth of July.