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:

 

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.

Weekly Rundown

What I’m reading: Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy by Robichaud and Irwin. Sometime last year I played D&D for the first time, though the campaign only lasted a few months. Some friends and I have been talking about getting back together on a weekly basis. Also being interested in Philosophy, this was an interesting find for me.

What I’m listening to: White noise. Lots and lots of white noise.

What I’m spending time with: Decluttering. Between selling things on eBay, throwing stuff out, and donated gently used items, it seems like I’ve gotten rid of so much and yet I still have too much. I’ve found that everything has a way of piling up. From the smallest receipt to the boxes that online orders come in from. I started with Marie Kondo’s book three years ago, and have waged a war in my house against excess stuff. It’s still anyone’s guess which of us will win.

Other things of interest:

  • HBO’s new series featuring the indomitable Helen Mirren as Catherine the Great. This article addresses the troubling effects of rumors, especially as they relate to women who take their sexual power seriously. A good read. Another over at The Daily Beast.
  • Star Wars Episode IX final trailer is out. Umm, I have thoughts. I’ll wait to see it, but I was underwhelmed by Episode VIII. I thought Force Awakens set up a good series, but then Last Jedi felt less like a part of the saga a more a one-off film featuring characters from the Episodes. So like I said, I’ll wait to see it.
  • Vulture’s Read Like the Wind – a new space for discovering books. I like books. They like books. It’s two for one.

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.

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

Returning

The longer you wait to start something back up, the harder it can be to get it going. That’s been the case for my writing. Also some other things – yoga, reading, and decluttering, as examples.

Sometimes you get sidetracked. It happens. And it happens to everyone. No matter what the circumstance, or how long it’s been, just get back in there. Maybe you are out of the flow, and it takes longer to do what you had done before. Or you can’t do as much. But just try and get those muscles moving – those juices flowing. It feels good.

Will this be the push that gets me back in the swing? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the important thing is to try.