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

Delinquent Reading Lists

Books Bought:

  • The 4-Hour Workweek – Timothy Ferriss
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
  • Awaken The Giant Within  – Tony Robbins
  • Winter – Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • Noir – Christopher Moore
  • The Buddhism of Tibet: Or, Lamaism, with Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism – L.A. Waddell
  • Daring Greatly – Brene Brown
  • Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
  • The Collected Letters of Alan Watts – Edited by Joan Watts & Anne Watts
  • The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City – Edited by Jason Blum
  • Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival – Dave Canterbury
  • The Han Solo Adventures (Han Solo at Stars’ End / Han Solo’s Revenge / Han Solo and the Lost Legacy) – Brian Daley
  • Letters from a Stoic – Seneca
  • Zen: The Supreme Experience (The Newly Discovered Scripts – Alan Watts; Edited by Mark Watts
  • Beat Spirit: The Way of the Beat Writers as a Living Experience – Mel Ash
  • Unlimited Power – Anthony Robbins
  • The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic – Jason Surrell

Books Read:

  • Later Essays – Susan Sontag (unfinished)
  • The 4-Hour Workweek – Timothy Ferriss
  • Oklahoma! – Richard Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson (unfinished)
  • The Collected Letters of Alan Watts – Edited by Joan Watts & Anne Watts (unfinished)
  • Awaken The Giant Within  – Tony Robbins
  • Homeland – R.A. Salvatore (unfinished)
  • Magic The Gathering: Arena – William R. Forstchen
  • The Way of the Superior Man – David Deida (unfinished)
  • Death Warmed Over – Kevin J. Anderson
  • Blame – Jeff Abbott
  • The Last Minute – Jeff Abbott
  • Braving the Wilderness – Brene Brown
  • Small Favor – Jim Butcher
  • Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo (unfinished)
  • The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less – Richard Koch (unfinished)
  • You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero (unfinished)

Well, here is basically March through June of this year. I’m hoping this is comprehensive, but I know I picked up a few other books here and there. March was a slow month for reading. I had been thinking about the new job, a show opening, etc., it seemed like I just had a lot on my plate. April didn’t seem to go much better in that regard. May I did a little more reading, even revisiting some books I had read previously.

To start, I can’t say enough positive things about 4-Hour Workweek. It was both an enjoyable read as well as highly motivational. Something about the freedom to travel while working has led me to revamping my spending habits as well as my work habits.

The new job is mostly from my home office, though I take a lot of meetings. My plan is that after the first three months, the face-to-face meetings will be condensable into “office days”, where I can batch all my meetings into one or two days for the week. That will free up my time to make those travel arrangements.

I’ve even traded in the Prius for a Rav4, so that I can get a tow-along camper and hit some camp grounds.

That’s some of the effect the book had on me. I listened to the audio book and mostly it was on two business trips, Daytona to Naples and Back, that I was able to listen to it. I recommend getting the physical copy (in addition to the audio book, if need be) so that you can have access to the materials in it. I believe that they are all online at Tim.blog, along with his weekly podcast and other resources. Again, I highly recommend checking it out.

Fresh off the motivational bandwagon that is 4-Hour Workweek, I tried Subtle Art. I liked it, but I haven’t been able to finish it. This one speaks more to changing mindsets, and honestly, my mindset of not giving a f*ck is pretty well established. I’m able to let things go and move with the flow, and this book did not resonate with me as much. I will finish it though, and there are certainly some wonderful highlights in it.

And then I had to try a Tony Robbins book. I had never read anything by him, or listened to anything that was recorded, but I had heard about him for many years so I thought I would try it out. I got the audio book of Awaken the Giant.

I enjoyed it. This was a quick read, and had a lot to do with changing your mindset. But again, having been a convert to the mindset changing your reality, much of the content was not useful in an applicable way, but rather more informational. Found another Tony Robbins book in the library sale bin, so I picked up Unlimited Power. It’s in a stack right now to read, which I’ll get around to.

The rockiness of 2016 taught me how amazing the power of thought, intention and mindset could be. After such a heavy nonfiction motivational slant, I wanted to lean in to some lighter reads. Arena and Small Favor were both books I had read previously (Arena I first read 20 years ago, and have likely read it a half dozen times since). Both are about wizards, each facing great odds too balance the scales of good and evil. Quick reads, mind-easing in their straightforward approaches. I love them both.

I read a few other books in the Magic the Gathering series, tied in to the card game, but found Arena to by far be my favorite. I’ve actually read all the Harry Dresden books Butcher has written, and am eagerly awaiting the new novel. I probably saw the television show, which only lasted one season, but enjoyed it enough to entice my getting into the series.

Early on I had been delving into Susan Sontag’s essays, but it got pushed to the side when I discovered the letters of Alan Watts. As I’ve written before, I find the faith, culture, and language of Asian nations to be extremely interesting. Alan Watts devoted much of his life to understanding Zen Buddhism, and brought that understanding to Western audiences.

I’m only into the 1930s with his letters, reading about his concern for his parents back in England with the coming war, and his newborn daughter with her curiosities.

The idea of letter writing makes me think of how we use language – how when we email, or text, we’re not crafting the sentences as we used to do when letter writing. I believe that’s part of the reason the mailing of letters is gaining some popularity again. I prefer handwriting notes, and pen my journal pages every morning.

Watts’s letters are my before bed ritual, and I usually read three or four before putting the book down and going to sleep. (In my quest for better rhythms, turning lights off, etc, I’d been trying to figure out how best to read before bed. I just purchased a little clip light on sale, something made by French Bull. It’s cute, and seems to do the job.)

Audio books from the library for my daily commutes included 80/20 Principle, Braving the WildernessDeath Warmed OverThe Last MinuteBlame, and Six of Crows. I’ve read a few Abbot books, mostly about former-CIA special operative Sam Capra. I’ve read them out of order, though, and am still playing catch up. Last Minute is number three in the series. (Start with Adrenaline.)

Blame was an interesting one, a standalone about a young woman with amnesia, resulting from a car crash where her passenger, a boy about her age, died. Starting up two years after the crash, some weird things start to happen, making her question what happened the night of the crash.

I remained pretty riveted, waiting to see what was going to happen. A couple plot points that I may have disagreed with, but the characters were fleshed out and it was easy to follow, even when jumping through three separate timelines (pre-crash, immediately following the crash, and two years later).

Put in 80/20, listened for a disc, decided I needed more attention to it. I’m planning on picking it up again once I finish You Are a Badass. I enjoy Badass. There are many elements I recognize, partially from my self-help book exploration, and partially from my own journey over the past two-and-a-half years.

Six of Crows also was another non-starter for me. I think I need to read the other two books in the Grisha trilogy, then maybe I’ll revisit Crows. 

Then there was Brene Brown. Daring Greatly has been on my reading list for many years. I hadn’t picked up a copy. I checked out Braving the Wilderness, and gave it a listen. Holy shit. I remember listening, nodding my head yes, laughing. It’s great. She’s got a wonderful conversational tone, and some good insights. I also listened to her on Super Soul Saturdays with Oprah, both episodes. And bought Daring Greatly.

As you can see, I did some book shopping. I like getting books when life seems to be overwhelming, but I also like getting books on discount. So, used books and remaindered are my go-tos. Or the library. It’s like a book store, only free.

I think I’ll try and be a little more consistent with these lists, so that I’m not cramming four months into one post. Until next time!