30 Days Off Social Media

Yesterday marked 30 days off social media for me, and the verdict is in: I didn’t miss it. I opened up Facebook and Twitter on my laptop yesterday and it took all of 30 seconds of browsing to realize that I could easily go another 30 days, 30 months, 30 years without it.

This is not to say that I don’t miss the people I interact with on Facebook or Twitter. I just don’t like the medium anymore, and I’m looking for other ways to interact. I have, for instance, been carrying on a letter-writing campaign with a friend who lives across the country. This isn’t as speedy as Facebook comments, but it is always a delight to get an actual letter in the mail, read through it and reply thoughtfully.

And, of course, it is more difficult to stay up-to-date with friends and family, although my wife helps in that regard. She pointed out, for instance, that my brother and his family were on vacation. She’d seen the pictures on Facebook.

I’ve enjoyed waking up in the morning and not reaching for Facebook or Twitter first thing. Instead, I’ll peruse the L.A. Times for a little while (a paper I still enjoy reading even though I no longer live in L.A.). I’ve also enjoyed not interrupting the even flow of life by the need to make an update. That is perhaps one of the biggest benefits I’ve seen. Many times in the last 30 days, I’ve found myself looking at something–a tree in full bloom, an interesting cloud formation, a brilliantly-colored bird perched on a rock–and thought, this would make a great picture to post. And on every occasion but one, I’ve resisted the urge to take photo let alone post anything. Instead, I take a little extra time to just admire what I am looking at.

(The one time I did take a photo was so that I could print it out and paste it into my journal.)

At this point, I don’t expect to return to social media anytime soon. I am not canceling my accounts, but they are essentially dormant, save for things like the automated posts that get made when a new blog post appears (like this one). You can always reach me here on the blog, or by email, which I am not giving up, and to which I try my best to respond quickly.


High school is 30 years in the rearview mirror, but I was thinking about the bus ride to school recently. I typically did one of three things on the bus: slept, listened to music on my Sony Walkman, or read. The ride took about 45 minutes and during that time, whatever activity it was I chose, it went uninterrupted. I can remember listening to music, watching the Los Angeles landscape roll by. If I chose to sleep, I fell asleep within a minute or two and slept until the bus hissed to a halt at my stop. If I read a book, I had 45 uninterrupted minutes of reading.

I was thinking about this, because today, aside from sleep at night, I can’t think of any activity that goes 45 minutes without an interruption. I can’t think of an activity that goes 22 minutes without an interruption. On the rare instance that I watch something on my phone–a 22-minute episode of a sitcom, for instance–I cannot get through an entire episode without some kind of interruption. This is true for reading. It’s even true when I work.

For a time, I thought this was mostly related to the interrupt-driven style of social media, not just its notifications, but the desire it creates to proactively stop what you are doing and check what’s going on. However, I am into my third week of a complete social media blackout, and the interrupts are still there: email, text messages, and the need to go down rabbit holes, triggered by something I was reading.

Not all of the interrupts are digital. Having three kids provides plenty of interrupts. If the Internet had never been born, the family-based interrupts would still exist. I generally don’t mind those (although if they happen to pile onto the other interrupts it can sometimes be maddeningly frustrating). I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve given up on an activity simply because it loses continuity thanks to all of these interrupts.

Some of the interrupts are self-inflicted. Often, if I am reading about something, I will pause my reading to go look it up on the Internet to get more information, diving in Wikipedia or other sources. I think that might have seemed like a luxury to the kid riding the bus who was always curious about things. Looking back, however, I was perfectly happy filing the questions away in my mind, and seeking out answers later at the library.

I have been looking for ways to reduce the interrupts. It isn’t easy. I’ve eliminated the social media interrupts, but texts and email still remain. Under certain circumstances, I can ignore them, but as much as I hate to admit it, they are the primary forms of communication I use these days, and can be hard to ignore. When I go for a walk in the morning, I leave my phone behind. This makes phone interruptions impossible, but it also means I can’t listen to my audiobook while I walk. That’s probably a fair trade, as it allows my mind to wander for half an hour or so.

Still, I sometimes miss the days when life wasn’t as interrupt-driven. Sure, there was no streaming video, and TV programs had commercials, but those commercials served as natural breakpoints. You knew you had two minutes to run to the restroom, or grab a can of soda from the fridge. I miss laying on the couch with a book, and reading for hours at a time, the world slipping away, and me with it, to some other time and place, without being yanked back by a Facebook notification, text message, or alert from a weather app telling me that it has started to rain.

Remarkably, perhaps even ironically, I managed to write this entire post in one sitting without ever leaving my editor or pausing for some interruption.

The Diary and the Lens

I. The Diary

I was listening to an old playlist over the weekend, and on it were a few songs that reminded me of my college days. Those days are a quarter century in the past, but the songs drew forth memories like a rod draws lightning. Some of those memories were surprisingly specific. I sat listening to the songs, and thought about my college days, but with few exceptions, all I could were the vaguest of memories, nothing like what the songs could elicit.

For a long time afterward, I thought about those lost memories, and thought about other times in my life where my memories are equally vague. Part of the reason I started to keep a diary back in 1996 was to aid what I imagined would be an aging memory. But there was something else, too. I can remember, quite clearly, laying in my bed as a boy of eight or nine, and saying to myself, “Today is Wednesday, June 19, 19xx…” (the specific date doesn’t matter, it was as arbitrary as the thought) “…Twenty years from now, I wonder if I will remember that I was thinking this, laying here in bed?”

Of course, I can’t remember what the date was, only that I had thoughts like that. Since 1996, I have diaries that I can refer to as an aid to memory. They bring some events into sharper view, but still not as clearly as I’d like. I’ve always been impressed by dedicated diarists like those of the Adams family. What I have seen and read from their diaries seems different from my own. My own entries often begin with, “Up at 6:30 am, my day to take the kids to school, and then started working…” or some variant thereof. Reading through it, I find a good accounting of the day, which helps in knowing what happened when, but isn’t much of an aid in producing clear pictures of the past in my mind.

As David McCullough wrote of John Adams:

Determined to understand human nature, fascinated by nearly everyone he encountered, [Adams] devoted large portions of his diary to recording their stories, their views on life, how they stood, talked, their facial expressions, how their minds worked. In the way that his literary commonplace book served as a notebook on his reading, his diary became his notebook on people. “Let me search for the clue which led great Shakespeare into the labyrinth of human nature. Let me examine how men think.”

My diary is more of a journal in the sense that it is an accounting of events, places, people, without much color, like columns of numbers in an ledger. It makes me confident in timelines, but does little to paint of picture of my life on a given day.

II. The Lens

Thinking about this over the weekend, it occurred to me that a diary was like a telescope lens for human memory. Without a lens, a telescope is nothing more than an empty tube, showing the world as it is today. But add a lens and point it to the heavens and you can see back in time. The better the lens, the clearer the image.

Our house is in utter disarray at the moment. Contractors have been at the walls, slapping on new coats of paint. They’ve pounded the floors, replacing the old carpets with new ones. Shelves have been cleared, books backed into 40 boxes and crammed into our Harry Potter closet (i.e. our “closet under the stairs”). Our living room is crammed with boxes that need to get put into storage. As I write this, my home office is empty, save for a desk, and this laptop. The stress and turmoil of preparing to sell a house and buy a new one has played tempest with my emotions: stress, exhilaration, sadness.

My diary entries for these days are mostly the same as they have always been. I’ve been using a very weak lens, one that allows me to see what happened on a given day, but the image is blurry to the point of uselessness. From the entries I’ve written about the recent contractor chaos, the future me would only know that work was done around the house; he’d have no idea of the mess, the stress, the constant running up and down stairs with armfuls of boxes. So I have decided to create a better lens.

Using 25-years as a guidepost, I ask myself, “How can I recreate the scene in our house these last few weeks in a way that will convey a clear picture to myself 25 years hence? What would have made my college days 25 years past more clear in my head than they are today?

I’ve found that, writer though I am, this is a difficult task, at least at first. I am so used to writing entries the way I do that it is difficult to change. Also, it means writing more, and I am often weary at the end of the day. But I am fighting these difficulties in an effort to produce a better lens through which to view my life.

Why it should be that I am so caught by this desire to document I can’t properly explain. I’m not sure I know myself. Part of it is imitation. People I’ve admired have done the same. Part of it is utility: that “when did such-and-such take place?” thing. Since my kids were born, part of it is a desire to show them what my life was like (and theirs) when they are older. Part of it is the pure joy of writing. But a stronger lens, I think, will help to banish some of the melancholy I feel when thinking of the passage of time.

As McCullough wrote,

They must keep diaries, Adams told [his grandchildren] as once he had told their father. Without a diary, their travels would “be no better than a flight of birds through the air,” leaving no trace.

Writing with Vim

I am back to writing with Vim again. I have been flip-flopping among writing tools, and finally settled back on Vim. For those who are not familiar with Vim, it is a text editor that has been around forever. It is not for the feint of heart. It can be somewhat difficult to learn, especially if you are not used to a modal tool, or not a fan of keyboard commands.

So then why use it? I’ve given this quite a bit of thought over the last week or so that I’ve been back with it, and there are several reasons I think I will stick with it going forward.

1. Future compatibility

A few months ago, I began to try to collect all of my old writing. My intention was to build an archive of my writing from the time I first started, right through the present, and then keep it going forward. I wanted an easy way to see anything I’d ever written with the intent of paid publication. I started to write with the intent to sell stories in December 1992. Believe it or not, I still have those files 27 years later. I used Microsoft Word 5.5. for DOS back then, and these files are all in that format. The latest version of Microsoft Word can’t read them.

This is an example of a compatibility problem I want to avoid going forward. If my writing is going to be stored digitally, I want it to be in a format that is mostly immune to compatibility issues. Plain text is the answer. Vim is a text editor and allows me to write plain text files. I use Markdown in my plain text to get formatting I want in the output, but the files themselves are nothing more than simple text.

There are many advantages to this, a few of which I will touch on later.

2. Separating content from presentation

WYSIWYG just doesn’t work for me the way I envisioned it would when it first came out. I remember the first version of Microsoft Word that had a what-you-see-is-what-you-get interface. Even earlier, I remember AppleWorks, which also had a WYSIWYG interface. It was very cool to be able to layout the document on the screen to appear exactly as you want it on the page.

As I began to write, however, I quickly learned two things:

  1. I spent too much time playing around with formatting options, when I should have been writing.
  2. There are really only a small handful of standard formats that I use on a day-to-day basis.

Scrivener was the first writing tool I used that did a very good job of separating the content form the presentation of a document. In Scrivener, you write content and then compile it into one of many formats. You can move text around easily, and make the screen look however you want it to look, but the presentation–that is, the document that Scrivener compiles–can look completely different from what appears on the screen.

Vim allows me this separation as well. How things look on my screen is completely different from how the document they produce looks, but that is okay, because I still only use a few standard output formats (standard manuscript, letter, etc.). I use Pandoc to compile my Vim markdown into a Word document, or a PDF.

3. Look and feel

I’ve mentioned that my favorite word process of all time was Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS. Maybe it’s because it was the first word processor I used when I started writing to sell stories, and its look and feel somehow imprinted on me at an impressionable age, but I like the look of white text on that blue screen.I have tried to mimic that look and feel in a variety of text editors and word processors over the years. When I came back to Vim a week ago, I took another focused crack at it–and managed to get as close as I possibly can. The text on the screen looks exactly as I want it to look:

  • White text with a blue background.
  • Show underlines instead of italics in markup–because underline is how you represent italics in a standard manuscript format, and it stands out better on the screen.
  • Not too much else on the screen.
Writing with Vim

I realize that I can come close to this in other word processors. What I have not been able to do is get the look and feel that I want, while maintaining compatibility, and separating the content from the presentation layer–until now.

4. Change history

I like being able to see the evolution of what I write. Plain text makes it easy to see differences from one version to the next. I use flashbake, which is a tool that automatically checks in what I am working on to git’s revision control system every 15 minutes. Everything I write has an automated history of its construction. I tag certain check-ins, like “first draft”, “second draft”, “submitted draft”, “corrected draft”, “published draft”, etc. I can check out any of these and compare to any other.

I learn from these changes. It is interesting to be able to go back into time and look at things I took out, or left in. It also means nothing is ever wasted or deleted. If I write a scene that I really like, but doesn’t quite work in the story, I can remove it and yet the scene is still retained in git where I can always find it.

Here is a recent example of part of the git change log from a story that I have been working on.

Change History

5. One tool for all my writing

Over the years, I’ve found myself using different tools for different types of writing: one for paid writing, another (WordPress) for blogging, another still when writing correspondence. It means having to remember a variety of different key commands (which tend to vary from one tool to the next) as well as differences in the way they function.

I want one tool for all of my writing. I look back to writers in the first half of the twentieth century, doing the bulk of their writing on one typewriter, and using it until the poor machine wore down. Story drafts, letters, essays, everything goes through that one machine. It becomes an extension of the writer. In an effort to simplify, I’d like to be able to use just one tool for all of my writing. Of course, there is writing that I do that won’t get into Vim–mostly email–but there are always exception.

I can do this easily with Vim thanks to Pandoc, which can take my markdown file and convert it to any format I want, using template files. I have a letter template, a standard manuscript template, etc. From the plain text markup, I can produce with a single command, a properly formatted manuscript in Word format, or PDF format. I can do the same for letters, notes, critiques, etc.

6. Searching

With all my files as plain text, searching is much easier. Plus, tools like Vim make it easy to use regular expressions for searching, and I can easily search multiple files at once.

I’ve been using Vim for all of my writing for the last two weeks or so and I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with it. I’m trying hard to stick with Vim’s standard keyboard navigation (instead of the arrow keys) because I think it will make it easier to use with other computers over time. Plus, as I get more familiar with them, I find Vim’s navigation to be a power tool.

And yes, as you can see from the screenshot above, this post was written in Vim.

Revisiting the Revolution

In fifth grade, we learned American history. I lived in New England at the time, and there was no better place to learn about the American Revolution. Upon a hill in my neighborhood was an old graveyard. It had a stone wall, and among the briers and brambles aging gravestones tilted this way and that. Several of them had rusted markers in front of them indicating that the person buried there fought in the Revolutionary War. They fought in the Revolutionary War. You couldn’t get closer to history than that, not in the fifth grade. It left an impression with me right down to the present. I am fascinated with the period of time surrounding the American Revolution, and the people involved.

Last fall, I read Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father by Stephen Fried, a wonderful biography of Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, friend of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and the man who re-ignited the light of Adams and Jefferson’s friendship after many years. You can’t read about that time period without Rush’s name appearing just about everywhere. Reading in the fall reminded me of how much I enjoy that period.

Last week, I read 1776 by David McCullough, and like Rush’s efforts with Adams and Jefferson, it re-kindled my interest in the American Revolution. Yesterday, I kicked off a diversion into that period once again. I started re-reading John Adams by David McCullough, my third time reading that biography. I first read the book in the summer of 2001, the year it was first published. I happened to be in New England at the time, in Maine, and I remember sitting up until late at night, unable to put the book down.

I read it again a few years ago, uncertain if it would hold up to the original reading. I enjoyed it even more the second time, perhaps because I knew more about the history than I did 18 years ago. The book is my favorite biography, the best one I’ve ever read, and John Adams has been my favorite president ever since I first read the book in 2001. (Note: I don’t claim that Adams was the best president, just my favorite.)

Last year I finally finished Dumas Malone’s 6-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson and His time. A few years earlier I read Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington. But there are still some gaps. I’m kicking off this journey back to the Revolution with John Adams because I love the book. But when that is finished, I plan on reading a few others. These include:

  • Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. Because I believe it’s good to read more than one biography of a president if possible, and Malone’s biography, while fascinating, is somewhat dated.
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. I’ve resisted reading this because Hamilton always came across as an unlikeable character in other biographies I’ve read. Truth is, I know little about him, so I think it’s time to change that.
  • American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. I’ve read a biography of John Quincy Adams, and it seems that Andrew Jackson is a natural cap to that particular time period. (Also, I visited the Hermitage while on vacation last summer.)

That leaves just two of the first seven president for whom I still need to read a biography: James Madison and James Monroe. I’m sure I’ll get to them eventually.

The other reason I decided to dive back into the American Revolution is to remind myself why there was a revolution in the first place. With all of the craziness going on in the country and around the world today, I feel like I sometimes lose sight why we declared our independence. I have this feeling that if Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hancock, Rush, and many others would be appalled at what we’ve done with the revolution into which they placed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Articles I Read – Week of 10 March 2019

It seems as if my little experiment is working. Nearly 50 days ago, I made a goal of reading one magazine article a day as a way with keeping up with all of the magazines I subscribe to. The idea was that in a given month, there was a combined total of about 30 “feature” articles. Tomorrow with be Day 50, and I feel like I’ve been successful. I managed to get through most of the articles in the March issues I’ve received, and the April issues are just beginning to make their appearances. Here is what I read this week. Bold items are recommended. Some articles may require subscriptions for online reading.

Digital Declutter

Effective immediately, I am beginning thirty-day break from social media. I just finished reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and I liked a lot of what I read. The only way to know for sure if it will work for me is to give it a try, and so that is what I am going to do.

Why? There’s no reason other than the fact that I feel I want to scale back. Eleven years on Facebook is a lot, and I’m tired of it. The time I spend on social media can likely be put to better use. I also want to see if a month entirely off social media will give me a generally better sense of well-being.

A few things that I took away from Newport’s book that are important to note:

  1. The thirty day break is a break from optional technologies in my life. Right now, I see those things as: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It does not mean giving up digital technology as a whole.
  2. Along those lines, I still plan to writing blog posts during this social media break. My blog is setup to automatically announce new posts on Facebook and Twitter. Those announcements will continue, although I will not be monitoring Facebook or Twitter for responses. I will be keeping up with the blog, and will respond to comments posted here.
  3. I am also trying to get into better habits with email. To that end, I’ll be checking personal email first thing each morning, and again in the evening, but not in-between. Keep this in mind if you email me and don’t get an immediate reply.
  4. When the 30-day break is over, I will start to look at Facebook and Twitter again, but only from my computer, and only once or twice a week. I’ll see how I feel about them at the end of this break and decide if I will be actively using them at that point.

This is something I have been thinking about doing for some time, and is part of the reason I decided to read Cal Newport’s book. I was impressed by his arguments, but need to see for myself if I get the benefit he suggests comes from digital minimalism.

This is something I want to do because I think it will be good for me. I may or may not write about the experience, although I’m leaning against writing about for one simple reason: it has been written about by many, many people already and I’m not sure I’d have much to add.

I am happy to answer questions about this experiment, however, so if you have any, drop them in the comments.

I’ll Get To It Someday

When it comes to book recommendations from friends and family, I’m a poor target. I’ve mentioned this before. No one has a better grasp on what I like to read besides me. Then there’s the butterfly effect of reading. Even if someone whose opinion I trust recommends a book that seems interesting, it might be a while before I get to it.

But, if I think the book sounds interesting, I will get to it eventually. It’s just a matter of time. Sometimes, that can be a long time, and those recommending the book have to be particularly patient. A recent book illustrates this in a rather dramatic way.

Sometime back in 1998, my friend (and boss at the time) recommended two “must-read” books. The first was Consilience by Edward O. Wilson. The second was Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jarod Diamond. Not long after he recommended these books, I went out and bought them, and they proceeded to sit on a shelf and collect dust.

This went on for 21 years. Meanwhile, during that 21 year period, I read 780 books, none of which were Consilience or Guns, Germs, and Steel. Until last week.

Consilience by Edward O. Wilson

On March 2, I started to read Consilience by Edward O. Wilson, and I finished the book on March 5. I was in a lull, and trying to figure out what to read next. I was also in the process of packing up books in preparation to move bookshelves so that the walls can be painted. I saw the book sitting on the shelf, and decided it was time.

Why Consilience and not Guns, Germs, and Steel? Well, I’d read and enjoyed other Edward O. Wilson books, most notably Letters to a Young Scientist.

I enjoyed Consilience, thought it a good book, although I thought the first half was better than the second half. What I found most interesting was that the book was written in the early days of the Internet, when the Human Genome Project was still incomplete. Reading Wilson’s predictions about what that would mean for humanity was interesting when compared with what we see today: 23andMe, and similar companies.

So, the book was recommended to me 21 years ago, but I finally got around to reading it, and I feel pretty good about that. I suspect it will be a while before I get to Guns, Germs, and Steel, however. Once again, that butterfly has flapped its wings. Since Consilience, I’ve read Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, and have now moved onto the David McCullough books that I haven’t already read, beginning with 1776, and continuing with the possibility of re-reading some of his books that I have read, most notably John Adams, which is my favorite biography, and which I have already read at least twice.

Sorry, Jared Diamond, it might be a little while, but I’ll get to it someday.

Articles I Read–Week of 3 March 2019

Several good magazine articles in this week’s reading batch. Here’s what I managed to get through (and my effort to read an article a day has now stretched to 42 days as of yesterday.)

As always, bold titles indicate articles I recommend. An asterisk indicates a subscription may be required to read the article online.

Rules of Storytelling

At a recent meeting of my writers group, there was a lot of talk of “rules” for writing during the critiques. Among the advice offered was “it’s better to use short sentences in thrillers” and “try using at least three senses in description.” These kinds of “rules” bother me. They are more about the brushstrokes than the painting. They act as the writing equivalent of a hack, a shorthand for doing the work involved in telling a good story.

I don’t believe there are many hard and fast rules for storytelling, just as I don’t believe there are many hard and fast rules for writing. I can think of only one general rule for storytelling: a story should have a beginning, middle, and ending.

The meeting prompted me to re-read “the little book” a.k.a. Strunk & White, a.k.a. The Elements of Style. This book is about as close as one can come to a concise set of rules for writing. And even here, I’d qualify these more as guidelines than rules.

Ultimately, there is one and only rule for storytelling that I follow: tell the best story you can manage.

Why should thrillers require short sentences? Short sentences quicken the pacing of a story, or so the argument goes. I’d suggest that a good story swallows the reader whole, regardless of sentence structure. Few are the stories I have read where the sentence structure really stands out. If it did it would become distracting. When I write a story, I want the reader to forget they are seeing words on a page. An exception that comes to mind is No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, where the sentence structure establishes a rhythm to the story, a kind of backbeat that is always there. In the case of most good stories, I am almost unaware of the language as the story fills my mind.

When I write, I never sit down to construct an inciting incident or character arc. Instead, I consider if what I am writing is interesting. Do the words and images pull the reader along? “What happens next?” is my constant backbeat. When I review a paragraph I’ve just written I ask myself “how can I make this more interesting?” or “does that description create right image in my mind?” When writing dialog, I hear the characters talking in my head and try to capture it as quickly as I can. I don’t worry about whether I’ve used too many or too few attributions. (There can be rhythms to this, too. For a good example, list to William Dufris’s narration of The Human Division by John Scalzi.) Mostly I wonder if it is clear from the context who is speaking, and if not, how can I clarify it in such a way that it improves the story?

These discussions, during critique, often focus on the mechanics rather than the storytelling. Mechanics are rule-based, but story-telling is more intuitive. Where problems arise is when a writer has a good grasp of the mechanics, and good story ideas, but no intuition for how to tell the story. That is a problem I don’t know how to solve. Rules might help, and there are rules I find useful. They are the same simple rules of composition that you find in The Elements of Style. When my writing includes these elements, my storytelling seems to improve.

Most useful among the rules that Strunk and White have on offer is Rule 17: Omit needless words. When writing a story, particularly the second draft, I apply this rule not just to each sentence, but to the story itself: Omit anything that doesn’t drive the story forward. This means taking out passages which, while elegantly written, don’t do anything for the story. 

Other useful pieces of wisdom include: 

  • Do not overwrite
  • Avoid the use of qualifiers
  • Do not explain too much

Perhaps most important of all: Be clear. A story simply isn’t effective if it isn’t clear to me what is happening. But what is “clear”? Clear to the author is very different than clear to the reader. The author knows everything, the reader does not. I try to approach my stories with a split mind, a writer’s mind and a reader’s. It’s a tough game, because the writer knows what’s happening, but need to hide that from the reader until the proper moment.

I wish we talked more about story in these critiques, and less about mechanics, but I understand the desire. The mechanics act as hacks for the hard work of story-telling. In the end, entropy is a difficult force to overcome.

Three Reading Lists

I like to keep some curated reading lists handy for those times when I struggle with what to read next. The three lists I depend on most are:

  1. Modern Library’s 100 Best Nonfiction Books
  2. Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels
  3. Sports Illustrated’s 100 Best Sports Books

Slowly, I am chipping away at these lists. But I recently went through a patch of what-the-heck-do-I-read-next. After spinning like an unsettled top for a few days, I finally settled on two books that a friend recommended to me more than twenty years ago (yes, it can sometimes be that long before I finally get to recommendations). I’ll have more to say on those two books next week. At the same time, I went to my lists to see if anything looked interest and made a decision.

In addition to my already stated reading goal for 2019, I am going to attempt to get through the top 10 books on each of the three lists by the end of the year. That would be a total of 30 books, but it turns out to be less because I have already read some of them. In 2018, I managed to read 130 books and 30 is a less than a quarter of the total. That is important because of the butterfly effect of reading.

The more I considered this additional reading goal, the more I began to see a bigger picture emerge. I eventually want to get through all the books on the three lists. 300 books is a big commitment all at once, but I’ve learned that slow and steady works well for me. (Hey, I’ve been at this blogging thing since 2005, and managed to accumulate nearly 6,400 posts over that time; slow, but steady.) If I aimed for 10 books from each list over each of the next ten years, I could get through all 300 books on those lists by the end of the next decade (2029). This year I’ll tackle the top ten, next year then next ten, and so on.

Some of the books are hard to come by. I have been slowly collecting Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, which appears on the Modern Library’s Top 100 Nonfiction Books. Even harder to locate is Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m satisfied for now to tackle the top ten in each list. I may not get through them all (some books just don’t hold my interest), but I’ll try each one.

So, by the end of this year, here are the books that appear on those lists that I am going to tackle. Bold titles indicate I’ve already read the book.

Modern Library’s 100 Best Nonfiction Books

  1. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
  2. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
  3. Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolfe
  5. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  6. Selected Essays by T. S. Eliot
  7. The Double Helix by James D. Watson
  8. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
  9. The American Language by H. L. Mencken
  10. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard Keynes

Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce
  2. The Great Gatsby* by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. Brave New World* by Aldous Huxley
  6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  8. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  9. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
  10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

*I know that I read The Great Gatsby and Brave New World in high school, but I have virtually no memory of them, and since my official list begins in 1996, I am considering them new and will re-read them.

Sports Illustrated’s 100 Best Sports Books

  1. The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling
  2. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kohn
  3. Ball Four by Jim Bouton
  4. Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger
  5. You Know Me Al by Ring Larder
  6. A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein
  7. Semi-Touch by Dan Jenkins
  8. Paper Lion by George Plimpton
  9. The Game by Ken Dryden
  10. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

The total comes to 25 books, since I’ve already read five of the 30 books in the combined lists. Given that I managed to read 2o books in the first two months of the year so far, I don’t think that will be much of a problem.

I don’t plan to read them all at once, but spread them around. Ultimately, I am at the mercy of the butterfly effect of reading, so this could go sideways. Only time will tell.

Articles I Read – Week of 24 February 2019

We’re over the colds that ran through the family last week, but I spent a lot of the week catching up so things were mostly quiet here on the blog again. Hopefully things will be back to normal this week. Here are the articles I read this week, which took me through 34 consecutive days of my article-a-day experiment:

Note: bold titles are recommended. An asterisk (*) indicates a subscription may be required to read the article online.

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