Category Archives: books

A New Audiobook Version of James Clavell’s Shogun

Back in the summer of 2005, I read James Clavell’s Shogun. I absolutely loved it. When I started listening to audiobooks 2 years ago, I sought out Shogun. The version Audible had at the time was narrated by David Case, and the reviews of the narration were pretty awful. Nevertheless, I bought it, and tried to listen to it, but gave up after a while. The narration just wasn’t very good.

A few months ago, I noticed that the book was no longer available on Audible1. I thought perhaps that this meant a new version was being produced.

Today being a Tuesday (when new books are released), I searched Audible for a few books I was looking for. Shogun was one of them, and to my surprise and delight, a new version had indeed been produced.

Shogun

This version is read by Ralph Lister, and just listening to the preview, I could tell it was a much better narration. I’m really looking forward to listening to this, having enjoyed reading it a decade ago. There are a few books in line in front of it, but I’m glad to see that a new version was produced.

Notes

  1. Before anyone panics, the version that I bought was still available to me in my Audible library. It didn’t go away. You just couldn’t buy it any longer.

Stephen King Books I Have Not Yet Read

Back in November, as part of his 6-city tour for Revival, Stephen King came to the Washington, D.C. area as a guest of the Politics & Prose bookstore. I wasn’t able to attend, but last night, I watched the talk on YouTube.

As often happens after I see Stephen King speak, I thought to myself, “Gee, I wish I was a writer!” It also makes me want to read more Stephen King. I have, over the last several months, been reading a good deal of nonfiction, although I did take a break in November to read Revival. But in the last two weeks or so, I’ve been so busy with other stuff that I haven’t had a chance to do much reading at all. This morning, I woke up with King’s talk still on my mind and decided that I’d start on something else of his today.

But what?

I went through the list of books I’ve read since 1996, looking for all instances of Stephen King. There were 66 of them (+ = e-book, @ = audiobook, * = recommended, ^ = re-read):

  1. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (9/16/2001)
  2. Needful Things by Stephen King (9/25/2004)
  3. On Writing+ by Stephen King (9/16/2009)
  4. Carrie+ by Stephen King (9/21/2009)
  5. The Shining+ by Stephen King (9/28/2009)
  6. It+ by Stephen King (10/28/2009)
  7. Night Shift+ by Stephen King (11/3/2009)
  8. Under the Dome by Stephen King (11/30/2009)
  9. Different Seasons+ by Stephen King (12/9/2009)
  10. The Stand+ by Stephen King (6/2/2010)
  11. The Dead Zone+ by Stephen King (6/11/2010)
  12. Firestarter+ by Stephen King (6/25/2010)
  13. Pet Sematary by Stephen King (6/29/2010)
  14. Blockade Billy+ by Stephen King (6/9/2011)
  15. 11/22/63*+ by Stephen King (11/18/2011)
  16. The Green Mile+ by Stephen King (11/23/2011)
  17. Full Dark, No Stars+ by Stephen King (7/5/2012)
  18. Bag of Bones+ by Stephen King (7/10/2012)
  19. It*+^ by Stephen King (7/30/2012)
  20. 11/22/63*^+ by Stephen King (2/19/2013)
  21. Misery@ by Stephen King (2/23/2013)
  22. Gerald’s Game@ by Stephen King (3/3/2013)
  23. Hearts in Atlantis@* by Stephen King (3/8/2013)
  24. On Writing@^ by Stephen King (3/14/2013)
  25. Needful Things@^ by Stephen King (3/20/2013)
  26. ‘Salem’s Lot@^ by Stephen King (3/25/2013)
  27. From A Buick 8@ by Stephen King (3/29/2013)
  28. The Tommyknockers@ by Stephen King (4/6/2013)
  29. Dreamcatcher@ by Stephen King (4/13/2013)
  30. It@^ by Stephen King (5/2/2013)
  31. 11/22/63@^ by Stephen King (5/16/2013)
  32. The Shining@^ by Stephen King (5/21/2013)
  33. Danse Macabre@ by Stephen King (5/27/2013)
  34. Carrie@^ by Stephen King (5/29/2013)
  35. On Writing@^ by Stephen King (6/4/2013)
  36. Joyland@* by Stephen King (6/5/2013)
  37. The Dark Tower, Book 1: The Gunslinger@ by Stephen King (6/7/2013)
  38. The Dark Tower, Book 2: The Drawing of Three@ by Stephen King (6/12/2013)
  39. The Dark Tower, Book 3: The Wastelands@ by Stephen King (6/18/2013)
  40. Hard Listening+ by Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, et. al. (6/24/2013)
  41. Dolores Claiborne@ by Stephen King (6/27/2013)
  42. The Dark Tower, Book 4: Wizard and Glass@* by Stephen King (7/10/2013)
  43. The Dark Tower, Book 5: Wolves of the Calla@ by Stephen King (7/26/2013)
  44. The Dark Tower, Book 6: Song of Susannah@ by Stephen King (7/30/2013)
  45. The Dark Tower, Book 7: The Dark Tower@ by Stephen King (8/7/2013)
  46. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon@ by Stephen King (9/24/2013)
  47. Doctor Sleep@ by Stephen King (9/29/2013)
  48. On Writing@^* by Stephen King (10/31/2013)
  49. The Wind Through the Keyhole@* by Stephen King (11/5/2013)
  50. The Langoliers@ by Stephen King (11/15/2013)
  51. The Library Policeman@ by Stephen King (11/21/2013)
  52. The Sun Dog@ by Stephen King (11/27/2013)
  53. Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Volume 1@ by Stephen King (12/4/2013)
  54. Everything’s Eventual: 5 Dark Tales@ by Stephen King (12/26/2013)
  55. The Man in the Black Suit: 4 Dark Tales@ by Stephen King (12/27/2013)
  56. Christine@ by Stephen King (1/8/2014)
  57. The Shawshank Redemption@* by Stephen King (1/17/2014)
  58. The Body@* by Stephen King (1/24/2014)
  59. It@*^ by Stephen King (4/3/2014)
  60. From A Buick 8^*@ by Stephen King (4/18/2014)
  61. 11/22/63@^* by Stephen King (6/1/2014)
  62. Mile 81@ by Stephen King (6/2/2014)
  63. Mr. Mercedes@ by Stephen King (6/6/2014)
  64. Joyland@^ by Stephen King (6/9/2014)
  65. The Shawshank Redemption@*^ by Stephen King (6/29/2014)
  66. Revival@ by Stephen King (11/20/2014)

I then compared this to the list of books in Stephen King’s Library to see what I haven’t read. The list turns out to be an interesting one:

  1. Rage (as by Richard Bachman)
  2. The Long Walk (as by Richard Bachman)
  3. Roadwork (as by Richard Bachman)
  4. Cujo
  5. The Running Man (as by Richard Bachman)
  6. Cycle of the Werewolf
  7. The Talisman (w/Peter Straub)
  8. The Eyes of the Dragon
  9. Thinner (as by Richard Bachman)
  10. The Dark Half
  11. Insomnia
  12. Rose Madder
  13. Desperation
  14. The Regulators
  15. The Plant: Zenith Rising
  16. Black House
  17. The Colorado Kid
  18. Cell
  19. Lisey’s Story
  20. Blaze (as by Richard Bachman)
  21. Duma Key

I haven’t read any of the Bachman books yet. Perhaps the biggest standout on the list is Cujo. I’ve started it a couple of times, but have always ended up distracted by other things. I take it as a sign that I just can’t get into the book. King says his favorite book is Lisey’s Story, and I’ve managed to make it halfway through that one, but have given up. I was thinking about re-reading Hearts in Atlantis, which I thought was great the first time I read it, but I do want to give something a try that I haven’t read yet. So at this moment, I’m leaning toward Insomnia. I’ve stayed away from that book mainly because King himself has said it was overly plotted. But it can’t hurt to give it a try and see for myself.

I’m still undecided, but I’ll let you know what I choose. If there are any books on this list that you feel are a MUST READ, let me know in the comments.

New books I’ve obtained over the holidays… so far

Iam, apparently, still on my nonfiction kick for the most part. I will finish up my re-reading of Caesar and Christ today, and begin a long-awaited re-read of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. After that, I think it is back to nonfiction, and here is some of the nonfiction that I’ve acquired around the holidays to fortify me.

  • The Autobiography of Mark Twain (Volumes 1 & 2) by Mark Twain
  • No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli1
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer
  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I can’t say this with certainty, but I am beginning to get the feeling that I write better fiction when I am reading nonfiction. I think when I am reading fiction, I am too liable to fall into the trap of trying to imitate the style of whatever author I happen to be reading.

In any case, I am looking forward to all of these books in the new year.

Notes

  1. I read this in college, and even wrote a paper on it, but I have no memory of it today.

Audiobooks: Listening vs. Reading

They say that with age comes wisdom, and that part of wisdom is the ability to allow your opinions to be changed with changing facts, arguments, or the natural flow of time. Long time readers will no doubt recall the opinion I once held that audiobooks were not for me. It is interesting to look at that post from nearly 3 years ago and the 4 arguments I made against my own use of audiobooks, and compare them to how my opinions have changed today.

1. The voice bothers me

I wrote,

I am so used to my own internal voice, and the voices I make up in my head for various characters, that I can’t bear the voice of someone else reading to me.

I look upon this statement today as both naive and somewhat self-centered. Since February 2013, I’ve read 80 audiobooks, and if anything, I have learned that the narrator tends to enhance the book rather than detract from it. Indeed, today I would argue that there is at least one advantage to audiobooks over regular books:

A good audiobook narrator will lead me to books I might otherwise not have chosen to read

The one dimension to audiobooks that doesn’t exist in other forms of the books (paper, electronic) is the narrator or narrators who read the books. I have found that I enjoy some narrators so much, that I will seek out other books that they have read, books that I might never have chosen to read if not for the narrator. A few examples of these include:

  • Danse Macabre by Stephen King. Read primarily because it was narrated by William Dufris, a narrator I first heard read John Scazli’s The Human Division. I probably would have gotten to the book eventually, but Dufris brought me to it much sooner, and I enjoyed the book.
  • Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon. My dad recommended this book to me years ago, but I didn’t read it until early this summer when I discovered that Joe Barrett narrated the audiobook version. I first heard Joe Barrett as the narrator of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, and as soon as I finished that book, I started looking for other books that Barrett narrated.

Seeking out books because of the narrator provides yet another window into a book that I might not already have read. My “internal voice” which I was so used to three years ago would never have led me to these narrators and thus opened the doors to these other great books.

2. I cannot divide my attention to make listening and doing something else worthwhile.

This is an example of not seeing the big picture. To a large extent, I was forced to audiobooks precisely because I found that my time during the day was too limited to allow me to read as much as I wanted to read. The big lure of audiobooks was that I could multitask. This has become my biggest time saving tip, one that I have talked about in a variety of places, including my “How I Work” interview with Lifehacker earlier this year.

My days are very busy. I try to break them up with exercise, and my preferred exercise is to take long walks at various times throughout the day. During these walks, I listen to audiobooks, and I can usually ensure at least 2 hours of walking–and therefore 2 hours of listening time–each day.

I find that I have little problem dividing my attention between walking and listening to audiobooks. Occasionally my attention wanders, but it is easy to go back and re-listen to what it was I missed. The same happens when reading a book from time-to-time.

Moreover, I can listen to audiobooks while doing things that I can’t do while reading: chores around the house being one big example. And then, of course, there is listening to audiobooks while on long drives where I am the driver.

So, yes, I was absolutely wrong when I said that I could not divide my attention between listening to an audiobook and doing some other kind of activity. The bulk of my listening has occurred while doing other things.

Continue reading Audiobooks: Listening vs. Reading

My Controversial Book Post: On “Used” Books

Bookshelves

I have always had strong feelings about books. Books have been such a big part of my life that it impossible not to develop feelings about them. Lately, however, while my opinions remain strong, I’v found that they have changed in a fundamental way.

For as long as I can remember, I have always tried to treat my books gently. The thought of a creased page corner to bookmark a page filled me with horror. I always handled paperback books with tenderness, taking particular care not to crack the spine of the book. When I read a hardcover book with a dust jacket, I was always careful to remove the dust jacket so as not to damage it in the handling of the book. I was often loathe to loan out books out of fear that the person to whom I lent the book, regardless of how much I trusted them, would not uphold my standards of reverence for the tomes.

I find these day, however, that I no longer feel this way. My reverence for books has never been higher, but looking back on my gentle treatment of books over the last twenty years or so, I see what appears to be now as silly, and even selfish behavior with respect to books. Indeed, my opinion on the handling of books has taken an almost 180 degree turn. Here are just a few of the ways my opinions have changed.

Books should be used, and well-used at that

Books tell two stories: the story the author has written, and the story of readers interaction with that writing. Whereas folding down a page corner to marks a spot in the book used to look like a desecration to me, I now see it as a reader’s interaction with the book. The creased page may simply provide history: where the reader paused in their reading. On the other hand, it may provide other insights. It may be a place that the reader found particularly insightful, or particularly annoying.

A pristine book looks good on a shelf or in a collection, but a pristine book is also very likely an unread book, and what good is an unread book. Whereas I used to love the way a brand new hardcover book looked freshly arrived home from the bookstore, I now find that I much prefer the look of a well-used book. A book with a wrinkled dust jacket, and with page edges yellowed from constant touching is a beautiful sight. Indeed, sitting down with a pristine book and reading it so well that by the time the book is finished, it looks well-used has become an almost sublime experience for me.

It has also made me realize that the unique aspect of wandering the stacks of a used book store, or a library , is the fact that all of the books there are well-used, and often by many people. It is quite an accomplishment to produce a book that many people want to read, and for which many copies are printed. It is an exceptional accomplishment when a single copy is read again and again by either the same person, or many people.

Today, there is nothing that looks so good to me as well-worn book. Indeed, I see a well-worn book as a book of the happiest sort. And while I am a big fan of e-books and audiobooks, even a oft-read or listened to e-book or audiobook lacks a well-worn look.

Books should be a collaboration between author and readers

I used to cringe when I opened a book in a used bookstore, to find that the previous owner had scribbled in the margins, or worse, highlighted passages throughout the book. How could someone deface a book in such a manner?

Now, I see this in a very different light. Writing in the margins of a book is a reader’s way of holding a dialog with the author. It is an ancient method. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams frequently wrote in the margins of their books. Perhaps in middle age, the revelation has come to me that writing in my books, highlighting passages, jotting notes, counterarguments, and other things is a way for me to interact not only with the text but with the author. When you think about it, this is pretty remarkable. You can have arguments with Mark Twain, or Mary Shelly, or Carl Sagan, or Marcus Aurelius.

Marginal notes and highlights provide not only a dialog with the text, but also a history of the reader’s interaction with the text. Over the course of successive readings, a reader might find their opinions changing in the margins of the book. If you are lucky, you might come across a copy of the book with some anonymous reader’s notes already in the margins, to which you can add your own. Now, the dialog has become something more, a unique discussion among readers that potentially span decades.

Continue reading My Controversial Book Post: On “Used” Books

My 6 Best Reads of 2014

I thought about waiting until 2014 is actually over before posting about my best reads this year, but I figured if there is a late-comer in the next few weeks, nothing prevents me from revising my list. It would have to be a really fantastic late-comer, but anything is possible.

Note that I called this my best reads of 2014. I did this because many of the books I read this year were not published in 2014. I want it to be clear that these mark the books that I most enjoyed reading this year, even if they weren’t published this year. Call me quirky.

Indeed, calling these “reads” is a little disingenuous, too, as most of these were audio book, and I listened to them. I have come, reluctantly, to accept that reading and listening are two different activities, but for the sake of simplicity, they produce the same result within me, and so I use the phrases interchangeably, much to the dismay of many. Again, call me quirky.

To date, I have read 36 books so far this year. That is down from last year, but there were a couple of really long book this year and that makes up for some of it. 20 of those 36 books (56%) were nonfiction. 6 of the 36 books were re-reads of books I’d already read. Here then, are my best reads of 2014.

6. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

I’d never read anything by John Irving before, and wracking my brain, I can’t think of what it was that made me decide to tackle A Prayer for Owen Meany. But I thought it was fantastic, and this is one example where an audiobook almost certainly gives added dimension to the printed page, for Joe Barrett’s impression of Owen Meany’s unusual voice was pitch-perfect. Indeed, because of Joe Barrett’s excellent narration of this book, I sought out other books that Barrett has narrated.

5. The Martian by Andy Weir

This book was a hard science fiction-fan’s playground. What happens when an astronaut is accidentally left-behind on the Martian surface? How long can he survive? Turns out, a pretty long time. This novel was the exception to the rule that technical description in a science fiction novel can be boring and get the way. I listened to much of this book on the long drive home from our summer vacation in Maine, and that meant that Kelly–who is anything but a hard science fiction fan–listened to it a well. She got caught up in it for while. Eventually, she drifted to sleep, lulled by the highway, but when she awakened, the very first thing she asked me was, “Did he make off the planet?”

4. Great Baseball Writing: Sports Illustrated 1954-2004 edited by Rob Fleder

If the human lifespan ever stretched out to the point where multiple careers were possible in a single lifetime, I think I’d turn my attention to becoming a sportswriter, and specifically, a baseball writer. The long pieces in this collection appeared throughout a 50-year span of Sports Illustrated, giving a picture of the game, and its participants (to say nothing of the times in which they played) in a way that only baseball sportswriters can capture

Continue reading My 6 Best Reads of 2014

Ignore That Last Post!

Earlier today I foolishly listed out the next three books I’d planned on reading. I even cautioned that such lists were foolish because what I desire to read changes quite rapidly, often affected by what I’ve just read in some way or another. I mentioned how I just finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time in probably 30 years; certainly the first time as an adult. And I said that up next was a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

What on earth made me think I could finish reading The Fellowship of the Ring and not want to continue on with The Two Towers.

Well, that’s just what I have done, and so please ignore that last post, and quite possibly, ignore me. I tend to be foolish in this regard, and let this stand as one of countless examples of such foolishness.

The Next 3 Books on My Reading List

I just finished reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. It was my 32nd book of 2014, and marks the first time I’ve read the book since long before I was keeping track of my reading. Probably since I was 10 years old or so, I’d guess.

I’m particularly excited about the next three books I’m planning to read, so I thought I’d list them here.

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

I recently read The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, and it has reinvigorated my passion for books on technology. I also remember Richard Rhodes The Making of the Atomic Bomb as one of the better nonfiction books I’ve ever read. I’ve been meaning to read this biography of Oppenheimer for some time now. I have about 10 days to kill before the next book on my list comes out, so it seemed like the perfect fit.

Revival by Stephen King

The rumor mill behind Stephen King’s latest book, Revival,  (his second this year) is that it is among the more terrifying books he has written since Pet Semetary. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, but it doesn’t come out until November 11th, which is which I have some time to fill between now and then.

Abominable by Dan Simmons

I’ve never read a Dan Simmons book before. During an SF Signal podcast that I participated in a while back, someone mentioned this book as a particularly good one. I’m not interested in starting a series, which is why I chose this one as opposed to one of Simmons’ more famous books, but with winter on its way, I’m looking forward to this one.


One things about listing out the books I plan to read. It is just that: a plan. I don’t always stick to it. Sometimes it’s because a book doesn’t hold my interest. More often, however, it is because I found a book so interesting, or so good that I want to read something similar to it right away. In any case, this is my plan, and given how much I read per day, I’d expect these 3 books to fill the month of November for me.

Revisiting Digital Magazines

Way back when I first got my iPad 2, I began the long-awaited transition from paper-to-digital magazines. At the time, the only magazine that I read that really had a decent digital edition was New Scientist. I used the Zinio app to access my magazine, and at first, Ioved it. Later, Scientific American became available in digital form and my subscription afforded me access to a PDF copy of the magazine each month. This, too, was pretty cool. Eventually, I read other magazines using Zinio as well. Over time, however, my excitement waned.

There were a few problems. Most notably, was the fact that my iPad screen was smaller than the typical magazine. Since both Zinio and the Scientific American PDF essentially rendered the magazine as-is, it meant a lot of zooming and moving around in order to read articles. In Zinio, I could change to “article” mode, but when I did that, it no longer felt like reading a magazine. Here, for instance, is what a page of the Scientific American PDF looks like on my iPad:

Sciam PDF
PDF version of the Scientific American article.

In order to be able to read it, I need to pinch-and-zoom, and then move the page around. The same was true of my subscriptions in Zinio. While the magazine looked exactly as it did in print, it was harder to read on the smaller screen. It seemed to me that the experience of reading the magazine was lost somewhat, and my magazine reading scaled back because of this.

A magazine interface for iPads

Recently, my desire to read magazines has increased, but when I thought about reading them on the iPad, I balked. I considered returning to paper subscriptions because for me, unlike with books, there is a certain interaction with magazines that was absent from the simple Zinio and PDF versions that I was looking at. With a book, I typically read straight through, and so e-books have never seemed any different to me than paper books. But with magazines, I jump around quite a bit, and the interfaces I’d encountered thus far, were not conducive to that.

I was almost ready to pull the trigger on paper magazine subscriptions, when I remembered that in the time since I started reading magazines electronically, Apple had introduced their Newsstand app. I’d never tried it out, and since many of my subscriptions were available electronically through the Newsstand, I figured I’d give it a try.

It was an eye-opening experience.

Unlike Zinio and PDF copies of magazines, which reproduce the magazine exactly as it appears on newsstands, the Newsstand versions are adapted for iPad use. Navigation of the magazine is easy. You swipe left or right to move from article to article. Within an article, you scroll up or down to read or move from page-to-page within the article. It’s very simple, easy to use, and best of all, the articles are rendered for an iPad screen. So no zooming is necessary. That same Scientific American article I illustrated above in its PDF incarnation looks like this on my iPad:

iPad Mag 1
iPad version of the Scientific American article. Scrolling up or down scrolls through the article.

What’s more, while the Newsstand version is designed for the iPad interface, it still maintains much of the look and feel of the magazine. Many Scientific American articles make use of sidebars, and those sidebars are carried over neatly into the iPad format:

Continue reading Revisiting Digital Magazines

Thoughts on The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

Yesterday, I finished read Walter Isaacson’s latest book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. I loved it. It is an excellent overview of the history of the digital age, from Ada Lovelace, right up through Google and Wikipedia.

The book took a logical progression through the history of computer hardware and software innovation, which was a great way to see how technology evolves over time, each big discovery informing the next one. Two things in particular stood out about the book.

First, there was a familiar feel to the style in which it was written. It didn’t take long for me to recognize it. The book reads like an Isaac Asimov science history book. There are clear descriptions of technology that make it accessible to the lay person. There are also gripping, inviting biographies of the players involved. These combine to make for a fascinating narrative that reminded me of books like Asimov’s Guide to Science.

Second, in reading the book, I was moved to want to do the kind of innovating things that the people in the book were doing. This often happens to me when reading nonfiction. Reading a book on, say, Richard Feynman, will draw out a desire in me to be a physicist. Reading a book on Winston Churchill draws out similar feelings on being a statesman. The Innovators was no different. Except that I have been living in the technology world since I first played with a computer at the age of 10 or 11 years old. And I’ve been working in that world as my profession for the last 20 years. That profession, like any, can grind on you after a while. But Isaacson’s book did something remarkable. It rekindled my joy in information technology. It made me realize that I am already working in this industry, and unlike the other biographies I’ve read whose subject I envy from afar, I live this one. It’s pretty rare for a book to do that.

The book covered the evolution of Windows and Mac, and also covered the birth of Linux. If it was light on any one area that I would have wanted to read more about, it was the birth and evolution of UNIX. UNIX wasn’t mentioned in the book until the chapter on Linux, in which casual mention was made that Linux was based on UNIX, an operating system developed in 1970. That was about it. But overall, the scope of the book was broad, and fascinating, and I raced through it, enjoying every minute of it.

This was my second Walter Isaacson book. I read Einstein: His Life and Universe back in 2008 and I really enjoyed that one as well. It’s difficult to say which one I enjoyed more, but I’ll give the edge to The Innovators since it helped rekindle my joy and fascination in information technology.

A Look at My Reading in 2014 (So Far, Not Much Science Fiction)

It occurred to me recently that I haven’t been reading much science fiction. Strictly speaking, I haven’t been writing much of it either. My more recent stories have been more along the lines of mainstream alternate histories, with a slightly (barely detectable) element of science fiction to them. This isn’t anything intentional. I just go where the stories take me, and lately, they haven’t been taking me into the galaxy. But I thought it was strange that I wasn’t reading much science fiction either, so I decided to look at what I’ve read so far in 2014.

To-date, I’ve read 30 books in 2014, and it has been a fairly eclectic year. Back when I was a kids and would check books out of the library, there was a requirement to check out nonfiction as well as fiction. Over time, that developed into a habit, and for the early years of my reading list, I kept a pretty good balance of fiction-to-nonfiction. Then, I drifted. Some years, I read a lot of fiction, other years, a lot of nonfiction. This year, the balance seems to have returned.

Type of books

16 out of 30 books to-date have been nonfiction. That comes out to about 53%. Drilling into the categories of books that I’ve read this year, things get more interesting.

Category of Books

Almost a third of all of the books I’ve read are biographies (which include memoirs as well). 9 biographies to-date. But that is more than half of the nonfiction reading that I’ve done this year. The next biggest category is “mainstream” fiction; that is, books that don’t fall into the usual genre categories. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is one example. 13% of the books I’ve read this year (4) have been on baseball. Science fiction makes up only 10% (3) of the books that I have read in 2014.

The vast majority of my reading these days is via audio book. Indeed, a full 90% (27) of the books that I’ve read so far this year have been audio books.

Format of book

2 of the books have been e-books. And I read 1 paper book this year.

Finally, there are the re-reads. Occasionally, I re-read books that I particularly enjoy. This year was no exception.

Format of book

About 25% of the books that I’ve read have been re-reads. I can accept that ratio. Some years its lower and some years its higher. I sometimes think that with the limited time I have for reading, I should always read something I’ve never read before. But then I think, ah, what the heck, I read for fun, to learn, to relax, why not re-read something I really enjoy every now and then?

I don’t rate the books that I read. My list of books that I’ve read since 1996 has some bold titles, which indicates books that I would recommend to others. That’s about as close as I get to rating them. So far this year, I’ve marked 18 of the 30 books that I’ve read (60%) as “recommended.” That seemed pretty high to me, so I went to look at past years. Here is how they line up:

Recommended Books by Year

Why such an increase in the last 2 years? It goes coincide with when I started listening to audio books, so perhaps the voice actor’s performance changes my perception of the book. But I like to think I’ve just gotten better at selecting books I think I will enjoy reading.

With 12 weeks remaining in 2014, I’d estimate completing another 10 books before the year is out. It’s possible the number will be higher. Several of the books I’ve read this year have been very long, and that tends to skew things. Still, I don’t see an uptick in the fiction ration. It may hold the same, but I’m pretty content with nonfiction at the moment. I’ve learned to just go with the flow, and read whatever I feel like reading. It all works itself out in the end.

A Funny Thing About Jim Boulton’s Ball Four Audiobook

I am currently reading Jim Boulton’s 1970 baseball smash, Ball Four. I’m listening to the audio book. So far, it’s great. But there is something particularly funny about it that makes it even better.

Most audio books these days use professional voice actors or narrators to read the book. Occasionally, the author will read their own book, but with few exceptions (Neil Gaiman or Mary Robinette Kowal, for instance), authors aren’t always the best choice as readers.

Jim Boulton reads his own book, Ball Four. He is not a bad reader. In the context of the book, he’s actually pretty good, because it’s him telling stories about his days playing baseball. But for nonfiction books, voice actors typically play it straight. The funny thing about Boulton’s narration of Ball Four is that he sometimes cracks himself up with what he’s written. So he’s reading his book, gets to a funny part, starts laughing, and has to pause, or re-read a sentence after the laughing has stopped.

I love it! It comes across as so genuine that you can’t not laugh yourself. The genuine emotion that his impromptu laughter brings to the reading makes it that much better.