Coming to New York City on Monday

I will be roaming New York City for most of the day on Monday. Strictly speaking, I am in town to attend the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) annual reception, which takes place Monday evening at a fancy penthouse in Manhattan. But it turns out I was able to do a few other things as well.

For instance, I was contacted by some folks at Forbes to do an interview on productivity for a series they are doing on the subject. They asked if I was going to be in New York City any time soon, and I said, well, actually… So I’m being interviewed there on Monday morning.

I’m having dinner with an editor1 on Monday evening. In between, I’ll be wandering about, looking for quiet places to sit and get some writing done. Or maybe just checking out the city. It’s been a while since I last wandered about Manhattan.

I am there in my capacity as a writer and technology blogger, and I think that’s a pretty cool reason to be in New York City for a day. Maybe not quite as good as attending a Yankees playoff game, but I’ll take it.

Notes

  1. If the 20-year old version of me could read those six words he’d probably faint dead away with excitement and disbelief.

My Picks for the MLB Post-Season

Kansas City won in an epic duel last night, and I was very happy to see that, because I wanted to see the Royals make it to the playoffs. I remember the 1985 series, George Brett, and the Kansas City glory that year, and it would be fun to see them go all the way this year1. Earlier int he week, I mentioned that I wanted to see Kansas City win on Twitter:

So here are my picks for the rest of the playoffs. Keep in mind these picks are based on the match-ups that I would most like to see. These are not based on sabermetrics, or even gut instincts.

Wildcard

  • Kansas City over Oakland
  • Pittsburgh over San Francisco

As I said, with the Yankees out of it, I’d love to see Kansas City go all the way this year. This isn’t a dig at the Orioles (for whom I held season tickets for five seasons) and I’m sure many people around here would like to see a Beltway Series. But I want to see KC make a run.

ALDS

  • Kansas City over Los Angeles (Angels)
  • Baltimore over Detroit

I haven’t been able to stand the Angeles (for no good reason, I admit) since 2002. And I really would like to see the O’s win their division battle. Sorry Magnum.

NLDS

  • Washington over Pittsburgh
  • Los Angeles over St. Louis

It’s nothing against St. Louis, but I’ve found that, in the dozen years since leaving Los Angeles, I’ve grown retroactively fond of the Dodgers. Besides, when I think of St. Louis, I always think of Dizzy and Daffy Dean.

Washington, of course, is my current home-town National League team, and I was at their first playoff game (against St. Louis) a few years back.

ALCS

  • Kansas City over Baltimore

In 7 grueling games.

NLCS

  • Washington over Los Angeles

Also in 7 grueling games. Because in the fall, true baseball fans want the game to linger as long as it possibly can. Frost on the grass and the last hints of summer still in the air. Although, truthfully, if the NLCS is a good series, I’d be happy with either outcome.

World Series 2014

  • Kansas City over Washington

The Royals, with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, paid a hair over $1 million per win in 2014. It’s the second lowest of the playoff teams still remaining. (Pirates paid $884,000 per win in payroll.) The Dodgers have the highest cost per win ($2.5 million). But the Nationals are just about averages at $1.39 million per win. It would be nice to see two teams with average or below payrolls win, sure. But I just really want to see Kansas City go all the way.

Notes

  1. All of this caveated, of course, on the fact that the Yankees are out of it.

Going Paperless: The End of Our Regularly Scheduled Broadcast

All good things must come to an end. And after 2-1/2 years and more than 120 posts, this regular column has come to the end of its regular run. I stress the word “regular” because I’m sure that I will still write Going Paperless posts. They just won’t be on a regular schedule anymore, and will likely be much less frequent than they have been.

There are a few reasons I’m bringing the regularly scheduled program to an end now:

1. It’s becoming harder to come up with interesting topics each week. Doing this weekly means I’m coming up with about 50 new topics a year. It gets tough, coming up with interesting new topics each week. I try hard to only write about things that I actually do with Evernote and with Going Paperless. While there are plenty of other topics I could write about, my lack of experience with them would be somewhat disingenuous.

2. Readership has been steadily declining. Peak readership for these Tuesday posts used to come in at around 6,000 – 7,000 visits per day. This has been on a steady decline since the beginning of 2014. These days, a Going Paperless post probably sees 4,000 – 5,000 visits per day on a good day. I think part of the reason for the decline is #1 above. I’m stretching it in the topics that I cover. But part of it is natural attrition and interest moving away. It tells me it is time to move on to other topics.

3. I want to dedicate my limited time to other writing. While the Going Paperless posts have been waning, my freelancing writing has been picking up, and I want to be able to spend more time doing that, without the stress of coming up with a new topic each week. Lately, I’ve been struggling to keep to my schedule of posts every Tuesday. I’ve had a few more skipped weeks than usual, and more delayed posts as well. This is a sign that I’ve got too many irons in the fire at the moment.

So where does that leave things?

1. I will continue to blog here regularly. The blog isn’t coming to an end, just the regular Tuesday Going Paperless posts. If you like the other stuff I write here, stick around.

2. I will write new Going Paperless posts from time-to-time. I have no set schedule for this, but when I feel like I have a useful tip to share, I will share it here.

3. The Going Paperless posts are not going away. They will remain here for folks to read through and use, as will the shared notebook in Evernote.

Finally, a thank you

I wanted to  say thank you to everyone who has read these Going Paperless posts, everyone who has left a comment, provided feedback, made suggestions, and offered opinions. You have made this column what it is: a place where people can come to see how one person is trying to go paperless, and a place where the tips and tricks can be shared and discussed in a friendly atmosphere. I am grateful to all of my readers here, and while the regular Going Paperless posts are coming to an end, I hope that you’ll consider sticking around for some of the other posts I write here, and offering the same insights that you have over the last 2-1/2 years.


As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 5 Tips for Creating Digital Baby Books in Evernote.

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My Reading at Capclave in October

It’s almost October, and in addition to the baseball post-season, it means that Capclave is just around the corner. Capclave is my local science fiction convention, and the convention I attended most frequently since 2007. I usually have a heavy schedule of programming at Capclave, but this year they’ve given me a break. I have one panel and one reading.

The panel is a shorter, updated version of what Bud Sparhawk and I presented last year on Online Writing Tools. We are tentatively scheduled to present at 4 pm on Saturday, October 11.

They also gave me a reading this year. This will be my third public reading ever, and I plan to read something brand spanking new. For those who have been following along for a while, you know that I finished up the first draft of a new baseball alternate history novella, called “Strays” a month or so ago. The first part of that novella is now in second draft form and good enough for a reading, so I will be reading the first part of that novella during my slotted time, which is tentatively set for 6 pm on Saturday, October 11.

If you’ve never been to Capclave before, it is a great convention to attend. It’s focus is primarily on written science fiction, and short fiction at that. This years guests of honor include Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, and Genevieve Valentine.

Hope to see you there!

I’m Giving Ello a Try

The social network Ello has been getting some press lately, and thanks to good people, I got an invite last week, and have been giving it a try. I haven’t done much there as yet, but I see that a lot of folks in the science fiction/fantasy world are over there, too, making it feel almost like our own private social network.

In any case, if you’re looking for me on Ello (I know that the search there is awkward at the moment), I’m @jamietr, just like on Twitter.

ETA: Since I’ve been asked a few times already: I’m out of invites at the moment. If Ello gives me more, I’ll make an announcement.

Three Days in a Row of No Blogging!

So it appears I’ve gone 3 days without blogging, which I think is some kind of recent record for me, and for which I apologize. I’ve just been overwhelmed with work lately. This weekend, I escaped with the family to Kelly’s hometown, which was nice, but I also didn’t have much of a chance to get online and blog.

This is just a quick note to say that I am alive, and well, and will try to return things to normal around here.

3 Milestones for Writing and Blogging

I seem to be passing through a confluence of three milestones. That they have all come at roughly the same time is coincidence, but they are still worth mentioning.

1. I passed 400,000 words written on my consecutive day writing streak

With the writing I did last night, I have now passed 400,000 words written over the span of my (so far) 430 day consecutive writing streak.

400K Words
Click to enlarge

Four hundred thousand words seems like an awful lot to me. But what I find more remarkable is that I don’t have a lot of time to write each day, and yet, the streak has helped pile up the words. Over 430 days, I’ve averaged about 930 words/day. If we assume that most professional full time writers try to get in 2,000 words/day, I’m nearly halfway there.

I didn’t start automating the tracking of my writing time until August, but if you look at the RescueTime data (the green chart) over the last 2 months, you can see that on my best day, I spent only 80 minutes at the keyboard. Indeed, over the course of the last 2 months, I’ve averaged 40 minutes of writing time per day.

2. I passed 500,000 words since starting my attempt to write every day

My 430 consecutive-day writing streak is part of a larger effort to write every day, which began in late February 2013. Since then, I’ve written for 573 out of the last 575 days. Put another way, I’ve only missed 2 days in the last 575 days. In all of that time, I’ve written 511,000 words. Half a million words is a pretty big milestone. It’s like an entire Stephen King or George R. R. Martin novel!

3. This blog has had about 1 million page views so far in 2014

I’m jumping the gun slightly on this one. More than likely, the blog will actually hit 1 million tomorrow evening or Saturday, but I have a busy weekend coming up and wasn’t sure I’d have time to note it.

One million views

It’s kind of hard to believe that I’ve managed a million page views over the space of 9 months. It means I should end up with around 1.3 million by the end of the year. Things slowed down a bit in September, possibly because I haven’t had time to post as much. Still, it’s pretty amazing. I can remember back in 2011 when I was hoping to triple the page views from about 30/day to 90/day. And here I am averaging somewhere between 3,000 – 4,000/day.

Here is how the traffic has evolved since January 2011:

Since 2011

Anyway, those three milestones all happened (or will happen) in the last few days. Pretty cool, eh?

Going Paperless: 5 Tips for Creating Digital Baby Books in Evernote

I started these Going Paperless posts back in April 2012, when my daughter was about 8 months old. I was already an Evernote user when she was born (I hadn’t yet started using Evernote when my son was born) and one of the things I did at time, was start recording all of her milestones in Evernote. I did this for my son, too, but not as early as I did it for my daughter, and so I have a fairly complete record of every milestone I’ve thought to record for the first 3 years of her life.

In addition, I’d occasionally add pictures, or artwork that my kids did. I’d scan in cards that they received for their birthdays, or that they gave us for our birthdays. I kept score at the Little Man’s very first Little League game. The league doesn’t keep score at that level of play, but I kept a scorecard so that I could show it to him when he was older. And I keep a list of books for each them, that we’ve read together, in the hope that they will continue to maintain that list as they get older1.

None of this was formally planned on my part. I just wanted to have a good record of my kids growing up, something beyond the ubiquitous photos we have today. In collecting this stuff, however, it occurs to me that I’ve created a kind of digital baby book, or a memory book, for my kids using Evernote. And so, it occurred to me that I might be able to offer tips to others who want to try to do the same. So here are a few tips for folks whom might want to try this at home.

1. A notebook for each kid

One thing that I didn’t do, that in retrospect might have made things a little cleaner, was to create a notebook for each of my kids. The notebook corresponds to what would be the physical baby book, or memory book you’d get to keep track of their early life. Instead, I used tags to identify notes that were associated with one or both of my kids, but as you’ll see in step 5, there is an added benefit to notebooks that will give the virtual baby book the feel of something more tangible.

So what do you call these notebooks? Well, anything you want, but I’d probably include my child’s name in the notebook title.

Having a separate notebook holds one further advantage. It simplifies searching when you are looking for some event or milestone in your child’s life. You can start your search by telling Evernote to look only within the notebook in question. So if my son’t notebook was called “Little Man’s Baby Book” I could start my search with:

notebook:"Little Man's Baby Book"

This would ensure that only this notebook would be searched, and my search wouldn’t be cluttered with results from all of the other notebooks that I have. I have a lot of notes that have the word “baseball” in it. Probably hundreds of them. But if I wanted to ensure I saw only those notes with the word “baseball” in my son’s baby book notebooks, I could search as follows:

notebook:"Little Man's Baby Book" baseball

and that would look only within the notebook in question for the term “baseball.”

If you had multiple children and wanted to be a little more organized about things, you could create a notebook stack called “Baby Books” or “Memory Book” (or anything else) and place the notebooks within that notebook stack.

2. Tagging milestones

Remembering to capture the milestones as they happen is important. Fortunately, Evernote makes that easy. I always have access to Evernote, be it through my iPhone, computer, or iPad. When the Little Man got his first ever base hit in Little League this past Saturday, I pulled out my phone, and added a note to Evernote. It looked like this:

Little Man Hit 1

When I add these type of notes to Evernote, I tag the note with the appropriate child’s name, and a tag I use called “Milestone” to indicate that the note represents some important milestone. It makes it much easier to find them.

There are all kinds of events that happen in our kids’ lives that represent important milestones. I try to be somewhat picky. I includes firsts, of course, and then I also include other types of milestones that are important to me. The best way to demonstrate is to provide some real examples, so here are some of the milestones I’ve recorded for the Little Miss:

Little Miss Milestones

You can see there are a wide variety of milestones. Some are just notes, noting an important event, like when the Little Miss first said, “Mama.” Others include photos or videos. Milestones can be anything, you have to decide what’s important to you to capture.

3. Photos, videos and other media

On birthdays, I take photos of the kids and those go into Evernote. It makes for a nice evolution of their growth over time. Actually, I usually include 2 version of the same photo.

The first is just the plain photo that I take. The second is a photo of the Little Man or Little Miss standing by a section of wall near the living room. I use Skitch to markup the photo showing how tall they are in that photo. This is a nice way of capturing their height and growth over time, without marking up the wall.

I’ll also occasionally capture videos in the note. When the Little Miss first began crawling, I got it on video and that was included with the note mentioning the milestone.

One thing that I capture, perhaps a little too obsessively, is all of the kids schoolwork and artwork. Each day, when this comes home, I scan the paper into Evernote. I don’t tag it as a milestone, unless it has some significance, but I do tag it with their name. If I had separate notebooks for the kids, these would probably get filed in those notebooks. Artwork gets tagged “artwork” and schoolwork gets tagged “schoolwork.” This makes for quite a collection of notes, but I think the kids will enjoy looking through it when they are older.

And yes, we do keep the originals. They get put into a plastic bin that goes into the attic. We might never look at the originals, but it is hard to toss out paper that your kids have sweated over, and into which they’ve put their creativity.

Little Man artwork

 

Continue reading

Notes

  1. My list of books that I’ve read only goes back to 1996. I never thought to record them before that.

Good Customer Service at the Apple Store

Last week, while getting out the car after the Little Man’s baseball practice, my iPhone slipped through a hole in my pocket and landed, face first, on the concrete. At first I thought it was no big deal. I’ve dropped the phone before. But later, I discovered a long, crack diagonally across the screen, and was dismayed.

For a while, I thought I’d have to get a new phone, but then I remembered that I’d bought Apple Care+ with my iPhone last summer (2013). I checked, and from what I could tell, Apple Care+ covered a couple of incidents of accidental damage to the phone. So I booked an appointment at the Genius Bar for this morning at 10 am.

At 10 am, I arrived and was greeted by the Official Apple Store Greeter, who signed me in and asked me to wait a moment for the tech. A moment later, Tim arrived. I showed him what happened. He verified my Apple Care and then said that it would take about an hour to fix. It seemed to me that the Apple Care+ held the possibility of a $79 charge, but when he processed my order, there was no charge. He told me to come back an hour later, which I did.

I picked up my phone and it had a new display. The crack was gone! I didn’t even need to restore my data!

Tim told me that without Apple Care+, it would have cost me $129 to have the display replaced. As it turns out, it cost me nothing today. Of course, I did pay $99 for Apple Care+ when I bought the phone, but it has now more than paid for itself.

All told, it was a solid customer service experience. Quick, efficient, and entirely paperless!

The People Behind the Story

One of the biggest thrills as a writer is that first time you see your name in the table of contents for a magazine or anthology, or on the cover of a book. When I sold my first story, back in 2007, it was like making it to the big leagues. I knew I’d never be a major league baseball player, but I’d done something of the equivalent (in my eyes) as a writer. Seeing my byline along with my story was a joy.

As writers, we are the public face of our stories, book and articles. Credit for success accrues to us, as does criticism for faults and failures. That is fair, and as it should be. If we have the audacity to think our words might be enjoyed by others, we have to be able to handle the results, good and bad.

They say writing is a lonely business, and when the writer is sitting down pounding out words, that is mostly true. But the road from idea to publication, at least for me, is anything but lonely.  Behind every story that sees publication are people besides the writer who help to make it happen. These people are often in the background, and their names rarely appear on the byline along with the author’s. But without them, I couldn’t do what I do. Who are these people? They probably vary for every writer, but for me, they include 5 groups.

Other writers

I find it hard to talk about the process of writing (and the struggles therein) with my family and my non-writer friends. I think there are two reasons for this. First and foremost, I don’t want to bore my family and friends with writerly problems that probably seem esoteric to anyone but another writing. Second, unless you are a writer, it is hard to understand the struggles. My experience has been that non-writers generally fall into two groups: (a) people who think writing must be easy, and if they turned their hand to it, could churn out a best-seller between cups of coffee. And (2) people who don’t write because they find it daunting and terrifying.

Other writers, however, are a different story. While I may not always discuss the specifics of every story I write with other writers, I often will talk to them about the struggles I happen to be having. For me, my writer friends often take on the role of a hitting coach or fielding coach in baseball. Instead of helping with footwork, or batting mechanics, they help get me out of my head, and approach things from a new angle. On more than one occasion, a conversation with another writer about the mechanics of the job have helped me move a story forward. That is a big help, and often goes unacknowledged. You don’t see these writers’ names on the byline, although I do try to acknowledge them elsewhere. If it wasn’t for there help, I might have never made it through the struggle.

A small group of my writer-friends, and occasionally, my writer’s group also act as my beta-readers. The feedback I get from them on my stories is invaluable. Every story that I’ve written that has gone through beta readers has come out of the other side of the process far better because of the keen eyes looking over my work and making useful suggestions.

Editors

I’d say that 40% of my stories accepted for publication have required work with the editor to get them into shape to really make them publication worthy. This includes my first story, as well as later stories. For instance, my story, “Flipping the Switch,” which appeared in the original anthology Beyond the Sun (edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt) last summer required quite a bit of work with Bryan to make it publication worthy. The result was a story that I think was much better than the one that I turned in

Sometimes editors suggestions are small, but make me, as the writer, look better. The first story I sold to Analog, “Take One for the Road” (June 2011) had a reference to “night owls” which then editor Stan Schmidt suggested I changed simply to “owls” as the phrase “night owls” was redundant. A small change, but an improvement.

Not long ago I had an article published at 99U called “How I Kept a 373-Day Productivity Streak Unbroken1” My editor at 99U, Sean Blanda made a key suggestion–generalizing some of the points in the article and calling them out explicitly–which vastly improved the article. Indeed, that article became the most-shared article I’ve ever written with something like 5,000 shares on social media. The feedback I received for it was overwhelmingly positive. And I credit that all to Sean’s suggestion.

And let’s not forget the copyeditors who catch the small typos, spelling errors, and who find inconsistencies in usage in the manuscripts and cleans them up so that the finished product looks professional. No matter how many times I proofread, I miss things, and I’ve come to believe that there is diminishing returns to this. But the copyeditors make sure that I look good, despite myself.

Artists

I have been fortunate to have artists render scenes from three of my stories. I am always blown away by the results. Artists are acknowledged for their work, but I still think they become part of the team that make the story better. They provide a unique window into the story that my words alone can’t do. For that, I am grateful to each artist who has taken more words and turned them into something amazing.

Production people

Readers see the results of the work of many people: the writer, the editor, the artist being the three most visible. Behind the scenes there are a lot more people helping to bring the stories to life. There are editorial assistants (like Emily Hockaday at Analog and Asimovs) who walk newbie writers through the process of reviewing galleys. There are managing editors and people in contract departments who handle the business end of the process, issuing contracts and payments.

There are the production people who layout the magazine, or the book, who make it available in various online formats, who merge in the artwork, and in short, who make it look like what you see on the bookshelf, newsstand, or how it appears when you download it to your e-reader device.


Without any of these people to help out along the way, none of my stories would see the light of day. Writing might seem like a lonely business, and certainly, sitting at the keyboard and getting the words down can be lonely at times, but I tend to find I am surrounded by vast team of people all of whom are cheering along for my success, encouraging me, making me and my words look good. They all deserve credit in the process. They are the people behind the stories, and without whom there would be no stories.

As the public face of the stories, it is the writers who receive fan mail, or criticisms along the way. I think it is important to acknowledge to readers and fans that there are a lot more people behind the scenes that just the writer. The best qualities of the story are because of this team of people behind the story.

Notes

  1. As of today, that streak stands at 425 days.

Thank You, Derek Jeter, for Saving Baseball

I started at my present job in the fall of 1994, at the end of one of the more depressing baseball seasons of my life, thanks to the player’s strike that killed the postseason for that year. Baseball, it seemed, was at an all-time low.

In May of the following season, Derek Jeter made his major league debut with the New York Yankees. Since then, he has gone on to become not only one of the best all around players of his generation, but in all of baseball history. And what is more remarkable: he did it while keeping his ego in check, and being a role model that kids of all ages (including the “kid” of 23 years old that I was back in 1995) could look up to, and rely on to be a good example. For twenty years, Jeter has maintained that high standard.

Yesterday, Gatorade released a new commercial featuring Derek Jeter that has gone viral. I’ve probably watched this commercial a dozen times now.

At first, it was the artistic elements that drew me to the commercial: a choice of music, a good choice of how it was shot (black and white). But there was something else, something I couldn’t quite put a finger on. People have said that watching the video gives them goosebumps. It certainly had that effect on me. But why?

The reason, I think, dawned on me earlier this evening. As I said, I started my present job not long before Jeter started his with the Yankees. That twenty years has gone by in the blink of an eye. I wonder what it must be like for someone like Derek Jeter, who worked hard as a kid to make it to the big leagues, and then lived a dream, becoming one of the best players of all time–and now, he’s retiring and that part of his life is coming to a close. This final season of his has been like the credits at the end of a movie, one that you want to end, but that you wish would go on and on forever. If the last twenty years felt like blink of the eyes to me, what must it feel like to Jeter?

The new video captures some of that, and it comes across. When he nods to the camera at the end, just before he walks out onto the field, it is like an acknowledgement that all good things must come to an end. He’s cool with that, even though it makes us shed a reminiscent tear for halcyon days.

I’ve thought it a little strange that Jeter is getting the kind of send off that he’s been getting all season, but I no longer think so. Everyone, fans, players, owners, wants to say thank you to Jeter. They are thanking him for something that he probably had no idea he was doing when he made his first major league appearance in May 1995, when baseball was reeling from the strike, and was soon to be plagued by a decade of disappointing role models, thanks to steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Through all of that, there was one player that fans, kids, old-timers, sports writers, managers, owners, and other players could count on not only for excellence on the field, but for excellence in character.  The send-off Jeter has gotten this season is a thank you from everyone.

They are thanking him for saving baseball.

Which is exactly what he has done for the last two decades.

 

Thoughts on The Last Lion, the Biography of Winston Churchill by William Manchester

The Last Lion

Yesterday, I finished reading William Manchester’s massive 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion. It is, officially, the longest biography I have ever read, far taking the 3-volume Theodore Roosevelt biography by Edmund Morris. The three books total more than 2,000 pages. The audio books are more than 130 hours in length, the equivalent of listening non-stop for 5-1/2 days. For folks who binge-watch TV shows, that is the equivalent of  watching about 195  40-minute episodes back-to-back.

Not a moment of it was boring, and while I’d say the book doesn’t dethrone David McCullough’s John Adams as my favorite biography, it does join it there, in equal splendor, although for different reasons.

3 volumes make up this biography:

  1. Visions of Glory: 1874-1932 (1984)
  2. Alone: 1932-1940 (1989)
  3. Defender of the Realm: 1940-1965 (2012)

Manchester did not survive to finish the third volume, and enlisted the help of journalist Paul Reid to complete the task.

I started reading the biography back on July 13 and finished yesterday, on September 17, so I spent a good portion of the summer immersed in British and European history, and I found it fascinating. Here are some initial thoughts.

1. The rich details of the book really did immerse me in the time period. While I probably should not have been surprised, I found that when I finished the books yesterday, I was overcome by sadness. Churchill was dead, and for two months, I had followed the course of his life in great detail from his birth, through three wars, through the Korean conflict and the beginning of the Cold War, and through his death and funeral. The book is a very hard act to follow. I wanted more, much more. Fortunately, there is plenty that Churchill himself wrote available to read, but I decided to give myself a little break. Before I jump into more Churchill, I’m distracting myself with Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher novel.

2. Two events in the book brought tears to my eyes. The first was the death of Marigold Churchill, Winston and Clementine’s daughter, who died in childhood before Mary Churchill was born. The second was not Churchill’s death, nor his moving state funeral at St. Paul’s. It was something that took place eight months later, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Britain:

The Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, at the request of the Queen and Parliament, placed a sixty-by-seventy-six-inch polished green-marble slab in the floor of that thousand-year-old monument to English history. All who enter cannot help but see it there, in the nave, just a few feet inside the great west doors. Engraved upon it are the words:

REMEMBER
WINSTON
CHURCHILL

3. Churchill lived a long life (90 years) that happened to span a period of time when the world took gigantic leaps forward in technology. He was born in the Victorian era, and indeed, first began serving in Parliament under Queen Victoria. He first crossed the Atlantic to the United States on a ship that carried a sail, just in case the engines quit, and took 10 days to make the crossing. On his final return from the United States to England at the end of his life, he flew on a Boeing 707, flying 7 miles above the ocean and taking only 6 hours or so. That seems remarkable to me.

4. Reading the biography was a stark illustration of just how little I’d known about either World War, but especially the Great War. What we learn about World War I in school is more or less how it started and how it ended. I’m not blaming the education system for the lapses. There is so much history and so little time. But to see, in continuous flow, the events leading up to the first World War, and how the settlement after the war, and the Treaty of Versailles set up conditions that would naturally lead to World War II was an education in and of itself.

5. I learned more about British politics, and the political process in England than I had ever known before. The biography is a lesson in parliamentary politics through example. In college, as a political science major, I took a couple of classes in European politics, and always enjoyed them. But I learned more practical politics from the biography than I did from all of those classes combined. Every form of democracy has its pluses and minuses, but throughout my reading, I came to appreciate the parliamentary form more than I ever had before. There is something about the odd combination of decorum and candor in the House of Commons debates that I wish took place in the House and Senate, but which I don’t imagine would ever really be possible.

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