New Year’s Resolution of a Newly Minted Middle-Ager

When did it become so hard to tie my shoes? If there is any question as to whether or not middle age has arrived, one sure sign is the increasing difficulty of bending down to tie ones shoes. To paraphrase Bing Crosby’s banter in “Moonlight Bay,” there’s a little more in the middle, and that is enough to make bending down to reach my shoes harder than it used to be.

Even the sound of tying my shoes has changed. A preface has been added to the story. Where there was once the whisper of the laces as they do their knot-forming dance, that dance is preceded by a loud, uncomfortable grunt.

Muscles that were once lean and flexible seem shortened and tight. Sitting on a low chair is the best place for me to tie my shoes. At home, I prefer the two steps that lead to a short landing before the stairs take a ninety degree turn and head up. On those two steps, I am close enough to my shoelaces where muscles and middle play little havoc over me.

I was thinking about my shoelaces difficulties lately because I’d noticed my shoes coming untied far more often than they used to. It was strange. My shoelaces rarely came untied in the four decades I’ve been tying them myself. So why would they start to come untied all of a sudden? It was a mystery, and it bothered me. I’d lay awake some nights, reviewing the day in my head, and wondering what the heck could be going on with my laces that would unravel them so easily? What had changed? What was I doing differently?

Eventually, I hit upon the answer. The laces were coming untied because I’d stopped double-knotting them they way I have for as far back as I can remember. Why had I stopped double-knotting them? I knew the answer, and was embarrassed to admit it: not quite laziness, but it was just too darn hard to bend over myself and stretch myself for any more time than it takes to tie the shoes in a simple knot. The few seconds added by a double knot was too much.

When my mom first made me this thing to practice tying my shoelaces into knots when I was a just a young kid, I never imagined that it would be anything other than routine. I can tie my shoes in the dark! And yet, though I hate to admit it, I look for opportunities to avoid tying my shoes.

In our house, we generally take our shoes off when we come inside. I’ve resisted this when I know I’m going to have to put my shoes on again. One and done is the way I fly these days when it comes to tying my shoes. I suspect Kelly thinks I am either forgetful or lazy, and she is infinitely patient with me wandering around the house in my shoes.

Forget the way you see yourself in the mirror in the morning, or in photographs posted on social media. Forget the jabs from friends and family chorusing what Bing Crosby sang all those years ago. If you want a wakeup call to the state of your overall well-being, look no further than your shoelaces, and how easy—or hard—they are for you reach when you go to tie them.

If I said that in 2017, I am going to try to get to the point where I am no longer uncomfortable tying my own shoes, would that seem like a reasonable, practical New Year’s resolution?

Sunset, December 30, 2016

I went to the car to retrieve something and the sun was setting over Boynton Beach, Florida. This is the sunset I saw this evening.

Sunset, 12/30/16

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

When I was growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut, an astronomer, and a writer. One out of three isn’t too bad, I suppose. But most of my life, other people’s jobs have often seemed more interesting than my own. Perhaps it is an example of the grass being greener. Perhaps I am just easily influenced by what I see and read.

As I write this, I am two-thirds of the way through Bruce Springsteen’s remarkably well-written, and remarkably honest memoir Born to Run. The more I read it, the more I find myself wishing I was a member of a legendary rock and roll band. This is only the most recent occurrence of a phenomenon that I’ve experienced as far back as I can remember. Here are some other examples:

  • After reading Andrew Chaikin’s A Man on the Moon in 1998, I desperately wanted to be an astronaut. Eventually I took flying lessons and got my private pilot’s license in the dim hope that such a mark of achievement would give me an edge.
  • When I finished reading Longitude by Dava Sobel back in 2001, I wanted to take up clock-making.
  • After I read Linus Torvalds’s book, Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary in 2002, I wanted to be a Linux hacker.
  • Reading anything by Andy Rooney makes me long for a job as a nationally syndicated columnist. (I could do without the exposure on 60 Minutes, however.)
  • Tom Kelly’s Moon Lander: How We Developed the Lunar Module made me want to be a project manager. My job eventually evolved into project management. The reality somehow doesn’t match the glamor depicted in Kelly’s book.
  • Any time I listen to Bing Crosby, I want to be a crooner signed to Decca records sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. I want to have my own radio show and banter with Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, and George Burns.
  • Speaking of George Burns, when I read few of his books (Living it Up, and Third Time Around) in 2006, I wanted desperately to be a self-deprecating comedian.
  • Reading anything by Will Durant makes me want to quit what I am doing an become a globe-hopping historian.
  • Reading Richard Winters’ memoir, Beyond Band of Brothers made me wish I was a captain in the U.S. Army paratroopers.
  • Stephen King’s On Writing makes me wish I was a writer every single time that I read it. (I’ve read it at least three or four times.)
  • When I read Great Baseball Writing: Sports Illustrated 1954-2004 edited by Rob Fleder, I wanted to drop everything and become a baseball writer. Indeed, I wrote my favorite story, “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” (published in the May 2015 issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show) because of this desire.

What is it called when you want to do everything? Does that phenomenon have a name? Am I the only one who this happens to? I sometimes feel like a bibliophilic chameleon, taking on the shade of whatever it is I happen to be reading at that moment in time.

There are a few exceptions. Despite having read many Presidential biographies, I have never had any desire to be President. Reading books about the law or legal practice has stirred no desire in me to be a lawyer.

I know that I should be content with the job that I have. For the most part, I am. But I can’t help but daydream about what I want to be when I grow up, and the books I read provide the seeds for those daydreams. Maybe my New Year’s resolution for 2017 should be to learn how to play guitar, write some songs, get a record deal, and go on tour, perhaps even opening for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. That sounds like a reasonable resolution, right?

Interstate Driving

Our interstate highway system is a pretty remarkable thing. Over the years, we have driven every mile of Interstate 95 between Route 3/202 near Augusta, Maine, and Interstate 4 just west of Daytona Beach, Florida. Every summer, we make the drive from northern Virginia up to Maine, taking I-95 most of the way. Every winter, we follow I-95 south to Florida.

The Interstates have personalities, and those personalities change with the landscape. I can never quite relax on I-95 just south of the Beltway in Virginia. It isn’t until the road thins out a bit near Woodbridge, that I finally settle down. The urban sprawl of the DMV thins out. Instead of shopping malls, and outlets, the scenery changes to fields and farms.

Drive the Interstates enough and you begin to recognize landmarks better than any mile-marker. Rural North Carolina is populated by a series of roadside billboards advertising adult store franchises like Adam & Eve. In the southern part of the state, the signs change to notices that you are approaching South of the Border, a tourist trap just south of the border into South Carolina.

Interstate 95 remains two lanes for much of the stretch of South Carolina and well into Georgia. As you approach Savannah, the road widens. Palms trees start to dot the landscape. Then you cross the border into Florida and the personality of the highway changes again.

I take the interstates for granted. I’ve driven the 1,385 miles between Route 3 in Maine, and Interstate 4 in Florida many times, but I never really considered the achievement of the roads. How long did it take to drive from Virginia to Florida in the early 1950s, before the Interstates existed? How smooth was the travel? The Interstates host rest stops where you can get out of the car, stretch your legs, and empty your bladder.

Thanks to the progressive cruise control in the new car, I was able to concentrate more on the roads themselves, and the scenery that bookends the lanes. There were no rough patches that I noticed. The lanes were all smooth, and easy on the cars and trucks that rolled upon them. There weren’t many aggressive drivers. Long-distance drivers know the percentages, and drive steadily. It makes for a better experience for everyone.

There are only two short stretches of I-95 that we have yet to conquer: the 195 miles of road that stretch between Augusta, Maine, and the Canadian border. And the 262 miles from Miami to Daytona Beach, Florida. We will travel most of the latter next week as we begin our drive home from our vacation.

We take three days to drive to Florida and two to drive to Maine. We could fly in a matter of hours, but that means luggage and bag checks and security lines and airline delays and cramped seats. The views can be nice, but are often obscured by clouds. Driving on the Interstates, we get to see America close up. We roll by at 70 MPH, fast enough to make the trip bearable, but slow enough to be introspective about what we see along the way.

Your Busty Gorgeous Neighbor

I received an email notification from SoundCloud that read as follows:

I am your busty gorgeous neighbor who you follow at the supermarket or watch her at the gym.

My spam filters are good and stuff like this rarely makes it into my inbox. I had to look up what SoundCloud was because I wasn’t sure why I would be getting notifications from it in the first place. Normally, when spam like this makes it into my inbox, I mark it as spam and delete it. But this one cracked me up, and not because I was trying to guess which busty gorgeous neighbor it might be.

How many of your neighbors would actually refer to themselves as “busty” or “gorgeous” for that matter? Most people, in my experience, are more modest about their looks, even if they believe they are both busty and gorgeous.

I doubt I followed any busty gorgeous neighbor at the supermarket. For one thing, I go grocery shopping early on Sunday mornings, usually before 7 am if I can manage. Any busty gorgeous neighbors I have are probably still sound asleep, wrapped in satin sheets atop their waterbeds.

The grocery store is empty on Sunday mornings at 7 am. The deli is barely open. The aisles are empty, save for the workers stocking the shelves. A busty gorgeous neighbor would stand out in an empty grocery store.

What really made me laugh was the boolean qualification and change in viewpoint in the last part of the message. First, I apparently followed my busty gorgeous neighbor either at the grocery store or I watch her at the gym. What are the chances that two neighbors would end up at the same gym at the same time in a large metropolitan area. Also, my gym membership lapsed nearly a decade ago, and I am hard pressed to recall the last time I stepped into a gym.

Then there is a that strange change in view-point. The message started out in the first person (“I am your busty gorgeous neighbor who…”) but at the end, changes viewpoint (“…who you follow at the supermarket or watch her at the gym”). I would think the message would read, “I am your busty gorgeous neighbor who you follow at the supermarket or watch at the gym.” And I’d replace that “or” with an “and.” In the end, the message should read: “I am your busty gorgeous neighbor who you follow at the supermarket and watch at the gym.”

But that still isn’t right. The two adjectives sound awkward. Strunk & White tell us to omit needless words. Well, either busty or gorgeous is redundant. Gorgeous is too generic. One can be gorgeous without being busty. I’d therefore stick with the more specific phrasing so that we end up with, “I am your busty neighbor who you follow at the supermarket and watch at the gym.”

The message came with a link to a website I didn’t recognize, and you are not supposed to click on unfamiliar links from strangers, even if that stranger is a busty gorgeous neighbor, so I can’t say where the link might have taken me. Maybe the supermarket? Or the gym?

Xbox Blues

The kids got an Xbox One for Christmas and I spent 3 hours yesterday trying to get the thing setup. The hardware itself was as simple as setting up the Atari 2600 I’d gotten as a kid: one plug goes into the power outlet, another goes into the television. It was the software side of things that ruined what was otherwise a pleasant morning.

Here are the things you have to do to get an Xbox working for your kids:

  1. Install the hardware.
  2. Turn on the system, wait for it to boot up.
  3. Connect it to the WiFi in the house. With that done, I felt confident that I could put in one of the game discs we had and the kids could start to play. But wait! There’s more!
  4. Download an update to the Xbox. The update was 6 GB. We were at my in-laws and the WiFi was slow and spotty—probably because every other parent in the community was busy setting up a new Xbox for their kids, and everyone was downloading the same 6 GB update at the same time.
  5. Restart the Xbox so that it can install the update.
  6. Wait for it to connect to the spotty WiFi. Now, at least, we could get started, right? Wrong.
  7. Download an update for the controller. The on-screen instruction tell you not to move the controller while this is happening. Of course, it seem to take forever.
  8. Configure the Xbox. Location, time zones, etc.
  9. Sign into a Microsoft account. Why you need an account to play video games is beyond my meager comprehension. But nothing I could do would get around this little gem of a feature.
  10. Create an account for the Little Man. Enter his name, birthdate, and other vitals. Whew! Ah, but now, because the Little Man is only 7, a parent must approve his account, and in order to do that, a parent must sign in with their Microsoft account.
  11. Sign into my Microsoft Account.
  12. Read the fine print, check some boxes. Uncheck some other boxes. Basically, say it is okay for my kid to sign into his account. Except now the system tells me that his Country setting is different from my Country setting. These have to be the same.
  13. Sign out of my account and back into his account.
  14. Check his country setting: United States.
  15. Sign out of his account and back into my account.
  16. Check my country setting: United States.
  17. [Redacted]
  18. Pull myself together. Decide that for now, we’ll just use my account. Sign into my account. Somehow, though, the Xbox still thinks I am signing in to approve the Little Man’s account, not to play games.
  19. Pull the plug from the wall.
  20. Put the plug back in the wall.
  21. Wait for the Xbox to reboot.
  22. Sign in with my account. Finally, we are there. I have a home screen, and we can play games.
  23. Load the “Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.”
  24. An update is required (of course!).
  25. Wait for a long time while the update is loaded over the slow WiFi.
  26. Finally, finally, start Plants vs. Zombies.
  27. Prompted to sign into an Xbox Gold account.
  28. Spent 20 minutes figuring out what an Xbox Gold account is, and why we need it. See clearly at the bottom of the game box for Plants vs. Zombies that an Xbox gold account is required.
  29. Worn out, I sign up for a year of Xbox Gold which is half the price of month-to-month.
  30. Start Plants vs. Zombies.
  31. Now, it seems, we need to sign into an Electronic Arts account. We don’t have one, so we have to create one.
  32. Create the EA account.
  33. Start Plants vs. Zombies (again). It finally works!

The Little Man did a remarkably good job of waiting patiently for the 2+ hours it took me to get through all of these (mostly unnecessary) steps. He eagerly took the controller and began playing Plants vs. Zombies.

Ten minutes later, he was bored and said he wanted to go swimming.

Disney World Observations

Last week, we spent five days at Disney World. We go every other year, and this was our third time taking the kids. Here are a few observations from our recent trip:

  • There are two kinds of people who go to the parks: early risers, and late-risers. We were among the former, and almost always took advantage of the “magic hours” the parks offered to guests staying at one of the resorts. One day, after spending over 3 hours at Magic Kingdom, we headed back to the hotel to rest—at around 10:30 am. The crowds flooding into the park at 10:30 am made it very difficult to get out of the park. What were all these people doing that they arrived at the Magic Kingdom nearly 4 hours after it had opened?
  • We booked our trip in April, and Kelly got a deal that includes the meal plan for free as part of our stay on the resort. The deal is only offered for a few weeks just before Christmas (slow time at the parks, I suppose). It is well worth it. I kept track of the bills for the sit-down dinners we had this time around and the dinners along added up to something like $600. All we paid were for alcohol and tips. The rest was included on the meal plan.
  • I am always amazed at how clean everything is at Disney World. Whether it is our hotel room, the bus stop, the shuttle bus itself, a heavily used restroom in one of the parks, the lines on the ride, the tables at a quick-service food joint, everything is sparkling clean.
  • Walking through Disney World with a nearly 4-month-old baby is like carrying around a social magnet. The baby attracts everyone, and everyone has just about the same things to say: “How adorable?” “How old is she?” “Only four months? My goodness!” “She is so well-behaved!” To this last, I sometimes wished that Ellie would spit up a few seconds after the words were spoken, in a kind of protest. Usually, she waited until we were alone again, and then happily complied with my wishes.
  • The classic rides hold up remarkably well. Pirates of the Caribbean is almost as good as it was when I was a kid. The one flaw is that they altered the ride to fit the movies, which I think was a colossal mistake. The ride was much better before Jack Sparrow was introduced. The Haunted Mansion is as fun as I remember as a kid. Big Thunder Mountain seems to last longer than I remember. The kids loved running around Tom Sawyer Island as much as I did when I was a kid.
  • I would love to sit in a meeting of the process engineers who make everything seem to run so smoothly at the parks. Things may not run as smoothly behind the scenes but so long as they seem to run smoothly for the public in the parks, that is all that really matters. I am always impressed by the way processes seem well-thought-out at the Disney parks, and I think it would be fascinating to learn how they map out these processes and smooth out the rough edges.

Merry Christmas!

I am taking the day off today to spend Christmas with the family. Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates. Regular blog posts will resume tomorrow.

Hurry Up and Wait!

A big part of our Disney World vacation consisted of waiting in lines. It began with the check-in process, and continued through the entire experience. It never occurred to me just how much line waiting we did until I began to think about it. Here are something we stood in line for:

  • Checking in to our hotel.
  • Waiting for the shuttle buses to take us from hotel to park and vice versa.
  • Bag security prior to entering the parks.
  • Park entrances.
  • Buying food, whether quick service, sit-down reservations, or a popcorn vendor in Epcot.
  • Meeting the Disney characters throughout the park.
  • Restrooms, if you were a woman. The men’s rooms never seemed to have lines.
  • The rides themselves.

Disney has made line-waiting into something of an art form. Years ago, they introduced FastPass, which holds your place in line for a specific time slot. Then they morphed that into FastPass+. Now, there are only two types of lines one stands in when waiting to get on a ride at the Disney parks: FastPass+ and Standby.

FastPass+ works out great if you are a planner. Kelly picked out our FastPasses for us, and we walked onto every ride we really wanted to go on without any significant wait. At one point, the Little Man and I had a FastPass for Space Mountain. The Standby line had a 135 minute wait—and people were still going into the Standby line. From the time we entered the FastPass lane to the time we exited the ride, 10 minutes elapsed.

Walking onto Space Mountain with our FastPasses made me feel a little guilty. You walk past a long line of people who didn’t plan ahead, or chose to use their FastPasses for something else. The looks we got from the people in the Standby line were similar to the looks one gets when called to board First Class on an airplane, or when using the Premier security lines at the airport. They made me feel a little uncomfortable.

There were a few rides that we went Standby on because we didn’t have FastPasses for them. We did this for Splash Mountain, and Mission Space. In each case, we waited in line for about 30 minutes. I watched what seemed like hundreds of FastPass people zip by and I brooded. They all had a superior look about them, as if they were boarding First Class on an airplane or something like that. Who did they think they were, anyway, with their fancy FastPasses?

The Standby lines provide the best measure of a ride. I’m not a fan of rating systems, but if I had to rate rides at Disney World, I’d consider whether they were Standby-worthy—and if so, for how long? Splash Mountain was definitely 30-minute Standby-worth. I don’t think I’d wait 45 minutes for it, though.

It was amusing to watch people in line at different times of the day. Waiting on a line early in the morning, people are bright, energetic, eager, almost bouncing with excitement. Late in the day, the lines consist of limp limbs, stooped shoulders, frowns, crying children, and parents that look like they could use a vacation.

The way people rush into the parks the minute they open just to stand in line reminds me of something my grandfather used to say anytime he found himself standing in a line: “Hurry up and wait!”

Ratings Craze

When sites like Amazon started allowing and encouraging ratings of the products they sold, it seemed like a good idea. Lately, it seems to me the whole ratings craze has spun out of control.

Ratings for books, movies, and music are useless to me. I’m dubious of rating art of any kind. But when people give books one star ratings because they don’t like the price, or a five-star rating because the author is their friend, that spells disaster for the usefulness of any rating system. Rating products like backpacks, furniture, etc., is slightly more useful.

As a person who uses a product or service, whether it is a book, a gadget, a piece of furniture, a restaurant, or an app, I should feel under no obligation to rate or review the product. Yet, I am bombarded by reminders to  provide feedback:

  • Authors ask me to leave a review on Amazon—not necessarily because the book is good, but more reviews lead to better sales.
  • Amazon even asks me to rate the packaging that products are shipping in.
  • Apps are particularly aggressive. I can’t stand it when a useful app is interrupted by a reminder in the app to rate the product. Many of these reminders are manipulative. The app will pop-up a message that reads: “Do you like the app?” What am I going to do, say no? I’m using aren’t I? But if I click “Yes” then I’m asked to rate the app.

The entire system is overcomplicated. I either like something or I don’t. I find it useful, or not useful. The five-star spectrum is as obnoxious as the one hour meeting default in Outlook calendar. How about: “Did the product meet your expectations?” A simple yes or no will suffice.

Audible takes ratings a step further. You can rate the story, the performance, and provide an overall rating. Three ratings for one product!

When we bought our new car this summer, the salesman told us that we’d be getting a call about our experience at the dealership. We’d need to rate our experience on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being best. His boss, our salesman told us, considers anything less than 10 a failure, so please give him a 10 if we don’t mind. What kind of jerk of boss considers anything less than 10 as a failure. In school, 9 out of 10 is still an A. And anyway, what does a 7 mean as opposed to an 8, or a 6 for that matter?

Some services that should ask for ratings never do. My doctor and dentist never ask me to rate the quality of my last visit. I suppose they don’t want people to know how much time I had to spend in the waiting room, or how little time they spent with me. I never see rating requests from the insurance company, either.

I’m tired or rating things. I gave up rating books a long time ago. On the list of books I’ve read, I’ll note books I recommend with an asterisk. Otherwise, nothing.

If you don’t mind, please let me know how well you like this post by rating it on one-to-five stars. I won’t tell you which is better. You can also leave a review in the comments.

What’s In Your Pocket?

Several times in the last few days, I’ve had the opportunity to take inventory of all of the stuff I carry around in my pockets. Here is what I typically found:

  • A leather wallet, pretty beaten up at this point.
  • A Jockery iPhone charger, orange.
  • An iPhone charging cable, heavily duct-taped from overuse.
  • One Chapstick tube, half-used.
  • Three quarters.
  • My iPhone 6, with a nice diagonal crack running down one corner of the screen.
  • My reading glasses, which I pretty much have to carry with me everywhere I go now, especially if I want to know what I am ordering from the menus.
  • One almost-filled Field Notes notebook, Country Fair edition, Virginia, blue.
  • One black pen, for writing notes in the notebook.
  • One blue pen, for signing things.

The last four items on the list were in may shirt pocket. One thing not in my pockets was my keys. Being on vacation means not having to carry my keys around at all times, which is nice.

I thought about the stuff in my pocket because I’ve had to take it all out of my pocket at least twice over the last two days. Entering the Disney parks, people are randomly selected for secondary security screenings, and I’ve been selected twice.

As a side-note, I’d like to point out that Disney likely picked up this safety precaution from the airlines. If so, it wasn’t a fair deal. The airlines clearly haven’t picked up the excellent customer service Disney extends to its guests.

When you go through the security lines you have to empty your pockets into a bedpan. I call it a bedpan that’s what it looks like, though I doubt the Disney people would agree. “Anything with metal,” they say, but who wants to be pulled aside for a tertiary screening (read: pat-down) because the ink in the pen you have in your pocket happens to contain trace amounts of some metal?

Then there is the question of whether or not my sunglasses would set off the metal detectors. So they go into the bedpan, too. It takes about 20 seconds to empty my pockets. It takes about 2 seconds for me to walk through the metal detector, and another 20-30 seconds to load my pockets again.

The security people at Disney were always friendly, and didn’t look annoyed in the least. Even so, I couldn’t help looking mildly annoyed as I emptied first my left pants pocket, then my right, then the two lower pockets, and finally my shirt pocket and sunglasses. It seemed to amuse the security people. It was like the clowns-from-the-car routine. I was entertaining them!

I think it would be fascinating to spend a day at these inspection tables and see the kinds of things people pull out of their pockets. A sociologist could probably tell a lot about a culture simply by watching what appears in those bedpans.

It would be better, of course, if we had no need for these screenings in the first place.

My Favorite Reads of 2016

This year marks the completion of my 21st year of keeping track of all of the books I’ve read. My list dates back to January 1, 1996. As I do at the end of each year, this is an overview of my 5 favorite reads I had this year. I am writing this post on December 14, with two weeks remaining in the year, and I do plan to finish a few more books before the year is out. But I am only including books that I have finished to this point.

I read a total of 27 book through December 14, 2016. Twenty-one of the 27 books I read were nonfiction this year. I’ve been reading more nonfiction these last few years, and far, far less science fiction than at any point in the past.

My top 5 reads of 2016 are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2016. It doesn’t meant the books were written or published in 2016. Here, then, is my list:

5. I Remember Me by Carl Reiner. Early in 2016, I was on a Hollywood biography/memoir kick. It is a guilty pleasure of mine. Carl Reiner’s memoir was among my favorites, and I enjoyed the added bonus that he narrated the audiobook version.

4. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Homefront in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This is the first time I’d read a detailed biography of FDR, and Goodwin’s book was a fantastic introduction. Reading the book made me feel like I was living through the times, and what more can you ask of a piece of nonfiction.

3. The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life by John Le Carré. I’ve never read any of Le Carré’s fiction (although I’ve seen the movie versions of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy) but his memoir was fascinating. This was another example where the audiobook benefited from an excellent narrator… John Le Carré himself.

2. The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s nonfiction essays on art, literature, music, and everything in between were wonderful, melodic things. I wish I could write with his eloquence.

1. Cannibal Queen by Steven Coonts. My favorite read of 2016 was Steven Coonts travelogue of his journey crisscrossing the 48-states in his 1942 vintage Steerman biplane named Cannibal Queen. This is Blue Highways for pilots. The book made me yearn for the days when I used to fly, and envious of such a wonderful adventure.

For the record, as I write this, I am three-quarters of the way through Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith. Given how much I am enjoying it, I suspect it would have made the top 5 had I finished it before today, knocking Carl Reiner off the list.