Night Noises

One of the worst feelings is waking up in the middle of the night to the echo of a short, sharp CHIRP! I lay there in the dark and wonder Did I just hear that, or was it the echo of a dream? I am about to drift back off to sleep when–CHIRP!–there it goes again, and now I am off on a nighttime hunt for the offending smoke detector. It is never the one you think it is. It always turns out to be the one most inconveniently located–which is also the one that I’m certain I just changed the batteries on last month. It takes an hour to get back to sleep.

Last night, I woke up in darkness to the sound of two faint beeps. What could that be? It’s disturbing to hear noises at night you don’t recognize. I waited for them to repeat. They didn’t. I finally decided it was the sound of someone locking their car remotely somewhere up the street.

Our ducts tick when the heat is on. I’ll sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of that ticking. It is not disturbing at all. In fact, it is kind of comforting. It is a reminder that I am warm, even though it is cold outside.

One of the more alarming night noises is the sound of little feet pounding on the hardwood floors. From the frequency of the pattering, I can tell not only who it is, but whether it is a serious problem, or just the little one wanting to climb into bed with us. Worse is a sound I heard a few nights ago. It was a loud THUD from the room next door. I lay there for a moment wondering if I actually heard the sound. Then I wondered what it might be. Finally, as the realization flooded in, I felt a surge of adrenaline and burst out of bed to find that the little one had fallen out of her bed onto the floor. She was in a bit of a daze, and probably would have been fine, if I hadn’t freaked her out by pointing out that she’d fallen out of bed.

Once, in the old house, we all awoke in the middle of the night when the house alarm went off. A minute later the phone rang. It was the alarm company, checking to make sure everyone was alright. The back gate was open, but I also noticed it was very windy out. I chalked it up to the wind, but it was a long while before I got back to sleep.

Maybe the worst sound in the middle of the night is the rare occasion when I awaken to the sound of someone whispering my name. Logically, I know it was just the echo of a dream. Even so, I look over to see if Kelly is sleeping. I get up and check on the kids to see if one of them called me. Then I get back into bed and my imagination starts to run wild. I remember that scene from Communion where the alien is peeking out of the closet and slowly tries to disappear back inside.

Andy Rooney has pointed out that the house creeks more at night than during the day. I won’t say that this is scientifically true, but it seems like it is.

On once woke up to the sound of an old manual typewriter ticking away in the middle of the night. I could find no ghost writer roaming the house, but when I got back into bed, the idea stayed with me and ultimately found its way into a story.

Writer Envy

Books by John McPhee, Stephen King, and E.B. White

I sometimes wonder if professional baseball players envy their teammates. Does a career average player look to a superstar and wonder: Why can’t I be that good? What’s holding me back? Envy isn’t an emotion that I am proud of, but sometimes that painful awareness of a talent I don’t possess and someone else does creeps in.

The truth is, I envy all sorts of writers, not for their success as much as their pure natural ability and talent. Stephen King is among my favorite writers, and I envy his ability to tell a good story, which for me is the single most important part of writing fiction. I envy Ray Bradbury’s lyricism. When I have tried to write like Bradbury, it always feels forced and phony.

I envy the nonfiction writer’s ability to research their material. E.B. White is among my favorite essayists and I envy the easy of his voice. Another of my favorites is John McPhee. I envy his abilities as well, but I envy something about him even more: I envy his travels, his ability to embed himself with whatever subject he was writing about and make it a part of his life. John McPhee has the rarest of talents: he can take any subject and make it interesting.

I know I shouldn’t be envious. I should be thankful for what abilities I possess as a writer. Those abilities, such as they are, were nurtured by parents who encouraged reading. They are almost entirely developed of brute force, and stubbornness. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I submitted and submitted and submitted, until finally, editors started to buy my stories. No shortcuts for me!

As a writer, I am rarely satisfied with what I write. At best, my writing seems “good enough” to send out, and on occasion, it is published, but I often look at what I write, and mentally compare it to those writers that I look up to as role models, and it seems always that we are in different leagues. They are major league superstars, bound for the Hall of Fame. I, on the other hand, bounce around the minor leagues, never quite getting to the level of the majors.

I desperately want to make that leap. I can imagine it, and perhaps that is half the battle. When I was much younger, and just starting to write, I used to daydream that one day, in my wildest imagination, I might actually sell a story to Analog. It seemed impossible, like winning the lottery. Eventually, I did sell to Analog. I could imagine it, and as impossible as it seemed, I made that leap.

The next leap seems much more difficult to make, and it has stymied my writing since late 2015 when I sold my last piece of fiction. I’ve been unsure of my writing ever since. I find myself writing the same pieces of story over and over again, to claim to myself that I am writing, when all I am really doing is going in circles. Part of my problem is that I am not sure where to go from here. Part of my problem is envy and fear. I want to tell stories like Stephen King. I want to write like E.B. White. I want to embed myself in my research like John McPhee.

I suppose there is a danger in comparing yourself to someone at the top of their profession, especially when I am close to the bottom. I try to look at it optimistically: I have a lot of room to grow. But it is a hard hill to climb when you don’t have much time in the day to practice your craft.

This year I have set a modest goal for myself: to get back to writing every day. Even if it is only for five or ten minutes, try to write something every day. I considered a tougher goal of writing a story a month–12 stories in the year, far more than I have ever written before. But that seemed self-defeating. The first step is to get back into the habit, to start flexing those muscles again.

I have a smaller, more subtle goal as well: to try to be less envious of other writers and instead, to appreciate their talents for the beauty they create instead.

I’m Writing This Post on My New Freewrite

I have often daydreamed about buying a typewriter and using it to write all of my first drafts. With a typewriter, I’d have no distractions from email, or social media. I wouldn’t be tempted by the apps on my computer. I’d slide in the paper and start typing. Of course, things like typos and corrections would be more problematic than on a word processor. Then, too, I wouldn’t have an electronic archive of those first drafts, just the paper copies. I suppose I could scan those. Finding the right typewriter is tricky, and maintaining it is trickier.

Enter my new Freewrite by Astrohaus. The Freewrite is billed as a “Smart typewriter for distraction-free writing.” So far, I’ve put a couple thousand words through it, and I think that is enough for some initial thoughts. First, the device itself.

The Freewrite is about the size of my circa 1950 Royal QuietComfort DeLuxe manual typewriter, although without as high a profile. It is significantly lighter than my Royal typewriter, and rests easily on my desk. It has a built-in handle for carrying around, and a full-sized keyboard that feels comfortable to use. Its e-ink screen is divided into to parts: a large upper screen where the text I write appears, and through which I can scroll back and forth to review; and a smaller status window that can show me various pieces of information about what I am working on.

The Freewrite seems to address many of my concerns about using a typewriter: It saves everything I write locally, but can also connect to WiFi for the purpose of syncing documents to a cloud service like Dropbox, Evernote, or Google. The synced documents appear in Word format, and I can use Markdown when typing on my Freewrite to create the basic formatting I want in my document.

The screens on my Freewrite.

What I like about the Freewrite is that it is designed for drafting. There are no distractions. I don’t get email notifications; I can’t check Twitter or Facebook. It is simply a tool that allows me to focus on the first draft of whatever it is I happen to be writing, much as a typewriter would do.

Indeed, the Freewrite has no arrow keys. I can’t go back and edit something I’ve written, only add to it, and that is by design. The idea is to focus on writing and worry about editing and revising later. Not having the arrow keys takes some getting used to, but I kind of like it. It is leading me into a whole new process for writing, one which I haven’t completely settled on yet, but the basis version is:

  • Write first drafts in Freewrite.
  • Print and mark-up the first drafts from the Word documents created by the Freewrite.
  • Revise and edit in Word for final copy.

There is a switch on the Freewrite to allow me to switch between one of three folders that my documents get synced to. Right now, I have them set up as follows:

  • One folder for fiction.
  • One folder for blog posts (like this one).
  • One folder for correspondence.

I really like the simplicity of the device. I like its portability, too, although I haven’t taken it out with me yet. Part of this is that the opportunity has not yet arisen. Part of this is because the tool is designed to promote distraction-free writing, and I fear that upon seeing the device, people will be curious about it and ask me lots of questions–and I will get very little writing done.

As a use it more, I’ll have more to say about the device and how it is affecting my writing process. For now, consider this post the first official thing I’ve drafted completely on my new Freewrite.

Me and my new toy.

Latchkey Kid

It occurred to me this morning that in October of this year, John Lennon would have been 80 years old. That is, twice as old as he was when he was killed at age 40 in 1980. It’s strange to think that I am nearly 8 years older than Lennon was when he died.

The reason this was on my mind was because of a tweet by Anil Dash addressed to Gen Xers:

As a Gen Xer, and former latchkey kid, I considered this and decided that I was either 8 or 9 years old when I walked home from school with a key hung on a string around my neck. The variability (8 or 9) is due to some fuzziness of memory. Two events stand out in my mind, and I may have conflated them, but here they are:

  1. I remember walking home from Cedar Hills Elementary school on a mild afternoon, on December 8, 1980. I had to call my mom at work when I got home to let her know I was home safe. I remember the specific date because my mom was crying, and that was when I learned that John Lennon had been shot and killed.
  2. A few months later, on a much warmer day on March 30, 1981, I walked home from school–with my younger brother, I think–and learned that President Reagan had been shot.

I think I have blended these two events together in my mind, but in trying to answer Anil’s question, the best I can do is to say if I was a latchkey kid when Lennon was killed, I was eight, and if I was a latchkey kid when Reagan was shot, I was 9.

Regardless of when I became a latchkey kid, the fact is I was one. I had an actual key on a piece of string tied around my neck. When I got home from school, I walked into the kitchen and picked up the wall phone and dialed my mom’s office to let her know that I had arrived home safely. I don’t remember what time I got home from school, and what time my mom or dad arrived home after. I’d guess I got home around 3 pm and that one or both of my parents was typically home around 5 pm or so.

I did homework, I ate a snack. I’m not sure what else I did early on, but after the summer of 1981, one thing I know I did was flip on MTV and watch music videos.

I do think about this sometimes, with respect to my own kids. My son and older daughter are both at least the age that I was when I was a latchkey kid. But a lot has changed since the days I was a latchkey kid that makes it easier for them to avoid being latchkey kids themselves. For one thing, we can, for the most part, work from home, so that there is no need for them to be latchkey kids. For another, if the kids are home alone, they have phones, they can use to text us, or call us, wherever we are, a luxury that didn’t exist at the time when MTV was born. (We had phones, of course, but not mobile devices that we carried with us.)

Some of the implication here, I suppose, is that latchkey kids are somewhat more self-reliant than kids of a similar age today. I couldn’t say. For me, I never really thought much about it beyond the iron-clad rule of calling my mom’s office once I got home. I wasn’t doing much more than what I would have done if my parents had been home when I got back from school. And I could, at times, engage in questionable behavior when my folks weren’t around. Just ask my sister about the time I convinced her to jump off some railroad ties along our driveway, and the resulting bloody mouth she ended up with–all while I was supposed to be watching her while my parent’s were out.

To hold being a latchkey kid as a point of pride over “kids today” seems rather mean-spirited and pointless. It was as fact of life, that’s all. Looking back, I think I would rather have had that extra couple hours a day with my parents around, and I am grateful to have that time with my own kids. I don’t think it made me any better than kids today who don’t have to be latchkey kids. It just helps me empathize with those that do.

Guest Post Requests Get Meta

For years I have had a set of site policies about things like guest posts and advertising (tl;dr: I don’t accept unsolicited guest posts or any advertising). Occasionally, I post a reminder, but I still get requests. The one I got today deserves to be shared because (1) it shows where automation/AI can fail, and (b) it is so meta that it’s funny. Here is an image of the text of the message (links are not clickable in the image):

A few thoughts:

  1. The article the writer enjoyed where I talk about guest posts is this post, which is a reminder that I don’t accept unsolicited guest posts, advertising, or link exchanges.
  2. They enjoyed it so much, that they added my site policy page to their Flipboard.
  3. Last month (December 2019, presumably), they wrote a 7,000 word guide on the best guest post sites for 2017! Would I consider linking to it? I wouldn’t link to it if it was a 7,000 word guide for the best guest post sites for 2019, let alone 2017. How many of those sites no longer exist in 2020?
  4. Then comes the request for a link exchange (which I explicitly say I don’t do in the article my correspondent enjoyed so much). If I modify my site policy to include a link to the best Guest Posting Sites for 2017, they will include my blog in their post on the Best Blogs to Follow in 2017.

I am reminded of that Groucho Marx quote about not wanting to belong to any club that would have me as a member. I didn’t reply to this message, of course. I rarely do, and when I do, it’s usually to point the correspondent to my site policies. But if I did reply, I’d have to wonder about getting on a list of Best Blogs to Follow that requires some kind of quid pro quo to make it onto the list in the first place.

I have been writing this blog for a long time, and what I have found is that it is good writing, and interesting posts, and not link exchanges and guest posts that helps to build and maintain an audience. If anyone out there is thinking about starting a blog, and looking for tips, here’s one: don’t do what my correspondent did.

A Warm January Day

The weather cooperated with us this year. More often than not, when we leave for Florida in December, the weather here is cold and nasty. By the time we cross the St. Mary’s River from George in to Florida, the skies are clear, and the temperatures are warm. I open the windows to soak it in. The reserve is usually true on the way home. We leave Florida’s sunny, warm January weather and arrive home in sleet and cold.

This time was different. We did, indeed, leave Florida with blue skies and warm weather. But we arrived home with almost equally warm weather. It was 72 degrees here in Arlington, Virginia yesterday!

Our house backs up to the local park, and when I took a walk through the park yesterday afternoon, it was flooded with people; more people than I think I have ever seen at one time. Each of them had dragged out their New Year’s Resolutions and were making their way around the park, walking, jogging, biking, skating. Dogs owners obediently followed their charges. My ducks were out in enjoying the warm air. Squirrels were everywhere. I saw one petrified squirrel trapped in the middle of a playground full of children. It ran one way, and halted, its path blocked by a toddler. It ran another way and found another toddler blocking its way. It hid under a slide, until identifying a clear path and making its way to a tree.

According to this morning’s paper, yesterday’s warm weather did not set a record for this day in January. The record was 75 F and we only reached San Diego weather of 72 F. Still, for us thick-blooded Mid-Atlantians, it felt like an early summer day.

It was so warm that Nature was fooled, and I saw buds in the trees.

Buds in the trees in January.

It rained overnight. I woke up around 2 am and it sounded like an ocean crashing down on our roof. But when the sun came up, the sky was clear and blue and the temperatures were still in the mid-60s. It made for a pleasant morning walk.

We spent 3 weeks in Florida between December and January. We swam in pools, in the Gulf and in the Atlantic. It sort of spoils you for the cold weather when you spend that much time in winter in warm weather. So it was nice to come back to weather that helps to ease the transition.

It will cool off over the next few days, but it will by no means be cold. 56 F tomorrow, 53 on Tuesday, 60 on Wednesday, 54 on Thursday. Next weekend it looks like it will return to normal around here.

When I lived in New England as a kid, I remember an occasional warm period during winter and it was always a treat. I’m grateful that the Internet didn’t exist back then, and that HBO (in its very early days) played Star Wars over and over again. I’d seen it 20 times. It meant that when the weather was unseasonably warm, we were outdoor, playing in the woods, or in the frames of the unfinished houses being built in our neighborhood. Only reluctantly would we return indoors, drowning our sorrows in MTV videos of Duran Duran’s “Rio”, Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey,” and the Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

I shudder to think that was nearly 40 years ago.

The Long Road Home

View from our hotel room on the last full day of our vacation.

We departed our resort at Walt Disney World yesterday morning at 8:15 am and arrived home just before 11 pm, 860 miles of driving. We have driven too and from Florida more than a dozen times, but this is the first time we attempted to drive all the way home in a single day.

The first time we drove to Florida, in 2012, we made the trip over 3 days, spending nights in places like Florence, South Carolina, and Kingland, Georgia. We’d do the same on the reverse run, stopping in places like Savannah and Charleston. After several years of these trips, we slimmed them down to just one night on the road, stopping at a roughly midway point in South Carolina. We’ve done that for years, and indeed, that is what we did driving down in December.

But we visited Walt Disney World at the end of our trip this time, instead of the beginning. We are normally in southern Florida, and being three hours closer to home made it tricky to decide where to stop for the night. I suggested we try to make the run all the way through. So we left Orlando at 8:15 am, drove through some rush hour traffic on I-4, and then onto I-95 where we encountered no traffic for the entire drive.

It wasn’t that hard. It might seem like a small thing, but I am always impressed by the good state of the roads, the quality of the rest stops, and the friendliness of the people at gas stations and restaurants along the way. We stopped in Walterboro, South Carolina for a late lunch, but other than a couple of pit stops, I drove and drove and drove.

I finished 3 audiobooks on the drive: I was almost finished with Ted Chaing’s Exhilation before the drive, and finished it while we were still in Florida. Next, I turned to Chuck Palahniuk’s new book, Consider This: Moments in My Life After Which Everything Was Different. Having finished that, I was still craving more on the writing life, so I re-read John McPhee’s Draft No. 4. That audiobook came to an end as we pulled into our driveway, right around 10:50 pm.

Listening to the audiobooks made the time fly by. So did the lull of the road. I remember when we stopped for lunch, around 2 pm, thinking that it didn’t seem like we’d been driving for nearly 6 hours already.

860 miles is the most I have driven in a single day. I think the runner up is in the 500 mile range. It made sense to do this, coming home, because it gives us the entire weekend to get the house back in order, do laundry (we were gone for 21 days) and settle back into our routines before we are back to work and school on Monday. I’m not sure I’d do this driving down to Florida.

The photo is a view from our hotel room on the last full day at Walt Disney World. We stayed in two different resorts this time, but I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.

After being gone for 3 weeks, it feels good to be home. It does not feel like we just left on the trip, or that the trip flew by. 21 days is a long time by any measure. It’s nice to be back in my office surrounded by my books. It’s nice to have 2 days to settle back in before work starts again.

Decades

Decades are interesting milestones. For one thing, they are rare in the course of a lifetime. For much of human history, the average person lived to see only three decades pass. Today, we might see, seven, eight, or even nine decades, but still that is only seven, eight, or nine events in the course of an entire life.

It is for this reason, I suppose, that decades are so often celebrated as major events. Even so, you can’t flip the calendar page without stirring some controversy. There will always be people who argue over when a decade actually begins and ends: Does the decade begin in 2020, or 2021?

If you are lucky, you were born on a decade boundary. It makes the math a lot easier. For instance, Isaac Asimov used January 2, 1920 as his birthday (having been born in a small town in Russia, he was never quite certain of the date). That makes it easy to figure that he would have been 100 years old on January 2, 2020. My grandfather was also born in 1920. I’m envious of people who are born in a century year: 1900, 2000, etc. It is impossible to forget how old you are if you were born on January 3, 2000, and today is January 3, 2020.

The first time I was consciously aware of the change of decades was in the fall of 1979. We had recently moved to New England, and there must have been buzz in the air because I remember thinking that soon, the 70s would be over and it would be 1980. I thought 1980 sounded very science-fictional.

By the time the next decade rolled around, I was getting ready to graduate from high school. I don’t recall as much of an internal drama about the change of decades at that point. But I do recall going to see L.A. Story–still one of my favorite movies–with my brother in the summer of 1990, before heading off to college. It was billed as “the first great comedy of the 1990s” so even the studios were riding the decade’s coattails.

The next decade was special, not just because it was a new decade, but a new millennium. There was no way that I could be unaware of the year 2000: a big part of my job in the 18 months leading up to that milestone decade was to make sure that the various computer systems that my company used would not be affected by the Y2K bug. On the evening of December 31, 1999, my company threw a big party and at midnight, the party suddenly paused as we all scampered about, making sure that all systems were still up and running.

What is remarkable about a decade is how much things can change between one decade and the next, In 1900, there were no airplanes but in 1910 there were enough planes flying to allow for the first mid-air collision. In 2000, I was trying to make sure the company computers weren’t going to crash, but in 2010, I was fawning over our 6-month old baby, who, yet another decade later, is suddenly 10-1/2 years old.

I graduated from high school in 1990, a nice even decade, making it easy to figure out that this year will be my 30th high school reunion. A friend recently pointed out that 2050 is the same distance in the future as 1990 is in the past.

I was lucky to have been born late enough in a century to allow my life to span across two centuries. I was born in the 1900s and have made it into the 2020s (so far!). It is unlikely I will see another century. But my youngest daughter, born in 2016, has a very good chance of watch the hoverball levitate down the facade of a building in Times Square as the clock counts down to yet another new decade, January 1, 2100.

My Best Reads of 2019

Now that 2019 is officially in the record books, I present my list of best reads of 2019. Keep in mind that this is not a list of books published in 2019. Some of the books on my list are books published in 2019, others published decades earlier. It is, simply, a list of the books I most enjoyed in the last year.

A few stats on my reading from last year:

  • I read 113 books, for a total of 43,820 pages.
  • 80 books were nonfiction, 43 were fiction.
  • The longest book I read was 882 pages.
  • The average length of a book in 2019 was 387 pages.
  • On average, I finished one book every 3-1/4 days; that’s a little over 2 book per week on average.
  • Here is the list of everything I’ve read since 1996. What I read in 2019 begins with #849 on the list.

And now, the best books I read in 2019 in the order that I read them.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games are Made by Jason Schreier

As someone who manages software projects, I’m occasionally interested in how it is done in the real world. I’ve always been fascinated by the construction of video games, even if I am not an avid player, so this book was a perfect mix. It portrayed an array of games and game companies, including Witcher by CD Projekt Red. It was because of this book that, in January 2019, I took the rare move of buying Witcher 3 and playing it, and moreover, winning it and its add-ons. It supplanted the Ultima games as my favorite.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintrye

This real life story of double-agents and spies was fascinating. It was like The Americans, but nonfiction, and like a good thriller, it kept me reading, virtually unable to put the book down.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King

I watched Mister Rogers as a kid, and I was delighted by this biography by Maxwell King. I read it while in Pittsburgh for work, so I had a sense of the place where Rogers grew up and where he created much of his art.

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley

I’ve read most of the books about the Apollo program and the lead-up to it, so I was excited to see something new. This book took a different approach than many of the other more technical books I’ve read. Brinkley tells the political story of the moon race, with fascinating insights into all aspects of the project from the selection of James Webb to run NASA and much more.

No Cheering in the Pressbox by Jerome Holtzman

This is an old sports classic, but it was new to me, and it was probably my favorite book of 2019. Holtzman collected a kind of oral history from sportdwriters going back to the early 20th century, and published a collection of interviews with those writers that were a fascinating look at the job of sportswriting, and the evolution of that job. It was reading this book that I realized the job of sportswriter (in the 20th century) seemed like the ideal job.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I often enjoy books on books. I came across Hanff’s wonderful epistolary book at time when I was struggling to find what to read next. I pulled out my copy of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die and went through it page, by page, until I came to this book. It sounded fascinating, a New York bibliophile writing to a London bookshop for recommendations and orders, and the friendship that evolved in the letters across the pond.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

I don’t read much science fiction anymore, but I’d been hearing good things about Mary’s book, and Mary is one of those writers I trust, so I decided to give this one a try. What a treat! It is an alternate history of the space program, and it is extremely well done. First and foremost, Mary tells a great story, which is always the primary consideration for me. She narrates the audiobook, and anyone who knows Mary knows what a talented voice actor she is. This book was pure fun, and I’ve had the sequel queued up for some time now. I’m looking to read it later this year.

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

I enjoyed the Longmire TV series, and decided to give the original Craig Johnson novels a try. I started at the beginning and was hooked. Although I list only The Cold Dish here, I actually read all 15 books in the series, as well as the short fiction featuring Walt Longmire. I fell in love with the books, the characters, the style in which they are written. George Guidall narrates the audiobook, and he has become Walt Longmire to me, more than Robert Taylor ever was. These books redefined what a character novel could be.

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger

I forget how I became aware of Iger’s book, but I was a little skeptical when I started it. It sounded more like a self-help book, but turned out to be a rather remarkable memoir of Iger, who started in a lowly job with ABC and worked his way up to the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. As someone who has worked for the some company for 25 years, I was impressed by this, and Iger’s story was a fascinating one.


A few other notes on what I read in 2019:

The most intellectually challenging book I read was The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. This stretched me to my limits and I’m still not sure I understood all of what Jaynes was saying in that book. But sometimes, I need to push myself, and this was one of those times.

My biggest disappointment this year was Blue Moon by Lee Child, the latest Jack Reacher installment. I’ve enjoyed all of the Reacher books to date, and had been looking forward to this one since it was announced. But the book itself fell flat for me, seeming almost a caricature of Reacher. In part, I think this was do to the extraordinary character and storytelling ability of Craig Johnson with his Longmire books. I got spoiled by Longmire in between Reacher books.

With the first half of 2020, I should finish the 1,000th book I’ve read since 1996. I wonder what that book will end up being? It’s impossible to predict, what with the butterfly effect of reading fluttering its wings.

Some 2020 Books I’m Eager to Read

With just a few hours left in 2019, I thought I’d list a few of the books I’m looking forward to reading in 2020. December is a terrible month for book releases, and January doesn’t look much better, but beginning in February 2020, there are several books I’m eager to get my hands on. Here are just a few:

  • Citizen Reporters: S. S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine that Rewrote America by Stephanie Gordon (2/18/2020). I was fascinated to read about Tarbell in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit and I’m happy to see a book about her and McClure’s magazine come soon.
  • America’s Game: The NFL at 100 by Jerry Rice and Randy O. Williams (2/4/2020). I’m not a football fan, but I always enjoy sportswriting and this seems like a good entry point to learn more about the history of the NFL.
  • Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir by Alan Gaff (3/10/2020). I mean, a lost memoir by Gehrig? How could any baseball fan pass on that?
  • Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene (2/18/2020)
  • The Impossible First by Colin O’Brady (1/14/2020). I read about this book in Outside magazine a few months ago. O’Brady walked across Antarctica. That’s got to make for a book at least as interesting as Endurance or The Worst Journey in the World.
  • Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell by Tom Clavin (4/21/2020). I’ve enjoyed Clavin’s other histories of the old west, and I’m looking forward to his next one.
  • If It Bleed by Stephen King (5/5/2020). King’s next collection of 4 original novellas. His previous novella collections, especially Different Seasons have been remarkable.

So that’s what I am looking forward to right now. What are you looking forward to in 2020? Anything you would recommend I look at?

Happy New Year!

1,000 Hours of Audiobooks in 2019

Given all of the reading that I keep track of, one thing I haven’t managed to track is how many hours of audiobooks I actually listen to in a given year. The Audible app shows only the last 5 months worth of listening metrics, and several days ago, I found myself wondering how much it might be. Today, I found out, thanks to an email from Audible. It turns out that through yesterday, I’ve listened to 936 hours of audiobooks this year.

This turns out to be about 2-1/2 hours each day on average. But the number is a bit understated for a few reasons. First, given that it has to be through yesterday, it doesn’t count today or tomorrow, which, based on the last several days, will add another 10 hours to that figure. So we have 946 hours.

Then, too, it has been a long time since I have listened to any book at normal speed. Indeed, listening to a book a normal speed makes the narrator sound drugged. I typically listen at 1.5x normal speed, with some books (depending on the narrator) at 1.75x normal speed. Call it an average of 1.6x for the year. In that case, in my 946 hours of audiobook listening this year, I’ve listened to 1,514 hours worth of audiobooks. That’s an average of 4.1 hours/day compressed down to 2-1/2 hours a day thanks to the faster listening speed.

I am currently reading (listening to) Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-Earth by Ian Nathan. I expect to finish this book tomorrow, and that will give me 114 books read this year. Of those, the vast majority, 105, are audiobooks.

I’m often chagrined thinking about how much more I might have read if I’d embraced audiobooks sooner. I friend of mine has been using Audible since the late 1990s, while I only got started with Audible in 2013. Indeed, I am on the record claiming I could never listen to an audiobook–which just goes to illustrate the folly of being closed-minded.

Some of the time I spent listening to books this year did not go into completing a book. I give up on quite a few books each year, and if I give up on a book, it doesn’t make it to my list of books I’ve read. I’ve never kept track of the books I give up on so I don’t know how many or how often it happens. I’m considering keeping track in 2020.

I’ll have more to say on the books I read this year later in the week, after the year is over. I plan on posting a list of my 12 favorite books of the year, as well as a separate post on the 10 best books I read this decade. Stay-tuned.

End of Year Surprises: Robert Iger’s Book

The biggest reason that I wait until January 1 before writing my “best reads” of the year post, is because I never know what book might catch me off-guard and really surprise me. Often, in late December, I’ll read a book that turns out to be one of the better books I’ve read all year. This has happened on a number of occasions. Among the best books I read in 2018, for instance, was the second volume of Gary Giddin’s biography of Bing Crosby, which I didn’t read until late in December.

Yesterday, I needed a break from WW-II. I’d torn through the first 2-1/2 volumes of Rick Atkinson’s massive “Liberation” series of histories about the Second World War. I’d been through North Africa, and Italy and was now on the verge of crossing into Germany, but like those solider push the Germany army back, I needed a break. I had, at some point, picked up Robert Iger’s memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and decided to give it a try.

I couldn’t put it down, and before I went to bed last night, I’d finished the book. It was unexpectedly good, so much so that it has created what I call a reading vacuum–a period in which I feel a desperate need to read something just as good, but have difficulty finding something to fill the void.

I’m fascinated by the job of Chief Executive Officer. Like President of the United States, I don’t believe it is a job someone can properly prepare for through formal education. Iger’s moves up through the ABC structure, and his on-the-job education seemed like a model for how one trains to become a CEO. The one CEO that I know personally seems to have followed a similar path (though not in the entertainment world) and has similar qualities to what I saw in Iger’s book: a hard worker, dedicated to the mission of the company, unusually smart, a gifted communicator, a natural leader, and someone with empathy and a genuine concern for the people who work for him.

As it happens, there is a chance I’ll finish another book or two before the year is out, and in that case, there are still some opportunities to be surprised again. So anyone interesting in knowing my best reads of 2019 will have to wait a few more days.