The Butterfly Flaps Its Wings

It isn’t easy to illustrate the Butterfly Effect of Reading with concrete examples. Too often, when I think of it, I have traversed many branches, come to many forks in the road, and am fairly lost, no longer able to recall the chain of events that led me to the current book. But a recent lull in my reading has provided an opportunity for me to illustrate the BEF in action. I figured I should take it before it flutters away.

I took a break from audiobooks for a good part of January. It wasn’t a conscious decision, just something that happened. There were three John McPhee books that I wanted to read, none of which were available in audiobook form. I read them and enjoyed them all.

When I returned to audiobooks, I started with Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America by James and Deborah Fallows. This was a fantastic book. It is a little like Travels with Charley and a little like Blue Highways. Indeed, both of these books are mentioned in Our Towns. I’d add that it was also like The Cannibal Queen by Stephen Coonts, since the Fallows traveled the country in their private airplane, instead of by car. It was also a little like The Longest Road by Philip Caputo.

Some books serve as reading hubs in the same was that some people serve at network hubs. Our Towns led me to add two other books to my “Read Soon” list:

I was a little bit worried about what to read after finishing Our Towns. The better a book is, the harder it is to follow. But browsings the New York Times Book Review section on Sunday, immediately came across two possibilities:

I raced through The American Story in about a day. It was a collection of interviews with “master historians” talking about their subjects. The historians included: David McCullough, Walter Isaacson, Ron Chernow, Cokie Roberts, Doris Kearns Goodwin, A. Scott Berg, Jean Edward Smith, Taylor Branch, Bob Woodward, Jay Winik, and H. W. Brands. Of course, a book like this is a natural hub, and the following titles were quickly added to my “Read Soon” list:

With The American Story finished, I turned to Author In Chief. It seemed to be right up my alley: U.S. history, U.S. Presidents, and their writings. At this writing, I am more than halfway through and expect to finish tonight. The last chapter is titled, “A Presidential Reading List,” and that is certain to add to my “Read Soon” list.

Meanwhile, I book I had pre-ordered months ago appeared on Tuesday: Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine That Rewrote America by Stephanie Gorton. I was fascinated by Tarbell’s story as it was depicted in The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and I’ve been looking forward to this book for a while. Another one on the short list.

I try to read one magazine feature article a day as a way of keeping up with the world and my various subscriptions. On Monday, I read a piece in the February issue of National Geographic called “The Last Slave Ship.” That in turn led me to a book by one of the authors, Sylviane Diouf, called Dreams of Africa in Alabama. That went onto the “Read Soon” list, too. Then, last night, I read a “The Notebook” by Steven Levy in the March issue of WIRED, and now, Facebook: The Inside Story by Steven Levy is on the list, too.

By my count, that’s a dozen books added to my “Read Soon” list in the last week or so. Any one of those books can lead to a dozen others. That is the beauty of the Butterfly Effect of Reading. I’m sitting here today reading about President’s and their books. I think I will be reading about citizen reporters tomorrow. But I might be reading about 747’s. Or I might have to turn my attention to The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. I never know where one book will lead. That’s the best part.