Stephen King’s new book, Later came out on Tuesday, and by the time I closed my eyes Tuesday evening I had finished it. It was a great book and I figured I’d list some spoiler-free things I liked about the book in case any one else was thinking of giving it a try.
The main character’s name is Jamie. How could I not like a book with a main character that is my namesake. In fact, this isn’t the first SK book I’ve read with a lead named Jamie. His novel Revival also features a lead named Jamie.
The premise of the book is a kid who can see dead people–and King acknowledges the Bruce Willis character in The Sixth Sense early on. King explores avenues (dark corridors?) that went unexplored by the film.
The story is told as a story being written by the main character, similar to 11/22/63.
A house in the book is called the Marsden house. People who’ve read ‘Salem’s Lot might enjoy that coincidence. Or is it a coincidence?
The book really was a page-turner for me, one that I couldn’t put down. Joyland is an understated mystery and that’s one of the things I liked about it. This one is a blood-pumping horror story.
In many ways, the story, and Jamie, reminded me of Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside and its protagonist, David Selig.
When I started this list, I thought about making it 19 things to like about Later, but l decided to keep my whimsy in check. This really was a great read, and while it was short, and over quickly, I’m glad at least that Stephen King has another novel coming out later this year, Billy Summers. I only have 150 more days to wait for it.
It has been cold here the last several days, and we are expecting snow Sunday and Monday. I’ve spent much of the day really getting to know Obsidian, and I’ll have more to say about it next week.
In the meantime, here is a picture of the winter moon early yesterday morning when I went out for a newspaper. (You can see it there in between all of the power lines.) I’m sure there is an optical sciences explanation as to why the moon never appears as large in photos as it does where you are standing out there looking at it. Although I prefer to think the moon is shy.
And speaking of MOON (B-O-O-K spells MOON!), I read yesterday that Stephen King is coming out with a second new book this year. The first one, Later, is being published by Hard Case Crime books (the same publishers who put out The Colorado Kid and Joyland. It’s due to be released on March 2.
The newest one to be announced is a book called Billy Summers by Scribner. This one is due out August 3.
For several years, Cemetery Dance has been putting out a special edition of Stephen King’s book during his “Doubleday” years. This week, I received my copy of the 4th entry in that series, Night Shift. These are beautifully done editions, with limited runs (I think there are only 3,000 copies of each) and often with new art commissioned, and even new material like deleted scenes added an appendix to the book. Night Shift is no different, with some additional stories appearing at the end.
Each volume in the series is a book-lover’s book. It is a work of art. It is a delight to hold in your hand. Even the pages are thick and textured. The books come in custom slipcases, and every now and then, I’ll sit with one on my lap, flipping through just because it is a beautiful thing to see and feel.
Four books in the series have been produced thus far:
The most recent entry is King’s first collection of short stories.
Two more volumes are planning, and indeed, I have already pre-ordered both, as they sell out very quickly. (I checked my records: I pre-ordered Night Shift back in 2016!) The remaining volumes are:
Cemetery Dance takes its time in producing these volumes, but the time is well-worth the wait. They are not producing mass-market editions, but beautiful, carefully crafted pieces of art. After eagerly opening the package with Night Shift, I immediately began wondering what the next volume would look like… and when it would arrive.
It has been a while since I’ve written about book that I am eagerly awaiting. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve done it this year so far. 2020, being what it is, has gotten the best of me, and I’m behind in my reading. I’d set a goal of 110 books for the year, and I’m presently about 10 books behind pace (I’ve finished 74 books as of this writing). I will likely finish my 75th book of the year later today. Here are some of the books that I am looking forward to reading over the next several weeks:
Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld.
The Vagabonds: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison’s Ten Year Road Trip by Jeff Guinn
The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser
Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All by Erno Rubik
The Polymath: A Cultural History from Leonardo da Vinci to Susan Sontag by Peter Burke
The Furious Sky: The Five Hundred Year History of America’s Hurricanes by Eric Jay Dolin
Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media by Harold Holtzer
Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder
There are other books I’m looking forward to, but they don’t come out until early next year, including books by Simon Winchester, Stephen King, and Cal Newport. But the list is a few of the ones that I’m looking forward to for the fall.
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.
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.
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?
For the longest time, I would tell people that my favorite book series was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. I read the series at a time when it clicked with me. I have read the entire series at least 5 times. I used to imagine what it would be like to live at the height of the Galactic Empire. I wondered what it would be like to know Hari Seldon. That said, I never wanted to be Hari Seldon.
Tastes change over time. One of my kids favorite pastimes seems to be asking me “what is your favorite ______“? I try to explain that it often depends, and over time, favorites change as tastes evolve. This is especially true with reading. You never know what lies ahead that might take over as the next favorite.
If you were to ask me today what my favorite book series is, I’d say, unequivocally, it is Craig Johnson‘s Walt Longmire books. I binge-read the entire 15 book series and the existing novellas between October and November. Today, I finished the most recent entry in the series, Land of Wolves. When I was finished, I felt a mixture of joy and grief. The books are so good, and the thought that I’d have to actually wait a while for the next Longmire book filled me with dismay.
Unlike the Foundation books, I read the Longmire books with an increasing desire that I wanted to be Longmire, or at least, like him. The books filled some kind of need I have for open spaces, small towns, and life outdoors. This is the great thing about books, but specifically about these books. Reading them, I felt as if I was getting what I needed. I was there in Absaroka County, Wyoming with Walt, Vic, Henry, Lucian, Ruby, and many others. They became familiar faces in a way that Hari Seldon, Hober Mallow, and Salvor Hardin never did.
I enjoyed the mysterious in the Longmire books, but there was so much more to enjoy. I enjoyed seeing the world from Walt’s perspective. I enjoyed his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure things. I enjoyed the setting. I delighted in the banter between characters. I especially enjoyed the writing. Craig Johnson is a master of the form. Johnson’s humor, as it comes through Walt, is often aware of the formulaic patterns of life, and I think that self-awareness helps to keep the writing and stories fresh.
There was an added dimension to these stories: George Guidall. I listened to the audiobook versions and George Guidall narrates them all. And since all of the books are told in the first person, George Guidall has brought the voice of Walt Longmire to life, far more than even Robert Taylor did in the television series. In all of the audiobooks I have listened to, there is only one other narrator that really became the character and brought them to life in a similar manner: Craig Wasson did it for Jake Epping in 11/22/63 by Stephen King. But that was one book. George Guidall has been Walt Longmire’s voice for 15 novels and several shorter stories.
And speaking of shorter stories, the short pieces that Johnson has written about Longmire are utterly charming pieces of short fiction, delightful to read.
I have enjoyed other character series. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, all 24 of which I have read, are pure fun. But Johnson’s Longmire books are something more than just character books. They are what I always imagined reading a book should be: windows into other people and places, well-written, and so vivid, that I am completely and totally immersed in the stories, the characters, and the setting. The characters don’t seem like characters, but people I know, the settings, places I hang out. Rarely has fiction had this strong an affect on me. To sustain this through 15 novels is remarkable.
So the Longmire series is my new favorite book series, and I now wait, impatiently, for the next story in the series. Could it be that Walt and Henry will be heading to Alaska? I think I’m more excited about the next Longmire book (yet to be announced) than the next Star Wars movie, coming out in less than a month.
More than two months after moving into the new house, I have finished cataloging all of my paper-based books. I used LibraryThing to catalog them because the iPhone app made it easy to scan barcodes and enter ISBNs. While cataloging the books, I purged again. I did this before the move as well. In this round, I donated 128 books.
The majority of the books I got rid of in this latest purge were Piers Anthony paperbacks. I had been collecting these since I first discovered Anthony in junior high school, and some of them dated back to that time. It was a little difficult letting these go, not so much because of the nostalgia they created, but because of the memories of the hard-earned money I spent to buy them. Hopefully, they will take on a new life for another reader.
I kept a few of the PA paperbacks. I kept a paperback copy of Race Against Time. I remember checking this book out of the Granada Hills branch of the Los Angeles Public Library before I knew who Piers Anthony was. I read it at a fever-pace over the course of a few hot summer days. Eventually, I obtained my own copy, and I kept this one as a reminder that books can surprise you and be a window into all kinds of new discovery.
I also kept a rare paperback copy of Kiai! by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes. I haven’t read this one, but the book happens to be signed by Piers Anthony and I couldn’t give that up. I kept several PA hardcovers, including his INCARNATIONS OF IMMORTALITY series, which I remember really enjoying.
Going through all of my books, I was surprised at how many I found that were signed by the author. Dozens of them. They fall into two broad categories: books that are signed to me personally, and books that I obtained already signed. I have several signed Asimov books that fall into the latter category. I have one Will Durant book in this latter category along with several volumes of Dumas Malone’s Jefferson and His Times that are signed.
There are many more books that are signed to me, including perhaps 10 by Harlan Ellison, half a dozen by Barry N. Malzberg. And there are many books signed by authors who have since become my friends.
I am left with 991 printed books. I have about 400 e-books and nearly 800 audiobooks from Audible that are not part of this catalog. This also does not count all of the magazines I have, including a complete set of SCIENCE FICTION AGE, and a fairly complete set of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION from 1939-1950.
My next step is to organize them. Right now, they are on the shelves in a completely haphazard fashion. Once, long ago, I had them arranged alphabetically by author, and then chronologically within each author. I am planning on changing that. I’ll organize the fiction books alphabetically by author and then chronologically within each other. The nonfiction I plan on breaking into several categories that are useful to me. These include: biography/memoir, science, history, sports, NASA/space exploration, essays and criticism, and reference books. I may need one or two additional categories, but we’ll see. With the purge complete, the books should all fit neatly on my existing shelves. I’ll post another picture when the reorganization is complete.
Here is an interesting fact: according to LibraryThing, if all of my books were stacked up, they would reach about 550 feet, which is just shy of the height of the Washington Monument.
Today I finished my 50th book of 2019, a few weeks ahead of pace. The book was On Democracyby E. B. White. It is an aptly-timed collection of White’s essays and comments on democracy and freedom, put together by his granddaughter, and with an introduction by Jon Meacham.
Last year, I read 130 books. I aimed for 100 books this year because I’d planned to read a few books which I knew to be particularly long. At this point I am 5 books ahead of pace, and I plan to gain some more ground before the end of the month with several books that I mentioned the other day. That will allow me to tackle some of the longer books in the second half of the year, including over the summer.
I recently had the opportunity to re-read all of my previously published fiction. It was not a fun experience. I don’t particularly enjoy reading the stories I have written once they are finished. To anyone but another writer that probably sounds strange. There are two reasons I don’t enjoy reading my old stories:
1. In the older stories there is a temptation to want to revise what no longer feels right. I read a line of dialog I wrote 8 or 9 years ago and cringe a little bit. It is not a line that I would write today. One of the most difficult things I have ever done as a writer is resist the temptation to change those lines.
2. I’ve already read the story a lot. I read the story after completing each draft. I read the story out loud before submitting it to make sure it reads smoothly. I read the story again when I receive the pre-publication galleys. And I usually read it a final time when it appears for publication. By that time, I’ve moved onto other stories and I’m sick of it.
The reason I recently re-read all of my stories was because I put together a privately published collection of all of my published fiction, and one unpublished story as holiday gift for friends and family. I used Lulu.com as the publisher, and following their template for a bookstore quality trade paperback, I set about gathering the published text of 11 of my stories, proofreading them again, and putting them into the template. I wanted to give my family a true record of my publications, so I resisted the temptation to change even a single word. The only changes were a few rare instances where a typo had made through editor and copyeditor.
I called the collection Twelve Fossils1, and after hesitating over whether or not I had correctly followed Lulu’s instruction, I submitted the manuscript for an on-demand print run of 15 copies.
I was eager to see how the books turned out. Much to my surprise, they came out really good. They look professional. There were no formatting problems that I could identify. All the pieces were in the right place. Now that the hard part of re-reading the stories was done, I was delighted with the finished product.
The twelve stories in the book amounted to about 64,000 words, and comes to 191 pages. I’d written a lengthy introduction, and then an introduction and afterword to each story. But I decided I wasn’t interested in analyzing my work, even for friends and family. The stories, I decided, should be whatever anything thinks of them. So I cut my introduction down to 2/3rds of a page, and cut all of the individual story intros and afterwords.
I intended this as a holiday gift, and purposely printed only 15 copies. I mention this to head-off anyone who might be interested in a copy. There are no more, and I don’t plan to have any more made. I wanted the book to be something special. Except for the last story in the volume, all of the stories have been previously published and are all available through their original outlets.
Lulu did a great job with the book, and at an affordable price. If I was ever crazy enough to do a project like this again, I would not hesitate to use them for it.
The problem is, I don’t think I’ll ever do a project like this again, at least not with my fiction. I already knew that I didn’t enjoy re-reading my old stories. What I learned from this experience is that I dislike the process of producing a book. I don’t like the formatting, and editing, and specifications, and everything that comes with it. I prefer to write things and have someone else handle all of the boring stuff.
A deliberate reference to how Stephen King refers to stories—as fossils, or found things. ↩
I never do as much reading on vacation as I intend. I look forward to vacation as a time when I can squeeze in extra reading, and more often than not, I read less than normal. Sitting by the pool seems like a good time to read—except that I have to keep my eyes on the kids. Relaxing on the lenai after lunch is a perfect time for reading—except that I have to take the kids for a bike ride.
All of this is to say that with just a couple of weeks left in the year, I’m not likely to get much more reading in. That means it is safe to post my best reads of 2015. As I mentioned in last year’s post, these are books that I read in 2015, but they were not necessarily published in 2015. They are all books I have read for the first time.
I have read 35 books so far this year. 14 of 35 were nonfiction. 13 books were re-reads of books I’d read before. Here, then, are my best reads of 2015:
What a delightful book. I always enjoy Angell’s baseball writing, but I also enjoyed his other writing. This collection was a grab bag of items written for the New Yorker and it was one of those reads that made me wish that I could be this kind of writer.
Where Nobody Knows Your Name follows several minor league baseball players, a manager or two, and an umpire as they make their way through the minor leagues, in hopes of making it to the Show. I enjoyed the picture of the unglamorous life of the typical minor league player, and the determination of each one of them to continue to try their best, even when the odds are against them.
I read this book on the heels of completing Edmund Morris’s 3-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt. Those books were a detailed look at Roosevelt’s brief, remarkable life. This book took a somewhat more modest approach, looking at the lives of Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, and their interactions with the “muckraking” journalists of McLure’s magazine, Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stanard Baker, and others.
I found the parts on journalism the most remarkable parts of the book. The rise of McLure’s and the writers who worked for him was, for me, a window into the evolution of journalism in the United States that I’d never before been aware of. I found myself wanting to look for the investigative pieces that Tarbell and Steffens wrote, and read them myself. It seemed to me that this was one instance in which the label “the golden age” was not hyperbole.
Goodwin has a natural flow to her writing, and reading The Bully Pulpit made me want to read more of Goodwin. I think that, as much as anything, is a telling recommendation for any writer.
In The Longest Road, Caputo writes of the trip he and his wife (and their dogs) took from the southern tip of Key West, Florida, to the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Alaska. It is a travelogue that rivals Blue Highways and makes me yearn to reproduce such a journey.
One of the things I’d always wondered about a character like Gandalf from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is how he became a great wizard/warrior. At some point, Gandalf had to be a child with no notion of magic sorcery. How did he go from that child to the great wizard he became? I always thought this would make for a fascinating story.
That is, perhaps, the best way to describe what The Name of the Wind is all about. Rather than Gandalf, the story is about a boy named Kvothe who, at the outset of the story, we know to be one of the great wizard/warriors of the age, a person of legend. Now, living as a humble innkeeper “Kote”, Kvothe tells his story to a Chronicler, and I finally get to see the evolution of a Gandalf-like wizard from boy to legend.
I managed to devour The Wise Man’s Fear as well, and since then, I have been eagerly awaiting Doors of Stone.