My 5 Best Reads of 2017… So Far

With one month left in the year, and 48 books completed, here is my list of the 5 best I read in 2017 so far. This could change in the next month or so, although it would require a really good book to knock any of these five off the list.

  1. Assignment to Hell: The War Against Nazi Germany with Correspondents Walter Cronkite, Andy Rooney, A.J. Liebling, Homer Bigart, and Hal Boyle by Timothy M. Gay
  2. Red: The Life & Times of a Great American Writer by Ira Berkow
  3. Casey Stengel by Marty Appel
  4. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
  5. Coming into the Country by John McPhee

Lots of good honorable mentions, but I’ll save those for closer to the end of December.

Upcoming Reading for November, December, and January

This time of year there’s usually two things in my mind when it comes to reading: what are the best books that I’ve read this year, and what will be reading next? (The last is always on my mind, to be honest.) I’ve seen a few “best books of 2017” lists already, and I always feel bad for writers whose books have yet to appear this year. It’s still too early for a “best of 2017” post in my mind, but how about what I plan on reading next?

I have recently discovered John McPhee. I’m a fan of essayists, and am especially fond of those who can do long-form nonfiction well. I have been delighted by his book Coming into the Country, which I plan on finished up today. I will likely follow that up with McPhee’s newest books, Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. If that one goes well, then I might chance another McPhee book, this time Uncommon Carriers.

What else is on my to-be-read list?

The final season of Longmire recently debuted on Netflix. It is one of the few recent shows I’ve enjoyed, and I binged on it over the course of a week or so. Having finished it, I longed for more. Someone, I hadn’t realized that the show was based on a series of novels by Craig Johnson. So I figured I should give that a try, starting at the beginning with The Cold Dish.

Also on the list:

  • Endurance by Alfred Lansing
  • Marco Polo by Laurence Bergreen
  • The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Grant by Ron Chernow
  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  • The Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan

The funny thing about these lists is that they often morph quickly. Reading Coming to the Country made me want to read more McPhee, for example. Reading Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World a few weeks back made me want to read about Marco Polo. There are plenty more John McPhee books, for that matter, and I may decide to go on a McPhee spree, if you’ll pardon the expression.

For me, the point is that, much like planning a vacation, I like to have more than one book queued up and ready to go, and this is the list I am currently working off of.

What’s on your list?

SSL Enabled on Blog

I’m a bit behind on this, but as of this morning, SSL is enabled on the blog. I believe everything is setup correctly so that http requests should automatically be directed to https, but of course, I may have missed a setting somewhere. In theory (and in my testing thus far) when you come to the site now, you should see the SSL icon in the address bar of your browser. Just wanted to mention this in case anyone noticed anything odd. For those who want, you can update bookmarks to, but the redirect should get you to the secure version of the site, even if you don’t update anything.

Going Paperless: An Epilogue

In 2012 I began an experiment to see how much paper I could eliminate from my daily life. I was motivated by the elusive paperless office. Much discussed in the 1990s, I had yet to see an office that was truly paperless. The goal of my experiment was to see how far it was possible to go. It was not my intention to stop using paper entirely.

In April 2012, I wrote the first of what ended up being more than 120 posts on the ways I was using various digital tools—Evernote foremost among them—to go paperless. I called this series of posts “Going Paperless” to reflect my goal: that this was an ongoing process. I wrote these posts across several years, completing the last one in March 2016.

It recently occurred to me that these posts ended without any real conclusion. How did my experiment fair? How paperless was I able to go? What has happened since? This post provides those answers as a kind of epilogue to my going paperless experiment. I’ve drawn four conclusions from my experiment. As with all my going paperless posts, the conclusions are based on how I work. Here is what my experiment taught me:

  1. Paperless works well for automated storage of infrequently accessed documents.
  2. Paper works better as a short-term memory substitute.
  3. Paperless works well for sharing documents with others.
  4. Paper is more reliable as a long-term storage medium.

1. Paperless works well for automated storage of infrequently accessed documents.

I find Evernote to be extremely useful for automatically storing stuff that I don’t look at very often, things like statements, contracts, bills, correspondence. Either by scanning these documents into Evernote, or better yet through some automated mechanism like FileThis, having these documents in electronic format saves me time, clutter, and physical space. That is a definite plus in the paperless column.

2. Paper works better as a short-term memory substitute.

I have tried countless apps, some of which I have written about over the years, that allow me to quickly capture notes that, for me, act as a substitute for short-term memory. Examples might include shopping lists, what needs to go into my kids’ lunches tomorrow, the office number on the 9th floor that I need to visit, an idea for a story that occurs to me while on a walk, the score of my kid’s soccer game, the RGB color code for a screen background, etc.

None of the apps I have tried for this have proven better than good old-fashioned pen and paper. For several years now, wherever I go, I have a Field Notes notebook and a Pilot G-2 pen in my back pocket. These notebooks serve as my short-term memory repository. When I fill up one, I have another ready to go.

Evernote, and other apps, have tried to make this easy, but the infrastructure surrounding these apps make it harder. It takes just a second to pull out my Field Notes notebook. To do the same in, say, Evernote, I have to pull out my phone, unlock my phone, start Evernote, wait, it the green plus button, optionally title my note, and start tapping away. With my notebook, I could be done by the time that Evernote is starting.

And it is not just Evernote. I’ve tried Apple’s Notes app, OneNote, Drafts, and many other note-taking apps. They are all the same in this respect. Then, too, Murphy’s Law dictates that the one time I really need to get something out of my head, my phone has no power. I don’t have to worry about that with my Field Notes notebook.

Also, these are, strictly speaking, ephemeral notes, there to remind me of things—a grocery list, the title of a book I want to look at, movie times, whatever. There’s no need to permanently store this information. That said, I do keep the completed Field Notes notebooks, and number them chronologically. Occasionally, I flip through them (something almost impossible to do in a tool like Evernote or OneNote) and it’s like a walk through what goes on inside my head.

3. Paperless works well for sharing documents with others.

One thing that is very hard to do with my Field Notes notebooks is share them with others. For one thing, I use a kind of shorthand I’ve evolved over the years that would make it impossible for most people to decipher what I’ve written—not out of any sense of privacy or security, but because I can record things faster that way. That alone makes it hard to share.

Evernote makes it easy for me to share documents with others, especially those in my family. Having a centralized place to access documents means that my wife can get them as easily as I can. We don’t have to worry about managing multiple copies, or which one is current. They are all stored in one place that we can both access.

4. Paper is more reliable as a long-term storage medium.

My experience going paperless has taught me that there are two aspects to reliability: (1) how reliable a medium is for entering information; (2) and how reliable a medium is for storing information.

Interestingly, I’ve found over the years that I will be more consistent about, for instance, keeping a journal, if I do it on paper. I’ve tried doing this in Evernote, and in Day One, but I’ve never been able to do it consistently, whereas when I kept a journal on paper, I went years without missing a single day. The thing about paper, in this case, it that it is a highly available user interface.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the second aspect of reliability: that of long-term storage. I recently read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo Da Vinci and one thing that impressed me was the fact that something like 7,000 pages from Da Vinci’s notebooks have survived to this day. 500 years later, we still have them. That is pretty remarkable to me. The journals I kept 20 years ago are still there on the bookshelf, collecting dust. I can’t find most of the journals I’ve kept in digital format, whether online, or not.

The desire to keep this information online stemmed from two ideas I had early on: (1) if my journals were online, I could access them anywhere, any time; and (2) I could more easily search them. It turns out, however, that I am much more likely to write in a journal consistently on paper than online. And it turns out that I rarely have a need to search. And when I do, I’ve learned ways of indexing my paper journals to make searches easier.

Given that my journals from 20 years ago, paper though they may be, are still safe and secure on my bookshelf, and electronic versions have gone the way of the Dodo, I’m inclined to think that we still have to prove the viability of long-term electronic storage. I have no problem keeping the types of information I put into Evernote there because, for the time being anyway, I have no worries about it going away. But I also export that data and back it up regularly in case it does go away. It would still be in electronic form, and that would be something I would need to manage going forward. And perhaps it will turn out that 500 years from now, like Da Vinci’s notebooks, the stuff we put online will still be there for eager historians to lust over.

My experiment proved to be a mixed bag. I found that going paperless was useful in some areas, but that paper was more useful in others. I suspect that is why that I still haven’t found that elusive paperless office. And I suppose—given my growing fondness for Field Notes and Moleskine notebooks, and the sound of a pen across paper—that I am glad. Paperless is good for saving time, decluttering, freeing up physical space. But still like paper.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Being an Older Dad

There are many benefits to being an older dad. I was 37 when our oldest was born. I was 39 when out next child was born. And I was 44 when our youngest was born. Being older means having a little more wisdom and experience, and maybe not freaking out as much about the inevitable worries that crop up while raising kids.

There are, however, occasional drawbacks to being an older dad. To pick one example at random: While holding the baby in one arm, and bending down to reach for the milk in the refrigerator, doing something anatomically inadvisable to your lower back. The phrase “shunting the trolley” comes to mind, and not in the ethical conundrum sense.

I doubt that younger dads abuse their backs reaching for the milk, although I suppose I could be wrong. (Another benefit of being an older dad: being able to admit when you are wrong.)

Delving into the Nine Eight Planets

You know those old people who are set in their ways? The “back in my day” and “you kids have it easy” types? I see them and wonder how they got to be like that, and then one day, I realize I am like that myself, and never saw it coming.

Our third-grader’s teacher sent home an email outlining what would be happening in school next week, a short week with a mixed up schedule. She listed the topics they’d be cover over the week and one line jumped out at me:

Science: Delving into the 8 planets.

Let me tell you, kids have it easy today. Back in my day, for instance, we had nine planets. I don’t how the youth of this generation manages to get away with a mere eight. Not only that, when I was my third-grader’s age, Jupiter had maybe a dozen or two moons. Today it’s got something like 69 of them.

I’ve written before about how my love affair with astronomy began in first grade when I discovered a book called–wait for it–The Nine Planets by Franklyn M. Branley. For those younger generations reading this, that “ninth” planet was Pluto.

I scorned the email. The definition the Little Man was given for a planet was “a large ball-shaped object made of gases or rocky material.” Take a look at the photos of Pluto and tell me that it is not a large ball-shaped objects made of gases or rocky material. I’ve seen baseballs that are less ball-shaped than Pluto. I wanted to reply, jokingly, to the teacher’s email and point this out. But then something else occurred to me.

“Why isn’t Pluto a planet anymore?” the Little Man would likely ask me, and I realized this was an opportunity. You see, the science and the scientific method are self-correcting. What we know about the universe changes as the we get new and better information. Pluto is a good example of this change. Pluto was considered a planet for decades, but as our instruments got better, and our ability to measure things like mass and orbit improved, it became clear that Pluto shared more with minor planets than with full-fledged planets, and so astronomers corrected themselves using the new information.

Of course, I could imagine the conversation taking a different turn as well. I imagine myself asking the Little Man, “How do you think scientists found out about Pluto in the first place?” and the Little Man (who is really not so little anymore) shrugging casually and replying, “Easy: they Googled it.”


My Cambrian Period of Science Fiction

Over much of my youth, I read lots of science fiction in very limited ranges. I discovered Piers Anthony in junior high school and read everything of his I could get my hands on. I did the same with Isaac Asimov. Rarely did I venture beyond. Twenty years ago, however, an event took place that I look back on as the beginning of my Cambrian period of science fiction.

I had just finished reading the first book in the new Foundation trilogy, Foundation’s Fear by Gregory Benford. I’d read the book with some trepidation. I loved the Foundation series and I was worried that I might not like the newly authorized books. I came away from Benford’s book relieved, and it would have been natural for me to find another Asimov book to tackle, but instead I picked something all together different.

I started to read Age of Wonders by the late David G. Hartwell. I’d picked up the book at the Dangerous Visions bookstore in Sherman Oaks, California. I no longer recall why I decided to start reading a nonfiction literary review of science fiction’s literature. But I did. I finished the book in late September 1997, and thereafter, my Cambrian period of science fiction began.

Within the next two months, I broadened my reading in science fiction more than at any other time in my life. I read Bester for the first time, devouring The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man. I read A.J. Budrys remarkable Rogue Moon and was introduced to a side of “beaming up” that I’d never considered before. I read Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside, still in my mind one of the greatest novels I’ve ever experienced. I read Phillip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint and a year later wondered if The Truman Show was an homage. I spent nearly two weeks closely reading Robert Heinlein’s The Past Through Tomorrow. I read Barry Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo and Galaxies. I read Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. And I read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, starting the book as I awaited jury duty at the Hollywood courthouse. By the time it was over, two months had passed.

In the twenty years since, I’ve read a lot of science  fiction. So much that I’ve more or less burned out it–except for rare things. But whenever I scan my reading list, and see that Cambrian period from September through early November of 1997, I feel echoes of the sense of wonder that occurred repeatedly over the course of 8 weeks.

The Paradox of Journaling

I am fascinated by journals and diaries. My own diary was inspired by Isaac Asimov, after I learned he started a diary on his 18th birthday, and kept it up through his entire adult life. My own diary lasted about a decade, and then morphed into the blog I’ve had for the last dozen years.

An article in the November issue of the Atlantic on Thoreau’s “masterpiece” got me thinking about journals. Each time I read about John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Adams, or Henry David Thoreau, I am always astonished at their ability to keep a journal. Part of it is what they have to say, and part of it represents a barrier that I keep running into each time I try to start a journal anew. I call it the paradox of modern journaling.

My paradox is based on two seemingly simple requirements I have:

  1. Be consistent.
  2. Have a journal that is readily and easily searchable.

Being Consistent

I was most consistent when I wrote my journal on paper, in At-A-Glance Standard Diaries, one for each year. Consistency was driven in part by the medium: the Standard Diaries I used had a single page for each day which limited how much time I spent writing in my journal. My journal was Asimovian, the opposite of Thoreau. I recorded my social calendar, my achievements, and little else.

Still, it was easy to be consistent. I took the volume with me when I traveled. All that was required to keep it up-to-date was a pen or pencil. I didn’t worry about power outages or wireless Internet access. If I missed a day, I could always go back and make it up. Occasionally, a page was blank, and I learned not to worry too much about that. Consistency is about habit, and habit, for me, is a forgiving bullseye.

Readily and easily searchable

Asimov’s rational for starting a diary was simple: he was often frustrated by the way people misremembered the past, and it wanted a place to preserve events. It would be a handy reference book. That logic fit well with my thinking, and was part of the reason I started my own diary.

What I found, however, was that my Standard Diaries, though good for consistency and habit-forming, were not very good for searching. On occasion, when I needed to find out when a particular event happened, I’d go searching through the volumes. If I had a good sense of timeframe, the search was relatively quick. But if I was searching for something that took place years earlier, or something that was obscured in my memory, I could spend an hour or more flipping through the volumes to find what I was looking for.

Writing on the blog was different. Because my writing is in digital form, it is usually easy to find what I am looking for. But I was never as consistent on the blog as I was in my Standard Diaries. And that is only part of the paradox.

The Persistence of Memory

Writing a journal in digital form, whatever that form might be, has many advantages. I can type much faster than I can handwrite. There are no physical impediments—pages, margins, volumes—to how much or how little I write. What I write is readily searchable. And, in theory, in digital form, with backup in place, what I write is readily preserved.

The thing is, I have never been as consistent typing my journals as I have been handwriting them into books. I don’t know why this is. I can’t explain it, and I don’t even have a theory.

Moreover, I have found that while it would seem that my digital journals are more preservable than my physical ones, I suspect the opposite. All of my Standard Diaries sit on shelf, along with my books, collecting dust, but safe, in the same form they’ve always taken. My digital writing, however, is scattered. This blog makes up some of it. I have various text files that have come and gone over the years. The very lack of consistency in digital form makes preserving it more precarious.

This seems true, generally. John Adams’ diaries have been preserved over the centuries. They have even been digitized for a curious public. Thoreau’s journals have also been preserved, and some of them are also available for people to read. These journals have survived centuries, but I can’t even consistently keep a journal online for decade.

Part of this comes from how we host our journals. Blogs are hosted by companies that come and go. What happens when they go? Diaries that sit on our shelves have no such dependency. There is always the risk of flood or fire, but no more than the risk of losing digital data.

Instinct tells me that good old-fashioned paper is the way to go for a consistent journal. And yet, paradoxically, those Standard Diaries I have are hard to search through.

The Story of My Life

Once I had children, my rational for journaling changed. I still think of my journals as a kind of almanac of my life, reference books, if you will. But I also think of them as representing the story of my life—one that might interest my kids as they get older. I see my journals as something to pass down to them, so that they can know their dad in ways that don’t come up in the ordinary course of life. This means preserving the journals in a way that will survive the constantly changing technical world.

Paper diaries have shown persistence through the ages, if for no other reason than paper has been around far longer than its digital cousin. So paper would seem to be the way to proceed going forward. But paper is hard to search. Maybe the answer is a compromise: keep my journal on paper for consistency and persistence, but scan the volumes into digital form to allow for better searching, and a hedge against physical disaster.

How I Lost 10 Pounds In One Month

I was a skinny kid until I turned 40. I never had to worry about what I ate. I never gained much weight. I never went on a diet. After 40 things started to change. What I ate mattered more. I started putting on weight. I started noticing that I was putting on weight. I could see it in my face when I glanced in the mirror.

Whenever I want to make a significant change, I always have to think about it for a long time. I wanted to start to control my weight as far back as a year ago. But I wasn’t ready until recently. I was browsing on Facebook and came across a post by my friend, Michael Burstein, who talked about his own weight loss, and how he’d gone about it. Unlike most diets I’ve seen advertised, Michael’s was simple, and sensible.

So on Sunday, August 27, decided I was ready and I started a diet for the first time in my life. I tipped the scale at 182 pounds at the time. As of this morning my diet has lasted 31 days, and when I weighed myself, I found that I was 172 pounds. I’d lost 10 pounds in one month!

How’d I do it? Well, I just followed my friend Michael’s wisdom: I limited myself to 1,600 calories/day.

Of course, things were a little more complex than that.

Writing down what I ate

While I do enjoy tracking things, I’ve never enjoyed tracking calories. It seems overly cumbersome, and I have yet to find something better than a plain old notebook to handle this–which is exactly what I did this time.

I used on of my Field Notes Utility ledger notebooks to track my calories each day. But I had a few rules about tracking calories to make my life simpler:

  1. I would always round to the nearest 5 calories. If something was 167 calories, I’d write in 170. If it was 206, I’d write 205.

  2. In the ledger column, I’d keep a tally of how many calories I had left in the day, to help make decisions.

  3. If I didn’t know an exact calorie count, I wasn’t going to sweat it. I’d make my best guess, and move on.

  4. If I went over on a given day, well, I’d just try to do better the next day.

I think writing it down was a big help, especially in the decision-making process.

Deciding what to eat

I quickly found that I had to make decisions: eat that 400 calories muffin, or east something that is only 100 calories, and use the spare 300 calories for 2 Coke’s later in the day.

Being on a diet means having to give up things. But I didn’t want to be miserable. I enjoy my caffeine: Cokes and Red Bull, and I didn’t want to give them up. So I worked very hard to ensure that I didn’t have to. Eventually, I settled on a pattern that seems to work for me:

  • About 400 calories at breakfast
  • About 300 calories at lunch
  • About 300 calories at dinner

The remaining 600 calories are for enjoying my Cokes, Red Bulls, and the occasional cookie.

Remarkable, this worked for me, and I watched in surprise as my weight steadily began to drop. Not right away, not much in the first week, but pretty consistently thereafter.

Other adjustments

There were a few days while on a vacation at a resort where we had buffet dinners and breakfasts. At first, I tried to stay on track, but decided that it wasn’t worth the effort for a day or two, so I gave myself the okay to eat whatever I wanted. It was fine. When we got back home, I was back on track with my 1,600 calories.

Sometimes, I’ll see the kids eating ice cream and it looks so good. But given the tradeoff between the calories for the ice cream and the calories for the Coke, I’ll pick the Coke every time.

My meals are smaller than they were. 300 calories too often looks like a lot less than what I am used to. But I found that after a little while, I’m not hungry anymore, and I don’t really think about it.

Some interesting stats

Of the 31 days so far, I came in over budget (more than 1,600 calories) on 15 different days, or about 50% of the time. 9 of those 15 time were in the first 15 days of my diet.

When I did go over budget, I did so by an average of 148 calories per day. So even though I went over budget, instead of 1,600 calories/day I was consuming 1,748 calories per day, still below what I was eating before.

On 9 days, I came in under budget.

Some final thoughts

When I started this, I expected it would take longer than 31 days to lose 10 pounds. I’m pleased with the results, but I am not finished. I’m looked to get down to 168, another 6 pounds or so from where I am now. Looking in the mirror, I can already see the difference, and I can definitely feel the difference. It has been a long time since I have felt over-stuffed.

I haven’t been doing any exercise beyond my usual daily walks as part of this diet. My focus has been on what I eat. More exercise comes later. But even before that, I have to figure out–most likely through trial and error–how much I can bump up my daily calories in order to maintain my final weight once I reach it.

Why I Am Sticking with CrashPlan

Earlier this week CrashPlan announced that it was getting out of the consumer backup market and focusing on the business market. When I first saw the announcement, I was dismayed. I’ve been a loyal CrashPlan customer since at least 2013, I think, and their product has worked well for me. At least according to what I saw on Twitter, a lot of people felt the same way, and felt, understandably, betrayed by CrashPlan.

CrashPlan offered several options, including moving to CrashPlan for small business or switching to Carbonite. I brooded over this for a while, and finally decided to stick with CrashPlan. I did this for several practical reasons:

  1. Despite the recent announcement, CrashPlan has been extremely reliable for me for the last four years. On a couple of occasions when I have required major restores, the service has worked perfectly. On the more frequent times when I have had to restore a file or two, it has also served me well.

  2. Moving to an entirely new platform would take a lot of time. I’d be moving to something unfamiliar, and it would take a while to get established on that platform, and get all of my data backed up there. Staying with CrashPlan means they convert my account and nothing changes. All my backups are still active. It is virtually instantaneous.

  3. The move to CrashPlan for Small Business actually saves me money in the short term. I did the math. With CrashPlan for Home, I was paying $149/year for unlimited backups to 3 computers. My subscription is up in July 2018. Moving to CrashPlan for Small Business means that I get that service for all three machines for the next 10 months at no additional cost. As part of their special offer, however, I get the next 12 months on CrashPlan for small business at a discounted rate, 75% of their regular plan. Their regular plan is $10/month per machine. For me that would amount to $360/year. But at 75% off it means that from July 2018 – July 2019, I pay $90 for the year. That’s $60 less than what I am paying right now. True, beginning in August 2019, I’ll be at the normal rate of $10/month per machine (or whatever the going rate is at that time), but 2 years is a long time, and things can change. I’m willing to take my chances.

So I converted my CrashPlan for Home account to a CrashPlan for Small Business account. It was quick and easy, and all three of my machines are now using the Small Business version of CrashPlan.

This worked out for me, but I understand that it doesn’t work for everyone who is affected by this change. It is a particularly difficult change for people who used CrashPlan’s peer-to-peer backup service, which is going away as part of this move. I had to evaluate what would work best for me, given the situation, and it turned out that, for me, sticking with CrashPlan and switching to their Small Business plan was the quickest, easiest, and least expensive option.

Interactive Books

Growing up I learned to treat books with a peculiar reverence. There were rules I picked up along the way, often from school, but sometimes from other places. Among those rules were:

  1. Do not break the spine of a paperback book.
  2. Do not dog-ear a page to mark your place.
  3. Do not write in or otherwise deface the book.

As a child these rules were as unbreakable to me as any rule decreed from on high. As an adult, I look back on these rules with sadness and scorn. Books are meant to be interactive, and all three of these rules prevent one from properly interacting with a book.

If I was giving advice to my kids today, I’d revise these rules. Here are Jamie’s Rules for Interactive Books.

1. Break the Spine of a Paperback Book

Books are meant to be read. I used to read paperbacks in such a way as to avoid breaking their spines, but I was always uncomfortable and could never fully sink into the book. Hold a book however makes you comfortable. If that means cracking its spine, crack it. It is much easier to break the spine of a paperback and lay it flat on the table beside your ham and cheese sandwich than it is to try holding a book in one hand and eating the ham and cheese with the other.

2. Dog-ear the Page to Mark Your Place

If a bookmark is not readily available, dog-ear the page to mark your place. What does it hurt? The book is not screaming out in pain, and you’ll find where you left off that much easier. If pages were not meant to be dog-eared, books would still be made of stone. I still try to avoid dog-earing pages when I can. I use business cards as bookmarks, but I am constantly losing my bookmarks, and I am no longer afraid to dog-ear a page to keep my place.

Both of these rules allow books to take on a used, well-worn feel. That’s how books should look. My bookshelves are filled with a thousand books, many of which are well-worn. I much prefer looking at well-worn bookshelves than the pristine shelves you find in Barnes & Noble and places like that. Well-worn books remind me of libraries.

3. Write In Your Books

Writing in a book makes it your own. It is the ultimate form of interaction. As a child, my schools discouraged writing in books as the books had to be reused again and again by other students. This made it hard for me to write in books as I got older, but I eventually shed those fears. I write in books constantly these days. I highlight passages, I make notes in the margins. I can come back to the book and see my thoughts, what passages impressed me. Those, along with the dog-eared pages and the cracked spines provide a kind of archeological history of my interaction with the book.

These are the rules that I am teaching to my kids. Books are containers of knowledge. They are meant to be interacted with. Reverence for books is not found in a physical form (after all, there are e-books, and audiobooks) but in their content.

Our Summer Vacation

I am just back from a big family vacation. To celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, we rented a big house in the wilds of Vermont. My brother and his family, my sister and her family, my family, and my parents all spent a week there. It was isolated. That meant no cell service, but it also meant clear night skies with more stars than I can recall seeing in many years. After the week in Vermont, me, Kelly, and the kids headed to Newport, Rhode Island for a few days.

It was a fun vacation, but not a relaxing one. We kept busy. Here are some of the things we did:

  • Visited a local farm.
  • Attended a Vermont Lake Monsters baseball game. It had everything. Home runs, wild pitches, balks, pass-balls.
  • Hired a photographer for a big family photo shoot. I’m not sure we got a picture with everyone smiling at once.
  • Visited the Ben & Jerry’s factory. It was late in the day and we didn’t want to wait for the tour. Instead, we visited the graveyard of retired flavors.
  • Visited a children’s science museum on a rainy day in which everyone else in the State of Vermont had the same idea.
  • Looked at Jupiter and Saturn through my binoculars. Many of the kids saw the Galilean moons for the first time.
  • Cooked lots of food. Even so, I came home 3 pounds lighter than when I left. I’m not kidding: this was a busy vacation.
  • Had lots of bonfires at night. Then took showers before bed to wash the smell of the bonfire away so as to avoid making the bedsheets smell like smoke.
  • Went tubing down a river.
  • Walked through the nearby town and bought $16 worth of books at their book festival on the green.
  • Saw several covered bridges.
  • Hiked down into Quechee Gorge. Hiked back up again. Both ways, with the baby strapped to me.
  • Spent time at a local lake. Took the Little Miss out in a kayak. We went to the very center of the lake, where it was peaceful. It was probably the quietest moment of the vacation.
  • Toured three of Newport’s famous mansions.

It was great to spend time with the extended family. I don’t get to see my brother and his family very often and to spend a week together was a lot of fun. But it was exhausting, and I woke up this morning feeling worn out and in desperate need of a vacation.

One remarkable thing happened on vacation: I did not touch a keyboard or a look at a computer screen for 11 consecutive days. I found that I didn’t miss it either. I returned from vacation wondering how I could spend less time touching keyboards and looking at computer screens.

Now, I am counting the days to our winter vacation in December. Vacations are funny like that.