Tag Archives: books

My Favorite Audio Book Narrators

One of the great things about audio books is the added dimension the narrator brings to the book. I find this is true for both fiction and non-fiction, but it is especially true for fiction. When I started listening to audio books back in 2013, I didn’t always pay attention to the names of the narrators, but I quickly learned to do this, in the same way that I learned to read the bylines in newspaper articles, or look for who wrote episodes of television shows I’ve enjoyed.

The very first audio book narrator I listened to back in 2013 was Lindsey Crouse, who narrated the first two audio books I listened to, Misery and Gerald’s Game both by Stephen King. In the years since, I’ve listened to more than 500 audio books. Here then, are some of my favorite audio book narrators.

Fiction

  • Craig Wasson: Wasson narrated Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I’d read the novel once before I listened to the audio book version. Craig Wasson’s narration helped make that novel one of my all-time favorites. His performance was so good that it has an unexpected negative result: I can’t listen to other performance by Craig Wasson. Usually, when I find a narrator I like, I will look for more books they’ve narrated. I’ve discovered a lot of books in this manner. But Wasson became Jake Epping to me, and I can’t imagine him in any other role.
  • George Guidall: Guidall’s voice took some getting used to for me. The first thing I listened to him narrate was Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. But where George Guidall really captured my heart was when I heard him narrating the Walt Longmire books by Craig Johnson. These books are all told in first person and like Wasson, George Guidall has become Walt Longmire in my mind, even more than Robert Taylor, who portrayed Longmire in the television series. Strangely, I can listen to Guidall narrate other books, and I look forward to those narrations as well.
  • Will Patton: Will Patton has narrated many books that I’ve listened to but the one that stands out most in my mind is his performance narrating Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. He does an incredible job with that book, making it, my mind, a better book in the audio edition than it is in the print edition alone.

Nonfiction

  • Malcolmn Hilgartner: I discovered Hilgartner through his narration of E. B. White’s One Man’s Meat, one of my favorite collections of essays. I know what E. B. White sounds like, of course, and Hilgartner sounds nothing like him, but his style of narration makes me believe that White is talking to me when I listen to him. He’s also done narrations of a biography of Ty Cobb and Bob Hope that I enjoyed.
  • Grover Gardner: Gardner’s voice took me some getting used to. But he narrated at least half of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books, and those are among my favorite histories, even though they are somewhat dated now. He is a reliable narrator that I’ve grown used to and versatile in both fiction (The Stand) and nonfiction alike. He narrated all of Robert A. Caro’s volumes on Lyndon Johnson so far.
  • Simon Winchester: Winchester narrates his own books, but I sometimes wish he narrated others as well. His is a voice I could listen to for just about anything.

Author narrators

At last, here is a list of some authors who also narrate their own books. No every writer is a good narrator, but these are a few that have really caught my attention and blown me away with their performances:

  • Harlan Ellison (the first person I ever heard give a “dramatic” reading)
  • John Le Carré (another writer who could have narrated other people’s books to great effect)
  • Bruce Springsteen (hid understated narration of his memoir was pitch perfect)
  • Simon Winchester (mentioned above)
  • Mary Robinette Kowal (she gave a marvelous performance of her novel The Calculating Stars)
  • Carl Reiner (because I love how he sounds like he is casually chatting with me)

Looking over this list, I note that it is alarmingly void of women. Mary is the only one. I took a second look at the list of audio books I’ve read and it turns out that while many are written by women, they are not as often narrated by women. Take Doris Kearns Goodwin, for example. I really enjoy her books, especially books like No Ordinary Time and The Bully Pulpit, the former of which was narrated by Nelson Runger, and the latter by Edward Hermann, both men.

When I occasionally browse for books on Audible, in addition to searching for writers I enjoy, I also search for narrators that I enjoy, hoping to discover new things that I might have missed. This above list are the people I most often search for when it comes to narrations.

Rereading the Walt Longmire Books

Last night I started to re-read the Walt Longmire series of books by Craig Johnson. This is my third time reading these book, and each time I read them, I love them more and more. Partly it is the characters. Although I enjoyed the Netflix series based on the books, the characters in the books are more alive and real than they seemed in the television show. Partly it is the setting. I enjoy the open wilderness of the setting in Wyoming. Partly it is the stories, which are always interesting. But mostly, it is the writing that impresses me.

The stories are told in first person, in an understated way, which is my favorite kind of writing. I think of books like Stephen King’s From a Buick 8 or Joyland which share this understated style. Instead of feeling like I am reading a novel, the book is written as if Walt Longmire is talking to me in his casual, but perceptive manner. This is the style that I aim for when writing my own stories, which seem clumsy by comparison. The closest I’ve managed to come is in my story “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” In that one, I think I got close.

Anyone who enjoys a character series of novels know what I mean when I say that the characters in the books feel like family. There is a comfort in settling down with one of these books, knowing that it is populated with friends.

As I read last night, what I really focused on was the writing. Everything about Johnson’s writing seems flawless to me. So much so that you could easily miss things if you weren’t paying close attention. Though this was my third reading of The Cold Dish, the first book in a series of sixteen (a seventeenth comes out later this year), there were things that I never caught the first time around. Some of these were subtleties of writing, elegant turns of phrase that turn out to have greater meaning when you know the story. Some don’t carry that meaning, but are delightful nonetheless.

These books can make me laugh out loud, something that is not easy to make me do. They can do it for pages on end, on again and off again. The relationship between Henry Standing Bear and Walt is a particularly good one and their interactions feel like the interactions of people who have known each other their entire life and have been best friends through it all.

I’m reading these books again for two reason: first, I am trying to learn what I can from the writing; second, because they are just a joy to read. If you’ve never read any of the Longmire books, I’d highly recommend them.

The Immersive Feel of a Well-Crafted Book

There are many pleasures to reading that go beyond the words on the page. For me, the words tend to fade away, replaced by the story being told, whether fiction or nonfiction. Audio books add another dimension. A good voice actor can add a dimension to even the best books that doesn’t exist in the book alone.

Bibliophiles know the smells of books. Libraries have wonderful smells, when the air conditioning isn’t working overtime. It is a joy to wander around the stacks of used bookstores. I especially enjoy those stores that are put together haphazardly, with additions being clapped on here and there like a child’s Lego assembly. Narrow aisles and tall shelves with an occasional grotto containing an old sofa and older cat are the hallmarks of my favorite used book stores.

But there is a also a great pleasure in feel of a well-crafted book. Over the weekend, I have been re-reading Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. I’m listening to the audio book, perfectly narrated by Ron McLarty. But I am also following along in my limited edition Cemetery Dance copy of the book, the second volume in the Stephen King Doubleday Years collection. The book itself is a work of art. The pages are thick and textured. The book is large and easy to read, but the texture of the pages, and the artwork within makes it something special.

My copy of the Cemetery Dance special edition of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot

I’ve been ordering copies of Cemetery Dance books for years, and have every one of the Doubleday Years collection produced thus far. (And I’ve already pre-ordered the remaining two volumes in the collection that have not been produced: The Stand and Pet Sematary). There are other special edition Cemetery Dance books I’ve collected over the years, including an amazing version of Stephen King’s It.

I collect books, of course, but these books are real works of art. Sitting down and actually holding a volume in a my hands while I read it is a rare treat. Reading is often about seeing words and allowing your imagination to translate the words into images and stories. Combining the audio book version of ‘Salem’s Lot with the Cemetery Dance edition of the book, brings to bear nearly all my senses: the sound of McLarty’s narration; the sight of the words on the page; the heft of the book in my lap, and feel of the thick textured pages as I turn them; and the smell of the book and accumulated dust. It makes for a truly immersive reading experience.

Some pages in the Cemetery Dance edition of 'Salem's Lot

Often, when I hold an old book in my hands, I think as much of the history of that physical book–where it has been, who has touched it, how many times it has been read–as I do of what the book has inside. There are a thousand smells inside my 1954 copy of Will Durant’s 1935 book Our Oriental Heritage. I’ve had the book for 20 years. Who possessed it for the near half century before me?

Holding the Cemetery Dance edition of ‘Salem’s Lot, I think of the time and effort and artistry that went into creating such a beautiful edition of the book. It is clear that the bookmaker knew what they were doing. As I said, book are more than the words on the page. To me, books are an experience to be felt by all the senses, as much as to be read. I’m grateful to Cemetery Dance for putting out such great works of art.

Late Spring Reading

I have mostly finished what books I could find on the history of computing. A few more linger and I’ll get to them, but I have a rough idea of what I will likely be reading for this last month of spring, or so, and it has me steadily moving away from computing history.

I am just about to finish Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary which is the first science fiction I’ve read in a while. It’s a fun book and I’m really enjoying it. What makes it even better is Ray Porter’s narration on the audio book.

The book managed to reignite my interest in science fiction, which had wane over the last 6-7 years. So a few of the books on my late spring reading list are my attempt to keep that interest kindled. Here is the list I am planning (not in any specific order, and butterfly-effect of reading always flapping):

  • Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government–Saving Privacy in the Digital Age by Steven Levy
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King (my favorite book, which I try to re-read now and then)
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
  • Apollo 1: The Tragedy That Put Us On the Moon by Ryan S. Walters
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Last Don by Mario Puzo
  • Becoming Los Angeles: Myth, Memory and a Sense of Place by D.J. Waldie
  • Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game by John Thorn
  • Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematician by Ian Stewart
  • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard P. Feynman
  • We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit the Internet’s Culture Laboratory by Chritine Lagorio-Chafkin

I think that’s a pretty good list for the next five or six weeks. I have a few more books on the back-burner in case I somehow manage to get through all of these.

Audible Deals

Every now and then Audible has these deals on audio books. I always look forward to these as there is usually at least one good find in them. Often these are lucky finds, as more often than not, the theme is only tangentially interesting to me.

Today, however, I discovered something remarkable. Audible came out with a “True Stories Sale” with the books on the list offered at $6 each. But it wasn’t the price that I find remarkable. It was the books on the list. It was like walking into a bookstore in which the books were selected with me in mind.

Ironically, I already owned many of the audio books. Indeed, after getting halfway through the 700 or so books on sale, I found that I already owned 32 of them! I have never encountered one of these sales where I owned so many of the books on the list.

Of course, I combed through the list to see if there was anything interesting that I didn’t own, and managed to find several books that I can pick up for $6 a pop (a bargain when you consider a credit typically costs about $11). Among those books that piqued my interest are:

  • Easy Company Soldier: The Legendary Battles of a Sergeant from WW IIs Band of Brothers by Don Malarkey and Bob Welch
  • The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
  • Significant Figures: The Lives and Works of Great Mathematicians by Ian Stewart
  • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard P. Feynman
  • Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt

This is one Audible deal that really impressed me.

Some Notes About Footnotes

Why are footnotes generally composed of compound keys instead of being primary keys themselves? I’ve noticed that in most books I read that contain footnotes, the footnote renumbering restarts with each chapter. That means in order to uniquely identify a footnote you need to know the chapter and the note number. Wouldn’t it be easier to just to number them incrementally throughout the whole book?1

I’ve been thinking about this because I noticed this is exactly what happens in Richard Rhodes’s Dark Sun. The footnotes are not renumbered between chapters but just continue on. I love this and can’t understand why this isn’t standard behavior in the footnoting industry.

Another thing I’ve noticed about footnotes is that often times, they are the most interesting part of the book. It is for this reason that I follow every footnote and try not to miss them. I think of a footnote as the author pausing in his storytelling to lean over to me, hand to the side of his mouth, and whispering something like, “Joe himself told me this story after drinking an entire bottle of vodka2.”

This begs the question: what makes a footnote a footnote? Why is such interesting material relegated to a smaller font, often at the back of the book? Clearly it was worth including in the book, or the editor would have suggested cutting it.

You don’t see footnotes much in fiction. Isaac Asimov made good use of them in Murder at the ABA. I understand David Foster Wallace did something similar in Infinite Jest3.

When footnotes aren’t offering a specific citation, they are often much more informal than the main text. Some of Will Durant’s funniest lines in his Story of Civilization come in the footnotes.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that a footnote that simply reads, “ibid” could save some confusion by changing “ibid” to “ditto.” It would save the trouble of having to lookup what “ibid” means. I can’t always remember that the Latin word ibidem means “in the same place4.”

E-books have made it much easier to navigate footnotes. When reading a paper book, I am forced to use two bookmarks5, one to keep my place in the text, and one to keep my place in the footnotes. But with e-books, I can just tap on the footnote and have a little popup appear so that I can read it.

Footnotes are a crap-shoot when it comes to an audio book. Some readers will read the footnotes, others don’t. I don’t know where the decision is made, but I wish it was more consistent one way or the other.

When footnotes come at the bottom of the page they are called footnotes. When they come at the end of the book, they are called endnotes. They are are one of the few things I can think of that are identical in meaning, but are called different things based on where they are located.

Do “footnotes” even make sense in an e-book, or do we need a new term? E-note, maybe6?


  1. Maybe there is concern about footnotes numbered into the thousands, but I don’t see how that can be a problem from a technical standpoint.
  2. In audiobooks, I often wish the narrator would read the footnotes in a mock-whisper. Instead, they tend to just say, “Footnote,” followed by whatever the footnote is
  3. I seem to recall that A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers did this as well.
  4. I had to look this up just now to remind myself what this means
  5. Business cards
  6. Way back in January 2008, I wrote about footnotes. I’m getting repetitive in my middle age.

Vacation Reading: The History of Computing

Sitting poolside with Gödel, Escher, Bach
Vacation reading

There are certain sub-genres that appeal to me more than others. Baseball history is one example. The Apollo space program is another. In each of these sub-genres I’ve read more than my fair share of books. Another sub-genre I enjoy that I have recently been revisiting is the history of computing.

Perhaps because I grew up with computers I find a particular fascination in them, and their impact on society. I am particularly fascinated by their evolution from the early time-sharing systems, to what we carry in our pockets today. I recently read (and re-read) several books in this sub-genre. I re-read Steven Levy’s great history of computing, Hackers. I read James Gleick’s The Information which was all about information theory. I re-read Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators.

Several of these books refer to Douglas R. Hofstadter, and in particular, his book Gödel, Escher, Bach. It got me curious about the book, which won the Pulitzer prize for general nonfiction in 1979. After several friends gave the book high marks, I decided I should give it a try. It is tangentially related to computing in that it discusses artificial intelligence and completeness.

It turns out the book is not available as an audiobook or an e-book. I ordered a paperback copy. It so happens that I am on vacation for the next ten days or so and decided that reading this book would be good poolside reading. (I enjoy when people come up and ask me what I am reading. I show them the book and the often ask what it is about. It will be interesting how to explain this one.)

Not long ago I wrote about hard books to understand. Gödel, Escher, Bach came up in the discussion of that post. Last night, I got through the 20-page preface to the 20th anniversary edition of the book. The first half of that introduction tried to explain the book, and I found that I was at the limits of my comprehension. I read some passages over and over and when I finally thought I understood what Hofstadeter what saying, I would encourage myself in the margins, like this:

An annotated page from my copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach
Encouraging my understanding in GEB

It will be interesting to see whether I will be able to make much sense of this book at all.

I am also particularly interested in the history of Unix, and until recently, hadn’t come across a good, succinct history of the operating system. A recent search, however, turned up Unix: A History and a Memoir by none other than Unix creator Brian Kernighan. When I get bogged down in GEB, I can turn to Kernighan for some relief.

Finally, I always have an audiobook queued up for those times when I am walking, driving, exercising, or not somewhere that I can sit and read. In keeping with the history of computing theme, I’ve got Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows queued up.

Eventually, this sub-genre phase will pass and I’ll move onto other things. I imagine that the butterfly’s wings will flap rapidly around GEB in particular.

Hard Books to Understand

I have just finished James Gleick’s fascinating book The Information on the history of information theory. It is a rare milestone book for me in that it is one of three books that have really pushed my ability to comprehend complex subjects to the limits.

I say one of three books. I went through through the list of books I’ve read since 1996 to be sure. There are only three books (including Gleick’s) out of about 1,070 so far that I immediately recognize to be in this category.

The first of these was Consilience by Edward O. Wilson–a book that was recommended to me over 21 years before I finally got to it. The book deals with the theory of how all subjects are interrelated. At least, I think that it what it was about. Maybe it was more about taxonomy, or meta-taxonomy. It was a tough read.

Not long after that, I am upon an even more difficult read, indeed, one that I consider the most difficult book to comprehend that I have read. This was The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. I was turned onto this book by Robert J. Sawyer, who has mentioned it frequently as an influence upon his own writing. Indeed, a few months after I finished it, I saw Rob at a convention and told him how difficult I thought that book was.

Jaynes’ book is a theory that consciousness as we think of it arose much later than people thought–indeed, he argues that it is relatively recent construct, going back to ancient times, but not before. This was difficult to comprehend (my own consciousness was not really up to the task, I guess) but it was a fascinating argument (if I understood it correctly).

Gleick’s The Information has now made this elite list. Of the three, it was the most comprehensible, but I had to strain to understand it. I had to pause, and re-read passages, and visualize the concepts, and really think about them before I felt like I had a grasp on them.

Do you see the pattern? All three books are about theories of information. I find this fascinating, since, as a developer, I work with practical information theory every day. I find reading about it endlessly interesting, and yet, it is an incredibly difficult subject for me to understand. My theory is that the more abstract, the more difficult a subject is to comprehend. I’ve read math books (A Tour of the Calculus by David Berlinski and essays on mathematical subjects like When Einstein Walked with Gödel by Jim Holt) that have been fairly abstract and yet comprehensible. But information theory is so abstract that I find it exceedingly difficult to understand. Of course, the delight in reading about this stuff is in large part coming away with a better understand of it.

I’ll add one honorable mention to this short list: How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. The book was recommended to me a few decades ago by one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. When I finally got around to reading it, I found it to be a challenge. But not quite as much as these other three. When I scanned my list, I hesitated on this one, but finally decided that it didn’t quite make the cut.

I’m kind of fascinated by the concept of books that are challenging to read–from a comprehension standpoint. Are there books that you’ve found to be challenging? I’d be interested to know what they are. Drop you suggestions in the comments.

1,000 Audio Books

On Saturday, I obtained my 1,000th audio book from Audible. It was Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe. On the one hand, for someone who once wrote here that audio books were not his thing, this is pretty remarkable. On the other hand, as a bibliophile, this is just an example of catching up.

I picked up my first audio book on February 12, 2013 so it took me about 8 years and 1 month to manage to collect 1,000 of them. I did a little math. There are 2,951 days between the day I acquired my first audio book and yesterday when I got my most recent one. That means I’ve added one audio book to my collection about every 3 days or so over the course of the last 8 years.

I’ve got a little over 1,000 books on the bookshelves in my office, and about 500 e-books in my Kindle library. That means I now have almost as many audio books as I have physical books on my book shelves.

Keep in mind that I haven’t yet read 1,000 of them. Many of them I pick up during Audible sales and when they have special deals, knowing that I won’t read them now but will get to them eventually. I’d estimate that I’ve read about 60% of what I have in my library.

Audio books have undeniably helped me read more than I might otherwise have had time to read from the printed page alone. The chart below, which I maintain in a notebook along with the list of all of the books I’ve read illustrates this pretty well. The dotted line down the page represents the time at which I began listening to audio books. You can see how the slopes of the other lines change after crossing that boundary. Of course, not every book I’ve read since has been an audio book, but the majority have.

Handwritten charts of my reading since 1996
Books per year and cumulative book count

These days, especially for nonfiction, I often get the e-book along with the audio book. This allows me to keep notes and highlights as I read. When I am not engaged in another activity, I’ll follow along in the e-book, marking passages and making notes, which eventually get transferred into Obsidian.

Today I’ll finish one audio book–The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson. I keep the audio books that I want to listen to next downloaded on my phone just in case I find myself somewhere with no Internet access. There are currently 7 downloaded books, not counting The Code Breaker. They are:

  • The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Alan Lightman
  • A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit by Alan Lightman
  • The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
  • The Unreasonable Virtual of Fly Fishing by Mark Kurlansky
  • The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
  • Roughing It by Mark Twain
  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Here’s to the next thousand!

A Journey Back to the Beginning of My Reading List

My copy of From Earth to Heaven by Isaac Asimov

I started keeping a list of books I read back in January 1996, over twenty-five years ago. As of today, there are 1,063 books on the list. I have a simple rule for how a book gets on the list: I have to finish it. If I re-read a book, which I occasionally do, it gets on the list a second (or third) time with a new number. I do re-read books sometimes, although not as often as I used to. Of the 1,063 book on the list, there are about 888 unique titles, meaning that over the course of 25 years, 175 of those 1,063 books were re-reads.

One book I had never re-read was the book that started it all, book #1 on the list, From Earth to Heaven by Isaac Asimov. Until now, that is. On Sunday I finished a book and had a small gap to fill on Monday. I didn’t want to start a lengthy book because today, the new Stephen King book, Later comes out and I’m eager to read it. So I needed something relatively short, and as I had been reading collections of essays, I figured I’d stick with the theme. I’d go back to the beginning and re-read that first book on the list.

More than 25 years, and 1,062 books intervened between the two readings, but it was a pleasure to read. From Earth to Heaven is a collection of 17 of Isaac Asimov’s science essays that used to appear monthly in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction–a series that continued for over thirty years and spanned 399 essays. These essays were collected in books in batches of 17. I eventually read all of them, and when I wrote, more than 10 years ago, that almost everything I learned about science I learned from Isaac Asimov, it was to these essays that I was specifically referring.

One of the nice things about these collections is that they are eclectic. You jump from one area of science to another. They are colloquial in tone, amusing, and educational. They also fill in many of the historical gaps that there just isn’t time for in high school and college science classes.

This particular collection covers essays that appeared February 1965 and June 1966. You can imagine, then, that some of the science was dated, but even this has its useful qualities. It is a great example of how science works, that it is progressive, builds upon itself, and is self-correcting: when new information comes to light, it is incorporated into the body of knowledge. Some of these essays refer to neutrinos and gravity waves, neither of which had been detected at the time the essays were written. Still, they provide the historical context for the subsequent discoveries.

The last time I’d read Asimov’s nonfiction was back in the spring of 2005, so I was a bit nervous approaching it more than 15 years later. Would his style hold up to what I remembered, or would it seem dated compared to more contemporary writers of science. Almost at once, my fears were allayed. Asimov’s colloquial style in these essays were just as how I remembered them, as if he was sitting across a restaurant table from me, talking directly to me about a variety of scientific topics.

It didn’t take me long to finish the book, but it was a lot of fun to read, and I’m glad I decided to go back to that book. It reminded me how much I enjoyed those essay collections. They are all still there on my shelves, read for the re-read whensoever the desire take me. That is a comforting feeling.

Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes: A Fascinating Read–And a Struggle

It is rare that I don’t know what to make of a book. If I zip through a book with ease, it is usually a sign that I enjoyed it. If I struggle through it but finish, it was okay, but not necessarily something I’d write home about. But what about a book that I zip through with ease, and struggle with along the way? That doesn’t happen often, but it happened while reading Ira Rosen’s new book, Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes.

Rosen was a long-time producer at 60 Minutes working with many of the correspondents, especially Mike Wallace and his book was about his time as a producer in television. (He also worked for ABC for a time before returning to 60 Minutes.) Hollywood memoirs are a kind of guilty pleasure of mine, and I particularly enjoy memoirs and biographies about journalists: My War by Andy Rooney, A Reporter’s Life by Walter Cronkite, A Life on the Road by Charles Kuralt to name just a few. But I struggled with Rosen’s book in ways that I did not with these other books.

While I wouldn’t characterize Rosen’s precisely as mean-spirited, it certainly came across as someone who decided to air all of his grievances and show the worst sides of those people he worked with. I think this would be understandable if Rosen had been treated poorly and that poor treatment affected him in a negative way. Rosen recounts many times when people like Mike Wallace, Diane Sawyer, and Morley Safer treated him or other people rudely. But what made Rosen’s account interesting was that he never seemed to mind this treatment. He was sort of immune to it, and focused on doing the best job as he could as a producer. So why complain about it now, in a book? I just couldn’t understand that.

Perhaps the reason is perspective: Rosen writes from the point of view of a producer, while other books I’ve read are from the points of view of the reporters themselves. Andy Rooney was grumpy at times, as everyone knows–that’s part of what people loved about him. He had complaints about CBS, but he generally didn’t single out people, but the organization as a whole. Cronkite and Kuralt, in their books, seemed to handle this by omissions: they wrote about people they admired, or who helped them out, and didn’t mention those who created problems or roadblocks.

Still, despite Rosen’s dramatic characterizations of those correspondents he worked with, the book was endlessly fascinating. Reading it, I felt like a fly on the wall at some interesting conversations. It made some of the more outlandish stories Rosen had to tell about people all the more out of place in the book, and made me wonder: was the book written as a memoir, or as memoir disguised a vehicle for Rosen to vent about his treatment as a producer? Maybe it was both, and maybe that’s what made it both a fascinating read and a struggle.

Mount To-Be-Read and the Danger of the Doubling Charm

There is a scene in one of the Harry Potter films where Harry and his friends end up in a treasure vault which has been boobie-trapped with a “Gemino Curse,” a variant of the Doubling Charm. Each thing touched, instantly doubles. Touch those things and they double. This continues without end. I have sympathy for Harry in that scene. I know the feeling. Each book I read spawns more books to read. And those books spawn more books. This continues in an endless doubling, tripling, quadrupling that has been growing increasingly doubtful of my ability to read every book ever written.

At various times, my to-be-read list can have anywhere from dozens to scores of books on it, each one of which is a butterfly’s flap to who knows how many other books to read.

This was illustrated to me in a stark way this afternoon, after I began playing around with the Mind-Map plug-in to Obsidian, my new favorite text editor. I was trying to see how my reading had progressed–and how Mount To-Be-Read had grown–since the weekend, just a few days ago.

I picked the New York Times Book Review as my starting point. (The Washington Post and a few other lists may have been involved as well.) From this I started listing out the books that interested me and that I ultimately read. From there, I began listing books I came across in those books that interested me and that I either noted on my list, or read. From there… well, you get the picture.

This formed a simple outline in my text file, and with a few keystrokes, I’d turned it into a mind-map:

A mind-map of recent reading.

Since Sunday, I’ve read 3 of the books on the mind-map (Probable Impossibilities by Alan Lightman, In Praise of Wasting Time also by Alan Lightman, and When Einstein Walked with Godel by Jim Holt). I’ve also nearly finished (as in I will finish it this evening.) The three books that I have finished spawned eight other books that have since been added to the mountain that is my to-be-read list. If we go with 2.67 new books per book I read, those eight newly added books will spawn 21 more books to add. Those 21 books will spawn 56 additional books.

You get the idea. I’m reminded of poor Ali Sard, in Dr. Seuss’s Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?. Ali is the one who had to mow grass in his uncle’s back yard, quick-growing grass:

The faster he mows it, the faster he grows it.

The faster I read, the more I fall behind.