Tag Archives: reading

The Adams Family

I have been fascinated by the Adams family since reading David McCullough’s biography John Adams in the summer of 2001. Adams, to me, was a remarkable man. I’ve often named him as my favorite president (careful to point out that I say my favorite president, not the best president). From time-to-time, I’ve browsed John Adam’s diaries with great delight. I enjoyed reading about Adam’s from Jefferson’s perspective in Dumas Malone’s 6-volume biography of Jefferson. The story of Adams’ and Jefferson’s tumultuous friendship–captured in Friends Divided by Gordon S. Wood–is remarkable for its time. In any case, McCullough’s biography of John Adams has for nearly twenty years now been one of my favorites, and one I’ve re-read on several occasions.

This morning, I finished reading John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit by James Traub, and have found a biography of the son that matches McCullough’s of the father. What a great read. I’ve often felt that there are two qualities that drive people to greatness: genius, or extremely hard work. John Quincy Adams is the rare result of both, and his accomplishments bear that out. JQA was a more prolific diarist than his father and I have now started to immerse myself in Vol 1 of his diaries, with Vol 2 waiting in the wings.

I read The Education of Henry Adams two years ago. Henry was the son of Charles Francis Adams and thus the grandson of JQA and the great-grandson of John Adams. The family had its share of tragedy, and yet it continued to produce some remarkable people.

A paragraph toward the end of Traub’s book sums this up as follows, astounding when you think of John Adams relatively humble beginnings 285 years ago:

The Adams name rolled on in gently ebbing waves of distinction. Charles Francis Adams III, who married the granddaughter of the secretary of the navy under President John Quincy Adams, served as Herbert Hoover’s navy secretary. (He had prepared for the role by successfully defending the America’s Cup.) His son, Charles Francis Adams IV, served as president of the aerospace firm Raytheon. The Roman numerals have marched all the way down to our own day in the form of John Quincy Adams VII, surely one of the very few “VII”s in a nation that has forsworn a hereditary aristocracy. This John Quincy Adams has a blog.

What would John Adams have thought of blogs, I wonder?

1,000 Books Finished! And It Only Took 25 Years

On Saturday, May 23, I finished reading The Reformation, Will Durant’s 1,000 page book on, well, the reformation in Europe. There was a nice symmetry to the length being about 1,000 pages since this was also the 1,000th book I finished since I started keeping a list in January 1996. That is a span of over 25 years. For those curious, here is graphical breakdown of those years:

For those unfamiliar with my list, I keep it using a few simple rules:

  1. Only a book that I finish gets on the list. Unfinished books don’t show up.
  2. I don’t rank books, but a book that I would read again, or recommend, I’ll make bold on the list.
  3. Re-reading a book counts as a finished book. Thus, the list is a list of all books I’ve finished, even those read multiple times. It is not a list of distinct titles.
  4. What constitutes a book? I use my judgement. There are a few short books (#789 The Testament of Mary is one. But I also counted the full issues of Astounding that I read for my Vacation in the Golden Age as books since they were of equivalent length.)

I finished the very first book on my list, From Earth to Heaven by Isaac Asimov, on January 13, 1996. I was in New York at the time, on vacation. I can no longer recall what possessed me to start keeping a list. It is possible that I had already come across Eric W. Leuliette’s list of what he’s read since 1974. In any case, I managed to keep the list going in various forms and mediums. Twenty five years later, I finished my 1,000th book. The canonical list has, for some time now, resided in a Leuchtturm1917 notebook. Here’s the first page with entries from 1996, and the most recent pages leading up to and including my 1,000th book:

Sometimes I’ll add some additional notes in the notebook that don’t appear on any of the other forms of my list.

So, it took me 25 years to finish 1,000 books. That’s somewhat deceptive, however. From 1996-2012, I read either paper or the occasional e-book. In that time, I completed about 500 books. That’s about 16 years or about 31 books per year, on average. In early 2013, however, I decided to give audiobooks a try as a way of allowing myself to get more reading done. Since 2013, I’ve read an additional 500 books, so that’s 500 books in 7 years or about 71 books per year on average. My page has been increasing!

In 2017, I decided to see how much I really could read, given the freedom audiobooks provided, and the fact that I had slowly been increasing the speed at which I listen to audiobooks. (Today, I usually listen to a book at somewhere between 1.5 and 1.75x normal speed, depending on the narrator). I set a record in 2017, reading 58 books that year. But that record didn’t last long. In 2018 I read 130 books; in 2019, 113 books. So far in 2020, I’m on pace to read 110. Indeed, I sort of sprinted to the 1,000th book milestone. At the beginning of May I’d read 983 books. That means I read an additional 17 books (including 2 books that were over 1,000 pages each) in the first 23 days of the month. It is, by far, a record-breaking month for me, and one that I am not likely to repeat for some time.

Given the pace I’ve set for the last 3 years, I’d predict, assuming no significant changes, that I’ll finish my 2,000th book in July 2029, a little more than 9 years from now. What took me 25 years to do the first time, should be much quicker the second time.

The books that I read run the gamut of the Dewey Decimal System. While I haven’t looked recently, I think nonfiction outpaces fiction about 60/40. In the last 3 years, it’s probably more like 70/30.

Why read so much, and why list it out? Well, I’ve said elsewhere how I look at my reading as my real education. I learned to read in grade school; I learned to think critically in high school; I learned to learn in college. Once college was over, i was finally prepared to learn–and then had to enter the workforce. So reading is my way of learning. The list acts a reminder of what I’ve read (and what I’ve learned), but also a kind of literary autobiography. I can look at the list and for nearly any book on it, I can recall where I was and what was happening in my life when I read it.

And what about before the list? I’ve often wished I started my list much earlier. I was 24 years old when I started it and 2 years out of college. Looking back over that time, and thinking about books I read in college, and high school, books I read in grade school. Books I got from Weekly Reader and checked out of the library, children’s books that I read on my own or with help from my parents, I’d estimate the total to be not more than 500 books, and probably somewhat less than that.

When I finished the final words of Will Durant’s The Reformation on Saturday, I was sitting out on the deck, enjoying sunshine. I had a quiet, private moment of achievement. Then I started on the next book. I jumped from the middle ages in Europe to the present achievements in physics with Brian Greene’s latest, Until the End of Time, which I’ll like finish today and mark down as book #1,001.

I occasionally get questions about my reading and my list. If you have any, feel free to drop them in the comments below. I’ll do my best to answer them.

My favorite airport

I just finished reading Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker, a wonderful book about air travel written by a 747 pilot. I came to this book via Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows, which I read back in February. Reading books like these often make me wish I’d stuck with flying. Twenty years and a month after getting my private pilot’s license, who knows what adventures might have been tucked into the lines of my logbook?

Approaching London over the Channel in 2007.

Skyfaring had me thinking of airports, desolate places in our current time, and not my favorite places in the world in general. When I was flying, I never minded airports, and indeed, enjoyed flying into smaller airports with pilot’s lounges and the satisfaction of knowing I could grab a burger while the plane was fueled and didn’t have to pass through security on my way back out to the plane (this was in the days before 9/11, of course).

It’s easy for me to list the airports I dislike the most, LAX being at the top of the list. I flew into LAX five or six times last year and always planned my arrivals and departures to be as early in the morning as possible in order to avoid the crowds and the rush of traffic into and out of the airport. On my last trip through LAX, they’d moved the Uber pickup to distant location and things seemed rather chaotic. I wasn’t looking forward to heading back there.

I don’t mind Washington-Dulles that much. It’s pretty easy to get into and get out of. I find it odd that the underground tram system that have takes you far past the D and C gates so that you spend more time walking back toward the gates than you do on the tram itself, but I like to pretend there is a good reason for this.

I’ve always had a fondness for Van Nuys airport, and for Camarillo airport. Van Nuys was my home base back when I flew, and I often flew out to Camaillo and its luxuriously long runway. (Van Nuys has and 8,000 foot runway and a 3,000 foot runway and I can count on two hands the number of times I was able to land on the long runway.)

Some airports seems too big–Atlanta and Denver come to mind. WhenI fly somewhere, I’ve been on a plane for a while, and want to be out and on my way to my destination. I the quicker I can get from the plane and off the airport property the better. Airports that make you take shuttles and trams from one part to another slow this down and annoy me, although I’m less annoyed if I can pick up train into town directly from the airport. (I know you can do this in Denver now, but the last time I flew in there, the train was closed for some reason.)

In all of the airports I’ve flown into, both as passenger and pilot, there is one that stands out in my mind as my absolute favorite: LIH, also known as Lihue Airport on the southeastern short of the island of Kaua’i in Hawai’i. I’ve flown in and out of this airport twice. My most recent trip to this airport was in 2005, right about the time this blog got its start. But my memory of that airport has stayed with me, and I judge all other airports by it to this day.

At the time Lihue was a fairly small airport. The long runway was 6,000 feet. Much of the airport was open or outdoors, which was new for me. The single best experience I’ve ever had in an airport took place in Lihue at the end of my last trip there. My friends who I’d vacationed with had left earlier in the day. I had a red-eye to LAX and then a connecting flight to Washington Dulles–a long flight. The day before, I’d picked up a couple books in a local bookstore. One of them was Alan Alda’s Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. I got to the airport fairly early for my 10 pm flight. The United counter hadn’t opened yet. Once it did, I checked in, and then headed to the gate to make sure I knew where it was. From there, I went to the bar for one final Mai Tai.

There was an area outside the bar and some other shops that was a kind of open air sitting area. Almost no one was around. The sky was the kind of blue I’ve only ever seen in Hawai’i, and the trade winds were blowing. The air smelled amazing, and the silence was interrupted only occasionally by the rumble of jet engines. It was still something like 2 hours before my flight. It was still sunny. I found a bench, sat down, and began reading Alan Alda’s book. I was lost in words and in the feeling of the trade winds. I think if my flight had been delayed or canceled, I wouldn’t have minded in the least. I could have sat in that spot all night and been happy. It was one of the more peaceful moments I can remember, and certainly the most peaceful, relaxing time I’ve ever had in an airport.

That’s why Lihue Airport remains my favorite airport. I haven’t been back there in 15 years and I imagine it has changed some. But I’ll always remember it as it was on that day.

What are you reading back there?

There was an amusing item in the New York Times on what famous people’s bookshelves reveal. Whenever I see someone with a book, I have to know what it is. I almost never ask, since I almost never know the person in question, but I usually try to get a view of what it is they are reading. Sometimes I just wonder if it is something I have read before, sometimes I wonder if it is something that will interest me down the road. This extends to movies and television. I sometimes pause a show to see if I can identify the books on the shelves (who would have thought Isaac Asimov would show up in The Wire?) The Times article refers to the bookshelves behind the famous people in their Zoom, FaceTime, and other video chats that they are doing in this time of physical distancing.

Above is the view people see of me and one corner of my office during Zoom and Team meetings. Like many of the famous people, I have bookshelves in the background. They aren’t designed to be for show, and indeed, the two that appear in the background are 2 of 10 that encircle 3 sides of my office. That said, people may wonder, as I do, what books are on these bookshelves. The two behind me are the first alphabetically in my collection. (I arrange my books alphabetically by author, and then chronologically within a given author.) 9 of the 12 shelves in these bookcases contain books by Isaac Asimov. But there are some other interesting books here as well:

  1. A first edition history of the Civil War published in 1865.
  2. The official 4-volume chronology of the Apollo spacecraft.
  3. Asimov’s Annotated Don Juan
  4. A signed copy of Asimov’s Murder at the ABA
  5. Several signed copies of Ray Bradbury books (The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Ahmed and the Oblivion Machine, which he signed for me in December 1998.

I’ve read many, but not all of the books on these shelves.

The remaining 8 bookcases cover the C’s through Z’s. The only book I have within reach while working are Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition), Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern Usage, The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (circa 1993), 2019 World Almanac (I’m due for a new one), and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

And what am I reading while stuck at home? Yesterday I finished Camino Island by John Grisham, and today I finished The Black Echo by Michael Connelly. It’s not all light reading though. I’m currently reading The Black Ice (also by Connelly), John Adams by Page Smith, and A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram.

The Butterfly Flaps Its Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Best Reads of 2019

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

A few stats on my reading from last year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Cheering in the Pressbox by Jerome Holtzman

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

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

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

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

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

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

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

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

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


A few other notes on what I read in 2019:

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

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

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

End of Year Surprises: Robert Iger’s Book

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

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

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

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

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

Restless Reading

Few things are as frustrating as not being able to fall asleep when I am tired. I toss and turn. I get up and walk around. I lay down again. I drink some milk. I debate whether or not I should take a Tylenol PM. I worry over the time, 5 hours left, now 4 hours. At some point, I am certain that sleep will never come, not just tonight, but never again. I daydream about the good sleeps I recall. I marvel at how my three year-old can sleep so quickly and soundly. No, I will never sleep again. Of course, I do sleep again, but those nights when sleep won’t come seem endless. There is almost nothing as frustrating. Almost.

One thing more frustrating than sleepless nights are days when I can’t figure out what to read next. There are similarities between sleepless nights and what I call restless reading. I start a book that I think I will like. Almost at once I can tell there is a problem. One common symptom is that I am already thinking about what I want to read next. Other symptoms include browsing my bookshelf, or skimming my Audible library for alternatives. Generally speaking, what I am reading doesn’t fit the mood of what I want to be reading.

This is never so frustrating as when I manage to dig deep into a long book, hopeful for its promise, but increasingly nervous that it isn’t going to work out between us. This is what has happened today, when I made the rare decision to give up on a book that I had managed to read more than half of. I started reading Eye of the World by Robert Jordan while in New York this past weekend. The series is so big and vast, that I’ve been fascinated by what kind of story it could tell. I stuck with it, although I could feel my disappointment growing. Finally, this morning, after having made it more than halfway through the book, I set it aside and looked for something else.

I don’t track the books I don’t finish reading. To make it onto my reading list, I have to finish the book. But I do have a pretty good memory of what I have tried and failed to finish. Recently, list includes:

  • Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
  • The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane
  • Walt Whitman’s America by David S. Reynolds
  • The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

Rarely do I give up because the book is bad. More often, it is a bad fit for what I am craving at the moment. Right now, I am not craving fiction, and it was silly for me to try Jordan’s series at a time when I know I am not craving fiction. While reading the book, though, I found it slow. I kept thinking to myself, I could re-read The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear and have a better time.

Usually, I can identify the symptoms quicker than this, often within the first few pages, or maybe a chapter or two. That leads to a struggle of its own. I can spend hours, sometime days, unable to find something that clicks with me. I scour my physical bookshelves, my e-books, and my audiobooks. I browse my wishlists. Like those nights when it seems like sleep will never come, it seems like I will never find another book that wows me, pulls me in, and from which I don’t want to leave.

There is no cure for sleepless nights, and there is no cure for restless reading. Unlike sleepless nights, however, there are mildly effective measure I take when I fumble for what to read next. I return to my reliables. Right now, where my mind is at, those reliables consist of books by Andy Rooney and E. B. White. Though I’ve read them before, they calm my mind, and allow me to read without struggle.

I know I will eventually get through this period of restless reading. In the midst of it, it seems like it will never end, and I’ve learned that I just have to be patient and hang on. Fortunately, E. B. White has made this a bit easier for me, and Andy Rooney has made me smile through my despair.

16 Books (and Counting)

Earlier this month, I finished reading my 100th book for the year. It is the second year in a row that I have read at least 100 books. Last year, I read 130, and I don’t think that record will fall this year. However, yesterday, I set a new reading record for myself: I finished my 16th book in a single month.

Last year, there were two occasions on which I read 15 books in a month, October and November. So far, this November, I have read 16 book. I will likely complete one more book before the month is out, but it is unlikely I will finish the book that I started to read yesterday before the end of the month: Don Quixote.

The last two pages of my reading journal contains a chart and some tables where I keep these stats. I am looking forward to inking in the final number for November on Sunday morning. (The photo was from late October before I finished the month. The count in the October 2019 box is 13 books.)

The last two pages of my reading journal.

Looking at those pages gives me some sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I note that the last month in which I read nothing was January 2015, and the last month I read fewer than 5 books was September 2017. Last year I hit double-digits in 8 out of 12 months. This year it’s half that so far.

I think the chart also demonstrates I am something of an optimist. It captures my months reading stats through 2045. In 2045 I’ll be 73 years old, which still seems like a long way of. All told, the chart covers 50 years of reading. Next year will mark 25 full years that I’ve been keeping my list/journal. It will also be the year that I surpass a total of 1,000 books read since starting my list in 1996.

Settling Down to Read

My reading chair

After my morning walk, I took advantage of some quiet time to sit down to read. In one part of my new office is an old rail chair we used when the kids were babies. It is nestled right in between the Q and S sections of my bookshelves, and thus, right where any of my books would be shelved, had I any books with my name on the cover.

It was a cold morning, and after I sat down in my chair and put my feet up, I decided that I needed to take the chill out of my bones with a bowl of hot oatmeal. With the oatmeal finished, I sat down again, took some sips of my Coke, and cracked open the book I am reading. These days I usually read several books at once, and at the moment, I have 5 books in various stages of completion.

I opened to the page where I left off last night, and read less than a paragraph before a wave of guilt washed over me. I had set my empty oatmeal bowl on the kitchen counter because the green light was glowing on the dishwasher, and the green light means that the dishes have been cleaned. I’ve been trying to be better about these things, not leaving it to others to empty the dishwasher, so I took another sip of my Coke, and set about emptying the dishwasher. And since I was there, I took the dishes that had stacked up on the counter and put them in the now-emptied appliance.

With that chore done, and my conscience clear, I returned to my chair sipped some more Coke, and cracked open the book once more. I looked around the room, three sides of which are surrounded my windows. The rising sun in the east was shining in through the back windows, and a beam of sunlight happened to catch on the bottle of vitamins I’d placed by my desk so that I wouldn’t forget to take them in the morning.

Of course, I’d forgotten to take them this morning.

I could have just sat there and continued to read my book, but I knew if I didn’t get up and take the vitamins now, they would slip my mind and I’d forget to take them at all. So up I went, took my vitamins, washing them down with a swig of Coke (the can was now almost empty and I’d barely started to read!) and settled once more into my chair, my book in my lap, determined to start.

And start I did, but I didn’t get through more than two or three pages before I noticed the noises from the kids devices in the next room intruding on my peace and quiet. (We have yet to install French doors between my office and the living room.) I wondered, momentarily, what to do, when I spotted my Bose headset on the desk nearby. I got up, grabbed the headset, sat back down, put covered my ears and flipped the switch on the side. Suddenly, I was immersed in silence.

I began to read and the world fell away, as it often does when I am immersed in a book. One page, two pages, three pages. Then a familiar sensation. I closed the book, set it in my lap, and frowned at the empty can of Coke on the shelf beside me. I looked longingly toward the bathroom on the other side of the house, and got up once more.

With that done, I sat down once again, book in my lap, and began to read. Twenty minutes had passed since I’d started, and I’d gotten nowhere. The quiet moment had passed, but I’m nothing if not determined, and I was going to spend the rest of the hour reading this book. I read a page, and then another one. I kept thinking about the interruptions and how these days, this really wasn’t uncommon for me. Indeed, it was kind of echo to the daily rhythms. After all, often while working on something, I will, for no reason interrupt what I am doing to check what’s happening on Facebook, or Twitter, or to see if there are any interesting new blog posts–eureka!

I dropped the book, sprang up from my chair, dashed across the office to my desk, where I sat and began to write a little essay about the joys and delights of settling down to read on a quiet Saturday morning.

100 Books in 2019!

Last year, I read 130 books. It was the first time I had ever surpassed 100 books in a year. Indeed, it was the first time I’d read more than 60 books in a year. It seemed like an outlier. So when it came time to set a goal in Goodreads Reading Challenge, I opted for a more modest 100 books. (Originally, I was aiming for 148 books, but scaled it back after I thought about attempting some longer books.)

This morning, I finished reading Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson, and thus, finished my 100th book of 2019. It makes the 130 books of 2018 seem like less of an outlier. Indeed, given my pace this year, I’d estimate that I’ll finish between 115-120 total before the year is out.

So far, the mix is 68 nonfiction, 32 fiction. I’ve been very heavy on nonfiction these last several years, and the reason for so much fiction is due in large part to my reading the entire Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson this year. I found that to be one of the most enjoyable series I have ever read.

94 of the 100 books have been audiobooks. Audiobooks are the real reason I am able to read as much as I do, and I am grateful for them. 5 have been paper books, and 1 has been an e-book.

The total comes to 38,373 pages. That seems like a lot, but last year, my page total was 61,545 pages. I don’t think I’ll come close to surpassing that, even if I manage to read 120 books this year.

Anyway, as soon as I finished my 100th book of the year, I started right in on the 101st. It happens to be Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson, the most recent Longmire novel to be published. Once that is done, I’ll be all caught up with Walt and the gang until next year. I suspect much of the remainder of the year will be on nonfiction.

But I never really know where the butterfly effect of reading will take me

Lab Book for a Novel, Day 3: Reading While Writing

More than 24 hours passed between my second and third writing session, but still three days in a row. I wrote yesterday early in the morning, before 5 am. Today, I just finished my day’s writing at almost 7 pm. I managed 620 words, so that’s three days above my 500 words/day quota. Today’s writing felt a little choppy–I felt like I was throwing a little too much out there at once. But I resisted the temptation to go back and change anything,. Right now I just need to keep moving forward.

On the plane out to L.A. I finished re-reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I think I’ve read this book 7 times now. It is the only book on writing I have ever read and found value in. I re-read it now and then for inspiration, especially when starting something new.

Having finished it on the plane, I needed something else to read, so I started reading Mary Robinette Kowal‘s The Calculating Stars. I stopped reading science fiction several years back, not for any particular reason. I just wanted to read other things, mostly nonfiction, but other types of fiction as well. But I will be attending Capclave next month, and it seemed like I should have read something recent in the genre, especially since I will be on panels there.

The book, so far, is amazing. I’m always impressed when writers do a good job at something technical. One of the main characters in Mary’s book is a pilot, and as a former pilot myself, I was impressed with Mary’s descriptions of flying. But the story is very good, too, and therein lies a problem for me.

When I am writing a story, I really can’t read fiction. I usually avoid it. But Mary’s book is so good that I just have to keep reading. And I suspect, by the time I finish it (maybe tomorrow on the plane home) that I’ll want to jump right into The Fated Sky, sequel to The Calculating Stars.

All of this is to say that Mary’s book is very, very good. So good, that I am breaking my own rule of avoiding reading fiction while I am writing fiction. The rule exists not so much because I am afraid what I am writing will be influenced by what I am reading. Instead, I worry that, given my limited time, I will choose to read her novel instead of work on my own. It’s fine to skip a day here or there, but if I start to skip too much, I start to lose the continuing of what I am writing.

In any case, three days into my own novel, I’ve got about 2,500 words written, and I think I might be closing in on the end of the first chapter. I don’t know how other writers think in terms of chapters. I generally write and number scenes, but as I go, I get sense that several scenes fit together in a collection that is properly called a chapter, and that is how I label them. I think chapter one will be done tomorrow or maybe Friday.