Tag Archives: reading

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.

Fiction Cravings

Despite the best laid plans, the butterfly has flapped its wings, and instead of hitting up that list of nonfiction books I’d planned to tear through, I’ve found myself with a fiction-craving, which is similar to a fast-food craving for me these days. It doesn’t come as often as it used to.

It started with a re-reading of ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I followed that up with a re-reading of Bag of Bones. I forgot how good that book was and I enjoyed it much more the second time around (I think I first read it in 2012). Last night I bounced around quite a bit, even reading half of Hell House by Richard Matheson before giving up on it (it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be). Late last night (or very early this morning), as I had trouble drifting off, I decided to switch to Harry Bosch, and started where I’d left off, with Trunk Music. That seems to have stuck for now.

I enjoy character novels like the Bosch books. I think my favorite of this type is Craig Johnson’s Longmire books, which I absolutely love. But the thing I like about Bosch is that they are set in L.A. and having lived in L.A. for nearly 20 years, many of the places are familiar to me. I can see them that much more clearly and that makes for a better over all story.

Michael Connelly has to be a fairly prolific writer and that kind of thing impresses the writer in me. I always wonder how some writers can be so prolific and still maintain what I consider to be high quality in their writing. There are, by my count, 23 Bosch novels that have appeared between 1992 and 2021, a period of 29 years. Consider, however, Connelly wrote 15 additional books in the overall “Bosch” universe making for a total of 38 books in a 29 year period. I guess that’s what it means to play in the big leagues.

These are great books to read over a long holiday weekend like the one that begins at 5 pm local today. After a spate of great (and sometimes very hot!) spring weather, things look cool and dreary this weekend with lots of rain. Reading Bosch novels, at least I can imagine I am in a place with some better weather than what we’ll be having on the traditional opening weekend of summer here on the east coast.

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.

Visualizing History and Science

Yesterday, I walked across the Beringia with a branch of Ancestral Native Americans, ancestors to the First Peoples. Later, I boated with them down the western coast of North American, several thousand years earlier. In both cases, I took note of what I saw around me, even though none of that was described in the article I happened to be reading in the May issue of Scientific American. I marveled that this was all happened 15,000 years before what history books typically describe as history. I watched as some of the people stopped to form settlements while others continued south. I watched their struggles a they emerged from colder climates into more mild ones. I couldn’t understand what they said, but I saw an occasional smile, heard and occasional laugh, or a shout of anger.

I can only speak for myself, but this is what happens inside my head when I read. Whether it is a novel, a book on the history of computing, or a science article on genetic and archaeological discoveries about how the Americas were populated, they somehow come alive in my mind. Reading an Isaac Asimov essay on, say, an electron, I am swept into its orbit, where the electron itself appears as a big world. Reading an article on supernovae, I don’t see the words, but instead, I’m hovering somewhere on the outskirts of the unfortunate star, impervious to harm, but able to witness the blast, and see the shock waves forming.

Thinking about those people crossing the land bridge into North America, I imagined them seeing deer flitting about. In my mind, their reaction wasn’t much different than the reaction I had this morning when several deer crossed my path on my morning walk. I paused to observe them, I watched their movements, curious about their behavior.

Maybe this is what is meant when someone is said to be a visual thinker. It is just how my mind has always worked. Science isn’t a bunch of equations and theories in my mind. It is a narrative, a story that unfolds as I read, and one that I see as clearly as I see the stories that unfold from novels, or history, or virtually any other type of reading I do.

When I think about evolution and genetics, it is less about the theories, though I think I understand them quite well, but more about the practice. There is Darwin, hip-deep in muck, collecting samples. There is Mendel, bent over his garden, gnarled hands touching every budding pea plant.

In science articles, timescales often become incomprehensible. How it is possible to imagine 15,000 years, or 14 billion years, when I haven’t even lived half a century? My mind plays little tricks to convey these distances, but I doubt any of them really get the message across in a comprehensible way.

There is so much history and science to read that it seems impossible to come close to scratching the surface on most of it. Perhaps one of the most profound and delightful reveries I have when considering these vast histories is that they are just a spec in the potential histories out in the universe. If other intelligent life exists somewhere else, just think of the histories they carry with them, multiplied over and over again. Are there common threads? Is Romeo and Juliette a uniquely human story? Is the struggle for rational thought a battle fought again and again, in those rare and delectable places, as Throeau once wrote, “in some remote and more celestial corner of the system, behind the constellation of Cassiopeia’s Chair, far from noise and disturbance”?

Isaac Asimov and Information Theory

I have been reading a lot about information theory these last two months. In the course of this reading, the same people keep showing up again and again. Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, Claude Shannon, J. C. R. Lichlider, Marvin Minsky, Norbert Wiener, and John McCarthy to name just a few.

It is the last few that caught my attention. Having read much of what Isaac Asimov wrote over the course of his life–including his 3-volume autobiography, which I’ve read at least 14 times–the last three names were already familiar. Marvin Minsky, Norbert Wiener, and John McCarthy were mentioned a number of times in the second volume of Asimov’s autobiography, In Joy Still Felt.

Asimov knew them in his years living in the Boston area. All three worked in information theory at M.I.T. Asimov, who had quite the ego, said of Minsky that he was one of two people that was smarter than Asimov himself. The other was Carl Sagan. At a party for Asimov’s 50th birthday which both Sagan and Minsky attended, Asimov wrote that “Carl did not fail to point out that I had in the same room with me the two men I conceded were more intelligent than I was.”

Minksy was involved with robotics at the time. Norbert Wiener coined the term “cybernetics.” He also tried to get Asimov to collaborate on a mystery with him. McCarthy worked with Minsky on artificial intelligence.

Thinking back on this, it seemed that Asimov’s interaction with these men was purely social, and a matter of proximity, and knowing the same people. What is remarkable to me is that, knowing these people at the forefront of information theory, I can’t think of a single instance where Asimov wrote about information theory in the way he wrote about other sciences. He had the best and the brightest in the field over to his house, but as far as I can tell, he never showed any intellectual interest in the theory.

Sure, Asimov wrote about robots and the Three Laws, but that is not information theory. Asimov wrote about entropy in physics and chaos theory, but not about the parallels between entropy and information. He wrote popular pieces about using computers, but I could find a single essay in the 399 monthly science columns he wrote for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from the late 50s until his death in 19922 that went into any detail on information theory. The closet I can come are 2 essays in the 1970s.

The first, “The Age of the Computer” is really more about the impact of computers on society, not information theory. The other, perhaps a little closer, is “The Ancient and the Ultimate” is about how information is contained (book form or digital).

I can’t explain this lack, especially given his camaraderie with Minsky, McCarty and Wiener. Asimov admitted that there were certain fields he simply didn’t understand. Economics was one such example that he gave. Could information theory have been another? After all, he did admit that Minsky was more intelligent than he was. By implication, could that mean he just didn’t get information theory?

It’s too bad, really. I would love to read an F&SF-style essay on information theory written by Asimov.

Reading Phases

I seem to be caught in the midst of one of my occasional reading phases. This is when I read many books on the same subject in a relatively short period of time. If I look through my reading list, I can find quite a few of these phases. They often last five or six books before I move onto a different subject. This one has lasted 9 books so far.

I find the history of computing fascinating, perhaps because I grew up with computers, and perhaps simply because I enjoy history. This recent phase has seen me go through the following books:

In the background, I have also been slowly making my way through Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter.

So far, my favorite of these books has been Brian Kernighan’s UNIX: A History and a Memoir. I also really enjoyed George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral.

I’m not quite ready to give up this phase. As I was dosing off last night, thinking about my morning walk, I realized that I would miss listening to the Alan Turing biography. There are at least 2 other books I hope to get through before this phase ends. They are:

Of course, I am open to others if anyone has any suggestions.

Meanwhile, to balance all of the technology, I’ve started a second attempt at reading Page Smith’s biography of John Adams. There isn’t an electronic version of this book, which means for at least a small portion of my day, my eyes aren’t focused on a screen.

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!

9 Things to Like About LATER by Stephen King

Stephen King’s new book, Later came out on Tuesday, and by the time I closed my eyes Tuesday evening I had finished it. It was a great book and I figured I’d list some spoiler-free things I liked about the book in case any one else was thinking of giving it a try.

My Hard Case Crime trade paper editions of Later and Joyland by Stephen King
My Hard Case Crime trade paper editions of Later and Joyland by Stephen King
  1. It was as short novel. Well, short for Stephen King. It weighed in at 248 pages. That’s on par with the other Hard Case Crime novels King has published, like Joyland and The Colorado Kid. I think it is actually shorter than The Langoliers or The Mist.
  2. The main character’s name is Jamie. How could I not like a book with a main character that is my namesake. In fact, this isn’t the first SK book I’ve read with a lead named Jamie. His novel Revival also features a lead named Jamie.
  3. The premise of the book is a kid who can see dead people–and King acknowledges the Bruce Willis character in The Sixth Sense early on. King explores avenues (dark corridors?) that went unexplored by the film.
  4. The story is told as a story being written by the main character, similar to 11/22/63.
  5. Readers who enjoyed It might like this one.
  6. I liked Jamie’s voice in the novel. When I can manage to write a story, it is the voice that it always the most important thing for me to find to get started.
  7. A house in the book is called the Marsden house. People who’ve read ‘Salem’s Lot might enjoy that coincidence. Or is it a coincidence?
  8. The book really was a page-turner for me, one that I couldn’t put down. Joyland is an understated mystery and that’s one of the things I liked about it. This one is a blood-pumping horror story.
  9. In many ways, the story, and Jamie, reminded me of Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside and its protagonist, David Selig.

When I started this list, I thought about making it 19 things to like about Later, but l decided to keep my whimsy in check. This really was a great read, and while it was short, and over quickly, I’m glad at least that Stephen King has another novel coming out later this year, Billy Summers. I only have 150 more days to wait for it.

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.

A Weekend Traveling the World

I spent the weekend traveling the world, an event I had been training for my entire life. That training was inspired by–although I didn’t know it at the time–a talk with my mom when I was 5 or 6 years old, about the value of books. “Books can take you anywhere,” I remember her telling me. I seemed always to interpret things she told me literally, so there I was, youngster just beginning to read, and discovering just how book could take me places.

I quickly began to develop my imagination, realizing that this was the boarding pass required to turn pages of words in experiences. I drew a lot, I read more and more, I began to write my own stories. The earliest story I remember writing was for a social studies project in 3rd grade. Around that time I grew interested in airplanes and flying. I had no access to planes, but access to The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual and from that, I learned to draw control panels and would use those drawing to pretend I was flying a plane here and there.

The more I wrote, the more I read, the more my imagination improved. It was a painfully slow process day-to-day, but exercising it as I did, year in and year out, seemed to hone my imagination in to something I had more and more control over. I wrote more stories, I began submitting them, and eventually, even began to sell them. I greatly expanded the focus of my reading–from what was initially mostly science and science fiction to everything and anything that could interest me. I’ve often thought it interesting that, when reading an essay about quantum mechanics, I visualize what is being described as if I could actually see it. When reading about the death of a star by supernova, I am there, hovering at the outskirts of that unfortunate solar system to witness the event.

Stories pull me in, and the world melts away. It is a wonderful talent to have, although it has its darker side. I often envision what-if scenarios, and that same imagination makes them often feel too real for comfort.

We like getting out as family. We like road trips, both long and short, and in years past, our weekends would often be full of exploring nearby places (sometimes to the point where I needed a weekend off, just to relax). We’d drive down to Florida a few times a years, stopping a places along the way. We’d drive up to Maine in the summers doing the same. For a year now, we’ve been mostly stuck at home like everyone else, and then need to get out has been growing, even in me, someone perfectly content to stay in. It is an irony we are all currently experiencing that I am desperate to travel and cannot.

Which is how I came to Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar on Saturday morning. I enjoy travel books, but hadn’t read anything by Theroux and so first thing Saturday, after building a fire in the fireplace, I sat with the book and traveled (mostly by train) from London through the Mid-East, and into India, and then up to Japan, and across the Trans-Siberian Railroad arriving, early Sunday morning, back in London.

This was the event that I had been training for all these years since my mom first put the idea in my head that books could take me anywhere. I back in time and across and across large swaths of the world in little over a day, sitting on my couch, in front of a fire, with temperatures in the teens outside. I didn’t feel like reading. It felt like traveling, it felt like I was there. I could see it, smell it, taste it, hear it. It was wonderful.

I finished The Great Railway Bazarr this morning, and decided I needed more, so now I am making my way Theroux’s 3 collections of essays (starting with the most recent one). The weekend may be coming to an end, but my travels, it seems, are just beginning.