Tag Archives: reading

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.

Books I’m Looking Forward to in October

October may be a rare month for boys* but it looks to be a great month for books. I don’t know why, but there are a ton of books that I am looking forward to reading coming out in October. Here are some of them:

  • Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson (October 8)
  • Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews (October 15)
  • Edison by Edmund Morris (October 22)
  • The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski (October 22)
    Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré (October 22)
  • Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography by David S. Reynolds (October 29)
  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (Full cast audiobook starring Meryl Streep) (October 29)
  • Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child (October 29)

These are just books coming out in October, above and beyond the books I have queued up to read soon. Having recently gone through my worst reading drought in nearly two years (I read only 5 books in August, my lowest since January 2018), it is an embarras de richesse to have so many books to look forward to.

*A reference to Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Some Summer Reading

As one who likes to tempt fate, here is a list of some of my upcoming reading for the rest of June and early July. I say “tempt fate” because as I have said before, my reading is guided almost entirely by the butterfly-effect of reading. In other words, I make plans, and the butterflies laugh. That said, here’s what I am looking at:

  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (currently reading)
  • No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman (currently reading)
  • All Those Mornings…At the Post by Shirley Povich
  • The Great American Sports Page edited by John Schulian
  • The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found by Voilel Moller
  • One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew Us to the Moon by Charles Fishman
  • Range: When Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
  • Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir by Linnie Marsh Wolfe
  • On Democracy by E. B. White
  • Ten Innings at Wrigley by Barry Abrams
  • Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide
  • The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
  • An Army At Dawn: The War in North Africa (1942-1943) by Rick Atkinson
  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

I spent most of Sunday reading

Last night, the oppressive heat wave finally broke.

I spent much of the day indoors and trying to move as little as possible. I read. Specifically, I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Bag of Bones. Prior to that (while in Maine) I read his recent collection, Full Dark, No Stars, and enjoyed it and found myself once again wanting to read more King. It comes in waves now, I see, as I look back over my list. (Bag of Bones is the 18th Stephen King book I’ve read.)

I’m not certain why I chose it. I was considering a re-read of It (something I am still considering, but more on that another time) and decided that I should read something I hadn’t read yet. I know I’m not yet ready for The Dark Tower series; and Cujo wasn’t doing it for me. So I picked Bag of Bones because it sounded intriguing. It is supposed to be a ghost story and I’m dubious of ghost stories.

Except that so far, it is a fantastic ghost story. And I spent all of yesterday, hidden away from the head and tearing my way through about 300 pages of the novel, enjoying every minute of it. Part of the enjoyment comes from identifying with the narrator–I am not a successfully novelist as this narrator is; but I am a writer and I can empathize with his struggles. Part of it comes from the setting. We are just back from a short vacation in Maine1 and we really had a blast, so it was a nice to return there so soon. But mostly, it’s been a compelling ghost story, which I didn’t think was possible. I started the day about 175 pages into the book, and finally put down the book, reluctantly, nearly 300 pages later when I finally forced myself to go to sleep. Work in the morning, and an early meeting with London.

According to the Kindle app, I’m two-thirds of the way through the book at the moment, and I expect to finish in the next day or two. I’m not sure I can recall offhand the last time I read 300 pages in a single day–certainly not since the kids were born! But I am eager to continue, and despite all of my meetings today (long, long meetings) I had the same kind of anticipatory excitement for the end of the day that I get when I am about to head off on vacation.

But I suppose that makes sense, after all: a good book is very much like taking a vacation.


  1. Vacation posts are forthcoming.

Why read the book?

Over on her blog, fellow Arlington Writers Group member, Colleen Moore asks, “Why read the book when you can watch the movie?” She has some interesting comparisons between movies that live up to the books. But she concludes by asking, “So, why read the book?”

I think it is an important enough question to reproduce my response here:

We read because we want to actively participate in the creation of the story. It is a collaborative effort with the author and if they are good at their job, and we have a half-decent imagination, the words disappear and we experience the story completely and three-dimensionally in our heads. And there’s nothing quite like that.

That has been my experience, anyway. It is why books like Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones and Isaac Asimov’s Forward the Foundation and W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes have left me breathless, worn out, and utterly amazed.

A movie–even HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation–has never had quite the same effect on me.

My annual Asimov autobiography re-read

I started reading Isaac Asimov’s retrospective memoir, I. Asimov last night.

I’ve written here often enough about my ritual, each April, where I read Isaac Asimov’s 3 autobiography volumes. I always read I. Asimov first, even though that was written last, because that one is a retrospective of his whole life. In the epilogue, Janet Asimov writes of Isaac’s death, and I don’t want to end on a sad note. So once that book is finished, I turn to the first volume of his massive autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, and follow that up immediately with In Joy Still Felt, so that when I am all done (after nearly 1,000,000 words worth of reading!) Asimov is still alive and well in 1979.

I was a senior in college when the hardcover of I. Asimov first came out. Believe it or not, I hadn’t read a whole lot of Asimov at the time. My science fiction experience was still very narrow-focused on a few writers (like Piers Anthony) that I had discovered as a teenager. But I bought the first edition hardcover (it was on the bestseller lists, if I recall) and took it back to my apartment to start reading. Almost immediately, I fell in love with Asimov’s colloquial style. It was as if he was sitting in my living room, telling me the story, instead of my reading it off the page. I was also fascinated by his life story, not so much because anything exciting happened, but because in many ways, he was so normal, yet became a great science and science fiction writer–it was almost like reading an instruction manual on How To Do It.

Continue reading My annual Asimov autobiography re-read

Goals for 2012: Novel reading

Because of my focus on short fiction, novel reading has taken a backseat the last few years, and I imagine that will continue for the next few years. Novels are more of a time investment and with everything else going on, something has to take a backseat. That said, here are a few goals for my novel-reading in 2012:

1. Get current on George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire

In 2011, I read the first 3 books in the series and enjoyed them all immensely. I’d like to catch up with the last two in 2012. Finding the time to do that might be tricky, but given what I’ve read in the first three, I think it would be worth the effort.

2. Re-read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land

Michael Burstein’s recent post convinced me to do this. It took me 3 tries to get through Stranger the first time and after I finished it, I decidedly didn’t like it. But my experience has broadened and my attitudes have changed in the dozen or more years that have passed since I read it. I think it is time to give it another try.

3. Start Stephen King’s Gunslinger series

Enough people have said enough good things about it that I think it’s worth taking the time to read at least the first book in the series.

4. Read some Mike Resnick

I’ve never read a Mike Resnick novel. It’s about time I corrected that. I know that he and Jack McDevitt have a collaborative novel coming out in 2012, but that doesn’t count. I want to read a good, representative Resnick novel. And I’m open to suggestions on this one.

Goals for 2012: Short fiction reading

I’ve written about how I love short science fiction. Back in September I gave myself a goal of reading a piece of short fiction a day. In other words, 365 stories a year (or in 2012, 366, since it is a leap year). I’ve done pretty well since September and so my short fiction reading goals for fairly simple for 2012:

1. Read 1 story each day

Well, on average anyway. There are days when I am too busy to squeeze in the short story reading. But there are other days when I’ll read 2 or 3 stories. If it all evens out, I’d like to have read about 350 stories by this time next year.

2. Try to learn something about the craft from each story

Currently, I make a short 1-sentence note about each story I read to remind me of the plot. When you read hundreds of stories a year, it is sometimes hard to remember them all. This has helped a lot. In 2012, I’d like to add a second sentence about how the story taught me something about the craft of short story writing. I imagine this won’t always be possible, but it is something to aim for.

3. Diversify

Right now I read stories in all sorts of magazines. But my reading patterns–how I choose the stories that I read–often fall into something like this: (a) it’s by an author I love; (b) it’s about something I enjoy; (c) lots of word-of-mouth about the story or author; (d) it’s by someone I know personally.

In 2012, I’d like to try and spread out a little more, read stories by people I’ve never heard of, stories that are maybe out of my normal comfort zone. For instance, I generally don’t read the fantasy stories in F&SF but it might be something worth trying–it’s outside my comfort zone. Ditto with steampunk stories. I’m not talking about moving away from what I enjoy reading, but instead, doing a better job as sampling a wider array of stories and authors.

Keep in mind that in some respect I already do this: in my Vacation in the Golden Age, I read issues of Astounding cover-to-cover and often encounter stories that I might not have chosen to read, but I read them because they are part of my Vacation, part of the history of the Golden Age and I see value there.

Reason #67 to love short fiction

If you have to walk somewhere, you can read an entire short story on the way there. And another one one the way back.

What I was reading on November 28 over the last 15 years

Just because I felt like posting it:

  • 1996: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • 1997Today and Tomorrow and… by Isaac Asimov
  • 1998: Nothing1
  • 1999The Eternal Footman by James Morrow
  • 2000Foundation2 by Isaac Asimov
  • 2001The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
  • 2002A History of the American People by Paul Johnson
  • 2003The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
  • 2004Gateway by Frederik Pohl
  • 2005: Nothing
  • 2006Humans by Robert J. Sawyer
  • 2007: Nothing
  • 2008Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow
  • 2009Under the Dome by Stephen King
  • 2010The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt
  • 2011: Insomnia by Stephen King

So what is it you tend to be reading toward the end of November?


  1. This means I’d finished one book but hadn’t yet started another.
  2. I think this was the 6th time I’d read the book