Category: books

Thoughts on Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek

There are certain people I can read about endlessly. John Quincy Adams is one. And Franklin D. Roosevelt is another. In the former case, I’m fascinated by who I think was probably the most intelligent president the United States ever had. In the latter case, I’m amazed that a person such as Roosevelt happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right set of skills to lead the country out of dark times. I’ve read two previous biographies of FDR: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s outstanding book, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt on the Home Front in World War II, and Jon Meacham’s Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship. The former focused on the years of the Second World War, and the latter on the extraordinary relationship between FDR and Winston Churchill.

But I still thoroughly enjoyed Robert Dallek’s Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life, which more broadly captures Roosevelt’s political gifts throughout his life, although focusing primarily on his presidency. One reason I can keep reading about FDR is that he is endlessly fascinating. Born to privilege, he aimed to help the masses. Paralyzed from the waist down due to polio, he nevertheless maintained a generally cheerful disposition. He had his darker sides: his affairs, as well as his decision to set aside the rights of Japanese American citizens during the Second World War and collect them in camps. People loved him and people hated him. In the polarizing times that we live in today, there is something reassuring that democratic politics, at least, has always been polarizing and what we are experience today is more of the same. History, as the saying goes, is doomed to repeat itself.

I’m also impressed by hard workers, and those who don’t give up. Despite his inability to use his legs, FDR won election as president in a dark time, and through will and hard work, brought about changes that pulled the nation from the brink of disaster. During the war, even as his health declined, he worked tirelessly–and to the detriment of his own well-being–to see the fight through to the end. Dallek’s book provides a view of Roosevelt as a shrewd politician, and a leader through tough times. Despite all of that, he could be self-deprecating, relating the following story:

“Eleanor was just in here after a morning appointment with her doctor. ‘So, what did he say about that big ass of yours?'” Franklin reported himself as asking. “Oh, Franklin,” she replied, “He had nothing at all to say about you.”

His relationship with Winston Churchill was well-documented in Jon Meacham’s Franklin and Winston, to say nothing of William Manchester’s outstanding 3-volume biography of Churchill. What struck me reading Dallek’s book was the sheer coincidence of two capable, and charismatic leaders rising to power at a time when the world needed these leaders. It is coincidences like this that make history so fascinating, and so arbitrary.

The biggest irony of Roosevelt’s life is that he worked himself to death to see the Allies win the war, only to die before Germany and Japan surrendered. He died 18 days before Hitler’s suicide. I’ve read several dozen biographies of U.S. Presidents and I almost always come away from them not understanding why anyone would want the job. It is a job for which there is no adequate job description, a job for which, no previous experience can truly prepare you. It is a job that visibly ages the men who have taken it. And it certainly took Roosevelt’s life. I was returning from my morning walk, listening to the audio book edition of the book when FDR died, and though I knew it was coming, it still brought tears to my eyes. I had the feeling, expressed so well by Winston Churchill on learning of Roosevelt’s death:

I felt as if I had been struck a physical blow. My relations with this shining personality had played a large part in the long, terrible years we worked together. Now they had come to an end, and I was overpowered by a sense of deep and irrepressible loss.

I didn’t want the book to be over. I didn’t want it to be over so much, that I queued up another FDR biography, H. W. Brand’s A Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which I plan to read sometime in the next couple of weeks.

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Really. Big. Books.

Beach reading for the long weekend

There is something about really long books that I find irresistible. The longer the better. As a bibliophile, Really. Long. Books. are almost a fetish with me. I suppose that part of it is simply that when I am reading a good book, I never want it to end. I find myself looking to see how much more I have left before it is all over. With a really big book (which I will hereafter refer to as an RBB), I might be 500 pages in and still have 600 pages to go. That is always heartening, especially when I am enjoying what i am reading. If I read a review of a book and somewhere it mentions its RBB-ness, positively or negatively, I immediately have to investigate.

What constitutes an RBB? The answer is different for everyone. For me, when a book hits at least 700 or 800 pages, it’s an RBB. I was thinking about RBBs because this evening, I began reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which at 1,079 pages, certainly meets my RBB criteria.

RBBs can be challenging for a number of reasons. They are so long that I sometimes make it further into an RBB than I might a book of normal length before deciding it doesn’t work for me. RBBs are an investment, but they also require trust. You have to have a good sense of what you think you’ll like when you invest time in an RBB. When an RBB works out, it is great, but it also takes longer to read than your normal-sized book. In the time it would take me to read Infinite Jest, for instance, I could read five normal-sized books. That makes for another challenge, one I’ve often heard from magazine editors when accepting or rejecting a novelette or novella: is this long story worth the space that two or three shorter stories might take? Or, for my RBB, is the book worth the time that three or four other books might take?

Not every RBB I’ve tried works out. Earlier this year I tried reading Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hafstader, which, at just over 700 pages, barely qualifies as an RBB. But I couldn’t get through it.

Some RBBs I’ve read several times. Stephen King’s It is one example.That book is over 1,000 pages and I have read it at least five times.

I love RBBs, but there is something I love even more than an RBB: a series of RBBs. These are not easy to come across, but late last year, I began reading Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series. The first book in the series, The Way of Kings is just over 1,000 pages. Each subsequent book gets longer and longer until the forth and most recent is over 1,200 pages. And there are supposed to be 10 books in this series when it is finished! I’ve read the first three so far, and will eventually get around to the fourth.

There are also series of RBBs that are nonfiction. Perhaps my favorite is Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization which is an 11-volume history of human civilization. The first book came out in 1935 and the last in 1975. Many of the books in this series are in the 800-900 page range, with the forth installment, The Age of Faith, being the longest at nearly 1,200 pages. The 11 volumes total 13,549 pages. I’ve read the first six books in the series.

Some RBBs I’ve collected but not yet read. I got them because they were RBBs but also because the subjects were fascinating and I was amazed that there could be such detail in a subject to warrant the length. There are books that sit on my shelves, calling to me now and then, but which I won’t likely get to until I have time to concentrate on them more fully. Two examples: Stephen Jay Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, which comes in at around 1,400 pages; and Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson’s The Ants, which is an RBB both in page count and stature. The book is enormous!

I don’t know if I will make it through Infinite Jest or not. I know it doesn’t qualify for what many people consider to be beach reading, but that’s what I am taking with me to the beach. There’s nothing quite like sun, surf, sand, and a good RBB to keep your mind occupied while your kids are bury you in the sand.

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My Book Collection: A Library and Antilibrary All in One

I am trying to remember what my book collection looked like in high school. It was, at most, half a shelf of paperbacks. Probably ten or fewer. Until I headed off to college, most of the books I read came from the Granada Hills branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. In those days before college, it often seems like I spent a large chunk of my summers in the library. Once in college, however, I began to buy books and keep them. As Dickens said, it was the best of times and the worst of times for collecting books. The best, because I had my own space, and a small bookshelf on which I could keep my nascent collection; the worst, because I could not really afford to buy books, and always did so with trepidation and anxiety.

I went to school in the age before ubiquitous digital cameras and I know of no film of my burgeoning collection in its earliest stages, but if memory serves me, there were several Piers Anthony books, mostly paperbacks but a few hardcovers, especially of his newer stuff. There were some Harlan Ellison books, including a copy of Deathbird Stories, which still sits on my shelves today. It contains “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. There was a paperback copy of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, and there was a paperback copy of Jumper by Steven Gould. By the time I was close to graduation in June 1994, there was a hardcover copy of I. Asimov by Isaac Asimov. It, and two other books, one Tony Robbins and one books on note-taking that was a game-changer for me, but which I’ve lost to the ages, made of the trio of nonfiction books on my shelf. I think that by the time I graduated, I had 15-20 books, not counting books for school.

Twenty-seven years later, my book collection has grown from those 15-20 volumes to something over 1,000 paper volumes. Eleven bookshelves fill three sides of my office. And while there is room to grow, it is extremely limited and that limited room has dictated how I add to my collection over time.

the books behind my desk
The books behind my desk.

The books that make it onto the shelves, the ones that survive the occasional purges and donations to local libraries and schools, are there for two reasons: (1) they are part of what I think of as a collection, one that has value to me; and (2) they are there as a reference for me to use when needed.

With each move, my books collection has grown as space permits. At some point, I began to think of it as a library as much as a collection. And with space limitations, what goes into the library is dictated by its value to me as a collector’s item. This became much easier to do when e-books and audio books made it easy to get a book that takes up no physical space. Books that I want to read but that don’t need to be part of a physical collection go into the digital library. Books that I want to be able to hold in my hands, books that have special value to me, go on the shelves.

Back when I started collecting books in college, e-books were nowhere in my imagination. When they first came out, I was dubious, as any bibliophile might be, but their convenience and ease of access quickly outweighed any objection I might have had to not having a physical copy in my hand. I bought my first e-book in 2008, and as of this writing, there are 512 e-books in my virtual library. I had a harder time with audio books. For a long time, I thought I could not listen to an audio book, that the added dimension would not work for me. Boy, was I ever wrong! Today, I use the term “reading” even when I listen to an audio book because I firmly believe they are equivalent–at least in terms of the text. As of this writing, I have 1,090 audio books in my Audible library. Putting all of this together, I have about 2,700 books in my collection, accumulated over 27 years, for a growth rate of about 100 books per year on average.

That’s a lot of books. Of the books sitting on the shelves in my office, or in virtual libraries in Amazon and Audible, I’ve probably read less than half. That number–the number of books I own but haven’t yet read–continues to grow as I accumulate more books. In a recent post, my friend Mike refers to these books–those that he owns but hasn’t read–as his TBR books (to-be-read) and they can feel daunting. Why, one might ask as he does in his post, should one continue to accumulate new books when there are already so many books on your shelves that you haven’t read?

I had an intuition for why I continue to do this, but it wasn’t until I read a post on Brain Picking’s about Umberto Eco’s antilibrary that I fully understood what it was I was doing. The key passage in that piece was a quote about Eco’s thoughts on books:

The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Reading is, and always has been, the primary way I learn things. I’ve often said that grade school taught me to read, high school taught me to think about what I read, and college taught me to learn. Since then, reading has been all about learning for me. Despite taking AP classes in biology, and physics, as well as chem and o-chem in college, I continue to believe that almost everything I’ve learned about science, I learned from Isaac Asimov. I continue to accumulate books, despite having more unread books than read ones, for the very reason Eco describes: unconsciously or not, I want my library to contain as much of what I don’t know as I can manage. Mike’s TBR books are my antilibrary.

The other side of my office and most of the other bookshelves.

My library has gone through occasional purges, some of them tougher than others. The biggest and most recent was one in which I donated more than 200 books. These were books that I felt would not really damage my collection if they went away. They included nearly 100 Piers Anthony books that I’d painstakingly accumulated from those high school days. Indeed, I kept only a few Piers Anthony book, ones that I particularly enjoyed read, and one, Race Against Time, that I remember first reading in the Granada Hills library sometime in the 1980s and absolutely loving as a kid. I got rid of most of the Tom Clancy books I’d picked up, and all kinds of paperbacks. What stayed was the nonfiction, the stuff I hadn’t read, the stuff I didn’t yet know about.

My collection includes rare books, some of them dating back to 1865. I’ve got many signed books, most of which I was able to get signed myself, and quite a few by people who I’ve become friends with in my time as a writer. Many of the books in my collection are used, and there are all kinds of wonderful things that I’ve found in those used books. I have many first editions, and some rare editions of books by writers I admire, for instance, first editions of Isaac Asimov’s Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan and Asimov’s Annotated Don Juan. (His Annotated Paradise Lost still eludes me.) It contains an almost complete collection of original Astounding Science Fiction magazines from 1939-1950, many of which I’ve written about in my Vacation in the Golden Age series, and several of which are signed by Jack Williamson and A. E. von Vogt. It also includes a complete run of my favorite science fiction magazine, Science Fiction Age.

I am delighted sometimes, just sitting in the rail-chair in my office, surrounded by my books. I used to think it was the books themselves that delighted me, but what I realize now is that what I have collected is much more than book. It is a collection of things that I don’t yet know, but they are things that are within my grasp. All I have to do is reach for a shelf, pull out a book, sit down and begin reading.

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Late Spring Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Audible Deals

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

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

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

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

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

This is one Audible deal that really impressed me.

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.

Winter Moon

It has been cold here the last several days, and we are expecting snow Sunday and Monday. I’ve spent much of the day really getting to know Obsidian, and I’ll have more to say about it next week.

In the meantime, here is a picture of the winter moon early yesterday morning when I went out for a newspaper. (You can see it there in between all of the power lines.) I’m sure there is an optical sciences explanation as to why the moon never appears as large in photos as it does where you are standing out there looking at it. Although I prefer to think the moon is shy.

And speaking of MOON (B-O-O-K spells MOON!), I read yesterday that Stephen King is coming out with a second new book this year. The first one, Later, is being published by Hard Case Crime books (the same publishers who put out The Colorado Kid and Joyland. It’s due to be released on March 2.

The newest one to be announced is a book called Billy Summers by Scribner. This one is due out August 3.

I’m looking forward to both.

Latest Addition to My Stephen King Doubleday Years Collection

My 4-volumes of Cemetery Dance's "Stephen King: The Doubleday Day Years" collection.

For several years, Cemetery Dance has been putting out a special edition of Stephen King’s book during his “Doubleday” years. This week, I received my copy of the 4th entry in that series, Night Shift. These are beautifully done editions, with limited runs (I think there are only 3,000 copies of each) and often with new art commissioned, and even new material like deleted scenes added an appendix to the book. Night Shift is no different, with some additional stories appearing at the end.

Each volume in the series is a book-lover’s book. It is a work of art. It is a delight to hold in your hand. Even the pages are thick and textured. The books come in custom slipcases, and every now and then, I’ll sit with one on my lap, flipping through just because it is a beautiful thing to see and feel.

Four books in the series have been produced thus far:

  • Carrie
  • The Shining
  • ‘Salem’s Lot
  • Night Shift

The most recent entry is King’s first collection of short stories.

Two more volumes are planning, and indeed, I have already pre-ordered both, as they sell out very quickly. (I checked my records: I pre-ordered Night Shift back in 2016!) The remaining volumes are:

  • The Stand
  • Pet Sematary

Cemetery Dance takes its time in producing these volumes, but the time is well-worth the wait. They are not producing mass-market editions, but beautiful, carefully crafted pieces of art. After eagerly opening the package with Night Shift, I immediately began wondering what the next volume would look like… and when it would arrive.

Books I’m looking forward to – October 2020

It has been a while since I’ve written about book that I am eagerly awaiting. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve done it this year so far. 2020, being what it is, has gotten the best of me, and I’m behind in my reading. I’d set a goal of 110 books for the year, and I’m presently about 10 books behind pace (I’ve finished 74 books as of this writing). I will likely finish my 75th book of the year later today. Here are some of the books that I am looking forward to reading over the next several weeks:

  • Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld.
  • The Vagabonds: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison’s Ten Year Road Trip by Jeff Guinn
  • The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser
  • Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All by Erno Rubik
  • The Polymath: A Cultural History from Leonardo da Vinci to Susan Sontag by Peter Burke
  • The Furious Sky: The Five Hundred Year History of America’s Hurricanes by Eric Jay Dolin
  • Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media by Harold Holtzer
  • Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder

There are other books I’m looking forward to, but they don’t come out until early next year, including books by Simon Winchester, Stephen King, and Cal Newport. But the list is a few of the ones that I’m looking forward to for the fall.

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.

Some 2020 Books I’m Eager to Read

With just a few hours left in 2019, I thought I’d list a few of the books I’m looking forward to reading in 2020. December is a terrible month for book releases, and January doesn’t look much better, but beginning in February 2020, there are several books I’m eager to get my hands on. Here are just a few:

  • Citizen Reporters: S. S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine that Rewrote America by Stephanie Gordon (2/18/2020). I was fascinated to read about Tarbell in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit and I’m happy to see a book about her and McClure’s magazine come soon.
  • America’s Game: The NFL at 100 by Jerry Rice and Randy O. Williams (2/4/2020). I’m not a football fan, but I always enjoy sportswriting and this seems like a good entry point to learn more about the history of the NFL.
  • Lou Gehrig: The Lost Memoir by Alan Gaff (3/10/2020). I mean, a lost memoir by Gehrig? How could any baseball fan pass on that?
  • Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene (2/18/2020)
  • The Impossible First by Colin O’Brady (1/14/2020). I read about this book in Outside magazine a few months ago. O’Brady walked across Antarctica. That’s got to make for a book at least as interesting as Endurance or The Worst Journey in the World.
  • Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell by Tom Clavin (4/21/2020). I’ve enjoyed Clavin’s other histories of the old west, and I’m looking forward to his next one.
  • If It Bleed by Stephen King (5/5/2020). King’s next collection of 4 original novellas. His previous novella collections, especially Different Seasons have been remarkable.

So that’s what I am looking forward to right now. What are you looking forward to in 2020? Anything you would recommend I look at?

Happy New Year!

My Favorite Book Series

For the longest time, I would tell people that my favorite book series was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. I read the series at a time when it clicked with me. I have read the entire series at least 5 times. I used to imagine what it would be like to live at the height of the Galactic Empire. I wondered what it would be like to know Hari Seldon. That said, I never wanted to be Hari Seldon.

Tastes change over time. One of my kids favorite pastimes seems to be asking me “what is your favorite ______“? I try to explain that it often depends, and over time, favorites change as tastes evolve. This is especially true with reading. You never know what lies ahead that might take over as the next favorite.

If you were to ask me today what my favorite book series is, I’d say, unequivocally, it is Craig Johnson‘s Walt Longmire books. I binge-read the entire 15 book series and the existing novellas between October and November. Today, I finished the most recent entry in the series, Land of Wolves. When I was finished, I felt a mixture of joy and grief. The books are so good, and the thought that I’d have to actually wait a while for the next Longmire book filled me with dismay.

Unlike the Foundation books, I read the Longmire books with an increasing desire that I wanted to be Longmire, or at least, like him. The books filled some kind of need I have for open spaces, small towns, and life outdoors. This is the great thing about books, but specifically about these books. Reading them, I felt as if I was getting what I needed. I was there in Absaroka County, Wyoming with Walt, Vic, Henry, Lucian, Ruby, and many others. They became familiar faces in a way that Hari Seldon, Hober Mallow, and Salvor Hardin never did.

I enjoyed the mysterious in the Longmire books, but there was so much more to enjoy. I enjoyed seeing the world from Walt’s perspective. I enjoyed his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure things. I enjoyed the setting. I delighted in the banter between characters. I especially enjoyed the writing. Craig Johnson is a master of the form. Johnson’s humor, as it comes through Walt, is often aware of the formulaic patterns of life, and I think that self-awareness helps to keep the writing and stories fresh.

There was an added dimension to these stories: George Guidall. I listened to the audiobook versions and George Guidall narrates them all. And since all of the books are told in the first person, George Guidall has brought the voice of Walt Longmire to life, far more than even Robert Taylor did in the television series. In all of the audiobooks I have listened to, there is only one other narrator that really became the character and brought them to life in a similar manner: Craig Wasson did it for Jake Epping in 11/22/63 by Stephen King. But that was one book. George Guidall has been Walt Longmire’s voice for 15 novels and several shorter stories.

And speaking of shorter stories, the short pieces that Johnson has written about Longmire are utterly charming pieces of short fiction, delightful to read.

I have enjoyed other character series. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, all 24 of which I have read, are pure fun. But Johnson’s Longmire books are something more than just character books. They are what I always imagined reading a book should be: windows into other people and places, well-written, and so vivid, that I am completely and totally immersed in the stories, the characters, and the setting. The characters don’t seem like characters, but people I know, the settings, places I hang out. Rarely has fiction had this strong an affect on me. To sustain this through 15 novels is remarkable.

So the Longmire series is my new favorite book series, and I now wait, impatiently, for the next story in the series. Could it be that Walt and Henry will be heading to Alaska? I think I’m more excited about the next Longmire book (yet to be announced) than the next Star Wars movie, coming out in less than a month.