Category: books

Books I Read Between 1977-1995

assorted books on book shelves
Photo by Element5 Digital on

As readers know, I have kept a list of books I have read since 1996. (As of this writing, there are 1,241 books on the list.) Last spring, I tried to estimate how many books I read before I kept my list. I have been thinking about it more and more, and over the last few weeks, have been trying to remember the books I read beginning in kindergarten. As I remembered books, I scribbled them on a few pieces of notebook paper. To make it easier to remember, I divided the list into several sections: grade school, junior high school, high school, college, and 1994-1995.

The result is a list of books I read before 1996, which I have now published online along with my other reading lists. The list is not complete. I’d guess that I was able to recall about half of the books I actually read between 1977 and 1995. Other than being divided into the sections listed above, the books are in order I recalled them when trying to remember what I’d read. A lot of books I read in junior high school and college for classes have faded from my memory. A lot of books I read for fun remained. So while this list is not complete, it is a good representation of my reading in the years before 1996.

As I recall more books, I’ll add them to the list.

Written on 11 March 2023.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

My Best Reads of 2022

assorted books on book shelves
Photo by Element5 Digital on

With 2022 now behind us, I can safely post my list of 10 best reads of the year, without excluding any potential late-comers. This is actually the second draft of this post. The first draft came in at something over 2,500 words, and as I read it, I thought: No one wants to read this much other stuff. They just want the list. To that end, I’ve tried to cut this significantly.

Summary of my reading in 2022

I read 101 books in 2022, finally meeting my goal of 100 books again, after two consecutive years of falling short. 65 of the 101 books were nonfiction. I was surprised by this because my tendency these last few years has been heavily toward nonfiction. But I reread some old fiction series I’ve enjoyed in the past and that shifted the balance somewhat.

My 10 best reads of 2022

A few notes before I get to the list:

  • These are the ten books I most enjoyed reading in 2022; they are not the the ten best books that debuted in 2022. The books on the list were published over a wide range of years, the earliest being 1970 with only 2 of the books on the list debuting in 2022.
  • In past years, I’ve listed the books as a countdown from 10 to 1. It seems to me this buries the lead and is an injustice to the books that I most enjoyed. This year, I’m listing them from my 1 to 10, and damn the suspense.

Here, then, are my best reads of 2022:

1. A Place to Read: Life and Books by Michael Cohen (2014)

Cover image of A Place to Read

This collection of essays by a former professor resonated strongly with me: the subjects, the style, the fact that we were both pilots. The book was an accidental discovery, a rare success for Amazon’s recommendation system. It is one of several books this year that convinced me that I want to be an essayist. It was my favorite read of 2022.

2. Destiny of the Republic: A tale of madness, medicine and the murder of a president by Candice Millard (2011)

Cover image of Destiny of the Republic

I took a big lesson from Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic: that anyone rising to a position like that of President of the United States is worth reading about, even if they are not as well known (to me), anyway). James Garfield’s story was gripping, and Millard’s telling of it was wonderful, fascinating, and ultimately heartbreaking.

3. This Living Hand: Essays, 1972-2012 by Edmund Morris (2012)

Cover for This Living Hand

The essays in This Living Hand run the gamut of subjects, from biographical to autobiographical, big subjects and themes to small ones, like the value of handwriting, and what one can learn from it. I’d had mixed experiences with Edmund Morris in the past, greatly enjoying his 3-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and perplexed by his unorthodox biography of Thomas Edison. But This Living Hand was a treasure to read, and another push toward wanting to write essays.

4. Hell and Back by Craig Johnson (2022)

Cover for Hell and Back

Hell and Back, the most recent installment in the Walt Longmire series (my favorite fiction series) supplanted the 7th book in the series, Hell is Empty as my favorite Longmire book. This is a different Longmire story, in tone as well as in the way it is told.

5. The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann by Ananyo Bhattacharya (2022)

Cover for Man from the Future

John von Neumann has come up frequently in my reading and from those incidental glances, I had the idea that he was a smart person even among smart people. I was delighted to find and read this new biography of von Neumann, The Man from the Future, and it convinced me that he was very likely the smartest person I have ever read about.

6. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace (2005)

Cover for Consider the Lobster

I’ve had Infinite Jest on my bookshelf for years, tempting me. Since I’d been reading a lot of essay collections this year, I thought I’d read some of Wallace’s essays first, and the first collection I read was Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. I was blown away by his writing, and came away awe-struck, and somewhat depressed. I don’t think I could ever write essays as well as Wallace did.

7. Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality by Max Tegmark (2014)

Cover for Our Mathematical Universe

I came to Max Tegmark’s Our Mathematical Universe via James Gleick’s Chaos. I was immediately impressed by the scope, style, humor, and imagination that Tegmark put into the book. It was one of those reads that made me want to follow up with more, and I read his book, Life 3.0 as soon as I finished this one.

8. The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 4 by Robert A. Caro (2012)

Cover for The Passage of Power

The 4th volume of Robert A. Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power turned out to be my favorite so far. The arc of Johnson’s career and his thrust into the presidency after the Kennedy assassination is a great illustration of how unique the job is, and how no career, no matter how stories, can really prepare someone for it.

9. The Rising Sun: The Decline & Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-45 by John Toland (1970)

Cover for The Rising Sun

I’ve read a lot of the history of the Second World War, but I’d never read a history that focuses primarily on Japan. This is exactly what The Rising Sun by John Toland does. There were five themes that I found particularly interesting in this book.

10. The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell (2018)

Cover for Diary of a Bookseller

Now and then I imagine what it might be like to own a used bookstore. After reading The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, I no longer have to imagine. This is a charming book about the owner of the largest used bookstore in Scotland, who has kept a diary about the day-to-day running of the shop. I enjoyed it so much that I followed it up with its sequel.

Honorable mentions

In addition to these best reads of the year, here are some other books I read this year worthy of mention:

I am aiming to read at least 100 books in 2023. It is always exciting to start out the year and wonder what will the best reads end up being? I’ll let you know a year from now. In the meantime, if you are interested here, are some past lists:

Written 26-31 December 2022.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

My Guilty Pleasure Reading List

hollywood sign
Photo by Paul Deetman on

It is getting close to December which means close to our end-of-year holiday which means time I spend reading for guilty pleasure after a year of serious, hardcore reading. I’ve started to prepare a list of what to read and few days ago, on Twitter, I asked for some recommendations:

For me, guilty-pleasure reading1 usually consists of biographies and memoirs about celebrities past, or histories of Hollywood and things like that. It occurred to me that when I asked for recommendations, I didn’t indicate those books that I’ve already read. To remedy that, I create a Guilty Pleasure Reading list on my reading list site listing all of the guilty-pleasure books I’ve read over the years. There, you can see all of the books I’ve read that fall into this category. I’ve included a section on my 5 favorites. And I’ve included links to some posts I’ve written about these books. Now, if you are wondering whether or not I have read a specific Hollywood bio, memoir, or history, you can go to this list and find out.

So far, for the end of the year, I’ve got the following books lined up:

I can usually tackle 6-8 books during this break. If you’ve got other recommendations in this genre, please drop them in the comments. If there are really good, they may supplant the ones listed above.

Written on 21 November 2022.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

  1. Not really guilty at all.

My Best Reads of 2021

Now that 2022 has arrived, I can safely post my Best Reads of 2021. I get annoyed by the early birds who post their “best reads” list beginning in November. They may be trying to drum up sales for the holiday season, but they leave out potentially great books that come out in December. For instance, #6 in my list below, All About Me by Mel Brooks didn’t debut until the very last day of November 2021. I didn’t read it until the second half of December, and yet it made #6 on my list.

My reading was down from last year. It seems to have dropped every year, from its peak of 130 books back in 2018. 2021 saw me barely break 80 books. Some of these books were long books, but there were two things keeping my from my goal of 100 books this year:

  1. In the late spring/early summer, I got sucked into listening to dozens of episodes of the Tim Ferris Show Podcast. On average, those episodes are something like 2 hours long. They seriously ate into my reading time, although I got quite a few good book recommendations out of them.
  2. In the fall, after finishing Rhythm of War, I couldn’t figure out what to read next. Nothing seemed appealing. I started and stopped countless books and for nearly a month, completed almost nothing.

I think if it weren’t for these two interludes, I would have made my goal of reading 100 books in 2021.

Here, then, are my 10 top reads of 2021. Note that an asterisk (*) after the title denotes a book that came out in 2021. All other books came out prior to 2021.

10. Life Itself by Roger Ebert

cover for life itself by roger ebert

Life Itself was one of the very first audio books I bought back in 2013 when I started using Audible, but incredibly, I didn’t read the book until December 2021 while I was driving down to Florida for our annual holiday vacation. I’m sorry that I didn’t read it sooner. It was a great read, a terrific memoir of a newspaper man who happened to become a movie critic. I especially liked Ebert’s descriptions of his travels.

I wrote about this book in my post “On the Road with Stoker and Ebert.”

9. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek

cover for franklin d. roosevelt: a political life by robert dallek

I always enjoy a good Presidential biography and Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life was a good Presidential biography. I’ve read several biographies of FDR over the years. I am fascinated by his life and the times that he lived in. Having also read William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Sir Winston Churchill, I especially enjoy seeing how these two extraordinary men worked together to help win the Second World War.

I wrote about this book in my post “Thoughts on Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.”

8. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

During the spring, I began reading books on information theory and the history of computing. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood was the first of these. After this book, I couldn’t stop myself and I ended up reading a total of 12 books on the subject. Remarkably, three of those 12 books ended up in the top 10 of my best reads of 2021.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Vacation Reading: The History of Computing.”

7. Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson

This is the second of the 3 information theory/history of computing books to appear this best-of list. Turing’s Cathedral was a fascinating look at the development of information theory. One of the people who provided Dyson with information for this book was the computer scientist Willis Ware, who I actually knew early in my career, and who once, in the mid-1990s, complimented me on a presentation I gave on the (then) new Netscape Navigator web browser.

I mentioned this book in my post “Best Book in the Last 125 Years.”

6. All About Me* by Mel Brooks

I was looking forward to All About Me! months before it was released. When it was released, on November 30, I had to force myself to wait to read it until I was down in Florida for our holiday vacation. That’s because I have a tradition of reading Hollywood memoirs while vacationing in Florida. I was not disappointed. Brooks’s book was everything I hoped it would be. And the audiobook was narrated by Mel Brooks himself which made it all the more enjoyable. Reading the book made me want to go back and watch all of Brooks’s movies, especially he early ones.

5. The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family* by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

One of the rare events that occurs in my reading is reading two outstanding books back-to-back. Usually, when I read a really terrific book, I find it hard to read whatever book comes next because it is rarely as good as the book I just finished. But The Boys by Ron Howard and Clint Howard was an outstanding follow-up to reading The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski. This was a terrific book about growing up in Hollywood from the perspective of 2 child actors who went on to spend their careers in show business.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Ronnie, Reacher and the Babe.”

4. Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

In the last 2 months of 2020, I raced through the first 3 books of Brandon Sanderson’s STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE series. Rhythm of War had just come out, but I decided that I needed a break from those books. After more than 3,000 pages, I wanted to get back to nonfiction. Then, in early November, desperate for something to read, I returned to the book. I raced through its 1,200+ pages in relatively short order. It was an outstanding read. I think it was this book that pushed Sanderson’s series ahead of Patrick Rothfuss’s KINGKILLER CHRONICLES as my favorite fantasy series. The last few hundred pages reduced me to tears more than once.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Books That Reduced Me To Tears.”

3. UNIX: A History and a Memoir by Brian W. Kernighan

Brian W. Kernighan’s memoir, Unix: A History and a Memoir is quite possibly the single best memoir of the early computing age I have read. I knew of Kernighan as one of the co-creators of Unix and of the C programming language. I’d been looking for a good history of Unix for a long time, and when I saw that Kernighan had written a memoir, I leaped at it. This was one of the books I read in the spring during my rampage through the history of information theory and computer science and it was my favorite of all of them.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Vacation Reading: The History of Computing.”

2. 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet* by Pamela Paul

I loved Pamela Paul’s My Life With Bob when that came out, and so when I saw she had a new book coming out, I jumped on it. 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet was a pure joy. It was full of nostalgia for me. I grew up in pre-Internet days, and my first real interactions with the Internet began in 1994 when I started at the company I am still with today. This was not only a wonderful read, but it is the kind of book I’d love to sit with and read aloud to my kids, one essay each night, to give them a sense of what life was like before Google and YouTube and TikTok and smart phones. It is a book I will definitely read again.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Pamela Paul Is Reading My Mind.”

1. The Baseball 100* by Joe Posnanski

When I started reading Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100 I had a glimmering that this was something special. He wrote these 100 essays, amounting to 300,000 words, in the space of 100 days as a feature on The Athletic. But reading them all together in a single volume was something remarkable. You get the entire history of baseball through 100 people who played the game. And while it doesn’t seem possible, the book isn’t repetitive, either in substance or in style. The essays themselves are works of art, often shaped by their subject. Over the years, I have read a lot of baseball books, but The Baseball 100 quickly became my favorite of them all. It was also the best book I read in all of 2021.

I wrote more about this book in my posts, “Thoughts on The Baseball 100,” and “Impressive Feats of Writing.”

There you have them: my best reads of 2021. The best part of finishing a list like this is knowing that there will be another list like this one a year from now and trying to imagine: what books will just blow me away in the coming year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

Thankful for Books

one of my bookcases

This time of year we often reflect on those things that we are thankful for. Toward the top of the list are things like family and friends, good health, good fortune. Below that level is where things often start to vary for people. I was trying to think of about the things that I was thankful for after family and friends, good health and good fortune. What I came up with was books. I am thankful for books.

From a young age, my parents emphasized the importance of books and of reading. My mom told me that books could take me anywhere and teach me anything. I was four or five when she told me that and I took it to heart. My dad read to me often. Because of this, I learned to read quickly and from an early time, books have been an important part of my life. Indeed, for the last 25 years, books mark important events in my life like a kind of bibliographical calendar.

More recently, I’ve come to realize something else about book that I am thankful for: that I am in the fortunate position to buy one whenever I feel like it. This wasn’t always the case. I can remember many times when I was younger where I would look longingly at books, but not have the money to buy them. When I did buy a book, it was a weighty decision to buy a new hardcover for $19.95 when money was tight and that $19.95 was really needed for the gas or electric bill.

Today, however, if there is a book that I want, I buy it without worry. We don’t spend a lot of money on fancy cars, or expensive clothes or furniture. But when it comes to books, I allow myself some extravagance. I might buy an audio book and then decide I want the Kindle edition as well. Sometimes, for books that I really like, I’ll pickup a paper version in addition to have on my shelf. Sometimes, I’ll discover a rare edition online and spend a little more than I might otherwise spend to get it. By doing this, I am taking small advantage of the good fortunate we’ve had to act on what my parents taught me when I was a youngster. Because of that, I sit in my office today, surrounded by books that have taken me everywhere, and taught me countless things.

No investment I have made has given more of a return than books. Twenty dollars spent on a hardcover returns not only hours of enjoyment in reading, but countless times its value in the lessons I take from it, whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. Books taught me the difference between a specialist and a generalist, and have turned me into the latter, something else for which I am grateful this time of year. Reading books taught me how to write and writing has become my avocation, more for me to be thankful for.

I am surrounded here in my office my somewhere around 1,200 books, collected slowly over a lifetime. On my digital bookshelves, there are another 1,200 audio books and 500 or so ebooks. I could go on and list why I am thankful for each and every one of them, but I will spare you that. Instead, I’ll just say that I spent a lot of time thinking about how lucky I am to be able to read, to have passion for reading, to enjoy books, and to be in the incredibly fortunate position to acquire and accumulate them. For much of my life, I knew what it was like to look upon bookshelves with envy and longing. To be able to own my own books and read them is something for which I will be forever thankful.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

A Book I’m Looking Forward To: The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski

cover of the baseball 100 by joe posnanski

Every now and then I discover a new book that really hits the sweet spot for me and I can’t wait to read it. Most recently it was The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski. I love baseball, and I have a think for the rich history of the game. Just do a search for “baseball” in the list of books I’ve read since 1996 and you’ll see just how much I’ve read on the subject. Indeed, baseball writing is an art form in its own right. There are sportswriters, and there are baseball writers. I sometimes daydream that I could be the latter. I especially love baseball essays. And this book is a collection of 100 essays about the lives of the 100 greatest players of the game, according to Joe Posnanski.

My hardcover edition of the book arrived yesterday, and I am itching to get started reading it. First, I have to finish the book I am currently read, a fascinating biography of Henry Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams, who, though born in 1838, lived long enough to witness Babe Ruth play baseball. In addition to baseball, I have a thing for the Adams family. But once I finish the book, with should be sometime today, I am eager to start this new baseball history. Perfect timing, too, since October, in addition to being a rare month for boys1 is also magic time in the baseball world.

Anyway, if you are wondering what I am reading this weekend, now you know.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

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.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

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.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

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.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on

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.