Category: lists

My Favorite Baseball Books, For Now

With the postseason underway, and I nearly finished with The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski, I got to thinking about my favorite baseball books. I suspect that The Baseball 100 will jump toward the top–if not the top–of the list. But what are my favorites right now? My list of books I’ve read since 1996 has quite a few baseball-related books on it. Here is my selection of the best ones, in my opinion:

  1. Ball Four by Jim Bouton. A classic in the genre, and one that set the stage for the modern baseball tell-all.
  2. Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion in Baseball by Stephen Jay Gould. Gould is best known for his books and essays on paleontology and evolution in Natural History magazine. But he was a huge baseball fan, and I love the way he thinks about the game in these essays.
  3. Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen. Everything I knew, or thought I knew, about Ty Cobb was dispelled by this book. I read it in the offseason. Always a good time to read baseball in order to make it a year-round sport.
  4. Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask by Jon Pessah. The book made me love Yogi even more.
  5. Casey Stengel by Marty Appel. Possibly the most remarkable career in baseball ever.
  6. Red Smith: On Baseball by Red Smith. Reading this book cemented the idea that when I grow up, I want to be a baseball writer. Unfortunately, I read this book when I was 46 years old. Fortunately, I still haven’t grown up.
  7. Great Baseball Writing: Sports Illustrated 1954-2004 edited by Rob Fleder. An absolutely remarkable collection of baseball writing.
  8. Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella. The first time I’d read this book was in the aftermath of 9/11. I’d seen Field of Dreams many times before I read this book. I love Field of Dreams but this book was far and away the best thing about baseball I’d ever read.

That all said, I am enjoying The Baseball 100 so much that I suspect it will end up as #2, possibly even #1 on the list by the time that I finish.

Of course, for as many baseball books I’ve read, there are countless I have yet to read. Some that I want to read, or have been wanting to read for some time include:

And, as always, I am open to suggestions.

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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.

Thoughts After a Long Day of Driving

Forgive the short post but I am mentally drained. I spent 9 hours driving today, and have another 8 hours or so of driving tomorrow to go.

While I drive, I listen to audio books and think thoughts. On the drive today I finished up George Dyson’s excellent book Turing’s Cathedral. I also got through most of Cal Newport’s newest book A World Without Email. Tomorrow, I’ll turn my attention to Alan Turing.

Here are a few things on my mind:

  • I peeked at my work email. I didn’t mean to, since I am on vacation, but I sort of did it by accident. I learned that people have scheduled 6 meetings with me for when I am back on Wednesday, including 4 between 11 am – 1 pm.
  • My Python code could be more efficient than it is. I tend to go for speed, to get something working quick and dirty, rather than look for elegant solutions. But I appreciate elegant solutions.
  • Remember when hotels had stationary in the desk drawer? Even before COVID?
  • The Easter Mass this year took 40 minutes. Is it me, or does that seems unusually fast?
  • What does it mean to be productive? I’ll be writing more about this at some point.
  • Isn’t it strange how some hour-long meetings feel like they last a week, but a week-long vacation feels like it lasts an hour?
  • Isaac Asimov died 29 years ago today.

Back home later this afternoon!

10 Things That Annoy Me About TV Shows

Much of the TV I watch these days is through osmosis. While I am reading, Kelly will be watching something and some of what she watches seeps through.

Here are some things that annoy me about TV shows today:

  1. When the stars of a medical drama become patients in the hospital they work in.
  2. When the detectives/police in a police drama become suspects of a crime and their colleagues have to help prove them innocent.
  3. Whenever a new person comes in to “shake up” the team.
  4. Actors talking on telephones when you can only hear one side of the conversation.
  5. Characters explaining obvious parts about their job to coworkers for the benefit of the audience.
  6. Long title sequences on old shows.
  7. Any show that begins with some dramatic event (an explosion, an expected revelation) and then cuts to a blanks screen that reads: “24 hours earlier.” This is just plain lazy storytelling.
  8. Any computer code you see on screens in the show.
  9. When a show moves from network television to a streaming service (such as Netflix) and suddenly, characters that never swore are swearing every other word.
  10. Any show that ends in a cliff-hanger.

Here are a five things I don’t see enough of when I watch TV shows:

  1. Breaking the fourth wall.
  2. Hollywood in-jokes (there was a great episode of Millennium that did this).
  3. Product placement as a way of making fun of product placement.
  4. Clever ways of sneaking around network censors. (A lost art thanks to cable and streaming services.)
  5. Good variety shows.

I’m wracking my brain for an example of a book that I’ve read that annoys me in any of these ways. The closest I can come is a series book that ends in a big cliff-hanger. I can’t come up with an example of a book with a long title sequence, except perhaps Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

So Many Books, So Little Time

There are so many books to read, it sometimes seems hopeless. What’s more, since November my reading has slowed to its lowest ebb in 4 years. I blame it on Brandon Sanderson. I started reading The Way of Kings in mid-November. By the end of November, I finished Words of Radiance. The entire month of December was dedicated to Oathbringer. Somehow, this threw of my pacing and I have quite recovered. Where I’d ordinarily be reading 10-15 books per month, I’m reading four.

I’m almost done reading the biography of Walt Disney that I’ve been slowly making my way through, and I’ve decided that once that book is finished, I’m going to get back into my groove. It often helps me to have a plan of what I’d like to read. The anticipation, like that of a trip, is half the fun. So here are 10 of the books I’m hoping will get me out of these reading doldrums and getting back on pace for my reading goals for 2021:

Here’s hoping I can get back on track. There’s a lot of books out there to read, and the list is only getting longer. As always, the Butterfly Effect of Reading makes this list somewhat fluid.

Upcoming Reading: January 2021

I spent much of December reading the first 3 books of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series. Early this month, I started on the 4th book, but gave up mainly because I needed a break. For those not aware of the series, it is a fantasy series, and each book is over 1,000 pages long. That’s about 3 times the length of your average book. I wanted a break from fantasy anyway, and to get back to nonfiction, so I started reading Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land. So far, I’m enjoying it.

Earlier today I was thinking about what I want to read next. This is often an effort in futility for me because of the Butterfly Effect of Reading, but I went through various lists that I keep. Here, for your amusing, is the list that I came up with. These, book, in no particular order, are the books that I want to read now. We’ll see how many I get through before the butterfly flaps its wings.

  • Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin. Attracted by “Field Notes.” I’m not a birder, but I have been fascinated by birders ever since reading “Mr. Forbush’s Friends” by E. B. White in The New Yorker.
  • Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. This book came up in several books I read late last spring.
  • An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by H. Paul Jerffers. I went to Cleveland High School in Reseda, California, and it would be nice to know a little more about the person for whom the school is named.
  • Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant (with Mark Twain in the cheering section). This book has been on my list for a while.
  • Rogue Heroes: The History of the S.A.S. by Ben Macintyre. I thought Macinytre’s book The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War was outstanding, so I figured I’d try something else he’s written.
  • My World — and Welcome to It by James Thurber. Thurber was contemporary and friend of E. B. White. I feel like I should read some of his writing.
  • Vactionland by John Hodgeman. It’s about Maine.
  • If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien. I read O’Brien’s The Things They Carried back in 2014 and it was outstanding.
  • Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder. I love Steinbeck’s writing. Looking forward to learning more about the writer.
  • The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. This has been sitting in my ready to read list for a while, and I just haven’t gotten around to it.
  • The Presidents vs. the Press by Harold Holzer. Every president, with the possible exception of George Washington, complained about the press.
  • Land by Simon Winchester. I’m a big Winchester fan, and this new book of his comes out on Tuesday.

Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments.

25 Years of Reading

This almost passed unnoticed, but when I was updating my master list of books I’ve read the other day, filling in the counts for December 2020, I realized that I have been keeping my list now for a full 25 years.

I took this data and put some totals together to look through:

A few observations:

  • Wow, I’ve read 1,049 books over the last quarter century. That’s not too far shy of the goal that I originally set for myself back in 1996 of one book per week. (1,300 books over 25 years, so I got 80% of the way there.)
  • I started using audiobooks in February 2013, and it is clear that from that point on, my reading picked up. I broke the 25 years down into 5-year segments and the two largest segments make up the most recent decade: 193 books between 2011-2015; 419 books between 2016-2020.
  • The longest I’ve gone without finishing a book appears to be the last 4 months of 2007, when I apparently finished nothing.
  • The last time I failed to finish at least one book in a month was way back in January 2015. (Although, I came close in December 2020 because I spent most of that month reading Brandon Sanderson’s massive Words of Radiance.)
  • When I started keeping my list, it was to track my goal of reading 1 book per week–something that I failed to achieve for the first 17 years of my list. I finally hit (and exceeded) that mark for the first time in 2013.
  • The most books I’ve read in one year is 130, back in 2018.
  • The most books I’ve read in one month was 19 books back in May 2020.
  • July appears to be the month I do the least amount of reading–or finish the fewest number of books. (I’ve read 72 books over the last 25 Julys).
  • November appears to be the month when I manage to finish the most books (I’ve read 107 books over the last 25 Novembers)
  • Seasonally, I read more in the colder months, less in the warmer months.

As you can see from the first image above, my notebook is already setup to track the numbers for the next 25 years.

One thing I plan to do this year is put together a new site for my reading list. I’ve been hosting it on Github for several years now, but I want something a little flashier, searchable, and easier to navigate. I’ll let you know when (and if) I get that completed.

(P.S.: This post is the first written on my new Mac mini.)

My Annotated List of Books I Didn’t Finish Reading in 2020

If I have one hard and fast rule about reading, it’s that a book does not get on my list of books I’ve read if I didn’t read the entire thing. If I read half, it doesn’t go on my list. If I read all but the last few pages, it still doesn’t go on my list. I’ve never done a good job of tracking how many books I don’t finish reading in a year, since they never get on my list. In 2020, I made a deliberate effort to track these. Here are the 17 books that I started reading in 2020, but failed to finish for one reason or another.

  1. John Quincy Adams’s Diaries. I dipped into this off and on throughout the year, but didn’t finish the whole thing.
  2. Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects by Edward Posnett. My sister recommended this, and I started it early in the year, but felt it wasn’t what I wanted to listen to on the 2-day road-trip we were making on our way home from Florida.
  3. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I first read this back in the fall of 1996 (it is book #30 on my list of books I’ve read since 1996). I decided to re-read it because I remember it being so good. I got halfway through before I gave up. It’s not that it wasn’t as good as I remembered it; it’s more that I am a different person now than I was then.
  4. John Adams by Page Smith. I picked up this 2-volume biography of Adams for a few bucks at a church book sale. I love reading about Adams, his life and times, and I made it maybe a quarter of the way through the first volume before other things grabbed my attention. (See: The Butterfly Effect of Reading).
  5. Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf. Steven Levy’s Facebook: The Inside Story came out right at the time I started reading this. I paused to read Levy’s book, promising to get back to this one eventually.
  6. A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram. I was deep into a Mathematica phase in the spring of 2020. So I started this book–a copy of which I first bought when it first came out–but then, as now, I didn’t get very far into it before giving up.
  7. An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language by Stephen Wolfram. Programming is a big part of what I do for a living. I never RTFM, but in this case, I made an exception. It turned out that I picked things up quickly enough that I found I didn’t need to finish the book.
  8. The Summer Game by Roger Angell. I was missing baseball in the spring. I think reading The Summer Game was too painful with baseball on hiatus at the time.
  9. Our Game: An American Baseball History by Charles C. Alexander. Ditto.
  10. The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt. Sometimes, I really want to read a book, but I’m in a nonfiction mood and the book in front of me is fiction, or vice-versa. This was a case of the former.
  11. Ballpark: Baseball in the American City by Paul Goldberger. See nos. 8 and 9.
  12. The Journal of Henry David Thoreau: 1837-1861. Like Adams’s diaries, I dipped into this one now and then throughout the year, but never read the whole thing.
  13. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. This is my Charlie Brown football. Gibbon holds it out to me every year, and ever year I take running kick at it, and he pulls it away at the last second. Part of the problem is it is so long, I think of all of the other books I won’t get to read, but that seems like a weak excuse, considering that something like 7 of the books I did finish in 2020 were over a 1,000 pages each.
  14. Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 1 by Joseph Needham. I have a fascination with lifelong projects–the Durant’s Story of Civilization; Dumas Malone’s Jefferson biography. I managed to get ahold of the first 5 volumes of Needham’s magnum opus in 2020, and I found what I read fascinating, but it was slow reading for me, to ensure full comprehension. I think I got halfway through the first volume before giving up.
  15. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. In October the kids and I did a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. After it was over, I wanted more, so I decided to re-read the books. I read The Fellowship of the Ring, but that seemed to sate me. I got bogged down in The Two Towers and moved on to something else.
  16. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. I enjoy Meacham’s books and this one had been on my list ever since visiting the Hermitage in 2017. I started it, but got distracted by other things. No fault of the book. I plan on coming back to it at some point.
  17. Chickens, Gin, and a Maine Friendship: The Correspondence of E.B. White and Edmund Ware Smith. I started reading this while on vacation in a remote part of Maine in November. I hadn’t finished by the time our vacation was over, and it felt weird reading this book and not being in Maine, so I never finished it.

In every case, the failure to finish was no fault of the author or the book, but of my rapidly changing attention when I read (seriously, see the Butterfly Effect of Reading), or because the book was too painful to finish given the circumstances (like the baseball books). I wish I could say I’ll do better in the future, but that would be a lie. I’d guess that I fail to finish between 15-20 books a year on average. Some I have eventually come back to and finished. Others, well, I’ll get to them eventually.

My Best Reads of 2020

I managed to finish 88 books in 2020, the first time since 2017 that I didn’t hit at least 100 books, and the first time that I didn’t hit my target (110 books). But I forgive myself, given the year we’ve all had. Here are my ten best reads for 2020, followed by a handful of honorable mentions.

10. Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro

Among the half dozen or so long books I read this year (1,000+ pages each) was Caro’s Master of the Senate. Like the previous books, the book was a fascinating, often infuriating portrayal of the life of Lyndon B. Johnson. This book was particularly infuriating. It was one of the rare reads where I had to set the book aside for a time and read other things because I just couldn’t take Johnson’s means of attack to get what he wanted. On the one hand, he was a brilliant politician. On the other hand, he used his powers for good and for evil. Still, the depth of Caro’s research compelled me to finish the book, and I do have the fourth volume queued up for sometime in 2021.

9. The Pine Barrens by John McPhee

I started off the year re-reading some McPhee, and then sought out those books of his that I hadn’t yet read. Of those, my favorite was The Pine Barrens, a fascinating (if dated) look at the large swath of forestland in New Jersey, and the people who lived there. McPhee’s style made this book a delightful, in addition to fascinating look at the lives of people and places you don’t ordinarily catch glimpses of, and a lifestyle which probably no longer exists in those parts.

8. Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask by Jon Pessah

Baseball, like everything else, was impacted by the 2020 pandemic. Right when baseball should have been in the rising part of its season, the fields were empty, the stands quiet. It was fortunate that I picked up Pessah’s book, Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask. This was a wonderful biography and a great look at Yogi Berra’s life, and came at a time when I desperately needed some baseball.

7. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry

I couldn’t possible go through the pandemic year without reading about the last time a global pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe. Barry’s The Great Influenza was a fascinating read, terrible in the brutality of the flu and its spread. It was fascinating to read about the response, and see the parallels to today’s pandemic. The race to develop a vaccine for the flu and the science, and scientists behind it was just as fascinating.

6. John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit by James Traub

The Adamses have fascinated me since I first read David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams in the summer of 2001. I’d read biographies of John Quincy Adams before, but Traub’s John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit was the best of them, and indeed, I’d place it among the top ten biographies I’ve ever read.

5. Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine That Rewrote America by Stephanie Gorton

I grew fascinated with Tarbell, and McClure’s after reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism back in 2015. So when I saw that there was an entire book coming dedicated to Tarbell and McClure’s, I devoured it eagerly, and I wasn’t disappointed. Citizen Reporters by Stephanie Gorton is the story of the birth of investigative journalism–something that has become increasingly important in the era of fake news and truth decay.

4. The Ultimate Engineer: The Remarkable Life of NASA’s Visionary Leader George M. Low by Richard Jurek

Long-time readers know of my interest in NASA and human spaceflight. So when I saw this new biography of George M. Low, I was considerably excited. I was even more excited when I read The Ultimate Engineer by Richard Jurek, and found to be an excellent biography of Low, and of NASA’s evolution during his tenure, which included the Apollo program and the moon landings. It was a necessary reminder of what we can accomplish when we put our minds to it, even in these darker days.

3. Truman by David McCullough

I read this book before, in the summer of 2001, right after finishing McCullough’s biography of John Adams. But in the two intervening decades, much of it escaped my memory. So I picked up the enormous volume, Truman by David McCullough once more and devoured it. The contrast between our current political climate, and that of Truman’s days was striking, of course, but it was still a great read, and I came away with a renewed appreciation of Truman.

2. Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter by Frank Deford

With all of the bad news that 2020 brought, I needed some laughter. Sometimes, I’d just go online and watch blooper reels on YouTube. Sometimes, I’d turn to a writer like Frank Deford to supply the humor. Over Time was the first Frank Deford book I’d ever read, and it was hilarious. It was, by far, the funniest book I’d read all year, and when I finished, I found myself wanting more. Deford’s ability to lift my spirits with his humor is a big part of why this book finds a place near the top of the list for 2020.

1. Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James M. Fallows and Deborah Fallows

Sometimes a book comes along that hits all the right buttons. James and Deborah Fallows’s Our Towns is one of those books. It is a travelogue in the spirit of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, or Philip Caputo’s The Longest Road. It is a book about people you meet along the way, like Charles Kuralt’s America. It has the additional dimension of being a road-trip book for pilots like Stephen Coonts’s Cannibal Queen. As a former (private) pilot, I loved the airplane part of the book. It added a unique element to the typical road trip book. I loved the descriptions of the places and people the Fallows met along the way. So it is no surprise this book made it to the number one slot for 2020.

Honorable Mentions

A few honorable mentions, without comment:

Did you read any good books in 2020? Let me hear about them in the comments.

My Favorite Christmas Songs, 2015 Edition

As it is Christmas Eve day, here is a list of my 8 favorite Christmas songs, listed in no particular order. Plus a bonus song.

1. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Andy Williams version)

2. My Favorite Things (Andy Williams version)

3. White Christmas (Bing Crosby version)

4. I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Bing Crosby version)

5. Silver Bells (Bing Crosby and Carol Richards version)

6. The Christmas Song (Nat “King” Cole version)

7. Oh Holy Night (Andy Williams version)

8. Snow (Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Peggy Lee)

And while it is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas, song, this one always reminds me of Christmas because it is part of my favorite Christmas movie, White Christmas:

BONUS: The Old Man / Gee I Wish I Was Back in the Army (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye)