Category: lists

My Guilty Pleasure Reading List

hollywood sign
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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.

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  1. Not really guilty at all.

My Favorite Posts of 2021

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I wrote 452 posts in 2021. Those posts totaled about 315,000 words. I published at least one post every day of the year, meeting the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year. It felt good to write nearly every day1 and I was pleasantly surprised to see the blogs stats up more than 42% over 2020.

With so many posts in the year, it is hard to remember everything I wrote. But I spent some time recently reviewing the list of everything I published in 2021 and came up with a list of my personal favorites. These aren’t necessary the most popular posts. I also excluded more technical posts like the posts I’ve been writing for my Practically Paperless series. But these are posts that pleased me. I enjoyed reading them again and I present them here more or less in the order they appeared for you to review and read (or re-read) if you are so inclined.

Did you have a favorite post? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email.

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  1. I published a post every day, but there were a few days that I didn’t write anything. To balance that, there were days that I wrote several posts and scheduled them ahead of time.

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!

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Top 10 Posts of 2021

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It is Christmas and I am taking it easy today, but I didn’t want to leave you all without a post, and I didn’t want to break my streak of (now) 359 consecutive days of posting here on the blog this year. So what follows are two list. The first is a list of the overall top 10 posts by views on the blog this year. The second list is the top 10 posts written in 2021. (The first list is the top 10 regardless of when the posts were written.) If you are looking for something to read while the kids play with their new toys, you might try one of these posts.

Top 10 Overall Posts in 2021

  1. If you are planning on reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series… (written in 2009)
  2. The Ghosts of “White Christmas” Past (written in 2016)
  3. Automating My Daily Notes with Obsidian (written in 2021)
  4. How I Capture Reading Notes in Obsidian (written in 2021)
  5. My Bad Habits (written in 2016)
  6. Obsidian and Vim Mode (written in 2021)
  7. Going Paperless (written in 2012)
  8. Notes with Obsidian: My Initial Impressions (written in 2021)
  9. I Can’t Stand Still (written in 2017)
  10. Journal in Obsidian Notes (written in 2021)

Top 10 Posts Written in 2021

  1. Automating My Daily Notes with Obsidian
  2. How I Capture Reading Notes in Obsidian
  3. Obsidian and Vim Mode
  4. Notes with Obsidian: My Initial Impressions
  5. Journal in Obsidian Notes
  6. My Obsidian Daily Notes Automation Script is Now on GitHub
  7. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and the Apple TV+ Adaptation
  8. Why I Can’t Watch Movies Anymore
  9. Evernote and Obsidian: Collecting vs. Creating
  10. Practically Paperless with Obsidian

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate. Happy New Year! And happy reading!

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12 Books I’m Looking Forward To, October 28, 2021

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I am pretty far behind pace on my reading this year. I try to read 100 books/year, and as of now, I am 17 books behind. There are a lot of reasons for this. There have been distractions. The kids are getting older and there are a lot more events to attend. I had a busy year at work, which often consumed some of my evenings as well as my days. I’ve read some longer books than usual. I have been writing for the blog every day. For about 2 months I got completely sucked into podcasts. It’s not a big deal, but it is something I notice. Anyway, I was looking at my list of books I’m looking forward to and there are some new ones coming out, and some old ones I’ve been wanting to read. Here are the books that I am looking forward to right now, always with the caveat of the butterfly effect of reading:

Are there books that you are looking forward to? Should I be looking forward to those as well? If so, let me know what they are in the comments.

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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.)