Tag: books

Reading Through the End of 2021

book stack on bookshelf

My reading goal for 2021 was 100 books, just like last year. Last year I managed 88. This year, I just finished my 76th book, so it is not looking like I will hit my goal of 100 books read. Until 2017, I spent decades reading and barely cracked 45 books a year. After 2017, I’ve hit as many as 130 books in a year. Indeed, my four year average even if I stopped reading at this moment, is still over 100 books per year. So I’m happy with my pace regardless of whether or not I actually hit 100 books or not. That said, with the end of the year approaching, with the holidays coming up, along with our annual holiday vacation, I’ve started to plan my reading through the end of the year. Here is what is on my list to tackle:

Currently, I am reading the first of Martha Wells Murderbot books, All Systems Red. It’s a short book and if I like it enough, I may read others in that series.

This is a lot to tackle in the last 21 days of the year. I think I can get through at least 7 of them; the last three may get pushed into 2022 in favor of other books. We’ll see how that goes. The butterfly effect of reading is a relentless force on my reading life and makes things unpredictable.

Is there anything you are looking forward to reading before the year is out? Let me know in the comments.

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Visiting with Mel Brooks in Florida

cover for Mel brooks all about me

Mel Brooks new book, All About Me: My Remarkable Life in Show Business, made its debut on Tuesday. I had pre-ordered it and awoke Tuesday morning to the cheerful news that the book was available and we might see our first snow of the season. The snow failed to make an impression but the book has put me in a quandary all day: should I start it now, or wait a few weeks?

After a monthlong spell of not being able to figure out what to read, I went with an old reliable and re-read One Man’s Meat by E. B. White for the fifth time. That seemed to get me back on track. I finished the book at lunchtime, and of course, I am eager to start the Mel Brooks memoir. I’ve seen him on TV lately and there are few people I think of as funnier than Mel. But there is reason to wait. In a few weeks, we’ll be heading to Florida for our winter vacation, and I really want to save the book for when I am down there.

At the end of 2015, while on vacation in Florida, I began reading Dick Van Dyke’s memoir My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business. I would listen to the audio book (narrated by Van Dyke) while walking on the two mile loop of a bike path that circumnavigate’s the community where my mother-in-law lives. It was winter, but it was 80-degrees. I wore shorts as I walked, an in these 2-mile spurts, I listened to Dick Van Dyke tell stories of his life, his career, and Hollywood. I like it so much that when I finished it, I immediately began another Dick Van Dyke memoir, Keep Moving, and Other Tips and Truths About Aging. I found that I couldn’t get enough.

I followed those up with two Carl Reiner memoirs, I Remember Me, which I read poolside, and I Just Remembered which I listened to as we began the 1,100 mile drive back home. It was wonderful having Carl in the car with me, regaling me with stories of the borsht belt, New York, and Hollywood. The drive was long and I wanted more, so I listened to Carol Burnett’s This Time Together to finish out the drive.

Still not satiated, upon arriving home, I spent that cold, snowy January reading Norman Lear’s Even This I Get To Experience, Garry Marshall’s My Happy Days in Hollywood, and Tim Conway’s hilarious What’s So Funny?

In 2018, while in Florida for our holiday break, I found myself listening to Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946 by Gary Giddins, and I called it a tradition. In 2019, while walking that 2-mile bike path each morning, I listened to The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger, as well as George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones, and also Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-Earth by Peter Jackson. Holiday vacation in Florida had become a time for guilty pleasure reading, and one of my guilty pleasures are Hollywood memoirs.

But a special subset of those memoirs are those by folks who have been in the business for fifty, sixty, seventy years: the Dick Van Dykes and Carl Reiners and, yes, the Mel Brookses.

I recently wrote about my favorite place to read: it is in hindsight. I look back fondly on those sunny, warm walks in winter, passing through the shade of palm trees while lizards and other reptiles (and not a few rabbits) scamper, slither and hop out of my way. I lose myself in those books and in that atmosphere. There is a strange juxtaposition: it is winter and holiday season. Indoors, the air conditioning keeps the Christmas trees comfortable. There are holiday cookies, Christmas masses and dinners, decorations and presents. Yet outdoors it is summer, and there is something out these memoirs that I just enjoy so much.

So while I am eager to listen to Mel Brook’s memoir–which is narrated by Mel Brooks, just as Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner and Carol Burnett and Tim Conway narrated theirs–I want to keep my tradition going. So I am going to wait a few more weeks, though it pains me, until we are once again in Florida, the entire family now fully vaccinated, the grownups boosted, carefree for a long holiday, and listen to the book then.

In the meantime, I have to figure out what to read–and hope that Mel Brooks, now 95-1/2–proves that he really is the Thousand Year Old Man, so that I can send him a note when I finish reading the book.

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My Favorite Place to Read Is In Hindsight

Over the holiday weekend we kept an almost constant fire burning in the fireplace. At times, while the kids and their cousins played together downstairs, the grownups sat on the couch facing the fire, and chatted, dozed, and occasionally read our books, the pages softly turning in the gleam of the fire. It seems like a perfect place to read, and I have spent many and enjoyable hour on that couch reading. But it is not currently among my favorite places to read. As it turns out, all of my favorite places to read are in hindsight.

There is a carrel in the Granada Hills branch of the Los Angeles Public Library that I loved to read in when I was twelve or thirteen. During the oppressively hot summer days in the San Fernando Valley, I’d walk the mile from our house to the library, doing my best to stay on the shady side of the street. Stepping into the library was like stepping into an oasis in the desert. The doors would open with a whoosh, and you could feel the cold air pour from the building. After spending a considerable time perusing the shelves gathering books, I’d take my harvest to one of the carrels that patrons used for reading. There, the carrel, the library, everything, would disappear while I read.

Years, later, after I’d graduated from college and started at my job, I would drive from the Valley out to Pacific Palisades, park the car alongside a park that overlooked the Pacific Ocean and sit on a bench to read. There, with an ocean breeze blowing and a quiet surrounding, I read several books, including William Gibson’s Idoru and Damon Knight’s Humpty Dumpty: An Oval.

For many years, on an early April Saturday, I’d head over to the local Swenson’s in Studio City, sidle into a booth, order a chocolate milk shake, and crack open In Memory Yet Green, the first volume of Isaac Asimov’s autobiography. There, with my shake in a glass and a refill off the side, I would sit for an hour or more reading the first few chapters of that book, oblivious to most of what was going on around me. To this day, however, the smell of an ice cream shop pulls me back to Swenson’s.

Returning from a vacation in Hawaii in 2005, I arrived at the Lihue airport around 6 pm for a 10:30 pm flight back to Washington, D.C. via Los Angeles. The United counter didn’t open until 6:30 pm and once I was checked into my flight, I found my way to an outdoor patio. I’d picked up a mai-tai along the way, and sat on a bench with the mai-tai and a copy of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda. With the trade winds blowing around me, I read, and sipped, and read, and sipped, and sniffed the air. I began to wish that my flight would be delayed until morning. I could sit there reading and sipping and sniffing all night.

My cousin belonged to a fishing club in Vermont and would take me there from time to time. The club was deep in the Vermont wilderness. There was no electricity at the clubhouse, but there was a generator. My cousin taught me to fly fish there. I would take a rowboat out into the lake, fish for a little while, and then, find a shady spot along the short and read. After a while, I’d return, and we’d clean and grill our catch. When it rained, there was a screened in porch and I would sit on that porch with the sound of the rain tuning everything else out reading.

In Castine, Maine, I visited some family. At night, in my room, I noticed how dark and silent it was. I sat up in bed with a light on, reading John Adams by David McCullough for a good part of the night. The silence and darkness gave me some hint of what it might have been like for Adams in Braintree, reading by candlelight, warmed by a stove. What places those books must have taken him!

But my favorite place to read was on the porch of an apartment I rented for several years in Studio City on Tujunga Avenue between Ventura Boulevard and Dilling St., just around the corner from the Brady Bunch House. It was a first floor, corner apartment and had a wraparound porch. I spend hundreds of hours sitting on that porch with my chair propped back, my feet on the railing, and a book in my lap. I must have read a hundred books on that porch in the years that I lived there. In my memory, the weather was always perfect, the scene always serene, even when the street was blocked off while filming a scene from Magnolia1 there. Of all the places I’ve read, that porch is my favorite.

It may be that in ten or twenty years from now, the places I read today will be among my favorites. I enjoy sitting out on our large deck with a book. I like sitting on the couch in front of the fire. There is a chair in my office surrounded on three sides by my books where I like to read. But for me, a favorite reading place becomes so only in hindsight.

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  1. At the time, the guy in the craft services truck told me that it was “a William H. Macy movie called The Rose.”

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.

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Best Books of the Year Lists

light beach people woman
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Impatience seems to get the best of us when it come to best of the year. We are ready for the year to be over in October. November and December seem abandoned when it comes to the best-of-the-year.

A year, as I understand it, is 12 months, which in turn represents 365 and one quarter days, or a single trip of planet Earth around the sun. I mention this because the Best Books of the Year lists are starting to come out. Here is one from the Washington Post. Here is one from the New York Times–the Times refers to these books as “notable.” Goodreads has their voting going on now, with winners announced on December 9. None of these lists seem to be for a full year. For instance, for the Times and Post, what happens to books that come out today, or next week, or in a month? Are books that come out in November and December in some kind of limbo from which they can never emerge? These best-of-the-year lists remind me of cereal boxes that, when first opened, appear to be only three-quarters full. What happened to the rest of the cereal? At least the cereal boxes have an excuse: product may settle while shipping.

I also list the best books I read each year, but I’ve taken to doing that in January of the following year. So the best books I read in 2020 was posted on January 1, 2021. Why can’t newspapers and websites wait until they year is over before posting their best-of lists? One argument that I have heard is that these lists come out before the holidays in order to drum up sales for the books in question. Fine, but then don’t call them “best of the year” lists.

Early best of the year lists make it so that no one wants to release books in November and December. It means that there is a dearth of interesting books coming out the last two months of the year. When I search for upcoming books in, say, March or June, or October, I can often find a dozen or more than I want to read. In November or December, I only ever find a few. What does it say to an author about the priority of their book when a publisher announces that it will be published on, say, the last Tuesday of November? I often end up re-reading books in these months, something reliable like One Man’s Meat by E. B. White, or 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

I don’t think I am going to convince the Times or the Post or Goodreads, for that matter, to change their ways, but I am going to continue to hold my own best-reads-of-the-year lists until early January.

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Should I Read The Wheel Of Time: A Follow-Up

me holding a copy of wheel of time

A few days ago, I asked if I should read the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Normally when I ask questions like these, I get a couple of answers, but for some reason, this time, I got many more responses than I expected. The responses came as comments to the original post, on Twitter, and on Facebook. I thought I should follow-up here, summarizing the comments.

  • A significant majority of people who replied to my query said that it was worth reading at least the first 3 books in the series.
  • For a few people, they couldn’t make it through the first book (or in at least one instance, even the first page).
  • A significant majority also said that the books started to slow down beginning around the 4th book in the series.
  • There were a few people who made it all the way through the books and who said it was definitely worth it.

So, what does that mean for me? Well, it seems clear to me that it is worth trying to read at least the first few books in the series. To that end, I started reading The Eye of the World today. Of course, it also means that I don’t have to race through the entire series one book after the other. I’ll read one, and if I like that one enough, I’ll read the next. One book at a time.

I will say this, however: it is those few people who made it all the way through that give me hope. I’ve enjoyed books in the past that others thought were boring. I’ve struggled through books that were difficult but ultimately rewarding. Every quest has to have its element of hope. It was with a great deal of trepidation that I started Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive books, but I am so glad that I did. I think there is hope here, too, and hope is part of what makes a story great. Of course, I’ll keep you posted on my progress and what I think of the books as I go along.

Thank you to everyone who provided answers to my question. I’m grateful for you taking the time, and for many of you who provided a rationale for your answers as well. You are awesome!

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When Books Don’t Live Up To Re-Reading

adult blur books close up
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Way back in May 2000, I discovered a tattered copy of Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy in The Iliad Bookshop–one of my all-time favorite bookstores. The back copy of the book interested me, and so I bought the used paperback, took it home, and began reading. I was immediately gripped by the story. I tore through that roughly 1,000-page book in the space of week. And because it ended in a cliff-hanger, I went on to read the even longer Executive Orders. I remember really enjoying those book.

A few days ago, I pulled out Debt of Honor as I floundered about trying to figure out what to read next. Maybe returning to an old book that I enjoyed would be just thing I needed. I started to read it–I didn’t remember much of it more than 20 years later so it sort of seemed new to me. At the same time, what was such an enjoyable story for me 20 years ago was suddenly marred by what I could only think of as bad writing. The writing was so bad this second time around that I couldn’t take it. I gave up on the book, despite enjoying the story.

It got me wondering how many books I’ve read that, upon re-reading, wouldn’t live up to that first time. I remember a few years back trying to re-read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. When I first read that book 25 years ago, it instantly became my favorite novel. But until a few years ago, I never tried reading it again. When I did, I found that while the writing was wonderful, the story flagged for me, and lost its wind about halfway through. I gave up on the re-read.

There are books I remember reading that really wowed me. I remember reading Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton a few years before the film came out and I really enjoyed that book. I remember reading Jumper by Steven Gould and loving that book, too. But I wonder, given my experience, if I would enjoy them a second time? My gut tells me that I would not–at least not as much as the first time.

That’s not the case with all books I’ve read before. I’ve read 11/22/63 by Stephen King 7 times and each time I think it gets better. I find the same to be true to It by Stephen King. I’ve read One Man’s Meat by E. B. White 4 times and I look forward to each time I read it, delighted by how good it is, and never let down by it so far. I’ve read Isaac Asimov’s entire Foundation series at least 5 times–but the last time I read it was 16 years ago and I have this feeling that if I read it again, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I used to.

What is it that makes me enjoy re-reading some books that I loved, and dislike others that I loved? In both cases, I’ve often read a lot more and much more widely than I had the first time I read a book. So I bring to subsequent readings all that I have read and learned since. If I thought a book was well-written, and coming to discover far better writing over the course of subsequent decades, than what I think of as good writing today is different from what it used to be. Does that mean that the books that I can re-read and enjoy stand the test of time, and all of the reading I have done since? Or is there something else at play?

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Should I Read the Wheel of Time Series?

I have on my desk the newly issued The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, a tie-in release for the series on Amazon Prime that premiers on Friday. I’m thinking about reading it. I was never much of a fantasy reader until I watched the very first episode of Game of Thrones when it made its HBO debut. As soon as I saw the episode, I tore through the (then) first four of George R. R. Martin’s series. His books turned me onto fantasy. That said, when the series ended, I still hadn’t read A Dance of Dragons, and I suppose I never will at this point. With this new Eye of the World series coming out, I thought maybe I should get ahead of the curve and start reading the series now so that watching it won’t make me not want to read the books.

I’ve heard mixed things about these books. Some people swear by them. Other people say that they are pretty good, but become long winded later on. I can’t imagine the series ends that way, however, given that Brandon Sanderson finished the books after Robert Jordan’s death. I really enjoyed Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive–at least the first four books that have been released thus far.

One reason for reading the series is that it is complete. Martin’s isn’t complete yet. And Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, which I absolutely loved, is not yet complete–and I’m somewhat skeptical that it ever will be. With Jordan’s series, I can start it knowing that if I like the first book, I don’t have to wait for the second, third, or the fourteenth for that matter.

The books are long, the entire series coming in at just under 12,000 pages or 4.4 million words. Using my BEq measurement (“book equivalent”–see what I have read since 1996 for more information), those fifteen books displaces 29 other average-length books that I might have read in their place. Is the series worth passing for now on 29 other books? I guess what I am asking is: is the story compelling? Am I going to want to keep turning pages well after bedtime, the way I felt when reading The Way of Kings or Rhythm of War?

I’d be interested in what folks who have read the series have to say about it. I’ve glanced at the comments and review in places like Amazon and Goodreads, but I read reviews much because too often I’ve found that what random reviewers say doesn’t mesh with my own experience. I’d rather get feedback from my readers who’ve read some or all of the series. Did you like it? Did you make it all the way through? Was it worthwhile? If you gave up, why? Let me know in the comments!

ETA: See my follow-up with what people suggested.

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You Better Promise Me We’ll Be Back In Time

first fifteen lives of harry august cover

On the first date I went on with my wife of 13+ years, I was reading The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time edited by Barry N. Malzberg. I’ve always enjoyed time travel stories. I’ve always wanted to write one, but they are difficult to write because the obvious time travel tropes have been done over and over again. I particularly enjoy those time travel stories that find an original twist. So I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down a few days ago to read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.

This was a terrific time travel story with a unique twist: certain people, when they die, reset back to the beginning of their life, but retaining all of their memories. They are then able to communicate with others like them by passing messages to the future (via carvings in stone, or hidden messages in plain sight); and they can communicate with the past by telling people about the future when they are “reborn.” This was also just a plain enjoyable spy-versus-spy story, well executed, and with a satisfying ending that stayed within the limits of the rules of the universe as setup by Claire North.

A big part of what delighted me about this book is that these types of time travel stories–one that have an original twist, that is well-executed–seem so rare to me. In reading The First Fifteen Lives… two books with fairly similar ideas came to mind. The first was Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, in which through some strange universe gymnastics, everyone jumps from 2001 to 1991, and then has to relive the decade, making all of the same decisions as they originally did. The other book I was reminded of was Robert J. Sawyer’s Flashforward, in which everyone passes out at the same instant and each person has a brief vision of the future.

There are other time travel stories I’ve enjoyed. My personal favorite (and still one of my favorite novels period) is Stephen King’s 11/26/63. The novelty there is that when you go back in time, you reset everything to the exact date and time in 1958. So if you back in time and make changes, those changes will propagate to the future and stick–until you go back in time again, and everything is reset. You could be gone 20 years, but only 2 minutes passes in the present.

Another favorite of mine is one that Barry Malzberg mentions in The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time, but is too long to reprint there: Up the Line by Robert Silverberg. This is the time travel story to end all time travel stories and the ending is about as brilliant as one can get in a time travel story.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger had an original twist to it, traveling through time being a kind of genetic disease. Pete Hamill’s Forever, though not strictly time travel had time travel tropes in that the main character could not die, but as the title suggests, lives forever, so long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan. He spends centuries there.

Two fun time travel novels include The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman, and Time Traveler’s Never Die by Jack McDevitt. Connie Willis has done several time travel novels, but my favorite of hers and one of the better time travel novels I’ve read is Blackout / All Clear. Bonus points for all of the World War II era history.

Sometime I will try writing a time travel story of my own. But not until I return from the future and can be sure that my idea is still unique and not overused.

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Books That Reduced Me To Tears

rhythm of war cover

Kelly saw me sitting in the office on Monday, tears streaming down my face. “What’s wrong?” she asked. I hesitated. I was a little embarrassed and not sure how to respond. Finally, I said, “It’s this book I’m reading.” The book in question was Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson, book four of THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE. Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book and are planning to: the scene I’d just finished was one that involved Teft and Moash toward the end of the book. If you’ve read it, you know the scene I’m talking about.

I finished the book on Monday. As it turned out, those tears were the first of many that I shed, some sad, some happy, in the last 200 pages of that 1,200 page long book. In fact, I can’t remember crying as much as I did in the last 200 pages of the book than in the last 20 years of my life. To me, that says a lot about the story. Set aside the genre, the writing style, the writing itself. If a story can draw those emotions from a reader, well, there’s something there. I wish I could tell a story that well.

There are writers that are good with endings, they can stick the landings. Others not so much. I’ve heard readers complain about Stephen King’s endings, although I don’t mind them. The end of 11/22/63 always brings me to tears (“How we danced!”). And I should know. I’ve read the book 7 times. The same is true for the end of Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov, which I have read at least 5 times1, although for slightly different reasons. As Janet Asimov wrote in I. Asimov, “Forward the Foundation was hard on him, because in killing Hari Seldon, he was killing himself.”

It takes skill to build up a story to the point where readers care enough about the characters that they affect them emotionally. Thinking back over the stories that I have written and published, there is only one that, upon re-reading, has the potential of doing this to me: “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” The ending of this story gets me on the rare occasions that I re-read it. I did something right in this story. I’d like to be able to find that again.

I began reading THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE last November, and raced through the first three books (more than 3,000 pages total) before 2020 was over. Then I moved onto other things, before I decided last week to try to catch up and read Rhythm of War. When I finished, of course, I wanted to read book 5, but as far as I can tell, the next book in the series isn’t due to be released until sometime in 2023. Probably late 2023.

It’s always difficult to finish a good book and find another good one. I struggled, as I often do after finished a good read. I finally settled on The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. By the time you are reading this, I should have finished that book.

I find it amazing that words on a page can produce these emotions. Screenwriters, actors, directors, and musicians combine their talents on screen and on stage to produce moving stories, but there, you have images and music to manipulate your emotions. With a book, it’s just you and the words on the page. I think that’s what I love so much about being a writer. How can I make someone feel with just words on a page? It is also what is perhaps the most intimidating thing about being a writer, at least for me.

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  1. I say “at least” because I read it at least once before I started keeping a list of everything I’ve read in 1996.

Pamela Paul Is Reading My Mind

There is an almost perfect bookstore that I wander into every day. The entrance to the store steps down onto an old, beige carpet with spots showing its age. Immediately to the right and left are four floor to ceiling bookcases . Another four smaller bookcases line the wall to the left, with three more on the opposite side of the store. On the right hand side of the store on a single shelf, are the reference books. It’s incredible but this bookstore is like walking to my brain. There are some 200+ volumes by Isaac Asimov, some rare, a few signed. There are signed Ray Bradbury books, a complete used set of Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization. There is a shelf and a half full of Harlan Ellison books, with at least a dozen signed. Everywhere I look, there are books that I would choose for my own collection. There are even magazines, a complete run of Science Fiction Age and issues from Astounding between 1939-1950. They even have books and magazines with my own stories in them! It is an unusual bookshop in that none of the more than 1,100 books on the shelves are for sale. It is, of course, my office.

This is as close as I can come to describing the feeling I got upon reading Pamela Paul’s wonderful new book, 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet. Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. She wrote another wonderful book a few years back, My Life With Bob, which detailed her “book of books,” the analog equivalent to the list of books I’ve read since 1996. As the title of her new book suggests, it is a collection of 100 short essays about things we no longer have thanks to the Internet, things that I remember well from the days before the Internet. Paul laments the loss of these things in an engaging fashion that appeals to people of a certain age. Below that age threshold and the reader might be mystified. The 100 things she suggests and the way in which she discusses them is eerily close to what my own list would include. Indeed, while reading the book, I kept thinking to myself, hey, I’ve written about that. I’ve written about that, too. And that.

Let me gives some examples of the 100 things that Paul says we’ve lost to the Internet that I’ve also written about here on the blog. Keep in mind that these are things we have lost to the Internet.

Pamela PaulMe
Chapter 13: The Phone Call.When A Phone Is No Longer A Phone (2021)
Chapter 16: The School LibraryThe Nine Planets by Franklyn M. Branley (2010)
Chapter 21: The Family MealRushing Through Dinner: A Tale of the Twenty-First Century (2021)
Chapter 25: SolitudeQuiet Places (2019)
Chapter 28: Losing Yourself in a ShowWhy I Can’t Watch Movies Anymore (2021)
Chapter 36: The PaperDo Fifth-Graders Still Learn to Read the Newspaper (2019)
Chapter 42: PatienceHave You Seen My Patience (2017)
Chapter 46: Looking Out the WindowThe Evolution of Road Trips (2015)
Chapter 51: Leaving a MessageRetiring My Voicemail (2013) (One thing that I do not lament)
Chapter 53: MapsMap Reading Is a Dying Art (2016)
Chapter 55: Handwritten LettersLetters vs. Email (2018)
Chapter 58: SpellingSpelling Snobs (2021)
Chapter 60: Wondering About the WeatherTalking About the Weather (2021)
Chapter 76: PenmanshipCursive Handwriting (2017)
Chapter 86: Movie TheatersWhy Go To the Movies? (2017)

One of the essays (Chapter 41) was about the Spanish-English Dictionary. It lamented how these are no longer needed, now that Alexa or Siri could translate just about anything for you. I heard that and had to smile because here, beside my desk is a Spanish-English Dictionary sitting atop a copy of Don Quijote de la Mancha. I have been (very slowly) trying to make my way through the book as a way to beef up on my Spanish.

As I read 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet, I kept finding myself muttering under my breath “Yeessss! Exactly!” It really felt like Pamela Paul was reading my mind. It wasn’t a scary feeling, but a delightful one. She captures each lost thing perfectly, and her descriptions put me in mind of those things that the Internet has taken away. I felt joy and wistfulness at the same time. If my reaction to Paul’s book is any example, I can’t see how it could be anything less than a runaway bestseller–and deservedly so.

Recently, I’ve started to read aloud to the kids. We do it for a short time each evening, as a kind of family activity. The first book they picked was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. However, I’ve made a promise to myself to mix nonfiction into these readings, and I think the next book will be 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet. I think it will make for lively discussion.

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

pile of assorted novel books
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

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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