Tag: reading

A Journey Through the Star Trek Lit-Verse

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Over Thanksgiving I read Patrick Stewart’s new memoir, Making It So, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Reading it put me in mind of Star Trek, even though Stewart’s time on the show and the films make up a relatively small portion of the book. I know little Star Trek lore beyond what most casual viewers of the show know. Indeed, I’ve never seen most episodes of the original series. The series with which I am most familiar is The Next Generation, and even there I have large gaps in my viewing. Deep Space Nine, and Voyagers are unknown to me. I have seen and enjoyed the newer films, but I understand that there are supposed to take place on an alternate timeline.

And thus begins the complications of the last few days. Arriving back from a long holiday weekend in New York, and needing a break from the long run of nonfiction I’ve been reading lately (18 out of the last 20 books), I was looking for something fun and entertaining to read and it occurred to me: what about a Star Trek novel?

I can hear those of your with much greater Star Trek knowledge than I possess laughing. It is one thing to want to read a Star Trek novel. It is something else entirely to figure out where to begin. Within 20 minutes of searching, I discovered the Star Trek “Lit-verse” and it is as vast as Gene Roddenberry’s galaxy. In a situation like this, the easiest thing for me is to begin at the beginning. But I couldn’t even find a list of all of the Star Trek novels in publication order. The Wikipedia page that lists Star Trek novels is huge, and contains multiple, overlapping lists. A single sub-list (“numbered novels”) contains 97 entries between 1979-2002.

More searching led me to The Trek Collective which had a Trek-Lit Reading Order Flow Chart, the complexity of which reminded me of a diagram one might find in Engineering on the Enterprise. While impressive in its detail and complexity, it made it no clearer where to start. The Star Trek Lit-verse Reading Guide broke things down by series, but it still didn’t answer the simple question, “Where should I start?” It did offer a useful piece of advice, however:

My goal here was to include every link possible and leave the continuity problems up to the reader to resolve. If you don’t want a book in your personal continuity, then just ignore it. Don’t become so invested in continuity that you forget to enjoy the stories themselves.

Ultimately, I opted for three books from different series to start with, mostly by hunt-and-peck method:

I began reading Captain to Captain yesterday and, so far, it has been a lot of fun. Just the kind of fun that I was looking for.

I asked ChatGPT the following just after I started reading Captain to Captain: “I want to start reading some novels in the Star Trek universe, but there are so many of them I don’t even know where to begin. Can you suggest a pathway through these novels that makes sense?” ChatGPT responded with the following list to start with:

The Original Series

  • Spock’s World by Diane Duane
  • The Entropy Effect by Vonda N. McIntyre

The Next Generation

  • Q-Squared by Peter David
  • Imzadi by Peter David

Deep Space Nine

  • The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack
  • A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson


  • Full Circle by Kirsten Beyer


  • The Good That Men Do by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin

Crossover Novels

  • Federation by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

New Frontier series by Peter David

“Discovery” and “Picard” novels

Obviously, I’m still figuring out which direction to go here. If anyone has advice or suggestions as to how to tackle this thorny problem, or if anyone knows of a list that guides one through a good selection of the novels and stories in the Star Trek universe, I’d be grateful if you shared your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

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Ever Since (Stephen Jay) Gould

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My grandfather was a regular reader of Natural History magazine during its heyday. I recall the magazine sitting around the table beside his chair. I would occasionally skim through it. I must have come across Stephen Jay Gould’s column, “This View of Life” at some point, but I can’t remember when. Besides, at time, I his columns were beyond my abilities. Even now, those columns push me to my limits.

I say this because this year, I have finally gotten around to reading Gould’s books of essays that collect most of the 300 columns he wrote for Natural History. Unlike my usual practice, I’m not going through the collections in order of appearance, but instead, somewhat haphazardly. In order of my reading this year, I’ve made my way through the following volumes:

During this year, I also managed to read Gould’s A Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History and The Mismeasure of Man.

If my research is correct, there are two more books of Natural History essays that I have yet to read: The Lying Stones of Marrakech and I Have Landed. I’m doubtful I’ll get through these two remaining books before the year is out because I have quite a few books in line ahead of them. But you never know.

I came to essays primarily through Isaac Asimov’s science essay column in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and I have written how at the time those essays taught me almost everything I know about science. Gould’s essays are much more challenging reads than Asimov’s essays were, but in some ways, the essays are more rewarding, and have introduced me to and instructed me in areas and methods of science with which I’d had little familiarity.

Over the years I’ve developed a fondness for the science essay that places it in my personal pantheon of favorites as high–if not slightly higher–in ranking as the personal essay. One of the strengths of both Asimov’s and Gould’s essays is that they are personal in some regard. I imagine writing a future post that focuses on the history and value of the science essays, especially long-term essay columnists like Asimov and Gould and Martin Gardner, as well as their predecessors like Willie Ley and R.S. Richardson. In such an essay, I might wonder about the disappearance of regular science essays columns and explore that path in the same way Gould explores evolutionary dead-ends.

But here I wanted to talk about Gould’s essays and the impact they’ve had on me already. When I started reading them, back in May, I went in with the notion that they would be similar to Asimov’s given their popularity. In actual fact, the essays are nothing alike. In his wonderful editorial, “The Mosaic and the Plate Glass” (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Oct. 1980), the Good Doctor expounds on his theory of writing. Mosaic writing is complex, layered, multifaceted writing; plate glass is clear and shows directly through to the point. He couldn’t have provided a better analogy for comparing Gould’s writing to his own, for when I began reading Ever Since Darwin, I recognized almost at once that this was mosaic writing to Asimov’s plate glass.

As I do with most books these day, I began with the audiobook edition of Ever Since Darwin, but I found the subject matter and the complexity of the writing to be enough of a challenge that I knew the audiobook editions alone wouldn’t be good enough. I needed the physical books to help follow along with Gould’s arguments. This is not so much a criticism of Gould’s writing as it my ability to understand the subject matter. Indeed, I found that I enjoyed Gould’s style of science writing more than I did Asimov’s. Asimov was a great explainer. He didn’t write down to the reader, but he often simplified concepts–a good thing for the lay reader.

Gould on the other hands wrote those essays for other professionals and expected that readers of the column would rise to the challenge. These essays are a challenge for me, but I enjoy that challenge, I enjoy puzzling my way through Gould’s arguments to make sure that I understand them. I come away from each one a better-equipped thinker.

I ordered copies of the Gould collections I didn’t already have in hardcopy. That is to say, all of them except Dinosaur in a Haystack, which I picked up in college when it first came out, and which has been sitting on my shelf unread ever since–until this year. I found most of them easily enough, but a few were out of print and I had to locate them from secondhand bookshops online. I was mildly annoyed by this, until fortune stepped in, as it so often has, in my book-buying activity. One place had used copies of The Lying Stones of Marrakech and Leonardo’s Mountain Clams and the Diet of Worms and I ordered both. When they arrived I put them in their proper places on the shelf until I was ready to read them. As I mentioned, I haven’t yet read The Lying Stones of Marrakech, but one day, when I was pulling Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams… off the shelf, I noticed a sticker on The Lying Stones of Marrakech that read “SIGNED.” I flipped open the book and saw this:

My signed copy of The Lying Stones of Marrakech.

The Lying Stones of Marrakech is the penultimate book in the series of essays and was published on April 11, 2000. Gould died in May 2002, which means the book must have been signed by Gould sometime in that 2-year span. It is a joy to have a signed Gould book in my collection.

Gould’s essays have had a notable effect on me. For thing, I’ve learned more about natural history than I ever knew before. The books have opened my eyes to the natural world around me. The range of subjects covered by the books is vast, although nearly always related to some aspect of evolution. They seems to cover everything, from how camouflage evolved in the natural world, to why no one will likely ever hit .400 in the major leagues again.

Recently, for instance, I was out a morning walk. We have a lot of deer in the park woods in our area and seeing them munching along the bike path is a common site in the mornings and evenings. On this particular fall morning, the foliage was riotous, the bike path was covered in leaves, as was the floor of the woods that surrounded me on both sides as I walked.

The path where deer seemed to materialize out of the foliage.

I would not have noticed the young deer to my left had it not raised its head. I caught the motion from the corner of my eye and when I looked there was the young deer standing among a background of similarly colored shrubs and leaves. Experience told me that if I saw one deer, there were likely others around, so I stopped and stood still and peered into the woods. At first, all I saw was a tangle of limbs and leaves that was almost too much to take in. But then as I watched, several deer emerged from that tangle in way that I can only describe as similar to the way the image in those stereograms from the 1980s emerged once you learned how to focus past them. One moment, I was looking at empty woods, the next it seemed full of deer.

If Asimov’s essays formed a foundation on the scientific method and way that science works (his essays were often steeped in the history of science), then Gould’s by comparison have been a graduate courses in the same subjects. Gould’s essays teach not only scientific method and logical thinking, but they challenge with edge cases, give examples of long-accepted arguments that are filled with fallacies, and breakdown the complexities of real science into its component parts. The history he delves into is often the history of science as a self-correcting process.

Like many writers and scientists, Gould’s theories are sometimes seen as controversial. His theory of punctuated equilibrium raised eyebrows, and as I have been working my way through Gould’s essays, I’ve also been sure to read his critics–something his essays helped reinforce. I finally got around to reading Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. And I recently read Daniel C. Dennett’s memoir I’ve Been Thinking and his book Consciousness, Explained both of which have some criticism of Gould and his theories. I take these criticisms seriously, and I don’t yet understand all of theories well enough to make a good judgement as to where I fall. What I can say is that Gould’s essays are among the most intellectually challenging I have come across, and what a joy the experience of reading them has been.

Indeed, I may have to read them again to full grasp the underlying theories Gould writes about. But I look forward to this task with enthusiasm. I am working my way toward reading another Gould book that has been sitting on my shelf unread for 21 years now: his magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. At 1,400 pages, it is a massive tome, and not without controversy and criticism, with some critics calling the book unreadable. I take this statement with a grain of salt. Gould’s essays are difficult but there is a beauty in that challenge, and I can see how any writing that isn’t spoon-fed to a reader can be characterized as “unreadable.” Gould often writes about how he goes to original sources as much as possible for many reasons, a good lesson in critical thinking, and one that I want to embrace by reading and judging The Structure of Evolutionary Theory on my own.

But that may be a project for 2024 and beyond.

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Upcoming Reading for Fall 2023

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The autumnal equinox officially starts on September 22 this year, but it seem like everyone around me treats Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer. The day after Labor Day is one of the best book release days of the year so far. There are three books released on September 5th that I am eagerly awaiting:

  1. Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments by Joe Posnanski. Joe’s previous book, The Baseball 100 was my favorite book of 2021. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book ever since it was first announced. I’ve pre-ordered the audio edition, as well as a signed copy of the hard cover from Rainy Day Books in Kansas City.
  2. Holly by Stephen King. Holly Gibney debuted in the first of the Bill Hodges novels, Mister Mercedes. Since that trilogy, she had made appearances in The Outsider, and in the novella, “If It Bleeds.” Now she’s got a novel all of her own.
  3. The Longmire Defense by Craig Johnson. Johnson’s Longmire books have become among my favorites. I absolutely love the series and I look forward to each new addition the minute I finish one. Which means I have been awaiting The Longmire Defense since I finished reading Hell and Back a little less than a year ago.

I’ve listed these three books in the order I plan to read them. It wouldn’t surprise me if I got through all three of them within a week or 10 days of their September 5th release. But these are not the only books I am looking forward to reading this fall.

I have been making my way through Stephen Jay Gould’s essay collections on natural history. Many of the essays in these books came from the column he wrote in Natural History for more than 20 years, finally ending in January 2001, with his 300th column. I haven’t been reading the collecting in order of release, but rather as I pick them off the shelf. I’ve also recently read Gould’s A Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, and I am currently working my way through his The Mismeasure of Man.

Audible has been releasing versions of Gould’s essay collections recently, and another one, The Flamingo’s Smile, is coming out on September 12, a week after the embarras de richesse of September 5. I have all of these essay collection in paperback form, but I enjoy Jonathan Sleep, who narrates the audiobook edition, and I am looking forward to reading The Flamingo’s Smile after I finish The Longmire Defense.

All of these Gould books are leading up to a conclusion: I’m hoping to tackle Gould’s magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory–or at least get started on it–this fall. This book has been sitting on my shelf for 21 years. I bought it when it first came out, but I’ve never felt prepared to tackle it, until now. Gould, like Asimov, wrote his essays for a wide audience, but unlike Asimov, who strove for clarity, Gould’s essays make the reader–or this reader, anyway–work for them. They are not easy to get through, but they are always rewarding, and I’ve learned a lot from them beyond the bare subjects of each piece. With these essays under my belt, and I fair understanding of Gould’s work, I finally feel like I’m ready to tackle this massive, 1,400 page book.

Some of my Stephen Jay Gould books, including The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, on my shelf now for 21 years.

Some other books I’m looking forward to this fall include:

There are other books on my list, but this is a fairly ambitious list for the fall, especially when I include The Structure of Evolutionary Theory in the mix. Are there book you are looking forward to this fall? Tell me about them in the comments.

(And for those who are curious, here are the books I’ve read so far in 2023.)

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Six Libraries

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In the beginning, there was the Franklin Township Library that my parents took me to when I was just learning to read. The bookshelves looked so tall and they were so full of books. Even then I knew I wanted to read all of them. I settled on one: The Nine Planets by Franklyn M. Branley. This library was my Helen.


In W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, while standing on a baseball diamond that Ray Kinsella has built in cornfield, the eponymous Jackson asks Kinsella, “Is this heaven?” It is the question I frequently asked myself when I pulled open the doors of the Granada Hills branch of the Los Angeles Public Library on hot summer days after a mile-long trek from my house. The door would WHOOSH as I pulled it open and I’d be assaulted by blast of icy cold air from the bowels of the library.

When I read of the Green Town library in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, it was the Granada Hills library that I pictured. I whiled away countless summer mornings in that library, roaming the rows of books. I knew the order of the books in the 500 section by heart. I went through the rack of Choose-Your-Own-Adventures countless times. I read Race Against Time by Piers Anthony is a single morning, not daring to tear my eyes from its page. This library was my heaven.


I am fortunate enough to work in a library. It is a library half-a-century in the making and it surrounds me on all sides for the better part of my days. There are more than a thousand books in this library, but I know where everyone of them is without even looking. But I look anyway. I look frequently, if for nothing else than the perspective the library provides.

After a long programming session or during a stressful Teams meeting, I can turn my head to the left and look across the room to the top of a corner bookshelf. There I see a worn copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and I remember that a bug in program or a disagreement in a meeting is small potatoes. If I’m feeling a little low and need a pick-me-up, I can cross the room and pull an Andy Rooney volume off the shelf. In minutes, I’ll be laughing. When I am overwhelmed, I’ll turn to E.B. White’s One Man’s Meat. A page or two, sometimes a sentence or two is often enough to steady my heart. This library is my sanctuary.


What is the opposite of a nightmare? The closest I’ve come is the dream in which I spent the night in the main branch of the New York Public Library–what is known as the Stephen A. Schwartzman Building.

What is the opposite of a haunted house? Because there are ghosts in this library. At first I just hear their muted whispers as I wander the stacks, my fingers trailing along the spines of a million books, here a translation of Horace, here a Harlquin romance novel, here Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Wait Till Next Year, here a tattered copy of the February 26, 1966 New Yorker containing E. B. White’s essay “Mr. Forbush’s Friends.” Then I realize the sound are coming from the reading room and I make my way into that great hall.

It is full of apparitions, whispering so as not to disturb the readers. There is Sam Clemons. Over there is Edward Gibbon chatting with Winston Churchill. Seated around a table stacked with science fiction paperbacks, Isaac Asimov is chatting with L. Sprague de Camp and Robert Heinlein. David McCullough is pestering John Quincy Adams, who looks just as cranky as he seems in his journals.. They are here, all of them, forever part of the books and articles and letters and journals that they produced. If you listen carefully, you too can hear them as you wander the stacks. This library is my fantasy.


I mourn all of the books I will never get to read for lack of time. I mourn all the books no one today will get to read because they no longer exist. I am envious of all of those long gone souls who visited the Great Library of Alexandria to explore its treasures. What great works of art and science and history and literature were lost there, never to be seen again. This library is my sorrow.


The ultimate library for my is the Library of Trantor from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books. I often dream of wandering those endless stacks and corridors. Instead of the collected knowledge, wisdom, and art of a single world, here we have the knowledge, wisdom, and art of a million worlds.

That short book, The Nine Planets, from the Franklin Township library all those years ago had a huge scope: the entire history of our solar system. Zoom into a single planet with that solar system, and look at that world’s history. Will Durant’s 11-volume Story of Civilization covers the human side of the story in a mere 13,500 pages. Settle on a single person in that history, say Leonardo da Vinci. Walter Isaacson has written a fascinating biography that brought the man to life for me. da Vinci produced thousands of pages of notes and drawings in his notebooks over his life. Mark Kurlansky has written an excellent history, Paper, on which all of these books were written.

When I wander the Library of Trantor, I imagine following threads like this for worlds I’ve never heard of. Who was their Napoleon? Their Mozart? Their Moses?

What makes this Library truly special is that I imagine that somewhere, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, such a library existed, may still exist. That library is my hope.


  • I’ve written about The Nine Planets many times before, but my favorite piece is one I wrote on how a single book can shape a life: Book Banning: An Alternate History.
  • Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. The movie version of the book is Field of Dreams, a good film. But the book is still better.
  • “I pulled open the doors of the Granada Hills branch of the Los Angeles Public Library…” For a great book on the Los Angeles Public Library, read Susan Orlean’s The Library Book.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. This was one of the most incredible books I’d come across when I first read it in the fall of 1997. I often quote from the book in the fall, much to the dismay of my family, when October rolls around. “First of all it was October, a rare month for boys…”
  • Race Against Time by Piers Anthony was the first of something like a hundred Piers Anthony books I read when I was young. At the time, I didn’t realize it was Piers Anthony. Today, when I think about that book, I sometimes confuse it in my mind with Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint.
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. I made some notes on the book after reading it.
  • One Man’s Meat by E.B. White. This is one of my all-time favorite essay collections. As of this writing, I’ve read it six times.
  • Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin. If you like baseball, you’ll enjoy this memoir of growing up as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.
  • “I am envious of all of those long gone souls who visited the Great Library of Alexandria…” There are some fun scenes and speculation in Jack McDevitt’s Time Traveler’s Never Die that take place in this library.
  • The Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant. This is my desert island book. It is also an amusing study in scope creep.
  • Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. If you can manage it, get the hard cover edition. It is printed on high-quality paper and makes the art pop.
  • Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky.

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My New and Improved (and Automated!) Reading List

A stacked date list plot of the number of books I've read by year since 1996

Late last year, I set 3 goals for myself for 2023: (1) consolidate the apps that I use; (2) simplify; and (3) automate repetitive tasks.

One repetitive task I’ve been dealing with for decades is maintaining and publishing my reading list. I started keeping my reading list back in 1996 in order to track a goal that I’d set for myself: to read one book per week. Initially, the reading list was in a text file. That was followed by Excel, HTML on an early website, a SQL database, more HTML, a plain text file on GitHub, and most recently, a markdown file that I host through Obsidian Publish.

None of my “routine” tasks have proved more time-consuming than maintaining this list. Frequently, I update in one place, and then have to make similar updates in other places to keep everything in sync. If I could automate this, it would be a huge win. Recently, this is just what I have done.

I created an Excel spreadsheet which is now my canonical master reading list. This is the only place I make updates. I wrote a Wolfram Language script that generates my reading list markdown file as well as a new reading stats page from the spreadsheet. I then simply publish the changes in Obsidian Publish, and presto! A single process for doing it all!

You can see the results on my reading list site. In addition to automatically generating the list, my script also produces the new Reading Stats page, which has all kinds of charts and visualizes of my reading over the decades, with more in the works. I no longer have to do this manually myself, and it has proven a big timesaver already.

To cap things off, I wrote a new About the List page, which gives the history of my reading list and provides an FAQ. Eventually, I’m looking to automate this further by having Wolfram Language detect when my reading list file is updated and automatically produce the updated files, and publish them.

I’m pleased with this new process since it saves measurable amounts of time (considering how much I read and, therefore, how frequently I’m updating my list), which means more time for other things. Like writing more here on the blog.

Written on 6 May 2023.

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Books I Read Between 1977-1995

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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.

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Passing Down the Reading List Tradition

I began keeping a list of all of the books I read beginning in 1996. I was almost 24 years old, and I think the inspiration to keep a list came from a list I’d seen online by someone who’d been keeping the list since 1974. I lamented the fact that I’d missed tracking twenty-plus years of books I’d read. Yet when I finally began keeping the list, it was at a time when I decided to try reading a book a week. My list, I figured, would grow quickly. My list has taken various forms online over the years, but my “master” list is contained in a Leuchtturm1917 notebook where, at the moment, the 1,240 books I’ve read take up almost all of the first 60 pages.

Over the weekend, the Littlest Miss discovered a stack of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books on my bookshelf. She is 6-1/2, a very good reader, and she asked me about those books. I explained the concept of them to her, and she seemed excited by it. So much so, that she sat down Friday evening and read through one of them. Now, “reading through” a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book is not a linear process, but she seemed to attempt every possible permutation. She did it in a logic way, too. She told me that when she went back to the beginning, she’d skipped the parts she already read, and only read the new parts.

She finished the book that very evening. When she finished, she came up to me and asked if we could start her own list of books. I’d set aside a fresh Leuchtturm1917 notebook for this very purpose. We opened the wrapping on it together, and I explained to her my simple rules for keeping my list:

  1. Only books I finish go on the list. I don’t track books I don’t finish. Too much work.
  2. Each finished book gets a number.
  3. If I re-read a book, and finish it again, it goes on the list again with another number, but I also indicate it is a re-read with a ^ after the title.
  4. Paper, e-books, and audiobooks all count, so long as I finish them.

Together, we got her notebook setup. I told her that since it was her notebook and her list, she had to complete the list herself. She wrote the title on the cover (you can see it in the photo above). And then, on the first page of the book, she made her first entry. You can see both of our “first pages” in the image below.

The first page of my reading list (left) and the Littlest Miss's reading list (right).

Over the weekend, the Littlest Miss completed 2 more Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books and her list has grown by two additional entries.

I’m envious. If she can keep her list going, not only will she have a more extensive list than I ever had, but her list will reflect the evolution of her thinking and interests from an early age. It will mirror the evolution (and improvement) in her handwriting. And, much as my book list goes, it will act as a kind of memoir of her life. Through some quirk of memory, when I glance through my list, I can remember exactly where I was when I read a particular book on the list, even if I don’t remember the book all that well.

It’s been a delight to see how excited the Littlest Miss was by the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, and also how excited she was to begin keeping her own list. I’ve already told her that she can use my list any time she wants if she is looking for ideas or recommendations. (All books that I’d recommend are indicated by a * in the margin of the page.) It is a journey we are now taking together.

Written on 26 February 2023.

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My Best Reads of 2022

assorted books on book shelves
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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.

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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.

A Simple, Unified Reading List in Obsidian Publish

assorted books on book shelves
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Recently, I have been working on simplifying my notes in Obsidian1. One of the things I have wanted to do for a while is make the list of books I’ve read since 1996 available in simple way that is easy to maintain, but extensible, so that I can eventually include notes about books I’ve read. So I subscribed to the Obsidian Publish service, and after experimenting with various formats, decided to keep things very simple and created a page that lists what I have read since 19962.

The result looks something like this (which may evolve over time, especially if you are reading this post sometime after 15 November 2022):

a screenshot of my new reading list site

Some elements of the new reading list:

  1. Clicking on the “Guide to the reading list” will provide some additional information about what appears on the list.
  2. The entire list of everything I’ve read since 1 January 1996 is in a single page. However, you can jump to a given year using the index at the top of the page.
  3. At the beginning of each year is a “Year in review” section in which I list notable reading-related things for that year. As of this writing, I have not yet completed these for every year on the list.
  4. Some book titles contain links to notes about the book in question. These links are mostly just stubs at this point, as I play around with how I want to manage this.

Reading stats

I’ve also added a reading stats page, which has some basic year-by-year stats for the reading that I do. Over time, I see the information on this page growing, almanac-like to cover various aspects of what I’ve read.


Finally, I’ve added what I call a “now” page that lists things I’m working on now, and things I’m currently reading. This is a conventient place to direct people from various online profiles. (You can see it, for instance, in my Twitter profile, for as long as that remains actively useful.)

a screen capture of my Twitter profile

The reading list site is in its most basic form right now and I see if growing and evolving over time. I’ll post significant updates here on the blog. But you can see more detailed information on the Reading List change log.

Written on 15 November 2022.

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  1. Details in a future post.
  2. Technical detail for those interested in such things: I’ve hosted my reading list in various places online since the late 1990s. The URL has therefore changed over the years. One of the things I wanted to do with this effort was have a single URL on my site that I could in the future no matter where my list was actually hosted. So I created a stub page in WordPress at the following URL: https://jamierubin.net/reading-list/. On this URL, I setup a redirect that takes you to where my list is hosted on my Obsidian Publish site: https://notes.jtrwriter.com/reading/lists/reading-list. I did this so that what I link to my list in the future, I can link the the short WordPress link, and it will always point to the current location of my reading list, no matter where it is hosted. End technical note.

Reading All the Books

pile of assorted novel books
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Now and then I lament that there will never be enough time to read all of the books I want to read. I could spend lifetimes reading books that have already been written, without even scratching the surface. And that wouldn’t count all of the new books that are constantly being released.

I touched on this most recently back in 2017, when I wrote a pair of posts on the mathematics of reading (part 1, part 2). Around the same time, I wrote a lengthy entry in my diary that delved into my own personal mathematics of reading, trying to figure out how I could cram more reading into my day. Since 2013, I’ve taken advantage of audiobooks to be able to read while doing other things: commuting, walking, exercising, doing chores around the house, waiting in lines, etc. This diary entry explored increasing the speed at which I listened to audiobooks steadily over time. Indeed, in 2018, I managed to read 130 books, and another 110 in 2019, both a dramatic increase over previous years.

These days, I find myself listening to audiobooks at 1.7x and occasionally, 2.0x for certain narrators (like Grover Gardner, for instance) and that helps. I’ve made such a steady increase in the speed that I listen to the books since 2013 that 1.7x sounds perfectly normal to me.

I thought that these 2017 ruminations on the finite amount of reading I could do in a lifetime were among the earliest I’d had, brought on my reaching middle-age, perhaps. But I was wrong. Among the treasures I discovered recently in some of my older writing was an early lament in the “so many books, so little time” vain. On March 20, 1995 (over a year before I began keeping a diary, when I was just approaching 23 years old), I wrote the following to a group of friends.

March 20, 1995, Installment 17

While we are on the subject of numbers, I mentioned last time how I had recently began to feel that I would never be able to read everything I want to read in my lifetime. I thought about this more last night, and the thought became so terrifying as to shake me from my sleep. Allow me to explain.

I realized sometime earlier this month that there are far too many books in the world than I would ever be able to read in my lifetime. Far, too many. When I was younger, I used to be kept up all hours of the night in fear, thinking about death. I eventually ourgrew that fear and it has never bothered me since. However, the feeling of terror I had last night was far worse than any feeling of terror I had toward death. I realized that I wouldn’t even come close to reading all the books there are to be read. I tried to calm my thoughts by telling myself that I would only read books I felt compelled to read, which would certainly narrow the field quite a bit. But this realization soon turned to horror as well. In the ten years that I have been reading science fiction, I have only barely scraped the tip of the iceberg. And that’s just science fiction. I realized, with horror, that all of the books which I skimmed over in high school (when I was stupid and lazy) I also wanted to read, not to mention books I heard about, as well as all the new books coming off the presses by the thousands each year.

At the beginning of the year, I made it part of my resolution to read 100 books this year. When I saw that wasn’t going to happen, I was quick to revise my goal to fifty, which I can do, but will be tough. In order to help organize myself, I began three lists. I began these lists a week ago. One list is a description of what I read each day (so I don’t duplicate unless I choose to). Another list is a list of what I want to read next; this is my main list, and I go through the list in a first-in-first-out manner. The third list is a “wish list” of book and stories I want to get.

Part of my realization (and terror) last night came from those lists. You see, it took me a week to complete I. ASIMOV. It seems like a long time, but I was only reading about 100 minutes a day, and since I was reading an average of 70 pages an hour or so (quite a bit!) eight days isn’t so bad. The problem was the phenomenon that occurred in that period of one week. My list of books and stories I want to read, the one which had only one book at the beginning of the week, now had EIGHT books on it. (Five book, and three short stories, to be truthful). Suddenly, my list had grown by eight weeks. (Working full time, and writing [regularly again, finally] three nights a week, I estimate I can still read 1 book a week). At that rate, my list would grow eight times faster than my reading, so that after one year of reading, I would complete about 50 books (not bad, and far above the average), but my list will havew grown to 400 books and/or stories! By the time I am seventy, my list of books still to read will be longer than all the books I have ever read all together.

I will forever be in a deficit.

This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but to me it is. I wish that I could read all the books there are in existance, yet I know that I will not be able to. In some ways this is a tragedy. I’m trying, though. I am currently reading THE GODS THEMSELVES (Isaac Asimov), and next week I’ll be reading four short stories, and the following three weeks will consist of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, DANTE’S INFERNO, and THE ILIAD. So I’m trying.

But I’ll always be behind, and I doubt that my efforts to catch up will ever be successful. Still, it’s a good excuse to read profusely, something which I love to do (as I’m sure you guys know.)

I found these ruminations of mine very interesting. I wrote them down 27 years ago and today, found a few enlightening things in them:

  • In the piece I mentioned “in the ten years I’ve been reading science fiction.” That seems to cement when I first started reading science fiction to when I was 12 and about to turn 13 years old. That seems right to be, looking back on it. I would have been in 7th grade and I think that is right around the time I discovered a Piers Anthony book called Race Against Time in the Granada Hill branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. It was not the first science fiction I’d read, but it might have been the one to lead me to other Piers Anthony books, something I obsessed over for a time.
  • I had a goal back then to read 100 books/year. I didn’t actually meet this goal, or come close to meeting it until 2018, some 23 years after first writing it down.
  • I mentioned keeping some lists of books, including books that I’d read. I don’t remember these lists, but they were likely precursors to the list of books I’ve read since 1996, which I started keeping about 9 months after writing this piece to my friends, and which I have maintained ever since.
  • I lamented that the list of books I wanted to read grew faster than the books I actually read, probably my first inkling of what today I call the butterfly effect of reading.

It was fun to revisit that piece of writing when I was still a brash 22-year old. Today, I am still occasionally frustrated that I can’t read as much as I’d like to. But with age, I’ve come to be grateful for the books I have read. And I’d like to think that that 22 year old version of me would take some satisfaction knowing that in the years since, I’ve managed to read about 1,200 books.

I suspect, however, that he’d scoff at that. “Only 1,200?”

Written on April 12, 2022.

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A List of Books to Read

close up photo of stacked books
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Today I jotted down a list of books to read. I think it serves as a good, real-world example of how the butterfly effect of reading works on me. It started on my afternoon walk. I was listening to the final volume of William L. Shirer’s memoir, A Native’s Return and Shirer mentioned Winston Churchill’s obituary and then recounted some of the brief interactions he’d had with the Churchill. I’d read William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Churchill 8 years ago, and it impressed me. I was particularly moved by a passage about the death of Marigold Churchill, his daughter. I was reminded that I’d always wanted to read Churchill’s World War II memoir, the full version of which fill six volumes. I scratched the word “Churchill” on my list.

Shirer also mentions Thucydidies in his memoir, and that reminded me that I’ve wanted to read The History of the Peloponnesian War. In my Field Notes notebook, I wrote “Thucydides.”

Thucydides got me thinking about ancient histories. Hadn’t I picked up a copy of Herodotus’s Histories? “Herodotus” went on the list.

In the chapters discussing his book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I recently read, Shirer mentions that in length, it is almost as long as Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. That’s another history I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I scratched “Decline and Fall” on my list.

The chapter I was listening to ended, and I decided to walk the rest of the way home in silence. I thought about the things we needed to do before our road trip down to Florida two days hence. One thing the those semi-annual trips to Florida meant was 4 days of driving–two down and two back–during which I could spend 8+ hours each day listening to audiobooks. What books would I want to listen to?

There was that new biography of Harry S. Truman that had come out, The Trials of Harry S. Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 by Jeffrey Frank. I scribbled “Truman” on my list. And there was that cleverly titled book, The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz. I wrote “Joy of x” on my list.

I glanced up at the sky. It was a slate gray, overcast and gloomy. For some reason I thought of the moon, and that in turn reminded me that I’d seen a new book come out by Fred Haise, an astronaut on Apollo 13. As someone who has consumed dozens of books on the space program, and especially Apollo, I decided that this would make a good read for our trip. I jotted “Fred Haise” on the list.

My mind drifted back to my recent reading, which contained a lot of World War II. I’d read John Toland’s The Rising Sun, and Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer knew a lot of people, especially journalists, and I thougt about a passage he mentioned about John Hersey, author of Hiroshima. Hadn’t I picked up that book while I was reading Toland? “Hiroshima” went on my list. Of course, Shirer was a journalist, and I once thought about being a journalist–even going so far as to take a minor in the subject. Was there another journalist I could read about?

I pulled out my phone and scanned the list of books I’d recently obtained. Among them was Carl Bernstein’s Chasing History. “Bernstein” went on my list.

That was 9 books. I felt like I needed one more for an even ten. Right there below Bernstein’s book was another book I had recently acquired, Baseball in the Garden of Eden by John Thorn. Since the baseball season was about to start, I added “Baseball book” to the list. Here then, is the page from my Field Notes notebook containing a list of books to read.

a page from my field notes notebook with my list of books

This is a good list. I may not get to all of these books right away, or in this order. The butterfly effect of reading is unpredictable. But it’s a useful list to have going into our trip down to Florida.

ETA (4/27/2022): Since writing this post I’ve read the Truman biography, and The Joy of x. I also read another biography of FDR (not on the list above) and a biography of George Marshall. And I am, at the moment, almost finished with Carl Bernstein’s memoir, Chasing History.

Written on April 6, 2022.

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