Archive for July, 2009

Reading is great, reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

July 29th, 2009

Last night I discovered myself thinking, “Only 20 books left to choose”. This is after I purchased book #32, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. After a recent shift in thinking, described here, I realized that I need to spend more time in the selection of literature, and less time counting down the pages, the books. With this new focus on quality and not necessarily quantity (although this is a numbers goal), I have renewed energy and more determination to not only read books as an attempt at loftier pursuits, but also to consider that this alone is not enough. Reading is great. Reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

I have been mistaking goals for purpose. Does a runner set a marathon goal for the sake of the marathon? Does the autobiographer set a publication goal for the sake of publication? I would argue that they do not. I would argue that the training, whether it be running or writing, is the reward. To train for a marathon you need progress, and progress is the point of the goal. For goals to matter, one has to care about not just getting from A to Z, but you have to want the B through Y. Without that, what’s the point of Z?

The point of my goal isn’t just to read. My goal is to progress as a person by reading important and influential books that were intended to create this progression in society. Is there a loftier goal among writers than that to teach? Looking back on the year so far, I noticed that I haven’t been doing that. I only have 20 books left. They need to count, so to speak.

I’ve been asked several times this year how I choose my books. I don’t really have an answer. A book will catch my eye, or be mentioned in another book, or recommended by someone whose judgement I trust. But there never was a plan, and I’ve made poor choices. With the last 20 books will come a plan of sorts. I’ve already began collecting titles that I feel are important, including:

  • Man’s Search For Meaning
  • Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
  • Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
  • The Education of Henry James
  • The Double Helix
  • The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
  • The Economy of Cities

The list is getting long, longer than what I’ve listed above, and will be tapered down, but there is a plan. Only 20 books left. ONLY 20.

This site has helped with something I hadn’t planned on, accountability. It may be a false accountability, I don’t know. But I do feel accountable and have felt accountable since January. I made a statement on this website about my intentions for 2009 and I felt tied to that. At times it hasn’t been the easiest thing to do, this reading. At times it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do. And, at times, it feels like something I’ll never stop doing. This is now habit. And if it takes 21 days to break a habit, well 21 days without reading is unlikely. I see myself in January, 2010, blogging “Let’s do it again!”. But other times, not a chance.

But I feel an odd sense of someone looking over my shoulder when I choose my books now. Someone over my shoulder analyzing my choices and someone in my head always asking THE question, “Is This Book IMPORTANT?”. Several times I’ll notice a book, a seemingly really interesting book, but then decide it isn’t important, it’s a book for now, not a book for always.

Am I taking this too seriously? Am I analyzing this to death? Possibly. Probably. Even my father, after my spewing thoughts of importance and accountability at him, suggested a Dean Koontz, in jest, something easy and entertaining. My mother, a 12-page children’s book by John Lithgow. I countered with Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim At Tinkers Creek, at which point her eyes widened and she hurried off, returning with a well-worn and heavily annotated copy of the Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. They worry over my all-or-nothing approach to things, but they also understand the excitement of not just achieving difficult goals, but also understand the sensation of being pleasantly lost in a sea of words.

With all this in mind, I start The World Without Us, and finding the answer to the question posed in the introductory chapter:

Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?

I’m curious, as well.

Alan Weisman, The World WIthout Us ,

Robert Fulghum Raises The Bar. Completed 31 of 52.

July 27th, 2009

I’m through with Fulghum’s book (#31 of 52). It is brilliant. It’s the kind of book that you can read one page at a time, take a moment and let it sink in, and then move on to the next. It’s that way because it’s a collection of passages that have inspired his own writing, almost all are just a few sentences. They aren’t his words, so the style and tone and delivery are different on every single page. For non-fiction, it’s an incredible page-turner. He has favorites from all walks of life, Tom Robbins, Norman Cousins, Gandhi, Lao-Tzu, Albert Camus, Thoreau, Roosevelt. A wide spectrum, yes. All fantastic bits.

Another great thing about this book is that it’s a short list of the best non-fiction books of all-time. And being that I am somewhat resolute in not wasting my time with…”of-the-moment” drivel, this book will be as a springboard, catapulting me headfirst with velocity and smiles to the best literature (hopefully) a man can engross himself in. I find myself writing titles on post-its, receipts, baseball cards, whatever is around, titles of books mentioned or titles of books by authors mentioned.

A voracious reader himself, there is no shortage of timeless wisdom that Fulghum has picked up. A nice passage tonight:

The man who never alters his opinion
is like standing water,
and breeds reptiles of the mind.

– William Blake

And one for when you are really down, and need a pick-me-up, gnaw on this one for a spell:

The great thing about suicide is that it’s not one of those things you have to do now or you lose your chance. I mean, you can always do it later.

– Harvey Feinstein.

SO true!

Book Thoughts, Robert Fulghum, Words I Wish I Wrote ,

The FLOW Has Stopped

July 24th, 2009

7 days after I “started” reading FLOW, it’s been put back on the shelf.

Looking for inspiration, I took my family to my parent’s house and watched fireworks. I talked with my Dad about FLOW briefly, and confirmed that the book was indeed a poor choice.

Later in the night I was looking at a book that was on his nightstand, Words I Wish I Wrote, by Robert Fulghum. Fulghum, of Everything I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten fame.

I’m on page 47 and can’t wait to get back to it. Reader’s unblocked.

Robert Fulghum, Words I Wish I Wrote ,

Reader’s Block @ Week 30

July 23rd, 2009

Six days in and I’m on page 28 of FLOW. Page 28. That’s less than 5 pages a day. Perhaps I should have waited until after I encountered the tightrope walker to pick my next book because every time I pick the book up I subconsciously ask myself, “is this book really that important?”.

Don’t ask how I know this if it’s subconscious. I won’t have an answer.

So I’m officially stuck with reader’s block. If I don’t finish this book by Saturday I will officially be behind schedule for the first time.

Did I set myself up for failure when asking so much from myself by how I select my books? Why is reading by itself no longer enough? Is this an enigma wrapped in a mystery stuffed in a pancake?

So, any tips on how to overcome reader’s block and what I call “Unreachable Literary Expectations”?

p.s. today I added a donate button to the site. it’s not a stretch to think that if people donate to this, I’m more apt to accomplish it. nevertheless, a hint of shame entered my consciousness, I’ll tell you that. books at this volume are more expensive than I had anticipated. my anticipation skills are poor.

Book Thoughts, flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ,

Tightrope Walker Giving Me A Not-So-Subtle Push

July 20th, 2009

I watched an amazing film last night called Man On Wire. It got me thinking. This film is probably the best documentary film I have ever seen. The premise isn’t that exciting, the guy walks a tightrope between the two towers. Now, that is pretty crazy, right? But is it? As I watched the film I began to change my mind. It wasn’t crazy at all. It wasn’t even stupid. It was dangerous, yes, but it was also amazing and beautiful and transcendent.

But this post isn’t about the movie. It’s about what the movie taught me. It’s about what the movie taught me about the things that are going on in my mind, with what I’m involved in now, with this, the crazy goal of reading this much. 52 books isn’t so crazy anymore. Reading and tightrope walking are not the same. I’m not in any way comparing the two. Not even the goals exist on the same plane.

And with that I realized that I’m wasting my time. But I also realized that I don’t need to tightrope-walk really high in the air to maximize the time I spend doing something that drives me. Philippe Petit wasn’t content with the easy walk. He wanted something that challenged him, an act that pushed him far beyond himself.

Now, I know that I’ll never accomplish anything remotely close to our Monsieur Petit. But, I’m in the middle of doing something that I didn’t think I’d be able to do. I’m walking my own tightrope. So why am I wasting my time walking a tightrope that is only a few feet off the ground? Metaphors aside, why am I wasting my time with books that aren’t challenging, that don’t inspire as much as books are supposed to? I’ll tell you why. It’s because I know that books on the NYT bestseller list, or that are face-out on the bookshelves, or are getting 4.5 stars at Amazon are going to be no-doubters in the sense that I won’t feel I wasted money by reading them. Nobody will. Because, like so much bad T.V., they’re written to sell. They’re written with society’s “lowest-common denominator” in mind. As we’ve seen with some fantastic T.V. shows, too interesting equates to too few people in the audience.

There are exceptions in my current reading list. But I’m not challenging myself enough by moving outside the realm of what kinds of literature I’m comfortable with.

Self-Help? Out.
Better Business? Out.
Clever Memoir That EVERYONE loves? Out.
Baseball? Not happening.
Programming? *shrug*

You get my point.

Drop me off in the middle of Europe with no map. Throw me in the jungle with no food and a small blade. Give me scuba gear and tell me to find the gold. Put me high in the mountains with only my sneakers. This, after all, is the point of literature, right? Take me someplace I’ve never seen. Take me on an adventure I’ve never been.

I’ve been in the psychiatrist’s chair.
I’ve been in the conference room.
I’ve lived a life worth a memoir.
I’ve watched baseball.
and I’ve done some programming.


And THAT is the message of Man On Wire.

Book Thoughts ,

I Finished Another Actual Book

July 17th, 2009

Book #30 is in the bag. This was the 2nd book in a row that came out of nowhere. Which means that it wasn’t in my Amazon wishlist, or something I had heard about in a magazine, or from another book, which is how it usually works. Each of the last two books have come from the workplace. I’m not a software guy or a programming guy, but this book was exceptional and I fell just short of demanding everyone I know read it.

It’s a small little book, paperback too, and it costs between $79 and $104 on Amazon. I know, pretty crazy. I could buy 10 John Grisham books for that amount! 😉 . But since I didn’t buy it, it was worth every penny. Even at that price, though, if you work in an environment where there is even a little software development and you are even just the slightest bit involved, it will radically change how you perceive “the process”. Two thumbs up from me.

So my next book is well known, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Or, Mr. C if you prefer. I read the first chapter of this over 10 years ago and remember thinking “Wow!”. I also remember never picking it up again. I didn’t approach reading then as I do now. There is another book by Mr. C floating around the office and it has caught my eye a time or two. Perhaps book #32?

Book Thoughts , , ,

I Finished An Actual Book

July 13th, 2009

I completed Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. That in itself is newsworthy since it feels like forever since I’ve completed anything. But because I was a few weeks ahead before I hit this literary wall that is The Summer, I’m still on track for my goal of 52.

This next book is another borrowed one from work. It’s called Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way To Build A Successful Web Application. I know, really exciting. It is.

I feel like I’m back on track, and I’m excited to hit the books again. FYI.

You all should watch the “Glee” pilot. Srsly.

Book Thoughts , , ,

A Struggling Update

July 6th, 2009

I’m struggling. With reading. Somehow I’ve lost track of the hours in a day, or perhaps life is catching up with me. Either way, I’m no longer soaring, breezing, drifting casually hundreds of hundreds of pages at a time. Each page is a laborious, energy draining TASK.

I read the two SQL books, and since then I’ve started and stopped a couple books. The CSS book was not read, way too much like a reference text. February, March, maybe. But not now, not in these circumstances.

I’m reading two books right now, which is a bad sign. It’s not a sign of studious reading, it’s a sign of non-commitment.

Today is the start of week #28. I’ve read 28 books. So, in a way, I’m right on target. But I know myself better than to rest on that. I’m behind, mentally, in my reading.

Despite being “right on track”, I haven’t completed a book since June 13th. That is a long time. Since then I’ve dropped 1 book, and started 2 others.

That “high” I would get from reading has gone away. My mind is still alive and active as it was when reading vehemently, but it has a new focus, something more important right now, my career. Not that reading was a distraction, because I often read late at night before bed, instead of watching T.V.. But the books, particularly the ones on SQL took me in a new direction, and it’s hard to read something else besides programming books when your mind wraps itself around a new topic that excites you. Luckily, the knowledge I gained from those two books has helped my career, which took an unexpected turn a couple weeks ago and now I’m doing much more amateur “database development” than I was ever required to do. I’m able to solve problems and streamline workflow much easier now.

So now I’m reading a book called “The Book” which is essentially a textbook on statistics centered around the game of baseball. It’s highly technical and mathematical and … dry.

I’m also reading “Predictably Irrational”, which discusses a developing field called “Behavioral Economics”. It’s a great book, and has helped get some of the excitement back.

I’m nowhere near completing either one.

So I’m on track, as far as numbers, but I’m lagging. And conversely, work is getting more and more interesting and my mind is focused almost singularly on that. Which for now is a great thing.

It’s July now, the Fall will soon be here. How then, will my resolution be?

Book Thoughts , ,