Homer & Langley In Brief Summary

September 16th, 2009 - written by

I loved this book. The pace was wonderful. And it so ably shows that even an ol’ geezer like Doctorow can have a mind so young and energetic. There is a part of the book where all the lights go out in this mansion that he and his brother inhabit and Homer, being blind and having memorized the lay of the house, is the only one that can lead everyone out safely. It turns into this long conga line (with a slew of 60’s hippies), that spills out into the Manhattan streets. And the scene is so poignant and telling, and so remarkable in it’s portrayal that I put the book down and let myself be filled with a smile on my face and it reminded me why I’m reading. Words as breezes such as the ones that you watch barrel through the yard and play with a loved one’s golden hair and all is right around you. The scene was short but was so explicit in it’s intention. Explicit but not overdone, not-so-subtly nudging you to see the simplest of pleasures in Homer’s life and thus in your own. Doctorow doesn’t tell you what to feel, but his keen mind and knowing smile are right there in plain sight for all who wish to see something that at first glance isn’t there. The attention you give is given back a hundred fold, as all good books do.

Check out Homer & Langley: A Novel at Amazon.

Book Thoughts

I Drink Your Bookshelf!

September 13th, 2009 - written by

One of my favorite Kindle screensaver images. I only have four. Here is a sweet hack to put your own images into your Kindle to be used as your screensaver: Kindle 2 Screensaver Hack .

I drink it right up! Original Image Here for download


E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley

September 13th, 2009 - written by

I’m through with The Fountainhead. Finally. This behemoth took me far too long. And I didn’t particularly like it at all. Probably the least enjoyable read so far this year. I will speak no more of it. On to E.L. Doctorow now, and Homer & Langley. Almost halfway through now, so far, so decent.

Book Updates , ,

Bookstore No More

September 11th, 2009 - written by

I went to Barnes & Noble today to pick up a new book. This is a rarity and today it became clear why that is so. I have Amazon Prime, so I don’t pay for shipping from Amazon, I have a Kindle also. So when I started browsing books at B&N I found it very hard to rationalize spending $24.99 for a new (or old) hardcover book. How are these stores still in business? I can buy 2 books for my Kindle for roughly $5.00 cheaper than 1 hardcover book at B&N or Borders (in some cases). You are basically a sucker if you are buying books from brick & mortar stores these days.

I used to enjoy the retail bookstore experience. But with the onset of “Web 2.0” it is becoming a much more enjoyable shopping experience at Amazon.com, or through the Kindle store on my Kindle or even my iPhone. There simply isn’t a reason for me go to a bookstore an longer. And that isn’t a sad thing.

I’m still finishing The Fountainhead, probably a couple days away. I finished book #37 before book #36, which makes things wonky, but I’m on track. Today I purchased two books which are a fourth the size of The Fountainhead so I should start and finish those in the next week. The two new books are Homer and Langley, by E.L. Doctorow and NurtureShock, by Po Bronson, both look great.

Book Updates , , ,

You’re Still Reading Fountainhead?

September 6th, 2009 - written by

Yes. Yes I am. A MUCH longer book than I had anticipated. Also to complicate matters I started book #37 last week despite not being finished with book #36. So I’m a little behind, but not enough for it to worry me. I should be done with both books by the end of next week.


Book Updates

The Fountainhead Plan

August 22nd, 2009 - written by

Geez this is a big book. And AWESOME. Here is the plan, Kindle page by Kindle page:

The Kindle software breaks up books into nice little chunks. The Fountainhead has 14,783 of these chunks. My plan is to read 1000 per day, over 15 days, to finish the book on September 3.

It has always been easier for me to tackle large things incrementally. I originally came up with this method at the beginning of the year but soon stopped because I was getting through the books so quickly and didn’t need any “method”. But The Fountainhead is 700+ in really really fine print and it is DAUNTING. So far so good though, through 3000+ sections and learning quite a lot.

Book Thoughts , ,

*SparkNotes Delivers!

August 22nd, 2009 - written by


I’ve been hitting this site for insights. Characters, plot-lines, subplots… VERY helpful, especially with a book this lengthy .

Sparknotes , ,

Ayn Rand – The Fountainhead – Book #36

August 19th, 2009 - written by

On to something a little more challenging, Ayn Rand‘s The Fountainhead. John Steinbeck was excellent of course, nothing much to say there except whenever I read him, I want to head to Monterey. The Pearl was not typical of the Steinbeck I’ve read. I’m glad I reread these two last books, I had forgotten about them.

I know nothing of Ayn Rand, nor of Objectivism. I suppose that’s why it’s next.

Book Updates , , ,

The Old Man and The Sea

August 18th, 2009 - written by

I tried Annie Dillard and didn’t quite get it. This was quite humbling, as the book won the Pulitzer. (*sigh*) So I started reading The Watchman (as per the poll, sorry polsters). Which, at first, was really exciting for me, having never read anything like that. Then it it turned dark and depressing which normally wouldn’t bother me, but right now I’m in a bit of a patch. So I turned to Hemingway early this morning and read The Old Man and The Sea clear through. I read this once before, almost ten years ago, but I don’t remember the story exactly as I read it today. As Clifton Fadimen puts it (I had to look him up):

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.

I’m reading Steinbeck tonight. The same month that I read The Old Man and The Sea in ’99 I also read The Pearl. These are very short books. This is great for two reasons. 1. I can usually read short books in just a couple sittings which helps out in capturing the story better (for some people, like me). 2. I can read a couple shorter books and make room for larger books that require more than a week to read. This has helped me a couple times this year, once to give me a little breathing room and another time to fit in a much longer book (The Book Thief). Ayn Rand has been sitting on my bookshelf, taunting me and ridiculing me. The Fountain Head‘s thickness haunts me.

Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea , , , ,

Poll: Choose My Next Book!

August 13th, 2009 - written by

As I’m re-reading Man’s Search For Meaning I thought I’d conduct a little poll to help me pick my next book.

Which Book Should I Read Next?

  • The Watchmen - Graphic Novel by Alan More, Dave Gibbons (26.0%, 7 Votes)
  • Consider The Lobster - David Foster Wallace (22.0%, 6 Votes)
  • Ideas & Opinions - Albert Einstein (15.0%, 4 Votes)
  • The Economy of Cities - Jane Jacobs (15.0%, 4 Votes)
  • Catcher In The Rye - J.D. Salinger (reread) (7.0%, 2 Votes)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright - An Autobriography (7.0%, 2 Votes)
  • The Double Helix - James D. Watson (4.0%, 1 Votes)
  • Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently - Gregory Berns (4.0%, 1 Votes)
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard (0.0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 27

Loading ... Loading ...

Book Thoughts ,

Viktor Frankl, Auschwitz, Meaning, and Autobibliotherapy

August 13th, 2009 - written by

I finished Man’s Search For Meaning. It’s difficult to write about this book. Nothing I could say (because of my mercurial methods, and today I am at neither poles) would do this book justice. Nor do I have the ability to articulate without glaring exclusion the full influence this book has had on me. So without the ability, or the desire to spend the next several weeks attempting to properly express with completeness the profundity of this book, I’ll simply say this: I’ve completed book #33, and it was amazing.

Additionally, it is usually the case that I finish one book and immediately start another. That’s usually the case. In this case I won’t be able to move forward as quickly. There is an afterglow that refuses to dissipate. There are ideas that I need to cultivate. Simply put, it must be read again. And immediately. There’s no rule that says I can’t read #33 twice. #34 (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) will have to wait until the weekend. Sorry, Annie Dillard, but I’m going back to Auschwitz and existentialism. I have much more to learn, all over again.

Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl , , , ,

Man’s Brian’s Search For Meaning

August 10th, 2009 - written by

My previous book was the longest read I’ve had this year. 13 Days. So I’m welcoming the seemingly succinct Man’s Search For Meaning. This book came from the “important books” campaign I started a couple weeks ago and quickly moved to the start of the line after being emphasized by Ana as an absolute-must. (Hi Ana!)

I feel fiction in my future.

Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl ,

A Library Without Us

August 9th, 2009 - written by

Oh boy. I’ve totally blown it. That’s pretty much what I think while I’m reading The World Without Us. Whether it be the car I drive, or how I handle refuse, or what I’m NOT doing about all that plastic in the ocean, I feel like I’m not too friendly with Mother Earth. But at the same time, she’s probably laughing a little at those who haven’t realize it’s too late, “oh, the naiveté”, she says. Homo sapiens were destined for extinction from the beginning. I’ve always thought so, but only in the biblical-armaggedon sense. Now I feel the same way, but for more practical “real-world” reasons, as in, The Earth Will Always Win. There will always be freeze-thaw, there will always be a warming and an icing over, and starting over again, as countless civilizations before us have experienced. Think of it in millions of years, which is difficult, almost impossible actually, but it makes it easier to grasp. We are done for. This isn’t fatalism. It’s evolution.

So why am I all the sudden very conscious of my carbon footprint? I know eventually I’ll be in the ground, an ice age will begin, and my remains will be pulverized over hundreds of thousands of years into bonemeal to be used for whatever bonemeal is used for. Most likely as unnoticed fertilizer for our descendant’s cornfield a million years from now. Like most things in nature, the earth and myself including, there is a constant breaking down and renewal. Not that I have any choice, but that’s fine by me and not in the least bit depressing. As corn or whatever grows through my fine-powdered remains, will the farmers, or the food be any different because I put pizza crusts in one trash bin and cardboard in another a million years earlier?

I have no idea what the (very) long implications of sorting out recycling are. What I do know, is that I see the impact it has now, in my time. And I’ve been impressed to do something about it, whether I ever see the return or not. EVEN if it makes a difference or not.

It’s much like the time when I realized that although my one small presidential vote is largely mathematically insignificant, not voting is wasting the lives that provided the opportunity to do so, and honoring sacrifices is reason enough to do something that sometimes feels pointless.

Ok, so I lost myself a little and somewhere there is a tie-in to recycling, I promise. Bottom-line is that although it may appear insignificant when people think about it a million years from now, deep down I feel like it’s my duty to ignore that and do what’s best for the earth, right now.

So, then, what can I do? Well I started using a Kindle again. I won’t go into whether this is environmentally better or not simply because I don’t know. Paper comes from trees, thus the more books, the more forests get hewn down. But then, paper is biodegradable and plastic is not. In a thousand years my books will be indistinguishable from soil, and my plastic Kindle will still be sitting there. I could go on and on, which I may, at a future date.

My problem is now all these books that I’ve accumulated over the years. They just sit there. Nobody reads them but me, and 95% of the books that make up my library never get read again. They collect dust while they wait for their journey to the landfill. A landfill will eventually be their home regardless of pretty much anything I do, but what can I do with them in the meantime?

Note To Self: Must think about this.

Book #33 tomorrow, week #33 started today. Not too shabby.

Alan Weisman, Book Thoughts, The World WIthout Us ,

Reading is great, reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

July 29th, 2009 - written by

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 - written by

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 - written by

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 - written by

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 - written by

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 - written by

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?

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I Finished An Actual Book

July 13th, 2009 - written by

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.

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