Archive for the 'Books' Category

My Year in Reading: 2016

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

It wasn’t great. While I did read some really nice books this year, plus lots of rewarding shorter stuff (mostly in The New Yorker and The Ringer or via links encountered on Twitter), I only finished . . . thirteen books. In fact, it’s been eight years since I read as many as twenty books in any calendar year.

That’s just not cutting it.

As I look back at the reading notebook I’ve kept for the past twenty years, it’s not hard for me to recall the prevailing conditions that have led me to read more books (graduate school, daily bus commutes) or fewer (social media).

For 2017, I’m creating my own prevailing conditions for reading more, starting with a commitment to spend much less time—and radically less grazing time—on social media. Here are some other things I’m doing:

  • rearranging my office slightly
  • setting calendar reminders
  • creating a specific “Read These Next” list for my computer desktop, with separate categories for research, fiction, general nonfiction, and other things like poetry and graphic novels
  • moving my Kindle and Goodreads apps front and center on my phone and tablet

And now I’m reinforcing all of that by telling all of you that my goal is to average reading one book per week for 2017.

What’s your reading goal for the new year?

Photo by Hernán Piñera, shared via a Creative Commons license

Your best recommendations for science books.

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

Books Worth Rereading

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

I asked a fun question on Twitter and got lots of great answers from my reader friends. Sample from the thread below if you’re looking for your next great read.

Because YOU DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH TO READ.

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Books on Shelf

I asked my Twitter friends to “Please tell me ONE book you’re concerned that I may not have read yet.” This is what they told me:

Great Books You Might Have Missed

(And now I’m going to go figure out the easiest way to embed a Storify page into a WordPress post . . . )

(Also need to dig up the photo credit for this image — coming shortly!)

Book Review: Maigret in Montmartre, by Georges Simenon

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

This is the first Maigret novel I’ve read, but the second Simenon overall — after Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, which I read a couple of years ago. Three Bedrooms was too claustrophobic and had too much navel-gazing even given its narcissistic protagonist in the throes of a midlife crisis. This Maigret book, by contrast, showcases a Simenon who has a much more evenhanded touch with his characters: the dialogue flows, the details included are only the telling ones, and you get a real sense not only of Paris at its seedy, sodden worst, but also of the routine work of police detectives and the distinctive human traits of the call girls, pimps, morphine addicts, and other people they encounter.

Do be aware that it is a period piece — the misogyny is ripe, and the homophobia is overripe — and that there are a few bumps in the road that could have been smoothed out with a few more minutes of careful editing. But that was not Simenon’s way, was it? Considering the overall smooth delivery of such racy subject material (which must have seemed very edgy indeed in 1959) and the attractive subtlety of Maigret himself, it’s easy to understand how Maigret became so popular among millions of readers around the world in Simenon’s heyday.

Related post: Simenon and Fleming on Writing.

Maigret in Montmartre at Amazon

Academic books potentially coming your way.

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

book boxes

To my academic friends: I just cleared out the storage container you see on the left of the image above, which led to the the many boxes of books stacked in my living room that you see on the right of the image.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be going through all of these boxes.

  • Some of the books will go onto the family bookshelves.
  • Some of them will go onto the shelves in my office.
  • Others will go straight to Recycled Reads.

And then there will be the leftover academic books that fit into none of the three categories above. Most of these will be history, but there will be a fair amount of religion and international relations as well. As I come across these, I’ll post about them here (and share those posts via Facebook and Twitter). If you see books you want, you can inform me via Facebook, Twitter, comments here, e-mail, smoke signals, or whatever. I’ll send you the books you want, with the understanding that you’ll PayPal me the cost of shipping.

Cool?

Favorite firestarter books

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

I’ve been thinking about the books that start a fire (or open a door — pick your metaphor) for a whole subject.

Example: Joseph Campbell’s *The Power of Myth* might set you on a course to read more from Campbell, Carl Jung, myths from around the world, comparative religions, and so on.

Example: *The Diary of Anne Frank* might get you started reading the history of the Holocaust, *Man’s Search for Meaning*, and novels like *Night*, *The Painted Bird*, *Sophie’s Choice*, *The Periodic Table*, and *The Book Thief.*

Other possibilities that come to mind:
+ The Black Swan
+ Pepys’ Diary
+ the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian
+ The Once and Future King
+ The French Lieutenant’s Woman
+ The Second Sex

What books have done this for you — started a fire that led you to other books on related topics?

Commonplace: Rushdie.

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

“I always think you start at the stupid end of the book,
and if you’re lucky you finish at the smart end.
When you start out, you feel inadequate to the task.
You don’t even understand the task.”

–Salman Rushdie, The Art of Fiction No. 186, The Paris Review

On second thought, no I won’t.

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

[Somehow the initial version of this post got lost in the ether. Thanks to Bryan Person for pointing out the glitch.]

A few posts ago, I praised my sister’s book-reading and -blogging habits, and said that I would try to follow her lead in reading more books and writing thumbnail reviews of each book I finish. I’m already doing the former, but I’ve decided not to do the latter.

Here’s the thing: if you’ve read this blog for any time, you know that I have trouble with clutter. I’m not one of those Hoarders-style packrats, but I always have too many papers on my desk and too many projects going. That happens because I have a short attention span and lots of ideas, and those two things interact to get me to run after ideas — and launch projects — without considering all the other unfinished business that will now be competing with yet one more piece of busy-ness. With so many unfinished projects lying around, clutter can’t help but ensue.

So here’s a project I’ll nip in the bud. If I write about a book, it will be because I particularly think it’s worth talking about.

And I’ll let you know when my eventual victory over clutter comes.

A Year of Reading: Inspiration from My Dear Sister.

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

My sister was not a big reader when we were growing up, but now she’s a book addict of the first order. How much so? She read 110 books in 2010, and now has the goal of reading 111 books in 2011. She’s even started recording her progress, with mini-reviews of each book she finishes, on a blog she calls Seriously Booked!

Once upon a time, I gulped down books by the bushel. But work duties and Twitter and a lot of other distractions have hampered my pace of reading for a long while now. In fact, I can trace the evolution of my book reading with some precision, thanks to a log of books read that I’ve been keeping for more than a dozen years. Here are the number of books I’ve read in each calendar year since I started keeping track:

  • 1998: 63
  • 1999: 71
  • 2000: 58
  • 2001: 27
  • 2002: 104
  • 2003: 45
  • 2004: 32
  • 2005: 32
  • 2006: 30
  • 2007: 19
  • 2008: 30
  • 2009: 11
  • 2010: 11

As a writer who aspires to publish many books, you can imagine that those last few numbers hardly fill me with pride.

What am I doing about it? These things:

  • Setting aside more time to read, especially at bedtime.
  • Resolutely finishing books that I’ve left half-read for too long.
  • Keeping track of the books I finish here. I expect to follow my sister’s lead by writing thumbnail reviews of each book as I finish it.
  • Reading in more ways, for example by reading some books via Kindle for iPhone.
  • Reading whole authors, for example by catching up on the books by Terry Pratchett, Michael Chabon, and John McPhee that I haven’t read.

You’ll know how well this project works by how many thumbnail reviews I publish here. Meanwhile, I’m already ahead of last year’s pace: I’ve finished two books since New Year’s Day, whereas last year I didn’t finish a book until the first week of February.

How much are you reading these days? Is it enough for you?

Photo by Johannes Gilger.