Archive for the 'Books' Category

A life in books . . . and online.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
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Oh, to spend my days in an old library like this one . . .

My academic life has taken me to some great libraries: the St. Andrews rare books section, the Harry Ransom Center, the Bodleian (at least for one day), the Butler, and that bibliographic holy of holies at Union Theological Seminary.

I still read voluminously, seemingly all day every day, but as I look back at the record of my reading for the year — and the past few years — it’s clear to me that I’ve let my online intake of words overwhelm my printed-book intake of words.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad to make my living as an online writer, and I’m well aware of the trove of good stuff available online. But I also know that most of the very best stuff I’ve ever read has come in book form, and that I do my best thinking about what I read when the computer is turned off. Besides all that, it would seem to make eminent sense to up my intake of books if I want to up my output of books.

So, an early resolution for 2010, one that I’ve already started on: read more books.

How about you? How’s your book reading these days?

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Related post by Austin Kleon: MY READING YEAR, 2009.
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(Image from Hannah Swithinbank, used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.)

You may envy me . . . NOW.

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

And WHY?

Because I have a preview copy of Chris Barton‘s next book . . .

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. . . Shark vs. Train on my desk — and you don’t.

;)

P.S. It’s awesome!

Shorter timeframes.

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
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I don’t know whether I have ADD. I’ve been reading the excellent Delivered from Distraction by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, and I see a lot of myself in their description of ADDers . . . but then, I’m also not like a lot of the ADD cases they describe.

(If your Tim Walker radar is set to “Stalker,” you’ll recall that I liked Hallowell’s book CrazyBusy enough that I reviewed it not once but twice.)

Anyway, whether I technically have ADD doesn’t concern me. What does concern me is to use my brain better than I have been. Which leads me to the simple insight foreshadowed in the heading of this post:

I need to work in shorter timeframes.

Distractions kill me. Giant multi-part projects stymie me, even though, as you’ll recall, my career ambition is to write books. (Irony much?) But I can crank out great work when I can do it quickly and then switch to something else.

Or, to quote one of the great lines from the Rocky oeuvre, “Stick, and move.”

What do you do to improve your work output?

~

(Photo by Arturo Donate.)

Day-Glo Brothers = Awesome. You Should Buy = Yes.

Thursday, June 25th, 2009
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Here’s a nifty thing: my friend Chris Barton’s debut book, The Day-Glo Brothers, published by Charlesbridge and available now from Amazon, even though the official release date isn’t until next week, which means you can conspire with Amazon to participate in the day-glo awesomeness early.

Early awesomeness = yes, people.

Related: Chris’s author site.

Related: Chris’s blog, Bartography, which he’s been writing for ages and which is excellent.

Related: Wired Magazine blurbed The Day-Glo Brothers. Woo-hoo!

The best books and movies.

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Gimmicky though they are, I’m a sucker for “all-time best” lists like these:

Of the novels — and they actually just mean novels written in English since 1923 — I’m sure I’ve read these 19 in their entirety:

American Pastoral, Animal Farm, Appointment in Samarra, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, The Heart of the Matter, Lord of the Flies, The Lord of the Rings, Mrs. Dalloway, Native Son, 1984, A Passage to India, Slaughterhouse-Five, Snow Crash, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, To Kill a Mockingbird, To the Lighthouse

Of the movies, I’m sure I’ve seen these 40:

The Awful Truth, Blade Runner, Bonnie and Clyde, Brazil, Bride of Frankenstein, Camille, Casablanca, Charade, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Double Indemnity, Dr. Strangelove, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Farewell My Concubine, Finding Nemo, The Fly [though it doesn’t belong this list], The Godfather, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Goodfellas, A Hard Day’s Night [??], His Girl Friday [one of my all-time faves], It’s A Wonderful Life, King Kong, The Lady Eve, Lawrence of Arabia, The Lord of the Rings, Meet Me in St. Louis, Notorious, On the Waterfront, Once Upon a Time in the West, Pinocchio, Psycho, Pulp Fiction, Schindler’s List, Singin’ in the Rain, Some Like It Hot, Star Wars, A Streetcar Named Desire, Taxi Driver, Unforgiven

How about you?

What I’m after.

Sunday, May 24th, 2009
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I am fortunate, especially in this economy, to have an excellent salaried job. I’d like to keep it for a good many years yet. Keep that firmly in mind as you read the next bit.

What I’m after in my career is writing lots of books. That’s it.

Now, I enjoy teaching and public speaking and research and working on marketing projects and helping customers and attending conferences and “other duties as assigned.” I also enjoy exercising and listening to music and spending time with my family and having long conversations with friends. Hey, I enjoy life.

But the thing that’s been waiting for me for as long as I can remember is writing books. Part of the reason I restarted this blog is to make sure my writing chops are where they should be — like Jerry Rice running sprints in the off-season. Some of the books I want to write dovetail beautifully with my day job, so I’m laying groundwork in that direction. And my academic work has already pointed me toward a couple of books that could do something more than show up in other academics’ footnotes.

What isn’t going to work is for me to do things the same way I’ve done them. Why? Because I’ve tried that . . . and no books were forthcoming.

So, what am I doing differently now?

  • Setting aside the idea that books come after projects A and B and C and D et cetera. Items A through D likely will get done long before Walker’s First Work hits the shelves at your local bookstore, but they have to happen in parallel — interwoven — with the writing of the books.
  • Rebuilding my to-do list from the ground up.
  • In general, showing more chutzpah, which mostly means being audacious whenever I’m feeling aversive about writing.

Your life is like your house: you can put the furniture wherever you want it to go. So there’s no sense in complaining if it’s not situated as you’d like it to be.

Or, to put it another way, if something’s a priority for you, act like it.

Are you putting your real interests first? Even if (as with me) it will take years for them to come to fruition?

~

Photo by Ginny, used under a CC-Share Alike license.

Improving my ratio of words.

Sunday, May 17th, 2009
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Part of the reason I’ve re-started this blog is that I simply haven’t been writing enough lately. Yes, I write regularly for my day job; yes, I’ve been doing fair bits of writing on research projects; but no, it’s still not enough — nowhere near enough.

On the subject of prolificity, I’ve been quick to cite Anthony Trollope in the past. He wrote like clockwork, typically producing 2,500 words every day before breakfast. My own composition style has made me balk at similar daily targets, since I typically don’t produce page after page of prose all in a row, but rather make outlines and then skip around filling them in. But as I think of it, I’d probably be as well served to make some kind of daily target of words. The words may come out in a different order, but when it’s all said and done, a book’s a book, and the black has to go on the white sometime.

So, there’s one half of the ratio: more words written, more pieces finished. But the other half — intake — needs work, too. My job and my habits incline me to graze all day every day through countless sources online. Along the way I digest a few things. But over the past couple of years I haven’t been reading nearly as many books as I’d like, nor complete magazines, journals, etc. To put it another way, my information diet has been an endless succession of hors d’oeuvres, punctuated only infrequently by proper servings of starters, main dishes, and desserts.

But not anymore. The ratio improves from here forward.

You’ll know I’m serious about the output part as you see more work here, on my professional blog, and in other venues. You’ll know I’m serious about the intake part as you see me discuss more books. Please feel free to hold me to both parts of this.

~

(Photo by _SiD_, used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.)

Rapid-fire 4: Good book: The War of Art.

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

the-war-of-art.jpgOn vacation last month I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I had heard of it before, but was persuaded to buy it by John Moore’s praise for it on his Brand Autopsy blog.

I’m glad I did. Although the book gets a wee bit mystical for me at times, and probably goes on a little long (despite weighing in at only 165 pages), overall it’s a fine treatment of the existential problems that face those of us who want to live our lives as creators.

Pressfield mostly talks about this from the perspective of a writer (he’s the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and other novels), but he explicitly extends his treatment to the other fine arts and to non-artistic creative endeavors like entrepreneurship.

His main concein — and it’s a useful one — is to suggest the personification of that demon Resistance, the entropic force that keeps creative people from working on their creative endeavors. Resistance undermines us in many ways, getting us to put off what’s deep and important and scary (in the good sense) in favor of what’s shallow, immediate, safe, and ultimately trivial.

The solution that Pressfield lays out is to “turn pro,” ideally in the sense of collecting money for your work, but more importantly in the sense of treating your work as true professionals do: by working every day and pressing ahead through doubts and creative doldrums.

There’s a cover blurb from Esquire that calls the book “a kick in the ass.” It is.

Recommended.

Rapid-fire 3: Andrew Bacevich is worth listening to.

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Last week I listened to this Bill Moyers interview with former Army colonel and current Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich, who has scathing things to say about America’s leaders — of both parties, in both the executive and legislative branches — and their treatment of the foreign policy of the United States.

See the interview (or read a transcript) here.

I’m looking forward to reading Bacevich’s just-released book, The Limits of Power. I expect to grind my teeth at our leaders’ stupidity and caprice when I read it, but that’s not a bad thing.

Rapid-fire 1: ArmadilloCon.

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008
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Clearing the decks of stuff I’ve been meaning to talk about . . .

ArmadilloCon, held last weekend in Austin, was fun. It was my first sci-fi convention, and I attended mainly to meet and hear from guest of honor John Scalzi. He was just as funny and self-effacing — but in a charmingly ego-centric way! — as you’d expect if you read his blog regularly. You can also check out Scalzi’s writeup of his ArmadilloCon experience.

Another key attendee was my Hoover’s colleague Patrice Sarath, who, besides being an acute business analyst, has a new book out called Gordath Wood. My wife said that Patrice’s panel was very interesting — the best one she attended. So, go, Patrice!

My kids liked the dealer room, where they looked at all sorts of books, toys, robots, etc. My daughter also particularly liked Scalzi’s reading of the hilarious first chapter of his work-in-progress, The High Castle, which John was nice enough to deliver in a PG-13 version out of deference to my kids.

About the picture above: One of the exhibitors I met was local author Christine Rose, whose new YA fantasy novel, Rowan of the Wood — co-written with her husband Ethan — comes out on October 18. Given my daughter’s love for fantasy novels of this ilk, I imagine we’ll be attending the BookPeople release party that day. Yaaay for local authors!

And while we’re at it, yay for flights of fancy in storytelling, which was, at bottom, what ArmadilloCon was all about.