Archive for the 'Books' Category

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.

The Buddy System

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

My friend Heather Shorter mentioned on Twitter that she needs a new challenge — something to get her jump-started. I immediately suggested this:

How about: write a book while getting in the best shape of your life?

She demurred that she has a day job, so I said, “Trollope & William Carlos Williams wrote books around busy day jobs. What if we took it on together?”

She took me up on it.

What shape this buddy system will take, I’m not sure. Heather and I are both used to writing for money, and of course writing books is a major life goal for me. But I’m betting we’ll come up with something sweet and figure out a good way to use blogging or Twitter or Facebook or carrier pigeon or some combination to spur each other on and convey our results, both to each other and to you, the hungry reader.

(And when I say “hungry” . . . I’m not sure yet what Heather’s planning to write about, but she’s written a lot about cooking, and if what she actually makes tastes anything like it reads on the page — whoa.)

It’s funny: I had just been thinking about NaNoWriMo, how much I would like to do it, and how I shouldn’t do it this year because — even with ditching the Ph.D. and whatnot — I just have too many current, unfinished commitments on my plate. Well, some of those commitments are to myself, and they’re in the form of incomplete book manuscripts. More than I need to dash off a novel draft in a month, I need to take one of those manuscripts in hand and give it the thorough treatment it deserves.

Now, which manuscript? Decisions, decisions . . .


(Photo by Ben McLeod, used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.)

Commonplace: reading well.

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

“The problem of availability is something that seems increasingly to have been solved. To view or to read well is another kind of problem.”

–From “Slow Reading” at if:book.

(Image by rana ossama, used under a CC-Share Alike license.)

Introducing . . . The No-Obligation Book Club.

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

It’s an idea that hatched from a Twitter conversation with Tamsen McMahon and Amber Austen, based on their replies to my CareOne post about reading books to improve your attention span. Here’s the idea:

  1. I use a blog post — this one, in fact — to tell you what I’m reading.
  2. If you decide to read any of those same books, you let me know.
  3. When we’re both/all done with the book, we discuss as much or as little as we please — via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, blog comment threads, whatever.

That’s it — no big whoop, no big commitment, no set meetings, no hurt feelings, nothing.

The point is to reinforce our love of good books, but without creating yet another obligation to overload our already busy days. (If my count is correct, Tamsen, Amber, and I have a total of seven children, with another — Tamsen’s second — on the way. We’re busy enough already.)

So, here’s what’s on my nightstand, more or less in the order that I intend to finish them:

  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Snowball (biography of Warren Buffett) by Alice Schroeder
  • Mort by Terry Pratchett
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  • Delivered from Distraction by Hallowell and Ratey
  • The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  • Plus several back issues of Esquire and The Threepenny Review.

Care to join me?


(Photo by Nicholas Laughlin, used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.)

An insight from my son, age 9, on his first cinematic exposure to Middle Earth.

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

“I wish this was real, only without the wars and bloodshed and stuff.”

Well, yeah. Welcome to the club, kid.

Cover Browser: Indulge Your Hidden Comic Book Geek.

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Or, you know, your openly flaunted comic book geek, if that’s your thing.

Behold . . . Cover Browser.

The short version: images of more than 450,000 covers — like the one above, which is etched in my memory from adolescence — of comic books, magazines, and books.

The long version . . . Wait, who needs a long version? Go! View! Bathe in nostalgia as you view the comic book covers of your youth!

Be warned that the site is arrestingly complete, and if it strikes a chord with you, browsing there could take up the rest of your day.

A life in books . . . and online.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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?


Related post by Austin Kleon: MY READING YEAR, 2009.

(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 . . .


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


P.S. It’s awesome!

Shorter timeframes.

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

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

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!