Book

Dimension of Miracles (Book)

Dimension of Miracles

Dimension Of Miracles by Robert Scheckley was a fun Science Fiction romp from 1968. It felt very much like “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” but predates it by many years.

I thought it was funny, smart, and clever. The audio book is read by John Hodgman, who did a fine job.

Deep Work by Cal Newport (Book)

As someone who struggles to maintain focus, I found Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” to be instructive and useful.

The book was part theory, part practical guide to keeping distractions and unnecessary work at bay. Much of it was self-evident: don’t tweet so much, but it was good hearing ideas surrounding why. The book is well researched, but much of the evidence backing Newport’s ideas are collections of anecdotes. I love anecdotes, but collecting anecdotes is not the same as science.

I spent the past work week applying some of what I learned, and the early results are promising. Well-worth the read.

The Revenge of Analog (Book)

The Revenge of Analog

If ever a book was meant for me, “The Revenge of Analog“ is it.

David Sax dives into the ongoing resurgence of analog: film photography, paper notebooks, vinyl records, even education. I believe all of these things matter, and that their continued (and growing) use is for the better.

Sax perhaps sprinkles everything with a bit of unnecessary hyperbole, but he’s obviously excited about the same things I am, so I’ll forgive the excess.

“The Revenge of Analog” is a fun and informative read for anyone even remotely interested in the life or “real things”

Book: Turn the Ship Around!

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I loved this book. Someone described it accurately as “The Hunt For Red October” meets “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” A few of my highlighted quotes:

A little rudder far from the rocks is a lot better than a lot of rudder close to the rocks

 

Provide people with the objective and let them figure out the method

 

What do we do on a day-to-day basis? We learn.

Book: Data and Goliath

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I learned a lot about mass surveillance from Data and Goliath. More than I’m comfortable with, actually.

Tell you what, watch Citizenfour then read Schneier’s book. They’ll keep you up at night, unplugged from everything.

Book: How We Got to Now

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I’ve enjoyed most of Steven Johnson’s books, and have now added “How We Got To Now” to the list.

The book looks at six technologies that have “made the modern world”. The six are…

  1. Glass
  2. Cold
  3. Sound
  4. Clean (hygene)
  5. Time
  6. Light

He demonstrates how each of those innovations had profound and unexpected effects. For example, discovery of microbes led to chlorinated water led to the bikini bathing suit (read it and learn how that happened).

Many of Johnson’s books refer to the “adjacent possible”, meaning that very few things are invented in isolation. It’s the network of ideas and not individual genius that sparks great ideas. I found that he drives this point home more often than necessary, but otherwise it’s a fun, informative, and fascinating read.

Good Omens

Good Omens Cover

Sir Terry Pratchett was one of those authors I meant to have read more than I actually read. I enjoyed several of the Discworld books but didn’t love all of them. I did, on the other hand, love Good Omens. This seems like a fine time to read it once more. RIP Sir Terry.

 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Tidyingup

It took a few people recommending Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” before I decided to read it. I’m glad I did, but not only for the intended reasons. I also got a few chuckles out of some of the sillier recommendations.

Not all the book’s recommendations are as silly as they first seem. For example, she suggests that before discarding something that I thank it for its service. I initially shrugged it off as feel-good nonsense but it turns out to actually feel good.

Since reading the book I’ve completely gutted my closets and they’ve never been, well, tidier. And I thanked every item of clothing before discarding it. Go figure.

It’s worth a read.

The Left Hand of Darkness

Left hand of darkness

I’ve never read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin so I thought I’d start with the Hugo and Nebula award-winning “The Left Hand of Darkness”. I was disappointed and only grudgingly finished it.

Audiobooks: Listening vs. Reading

Jamie Todd Rubin:

It is interesting to look at that post from nearly 3 years ago and the 4 arguments I made against my own use of audiobooks, and compare them to how my opinions have changed today

I’m about halfway between dismissing audio books and embracing them completely

I bought a book on Twitter

I just bought Chris Hadfield’s book directly via his tweet @CmdrHadfield{.twitter-atreply.pretty-link}.

Screenshot, in case the embedded Twitter card doesn’t show properly:

This must be a new thing, right? My first reaction is that it’s a great idea. I like books.

My reading list as a text file

For years now I’ve maintained a list of books I’ve read and have stored it in many different formats using many different tools. It started as a simple text file. Then I got fancy with Delicious Library, which was a lot of fun for a while, but eventually the novelty wore off and I started looking for something easier and cloud-based. I ended up importing the list into LibraryThing. That was nice, but soon after I went through an anti-web app phase so I wanted something local. I was already keeping notes in Tinderbox, so I started logging books there and that’s worked great.

The problem is that I’ve once again gone all-in on keeping things in text files. I’d been successfully avoided changing the way my book list is managed yet again until I read Jamie Todd Rubin’s post titled “Joys of a Text-Based Reading List”. That did it. I exported everything out of Tinderbox and moved it into a single text file. It’s not nearly as fancy this way, but I can easily manipulate and query it using the same tools I use for nearly everything else. Jamie’s post lists a number of neat ways of doing that.

Here’s what part of mine looks like today.

Of course one advantage of doing it this way it’s easy to manage via Git and Github, which I’ve done. I might decide that this needs a little more structure someday but for now it’s doing the job.

UPDATE February 04, 2015: The reading list file is now automatically rendered on my Reading List page.

Book: Shift

Shift book

Some secrets should remain buried

Shift”, the second book in Hugh Howey’s Solo Series was nearly as good as the first (“Wool”). Other than a few I-don’t-believe-he-would-do-that moments, I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading “Dust” next.

Book: Plastic Free

Plastic Free book photo front 500 375

Plastic-Free by Beth Terry is full of information and ideas on how to use less plastic. I try to avoid plastic as much as possible, and I plan to use a few of her ideas. Every little bit helps, no?

A pile of unread books

Books I need to read

Books I need to read

It seems I’ve gotten behind in my reading. This photo shows some of the books I’ve either started and not finished or haven’t started at all. And this doesn’t even include those on my Kindle.

I don’t mind having extra books around. It’s like having a neighborhood library right in my house.

 

Book: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

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To Rise Again at a Decent Hour: A Novel: Joshua Ferris

I loved “Then We Came to the End” but this latest book by Joshua Ferris didn’t do as much for me. I enjoyed the first half of the book most, during which dentist Paul O’Rourke tried to determine who had created an entire online presence in his name. I identified with Dr. O’Rourke, who is a Luddite addicted to his “me-machine” (iPhone). After that the story veered into a statement on religion and finding oneself and I lost interest during one of the many passages describing Jewish religious history in more detail than I thought necessary. Plus, too much baseball.

I like the way Joshua Ferris writes, and that made it worth reading the book. It just wasn’t what I was hoping for.

 

 

Book: Influx

The latest Daniel Suarez book, “Influx”, is much like his others. That means full of tech thriller fun. I liked it.

Book: Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea is comprised entirely of letters exchanged between inhabitants of the fictional island of Nollop. When certain letters of the alphabet are banned, the residents must learn to communicate without them. Fun premise. Clever implementation. I enjoyed it.

Schuler Books

Schuler Books

I’m going to miss having Schuler Books just a couple miles away. They’ll be closing soon, for reasons that have been explained but that I don’t buy. Every time I’m there it’s busy. Doesn’t seem right that they can’t make enough to keep the place open.

I was there today for what could be my last time. I bought three books:

  • The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
  • Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon
  • On Writing, by Stephen King

I’d normally link those titles to Amazon but that seems wrong this time.

Book: The Dog Stars

Seems I can’t get enough doomsday fiction these days. Peter Heller’s “The Dog Stars” was both heart-wrenching and positive. Starting out as a story about Hig and his dog Jasper surviving the apocalypse and ending as something else, I found it to be at times violent, sad, and beautiful. I’m not sure anyone but Cormac McCarthy is allowed to remove punctuation from dialog, but I got over that.

Book: Odds Against Tomorrow

Mitchell Zukor’s job is to calculate the odds of every worst-case-scenario imaginable. Suddenly one of them becomes reality and Mitchell finds himself floating through the streets of Manhattan in a tie-dyed canoe. Dark humor and interesting characters made it an enjoyable read.

Book: The Creative Habit

Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit” is pretty much as helpful as most other creative “self-help” books; meaning it wasn’t terribly helpful. I found her approach interesting and it raised my curiousity about dance, but telling me that you’re a relentless perfectionist workaholic doesn’t help me become one. I’m not sure I’d even want to.

Book: Crux

Crux” takes place 6 months after “Nexus”. I found it to be a great combination of “what if” thought experiment and “hang on to your britches” thriller.

Book: The Sugar Frosted Nutsack

Books about gods messing with humans are always fun. Books about stories about gods messing with humans are even more fun. “The Sugar Frosted Nutsack” is such a book. Mark Leyner is a showy genius and this book is one of those in which you can “see the writing.” Some people dislike that. I’m not one of those people. When the writing is this much fun, I want to see it all.

Book: How to Sharpen Pencils

When David Rees started an “Artisanal Pencil Sharpening” service I laughed right along with everyone else. Secretly though, I wished I had thought of it. In his book, “How to Sharpen Pencils,” Rees describes in great detail every possible component of artisinal pencil sharpening; both real and imagined. It’s funny. And for those of us who love pencils, it’s helpful too. He is, after all, “The number 1 #2 pencil sharpener.”

Book: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

As a fan of Neil Gaimann I was excited to read his new book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” I’m glad I did. There was much to like and I enjoyed it while it lasted. The problem I had was that, once finished, I wasn’t sure what the book was for. It didn’t really add up for me. I’d still recommend it, though.

Book: Joyland

I always come back to Stephen King whenever I just feel like reading a good story, well-told. Joyland did not disappoint. Joyland is a simple coming-of-age story taking place in and around an aging amusement park. There’s murder, mystery, love, ghosts and Speed Graphic cameras. That’s everything, right?

Book: How Artists Work

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            <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Daily-Rituals-How-Artists-Work/dp/0307273601%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0307273601" target="new" class="buy-button"><input type="button" class="sqs-amazon-button sqs-system-button sqs-editable-button" value="Buy on Amazon" /></a>
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      Fascinating look at the daily grind of many artists and intellectuals. I learned that Scotch and or barbiturates are a requirements.</p> 

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Book: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

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          <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Sum-Forty-Afterlives-David-Eagleman/dp/0307389936%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0307389936" target="new" class="product-title title">Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives</a></p> 

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            By David Eagleman
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            <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Sum-Forty-Afterlives-David-Eagleman/dp/0307389936%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0307389936" target="new" class="buy-button"><input type="button" class="sqs-amazon-button sqs-system-button sqs-editable-button" value="Buy on Amazon" /></a>
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      An imaginative collection of vignettes describing different possible afterlives.</p> 

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Book: How to Archer

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          <a href="http://www.amazon.com/How-Archer-Ultimate-Espionage-Cocktails/dp/0062066315%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0062066315" target="new" class="product-title title">How to Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage and Style and Women and Also Cocktails Ever Written</a></p> 

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            By Sterling Archer
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            <a href="http://www.amazon.com/How-Archer-Ultimate-Espionage-Cocktails/dp/0062066315%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0062066315" target="new" class="buy-button"><input type="button" class="sqs-amazon-button sqs-system-button sqs-editable-button" value="Buy on Amazon" /></a>
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      Everything about Archer makes me laugh, including this book.</p> 

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Book: Sirens of Titan

I choose Sirens of Titan as my first Vonnegut book and was unexpectedly disappointed. I found it occasionally funny, but otherwise empty of things to keep me interested. The only character I cared about was Salo. “He” showed up late, and then it was over.

Book: Arguably, Essays by Christopher Hitchens

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            By Christopher Hitchens
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            <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Arguably-Essays-Christopher-Hitchens/dp/1455502782%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D1455502782" target="new" class="buy-button"><input type="button" class="sqs-amazon-button sqs-system-button sqs-editable-button" value="Buy on Amazon" /></a>
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      Reading Christopher Hitchens thrills me. I am thrilled by his range and depth and ability to make me shake my head or my fist. Stimulating.</p> 

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Book: Kurt Vonnegut – Letters

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            By Kurt Vonnegut
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            <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Kurt-Vonnegut-Letters/dp/0385343752%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0385343752" target="new" class="buy-button"><input type="button" class="sqs-amazon-button sqs-system-button sqs-editable-button" value="Buy on Amazon" /></a>
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      I have never read any of Vonneguts books, but after reading "Letters" that will have to change. I had no idea that the guy was funny; very funny. His letters made me laugh, but also moved and inspired me.</p> 

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Book: If On a Winter&#039;s Night a Traveler

It would be easy to dismiss If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler as overly clever by half, but that would be a shame because it’s a terrifically fun read. It’s like reading an Escher print.

Book: More Baths Less Talking

Nick Hornby writes about reading in More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time Itself. It’s funny and insightful and great fun.

Book: The Handmaid&#039;s Tale

Finally got around to reading The Handmaid’s Tale. I found it riveting from beginning to end. This is the first thing I’ve read by Margaret Atwood. Terrific writing and much to think about. The book ended in a way that was both disappointing and perfect.

Book: Tenth of December

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          <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Tenth-December-Stories-George-Saunders/dp/0812993802%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0812993802" target="new" class="product-title title">Tenth of December: Stories</a></p> 

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            By George Saunders
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            <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Tenth-December-Stories-George-Saunders/dp/0812993802%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0812993802" target="new" class="buy-button"><input type="button" class="sqs-amazon-button sqs-system-button sqs-editable-button" value="Buy on Amazon" /></a>
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      A series of short stories by George Saunders. I found it amazing, funny, weird, and moving. Saunders’ ability to take us inside the minds of damaged contemporary-seeming characters while placing them in an unclear future makes the whole thing very unsettling.</p> 

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Book: Daytripper

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          <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Daytripper-ebook/dp/B0064W64EY%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3DB0064W64EY" target="new" class="product-title title">Daytripper</a></p> 

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            By Gabriel Ba
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            <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Daytripper-ebook/dp/B0064W64EY%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3DB0064W64EY" target="new" class="buy-button"><input type="button" class="sqs-amazon-button sqs-system-button sqs-editable-button" value="Buy on Amazon" /></a>
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        Comics haven't been my thing, yet so many people I respect and admire seem to love them. It's for that reason that I keep trying. Daytripper was recommended to me by several friends and I read it straight through. What I think I was supposed to feel was that it's important to live every moment to its fullest. What I felt instead was the dreadful thought that I could die at any moment. I enjoyed the read, but it was a bit of a downer for me. I'll return to it some day and my hunch is that I'll like it more.
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Book: Nexus

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          <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Nexus-Ramez-Naam/dp/0857662937%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0857662937" target="new" class="product-title title">Nexus</a></p> 

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            By Ramez Naam
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            <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Nexus-Ramez-Naam/dp/0857662937%3FSubscriptionId%3D0ENGV10E9K9QDNSJ5C82%26tag%3Djackbaty-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3D0857662937" target="new" class="buy-button"><input type="button" class="sqs-amazon-button sqs-system-button sqs-editable-button" value="Buy on Amazon" /></a>
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      Mankind gets an upgrade. </p> 

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        I find nano technology fascinating. Nexus is a nano-drug that lets people's minds connect to, and in some cases control, each other.
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Book: Duma Key

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Reading a Stephen King novel is something I haven’t done in quite some time. With my recently renewed desire to read, I thought I’d give it a go with Duma Key

At 600 pages it’s not a short read. I love the characters and creeping sense of dread King invokes, but in the end it didn’t amount to much more that an inconsistent ghost story. Let’s say 3 out of 5 stars

Resolving to Read

It happened under the kitchen table at my grandmother’s house. I don’t know how old I was. Young, though. Everyone was leaving for some boring grown-up event and I begged to stay home. They let me.

With the house empty, I had no choice but to go exploring. In the attic I found a chest full of dusty old books. The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and a few scattered textbooks mostly. I picked up something called “Trixie Belden: The Red Trailer Mystery” and brought it downstairs. I wasn’t much into reading yet, but having nothing else to do, I crawled under the kitchen table and started to follow the adventures of Trixie, a 13-year old girl and her friends. I was hooked. I remained holed up under that table until the book was finished, stopping only to eat (the table was needed for that anyway.)

the-red-trailer-mystery

There have been a number of what I’ll call “perfect reading moments” since, but none so dramatic or important as that first time spending an entire day reading about Trixie Belden.

A lot has changed since then, but reading is still one of the most enjoyable things I know. The problem is that I don’t have make the time to do it as much as I’d like. Reading a book for 15 minutes before falling asleep every few nights is not enough, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for too long. The internet is mostly to blame. I’ll sit with the laptop and browse, work, tweak – anything but read a book – until it’s too late or I’m too tired to read much of anything. And for what? So I can check my email just one more time?

This will not do. I enjoy reading way too much to let another year go by with only a book or two under my belt. The only way to change something is to go ahead and change it, so here’s the plan, effective immediately.

  • Cancel Cable TV. Tough call to make, but I’ve done it before. It’s just too easy to plop down and lose a few hours by mistake in front of the TV.
  • Turn off the computer. What bad things would happen if I turned the laptop off at say, 9:00pm every day? Right, nothing bad at all.
  • Read easier books. It seems like I always pick difficult books. Screw the “important” books or those I’m supposed to read, how about some Stephen King? So much for impressing my friends, eh?

Time to load up the Kindle, take a trip or two to the local bookstore, get my priorities straight… and read.

Welcome back, Trixie.

David Foster Wallace Dies

David Foster Wallace has killed himself. He was 46 years old – my age, basically. There are very few writers whose work I seek out with a vengeance. Wallace was one of those writers. It started with _Infinite Jest_, that enormous and painful monster which took me a year to finish. Since then I’ve read everything he’s written that I know of. Hell, there are times I want to _be_ DFW. He was brilliant, funny, diverse, hip to a fault and it’s a terrible, terrible thing that he’s gone.

Anyone for a game of Eschaton?