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Books Libraries Reading

Reading Books in 2022

In a post last week, David Sparks (MacSparky) wrote about his book purchasing and consuming choices. David’s post motivated me to share some of my approaches to reading – which I’ve been doing a lot of during this Covid era. Here we go…

  • eBooks make highlighting easy – Like David, I prefer reading most books on either my Kindle Paperwhite or in the Kindle app on my iPhone or iPad rather than reading a paper book. Amazon has made the Kindle “ecosystem” seamlessly available on all of my devices. I’m a big fan of using highlighting on Kindle and I can move from device to device continuing to read the same book while my highlights are captured online in the Amazon cloud. I have found that highlighting in a digital book is so much better than the old school way of highlighting paper books.
  • After finishing a book – When I finish a book, I can easily download my highlights from the Amazon cloud and save them in my digital journal where they’re easily searchable – along with my comments on the book. Highlights made in a paper book aren’t nearly as useful as those highlights are left buried on the paper pages of the book and not readily searchable or re-discoverable. There are also services like Readwise which can make use of your highlights and remind you of them on a daily basis.
  • Text vs Audio – Sometimes, but not often, I’ll use Audible to get an audio book version of a title I think I’ll want to “read” in the car or in my headphones while traveling, etc. Since I like to highlight, audio can be problematic for that so much of the time I’m actually reading and not listening to books.
  • Libraries not booksellers – With the Libby app on my iPhone I can checkout an eBook from a local library and then download it to my Kindle. A few years ago I made some trips around the Bay Area to pickup library cards from various local libraries. In California, you can get a library card if you’re a California resident – even if you’re not a resident in the local area of the library. Having multiple library cards is especially useful when using the Libby app to search for books in electronic form. Libby makes it easy to see which local library might have a particular book available or, if not immediately available, where the hold time might be shortest. I’ve found that some local libraries are much more responsive to eBook requests than others with my holds often being satisfied very quickly – especially for the most popular titles.
  • Downsides – While there are a lot of pros to my approach but it’s not without downsides. The biggest is that by relying primarily on reading eBooks rather than paper books I’m not often supporting my local bookseller with book purchases. I also frequently used to donate physical books after reading them to local libraries – something that’s not possible with eBooks.

I have some similar processes for managing the rest of my daily reading. At some point, I’ll share what I’ve learned from doing so.

Categories
Books Living Musings

Turning Off the Braindead Megaphone

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Way back in 2007, author George Saunders published his first book of essays with the curious title of The Braindead Megaphone. In the title essay, he describes going to a very enjoyable party where the guests are all having a great time – until another guy shows up with a megaphone in his hands and starts talking about random stuff – like how the flowers bloom in early springtime and more. The megaphone guy’s stupid voice drowns out the many otherwise enjoyable conversations being had among the guests.

I read that essay for the first time a few weeks ago – and found it to be a beautiful reminder of the influence that loud voices can have on us and on how we feel. For me, TV news has become that megaphone guy ruining the party. Who needs that?

In his latest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, Saunders writes about how a writer can be likened to a music producer sitting in front of one of those big mixing boards connected to many different microphones picking up the sounds of the many instruments and voices. The mixing board has rows of fader switches to adjust the sound coming from those many different sources – the music producer uses those faders to “mix” those sounds into the final production.

Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Saunders writes that “a story can be thought of as a version of that mixing board, only with thousands of fader switches on it—thousands of decision points.” The author’s role is to adjust the levels of those faders to create the best story. Doing so, Saunders counsels, involves a repetitive revision process – “going through a story again and again, microtuning the adjustment of the existing fader switches…” to make the story the best it can be.

Saunders’ mixing board is a metaphor for life – for how we go through our days, constantly adjusting up or down the many inputs that make up our daily experiences. Choosing to play a video game involves cranking up that fader switch while turning down other activities competing for our time. Taking a photowalk to help refocus and experience the world differently is another mixing board adjustment. So many other inputs are part of that big mixing board of our life.

Each day our mixing board gets tweaked – hopefully producing pleasing “music” that’s delightful to us. But some days there may be a cacophony of sounds (experiences) instead – with our mixing board somehow mis-adjusted and out of whack. That’s when it’s time to step back and re-examine our inputs and re-adjust them – or to find new ones to add to our mix or to eliminate others.

About a year ago I made a choice for my life mixing board – choosing to eliminate the input of television news. I turned the volume completely down on my mental mixing board, choosing to eliminate that input from my life. My choice to do so resulted mostly from my frustrations with the events occurring in our country during that time – events that I couldn’t influence and which I didn’t need to have repeated over and over again. So I flipped that switch and the TV news was gone.

One other thought. Many years ago I remember the book titled Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson. While the content of the book was a bit over my head, that title has always stuck with me. What are the steps that might lead to an improved ecology of my mind? A year ago eliminating television news as a regular input in my life was one of those steps. One that has worked out very well for me.

Categories
Books Living Music Photography

Life is a Contact Sheet

Happy New Year! Let’s work towards better outcomes in 2022 than we had in 2021! Like most I’m looking forward to leaving 2021 behind and excited about what the future could bring! Now onward to my first post of this new year!

While away for the Thanksgiving holiday I started watching the Beatles’ Get Back documentary on Disney+ while in a garage in Sonoma county. We had gone away with family and this spot was a great escape for the Thanksgiving weekend. Sometimes the place where you watch a TV show or read a book becomes it’s own memory riding alongside the show or the book in your mind.

Get Back is the remastered version by Peter Jackson that looks and sounds really good – especially given the vintage of the film that it’s based on.

Recently I was on a morning walk listening to the Holiday Special edition of the In The Hive podcast with Joe Hagen and Emily Jane Fox. Joe hosts a great segment talking to Don Was of Bluenote Records about the therapeutic beauty of listening to jazz music (especially in these Covid times). Don commented about the Beatles’ Get Back documentary – about how fascinating it was to see the Beatles working through their creative process – oh so many takes! – before they get to their final result. It was quite interesting to see them working and collaborating together – and just how much time and effort was involved in their creative process.

While I was listening to Joe and Don talking about Get Back, their comments brought to mind that Get Back is really just another metaphor for what photographers know as a contact sheet – the capture of all of the images which are winnowed down to get to a final image choice or two – or sometimes none at all.

Here’s an example of a photographer’s contact sheet:

Magnum has a wonderful book of contact sheets from many of its great photographers. When you leaf through that book you realize just how the creative process takes to work and image and reach the photographer’s ideal result.

But isn’t that process of iteration fundamental to any creative pursuit? Writing, photography, music, you name it. And, isn’t that iteration process what living itself involves? Once in a while we see the iterative steps in action when artists like the Beatles or the Magnum photographers share a behind the scenes look at how they got to their final work product. Those are special learning opportunities worth paying attention to!

Watch Get Back and you’ll find it fascinating but also a bit frustrating to see just how many steps can be required! You can see the same kind of process when you browse through Magnum’s Contact Sheets!

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.

Dale Carnegie

Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders.

James D. Watson
Categories
Books Living

Life in these United States

woman in white long sleeve shirt standing near white and gray house during daytime
Photo by Julian Jagtenberg on Pexels.com

A couple of commentaries I read today really brought home to me some of what’s happening to life in these United States. Both of these articles strike me as like the other:

Zen and the Art of #VanLife Influencing

The problem of getting old is an old problem, which means there are plenty of established ways of coping. The new problem, the one harder to deal with, is the diminishing possibilities for our species. Settling down means something different now, because there is no long term. The best one can hope for is a temporary pocket of equilibrium, to be enjoyed while it lasts, and then mercilessly abandoned. …

I grew up in Portland, and I love it. Here’s why I’m never moving back, even though I can work from anywhere.

…what links the vanlifers, the influencers and the get-rich-quick kids isn’t laziness or dreams of going viral, but rather a sense of precarity that they see all around them, whether in campgrounds filled with the homeless, in the ongoing climate disasters and now in a pandemic that has isolated them from their friends. …

In other news, I’ve recently discovered Ted Kooser (thanks to the By the Book profile of author William Kent Krueger in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review). Kooser’s known for his plainsong poetry about the Great Plains. I’m really enjoying his prose – in particular his great memoir about life in rural Nebraska: Local Wonders. Highly recommended – his evocative sentences are a real delight to read!

Contrary to what out-of-state tourists might tell you, Nebraska isn’t  flat but slightly tilted, like a long church basement table with the legs on one end not perfectly snapped in place, not quite enough of a slant for the tuna-and-potato-chip casserole to slide off into the Missouri River. The high end is closest to the Rockies, and the entire state is made up of gravel, sand, and silt that ran off the front range over millions of years. …

Categories
Books Living

More Book Recommendations…

After writing yesterday’s post including my book recommendation for Falling, I realized there were two other books that I really enjoyed reading in the last couple of months – and wanted to share them.

The first is Daniel Silva’s The Cellist, the 21st book in his long running series about Gabriel Allon. Silva rewrote a lot of this book after the events at the Capitol on January 6th. He lives in DC and is married to a CNN correspondent – so he was right in the midst of those January events. He masterfully weaves that story line into the end of The Cellist. There’s a great interview online with Silva talking about this book that’s worth watching.

The second is the The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. This is their second collaboration – I also enjoyed the first (The President is Missing) but found this second one even more enjoyable. Patterson’s use of plot twists along with Clinton’s “spice” of realism regarding the presidency and post-presidential life add a lot to this story. There’s also a great interview of the two of them with Lee Child that’s well worth watching.

Both of these books – along with Falling – are great summertime reads!

Categories
Books Covid-19 Living

Stuck in Neutral

Back in May, I wrote about re-emergence – that feeling of coming out of the pandemic and “getting back to normal”. If only that had proven to have been true!

Instead, what’s happened is the “Delta relapse” – as this new Delta variant has demonstrated again that viruses are clever and have a “mind” of their own. A more contagious mutation – causing “breakthrough infections” even among dual vaccinated individuals – has thrown a new damper over those good feelings we had back in June.

For me personally, that’s meant staying closing to home again – avoiding group contact, etc. But it’s also been good in some ways – as I’ve added a new regular daily walk to my morning routine. That’s help me drop a few more pounds in weight – a very good thing – and provided a daily photography opportunity.

We’ll see where we are as we get through August – as schools try to re-open, traffic picks up again, and “normal” life tries to re-emerge again. Delta curves in India and the UK provide some hope that the US will see some stabilization and recovery soon. We also expect to hear soon about the need for a booster shot this fall for vaccinated individuals – wouldn’t it be wonderful if that got combined with this year’s flu shots?

Life goes on – just another roller coaster ride!…

Book recommendation: over the weekend I read Falling by T.J. Newman. It’s right at the top of my list of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read this year. Definitely not recommended for reading on a flight but otherwise it’s a great escape! I finished it in one day – a great example of a “page turner”!

Categories
Books Payments

New Book: Global Payments

Congratulations to my long-time partner at Glenbrook, Carol Coye Benson! Carol has just published a new book on Global Payments.

Carol is a real industry expert with years of experience on this topic. If you’re looking to better understand the complexities of how payments work on a global scale you’ll want to read this new book.

Global Payments is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

Carol and I collaborated many years ago to write the book Payments Systems in the U.S., now in its third edition with co-author Russ Jones.

Categories
Books Podcasts santa fe Travel

A Few Links for Labor Day

Here are a few links to articles and podcasts that I found interesting this Labor Day morning and over the past few days:

  • Malcolm Gladwell and Timor Kuran. A few days ago someone mentioned The Portal podcast hosted by Eric Weinstein (@EricRWeinstein) and, in particular, the episode with Duke University professor Timor Kuran (@timurkuran). Their discussion about Kuran’s theory of preference falsification was fascinating – especially about how things in society can “cascade”. A day or two later I happened to watch this New Yorker video (April 2018) with David Remnick and Malcolm Gladwell (@gladwell) during which Gladwell highlights perhaps his favorite New Yorker article titled Thresholds of Violence (October 2015) – about how school shootings have caught on in America. In that article, Gladwell talks about Stanford professor Mark Granovetter‘s famous 1978 paper about how riots happen – in particular how “a riot is a case of destructive violence that involves a great number of otherwise quite normal people who would not usually be disposed to violence.” He asks the question: “But what if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is to go back and use the Granovetterian model—to think of it as a slow-motion, ever- evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?” The connection between Kuran’s false preferences and Granovetter’s threshold models of collective behavior was striking to me. I highly recommend both the Gladwell video and the Weinstein/Kuran discussion on the podcast – fascinating stuff with profound implications for our time.
  • Podcast: Land of the Giants – by Jason Del Rey. A few fascinating episodes exploring the success of Amazon.com. Highly recommended!
  • Podcast: The Moment with Brian Koppelman and his interview with author Ben Mezrich (author most recently of Bitcoin Billionaires which I also really enjoyed reading – see my highlights here).
  • Photography (YouTube): Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera Challenge – Sean Tucker – The challenge provides a photographer with a minimalist cheapie camera – and follows him shooting with it. Good fun!
  • Travel: The Insider’s Guide to Santa Fe – from Outside magazine and Tourism Santa Fe. One of my favorite small cities and the home of Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.
Categories
Books Living Poetry

“it could be that there’s only one word and it’s all we need…”

In a recent Facebook post, Barack Obama listed three books he’s recently read and wanted to share. One of them was one of the late poet W. S. Merwin’s – “The Shadow of Sirius“. Obama wrote:

One of the great poets of our time, W. S. Merwin, passed away recently. A brilliant writer and conservationist, Merwin spent the final period of his life on a former pineapple plantation in Hawaii, working to restore the surrounding rainforest. … I’ve drawn inspiration from Merwin’s writing because it teaches us about ourselves, our world, and how we as humans connect to nature. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time on poetry but Merwin’s death reminded me of how a good poem can inspire and instruct. So if you’re in the mood, give one of them a try.

Obama’s pointer took me to a recently published collection of Merwin’s poetry: “The Essential W. S. Merwin“. Yesterday, on Father’s Day, I was flipping through this collection and happened to come across his poem “The Unwritten” which I really enjoyed. It’s about a pencil – and how the pencil holds words “that have never been written, never been spoken, never been taught”. He concludes with:

it could be that there’s only one word
and it’s all we need
it’s here in this pencil

every pencil in the world
is like this

Indeed.

And, that word is not just in every pencil in the world – but in every human too!…

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Categories
Books

Book Note: “I Love Capitalism” by Ken Langone

I just finished reading Ken Langone’s memoir “I Love Capitalism“. It’s quite a story – of his life growing up and gradually becoming very successful as a co-founder of Home Depot. He tells many stories along the way about his family, business partners, deals, Ross Perot – and Eliot Spitzer (!). A quick delightful read! Here’s a recent review of the book in the Wall St. Journal.

“Everybody talks about the bottom line, but as I’ve seen time and time again, you ignore the human element of business at your peril. Most of the seven deadly sins can and do come into play, and chemistry between people—good chemistry or bad—always has an effect, sometimes a huge effect: in boardrooms, in executive offices, in sales meetings.”