Thursday, May 16, 2024

desk stuff

Greetings Starfighters,

Earlier this week, Austin Kleon sent out a wonderful article about the things we love and live with, especially all the little things we keep around our workspaces and homes that help keep us sane.

I started thinking about all the trinkets I keep around me and realized that I keep a metric buttload of stuff, some of it useful, some of it for inspiration, and some of it just because.

For instance, on top of my desk at home, I have a number of themed Mr. Potato Heads because they make me smile. But amid them, there is a Batman action figure from the 1989 Tim Burton film.

Of all the toys I had in my younger days, that one has been with me through move after move, relationship after relationship. Sometimes a space doesn’t really feel like mine until I have Batman standing silent guard over all.

Pictures and drawings from my daughter and wife also hang around, as do several creations from former students.

Several versions of Iron Man lay scattered about, along with more pens, pencils, and markers than should be acceptable for someone in his late 40s.

I also keep several quotes taped up around me as reminders and inspiration. They include:

quote
quote
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I also have a copy of this print from Ryan Holiday featuring a great Hemingway quote hanging next to my desk at home.

quote

Oh, of course, there’s also my growing book collection (because I’m totally embracing the antilibrary theory).

Each item has some meaning for me, whether sentimental or silly and helps make my little areas of the world truly ‘mine.’

So, my question to you today is, “What do you keep around that makes a space truly yours?”

I’m opening up comments for this post on my Substack for everyone. Normally, only paid subscribers have access but let’s all get in on this bit of memory sharing, shall we?

Quote of the Day

“When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.” (Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro)

“When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.” (Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro)

Musical Interlude

Since my friend, John Nash, is in Las Vegas for the opening of Dead & Company at the Sphere, here’s a live performance of Sugaree from a few years ago.

Long Read of the Day

If you are holding a day job while you are writing your novel or poetry in the evenings after the kids have gone to sleep or the dishwasher has been unloaded or various tasks for the next morning have been completed, please do not be disheartened. Of course, writers need more space and support mechanisms of their own. This was clearly outlined by Virginia Woolf in her A Room of One’s Own. But my point is, if at this moment of your life, for whatever reason, you cannot completely dedicate your time to writing and have to do other things alongside, do not allow anyone make you feel like you are not a serious author.

We are storytellers. We are lovers of literature. We do not need labels or boxes. We are writers and that is all there is to it.

Amateur Writers vs Professional Authors

Video of the Day

If you haven’t heard, Francis Ford Coppola has a new movie he’s hoping to release soon. It looks bonkers. I hope someone picks it up and releases it because I want to see exactly how bonkers it is. I also hope Coppola is able to make some of his money back since he funded the film himself.

That’s dedication, folks.

Final Thoughts

What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

Thursday, May 9, 2024

books
An actual photo of the actual state of my books. And this isn’t all of them…

About two years ago, I admitted that I had a book problem. I’ve heard that the first step to overcoming a problem is admitting that you have one.

Plot twist: That didn’t work. I still have a book problem — a major one — and it’s starting to spread to other physical media.

Of course, all the Kindle books are rattling around the cloud because I can’t seem to choose a format and stick with it. Sometimes, I want to hold a physical book, and sometimes, I want to go digital.

Admittedly, adding to my growing zettelkasten is easier with a digital book, but there is still a great benefit to writing down my notes and entering them in the system.

Two years ago, my TBR on Goodreads was around 1,500 books. It’s floating around 3,000 now, which I know sounds ridiculous until you learn about the concept of the antilibrary, and then 3,000 books don’t seem like such a big deal.

Here’s the real issue: the school year is coming to a close, and I will have way more time to read than I have in the past few months, so I’m getting a little excited and have books on my mind all the time.

Or, maybe I’m still trying to make up for nearly 20 years of doing what other people thought I should do before figuring things out for myself. Maybe one day, I’ll figure it all out.

Until then, I’ll just keep reading…

Quote of the Day

Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.

“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.” -Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Musical Interlude

I love Kacey Musgraves’ voice, and this cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know provides ample room for her vocals.

Long Read of the Day

In our era of electronic communications, we’ve come to expect that important innovations will spread quickly. Plenty do: think of in-vitro fertilization, genomics, and communications technologies themselves. But there’s an equally long list of vital innovations that have failed to catch on. The puzzle is why.

Why do some innovations spread so swiftly and others so slowly?

Video of the Day

I know you’ve been asking yourself, “I’d love to know they make Japanese swords — from the gathering of the iron sand to the smelting of the steel to the forging of the blade.

Have no fear, here’s your answer:

Final Thoughts

Is it Friday yet?

The Best Books I Didn’t Read in 2023

a sea of books

Last week’s newsletter focused on the best books I read in 2023. This week, I’m taking a little different trip down the literary road…

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First, let’s discuss the idea of an “antilibrary” and why it’s important.

An antilibrary, a collection of unread books, is seen as a valuable tool for intellectual growth. It’s a reminder of what you don’t know and a symbol of potential knowledge to acquire. It’s not a sign of intellectual failure but a testament to your curiosity and desire to learn more.

And so, to the dismay of my bookshelves and perhaps my wife, I keep buying books. I’ve tried to switch to only buying ebooks, but there is something about being surrounded by physical books; the reminder that no matter how I try, I’ll never be able to read them all or know them all.

That feeling is similar to the one I get each time I think about Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. As the earth hangs in a sunbeam, surrounded by the inky blackness of the infinite universe, so do I sit as a small speck of learning in an infinite ocean of knowledge when surrounded by books.

It’s humbling and puts the world in perspective if you let it. Surround yourself with books, even if you’ll never get to them all.

I try to read more books every year, but I’ll never get through them all. I embrace this incredibly Sisyphean task, mostly because I already have a backlog of nearly 3,000 books on my list and because those silly publishers keep putting out new books.

Yet, I persevere.

There are a number of great books published in 2023 that I’d like to get to but haven’t yet—one of them is staring at me now as I write this piece. Here are some of the best books from 2023 I haven’t read (yet), but they’re now in my ever-expanding to-be-read (TBR) list:

James McBride, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

This novel by James McBride tells a story rooted in family, faith, and the search for understanding. It explores the lives of diverse characters whose paths intersect at a small grocery store, revealing the complexities of human experience through lyrical prose and deep emotional resonance.

David Grann, The Wager

David Grann’s “The Wager” is a gripping tale of adventure and survival. It recounts the harrowing story of shipwrecked sailors in the 18th century, who make a desperate bet for survival. The book is a thrilling blend of history and narrative, showcasing Grann’s talent for uncovering forgotten stories.

R.F. Kuang, Yellowface

“Yellowface” by R.F. Kuang delves into the controversial topic of cultural appropriation in the literary world. It’s a provocative exploration of identity, authorship, and the blurry line between homage and theft, framed within an engaging and thought-provoking narrative.

Matthew Desmond, Poverty, By America

In “Poverty, By America,” Matthew Desmond offers a groundbreaking examination of poverty in the United States. The book challenges conventional views, revealing how systemic forces and policies contribute to economic hardship and argues for fundamental changes to address this persistent issue.

Lauren Groff, The Vaster Wilds

Lauren Groff’s “The Vaster Wilds” is a beautifully written novel that transports readers into a world of nature and mystery. Set in an enigmatic wilderness, it weaves a tale of self-discovery and connection to the natural world, marked by Groff’s signature lyrical style and deep, reflective storytelling.

Timothy Egan, A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them

Timothy Egan’s “A Fever in the Heartland” is a gripping historical account of the Ku Klux Klan’s insidious attempt to infiltrate American society in the early 20th century. The book also highlights the courageous efforts of those who fought against the Klan, focusing on the pivotal role of one woman.

Michael Finkel, The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession

In “The Art Thief,” Michael Finkel narrates a riveting true story of an infamous art heist. The book blends elements of romance, crime, and suspense, offering an inside look into the high-stakes world of art theft and the obsessive love that drives it, all set against a backdrop of international intrigue.

Benjamin Labatut, The MANIAC

Benjamin Labatut’s “The MANIAC” is a dark and compelling narrative exploring the mind of a genius on the brink of madness. This novel blends historical facts with fiction, delving deep into the psyche of a brilliant but troubled character, set against a backdrop of scientific discovery and moral ambiguity.

Salman Rushdie, Victory City

“Victory City” by Salman Rushdie is an epic tale spanning centuries, centered around a mystical city that rises and falls through the ages. Rushdie’s storytelling weaves together history, mythology, and magic, creating a vivid tapestry of human triumphs and tragedies, resilience, and the power of imagination.

Jonathan Eig, King: A Life

Jonathan Eig’s “King: A Life” is a comprehensive and insightful biography of one of the most iconic figures in American history. The book delves into the complexities of his life, exploring his achievements, challenges, and enduring impact on civil rights and social justice, painted with meticulous research.

Alright, there’s the list, although it’s quite incomplete. Hundreds of great books came out in 2023, and it’s our job to go out there, find them, read them, and share them with the world.

Maybe you’ll start building your own antilibrary in 2024. If so, I’d love to hear about it.

See you next year!


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

How the Pandemic Made Me a Better Reader

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent my days hunkered down at my desk. I spent my time creating and sharing technology resources for teachers.

My teachers were thrown headfirst into a world many of them weren’t prepared to experience. So, I did my best to support their remote learning work.

Those first few weeks didn’t leave much time for extracurricular activities. When I did finish the day’s work, I disconnected. Exhausted from sitting in front of a computer, I’d chill out with my family.

We played games and invested in several outdoor activities, like horseshoes and basketball.

But spring turned to summer and the school year ended, leaving me with a lot of time on my hands.

Diving Into Reading

I had to find something to occupy my time, so I retreated into the land of the written word.

I’ve always enjoyed reading but never committed to reading regularly. During those nascent months of the pandemic, I decided it was time to establish a regular reading habit.

I used GoodReads to compile a “to be read” list (TBR). At first, there were only a handful of books. I participated in Daily Stoic’s “Read to Lead” challenge and began building my list.

One of the challenges put forth in that challenge was to read a book “above your level” – rather than always reaching for your favorite genre or a book you’ve read before. Reading a more challenging book builds your “reading muscle” and likely brings new ideas to the forefront of your mind.

A challenging read is necessary for your personal growth. So, I started building my list.

Yes, I included many science fiction and fantasy books. I dove headlong into the worlds of Brandon Sanderson and regretted not diving in long before now. I found my favorite prose in Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind.”

If you haven’t read that excellent tome, go out right now and get it. Even if you don’t usually read fantasy books. It will make you weep.

But my journey didn’t stop there. I included Pulitzer Prize winners like “A Confederacy of Dunces” – a hilarious book with a sad back story – and biographies of Steve Jobs, Ulysses S. Grant, Harry Truman, and more.

I’ve read classics like Meditations and The History of the Peloponnesian War. I’ve discovered authors like Robert Greene, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Yuval Noah Harari, who have informed my thinking and broadened my viewpoints.

Since March 2020, I’ve read or re-read 236 books, some 74,000 pages of content. They’ve been a mix of physical, digital, and audio formats.

I’m not sharing those numbers to boast; I’m encouraging you to bump up your reading numbers. We are all busy, but if we want to expand our minds, we must make the time to do so.

Sometimes I read for pure entertainment. But, I’m often reading to learn something or expand my brain.

My TBR is now approaching 2,000 books.

Yes, you read that right. I’m in the process of building something.

Building an Antilibrary

I am well aware that I will never finish reading the books on that list for two reasons:

1. I can get through about 100 books a year. I’m working on getting through more, but I only have so much time.

2. So many of the books I read lead me down a path to other great books, and I keep adding more to my list.

I will never read all the books on my list. And that’s ok.

There is power in understanding that you can’t learn it all. That there is always more out there in the world.

There is massive value in surrounding yourself with books that you will never read. The Japanese term for this is “tsundoku,” the stack(s) of books you’ve purchased but haven’t read.

Some people refer to those stacks of unread books as an “antilibrary.” I don’t know if I like that term since it’s still a collection of books, but whatever.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about Umberto Eco’s antilibrary in his book The Black Swan. Here’s a view of Eco’s library of some 30,000 books.

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. [Your] library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We tend to overestimate the value of what we know while underestimating the value of what we don’t know. Taleb’s antilibrary flips this tendency on its head.

The antilibrary’s value lies in how it challenges self-estimation by constantly reminding you that there is so much more to learn. Living with this nudge daily will help improve decision-making skills and motivation for learning new things.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a TBR list that you could never get through in three lifetimes (like me!). All those books you haven’t read are a sign of ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of most other people.