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?

Friday, May 3, 2024

may
Photo by Rahul Pandit on Unsplash

Greetings Starfighters,

The enemy is at the gates, things have fallen apart. The center does not hold…

Yes, I’m being dramatic. The climax of Derby Week is here in Kentucky with the running of the Kentucky Oaks today and the 150th Kentucky Derby tomorrow. I’ll avoid downtown Louisville this weekend at all costs to leave the visitors to their frivolities and watch as they leave behind the memories of too many mint juleps and not enough gambling wins to make the journey worthwhile.

Also, I have some guidelines on how to prepare the best mint julep for your Derby parties. Pour a shot of bourbon, neat or on ice, however you prefer. Take all the other julep ingredients and throw them in the trash. Enjoy your bourbon.

Seriously. Mint juleps are gross. And I like mint.

I’m more focused on Star Wars Day and Free Comic Book Day. The universe conspired to have both events fall on the same day as the Derby, leaving alternative entertainment plans and celebrations for those not so enamored with seeing horses who’ve had too many beatings carry jockeys around an oval for two minutes, running so hard that they nearly die. Of course, if they get injured while running, the likelihood they will die increases. Sometimes, they euthanize the horse right on the track.

We’re going to catch The Phantom Menace in the theater today, and I’m taking my kiddo to our local comic shop on Saturday to grab a free comic (and pick up a copy of Space Ghost #1 if they have any left!).

But, I’ll still sit down for a few minutes, catch the Louisville Cardinal Marching Band play “My Old Kentucky Home” before the Derby, and sing along with a tear in my eye. As much as I don’t care for the Derby, there are some traditions I’ll happily participate in this weekend.

Quote of the Day

"Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad,” is fearful behavior. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with." (Stephen King, On Writing)

“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad,” is fearful behavior. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

The core of what our dark leader, Stephen King, is getting at here is to become good at writing—or anything, really—you have to get past your own doubts and fears and just do it. Nothing gets done until something is done, and nothing changes until something changes.

To put it in scientific terms, “an object at rest tends to stay at rest, an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force.

The outside force is you, or maybe your will. Regardless, until you do something, your fears will always win. They’re not going to go away (it’d be nice, but they won’t), so you may as well make peace with them and let them know who’s really in charge.

Musical Interlude

I love Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Love it. There’s something about the layers of rolling chords, the dynamic range from almost a whisper to a swelling roar. For me, it’s a perfect piece of music and sounds equally brilliant whether a master pianist delivers a solo or the full orchestra carries the musical load. Here’s a great interpretation (with great acoustics) to brighten your day.

Long Read of the Day

If you’ve ever wondered exactly why your favorite (or least favorite) celebrity gets to write a book, there’s a reason. The publishing industry mainly focuses on celebrity books and repeat bestsellers to make money. Most books sell very few copies, with only a small percentage achieving high sales numbers. Big advances for books don’t guarantee high sales, and backlist books contribute significantly to publishers’ revenues.

Elle Griffin explores the events of the failed Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster merger detailed in the book The Trial and reveals some of the nasty bits about the publishing industry.

Video of the Day

I’m double-dipping here with another music video—god, why did MTV ever stop playing them—but this is excellent and I’m going to force all of you to appreciate classical music before I’m done (Mayhap not, but I’m still gonna try.)

Evan Goldfine has an excellent newsletter on listening to Bach, and yesterday, he released a “beginner’s guide” that provides several entry points for your Bach journey. Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile are personal favorites, so seeing them mentioned along with bassist Edgar Meyer was a treat. Here they are playing a rendition of Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Major from their 2017 ‘Bach Trios’ release.

Final Thoughts

Enjoy the weekend, gang. Make time for coffee, reading, and maybe some pizza. And spend time with those you love because they’re all we’ve got when it all ends. The rest is just bonus points.


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!

An Ethic of Excellence

an ethic of excellence

After letting it sit on my bookshelf for almost a year, I dove into this book from Ron Berger. I wish I had started sooner. So many thoughts and ideas about what school can be for our students showed up in this book, helping me feel like I’m not crazy.

Anyone interested in remaking schools into something more than a place where students are forced to learn things they don’t care about should read this book. The stories and ideas are well worth the quick read and can give you fuel to make a change in your own building.


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!

Everything I’m writing is s#*%

writing

Greetings Starfighters,

Happy first (partial) week of spring here in the Northern Hemisphere—our southern neighbors rejoice as they head into my favorite time of year…

I’ve walked around most of this week not knowing what day it was or just being off a day. I’m quite certain this is all due to still recovering from the nonsense of daylight savings time (because we’re not saving anything). Yet, we move along into the vast unknown of tomorrow.

Also, has anyone else adjusted their reading goal for the year? I’m really behind and am not sure I can catch up with all that life brings my way. But, recognizing your limits is key and knowing that the only person I’m competing against is myself is also helpful when I feel defeated.

Anyway, here are 10 cool things I wanted to share this week:

10 Things Worth Sharing

  1. Creativity is Humanity
  2. As usual, I’ve gone down another musical rabbit hole that began with finding the amazing Hermanos Gutiérrez and has taken me into some very chill musical vibes. If you need a nice smooth start to your day, I have some great finds for you.
  3. English learners stopped coming to class during the pandemic. One group is tackling the problem by helping their parents.
  4. I’m always on the hunt for new creatives and curious to see their creative processes. This week, I found Jacob Collier by way of Matt Mullenweg of WordPress fame. Collier joins Paul Davids in this video to discuss learning to play the guitar, tweaking the rules, and changing everything to suit your style.
  5. In Star Wars news this week (you knew there was going to be a geeky moment soon), the trailer for the new “The Acolyte” series dropped this week, giving us a first glimpse at the time 100 years prior to anything Star Wars-related we’ve seen on any screen. There’s even a Wookiee Jedi.
  6. How do US teachers teach? We don’t know, and it’s difficult to figure out.
  7. While I’m a huge fan of exploration and creative work that sometimes takes us on grand adventures that aren’t so productive, sometimes there is no other option than to do the work of learning.
  8. Ten books from MIT faculty to expand your knowledge of teaching, learning, and technology
  9. Speaking of doing the work of learning and creativity, what if you made your classroom or workspace a living display of your creativity like Lynda Barry?
  10. Lastly, when you feel like the work you do is complete and utter garbage—don’t we all get that way at times?—remember that you’re not alone. The novelist Percival Everett says, “I’m pretty sure everything I’m writing is shit…I’m just trying to make the best shit I can.

That’s it for this week. The Spring Break edition will arrive in your inbox next week.

P.S. – I’m going through all my old comics lately and am amazed at some of the ads. Here’s this one with a cameo from Vincent Price to make your own shrunken head…

shrunken head ad from a comic

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!

Keep Your Childhood Sense of Wonder

“Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizeable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.”

Robert Greene, Mastery
"Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizeable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood." (Robert Greene, Mastery)

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!

Saying “No” More Often

Learning to say “no” more often is a primary driver of success. We all have only so much bandwidth to dedicate to projects. Choosing not to do something or having no opinion about it leads to more productivity and less stress.


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!

Children of Ash and Elm Book Review

Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price

“Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings” by Neil Price offers a comprehensive and detailed exploration of the Viking Age, spanning from their earliest origins to their lasting impact on the modern world. Price delves deep into Viking life’s social, cultural, and political aspects, presenting a nuanced view that challenges many popular misconceptions.

The book is not a novel but a historical account, richly detailed and engaging. Price presents a narrative that is both scholarly and accessible, weaving together archaeological findings, historical texts, and linguistic studies to create a vivid portrayal of the Viking world. The main characters in this context are the Vikings themselves, portrayed not just as raiders and warriors, but as traders, explorers, and settlers. The setting encompasses the vast expanse of the Viking influence, from the Nordic countries to the far reaches of the North Atlantic and the coasts of North America.

Price’s writing style is eloquent and fluid, making the complex history and culture of the Vikings approachable for general readers while still offering depth and insight for scholars. In this case, the character development applies to the portrayal of the Viking society and culture. Price succeeds in humanizing the Vikings, presenting them as a complex and multifaceted people with their own values, beliefs, and social structures.

One of the most striking aspects of “Children of Ash and Elm” is its ability to bring the Viking world to life through vivid imagery and descriptive language. Price uses a variety of sources to reconstruct the Viking Age, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the era. The book does not shy away from the more brutal aspects of Viking life, including their rituals, warfare, and social practices, providing a balanced and unvarnished view.

Emotionally, the book is engaging and thought-provoking. It evokes a sense of wonder at the Vikings’ achievements and their resilience and a reflective consideration of their impact on the societies they encountered. Price’s analysis of Viking mythology and religion adds a fascinating layer to the narrative, revealing their actions’ spiritual and philosophical underpinnings.

Sale
Children of Ash and Elm
  • Price, Neil (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 640 Pages – 09/13/2022 (Publication Date) – Basic Books (Publisher)

Through “Children of Ash and Elm,” Price communicates a theme of complexity and contradiction in the Viking age, challenging the stereotype of Vikings as mere barbaric raiders. He successfully conveys their culture’s richness, contributions to trade and exploration, and lasting impact on European history.

The book’s primary strength lies in its thorough research and ability to present a nuanced view of the Viking era. However, some readers might find the level of detail overwhelming, especially those looking for a more casual read.

I would highly recommend “Children of Ash and Elm” to history enthusiasts, particularly those interested in the Viking Age and scholars in the field. It offers a valuable perspective that enriches our understanding of a crucial period in European history.

Comparing it to other works on Viking history, Price’s book stands out for its depth of research and engaging narrative. It complements other historical accounts by providing a more rounded and humanized view of the Vikings.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. “Children of Ash and Elm” is a must-read for anyone interested in the Vikings, offering a comprehensive, insightful, and beautifully written account of their history and legacy.


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!

The Best Books I Read in 2023

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

Since we all had much more time on our hands during the pandemic, I decided that it was high time I became more intentional with my reading. Not that I didn’t read at all; I’ve always been a reader. I’ve always had books around, whether comics, graphic novels, classics, or paperbacks.

I’m pretty sure a few old Tom Clancy paperbacks are still hanging out in my parents’ basement.

Regardless, I decided in 2020 that I’d read more and keep track of that reading. Thank goodness for tools like Goodreads that allow me to keep up with books I want to read.

I also create book notes in Notion to keep track of my thoughts on each book. Readwise helps me keep track of highlights from books (and just about everything else I read) and syncs with my Notion to create a true collection of what I get from each book.

Yes, I’m aware I go overboard on many things. My wife says I’d make a very good addict, so I figure it’s best for me to find other things to be addicted to, which means I read books.

Side note: I’m also getting into collecting vinyl, another expensive and space-filling addiction…

I published a best books of 2022 list last year and decided to give it another go this year.

Please remember: these opinions are mine, and if I love a book that you hate, that’s ok. That’s pretty much how things are supposed to work in the world. I read mostly sci-fi/fantasy, history, historical fiction, biographies, and mysteries. I also read quite a bit on education since that’s my job.

There are many other fine reading genres, and I venture into other realms occasionally. You read what you like, I’ll read what I like, and we’ll all share what we learn and grow together.

Now, in no particular order, here are the best books I read in 2023:

Tress of the Emerald Sea

For much of the fantasy reading world, 2023 was the Year of Sanderson. Brandon Sanderson, one of the top current fantasy authors, ran the most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time in 2022, producing leather-bound editions of four completely new novels. The year’s first release was a cozy fairy tale; Tress of the Emerald Sea.

I love this book. Loved it. While it does connect to Sanderson’s wider Cosmere universe, it works wonderfully as a stand-alone novel. As Sanderson has described the inspiration for the book, “What would happen if Buttercup had to save Westley in The Princess Bride?”

It’s one of my all-time favorite books.

tress of the emerald sea

The Greatcoats Series

I’m cheating a bit with this selection and the next since I’m choosing a whole series rather than just one book. But, I couldn’t help myself.

If you’re a fan of swashbuckling tales and grew up watching continual retellings of Robin Hood, Horatio Hornblower, and the like, you will love The Greatcoats.

Falcio Val Mond became one of my favorite characters ever this year, and I can only hope that he and the rest of the Greatcoats return again soon.

traitor's blade

The Licanius Trilogy

Another series I finally got around to reading this year is The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington.

These books are incredible. But, I will say this: you have to stay on your toes when reading them. There are many, MANY moments of what happened and how we got here in each of these three books.

But, the payoff is worth it. So, so good.

the shadow of what was lost

In Search of Deeper Learning

Back to the world of education, I read this book as part of my ongoing dissertation readings. My biggest takeaway is this: there are pockets of innovation and work toward deeper learning across the US. But we still have a long way to go.

This text gives insight into how some schools are “doing” deeper learning and may give you some ideas as you begin your journey into deeper learning with your students.

Unpleasant Truth about Education #47: Kids learn more deeply in school when participating in extracurriculars than they do when being taught in classrooms.

In Search of Deeper Learning

Street Data

This one. Oh my. I really need every assessment coordinator, teacher, administrator… pretty much everyone in education to read this book and think about how we assess students.

Street data” is ever so much more important than most other assessment data that we spend days, weeks, and months poring over while our students care less and less about the meaningless work we ask them to complete.

Get this book, read it, and then share it with a colleague.

street data

The City of the Singing Flame

I shared my thoughts on this one not long ago, and honestly, this story has quickly become an all-time favorite. Yes, it’s dated, and it may not be your thing. But, for speculative fiction fans, I believe you can see so many other stories that were likely inspired by this one.

Final Thoughts

Somehow, amidst accepting a new position halfway through the year and completing more doctoral coursework, I read 120 books in 2023. For the first time since I began tracking, I crossed the 50k pages read in a year mark.

I don’t share those numbers to boast–I can barely believe them myself–I share them to hopefully encourage you that you have more time to read than you think.

My tips to read more:

  • Always have a book with you. Yes, ebooks and audiobooks count, and if someone tells you they don’t, punch them in their dirty mouth.
  • Take stock of how much time you spend on your phone. Whether on social media or playing games, trade some of that time for reading. Try out this social media alternatives calculator and see how much time you have to read.
  • Don’t read books you don’t like. No law says you must finish a book if you don’t like it. I use the rule ‘100 pages minus your age’–if you’re not fully into a book by that many pages, you can stop reading. And yes, I count that as ‘reading’ that book.
  • Re-reading a book you love still counts as reading.

That wraps up this year’s ‘best books’ list. Maybe you’ll start tracking your own reading and share your thoughts with the world. If you like this list and want to see more, I have a free weekly newsletter that includes monthly reading recommendations.

You can sign up for those updates through the form below. I hope 2024 brings you lots of new reading, knowledge, and fun.


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!

The City of the Singing Flame

clark ashton smith the city of the singing flame

As I attempt to finish this year’s reading challenge, I’m looking for some shorter books than my usual fare. As luck would have it, J. Michael Straczynski shared something great on his Patreon.

Back in 1986, Harlan Ellison did a reading of Clark Ashton Smith’s “The City of the Singing Flame,” and let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

I’d never heard of Clark Ashton Smith, much less read any of his work. Gang, this one is an unqualified banger.

In the recording, Ellison notes that this story was the first fantasy/sci-fi story he had ever read, and it impacted him greatly. If you’ve read Ellison’s work and read this story, you’ll see the impact clearly.

This is the beauty of always being open to reading, listening, or watching new things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the world champion at rewatches and rereads. But sometimes you need to broaden your horizons.

I’m so glad I did. I’m absolutely reading more of Smith’s work in the future.


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!