Reading List for April 2016

Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day by Chris Fox: The Power of Habit meets GTD, for writers. If you have a problem sitting down to write, this is your book.

The three (so far) writing books from Chris Fox have caused me to write every day in April (my longest streak ever), and double my writing speed over that time (from 900-ish to 2500-ish words per hour). There isn’t much new information in them that I didn’t already read somewhere else, but there’s something about them that made me take action. Maybe I was just ready, or maybe it’s the system he presents. I recommend you spend the $5 total it will cost you for all 3 and read them in a weekend (they’re short), because I know it works.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card: Somewhat outdated, and outclassed by newer books on writing. “A Thousand Ideas in an Hour”. Idea net: “why? how? what result?” Magic is all about the cost of using it. MICE quotient. The end of this book gives you a glimpse of the reality of being a writer, which is probably the best part.

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (audio): Another fair bio by Isaacson. I liked Einstein more for his relationship with the socio-political world, than his relationship with the natural world. Funny that we have a lot of views in common, although we approach it from different angles. The physics is included in this book, but you don’t get much in the way of explanations. I assume Isaacson wisely decided that the less he wrote about it, the less he would show his ass. YouTube has videos that will help you – profs in their down-time talking about what gets them excited. Check them out if you want to know.

The 4 Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss: I guess I’ve had this since it came out in 2012, but never cared to get around to it. It’s not bad, quality-wise, but it just didn’t work for me. If I couldn’t cook – and followed this verbatim – I might think differently. What bothered me most was that my perception of what this book was, based on the content Tim put out at launch and after, was very different than what is essentially a glorified standard cookbook.

When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? by George Carlin (audio): I wouldn’t call this a book – it’s more like a collection of jokes and skits. Full of laughs. Get the audio for Carlin’s delivery.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis: Great read. The narrative is tight, the portrayal of a complex issue is clear, and I thought all sides were given a fair treatment.

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (audio): Nope.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (audio): I would have loved this if I had read it back in 7th grade. In the present, however, the writing felt amateurish, with 2D characters, and a flat plot. The “mystery” aspect to this is just smoke and mirrors, and – worse – feels like it throughout. None of the events – revelations, deaths, etc. – had an emotional impact. When given the opportunity to raise the stakes with a character death when the maze stops, people died who were never mentioned before. That was the perfect time to kill off the sidekick.

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner 2) by James Dashner (audio): I didn’t expect this book to be such an improvement. The Lost-esque pseudo-mystery is here replaced by actual character building events. The original cast’s backstory is still razor thin, but the newer characters all seem to get one. Great, please make me care about something or someone in this book. The writing is still not great, but I felt good about the display of improvement. Darker tone overall, but not bleak. The chamber scene felt like a plot corner that Dashner just tries to wave off, that part was terrible. He’s aware of it, because he has a character say “hey this doesn’t make any sense”, but apparently revising his plot so it would is too much work.

The Death Cure (Maze Runner 3) by James Dashner (audio): From book 1 I figured no questions would be answered, and none were. The buzzword bingo of Patterns, Variables, and others capitalized words remains a complete mystery. There’s no insight into how the catastrophe was started, or why ignoring decades of science to put kids in a maze made any sense at all. But, that sounds bleak, and despite all that, this book got a few things right. The character endings (to avoid spoilers) were done well. This concludes the trilogy, and although I’m going to read the prequel next, this is a tough series for me to rate. On the one hand I would not read it again, and probably won’t recommend it to anyone. But on the other hand, what Dashner does really well (and I’m not being sarcastic at all) is write compelling page turners. Sometimes you’re turning the page, hating yourself as you do so, continuing what you know is going to disappoint you in the end, but you’ll deal with the walk of shame later, and so you turn the page and keep reading just the same.

The Kill Order (Maze Runner 0.5) by James Dashner (audio): All new characters in a full-length novel, just to kinda sorta get an answer to the question of how the Flare virus was unleashed. These add-on type books are usually mistakes, and this one fits that description. It wasn’t bad, but it’s just not a “series” book.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz #1) by L. Frank Baum (audio): The foreword says that stories of the current time (1900ish) shouldn’t contain the violence, or be as concerned with morality, as stories of the past were. And what follows is a shocking amount of violence that you can draw all kinds of moral conclusions from. Also, all of this series can be found on Librivox.

The Marvelous Land of Oz (Oz #2) by L. Frank Baum (audio): Pub’d in 1904, but this is a very progressive story. There’s no doubt it’s written for kids, but it covers feminist and transgender issues. And Baum also describes a magic lie detector test, perhaps influencing the eventual creator of such a thing.

Ozma of Oz (Oz #3) by L. Frank Baum (audio): Mostly boring, but with a fun “choose wisely” game. Kind of felt like fanservice when all the characters from the first book are (quite literally) trotted out.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher: These supposedly get better as they go, but I thought this was pretty great already. The first half is a little shaky, but the second half kept me up late reading.

Reading List for March 2016

Here’s what I read in March 2016.

You’ll notice a bit of a new format this month, and going forward it will probably evolve a bit. No more numbers, which some found confusing anyway, but which I used as a shorthand to help me track how much I read. Since I’ve started using Goodreads this year, and have come to use the site daily over the last 2 months, the tracking on there is sufficient for my use. Also, I’ve switched to just an (audio) tag for audiobooks, and I am going to stop using chronological order to [hopefully] improve readability.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone (audio): Really good telling of the Amazon story thus far, with the focus on it’s founder.

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore (audio): Did nothing for me, but I think Fiore was speaking to someone with different vices than mine.

Die Empty by Todd Henry (audio): I didn’t like this. Much of it is based on similar books that I’ve read, and Henry doesn’t really build upon their ideas.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audio): Nerd porn. I wanted to love it, but didn’t. Part of that is the execution – huge info dumps that make the first third of the book tough to get through. The other part of it is the source material. Cline’s period of nerdtopia differs from my own, and as a result most of his inclusions have me scratching my head, and that goes doubly so for what he excludes. But that’s just a generational problem. Still, parts of this were an all-caps worthy AMAZING! The climatic battle? OMG. Also, get the audio because Wil Wheaton does a great job.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day (audio): Really funny, and a bit sad, and serious (but not too-serious), and overly earnest, and awkward, and unfiltered. So, it’s exactly what you’d want in a Felicia Day memoir.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (audio): Semi-related collection of essays I wouldn’t read again.

5000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox: Must-read for writers. There’s a ton of stuff in this short book: Writing sprints. Tortoise enclosures. Eliminate distractions. Track daily word counts, increase typing speed, and set progress goals. Drill down your scenes beforehand. Editing sprints. Join a community for accountability.

Write to Market: Deliver a Book That Sells by Chris Fox: This book blew my mind a little. Everything in here I knew already, and thought I was already doing, but Chris Fox caused me to see why I wasn’t getting results. The gist of it is that I was following market-focused advice, which lead me to produce 4 books in a niche that looked like they belonged on a shelf next to other books in that niche. So far, those books sit on that shelf because they don’t sell many copies. The advice in this book caused me to see the market as more granular, where it’s not good enough to write space operas because people like space operas, but to write space operas with a single word title and a spaceship on the cover with a blurb that sounds a lot like Battlestar Galactica because a lot of people who buy indie books like that exact book. It’s a subtle move, really, but it’s some heavy Judo.

The following are all of the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard:
Beyond the Black River (audio): Good story. A little overwrought, perhaps.
Black Colossus (audio): Blueprint to storytelling. From opening scene to ending.
The Devil in Iron (audio): Maybe unique concepts at the time? The story falls off in the name of “innovation”.
Gods of the North (audio): After killing her brothers, young Conan chases the ice maiden through the snow and tries to rape her.
The Hour of the Dragon (audio): Only modern-novel-length Conan story. Great. Howard was killing it way back.
Jewels of Gwahlur (audio): Seems like this might have inspired Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, especially the end.
People of the Black Circle (audio): Loved the prose, but the tension was wrong. Conan slips through everything with minimal effort.
Queen of the Black Coast (audio): Needed to be longer to fulfill the plot.
Red Nails (audio): One of the best. With an actual dragon (as opposed to the dragon-less The Hour of the Dragon).
Shadows in the Moonlight (audio): Conan kills an ape.
Shadows in Zamboula (audio): Cannibals, dark magic, darker ending. Good story that lacks the usual wordy intro.
A Witch Shall Be Born (audio): Brutal treatment of your superman, Howard.
The Phoenix on the Sword (audio): Poems every chapter, and a magic ring of power. OMG it’s The Hobbit!
The Tower of the Elephant (audio): This is a weird monster story, pretty different than the rest.
The Scarlet Citadel (audio): Breathlessly paced. This is an action movie in text form.
Rogues in the House (audio): Not bad, but Conan mostly plays a backseat in this one.
The Slithering Shadow (Xuthal of the Dusk): Short and fun. One of the best monsters in the Conan stories.
The Pool of the Black One: Pirate Conan and a mysterious island.
The God in the Bowl: Locked-room mystery meets hack-n-slash.
The Vale of Lost Women: Mostly a Conan cameo story like Rogues.
The Black Stranger (audio): I wanted more out of this story. It was long compared to others, but felt drawn out.

What I love in these stories:
Everyone thinks of a hulking brute when they think of Conan, but he’s much more complicated than that. He speaks a dozen languages, is well-traveled, and by remaining outside of the social hierarchy can fit in similarly anywhere within it (though always an outsider). He’s a barbarian at times, sure, but he’s also a strategist, a diplomat, and a romantic hero.
I also love the diversity in these stories. There are so many different races and cultures showcased in these, and they’re all given a pretty fair shake. Especially considering Howard was from early 1900s Texas. Sure there’s some non-PC stuff, too. But show me a white male today who writes about as many races in a fair manner, AND who also showcases strong HEROINES.

What I don’t love:
These stories are wildly uneven in any frame of reference. The beginning of almost every story is weak compared to when they get going. The stories don’t get better chronologically, as you would expect from an improving writer (I read this might have been due to depression or boredom). And some characters are uneven within the course of a single story. This is especially true of the strong heroines mentioned above, which all of a sudden wilt and become sniveling damsels.
Descriptors. George RR Martin apparently was influenced by Howard, and I can believe it. The same shit I hate about ASOIAF is prevalent in Conan.
Here’s the 3rd paragraph of Red Nails, for example:

She was tall, full-bosomed and large-limbed, with compact shoulders. Her whole figure reflected an unusual strength, without detracting from the femininity of her appearance. She was all woman, in spite of her bearing and her garments. The latter were incongruous, in view of her present environs. Instead of a skirt she wore short, wide-legged silk breeches, which ceased a hand’s breadth short of her knees, and were upheld by a wide silken sash worn as a girdle. Flaring-topped boots of soft leather came almost to her knees, and a low-necked, wide-collared, wide-sleeved silk shirt completed her costume. On one shapely hip she wore a straight double-edged sword, and on the other a long dirk. Her unruly golden hair, cut square at her shoulders, was confined by a band of crimson satin.

IT BURNS, IT BURNS, MAKE IT STOP!

To clarify, Martin is the better storyteller although the writing is not his strength. And Howard’s prose roars like a lion at times once he gets going.

On the whole, I recommend Howard’s Conan stories to everyone. Really fun reads overall, most are available in audio for free on Librivox or YouTube, and all are public domain texts (possibly the ones without the audio tag in the above list aren’t, which is perhaps why they weren’t on Librivox).

I plan to continue in Howard’s worlds with some of his other heroes in upcoming months. That itself should be a solid recommendation.

Reading List for February 2016

Here’s what I read in February 2016. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker: If you write fiction, you should probably read this. Lately, I’ve been trying to improve my outlining process, and I will surely take some bits from Hawker’s process. Her story building blocks concept seems especially useful.

2 – Dragons of Spring Dawning (Dragonlance: Chronicles #3) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (audiobook): Of the original Chronicles trilogy, this was my least favorite. I liked the series overall.

3 – Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (audiobook): Not the first time I’ve read this. This time was an updated version that was less hokey than the original, but still retains that essence that ignites the desire to succeed. [Note: I’m not going to link out to this book because, in this case at least, I don’t want to influence your decision of which version to read. If you’re interested, you’ll find the right one for you.]

4 – 279 Days to Overnight Success: An Unconventional Journey to Full-Time Writing by Chris Guillebeau: I heard about this on a podcast, and immediately put it at the very top of my TBR. It’s actually a freebie on Chris’ site, and was published in 2009, but I’d never heard of it until Steve Kamb (NerdFitness) mentioned it, and Sean Platt (Self-Publishing Podcast) finished the title for him. To me, that was a ringing endorsement, and of course I’ve known about Chris Guillebeau for a long time, but I was just never part of his tribe. Anyway, this was great. Not because it’s super advanced information, but because it’s just full of the essentials, and that cuts through all the bullshit to give you clarity.

5 – Time of the Twins (Dragonlance: Legends #1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (audiobook): This picks up two years after the Chronicles series ends, and although the war has ended, the happily ever after has not come. This was very good, but really there was so much going on that this one volume needed to be two or even three. The characters are much improved (except for Tas), and the struggle sure is real. Which is great, because the authors were so engrossed in actually having to develop characters that they forgot to put in an antagonist. There are some potentials, but nothing clear cut and the closest you get to a villain has almost no page time, and has a pillar unceremoniously fall on him during an earthquake. Kind of a, “We forgot about him, how’s this?” moment. And I have to say this – between the gladiator games in this one, and the General story line in the next, I will never see a certain Russell Crowe movie the same way again.

6 – War of the Twins (Dragonlance: Legends #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (audiobook): Not as good as the previous book. The writing isn’t as good, either. It felt rushed, and was sloppy in many places, and just plain bad in others. Maybe it was past deadline? I dunno. This is mostly a Raistlin story, but even that is up and down. He’s a huge badass and destroys an entire village in one scene, and in the next is a helpless babe. In another pairing he has a sympathetic flashback, and in the next scene murders Tas’ friend 30 seconds after meeting him. It’s fine that he’s complex, but it’s not OK to just throw things at the wall to see what sticks.

7 – Test of the Twins (Dragonlance: Legends #3) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (audiobook): More importantly than the actual story, this felt like it wrapped up not just this trilogy, but also the previous one as well. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to talk about without spoilers, so I won’t. Suffice to say this was much better than the last book.

8 – Dragons of Summer Flame (Dragonlance: The New Generation #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (audiobook): Someone on Goodreads said this book was a bridge that served as both closure on the previous two trilogies, and introduction into the “new generation” books that came after it. It starts off with a huge pile of fuck you, as characters are killed off and info is dumped like a truck. Then it gets a little better, and bit by bit you feel like it’s actually worth reading. The ending falls short (IMHO), but you should read this for the epilogue and the Kender Spoon of Turning.

Reading List for January 2016

Here’s what I read in January 2016. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (audiobook): The characters are so good here that I almost didn’t mind that the plot seemed to be building towards absolutely nothing. It does come together in the end – which is even a bit rushed, and although I felt the text could have been edited down, I still enjoyed this.

2 – Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy (audiobook): This is sort of a Malcolm Gladwell book without Gladwell’s incredible storytelling, but replaced by a more thoughtful narrative overall. The big idea is to wait as long as possible to make a decision, to gather as much information as you can, so that your decisions are as well-informed as possible. Covers the extremes on both ends – both pre-conscious short term decisions and long-term decisions.

3 – The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman et al. (audiobook): Plenty of good ideas here about what the employer/employee relationship should look like in a utopia. Probably meaningless to anyone working outside of a tech startup with idyllic aspirations.

4 – What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe: This was exactly the book I expected based on the author and title. Munroe, of XKCD webcomic fame, is taken to task by his fans and responds with all the humor, charm, sarcasm, science, and the occasional romantic tug on the heart that you find in his comic. If you already read XKCD this is more of the stick figure nerdporn you love.

5 – How to Make A Living With Your Writing: Books, Blogging, and More by Joanna Penn: Ideal for beginners. No fluff, just solid information. This is a great overview of the types of writing available to you, and how to string them together to make a living.

6 – American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (audiobook): Hilarious, and graphic, and dark. Are you looking for something to be offended by? It’s in here. Even though the content is extreme, what bothered me most about this book was how long it took me to get through. It’s vulgarity is difficult to deal with in large doses.

7 – Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon: Share your process to attract your fans.

8 – Mastering Creativity by James Clear: This seems to be a digest of various books on behavior, psychology, willpower, and creativity. It’s not bad, but it’s geared towards beginners, and thus falls short of the promise of the title.

9 – Transform Your Habits by James Clear: Great breakdown of the most popular research on habits, with solid advice for using it to create new habits to reach your goals.

10 – The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz (audiobook): More of a business memoir than a business management book, and therefore difficult to recommend. Are you considering getting into the VC-backed startup game? If so, this is probably a must-read.

11 – Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance: Chronicles #1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (audiobook): The scathing reviews I read beforehand really dampened my expectations for this book, but I thought it was a solid fantasy quest read, and I’m not ashamed to say so. Consider that this was published in 1984 for TSR, and think of all the video games and stories this probably influenced. Sure, some of the characters are a bit flat and the prose is mundane. So it’s not Tolkien – what is?

12 – Dragons of Winter Night (Dragonlance: Chronicles #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (audiobook): Higher highs and better overall when compared to the first, but some scenes were on the very weak side. I found one scene completely disappointing for a different reason: Gilthanas is stalking Silvara under moonlight, and he starts muttering uncontrollably about his love for her, and she has a knife in her hand, and I think this is a perfect betrayal death scene from one of the Game of Thrones plots, but instead she drops the knife, and they kiss. Boo. I mean, yes, what happens after that scene would completely change the book, but that’s what happens, for sure.

Reading List for December 2015

Just one book again this month. I figured after last month – why not? Actually, most of my normal reading time went to listening to podcasts that I’ve been collecting over time, and I went through and batch listened to them. I’ve found I can listen at 2.67 speed on VLC media player and listen to an ungodly amount per day. Unfortunately, I haven’t found much to recommend, but the SPP guys have launched a full “podcast network” a la what Copyblogger did, so that should have some great potential.

Oh, here’s one rec based on that: The Walking Dave episode where his cat dies. It’s just as sad as it sounds, but it’s raw and real and tragic and beautiful.

The book:
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson (audiobook): Although Franklin’s autobiography is a bit dull, I consider it one of my favorite books. Isaacson’s biography is more engaging, although much the same. It’s fair and does a good job of giving insights that Franklin either omitted, glossed over, or consciously crafted in his autobiography. I’d give this a solid 4 stars.

Reading List for November 2015

Gonna shake things up a little bit this month, seeing as there’s only one book on the list. I think this is the first month I’ve had less than 4 books on a reading list since I started tracking. So, instead of just a book list, this update will also be a story of my NaNoWriMo adventures.

First, the book:

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (audiobook): This is a great read. At first I found it a little awkward due to the character’s dialect, and the pacing throughout is a bit slow. But those are minor things. Between this and Stranger in a Strange Land, I feel like Heinlein is miles ahead of most authors in storytelling ability. One thing I love, love, love is that he will have a character make some small remark about social status, politics, or whatever else, and that one remark says so much about the character’s views and mindset, and Heinlein never repeats the point, and never draws it out. You get the one comment – and just the one – and either you got the point, or you didn’t. Which, of course, makes me wonder how much I missed.

And now, A Tale of Two NaNos.

If you don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to write 50,000 words on a single work of fiction in the month of November. That’s not an impossible task by any means, but so far I’ve failed to complete it twice. So, obviously it seems easier to do on October 31st than, say, the third week of November.

A little context:
NaNo2014: 20,135 words, day 22 was my last word count update
NaNo2015: 26,541 words, day 24 was my last word count update

The main difference between these failures was my attitude. And that’s attitude going in, and also during November.

In 2014, I put on my rose-colored glasses (yes, I can do that – although I almost never do, because fuck you), came up with a story idea the week before, and then proceeded to try and write the longest work of fiction I have ever written. (For the record I have never finished a single work of fiction longer than 5 pages handwritten, though I do write small.) I didn’t have an outline. I wasn’t sure if I was writing a standalone or first of a series. And I was miserable the whole time. Basically, I stopped working on the project when I couldn’t see what came next, and instead of trying to figure it out, I stopped. I haven’t opened that file since.

So for 2015, I had a plan. I was going to rebel! In NaNo speak, that means you’re not sticking to the format. I had some non-fiction projects I wanted to work on, and they were smaller and could be finished. I thought I might work on a short story idea I had in mind, too.

Did it help? Sure. I got 6400 more words, and I stuck to writing every single day. Right up until I quit completely.

Now, there’s a huge ray of sunshine here: I finished two projects, and almost finished the third one. I’ll finish the third shortly, and those will all be for sale (under a secret pen name) by Christmas. Dopeshit!

But I also learned some weaknesses about myself during this NaNo.

First, my planning skills suck, and I greatly overrate them. Project 1 had been outlined and was finished before I thought it would be. That led me to be woefully unprepared and scrambling to outline 2 and 3 together, and almost ruined my NaNo right there. Second, because the 3 projects were so similar, I burnt myself out way short of my goal. The burnout left me unwilling to plan projects 4 and 5 (I still don’t know what those will be – 2 weeks later the thought is still icky), and worse – I didn’t have a backup plan.

I think that not having a backup was my biggest faux-pas of this NaNo. I wasn’t expecting to burn out, especially if things were going so well that projects were actually being completed. If I had my short story outlined beforehand (that damn lack of planning again), I probably would have switched to fiction. Maybe I would have been re-energized instead of disenchanted. C’est la vie.

Also, allow me to gripe a little. November is a fucking terrible month for this shit. The weather sucks, my seasonal allergies hit like a truck a few days (s/o to Nasacort, y’all my motherfuckers!), storm windows have to go up, all the yard work has to get done, and then there’s Thanksgiving. Shopping, prep, turkey hangover for 2 days. Realistically, if I’m gonna have any chance at getting to 50k words next year I have to account for all of that.

Game on.

Reading List for October 2015

Here’s what I read in October 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Carrie by Stephen King (audiobook): Some of this is so good it hurts. The meanness that inspires Carrie, the faux-historical accounts by witnesses and researchers, the positioning of all the players motives. What I hate is that the game is given up early and repeatedly, as you are told who is dead before they die in the story. Turns out this is something King does often, and I think it’s a bunch of horseshit. One hell of a first novel, though.

2 – ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (audiobook): A modern Dracula, although a fair bit creepier. That bit where he’s sacrificing the boy? Brrrrr. Chilly. Also, nice to see where Father Callahan comes from (he shows up in The Dark Tower series).

3 – The Shining by Stephen King (audiobook): Ok, classic movie. But the book is way better. The difference is that in the movie Jack Torrance goes crazy; in the book he is coaxed.

4 – Rage by Richard Bachman (AKA Stephen King) (audiobook): Meh.

5 – Night Shift by Stephen King (audiobook): Short story collection. Some better than others.

6 – The Stand (Uncut edition) by Stephen King (audiobook): This is the very long edition. I chose this over the original, edited one because I don’t mind long, and I would never come to this version after the shorter one even if I liked it. But I didn’t like it. I thought it dragged on and on and I found it boring. I wasn’t fond of most of the characters. I thought the climax was anti-climatic. There were so many brand names mentioned I wondered if my Adblock stopped working. He gives up the game several times – the one with Harold is a big fuck-you to the reader, and the one with Stu is trite and obvious. Also, the audio by Garrick Hagon is pretty disappointing. In fairness, he gets a little better by the end, but with 48 hours or so do you want to wait around for him to find his sea legs?

7 – Cujo by Stephen King (audiobook): Apparently you can write a lot of BS and turn a dog with rabies into a whole novel. Despite that, this is a pretty decent read. The intro to Gary Pervier is golden, but the real star in this book is the WTF closet. What is it? What’s in it? It’s worth reading just for that.

8 – Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King (audiobook): I’ve seen the shittastic movie based on this. That movie is way better than this short book.

9 – The Running Man by Richard Bachman (AKA Stephen King) (audiobook): Bored until the end because this is essentially an action movie, and I don’t find car chases exciting. King nailed the ending, though. Nothing at all like the movie with the Governator.

10 – Click-Clack the Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman (short): I think I saw someone on Twitter say this was the scariest thing they ever read. Nope, not even close. But still a fun story, and it’s on YouTube read by @Neilhimself.

Reading List for September 2015

Here’s what I read in September 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith: Solid all-around guide to writing and publishing. Written for a time long before self-publishing was a viable option, but don’t let that deter you.

2 – Next by Michael Crichton (audiobook): Hyper-fractured narrative with all story lines involving genetically engineered animals. Worth reading just for the hilarious absurdity of the David vs. the bullies scene at the baseball field.

3 – Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton (audiobook): Posthumously published. Sort of a rehash of The Great Train Robbery minus the charm.

4 – How to Write Serial Fiction by C.R. Myers: On a scale of 1 to 10, this is in negative territory. Nothing useful, and full of errors.

5 – Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston (audiobook): There are two twists in this book. The first one is so obvious that you hope there’s more to the story. There is. The other twist, the ninja twist, you never see coming. It’s golden. Also there is a scene where the word ‘bot’ is used about 200 times in just a few pages. I wrote a robot story last year, and ran into the same problem. But, I realized it was shit. When you’re putting Crichton on the cover you can publish it anyway.

6 – The Martian by Andy Weir (audiobook): Celia told me to read this. It’s funny, and irreverent, and just might be the sci-fi novel of our generation.

7 – Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (audiobook): Really, really good. How do you combine religion, politics, and philosophy into one book, AND feel better about the world after you finish?

8 – Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (audiobook): OK, but military isn’t my thing.

9 – Zero to One: Notes on Startups by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters (audiobook): If you judge a book like this based on how many ideas you get while reading it, then this is one of the best. I don’t normally take many notes, but I jotted down pages full – none of them about the content of this book.

10 – Blade Runner by Phillip K. Dick (audiobook): Originally titled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”; re-titled to take advantage of the movie’s success. I wasn’t a fan of film nor novel. To me, it seems to hint at things and say nothing.

Reading List for August 2015

Here’s what I read in August 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (audiobook): I read this back in middle school and thought it was amazing – even better than the fantastic movie. It holds up in rereading. Probably Crichton’s best work. Between the science, philosophy, and huge cast of necessary villains he wrote this to his strengths, and hit a home run. Also, in reading it this time I noticed that he used the same pool ball reference Taleb used in The Black Swan. My guess would be both got it from Mandelbrot (who was mentioned in both books).

2 – The Lost World by Michael Crichton (audiobook): I also read this back in middle school, but forgot most of it. Same thing this time around. It’s a good, entertaining read, but it’s forgettable.

3 – Quit Your Job in 6 Months: Book 2 by Buck Flogging: This one focuses on doing niche research before starting, and knowing your numbers. The EPC section is gold.

4 – Timeline by Michael Crichton (audiobook): The technology is super weak here. One character literally explains to another that it doesn’t matter that they don’t understand how the time travel tech works, because another version of them in another universe in the multiverse does, and that one will get it right. Beyond that, this was a great story.

5 – Prey by Michael Crichton (audiobook): Nanobot story. Kind of poor execution IMHO. The whole thing felt awkward and stilted.

6 – State of Fear by Michael Crichton (audiobook): There are a lot of characters thrown at you without much context, and that’s a bit messy. It does come together well, though. Great premise showing the flaws in our media/cause driven society.

Reading List for July 2015

Here’s what I read in July 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder: Loglines, the beat sheet, and the board are gold. Some of the shorthand is useful, too. Definitely read this one.

2 – Zen in the Art of Writing by Rad Bradbury: ‘Write short stories’ is the most notable actionable advice here.

3 – You Write, They Pay by Susan Anderson: Geared towards freelancing newbies. The focus is more on the business side of things.

4 – The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen (short story): Research. This was the source Disney used, although they changed the ending. There aren’t many mermaid stories out there. I’m thinking of writing one.

5 – The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson (audiobook): This was great. Isaacson is a master.

6 – A Case of Need by Jeffery Hudson (audiobook): Early Michael Crichton under a pen name. Not amazing, but you can see the seeds of what his style would become later.

7 – The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton (audiobook): Brain implant story. It wasn’t terrible.

8 – The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton (audiobook): If Charles Dickens wrote Ocean’s Eleven, this might be the result. Captivating despite the quirky POV.

9 – How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson: The blog post gives all the information you need, but by using his Snowflake Method to write a business parable about how to use the Snowflake Method, Ingermanson gives you a brilliant dose of meta-illustration. You should read this, or at least the blog.

10 – Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (audiobook): I first read this book on vacation years ago, after falling in love with Crichton’s dinosaur-themed works. It might have been the first book my parents let me buy without supervision, and I rewarded that trust by allowing them to become the idiots walking around with a kid carrying a book called Eaters of the Dead. Checkmate. I thought this book was both interesting and boring then, and still do. It’s based on Beowulf, which itself is both interesting and boring.

11 – Two Gallants by James Joyce (short story): The ending makes this work.

12 – Congo by Michael Crichton (audiobook): This had potential, but there’s too much going on. There’s the other team, and evil gorillas, and cannibals, and a civil war, and a volcano… Tighten it up and this could have been great. As is, the tension builds and then falls apart when the gorillas just stop coming, then the volcano erupts and the cannibals close in, but thankfully the other team left a hot air balloon in their downed plane (and apparently the rebels didn’t shoot down the balloon). But no worries, Crichton lets you know everyone survives by telling you what they thought after reflecting on it as it was happening. Boos all around.

13 – Sphere by Michael Crichton (audiobook): Obvious plot, but somehow still interesting.

14 – Evelyn by James Joyce (short story): I thought I understood this until the end.

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