Reading List for September 2016

Hey, so this month was a better reading month than the last couple. Actually, it was more like a good 3 weeks, but whatever. If you’re going to pick out just one of these to read, try the Bukowski book if you’ve never read him before. I hadn’t, and it was revelatory. There’s some shit in there, to be sure, but there’s some poems that you have to reread a few times, then take a walk to think about, too.

Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle #2) by Christopher Paolini (audio): Starts off flat, and stays slow well past the midpoint. In that way, it’s more like a continuation of the first book than a sequel. But, it gets better towards the end, and finishes strong.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (audio): This is a low-rent Infinite Jest. But 3 stars for the humor.

Have a New You by Friday by Kevin Leman (audio): Too weird for me. Dog breed types, birth order shit. I’m not sure how is that helping me.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London (audio): We read this in middle school, and I liked it then, but I appreciate it more now. It’s just so well written.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink (audio): Solid leadership read with a unique perspective.

Love Is a Dog from Hell by Charles Bukowski: This book is a roller coaster for the heart. Highly recommended.

6 Months to 6 Figures by Peter Voogd: This wasn’t horrible, but if you’re into personal development you’ve seen this all before – many times using the same language.

Our Dumb World: The Onion’s Atlas of the Planet Earth by The Onion (audio): Kinda funny, but got old really fast.

Warren Buffett and the Art of Stock Arbitrage by Mary Buffett (audio): A basic guide to special situations, but has almost nothing to do with Warren Buffett.

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman (audio): Interesting, but not practical. Although, just by being aware of how emotions affect behaviors probably results in some change.

Once Upon a Time in Russia by Ben Mezrich (audio): Loved this. Possibly the perfect topic for Mezrich’s style of making it up as he goes. Very compelling read.

Goal Setting: 13 Secrets of World Class Achievers by Vic Johnson (audio): Pretty good content, but could be structured better.

Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts by Susan Cain (audio): I thought this was Cain’s other book with a similar title, so that was my mistake – but I’m not entirely disappointed. This book is mostly written for children and teens who need reassurance. I know a lot of people, kids especially, who struggle with the idea that they’re different because they’re introverted. I’m sure this book will help them, and I’m glad for that. For me, personally, well I got over that shit a long time ago. Let people think whatever the fuck they want to think.

Reading List for August 2016

Short one again, as expected. Some quality reads here, though – especially if you like business books.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday (audio): This was really, really good. I found myself nodding constantly throughout, as all my flaws were laid bare. This is one of those books that you can’t really talk about, because the experience will be completely personal to the reader. Without a doubt, this book is a well of knowledge that you will come back to time and time again.

Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy by Robert H. Frank (audio): Too heavy on personal anecdotes and rants. Skip it.

Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill (audio): Must-read. Starts off with Hill’s own tough-luck story, and then goes off the rails to crazy town as he interviews the devil to give up the game on why some people find success but most do not.

How to Win at the Sport of Business by Mark Cuban: Short and sweet. Focus, hustle, determination. Bad things will happen, you’ll get knocked down. Get back up, quickly if possible, but just get back up.

Creating Wealth by Robert Allen: Many of the finer details are outdated, but the principles here remain. If you want this book to give you a step-by-step plan to make you wealthy, you will be disappointed. If, instead, you treat it more as a philosophical work, you will come away with wisdom. Allen’s credo that everyone needs to win in a negotiation, and how to find out what the other party wants, is itself worth the price of this book. As is his maxim that “if you don’t have it, you can find someone who does.”

Reading List for July 2016

Alright, I know the reading list is short this month, and it will be for the next 2 months also. If you didn’t see the note from last month about my 90-day challenge, or the update I made about it already, check it out.

The TL;DR version: I’m doing P90X combined with daily meditation and attempting to increase my productivity for 3 months. That means I have less time to read, but more importantly I’m trying to prioritize the other stuff, and therefore not making the time to read like I was.

So, without any more bullshit, here’s what I read this month:

Choose Yourself by James Altucher: I didn’t love this one. I don’t like Altucher’s writing style, and for all the hype this book had, I felt it didn’t deliver past the book title. Altucher has some great stories and bits of advice though, so check it out anyway.

Muhammad Ali: A Tribute to the Greatest by Thomas Hauser: Just okay. Most of this seems to be pieces of previous work newly repackaged. Maybe all of it is. The bio I read last month was better, but was written in the 70s. I wanted another one that covered everything since then, and I guess this was it.

The Golden Rules: 10 Steps to World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work by Bob Bowman (audio): Good, quick read. You get a “rule”, followed by anecdotes and sub-heads. So really there are a fuckload of rules if you count all of the parts. I left those out, but here are the “10 steps”:
1. A champion sets a “dream big” vision.
2. Adopt an “all-in” attitude, not a “get out” one.
3. Take risks – and then enjoy the rewards.
4. Short-term goals lead to long-term success.
5. Live the vision every day.
6. A team approach can bring individual success.
7. Stay motivated over the long haul.
8. Adversity will make you stronger.
9. When the time comes, perform with confidence.
10. Celebrate your achievement, then decide what’s next.

The Success System That Never Fails by W. Clement Stone (audio): Every time I read this book I get new ideas and pick up on more things I should be doing. I don’t know if that’s a comment on my inability to implement things I already know, or if the book is just written in a way that lets me see myself in it. It doesn’t matter, really. When you find something that works for you, stick with it.

So yeah, that’s it. Crazy how I would now consider reading a book a week a big failure. Something else to note: there’s no fiction on this list. The thing that gets cut out first is the candy.

Reading List for June 2016

It’s the end of June already, and my writing streak is now 3 months long. I feel pretty good about that. But for the next 3 months I have decided to go a bit crazy. I’ve decided to push myself for 90 days physically and mentally to see what I can accomplish in “just 3 months”. It involves a mindfulness practice, P90X, and writing 6000 words per day. That’s not a typo.

I couldn’t imagine hitting that number before, but after one month of daily word sprints it seemed possible. After three months it seems doable. I will post about it further as I progress (possibly to meet a daily word goal – I’m not above cheating). If you have questions, tweet at me.

And as for the reading list:

The Fireman by Joe Hill (audio): Enjoyable story, and a breezy read for a 750 page book.

The Mad Ship (Liveship Traders #2) by Robin Hobb (audio): Good, but I wish there were a cycle of opening and closing loops, rather than a constant flowing of story lines with no end in sight.

Ship of Destiny (Liveship Traders #3) by Robin Hobb (audio): This wasn’t the book I hoped for. It’s as well written as the others, with all the same great characters, and the ending is right, but to me it fell short. With such a long build-up to get here, it needed to be a 12 on a scale of 1-10.

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle #1) by Christopher Paolini (audio): There is a lot of hate for this on Goodreads, but I found that to be unwarranted. Supposedly, the hate is because it’s a LotR rip off (I thought it was closer to Star Wars), but my guess is that it’s because this book was self-published before that kind of thing was acceptable. Fuck the haters. The only fault I found with this is that the ending was a little flat – not that it was a bad ending, only that it could have hit harder. If you like dragons and fantasy, this is a good read.

Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg (audio): Kind of a slog. I still don’t like Duhigg’s storytelling style. Some of the anecdotes are good, but the “universal principles” don’t seem terribly universal. If you’re making cars on an assembly line, don’t be afraid to pull the cord? Don’t fly a plane into the ocean? I don’t know what that means to me. Don’t make a shitty movie, make Frozen? Okay. Got it. [exeunt, grumbling]

Author 2.0 Blueprint by Joanna Penn: Great place to start if you think you want to be an author. You can read this in an hour, but the links included will direct you to more great resources.

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (Oz #4) by L. Frank Baum (audio): The wizard returns to Oz.

In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill (audio): I feel like I’ve read this story before.

The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali (audio): So much of this is gold. The mindset stuff, the philosophy of winning and losing, the work that goes into being the champ, the raw power of the writing itself. The audio book is mint. There’s plenty of bullshit too, but totally worth it.

The Ultimate Goals Program by Brian Tracy (audio): I *think* this is just the updated audio book version of his “regular” Goals! book, but with 8 cds/mp3s and a 30 page workbook. Some of this seems like Tracy dumping ideas on you in a semi-random order, but a few spots are targeted and on-point – like the “making a plan” section. Overall very good.

How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro (audio): Unfortunately, this is not an actual guide to cloning a mammoth. It is, however, a very good overview to all the ways in which scientists are currently working towards bio-engineering diverse species – including extinct species – to repopulate areas, or to hopefully fix the holes that humans punch in an ecosystem. I completely agree with Shapiro’s thoughts on fixing systemic problems in nature. I have considered myself a conservationist since a very young age, but I am at odds with those who are strict preservationists. Nature is not a museum, and should not be treated as such. I also believe that humans must take an active role in shaping the natural world – not towards our fancies, but towards its necessities.

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson (audio): This is a collection of essays, and as such has its ups and downs. Some of it was very good, some was kind of a slog. If you recognize the author, you probably should give it a go.

Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper (audio): Interested in Bitcoin? Start here.

Extreme Food by Bear Grylls (audio): This is a hunting and foraging guide for desperate times. Probably serves more as a fun read than a useful field guide. Especially seeing as how I went with the audio book.

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly (audio): Amazing! I think this is a book I’m going to have to go back to several times just to see what new ideas I get from it. Warning: it can be a bit scary to think about how technology will run your life in the future. But guess what – tech has run your life from your alarm clock to your coffee pot to your TV, computer, automobile, and mobile phone for all or most of your life. I was lucky enough to see Google go from kinda okay/kinda spammy search results to it now predicting long search terms after one word or even just a few letters because it knows me. It knows that other people have also searched for these terms, in this same order, and I am just the most recent one to connect these particular dots. I could decide that’s creepy and stalker-ish, but instead I feel like, “Hey, Google gets me.” In the end, isn’t feeling like we’re understood one of the cornerstones of life?

Reading List for May 2016

It was kind of a big month for me, as far as reading goes. If you read last month’s post you know that I’ve recently started treating writing as a daily habit instead of just doing it in chunks until I was sick of it, then not writing at all until the next chunk. So far, it has been 2 full months of daily writing with at least a 15 minute writing sprint each day. My output has increased, but not to a staggering number. I’ve been taking it slow, not pushing to meet any goal I have in mind just yet, but I should be around one thousand words per day for the month on average.

It turns out that this writing habit carried over to other areas, because I’ve found ways to streamline my reading this month so that I’ve done more of it, without it feeling like a chore. What has fallen away to make time for the extra reading is games, a lot of small stuff, and podcasts. Unfortunately, I actually want to keep the podcasts as a part of my routine, so I batch listened to them for 3 days straight this month. That was okay, but I need to find a better way than that to consume them. It’s a good problem to have, much better than trying to find the time to read another book each week.

But enough of that for now, here’s the reading list:

John Dies at the End by David Wong: At times this book was simply brilliant, but at other times I wondered why I was still reading it. I recommend that everyone read this, because the good parts are so good – but skim when you’re feeling bored because it’s probably not that important to the plot.

This Book is Full of Spiders (John Dies at the End #2) by David Wong: This is a zombie thriller set at a scorching pace, and while it had the dick jokes you’d expect from Wong, it lacked the mind-numbing bizzaro high points of John Dies at the End. If you want an example of how to pace a thriller – this would be a good place for you to start.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong (audio): Wong outdid himself with this one. I realize that it’s been over a decade between these 3 books of his that I read, and in that time he’s been honing his craft on Cracked, but the improvement in his writing over that period is staggering. Again, this one lacks the high points of weirdness, but here they would be unwelcome intrusion. I really enjoyed reading this.

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson (audio): Better ending than I was anticipating. Enjoyable read overall. This is probably a series I will get for my nephews in a few years for birthdays and Christmas gifts. It’s not very graphic, but I think it’s a little bit above their current level.

Mitosis (Reckoners #1.5) by Brandon Sanderson (audio): Essentially a 35 page fight scene that doesn’t add a whole lot to the story. Although, it did confirm my suspicions of this series being somewhat Matrix-influenced. The name gets tossed around later, but it’s not vital to know what happened in this.

Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson (audio): The tension in this is absolutely perfect. The plot is a little hand-wavey, but nothing too bad. Sanderson’s ability to write horrible metaphors is a blessing.

Calamity (Reckoners #3) by Brandon Sanderson (audio): This is the one in which Sanderson tells you to own your destiny. I thought the beginning was a little too slow, but that ending was beautiful. Most of the reviews on Goodreads violently oppose the last “fight” scene, but I thought it was fine. I think the moral of this story is that the real opponent is ourselves.

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump: Great read. A little biased, but that’s to be expected. One of the best business books I’ve read, because you can’t help but to start thinking big as you read it. This was published in 1987, and during the 2016 election I can tell you that Trump hasn’t changed much in that time.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (audio): The writing reminds me of an old radio broadcast, which is charming at first, but soon becomes tedious, then it’s grating. Still, this is a classic story, and well worth your time.

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein (audio): This is okay. More like a history of statistics than a story of risk, though. I’ve seen this recommended in a lot of books, and I have to say my expectations were disappointed because of that.

The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach (audio): Pretty standard personal financial advice. Automate your savings, investments, and bill payments (that’s the automatic part of the title). Probably a better book at the time it was published than it is today. A more up to date book in a similar vein is Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to be Rich.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi (audio): Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t find a lot of tips in here. It seemed mostly like the author’s own stories told in clips and phrases. I’m very introverted; the idea of trying to meet a ton of people for the sake of adding them to your Rolodex scares me. But I got some ideas from this book that will be useful, so there’s that.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow (audio): Timely and relevant, but quippy and thin. Kind of a Twitter rant in book form. If this were written for tech-illiterate lawmakers, it’s a bulls-eye.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport (audio): Do you have problems getting important things done, because you’re too busy dealing with email and social media? Maybe check this out.

Rigged by Ben Mezrich (audio): Fun read, but don’t let the subtitle fool you.

Jaws by Peter Benchley (audio): I don’t say this often, but the movie was much better than the book. And consider that the shark in the movie didn’t work right so they used it less, which made it more terrifying. Everything went wrong and you end up with a better product at the end of the day. That’s a life lesson for you.

Launch to Market by Chris Fox: Solid marketing book for beginner authors. Overview of everything you need to know – pricing, preorders, mailing list, etc.

The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg (audio): Feels like a TED talk book. Read the blurb, skip the book.

Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders #1) by Robin Hobb (audio): Robin Hobb writes such vivid characters that you feel like you could spend weeks getting to know them. It’s a gift and a curse here, though. With such a huge cast, the lesser characters feel unloved compared to the POV characters. And to that characterization much is sacrificed. So many plot lines are started – and left open – with even the main thread seemingly only there to setup later events in other books – and this with 880 pages to work with. But I’ve read – and loved – The Farseer Trilogy, so I trust Robin Hobb, and I trust that all of what I just read in Ship of Magic will come together in some incredible way. Still, know what you’re getting into with this one.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (audio): Longest sales pitch ever. The essential idea – that a growth-mindset is better than a fixed mindset – is fantastic, but this book is written like the script for an infomercial. Ever watch a Shark infomercial? You don’t need a full hour to figure out what a vacuum does.

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.


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.

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