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.

Reading List for June 2015

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

1 – Wired for Story by Lisa Cron: The angle here is neuroscience meets storytelling. But I thought it was too skimpy on the science. The writing advice is good, but I felt the book failed on its promise.

2 – Wikihistory by Desmond Warzel (short story): Time travel story told through forum posts. “Everybody kills Hitler on their first trip.” Search and you’ll find it.

3 – A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury (short story): You can find this with a search, too. This story is where the term “butterfly effect” came from.

4 – The Lake by Ray Bradbury (short story): This pushes emotional hot buttons, but it’s weird in a way that I personally didn’t appreciate. In Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury said this was the first story he wrote that he thought was any good.

5 – The Plague by Albert Camus (audiobook): Camus is infinitely brilliant and equally boring. There’s no hook here. The characters are dull. The POV is all over the place. There’s no real plot. There’s just a plague, and plague-related things (dying, lots of dying), and then it grinds on until the plague stops. And somehow Camus’s writing still shines. But, I think there’s only so much Camus one can take before insanity takes over, so if you’re only going to read one you should choose The Stranger. IMO, it was more interesting.

6 – Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant: This is a thorough guide to self-publishing for beginners and novices. If you’re more experienced, this will remind you of what you should already know.

7 – Ringworld by Larry Niven (audiobook): Much of this is standard SF fare. The interactions between the alien races are fun. There’s some poetry to the size and scale of the Ringworld. There’s also a little bit of sexism. The second half gets a little darker. I love how the luck theory evolves through dialogue. Kind of a weak ending. Good read overall.

8 – The Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven (audiobook): Bland intro/set-up, but then it finds its stride. Ridiculous over-the-top inter-species sex theme going on. Another weak ending.

9 – The Ringworld Throne by Larry Niven (audiobook): This one felt forced. The former MCs sit back and watch the action while on vacation, and you’re stuck with previously minor characters dictating the action that leads to… well I already forgot. That’s how important it was to the story. Worst book of the 4.

10 – Ringworld’s Children by Larry Niven (audiobook): Better than the previous book, but still nowhere as good as the first in the series. Hindmost gets lost in the shuffle, because everything else is a protector at this point. I was just glad this stops the series (Kinda? It’s over for me, at least). I’d recommend only reading the first Ringworld and forgetting about the rest.

11 – Quit Your Job in 6 Months by Buck Flogging: I love whatever clusterfuck this genre is, so when Steve Scott emailed his list saying his pal Buck was launching this book I grabbed it. It’s better than average, but the author has a terrible sense of humor and tries to dial it up to 11 on every page. It doesn’t work. It was free, though, and although it mostly serves as lead-gen to get you on his list and get the rest of the books in the series, there is some good info here. Don’t think you’ll quit your job after reading this alone.

Reading List for May 2015

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

1 – The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman: A book about how to learn new skills fast. I was not a fan of this book. Some bits felt condescending; much of it was thoroughly boring and I skipped huge sections where Kaufman tells you how to use his system to learn to play the ukulele or whatever. One of his sections is on Colemak, which is an optimized keyboard layout that I’m in the process of learning myself. The time I spent reading that section would have been better used practicing.

2 – Kosmic Consciousness by Ken Wilber (audiobook): I liked this. Whereas the other Wilber book I read felt like complete bullshit, this had a much friendlier tone. He has sort of a supernova clusterfuck theory that includes parts of all scientific, religious, mythological, and spiritual teachings. There’s a ton of overlap with Joseph Campbell’s comparative mythology lectures recorded from the 1980s. A bit heady in spots, but overall very approachable.

3 – 26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss by Kij Johnson (short story): This was cited as an example of “how to write great short fiction”. It’s very good. Read it on the author’s blog.

4 – Protector by Larry Niven (audiobook): Niven’s Ringworld series was recommended, but when it comes to sci-fi I prefer to know what I’m getting into before committing. This is a standalone. Typical tech-first fare for the most part. I’ll check out Ringworld soonish.

5 – Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins (audiobook): Plenty of timeless marketing wisdom can be found in this short, old book.

6 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (audiobook): This is kind of like a darker, more sensitive, modern version of Catcher in the Rye. Some sentences even feel like they were written by Salinger. I prefer Holden Caulfield, but some of what Catcher could only hint at, things like sex and drugs and rape, are front and center in this, and I think that’s important.

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Reading List for April 2015

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

1 – 23 Anti-Procrastination Habits by S.J. Scott: Steve Scott has a great self-publishing podcast. I checked this book out mainly to see what the inside of his books looked like. Solid advice, mostly reminders of what I already know, but might not do.

2 – 2000 to 10000: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love. by Rachel Aaron: Weird subtitle, great writing tips. And it’s only 99 cents.

3 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): Grinds along, lots of stuff happening, but not seeming to build towards any climax, then WHOOSH! you’re in the graveyard and the proverbial shit has hit the fan. That chapter reads like a completely different author wrote it. Great scene! I stuck it in my writing swipe file. The movie adaptation is reasonably good, given the source, but there are changes that definitely don’t add value.

4 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): Too long. Could have been a much tighter book, and been better for it. I thought the movie got the characters wrong. Snape is more of a dick in the book, but is sympathetic in the movie. McGonagall’s strong in the book, and is almost left out in the movie. Umbridge is more of an inept bureaucrat in the book, but is an outright tyrant in the movie. Solid job of taking a rambling book and turning it into a single long movie, though.

5 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): My favorite book of the series! This one is definitely a bit darker than the rest. My least favorite movie though. The scenes change in it so fast that unless you read the book I don’t think it’s possible to figure out what’s happening.

6 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): Not a bad way to wrap up the series. Definitely some great twists and turns. Kind of felt cheated by the train scene. The movie was very good, although that final battle scene where they jump off the tower and fly around and shit – really?

7 – The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White: The classic writing guide.

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I’m a week late on getting this up, I apologize. My father had a hip replaced, and the lead up to the surgery and then the post-surgery handicap house-proofing afterwards while he recovers has kept me crazy busy. Life happens. Appreciate it all.

Reading List for March 2015

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

1 – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (audiobook): Gaiman has a wonderful way of sweeping past any inconsistencies or gaps in his stories so fast that you never notice them (unless you’re a nit-picky fuck, like me). It’s kind of like watching a magician perform a trick you know, and you still can’t catch him in the act. This is a great kids fantasy story. Audio is read by Neil himself, which is definitely a good thing.

2 – How to Stay Motivated by Zig Ziglar (audiobook): I don’t think there was anything new in this I haven’t heard in other Zig programs. If you’ve never heard any of his stuff before this is probably the best compilation of his ideas, but I felt a little cheated. That’s an expectations problem, not a content problem.

3 – Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): I decided to do the whole series with audiobooks first, then watching the respective movie before starting the next book. This was all sparked by my nephews having to read these for school. I went with the British versions because the audio is done by Stephen Fry, so you’ll notice this title might not be the one you’re familiar with.

The book itself kind of pulled me in two directions. I felt the build up was too long and boring, and that seems to be common among several books in the series (I’m currently in the middle of the 4th book as of writing this, which will be in next month’s list). Rowling also relies heavily on adverbial dialogue attribution, which I personally hate, so to me it seems like for every “Harry said” there’s 3 “Harry screamed loudly” or “Harry whispered surreptitiously”. But, once the story starts rolling it’s very good. The payoff is definitely worth it.

4 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): A better overall story than the first book, with less build up. There’s a lot of resolution here, too. It felt like this could be the end of the series. The movie stuck close to the text and when changed it was usually better and more streamlined.

5 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): I thought this was probably too complicated, certainly more than it had to be. The ending is great, but it really didn’t need any of the previous story to make happen. I can’t really explain that without spoilers, so figure it out on your own. The movie for this title deviated from the book quite a bit, and tried to make it less complicated, but it felt rushed and stilted and left out some major pieces of the story.

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I also tore through a ton of podcasts this month, which I won’t include here. I’m only mentioning them to forewarn followers of these lists that the mix will skew towards fiction while I do it. Podcasts are wonderful at delivering information, but there tends to be a lot of bullshit. Here’s a tip: download them to your computer, then open with a non-iTunes media player that allows you to increase the playback speed. I wish I could do it right on my iPod and listen faster on-the-go, but Apple doesn’t care what customers want. I bet there would be a market for an app that re-recorded podcasts at faster speeds.

Reading List for February 2015

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

1 – The Big Short by Michael Lewis (audiobook): Great story about who profited by foreseeing the huge mortgage crisis that lead to the Great Recession.

2 – Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (audiobook): I liked this. Because its scope is more focused I think this was more like what I wished “American Gods” was.

3 – Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek (audiobook): There’s some sketchy biology here, and the title fails the text – there is no clear WHY here. Despite that, I thought this was a pretty solid read. If you read between the lines, I think you see what Sinek was (probably) trying to say: if you treat people with dignity and respect and give them responsibilities they will tend to meet your expectations, but if you treat them like featureless, replaceable cogs in a machine they will tend to resent you. Also, as with Sinek’s other book “Start With Why” there is a video that sort of gives you everything here in a smaller bite.

4 – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: Figure out why you do what you do, and how to fix it.

5 – A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber (audiobook): There are some interesting ideas here, but my bullshit detector was on full blast. I checked out reviews and others said similar things. Not sure who recommended this to me, but I also have another of Wilber’s audiobooks and I’ve already sat on them for quite awhile. Kind of debating whether or not to push ahead with the other one.

6 – The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (audiobook): In middle school I read several Crichton novels (right before the Jurassic Park movie came out) and loved them. This is one of his earliest and the science holds up remarkably well. He was a master of giving you enough detail in a certain way to make you absolutely certain that what he was describing was going to happen within mere months. I’m planning to go through much of Crichton’s catalog so expect more of him to show up in the near future.

7 – Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace (audiobook): There are more essays in the text than you get in the audio, but the audio is read by Wallace himself. This is everything you want from Wallace over a pretty wide subject range. Definitely check it out if you’re a fan, or if you’re thinking of trying DFW but are scared of the size of Infinite Jest.

8 – Perfect Shadow by Brent Weeks: Prequel to his Night Angel trilogy, but I have to say I think it was much better that I read it after reading the trilogy. Actually, I only found out about it after I read the trilogy, and then told the friend to recommended the trilogy to me about it. It’s good, but it’s written a little weird. And the beginning of it kind of sucks until it gets going. Yeah definitely wait until AFTER you read the trilogy to read this.

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