The Old Man and the Read

A mark of an educated man or woman is to employ an expanded vocabulary in their speech or conversation. A mark of a very educated man or woman is to know the appropriate times to employ the expanded vocabulary to a particular audience.

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I always thought that I had a book within me that I could write and publish. But after recently reading My Mistake: A Memoir by David Menacker, a book about the author’s experiences in various roles in the publishing world, I am now disimbued of that ambition.

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I am also reminded of an adage from the great Christopher Hitchens about people who want to write a book: “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

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I am a huge fan of good journalism. And despite all the outcries of “fake news,“ there is a lot of good investigative journalism of political, business, health and culture topics reflecting strong research, responsible sourcing, effective writing and editing. Magazines of exceptional writing and reporting include The New Yorker, Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and The Nation. What’s frustrating to me is the reliance of so many people on blogs and memes, particularly as it relates to politics and the coronavirus.

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A great financial and mental investment is the online Sunday New York Times for $.99. Excellent ideas, essays, news coverage and articles on politics, business, culture, entertainment and people. I am biased but I think Maureen Dowd is one of the best essayists and commentators of the political and current events scenes.

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Authors continue to write “self help“ books as it is a huge market within book publishing. However the greatest ideas for self-help were written in ancient times by Socrates, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Lao-tzu and Epicurus. Much of what is written today as self help is just a regurgitation of their ideas.

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One of the greatest literary influences on my perspectives regarding life, death and religion is found in the first chapter of a book by Alan Watts titled The Wisdom of Insecurity. The chapter begins, “By all outward appearances, our life is a spark of light between one eternal darkness and another.” I have underlined just about all of the first chapter in my copy of the book. A great deal of wisdom in 15 pages.

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In high school, we were assigned summer reading. The three books I remember and enjoyed were (1) Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee (2) All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and (3) The Bridges at Toko-Ri. I struggled with the following summer books: (1) The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper, (2) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and (3) The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I found the writing in those books tedious and boring.

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The best and most memorable short story I have read is The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Written in 1948, it is still an appropriate theme for our times. I remember my shock at the ending of the story.

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Currently reading Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife by Bart D. Ehrman. Just finished How Did We Get Here? From Theodore Roosevelt to Donald Trump by historian Robert Dallek.

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A very funny read is Make Russia Great Again by Christopher Buckley. It is a satirical novel about a former Jewish food manager of one of Trump’s Golf Clubs who reluctantly becomes Trump’s seventh Chief of Staff. He becomes embroiled in a number of crazy White House scandals and deals with Fox commentators running the government and his boss’s bizarre ideas (e.g. Ivanka as VP to garner women’s vote.) Strangely enough I’m not sure this satire is as farcical as the real time events of the Trump presidency.

Old Man and the Read

The Art of Reading

Reading is my addiction. It has been since I picked up a Hardy Boys book from the Pennsauken Library over 57 years ago. I estimate that I have read about 5500 books and that number continues to grow but at a slower pace from my youth. I try to limit my number of reading heavy books (over 350 pages) as I get older.

Reading is an intellectual diet. There are books that nourish one’s soul and brain. But there are also books that serve as junk food for the mind. They may not nourish one’s mind or soul but they do provide temporary substance or enjoyment.

Shown below is a brief profile of my reading tastes

  1. I prefer reading non fiction books over fiction.
  2. I generally do not read fiction books from women authors.
  3. I have no interest in poetry, science fiction and religious books.
  4. My favorite book topics are history, politics, philosophy, biographies, psychology, sports, business, economics, spy and detective novels.
  5. I used to read self help books and books on how to improve business results in your career but I have outlived their usefulness.
  6. I tend to avoid books authored by politicians and celebrities.
  7. I read one book at at time.
  8. I rarely re-read an entire book.
  9. My favorite place to read is the sun porch on my house.
  10. I don’t multi-task as I read. No TV or music.
  11. Generally if a book does not hold my attention or interest in the first 20-30 pages, I will put it down.
  12. My best sources of finding new reading material that I may have an interest include: The New York Times Sunday Book Review section, Kirkus reviews, Book TV and interviews with authors on news shows and television.
  13. Generally when I target a book that I have interest, I look to borrow the book from my town library. If I can’t find it in my town library, I will probably buy it from Amazon Kindle. If I have a discount coupon from Barnes and Noble, I may purchase  a hardcover or paperback, if it is cost efficient.
  14. If I own a book, I may underline sentences and paragraphs that I may wish to reference or remember later.
  15. I look up the defintion of words in a book that I do not know the meaning.
  16. I use Goodreads to catalog and archive the books I read, when I read them and offer a brief review and rating.

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Last 30 books that I have read

My Life is an Open Book

“It is with books as with men: a very small number play a great part.”

 Voltaire (1694-1778)

When my father died at age 7, I had no older brother or sister for guidance. Essentially I had to rely upon my own resources as I grew up. I also lost my religion fairly early so I was neither a believer or reader of The Bible. I know that many people find comfort, guidance and wisdom from their religious beliefs. However I chose to go a different way. Reading was a critical element in my life. Books provided me entertainment, knowledge, guidance and perspective. I’m estimating that I have read over 5000 books in my life.

There were a number of books that inspired me in my personal life. There were stories (real and fiction) of people who overcame challenges and provided examples and lessons on how one should conduct their lives.

Here is a list of books that made a significant impression on how I view life, death, relationships and morality.

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Lawrence James and Peter Barton

Learning To Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect life by Philip Simmons

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (I always encourage people just to read the first chapter which is powerful, if they can’t read the entire book.)

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Running to the Mountain by Jon Katz

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Eureka (A Novel) by Jim Lehrer

The Way of the Ronin by Bev Potter (changed my view on work and just being labeled an employee)

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Winter Journal by Paul Auster

Chasing Death: How my Forthcoming Death Changed My Life by Eugene O’Neill

Stoner by John Williams

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque

Creating the Good Life by James O’Toole