Just read: 'Sharp Objects' by Gillian Flynn

Just read: 'Sharp Objects' by Gillian Flynn

Next up on the reading list is Sharp Objects. I started this one for two reasons: I wanted to read the book before watching the much-acclaimed HBO miniseries, and I also joined an online book club that my friend Sarah started which chose this book first.

In short: This book is one intense ride! It deals a lot with psychological trauma and mental illnesses. I knew it would be a dark, psychological thriller, but large chunks of the novel can be harrowing at times. The main character in the story, Camille Preaker, is a journalist from Wind Gap, Missouri, who lives in Chicago and works for a low-circulation newspaper in the city. Her boss, Curry, assigns her to cover a story in her hometown regarding the murder of a young girl and a second girl who has gone missing.

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Just read: 'The Martian' by Andy Weir

Just read: 'The Martian' by Andy Weir

The book is usually better than the movie. Since I haven't seen The Martian movie yet, I figured I'd better read the book first. The book is very good.

I think the general plot of The Martian is well known enough due to the popularity of the film adaptation -- astronaut gets stranded on Mars, must fight to survive, must make a load of potatoes. In essence, The Martian amounts to a series of obstacles that are overcome by insanely quick thinking from an insanely smart main character.

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Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire'

Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire'

While I was excited to dig my teeth into The Sorcerer’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban once again, most of my highest-level excitement regarding this re-read of the Harry Potter series centered around revisiting books 4-7. Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire is the clear-cut turning point in the story of Harry, Ron and Hermione -- indeed, you can pinpoint the very page where the story takes a sharp turn into a darker, more serious tone and never looks back.

Goblet of Fire is not only the book where the stakes are permanently raised for our heroes, but also stands alone as a masterpiece for author J.K. Rowling, who pieces together an intricately woven tale that leads to one of the most satisfying revelations I’ve ever enjoyed from a plotting perspective. I’ve mentioned in my past blogs for the first three books in this series that Rowling consciously foreshadows pieces of the Harry v. Voldemort endgame as early as the first chapters of the first book. While Goblet of Fire does contain even more endgame foreshadowing, it’s also plotted like a whodunnit within its own pages.

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Just read: 'It's Your Ship' by Captain Mike Abrashoff

Just read: 'It's Your Ship' by Captain Mike Abrashoff

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Since I was hired at DIRECTV in May 2015, and since DIRECTV was acquired by AT&T only a few short months after, the company has been through several departmental re-organizations. The running tally amounts to an average of one and a half or two re-orgs per year since I joined the company. But throughout all that shifting, my focus has remained mostly the same -- up until recently, I was responsible for digital content strategy with a focus on marketing and messaging in the effort to acquire new DIRECTV subscriptions.

With the most recent re-org, though, I earned a promotion and am now managing a team of 12 people with a slightly different focus. This is my first time in a management role, and I accordingly dove into It's Your Ship: Management Techniques From the Best Damn Ship in the Navy on my Kindle. It's a book I'd picked up a while ago and hadn't gotten into yet, but my promotion gave me a good excuse to highlight plenty of notes while going through this short read.

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Just read: 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Just read: 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I took a lot of "Advanced Placement" classes during high school, which were great classes to take in a large public school such as the one I went to, where my graduating class consisted of about 1,100 students. Many of my AP classes offered closer student-teacher interaction, the type that should be the norm at every school, but proved to be an exception at Everglades High in Miramar, Fla. It was in AP classes that I learned calculus from Ms. Woerner, and began an early interest in psychology from Dr. Schear.

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Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban'

Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban'

After my inability to pace along with Binge Mode while revisiting The Chamber of Secrets, I'm proud to report that I've gotten myself somewhat under control now. While revisiting Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, I completed my listen of the book after two of Binge Mode's four episodes devoted to it were released! It's still pretty easy to blast through these audiobooks in 2-3 days because of how short they are, but this should become less of an issue now that we're moving into much longer book territory.

All that to say: These audiobooks really are as engrossing and incredible as I imagined they would be when I started The Sorcerer's Stone. I've already said it, but Jim Dale is a master narrator. Once I start one of these, I just can't put it down -- or take my earbuds out, I guess. I'm really happy I went the audiobook route for this journey and, again, would recommend it as highly as possible.

My overall sentiment for Stone was joy; for Chamber it was duty; and for Prisoner it's going to be kinship. Interestingly, since I think this word is most often associated with blood relatives or familial ties, I mean it in this case exclusively in its secondary meaning -- a sharing of characteristics or origins. I mean to use kinship here as a substitute for affinity, or brotherhood, or possibly friendship.

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Just read: 'Gumption' by Nick Offerman

Just read: 'Gumption' by Nick Offerman

This is the current stopping point for me in a little mini-run of listening to audiobooks read by their comedian authors. in 2016-17, I read Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, B.J. Novak's One More Thing, Tina Fey's Bossypants and Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe. This year, I've done Rainn Wilson's The Bassoon King and most recently Amy Poehler's Yes Please, now wrapping up with Nick Offerman's second book, Gumption

The book's subtitle, Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers, sums up very well what we're getting ourselves into with this read. Offerman hand-chooses a list of 21 people, all Americans, who he views as great in some way. He proceeds to write what amounts to a mini-biography of each person's life, delving most deeply into instances or characteristics that support his thesis of what makes this person great. In many cases, for the folks on Offerman's list who are alive, he was able to sit and do an interview with them for this book, and he describes these conversations with relish; throughout the read, it's clear that Offerman took a lot of joy in writing this book.

In most every chapter, Offerman also applies the greatness of the American currently in question to society in a broader sense.

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Just read: 'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler

Just read: 'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler

First things first: Poehler is perhaps the least talented book writer of the bunch I've read so far, though it's tough to tell with Ansari since his book had a cowriter attached to it. Whatever shortcomings Yes Please has in terms of form or function -- which I'll get to -- are actually made up for a bit by the structure of the audiobook itself.

Poehler speaks directly to the listener at times and has special guests come into the booth to read portions of her book; in most cases, these were portions that were actually written by the special guests. Seth Meyers, Mike Schur (creator of Parks & Recreation) and Poehler's mother and father are guests that have extended portions, and Meyers reads an entire chapter that he wrote for the book. It's fun to hear Meyers and Schur with Poehler, cracking jokes and running through a list of alternative names that Schur considered for the Parks & Rec character Leslie Knope. The result is a feeling that you benefitted from choosing the audiobook medium, like you got a little something extra, which is nice.

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Just read: 'The Bassoon King' by Rainn Wilson

Just read: 'The Bassoon King' by Rainn Wilson

Returning to my 2016 trend of listening to audiobooks read by by their comedian authors (Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, B.J. Novak's One More Thing, Tina Fey's Bossypants and Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe to date), I recently went through Rainn Wilson's The Bassoon King. This is a memoir that falls most in line with Fey's book out of that bunch, but stands out for how deeply it delves into religion, spirituality and fuck-ups.

Wilson grew up learning the ways of the Bahá'í faith, which is a religion that extolls the value and worthiness of all religions, and emphasizes the worth and equality of all people. Bahá'ís believe that there is one God, regardless of whatever name any specific religion assigns to that God. Wilson's walkthrough of the faith is holistic, and he references it in moments of storytelling about his own life to provide insight into his thought processes, or as a pillar to bounce retroactive thoughts off.

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Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets'

Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets'

Only one book into the series, I've totally gone off the rails. Most of my everyday internal thoughts are imagined in the voice of Harry Potter audiobook narrator Jim Dale, whose Wikipedia page I looked up and learned that he was a pop star in the 1960s; this man is an 82-year-old living legend. The original plan to follow along with Binge Mode's Harry Potter podcast releases is shot, too -- I've finished The Chamber of Secrets before they've even released one episode on this installment of the series. Alas.

Having your mind inhabit the Harry Potter wizarding world is extremely good for the soul and brain. It's made me hungry not just to continue my Potter journey, but to start reading even more than I already have been this year -- I've been on a pretty good pace in 2018, by my own lackadaisical reading speed standards -- and I'm now thinking I'll get through at least 25ish books this year, which would be a real personal accomplishment for me. Three years ago, if you told me I'd ever be reading two books per months, I would have asked you how you managed to secure me a Time Turner. My soul is filled with joy when I'm in this world, and my brain is filled with the relaxed contentment of spending time in a fictional place, flexing the creative and imaginative muscles that much too regularly go unused for significant periods of time in the daily activities of working and living.

My overall sentiment for Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone was joy. Today's sentiment, for Chamber of Secrets, is duty. As I listened to Dale masterfully narrate me through Harry, Ron and Hermione’s inevitable path down through the sink and into the Chamber of Secrets, it became clear on this revisitation that these three second-year Hogwarts students never stood a chance. Not that they never stood a chance to solve the mystery of what lies within or how to gain entry into the Chamber, but that they never had a chance to not take on this dangerous voyage. It was, beyond any doubt, their duty to do this thing, otherwise Hogwarts would close and the Ministry of Magic would never find another qualified Auror candidate.

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Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone'

Just revisited: 'Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone'

Inspired by this week's kickoff of Binge Mode: Harry Potter, I re-subscribed to Audible and listened to Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone this week. As I got through the approximately 8.5-hour audiobook in about 26 hours of real-life time, you could say I Binge Mode-ed it myself.

First, a bit about Binge Mode, which is becoming a highlight in my podcast feed. It's the only show I'm currently listening to from The Ringer's podcast network, and it has recently been featuring Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion dissecting a recently released movie or TV show each week. These weekly episodes often take on the same format: Mallory and Jason recap the plot of whatever they're discussing, then choose a main theme from the work, then go through and call out specific points to show how the media represents that theme. It's a pleasure to get this type of analysis for newly released films, because it's often much more thoughtful and put-together than the types of podcasts that release show from a more instant reaction-based point of view.

This week, though, they began their jaunt through the entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They're going through The Sorcerer's Stone this week with five hour-ish-long episodes all week, with the first four episodes splitting the book up into chapters and investigating the overarching themes in those chapters, and the final episode focusing on the movie. From the first episode, I knew I'd want to accompany this with a revisiting of the Harry Potter series myself.

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Just read: 'Friday Night Lights' by H. G. Bissinger

Just read: 'Friday Night Lights' by H. G. Bissinger

The position Friday Night Lights has assumed in the general pantheon of pop culture is pretty remarkable considering it started out as a simple inspiration to write about high school football. H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's best-seller, written about the 1988 Permian Panthers football season, seems like a far-fetched project in retrospect. Bissinger, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, was granted a leave from his day job only about a year after winning a Pulitzer Prize there for investigative reporting. His goal was to find a small town and write about big football.

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Just read: 'The House on Pooh Corner' by A. A. Milne

Just read: 'The House on Pooh Corner' by A. A. Milne

After reading through the marathon that was The Stand, I decided to switch gears and get into a book that was a little more on the lighter side, so I downloaded The House on Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne for my Kindle.

Aside from the relief of reading something that dealt very minimally with an apocalyptic world or death in any capacity, the book is extremely enjoyable on its own and I would recommend it as a palette cleanser the next time you need one. It's short, at under 200 pages, and its 10 chapters mostly function isolated from one another so you can read a quick chapter each day, which is what I did.

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Just read: 'The Stand' by Stephen King

Just read: 'The Stand' by Stephen King

The Stand is an objectively long book. It clocks in between 1,100 and 1,400 pages or so, depending on whether you purchase on hardcover, paperback, or mass market paperback. Since I had the defined goal of making my way through Stephen King's bibliography, I had my eye on The Stand from the get-go. I figure if I can make it through this book, I can theoretically make it through anything he's written.

The version of The Stand that I read was the complete / uncut edition, and I read it on my relatively new Kindle. The Kindle is new in the sense that The Stand was the first book I read on it, but not-so-new in the sense that I bought it two months before I started reading, and that the book took me about seven weeks to read on its own. This is a beast of a novel in terms of length and ambition (an aside: the uncut edition includes roughly 400 pages of story that King had to leave behind from the original version of the novel; his publisher at the time said the book was too long for their paperback printers), but I am pretty happy I read the this version. While there is certainly more beef in the novel than is absolutely necessary, I tend to enjoy long stories and the rich character development that usually comes with them.

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Just read: 'On Tyranny' by Timothy Snyder

Just read: 'On Tyranny' by Timothy Snyder

This will be a pretty short blog for a pretty short book.

Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny is a look at the current state of American politics and how it compares to political moments in various countries at various times in the past. Snyder is a Holocaust historian and is especially expert in the history of Eastern and Central Europe, so his knowledge of the rise and power of anti-democratic states in Germany, Russia and Czechoslovakia is encompassing.

At only 125 pages, this book is small enough to fit in a back pocket, and some of its lessons feel important enough to keep them that close at all times -- and it only costs between $4 and $6 on Amazon, depending on whether you prefer Kindle or paperback. On Tyranny promises "20 lessons from the 20th century" on its cover, but I prefer to think of each of these 20 chapters as a full-on, dual-purpose crash-course in How To Not Accidentally Stand Idly By As Your Country Becomes A Fascist State. The first task of each chapter is to introduce a way in which you can visibly see and predict the dissolution of democracy based on how democracies of the past have failed. Each chapter's second job is to tell you what you can do to help prevent that from happening. The book's bite-sized presentation is handy for its brevity; On Tyranny is a quick-paced read, so it serves as a good introduction to historical reading or to critical reading of current American politics (which is an introduction I certainly needed myself).

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Just read (and watched): 'The Shining' by Stephen King

Just read (and watched): 'The Shining' by Stephen King

Continuing my crawl through Stephen King's works, I've just read The Shining, and semi-accidentally watched Stanley Kubrick's film based on it for the first time as well. Knowing it is widely considered to be one of King's most popular books, and knowing there was a classic film accompaniment, this is one of the novels that I was most excited to read during the early parts of my foray into King's bibliography. 

The Shining (1977) is Stephen King's third novel (following Carrie and 'Salem's Lot, both of which I read in 2016), and it seems pretty agreed-upon that it's scarier than either of those first two books. One of the reasons I wanted to start reading King is that I had never really been scared in a horror or terror type of way while reading a book before; there were tense or psychologically thrilling moments in plenty of books I'd read in the past, of course, but I was pretty interested to see how scared I could get while turning pages. Turns out, you can get decently scared if the writing's done right.

King builds a base level of innate tension and fear in The Shining via early character development and narrative descriptions of The Overlook Hotel, which serves as the story's primary setting and a character in itself. The novel focuses on the Torrance family: parents Jack and Wendy and their gifted son, Danny. Jack has a recent alcoholic past, though he's currently sober, and he was fired from his teaching job at a Vermont prep school after he assaulted a student there. Jack's alcoholism makes for a poor cocktail with his short temper -- we get harrowing accounts of how he accidentally broke his son's arm while drunk, when Danny was only a toddler, and of his assault on a high school student who he'd caught slashing his tires in the school parking lot after a fair amount of shared animosity between the two. Jack is described as "seeing red" in these moments, and it seems plausible that his temper could snap with enough build-up, even if alcohol weren't involved.

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Year-end 2017 stuff: A reminder that I'm not yet good at reading books

Year-end 2017 stuff: A reminder that I'm not yet good at reading books

Last year was the first I made an effort to start reading more, and I was semi-impressed with my ability to get through 14 books and 25 trade paperbacks. I know this isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things ... I know plenty of people who try to read a book a week. But this year provided a reminder that I'm kinda bad at reading stuff, and some reflection will prompt me to make some changes in the way I read next year.

It wasn't an infrequent event for me to pick up a book, make good headway through it, then ignore it for a week or two in favor of listening to music or podcasts on my commute. This didn't have anything to do with how much I was enjoying the book, either -- and truthfully I don't have any good reasoning behind this other than I often didn't feel like having a book in my hands if I was standing up on the train? It's a lame excuse when it's typed out.

In any case, I bought a Kindle toward the end of the year so that I could stop adding onto our already-very-full bookshelf with more books that I may or may not finish. Throughout 2017, I ultimately wound up getting through four books and four trade paperbacks -- awful numbers. I am happy to report that I already finished the last half of Stephen King's The Shining in the first four days of 2018, so maybe there will be improvement for me yet.

Here's the full (behold! in its glory!) list of everything I read in 2017. This year, I'm really looking forward to continuing my way through Stephen King's works, taking the next step in the Batman trade paperbacks, and catching up on Marvel's run of Star Wars as well.

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Just read: Michael Chabon's 'Kavalier & Clay'

Just read: Michael Chabon's 'Kavalier & Clay'

It is a blessing, in that decidedly push-up-your-glasses type of way, to read a book that engrosses you and makes an immediate impact while also letting you know, subconsciously at first and then, eventually, overtly, that you're going to read this again and you're going to enjoy it even more the next time. Not that reading books is this exclusively "nerdy" thing and so this experience only applies to "nerds" -- but that this feeling will mostly come down upon those who are regular readers, or it's the regular readers who will appreciate it most, compared to the readers who might get engulfed in any given book because of the novelty of it, and due to my personal years-long reading drought, it's something I haven't felt very vividly in some time. While not quite yet worthy of a descriptor like "voracious," I have read enough material recently enough to be able to say Kavalier & Clay is a decidedly special novel for me.

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Just read: Monte Burke's 'Saban'

Just read: Monte Burke's 'Saban'

Seeking out long-form work about a subject I generally dislike isn't really my normal bag. Nick Saban, the head coach of the University of Alabama's football team, is an exception to this usual rule for only one main reason -- he seems like a total lunatic at surface level. His celebrity presence as college football's most successful coach has driven media and fanbases across the country to adopt a pretty agreed-upon stance on him, and that stance is generally that he appears to be an asshole.

Saban's success and seeming lack of happiness to accompany that success is what stands about most about him from a bird's-eye perspective. People always repeat the same things -- he doesn't smile, he wins the national championship then gets right to work recruiting, he doesn't take any vacations, doesn't spend as much time as he should with his family, he's too hard-nosed and businesslike for the college game, which is rife with tradition and character.

Saban: The Making of A Coach, by Monte Burke, sheds a ton of light on how Saban ticks. For me, the book was especially illuminating in two fashions. It takes a deep dive into Saban's relationship with his father, Big Nick, and the circumstances of his upbringing in a coal mining town in West Virginia, and it also fully explains the evolution of his "Process," which he brought to life with the help of a psychology professor at Michigan State University.

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Just read: Nick Offerman's 'Paddle Your Own Canoe'

Just read: Nick Offerman's 'Paddle Your Own Canoe'

Last year, I wrote about three (3) books which I didn't read, but listened to via Audible. The idea was to listen to audiobooks read by their authors, and all the works I chose were by relatively funny people whose work I enjoy as comedians or actors. The first was Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, which was followed by B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories and Tina Fey's Bossypants.

Toward the end of 2016, I transitioned mainly into reading comic books and only a few occasional IRL books outside of my podcast listening. But since I recently discovered a way to better destroy my podcast backlog, I had room for listening to Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living.

Offerman is best known as the actor who plays Ron Swanson in NBC's Parks and Recreation, which is going to be a show that goes down as having one of the best casts of all time probably. I knew this book was memoir-ish, and subsequently expected some type of detailing of life similar to Fey's Bossypants. Instead, Offerman takes on a single thesis: Tips for how to live a delicious life, as the title puts it. These tips are presented in the context of his own life story, of course, but the driving through-point made the book a remarkably easy and enjoyable listen. As a side note, early on: If you've never seen Offerman's stand-up production, American Ham, it's well worth your while, and serves as a bit of a companion to this book if you're still considering whether to read it.

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