Read a Book

Did you know that today is National Read a Book Day? I happened to catch a segment on the morning news about it and that print books still outsell books downloaded to digital devices.

The key to reading for me has always been having a book worth reading. When you have “that special book,” time stands still and the cares of the world often seem further away.

Being Mortal-Gawande

I spent my Labor Day reading Atul Gawande’s marvelous book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. This was the book everyone was talking about in the senior/aging in place world I inhabited back in 2014. Thanks to Miss Mary (who had the book because of her book club), I started flipping through Gawande’s bestseller and before I knew it, I found the book nearly impossible to put down. Continue reading

Jamming About Traffic

I consider reading important—enough so that I’ve remained committed to reading three or four books a month for the past decade or so. It occurred to me recently that being smart and well-informed doesn’t really matter. That’s probably one reason why my reading has fallen off the cliff in August.

Discussions with other readers about books we like and how it sucks when a great book is nearing an end is also part of that reading drop-off—I just haven’t been able to find anything that resonates with how I’m feeling this summer. That was until I stumbled upon a book about traffic.

Since I wrote “traffic” with a “small t,” you’re sharp to recognize that the traffic I’m talking about isn’t the Traffic of “John Barleycorn Must Die,” or “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” although it’s mighty tempting to keep the music blogging going with ruminations about “Little” Stevie Winwood and a post about WBLM that takes me back to the halcyon days at Lisbon High—that’s for another time and another post.

The traffic I’m anxious to riff on today is the story of traffic courtesy of a writer that I sadly just found out about, Tom Vanderbilt, and his wonderful book, Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Vanderbilt’s type of traffic is the kind we’re all intimately familiar with, whether we like it or not. Because save for a few of us, our lives intertwine with cars, Happy Motoring, and the carpet-like mass of vehicles crisscrossing America at any given time.

The joys of sitting in traffic on American roadways.

The joys of sitting in traffic on American roadways.

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Step Back

It’s easy to react, especially if you’re a reactive person. That would be me.

There have been numerous times when I experienced something and my first reaction was criticism. Later, after reflection, I came to a different conclusion. Then, there are the times I thought something was great, only to debrief later and my assessment had changed. That doesn’t mean I’m wishy-washy, but that space and distance often delivers a different sense of an event, person, or circumstance.

Our ever-present, ever-on technology platforms allow us to emote, bloviate, and impose our opinions on others—in real time—without any space or distance to ruminate. Our media channels do the same thing. No one reads newspapers, and few people subscribe to thoughtful publications offering opinion backed by facts. It’s simply garbage in, garbage out via Facebook or Twitter.

The natural world is a perfect place to reflect.

The natural world is a perfect place to reflect.

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Red and blue, black vs. white, rich against poor, America is a divided country and has been for the past 50 years. Our politics reflect that and politicians, both conservative and liberal have used this to their advantage in seeking support from voters.

I am a child of the 1960s. I have lived my life during a period of turbulence and decay.  I have spent time on both sides of the ideological divide. Something has always seemed “off,” even though like other American schoolchildren, I was peppered with the same public school indoctrination into American exceptionalism, being taught that we live in a “land of opportunity,” and that equal access to the “American Dream” is our birthright.

The first presidential campaign that I vaguely remember was the one taking place in 1968. I was six years old and just beginning school. The Republican nominee that year was Richard Nixon. He had been vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower. He had also been the Republican nominee in 1960, losing to Kennedy. Pundits considered Nixon, “one and done.” Continue reading

Another Year and a Bunch of Books

Nothing says “Happy New Year,” looking out with hope and expectation towards a brand-spanking-new calendar of virgin reading territory than my end-of-the-year book wrap. It’s become a JBE blogging tradition.

In past years, I’ve summarized the previous 12 months and the books I’ve read. This year, I’m opting to hit the highlights rather than reviewing every single book simply, because in 2014, I ended up reading 65 66 books! (You can see the complete list, here.)

This year-end synopsis offers me a chance to reflect back over the previous 12 months of reading. I also get to take note of the books I enjoyed and found benefit in reading, and offer a few of the ones that were disappointing. Keep in mind that reading and what I like to read is highly subjective.

I don’t begin my reading year with any grand plan. However, I do set a goal to end the year on the plus side of 30 books. Having done this now for more than 15 years (with many of these coming pre-blogging), it’s not unreasonable to expect to read 3-4 books per month. In fact, that’s generally been my output at the end of the year when the numbers have been tallied. Continue reading

Get Writing

I was at a party with holiday overtones over the weekend. The hostess introduced me to another writer. We had an enjoyable discussion about writing, particularly the craft of writing. A recurring theme in our discussion was why some writers move beyond mere procrastination and actually get down to writing.

There continues to be a romanticism attached to “the writing life.” Some of this is the equivalent of what is attributed to Joyce Maynard in Salinger, about the late literary icon, and his hatred about the “artiness in writing and writerliness…tweedy types sucking on cigars on their book jackets or exquisitely sensitive-looking women in black turtlenecks.”

While Salinger became as famous for his obsessiveness and privacy as he was for his literary output, he apparently kept up more closely with the literati than we thought he did at the time, and had “little but contempt for what he sees…” of that world. Writers more famous for the pose they strike, than their writing.

Writing requires work, and sometimes slogging along in near obscurity for some period. Yet, any craft requiring creativity (and ability) must be honed.

Writers write!

Writers write!

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Brain Shrinkage

According to this report, all our multitasking, especially on social media, is shrinking our brains. This lends new meaning to the phrase, “dumbing down.”

Given that we live in a 21st century world that demands that we attend to multiple things at once—how do we at least keep some of this at an arm’s length, or at least fortify ourselves and temper some of this “shrinkage”?

While it might be grand (or overly dramatic) to demand that you “kill your TV,” I’m guessing that solution isn’t one that most people are going to opt for. However, you might cut your television viewing—I’ve been working at it for the last month and it’s really not that bad. After 29 days of no television, Miss Mary and I watched a classic movie starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert Sunday night. I think we might limit our viewing to TCM on Sunday nights. Continue reading

Kill It!

Not really missing my television.

Not really missing my television.

“But it is much later in the game now, and ignorance of the score is inexcusable. To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.”
-Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business”

For 19 days, I’ve been on a television fast. For the first 11 of those days, I watched no television whatsoever. On the 12th day, I couldn’t help myself and had to watch five minutes of the morning weather forecast (I could have gotten it somewhere else, like my smartphone or computer).

Since then—a week ago, Thursday—I haven’t turned either one of our two televisions on. Neither has my wife.

Each evening, after dinner—a time when our television would always be on for two or three hours until we decided to go to bed, Mary and I have been reading. We are both avid readers, but without the television, even more reading is taking place. So are conversations that don’t have to compete with the 32 inch flat screen. Continue reading

The Quest for Education


Don't take my education!!

Don’t take my education!!

In the southern part of the state and mainly greater-Portland, events at the University of Southern Maine have highlighted for me (and maybe a small cadre of others) the challenges inherent in maintaining the status quo relative to higher education.

Is it possible and even feasible given the current landscape of diminishing public resources for taxpayers to be on the hook for what some consider an outdated education model? Along those same lines, is the current statewide higher education complex and namely, the University of Maine system, viable and more important, sustainable? Continue reading

2013 Booklist

Another year, another 32 books.

Another year, another 32 books.

There was a public service campaign using the acronym, RIF; Reading Is Fundamental. The purpose of that effort was to promote reading, especially among poor children. I remember seeing their public service announcements on television, most likely during the 1970s.

Reading was a central components of my own reinvention. It was reading, and books like Gregg LeVoy’s, Po Bronson’s, and Scott Peck’s that got me up and out of my corporate prison at Moscow Mutual. If I wasn’t a reader, I’d still be stuck, probably not there, but someplace just like it, if not worse. Continue reading