Monday, 8 October 2018

The making of many books

The Making of Many Books

"... Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
-- Ecclesiastes 12:12 (NIV)

Okay, so I may have been consuming a bit too much content lately - a bit!

And I'm really feeling that I need to move from only reading to also writing. So to start, here's a little piece of writing on what I've been reading.

I've always been a bookworm, and I appear to have a bit of a book hoarding issue, according to my spouse. The last few years the accumulation of instances of the dead-tree format has slowed appreciably, as I've mostly switched over to consuming content in e- formats: ebooks (Kindle, Kobo, PDF, or web-based), audiobooks (checked out of the Toronto Public Library, or accessed via my beloved Scribd subscription - see and podcasts. All these download into the appropriate app on my iPhone or iPad Mini: Libby, Scribd app, and DownCast.

For audiobooks and podcasts, I've got a couple of nice Bluetooth wireless headsets that let me keep on 'reading' while I'm working around the house or the boat, commuting, or just vegging out. By keeping a selection of content in the audio queue and keeping the phone and the 'phones charged and handy, I get through a number of titles per week, week in and week out - on top of my actual reading of text off of screens.

So, great: no more ever-growing stack of unread / barely begun (physical) books on the nightstand - yay! Unfortunately the queue of "save for later" titles, both text and audio, continues to pile up in i-space, i.e. on the screen of my mobile devices. The concomitant 'book guilt' -- the sense that I was kidding myself about ever getting through all these titles I told myself I want to read -- well, that hasn't gone away. This is a special kind of weariness the sage of Ecclesiastes might find it hard to grasp, but the gist of 12:12 still applies.

I'm trying to view the backlog with a sense of opportunity - I'll never run out of choices for the next read! -- and to focus instead on what I am getting through. So what have I been reading?

 I'm consuming quite a lot of nonfiction titles this year:

  • History, especially of colonialism: 
    • Charles Mann's 1491 and 1493
    • Matthew Restall's When Montezuma Met Cortes (saved for later)
    • Alexander Anieves's How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism
  • Earth history: 
    • Peter Brannen's The Ends of the World 
  • Energy and climate change:
    • Paul Hawken's Drawdown
    • Chris Turner's The Patch
  • Agronomy(? - hard to name the category, but a great book): 
    • David R. Montgomery's Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization
  • Race in America: 
    • Kevin M Kruse's White Flight
    • Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me 
    • Charles M. Blow's Fire Shut Up in my Bones (mostly read)
    • Joan Walsh's What's the Matter with White People (begun)
    • John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me
    • W.E.B. DuBois' The Souls of Black Men (saved for later)
  • U.S. politics:
    • Peter Bremmer's Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism
    • Malcolm Nance's The Plot to Hack America
    • Steven Levitsky's How Democracies Die
    • Ellen R. Malcolm's When Women Win: EMILY's List
    • Katie Tur's Unbelievable
    • Luke Harding's Collusion
  • Biology / ecology (for an online biology book club):
    • Peter Marra's Cat Wars 
    • Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees
  • Science
    • Sharon Moalem's Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives
A few standouts in my 'save for later / really should get back to' queue:
  • Donald Boudreaux's Globalization
  • S. Niggol Seo's The Behavioral Economics of Climate Change (in progress)

All that U.S. politics, colonialism and climate change can be pretty heavy, even unsettling reading, so I try to pace myself by interspersing some fiction (especially right before bed!) I enjoy detective and spy novels, both classics and newer contributions. I've scoured the Scandinavian crime fiction scene, which offers a nice range of crime novels set in Nordic countries.

I've found several authors with fresh takes on each genre, based in different times and places in recent history:
  • Martin Cruz Smith (Arkady Renko, detective, USSR & Russian Federation)
  • Tom Rob Smith (Leo Demidov, detective, USSR)
  • Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch, detective, California)
  • Alan Furst (spy / resistance, WW II era)
  • Philip Kerr (Bernie Gunther, detective, Nazi Germany)
  • Charles Cumming (espionage, modern Britain)
  • Arnadur Indridason (Inspector Erlendur, detective, modern Iceland)
  • Henning Mankell (crime, Sweden)
  • Peter Hoeg (crime, Denmark)
  • Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Martin Beck, detective, Sweden)
Then for sheer escapism, there are always the 'pulp' or high-productivity U.S. action writers like:
  • Lee Child
  • Michael Connelly
  • Tom Clancy
  • Len Deighton

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