I’ve been tagged by gentle reader for the eight things about me meme. The rules are as follows:

  1. Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
  4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I have not written much about my life on this blog, so I think these will all be new items.

  1. My brother is my Uncle- not really, and it sounds weird and almost illegal, but- I met my brother’s niece (by marriage) so after we got married her uncle became her brother-in-law, so my brother kind of became my uncle and no, there is no blood relationship and it is legal in all 50 states so you can all lower your eyebrows. 🙂
  2. I was using the Internet before there was a World-Wide-Web. I started with a Commodore 64 and a 300-baud modem and once dialed in the only access was via telnet or ftp to Unix servers.
  3. About 5 years ago I couldn’t jog to the end of the driveway, but January 1st of that year I did, and then went a little farther the next day, and farther the next, and in October of that year I ran in the Twin Cities marathon. Over the next couple of years I finished 2 more marathons. I then gave it up since the training is so time consuming, especially for us slower runners.
  4. I’ve always been interested in the world and everything around me, from the skies to the backyard. I get hooked on something and read everything that I can about it. I can look at the sky and name many stars, and drive down the road and know what each of the trees and flowers are that I pass. I usually get bored after a certain point and move on to something else.
  5. Since I got out of high school I regretted not learning to play the piano. Early last year I finally decided to start lessons and I have really been enjoying it. I have no plans to ever entertain anyone other than myself. Note- It is never too late to learn something new.
  6. I’ve worked in Information Technology most of my life, for the days of punch cards and a mainframe that filled a room half the size of a football field, to this day when my laptop has more power than that room sized mainframe.
  7. In a couple of weeks, I will have been married for 31 years.
  8. Like most, I enjoy traveling. I went through a time when I didn’t like the lengthy car trips and preferred to fly if possible, but have since learned to enjoy seeing the country from the road.

Seems like most have already done this, so I’m on a quest to find those who haven’t so that I can tag them. I have enjoyed reading everyone else’s lists.

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Spring Run

May 6, 2007

springrun1.jpg I have never had any interest in owning a motorcycle, or even riding one. However, the first Sunday of every May for the last 20 years, I have enjoyed watching the yearly Spring Run that starts a few hundred yards from my home. Hundreds of riders converge at the host site of the National Motorcyle Hill Climb in the Lake Michigan dunes, and all the riders leave starting at 10:30 in the morning. I don’t know what their destination is, but for about 20 minutes they thunder past our house. I enjoy watching and imaging all the interesting events in these “characters” lives, and all the potential stories that could be written. (Obligatory “bookish” twist on a non-reading related posting) 🙂 springrun2.jpg

Guilty Pleasures

April 28, 2007

Last night I read Dorothy’s comments about the first section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert’s text and Dorothy’s comments about Puritan guilt and our inability to easily accept the gift of leisure paralleled my experience yesterday. (I won’t quote the post here, but suggest that you read it).

I had a vacation day yesterday, and regrettably it was one of those afternoon-long outlet shopping days for my wife. Typically I slog along with her for hours, bored, feeling like the day is wasted, hoping and praying for a book outlet around the next corner. Although I dread the experience I always feel guilty if I don’t follow along like a loyal puppy, nodding and smiling at the selections, carrying the bags, and providing stimulating conversation between stores.

Yesterday was different. I brought a book along and read in the car- it was a rather cold, drizzly day in the midwest. I felt guilty the whole time. She said it was fine. She said she preferred it because she always feels rushed knowing that I am just standing there waiting. I still spent much of the time distracted, not only by all the people walking past the car, but by the guilt that I didn’t deserve this time alone- that I should be doing something else.

(Digression alert) I should have parked in a corner of the lot- it is too enjoyable watching the diverse shoppers coping with their colorful bags and bored children. The fragile, elderly couple, bundled up in their sweaters and covered with rainwear heading out with a tentative, measured gait- returning after the trek with a little more pain in their eyes. They are quickly passed by two young men, acting oblivious to the cold and rain in their khaki shorts and now damp tshirts. New white sneakers, strollers, umbrellas, hats, husbands angry about something but eating cheesecake, too-young couples holding hands, piercings and tatoos, screaming kids, and smiles. I love people.

Back to my point – I’m distracted and guilty about being there reading- then I run across a passage in Nada that is different, but parallels what I am feeling.

“All the happiness I enjoyed during this time seemed somehow diminished by my obsession with reciprocating her consideration. Until then no one I loved had shown me so much affection, and I felt gnawed by the need to give her something more than my company, the need felt by all people who are not very attractive to make material payment for what is, to them, extraordinary: someone’s interest and affection.”

I marked the passage and then late in the evening I read Dorothy’s post. Why is it so difficult at times to accept gifts, complements, and even leisure time? Why can’t we accept that we are deserving beings? I wonder if this adds to our stress levels and all those illnesses associated with stress. Personally, I’m going to try to rid myself of those guilty feelings and just be grateful… and spend more time reading in parking lots.

Reading technique

April 18, 2007

I am curious about the way others read. Tonight I was spending time with a couple of new friends, Bouvard and Pecuchet. I had set aside The Curtain one evening and got immersed into Flaubert’s masterpiece. Meanwhile I have been slogging through The Tale of Genji which is going to take a couple of months at my current rate of speed. I consider myself a slow reader. This is not necessarily a bad thing- I think it was Francine Prose’s latest that suggested slowing down and working harder at reading. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like it takes me too long to get through a book.

Back to my question- as I was reading tonight, I noticed that I am actually kind of “pronouncing” each word in my head as I read. I am not moving my lips, but I can “hear” each word mentally as I read it. Do you do that? I seem to remember years ago that from a speed reading perspective, that is not a good thing. I don’t think I would enjoy speed reading, and I don’t think I can change the way I read at this point in my life. I guess I just wonder if I am doing it wrong.

Disappointing book day

April 14, 2007

Although Saturday is typically a good reading day, today was frustrating on several fronts. Imani’s new banner prompted me to visit the shelves looking for my copy of William Blake’s works. After several passes the realization set in that I no longer had it- either I loaned it out and it was never returned, or it was something that someone had interest in that I gave away. The larger frustration was with myself for not doing a better job of organizing my books- the search should have been much easier. I am curious how others organize their books- alphabetically by author, or grouped in some logical manner?

The good thing is that I stumbled on a book that Imani also mentioned in a recent post- Voss by Patrick White. That was frustrating as well since I know it has been there for about 15 years- I am again reminded of the number of books I have purchased at some time and have not found the time to read them.

My reading time was spent with one of the latest books from the Canongate mythology series. The anticipation of the pleasure of starting a new book was high, especially from a series that I have been enjoying. The book is from a highly touted, relatively young Russian author, Victor Pelevin.

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Those of you familiar with the series know that many of today’s top authors have been asked to rewrite some of the world’s well-known myths in a modern or memorable way. Margaret Atwood delivered the wonderful Penelopiad, and Jennette Winterson also did an awesome job with Weight. The Helmet of Horror is Pelevin’s rewrite of the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the famous labyrinth.

The first few pages were intriguing and made me hopeful. The story starts with an entry from Ariadne-

“I shall construct a labyrinth in which I can lose myself, together with who tries to find me- who said this and about what?”

The entire story is written in the format of a chat room, with each of the “characters” trying to figure out what is going on. The cast of characters consist of the likes of Organizm, Nutscracker, Romeo-y-Cohiba, and Monstradamus. The idea soon becomes tiresome, but one reads on hoping at some point to “get it.” I didn’t. It just didn’t work, at least for me. If you haven’t read any books in the series, I strongly suggest that you start with any of the others. This is not a judgement of the body of work of Mr. Pelevin. Based on the other authors chosen for this series, I’m quite certain that he deserves my attention. I just wish I has been introduced to his talent with a different book.

This weekend I was on a quest to spend a $50 Amazon certificate that I earned as a reward on my credit card. (Great way to assuage the guilt of excessive buying- I now pay for all my groceries, gas, utilities- virtually everything that I can with a credit card to get the rewards. It consolidates a lot of payments as well.) Anyway, I went to the canongate site to see if any new books were out in the awesome myth series (there were two).

——— if you are easily offended, please don’t read on —-

Well, I got to the site and they are advertising The Book of Lists. The advertisement changes to a random list each time that one visits. When I arrived at the site of course the lead is “6 Positions for Sexual Intercourse – in Order of Popularity.” Not what I was looking for, but curiosity got the better of me and I clicked the link. Pretty boring list, but what what was interesting was the lead statement- “Gershon Legman, an American who wrote about sex, calculated that there are more than 4 million possible ways for men and women to have sexual intercourse with each other.” I started thinking and counting, thinking some more and counting some more. I worked on my list for hours, and quit in frustration at 2,423. I’m sorry Mr. Legman, but I think you are mistaken.

I regret the wasted time but moved on to the literature lists, a couple of which are enjoyable. “6 curious poetry anthologies” included this book of poetry, which I found after a bit of a search on a ping pong museum auction site. The book sold for a little over $200.
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The next list was “11 incredible lipograms.” Not having a clue what a lipogram was, I had to check it out. Now I know:

A form of verbal gymnastics, lipograms are written works that deliberately omit a certain letter of the alphabet by avoiding all words that include that letter. `Lipo’ actually means `lacking’ – in this case lacking a letter. An example of a contemporary lipogram is the nursery rhyme, `Mary Had a Little Lamb’, rewritten without the letter s:

Mary had a little lamb
With fleece a pale white hue,
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb kept her in view;
To academe he went with her,
Illegal, and quite rare;
It made the children laugh and play
To view a lamb in there.

– A. Ross Eckler

Turns out there are 11 books out there that were intentionally written with one or more letters of the alphabet missing. I have read one of them, Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea“. In this book, more and more letters are eliminated as the novel progresses. It was fun, although increasing difficult to read.

The last list I checked out was “8 unlikely how-to books.” Hard to believe, but How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art is a legitimate manual- Nice gift idea for those that take long hikes in the wilderness. And for the less skillful boaters out there, how about “How to Avoid Huge Ships“. Again, a serious book written by Captain John W Trimmer, a captain likely tired of dealing with silliness on the seas.

I did end up buying the latest books in the myth series, and managed it before my April 1 deadline. Now I start actually keeping track on my blog of my purchases and borrowing in relation to my actual reading. I’m hoping with the count continually in front of me, I can stop the tide of books waiting to be read.

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Like the majority of those that are likely to be reading this, I continually struggle with a growing pile of books, purchased and borrowed, waiting to be read. I know there have even been times when I have left a bookstore with a book that wasn’t something I was looking for, but I couldn’t leave without buying something. Arg. I have to find a way to stop.

My latest purchase is a book I look forward to reading. It is not likely to become a bestseller, but it looks interesting. I stumbled on this memoir as I was browsing for something a little lighter to read.
Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is a memoir written by Bich Minh Nguyen. At an early age Bich left Vietnam in 1975 with her family and migrated to the U.S. I’ve just started the book, but I am confident that I am going to enjoy it.

I wrote that I stumbled on the book, but I actually was drawn to it. Which leads me to a few comments about another book that I recently completed, How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland. I picked up Sutherland’s book and was pleasantly surprised by the content- it is very different than most other “how to read” books. Sutherland, the chairman of the 2005 Man Booker Prize committee, writes about the entire reading experience, beginning with the reader’s process of selection.

Everything about the reader’s book selection process is discussed, and for those of us with little experience or knowledge of the book world, Sutherland provides interesting insights into the book industry. I was surprised to learn that as much as a quarter of the production costs on a hardback novel can be sunk into the dust cover. Thinking back to my purchase of the Bich memoir, that was what obviously first caught my attention- a picture of many of my favorite treats from my “coming of age” years, led me to check out the title, “Sharing Buddha’s Dinner” – (what could that possibly refer to?)

“Titles” is the title of another chapter in the Sutherland book. Again a surprise. “There is, oddly, no copyright in titles…. such duplication is infrequent – librarians, booksellers, authors, and readers themselves dislike it too much. It creates confusion.” Knowing about the lack of title copyrights cleared up a bit of confusion since I believe I have run across duplicates on occasion, and I always assumed I was mistaken.

Sutherland goes on to discuss things as mundane as the impact of the typeface, to the branding value of a well-known author’s name and the value of the blurbs written by other authors that appear on the back of the book. Hardback or Paperback. Famous first lines. The value of reviews. Illustrations. Bestsellers. Prize winners. Sutherland has an opinion on all and expresses it with humor without getting tedious. This is an very different and interesting discussion of reading and books, and it is thoroughly enjoyable.

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Now, back to what really sold me on the Bich memoir. I picked it up and the read the overleaf. It turns out that the author, after leaving Saigon in 1975, landed in Grand Rapids, Michigan- about 25 miles from me. That brought it close to home. (along with the very vivid memory of watching the news and seeing that last helicopter leaving the roof of the US embassy in Saigon with a few people grasping the landing gear, trying to hold on.) The chapter titles are awesome- A memoir of an immigrant who describes her experiences of starting life in a new world shouldn’t have chapter titles like “Pringles,” “Toll House Cookies,” “Moon Cakes,” and “Dairy Cones.” Turn the page and there is a photo of 2 very cute young girls, standing on a sidewalk in front of a couple of feet of snow, wearing what looks to be pajama bottoms, winter coats, and fuzzy slippers. A reading of the first sentence made it a no brainer for me-
“We arrived in Grand Rapids with five dollars and a knapsack of clothes.” How could I put it back on the shelf? I already care about them.

Back to my personal problem. I need to alter the trend and stop the book accumulation. I keep making promises to myself- things like reading 3 books for every one that I purchase, or reading one book off the shelf before I can by another. I even had a New Year’s resolution one year not to buy a single book for a year. That lasted about a month. Plan #14 is to provide some accountability. I’m simply going to read more than I borrow or buy. But I’m going to actually track that progress here, in the sidebar, for all the world to see. Just a simple count of books purchased, books borrowed, and books read. Maybe if I keep it in front of me, I can succeed. I’ll start in April- that gives me a few days to pick up a hold at the library and make sure there isn’t a “must-have” on the new release shelf at Barnes & Noble.