Five Random Books: Can They Hear You Scream in Space? (2015)

The Art of Travel


One of my goals for 2015 was to read 36 books outright.

That didn’t happen. I powered through a mere 32. Nothing to complain about, I suppose. I am mortal, but I was within spitting distance! Ptui

I put my feet up and partook in a healthy amount of science fiction last year. Nine books to be precise. Three of them made my list below. Are you screaming in joy yet?

I also nimbly vetted four Agatha Christie novels because it smacked of the thing to do. Or at least something I had never done before.

5. (Tie) Ready Player One (Ernest Cline, 2011) – The future is bleak. But the inventor of the all encompassing virtual world that everyone escapes to, develops a treasure hunt, where the victor is the supreme ruler of that world. And infinitely rich. The inventor loves all things from the 1980’s. So the quest is a geektastic exploration of nostalgia from the music, video games, TV and movies from that era. Our hero is an expert on all things the inventor likes. But so are many others. Some not so nice. Who will win? Oh yeah, Steven Spielberg’s movie adaption comes out in 2017.

5. (Tie) Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy Book 1) (Pierce Brown, 2014) – The sort of story someone might like if they enjoyed the Hunger Games or Total Recall or Greek mythology. It’s about a young man from Mars who seeks revenge for the death of his wife by infiltrating the ruling upper class, that style themselves after Greek Gods. He joins their training school, which is an expansive and glorified version of capture the flag. It reads fast and you will be entertained.

4. Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life (George Monbiot, 2013) – The ideas this book spark and the possibilities of how to live and let live are incredible. My favorite is that we often try to preserve the wrong thing in nature. We try to save or reconstruct what we know from our lifetimes (or parent’s lifetimes), but often those habitats and wildlife are not the original way of things. 100 years ago is not that long in the grand scheme of things. So much has happened in that time, yet humans and nature can co-exist. The book slogs at certain points, but the overall picture is worth an occasional slow spot.

3. The Martian (Andy Weir, 2014) – Read it now and you will certainly picture Matt Damon navigating the Martian landscape. You will certainly hear his voice narrating and explaining thorny nuggets of science theory. There is a big element of technical science, but it’s never too hard to grasp and is done with a smidgen of humor. And if you didn’t hear, The Golden Globes gave the movie adaptation the award for Best Comedy/Musical. What the…? It is not a comedy and the only music is disco.

2. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Daniel James Brown, 2014) – I would posit that the title alone should be instructive on the topic of this book. Outside that, this is the story of the University of Washington (UW) rowing team and their journey to be the best in the world. Most of the story is about the life of one of the boys, the Nazi PR machine leading up the Olympics and the epic rowing rivalry between the UW and the University of California – Berkeley, in a time when rowing was among the biggest and most prestigious sports in America. Hard to believe when you look at today’s sporting world, but true. My favorite part was when the UW rowing team clandestinely went to visit President Roosevelt’s actual home. They snuck in the back, knocked and were welcomed in to the house by his son, James, who was a huge rowing fanatic and had rowed himself. Imagine what would have happened today. I highly recommend you put down what you’re reading now, and read this instead.

1. The Art of Travel (Alain de Botton, 2004) – There are books that enrich your thinking. There are books that drop ideas into your brain that open wide all new possibilities. There are books that give you pause, just long enough to exclaim ‘Ah ha! and shake your head with a smile. Then there is this book that does all of those things, but goes beyond. What is travel? Why do we do it? And what perspective is the most important? This is an exploration of perspective, using the concepts and work of artists and authors as a key to unlocking the truth. The truth for you. I will only fail to describe the effect, so just read it. That is the best advice I can give.

Bold Predictions for 2015

In 2015, I predict I will…

…visit three new baseball stadiums. Surprised?

…do something crazy. Climb a mountain crazy. Run a half-marathon crazy. Crazy like that.

…read at least 35 books. I haven’t read that much the past few years. Doubling down.

…read seven books I own that I haven’t read. I estimate I have over 30 unread books lying around!

…run 300 miles. That’s 25 miles per month. That sucks.

…get myself to at least one new country. I haven’t been to a new country since 2012.

…write more.

…volunteer to be a commissioner of a sports league. (Hint: I already did this for volleyball…victory! 1-0 already!)

…win a championship with one of the sports teams I play on. Let’s do this!

…play with a puppy.



Let’s look at how I fared from my 2014 list:

Success rate: 7.5/10

…read four ‘classic’ science fiction novels. From this listDone! See the which ones here.

…participate in three races. Maybe even a sprint triathlon? 1/2 credit for this one. I paid for three races, but was out-of-town for one and hurt my back for another. I did run the Army Ten-Miler however.

…prance about in at least one new country. Maybe Croatia? Nope. I went to Malaysia and Thailand this year, but I’d been to both countries before.

…visit 2-3 new baseball stadiums. Yes! Went to Globe Life Stadium (Texas Rangers) and Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros).

…attend another music festival. Maybe the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware? Oh yeah! I made it to the 3rd annual Firefly Music Festival.

…find a new job. True. I started working on e-learning for WV’s information management system.

…hike more than last year. Benchmark: 17 hikes/177.5 miles. Fail. I did a scant 14 hikes/154.75 miles.

…finish watching the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Top 100 movies and all the Oscar Best Picture winners. Don’t get too excited, I only have 18 movies remaining. Boom! Done!

…cook more. I got a CSA share of veggies and cooked lots of new things. And I slapped together mucho sloppy tacos.

…win. I played on six different sports teams throughout the year (volleyball x 3, soccer, softball and flag football). We won 29 games I played in. Oh yeah. (But not because of me…). Plus the Seattle Seahawks went 3-0 in games I attended.



Five Random Books: Burn Them All (2014)

2014 proved to be a weak year for good books. Well, among the books I read.

One of my goals this year was to read four science fiction novels off a ‘Best of’ list. So in honor of the science fiction genre, I plan on hosting a book burning bonfire to forget 2014. Invitations are in the mail.

What science fiction novels did I read in 2014?

  1. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  2. Hyperion (Dan Simmons)
  3. The Fall of Hyperion (Dan Simmons)
  4. The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury)
  5. Children of Dune (Frank Herbert)


Without fanfare, read about the top five books I read in 2014:

5. Police (Jo Nesbø, 2014) – The Harry Hole books from Swedish author, Jo Nesbø, are highly entertaining murder mysteries. This is neither the best nor the worst of the ten book series thus far. I suggest The Snowman or The Leopard if you must read one. But in a weak year of reading, I struggled to find my top five. I toyed with including John Grisham’s Sycamore Row (the follow-up to A Time To Kill), despite it being just okay, but after reading his Gray Mountain, which was just terrible, they cancelled each other off my list.

4. A Dance With Dragons (Fire & Ice Book 5) (George R. R. Martin, 2011) – Not the best book of the series, but a vast improvement over Book 4. Could it be true? Another major character dies? No!!!! I don’t believe Mr. Martin will write fast enough to keep up with The Game of Thrones TV series, but the journey will be fun. In an everybody dies horribly so why did we invest all this time on these characters sort of way.

3. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Randall Munroe, 2014) – Some of these questions are silly, some are weird. Some are way over my head. Yet you can’t walk away without a few chuckles and the deep satisfaction that you are now somehow smarter than the next guy or gal.

2. Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn, 2012)– Read it. Watch it. Discuss. If you are not entertained, check for a pulse. If you don’t have a pulse, I suggest reading CPR for Dummies.

1. Hyperion (Dan Simmons, 1989) – The interlocking story of seven pilgrims journeying to Hyperion to save the galaxy. Or are they? One narrative brings them together, but each individual back story is what makes the book amazing. The Fall of Hyperion is the ‘sequel’. Actually, it is the conclusion of the story, so it you have to read it, but it’s not quite as good as its better half. If you like anything about science fiction, even if only the latter word fiction, than read this.

I’m planning on reading more this upcoming year.

Give me your best suggestions!

Silence is not golden here.




Bold Predictions for 2014

In 2014, I predict I will…

…read four ‘classic’ science fiction novels. From this list.

…participate in three races. Maybe even a sprint triathlon?

…prance about in at least one new country. Maybe Croatia?

…visit 2-3 new baseball stadiums.

…attend another music festival. Maybe the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware?

…find a new job.

…hike more than last year. Benchmark: 17 hikes/177.5 miles.

…finish watching the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Top 100 movies and all the Oscar Best Picture winners. Don’t get too excited, I only have 18 movies remaining.

…cook more.



Let’s look at how I fared from my 2013 list:

Success rate: 8.5/10

…go river rafting. It’s been awhile. Nope. Fail. Boo.

…read four ‘classic novels’. You know War and Peace and the like. I did. ‘Read‘ about it.

…turn a certain age. Yes! It was so easy.

…play some tennis. Indeed. I managed to play 10 matches (4-6 record) in the Summer and Fall.

…run in two races. Like a 5K, 8K or other. I ran the Semper Fi 5K and the Prevent Cancer 5K. I also did the 50K One Day Hike (I ran and walked).

…go to three new major league baseball stadiums. Thinking of Boston and Pittsburgh to start. I went to Fenway Park (Boston) and PNC Park (Pittsburgh). It wasn’t three, but I’m calling it success. Sue me!

…visit a new state (not the state of denial, but one of those US States) and a new country. I went to Rhode Island for the first time. No new country for old men. .5 credit.

…explore Washington, D.C. more. Even though I’ve seen a lot, there is always something new to discover. Yes. In fact I spent a whole month on this.

…publish more blog posts than last year (45 is the number to reach). Boom! 51!

…do something crazy. I am crazy, so everything I do is crazy.


Miserable News and Bad News

My goal in December was to finish reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. And do some running.

Did. Not. Happen.

That’s the miserable news.

The bad news, by contrast, is I can continue to give you updates on my Le Miz progress! Aren’t you excited? It may last another year.

December Goal: Read the last 820 pages (out of 1463) of Les Misérables and run 11 miles.


  • Actually read: 423 pages (52% of goal)
  • Actually ran: 3 miles (38% of goal)

Result: Fail!

I did read quite a lot. Then there came a five-day stretch where I just couldn’t pick up the book. I avoided it. I went out of my way not to see Cosette’s dour face staring at me. With about seven days left, I thought ‘I can pull this off – if I read all day and night!’ But I decided not to hurt myself.

Highlights of those 423 pages: Thénardier escapes prison. Marius and Cosette finally meet and stare at each other for 200 pages. France is flawed but awesome. An epic history lesson on the June Rebellion of 1832. Quality time with the rats inside the Elephant of the Bastille. 600 Parisian street names mentioned and 700 name checks of ‘famous’ French people (rough estimates).

Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean is not amused.

Fin. (aka the good news)

Not amused

Five Random Books: Unflinching, Riveting, Sweeping, Poignant and Other Banal Words for 2013

I read. I read.

Let’s have a moment of silence as we look back on a year of books.

One of my goals for 2013 was to read four ‘classic’ novels. I did that. From The Great Gatsby (Riveting) to The Sound and the Fury (Unflinching) to A Farewell to Arms (Sweeping) to Les Misérables (Poignant), I read it. I might have read a couple more…but I got stuck on the epic tome called…

5. Les Misérables (Victor Hugo, 1862) – I read 75% of this in 2013. It was like reading three actual novels. Since I didn’t quite finish, I can’t rate it higher than #5. It has its moments. It’s a book AND a French history lesson.

4. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Malcolm Gladwell, 2013) – Maybe not as good as his other books (like Blink or Outliers) but I enjoyed the numerous anecdotes that illustrated the point of the book – that it’s no surprise underdogs succeed often.

3. Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Chip Heath and Dan Heath, 2013) – I went to their lecture and book signing (I got a free autographed book!). Very practical and useful advice. Like their other books (Made to Stick and Switch), it’s an easy read. Recommended.

2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed, 2013) – A women takes on the mighty Pacific Crest Trail to find herself. It’s about the journey.

1. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925) – What it lacks in length (218 pages) it makes up in prose. Sometimes you want to re-read passages to figure out how he wrote like that.

Read long and prosper.


820 + 11 for December: Les Misérables

My goal in December is to finish reading the epic tome, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.

It’s only been 274 days since I started. I only have 820 pages left (out of 1463 total).

And to prevent myself from sitting on my ass too much and to further my misery, for every 75 pages I read, I have to run one mile in the freezing cold!

Oh joy!

December Goal: Read Les Misérables and run 11 miles.

Misery loves company!

The real page turner
The real page turner

Five Random Books: Don’t Judge 2012 By Its Cover

Not much reading happened in 2012. By me. I’m sure others read more.

So begins my annual year-in-review. Let’s start with books.

I spent the time doing plenty of non-reading activities – like playing sports, trying to run, catching up on some TV shows or traveling.

There were a few good books from what I did read, so let’s look at those.

5. This Is A Book (Demetri Martin, 2012) – A random collection of humorous musings and dry wit. When you’re not laughing you will be smiling. If you’re not already familiar with Martin’s deadpan delivery and clever observations, get that way.

4. Nightwoods (Charles Frazier, 2011) – A women living in the woods suddenly has to take care of her troubled niece and nephew after her sister is killed. Someone from the children’s past comes looking for something they have hidden. Lock the door.

3. The Leopard (Jo Nesbø, 2012) – Harry Hole is a detective.  Jo Nesbø likes to write crime thrillers about Harry. Trading somewhat off the popularity of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series (as both authors are from Scandinavia – Norway and Sweden), these Harry Hole novels are good in their own right and don’t really need the comparison. If you like crime and mystery novels, you will like this.

2. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card, 1994) – A Nebula Award winner, and now a movie with Harrison Ford in 2013, this tale of a boy whose genius is prized by the military. They want to train him as a military commander to defeat the alien buggers that invaded three generations ago and are coming back. With a surprising twist ending and a relatively short read, you don’t want to miss this story. I also read the sequel, Speaker for the Dead – set 3,000 years after the events of Ender and looks at conflict with a different alien race. Every bit as good.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain, 2012) – A great look at how the extrovert ideal has become such a part of our culture that we don’t even stop to realize that it’s the introverts that are just as likely to be good leaders and innovators (in fact, more likely). You don’t have to believe me, just read the book. It will also help you to better relate to your friends, family and colleagues.

Read long and prosper.

Book's 2012

Five Random Books: 2011 Book Learning Tour

My goal this past year was to read more books than previous years.

I succeeded. In honor of my complete success, I share the best eight books I read in 2011, instead of a mere five. Those extra three are free. You’re welcome.

8. The Snowman (Jo Nesbø, 2011) – I’ve started reading these mysteries from Norway. The protaganist, Harry Hole, hunts a serial killer. So far all of the books I’ve read in this series are good, but this is the best one.

7. The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking (Roger Martin, 2007) – Something you must read.

6. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II (Mitchell Zuckoff, 2011) – Entertaining and worthy of your time, but lacks the real drama and suspense of another WWII tale (see #2).

5. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman, 1999) – If you are not prone to reading, break your rule and start reading this.

4. Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle (Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Tom Howes, 2010) – The unbelievable story, as told by each of the three survivors, of persevering over five years as prisoners of the FARC.

3. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins, 2010) – Now being made into a movie, this is the first in a trilogy about a future where children get forced to compete in a gladiator style death match. Only one can survive.

2. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand, 2010) – Simply an amazing story about an Olympic runner turned airman, whose plane crashes on a routine mission over the Pacific Ocean. Stranded for 47 days on a life raft, only to fall into the hands of the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war for over two years. Talk about the worst luck. Epic.

1. A Game of Thrones (Fire and Ice Series Book 1) (George R.R. Martin, 1996) – With all the hubbub from the new HBO TV series Game of Thrones, I thought it prudent to start reading this epic series (now five tomes strong). Brilliant. Deep. HUGE cast of characters. I’ve gotten through the first three novels. They’re only between 900-1200 pages each. Light reading for sure. Start reading and never sleep again.

May you participate in zero book burnings in 2012. Even if the world ends.

Five Random Books: A 2010 Read ‘Em and Weep Review

This post concludes my best of 2010 reviews.

In my infinite wisdom and absolute humbleness, I managed to read a bustle full of books in 2010 (don’t ask how I got my hands on a bustle). Here is my take on the best of the lot. In fact, I highly recommend you read all of these books. Or not. Either way, you’ll be okay.

If you have any books that you recommend, let me know and I’ll consider putting them on my ‘to read list’. Or not.

5. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard (Chip Heath and Dan Heath, 2010) – a very practical and easy to engage set of tips on how to effect change, especially within an organization. It has a myriad of a good examples and vignettes that make it seem entertaining while being completely useful.

4. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (Candice Millard, 2006) – After his failed bid at a 3rd term as President, Teddy wanted to escape to explore and discover new and uncharted territory in the Amazon, by being the first to travel down the length of the River of Doubt. He almost met his end.

3. Dune (Frank Herbert, 1965) – I’ve been occasionally catching up on the classics of  the Science Fiction genre, and thought it was about time to visit Dune

2. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (David Grann, 2010) – a fascinating look at the author’s research into the famous explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett and his fatal journey to find the city of El Dorado, which Fawcett called Z. His party went missing and their fate was unknown. Does the author discover what happened? Does he find the true fate of El Dorado? You know you want to find out.

1. The Passage (Justin Cronin, 2010) – a new take on the vampire mythology, that is parts terrifying and post apocalyptic as the world is overrun by a new kind of vampire. Not the elegant or refined versions we’ve come to know, but a savage, almost invincible kind. It is two major stories, one today that starts the tragedy and one 100 years in the future of how humanity has adapted to survive and live in the new world. It is a novel you won’t put down until you fall asleep from exhaustion. I hear it is the first of a planned trilogy.

May the words be with you.

Five Random Books: Best of 2009

I read a few books in 2009. So let’s look at the best. Unless you have somewhere else to be?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson, 2008) – Steig Larsson tragically died in 2004 after delivering the manuscripts of three novels. This is the first. About a journalist solving a 30-year old mystery and a strange, genius girl who helps him. It will knock your socks off. You won’t stop reading it. Then pick up The Girl Who Played With Fire and read that too. Then wait until next April when the The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest is released. If you’re having trouble waiting, re-read the first two.

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell, 2008) – there are no self-made men (or women if you strive for PC). You have to earn it. You have to practice your craft. You have to work hard. You have to have the right opportunities available at the right time. No exceptions. Even if you disagree with this premise, you will be completely immersed in the examples and case studies. Actually, you can’t disagree, it’s that convincing.

Made In America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (Bill Bryson, 1996) – I’ve read a lot of Bill Bryson lately, and now I’m starting to get to his earlier work. As a writer or just a simple user of the English language, discovering the origin of words, slang, and phrases is very cool. Doing it in a way that is compelling and fun? That’s Bill Bryson.

Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign (Stephen Talty, 2007) – if the sub-title doesn’t sink your battleship, than maybe you should actually read this. It’s not a thick tome, so if you have even the smallest interest in the history of the ‘privateers’ of the Caribbean (the English Crown endorsed Morgan, so he wasn’t a pirate for much of his career), and their cunning exploits in stealing from the Spaniards, you will not be disappointed. This is the stuff you should be learning in history class. The history of Jamaica? Yes. Port Royal? The epicenter city of its day. Now gone. Panama City? Burned to the ground. The city that exists today was built about 10 miles from the original site. Pirates? Oh yes, Johnny Depp would have fits.

Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How it Can Renew America (Thomas L. Friedman, 2oo8) – climate change, globalization and a planet brimming with too many people. Any questions? Read this. Do this. Get off your ass. Peace.