Wanting invention’s stay.

Here it is, a post about not being able to write. Day 3 of WordPress’ blogging improvement project is essentially “write something.”

I stopped reading Paul Auster because everything he wrote seemed to be about writing or about writers trying to write. Or at least that’s how I read his work. It probably isn’t fair of me to say this since he’s written a fair amount since I gave up on his writing, but there it is.

Worse, I stopped writing because whenever I started to write again my first attempts were all about writing. Want to write a poem? Ponder the elegance that is the blank page. Want to write an essay? Write about all those things that prevent writing. Want to write a novel? Be Paul Auster.

No, that really isn’t fair. As a writer who writes about writing because he can’t seem to wrap his head around anything else, I’m in good company. Auster is fine company. The poet Mark Strand wrote about eating poetry (look it up–the dog ate his homework). And the forever-young Sir Philip Sidney leads off his sonnet cycle Astrophil and Stella with an alexandrine sonnet about how he wants to write some fit words in order to get laid, er, win the “grace” of a “dear she.”

Sidney ends his poem with the best admonition ever for writers suffering writers’ block: “Fool,” said my muse to me, “Look in thy heart, and write.”

Problem is, my heart is full of thoughts about writing.

Reintroducing Uneasy Rhetoric

Day 1 of WordPress’ Zero to Hero, 30 Days to a Better Blog asks for an introduction.

My name is John, like it says in my list of 100 things. Uneasy Rhetoric is a blog about living in Sacramento, California. Maybe not the best city on earth, but a city I have called home for 29 of my almost 44 years. It is not a blog about Sacramento but a blog about me, living here. Thus it is as much personal philosophy as anything. If I am to reinvigorate this medium, and I intend to, it will look more like a series of personal essays on a variety of topics. Writing is my hobby, and I don’t have much time for hobbies these days.

I started blogging in the early days of the medium, and even though personal blogging is long past its heyday, I still like the idea. Uneasy Rhetoric is over 10 years old. The Wayback Machine first indexed uneasyrhetoric.net on October 10, 2003 and I’m too lazy to go into my database backups to see when the first post was. Like many, I gave up on the long-form writing in favor of Twitter, briefly, and now almost entirely, Facebook. However, I still read a handful of personal blogs and think about returning to the fold of an active long-form (long for the internet, anyway) writer.

My primary motivation for starting a blog back in 2003 was to write about homesickness. Originally, the blog was called the “Sacramento Expatriate” and I had intended to write about goings on in my hometown from an outsider’s point of view. I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time but made frequent visits home and had been amazed at how much the city was changing. My old neighborhood had morphed into “midtown” and was rapidly becoming the hipster haven it is today. What amazed me more though was how much Sacramento still felt like home even though I hadn’t spent more than three or four weeks in a row there since the summer of 1989. When I was offered a job in Sacramento I jumped at the opportunity to move back. I also changed the name of the blog and for a while gathered a small readership of Sacramentans who cared about making this a great place to live.

But my priorities changed. Fast forward to 2006 and I essentially stopped blogging–I was never a frequent blogger to begin with. My son was born in October 2006 and I started a new job in January 2007. Being a father meant having to set aside a lot of the things that I had time to do before being a parent. My new job was also challenging and I was well suited to it; however, it also came with restrictions on the extent to which I could talk about politics. At the time, I didn’t understand my boundaries and thus interpreted them as strictly as possible.

If I can reinvigorate this blog, in 2014 I hope to post a lot about Sacramento but mostly I will post about what I like to think about: writing, politics, religion, philosophy, urbanism, nature, science, art, music, poetry. I think now you can see just how well the name “Uneasy Rhetoric” fits.

Reading deeply, or reading muchly?

Is it better to read deeply or broadly? The Kindle Chronicles podcast a few weeks ago included an interview with Chris Brogan, co-author of The Impact Equation, about his decision to read only three books over the course of a year. Brogan chose his books using the classic triumvirate of head, heart, and hands: one business/leadership type book, one spiritual book, and one fitness book.

Brogan argues on the podcast that we don’t read deeply.

“I have this opinion that a lot of times people will read books and just kind of go from one book to the next,” Brogan told me. “I track on things like Twitter what people say about my book. So I’ll see, ‘Just finished The Impact Equation, now going on to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg’—as if there’s some kind of a hurdle race, as if they’ve just gone over a hurdle, and they’re going to the next one.”

As a result, Brogan believes, we seldom go deeply enough into a book, to fully absorb the meaning of it. His idea of picking three books to read and reread throughout the coming year tests a new level of commitment to a book, like becoming a rooted disciple instead of a hurdler who is always jumping to the next new title.

I admire the idea behind wanting to read more deeply, and it is something I constantly struggle with myself. I have read countless books in my lifetime, novels, epic poems, philosophy, self-help, business, drama, and more. Unfortunately, except for a handful of books I have read multiple times, and only a few fingers of those, I have forgotten most of what I read. As an English major in college, I was expected to read works several times in preparation for in-class discussion and frequent written analysis. Easy in poetry class, but in a class where I was reading a novel every week to two weeks, much harder. Today I can tell you that I enjoyed Middlemarch and consider it one of my favorite novels. However, despite having read it four times in under two years, I can’t remember more than a handful of characters’ names and a barely-there notion of the plot.

Were I to decide to read deeply in the way Brogan describes, I think I would constantly worry about what I wasn’t reading. More accurately, it seems to go against my desire to read broadly. I have five screens of unread or partially-read titles on my Kindle, and the list includes everything from fantasy to public policy to pop-psychology to fiction en français. I like being able to flit from topic to topic and I’m proud of the fact that I have such broad interests. Nevertheless, even with so much already on my plate, I still worry about what I’m not reading. It is an addiction, really, and what has always been a problem for me–buying books I want to read but will never get around to reading–is made much worse because of the Kindle and by the ability to read extended samples of a work.

Thus, I am intrigued by Brogan’s idea, but I think the approach may be wrong, or slightly dishonest. On the one hand, he will be able to read very deeply. None of the books he chose are very long or very complicated, which, if he really doesn’t try to read other texts will mean many multiple readings. However, I suspect that, like me, Brogan is a frequent reader of short texts–articles, magazines, blogs–and is not likely to give those up, nor would I expect him to. I think, though, that he will find himself reading even more of these to fill his time, especially when he gets very, very bored of the three books he chose.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try to read more deeply. Every reader has a book or two the reader returns to from time to time. For me it was the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Catcher in the Rye. Note the was. I don’t return to books any more. I’m still playing with rereading my favorite Updike novels, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. In that case, I feel guilty that I still haven’t read all of his essays. I’ve read a number of self-help books recently but haven’t bothered to return to those either. Self-help books almost require a periodic return to be effective. I’d like to read more philosophy, but good luck understanding any of it on a single reading.

Instead of choosing three books and limiting myself to reading only those over a given period of time, I think I will make a conscious effort to have, always, at least one book going to which I have committed a deeper read. This doesn’t mean I will choose a book before the fact and read it multiple times. Instead, as I get into a book, I will need to step back and decide whether I need to read it again to gain additional insight.

After all, some books are not worth reading. Others are nice to read once through in the same way that I’m glad I’ve seen some movies but don’t need to see them again. A small number require re-reading. Still, at the very least, I should probably review the highlights I make while reading books on my Kindle.

Prone to Sentimentality

Tonight my son said something that I found profoundly sad. He has a toy bunny, a little blue rubber contraption with an LED that goes on when you move the toy really fast (or throw it into the ground). For some reason, Jackson has grown attached to this bunny–now called “Floppy.” He made a house for it, likes to have it watching over him at night, and tries to sleep with it; until tonight I had succeeded in convincing him that it wasn’t really a cuddly toy.

Tonight, during our nightly struggle to get Jackson calmed down and asleep, we had a brief conversation about how Floppy was dirty and needed to be cleaned with some water. I suggested Jackson might use a damp cloth “tomorrow night,” and Jackson mentioned that he had put the bunny under some water at daycare. Then he mentioned how some other kids had been playing rough with Floppy.

Then Jackson said Floppy was broken. Indeed, there was a small tear behind one of floppy’s ears, and the ear itself had grown weak from repeated pulling (remember, this toy is some kind of rubberized plastic). He wanted to get a new bunny. He wanted to call grandma to find out where she bought the bunny.

“I want to destroy Floppy and get a new bunny.”

I lost it.

I had been so focused this evening, most evenings, on Jackson’s need to get to sleep and had been on edge anyway. I didn’t get mad at Jackson, exactly, but a mix of anger, desperation, incredulity, and profound sadness washed over me and I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say.

Maybe it was his use of the word “destroy,” so often used to describe animals that have been euthanized. I couldn’t believe he wanted to destroy something he had grown so attached to. Aren’t children supposed to refuse to give things up even long after they’ve lost their utility?

Further, I felt guilt that he hadn’t yet learned the lesson that we don’t just go out and replace things that are broken. Intellectually I know he’s still too young to really understand this. It is also a hard lesson to teach because we replace things when they are broken all the time. But a toy to which he’s become attached, to which he has attached some kind of life?

This could have been a teachable moment, a discussion about the need to love imperfection. I certainly have my own stories of stuffed animals I loved despite their being broken. I had a rabbit my grandmother had knitted for me that had a big hole leaking stuffing. I loved it anyway. I could have calmly told this story. Instead I took the short cut and just said “we don’t replace things just because they’re broken.” Of course we do. All the time. Not the best way to approach this problem.

While I was busy overreacting, grasping for anything that I could do to get Jackson back into bed and on the road to sleep, having trouble breathing, saying things that didn’t make much sense, covering my face and pulling my hair (hey, we’re all prone to histrionics from time to time), Jackson leaves his room and crawls into bed with his mom. She finally calms him down enough that he gets back in his own bed, clutching Floppy in his hand.

“Would you like to put Floppy on the table so that nothing happens to him?”

“Yes.”

“I love Floppy.”

“Me too.”

Starbucks’ decaf policy, update.

In my previous post, I bemoaned the fact that Starbucks ceased brewing decaf coffee, and I think now I’ve got it figured out, at least in part. When I was in the SBUX near home (one of ‘em), I noticed that their brewed coffee machine had units for three different types of coffee. In the past this would be two different blends (e.g. Christmas and Breakfast) and decaf.

Now, however, Starbucks’ new business model is getting in the way of my decaf.  For most of its existence, Starbucks claimed to roast most of its beans at “Full City,” a fairly dark roast.   It also killed the character of some regional beans that don’t take a dark roast very well. Recently though, I’m sure you’ve noticed that Starbucks has gone to a three-roast system. You can buy “blonde,” “medium,” or “dark.” Interestingly, some of Starbucks’ flagship blends fall into the lighter roasts. I wonder if I’ve been misunderstanding SBUX’ use of full city, or if they’ve messed with the character of these blends? Since I buy my whole coffee at Nugget or Temple, I honestly don’t know. Unfortunately, Starbucks’ three-coffee machines don’t have room for a decaf. Instead, they feature a blend from each of the three roasts–never mind that there are at least two decaf blends in the “medium” category.

Thus, Starbucks has chosen to drive its decaf customers to espresso drinks (as I implied previously, the vast majority of its customers anyway). Maybe there are a lot of people like me, who drink Starbucks because of its convenience but brew our home coffee from someplace better.

By the way, Temple’s decaf Dharma Blend is quite good. They use it in their espresso drinks, I think, but it also makes a good cup of coffee.

Don’t wake up and smell the decaf.

I drink decaf and Starbucks hates me. Honestly, the whole world seems to hate decaf drinkers. For several years now Starbucks has had a policy that they won’t brew decaf after noon. You can get a “pour-over” if you’re willing to wait for a few minutes–and get shoved around by the polluted coffee drinkers or forgotten by the baristas–or get an Americano. This morning I dropped by the Starbucks near work and they told me the new policy was that they don’t brew decaf at all. “People don’t buy it,” I was told.

You mean to tell me that for the almost 25 years I’ve been patronizing Starbucks, almost 10 of those as a decaf drinker, Starbucks has been throwing out gallons upon gallons of decaf? For decades Howard Schultz has allowed this money pit to continue? I don’t believe it. Although I will believe that the majority of Starbucks patrons never touch brewed coffee. In a pre-Starbucks world, they would not have been coffee drinkers at all.

To be fair, it isn’t just Starbucks. More and more I go into a coffee place and decaf isn’t even on the menu. At least Starbucks is willing to do a pour over. Most places just offer me an Americano “for the price of drip coffee” and the ignorant statement “it is just like regular coffee.”

No, it isn’t. There is a distinctly different flavor between two or three shots of espresso and water and a cup of brewed coffee. I happen to enjoy both, but I prefer my Americanos over ice.

The same can’t be said of the difference between decaf and regular coffee. Some coffee snobs will tell you they can tell the difference, but I don’t believe there are that many people with that sensitive a palate. I used to be one of those assholes, but now I know better. I drink decaf because I enjoy the taste of coffee.

Worse are the caffeinated masses who hear me order my decaf and feel compelled to say “what’s the point?” To which I say that if you are drinking coffee for the caffeine and not the taste or the pleasure of a hot cup of coffee, you’re just a junkie. You could save yourself a lot of money mainlining Folgers. If you truly prefer a cup of coffee brewed from beans ground recently, then don’t belittle me because I drink decaf. I’m enjoying the same thing you are without the increased heart rate and accompanying anxiety.

Last time I checked, Peets was still brewing decaf, although I buy almost exclusively iced coffee at Peets because that’s where I first learned to love it (Starbucks never did offer iced decaf). I’m sure if they haven’t already, they will soon join the no-decaf crowd. The coffee bar in my building still brews decaf, and people besides me drink it. For that, I am grateful.

I did recently start drinking a cup or two of regular coffee in the morning, usually in the form of a half-caf. The nice person at Starbucks did try to soften my ire by telling me that “at least you won’t have to wait as long, since you’re only getting half a cup of decaf.”

I suppose that’s true, unless your barista forgets me while she’s making the double-extra-shot-mocha-whatever for the umpteen people ahead of me in line.

On rereading Updike.

Some time ago–several years or more–I decided that I would re-read John Updike’s entire oeuvre, in order. I felt that I hadn’t gotten as much out of the novels on first reading as I might reading them again. I also thought it would be a nice Internet gimmick, something I could use to promote the blog in some very, very small fashion. Finally, when he died I realized that if I wanted to read any of his work, it would almost have to be something I’ve already read.

However, an Internet stunt is no reason to do anything, and I have no desire to re-read some of Updike’s work. It is true I am a fan. It is also true I have been once-through all but his criticism and perhaps some of his poetry. Upon his death, I wrote that he was the closest thing I had to a hero (not because of any heroic action but because he wrote and wrote and wrote). Despite all this, I’m quick to agree with many of his critics that Updike wrote some pretty crappy fiction, although I think his critics and I disagree on the crappy ones.

I do not care for Updike’s attempts to nudge outside of his genre or to impose his Eastern, protestant, suburban, affairs-and-divorces-as-sport sensibilities on other locales. The Coup was forgettable. Brazil, supposedly Updike’s attempt at magic realism, stank–after the fifth or sixth time of comparing the male protagonist’s penis to a yam, I had to throw up my arms in despair and scream “get a new metaphor!” Widows of Eastwick was a disappointing last novel that has something in common with Star Wars Episode I — it took the mysticism of the original and gave it a rational explanation. No, Billy, there is no Santa Claus. (Widows of Eastwick, however, had no Jar Jar) Terrorist exposed the cracks in the stucco of Updike’s career. He’s at his best writing close to home. In Terrorist, Updike attempts to get into the mind of someone totally unlike him; a mind he learned about in the same way Updike learns about everything, by reading about it in the Atlantic or the New Yorker, and it shows. Finally, Updike never did quite get endings. Most of his novels seem to get wrapped up a little too quickly, off pace with the rest of the prose.

I realized recently that I just don’t have the time to read so much that I don’t really want to read. A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of The Poorhouse Fair, Updike’s first novel, from the library (weirdly, I don’t seem to own a copy). It’s not bad, but I realized within just a few pages that I didn’t want to re-read it. And then I realized that I didn’t want to re-read any of the books in the paragraph above. Finally I realized that, at the rate I’ve been reading lately, it would take me three or four years to get through everything Updike wrote, and that’s assuming I stopped reading everything else.

Since I’m not an academic, why should I put myself through this torture?

So, instead, I’m going to make a list of Updike’s novels I would like to reread. They are:

  • The Centaur (which he claimed as his favorite, once)
  • Rabbit Run
  • Rabbit Redux
  • Rabbit is Rich
  • Rabbit at Rest
  • A Month of Sundays*
  • Rogers Version*
  • S*
  • In the Beauty of the Lilies
  • Seek My Face

*I don’t particularly want to reread either A Month of Sundays or S, but because they, with Roger’s Version, comprise what academics generally consider the “Scarlet Letter” or “Hawthorne” trilogy, I thought I’d give all three a go, after I also reread the Scarlet Letter, one of my favorite novels.

So, wish me luck. Rereading a book you remember as being good is always something of a risk.

In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.

America has lost a literary icon, a quiet observer of the sad and sadly spiritual human condition or, if you prefer, a tired writer of small topics whose prose oozed with oversexed maleness and thinly veiled mysongeny. For me, John Updike was more the former than the later, and worthy of my devotion; thus, I have lost one of the few people I have ever considered a hero (such as it was).  But it isn’t really true that either I or America has lost John Updike.  He left us with more than two dozen novels, as well as copious short stories, deep criticism of life, literature, and art, and poetry that ranges from the frivolous to the pensive to the profane.  The Atlantic’s brief obit sums it up best: “It’s customary to say that someone will be missed. In Updike’s case it’s more important that he will be remembered.”

The line in my title is, and likely will always be, the first line of Updike’s prose that anyone reads.  It starts “A&P,” a short story about a young man working in a supermarket.  The first line I read? The far less memorable “Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a blackboard bolted to it.” Rabbit, Run blew me away, in some respects even more than Catcher in the Rye did.  To this day I don’t quite understand why that was the case. Perhaps I understood, even then, that Catcher in the Rye was about a person and a life I would never be a part of but Rabbit, Run could easily describe the person I (and in fact most of my peers) would become.

That spring in 1986 I became a fan.  By the end of the summer I had read a number of his novels and before I graduated from high school I began collecting first editions of his work.  Sometimes I would look at my collection and wonder if it was worth the money I put in to it. After all, it is about reading the words, not possessing them in some arbitrary format. Sometimes I joked that when he died I’d be able to cash it in. Now that he’s gone I find myself regretting that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to complete my collection. Doing so now may be nearly impossible.

I came dangerously close, in college, to becoming a scholar of Updike.  Thankfully my academic advisor at the time convinced me that I should write my senior thesis on some obscure English poet rather than Updike.  This freed me to continue reveling in his prose, to be able to discuss it’s deeper meaning if I wanted, or just tell people that I really liked it, without having to ascribe more to it than an amused smile.

As time has gone on, I’ve kept up with his new work and tried my best to go back and read the few bits and pieces–criticism mostly–that I’ve missed. Until my son was born, I would frequently have his new books read within a day or two of release. One of my small, prideful moments came when I realized I’d written the first Amazon.com customer review for Seek My Face (2002).  Sadly, it took me far longer to read his last novel, Widows of Eastwick.

When Updike was in Sacramento last November, he spoke in terms of “wrapping things up.”  He described writing a sequel to Witches of Eastwick as a way of tidying as he approached the end.  Given that he died of lung cancer, it makes me wonder if he had already been diagnosed by the time he was here. I read in one story today that during his November tour of the west coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento [!], and Seattle) he had “walking pneumonia,” but that he had chosen to continue because people had already bought tickets. In any case, I feel fortunate to have seen him.

A long time ago, a magazine writer criticized Updike for being the kind of writer who steps outside his door, looks around for a few minutes, and writes. In other words, he wrote from a very limited world view. That may be the case, but I often think that Updike in those few minutes of observation was able to catch aspects of human nature that most of us never see or deny exist.  Despite the sad state of his characters, Updike’s work also contained a fair bit of wonder of the simple fact of being alive.

Rabbit thinks he should maybe say more, the kid looks wildly expectant, but enough. Maybe. Enough.

Books that changed my life.

What is it about people and lists of books that changed their lives?  Do books really change lives? Or did we just happen to be reading them at key moments?  I’m sure in some cases books helped people develop their personal philosophies, find the right job, or get the girl, but in the end, this is one English major who is skeptical of the lasting ability of literature to really, truly, change things.

I come about this skepticism in the most obvious way: I can’t for the life of me think of a book that really changed my life. I can think of bits and pieces, small quotes, that I’ve used to piece together my personal outlook on life.  I can think of books that maybe stuck in my consciousness a bit more than others. I can think of books that made me do specific things. But an entire narrative that I can say made me make a fundamental shift like losing or gaining my religion or chucking it all to become a woodworker in Vermont? Not really.

KK’s post at Cool Tools is more optimistic:

Books still have the power to change lives. Which ones have changed yours?

I don’t mean merely great books, or memorable ones, or favorite ones. I mean books that altered your behavior, changed your mind, redirected the course of your life. Books as levers.

As a bonus, the post includes another list of lists at the end.

So, without further ado, I give you the list of books that maybe kinda sorta changed my life just a little bit in some small way and without a lot of fuss and in no particular order:

Rabbit Run, by John Updike. I was 16 and this was one of the books on the grid of books my English teacher let us chose from. Like everyone else I read Catcher in the Rye and was appropriately blown away.  I read Cat’s Cradle and felt briefly, fleetingly, clever.  But I was one of a handful who chose to read Rabbit Run, and as far as I know I was the only one who commenced to reading Updike’s entire oeuvre.  I felt sympathy for Rabbit, and even at 16 I could see the beginnings of myself in him. Caulfield would probably have considered Rabbit a phony like everyone else trying to get him to conform, but I though Rabbit was genuine in a thoughful but pathetic way.

Collected Poems by Wendell Berry.  When the woman who would become my wife and I first started dating, in fact on our first date, we found that we both had an affinity for Berry. I began reading Berry because I thought it lent credibility to my eco-intellectualism.  This was the era when I began to get heavily into environmentalism, the budding organic movement, and the presevation of farm land.  But Berry also spoke to the more traditional me, the one that believed in things like love, and marriage, and family.  He also spoke to the political me. His poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” pretty much says it all:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  Hang around me long enough and you might hear me refer to a solution to a problem as a “Huck Finn solution” or a “Tom Sawyer solution.”  This refers, of course, to the sadly weak last part of Huckleberry Finn when Tom Sawyer makes an appearance and tries to talk Huck into all sorts of convoluted ways to get out of a predicament, while Finn tries to find the path of least resistance.  But the middle part, from when Huck finds Jim on the Island until he meets up with Sawyer, is a phenomenal story that parallels the maturation of a young America trying to find itself (put that on your back cover, Penguin Classics!)  Twain asked that we not analyze it, but he’s dead now.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  There are a handful of authors that seem to make it onto a lot of these kinds of lists. Tolkien is one.  I chose The Hobbit because, if my half-brothers hadn’t given it to me one Christmas, I may never have become the reader I am today. Because of The Hobbit I read Lord of the Rings. Then The Once and Future King, Dune, the Dragonrider novels, and Farenheit 451. Because of a summer devouring Fantasy and Science Fiction, I spent another summer reading War and Peace, then every summer after that reading a lot of books. Maybe I even majored in English because of The Hobbit.

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis.  Lewis is another one.  I could take or leave the Narnia books.  They just didn’t grip me the way Lord of the Rings or even The Chronicles of Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander did. But this novel helped coalesce in me what was to become a key element of my personal theology, expressed best by Hamlet in the eponymous Shakespeare play: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  Essentially, how can we, beings of Earth, delude ourselves into believing we can begin to comprehend a divinity, if one exists?

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Rand is another one.  And I’m totally kidding.  You knew that right? And I can’t really comment on her philosophy because I couldn’t make it more than a hundred pages through this plodding, thick, one-dimensional novel.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen.  Groan. Yes, I am a member of this cult. But frankly, this was the first “getting organized” book I’d read (and I’d read a lot of them) that really started to make sense to me.  Allen’s system has enough room in it to tinker with it to make it your own, but enough structure that someone with a little bit of willpower could fully implement it. Unfortunately, I don’t have much willpower.

Le Rouge et Le Noir, by Stendhal.  Where do I begin with this book.  Oh yeah.  I read it in French!  En français!  Boo-ya!