When 10 Becomes 50
I try to picture myself at, say, age 11, imagine myself curled up on a soft chair in the living room, or on my bed, head propped up by pillows, reading a book. But I can’t see it. I can’t see that image through high school either, at my family’s home, at Jay’s or Water’s or any of the places we hung out after school. Just can’t see it. Maybe my sisters can remember me reading.
I know reading became a thing for me for sure in college, I remember carrying around Tolkien’s trilogy, finding and becoming devoted to Vonnegut, tuning in to more socially conscious books like ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’. And somewhere along the way, along the crookedly crooked path of my life, reading became a very big deal – a passion.
In the previous post titled “Risks and Other Stuff” I mentioned reading a suggestion from somewhere to begin each day writing down 10 ideas. And if you couldn’t come up with 10, make it 20. To be more thorough in that explanation, that suggestion is found in the book ‘Tools of Titans’ by Tim Ferriss, specifically in the profile piece about James Altucher. He is a most interesting cat, and you can find him at jamesaltucher.com. James says that making this a daily morning habit improves “your idea muscle”. I began that practice shortly after reading of it and having come up with 10 ideas the last eight mornings I now have in a specially-designated “idea” notebook 80 early morning ideas (actually a few more as some have intruded on my post-idea coffee and reading time.) I’m proud to say that most of the 80 are boring or stupid or both. There are some which are mildly intriguing – buy chickens for the yard this spring, go to meditate in San Francisco’s Peter and Paul church, learn Dungeons and Dragons – and more.
But one idea has reached up from the page and taken hold of me, probably no more than a few hours after streaming-of-consciousness-ing it down on the paper. It’s this one – Pull 50 books I own from shelves in the house and read them, one after another. The idea has morphed with a now time-frame. Read all fifty in the next year. Using my keen mathematical mind that comes out to, like, a book a week. Doesn’t seem so hard. Being an unemployed vagrant and all. Still – never-ending reading probably every single day for a year. Yikes. But, you know what? The ‘Spirit’ has come upon me and I am commited to this idea now, it has in fact become a personal vow, and to get all real about it, I’m starting tomorrow. Saturday, October 26, 2018.
I’m going to tell you the titles of the books I’ve chosen, and their authors, here in a second. First, a quick word on the process. I have, we have, a bunch of different bookcases around the house, also a few spaces with piles of books, and yesterday in the afternoon I went from pile to pile, case to case, and ran my fingers over the spines of the books there and did my best to intuit what it made sense to read. Then I pulled whatever book spoke to me out a couple
of inches from the others, going around later in the evening to grab them from their case or pile and gather them in the collection you see in the photo. There are 45 books there, and I am waiting on two coming used from Ebay. I have three more to select.
Okay, for the truly devoted readers, here’s the list:
‘Understanding Comics’ by Scott McCloud; ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith; ‘A Stained White Radiance’ by James Lee Burke; ‘First Things First’ by Stephen Covey; ‘Radio Free Boston – WBCN’ by Carter Alan; ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ by Joan Didion; ‘The Night Gardener’ by George Pelecanos; “Generation of Swine” by Hunter S. Thompson; ‘The Golden Compass’, ‘The Amber Spyglass’, ‘The Sublte Knife’ trilogy by Philip Pullman; ‘Go’ John Clellon Holmes; ‘Kitchen Confidential’ by Anthony Bourdain; ‘Notes of a Native Son’ by James Baldwin; ‘Travels With Charley’ by John Steinbeck; ‘The Basketball Diaries’ by Jim Carroll; ‘The Onion Field’ by Joseph Wambaugh; ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ by Walter Mosley; ‘Naked Lunch’ by William Burroughs; ‘River of Shadows’ by Rebecca Solnit; ‘The Lost Get-Back Boogie’ by James Lee Burke; ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ by A.A. Milne; ‘Running and Being’ by Dr. George Sheehan; ‘Soul on Ice’ by Eldridge Cleaver.
‘L.A. Requiem’ by Robert Crais; ‘The Subterraneans’ and ‘Desolation Angels’ by Jack Kerouac; ‘Childhood’s End’ by Arthur C. Clarke; ‘Joshua Dread’ by Lee Bacon; ‘The Dark Half’ by Stephen King; ‘When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes’ by Lawrence Block; ‘Even Cowgirls Get the Blues’ by Tom Robbins; ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger; ‘Cat’s Cradle’ by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ by Robert Heinlein; ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ by Tom Wolfe; ‘The Moviegoer’ by Walker Percy; ‘The Soul of a New Machine’ by Tracy Kidder; ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert Pirsig; ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway; ‘Zen Guitar’ by Philip Toshio Sudo; ‘Thoughts Without a Thinker’ by Mark Epstein; ‘Song Man’ by Will Hodgkinson; ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg; ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and coming from Ebay, ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell and ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman’ by Richard Philips Feynman.
Well, if you are still here, I bet a couple of things. You think I’m lying or a bigger imbecile than previously imagined. You think I’m crazy, have finally and truly lost it, bonkers, off the deep end, up on the top of the double-decker bus. Or – if you are a lover of reading like I am – I bet you feel just a little jealous. All those amazing books. Come on, you can admit it, we already know.
Now, if you have two more minutes.
Some of these books, though I own them all, I have never read. For instance, ‘Catcher in the Rye’ (!) and ‘Naked Lunch’ (!!) and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ (what!!). Some I have read but not for the last 45-50 years. Including ‘Soul on Ice’, ‘Even Cowgirls Get the Blues’, and ‘Travels With Charley’. Some I’ve read more than once but not in a while. For instance ‘A Stained White Radiance’, ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’, ‘Writing Down the Bones’. And a few, it hasn’t been that long. ‘Outliers’, ‘Desolation Angels’, and Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’, where the writing is so powerful and honest and touching that I could read that book every single month and be all the better for it. Then again, how many books on this list would work that very same magic?
As is always the case, I ask here for your thoughts and comments. They always mean so much to me. This time, however, I wonder if you might talk just a bit about a book or two on my “spoke to me” list. A book impacting your life in a big, big way. A favorite possession. Actually you can’t stand some of these. A thought about the mix – fiction and non-fiction, mystery and sci-fi, self-help (‘First Things First’) or self-help (‘Generation of Swine’). Not enough writers of color. Not enough women. Too much blood. Embarrassed to say you’ve never read Malcolm Gladwell. Or Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
I look forward to your thoughts.