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07/22/2014 — Leave a comment

1968 was the worst year ever. MLK and RFK. Riots. Viet Nam. An unrelentingly bad outlook for a mostly clueless college junior turning 21 that summer and thinking a lot about what sort of world he would be graduating into the following year (a much better year!).

Drugs and beer brought no relief that summer of ’68, only heightened paranoia and deeper depression. Books and music saved me. Among these was E.B.White’s One Man’s Meat. A celebration of life. Natural peacefulness. Great writing. I’d read Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) in freshman English. “Omit needless words” was a mantra. I pursued clear and concise writing that said something meaningful in an elegant, graceful way.

One Man’s Meat became my paragon for prose, and has remained so. I recommend it to anyone, but especially to people who love good writing and need healing. I am very impatient with anyone who would have us go back to a better time in America. Times don’t really change much. But how we see them does, apparently. White was an intelligent observer of some very awful events in the 30s and early 40s, but gave us a clear, untinted lens through which to view world events in any time. Today, it’s hard to find this kind of seer. Read One Man’s Meat and then go back to reading the news and today’s observers. Compare and contrast. Repeat as needed.

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07/16/2014 — Leave a comment

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28, 1914. A month later, no one was at war. A month after that, 20,000+ were being killed in a single day on battlefields in Europe. By the end of 1914, France alone had suffered one million casualties (killed, wounded, missing, or captured) in the first five months of World War I.

Today, we can do a better job of heading off the kind of all-in response that resulted in those casualties, and the many more to come. But we could also generate one million casualties in seconds rather than months.

Looking at the events during that first month after the assassination, with the delays in communication, the misunderstood messages, the complexities of world politics, and the pent up demand for war among the leaders of many countries, it seems inconceivable that today, with our instantaneous information networks, our simpler balance of power scenario, and our ability to react in a fraction of the time it took to do anything in 1914, we could see anything like the run-up to WWI.

But can we be sure?

Check out the NY Times WWI site. Fantastic.

Since I got our first Kindle seven or eight years ago (?) I have read much more than in the preceding 20 years. But I’ve never had reading projects per se until this year. Now, I’ve really gone overboard:


  • Read the Robert B. Parker Jesse Stone series. Six books read so far.
  • Read the Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford series. Read four so far.
  • Read Charles Todd Inspector Rutledge series. Read nine so far.
  • Re-read the Aubrey-Maturin series. Five read so far.
  • Listen to The Destroyermen series. Have listened to all nine books. Waiting for #10.
  • Read about WWI on the 100th anniversary of its beginning. Reading book of primary sources, The WWI Reader. Listening to Catastrophe by Max Hastings. Have five+ others teed up.
  • Finish William Manchester The Last Lion. Done.
  • Read/Listen to other books:
  • Caesar and Christ, Will Durant. Audio.
  • Moby Dick. About 40% read.
  • Mole, Jo Nesbit. Leading Norwegian detective novelist.
  • A Higher Call, two WWII pilots re-unite.

I feel a lot more informed and well-rounded since starting to read more. And now that I’m reading about writing, it seems like everyone (Stephen King, Mary Carr, Ann Lamott, etc.) says the key to better writing is doing a lot of reading. I’m teaching courses on self-publishing and finding that the biggest problems would-be self-publishers have are all about writing. So, get the old Kindle out and get going!