Saturday, February 27, 2021

Losing My Kindle

Though you might be forgiven for assuming I'm giving up my ereader, based on the title of this post and the content of the last, in which I announced that I was deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts, that is not the case. I have written here about how I am making an attempt to read fewer ebooks this year, opting for the printed page instead. (So far, so good. I've read 18 books this year, 10 have been of the paper variety.) But this post is not about that. No. I mean I literally lose my Kindle — very frequently. 

Oh, not permanently. Not usually for more than a few minutes. I'll inevitable find it made up inside the bed or under the bed (I read a lot before falling asleep, it seems) or in another room or perched on a counter or bookshelf. But it happens __a lot__, and it is annoying every time. Worst is the fear I feel when I am searching for it after the kids have gone to bed and I suddenly I recollect that the last place I can remember having it is in one of their rooms. Do I try and sneak in so that I can pick the novel I am reading back up at the place I left off the night before, or just read some random short story for the evening? Tough call. 

But I lose a lot of things. I used to lose my keys practically daily until we set a small metal basket on one end of the kitchen counter the purpose of which is to hold car keys and various other items. Somehow, this worked wonders! I still lose my wallet somewhat frequently. I hate sitting on the thing and so will take it out of my back pocket and then forget where I was sitting when I did so. I lose my phone. So perhaps it is not so curious that I lose my Kindle as often as I do.

Except, here's the thing. When I'm reading a hard copy of a book, that is one made of ink printed on paper and bound between covers, I practically __never__ mislay the thing. Ever. I might leave it in another room, but I always remember, with great accuracy, which room I left it in when it comes time to retrieve it. It might be under the bed, might have been pushed under there while I was making it, but I know that the last time I had it, I set it on the floor and it's not on the floor so therefore it must be under the bed and sure enough there it is! Et cetera et cetera.

I don't know exactly why this is. A book does typically have more heft to it than a kindle, but that can't be the only factor. A slim mass market paperback probably doesn't weigh more, and while it's fatter—even if it is, say, a mid-century crime novel of 60,000 words printed in small typeface—its length and width are less than a Kindle. It is, by most metrics, "smaller." But I don't lose those John D. MacDonald or Fredric Brown paperbacks.

I think that the likeliest reason that I lose the Kindle so often and paper books so rarely is that the Kindle, despite costing many times as much as a paper book, feels disposable in a way that a book does not. The technology of a paper book is a durable one. I own books printed in the 1950s and they are still readable, if somewhat fragile. I own a couple of Kindles that are no more than ten years old that are sitting, broken and useless, out in my garage because I haven't gotten around to dropping them off at an electronics recycle spot. A paper book is an object, a Kindle is a gadget.

Don't get me wrong, I do like my Kindle a great deal. But as Marshall McLuhan said all those years ago, "the medium is the message." Yes, when it comes to reading, the story is paramount. But it is foolish and counter-reality to think that the means by which that story is delivered to the reader doesn't have an effect on the way in which that reader interacts with the story. Yes, a Kindle is convenient. It's particularly nice in these pandemic lockdown times when a jaunt to the library is something of an inconvenience. But I think the readiness with which I lose the Kindle speaks to the fact that it is an inferior way to transmit stories. In this hyper digital age, I believe we need to make certain we are embracing the concrete, the real, the particular and rejecting the abstract.

But I'll reiterate, there is still quite a bit I like about the Kindle. In fact, I'm reading a great book on mine now. I think I'll get back to it . . . as soon as I can find the damn Kindle. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Good-bye to All That

 Well, friends and neighbors. I did it. I deleted my social media accounts.

Back in the day, I held out joining Facebook longer than most people in my peer group, but shortly after starting this blog and shortly before moving to North Carolina some years ago, I caved. I didn't join Twitter until a few years back, long after most people had jumped on that bandwagon, and though at the height of my usage, I was on Facebook quite regularly (certainly for close to an hour a day, probably a great deal more), I never took to the firehose that is Twitter.

Something like three years ago, I had my wife change my Facebook and Twitter passwords and keep them a secret. It effectively killed Twitter for me. I didn't log back in until yesterday when I had her type the password in so I could delete my account. Facebook I'd have her log me into occasionally to see if I missed anything. Spoiler: I never did. Soon the time between logins was stretching out. What was a once weekly check became once monthly became once every two months or so. Buoyed by deleting my Twitter account, I had her log me into Facebook today. I had the intention of either temporarily deactivating my account and/or doing some serious housekeeping with regard to whom I was friends with and followed. The latter seemed like too much work. The former seemed a silly half-step. So instead, I deleted my account.

This was a long time coming. I won't go into it here, but there is a serious mountain of evidence that social media is bad—bad for you, bad for others, bad for society. I'd encourage everyone to do research on the topic. It's really pretty stunning.

I'd hoped to feel relieved or triumphant about deleting my social media presence, and to an extent, I do. But honestly, those "services" are so vapid, so devoid of anything meaningful, I hardly miss them at all.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Picnic Table

I recently spent a weekend building a picnic table, easily the most ambitious building project that I've undertaken to date. To the handier readers of Tyrannosaurus Ranch, this may seem no great feat, but it was something of an undertaking for me and I'm glad to have done it.

I was prompted to build the picnic table by several things. The first was an article that came out some few years ago discussing how millennials, that much maligned generation of which I am on the razor's edge, are not nearly so capable when it comes to DYI home repair, auto maintenance, etc. as were are forebears. Much of the response from the millennial crowd was to point out that perhaps our Boomer parents should have helped us hone these skills—a fair point, indeed. But to speak for myself, I couldn't help but feel that the criticism was a fair one and that the younger generations' inability or unwillingness to take on manual labor tasks was a loss to us.

But, as I said, that was some time ago that the article came out. I didn't exactly run right out and sign up for a woodworking course. But since reading that, the idea has been bopping around in my head that it might be worthwhile to become handier. Reading Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America recently brought the idea back to the forefront of my mind, because though it is about agriculture, Berry's notion that we lose something important when we only strive for convenience, leisure, and efficiency in our lives resonated.

Finally, one of my new year's resolutions for 2021 was to stay offline as much as I possibly could. I got off to a rough start and had to recommit on February 1, but since that time (a whopping 12 days as of this writing), I've done a pretty good job of disengaging with the online world. I hope to perhaps discuss the why and wherefore — and also the effects — of this decision, but for now, I think it is sufficient to say that when you aren't screwing around on the internet all day, you have a lot more time to get things done — things like building a picnic table.

From idea to execution (I won't say "completion" as I still need to stain the thing — waiting on the wood to dry out some) I think the picnic table took less than a week. Like most projects, it took twice as long and cost twice as much as I'd hoped, but I was able to get from start to finish on the build only going to the hardware store three times — far fewer than I'd feared.

Though there were one or two dark moments, especially relating to getting the damn thing level, it was overall relatively easy, though somewhat physically demanding — I was sore for days — but ultimately satisfying. Certainly time better spent than scrolling through social media.

You know, at the beginning of this pandemic thing in which we are all still, as of this writing, embroiled, it seemed that people might use this time to slow down, to relearn some of the skills we'd lost to the speed and convenience of modern life. I hope I'm wrong, but it seems to me that that ethos has somewhat dissipated, and I fear that we will come out of this ever-more plugged into the online world, isolated from reality. I hope not. But resisting the pull of the smartphone/laptop/iPad screen will take concerted effort. For my part, I'm trying to avoid all nonessential internet (I work remotely so turning it off altogether is impractical—and yes, I see the irony of posting this on a blog), write more, and take on more building projects.

Only problem is, I only know how to make picnic tables.

Hitching the Brain to the Writing Arm

Note: This post was written toward the beginning of the year. I'm only just now getting around to posting it. 

It's that time of year when we all start making New Year's Resolutions — of course, some resolve not to make resolutions, but that's another story. These resolutions usually take the form of action items for improving an area of our lives where we feel lacking. Well, dear readers, let me tell you, I've certainly been lacking in the writing department these past several months — maybe longer, if I'm honest. In thinking over how I might increase my writing productivity this year, I was reminded of something Dorthea Brande says in her excellent book on becoming a writer, Becoming a Writer. Brande talks about freewriting and "hitching the brain to the writing arm." 

Now, freewriting is an area of my writing life where I actually do a halfway decent job. I'd say I do some freewriting, either by hand or typing, more days than not. Freewriting certainly has its benefits. Lately, I've been doing it by hand so as to get back into the habit of writing in cursive (and improving my penmanship). I've used it to certainly "brain dump" all the things I needed or wanted to get done in a day or over the course of the week; to work through long-term goals; and as a sort of gratitude journal. (I gave up the gratitude journal aspect because it was getting so repetitive. Certainly I have much to be grateful for, but my daily routine is somewhat set and I found myself looking around the room and naming things like Steve Carrell's character in Anchorman: I'm grateful for lamp. I love lamp.) 

Brande's idea for freewriting was to "hitch your brain to your writing arm." In other words, to get used to thinking in the written form. Now, to be honest, I don't know that freewriting has ever had that effect on me. Maybe. But my freewriting seems to be more or less just a running transcription of my thoughts, with little sense of structure. I suppose there is some benefit to that else I wouldn't have kept it up as long as I have. But save maybe when I've been brainstorming on a particular story idea, I don't feel like the freewriting has made me a better writer or made the writing of fiction come more easily. That said, it does seem to me that the people I know for whom writing comes most easily are people who write a lot. And while those folks, for all I know, might be writing endless reams of stream-of-consciousness freewriting, they are also writing prose that is of a more finished quality: books and stories, yes, but also blog posts, book reviews, well thought-out social media posts, Twitter threads in the several hundred word category, etc. I . . . don't do much of that. 

But maybe it's time to start. I think I'll keep up the freewriting (if nothing else, it's a good way to practice penmanship), but I think I'll also try to "hitch my brain to my writing arm" in other ways as well, by posting here, for instance. By writing emails and/or letters to friends, etc. Will that have a salutary effect on my fiction writing? I suppose only time will tell.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

2020 Books and Movies

 At the beginning of twenty-twenty, I made a goal for myself to watch fifty (50) movies and read fifty (50) books. I guess it was something of a New Year's resolution. Well, 2020 is in the books, and though I fell short on the movies, watching only thirty-eight (38), I went over on books, reading a total of sixty-two (62). Presented, in the order in which they were read/watched, is what I watched and read last year.


For the purposes of this exercise, I counted anything that was or would have been, had it not been in ebook or audiobook format, "between two covers." (I counted two Beverly Cleary novels that I read aloud to my oldest son, but did not count the numerous picture books as that felt like cheating.) Most were novels, though a few short story collections and maybe even some nonfiction snuck in there. I only counted a book if I read it in its entireity.

1. Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

2. Trajectory by Richard Russo

3. Hamburger America by George Motz

4. Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

5. The Sportwsriter by Richard Ford

6. Norwood by Charles Portis

7. Wild at Heart by Barry Gifford

8. Fender Lizards by Joe R. Lansdale

9. The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

10. Running in the Dark by Scott Reaves

11. A Simple Plan by Scott B. Smith

12. Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson

13. Washed in the Blood by Shelton Williams

14. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

15. True Grit by Charles Portis

16. Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

17. The Dog of the South by Charles Portis

18. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

19. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

20. Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins

21. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins

22. The Last Taxi Driver by Lee Durkee

23. If it Bleeds by Stephen King

24. Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview by Sam Weller

25. The Brass Cupcake by John D. MacDonald

26. Dead Low Tide by John D. MacDonald

27. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

28. Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis

29. Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

30. Dead Girl Blues by Lawrence Block

31. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

32. End of the Tiger by John D. MacDonald

33. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

34. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

35. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

36. The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

37. The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor

38. Burnt Orange for the Shroud by John D. MacDonald

39. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

40. Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton

41. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

42. Gringos by Charles Portis

43. Post Office by Charles Bukowski

44. I Married a Communist by Philip Roth

45. Escape Velocity by Charles Portis

46. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

47. Broadcast Hysteria by A. Brad Schwartz

48. The Auctioneer by Joan Samson

49. Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary

50. Mohawk by Richard Russo

51. Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary

52. One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson

53. Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout

54. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

55. Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

56. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout

57. I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

58. The Founder Effect edited by Robert E. Hampson and Sandra L. Medlock

59. The Last Seance by Agatha Christie

60. The Barracks Theif by Tobias Wolff

61. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

62. Agent of the Imperium by Marc Miller

Looking back over the list, I see that only three books were listened to as audiobooks (Broadcast Hysteria and the two Rex Stout Nero Wolff novels). There was a time when I "read" a great deal in audiobook format, as I had to commute to and from work or school, but now that that's no longer the case, I really only have time to listen to audiobooks when I'm on a long walk—and in fact, as our second son has gotten older and less willing to chill in the stroller while I walk, even that time has been cut drastically.

Another change in format is that the majority of the books above were read in ebook format. I didn't keep track of this, but best as I can remember, forty-two of the sixty-two books I read this year were read as ebooks. I'd like to change that this year, with the goal being to read at least half of the books in physical, paper format. We'll see. There's no doubt that, for me, the reading experience is much better with a paper book, but ebooks are extremely convenient.

Top authors this year are below, with number of titles next to his name:

Charles Portis: 6

John D. MacDonald: 4

Richard Russo: 3

Ray Bradbury: 2

James M. Cain: 2

Beverly Cleary: 2

Laura Lippman: 2

Flannery O'Connor: 2

Tom Robbins: 2

Rex Stout: 2

All other authors wrote only one book each on the list.


Feature length films that I watched from beginning to end.

1. Saludos Amigos

2. The Shallows

3. The Searchers

4. Serenity

5. Waitress

6. The Call of the Wild

7. The Sign of Zorro

8. The Vast of Night

9. The Valley of Gwangi

10. Harper

11. Knives Out

12. The Killing

13. The Grifters

14. Old Yeller

15. The Incredible Journey

16. It's a Wonderful Life

17. You Can't Take it with You

18. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

19. Dave

20. Platinum Blonde

21. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

22. It Happened One Night

23. Meet John Doe

24. His Girl Friday

25. The Jungle Book

26. The Front Page

27. Bringing up Baby

28. The Story of Perri

29. The Lighthouse

30. The Philadelpia Story

31. Davy Crockett and the River Pirates

32. Fun and Fancy Free

33. A Christmas Story

34. The Awful Truth

35. The Bishop's Wife

36. The Shop Around the Corner

37. It Happened on Fifth Avenue

38. Christmas in Connecticut

As you can see, a fair number of Disney films are on the list, which we watched as family movie nights. There would have been even more, except often I'd sneak off in the middle of one of them to do some chores around the house that needed to be done and so missed enough of the film that I didn't feel right counting. it. 

Miranda and I went on a screwball comedy (or screwball comedy-adjacent) run, which was a lot of fun. As a result, there's more than a few Cary Grant movies on the list above. We also hit the highlights of Frank Capra's career, which helps account for the Jimmy Stewart quotient.