Reading Diary: January to April 2021

The blogging holiday continues!

…but I do miss having a running record of the books I’m reading. Forcing myself to write a little about each book seems to clarify personal relevance for me — so I’m throwing together a quick list.

In no particular order:

1. Bleak House – Charles Dickens 

A substantial read this one. Some consider it Dickens’ masterpiece. For me, thoroughly unforgettable — THE best cast of characters I’ve read. There’s a reason people still read Dickens nearly 300 years later, the books are absolutely brilliant! Give yourself 50 pages to acclimate to the style of writing and then enjoy the ride.

Five Stars

2. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

From Bleak House, it was straight onto Oliver Twist. A better known story with a lighter touch. Great characters again with more lively action…’Please sir, I want some more…’

Four Stars

3. Endurance – Alfred Lansing 

Written in 59, Lansing’s superb account of Shackleton’s Antarctic odyssey, fell out of print soon after publishing. The space race captured the public’s imagination in the 60s and terrestrial tales lost their lustre. The book was resurrected years later to become a best seller (lansing himself did not live to see the book’s success)

Literally couldn’t put this one down after the first 100 pages or so. An incredible testament to human resilience under the most extreme conditions imaginable. Inspirational.

Five stars

4. How to fail at almost everything and still win big – Scott Adams

An unconventional guide to life and decision making from the creator of Dilbert. Adams  doesn’t always play with a full deck (he was a vocal Trump supporter) but his perspective and principles are worth reading. Lots of value (and humour) here. 

3.5 Stars

5. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned while editing my life – Donald Miller

A thoughtful enquiry into what it means to live a life of meaning and purpose. Miller frames life as a story and considers the ways our stories can be improved. Made quite an impact on me. Miller is religious but thankfully doesn’t lay it on too thick here.

Four Stars

6. An Irrational Ape: Why Flawed Logic Puts us all at Risk and How Critical Thinking Can Save the World – David Grimes

Another investigation into thinking biases, heuristics and mental models. Slightly heavy in parts but well chosen anecdotes and examples lead the reader through the thinking errors to which we are all prone. This is a fairly new book so many of the case studies are particularly relevant right now. 

Four Stars

7. South of the Border, West of the Sun — Haruki Murakami

One of the remaining Murakami titles that I hadn’t read. Tells the story of man’s life focusing in on relationships, destiny and the decisions that make (or break) a life. Many of Murakami’s trademark touches are here but not up there with his best. 

Three Stars

8. Sound Man — Glyn Johns

Glyn Johns is the legendary engineer / producer whose canon of work defined the 60s and 70s. He had a hand in many of my all-time favourite albums. Sound Man is a collection of stories and anecdotes written by the man himself. Johns isn’t going to win any literary awards here, but for fans of the Stones, Beatles, Faces, The Band, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin etc etc this is good stuff. 

Three Stars

9. Never Split the Difference – Chris Voss

Chris Voss takes the reader through a series of the negotiation tactics and strategies developed by the FBI. This is a practical handbook to negotiation that reveals much about the predictably irrational way we process information and make decisions. Lots to ponder here. Perfect complement to Caldini’s more academic ‘Persuasion’.

Four Stars

That’s it for now kids, best read so far? Endurance!

It has catapulted me into a fascination of polar exploration. I’m now listening to Edward Fox narrate Captain Scott’s diary on Scribd and about to begin ‘Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Kurlak’….

Onward… to the North!

Archilochus on New Year’s Resolutions

As you set your resolutions today you might consider some words from the first Greek Poet, Archilochus. He advised that we don’t rise to the level of our expectations but instead fall to the level of our training. So goals that are not built on habits and systems will quickly be overlooked — as so many well-intentioned resolutions are. Focus on habits first then, and aim small!

Happy New Year everybody!

Archilochus quote: We don't rise to the level of our ...

My Tele-Style Guitar Shootout

Shooting decent video of a single guitar recording is tough enough for the likes of me…recording four guitars and then cutting/aligning/level-matching the footage is pushing it. But I really wanted to compare the tele-style guitars I have at the moment, and the finished product came out well enough to share.

You’ll hear that the differences between these guitars are not subtle. Each has a sound that is quite distinctive.

So, which came out on top? Cast your vote below!

All Streaks Must Come To An End…

Seth Godin was right. The first 1,000 posts are the most difficult.

Over the past 2+ years, I’ve managed to cobble together a decent streak —and it’s been a genuine pleasure. Now though I’m looking to repurpose much of my blogging time towards new skills in music, video creation and education. I’ll still post regularly but the daily posts will end here. Streaks are massively powerful…but alas, not always compatible with new challenges.

So that’s that for now. 838…not quite the 1,000 I was shooting for, but a shapely number all the same!

An Early Christmas Present…

Beatles fans rejoice! Peter Jackson, who increasingly resembles Santa, has given us all an early Christmas present in the form of some previously unreleased footage from the Get Back sessions. Not a trailer he explains but just quick look into the spirit of the sessions — which at a glance doesn’t look much at all like what we imagined them to be.

The film, when it eventually gets released, might just be the musical event of the decade….

Mouth-watering stuff!

Book 50: The Art of X-Ray Reading – Roy Peter Clark

X-ray reading is Roy Peter Clark’s term to describe the close reading and study of a text. In this title he explores excerpts from 25 famous texts and shares his analysis. Early on he makes his case for x-ray reading:

Literature, real literature, must not be gulped down like some potion which may be good for the heart or good for the brain—the brain, that stomach of the soul. Literature must be taken and broken to bits, pulled apart, squashed—then its lovely reek will be smelt in the hollow of the palm, it will be munched and rolled upon the tongue with relish; then, and only then, its rare flavor will be appreciated at its true worth and the broken and crushed parts will again come together in your mind and disclose the beauty of a unity to which you have contributed something of your own blood.

The Art of X-ray Reading – Roy Peter Clark

I initially had the idea of reading each cited novel before beginning each chapter. This seemed liked the best way to get the most out the book. My plan started well, reading the first book, The Great Gatsby, before starting chapter one. Like many good plans this idea was soon abandoned. The reality of reading each of the book mentioned was a little overambitious and in the end the supplied excerpts were sufficient to follow Clark’s thinking.

For students of writing there’s a whole lot here, including clear point by point lessons ending the discussion and analysis of each chapter. For those with literary aspirations, this title could be something a practical workbook. There is an academic leaning here of course, but despite that, the text isn’t dry and Clark does a fairly good job in making these entries accessible to the casual reader. On a few occasions the details began to overwhelm but on balance these studies were interesting and well put together.

Generally, I found the idea of x-ray reading to be an interesting one. In these days of haste, this book invites us to explore the dimensions of the literature we love — to pause— and to reflect on the beauty of language that lies just below the surface.

Clark ends with the 12 steps that will get you started with X-ray reading:


1. Begin with your routine habits, reading for information or the experience of story.

2. Look for passages that make you stop, not because they are bad but because they are so good that you want to enjoy and appreciate them.

3. Read these “showstopper” passages again, this time more slowly.

4. Look for the part of the passage you like best: it could be a paragraph, a sentence, a metaphor, even a word.

5. Read that part again, this time aloud. If there is another person in the room, read it aloud to that person.

6. If the passage comes from a book or magazine, mark it with a pencil, then write some words or phrases in the margins that describe what interests you.

7. Ask yourself, out loud if it helps, “How did the writer do this?”

8. Put on your metaphorical X-ray glasses and see if you can answer that question.

9. If you are having trouble coming up with an answer, share the passage with friends, colleagues, teachers.

10. Duplicate the passage—you may even want to copy it by hand to get a feel for it—and save it in a journal or file.

11. Put the passage away and begin your own writing. You don’t need to imitate the model text. It’s better if the influence is indirect.

12. If you discover a technique or strategy not mentioned in this book, add it to your copy of The Art of X-ray Reading.


The ‘Great Conjunction’: Coming a Sky Near you…

When two planets come close together astronomers call it a ‘conjunction’. This Christmas, gas giants Jupiter and Saturn will be coming closer than they have been in 400 years and the closest we have seen them since 1226.

Around the 21st, the two planets will appear so close that they will appear as one — depending on where you live. Of course they will be still 100s of millions of miles apart but it’s all about perspective!

Here’s a picture from from half an hour ago…bit early to see anything but a nice sunset all the same:

Look to West on the 21st for a once in a life-time experience!

Star chart with Jupiter, Saturn, positions of very thin crescent moon December 15, 16, 17 and 18.

The Magic of Avocado

My best friend and I decided long ago that a meal without an avocado is not a meal, but a collection of food. The old saying: ‘An avocado a day, keeps the doctor away’ has always been a guiding principle for me so imagine my delight when reading this research today out of the University of Illinois.

Science is only beginning to understand the complicated way our microbiome affects our health, but it’s certain that the gut microbiota is intimately tied to not only digestion but immune response and wellness. In this study avocados were seen to improve gut flora noticeably— presumably because of their high fat and fibre content. So… get eating!

Moon Rocks Touchdown

China’s Chang’e 5 probe landed safely in Inner Mongolia in the early hours of this morning, bringing moon rock to Earth for the first time since 1976. Two kilograms of the rocks were delivered in the probe.

Brad Jolliff, director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis was one of many celebrating the Chinese achievement:

“These samples will be a treasure trove!” Jolliff wrote. “My hat is off to our Chinese colleagues for pulling off a very difficult mission; the science that will flow from analysis of the returned samples will be a legacy that will last for many, many years, and hopefully will involve the international community of scientists.

Time Magazine online

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, recovery crew members film the capsule of the Chang'e 5 probe after its successful landed in Siziwang district, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.
Kind of fitting that Inner Mongolia looks a bit like the moon this time of year…