I cannot live without books. – Thomas Jefferson
I love books.
I love to read.
I learned to read at an early age. I don’t remember when I started to read, but my mom used to tell me (and anyone else, for that matter) that Tata, my maternal grandmother, taught me to read before I was even two. (Allegedly, Tata used ABC blocks to teach me – natch – the alphabet, then instead of using “See Dick. See Jane. See Spot” books, she had me reading newspapers and magazines that were lying around the house.) Of course, I can neither confirm nor deny this, but that was Mom’s version of history.
What I do remember is that when I was a kid in Bogota, I read everything that I could get my hands on, including issues of the Colombian edition of Selecciones del Reader’s Digest, my mother’s Vanidades (some issues of that women’s magazine had ads – or articles? – that featured tasteful nudity, which is how I discovered how gorgeous women look without clothes), and any book about World War II that I could get my hands on.
Yes, I also read books like Pinocchio and books about science and space that were geared toward kids, but I tended to read above my grade level (at least in Spanish) during my five years attending Colegio El Nogal in Bogota. I don’t think I understood everything I consumed right away, and I’m sure that skipped parts that were boring to my younger self – a habit that persisted even after I learned English and started reading exclusively in English. My point here is that I could read books like A Bridge Too Far (1974), Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan (1975), or Jaws (1974) at an age when most of my friends either read the Hardy Boys Mysteries or, often, nothing at all.
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Once upon a time, I used to read one book at a time; I might have started reading multiple books when Mom got me my first Dade County Public Library (at the now-closed Concord Branch) when I was 11 years old (the same year when A Bridge Too Far was published), or when I checked out books from the school library at Tropical Elementary starting in the third grade. Now, I read like my mom used to read when she was my current age; rotating books from a particular batch of books – you know, the famous “To Be Read” or “TBR” stack.
The difference between the way my mom used to read and how I read now is striking and reflective of our situation. For instance, Mom liked to read from her TBR stack – which usually consisted of two or three books that she switched to and from depending on how much she liked the authors, the stories, or the writing style.
She also had a set time: after 12: 30 PM, which was when she would finish whatever chores she had self-assigned herself to do around the house and go upstairs to the master bedroom. She would get into her bed, grab a book, and read until she got drowsy, then nap between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. When she was the age that I am now – I was in my 20s and 30s then, and I’m going to be 60 in March 2023 – she would only sleep for an hour (usually between 2 and 3 in the afternoon) and then get back to cooking dinner, doing the garden (especially in the front yard), or dusting the furniture.
In her later, pre-2010 years, she read less (her eyes would get tired and by 2008 or 2009 she had a tough time reading the small print in mass paperbacks, so I bought her a Kindle so she could still enjoy a pastime that was a lifelong passion of hers until her final illness struck. She read every day still, but for shorter periods during her rest time, and slept more.
I, on the other hand, spend most of my time in front of a computer and even though I have a literal TBR stack on my dresser, I no longer have a set time for reading, nor do I have a reading niche in the house in Lithia like I had in my Miami-area townhouse. The Caregiver is a fine interior designer, and the house has two comfortable couches where I could, in theory, park my butt and read for an hour or two. The lighting in the living room, though, sucks; the Florida room is airier and brighter, but it’s also more public.
My room is okay for reading in bite-sized chunks, but a futon is neither bed nor couch, and it’s just not comfortable enough for me to read more than one chapter or two of any books in one sitting.
I have the time, of course; the Caregiver’s house is too big for me to have a designated “help-around-the-house” task like the ones I did when I lived with Mom, so I don’t have “chores.”
I also don’t have, for various reasons, a social or even a sex life here, so it’s not like I’m constantly going out with friends or sleeping with a girlfriend or “friend with benefits” I have the time, but since I write every day, then spend the balance of the day hanging out online just to have some sense of connection to other people, I usually do not carve time during the day to seriously devote time to reading a book the way I used to.
I still buy at least one book a month, though, and I still read several times a day, although my reading sessions can be measured in minutes rather than hours.
Currently, on My TBR List….
As I said in the previous paragraph, even though I read books at such a slow pace that an ambitious snail will finish a book like Fire & Steel: The End of World War Two in the West well before I do, I still buy, on average, one or two books a month. Sometimes, if I see second-hand books on Amazon that I need as replacements for badly dog-eared paperbacks I’ve owned since the 1970s and 1980s, I’ll get one or two if they’re not too expensive.
Last month, for instance, I bought used-but-in-good-condition hardcovers of General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War duology from 1978 and 1982. I re-read enough of them to write reviews, and since I read them many times when I was in high school and college, I don’t need to go through them cover-to-cover any time soon. I did need them because the paperbacks are not exactly in mint condition, and I will read them in their entirety at some point, but they’re not currently in, shall we say, the current lineup.
I also bought two books about September 11 and its aftermath recently; Garrett M. Graf’s The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 and Peter Bergen’s Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad.
Since those are the new “adds” to the rotation, I have been reading them in dribs and drabs; the one I have made the most progress with – because of its format – is Graf’s The Only Plane in the Sky. I have not read it “cover to cover,” but I digested enough of the book to write a review.
And even though I’ve read bits of Manhunt whenever I can, I’ve read half of Berger’s account of how the U.S. tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, an event now 11 years and five months in the rear mirror of time. It’s not a particularly voluminous book, and its basic “plot” is the same as Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, so of all the books on my TBR list, this one’s the one that I’ll likely finish first.
As for my other books on the stack:
I’m still at the same place I was with the works I was reading in July; I have not made much progress with those because depression, ennui, and my attempts to stave them off by gaming way more than I ought to have bogged my efforts to read all the books on my TBR list. So my status with those titles is:
- One-third of Who Can Hold the Sea: The U.S. Navy in the Cold War, 1945-1960, by James D. Hornfischer
- One-fourth of Fire & Steel: The End of World War Two in the West, by Peter Caddick-Adams
- One-third of The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle: Stories and Tips from Thirteen Years with a Leonberger, by Thomas Wikman
- Two chapters of Star Wars: Brotherhood, by Mike Chen
In Other News
Despite my current…unhappiness, let’s say…I have been thinking about a new screenplay and I pitched the concept to my usual partner-in-crime, Juan Carlos Hernandez. I’m not going to say much about it here yet; I don’t want to jinx this script by giving too much information about it out, and I also don’t want to raise hopes or expectations about a new project, then let folks down when I don’t produce a new script.
I am happy that I have been able to give some thought to a new – and less complicated – script, and I am hopeful that I can start on the first rough draft shortly. I can’t say when I will boot up Movie Magic Screenwriter 6, which is the screenplay-specific software I use when I do write scripts, but I am hoping it will be sooner rather than later. The idea I came up with is doable, and it should be easier to do than the more politically/socially themed script I started to write last year but abandoned because the well of ideas ran dry, and – of course – my environment here is not exactly helpful to a creative individual like Yours Truly.
Aside from that, I don’t have much else to report. Life here can be summarized by the military expression Sierra Squared, Delta Squared, which means “same shit, different day” – (SS,DD). I do what I can to find joy whenever I can, of course, which is why I sometimes buy a new Star Wars collectible or play computer games, since I don’t have anyone to talk to or hang out with, either platonically or “otherwise.”
On that note, I will sign off here; it’s late afternoon and I need to take a shower and change into clean street clothes, at least for a few hours anyway. So, until next time, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the other side of things.
 To this day, that is the gift from me to my mother that I am most proud of; you have no idea how much she loved her second-generation Kindle, which she used -sadly – for only a short time before her dementia kicked in sometime in mid-2010. In fact, her forgetting how to use the Kindle was my first clue that something was wrong with Mom’s cognitive abilities. Kindles are ridiculously simple to use, and before Mom got sick in early 2010 she had already read seven or eight books on it, so it wasn’t that it was “too hard for her to use.” She knew how to turn it on, select her books, and turn pages on the e-reader before her back surgery in late Spring of 2010; when she began her recuperation at home in June of that year, she started having trouble turning it on, and then she forgot how to turn pages. Eventually, she stopped using her Kindle, a gadget that I still have in storage.
 I suppose that’s why I lose myself playing games such as Regiments and adult-themed Acting Lessons, even though doing that too often takes time out from other things I ought to be doing. Keep in mind that less than three years ago, my personal life was a bit happier, and I went out to eat at restaurants or to the occasional movie. Now, I don’t do that.
7 thoughts on “On Books & Reading, or: Reading Habits, the TBR Stack Got Bigger, and a Quick Life Update”
Thank you Alex for once again featuring my book. It is very kind of you.
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My pleasure, Thomas.
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Like you, I’m a snails-pace reader who can’t stop buying books. The TBR list just keeps growing! Good luck with the new screenplay. 🙂
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My younger self would be saying, “Hey, man. Remember when you read Gerald Green’s Holocaust novelization over ONE weekend? What HAPPENED?”
Thanks for the good wishes re the screenplay. If you want to see my best one, head over to YouTube and check out “Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss.”
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My “TBR” pile is basically almost every book I own (minus cookbooks of course) plus any book I happen to have checked out from the library. Right now, that probably about 300 books, lol.
I don’t tend to re-read many books, so I give them away when I’m finished with them, so they can be enjoyed by others. There’s only one book I’ve ever owned that I decided was not good enough to be given to someone else, and it was something by Bret Easton Ellis; I know that some have really liked his work, but I thought it was utter garbage, so I threw that one out in the trash.
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I am like my maternal grandfather and mom: I keep and re-read most of my books. I still have books that I bought with my hard-earned allowance or were given to me as birthday gifts by family members, ex-girlfriends, or my circle of friends.
In the case of one book that I lost when I was 11 years old (“Greek Myths”)…the memory of how much I loved that book when I was a young boy and how mad at myself Iwas for taking it to school and leaving it there bugged me so much that I replaced it with a reprinted version four years ago.
It helps, of course, that I have not had to move a lot,
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