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Books of 2018

I often get asked what I’m reading. So, I thought I’d write down my list of books that I read in 2018 and ask you what you’ve been reading.

This year, I really dove into Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror more than usual. There was also a quite a few classics, contemporary fiction, and some non-fiction. My favorites were To Kill a Mockingbird, Lincoln in the Bardo, Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, The Sellout, and Fortune Smiles.

Below are the books I read in order (and includes Amazon links). Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought of them.

And if you have any recommendations for me to read next year, shout them out.

Daughter of My People by James Kilgo

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark

The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Modern Library Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch

On Writing by Stephen King

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Night by Elie Wiesel

Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Carrie by Stephen King

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C Foster

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

A Game of Thrones (Book One) by George R. R. Martin

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

World War Z by Max Brooks

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Fortune Smiles (Stories) by Adam Johnson

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

The Black Knight Chronicles by John G. Hartness

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin (currently reading)

This post was inspired by Jerry Dale, keyboardist for The Mavericks. Every year about this time, he posts the list of books he’s read throughout the year. I always enjoy going over his list to see if I’ve read any of the same books. I also usually add a few of his books to next year’s reading list. By the way, if you haven’t seen The Mavericks live, you’re really missing out.

 

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New York City Weekend

New York City

February 2018

My first trip to New York City was on December 31st, 1998.  After spending the Christmas holidays in New Jersey, I took a train with my future ex-wife – things were still somewhat rosy at that time – to Penn Station in Manhattan.  I took my first NYC cab ride to a friend’s very small apartment in the Upper East Side.  We were only able to spend a few hours in the city since we had a flight back to Jacksonville the next morning.  I remember walking around Times Square in the afternoon as crowds began to gather early for the legendary party of all New Year’s Eve parties that was to take place that night.

Later that evening, after spending time in the cramped one-bedroom apartment with a festive gathering of twenty or so friends of friends, the claustrophobia that frequently floods my nervous system began rushing in.  Noticing the tell-tell signs, my wife and I stepped outside for some city air.  I remember looking at my watch.  It was 11:30 PM.  How long would it take us to walk down to Times Square for the ball drop – 30 minutes?  I figured that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a small-town South Carolina kid, so we set off down the cavernous streets until we could walk no further.  We were at least six blocks away from Times Square when the human sea stopped our progress.  I could see the laser lights in the distance and before I could check my watch again, the chant of 5-4-3-2-1 told us it was now the opening seconds of 1999.

            People were hugging strangers and singing Auld Lang Syne.  The crowd surged to the rhythmic thump of music. A fight broke out between two guys with girls perched on their shoulders. As we pushed through the crowd toward a side street trying to reclaim our personal space, a yellow cab pulled up and discharged five tardy, tipsy revelers.  As soon as the last girl stumbled out of the backseat wobbling on high heels, we quickly dove into the cab and gave the driver the address to our temporary home where we slept on the kitchen floor. Ah, youth.

A couple of years later, I found myself back in the City for a couple of days after attending a conference in Connecticut.  It was September 2002, and the City and I both had large holes that were in need of repair.  One hole was caused by a divorce (although amicable), the other by a senseless terror attack that, at least for a while, turned us all into New Yorkers. I visited what was then referred to as “Ground Zero,” staring at the huge construction site through a cyclone fence that still had dead flowers laced through the galvanized links.

I’m happy to say that after fifteen years, both holes have been filled in glorious fashion.

Last month, Karen and I flew from Atlanta to LaGuardia airport on a Friday morning. We’ve both found that cabin fever sets in for us around February. We arrived late morning and caught a cab to Times Square. After checking into the Hilton Garden Inn on 8th Avenue and 49th Street, we walked a block or so to the Playwright, an Irish pub, and had lunch.

This was Karen’s first visit to Gotham (and my first in 15 years), so we braved the cold, misty rain and took a long walk along Broadway, 5th Avenue, and 42nd Street. This gave us a good opportunity to see the Times Square neighborhood, Broadway, the New York Library, Grand Central Station, Nat Sherman’s tobacco shop, Radio City Music Hall. After a rest, we walked back down to 42nd Street and had dinner at The View, a revolving rooftop restaurant that gave us great, though cloudy, views of the city. After dinner, we went to the Music Box Theater where we saw the multiple award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hanson.

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Time Square

I’ll have to say that I’ve spent 40 plus years saying that I’m not very fond of musicals, but if you get the chance to see one on Broadway, you’ll come away with an appreciation.

On Saturday, we got a reprieve from the wet weather and spent the morning exploring more of the city. We took the subway down to Battery Park where we could view the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We then walked up to Wall Street where we saw the New York Stock Exchange and the old Custom House. We then walked up to see the new Freedom Tower and the World Trade Center area. This is a monument to perseverance more than defiance. Walking over the remains of thousands and looking up to see the new gleaming tower, the World Trade Center neighborhood gives you the sense that we are all part of something bigger than national pride or religious fervor.  You feel like you are a part of a worldwide community.

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Freedom Tower

We then walked up through Tribeca and SoHo and ate pizza in NoLita (North of Little Italy) at Lombardi’s. After lunch, we took a taxi back to the hotel where we freshened up. We then walked down to the Shubert Theater where we saw Bernadette Peters star in the amazing Hello, Dolly. After the show, we went to another Irish pub for a couple of drinks.  I’m convinced that in every city, whether it’s in Brazil, Continental Europe, South Africa, or South Carolina, you will find an Irish pub.  In NYC, there seems to be one on every block.

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We then walked over to Patsy’s where we had a terrific Italian dinner. Frequented by both celebrities and tourists, Patsy’s may not be the hole-in-the-wall local joint that we typically look for, but it is certainly worth a visit if you want some authentic New York/Italian cuisine. Also, don’t be surprised if the white-clad chef and owner, Sal Scognamillo, pays you a visit a time or two during your meal.  After seeing him interact with several other tables, we were convinced that this was where all the locals dine.  But when he came to our table, we realized that he just treats everyone as a close friend.

After all of the changes over the years, the City was still familiar to me.  Change can be painful but it can also give you more strength than you ever thought you could have. Things will continue to change; I just hope it’s less dramatic the next time I visit.

Karen was thrilled with NYC, and I’m sure we’ll be back soon to see Central Park, the Yankees and Mets, the Metropolitan Museum, and countless other sites. This quick trip was the perfect remedy for the wintertime blues.

Key spots to visit – too many to list. Seriously, it’s NYC. We enjoyed dinner at Patsy’s on 56th Street, the Times Square Diner for breakfast, Lombardi’s pizzeria at the corner of Spring and Mott, Battery Park, the Freedom Tower, Grand Central Station, the New York Library, and the Theater District/Broadway.

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On Baseball

Suwanee, Georgia

December 30, 2017

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PNC Park – home of the Pittsburgh Pirates – Summer 2017

Karen and I have several items on our travel bucket list.  One is to visit every Major League baseball stadium.  So far, we’ve been to, Pittsburg, Washington, Seattle, St. Louis, Colorado, Baltimore, both parks in Chicago, and of course Atlanta.

Karen was a casual fan when we met and has since transformed into a real fan who keeps up with her hometown Braves and even keeps score when we go to a ballgame.  For me, I’ve always been obsessed with baseball.  When I was five-years-old I remember seeing the 1977 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees, which featured Reggie “Mr. October” hitting three homeruns in the 6th game giving the series win to the Yankees.  My granddad insisted that we all pull for the Dodgers during that series because as a true southern gentleman he wouldn’t be caught dead pulling for the Yankees.  This is the same man who refused to carry $50 bills because “The Government defiled them with Ulysses S. Grant’s picture.”

As much as I love watching games, my baseball career actually ended when I was 10 years old.  During my first year of ‘fast pitch” (no batting tees or coaches pitching to the kids) Jimmy Beauchamp plunked me in the helmet with a fastball on the first pitch of the at bat.  It certainly was not Jimmy’s fault; I’ve always had a rather large head.  I remember that it didn’t hurt, but somehow, I wound up sitting on home plate and watching my mom hurdle over a four-foot-tall chain-link fence.  I tried to wave her off on my way to first base, but she insisted that I come out of the game.  She was well ahead of her time when it came to concussion protocol.  I also remember that my coach had to restrain her from charging poor Jimmy on the mound.  After that incident, I found it hard to stay in the batter’s box on inside pitches and became an easy strikeout victim.

After abandoning my early dreams of playing in the big leagues, I continued to follow my favorite teams throughout my childhood.  My teenage summers were spent working late nights stocking the shelves at the local Food Lion.  After working in the bright florescent lights, I found it difficult to go straight to sleep at home, so I would watch baseball games on the west coast.  The Los Angeles Dodgers were once again in the hunt for pennants, and I remember cheering them on during the summer of 1988.  Later that season, they would win the World Series against the Oakland Athletics which featured the iconic Kirk Gibson home run.

In my senior year of high school, I remember following the 1989 World Series which saw the Athletics face the Giants in the “Bay Bridge Series” which included a devastating earthquake and an Oakland four-game sweep both of which took the national headlines away from Hurricane Hugo, the 20th century villain of South Carolina who rivaled the 19th century villain known as Hurricane Sherman.

I was never really a Braves fan growing up, although I’d kept up with them on Ted Turner’s Superstation that broadcast the Atlanta games around the world.  In 1991, I was in a dorm room at Clemson when I saw Sid Bream slide into home clinching the National League pennant, and I got caught up in the dynasty that followed.  Although they only won one World Series in the strike shortened 1995 season, they would go on to win 14 National League pennants in a row. I moved to Atlanta in 2003, and although I watch baseball on television almost daily during the season, I make it a point to go see several games at the ballpark.

At one time, I could tell you the World Series winners for every year from 1977 to the present.  Although I’ve since forgotten most of these trivial tidbits as I’ve gotten older.  The other day I complained to my dad about how surprised I was at how my memory was not as good as it used to be.  He responded with, “Well, it only gets worse as you get older, Pete.”  I don’t even bother to correct him anymore.

Next year, Karen and I are planning an ambitious road trip that will take us into Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin where we hope to see ballgames at Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee.  We plan to hit several National Parks along the way, so stay tuned for our “Parks & Recreation Trip” in 2018.

Happy New Year,

Uncle Jon

PS: When do pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training?

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Washington Nationals Game – Summer 2017

 

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Go School Yourself

Suwanee, Georgia
July 6, 2017

I have a lot of reasons to want to become a better writer, but foremost is to become a better communicator, which I think I stink at. You can probably tell by the previous sentence that I have some work to do. Grammar and sentence structure are only a couple of my weak points when it comes to communicating. It has been a long time since I took an English class. But…that is no excuse. Classrooms and formal education are only starting points when it comes to learning.

I often hear people lament the current curricula that are offered in our school systems. Very little time spent on handwriting…will cursive writing die out? What version of new math is being taught today? Why are we not learning more about Darwin, Jesus, the Chinese language, etc.? My point is that school is only a foundation for your education. If you feel a void in the curriculum, there is nothing saying you cannot fill it with learning outside of classrooms.

Absolutely one of the best ways that I have been able to continue and broaden my education has been through travel. When I read a book about the French Revolution or the Battle of Hastings, I feel some pull to physically visit these places. And although visiting these famous settings will certainly help you learn more about them, you will get a lot more than just learning about a time or place when you travel. You suddenly find yourself outside of your known world and in a strange land. A place where you interact with people who have different backgrounds and beliefs than you. Then (and this is very significant) you begin to learn more about yourself.

Not everyone has the resources (time, money, etc.) to travel as they would like. I understand this. It took me a while before I was mentally comfortable with spending a large portion of my income on travel. I also do not suggest that you rack up debt just to take a trip. Another common apprehension is when you factor in the unknown associated with traveling to places you have never been. The risk versus reward conversation you have with yourself can lead you away from sinking your valuable time, money and effort into travel. Nevertheless, I contend that after your first well-planned trip, the risk versus reward conversation will go away, and you will quickly become more confident in your travel skills.

Your educational travel does not have to be expensive or extravagant. Travel to the neighboring town where you live. Go to the closest National Park or National Forest and take a hike. Take up camping or backpacking. Learn how to camp out of your car. But be warned, this is how I started. It can lead to a desire to travel further. The next thing you know you’re reading travel guides to India.

Karen and I do not have children which can make it easier for us to travel both in time and money. However, we quite often see families travel with children of all ages. As I mentioned above, you and your kids will learn things through traveling that they will not learn in school. I know some families who home school, and traveling is one of their many learning activities. If you are confined to traveling during the summer or spring, fall and winter breaks in the school year, then yes, you will be joined by many other families and will experience much higher travel fees. But it can still be accomplished with some planning.

For planning your first trip to Europe, I highly recommend Rick Steves’ travel guides. If you are interested in taking a budget-friendly trip to Europe, pick up a couple of his travel guides or tune in to his show on PBS. Other travel guides to use in Europe and most any other destination in the world include Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodors. Additionally, there are many more resources out there to help you get started.

Till next time…ramble on.

 

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

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Napoleon’s Necklace

Most of the stories that I post will not be in any kind of chronological order.  They will just be excerpts from my travel journals.

Paris, France

June 23, 2010

Day three of our visit to Paris.  We began the day at the Army Museum at Les Invalides located near the Eiffel Tower.  Les Invalides is an army hospital and convalescence home that is still being used today by the French military.  Louis XIV, the Sun King, began construction on the hospital in 1670, and France has kept it well stocked with wounded soldiers ever since.

Inside Les Invalides is the impressive Musée de l’Armée, where we saw an interesting exhibit on the Charles de Gaulle Call for Resistance in World War II.  After Paris fell to the Nazis in the early stages of the war, the Vichy regime was established to make peace with Germany.  Marshall Philippe Pétain, the French World War I hero of the Battle of Verdun, was named as the Prime Minister.  By contrast, Free France, the government in exile and the one recognized by the allied powers was led by General Charles de Gaulle who refused to recognize the armistice with Germany.  In 1940, while in England, de Gaulle recorded via BBC his famous speech known as the “Appeal of 18 June” which encouraged the French people to resist German occupation, launching what is now known as the French Resistance movement.

The next exhibit we saw was one of the most impressive displays of Medieval and Renaissance-era armor I have ever seen.  An entire room was reserved for the suits of armor worn by the kings of France. Elsewhere in the museum were displays of uniforms, weapons and other miscellaneous wartime paraphernalia spanning the stone age to the end of World War II.  Tombs of many of France’s military heroes, including Napoleon, can also be found here.

The section dedicated to the Napoleonic Era was a particular favorite.  Before our trip, I read several books on the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars.  It was here that we stumbled upon the famous portrait of Napoleon as Emperor.  While Karen was snapping a picture of me beside the painting, I noticed a glass display box which housed the huge necklace that Napoleon is wearing in the portrait.  I pointed to the necklace in the display case, then back to the portrait to show Karen what I had discovered.  Evidently, when I pointed at Napoleon’s neck my finger came too close to the painting and an earsplitting alarm began screaming in our ears.  Immediately four armed soldiers ran into the small room that was occupied by only Karen and me, noticed our confused looks, and escorted our red faces out of the exhibit.

 

 

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Calm before the storm.

If you are ever in Paris and have any interest in military history, please take an afternoon to visit the Musée de l’Armée.  Just keep your hands in your pockets.

Until next time…ramble on.

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Karen gets chummy with some French sailors.

 

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The Ramblings of a Traveler…

There are a couple reasons why I am choosing to write an online blog.  One is to write about my travel experiences so that I can somehow understand what it is I like about traveling and to remind my faulty memory of the things I’ve experienced and learned on these travels.  Another one is so that I can become a better writer.  Creative writing is something that I have always wanted to start doing, but for whatever reason (probably laziness), I have only now really started to write regularly.

This is not meant to be a ‘how to’ blog.  There are many different resources, some of which I will mention later, that will do a much better job at showing you how to plan an itinerary, communicate in a foreign country or use a bidet.  These entries will just be the stories of my experiences and miscellaneous ramblings and observations.  Perhaps it will inspire you to go to some of the places I have visited.  Perhaps it will give you the confidence you need to visit a place you have always wanted to see.  Perhaps it will convince you that travel stinks and that you should never leave your home town.  Either way, I hope this will be entertaining to you.  If you do not find it entertaining, please stop reading this blog and use your valuable time to do something that has meaning for you.  To be totally honest, I am writing this for me.  If you, the reader, also receive some benefit then maybe I am on to something larger than myself.  Or not.

I will often play fast and loose with the facts.  For those who know me, this will not come as a shock.  I will quite often sprinkle, or sometimes even drown, my recollections with falsehoods, exaggerations, and outright lies.  Occasionally sacrificing fact for fiction is entirely justified in my mind when my aim is to entertain.  Remember that one of the reasons I am doing this blog is to become a better (creative) writer.  I will try hard, however, not to mislead the reader intentionally.

I do not know much about online blogging.  I keep up with a few bloggers who I like to read occasionally, and I may recommend some of these from time to time.  But this will be my first venture into online blogging and will certainly be a learning experience.  I’ll probably make some mistakes like posting entries before I am finished with them, not understanding the blog platform, and a multitude of grammatical errors, misspellings and improper word use.  I will try to keep these distractions to a minimum.  And, to be honest, I have only recently started a daily journal so I am not even sure that I will have the discipline to keep this blog going regularly.

I am also not what I would call technologically savvy.  As I write this, I am having difficulty getting connected to the internet.  If you have questions regarding how to best receive blog updates, how to post comments, etc., I’ll try to help as best as I can.  If you have recommendations or suggestions that you think would help me in my blogging whether it be software related, content requests, or if you have questions, please feel free to post in the comments section.  Let’s keep it friendly, respectful, and act as if we were all sitting at my kitchen table leaning back in the chairs.

Until the next entry…ramble on.