Top Ten Tuesday: Thanksgiving

This week’s TTT has a Thanksgiving theme, and it’s a freebie so we can play around with it. I’m going full-throttle stream of thought here.

  1. I’m thankful for bookish friends who aid and abet my addiction, but more importantly, who make public their musings about the books they read. In a hurried, distracted age, I value beyond counting the company of people who can pause and reflect.
  2. I’m thankful for book publishers who are craftsman, not just McDonalds for airplane novels — who publish books with thicker, rough-cut pages, and use font printing that’s rich and makes the book a genuine art piece in its own right.
  3. I’m thankful for authors who inspire me; Isaac Asimov’s boundless curiosity and ability to write a book on anything (science, literature, religion, etymology, history, poetry — you name it) makes him a role model for a generalist like myself.
  4. Authors, continued: Wendell Berry’s deep love for the natural world and his appreciation for how we find part of our purpose in its stewardship
  5. Authors, continued: Bill Kauffman. Oh, where to begin with Kauffman? His celebration of obscure novels, obscurer words, and left-behind places; his cheerful “go to hell” attitude aimed at anyone who gets too big for their britches, his ardent love for little places and the crazy, all-too-human people within them….he’s an author I’d dearly love to hang around with in a bar listening to tell stories.
  6. Authors who take me back into time, full of horses and battle-cries and schemes and high towers to take. Bernard Cornwall is the king!
  7. Authors who provoke me thinking thinking about matters otherwise hidden to me, or help me articulate otherwise ineffable feelings; men like Jim Kunstler Neil Postman, and Anthony Esolen. I may not always agree with them (sometimes I read them just to listen, not knowing my own position enough to say aye or nay) — but they’re always interesting and appreciated.
  8. Authors whose wisdom I need, like Will Durant, C.S. Lewis, Wendell Berry (again – I love WB), who redouble my appreciation for history, literature, creation, etc.
  9. Authors who can cure what ails me, like P.G. Wodehouse. He’s never failed to lift my spirits.
  10. And finally, authors like Alain de Botton who make me realize I’m not the only one who feels the way I do sometimes. The following is from A Week at the Airport.

I explained — with the excessive exposition of a man spending a lonely week at the airport — that I was looking for the sort of books in which a genial voice expresses emotions that the reader has long felt but never before really understood; those that convey the secret, everyday things that society at large prefers to leave unsaid; those that make one feel somehow less alone and strange.

Manishankar wondered if I might like a magazine instead.”

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Selections from “A Grief Observed”

A Grief Observed was not written as a book, but was published as such from four reflective notebooks that Lewis kept while reeling from the death of his wife, Joy. The collection is raw, intimate, and personal; we find Lewis a wounded man, at times both heartbroken and angry, and self-conscious about his despair and anguish. This particular Signature edition comes with an tender introduction from David Gresham, Lewis’ stepson.

“On the rebound one passes into tears and pathos. Maudlin tears. I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it — that disgusts me. And even while I’m doing it I know it leads me to misrepresent H. herself. Give that mood its head and in a few minutes I shall have substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over.”

“One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness). One only meets each hour or moment that comes. All manner of ups and downs. Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst. One never gets the total impact of what we call ‘the thing itself’. But we call it wrongly. The thing itself is simply all these ups and downs: the rest is a name or an idea.”

“The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant — in a world ,real. Is all that work to be undone? Is what I shall still call H. to sink back horribly into being not much more than one of my old bachelor pipe dreams? Oh my dear, my dear, come back for one moment and drive that miserable phantom away. Oh God, God, why did you take such trouble to force this creature out of its shell if it is now doomed to crawl back — to be sucked back — into it?”

“Feelings, feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead.”

“All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead.”

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The Afghan Campaign

The Afghan Campaign: A Novel
© 2006 Steven Pressfield
368 pages

Afghanistan, 330 B.C. Alexander the Great, having toppled the Persian Empire and won eternal glory for himself and his men, now looks with hungry eyes to India. The way to those riches, however, must be forged through the unpredictable expanse of Afghanistan, and even veterans of Alexander’s campaigns will pause at the grim bloodshed waiting for them there. The Afghan Campaign by Steven Pressfield is easily the most visceral account of ancient warfare I’ve ever read, as we witness a young fool who joined the ranks purely to avoid shaming himself in front of his brothers, but who is baptized by blood again and again and becomes a man in full, whose soul is hardened by the violence yet full of love and devotion for his brothers in arms…and his horse. Written only a few years into the interminable American war in Afghanistan, its portayal of that land and the futility of trying to impose outside order on it, brims over with relevance fifteen years later — such is the stupidity (or cupidity) of the DC elite.

I first encountered Steven Pressfield via his excellent Gates of Fire, a story of Thermopylae, and found The Afghan Campaign to be of similar quality. Given its setting in antiquity, I’m not sure how kosher some of the historical facts are — I couldn’t tell you what history books say about the Afghan campaign — but Pressfield provides such a level of fine detail about the little things, like food and clothing, that I was wholly “in” the world he’d created. It’s a harrowing story, with such bloodshed and loss that by its end I felt tempted to read a Vietnam memoir for comparison. Two of the characters can feel themselves being changed by the war; they begin as naifs, hesitant to even strike other men, but once thrown into the the constant hell of Alexander’s campaigns, they change. Not all of their prewar selves is lost, but they become different — bonded to one another instead of dreams of their lost homes and sweethearts, accustomed to nothing but marching and killing, hardened by a hostile landscape filled with implacable enemies whose lust for liberty they cannot help but admire, even is it kills them.

This is stirring, sober reading. The cover speaks volumes. This is twice I’ve tried Pressfield and twice I’ve found his characters and story absolutely enveloping, so I will be continuing to explore his work.

The fact is clear, though no rookie other than Lucas owns the bowels to give it voice, that we have entered a crucible of the soul, of war’s horror, and that it will change us. It has changed us already. Where will it end? Who will we be then? Myself, I feel its weight nightlong inside my skull, as spectacles of slaughter re-present themselves with such ghastliness that I dare not even shut my eyes. “Part of me is dying,” says Lucas. “Something evil grows in its place. I don’t know what it is, but I fear and hate it. I fear and hate myself.”

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V-2

V-2: A Novel of World War 2
© 2020 Robert Harris
320 pages

The Wehrmacht is being pushed from western Europe, and the Waffen-SS is reeling in eastern Europe. The Luftwaffe flies no more. And yet Germany fights on, and the dreams of brilliant young men who once looked to the stars with longing are now corrupted into feeble attempts to spite the Allies by rocket-bombs. Against them, Britain has developed an experimental radar group; coupled with able use of trigonometry, the launch sites of these rockets may be exposed by math even as they hide from cameras. V-2 honors the contribution made by women like Eileen Younghusband, in a story covering the rise of the Mechelen group, pitting them against a frustrated German engineer who at every launch wishes his rockets were pushing humanity into space — not simply crashing through the roofs of Woolworths. Although not as ambitious as Harris’ other works, V-2 succeeds in its portrayal of an often-overlooked aspect of the war.

V-2 hops back and forth across the channel, putting us into the lives of an English WAAF officer, Kay Caton-Walsh, and a German engineer, Dr. Graf. Both are sympathetic sorts; Graf, despite his position in the V-2 program, finds von Braun far too happy to consort with Hitler, and is himself so unconvincing a Nazi that the SS watch him constantly. He and von Braun both were young enthusiasts for pushing humanity into space, but is even the moon a fitting reward for a man’s soul? Kay, too, has a little moral quandry; having taken up with a married wing commander, her efforts to expose the German launch sites carry double weight in proving that she didn’t just sleep her way into the experimental group, but is there through her native talent and willingness to shoulder hard work. Through them and the people they interact with, we experience the war’s deprivations, the social distress it created, and the confused loyalties.

Harris is one of my rare read-without-a-question authors, and though V-2 wasn’t nearly as ambitious and intricate as his other thrillers, I deeply enjoyed the WW2 detail, and the light it shed on the V2 program and Britain’s countermeasures against it. Historical coverage of the V2 program only appears in American history books as a curiosity, or as the prelude in books on the space race, so I was exceptionally interested in the plot here.

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Is Reality Optional?

reality

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” – F.A. Hayek

From economist and cultural critic Thomas Sowell come this amusingly-titled collection of essays,  loosely gathered under the theme of pointing out inconvenient truths. The title caught my eye because society seems to become more of an obscene cartoon, a farce on the stage,  with every passing year. The essays are  presumably drawn from columns Sowell contributed to newspapers over the years,  spanning the seventies through the nineties, on a spectrum of topics:  sex ed, crime & punishment,  race, sex,  and the virtues of map projections. The title essay opens the book, as Sowell points to various movements within the US which, however well-intentioned in their motives, are unrealistic in their aims —  and irresponsible, as their actions affect not only them, but the public interest.  Also within the collection are sketches, intended as humor, with varying results.

Sowell is first and foremost an economist; I first encountered him via Basic Economics, and he uses economic principles to inform his critiques of society and culture,  particularly the observation that there are no solutions, only trade-offs. this not only means every action taken by a government, business, or person will have negative consequences,  it means we usually have to weigh things in the balance. Do we want safety?   How much safety? How many inconveniences are we willing to endure, how much are we willing to pay?   No two households come to the same balance, and will chose different options depending on how how much risk they’re willing to court, and how much money they’re willing to pay. The balancing act can be applied to anything, and it often appears in the essays — applied in his evaluation of a environmental movement, and its  useless denunciation of both fossil fuels and the only meaningful alternative, nuclear energy. (Solar & wind are not as expensive as they once were, but they’re not serious options for carrying the base load of any modern society.)

There is no point trying to appease the anointed by giving in on some particular issue they raise, because that only shifts the fight to some other issue. The basic underlying problem is that they do not live in the grubby world of trade-offs with the rest of us. They live in the loftier realms of their own minds where “solutions” prevail.

Sowell’s attitude is one of pragmatism and prudence:   it if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. People may experiment on themselves at their leisure, but trying on new social theories every other year is hubristic and irresponsible. Sowell points to the frequent changes in educational theory, in  crime mitigation, etc and to their repeated failures. Too often, he says, we replace what works with what sounds good. This is the third Sowell work I’ve read, and I find him of such great interest that I hope to continue exploring his considerable output as time goes on. Sowell’s perspective is especially powerful when writing on matters of civil rights and race, because he lived through the death of Jim Crow, the arrival of affirmative action, and so on.  As a black intellectual himself, he encountered and triumphed over both racism and ideologies which deny minorities real agency — instead insisting, ever so patronizingly, that they are the state’s wards who need special hand-holding.   (I’ve come to realize in the last ten years that the government acts like some demented jailer in regards to the working class….raising barrier after barrier to prevent people from prospering, like imposing cosmetology licensure requirements on hair-braiders, and then expecting worship when it offers half-cocked solutions to the problems of its own making — like helping the Saudis bomb Yemen, then offering aid to the survivors.  )

Unfortunately, although these essays date from the seventies, only their statistics are dated. Foolhardiness of past decades has been surpassed by even more outrageous social movements  and proposals today today, like the ‘green new deal’, a product so divorced from reality when its details are considered  that only a sheltered politician could propose it, and certain social movements in which mental issues are attempted to be ‘fixed’ by surgeries and chemical bombardment.  To believe that sex is malleable is to believe that reality itself has no substance, that the world can be made to confirm to our will.  It would be nice if we could transform the world that easily,  but reality   is obdurant. Evidenced by Sowell’s writings,   this is not a new problem with the human race, though it’s certainly a greater issue now than ever before.  At least the ancients knew that if one appealed to the gods to give them what they wanted, great sacrifice would be necessary. We seem to think it can happen with the simple passing of legislation, and the liberal application of other people’s money.

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Mary Roach in bed, Frank Underwood’s crib notes, and a love story for libraries

It’s been a week of …very different books here. First up, Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. All of Roach’s previous other works, all mostly-humorous attempts to review the science of taboo or often overlooked subject, have appeared here, and now the set is complete. After beginning with a history of how we have mostly ignored intercourse from a scientific point of view until the last century or so, Roach shares a series of narratives about her traveling across the world to meet various experts in this-or-that. The subjects included are on the niche side of things, and are often unexpected: I learned far more about pigs than I’d expected to. Roach’s works are not generally structured (the exception being Gulp, but a book on the digestive system does come with an obvious ‘tract’ to follow — in one end and out the other), and this is par for the course. If you want more..er, specifics, there are more detailed reviews on goodreads. Awkward and amusing in turn.

dict
Recycling an image! I’m so green.

Next, and one I’ve been dragging my feet through for weeks, is The Dictator’s Handbook, easily the most depressing book on politics I’ve ever read, though its lessons on power dynamics apply equally to any large organization, be it a Fortune 500 company or the Sicilian mafia. The authors open with the suggestion that instead of trying to understand politics through conventional means, ideology and whatever tall tales being paraded about on television, we should view it instead as an exercise in practical, grim self-interest. Politicians pursue whatever course is most personally expedient to them, whatever allows them to pay off their supporters and stay in power. The payoff can be obvious loot, in the case of dictators, or more subtle in the case of democracies. The authors’ core lesson is that we must view political support in terms of essential supporters, influentials, and interchangables; autocracies and corporations that rely on only a small handful of essentials behave very differently from democracies and corporations with larger boards, though the authors caution us against relying too readily on labels: often democracies have an underlying structure that makes the number of essential supporters far smaller than it actually is. In the case of Iran, for instance, the people do choose between opposing candidates — but those candidates were prescreened by the Guardian council. Even in a ‘real’ democracy, though, the savvy politico can get away with an astonishing amount of graft. Instructive and soul-scarring.

Lastly, I read Palaces for the People, which caught my eye instantly given its use of Andrew Carnegie’s description of libraries. Eric Klinenberg concerns himself with “social infrastructure”, or the places that draw people together in a community and allow them to encounter by chance or design, people who are different from them — and build a rapport or even friendships through repeated encounters or casual activities. Drawing on the social science of Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone: The Decline of American Community) and the urban analysis of Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities), Klinenberg argues that one of the reasons American society is so bitter and divided these days is that support for places like libraries that build community is disappearing. Although he’s primarily thinking of falling public funding for libraries, parks, etc, it sometimes brushes against the Jim Kunstler’s Geography of Nowhere first made this point, though his own scathing rebuke of American sprawl, with its worship of efficiency and isolation, is not cited here. The book hits a sweet spot for me, and not just because libraries are worshiped in nearly every chapter, but it needed more heft, or focus: the most salient lessons of the book apply to the importance of community in general, and place in giving people meaning, support, and identity. Klinenberg looks at only a small piece of a much larger problem. Even so, I greatly enjoyed the new material here, like the role of community in public health; that connection is made several times here, most poignantly in the chapter on the opioid crisis.

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Firefly: Generations

Firefly: Generations
© 2020 Tim Lebbon
384 pages

A map won in a card game, given importance by River’s intuition, Kaylee’s recognition of an old name, and the fact that several people tried to murder Mal to take the map back, leads the crew of Serenity beyond settled space — to the rings of a gas giant where something ancient is waiting for them. Could it be possible that some remnant of Earth that was is still intact? If the rumors are true, and there is a derelict colony ship out there for the salvaging, Mal and the rest could finally get the One Big Score they’ve been needing after months of scraping by. Generations provides a tantalizing look at Firefly’s background in another novel involving the crew, but will be more memorable for its premise than its execution.

The previous three Firefly books all featured strong ensemble showings and an excellent grasp of the crew’s mannerisms and voices. Generations, with a different author at the helm, doesn’t live up to those standards: Book and Inara disappear early on, and while the Firefly folks are definitely recognizable the energy is definitely different. Even Zoe puts in a subdued performance. That said, the premise of the novel was a winner, and I enjoyed seeing Kaylee as someone secretly fascinated by stories of Earth-that-was. For her, the idea of seeing an Earth engine, of walking in corridors deserted for centuries, is awe-inspiring. The plot also connects more immediately to Firefly’s backstory, and at one point the crew are menaced by “Two by Two, Hands of Blue”. I can’t speak for other readers, but I would have been more interested in a plot that was more unique and tied to the derelict, rather than giving River more background. She’s a great character to play with, but she borders on being over-emphasized in the books.

In summation, Generations is enjoyable enough, but not

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Whole Earth Disicpline

Whole Earth Disicpline: An Ecopragmatist Approach
© 2010 Stewart Brand
344 pages

Sustainability is context, not a gadget or a single technology. From Stewart Brand, a lifelong environmentalist and creator-editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, comes this fascinating argument that the environmental movement has for too long been wrapped up in romanticism, rejecting avenues to effective change out of misfounded prejudice — particularly nuclear energy, urbanization, and GMOs. Discipline is a constantly-evolving work, with multiple editions and added content that stray from the original premise, but offers a unique, balanced perspective.

Brand opens with the book by stressing the urgency of action, pointing in particular to positive feedback loops in nature which might quickly accelerate catastrophic environmental & climactic changes too quickly for us to adapt. We must adopt a trident approach: avoidance, mitigation, and amelioration. When one of the largest contributors to emissions (and pollution in general) is the use of coal, shifting to nuclear — with zero emissions and whose lifetime toxic output per person per lifetime amounts to material small enough to fit inside a can of Coke — would have an enormous impact on reducing C02 emissions. Cities and GMOs both tremendously relieve pressure on land and natural systems by allowing us to do more with less, and in the case of cities, innovation and wealth both are increased tremendously, opening options for responding to problems as they appear. If we were to take these seriously as anti-climate tools, we could do far more still: imagine cities with rooftops optimized for reflecting heat instead of absorbing it, or engineered bacteria which could digest and render neutral pollutants. Brand also addresses the criticisms levied against these (nuclear energy and GMOs, as he has not always been a proponent: he confesses to being one of the environmental movement’s most active anti-nuclear proponents in this youth, and it’s only through his study of their case – -including visits to places like Yucca Mountain — that he has changed his mind to argue that nuclear is potential gamechanger. In each chapter, Brand addresses common criticisms of nuclear power, genetic modification, etc, and shares how he came to change his mind based on what he’d studied and observed.

Having previously read titles which argued for the green virtues of both nuclear energy and cities (A Bright Future and Green Metropolis, respectively), I was delighted to find a dyed-in-the-organically-sourced-wool proponent of the same. The book wasn’t as focused as I initially expected, but given the open nature of the book (it’s had multiple editions, and its footnotes are hosted online to ensure currency), that’s not an enormous surprise. The last few sections seem more miscellaneous, and honestly the GMO connection to environmentalism is weak: as someone who used to be more critical of them, I appreciated reading an argument in their favor from someone who had shifted in their opinion. While Whole Earth Discipline is surpassed, content-wise, by the books mentioned previously, it has an unparalleled value in that its author has changed their mind about the issues and can see both sides fairly and argue on facts rather than prejudice and sentiment.

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Drowning in books

This is something of a catch-up post. I’ve been slowly reading The Dictator’s Handbook, an impressively cynical analysis of political science, and had hoped to finish it by Election Day so I could post an amusingly-timed review. Between the hurricane and my own fatigue of the topic, though, I’ve just been plodding. I need to finish it up, though, because I’ve had three library holds come in simultaneously, as well as two books arrive in the mail. Oh, and one of my preorders (Kindle) was just delivered.

In read-but-not-reviewed, during the power outage I finished re-reading Prelude to Foundation and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The latter is noteworthy because it’s actually the British edition. I didn’t realize how attached I was to the distinctive font and illustrations of the first American editions until I began reading that one. I bought it to see if the vocabulary was very much different in that one, but the only thing I noticed was “jumper” instead of ‘sweater” — and I don’t even know if the American first edition even used sweater! Prelude was a re-read from twelve years ago, and this time I noticed how Asimov deliberately did more world-building and sociological commentary, creating distinct regional cultures on Trantor and using it to more firmly tie the Foundation and Empire books together. New to me was David McCullough’s The Pioneers, a history of the settlement of the Ohio-Indiana region which focused on a couple of families who were instrumental in establishing its institutions. It was more biographical than topical, I thought, without much dwelling on the challenges of frontier life. Perfectly enjoyable, but not as stellar as I expect from McCullough.

And what’s up the pike? Well, I’m reading The Dictator’s Handbook and a charmingly-titled book called Un— Yourself, which mostly consists of “Stop whining and do something about it”-type advice. In holds, I’ve got Palaces for the People, on “social infrastructure”; Blood, Bones, and Butter which I will leave to your imagination because it’s more amusing that way; and Talking to Strangers. Firefly Generations is an ebook preorder that just zapped its way onto my phone, and two new books for the Pile of Doom are Big Roads (a history of the interstates) and Whole Earth Discipline, the latter a title on sustainable living that involves big cities and nuclear energy.

It’s a good thing I still don’t have internet access at home, because I wouldn’t have a chance at tackling all this were I to be distracted by youtube!

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Top Ten Nonbookish Hobbies

Today’s TTT should be especially fun, and perhaps more varied than these lists usually go – -we’re talking about Nonbookish Hobbies!

  1. PC Gaming. A hobby, a vice, call it what you will; if I’d put as much time into anything as I’ve put into gaming over the years I’d be a master. I don’t know if my perfect mastery of Mafia’s vehicle physics counts. I mostly play games that let me fart around, either by exploring an open world (GTA, Mafia, RDR2) or by giving me a sandbox to play with (The Sims, SimCity 3000, ). I tend to play games I get a lot of mileage of: many of my favorites I’ve played regularly for nearly twenty years, and I don’t mean series but games themselves. (Civ3, The Sims 2,and Mafia).
  2. Photography. Although I’m not a serious shutterbug (I don’t own a camera with detachable lenses, and I can’t tell you the first thing about exposure or shutterspeed, anything like that), I occasionally have a good eye for shots and am perfectly willing to wake up at four am on a vacation so I can take advantage of the right light. This frequently dovetails nicely with…
  3. Hiking. Although my area of Alabama is fairly featureless, there are a few trails within driving distance and more than I can count in northern Alabama. I’ve enjoyed hiking since middle school, when I joined the Boy Scouts (ever so briefly, the local troop didn’t do much besides play kickball). A coworker of mine and I try to go out at least once a month.
  4. Cycling. This one is more occasional, as my area isn’t particularly cycle-friendly: the few times I’ve tried cycling into town I’ve nearly been hit by large trucks and the like. I keep my eyes open for quiet country roads that I can wheel about on, though!
  5. Singing. I don’t know if singing counts as a hobby so much, but I do it every day, and have been since I was a kid in church. I favor older musical styles that emphasize melody and lyrics, so I’m especially given to Sinatra standards, hymns, and folk songs. My interest in folk music was inspired by both Star Trek (“The Minstrel Boy”, featured in TNG “The Wounded”) and Civil War reenactments.
  6. Cooking/baking. This is a newer hobby, something I’ve been interested in trying for years but never did until late last year when I wanted to impress a woman. I’ve been trying new recipes this year and keeping notes in an Excel spreadsheet, and am looking forward to contributing to our ongoing obesity and diabetes crises in December by giving everyone cookies.
  7. History. “History” is an odd one because it interlaces with a lot of my other hobbies; reading being the prize example, but it’s also mixed up with my singing interests. I often listen to historical recordings, or recreations of what earlier music might’ve sounded like. For me, knowing the literature and songs that formed people’s minds in earlier decades and centuries is an important part of understanding them. I also visit history museums and sites when I can, and if I can get moving on a video project I have in mind, then history will also form the backbone of another minor hobby, since it would be the subject.
  8. Writing has been a lifelong passion, presumably fed by my similarly-aged passion for reading. Although my brain is constantly playing with stories in my head, I absolutely hate reading every attempt at fiction I’ve ever made. Maybe it’s the equivalent of hearing yourself talk in a recording? Mostly I scratch my writing itch here, though I also do Nanowrimo from time to time.
  9. Cinema, or “movies” if I’m not being pretentious. I know everyone likes movies, but when I’m watching I pay attention to the production side — to how shots are created, to sound design, to plotting and the like. I also enjoy watching cinema-related channels that discuss this sort of thing on youtube. I’m not much for the big blockbuster titles; I’ve seen few superhero movies since The Dark Knight Rises, and my last Avengers title was…The Avengers. My favorite films include The Philadelphia Story, Groundhog Day, and West Side Story. Not very highbrow, I know, but I like what I like. Two I’ve seen for the first time this year that I’ll absolutely watch again are Noises Off! and Clue.
  10. PC modding/repair. I got into messing around with PC innards after my nephew bought an oversized graphics card to upgrade his computer, and I wished I could have helped him avoid that expensive mistake. So last year I learned, and I practiced on both my PC and some older units I had lying around, replacing a hard drive here, an optical there, and upgrading several parts in my own PC. This particularly hobby has stalled in 2020 because I was saving for a new car (and am now paying for a new car), and my next potential upgrade requires buying several parts together. (If I want a better chip I need a better class of motherboard, and if I buy a new motherboard I can’t use my existing RAM, but new DDR4 sticks.) There’s also the problem of diminishing returns: the only upgrade that would have a significant and instantly noticable effect on my life would be switching to an SSD. I plan on doing this once the price for a 2-terabyte SSD isn’t so high. (Here’s hoping for black friday luck!)

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