Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

Bridge to Terabithia

Book Notes

For reasons I haven't quite figured out, I decided not long ago to fill in the gaps in my young adult life's reading choices, and read a number of "classic" children's (young adult these days) books. Since I had a travel day today, and finished up the other book I was reading, and not wanting to read any of my already started books, I picked up Bridge to Terabithia.

And finished it today, too. Go me.

This isn't an unknown book for people of a certain age. The author's son was able to make it into a movie, which increased its exposure. The book is banned from many schools because, for some reason that is completely incomprehensible to me, some parents believe hiding death from a kid is a Good Thing™. Of note, it is NOT a Good Thing™. It is actively a Bad Thing™. Death is a part of life, and accepting that sooner than later makes the life part of this cycle a better experience, more sweeter, more cherished, more worthy.

Reading this book, I knew one of the two main kids died. I wasn't sure which one, nor was I sure of the circumstances. That the story is based (broad strokes) on the author's son's childhood experience makes this story more sad. When should a parent ever outlive her child? Okay, if the child is evil, fine, yes. Exceptional case.

As I knew the climax of the plot, I wasn't overwhelmed when it happened. That, and I was heading to an event with a lot of people I don't know, meant my desire not to cry unabashedly was stronger. I didn't cry, but I did feel that loss, and that numbness after the loss.

A book worth reading at some point in a person's life. Unsure when would be a good time, to be honest.

The parents being as good as they can be, but not perfect, was consistent with with the previous book, which made it a two book trend, amusing me somewhat. What? people aren't perfect? And we hear them yelling at their kids? Huh. Real Life™

Quotes from the book:

His straw-colored hair flapped hard against his forehead, and his arms and legs flew out every which way. He had never learned to run properly, but he was long-legged for a ten year-old, and no one had more grit than he.

Because grit was important, even back in the 1970s.

Miss Edmunds would play her guitar and let the kids take turns on the autoharp, the triangles, cymbals, tambourines, and bongo drum. Lord, could they ever make a racket!

Okay, I'm laughing now, because I remember the autoharp, triangles, and making a racket in music class.

All the teachers hated Fridays. And a lot of the kids pretended to. But Jess knew what fakes they were. Sniffing "hippie" and "peacenik" even though the Vietnam War was over and it was supposed to be OK again to like peace, the kids would make fun of Miss Edmunds' lack of lipstick or the cut of her jeans.

Okay to like peace. What a f'd up world we live in that peace wouldn't be okay to like.

She punched him in the shoulder. "Let's go out and find some giants or walking dead to fight. I'm sick of Janice Avery."

OMG I had no idea that "Walking Dead" was a phrase that's forty some years old!

He helped May Belle wrap her wretched little gifts and even sang "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" with her and Joyce Ann. Then Joyce Ann cried because they had no fireplace and Santa wouldn't be able to find the way, and suddenly he felt sorry for her going to Millsburg Plaza and seeing all those things and hoping that some guy in a red suit would give her all her dreams.

The longing of a little kid, that longing that never goes away.

"That whole Jesus thing is really interesting, isn't it?"

"What d'you mean?"

"All those people wanting to kill him when he hadn't done anything to hurt them." She hesitated. "It's really kind of a beautiful story-like Abraham Lincoln or Socrates -- or Aslan."

And yet another testiment to the horror in human nature.

He wondered what it would be like to have a mother whose stories were inside her head instead of marching across the television screen all day long.

A commentary on television from the 1970s, imagine what it would be like to have a life that wasn't about consuming but about producing. It is quite wonderful, tbh.

You think it's so great to die and make everyone cry and carry on. Well, it ain't.

Leslie had died, and Jess was angry at her.

He, Jess, was the only one who really cared for Leslie. But Leslie had failed him. She went and died just when he needed her the most. She went and left him. She went swinging on that rope just to show him that she was no coward. So there, Jess Aarons. She was probably somewhere fight now laughing at him. Making fun of him like he was Mrs. Myers. She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.

And this is where I did allow myself to cry a bit.

"Everybody gets seared sometimes, May Belle. You don't have to be ashamed." He saw a flash of Leslie's eyes as she was going in to the girls' room to see Janice Avery. "Everybody gets scared."


She looked at him in disbelief. "But you weren't scared."

"Lord, May Belle, I was shaking like Jello."

"You're just saying that."

Sometimes like the Barbie doll you need to give people something that's for them, not just something that makes you feel good giving it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Book Notes

Okay, I have had a copy of this book in my to-read pile since about six months after it was published. For those of you who have access to the internet, you can figure out I have had this book since around November of 2003. Bharat handed me his copy, I still have his copy. I still feel guilty about having his copy, as he is one of those friends who dropped out of my life and I haven't spoken with except for an awkward moment at an ultimate game four years ago except that I don't think I actually spoke to him, I just took a picture of him and his girlfriend before I even knew he was divorced.


Yeah, I read it.

This is the third book I've read recently that has an autistic protagonist. The first book was entertaining (the sequel less so, as it dealt with people in power abusing it). The second one (-ish) was about autistic people in adult situations, but everything works out.

This book was about an autistic teen, but portrays the difficulties of those around an autistic person actually dealing with said autistic person. A mother who can't hug her son. A father doing his best. And a teenager driving everyone around him batshit mad, angry, frustrated. Yes, they still love him, of course his parents love him, but dealing with an autistic person is not an easy task, and this book made me incredibly uncomfortable with the clarity of that experience. We want to believe that parents of autistic kids are angels, but they are human like everyone else. This book gives the reader a glimpse of how hard their lives can be.

Mom liked the book. Pretty sure she recommends it. I think I do, but am kinda iffy on it. For entertainment, no. For perspective, yes.

Now to get the book back to Bharat.

The Midnight Line

Book Notes

When this book dropped, I pinged Mom to let her know the next Reacher book was out. I'm not sure if she's still reading the Reacher books, but I am (just not watching the movies what a HORRIBLE casting, Cruise? MF so f'ing wrong, let me list the ways: not 6'5" even in lifts, not built like a line backer, not charismatic enough, too much hair, and did I mention not 6'5" built like a f'ing truck?).

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. Half way through I pinged Mom to let her know that even if she had stopped reading the Reacher books, this was a good one worth reading. Because it is. It didn't have the obvious plot holes, it didn't give a bunch of stuff away, you aren't saying LOOK RIGHT OVER THERE, the action moves along, and Child got many of the elements of addiction just right.

Getting hit was a rare event for Reacher. And he intended to keep it rare. Not just vanity. Getting hit was inefficient. It degraded future performance.
Page 23

“How frequently do you move around?”


“Do you think that’s a fitting way for a West Pointer to live?”

“I think it’s perfectly fitting.”

“In what sense?”

“We fought for freedom. This is what freedom looks like.”
Page 57

“That’s all we’ve got. You think she went back there?”

“Depends,” Reacher said. “For some people, home is the first place they go. For others, it’s the last. What was she like?”

"She was pretty close to outstanding, without ever quite getting there. Never in the top five, always in the top ten. That kind of person."
Page 60

Teddy Roosevelt, Reacher supposed, not Franklin. The great naturalist, except for when he was shooting things like tigers and elephants. People were complicated.
Page 105

“You took a risk coming here.”

“Getting up in the morning is a risk. Anything could happen.”
Page 122

"She never said what she was doing. They could go three months without talking.”

“Is that usual for twins?”

“Twins are siblings, same as anyone else.”
Page 124

He propped himself on the pillow and watched his reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall. A distant figure. One of those days. Not just a military thing. Plenty of other professions felt the same way. Sometimes you woke up, and you knew for sure, from history and experience and weary intuition, that the brand new day would bring nothing good at all.
Page 224

“I’m on the inside looking out. I can’t see myself. Sometimes I forget.”

“What did the shrinks say?”

“What would the 110th say?”

“Deal with it,” Reacher said. “It happened. It can’t un-happen. Most folks aren’t going to like it. Deep down humans haven’t been modern very long. But some won’t care. You’ll find them.”
Page 365

The Girl From The Well

Book Notes

Okay, I'm pretty sure this book came from some Book Riot list. I'm also pretty sure that if I'm ever going to conquer my reading list, I should stop looking at the Book Riot website. No, what am I saying, that won't help either.

I read this book quickly. It has Stephen-King-scare-the-crap-out-of-me moments in it. Totally scared myself awake to keep reading it moments.

The book is a mystery / horror book, with elements of the Ring movie in it. It draws on a Japanese legend that I had to look up, and was like, "Oh, of course there are a kabillion of these stories I don't know." I wouldn't recommend this book to my mom, who doesn't really like the suspenseful type of books, but I would recommend it to anyone who likes the gripping books of early King.

There's a follow-up book by the same author. I'm inclined to buy it, I enjoyed this one enough to warrant it. I have, however, Mount Books, and will likely read from there for a while.

We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night.
Page 1 · Location 57

Talking about ghosts, love the reference.

... but when the image does not repeat itself soon, he begins to think and then to argue and then to dismiss, the way people do when they are seeking explanations for things that cannot be explained.
Page 4 · Location 90

When the dead are young and have once known love, they bring no malice.
Page 8 · Location 134

Collars are as much a form of slavery whether they encircle necks or wrists, whether they are as heavy as lead or as light as a ropestring.
Page 12 · Location 166

The previous owners left nothing of themselves here: no happiness, no grief, no pain. It is the best anyone can wish for in a place to stay.
Page 16 · Location 220

The great writer Motojirou-san said it best: ‘Sakura no ki no shita ni wa shitai ga umatte iru.’ - Dead bodies lie under the cherry tree.
Page 53 · Location 654

There is a thrill in relishing the suffering of strangers, and they hide their interest with worried faces.
Page 62 · Location 749

Ashes fall to ashes, and dust falls to dust whether bodies are buried with full honors underneath the earth or thrown onto the wayside and left to rot. Funerals seem less about comforting the souls of these dearly departed than about comforting the people they leave behind.
Page 111 · Location 1298

Yep. Hand the ghost a copy of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.

Few people attend the cremation services. Few people in this part of the world knew the woman, and few are willing to look into those flames and be reminded of their own fragility.
Page 111 · Location 1302

But I have often found that people are strange because they have something most others lack.
Page 170 · Location 2003

"... But I don’t know what to do. I never asked to be a part of this.”
Page 171 · Location 2007

Few people have been asked to be a part of most not good things in their lives.

The Core

Book Notes

This is the final book in the Demon Cycle, and I enjoyed it.

It was longer than I expected it to be, but I had fair warning that it was going to be long, perhaps too many words. For the record, as wordy as Brett is, he doesn't compare to Rowling and her wordiness. Let's be clear, though, there was a lot of the book that could have been left out.

Told in the style of many different story lines all interweaving, cough Wheel of Time cough, cough Song of Ice and Fire cough, there were a couple story lines that just didn't add to the story. Ashia and Abban? "He still has a part to play." What part? There was no part. That entire storyline could have been dropped from the book, shortening the book by 17% (I made up that number), and increasing the reader's enjoyment by 11% (made that one up, too).

The part I found the most fascinating about the book, however, was my reactions to Renna. I did NOT want the hero of the story to be the uneducated, hick-in-the-derogatory-way, reckless, female character. I didn't want that AT ALL. There were no repercussions for her continually bad choices. Things "worked out." Yes, fiction, yes, good for her, yes, go Brett for making the woman the hero, but why did I have this reaction? That why is a fascinating topic for me to explore.

I liked this book more than the previous one. I'm annoyed a bit at the ending, but we all saw it coming, so I didn't end up throwing the book across the room which is good. Still. Not a fan of the ending.

If I were recommending these books, I'd suggest read the first book. If you're a HUGE fan, keep reading, otherwise, enjoy that you enjoyed the first book.

"None could prove they’d taken you to bed, but folk don’t need proof to whisper.”

“They never have,” Leesha said.
Page 34

He considered himself above reproach and was offended by her mistrust.
Page 38

Briar was Briar, and that wasn’t going to change. The path that made him who he was could not be unwalked.
Page 65

How... stunningly stoic.

"Write our own destinies, Leesh, long as we got the stones to do it.”
Location 3579

“Don’t think anything will,” Arlen said. “Belief is stubborn as a rock demon.”
Location 3678

Arlen looked at him, incredulous. “Taught me yourself Deliverers don’t exist.”

“I taught no such thing,” Ragen said. “I said when humanity needed them, great generals rose to lead us. Their existence is documented, Arlen. It’s a fact. The Creator didn’t come down from Heaven to confirm it then, and I don’t expect He will now, but that doesn’t change the fact that our whole world has shifted because Arlen Bales had a stubborn streak.”
Location 3682

“How you gonna cry over someone you barely knew?” Renna asked.

“Oh, sister,” Shanvah said sadly. “Tears are never hard to find. Tell me of the son of Jessum.”
Location 3846

"... A portion of infinity remains infinite.”
Location 4133

She ran to him, weeping with joy, and he returned the embrace as she threw her arms around him. For a moment, he allowed himself to forget his purpose, to be her son one last time, safe in his mother’s arms.
Location 4643

I understand this, even as an adult these many years, the safety one can feel in one's mother's arms.

Jardir scowled. “I was a fool to leave Hasik alive. Every time I have shown him mercy, I have regretted it.”

“Mercy should never be cause for regret,” Inevera said.
Location 4931

Her aura was as bright as any Jardir had seen short of the Par’chin and his jiwah, but… clean. Unburdened by compromise, failure, or shame.
Location 5027

Can you imagine? An aura unburdened?

“How long ago was that?” Arlen asked.

Norine shrugged. “Fifty years, give or take.”

“Long time to carry a grudge,” Arlen said.

“Hard feelings only get heavier with the years,” Jeph said. “Till the weight of it breaks you, and you snap.”
Location 5491

“You listen to me, Jeph Young,” Arlen said. “As your brother and your elder. Ent no such thing as a Deliverer. That’s work every man and woman’s got to do for themselves. Can’t count on someone to save you from the demons. Learn to save yourself—and others, when you can.”
Location 5519

“All have our low moments,” Arlen said. “Things we carry even when folk around us forget, or never knew.”
Location 5671

“Had every right to carry a grudge,” Jeph said.

“Ay, maybe, but grudges never made anyone a better man,” Arlen said.
Location 5676

“Mistakes are easy to see, when you look back.”
Location 5776

Amon was no more receptive than the station officers. “Harden’s Grove has stood for a hundred years, Ragen. We’re not going to abandon everything we’ve built over some demon attacks a week’s ride to the south.”
Location 6068

Okay, this is a complete logic fallacy. "It hasn't happened, so it won't happen." Hand the man a copy of The Black Swan, please.

“Perhaps I will try.” She reached for a stalk and took a bite. The herb was bitter, but so were many things in life.
Location 7590

“My master used to say Everam draws power from our courage. Will is the one gift we can give to aid Him in His never-ending battle against Nie. Everam guides us, but the choice to be fearless or a coward, to fight or flee,” Ashia reached out, touching his chest, “this comes from within.”
Location 7810

“’Sides.” The Par’chin shook his head. “Startin’ to think it don’t matter if Everam’s in the sky or in your imagination. It’s a voice that tells you to act right, and that’s more than most folk have.”
Location 8494

Nonetheless, the Krasians to her left made her nervous. Favah was not one to wear trousers or sit atop a horse. She was carried across the Hollow on a palanquin borne by six muscular eunuchs in Sharum black, their wrists and ankles bound in golden shackles. The men ran in perfect unison, easily keeping pace with the horses. None was breathing hard as they set the palanquin down and opened the curtains for the ancient dama’ting. The six slaves were a gesture of defiance from Favah, a reminder that she would not be bullied, even if she had agreed to Leesha’s terms. There is no slavery in the Hollow, Favah had been told, but she paraded the men before the Hollowers, daring a confrontation. Leesha knew better than to take the bait. The men, mutilated and conditioned by the dama’ting, did not wish for freedom. Indeed, their auras sang with pride. In addition to their mistress’ weight, the men carried spears and shields of warded glass, and Creator only knew how many other weapons about their person. If Leesha or anyone else tried to free them, there would be blood.
Location 9223

Conditioning from childhood is hard to break. Ask me about Jesus being the son of God, and I'll explain.

“Too good, yet never good enough. I’ve made my peace with it, but it never stops stinging.”

Erny shook his head. “I love her, Leesha. Always have, always will. There’s never been another woman in the world to me. I’m not going anywhere. Not from this bench, not from this marriage. We said our vows…”

“But only you keep them,” Leesha said.

Erny looked at her. “Is that the only time we should keep our promises, Leesha? When others do? I taught you better than that.”
Location 10848

“I answered your every question truthfully, Explorer. Blame yourself if you did not ask enough. I am your prisoner, not your friend.”

“Demons don’t have friends,” Renna growled.

“And we’re stronger for it.” Shanjat eyed Jardir. “No wasted sentiment leading to foolish action.”
Location 10997

“There is always choice, Renna am’Bales,” Inevera said. “It is the ultimate power, what makes the infinite futures finite. But Everam guides us to the right ones, like pieces on the board.” Renna rolled her eyes but said no more.
Location 11211

“Never in my adult life have I been without your counsel,” Jardir said. “I did not realize how much I had come to depend on it.”

“Is that your way of saying you miss me?”

“It is my way of saying I am afraid, jiwah. And that when you are near, I am less so.”
Location 11274

“A Sharum must always be ready to die, mistress,” Micha said. “We keep thoughts of it close to remember to always be prepared, to keep our spirits pure. To know that life is a fleeting gift of Everam, and death comes for us all. Inevera, when the lonely path opens to me, I will walk it without looking back.”
Location 11713

Thamos’ words came to her. There are times a leader must remain firm, even when they are in the wrong. Leesha hadn’t agreed at the time, but she saw the wisdom in it now.
Location 11935

Even the palm weeps, when the storm washes over it, Enkido once told her. The tears of Everam’s spear sisters are all the more precious for how seldom they fall.
Location 12902

Sleeping Giants

Book Notes

This is book 1 of The Themis Files

This book was on my Amazon Wish List from a year or so ago. It was on some reading list I had read, likely a book riot list, but not on my immediate to-read stack. Sagan had it on our road trip, which is when I started reading it. I didn't finish it on the trip, so kept it to finish later. And, today was later.

I enjoyed this book. It is told in the piece-together reports from different people, told in an interview style, as popularized by World War Z. The characters were written well enough for me to "GRRRRRR!" at a couple, which is great. The ending was a surprise, but likely shouldn't have been given this is book one of a (planned) three book series.

I'll read the next book when it comes out.

"Most people don't really have a purpose, a sense of purpose anyway, beyond their immediate surroundings. They're important to their family, but it doesn't go much beyond that. Everyone is replaceable at work. Friendships come and go.
Part 3: 3: Headhunting File No. 120

"Love makes people do some crazy things."
Part 3: 3: Headhunting File No. 120

"One thing is certain. You are a survivor, Doctor Hans. You are definitely not one to throw away your life, your family, and your career, for something as petty as principles."
File No. 121

"They're bluffing. You know that."

"So are we. Bluffing doesn't mean what it used to. No one wants an all out war, and everyone knows it. Both sides know the other side doesn't want to fight so we push each other against the wall, a tiny bit further every time. It's all about saving face, but basically we're playing chicken, and both sides think they can do whatever they want because the other guy will never use its nuclear arsenal. It probably won't be today, but someday, someday, one of us is going to be terribly wrong."
File No. 129

"I never understand the merits of proportional response."

"I'm not sure there are any. It's just what we call human nature for people with too much firepower in their hands."
File No. 129

"I can understand your desire to distance yourself from this decision, given the current state of affairs, but you did make a choice. That choice will not cease to be yours because a lot of people might die as a result."
File No. 129

"Your an asshole, you know that? Isn't that a bit arbitrary?"

"Of course it is. Most things are."
File No. 129

"What he did, however horrifying, doesn't have to negate every other day of his life."
File No. 141

"What did you do then?"

"Nothin'. Our other boat stopped. We waited. Submarines are slow, clumsy things. A lot of what we do is just sit and wait. We're good at that."
File No. 143

"They told me she'd be courtmartialed. She must have been right, about her orders, I mean."

"I thought you said she would be ..."

"They also made it very clear to me that none of this ever happened. I don't think they'll put anyone on trial for something that didn't happen."

"Are you always this cynical? You seem to doubt a lot of what you were told."

"It's all cockamamie, if you ask me. Military intelligence. They'd come up with these really farfetched stories, and just because we don't ask questions they think we're actually buying it. They forget they're talking to people who were trained not to ask questions. If it were up to me, I'd rather they just didn't tell me anything. It's less insulting than to be lied to."
File No. 143

"People often confuse leadership with managerial skills. I agree with their assessment. You certainly have the ability to inspire people. Minutae on the other hand might not be your forte."
File No. 229

"It's one thing to risk your own life. It's fairly easy to rationalize the deaths of strangers. To shoulder the death of a friend, someone you know, that's a completely different thing."
File No. 229

"I feel numb... After something this intense, everything else just... things that would have you up in arms before now seem so utterly trivial. Nothing really matters. You start to ignore little things because they're little things. You compromise, you rationalize. Soon you look at yourself in the mirror and you don't recognize the person staring back at you. But, you know, I'm alive, I'm okay. I wake up every day and I get out of bed thinking today might be just a bit better than yesterday. Most of the time it is."
File No. 229

"Most of their days are never going to change, no matter what. I suppose that's why people are disenchanted with politics. They expect whoever they elect to change their lives."
File No. 233

"... My deepest wish is for this discovery to redefine alterity for all of us."


"The concept of otherness. What I am is very much a function of what I am not. If the other is the Muslim world, then I am the Judeo-Christian world. If the other is from thousands of light years away, I am simply human. Redefined alterity and you erase boundaries."
File No. 233

"It pains me to say it, but I have always been thoroughly bewildered by North Korea. They cannot be threatened, as they feel themselves superior to the one making the threat. They cannot be reasoned with, and most importantly, they are one hundred percent convinced of their righteousness, so they cannot be bought. Meglomaniacs with delusions of granduer are notoriously difficult to handle, but how generations could follow one another is beyond me."
File No. 233

"If you fall love with someone, there is a good chance the person won't love you back. Hatred, though, is usually mutual. If you despise someone, it's pretty much a given they're also not your biggest fan."
File No. 250

"... I guess what I'm saying is, it's easier to be just one more soldier in a giant army than being the whole army by yourself."

"It does not matter if you are all alone or one in an army of thousands. You have a choice. You have always had a choice. You should be grateful to be in a position to make it when the stakes are so clear. They rarely are."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"You are in control of a formidable weapon, but one that is designed for close combat. This means that you will always see whomever you choose to kill. That is a clear choice. Destroying a bridge in a night incursion is a much harder decision to make, you just never took the time to think about it. Removing it could prevent enemy reinforcements from reaching the front line, that bridge could also be the only escape route for civilians. How many people will you save? How many will you send to their deaths? That is a complicated decision to make."
File No. 250

"I will say one more thing before you go. Stop worrying so much. Are you doing your best?"

"I fear my best may not be enough."

"Then you should come to peace with whatever comes. All you can do is try your best."
File No. 255

Countdown to Zero Day

Book Notes

Whoa. Another non-fiction book. It's like my goal to finish all my started books is demonstrating I'm not a big fan of non-fiction books, post-school.

Or something.

This book describes the exposure and investigation of the Stuxnet computer virus. Because the book is describing the virus, and its subsequent children, parents, and cousins, it has to give some background of the world as it existed when the virus was released. This particular form of story-telling, the form of chronological progression, makes the first part of this book slooooooooooooow. Rob warned me when he handed me the book, told me to keep going, it'll get better. The fact that I started this book in December of 2015, and am only now finishing it, testifies somewhat to how slow I found the beginning of the book.

The middle of the book, however, and the end, those went much faster. Around chapter eight or so, the story line picks up and becomes interesting and engaging.

If you have a good library and interest in this book, I recommend starting out with the audiobook version, to get through the first part, then switch to reading. The whole story is politically and technically fascinating.

That there are people who believe in making the computing world safe for the rest of us, despite some of the bad guys being on our own team, helps me sleep better at night. Not well, but better. That the world described in the book still exists and that we have Cheetoh instead of Obama is a terrifying prospect.

In amassing zero-day exploits for the government to use in attacks, instead of passing the information about holes to vendors to be fixed, the government has put critical-infrastructure owners and computer users in the United States at risk of attack from criminal hackers, corporate spies, and foreign intelligence agencies who no doubt will discover and use the same vulnerabilities for their own operations.
Location 4019

But it’s a government model that relies on keeping everyone vulnerable so that a targeted few can be attacked — the equivalent of withholding a vaccination from an entire population so that a select few can be infected with a virus.
Location 4032

Dagan was known to favor assassination as a political weapon.
Location 4433

Bencsáth’s heart was pounding as he clicked Send to e-mail the report. “I was really excited,” he says. “You throw down something from the hill, and you don’t know what type of avalanche there will be [ as a result ].”
Location 4686

On one, he’d circled the URL of a website he’d visited that contained the letters “en/us” — proof that the US government was watching his computer, he ...
Location 4702

Okay, I laughed out loud at this one. en/us is a designation to display a web page with US English, instead of say, Canadian English or UK English (you know, that color versus colour thing).

Another correspondent, a female cookbook author, sent Chien a few e-mails via Hushmail — an anonymous encrypted e-mail service used by activists and criminals to hide their identity.
Location 4704

I have to wonder why the "female" part of the author's identity had to be explicitly stated. Because male cookbook authors aren't technically clueless? Something about the balls make male cooks more technically sophisticated than women cooks?

A nuclear-armed Iran, he said, would be “a grave threat” to peace not just in the Middle East, but around the world. 37 He promised that under his leadership all options would remain on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Although in essence this meant a military option as well, Obama, like Bush, wanted to avoid a military engagement at all costs.
Location 6048

"Avoid a military engagement at all costs."

This isn't something I think I hear nearly enough. The cost of war is incredible. It destroys people, the victors and the defeated. Everyone but the arms dealers who don't see the results of their product are damaged in some way.

But don't tell my dead brother that. He thinks violence solves all problems.

“Together with the international community, the United States acknowledges your right to peaceful nuclear energy — we insist only that you adhere to the same responsibilities that apply to other nations,” he said. “We are familiar with your grievances from the past — we have our own grievances as well, but we are prepared to move forward. We know what you’re against; now tell us what you’re for.”
Location 6392

“Faced with an extended hand,” Obama said, “Iran’s leaders have shown only a clenched fist.”
Location 6396

US military and intelligence agencies had been penetrating foreign systems in Iran and elsewhere, building stockpiles of digital weapons, and ushering in a new age of warfare, all without public discussion about the rules of engagement for conducting such attacks or the consequences of doing so.
Location 6907

Of all the nations that have a cyberwarfare program, however, the United States and Israel are the only ones known to have unleashed a destructive cyberweapon against another sovereign nation — a nation with whom it was not at war. In doing so, it lost the moral high ground from which to criticize other nations for doing the same and set a dangerous precedent for legitimizing the use of digital attacks to further political or national security goals.
Location 6926

Civil War general Robert E. Lee said famously that it was a good thing war was so terrible, “otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” The horrors and costs of war encourage countries to choose diplomacy over battle, but when cyberattacks eliminate many of these costs and consequences, and the perpetrators can remain anonymous, it becomes much more tempting to launch a digital attack than engage in rounds of diplomacy that might never produce results.
Location 6932

The targets most in danger from a digital attack in the United States are not just military systems but civilian ones — transportation, communication, and financial networks; food manufacturing and chemical plants; gas pipelines, water, and electric utilities; even uranium enrichment plants. 13
Location 6970

Any future use of digital weapons will likely be as an enhancement to conventional battle, not as a replacement for it. Critics of digital doomsayers also point to the fact that no catastrophic attack has occurred to date as evidence that the warnings are overblown. But others argue that no passenger jets had been flown into skyscrapers, either, before 9 / 11.
Location 7051

“For cyber deterrence to work,” Cartwright said in 2012, “you have to believe a few things : One, that we have the intent; two, that we have the capability; and three, that we practice — and people know that we practice.”
Location 7065

But while deterrence of this sort might work for some nations — as long as they believe an attack could be attributed to them — irrational actors, such as rogue states and terrorist groups, aren’t deterred by the same things that deter others.
Location 7069

Though one can argue that the 9 / 11 attacks required at least as much planning and coordination as a destructive cyberattack would require, a well-planned digital assault — even a physically destructive one — would likely never match the visual impact or frightening emotional effect that jets flying into the Twin Towers had.
Location 7097

Richard Clarke, former cybersecurity czar under the Bush administration and a member of the panel, later explained the rationale for highlighting the use of zero days in their report. “If the US government finds a zero-day vulnerability, its first obligation is to tell the American people so that they can patch it, not to run off [ and use it ] to break into the Beijing telephone system,” he said at a security conference. “The first obligation of government is to defend.” 40
Location 7167

Under the new policy, any time the NSA discovers a major flaw in software, it must disclose the vulnerability to vendors and others so the flaw can be patched. But the policy falls far short of what the review board had recommended and contains loopholes. 43 It applies only to flaws discovered by the NSA, without mentioning ones found by government contractors, and any flaw that has “a clear national security or law enforcement” use can still be kept secret by the government and exploited. The review board had said exploits should be used only on a temporary basis and only for “high priority intelligence collection” before being disclosed.
Location 7181

Then in 2012, the president signed a secret directive establishing some policies for computer network attacks, the details of which we know about only because Edward Snowden leaked the classified document. 50 Under the directive, the use of a cyberweapon outside a declaration of war requires presidential approval, but in times of war, military leaders have advance approval to take quick action at their discretion.
Location 7265

The presidential directive addresses only the military’s use of digital operations, however. A list of exceptions in the document excludes intelligence agencies like the NSA and CIA from it, as well as law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Secret Service.
Location 7281

The Western Star

Book Notes

Really now, the previous book I read cured me of my current non-fiction streak (of five books! wow!). I really needed a good, fun read to put the enjoyment back in my obsessive daily reading. I had little surprise that Johnson's Longmire would do the trick.

I enjoyed the book. I read a few reviews of the book where the readers were complaining about the cliff-hanger at the end. It didn't bother me. There were two intertwined plots happening in the book, one from 1972 on the Western Star, a train, and the other in contemporary time, which was a continuation of the previous arch-nemesis Longmire books. The first plot's mystery was clever, with a few good misdirections. That Longmire knew more than the reader is fine. The modern-time plot is fine, nothing terribly surprising.

There were fewer hit-you-in-the-gut quotable lines in this book, which is also fine. I enjoyed the book. I'll keep reading the Longmire series. The TV series? Garbage, not watching that any more, as it ruins the book Longmire.

“I can reconcile my devotion to the law and the knowledge that a lawful course can sometimes be immoral.”
Page 144

“You want to know what I learned in Vietnam? I learned that if you’re lucky, I mean really lucky, you find the one thing you want in life and then you go after it; you give up everything else because all the rest of that stuff really doesn’t matter.”
Page 151

“Then what should I do?” He dropped the remains of his unsatisfactory sandwich into a brown paper bag and wiped the corner of his mouth with a folded paper towel.

“The hardest thing in the world—nothing. The wheels of justice grind slow but exceedingly fine.”
Page 157

“You may not always win the war, Walt, but it’s good to know you fought the battle.”
Page 158

“Trees teach us patience, but grass teaches us persistence.”

“And what did grapes teach you?”

“Wine, which assists with both.”
Page 168

“Where you headed, and what are you gonna do?” I stood there for a moment and then forcefully placed the star in his hand, before walking away.

“Nowhere and nothing.”

He called after me. “Well, there ain’t no hurry about nowhere and nothing—they’re always out there waitin’.”
Page 177

“In my limited experience with politicians, I have learned that you do not have to be right all the time, but that it is absolutely essential to never appear wrong.”
Page 192

“Was he a good guy?” I leaned against the side of her truck and studied her.

“Your grandfather?”


I glanced back at Vic and Henry, leaning on the fender of the rental car parked just behind Pamela’s trailer. “Yep, he was one of the best.”
Page 217

“My mother hardly ever talked about him.”

“Sometimes that’s the way people deal with the pain of losing a loved one.”
Page 217

“Would you like to call her?” Vic pointed at the utility. “There’s a phone with a cord but it is nonrotary—do you need me to push the buttons for you?”
Page 233

They filed out after giving me hard looks, but I’d had hard looks thrown at me before and had found they bounced off pretty easily.
Page 240

I remembered my father telling me that you knew you were a man when everything went bad and suddenly all eyes were on you for help.
Page 269

I’d found that few people give up the chance to explain themselves, no matter what the reason or environs.
Page 276

“Most people go through their lives doin’ whatever it is that comes along, but every once in a while we stumble onto what it is we’re supposed to do.”
Page 288

The Rational Optimist

Book Notes

This book is awful.

As far as I can tell, anyone who really likes this book, who reads it crtically and tries to follow up with the data presented, is suffering from the Murray Gell-Mann amnesia effect. I can't explain why so many people like and even recommend this book otherwise.

It is full of wild, unsupported statements, blatant lies, and far-fetched predictions. After having recently read The Black Swan, I'm even more disgusted by this book and Ridley's predictions and arguments for everything is great.

The main take aways from this book:

1. Specialization encouraged innovation.
2. Relatively easy commerce is the road to a better future.
3. Because we haven't run out of finite resources yet, we won't run out of finite resources.

Yeah, that last one was more than a little surprising to me, too. Yet, chapter after chapter, this is the underlying message he brings.

Here's the ad hominem attack, just to get it out of the way: Ridley appears to suck as a scientific editor and an economist. Based on his work history, he lost a lot of money because he was unable to accurately assess risks. Based on this book, he doesn't understand how good science works, where you have a hypothesis, you find reproducable evidence to support your hypothesis, you look for evidence that refutes your hypothesis, then you conclude with a working theory. Instead, Ridley likes the Gladwell approach to sounding scientific: make claims using stories as support. As Ben commented, the plural of anecdote is not data.

That out of the way, the way that Ridley either fails to provide a citation for his statement, hides his citations making them difficult to verify, or cites works that don't provide data for review makes even the statements that I want to believe suspect.

I disliked this book so much. It is the first book I've finished that I rate "burn" since I published my book reviews scale. So, why did I finish it? I was hoping that because this book was so highly recommended, it would redeem itself in the end. It did not.

Burn every copy you find.

Extracted parts of the book with my commentary. Too long for this page.

The Black Swan

Book Notes

Okay, this book is one that I believe every person should read. If you want to read this book, and you don't have access to the book from your library, in paper, digital, or audiobook format, and I know you some way, I will loan you my copy or buy you a copy. If you arewere my older brother, I will express ship this book to you, as I believe you would benefit greatly from this book.

Taleb talks about how statistics lie, but specifically how events so far outside of the normal, or our experience, cannot be predicted. He talks about how the Black Swan events, those rare experiences that can't be predicted, demonstrate how

And he goes into a number of logic fallacies that everyone should know, but really most people don't. He shows how even when we think we're aware of them, we often aren't. Which really means we're human. And fallable.

One of the features of this book that I found annoying was the self-references to "this book." I'm not a fan of the "In this book, I am going to describe" style of writing, or the "hey, I'm going to mention this thing, but not talk about it until later" way of introducing related topics. It's how this book is written, and while I find it annoying, once I accepted it (after the second occurance), it was fine.

Again, strongly recommend, let me buy you a copy of, this book.

The central idea of this book concerns our blindness with respect to randomness, particularly the large deviations: Why do we, scientists or nonscientists, hotshots or regular Joes, tend to see the pennies instead of the dollars? Why do we keep focusing on the minutiae, not the possible significant large events, in spite of the obvious evidence of their huge influence?
Location 302

See? Even before the prologue is fully underway, we have "this book." I am giggling at it already.

Isn’t it strange to see an event happening precisely because it was not supposed to happen?
Location 316

Think about the “secret recipe” to making a killing in the restaurant business. If it were known and obvious, then someone next door would have already come up with the idea and it would have become generic.
Location 320

Taleb is talking about how we justify things looking backward, a hindsight fallacy of sources.

Consider the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. Had it been expected, it would not have caused the damage it did— the areas affected would have been less populated, an early warning system would have been put in place. What you know cannot really hurt you.
Location 326

Another example.

What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors, but our absence of awareness of it. This is all the more worrisome when we engage in deadly conflicts: wars are fundamentally unpredictable (and we do not know it).
Location 333

And BOOM. This.

We will see that, contrary to social-science wisdom, almost no discovery, no technologies of note, came from design and planning— they were just Black Swans. The strategy for the discoverers and entrepreneurs is to rely less on top-down planning and focus on maximum tinkering and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves.
Location 344

Who gets rewarded, the central banker who avoids a recession or the one who comes to “correct” his predecessors’ faults and happens to be there during some economic recovery? Who is more valuable, the politician who avoids a war or the one who starts a new one (and is lucky enough to win)?
Location 393

This question is illustrative of a fundamental problem of incentives. One isn't incentivized to prevent ills, one is incentivized to fix them.

What I call Platonicity, after the ideas (and personality) of the philosopher Plato, is our tendency to mistake the map for the territory, to focus on pure and well-defined “forms,” whether objects, like triangles, or social notions, like utopias (societies built according to some blueprint of what “makes sense”), even nationalities. When these ideas and crisp constructs inhabit our minds, we privilege them over other less elegant objects, those with messier and less tractable structures (an idea that I will elaborate progressively throughout this book).
Location 419

Note that I am not relying in this book on the beastly method of collecting selective “corroborating evidence.” For reasons I explain in Chapter 5, I call this overload of examples naïve empiricism— successions of anecdotes selected to fit a story do not constitute evidence. Anyone looking for confirmation will find enough of it to deceive himself— and no doubt his peers.* The Black Swan idea is based on the structure of randomness in empirical reality.
Location 462

O. M. G. A book NOT in Gladwell's style? SIGN. ME. UP.

Also, likely part of the reason I like this book so much. It doesn't rely on anecdotes to prove things. It uses stories to move the book along and tie different elements together, but not as "proof" of things.

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others— a very small minority— who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
Location 512

An anti-library.

Um... yes, that's what I'm building.

We thus managed to live in peace for more than a millennium almost devoid of bloodshed: our last true problem was the later troublemaking crusaders, not the Moslem Arabs. The Arabs, who seemed interested only in warfare (and poetry) and, later, the Ottoman Turks, who seemed only concerned with warfare (and pleasure), left to us the uninteresting pursuit of commerce and the less dangerous one of scholarship (like the translation of Aramaic and Greek texts).
Location 562

Unheard of!

I recall being at the center of the riot, and feeling a huge satisfaction upon my capture while my friends were scared of both prison and their parents. We frightened the government so much that we were granted amnesty.


Had I concealed my participation in the riot (as many friends did) and been discovered, instead of being openly defiant, I am certain that I would have been treated as a black sheep. It is one thing to be cosmetically defiant of authority by wearing unconventional clothes— what social scientists and economists call “cheap signaling”— and another to prove willingness to translate belief into action.
Location 597

It may be that the invention of gunfire and powerful weapons turned what, in the age of the sword, would have been just tense conditions into a spiral of uncontrollable tit-for-tat warfare.
Location 611

This duration blindness in the middle-aged exile is quite a widespread disease. Later, when I decided to avoid the exile’s obsession with his roots (exiles’ roots penetrate their personalities a bit too deeply), I studied exile literature precisely to avoid the traps of a consuming and obsessive nostalgia. These exiles seemed to have become prisoners of their memory of idyllic origin— they sat together with other prisoners of the past and spoke about the old country, and ate their traditional food while some of their folk music played in the background. They continuously ran counterfactuals in their minds, generating alternative scenarios that could have happened and prevented these historical ruptures, such as “if the Shah had not named this incompetent man as prime minister, we would still be there.” It was as if the historical rupture had a specific cause, and that the catastrophe could have been averted by removing that specific cause. So I pumped every displaced person I could find for information on their behavior during exile. Almost all act in the same way.
Location 645

I felt closer to my roots during times of trouble and experienced the urge to come back and show support to those left behind who were often demoralized by the departures— and envious of the fair-weather friends who could seek economic and personal safety only to return for vacations during these occasional lulls in the conflict. I was unable to work or read when I was outside Lebanon while people were dying, but, paradoxically, I was less concerned by the events and able to pursue my intellectual interests guilt-free when I was inside Lebanon.
Location 674

Categorizing is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising their categories.
Location 759

The problem of overcausation does not lie with the journalist, but with the public. Nobody would pay one dollar to buy a series of abstract statistics reminiscent of a boring college lecture. We want to be told stories, and there is nothing wrong with that— except that we should check more thoroughly whether the story provides consequential distortions of reality.
Location 1859

We learn from repetition — at the expense of events that have not happened before. Events that are nonrepeatable are ignored before their occurrence, and overestimated after (for a while). After a Black Swan, such as September 11, 2001, people expect it to recur when in fact the odds of that happening have arguably been lowered. We like to think about specific and known Black Swans when in fact the very nature of randomness lies in its abstraction.
Location 1921

Update: this is what is happening to my older brother. CLEAR TEXT BOOK CASE.

We are often told that we humans have an optimistic bent, and that it is supposed to be good for us. This argument appears to justify general risk taking as a positive enterprise, and one that is glorified in the common culture. Hey, look, our ancestors took the challenges— while you, NNT, are encouraging us to do nothing (I am not). We have enough evidence to confirm that, indeed, we humans are an extremely lucky species, and that we got the genes of the risk takers. The foolish risk takers, that is. In fact, the Casanovas who survived.
Location 2596

The reference point argument is as follows: do not compute odds from the vantage point of the winning gambler (or the lucky Casanova, or the endlessly bouncing back New York City, or the invincible Carthage), but from all those who started in the cohort.
Location 2654

I wish people would understand this about statistics and luck and experiments. You can't look at only success, you have to look at failures, too.

We have to accept the fuzziness of the familiar “because” no matter how queasy it makes us feel (and it does makes us queasy to remove the analgesic illusion of causality). I repeat that we are explanation-seeking animals who tend to think that everything has an identifiable cause and grab the most apparent one as the explanation. Yet there may not be a visible because; to the contrary, frequently there is nothing, not even a spectrum of possible explanations. But silent evidence masks this fact. Whenever our survival is in play, the very notion of because is severely weakened. The condition of survival drowns all possible explanations.
Location 2662

And it is why we have Black Swans and never learn from their occurrence, because the ones that did not happen were too abstract.
Location 2885

We love the tangible, the confirmation, the palpable, the real, the visible, the concrete, the known, the seen, the vivid, the visual, the social, the embedded, the emotionally laden, the salient, the stereotypical, the moving, the theatrical, the romanced, the cosmetic, the official, the scholarly-sounding verbiage (b******t), the pompous Gaussian economist, the mathematicized crap, the pomp, the Académie Française, Harvard Business School, the Nobel Prize, dark business suits with white shirts and Ferragamo ties, the moving discourse, and the lurid. Most of all we favor the narrated.

Alas, we are not manufactured, in our current edition of the human race, to understand abstract matters— we need context. Randomness and uncertainty are abstractions. We respect what has happened, ignoring what could have happened. In other words, we are naturally shallow and superficial— and we do not know it. This is not a psychological problem; it comes from the main property of information. The dark side of the moon is harder to see; beaming light on it costs energy. In the same way, beaming light on the unseen is costly in both computational and mental effort.
Location 2891

First, we are demonstrably arrogant about what we think we know. We certainly know a lot, but we have a built-in tendency to think that we know a little bit more than we actually do, enough of that little bit to occasionally get into serious trouble. We shall see how you can verify, even measure, such arrogance in your own living room.
Location 2974

I remind the reader that I am not testing how much people know, but assessing the difference between what people actually know and how much they think they know.
Location 3028

The simple test above suggests the presence of an ingrained tendency in humans to underestimate outliers— or Black Swans. Left to our own devices, we tend to think that what happens every decade in fact only happens once every century, and, furthermore, that we know what’s going on.
Location 3034

.. additional knowledge of the minutiae of daily business can be useless, even actually toxic, ...
Location 3083

Show two groups of people a blurry image of a fire hydrant, blurry enough for them not to recognize what it is. For one group, increase the resolution slowly, in ten steps. For the second, do it faster, in five steps. Stop at a point where both groups have been presented an identical image and ask each of them to identify what they see. The members of the group that saw fewer intermediate steps are likely to recognize the hydrant much faster. Moral? The more information you give someone, the more hypotheses they will formulate along the way, and the worse off they will be. They see more random noise and mistake it for information.
Location 3087

Our forecast errors have traditionally been enormous, and there may be no reasons for us to believe that we are suddenly in a more privileged position to see into the future compared to our blind predecessors. Forecasting by bureaucrats tends to be used for anxiety relief rather than for adequate policy making.
Location 3429

Even if you agree with a given forecast, you have to worry about the real possibility of significant divergence from it.
Location 3435

We build toys. Some of those toys change the world.
Location 3569

What we call here soft historical sciences are narrative dependent studies. Popper’s central argument is that in order to predict historical events you need to predict technological innovation, itself fundamentally unpredictable. “Fundamentally” unpredictable? I will explain what he means using a modern framework. Consider the following property of knowledge: If you expect that you will know tomorrow with certainty that your boyfriend has been cheating on you all this time, then you know today with certainty that your boyfriend is cheating on you and will take action today, say, by grabbing a pair of scissors and angrily cutting all his Ferragamo ties in half. You won’t tell yourself, This is what I will figure out tomorrow, but today is different so I will ignore the information and have a pleasant dinner. This point can be generalized to all forms of knowledge. There is actually a law in statistics called the law of iterated expectations, which I outline here in its strong form: if I expect to expect something at some date in the future, then I already expect that something at present.
Location 3596

To me utopia is an epistemocracy, a society in which anyone of rank is an epistemocrat, and where epistemocrats manage to be elected. It would be a society governed from the basis of the awareness of ignorance, not knowledge. Alas, one cannot assert authority by accepting one’s own fallibility. Simply, people need to be blinded by knowledge— we are made to follow leaders who can gather people together because the advantages of being in groups trump the disadvantages of being alone. It has been more profitable for us to bind together in the wrong direction than to be alone in the right one.
Location 3967

But if you are dealing with aggregates, where magnitudes do matter, such as income, your wealth, return on a portfolio, or book sales, then you will have a problem and get the wrong distribution if you use the Gaussian, as it does not belong there. One single number can disrupt all your averages; one single loss can eradicate a century of profits.
Location 4864

We have moved from a simple bet to something completely abstract. We have moved from observations into the realm of mathematics. In mathematics things have a purity to them.
Location 4937

Likewise, the Gaussian bell curve is set so that 68.2 percent of the observations fall between minus one and plus one standard deviations away from the average. I repeat: do not even try to understand whether standard deviation is average deviation— it is not, and a large (too large) number of people using the word standard deviation do not understand this point. Standard deviation is just a number that you scale things to, a matter of mere correspondence if phenomena were Gaussian.
Location 4944

Recall our discussions in Chapter 14 on preferential attachment and cumulative advantage. Both theories assert that winning today makes you more likely to win in the future. Therefore, probabilities are dependent on history, and the first central assumption leading to the Gaussian bell curve fails in reality. In games, of course, past winnings are not supposed to translate into an increased probability of future gains— but not so in real life, which is why I worry about teaching probability from games. But when winning leads to more winning, you are far more likely to see forty wins in a row than with a proto-Gaussian.
Location 4963

Being on the receiving end of angry insults is not that bad; you can get quickly used to it and focus on what is not said. Pit traders are trained to handle angry rants. If you work in the chaotic pits, someone in a particularly bad mood from losing money might start cursing at you until he injures his vocal cords, then forget about it and, an hour later, invite you to his Christmas party. So you become numb to insults, particularly if you teach yourself to imagine that the person uttering them is a variant of a noisy ape with little personal control. Just keep your composure, smile, focus on analyzing the speaker not the message, and you’ll win the argument. An ad hominem attack against an intellectual, not against an idea, is highly flattering. It indicates that the person does not have anything intelligent to say about your message.
Location 5477

The only comment I found unacceptable was, “You are right; we need you to remind us of the weakness of these methods, but you cannot throw the baby out with the bath water,” meaning that I needed to accept their reductive Gaussian distribution while also accepting that large deviations could occur— they didn’t realize the incompatibility of the two approaches. It was as if one could be half dead. Not one of these users of portfolio theory in twenty years of debates, explained how they could accept the Gaussian framework as well as large deviations. Not one.
Location 5505

Along the way I saw enough of the confirmation error to make Karl Popper stand up with rage. People would find data in which there were no jumps or extreme events, and show me a “proof” that one could use the Gaussian.
Location 5507

The entire statistical business confused absence of proof with proof of absence.
Location 5509

Furthermore, people did not understand the elementary asymmetry involved: you need one single observation to reject the Gaussian, but millions of observations will not fully confirm the validity of its application. Why? Because the Gaussian bell curve disallows large deviations, but tools of Extremistan, the alternative, do not disallow long quiet stretches.
Location 5510

Now, elegant mathematics has this property: it is perfectly right, not 99 percent so. This property appeals to mechanistic minds who do not want to deal with ambiguities. Unfortunately you have to cheat somewhere to make the world fit perfect mathematics; and you have to fudge your assumptions somewhere.
Location 5537

This is where you learn from the minds of military people and those who have responsibilities in security. They do not care about “perfect” ludic reasoning; they want realistic ecological assumptions. In the end, they care about lives.
Location 5541

I am most often irritated by those who attack the bishop but somehow fall for the securities analyst— those who exercise their skepticism against religion but not against economists, social scientists, and phony statisticians. Using the confirmation bias, these people will tell you that religion was horrible for mankind by counting deaths from the Inquisition and various religious wars. But they will not show you how many people were killed by nationalism, social science, and political theory under Stalinism or during the Vietnam War. Even priests don’t go to bishops when they feel ill: their first stop is the doctor’s.
Location 5702

Half the time I hate Black Swans, the other half I love them. I like the randomness that produces the texture of life, the positive accidents, the success of Apelles the painter, the potential gifts you do not have to pay for. Few understand the beauty in the story of Apelles; in fact, most people exercise their error avoidance by repressing the Apelles in them.
Location 5726

I worry less about small failures, more about large, potentially terminal ones.
Location 5731

I worry less about advertised and sensational risks, more about the more vicious hidden ones. I worry less about terrorism than about diabetes, less about matters people usually worry about because they are obvious worries, and more about matters that lie outside our consciousness and common discourse
Location 5734

I worry less about embarrassment than about missing an opportunity.
Location 5737

Snub your destiny. I have taught myself to resist running to keep on schedule. This may seem a very small piece of advice, but it registered. In refusing to run to catch trains, I have felt the true value of elegance and aesthetics in behavior, a sense of being in control of my time, my schedule, and my life. Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking.
Location 5753

You stand above the rat race and the pecking order, not outside of it, if you do so by choice.
Location 5756

Quitting a high-paying position, if it is your decision, will seem a better payoff than the utility of the money involved (this may seem crazy, but I’ve tried it and it works). This is the first step toward the stoic’s throwing a four-letter word at fate. You have far more control over your life if you decide on your criterion by yourself.
Location 5757

Mother Nature has given us some defense mechanisms: as in Aesop’s fable, one of these is our ability to consider that the grapes we cannot (or did not) reach are sour. But an aggressively stoic prior disdain and rejection of the grapes is even more rewarding. Be aggressive; be the one to resign, if you have the guts.
Location 5760

It is more difficult to be a loser in a game you set up yourself. In Black Swan terms, this means that you are exposed to the improbable only if you let it control you. You always control what you do; so make this your end.
Location 5762


Book Notes

I really don't know where I heard of this book, or why I picked it up. I bought it in ebook format and made it through maybe 20 pages before I put it down, walked down to Powells, and bought a hardback copy of the book. This is the way I read books now: ebook from the library if I can, tree book if I can't, purchased ebook if neither of those. If I like the book, if it is a book I want to loan out, have on my bookshelf, or reread, I will buy it in paper format. If I want to keep it forever (for a short definition of "forever"), I will buy a hardback version. I knew in the first 20 pages, I wanted this one in hardback.

It did not disappoint.

This book is about finding what is essential in your life, and committing to only that, rejecting the parts that do not help you on your journey to what you find essential. Saying no is hard. Defining that is essential is hard. Having a good life is hard. This book helps in that journey. This book gives you permission, if you need it, to discard all the parts of your life holding you back, not helping, not worth your limited time.

I can't say I'm following all of the advice in the book, nor can I say all the advice or rah-rah-rah stories in the book are relevant to everyone or anyone. I found the book inspiring and life-changing. Let me buy you a copy.

The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. —Lin Yutang
Page 1

One reason is that in our society we are punished for good behavior (saying no) and rewarded for bad behavior (saying yes). The former is often awkward in the moment, and the latter is often celebrated in the moment.
Page 12

It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload.
Page 15

This requires, not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials, and not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but cutting out some really good opportunities as well.
Page 16

As Peter Drucker said, “People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, ‘this isn’t for me.’ ”
Page 23

To eliminate nonessentials means saying no to someone. Often. It means pushing against social expectations. To do it well takes courage and compassion. So eliminating the nonessentials isn’t just about mental discipline. It’s about the emotional discipline necessary to say no to social pressure.
Page 23

What if we stopped being oversold the value of having more and being undersold the value of having less?
Page 26

To harness the courage we need to get on the right path, it pays to reflect on how short life really is and what we want to accomplish in the little time we have left. As poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
Part I: Essence: What is the core mind-set of an Essentialist?
Page 26

There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.” Like mythological sirens, these assumptions are as dangerous as they are seductive. They draw us in and drown us in shallow waters.
Page 32

To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.” These simple truths awaken us from our nonessential stupor. They free us to pursue what really matters. They enable us to live at our highest level of contribution.
Page 32

“If you could do only one thing with your life right now, what would you do?”
Page 34

We often think of choice as a thing. But a choice is not a thing. Our options may be things, but a choice—a choice is an action. It is not just something we have but something we do.
Page 35

Have you ever felt stuck because you believed you did not really have a choice? Have you ever felt the stress that comes from simultaneously holding two contradictory beliefs: “I can’t do this” and “I have to do this”? Have you ever given up your power to choose bit by bit until you allowed yourself to blindly follow a path prescribed by another person?
Page 35

I’ll be the first to admit that choices are hard. By definition they involve saying no to something or several somethings, and that can feel like a loss.
Page 38

William James once wrote, “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.”
Page 40

Most people have heard of the “Pareto Principle,” the idea, introduced as far back as the 1790s by Vilfredo Pareto, that 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of results.
Page 43

As John Maxwell has written, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”
Page 45

It was an example of his Essentialist thinking at work when he said: “You have to look at every opportunity and say, ‘Well, no … I’m sorry. We’re not going to do a thousand different things that really won’t contribute much to the end result we are trying to achieve.’ ”
Page 50

In the simplest terms, straddling means keeping your existing strategy intact while simultaneously also trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor.
Page 50

The reality is, saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others.
Page 52

“We value passion, innovation, execution, and leadership.” One of several problems with the list is, Who doesn’t value these things? Another problem is that this tells employees nothing about what the company values most. It says nothing about what choices employees should be making when these values are at odds.
Page 52

To say they value equally everyone they interact with leaves management with no clear guidance on what to do when faced with trade-offs between the people they serve.
Page 53

Unlike most corporate mission statements, the Credo actually lists the constituents of the company in priority order. Customers are first; shareholders are last.
Page 53

As painful as they can sometimes be, trade-offs represent a significant opportunity. By forcing us to weigh both options and strategically select
Page 55

the best one for us, we significantly increase our chance of achieving the outcome we want.
Page 55

Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.
Part II: Explore: How can we discern the trivial many from the vital few?
Page 56

Essentialists spend as much time as possible exploring, listening, debating, questioning, and thinking. But their exploration is not an end in itself. The purpose of the exploration is to discern the vital few from the trivial many.
Page 62

In this space he is able to think about the essential questions: what the company will look like in three to five years; what’s the best way to improve an already popular product or address an unmet customer need; how to widen a competitive advantage or close a competitive gap. He also uses the space he creates to recharge himself emotionally. This allows him to shift between problem-solving mode and the coaching mode expected of him as a leader.
Page 69

“In that instant,” Ephron recalls, “I realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn’t enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it mattered.”
Page 74

anyone. The best journalists do not simply relay information. Their value is in discovering what really matters to people.
Page 75

Being a journalist of your own life will force you to stop hyper-focusing on all the minor details and see the bigger picture.
Page 75

The best journalists, as Friedman shared later with me, listen for what others do not hear.
Page 76

I also suggest that once every ninety days or so you take an hour to read your journal entries from that period.
Page 78

Capture the headline. Look for the lead in your day, your week, your life. Small, incremental changes are hard to see in the moment but over time can have a huge cumulative effect.
Page 78

Play, which I would define as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end—
Page 85

Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, has studied what are called the play histories. “Play,” he says, “leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity.” As he succinctly puts it, “Nothing fires up the brain like play.”
Page 85

First, play broadens the range of options available to us. It helps us to see possibilities we otherwise wouldn’t have seen and make connections we would otherwise not have made.
Page 86

Play stimulates the parts of the brain involved in both careful, logical reasoning and carefree, unbound exploration.
Page 87

In his book, Brown includes a primer to help readers reconnect with play. He suggests that readers mine their past
7. Play: Embrace the Wisdom of Your Inner Child >Page 90

Here’s a simple, systematic process you can use to apply selective criteria to opportunities that come your way. First, write down the opportunity. Second, write down a list of three “minimum criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered. Third, write down a list of three ideal or “extreme criteria” the options would need to “pass” in order to be considered. By definition, if the opportunity doesn’t pass the first set of criteria, the answer is obviously no. But if it also doesn’t pass two of your three extreme criteria, the answer is still no.
Page 111

Instead, why not conduct an advanced search and ask three questions: “What am I deeply passionate about?” and “What taps my talent?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?”
Page 112

Ask the more essential question that will inform every future decision you will ever make: “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
Page 127

Have you ever felt a tension between what you felt was right and what someone was pressuring you to do? Have you ever felt the conflict between your internal conviction and an external action? Have you ever said yes when you meant no simply to avoid conflict or friction? Have you ever felt too scared or timid to turn down an invitation or request from a boss, colleague, friend, neighbor, or family member for fear of disappointing them?

If you have, you’re not alone. Navigating these moments with courage and grace is one of the most important skills to master in becoming an Essentialist—and one of the hardest.
Page 132

So why is it so hard in the moment to dare to choose what is essential over what is nonessential? One simple answer is we are unclear about what is essential. When this happens we become defenseless. On the other hand, when we have strong internal clarity it is almost as if we have a force field protecting us from the nonessentials coming at us from all directions. With Rosa it was her deep moral clarity that gave her unusual courage of conviction.
Page 134

You can apply zero-based budgeting to your own endeavors. Instead of trying to budget your time on the basis of existing commitments, assume that all bets are off. All previous commitments are gone. Then begin from scratch, asking which you would add today. You can do this with everything from the financial obligations you have to projects you are committed to, even relationships you are in. Every use of time, energy, or resources has to justify itself anew. If it no longer fits, eliminate it altogether.
Page 152

By quietly eliminating or at least scaling back an activity for a few days or weeks you might be able to assess whether it is really making a difference or whether no one really cares.
Page 154

Becoming an editor in our lives also includes knowing when to show restraint. One way we can do this is by editing our tendency to step in. When we are added onto an e-mail thread, for example, we can resist our usual temptation to be the first to reply all. When sitting in a meeting, we can resist the urge to add our two cents. We can wait. We can observe. We can see how things develop. Doing less is not just a powerful Essentialist strategy, it’s a powerful editorial one as well.
Page 162

The question is this: What is the “slowest hiker” in your job or your life? What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.
Page 187

The Lady and the Monk

Book Notes

Again (and again), when a dear friend offers you a book to read, you read it, especially when said friend says, "This book reminds me of us."

I, unfortunately, left this book in my reading pile too long, and Moazam bought himself another copy. Or maybe fortunately, because I now have my own copy.

The book is the tale of Iyer's adventure in Japan to learn about Zen Buddhism "from the inside" while living in a monastery, along with his meeting Sachiko and their subsequent friendship. It is also about seeing a world the way you wish it to be, innocent and unmarred by pain, instead of grounded in a perhaps ugly reality.

Iyer's writing evokes the mood of his surroundings, of his experience, of the world around him, in a way that pulls the reader in. One can almost smell the cherry blossoms, feel the weight of the air heavy with water before the rain, the sounds of the city sleeping but not quite, the silence of the monastery, the disquiet energy of his companions seeking quiet in a place it can't be found.

I enjoyed the book. It wasn't a book I would have chosen for myself, which makes it a good choice by Moazam.

Many of them, he said, had wearied of the worldly aspects of the monastic life - the politicking, the emphasis on sheer willpower, the need for subservience, the stress on hierarchy: all the quallities, in short, that could make temples seem just like any other affluent, rule-bound Japanese company.
Page 24

"I remember this one Zen teacher told me, soon after I arrived, that the appeal of Zen to many foreigners was like a mountain wrapped in mist. Much of what hte Westerners saw was ust the beautiful mist; but as soon as they began really doing Zen, they found that its essence was the mountain: hard rock."
Page 25

Jizō, he explained, was the patron saint of children and of travelers (very apt, I thought, since very child is a born adventurer and every traveler a born-again child).

So perhaps these magazines, with their secular cult of the virgin, served only to encourage sex in the head, catering to that famously sentimental Japanese Romanticism that perfers the idea of a thing, its memory or promise, to the thing itself.

The monk wrote about his frissons of pleasur when passing an unknown woman on a night of moon viewing, and the protocol of making love; how "lamplight makes a beautiful face seem even more beautiful," and "beautiful hair, of all things in a woman, is most likely to catch a man's eye." Most unexpected of all, at least to me, were the priest's anxious obsessiveness with appearances ("A man should be trained in such a way that no woman will ever laugh at him"), and his strongly worded snipes about lower-class men and other "insufferable" or "disagreeable" types ("It is unattractive when people get in a society which is not their habitual one").
Page 56

There was, I thought, a metaphor in this one: one could not plan epiphanies any more than one could plan surprise visits from one's friends.
Page 57

All festivals, of course, aer acts of collective myth-making, chances for a nation to advertise its idealized image of itself.

Besides, the pairing of Western men and EAstern women was as natural as the partnership of sun and moon. Everyone falls in love with what he cannot begin to understand. And the other man's heart is always greener.

The Japanese were famous, I knew, for their delight in lacrimae rerum and for finding beauty mostly in sadness; indeed it was often noted that their word for "love" and their word for "grief" are homonyms - and almost synonyms too - in a culture that seems to love grief, of the wistful kind, and to grieve for love.

Foreigners meant freedom in a land where freedom itself was largely foreign.

Making our way towards the port, we looked out at the ocean liners, black in the chromium light, and sitting down on a log, the wind blustering all about us, we fell into our usual patter, she telling me how America was the land of the free, I telling her how much of what I saw in America was loneliness.

Encouraging people to realize their potential was an especially dangerous occupation in a country that taught them to fulfill their duty instead.

The moon, I recalled, was the one possession that even monks did not renounce. When he lost his house in a fire, the Zen poet Masahide wrote, he found occasion for new hope: he now enjoyed a better view of the rising moon.

And I remembered how the demon Mara, when he was trying to tempt the Buddha, having failed to bring him down with discontent or desire, unleashed his strongest weapon: love.
Page 183

(When she asked her students to find three adjectives to describe themselves, a longtime foreign teacher told me, she had had to ban the use of "cheerful," or else every girl in class would use it.)

Besides, pretense could have its virtues. I thought back to the line in the Singer story "A Piece of Advice" I had read a few months before: "If you are not happy, act the happy man. Happiness will come later. If you are in despair, act as though you believe. Faith will come afterwards."


By the same token, a horse that imitates a champion thoroughbred may be classed as a thoroughbred, and the man who imitates Shun bleongs to Shun's company. A man who stuides wisdom, even insicncerly, should be called wise."
Page 185

Partly, perhaps, she could only apprehend a foreigner - and romance - through the imported images she'd consumed, just as I could see her only through the keyhole of ancient Japanese love poems. But partly, too, I could see, with a pang, how keen she was to remove our lives from the everyday world, to lift them to some timeless, fairy-tale realm, immutable, impersishable, and immune from unhappy realities. Realism was reserved for what she did at home ...; our time was "dream time."
Page near-the-end-of-the-book-past-page-185

Sums up the book nicely.

The End of the World Running Club

Book Notes

I like this book. I have no idea where I found this book, but I would guess someone recommended it to me via BookRiot on some new release book list, because I've given up reading the classics for the moment, and going with whatever post-apocalyptic universe some author wants to provide.

And I got it.

The crazy part of this book was its setting in Edinburgh. I was in Edinburgh last month! I really like Edinburgh, and I keep hoping to find Troggie, three years later.

Anyway, it's lots of fun to be able to imagine the exact place where parts of the book are happening, even the part where "Yes, there were three strip clubs on the corner" and I stayed in a hotel all of 40 meters from that corner.

The story, oh boy, the story is great. The transformation of Ed, the main character, from the soft, modern man to the self-sufficient one at the end is the epitome of the hero's journey.

I enjoyed the book. I recommend it, it is worth reading if you like post-apocalyptic survival tales.

The line between any two points in your life is liable to be strange and unfathomable, a tangle of chance and tedium. But some points seem to have clearer connections, even ones that are far from each other, as if they have a direct line that bypasses the normal run of time.
Page: 1

I believe what I believe to make life less terrifying. That’s all beliefs are: stories we tell ourselves to stop being afraid. Beliefs have very little to do with the truth.
Page: 2

Don’t get me wrong—I loved my wife and I loved my kids, but that doesn’t mean to say I had to be happy about it.
Page: 5

We’re idiots. Creatures of denial who have learned not to be afraid of our closets. We need to see the monster in the room before we scream. The monster
Page: 8

I had made it very clear to Beth, very early in the proceedings, that I was the one who had to get up for work in the morning, that I was the one who needed my sleep, so no, I would most certainly not be helping with night feeds. I don’t think I’m the first man to have ever pulled this one. It’s a common enough shirk, one that conveniently ignores what work actually means for most men—i.e., comfy seats, tea and coffee,
Page: 10

cookies, nice food, adult conversation, the occasional pretty girl to ogle, the Internet, sealed toilet cubicles where you can catch a few winks without anyone noticing. Work. Not like being at home breastfeeding a newborn and entertaining a two-year-old all day.
Page: 10

I made it easy on myself, very easy. And that made it hard on Beth.
Page: 12

I have to keep telling myself not to look back so much. I’ll always regret not being a better father, a better husband, but I have to look forward or else I won’t get to the place I’m going, and I need beyond everything else to get there. The past is a foreign country, someone once said. They do things differently there. My past—everyone’s past—is now a different planet. It’s so different it almost makes no sense to remember it.
Page: 12

You want to know how long it takes for the fabric of society to break down? I’ll tell you. The same time it takes to kick a door down.
Page: 30

Ask anyone who has been in a crowd that becomes too strong, where bodies begin to crush you. Is your first instinct to lift others up, or to trample them down? That beast inside you, the one you think is tethered tightly to the post, the one you’ve tamed with art, love, prayer, meditation: it’s barely muzzled. The knot is weak. The post is brittle. All it takes is two words and a siren to cut it loose.
Page: 30

“Swap,” said Beth. She released Alice from her arms and lay her down against the damp pillow. We both stretched our numb legs as we stood up to change places. I passed Arthur across, and Beth released her right breast for him to suckle.
Page: 47

Doesn’t even know how his own house works… I sat back on the upturned box and switched off the flashlight. I watched the flame of the candle flicker in a breeze that could be either poisoning us or keeping us alive. I stared at a pipe that held either our salvation or our doom.
Page: 55

The world had designed me to be something. I was supposed to be a survival mechanism, a series of devices and instincts built, tested, and improved upon over billions of years. I was a sculpture of hydrogen, evolution’s cutting edge, a vessel of will, a self-adjusting, self-aware machine of infinite resource and potential. That was what the world had designed me to be. A survivor. A human being. A man.
Page: 55

To me, running was just showing off, a way for self-obsessed pricks to show how much more focused, disciplined, and healthy they were than you. How much more average they were than you—the subaverage gibbon who watched from a park bench with its prepacked lunch. Gyms were just as bad, except in gyms you had it coming at you from all angles: weight lifters out-lifting one another, cross-trainers quietly tapping up their speeds to match their neighbor’s, treadmillers pounding their feet to some nauseating soundtrack of their own puffed-up lives. Entire, windowless rooms crammed full of sweaty, unashamed, Lycra-clad peacockery.
Page: 64

Then I filled another, and another, before the flow finally began to stop, and I fell to my knees, sobbing in either relief or grief. I don’t know to this day which. There’s a fair chance I had been hoping for gas.
Page: 70

Behind us were the remains of the city center. Princes Street, Rose Street, George Street, Thistle Street, Queen Street, all now just black stumps and rubble. Cathedrals, churches, tenements, and houses, all gone.
Page: 73

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably in a better time and place than the one I’m in now. You probably didn’t witness the extent of the devastation. You probably don’t know how it feels to see that everything in your world has suddenly stopped, died, or vanished.
Page: 73

My own boundary was the size and shape of a small, stinking cellar for a little over two weeks after the strike.
Page: 74

Bryce laid down his glass. “Oh, I get it. I’m a big man, so I must be unfit?” “No, wait, that’s not what I…” He prodded one of his immense fingers in my direction. “I walk everywhere, sunshine. And I do a lot of shaggin’. What about you?”
Page: 114

“Knew it. Parents, you’re all the same. You’re all ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that’ or ‘I can’t get my arse off the sofa; I’m tired’ or ‘My kids are so fuckin’ demanding, I don’t have time for anything else.’ Fuckin’ pathetic, the lot of youse. You chose to have the wee bastards.” He jabbed another finger at me and sat back in his seat. “You take your medicine!”
Page: 115

This, combined with a road that disappeared into the horizon, always made me think of driving through the midwestern states of America, despite the fact that I had never been.
Page: 156

“What about your wife?” I said.

“Died a few years back,” said Harvey.

“I’m sorry,” I said with that useless spasm we give to another’s grief.
Page: 158

“You don’t know what protection means,” she said. “You don’t know what not having protection means. You don’t know how important that is. That simple thing: to look after someone. To put yourself in front of someone. To say you’ll die for them and mean it. You don’t know what that means because all you do is look after yourself.”
Page: 161

Nothing came close to what Gloria had been through, so why had we found them so hard? Why was the process of bringing life into the world, even in a bubble of middle-class comfort, medicine, and relative safety, so fraught? Why did it take so much emotion? Why did this process keep perpetuating itself, generation after generation going through the same thing, time after time? Why did life bother?
Page: 185

I just felt the same mixture of confusion and inability to cope as always, only this time compressed into microseconds.
Page: 202

But it wasn’t an escape. It wasn’t a return to a simpler life; it was a version of a simpler life. A version that replaced cholera, dysentery, freezing winters, lost harvests, frequent stillbirths, domestic violence, incest with underfloor heating, solar panels, and plump trust funds. It was just another decoration: wallpaper, not a return. Perhaps I’m being unkind or just jealous. But
Page: 207

One day, two other boys and I found a pornographic magazine hidden in the seat. As young boys, there was no other option available to us but to read it.
Page: 217

I remember running, running everywhere without thought. And yet I don’t remember actually running. Not the effort of it. I remember lightness. I remember speed. I remember the earth seeming to bounce beneath me as if it were a giant balloon I could push away with my bare feet. I don’t remember stiff, slow limbs or tight lungs or the feeling of concrete pounding through my bones.
Page: 219

“Striding on,” he said. “You’re trying to pull the road under you, trying to turn the earth with your heels.”
Page: 221

Yeah. This is how I run. Dammit.

“The planet’s much bigger than you, son,” he said. “It’s not going to work.”
Page: 221

“Think of it this way: you’re turning a flat road into an uphill climb. You should be turning it into a descent. Look at my feet. They never go past my waist. They only take little steps. It’s like I’m falling—see, that’s all running is, controlled falling.”
Page: 221

“Losing dogs,” he said. “Hardest fuckin’ thing. My grandad died when I was twelve. I remember Mum telling me when I got in from school, and she might as well have been telling me what was for dinner. I didn’t give a shit, fuckin’ alcoholic old prick. Our dog died a year later, and I cried for a week. It’s hard.” He punched his chest. “Harder than losing a person.”
Page: 227

“We can’t run that far in that time, or I can’t at any rate. I’m just not capable.” He fixed me with his bright blue eyes.

“Ed,” he said. “You have no idea what you’re capable of.”
Page: 232

I felt an odd respite, cocooned from the road ahead, as if there were no more distance to go, that the journey itself was just in this small bubble. There was no longer any great expanse to endure.
Page: 241

I said nothing. Caught my breath. Carried on.
Page: 251

“Nothing. It’s all this nonsense going around your noggin. All the doom and the gloom and the guilt and woe. All the stuff that doesn’t really exist. That’s what brings you down.”
Page: 253

“I know what it’s like to miss someone, mate,” he said. “Burns you up inside. Makes you think bad things, feel bad things—guilt, fear, despair—like you could have done more or shouldn’t have done anything.”
Page: 253

“Keep talking,” he said, winking. “And keep running. Keeps the mind away from the dark places."
Page: 255

I wish.

Sometimes I’d listen to the noise my feet made on the road and the noise my breathing made on top of it, and I’d make a word out of it, sing it all day. Becomes a bit like a mantra, very soothing, hypnotic.
Page: 255

“Clear your mind and things start working out for you,” he said. “You can’t run five hundred miles just by clearing your mind,” I spat. Harvey shrugged. “You can’t do it without it either.”
Page: 256

But don’t get into the habit of letting people tell you what to believe, son. That’ll get you into all sorts of strife. Hey, Ed?”
Page: 257

Harvey told me that the resistance I faced wasn’t something I could ever beat. The best I could hope for was to learn how to fight it daily, to parry and lunge and keep it at bay by learning about how it worked. Some days it would win, others it would lose.
Page: 258

I should learn not just how to fight it, he told me, but, like every enemy, how to love it.
Page: 259

“Entropy,” he said. “Entropy and decay. Everything turns to dust. Everything is constantly trying to return to the dust from which it came.” He frowned and picked up his tumbler. His face twisted into an attempt at a smile. “So why all the struggle?” he said.
Page: 264

I could taste it immediately, as if a door I’d never seen had been flung open onto a long, wide landscape of forest, earth, and ocean, tall stone pillars clawed with brine and weed, cold starry skies, ancient, candlelit rooms, deep eyes, short lives, and whispered promises. I felt as if somebody had filled my head with a thousand years of secret, guarded memories.
Page: 275

We think that language binds us, keeps us close, but sometimes I wonder how far apart we really are. We can make a million assumptions from the movement of an old man’s hand. Most of them are probably incorrect. All we have to go on is our own skewed window on the world. We’re like hermits living in the attics of big houses on lonely hills, watching one another with broken telescopes.
Page: 288

“Medicine, clean water, sanitation, midwifery, roads, transport, everything that pulled this world out of the dark ages and took the nasty, brutish, and short out of life.”
Page: 292

“I’m saying society has evolved, Ed. It’s not what it used to be for one very good reason: it was shit and people weren’t very good at staying alive. We got sick and died daily. Childbirth usually ended in death for the child, the mother, or both. Pain, filth, famine, and war were everywhere, and you were lucky to reach thirty without being stabbed, shot, tortured, decapitated, hung, drawn and quartered, burned at the stake, or thrown in a dungeon to rot.
Page: 292

We killed each other because we were starving and terrified most of the time.
Page: 293

Other people’s problems, even those of your friends, are a great and terrible distraction from your own.
Page: 296

The living would run through the dust of the dead, just as they always had done.
Page: 301

Hope became my drug.
Page: 303

“I heard this story once,” she said, zipping up her jacket and burrowing her hands into her pockets. “About how the future would turn out. The future back then, you know, not the future now. All the people who know how things work, the people with degrees who can make computers and toasters and that, they’d all live on the hills behind electric fences. Everyone else would live and die in shit.” She turned to us. “They wouldn’t need us anymore, you see. Wouldn’t need our money.”
Page: 318

“Didn’t think I was capable of it,” he said, lighting another cigarette. “Turns out you don’t have a clue what you’re capable of. Not a clue.”
Page: 345

I felt all that terrible love flood through me, but it was like an undercurrent to something else. Something…something old. Something that had been around too long. It was like…when those big, wet, unseeing eyes found mine and locked on for a second, it felt like something was saying, Is this it? Again? We’re doing this again, are we? Another child? Another life? Another turn of the wheel? Another struggle?”
Page: 364

Apathy arrives very quickly.
Page: 377

I stared into the fire and out at the others burning around the demolished town and thought about gravity, about how it holds everything, even things with no weight, like thoughts, dreams, love. Even flames struggle to escape it. Everything is weighed down. Everything is pushed down toward the sea. Everything is kept at bay.
Page: 378

Thoughts became intangible and disconnected. They were like explosions of ash. Each one that arrived lasted only moments before it fell away and disintegrated, as if nothing supported it, nothing held it together.
Page: 380

I know now it’s certainty itself I have a problem with. Certainty doesn’t feel like something we’re supposed to have.
Page: 389

It’s hard being a human. Most of the time we’re just blind idiots seeking joy in a world full of fear and pain. We have no idea what we’re doing, and on the rare occasions when we get things right, we’re just lucky. Our lives are filled with the humdrum: dust and noise with no meaning. And yet they contain moments that seem to mean something, something we can’t describe but want to. Those moments leave holes we want to fill. We want to name them, paint them, teach
Page: 389

We want God. We want this life to end, for the curtain to go up and a kind, loving face to smile down on us, a warm voice to call us through and explain everything to us. The hole is everything we don’t know and everything we suspect, and we need a truth to fill it.
Page: 389

Pain from the present. Pain from the past. Pain in the future. Suffering and regret with little hope to alleviate either of them.
Page: 390

“Do you know why people tell stories, Ed?” he said. He waited for me to speak, but I didn’t. He sniffed and went on. “Because the truth doesn’t really have any words of its own. They’re not enough, see? Stories work—good stories—because they make you feel something like how the truth would make you feel if you could hear it.” I closed my eyes, shivering a little at the
Page: 395

He stretched out his arm and laid a warm hand, full of goodness, onto my shoulder. I felt tears in my sick eyes at his touch. It disarmed me—not because I thought he was real, but because I knew the opposite. I was creating this. I was creating this thing of hope. It was already inside of me; it didn’t come from anywhere else.
Page: 397

How hard did this have to be? How hard to simply exist, to move, to twitch muscles, to think, hope, accept, move, love, and be loved.
Page: 398

“Anyway, just saying: I’ve seen a few things myself. I know how weird it can get. We’re not really supposed to be on our own, Ed, we’re not built for it. Spend too much time running away from reality and that’s exactly where you get.”
Page: 417

“When I was a boy my father told me that life was like being on a boat,” he said. “You can’t control the wind and you sure as hell can’t control the ocean. One day it’s calm and the next it’s a storm, and there’s nothing you can do about that. All you get is a tiller and a sail and the weather you find yourself in.”
Page: 417

“I think we like stories,” he said. “I think we like hearing that we’re just little boats lost at sea, all alone, fragile things at the mercy of some darkness we can’t fathom, but solid nonetheless—enclosed and separate. It makes sense to think of things being out there.”
Page: 418

“And things being in here. But just because it feels right, doesn’t make it true.”
Page: 418

“We’re all born screaming, Ed. The moment we pop out our throats open, and the same scream bursts out that always has. We see all the lights and faces and the shadows and the strange sounds, and we scream. Life screams, and we scream back at it. After a bit of time we learn to be quiet; we learn to muffle it. But life doesn’t stop. It just keeps screaming. All. The. Time.” He tapped his finger on the table three times and sat back. “I reckon it does you good to remind it that you can still scream back once in a while,” he said. “So that’s what I do. I wake up and tell the sun I’m still here. Still screaming.”
Page: 421

You don’t run thirty miles; you run a single step many times over. That’s all running is; that’s all anything is. If there’s somewhere you need to be, somewhere you need to get to, or if you need to change or move away from where or what you are, then that’s all it takes. A hundred thousand simple decisions, each one made correctly.
Page: 434

That other beast inside you, the one you rarely see? You have it tethered tight. It watches and waits while you mess up your life, fill your body with poison and muddy your mind with worry. For some it takes just one call to free it. For others it takes five hundred miles of agony.
Page: 436

We never stay constant, no matter what we promise; the world has its way of pulling you about the way it wants.
Page: 446

What do you love most about writing? I spend a lot of my time thinking and daydreaming, so writing means I get to do this for a living. It’s also a way of exorcising fears and neuroses. If I didn’t write, my head would be full.
Page: 454

After On

Book Notes

Okay, whatever you do, do not read this book. The writing of this book is so verbose, so desperately in need of an editor, so as to be nearly unreadable. Couple that with the location of the book, Silicon Valley, and the somewhat accurate portrayal of the places in Silicon Valley, of the stunningly stupid ideas that get funded, of the pervasive sense of entitlement, and of the vulgar pursuit of winning the IPO jackpot instead of actually building something meaningful, and you have a book that just screams crap.

Did I mention the verbosity?

Yeah, well the editing is worse. If you want to experience this book, listen to it on audiobook. At three times speed. Keep the pain as short as possible.

I was exporting some of the parts I thought might be worth quoting, and gave up. I just don't like this book. Moazam didn't either. I was on a road trip for 40 hours, I was a captive audience. Moazam wasn't. He couldn't finish it. Not recommended.

Upon it, an image of numerous foggy, craggy acres was rendered. “Do you recognize this terrain?” Dr. Phillips inquired. To the untrained eye, it might have been a region of the Scottish Highlands, or the maritime reaches of Oregon, or a temperate sector of Alaska.
Page 19

There, with plenty of smart, attractive women on hand, Mitchell’s like a kid in a candy store. A penniless, ravenous kid. One who can look all he wants, but that’s it. Or maybe “a meat-loving vegan at a cookout” maps better, because his hunger is principled, and self-imposed (and also, more primal than a grumpy sweet tooth). The thing is, Mitchell has essentially opted out of romance. It’s a long story.
Page 21

“Yes, they’ll say that,” Kuba agrees. “And they won’t be entirely wrong. Cynical. But not wrong. Because the tech itself could be used for practically anything, good or bad. It’s as value neutral as a smartphone. Or a computer.”
Page 27

But the biggest-paying advertiser, brand manager, and spin doctor will ultimately be us, the Phluttr user base. There are gold mines to extract from our desperate urge to be heard!
Page 31

You see, Fortune’s a bitch with a great sense of humor...
Page 37

Of course, all companies make hiring boo-boos. But when the true greats make them really early on, some real knuckleheads can get moronically rich. This effect produces plenty of accidental tech millionaires. Some accidental gazillionaires, too—but only a smattering of Pugwashes, and the man is rather famous. Some take his exquisite luck almost personally. Not merely those who worked far harder for far lesser bonanzai (although to be clear, those folks’re plenty pissed). But also those who are even richer still through their own godsends of timing, genetics, or happenstance, and have since fetishized a vision of the industry as an immaculate meritocracy. Those who fancy that they earned every dime of their tech fortunes through talent, toil, and daring (which is almost everyone who has one) regard any whiff of the lottery (Pugwash, for instance) as a PR liability.
Page 37

Because certain problems are completely resistant to increased rumination. But things are different for a diplomat who has spent years engaged in Russian-American relations. Not because he knows more facts and figures, because that stuff’s available to all of us via Google, now. But because his framework includes lots of intuition. Educated guesses. Vague rules of thumb that have just kind of worked over the years—that sort of thing.
Page 40

“Precisely. And by mastering Synthetic Biology and Nanotechnology, it will likewise be functionally omnipotent! As such, it could preclude the creation of any subsequent ‘me-too’ Super AI as easily as a Harvard Trained Biochemist could stop a helpless bacterium from reproducing in a petri dish!”
Page 50

Grown-up that he is, Mitchell can get a bit homesick when the chips are down, the weather’s blandly OK-ish for the bazillionth day in a row, and he’s gone yet another month without meeting a single fellow hockey fan. Even a lot homesick.
Page 51

Just as you rarely see something that’s perfectly blue in nature, unadulterated joy seems to be rare in human minds. More likely, we’ll see nine or ten happy motes, with other things mixed in.
Page 55

Fear comes in lots of flavors, but they’re all a mix of sadness and surprise, often with a dash of anger. Another example is indignation. That’s lots of anger, and a bit of surprise, with some sadness mixed in. And also, some happiness. Which makes sense when you consider that some folks really seem
Page 55

to enjoy being offended!
Page 55

And if you tried to heed every photon, sound wave, and nerve ending that you can access at once, you wouldn’t really be aware of any of it.” “You’re saying I’d be functionally unconscious.” “Exactly! Which is why you’re not currently registering the color of the ninth cookbook from the far left of the fourth shelf over my shoulder. You’re perceiving it. But you’re not heeding it.
Page 58

When he wasn’t incredibly bummed (rare, but it also happened)! Or, unbelievably pissed off (rarer still, but also happened)! His psyche was all binge and no purge—hammering either the gas or the brakes at all times!!!
Page 93

Man, talk about how I react.

“Is that Phluttr’s release about… Norway, is it?” Mitchell guesses. He’s been meaning to look it up himself.

“Iceland,” Kuba says, holding out the computer.

“You realize you’re about to physically hand me a digital article,” Mitchell points out, “and how very odd that is. Are you sure you don’t just want to print it and fax it to me?”

“I want to see your reaction to this in person.
Page 114

This cracked me up.

The Darkest Road

Book Notes

This is book three of the Fionavar Tapestry. You really need to read the first two books in the series for this book to make any sense. That said, the three books are, even two decades after I read them the first time, still amazing.

I lost all my notes I had taken with this reading when my phone died. This loss saddens me a bit, but I'm sure I'll be able to rewrite this review within the next couple years, as I'll read the series again.

That said, this book is about trust. Except, you don't know it's about trust until you sit with the memory of the book, after you're done reading it. Kay's work does that: he doesn't tell you, he shows you. This style is why I love his writing so much.

I strongly recommend this series. I'll buy you a copy if you'd like.

[H]e was acutely aware that she was right—aware of how much his difficulties were caused by his own overdeveloped need for controlling things. Particularly himself.
Location 4910

“Would it have been so terrible,” Kim asked, not wisely, but she couldn’t hold the question back, “if you had just told him you loved him?”

Jennifer didn’t flinch, nor did she flare into anger again. “I did,” she said mildly, a hint of surprise in her voice. “I did let him know. Surely you can see that. I left him free to make his choice. I ... trusted him.”
Location 4979

The Wandering Fire

Book Notes

This is book two of the FIonavar Tapestry.

As with the first book, I bought and read the book for the first time in high school. Each time I read this book, this series, I pull a different lesson and a different focus from the book. I do not love these books any less each reading.

I had a number of notes with this latest reading, but I lost them when my phone locked and I couldn't recover the data. I recall this book has a lot more adventure in it than the previous book, more hand-wringing, and more difficult to read parts. I still love and appreciate how Kay doesn't hit the reader over the head with explanations and elaborations. He leaves parts unsaid, he lets the reader feel the losses, he gives us space to grieve, to be surprised, to puzzle, and to accept. It's this style of writing that draws me to Kay's writing again and again.

When I started reading this series again, I was worried that the magic of the books was worn with time. I was wrong. They are still incredible. I strongly recommend this series.

The Summer Tree

Book Notes

I bought and read this book the first time when I was still in high school. I was working at the bookstore (gosh, that was the perfect job for me), when a woman came in and ordered the three books in this series in hardback form. Who buys books in hardback when they are available in paperback? The woman was, in retrospect, the epitome of a middle-aged science fiction fantasy reader, including the round and smiling parts.

When I placed her order, I ordered a second set of hardbound books for myself. I would argue one of my best book buying decisions ever.

This early Kay work has the perfect writing style, where he shows the reader instead of telling the reader. Some of his later works have lost this magic, though his last book recaptures some of that magic.

The last time I started to reread this book was on the road trip with Chris, so it's been a while. Reading it this time, however, was like slipping into a warm bath of comfort, like the act of coming home. I had not realized how much this book, and the series, shaped aspects of my life, always in subtle ways.

I strongly recommend this book and this series. I've loaned my copies out, always making sure to get them back. This series in one of my top three books of all time.

“No, he’s not all right. But I seem to be the only one who questions it. I think I’m becoming a pain in the ass to him. I hate it.”

“Sometimes,” his father said, filling the glass cups in their Russian - style metal holders, “a friend has to be that.”
Page 27

“Kevin,” he said, “you will have to learn — and for you it will be hard — that sometimes you can’t do anything. Sometimes you simply can’t.”
Page 28

And Paul Schafer, who believed one should be able to endure anything, and who believed this of himself most of all, listened as long as he could, and failed again.
Page 29

It seemed that there were still things one could not do. So one did everything else as well as one possibly could and found new things to try, to will oneself to master, and always one realized, at the kernel and heart of things, that the ends of the earth would not be far enough away.
Page 30

“No, I play carefully. All the beauty was on your side, but sometimes plodding caution will wear down brilliance."
Page 70

“It is power that teaches patience; holding power, I mean. And you learn the price it exacts — which is something I never knew when I was your age and thought a sword and quick wits could deal with anything. I never knew the price you pay for power.”
Page 70

“I don’t think that wanting to live can be a failing.” The words rasped from too long a silence; a difficult emotion was waking within him.
Page 79

After a moment, Kevin Laine, who was neither a petty man nor a stupid one, smiled to himself.
Page 89

Kevin had seen, and caught his breath to see, the look in her dark eyes when Paul would enter a room, and he had watched, too, the hesitant unfolding of trust and need in his proud friend.
Page 91

Watching him, Kevin felt it then, the intoxicating lure of this man who was leading them.
Page 94

We salvage what we can, what truly matters to us, even at the gates of despair.
Page 169

The knowledge of approaching death can come in many shapes, descending as a blessing or rearing up as an apparition of terror. It may sever like the sweep of a blade, or call as a perfect lover calls.
Page 178

There are kinds of action, for good or ill, that lie so far outside the boundaries of normal behavior that they force us, in acknowledging that they have occurred, to restructure our own understanding of reality. We have to make room for them.
Page 203

She thought of Raederth then, and wondered if it was folly to sorrow for a man so long dead. But it wasn’t, she knew, she now knew; for the dead are still in time, they are travelling, they are not lost. Ysanne was lost.
Page 217

To see him with a sword in his hand was almost heartbreaking. It was a dance. It was more. Some men, it seemed, were born to do a thing; it was true.
Page 219

But Dana was with him now, the Goddess, taking him there to truth. And in a crescendo, a heart - searing blaze of final dispensation, he saw that he had missed the gap, and only just, oh, only just, not because of any hesitation shaped by lack of desire, by death or murder wish, but because, in the end, he was human.

Oh, lady, he was. Only, only human, and he missed because of hurt, grief, shock, and rain. Because of these, which could be forgiven.

And were, he understood. Truly, truly were. Deny not your own mortality. The voice was within him like a wind, one of her voices, only one, he knew, and in the sound was love, he was loved. You failed because humans fail. It is a gift as much as anything else.
Page 231

He would have comforted his younger son, but knew it was wiser to leave the boy alone. It was not a bad thing to learn what hurt meant, and mastering it alone helped engender self-respect.
Page 246

What Dave felt then was so rare and unexpected, it took him a moment to recognize it.
Page 253

The Sight comes when the light goes, the Dalrei said. It was not Law, but had the same force, it seemed to Ivor at times.
Page 256

Which led to another thought: did all fathers feel this way when their sons became men? Men of achievement, of names that eclipsed the father’s? Was there always the sting of envy to temper the burst of pride?
Page 268

Through it all, drinking round for round with them, Levon seemed almost unaffected by what he had done. Looking for it, Dave could find no arrogance, no hidden sense of superiority in Ivor’s older son. It had to be there, he thought, suspicious, as he always was. But looking one more time at Levon as he walked between him and Ivor to the feast — he was guest of honor, it seemed — Dave found himself reluctantly changing his mind. Is a horse arrogant or superior? He didn’t think so. Proud, yes; there was great pride in the bay stallion that had stood so still with Levon that morning, but it wasn’t a pride that diminished anything or anyone else. It was simply part of what the stallion was.
Page 269

How could he be angry, though, after this? It was always so hard, Ivor found, to stay angry with Liane. Leith was better at it. Mothers and daughters; there was less indulgence there.
Page 276

Overtired, he soon amended, for once inside the blanket he found that sleep eluded him. Instead he lay awake under the wide sky, his mind circling restlessly back over the day.
Page 290

I so understand this.

“Pendaran is deadly to those who enter it. No one does. But the Wood is angry, not evil, and unless we trespass, the powers within it will not be stirred by our riding here."
Page 294

There was no expression on Levon’s face, his profile seemed chiseled from stone as he gazed at the towering fire above Rangat. But in that very calm, that impassive acceptance, Dave found a steadfastness of his own. Without moving a muscle, Levon seemed to be growing, to be willing himself to grow large enough to match, to overmatch the terror in the sky and on the wind.
Page 300

Your hour knows your name, Dave Martyniuk thought, and then, in that moment of apocalypse, had another thought: I love these people. The realization hit him, for Dave was what he was, almost as hard as the Mountain had.
Page 301

No one spoke. Levon’s face, Dave saw, was like stone again, but not as before. This he recognized: not the steadfastness of resolution, but a rigid control locking the muscles, the heart, against the pain inside. You held it in, Dave thought, had always thought. It didn’t belong to anyone else.
Page 305

"Levon, you said before, this place isn’t evil.”

“It doesn’t have to be, to kill us,” said Torc.
Page 306

“And Davor,” Levon went on, in a different voice, “you wove something very bright back there. I don’t think any man in the tribe could have forced that opening. Whatever happens after, you saved our lives then.”

“I just swung the thing,” Dave muttered.

At which Torc, astonishingly, laughed aloud. For a moment the listening trees were stilled. No mortal had laughed in Pendaran for a millennium. “You are,” said Torc dan Sorcha, “as bad as me, as bad as him. Not one of us can deal with praise. Is your face red right now, my friend?”

Of course it was, for God’s sake. “What do you think?” he mumbled. Then, feeling the ridiculousness of it, hearing Levon’s snort of amusement, Dave felt something let go inside, tension, fear, grief, all of them, and he laughed with his friends in the Wood where no man went.
Page 306

He nodded, seeing once more, discovering it anew, how beautiful she was. “Why did you marry me?” he asked impulsively.

She shrugged. “You asked.”


“I lied,” Leith said quietly. “I married you because no other man I know or can imagine could have made my heart leap so when he asked.”

He turned from the moon to her. “The sun rises in your eyes,” he said. The formal proposal. “It always, always has, my love.”
Page 318

There was no peace, no serenity anywhere. She carried none, had none to grant, she wore the Warstone on her hand. She would drag the dead from their rest, and the undead to their doom. What was she that this should be so?
Page 341

“No,” said Diarmuid. And it appeared that there was nothing inevitable after all.
Page 359

What did it matter why? It didn’t, clearly, except that at the end we only have ourselves anyway, wherever it comes down. So Jennifer rose from the mattress on the floor, her hair tangled, filthy, the odor of Avaia on her torn clothes, her face stained, body bruised and cut, and she mastered the tremor in her voice and said to him, “You will have nothing of me that you do not take.”
Page 368

You send your mind away, she remembered reading once; when you’re tortured, when you’re raped, you send your mind after a while into another place, far from where pain is. You send it as far as you can. To love, the memory of it, a spar for clinging to.
Page 369

Parable of the Talents

Book Notes

After Parable of the Sower, I don't know, I think I was expecting some sort of feel-good book as a follow up.

This is not a feel-good follow up.

Instead, this is a dystopian nightmare that, well, let's be frank here, is completely and totally plausible given the state of the U.S. federal government these days. I do not know how we will last four years with the liar and incompetent existing in the executive office.

Anyway, this book just screams "holy crap" given its parallels to today's politiics. The brother parts, and the lack of resolution at the end of the book (nope, didn't give anything away there) just screams "holy crap" given its parallels to my family situation.

As difficult as I found the last book to read, this one was more difficult and more worth reading because of the discomfort.

All things change, but all things need not change in all ways.
Page 46

Earthseed is Olamina’s contribution to what she feels should be a species-wide effort to evade, or at least to lengthen the specialize-grow-die evolutionary cycle that humanity faces, that every species faces.
Page 46

A woman who expresses her opinions, “nags,” disobeys her husband, or otherwise “tramples her womanhood” and “acts like a man,” might have her head shaved, her forehead branded, her tongue cut out, or, worst case, she might be stoned to death or burned.
Page 50

She and Harry may be the most loyal, least religious people in the community, but there are times when people need religion more than they need anything else — even people like Zahra and Harry.
Page 60

Page 63

Edwards said, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire.” You’re worthless. God hates you. All you deserve is pain and death.
Page 63

That's something from Jonathan Edwards' 1741 sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” To which I point out, again, the purpose of organized religion isn't to save, it is to create and maintain power over other people. This hell that he speaks of is a creation of man.

We say “God is Change,” but the truth is, we fear change as much as anyone does. We talk about changes at Gathering to ease our fears, to desensitize ourselves and to consider consequences.
Page 68

That might be the kindest gesture they could manage — to turn their backs and not join the mob. Others, whether we thought of them as friends or not, would be all too willing to join the mob and to stomp us and rob us if stomping and robbing became a test of courage or a test of loyalty to country, religion, or race.
Page 69

“People will think whatever they like,” I said. “It’s our job to show by our behavior that we’re not thieves, and we’re not fools. We’ve got a good reputation so far. People know we don’t steal. They know better than to steal from us."
Page 69

Bankole isn’t the only one of us who doesn’t see the possibility of doing anything he hasn’t seen done by others. And… although Bankole would never say this, I suspect that somewhere inside himself, he believes that large, important things are done only by powerful people in high positions far away from here. Therefore, what we do is, by definition, small and unimportant.
Page 71

She can be shaking with fear, but she still does what she thinks she should do.
Page 72

“I wish we could just hide here and stay out of everything else. I know we can’t, but I wish.… It’s been so good here.”
Page 72

“It means that Change is the one unavoidable, irresistible, ongoing reality of the universe. To us, that makes it the most powerful reality, and just another word for God.”
Page 75

Things won’t get back to what he calls normal. We’ll settle into some new norm someday — for a while.
Page 75

The idea seems to be, “If it’s in a book, maybe it’s true,” or even, “If it’s in a book, it must be true.”
Page 76

We say education is the most direct pathway to God. For now, it’s enough to say that verse just means that flattering or begging God isn’t useful. Learn what God does. Learn to shape that to your needs. Learn to use it, or at least, learn to adapt to it so that you won’t get squashed by it. That’s useful.”
Page 76

"Praying does work. Praying is a very effective way of talking to yourself, of talking yourself into things, of focusing your attention on whatever it is you want to do. It can give you a feeling of control and help you to stretch yourself beyond what you thought were your limits.”
Page 76

It doesn't, however, call down The Will of God™, nor does it affect anything outside of you. There is no magic juice your prayers affect. All of the changes you see in human society are done by people.

"Once he’s made everyone who isn’t like him sound evil, then he can blame them for problems he knows they didn’t cause. That’s easier than trying to fix the problems.”
Page 77

Human competitiveness and territoriality were often at the root of particularly horrible fashions in oppression. We human beings seem always to have found it comforting to have someone to took down on — a bottom level of fellow creatures who are very vulnerable, but who can somehow be blamed and punished for all or any troubles. We need this lowest class as much as we need equals to team with and to compete against and superiors to look to for direction and help.
Page 80

Life is getting better, but that won’t stop a war if politicians and business people decide it’s to their advantage to have one.
Page 82

We’re becoming more and more isolated as a people. We’re sliding into undirected negative change, and what’s worse, we’re getting used to it. All too often, we shape ourselves and our futures in such stupid ways.
Page 86

“You can’t change everything in your life all at once. You just can’t.”

“You can,” I said. “We both have. It hurts. It’s terrible. But you can do it.”
Page 115

“I suspect it’s a human characteristic not to know when you’re well off,” I said.

He glanced at me sidewise. “Oh, it is,” he said. “I see it every day.”
Page 140

I moved against him, but managed not to say anything. I hate to hear him always talking about dying.
Page 142

But an unpleasant thing should be done quickly if it must be done at all.
Page 149

When she wasn’t sure, she found ways to avoid fighting or go along with her opponents until they tripped themselves up or put themselves in a position for her to trip them up.
Page 154

In small communities, she believed, people are more accountable to one another. Serious misbehavior is harder to get away with, harder even to begin when everyone who sees you knows who you are, where you live, who your family is, and whether you have any business doing what you’re doing.
Page 171

“This is like nothing we’ve faced before.” Bankole’s shoulders slumped, and he sighed. “I don’t know that this country has ever had a leader as bad as Jarret or as bad as Jarret might turn out to be: Keep that in mind."
Page 178

Replace "Jarret" with Cheetoh, and you pretty much have the fictional world realized here and now.

"We need to become the adult species that the Destiny can help us become! If we’re to be anything other than smooth dinosaurs who evolve, specialize, and die, we need the stars. When we have no difficult, long-term purpose to strive toward, we fight each other. We destroy ourselves. We have these chaotic, apocalyptic periods of murderous craziness.”
Page 179

“That’s where faith comes in, I guess. It always comes sooner or later into every belief system."
Page 180

After a moment, I decided I was where I wanted to be. If I had to cry on someone’s shoulders, well, his were big and broad.
Page 182

Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.
Page 183

The younger girls cried and quarreled and complained. The rest of us sat silent most of the time. We had all been through one kind of hell or another. We had all survived enough to know that crying, complaining, and quarreling did no good. We might forget that in time, but not yet.
Page 201

Much blood was shed, but little was accomplished. The war began in anger, bitterness, and envy at nations who appeared to be on their way up just as our country seemed to be on a downward slide.
Page 244

Parable of the Sower

Book Notes

Yes, I finished this book at 3:06 in the morning.

This book has been on my to-read stack for a while, mostly on Claire's recommendation. Claire's recommendations haven't been off yet, so I picked up this Butler book, and was more than a little stunned at how, well, prophetic Butler was.

The first part of the book, the set up for the disaster and the plot that follows, reminded me of just how unprepared I am for a disaster (human-made or otherwise). The world we live in is more fragile than we think.

It is also more resilient than we realize. Even as things go bad, and the world becomes more and more authoritarian, Butler doesn't see it as falling apart. There is some level of civilization and technology, unlike, say, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Other aspects I found interesting was the assumption of commonplace violence. These days, we are still horrified by casual violence. In this book, few people are, it is so integrated into the world.

I wrote a couple more notes when I was reading the book. The corporate take-over of communities, and the disparate levels of protection (if you pay, the police will actually investigate, otherwise, you're out of luck) really aren't that difficult to see from our current society.

The part that struck home, however, is the understand that water is a scarce resource. That. Yeah.

This book is way worth reading, not only because of discomfort revealed in the dystopia that Butler describes, but for the warning that comes with that world. One almost wishes the religion Butler describes could exist.

PRODIGY IS, AT ITS essence, adaptability and persistent, positive obsession. Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all.

Page 2

Three smart sons and one dumb one, and it’s the dumb one she loves best.
Page 9

I get a lot of grief that doesn’t belong to me, and that isn’t real. But it hurts.
Page 12

Keith says God is just the adults’ way of trying to scare you into doing what they want.
Page 14

In the book of Job, God says he made everything and he knows everything so no one has any right to question what he does with any of it. Okay. That works. That Old Testament God doesn’t violate the way things are now. But that God sounds a lot like Zeus—a super-powerful man, playing with his toys the way my youngest brothers play with toy soldiers. Bang, bang! Seven toys fall dead. If they’re yours, you make the rules. Who cares what the toys think. Wipe out a toy’s family, then give it a brand new family. Toy children, like Job’s children, are interchangeable.
Page 16

To me, dead bodies are disgusting. They stink, and if they’re old enough, there are maggots. But what the hell? They’re dead. They aren’t suffering, and if you didn’t like them when they were alive, why get so upset about their being dead?
Page 23

God can’t be resisted or stopped, but can be shaped and focused. This means God is not to be prayed to. Prayers only help the person doing the praying, and then, only if they strengthen and focus that persons resolve. If they’re used that way, they can help us in our only real relationship with God. They help us to shape God and to accept and work with the shapes that God imposes on us. God is power, and in the end, God prevails.
Page 25

But we can rig the game in our own favor if we understand that God exists to be shaped, and will be shaped, with or without our forethought, with or without our intent.
Page 25

Every one knows that change is inevitable. From the second law of thermodynamics to Darwinian evolution, from Buddhism’s insistence that nothing is permanent and all suffering results from our delusions of permanence to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes (“ To everything there is a season”), change is part of life, of existence, of the common wisdom.
Page 26

Of course, no one called the fire department. No one would take on fire service fees just to save an unoccupied garage.
Page 32

At first there were a few neighbors who didn’t like that—older ones who said it was the job of the police to protect them, younger ones who worried that their little children would find their guns, and religious ones who didn’t think a minister of the gospel should need guns. This was several years ago.
Page 39

But my room is still mine. It’s the one place in the world where I can go and not be followed by anyone I don’t invite in.
Page 51

felt on the verge of talking to her about things I hadn’t talked about before. I’d written about them. Sometimes I write to keep from going crazy. There’s a world of things I don’t feel free to talk to anyone about.
Page 52

But even superficial comfort is better than none, I guess. I tried another tactic.
Page 56

Three books on survival in the wilderness, three on guns and shooting, two each on handling medical emergencies, California native and naturalized plants and their uses, and basic living: logcabin-building, livestock raising, plant cultivation, soap making—that
Page 57

“Maybe it’s time to look down. Time to look for some hand and foot holds before we just get pushed in.”
Page 66

"And, of course, some won’t do anything at all. There are always people who won’t do anything.”
Page 66

I still feel inclined to trust her. But I can’t. I don’t. She has no idea how much she could have hurt me if I had given her just a few more words to use against me. I don’t think I’ll ever trust her again,
Page 68

The thing is, even with my writing problems, every time I understand a little more, I wonder why it’s taken me so long—why there was ever a time when I didn’t understand a thing so obvious and real and true.
Page 78

There’s always a lot to do before you get to go to heaven.
Page 85

Waiting is terrible. Waiting to be older is worse than other kinds of waiting because there’s nothing you can do to make it happen faster.
Page 89

My brother isn’t very smart, but he makes up for it in pure stubbornness. My father is smart and stubborn. Keith didn’t have a chance, but he made Dad work for his victory.
Page 93

I don't know what she's talking about. *whistles*

CIVILIZATION IS TO GROUPS what intelligence is to individuals. It is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation. Civilization, like intelligence, may serve well, serve adequately, or fail to serve its adaptive function. When civilization fails to serve, it must disintegrate unless it is acted upon by unifying internal or external forces.
Page 102

And they knew the cops liked to solve cases by “discovering” evidence against whomever they decided must be guilty. Best to give them nothing. They never helped when people called for help. They came later, and more often than not, made a bad situation worse.
Page 114

But if everyone could feel everyone else’s pain, who would torture? Who would cause anyone unnecessary pain?
Page 115

A biological conscience is better than no conscience at all.
Page 115

"You think it’s going to get sane? It’s never been sane. You just have to go ahead and live, no matter what.”
Page 142

People are setting fires to get rid of whomever they dislike from personal enemies to anyone who looks or sounds foreign or racially different. People are setting fires because they’re frustrated, angry, hopeless. They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable. And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it.
Page 143

But people who have no homes will build fires. Even people like us who know what fire can do will build them. They give comfort, hot food, and a false sense of security.
Page 180

I showed him four verses in all—gentle, brief verses that might take hold of him without his realizing it and live in his memory without his intending that they should. Bits of the Bible had done that to me, staying with me even after I stopped believing.
Page 199

Worship is no good without action. With action, it’s only useful if it steadies you, focuses your efforts, eases your mind.”
Page 219

“That isn’t what God is for, but there are times when that’s what prayer is for. And there are times when that’s what these verses are for. God is Change, and in the end, God prevails. But there’s hope in understanding the nature of God—not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There’s comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There’s power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all. But there’s no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you or take revenge for you. You know that. You knew it when you took your family and got the hell out of your boss’s house. God will shape us all every day of our lives. Best to understand that and return the effort: Shape God.”
Page 220

I would love to teach Dominic Earthseed as he grows up. I would teach him and he would teach me. The questions little children ask drive you insane because they never stop. But they also make you think.
Page 221

We aren’t gang types. I don’t want gang types with their need to dominate, rob and terrorize. And yet we might have to dominate. We might have to rob to survive, and even terrorize to scare off or kill enemies. We’ll have to be very careful how we allow our needs to shape us.
Page 223

The nice thing about sitting and working alongside someone you don’t know very well, someone you’d like to know much better, is that you can talk with him or be quiet with him. You can get comfortable with him and with the awareness that you’ll soon be making love to him.
Page 260

"Her religion was important to her, so I went along. I saw how it comforted her, and I wanted to believe, but I never could.”
Page 261

“Stumbling across the truth isn’t the same as making things up.”
Page 261

“It sounds like some combination of Buddhism, existentialism, Sufism, and I don’t know what else,” he said. “Buddhism doesn’t make a god of the concept of change, but the impermanence of everything is a basic Buddhist principle.”
Page 261

“Human beings are good at creating hells for themselves even out of richness.”
Page 261

“I mean it’s too … straightforward. If you get people to accept it, they’ll make it more complicated, more open to interpretation, more mystical, and more comforting.”
Page 262

Strange how normal it’s become for us to lie on the ground and listen while nearby, people try to kill each other.
Page 269

“I’ll tell you, though, if we can convince ex-slaves that they can have freedom with us, no one will fight harder to keep it. We need better guns, though."
Page 292

Strange Dogs

Book Notes

Oh, look!

An Expanse book! (And another book with a title that I confuse for another title, this one I read as "Strange Days" the entire time, until I wrote this review.)

OF COURSE I'm going to read it.

Okay, maybe not. I read this one because it was an Expanse book, knowing it might not have Holden in the plot. It didn't. I didn't find the main character particularly compelling, so this book took me a little longer to read than the Holden books do, even though it's a novella instead of a full novel.

The book is an on-the-ground, back story on one of the planets through the Ring. It left more questions than it exposed with the characters and dialogue, which might be the point of it, as a lead-in into the next book.

At this point, if not a hard-core, I'm-going-to-read-everything-Expanse fan, skip this one.

Her mother said that honey was better than molasses, but there weren’t any bees on Laconia. Cara had only ever seen pictures of them, and based on those, she didn’t like honey at all.
Location: 87

I giggled at this when I read it. Small children often don't like foods just because they are different from what they know. Except that adults do this, too, and spend a large amount of effort justifying why they don't like something, when, in reality, they don't know enough to know they don't like said something.

The focus of the family spotlight had moved past her. Momma bird was over. She couldn’t put her thumb on why that bothered her.
Location: 154

One of the hardest things about death is that life goes on.

She wondered if the windowless room was like being on a spaceship. Months or years without ever once going outside or hearing the rain tapping into puddles or being able to get away from Xan and her parents. Never being alone. Never feeling the sunlight on her face. Nothing changing. Nothing new. It sounded awful.
Location: 301

Oh, wow, yes, that would be awful, never having Alone Time.

She wondered if the dogs would want to be captured and studied. She thought not, and they’d already done more for her than the soldiers ever had.
Location: 468

Who is good and who is bad is often based on which perspective you see first. Not always, as some whos and many acts are simply evil. Excepting the obvious of those, who helped you, who talked with you first, who you interacted with last, these influence which side you end up on quite a bit.

“Because I hate feeling powerless,” he said. “I hate being reminded that the universe is so much bigger than I am. And that I can’t always protect people.”
Location: 542

The strangest thing was how normal they sounded. How much grief sounded like regular life.
Location: 581

Again, one of the hardest things about death is that life goes on.

Night on Earth was bright. That’s what they said. Their moon shone like a kind of second, crappy sun. Cities were big enough to drown out the stars with their extra glow.
Location: 616

Second, crappy sun. *snort*

Cara dropped to her knees and threw her arms around the dog, hugging the strange, too-solid flesh close to her. It was warm against her cheek, and rough. It smelled like cardamom and soil. It went still, like it wasn’t sure what do with her affection and joy, and it stayed still until she released it.
Location: 646

This scene reminded me of Bella, and of Chase. Both of those dogs were/are incredibly tolerant of my snuggling them.

There wasn’t a perfect answer, but she didn’t need a perfect one. Good enough was good enough. Making her way home was harder than leaving had been, which made some sense to her. Going away from a point, there were any number of paths, and all of them were right. Going back to the point, most paths were wrong.
Location: 700