2015 Reading List

Lots of good reading this year. Another year of ridiculous numbers—149 this year.

One of the benefits of reading is an increased sense of empathy. You can understand someone different from you a lot better if you can see from their perspective. If there was one theme this year, it was understanding different perspectives.

Some of the various perspectives that could use some understanding this year cropped up again and again in my books this year. Themes such as racism, disability, transgender and Islam.

I also read a lot of graphic novels.

And I’m continuing to pursue diversity of race and gender in my reading. I’ll post about that separately. I’ll also post my best fiction and nonfiction lists for the year.

For a more visual look, you can check out my Year in Books from Goodreads.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001. Continue reading 2015 Reading List

Reading & Loving It

I read 164 books in 2015 and tracked them all in a spreadsheet. Here’s what I learned.

Now that’s a headline I can get behind.

This is an awesome article from Vox by a librarian who read a whole bunch in 2015, tracked it and learned some lessons.

Sounds a lot like me, right?

I read more than a hundred books each year and have cataloged them for years. I’ve even examined the racial and gender diversity in my reading, just like the author. Good stuff.

The author even has this awesome spreadsheet for all the books she read this year. Pretty freakin’ great.

The article has some great lines:

  • Reading is amazing; it shouldn’t be a chore, and when it became one, I stopped doing it.
  • There will never ever be enough time to read every worthwhile book.
  • Deliberately seeking out new literary voices expands my perspective and pushes me out of my comfort zone. Ultimately, I hear more stories, and my life is richer for it.

It’s good to see I’m not the only book nerd cataloging all my books to glory in the joy of reading.

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Post-Movie Thoughts

I’ve now seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens twice and I so want to talk about it!

I’ll start out spoiler-free, but then we’ll dive heavy into the spoilers. I’ll warn you when it’s coming in case you want to jump ship.

I don’t even know where to start. Being a writer, I want to craft the perfect essay about this experience. But I also need to process and just get my thoughts down. So this is probably going to be a mess. It’s a blog, not a polished essay.

Spoiler-Free Stuff

Wow. What a great movie.

I’ve seen it twice and I want to go back for more. It was just a super fun thrill ride.

Now I’ve been caught up in Star Wars nostalgia before. I said this in my expectations—it’s Star Wars, and I’ll love the adventure. And I totally did. I’m so wrapped up in the excitement of the moment that I have absolutely no objective judgment.

That’s how I walked out of The Phantom Menace excited. But when the childhood wonder and excitement wore off, objectivity came back and I realized how ridiculous that movie was.

That could maybe happen here, but I doubt it. I need to give it some time for the wonder of the moment to pass. But at this point I’m pretty confident it’s going to be one of my favorite Star Wars movies.

So a few fun (non-spoiler) thoughts about the experience of watching the movie:

  • The first thing I did after seeing the movie ? Stop at Target at 9:50 p.m. to buy Star Wars toys. The merchandising is strong with this one. And I love it!
  • After my dad saw it we spent an hour and a half on the phone talking nothing but Star Wars (OK, we maybe gave five minutes on the Captain America trailer).
  • My screening plan of seeing it before I took my kids worked out really well. The movie is intense and I had to prepare my kids. My almost 10-year-old still hid her face, and my 7-year-old buried his face in my chest a couple times and outright sobbed at one point. We didn’t have to leave the theater, but it was pretty distracting. I was glad I knew what to expect when and didn’t miss anything because I’d already seen it.
  • Unfortunately, I think preparing my kid with a half spoiler made him think that half spoiler wasn’t a real spoiler. So while getting supper at Panera after the movie he’s jumping around with his light saber and tells some stranger that half spoiler. The guy slapped his hands to his ears and says, “No spoilers! No spoilers!” Sorry man. We had another talk about spoilers. 10 minutes later another guy asked us if we’d just seen the movie (OK, we’ve got a light saber in the restaurant and we’re all wearing Star Wars shirts… nerd central), asked if it was another Phantom Menace (“Absolutely not!”) and then quickly said, “OK, don’t tell me anything else” and covered his ears.
  • While preparing the children for the movie, I showed them a picture of the bad guy, Kylo Ren. They had seen the trailers, but these masked men in black can be frightening in a big, loud, dark theater, so I wanted them to see what Kylo Ren looked like before he was big and scary. They took one look at his mask and dubbed him “Kylo Duckface.”
  • At the beginning of the movie I leaned over to my son and read the opening crawl to him. I’ve done that for both kids as we’ve watched all the earlier movies. But doing it in the theater? That was pretty cool. I didn’t expect that to be a moment.
  • One of the first things my daughter asked me this morning was, “Can we go see the Star Wars movie again?” That’s my girl.

Such a great movie-going experience.

Now let’s talk about the actual movie. Which means spoilers.

Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Post-Movie Thoughts

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Han Solo, Chewie, Rey, BB8 & Finn.The hype has been building up forever, and tonight I’m going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes!

I’m also going tomorrow.

But I’m not a crazy nerd or anything, I’m doing it for my kids. Yeah, that’s it. I’m screening it tonight to make sure there’s nothing too intense for my 7-year-old. Also if the kids do need to step out or ask ten thousand questions, I’ll have seen it once already and (hopefully) won’t be as annoyed by the distractions.

It’s a happy accident that I’ll get to see it twice in 24 hours.

Plus, unlike my dad and brother, I think the best part of seeing a movie like this is seeing it early with the die-hard fans who clap and cheer. Part of the fun of going to the movies is the atmosphere, and you couldn’t ask for better energy than a theater crammed full of excited fans.

My wife and I saw the Hunger Games on opening night, not because we loved the series but because we happened to have a babysitter. The theater was full of teen girls with Catniss braids who were super excited. Made the whole experience more fun. Also saw one of the Potter movies that way, with a crowd full of teens who had grown up on Potter. Way fun.

So anyway, I’ll be there tonight with my nerds. Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Suicide on the High Bridge

You know what sucks? Having to explain to your kids why there are ribbons decorating the High Bridge in St. Paul. It’s not exactly a festive occasion—it’s because of the high rate of suicides.

Lots of people are jumping off the bridge to kill themselves, and the ribbons are an attempt at suicide prevention.

Another person jumped today.

In 2008 the City Pages called the bridge a “suicide hot spot,” and offers the chilling detail that some of the people who jump from the bridge actually survive.

In terms of statistics, the most common method of suicide is firearms. But the public nature of jumping seems to capture the public conscience.

If you are thinking about committing suicide, please talk to someone. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 to get help.

Help Mark Horvath Help Homeless Veterans

Update: Thank you. By the time Mark crossed the finish line, we raised $2,170 for homeless veterans. And that money will be tripled. Thank you!

My friend Mark Horvath is doing a 5K walk to help end veteran homelessness and he needs our help. He’s got a $5,000 match—so every dollar you donate gets doubled, up to $5,000 [plus another foundation match triples your donation]—yet he’s only raised $100 $645 so far. And the 5K is on Saturday.

So help me help Mark help veterans who are homeless. Donate now.

InvisiblePeople.tv's Mark Horvath on CNN.com
InvisiblePeople.tv’s Mark Horvath on CNN.com

Who Is Mark?

Mark Horvath is the founder of InvisiblePeople.tv, an nonprofit that gives people who are homeless a voice by telling their stories. Mark has worked tirelessly to end homelessness because he was once homeless himself.

I’ve supported Mark every chance I get, including a book project, a half-marathon fundraiser, interviews, articles and more. I love the guy, I love what he’s doing. Mark is the real deal.

Please donate to support Mark.

Mark Horvath Ready for Action

What’s the Charity?

Mark is participating in the United Way Home Walk, supporting the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. I think that’s a name we can trust.

Plus, Mark lived in Los Angeles. He knows what’s what and I trust that Mark would only raise money for organizations that are truly doing good.

Please donate to support the United Way.

Homeless Veterans?

Yeah. Like Dawn. She served in the Navy for seven years, came home to a difficult situation and found herself homeless. She lived out of her car for two years.

Our veterans deserve better. And thanks to the United Way, she now has a place to call home. Watch Dawn’s story.

Please donate to support Dawn and other veterans just like her.

Refugees vs. Veterans?

I don’t want to get too political on you, but lately all the garbage going back and forth on Facebook is making me twitchy. Seriously, I want to stab myself with a spork.

The one that makes me feel the most stabby is the meme pitting Syrian refugees against homeless veterans. It argues that we’re not taking care of our U.S. veterans, so how can we take care of Syrian refugees.

Let’s forget that the meme assumes we can’t do both. Let’s forget all the politics that so deeply divides us. I think we’re supposed to help people in need. It’s that simple.

Well, here’s an opportunity to help homeless veterans. So let’s help them.

Please donate to support a less stabby Internet.

Did You Say Matching?

Yes. Every dollar donated is matched. You donate $10, it becomes $20. You donate $50, it becomes $100. It’s magic!

Up to $5,000 will be matched. So if we can raise $5,000, that’ll be $10,000 to help homeless veterans. That’s a win.

Please donate to support magic doubling money for a good cause.

UPDATE: So Mark has a donor personally matching the $5,000 he raises, as I mentioned above. But also, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is offering the Hilton Challenge. For every team that raises $5,000, they’ll match it. So your contribution will not just be doubled, it will be tripled. Like money, money, money. It’s like exponential giving!

How Soon?

Now! The United Way HomeWalk is Saturday, Nov. 21. That’s like 36 hours from now. Time’s a wastin’! We need to raise that money today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.

Please donate right now.

Thank you.

Returning to Star Wars

I’ve been re-watching Star Wars with the kids in anticipation of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We finished tonight with Return of the Jedi.

Ah, so good. I loved that movie as a kid. I don’t think I’ve loved it recently, but today I really enjoyed it again. I think the kids enjoyed it too, though they had more fun playing with the box of my 30-year-old Star Wars toys.

What Order?

So the big question was what order to watch the movies in. Prequels first? (Pshhh, nope.) Originals first?

I went with Machete Order—4, 5, 2, 3 and 6 (and you completely skip 1). Good choice. You skip all the useless stuff in number one (Jar Jar, midichlorians, boy Anakin and major characters that never show up again—Qui-Gon and Darth Maul). The only downside is that watching Episode I makes Episode II seem good by comparison. Continue reading Returning to Star Wars

Music I’m Listening to Lately

Spotify has been a constant work companion lately, a good way to sample music and it seems to work so much better than iTunes (which is really counter what you expect from Apple).

Though I still like to own music and every few months I hop over to iTunes to buy a bunch of my favorite tracks from Spotify to make CDs for the car and to have music on my phone.

Here are some recent tunes I’m enjoying:

  • Addie Zierman turned me on to Noah Gunderson today (I also stole this post format from her, albeit in an abbreviated style), and I’ve been listening to the whole catalog on repeat. He’s got a folk style with a bit of a country twang (but not too much—I don’t like country), and the lyrics are darkly spiritual. I’m still exploring, but “Poor Man’s Son” is a great track with snippets of “Down to the River to Pray.”
  • I discovered Liz Vice a while ago and she recently re-released her album. It sounds like old school Motown music (says the person with no musical education whatsoever). “Abide” is a pretty good representative track.
  • The Oh Hellos are a fun folk-rockish-praise band. “Lay Me Down” and “Trees” are good.
  • Elle King is kind of stomp rock with a little country twist. “Ex’s & Oh’s” is her big hit, but I think “America’s Sweetheart” is better.
  • “Is God Real?” by Kasey Chambers is one of those (not-so) rare songs about God that pops up on the radio and gets stuck in your head. Kind of reminds me of “What If God Was One of Us.”
  • Gary Clark Jr. is probably one of those musicians I would have discovered a long time ago if I had any musical knowledge. He has that ancient blues sound. “Church” from his new album is good and I really like the 7-minute live version of “When My Train Pulls In.”
  • “Stay” by Fallbrigade is an incredible track. Not sure who they are, but I really like this one.
  • And on my teenage girl kick, I’m enjoying “Ugly Heart” by G.R.L. and “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon.
  • If I have the story straight, Amanda Opelt is the sister of Rachel Held Evans and wrote a 7-song album about the sacraments that pairs with Rachel’s book, Searching for Sunday, which is organized around the sacraments. Amanda’s music is simple and pretty. It’s hard to pick a best track, but I think it’s “Harvest (Marriage).”

How to Find New Music

Finding music is always hard. My go-to sources are things people mention online (how I found Noah Gunderson, Liz Vice & Amanda Opelt), The Current (Elle King, Kasey Chambers, Gary Clark Jr.) and Spotify’s recommendations/browsing (The Oh Hellos, Fallbrigade, G.R.L. and Walk the Moon).

My most recent favorite feature of Spotify is their Discover Weekly playlist. Every week they make a new custom playlist of songs just for you. It’s about 30 songs and I assume they use some fancy algorithm based on what I listen to. It’s not full of songs I love, but I usually find a few songs I like and that gives me new artists to check out.

Turning on the Heat 2015

I caved and turned on the heat today. It’s cold and drizzly outside, 43 degrees right now and dropping, with no hope of sun. It’s been a really nice fall and we’ve had lots of sunny days that have kept it warm enough, but the dark and drizzly really does you in.

On the upside, this is the longest we’ve ever gone before turning on the heat. New record! So that’s something.

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.