• Book Review: The Empty Chair

    The Empty Chair is book three in the Lincoln Rhyme series, and it takes our characters outside their home of New York City and plops them into a small town in North Carolina. It’s an interesting idea, and I liked that this book started to question the idea of focusing only on evidence and including a little bit of psychology for good measure. It’s sadly under-explored, but it was interesting while it lasted.

    While I definitely enjoyed this one more than The Coffin Dancer this time around, it did leave me feeling a bit incomplete. The “gotcha” moments were unfortunately transparent, and the truly interesting bad guy was barely explored, leaving the reader wondering what actually happened to the plot. Was he brought to justice? How did they finally get him?

    The book felt rushed at the end, as it tried to tidy up plot lines from various main characters far too quickly, and with a few extra “gotchas” for good measure. I finished it and was like, “Oh, it’s over? Huh.”

    This one had potential, but ended up feeling incomplete. We’ll see how the next one goes.

  • Book Review: The Coffin Dancer

    Part of my efforts for 2019 has been not only to read more, but to read more fiction. While browsing my local library’s ebook collection, I discovered ebook versions of some murder-mystery books I’d read and enjoyed in high school and college. They were the Lincoln Rhyme series by Jeffery Deaver, and were part of what piqued my interest in some brief studies of forensics during my undergrad.

    I first read The Bone Collector, a few months ago, and most recently read The Coffin Dancer. They’re an interesting study in contrast. The Bone Collector introduces the characters, but they’re not fully formed yet and are held together by the tension of the plot. The Coffin Dancer aims to bring more character development into the mix, while maintaining a tense plot.

    I remember liking The Coffin Dancer more than its predecessor in the past, but present me prefers The Bone Collector. [Mild spoiler alert forthcoming:] This isn’t due to the suspense, per se, but rather to a certain subplot that both shows its age (being published in 1998) and some old-fashioned homophobia. See, one of the antagonists is gay, or a victim of childhood abuse and sexual abuse, or all of the above. And said antagonist is closeted and so is subject to experiencing “latent homosexuality” (ugh, why was that ever a thing), which is then used to another antagonist’s advantage while various protagonists use the opportunity to use a variety of slurs, because why not?

    So what I found myself experiencing was re-reading a book now, as an out and proud gay man, and my past self, reading that same book while closeted and afraid. And where my past self saw such things as a reflection of the culture and a reason to hide, my current self recognizes what is wrong and so pushes back.

    In the end, it’s a read that reflected my past right back to me, and for that reason alone, I’m glad I reread it. Otherwise, this one isn’t essential.

  • On finding time

    There’s never enough hours in the day, I tell myself. I’ve bit off more than I can chew. I’m exceptionally busy and always tired. I’m late to bed and early to rise. I promise to get together with friends and then never seem to be able to find the time. Where does it all go?

    In thinking about my life of late, I’ve realized I work a lot, and when I’m not working, I don’t quite know what to do with myself. It’s like I’ve forgotten what I used to enjoy doing for fun. I was once an avid reader, and an equally avid writer. I write for work a great deal, I remind myself, so that gets in the way of writing for pleasure.

    But does it?

    I’ve come across two timely texts which have me thinking otherwise. One was this podcast interview with neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker (caveat: I’m not a regular listener of Joe Rogan, and won’t become one; that said, this was a fascinating conversation) who discussed his book Why We Sleep. I’ve gone longer than I’m comfortable with averaging 6-7 hours of sleep and am actively working on changing that.

    The second text is Digital Minimalism, and I’ve been fascinated by the concept of solitude deprivation. I’ve noticed that when I’m bored, I don’t know what to do with myself, but picking up my phone is easy. I don’t post to social media these days, but I certainly do my share of lurking. It’s not a productive use of time, and in monitoring my habits over the past week or so, it’s been instructive to realize just how many micro-interruptions I actively seek out while I should be focused. Today, a leisure day, shows I’ve picked up my phone 84 times, approximately 6 times per hour. That’s a staggering amount of time for a day which held no obligation, but less than my average of 118 pickups per day, according to my iPhone. I like to assume I use my phone less than average, with these kinds of numbers I have my doubts about that.

    I suspect what I’m learning about myself is almost certainly a combination of the two ideas above: lack of sleep reduces focus (and therefore inhibitions) and increases my need for stimulation, and solitude deprivation has me seeking out stimulation when I don’t quite know what to do with time I’ve been trying to set aside for quiet and leisure rather than simply more work.

    What’s also interesting is that, in starting to read Digital Minimalism, I briefly thought about pulling up GoodReads and marking it as “currently reading”. I’ve been using GoodReads to encourage myself to read more, and appreciate its annual goal of reading a certain number of books. Of course, there’s a bit of pressure and stress if I don’t read those books, and Amazon (who bought GoodReads a few years back, perhaps to prevent a competitor from selling books but also to get access to lots of sweet, sweet user data) likely takes the information about my reading preferences and habits and finds new ways to serve me ads for additional sales.

    I’ve followed Austin Kleon for some time, and I like how he simply blogs about books he’s reading and then tags them with the year. This allows him to write about certain ideas that inspire different lines of thought not as they relate to the book itself, but to what he’s thinking about on any given day. It makes for much more interesting reading for others, I find, and reminds you that the time you read a book in your life can be just as impactful as the words in the book.

    If I take the time to read, and then write and reflect on what I’m reading and experiencing, who knows what I’ll be able to learn about life, and myself, in the process.

    And maybe, or perhaps probably, I’ll find that ever-elusive time to get to know myself once again.

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