40 For 40

In less than three weeks, I’ll turn 40. While many people dread that milestone, I’m looking forward to it! And I want to do something special to celebrate this coming year.

Since my late 20’s, I’ve kept a bucket list and a list of things that bring me joy. After more than a decade, I only regret that I spend so little time engaged with the things on either. With that in mind, I made a combined and condensed list of goals for growth and fun. I’m going to do these 40 things during the year of November 2, 2017-November 1, 2018. You may notice that each goal has something in common.

  1. Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover every 40 days
  2. Do some family history or temple work 40 times
  3. Read 40 articles about the Bible
  4. Talk to 40 people about the Book of Mormon
  5. Study 40 General Conference talks
  6. Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents
  7. Track my meals and nutrition for 40 straight days
  8. No soda for 40 straight days
  9. No fast food for 40 straight days
  10. No sugary treats for 40 straight days
  11. No social media for 40 straight days
  12. No Netflix for 40 straight days
  13. Don’t buy anything unnecessary for 40 straight days
  14. Drink 40 oz. of water a day for 40 straight days
  15. Run ten miles 40 different times
  16. Do sit ups for 40 straight days
  17. Do 40 pushups in a set
  18. Take 40 relaxing baths
  19. Ride my bike to work 40 times
  20. Learn 40 new Portuguese words each month
  21. Sketch 40 new drawings
  22. Study 40 paintings
  23. Read 40 great books
  24. Listen to 40 new symphonies
  25. Listen to 40 new jazz and blues classics
  26. Listen to 40 great albums from my teenage years
  27. Learn 40 new chess moves
  28. Eat at 40 new places
  29. Do 40 acts of service
  30. Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes
  31. Watch 40 episodes of The Twilight Zone
  32. Read Calvin & Hobbes comics every day for 40 days
  33. Pray every morning for 40 straight days
  34. Pray every evening for 40 straight days
  35. Give my wife 40 back rubs
  36. Watch 40 classic films with my children
  37. Do 40 fun activities with my children
  38. Don’t say anything negative about anyone for 40 straight days
  39. Write 40 poems
  40. Write in my journal 40 times
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Ten Favorite Books: Fiction

This week a friend posited this exercise for a list: our ten favorite works of fiction. I then realized that I had never made such a list before. I scoured my record of everything I’ve read, considered only the perfect-ten A-plusses, and came up with these:

10. Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full

A tour de force of satire, and an absolutely perfect portrait of late 20th century us. A huge achievement in making us look at our warts in the mirror and laugh our heads off at them. By far the best American novel of the 90s.

9. Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomson, The Rule of Four

Incredibly fun puzzle mystery, without being ponderous or pandering. A flawlessly fun read.

8. P.G. Wodehouse, Code of the Woosters

The first Jeeves and Wooster book I ever read, and still the best. We all type LOL every day, it seems, but how often does something actually make us laugh out loud? This book did, many times.

7. James Clavell, Noble House

I didn’t think a 1000 page novel about a British business executive in Hong Kong in the 60s could be the most exciting, engrossing adventure story I’d ever read, but here we are.

6. James Joyce, Dubliners

A phenomenal achievement of the mind, this little collection of stories has history’s greatest difference between the simplicity of the narratives and the depth of the ideas.

5. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

The bleak setting, the haunted and violent saga, the elegantly complex plot and style: this is the greatest novel from 19th century England, which is saying a lot.

4. Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

A surprise, just like Noble House. Who would have thought a long, rambling Western would also be the most humane, exciting, passionate celebration of life I’d ever see between two covers? I wish I could read it again for the first time.

3. Frank Herbert, Dune

The cover of the current paperback edition calls it “science fiction’s supreme masterpiece,” and if anything, that’s playing it safe. This majestic epic broke all the rules, and in doing so, wrote the ones we’ve been following ever since.

2. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

The one and only truly counter cultural book I’ve ever seen–a story so bogglingly original that it has endless surprises and challenges for everybody…and is genuinely funny on every single page.

1. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

It’s difficult to even begin describing the wonders of this super masterpiece. Let just one bit of praise suffice: this grand work has the best rendering of life’s very largest dramas and its very smallest details. One or the other would be enough to put it on this list, but it has both. Amazing.

Ten Favorite Paintings

The top 10-themed culture conversation continues between two old friends and I. This last week the category was simple: ten favorite paintings. I got to go back over my posts here on that subject, and I came up with this list:

10. Durand, The Morning of Life

durand

 

9. Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night

cafe-terrace-at-night-2

 

8. Church, Country Home

004-frederic-edwin-church-theredlist

 

7. Bocklin, Isle of the Dead

bocklin

Continue reading

The 10 Best Albums Of My High School Years?

Recently, a friend posed an interesting question for us to ponder: what were the best albums of our high school years? We decided to make our own lists to compare and discuss.

This is tricky right off the bat because we became freshmen in 1992, a year after music’s best calendar year ever. Still, the early 90s had a ton of amazing quality: our lists had to be from albums released between August 1992 and June 1996.

I decided my list would have to balance personal taste with importance and impact on the larger musical world. This is really just a first draft, but for now, here are my ten.

10. Rancid, …And Out Come The Wolves

9. Beck, Odelay

8. The Crow, Soundtrack

7. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

6. Nirvana, In Utero

5. Live, Throwing Copper

4. Pearl Jam, Vs.

3. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral

2. REM, Automatic For The People

1. Nirvana, Unplugged in New York

 

Symbolic Book Titles

I just had the idea to list books where the title is also the book’s chief symbol. So far I have:

  1. The Catcher in the Rye
  2. Lord of the Flies
  3. Ulysses
  4. The Bluest Eye
  5. The Bell Jar
  6. The Color Purple
  7. The Maltese Falcon

Please add more in the comments.

I’d also like to make lists of books where the title is an allusion (The Grapes of Wrath, The Sound and the Fury) and where the title is a complete sentence (Death Comes For the Archbishop, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter).

My Year in Books: 2016

I finished 37 books in 2016. For variety and quality, it was one of my best years for reading: nine “A plusses” this year, more than ever before!

1. Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, Patrick Kavanaugh (1/12, music, religion)–A+

2. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (2/6, literature, Garnett trans.)–A+

3. Pity the Beautiful, Dana Gioia (2/9, poetry)–B

4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (2/28, self-improvement)–F

5. Buried Alive, Gloria Skurzynski (3/1, young adult)–C

6. Thomas Cole, Earl A. Powell (3/1, art, biography)–B

7. The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (3/9, classics, Watts trans.)–C

8. Albert Bierstadt, Tom Robotham (3/12, art, biography)–C

9. Redshirts, John Scalzi, (3/19, science fiction, comedy)–B

10. Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C. Clarke (3/26, science fiction)–A

11. The Fifth Gospel, Ian Caldwell (4/30, mystery)–A

12. Browsings, Michael Dirda (5/10, memoir, reading)–A+

13. The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright (5/12, religion)–A

14. The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley (5/14, mystery)–B

15. The Anchoress, Robyn Cadwallader (5/19, historical fiction)–C

16. The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope (5/26, adventure)–B

17. The World’s Strongest Librarian, Josh Hanagarne (5/28, memoir, humor, reading)–A+

18. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester (6/13, science fiction)–B

19. We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride (6/17, literature)–A+

20. Fair Isn’t Always Equal, Rick Wormeli (6/28, education)–D

21. Mockingbird, Walter Tevis (6/30, science fiction)–A+

22. The Libation Bearers, Aeschylus (7/1, Greek drama, Lattimore trans.)–C

23. Never Go Back, Lee Child (7/12, mystery)–B

24. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann (7/15, literature, Lowe-Porter trans.)–C

25. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique Morris (7/20, sociology)–F

26. The Taking, Dean Koontz (7/28, horror)–A

27. Fluent in 3 Months, Benny Lewis (8/3, language/self-improvement)–A

28. The Knight of the Swords, Michael Moorcock (8/4, fantasy)–A

29. How to Be Perfect, Daniel Harrell (8/9, scripture study, religion)—B

30. The Eumenides, Aeschylus (8/9, Greek drama, Lattimore trans.)—C

31. Zion: The Long Road to Sanctification, Larry Barkdull (8/17, religion)—B

32. Inferno, Dante (8/26, poetry, classics, Anthony Esolen trans.)—A+

33. Submission, Michel Houellebecq (9/3, fiction, translated from French)—C

34. The Aeneid, Virgil (10/28, classics, Robert Fagles trans.)—A+

35.  A Winter Haunting, Dan Simmons (11/1, suspense)—B

36. To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson, Heidi Swinton (11/13, religion, biography)—A+

37. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (12/29, literature, Maude trans.)—A

My Ten Most Influential Books

After reading this great post about the ten books that most influenced an author over at First Thoughts (one of my favorite blogs) a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on my own list.  The list changed drastically over a few drafts, and I’ve been surprised by the final results.

These are not necessarily my favorite books (though many of them are), nor are they what I’d consider the best books I’ve read (though, again, some of them are).  These are the books that have most contributed to who I am today.  For better or for worse, these are the ones that stuck with me, changed me, that left some deep imprint impossible to explain me now without. 

The only caveat here is that I decided not to include any scripture on this list.  For it to be accurate, they should be on here, but I ran into too many problems.  Should I count them all as one monolithic book called “Scripture,” separate them into Standard Works, or separate them even further into individual texts by author?  The more I broke them down, the more I had to wrangle with how to rank them.  It got too thorny, and I just decided to ignore that altogether for this list.

The original list at First Thoughts, along with many of the comments afterwards, cheated by doubling up on books and squeezing more than ten onto these “top ten” lists.  This draft has significantly fewer than my first couple, but I’ve still elected to cheat, also.  My top ten list has twelve titles.  If you really want to be a purist, cut off the last two. 

I’ve listed them here roughly in order of just how much they’ve shaped me, and I’ve included the general period in my life when I read them. 

1.  Hugh Nibley, Nibley On the Timely and the Timeless (college).  This isn’t my favorite Nibley book (his Book of Mormon works or Approaching Zion would probably get that nod), but this “greatest hits” collection deeply impressed me at the time with its range of classical literacy to social criticism to studious, spiritual discipleship.  It was the first Nibley book I read cover to cover, and started me on the path to the rest of his oeuvre.  The way that I read scripture, study history, and understand the practical relations between things ancient, esoteric, and pragmatically modern are all heavily influenced by his life and work (though, since reading his biography–which I took with me to read on my honeymoon because it had just come out and I couldn’t wait to start it–I have attenuated this idolizing a bit and tried to expand my circle of influence).  Undeniably, his books have had more of a profound effect on me than any other.  I bought an old copy from E-bay several years ago…right before it was reprinted in a new edition.

2.  Hopkins and Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive (high school).  I owe this one to my older brother.  Like all boys, I worshipped my older brother, so when I was old enough to emulate his adoration of classic rock, I followed suit.  I came across this biography of Doors frontman Jim Morrison and devoured it.  For a moody, pretentious adolescent, it provided a role model worthy of my own egomaniacal imagination.  This book’s influence reached far beyond my devoted memorizing of every note on the legendary Best of the Doors two CD set.  Even back then, I would read biographies with an eye especially keen for what great people had done at my age.  Morrison had been, above all, a voracious, even a ferocious, reader, and a nascent poet. 

My own forays into poetry reading and writing were not terribly productive (though I still like The Lords and the New Creatures), the titles and authors cited by Hopkins and Sugerman as formative on Morrison–James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, the Romantics and French Symbolists–became my bread and butter for years, and sprouted branches of further influence that still dominate what I read today.  Though I certainly no longer emulate Morrison or his lifestyle, I can’t deny that this book has had a huge impact on me over the years.  Just last week I was flipping through radio stations and heard “L.A. Woman,” and I fondly paused to listen to some of it.  This book may be dormant, but it is in my DNA.  Continue reading

David O. McKay’s “Ten Rules For Happiness”

I love this list, from former LDS Church President David O. McKay (1873-1970):

 

TEN RULES OF HAPPINESS
By President David O. McKay

1. Develop yourself by self-discipline.
2. Joy comes through creation — sorrow through destruction. Every living thing can grow: Use the world wisely to realize soul growth.
3. Do things which are hard to do.
4. Entertain upbuilding thoughts. What you think about when you do not have to think shows what you really are.
5. Do your best this hour, and you will do better the next.
6. Be true to those who trust you.
7. Pray for wisdom, courage, and a kind heart.
8. Give heed to God’s messages through inspiration. If self-indulgence, jealousy, avarice, or worry have deadened your response, pray to the Lord to wipe out these impediments.
9. True friends enrich life. If you would have friends, be one.
10. Faith is the foundation of all things — including happiness.

These are a few of my favorite things…

In no particular order, some of the things that always, always make me happy:

  1. Quarter pounders with cheese and hot mustard
  2. A1 steak sauce
  3. scented candles
  4. mystery and sci-fi magazines
  5. weekend afternoon naps / waking up with everything quiet
  6. The Simpsons
  7. Writing and receiving letters
  8. Writing just about anything
  9. crossword puzzles
  10. soy sauce
  11. beef jerky from Larry’s Great Western Meats
  12. browsing at Hallmark around Halloween
  13. conservative editorials (especially Mark Steyn)
  14. power yoga
  15. soft chocolate chip cookies
  16. mounatin biking through the scenic loop at Red Rock Canyon
  17. early morning walks
  18. wearing sweaters and blankets
  19. Saturday shows on NPR (especially “Car Talk” and “Wait, Wait…”)
  20. thunderstorms
  21. driving through Virgin River Gorge on I-15 in NW Arizona
  22. road trips
  23. watching sunrises
  24. making lists
  25. how my teeth feel after I floss
  26. ice cold milk
  27. U2 albums from the 80’s
  28. slow, simple, moody music
  29. Renaissance festivals and craft fairs
  30. cloudy days
  31. Virginia and the Pacific Northwest
  32. hot chocolate
  33. jazz
  34. meat and cheese from Hickory Farms
  35. chocolate cream pies from Marie Calendar’s
  36. Thomas Kinkade paintings
  37. Shakespeare
  38. Athletic socks, old blue jeans, ribbed t-shirts
  39. Impressionist painting
  40. not shaving for a couple days
  41. for some reason, sitting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office, or getting a haircut
  42. laying in bed and letting my mind wander
  43. New Yorker cartoons
  44. Strong Bad emails on homestarrunner.com
  45. The Onion
  46. marking scriptures
  47. episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot
  48. NPR’s “Performance Today”
  49. Calvin and Hobbes
  50. Celtic music and folklore
  51. working in the temple
  52. surprising my wife with romantic things
  53. hymns
  54. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
  55. sitting in the tub
  56. martial arts
  57. foreign film
  58. any album from Putumayo World Music
  59. history
  60. hiking in the mountains