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What’s Joe reading?

Posted by joeabbott on March 22, 2015

So, confession time: in a world of bits and bytes and a career in the technology field, I still very much enjoy print media. I subscribe to several monthly magazines, pick up books as souvenirs whenever Suzy and I travel, I look forward to propping my glasses above my brow and paging through whatever reading material is handy when I have a few minutes to kill.

That said, I have found that my preferred reading material offer up its information in bite-sized nuggets; information I can ingest at a quick sitting or in that five or so minutes between going to bed and actually drifting off to sleep. So what’s on my bed stand and coffee tables? Let’s look!



A house without books with a few already started would be a strange place for me. But, as I said, I am drifting a bit from novels and moving more toward shorter prose. A couple of books I’ve read recently include those pictured above: A Museum of Early American Tools and Because I Said So!

The A Museum of Early American Tools was a book on my Christmas “wish list” that was fulfilled by a nephew-in-law (or whatever you call the guy who married my niece). Written by Eric Sloan, it contains a hundred or so pages of hand-drawings of tools you might find tucked away in some old Midwestern barn; items that may be familiar and indispensible by those living 100 or so years ago, and bemusing to those of us who might answer the question, “where does food come from” by saying, “the store”. In addition, he writes about the history of these tools, how they developed over time, and even details some regional differences in the items.

I spent a buncha nights looking through the pages, reading the descriptions, and (again) browsing the various entries, finding much to enjoy in this slim book. While I put in a day’s work in a chair behind a desk, there’s a part of me that longs for bending my back and working with my hands. Glad I don’t have to be a laborer … that’s hard work … but I have always wished for the skill and knowledge that go hand-in-hand with tools like those shown in this book.

The book Because I Said So! is written by Jeopardy! maestro Ken Jennings and was a book I tossed into my cart while wandering the aisles at Costco one day last summer. As I mentioned, I like quick, bite-sized reads and this promised just that, with a small amount of intellect tossed in. A lot of it was pedestrian blah, the sort of information that either seems common knowledge these days (chewing 30 times before swallowing, most of the heat escapes through your head, swallowed seeds growing in a stomach) or stuff I don’t have a lot of connection to (five second rule), and yet, it was reasonably entertaining.

You see, the book is about all those adages and quips you heard growing up, and determining if they really are true or not. Each saying is given a short section detailing the item and then Ken either supports or debunks the issue; often times coming up with a “partially true” or “somewhat false” sort of answer. I liked the variety, I liked that he puts in what appears to be diligent effort to determine the factual basis for an issue, and I get the feeling Ken yearns for a childhood with fewer rules and oversight for kids, and taking the bumps and bruises of childhood for part of growing up. For myself, I’m happy for all the faint scars and real scares for that part of my past.


I subscribe to two magazines … or, more closely said, two types of magazines. Back when I was getting into the Xbox group, I started subscribing to a gaming magazine; and, when I began woodworking I started subscribing to many woodworking magazines. My taste or interest in both has shifted slightly, but I get one gaming mag and a few woodworking mags these days.

Gameinformer is an industry periodical, meaning it talks about video games for all different platforms. When I first started getting a gaming magazine, it was OXM: the Official Xbox Magazine, and it catered to Xbox enthusiasts and read like a clubhouse write-up. That is, all the things that are great about your choice in gaming consoles! But I don’t need an affirmation that I made the right choice in how I like to game. Gameinformer however, comes across as more of a state of the industry sort of magazine, and I like that.

Yes, both are very heavy with colorful articles describing the latest shoot-em-up game, but I like hearing about the offerings across the breadth of the industry. Yes, I love my Xbox, but there’s a lot more going on out there and I want to hear about it.

As for woodworking magazines, I used to get lots of them: Popular Woodworking, Wood magazine, Fine Woodworking, American Woodworker, and on. All great info but I found that most of them talked about the same stuff with a specific angle. I’d get it wrong if I tried to call out the exact niche they were going for, but I just realized I didn’t need them all. And so I get a couple magazines that gives me about a year of issues for ~$20. Yup, I take a look at the offers that come in and, if I can get a year for less than $20, I’ll take it.

Not science and not “because this one helps me do the sort of woodworking I like” … purely a return on capital. And so, with that, I won’t delve any deeper into the magazines I receive in that category. And not because I’m not really sure which woodworking magazines I subscribe to these days … although that well may be true.


Well, I think “periodical” is just a synonym for “magazine”, but I’m trying to determine the difference between those items that show up because I pay for them (the above), and those appearing because I’m affiliated with a given business.

I get investment write-ups from REITs we own, I get catalogs from outdoors gear makers, knife makers, and computer items, and I get monthly issues from my alma maters: both the UofMN and Seattle U. I actually read all of these things; maybe not cover-to-cover, but I page through, glean what I can, and move on without committing too much to memory. These sorts of reads can happen between getting out of the car and the trip to our recycle bin, or they come with me for the bus ride to work the next day. I get ‘em, I read ‘em.

imageWait, there’s more!

And there’s always more.

I subscribe to the Amazing Spider-man comic book … years ago Suzy picked me up a subscription for a birthday and I’ve been renewing since … I get a fair number of cards and letters from various friends and family, I dig through the technical manuals for things like the router and modem I recently purchased (online documentation has made this reading very quick these days). Oh yes, and the daily paper.

There’s a lot of reading going on here and I’ve even taken to books on CD while in my car. Sandwiched between Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath and my current “listen” (a book I’d read in print previously), Bill Bryson’s At Home, was the 2003 based-on-a-video-game sci-fi novel Halo: First Strike. I enjoy variety in my reading/listening.

On a ride around town doing Saturday errands, Suzy treated me to a CD or two of a book she’s listening to: The Boys in the Boat. It’s a story about the 1936 Olympic crew team, which follows the University of Washington oarsmen and includes lots of Depression era stories, pre-WW2 aggressions, and a bunch of local history. I’m certain to listen to more of it when she’s done!


And so, in my world of checking Facebook and Twitter on my devices, sitting at a computer terminal for many hours both at work and at home, and with hobbies like hiking, woodworking, and gaming, I still find time for a lot of reading. I was once at a family gathering and heard someone exclaim, “I hate reading” and I immediately felt like I should interject; but I didn’t. We all have preferences and each make our own choices … it’s a good world with all these differences. But, when there’s room made at the table for me, know that I’ll have a book handy somewhere.


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