Monday, December 29, 2014

Top Five Favorite Reads of 2014!

I'm a little OCD about tracking my reading through Goodreads. If I haven't logged it on Goodreads, then I haven't read it.  Two of my favorite Goodread's features are the yearly reading challenge and the stats pages.  This year I have read 60 books for a grand total of 21,720 pages. This is really only a competition with myself, so for comparison’s sake, in 2013 I read 23 books amounting to 9,711 pages. Dramatic improvement.

Looking back on my favorite reads of 2014, it would appear that I was in a science fiction/fantasy mood.  The only five books I gave five out of five stars were The Chronicles of the Black Company, Dracula, Ready Player One, The Martian and Off to be the Wizard.

 Chronicles of the Black Company – No joking, my favorite book of all time and forever. As a young gun, I really enjoyed Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World.  These are better than those.  I bought into the plot and the main characters leapt from the page.  The pacing was pretty close to perfect - it was storytelling at its finest.  And the conclusion - the last 100 pages are maybe the best conclusion I've ever read - an otherworldly out-of-body experience (especially if you read them with a Pandora station based upon Lord of the Rings.)  Magical.

Dracula – This is my perennial favorite.  I read it every year in October and this time I read it with my brother, Dr. J.  He enjoyed it and we talked about it, which made it even more enjoyable.  The soothing syntax of B. Stoker with his 1897 style once again took a satisfying bite out of the neck of fundamental gothic fiction.  (Did you catch what I did there?)

 Ready Player One, The Martian and Off to be the Wizard – three most excellent science-fiction/fantasy reads.  Ready Player One & Off to be the Wizard  -  Dr. J recommended both of these books, and if you spent the 90s playing video games, like I did, you will really like them both.  The Martian – imagine something pulled from the Robinson Crusoe / Castaway archetype, but with a slight intergalactic change of venue.  This one is hard to put down (not just because gravity is less oppressive for the protagonist).

Goodbye 2014 – from a literary perspective, you may have been the best year yet. 

Care to share your top-five favorite reads of 2014?  Feel free to leave a comment below!

Happy New Year!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Books that will make you smarter, popular and better-looking

 Books can definitely make you smarter. And with those smarts, you could be more popular. And with popularity, everyone will think you are better-looking. But even if that doesn't exactly pan out, at the very least, these books will make you smarter.

1. A Brief History of Time — Stephen Hawking

It seems appropriate to begin this literary odyssey by joining Hawking on a cosmic journey that explains complex scientific and mathematical subjects in a manner accessible to the non-scientist. You will turn the final page of this book having obtained greater enlightenment pertaining to the universe, time and ourselves, as well as an improved vocabulary.

2. A Little History of the World — Ernst Gombrich

Turning to something a little closer to home, this concise tome, originally written as a compendium for children, summarizes world history with broad brushstrokes. While of necessity this book suffers from occasional oversimplification, it remains a valuable and informative attempt at such a vast topic. As one observed in a review in the Wall Street Journal, "Lucky children will have this book read to them. Intelligent adults will read it for themselves …."

3. The Fault in Our Stars — John Green

This novel, and soon-to-be major motion picture, will not only increase your knowledge and empathy for young people facing terminal illnesses, but also deepen your understanding of the human condition. The style and grace with which Green unfolds this heart-wrenching story will benefit not only your world view, but also your literary style and flair. Better hurry with this one, the motion picture release is slated for June 6, 2014.

4. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything — Stephen D. Levitt

This rebel economist seeks to use economics to explore and explain human behavior in the most unexpected ways. Read and expect to see causation, correlation and connections in ways you haven't dreamed.

5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking — Susan Cain

Want to learn something? Stop talking and try listening, or in this case, reading. This book examines the virtues and the power of the world's best listeners. For introverts, you will see the value you bring to a society that tends to focus on the noisy ones. For extroverts, you will want to encourage your own introverted tendencies.

6. Les Miserables (Unabridged) — Victor Hugo

Published over 150 years ago, Hugo's epic effort not only goes into great detail on a variety of topics, but also uses language that would inspire even one with impressive vocabulary skills. As surprising as it may seem, after 1,400 plus pages you will finish "Les Miserables" and be inclined to immediately begin again.

7. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy — Douglas Adams

This classic treatise reveals "The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything." If that doesn't increase your knowledge and make you smarter, I don't know what will. Unfortunately, spoiler alert, the answer may not be as helpful as one might initially hope. Still, there is knowledge to be had and joy in this galactic journey.

Bonus: The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century — George Friedman

While soothsaying, reading tea leaves and crystal-ball gazing are notoriously inaccurate, this geopolitical adventure will inform not only a reader's forecasts for the future, but also one's perceptions of the present.

With so many books out there, I may have missed a few. What are the books that make you smarter, popular and better-looking — or at least one out of the three?

Originally published on

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Not Easy Being Green


Everyone wants to be environmentally conscious.


We all deep down inside want to be tree-hugging, tie-dye-wearing, Whole Foods-shopping denizens of this planet—at least initially and to an extent. That’s because the vast majority of us are instinctively good people who desire to care for the great Earth Mother from which we derive life sustenance. To be human in 2010 was to shudder as the 24-hour news cycle live-streamed oil gushing from a damaged oil rig into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of at least 200 barrels an hour. To be human today is to see a smog cloud and think, “Ugh, what are we doing?” Yet the “environmentalist” humans among us are often lumped into unfair stereotypes and caricatures, painted as anti-capitalism, anti-progress and anti-the-future. When in reality, they are some of the best among us.

As you, kind reader, followed the preceding paragraph, you may have disagreed. You may have questioned whether everyone does indeed want to embrace yonder arbors. Or you may be one who vehemently denies any desire to be conscious of the environment. You may see the environmental movement as too heavy a burden on capitalism and the economy.

“The price is too great,” you shout!

Come closer and I will tell you how it’s gotten to be this way. Are you listening?

It’s because for many of us, it is just not easy being green. It isn’t. I’m just keeping it real.

 Being green is a real pain in the Aspen trees that stopped growing because of air pollution.

Living conscious of the environment is much more complicated than ignoring it. Just try to park at a well-known environmentally conscious grocer and you will be introduced to the challenges of green living.

Cars circle the black tarmac at high speeds waiting and watching as unsuspecting victims leave the store, reusable bags in hand, heading to their parked vehicles. A car leaves a spot and like chum to a great white, cars rapidly converge for the kill. Tempers flare, one victor tears into his prey and the others continue the slow methodical scavenging.

This all-too-common scenario could contribute to the observation made by one writer that Whole Foods is “America’s Angriest Store.” Not the employees— they are spectacular. It’s the “regular customers.” According to one article, “They are, across the board, across the country, useless, ignorant, and miserable. They’re worse than miserable, they’re angry.” Do you know why some of them may be so angry? Because it is not easy being green.
Just take a run through the Green Guide, an informational web portal provided by Greenpeace. It provides a comprehensive guide on “being green” in almost every aspect of your life.

Imagine, you start the day off as happy as a clam, wanting to be a good steward of the environment. You walk to the fridge to look for something to eat for breakfast and—Green Guide—you remember you’re supposed to open the fridge less often and for shorter durations to conserve energy. So you stand at the fridge, hungry, trying to make your decision by recalling what is on your shelves. Then, you fling open the fridge, grab the first thing you can reach and slam the door. You find yourself holding a bottle of kimchee and you can’t remember how long you’ve had it!

You head off to work and—Green Guide—have to leave 20 minutes early to catch the 410 that will take you to the 405 to catch your transfer to get you to the office on time. Of course, cue climate change, the prelude to the next great Ice Age arrives at your door the moment you leave the house. All buses are delayed, making you more than an hour late to work.

You return home after a long day in the office and your drain is clogged. You walk to your cupboard where you keep your corrosive drain cleaners and —Green Guide—you put it back on the shelf, grab a ¼ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of vinegar and pour it down your hopelessly clogged drain. Once the fizzing stops, you boil some water and dump that down as well. You repeat the processes until you are exhausted and hungry and still making no process with the clog. Returning to the cupboard and ignoring the Green Guide, you dump half the corrosive substance down the drain.

You head to bed, but first—Green Guide—you take a less-than-ten-minute lukewarm shower in water hot enough to kill bacteria but cool enough to save energy. Your newly installed water-saving shower head reluctantly trickles out drops of water. You then proceed to walk the house unplugging every major electronic or appliance only to get up early the next morning to plug them all back in again.

Finally, you get into bed, but— Green Guide—not before you turn down the thermostat and put on your sweats, parka, thick socks and a robe and then get under your blankets. All in the name of conserving fuel. You prepare to wake up in the morning sleep-deprived and ready to start all over again with the thousands of best practices recommended by the Green Guide.

Sure, these may seem to be extreme examples, but they are also oft cited instances of environmental stewardship. Don’t stand staring into an open fridge. Commute. Don’t pour toxic stuff down the drain. Conserve water, heat and electricity. Maybe one aspect wouldn’t be too challenging, but when taken as a whole, only the best of us can be green without feeling seriously inconvenienced. Yet we look in the mirror, and instead of praising those who make the valiant ecofriendly effort, we often downplay, malign and characterize the environmental movement as crazy, ineffective and even an overall detriment to society. That characterization is much easier than admitting that when it comes right down to it, so many of us are unable to make the required sacrifices to be green.

So, next time, try to see an environmentally conscious person in a different light—they are carrying a heavy burden. And even if you don’t have the patience, time or desire to hug a tree, no worries: you have another option. Instead of mocking the movement, consider hugging the treehugger.

Originally Published in "The Docket" a monthly print magazine published by the Denver Bar Association @

Friday, April 4, 2014

An Experiment in Words

Words are powerful - just a single word or a phrase can lift someone's heart and ultimately save someone's life.  "Let my words speak life!"

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Marriage - On the Decline Since 1769

I sat back in my recliner, turned on Modern Family and pulled out my ipad for a read of the daily news. I begin by scanning the daily column and found, as expected, an opinion piece regarding marriage in this great Nation. 

I read, "It is with the utmost concern I acquaint you, my young friends, that marriage, an ordinance of God, so honorable in itself, and so absolutely necessary for the maintenance of society, is at presence greatly on the decline." 

Emphatically, I nod my head. Whoever this columnist is knows how things are going. "Amen," I solemnly muttered under my breath, "on the decline." 

I continued reading, hooked by the intoxicating prose, "I am sorry to say there is too great reason to fear it proceeds from the gaiety, levity and extravagance, which so dreadfully appears throughout the whole nation." 

"Ah, yes." I say, "It is all those gaieties that are afflicting our once great nation with all of their gaiety."

Returning to the article I start to wonder why is this type so unclear and faded? I find myself struggling to read the remainder of the column.  I realize the article doesn't look like the CNN homepage, or Google News. Scrolling up to the top of the webpage I see that someone had switched my internet bookmark from CNN to "The Virginia Gazette - December 07, 1769."

I shuddered. I had no idea that marriage had been on the decline since before the founding of the Nation.

"No, that's not true...That's Impossible." I shout.

Unable to tear myself way from the page, I continue reading my newspaper of yesteryear and find an article from the February 4, 1773 Virginia Gazette, "It is one of the greatest unhappiness of our times that matrimony is so much discountenanced, that in London, and other great cities, so many never marry, and that the greater part have got into the unhappy and unnatural way of wasting the best years of their lives in a giddy round of vain amusements, and criminal pleasures."

I don't know about you, but I had the feeling that with the young people so busy wasting their lives with vain amusements and criminal pleasures, no wonder 1773 wasn't a good year for marriage.

Things had to have gotten better for marriage at some point.  I had to find it, that golden age of marriage that everyone speaks of and yearns for with such longing and nostalgia.

And then, a light shown through the darkness. Our Country's founding must have saved marriage and put it on the right course. But alas, in 1855 marriage still found itself in a losing battle as it was threatened by insidious plots and schemes.

The New York Times reported, "A series of efforts, skillfully devised and carried forward with systematic ingenuity and perseverance, of which the ultimate aim is to subvert the present organization of society - destroy the institution of marriage. . . the disgusting and detestable Free Love system, which is obtaining a wide and alarming currency throughout the County."

So the 19th century wasn't so good for marriage; maybe I will find that ethereal age of perfect marriage in the 20th century.

Maybe not.  In 1920, things still look grim and mildly despondent. "In some of our States the grounds for divorce are such that the marriage relation is terminable practically at will. A marriage bond which is dissoluble at will, or practically so, is not a foundation upon which a civilized society can endure. To say that men and women may live together for a time and then, with legal sanction, separate and form new alliances as often as they please, is practically to abolish marriage and to substitute a system of legalized free love. And this is the situation which we as a nation have reached. We have now to face the question whether the institution of marriage in any real sense is to continue among us." 

It would appear that since before the founding of our nation there have been voices and we hear voices today within society that continue to argue that marriage is on the decline and that forces are gathering that will "subvert the present organization of society - - destroying the institution of marriage." I, on the other hand, believe that marriage has evolved and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of society.

Marriage has made several adjustments that we now accept as positive and ultimately beneficial to society; despite voices at that time claiming those same changes would destroy the civilized world. Somehow the "Free Love" system has not destroyed all that is good and holy and after hundreds of years, marriage is alive and well.

What can I say, I'm an optimist. Marriage, in whatever form it takes, will continue to be a contributing part to society despite voices that continue to predict, as they have since 1769, that marriage is on the decline.