resolutions and all that

statue reading a book at Mozart Museum in Prague
statue at Mozart Museum in Prague

I’m terrible at making and keeping resolutions. The first week or two are great, and then it starts to slip. That’s partially why I’m hesitant to articulate them, much less share them with anyone else. That being said, I have made a few promises to myself regarding things I want to work on this year. I have hopes that enough practice will eventually turn the new behaviors into old habits.

One thing I really hope to do more of, and have been working on unsuccessfully for several years now, is to set aside time to read books. And if not physically read them, at least make use of the time I spend in my car or at the gym to listen to them. I used to consume several books a week on summer breaks from school, and even kept up the habit in the working years between college and graduate school. I think it was the combination of graduate school and home internet access that broke the habit.

Last year, I chose twelve books that I planned to read. I made it through six, finished one a day into 2012, and gave up on another. Here’s the list of books read, with links to my reviews on GoodReads:

When I made the original list, it was a mix of books I’ve wanted to read but didn’t own and books that I owned and hadn’t read yet. I thought maybe the list would make me more focused, and only 12 in one year seemed doable. In fact, I read 17 books total last year, just not all of the ones I told myself I would read. About four of the books I read were ones I found in audio format at my local public library, and they were my road trip companions for the Thanksgiving and Christmas pilgrimages to Ohio.

Ultimately, what it came down to, was a mix of feeling like the list of 12 were more like school assignments and less like something I would choose to read, even though I did choose to read them and no one but myself “assigned” them. It was an interesting experiment, but this year I’ve decided to just make the time to read, and leave the material selection up to whatever I’m feeling like or have recently discovered.

Maybe all this resolution making and breaking is a good thing in the long run. Maybe it teaches me more about how my brain works and how to trick myself into making better decisions. Or maybe I just need to turn off the computer and pick up a book.

tweaking my workflow

Over the past year, I’ve become a Lifehacker fanatic. I read the site regularly, and sometimes I even use it as a reward for finishing some unpleasant task. While I don’t do every lifehack suggested or install every app suggested, I have been making incremental changes in the way I approach things. Here are a few:

  • Earlier this year, I used HabitForge to get into a routine of going to bed by 11pm and getting up at 6am, which I’ve mostly continued to do. I’ve not done so well at the other routine of eating breakfast at home, but that is partially due to not being dilligent about having breakfast items on hand (i.e. I’ve been out of milk for almost a week now and I still haven’t remembered to pick up some when I had the chance).
  • Numerous ideas of how to process/manage email and tasks have led to my current system that is a hybrid of flags and search filters in Outlook, and the daily planning that defines my dayjob workflow.
  • I have a growing collection of DIY gift ideas for next Christmas, should my family decide to go the “make it yourself” gift route again. I’ll be better prepared this time.

I’m certain there are more things I could point out, but all I can remember right now are the relatively new ones. Everything else has either fallen away or has become so integrated that I don’t remember why or when I started doing it.

One more thing: I’m regularly inspired to clean my physical desktop when I see yet another need and cleverly organized featured workspace.

reviews on blogcritics: december

Things I reviewed in December.

December was a busy month for me, which left me little time to do much reviewing. I had hoped to get quite a bit done over the holidays, but instead I relaxed with friends and family. I think it was worth it, but it means working a bit harder in January.

A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa, Vol. 1 & 2

If you’ve heard a country version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” one too many times this season, or if any other rendition of “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” performed by your grade school child/sibling/cousin/whatever will push you over the edge, then I suggest you pick up either or both volumes of A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa. With the selections of classic and classical Christmas songs performed by musicians who care more about the music than about cashing in on the season, these are Christmas albums worth owning.

Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller

In addition to the fairly comprehensive 60-year overview of Parton’s life, the book contains a selective discography, source notes, a bibliography, and an index – all useful tools for researchers. I particularly enjoyed looking at the 16 pages of plates of photographs of Parton at various points in her life. Unfortunately, only the most dedicated fans are likely to read the book from cover to cover.

#11

Although I am working my way through a book to be reviewed for Blogcritics, I forgot to bring it home with me this weekend, so I decided to pick up one of the books high up on Mt. TBR.

Anne & Todd McCaffrey’s Dragon Harper is a book a received for Christmas. I have been a fan of the Dragonriders of Pern series ever since a friend introduced me to them when I was in high school, and this is the first time I have not read one of the books cover-to-cover on the night I brought home a copy. Mainly, this is because I had so many lined up that I needed to read for review that I felt guilty about spending time on reading for pleasure alone. I will make sure that doesn’t happen again.

There are a few references to characters and events from both Dragon’s Kin and Dragon’s Fire, and since I don’t recall much of the latter, I’m beginning to suspect I may have missed reading that one, too. Regardless, once those connections are made and all the key characters are introduced, this book easily stands on its own with its own tale to tell. If you aren’t already familiar with Pern, you might get a bit lost in the cultures, titles, and terms. This isn’t a good book to start with, but it certainly is a fine addition to the series.

One thing that is noticeably different about this book compared to others in this series is that the authors have narrowed the range of individuals involved in the story, and have done a better job of making the names more distinct. The last few Pern books have had so many key characters doing all sorts of things that I felt like I needed cheater notes just to keep track of who’s who. I did not feel that way with this book, and I hope that future books will also have this balance and clarity.

carbonized vegetable matter

My review of Kathy Mattea’s new album Coal has been published on Blogcritics. I’ve been listening to it (and enjoying it) for a couple of weeks, but it wasn’t until I sat down to write about it that I realized how depressing these songs can be, particularly all at once. When I listen to music, it’s usually as a secondary activity while focusing on something else, and my primary concern is with enjoying the tune. It’s only when I make the music my primary focus that the words begin to sink in.

My introduction to Kathy Mattea was courtesy of my parents and their Christmas music collection, which included her album Good News. The music was what you might expect of a gospel-y Christmas album, but what caught my attention and has held it ever since is the beauty and power of her voice. Rich, warm, and expressive, it’s like an addictive drug that you keep coming back to for one more hit to stave off the pains of withdrawal.