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Len Foote Hike Inn.

Monday, March 12th, 2018

I’ve always liked hiking, and I’ve gone on rambles through the woods off and on my whole life. As a teenager I was in Scouting (scouting? I was a scout (a Scout?)). Living in Athens as a college student, I went on expeditions with the organization called GORP (Georgia Outdoor Recreation Program). During my time in the Navy, I climbed Mt. Fuji, and later hiked all over the Koolau mountain range on Oahu. Once I’d returned to Georgia, I got away into the woods often during the first decade of this century.

I love seeing nature in all its splendor, and testing myself against its rigors.

In the past several years I haven’t done much hiking at all, unless you count occasional strolls to the summit of Stone Mountain, which I do not.

I mean to change this lack in the years to come. I’m taking metaphorical steps toward getting ready for the literal steps of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

When I learned about an educational event at the Len Foote Hike Inn on just that subject (“AT Kick-Off Program Hike Inn Style”), I decided to sign up.

The Len Foote Hike Inn, as the name implies, is a hotel that is only accessible on foot. It’s on Amicalola Mountain, higher than the famous Amicalola Falls. A five-mile trail beginning at the top of the falls and winding through dense temperate forest, gaining around 500 feet of altitude, is pretty much the only way to get there. You have to hike in to the Hike Inn.

Each room has twin bunk beds, and linens are provided. Toilet and shower facilities are in a separate bathhouse. The Inn also feeds dinner and breakfast to its guests, served family style in a third building.

Given all those amenities, I could have gone on this adventure with just a light day pack, but since I’m training for longer treks, I used my big expedition pack, designed for weeks or months of backpacking, and deliberately overstuffed it with many more clothes and equipment than I needed.

I left Decatur shortly before noon on Monday, March 5th, and arrived at Amicalola Falls State Park by two p.m. At the visitors center, I received a parking hang tag and was directed to the highest and most remote parking lot.

I’d assumed I’d lose cell service somewhere on the outskirts of Dawsonville, the

The view to the east.

nearest town to the park. In fact, even here at the trailhead my iPhone still had one or two bars, depending on which direction I turned. I was a little disappointed by this encroachment of the twenty-first century, but not so much that I left my phone behind. I stuffed it into a pocket of my cargo pants, even though I knew talking on phones is illegal at the Inn.

I hit the trail at 2:09 p.m. The hike to the Inn was pleasant, and not strenuous. Since the trail gains altitude, it’s more uphill than downhill, but these gains are stretched out enough that most moderately fit people will be able to handle them.

The trail was marked by rectangular blazes of lime-green paint. I wish there had been a little more of them; they were just far enough apart that several times during my walk I was unable to see the next one, and had a moment of panic before it finally came into view.

The trail wasn’t very scenic at this time of year. It’s below the tree line, and the forest is thick enough that there are no sweeping vistas of the mountain range falling away in the distance, and March 5 is early enough in the year that there were no flowers and very little green except for ferns and ivy. So the walk itself was the main attraction.

I listened to podcasts on my phone the whole way.

According to signs at the trailhead, the hike takes three hours on average. I made it in two without hurrying, but I do keep a steady pace and I don’t like to stop to rest. On the way I passed two women hiking together when they stopped to rest before one of the more strenuous uphill sections.

At the lobby, I was checked in by a tall young woman named Diane. She gave me my room key and a cotton tote bag containing the linens for my bed and a towel and washcloth.

The lower bunk. There was a ladder to the top bunk, if that’s your thing.

My room was #1, right off the lobby. I went there, dropped my pack, and made my bed. Like all the rooms, it was a rustic, narrow cell containing twin bunk beds, a narrow desk, several wooden wall pegs, and a mirror. It wouldn’t win any awards for luxury, but if I’d been coming here after weeks or months on the Appalachian Trail, as many do, I might feel like I was at a four-star resort.

At 5 p.m. I joined some of my fellow guests in the lobby to embark on a tour of the Inn and its grounds. The two women I’d passed on the way were just arriving. They checked in quickly and joined the tour. We were a mixed bag: a middle-aged couple and their brother/brother-in-law; a mother and her teenage daughter; some retirees; a young man who would soon embark on a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail; a wiry retiree who looked like a marathoner as well as a hiker. Near as I could tell, all of us were white.

The tour was conducted by Richard Judy, a Len Foote Hike Inn board member.

I can sum up the tour with a list of names:

Len Foote. The Hike Inn’s namesake was a famous naturalist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was rarely seen without a camera in his hand, and he was part of the inspiration for the comic-strip character Mark Trail. That’s why the inn is named after him; I’m pretty sure it’s a coincidence that his name is also “Foote.”

All Points North. This nonprofit provided the Inn’s solar array, which currently provides seventy percent of the Inn’s power. There’s hope that improvements in battery technology over the next few years will allow the Inn to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels even further.

I didn’t see any power lines, so I don’t know how that last thirty percent of the power is delivered to the mountaintop.

Garland Reynolds. This Atlanta-area architect designed the Inn close to twenty years ago (the vicennial anniversary is around Hallowe’en of this year). His concept was that the Inn should just appear suddenly out of the woods. This was my experience upon arrival; I was looking at the trail ahead of me, and then without warning I was looking at the front porch of the Inn.

The Hike Inn was one of the earliest structures to receive Gold LEED certification for the green-ness of its construction. It’s built on pilings instead of a foundation, as grading the ground and pouring a foundation would have disrupted the mountaintop too severely.

Red Wigglers. These are the worms that process the compost at the Inn. No lie, the “Cadillac of Worms” are a real thing! I had no idea!

Plenty of room for writing or reading!

Dahlonega. Looking east off the mountain, near sunset, we could see an unmistakable bright glint. This was coming from the gold-plated roof of Price Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of North Georgia.

I was disappointed to note that, while discussing the renewable energy and the other eco-features of the Inn, Mr. Judy was somewhat equivocal on the subject of climate change. I have to wonder if there’s a policy imposed by the state, or if certain funding might be in jeopardy, if he were to acknowledge the scientific certainty that anthropogenic global warming is happening, and is a problem. I hope not, but I can’t think of any other reason why he would have been so ambiguous on the matter.

The tour concluded in the dining hall, which was fine, because it was almost six o’clock and time for supper anyway.

Supper was delicious. There were about twenty of us tucking in, the roster from the tour and a few others, and we sat around wooden tables family style, guests and volunteers alike. The meal was brought out in large pots or on earthenware platters. The entrée was pork loin for everyone but the vegetarians; we were given steaming bowls of black beans that were slippery (not slimy) with some sort of spicy oil.

There were also green beans, a green salad (I put ranch dressing on mine), some sort of dirty rice, and baskets of dinner rolls, served warm enough to melt the pats of butter I tucked into them.

Dessert was a cake called “Tunnel of Fudge.” There were extra slices. I split a second slice with the man sitting next to me.

The Inn encourages a “clean plate” practice among its diners: take all we want, but eat everything that lands on our plates. I had no difficulty complying.

As the tables were being cleared, Diane appeared with a laptop and projector. She stood next to the unlit wood stove in the center of the room and began to set up for the presentation.

There were to be three presenters: Diane, Richard, and a woman named Gail; their trail names were “Firefly,” “Peregrine,” and “Georgia Peach,” respectively. They thru-hiked the trail in three different decades: southbound in 1973, northbound in 2016, and northbound in 1991, again respectively.

The talk was fascinating (to me), but probably wouldn’t be to anyone who isn’t interested in hiking

The dining room was very homey.

the Appalachian Trail one day, so I won’t discuss it here. I may talk about it in a future post.

After the presentation, the evening broke up pretty much instantaneously. I wanted to relax for a while in the Sunrise Room, a cozy building on the east side of the compound stocked with comfortable seats and a pile of board games. I hoped to interest some of my fellow hikers in a game of Ticket To Ride or Setters of Catan.

But, I set a requirement for myself: I write several hundred words every day, and I hadn’t written anything today yet. So I repaired to my room to accomplish this task first.

The room was cold when I returned to it, but it had a heating system. A dial on the wall turned from “Off” to “Lo” to “Hi” heat. I turned it to “Hi,” but I didn’t have a guess where the heat would be coming from.

It turned out it was coming from the ceiling. A large white rectangle, about the dimensions of an old fluorescent light fixture like one used to see in office buildings, projected a couple inches down from the ceiling, and it immediately began to get hot after I turned the dial. Solar powered? Exothermic reactions from the compost pile? Your guess is as good as mine.

I’d brought along my iPad and a folding keyboard. This was my first field test of this system (I usually write on my MacBook at home), and it went pretty well. I typed up and fleshed out some of my notes about the day, and in no time at all I’d pounded out over seven hundred words.

Shutting down my tablet, I grabbed a book and headed back down to the Sunrise Room. Nobody was there. It was only 9:30. I sat with my book for a few minutes, but soon realized just how tired I was; I’d had a very long day by now. I’d have been useless at Ticket To Ride or Settlers’, even if I’d found someone to play them with me.

I gave up and went to the bathhouse to perform my nightly ablutions (get to work, Red Wigglers!), then returned to Room #1 and called it a night.

Whatever that rectangle in the ceiling was, it put out so much heat that I woke up sweating at four in the morning

No foundation: the Inn rests upon these pilings.

and had to turn it down.

I rose again at about seven, in plenty of time to pack, get dressed, and head back down to the dining hall for breakfast at eight. Like supper the night before, it was hearty and delicious. Afterward, I had a nice chat with some of the folks at my table.

Checkout was no later than ten a.m. I was enjoying the talk, but didn’t want to push the deadline, and besides, I wanted to get back home by a decent hour. When I returned to the front desk with my key, I bought a pair of Len Foote Hike Inn socks for my partner, a green Len Foote Hike Inn bandana for myself, and a copy of Richard Judy’s novel, THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story (all proceeds go to benefit the Appalachian Trail Museum).

It rained the whole way back to the trailhead. I had on a Gore-Tex raincoat, but I was still pretty miserable. I was glad to get back into my warm car.

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Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet 2018.

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

I’ve always prided myself on the size of my vocabulary. It’s larger than that of most people I know. And I’m a good speller; I spell words better than most people I know. I’m probably not world-class, but I’m definitely competitive.

Ever since I learned about the annual Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet (spelling bee), I’ve competed every year I’ve been able to. I’ve only missed one or two over the past decade.

I’ve never won. I’ve been a runner-up several times, and that’s surely gratifying, but winning the top spot is on my bucket list. It will happen one day.

The Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet is held on the third Saturday of every February at Manuel’s Tavern. This year was the 48th competition.

Originally, the Meet was held in Midtown at the now-demolished Stein Club. In honor of the original hosting location, the winner each year is presented with a beer stein engraved with their name and one of the words they spelled correctly. When my good friend/arch-nemesis Ed won the Meet several years ago, he requested the word “octothorpe,” which was one of the words that carried him to victory.

My partner and I arrived at Manny’s at around six this past Saturday. Her parents had already scored us a table, not far from where the Committee had set up its reference material and audio equipment, and next door to the table claimed by Ed and some of his other friends.

The Bee wouldn’t start for another hour, so we ordered something to eat. I limited myself to a Greek salad; it wouldn’t do to grow logy under the influence of a veggie burger and steak fries. I had to stay sharp!

Most people are familiar with the single-elimination format of the Scripps-Howard scholastic spelling bees. The Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet is different from that. Necessarily so, as the popularity of the event generates hundreds of competitors each year, so the traditional bee format would last long into the night. This battle is waged with pencil and paper.

For Round One, twenty words are read out by two different individuals, preferably one man and one woman, and a definition is also given. Spellers write down their best guesses for each word. These twenty words are usually “common words that are often misspelled.” Furthermore, the first word is always one that has recently been in the news. In 2009, the first word in Round One was “shovel-ready.” In 2017, the first word was “emoluments.”

After all twenty words are read, their proper spellings are given. The (roughly) twenty people who spelled the most words correctly are advanced to Round Two. This will always include everyone who spelled all twenty words correctly, and everyone who spelled nineteen words correctly. Usually, it also includes everyone who only spelled eighteen words correctly. Some years, when the first round has been especially challenging, they have to go as deep as those who only spelled seventeen words correctly to get twenty people for advancement.

Here are this year’s Round One words. Where a word is struck through, it means I misspelled it. The correct spelling will be to the right in parentheses. Also, the correctly spelled version of each word is a link to its definition.

Round One

  1. nomophobia
  2. calzone
  3. ottoman
  4. whittle
  5. quaff
  6. sassafras
  7. vellum
  8. catalyst
  9. façade
  10. chinion (chignon)
  11. filibuster
  12. tsk
  13. colonnade
  14. fugue
  15. gamut
  16. hunky-dory
  17. morass
  18. parley (parlay)
  19. trough
  20. sentient

This was a tough first round for me; I usually don’t miss any words this early.

I almost misspelled the first word as “gnomophobia,” because I have a tendency to overthink everything. Fortunately, I decided that since it’s a neologism, it’s unlikely to have a complicated spelling, and I got it right.

Several people in the room misspelled “sassafras” by putting a fifth “s” at the end. Of course I didn’t make this mistake, because I know that “frass” is caterpillar shit, and that “sassafras” has nothing to do with caterpillar shit.

I couldn’t have misspelled “vellum,” of course, because I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons. Consult your Advanced D&D Player’s Handbook.

“Colonnade,” in addition to being “a series of columns set at regular intervals and usually supporting the base of a roof structure,” is the name of an indefinably creepy “meat and three” restaurant over on Cheshire Bridge Road, tucked in among the lamp stores and jack shacks. Of course I couldn’t misspell that word.

“Chignon” I’d simply never encountered before, and I’m generally not good at my French roots, so there was that.

I wrote “parlay” correctly at first, then crossed it out and replaced it with the incorrect spelling. In my defense, “parley” is also a word.

Fortunately, this year eighteen correct spellings was enough to advance to Round Two. Ed also missed two words, but they were a different two from mine.

Round Two consisted, as always, of fifteen words that are much more difficult than the words in the first round. Here they are:

Round Two

  1. laurakeet (lorikeet)
  2. knowosphere (noosphere)
  3. giclee
  4. asterysm (asterism)
  5. farfalli (farfalle)
  6. weir
  7. ambit
  8. catalpa
  9. dactylic
  10. porcini
  11. centripetal
  12. recherché
  13. seine
  14. farded
  15. swarf

I got four wrong out of these fifteen. I’m angry at myself for not knowing “noosphere,” because the definition revealed its connection to the word “nootropic,” which is a word I’ve known ever since seeing the movie Lawnmower Man.

I guess “lorikeet” isn’t a very difficult word, objectively speaking. But many words are difficult if you don’t know them.

Misspelling “asterism” was due to drawing a false analogy in my head between that word and such words as “paroxysm” and “aneurysm.” “Asterism” looked more science-y with “-ysm” on the end.

I was angry at the Italian language for missing “farfalle.” Who puts an “e” on the end of a type of pasta, instead of an “i”? That’s just basic pasta-ing!

“Catalpa” was a lucky guess, as was “swarf,” and as was “dactylic,” because I almost doubled the “l.”

The rest of the words I already knew how to spell, including “farded,” which I learned about last year via an emailed language newsletter that I read. The adolescent mirth that was had with “farded” (pronounced just like you’d assume) in the room and at our table was one of the highlights of the evening. Everyone became twelve years old again.

Fifteen competitors were advanced to the third round. Advancement is based on the total number of words spelled correctly in the two rounds. So if, after two rounds, you’ve spelled all thirty-five words correctly, you’re sure to be advanced. They usually accept everyone who has spelled as few as thirty words correctly.

I hoped they’d go deeper this year, because I had only spelled twenty-nine words correctly. But they did not. I usually make it to the third round, but this year I failed. My only consolation was that Ed also failed. Which, don’t get me wrong, was still pretty sweet.

So, thus eliminated, I continued to play along, for funsies. Normally ten or more people are advanced to the third round. For some reason, this year only nine were taken. The next round consisted of ten very difficult words:

Round Three

  1. analsegnosia (anosognosia)
  2. menheer (menhir)
  3. quandam (quondam)
  4. beautieau (buteo)
  5. madeleisais (matelassé)
  6. leparine (leporine)
  7. mahoud (mahout)
  8. caricol (caracole)
  9. bidingbop (bibimbap)
  10. heirophant (hierophant)

I’ll note that several of these words are so obscure that Microsoft Word underlined even the correct spellings with the squiggly red line indicating that it thinks they’re misspelled. But they can all be found in Merriam-Webster’s online database. I really didn’t know any of these words except for “hierophant,” and I even misspelled that, because I forgot to apply the classic rule, “i before e.” Not that it mattered (to me) at this point.

Six contestants survived to do battle in the fourth round of five words:

Round Four

  1. sophrosony (sophrosyne)
  2. kaleidiate (chalybeate)
  3. deleum (bdellium)
  4. psychgaber (zeitgeber)
  5. physagh (taoiseach)

Difficult as these words were (and I didn’t spell any of them correctly), they’re slightly easier than the fourth-round words in most years. As you can probably guess by my attempt to spell “chalybeate,” I heard it wrong; I wouldn’t have spelled it correctly in any case, but I should have been able to hear the difference between a “d” and a “b.” I think there were several words like that this year: they weren’t pronounced as clearly as I think they should have been. I recognize that sounds like sour grapes, and could well be that.

My absurdly bad attempt to spell “zeitgeber” reminds me again that, despite two years of high school German, I am unable to recognize German-derived words when I hear them, and I should be ashamed.

As soon as I heard the definition of “taoiseach” (the Irish word for that nation’s prime minister), I knew I would utterly fail to spell it even close to correctly. I’m convinced that Irish “spelling” is actually a practical joke on the rest of the world.

This year’s winner was Julie Tuttle, who spelled a total of 40 words correctly. This was her second victory; she first took top prize in 2015. If she ever wins a third time, she will be forcibly retired, but invited to join the Committee, and my competition will number one fewer.

Tied for second place were Alan Weakley (<vaudeville>VERY weakly!</vaudeville>) and Fred Roberts. Alan won first place back in 2011. This was Fred’s first appearance on the podium.

So that’s it for this year. I guess I need to hit the books and get ready for next year. There will always be a next year.

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Atlanta’s Surviving Old Growth Forests.

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Last month, I went to Emory University’s White Hall to hear a talk by Joan Maloof. She is a forest ecologist and a professor emerita at Salisbury University in Maryland. She also founded the Old-Growth Forest Network, which proposes to create a nationwide network of old-growth forests that would remain forever unlogged and uncleared, but which would be open for the public to visit.

Needless to say, the talk was about trees. Specifically, trees and old-growth forests in Atlanta. It was presented by EcoAddendum, a nonprofit with this mission statement:

Eco-A’s mission is to raise awareness about Georgia’s rich natural environment, and through education, to reconnect people with the natural world.
Our programs seek to restore health and well-being to people and communities as well as the trees, plants and native ecosystems of Atlanta and the Southeast.

I can’t find any mention of a Georgia connection in any online biographies of Maloof, but she spoke about Atlanta like a local. Perhaps she moved here after retiring from Salisbury University, or she’s originally from here.

This post is distilled from my memory of the event and from my live-tweets from White Hall, where the event was held. Any errors or meaning-changing omissions are entirely my fault.

I estimated White Hall holds 300-400 people, and the place was completely packed. I was lucky to find a seat, and it was all the way in the back row.

Maloof is passionate about her subject, and her enthusiasm and optimism made her talk a real pleasure to listen to. She also had many slides, which presented charts, maps, photographs, and other data. I’m sorry I can’t reproduce those here.

There are fewer trees in the United States than there used to be, of course. Our nation has less than one percent of its virgin, never-cut forest left. But many forests have only been cut once, and they are rebounding. This rebound can be fostered and cultivated. Of the US’s 3,140 counties, 2,370 can support forest growth.

Dr. Joan Maloof. From the author’s website.

Forests once covered forty-six percent of all land. That number today is down to thirty percent. That’s a recovery from early in the twentieth century.

Atlanta has more urban tree canopy than any other major U.S. city. This fact sounds surprising to many people, because Atlanta has fewer parks than many cities of comparable size. Most of Atlanta’s trees are not in parks, however.

Atlanta was founded much more recently than most major East Coast cities; what is today metropolitan Atlanta was an old growth forest as recently as 1820. Most big cities on the Eastern Seaboard were settled much earlier, and were built out quickly inland from the ports that were their raison d’etre.

Places in metropolitan Atlanta that weren’t turned into farms or that got skipped in suburban expansion patterns contain living remainders of the original old-growth forest.

Hillsides (Atlanta is very hilly) and areas that flood often don’t generally get developed, but trees in such terrain are still there.

Some trees look damaged and maybe even are, so they don’t get harvested for lumber. Left to themselves, they often heal from or adapt to the damage, and they can persist to live to be very old.

Houses that were built before the invention of air conditioning often were built in the shade of large old trees to help keep them cool.

Thanks to all of these factors, Atlanta has both preserved much of its tree canopy and saved many remaining trees from the original old-growth forests from before the European arrival.

Old-growth forests have qualities and confer benefits not shared by other types of forests.

They draw more carbon out of the atmosphere than young forests. They also remove toxins, like ozone.

Biodiversity is much greater in old-growth forests:

Old forests have a greater variety of frog and salamander species.

Vegetation in the understory is more diverse in old-growth forests. A second-growth forest that has been cut down and grows back never again reaches a similar level of biodiversity.

Many species of orchid partner with fungi that are only found on old-growth trees.

Speaking of fungi, Dr. Maloof said that the trees in old-growth forests are covered and connected by a network of different kinds of fungus that allow for communication of sorts among the trees. Minerals and other needed compounds can be transferred from one tree that has an abundance to another tree that has a lack. Dr. Maloof called this phenomenon the “wood-wide web.”

Some of the old-growth remnants in the Atlanta metropolitan area include Fernbank Forest, Deepdene Park, Herbert Green Park, Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, and the Lullwater Conservation Garden, among many others.

In the lobby outside the auditorium, Dr. Maloof was selling and signing her latest book, Natures Temples: The Complex World of Old-Growth Forests. I picked up a copy before I left the event. It’s a slim volume, under 200 pages. I’ll review it here when I read it.

After Dr. Maloof’s talk was another, an “Atlanta Forest Overview” by Kathryn Kolb, the director of EcoAddendum. The evening concluded with a discussion moderated by Maria Saporta that included academics, members of NGOs, and one of Atlanta’s “resilience officers” speaking about the local green space and efforts to husband and extend it. I was unable to take notes for that portion of the evening, so I can’t provide a recap here.

I was made aware of this event by the Atlanta Science Tavern. Thanks to them!


My 2016 Books.

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

At the end of 2015, I observed that I’d only read ten books for the year, including graphic novels—a record low number since I’ve been keeping a books diary. I had been reading, a lot, but it had mostly been blogs, magazine articles, and single issues of comic books. I resolved to pick up the pace in 2016.

Mission accomplished. I read 26 books in the year just concluded, including graphic novels (but only eight graphic novels, so it’s a pretty substantive list).

The predominant takeaway for the year’s reading is that 2016 was the year I discovered The Expanse. After watching the terrific first season of the television show, I began reading the James S.A. Corey novels on which it’s based. I read the first four, as well as two of the ancillary novellas and a short story also set in that world.

I highly recommend the series to people who enjoy hard science fiction, even though technically I wouldn’t say that’s what The Expanse is. The Expanse is sort of “science fiction science fiction”; the series begins two centuries in the future in a populated solar system that’s a fair extrapolation from the technology we have today—until a particular thing happens that violates physics as we understand it. You’ll know it when it happens, and it’s a thing that will continue to influence the story, but the human characters and institutions react and adapt to that thing as they would in a hard-science fiction universe. It’s all very relatable, and super fun to read.

Each year I try to read a few literary classics that I’d never gotten around to. This year, that project led me to read Dracula, The Wind In The Willows, and Little Women.

I was surprised and delighted by how modern Dracula seems. It’s an epistolary novel, consisting of letters between Jonathan Harker and his fiancée Mina, Dr. Van Helsing and his colleagues, etc. But the story’s also told via newspaper stories and diary entries. It’s a common storytelling technique today; I’d had no idea authors were using it in the nineteenth century.

I liked The Wind In The Willows, that classic of English children’s literature, but now that I’ve read it, I’m astounded that any children could enjoy it. It’s almost entirely devoid of action, and spends most of its pages exhaustively describing Mole and Rat’s picnics and boating excursions.

If Dracula seemed like fashion-forward writing for the Victorian era, Little Women is entirely of its time. I’m glad I read it, and I took some pleasure from the story (that Jo is a real firecracker!), but Twain and Poe were taking much bigger chances, and stretching the bounds of literature. Louisa May Alcott’s writing is safe. I’ve heard she and Twain hated each other’s writing, and I’m not a bit surprised.

In addition to those literary classics, I also read three classics of science fiction: Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp, The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, and Neuromancer by William Gibson. Yes, I had never read Neuromancer. I can’t read everything within 30 years of when it comes out; give me a break.

Lest Darkness Fall is about a Latin-speaking archeologist who slips back in time to the era of the late Roman Empire, and begins inventing modern tools centuries ahead of their due dates (Arabic numerals, including “0”; the printing press; telescopes) to try to prevent the Fall. I love a good alternate history story, but here’s the thing: de Camp wrote Lest Darkness Fall in the mid-1930s, so reading the book today is like a form of time travel for me as well as the protagonist, because his “present-day” perspective, while much more enlightened than that of the Romans and Goths he meets, still embodies many racist and sexist assumptions that are cringe-worthy today. Which is, for me, another reason to read it. I love to see how the wheel keeps turning: up-to-date becomes old-fashioned in such a short span of time. Reading is itself a sort of time travel.

I had a similar experience reading The Man Who Folded Himself. I also found it to be profoundly creepy, and I’ll say no more about it.

Two short story collections I read in 2016 were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Complete Pat Hobby Stories and Aimee Bender’s The Girl In The Flammable Skirt. I knew about failed, skanky 1930s screenwriter Pat Hobby because of an adaptation of the stories starring Christopher Lloyd that I caught on PBS a few years ago. I love Fitzgerald, and I love stories of the golden age of the silver screen, so it was a no-brainer that eventually I’d absorb this volume. It’s a stitch! The stories are sort of a prose version of the “cringe comedy” seen in TV shows like The Office. Although the style is somewhat dated, I often found myself laughing out loud.

My partner recommended the Aimee Bender book to me; it’s part of her library. The absurdist stories reminded me of those of the late Amanda Davis in her collection, Circling The Drain. According to Google, I’m not the first person to make that comparison. Davis was funnier, though, and at times Bender gets just a little too fey for my tastes.

I closed out the year (more or less) with my annual reread of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I love it—we all know the story, but Dickens’s prose is a joy that’s lost in most TV and movie adaptations. It’s still the only Dickens book I’ve ever read. I resolve to read Bleak House in 2017.

I further resolve to read more books by and about Charles Darwin in 2017.

Not included in the list below, because I spent all of June reading it and am still only a third of the way through it, is Steven Pinker’s doorstop, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. My final literary resolution for 2017 is to finish reading this fascinating, if voluminous, volume.

For those who take an interest in such things: 14 of the 26 books on this 2016 list were read on my iPad using the Kindle app.



  1. From Personal Ads to Cloning Labs; More Science Cartoons From Sidney Harris by Sidney Harris
  2. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  3. Justice League Volume 4: The Grid by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, & Joe Prado.
  4. Justice League Volume 5: Forever Heroes by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, and Rod Reis.


  1. Forever Evil: Blight by J.M. DeMatteis, Ray Fawkes, Mikel Janin, Fernando Blanco, Francis Portela, & Vicente Cifuentes.


  1. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.


  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker.


  1. Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp.
  2. Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion by Brian Buccellato, Scott Hepburn, Patrick Zircher, and André Coelhou.
  3. The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame.


  1. Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey.
  2. American Vampire Vol. 5 by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Dustin Nguyen.
  3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.


  1. [Citation Needed] 2: The Needening: More of The Best of Wikipedia’s Worst Writing by Josh Fruhlinger & Conor Lastowka.


  1. Gods of Risk: An Expanse Novella by James S.A. Corey.
  2. Ame-Comi Girls Vol. 3: Earth In Crisis by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Eduardo Francisco, et al.
  3. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling et al.


  1. The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold.


  1. Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey.
  2. The Complete Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  3. The Churn by James S.A. Corey.


  1. Justice League Volume 6: Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier, and Tony S. Daniel.
  2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
  3. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini and Joe Quinones.
  4. The Girl In The Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender.
  5. Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey.

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