Here are the books, shows, and things I nerded out about in February!
Let’s get weird.
I tried trudging through the first volume of William Manchester’s Churchill’s biography (1400 pages) in 2021. After abandoning it a half dozen times, I decided to try again and tackle it one page at a time, the same strategy I used to finally read War and Peace.
This was my one rule: read at least one page per day.
This ensured I never had to ask, “What the hell is happening ?” It gave me permission to pick up the book for a few minutes at a time. Some days it was an hour, while other days it was just a single page. I finally finished it this past month!
Here are a few things that popped out:
We know about Churchill’s leadership during WWII, but I had no idea he volunteered to spend months on the front lines and in the trenches of France in World War I.
Oh, and he essentially invented the tank:
It would be simple, he wrote, to quickly “fit up a number of steam tractors with small armoured shelters, in which men and machine guns could be placed, which would be bullet-proof.” A “caterpillar system would enable trenches to be crossed quite easily, and the weight of the machine would destroy all wire entanglements.”
Winston summoned Captain Eustace Tennyson D’Eyncourt, an Admiralty designer, and asked him to devise a “land ship” using caterpillar treads. Secrecy was urgent; to mislead the Germans, everyone connected with the project would tell others in the Admiralty that they were making “water carriers for Russia”—vessels to carry large vats of drinking water into the czar’s front lines. Colonel Swinton predicted that the War Office would designate them “WCs for Russia.”
He suggested they be called “tanks” and Churchill agreed.
Most of Churchill’s “impromptu” speeches had been polished and rehearsed for 6-8 hours each. This passage from one of his employees cracked me up:
Norman McGowan, one of his valets, was surprised on his first day to hear his master’s voice rumbling from the bathroom. He put his head in and asked: “Do you want me?” Churchill rumbled, “I wasn’t talking to you, Norman. I was addressing the House of Commons.”
Churchill was also an accomplished painter, bricklayer (!), and prolific writer. He published 43 books, hundreds of articles, while also living his hectic political life.
This quote about book writing is one of the truest things I’ve ever read:
“Writing a book “is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”
Volume One only covers Churchill’s life through 1932. There are two more volumes, both of which are 1300+ pages and dense AF. I’ll probably hold off on the next volume for another month or two, when I’m ready to dive deep into World War 2 history.
After reading about Churchill and WWI, I was reminded of an amazing historical fiction book that takes place over the same time period…
The Fall of Giants (Century Trilogy Book 1) by Ken Follett
Although I had read The Fall of Giants only two years ago, it felt right to revisit it after reading about Churchill and the Great War.
Taking place during the first 25 years of the 20th century, this book chronicles the lives of fictional characters from around the globe leading up to and during World War I: a Russian factory worker and his scoundrel of a brother, a brother (coal miner) and sister (a housekeeper) in Wales, a member of the House of Lords, an assistant to president Woodrow Wilson, and a German diplomat. The way each story weaves together is riveting.
Ever since I updated my views on reading and book lists, I have revisited a lot of my favorite books to better understand and absorb them. So, after reading Churchill, rereading this 865-page epic was a breeze.
Eventually I’ll read the next two Churchill volumes (encompassing World War II), before tackling the next book in the Century Trilogy. I imagine my historical trip through WWII will include lots of documentaries and biopics as well.
Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be, by Steven Pressfield
I’m a huge fan of Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and The War of Art, a must read for any creative), and this book was a great kick in the ass (duh) as I’m working on my next book proposal. Each page contains some pearl of wisdom.
My favorite passage that has helped me get my creative act together:
“When I sit down to write in the morning, I literally have no expectations for myself or for the day’s work. My only goal is to put in three or four hours with my fingers punching the keys. I don’t judge myself on quality. I don’t hold myself accountable for quantity.
The only questions I ask are, Did I show up? Did I try my best?”
Summer Knight, by Jim Butcher
*Puts on Kevlar.*
Okay! I read the first book in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and it didn’t totally grip me. I shared this with my community and everybody replied, “You have to stick with it until book 4, then they get AMAZING!” So I did. I read the first three books in the series, and then tackled book 4, Summer Knight.
They were all…pretty good!
But I’ll be honest, it wasn’t hard for me to stop reading for days at a time. I gave the series a chance, and they didn’t grab me enough for me to continue reading them. Compared to the Jack Reacher series, where I’ll start a book one day and forget to eat and sleep because I’m so hooked…this series just didn’t grab me enough. And that’s okay.
Something I’m working on: giving up on more books, shows, and movies that don’t hold my attention! Life is short.
SHOWS AND MOVIES
All Quiet on the Western Front (Netflix)
I figured that between the Churchill Biography and Fall of Giants, I needed to round out my World War 1 deep dive with a viewing of Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front, the third movie adaptation of the 1928 novel of the same name.
I have seen (and loved) 1917, so I was interested to watch a story told from the perspective of “the enemy.” Fall of Giants did a great job of sharing the perspective of the soldiers on the other side of the trenches: just like the Brits, French, and Americans..it was young German and Austrian men who were sent to die for a cause by men who didn’t have to deal with the consequences of their decisions.
This movie is gripping, heartbreaking, and a terrifying reminder of the horrors of war.
American Experience: Walt Disney (PBS via Amazon Prime)
I had seen the multi-part documentary on Disney Plus, The Imagineering Story, and I had read Neal Gaber’s biography, but I was intrigued by the PBS documentary to get a more well rounded picture of the enigmatic (and occasionally controversial) man. Here are my two favorite parts:
When Walt built his new headquarters in Burbank, CA… essentially did what Google did, but 50+ years prior. What’s old is new again:
It had a theater, restaurant, soda fountain, cafeteria, and gymnasium, with a member of the ex Swedish Olympic team as a personal trainer, and its own gas station. You could even get your car repaired while you’re at work.
Once Disneyland was built, Walt was fascinated with the customer experience, and regularly lived like they did:
“Walt Disney would get in line for his own rides, and wait as long as it took to see the attraction, and just listen to what people had to say. He might hear something that would spark him.”
Full Swing: Season 1 (Netflix)
After 15 years away from golf, I rededicated myself to the game since when I returned to Nashville in 2020. This new documentary from Netflix does a fantastic job of pulling back the curtain on what happens on the PGA tour for players and what goes on behind the scenes. It’s not as good as Drive to Survive, yet. But I hope they continue to do this in future seasons. I really enjoyed the episodes about Sahith Theegala and Joel Dahmen, two unknowns who I now can’t get enough of!
By the way, quick shout out to the amazing Chasing Scratch Podcast, which is a must-listen for any amateur golfer – go back to Season 1, episode 1. You’re welcome.
I took most of February off from playing any new games, but I did manage to wrap up two games that I had started before leaving Nashville for all of December and January.
God of War: Ragnarok (PS5)
This game has unbelievable production value, a killer soundtrack, gripping story, and gorgeous graphics. The post game content blew me away. And it kept me riveted for 50 hours. Was it my 2022 Game of the Year? Nope. #2. Santa Monica Studio created a great Disney ride: you had rails to stay within, the experience was fairly scripted, but also world-class and incredible.
Let’s compare that to my 2022 game of the year…
Elden Ring. Duh.
Comparing God of War: Ragnarok to Elden Ring isn’t a fair fight: Elden Ring is one of the best games ever made.
Elden Ring was far more raw and rough around the edges, but felt like a truly open-world experience that dropped my jaw so many times for so many reasons. It’s a handcrafted, gothic masterpiece by a genius. I could go anywhere, try anything, and play in whatever style that suited me. I never knew what was around the next corner, and I couldn’t wait to find out.
To this day I still watch OTHER people play Elden Ring on Twitch just to see how their experiences differ from mine.
I didn’t play Dark Souls until 2018, but I’ve since gone back and played every FromSoft game because they’re so damn good. Elden Ring is the perfect culmination of game designer Miyazaki’s world building and gameplay brilliance.
I played Outer Wilds in 2022 and it took over my brain for weeks. It has since climbed into my top 5 gaming experiences of all time. It’s a “first person adventure,” but that description doesn’t do it justice. I want to say as little as possible so that you can play it unsullied by spoilers or my review.
All I can say is, if you’re a fan of games like Myst or The Witness, if you like puzzle solving and cerebral thinking…you owe it to yourself to play Outer Wilds.
This 30-hour experience led me to watching dozens more hours of YouTube video essays, studying message boards for secret clues, keeping a detailed notebook of my hypotheses, and more.
For those keeping score at home, here’s my unofficial “Top 5 games of all time”:
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Elden Ring
- Hollow Knight
- Outer Wilds
- The Witcher 3
Quick note: I have a rule that I don’t play online multiplayer games – I have no self control, so I have to play single player games that I can lose myself in for a week or two (or in Elden Ring and Zelda’s case: months). But then I can FINISH the game, archive it, and be content that I had a complete experience.