Like fiction, life is sometimes in threes

My wife and I often joke that things happen to us in threes. It isn’t a funny joke, but more of a black humor born of too many years where for every trauma, there are generally two more following right behind it. True, this is the human mind assigning patterns where there are none, as in the case I’m about to relate – but it doesn’t make the pain of the events any less real.

I’ve already related about the dishwasher event last month, and how we finally got our floors back a week and a half ago. While the originating event was six or more weeks ago now, its conclusion was just last week, so it’s fresh in our minds. So fresh, in fact, that when this week started to turn sour, we immediately looked for the rest of the triumvirate of Fates.

In fiction, we are often reminded of the power of threes. Not just in the three act structure, but in the content of the story – three wishes, three bears, etc. We like threes, and as storytellers we add them reflexively just as much as seeking them out when fitting something to the pattern. This is why when we look at what happened in the last few days, we automatically fit the events into the pattern of the three.

Our tale is short but bittersweet. Thursday night, after a somewhat warm day, we noticed that the house wasn’t as cool as it should be. In fact, it was in the upper 80′s, despite the thermostat being set lower. Yep – the AC was dead. Luckily, in the end, not as dead as dead could be, but close enough.

The next day, while waiting for the AC repair guy to come out (luckily it was just a few parts, not the whole unit), my wife’s van wouldn’t start. We’d had plans to replace both my car and the van, but those plans had involved words like “eventually” and “when we can afford to,” not “NOW, because we need at least one reliable vehicle to survive.” While we eventually got the van to start, it was clear to us we had a choice – use the money we’d saved for a downpayment to get the van fixed, letting us remain a 2 car family, but with limited life expectancy in our vehicles (my car was on the verge of hitting 200k), or trade both in and get that new car now.

You can guess where this is going.

Yesterday afternoon, we became a one car family again, and the proud owners of a 2015 Subaru Forester. It’s the base, bare bones model – it also has more bells and whistles than any other car we’ve owned before this (helps when you only buy cars once every 8 or 10 years :)). I won’t deny it will be a challenge having only one vehicle, but with my working from home this year, we think it will be doable. Have mercy.

And now, the obligatory photos!

Saying goodbye to our old cars

Hello new car!

In its full glory

Isaac Asimov’s Reading List

Of late, I’ve become somewhat fascinated with the reading lists of folks I find interesting. We have Roosevelt’s reading list, and Hemingway‘s, and sites like Art of Manliness have even begun to make this a feature (only two so far, but I’m sure they’ll post more). We’ve always had lists like the Harvard bookshelf and the ten foot bookshelf, purportedly collecting all of the books a person should read. Even over at TED they’ve compiled a list of recommendations from their guests.

Library (Photo credit: Stewart)

So I was curious – was there such a list from Asimov? It’s no secret I venerate the man as an author. Prolific and knowledgeable, there is a succinctness to much of his writing that I appreciate. Of all the grand masters of Science Fiction, he is probably one of two that I hold in the highest regard, the other being the recently passed Ray Bradbury.

To be fair, as I recall (and I could be mistaken!) Asimov eschewed the reading list concept. As memory serves, he didn’t care for the idea of a single shelf of books being able to encapsulate everything you should read, preferring instead to explore and expand his horizons organically. And yet, there is the curiosity. What books did he read that helped influence the way he wrote? We know from his own autobiographies that he didn’t enjoy modern fiction (except for the mystery) and read primarily from pre-20th century writing.

To answer this question, I’ve looked in the following resources:

A Place That Makes Me Happy: My Library
A Place That Makes Me Happy: My Library (Photo credit: lyzadanger)

I realize that two sources do not a definitive list make, but oddly enough no one else has put together a list that I can find. The world abounds in reading lists of his work, reading order for his fiction, publication order, but seems to come short when it comes to the books that positively influenced him. I’ve put together the following list based on the books he mentions specifically in the above two sources, and from what we can infer because he in turn would write his own tomes on the subject. There were a few books that he specifically listed as having a negative impact, and I almost included them – after all, to know what someone didn’t like is as telling as what they did like – but in the end left them off because it goes against the nature of these lists. And so, the briefly put together list of recommended books from Isaac Asimov.

  • Greek mythology
  • The Illiad, by Homer – read as many times as he could check it out as a youth
  • The Odyssey, Homer
  • The Tempest, Shakespeare
  • Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare
  • Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare
  • Henry IV, Shakespeare
  • Hamlet, Shakespeare
  • King Lear, Shakespeare
  • The Three Musketeers, Dumas
  • The Jealous Gods, Gertrude Atherton
  • The Glory of the Purple, William Stearns Davis
  •  Hendrik van Loon’s book on history (no title given)
  • Victor Duruy‘s history of the world (no title given)
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Pickwick Papers, Dickens
  • Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens
  • The Bible

From his own publications, we can surmise  he also enjoyed:

  • Shakespeare in general
  • Don Juan, Byron
  • Gilbert and Sullivan
  • Paradise Lost, Milton
  • Sherlock Holmes

It is important to remember at this juncture that these are just the random titles he mentioned, mostly in chapter 8 of I, Asimov, and is not a comprehensive list. Still, it’s an interesting insight into the influences of a unarguably prolific writer.

Thanks to Jamie Rubin, who acted as expert in residence for me when I couldn’t think of where to look for one of the Asimov references in this post. Thanks, Jamie!

P.S. Yes, there’s a little extra bookshelf porn in this post. I wrote a post about books – I’m allowed a little dalliance every now and then ;)

One day, this will be called a great summer

My kids don’t realize it now, but when they’re all grown up, I think they’re going to look back at this summer and recognize it as a really great summer.

This summer, I began a new job. That meant paycheck transitions, a lack of saved up leave, and that wasn’t even counting the random acts of (bad) luck. The flooded kitchen and the month of flooring/no flooring. The horrible hail storm that ravished our just blooming garden. So we didn’t get to go on a vacation this year, which is sadly nothing new. We’ve only been on vacations four or five times, and at least two of those were with family. We didn’t go anywhere, we didn’t do anything. By definition, many would call that a meh vacation.

Sprinkler Rainbow
Sprinkler Rainbow (Photo credit: Pictoscribe)

But I started a new job this summer, and that means working from home all week. Thanks to the time difference between my office and Virginia, that also means that most mornings, into early early afternoon even, I’m available to do things with them. The pool in the morning. The library. We’ve even caught a summer matinee of the Lego movie. We’ve been to minigolf. MINI. GOLF. We’ve eaten dinner together every night (or thereabouts) since I got back from San Francisco. We have been a family this summer.

Right now, they don’t realize it as anything special. It is just the way life is. But I know one day, in about twenty years, they are going to look back and smile at this summer. This summer we celebrated being a family. And I expect they’ll smile nostalgic. I know I am.