Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in Review

2015 was a Year of Tremendous Ups and Downs for me, more so than any in the past ten or fifteen years (2011 comes close). As I do at the end of every year, I try to pass along the best and worst of what I’ve read, saw, heard, and experienced.

Best book read (nonfiction):

The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (and no, I didn’t become a Hindu, but the book was an incredible and moving read)

Runner-up: (tie)

Watching Baseball Smarter by Zack Hample
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Best book read (fiction): (tie)

Read nothing truly outstanding this past year. A lot of good stuff, but everything seemed to come with an exposed, swollen Achilles heel. With this in mind, a tie between two masters – Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny and Double Star by Robert Heinlein.

Worst book:

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. Hated it. Couldn’t finish it.

Reading notes:

I read 58 books cover-to-cover this year, 21 fiction and 37 nonfiction. Need to read more good fiction in 2016 to balance the scales. This number also includes two self-published books I bought off Amazon (and does not include reading my own!) I also read Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ (658 pages) three times in the past twelve months. I read it twice before in the early 2000s. Since it is so sublime and meaningful to me, it is exempt from voting this year.


Bounced from one unrelated topic to another, to varying degrees of depth, over the course of 2015:

Crusades > Catholicism > Baseball > Working Out > Self-Publishing > Unemployment > Nietzsche > Hinduism > Tom Clancy revisit > Physics revisit > War in the Pacific > Discworld > Gormenghast > Return to Working Out > Return to Catholicism > Arthurian legend > Finnegans Wake

As you can see, I had a very, very diversified year.

Best Trend:

Self-Publishing, without a doubt!

Best Movie Watched: four-way tie

The Interview (comedy)
Happy Go Lucky (indie drama)
Birdman (mainstream drama)
Cabin in the Woods (horror)

Can’t recall seeing any real good SF, but enjoyed Vin Diesel’s Riddick a lot.

Worse Movie Watched:

Mission Impossible V (or whatever the number of the latest incarnation)

Guitar achievements:

(1) Finally learned how to play “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison and Jimmy Page’s guitar solo the Honeydripper’s “Sea of Love”

(2) Wrote another album (8 or 9 songs). Have to start writing down these tabs …

Worst (Yet Paradoxically Best) Experience:

Being laid off in May

Undisputed Best Experience:

Hitting the Publish button on my first book, Oncewhere Walked the Whale

Best bonding experiences with the girls:

With Patch (age 6/7) – spending the day together at Van Saun Park

With Little One (age 10/11) – learning Self-Publishing with her at my side

With Both – going to Turtleback Zoo in August

Best family experiences:

(1)   Four baseball games (and taking my two little ones into NYC via bus/taxi):
        May 2, Citi Field: Nationals 1, Mets 0. Sat in highest row behind right field foul pole.
        Jun 22, Yankee Stadium: Phillies 11, Yanks 8. Sat in the first row of the left field bleachers.
        August 17, Yankee Stadium: Yanks 8, Twins 7. Sat 14 rows behind home plate.
        September 21, Citi Field: Mets 4, Braves 0. Sat halfway up behind left field foul pole.

(2)   Weeklong vacation visiting the in-laws in Hilton Head

Song of the Year:

As with last year, dunno. Not been into music much lately. Didn’t buy a single music CD all year. Classical music, once a love, bores me. Opera, once an infatuation, grates on me. Classic rock is … yawn. I need to discover something new. (This happened to me before, in 1998.) Perhaps I need to make it a ritual, when I take the girls to the library every Saturday, to borrow something weird musically and give it a listen during the week.

So, alas, this category must remain vacant for 2015.

Personal Milestones:

98 weightlifting workouts (since May)

147 miles walked (since May)

275 hours worked on the whole self-publishing thing (since May)

Painted Little One’s bedroom purple and light blue in August

Power-washed and restained my backyard deck in September

Family Milestones:

Little One’s grammar school graduation / starting middle school

Patch’s 4 goals scored this past soccer season

Wife’s new job – upward and onward, keeping Battleship Hopper afloat!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hwyl fawr, 2015, mai y flwyddyn nesaf fod yn un gwell!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Reviews: The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills

The Crystal Cave © 1970 by Mary Stewart

The Hollow Hills © 1973 by Mary Stewart

One of my more perverse literary habits is to periodically revisit memorable books from my past. My distant, idealized, youthful past. Books that thrilled me and chilled me as a child, books that colored my black-and-white world, books that breathed pneuma into the sails of my life, sweeping me beyondward to distant lands and distant peoples.

I say “perverse” because, more often than not, such revisits often rebound with regret. The book does not live up to my memories of it – a strict function of the fact that I am now solidly adult, and see the world through the pragmatic and dour eyes of a mature man. The awe and glee of a child’s glance rarely sits with me during today’s literary wanderings, and it is the hope of recapturing such awe and glee that prompts me ever to the next book.

However, not all is personal, private tragedy when I return to a Book from my Childhood. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings twice now since tweenhood, and each time it has grown stronger and brighter and more meaningful to me. Same can be said for Watership Down and some Asimov novels recently re-read. In fact, off the top of my head, I’ll throw out the guestimate that one in three books I revisit from my youth exceeds my starry-eyed memories. It’s those other two-thirds that populate my literary masochistic streak.

I don’t remember when first I read Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, but I do believe it was those murky months after my parents divorced and my mother, brother and I moved into our first apartment. Tolkien gave me much comfort in the initial stages of their separation, and that was the summer before Freshman year at high school. So perhaps the Stewart books followed a year later, because they were assigned summer reading. Or maybe I read them directly after The Lord of the Rings. Either way, I had to read them.

But they were right up my alley back then: Merlin. Merlin, and Arthur.

Now, I haven’t the time or the inclination to test my theory, but to my mind it seems these books were the first to re-image classic, traditional tales of myth and legend. The story is told from Merlin’s point of view, beginning at the innocent age of six and ending with the wizard coming full into his powers, at age thirty-five or so, with the ascendency of his ward, Arthur. Nowadays, reimaged myth and legend are a multi-billion dollar industry (see: Riordan, Rick). Take a dash of classic literature, throw in heaping amounts of teen angst and faux Po-Mo attitude, shake and stir with action set pieces ripe for the Big Screen, and serve copiously at your local Barnes and Noble. Though not taken to that extreme, and written with class and reserve, Stewart’s novels are the progenitor of the Riordan phenomenon.

Anyway, the books themselves:

I used the adjective “murky” a few paragraphs ago, and that best describes my thirty-five-year-old memories of them. Not crisp, clear memories, but nebulous emotional attachments. Images laced with fear and foreboding. The vague recollection of Merlin’s forbidding grandfather-king slipping on spilled oil and cracking his head open, and Merlin’s slave put to death for it. The boy’s uncle slyly inducing the lad to eat a poisoned fruit. The ever-so-brief interlude in the forest with the hermit / teacher Galapas, expanding the boy’s vision in countless ways. Merlin finally overcoming brutality, savagery, and near death to wind up at the fireside next to his true father (how that warm image stayed with me!). The larger, geopolitical jigsaw pieces fragmented about in my recollection, such as the dragon at Vortigern’s castle, Merlin’s deception to bring lovestruck Uther to Ygraine’s bed (and thus beget Arthur), Morgause incestuously laying with Arthur after his first battle success.

Thus, for distant me, the two novels morphed into one timeless, blurry dream of incomprehensible apprehension.

Three-and-a-half decades later, a vivid laserlight has excised those dark and dank memories.

I enjoyed the two books. Crystal Cave slightly better than Hollow Hills.

No doubt it’s the seven hundred books read in the interim. I know that good triumphs over evil, mostly, mostly after taking a damn hard beating. I know that now; I didn’t know that then. I know story arc, and characterization, and plot, and setting. I have tried my own hand at them. Stewart is a great expositor, and great dialoguist, a wizard in her own right with the turn of a phrase. I thoroughly enjoyed travelling with Merlin as he grew in age, stature, and power, and found his own way, and discovered (“put himself in the path of the gods”) his charge to unite all of Britain through a bastard like himself, a hunted helpless child name of Arthur.

Oh, and maps. Maps help immensely in fantasy books. Don’t think the version I read in the early 80s had any. The paperbacks I just finished printed detailed maps of post-Roman England on the first pages.

Grade: A for The Crystal Cave. A-minus for The Hollow Hills, for two minor points of contention. First, I found large swaths of Hills unmemorable and unremarkable – Merlin spends years tending a shrine, trekking through snowy woods, encountering the Old Ones, etc. And I thought the whole “origin story” and “reveal” of Excalibur – called “Caliburn” here – something of a let-down, in that it was at variance to what I’ve absorbed from the more traditional tales.

Still, perfect for any youngling approaching high school age and bitten by the fantasy bug.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bag of Toys

“What is this?” Patch, age seven, asks, holding up the tiny black key fob.

“That,” my eleven-year-old Little One says, “is a flash drive.”

“A flash drive?”


“What’s a flash drive?”

My ears perk up and strain to listen in on the backseat conversation as I navigate the slushy roads.

“Say you have files on one computer,” Little One explains, “and you want to put them on another. You just stick the flash drive in, here, wait for a window to open up on your computer, and then you drag the files you want to move onto this, here. Then you take the flash drive out and insert it in this slot in the second computer, wait for that box to open, then you drag the files you want to move onto, say, the desktop area, or you can search for another folder if you want to put it there.”

Patch is quiet. I can’t see her in the rear-view mirror, but expect that face is scrunching up a bit as she’s trying to make sense of what big sister just said.

Time for an intervention.

“Patch,” I say, “think of it this way. Imagine you’re in your room and you put all your toys in a bag. Then you take that bag over to Grammy’s house. That bag is like the flash drive. It moves stuff from one place to another.”

More quiet.

Then, Patch says: “So … wait. There’s toys in this flash drive?!?”

Monday, December 28, 2015

Portrait of the Author

... as a middle-aged man.

As rendered by his youngest daughter Patch, age seven, at the library this morning ...

Monday, December 21, 2015

I Hate Spendmas

It’s been a little while since I’ve had a good rant on this blog. I’m not in a chipper mood and I’m feeling really out of sorts, so … here goes.

I despise Spendmas. With all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

Twenty years ago, as a carefree bachelor, our most dreaded of secular holidays didn’t faze me. It was an excuse to exercise some good holiday cheer, usually at a bar or a club, and swap two or three gifts among immediate family members and have dinner where I could leave whenever I wanted to.

Here’s how it went back then:

I would take a personal day off from work, usually on December 18.

I would make a list of people I wanted to grace with a present. It was a blessed short list – my mother, stepfather, brother, my girlfriend (if I had one at the time), and maybe two or three of my close pals.

That was it.

I would withdraw $200 cash from my bank account and after an afternoon’s shopping I’d still have enough left over to buy myself dinner.

Oh, and I had all the gifts wrapped in the stores. Actually, two stores. Barnes and Noble, since all I know about gift-giving is books. And a “country” store that sold frames and pictures and all sorts of “country” stuff that my mother liked.

See, I’m terrible at gift giving and gift purchasing. Just don’t have a head for it. Maybe I lack certain empathetic skills. I don’t know. Maybe I’m too hung up on being judged based on the gift purchased and the reaction the unwrapping prompts in the recipient. Again, dunno, and really don’t care, except briefly during the Panic Days of Late Spendmas.

As far as Christmas cards go, didn’t send any out. Young single guys didn’t do that.

And as far as decorating the apartment, well, that was done in an hour. I had an extremely realistic fake tree I’d drag out from the storage room, and could assemble it, ornaments and all, in a half-hour. Then I strung a strand of colored lights over the kitchenette area and around my bulletin board.


And oh how things have changed.

Nowadays, Spendmas for my family begins the first weekend in December and runs right up to Christmas Eve. This year that means twenty days. Forget about taking one afternoon off for shopping. No. Now we need several strategic planning sessions to see who goes where when for what.

Our list now, now that I’m married with children, is now somewhere around five parents and in-laws, spouses, children, a half-dozen friends, children of said friends, children’s teachers, and the wife’s boss and subordinates. That all totals to around 25 individuals.

And we don’t use a budget. So I really never know how much blood we sacrifice to the vengeful god of Spendmas every year. Maybe $750? Maybe more, as each one of our children get around ten presents (that includes clothes with toys, books, and games). And I never quite know if we got everybody we have to get. And I never have any idea what the wife wants.

Another secret about the Hopper: He can’t wrap a gift to save his life. In the past the wife and I’d spend an agonizing Christmas Eve wrapping thirty presents at the dining room table. Now, since I’m out of work, I get to wrap ’em all later today, after this blog post is done. Then hide them in the garage until Santa, the avatar of Spendmas, comes on the night of December 24.

Doesn’t something else happen on the night of December 24?

A week ago the wife came up with a list of 60 names for our Christmas card list. 60 names! Which got pared down to somewhere around 45 in the long run (mostly due to not having addresses). Most were extended family and friends, some we haven’t seen in years, and my wife’s work mates. In the past she would personalize each card, but this year, thank God, we just sent out cards with the girls’ photo and a generic and bland non-faith message of goodwill.

Since I am out of work, I helped address the envelopes, stuff ’em, and mail ’em.

Decorating the house takes a full day and is done the first weekend in December. We have to buy a real tree. Then I have to bring a half-dozen boxes down from the attic for the ladies to ornament the tree and put out the Christmas candles, garland, pillows, etc. Once the sun sets, after the Giants have lost, I take the girls outside and we string five strands of lights in our bushes, over our front door, and spiral over a small fir tree next to the porch.

Then there’s the mandatory viewing of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in NYC. Never did this until I got married. Most years it’s okay, but this past year we were forced to meet relatives on a Saturday night and couldn’t get within 50 yards of the tree due to the immense swarms of people packed sardine-like in the canyons of midtown Manhattan. The claustrophobic cattle-car nightmare environment excised any mirth or goodwill from my mind, and is probably the closest I’ve ever come to a genuine, real-live panic attack.

We get to the reason for the season on Christmas Eve for mass. Earlier in the day we’re at my brother’s house for the immediate family dinner. Then, Christmas Day, the girls burn through their presents in a half-hour while the wife documents everything on digital video. We go to a friend’s house that afternoon, and I drink just enough to stave off my utter exhaustion and my building splitting headache from seeing too many people in too short a time for too long a duration.

Easter is Hopper’s favorite holiday, followed closely by Thanksgiving. Spendmas is a distant, distant third.

Hey, Spendmas, this middle finger is for you!

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh. Perhaps if I was enjoying more success in my life, had more of a financial cushion, was advancing in a career I loved, had some real meaning and sense of accomplishment, perhaps if any of these were present I’d be of more cheer. Perhaps if I was in better health, a better frame of mind, had a better year, this post would be different.

But not by much.

We are called to be in the world, not of the world.

And it’s so easy to be bitter.

The antidote, for me at least, is to go somewhere alone, somewhere quiet and peaceful, and just relax. Maybe pray, maybe not. Maybe think about the big things that matter, maybe just quiet the monkey mind. Try to remember the fond memories of Christmases past, stay focused on giving my children similar memories …

… and be thankful they don’t read this blog …

Monday, December 14, 2015


Just finished a first read-through of my second manuscript.


Still working on the author website. The hosting company I was planning on going with I’ve decided last minute to nix. Something between a hunch and cold feet. There’s another one I checked out back in October I may take a second look at.


Continuing to apply for 9-5 jobs. Sent out resumes, cover letters, and letters of recommendation to 91 companies this past month. Applied to a bunch of positions online. Had two interviews right before Thanksgiving; hoping for a couple more before the end of the year.


My wife’s family joined us for a claustrophobic tree viewing at Rockefeller Center this past Saturday. Had early dinner together across from Carnegie Hall. Actor Michael Chiklis was eating at the table next to us. We all said hello as he left and he was very gracious.


I see on the news as I’m writing this that Pete Rose was denied yet again entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I say after what MLB is doing with DraftKings and FanDuel, let him in. He’s been punished for something like 30 years. That should be enough.


Best way to combat depression (for a man) = weight lifting. I lift hard and heavy for an outta shape man my age, and my spirits lift immediately. Going on five days in a row now. Hope to get back on track like I was May-June-July. Worked out something like 75 times those three months, felt great (though tired), and not a hint of the blues.


As a bonding exercise, I did a 500-piece “jigasaw” puzzle with Patch. Only took us eight days. She had a field trip today where she sat in a room where George Washington slept and touched a post where our first President hitched his horse, Nelson, for the stay. This was very exciting to her. Oh to be young again.


Decided that I’m going to delve (back) into World War II history at the start of the new year. I have a couple of hefty unread tomes: Antony Beevor’s excellent one-volume history; The Guns at Last Light, the final volume of Rick Atkinson’s WW2 trilogy; Ike’s Crusade in Europe; the sixth volume of Churchill’s history of the war. Clocking in at about 2,500 pages, the reading should take me to Easter or so. Why am I doing this? Fuel for a Writing idea …


After a long drought of bad movies, I’m looking forward to seeing Daddy’s Home, The Revenant, The Forest possibly (review-dependent) with my buddy in the theaters. We’re both middle-aged dads with wives and children, so the m.o. between the two families is, to save on babysitting money, the wives see a movie, then we do, then they do, etc. I haven’t gone out to see a movie with my wife since Skyfall in 2012. Before that, I don’t remember.


As far as the new Star Wars movie goes … as a Child of the 70s I was at the epicenter of the original phenomena. With the prequels George Lucas squandered all and more of that good will with me, as well as many from my generation. Have to wait for reviews before making a decision one way or the other, but I won’t be seeing it opening day. Or opening month.


So done with Spendmas. It ain’t no fun, especially when you’re out of work. As the man sang, “It’s the most … stressful tiiiiiiiiiiiime … OF THE YEAR!”


Go Giants!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

I Think I Am Going Insane

… I’ve read the first one hundred pages of Finnegans Wake

… and am enjoying it.

Favorite line so far:

Wherefore let it hardly by any being thinking be said either or thought that the prisoner of that sacred edifice, where he an Ivor the Boneless or an Olaf the Hide, was at his best a onestone parable, a rude breathing on the void of to be, a venter hearing his own bauchspeech in backwords, or, more strictly, but tristurned initials, the cluekey to a worldroom beyond the roomwhorld, for scare one, or pathetically few of his dode canal sammenlivers cared seriously or for long to doubt with Kurt Iuld van Dijke (the gravitational pull perceived by certain fixed residents and the capture of uncertain comets chancedrifting through our system suggesting an authenticitatem or his aliquitudinis) the canonicity of his existence as a tesseract.

I have no idea what it means. I have no idea what I am reading. But I love the musicality of Joyce’s made-up mash-up English. Is there a pattern in the writing? Is there a code, a message buried beneath the mumblemush? Aside from spotting a preponderance of “H.C.E.” and “Here Comes Everybody,” – I don’t know!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Top Ten All Time Greatest Reads

A personal experiential selection from Yours Truly …

About a week ago Little One and I were discussing literature. Cheap books, timeless classics, and everything in between. She has a voracious literary appetite and is insatiably curious. I like to pontificate endlessly on the written word. Thus, we are a quite the self-entertaining match.

Anyway, she’s long known my top three books. I’ve written about them many times here on the Hopper. These three books are important for me in different ways. They are, in order:

The Bible, particularly The New Testament

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and, to a lesser extent, The Hobbit)

It, by Stephen King

“Important”, to me, can mean anything from completely life-changing to an overwhelming experience that takes you out of the world to an expert piece of prose that influences your thinking and writing. Just pondering them raises the bumps on your arms, causes your heart to race (as if in love), and immediately removes doubt, fear, and worry in totality from your mind as you contemplate them.

Books are very important to me. I’ve read a lot, and some of what I’ve read, a very, very select few, have the above qualities to me. And, I hope, some will have the same to my children, and maybe even to you.

I’ve read probably just under a thousand books cover-to-cover. (I actually think it’s about 850, and I have a good idea what each and every one was.) There’s a list of My All-Time Top Hundred Reads over there to the left of the web page. It’s a fluid thing I wrote a few years ago; you could probably take ten off and add ten news ones from my readings since.

But last week Little One asked me:

“Dad, what are your Top Ten books of all time?”

A wonderful question! And one I’ve found extremely difficult to answer over time. However, I gave it much thought over the past couple of days and came up with a list, and put it in a pretty good order, too.

The Top Three do not change. The following are the books that, in my experience, round out the seven remaining selections of the ten most important works I’ve read.

10. The Spinner, by Doris Piserchia

Why is this novel not better known? Why is the author not famous? I’ve read three of Ms. Piserchia’s books – and they’re all great. A perfect mix of horror and science fiction, I first read this one on the cusp of puberty during an extended family vacation on the Jersey Shore. For several days I was riveted and could think of nothing else except the Spinner, a merciless spider-like invading alien entity that ensnares an entire city. That an Alan Dean Foster’s Alien novelization, read about the same time, introduced me to the power of imaginary horror, a power almost as potent as the real thing.

Runner-up: Killerbowl, by Gary K. Wolf, read about the same time

9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Hands down the funniest thing I have ever read. Ever. I marvel at Adams’s quick wit and the incredibly insanely weird scenarios and situations he brought me during the reading of this “trilogy” of five books. Clever, satirical, gross, self-deprecating, every single page holds at least one laugh-out-loud joke or observation. I burned through all five books the summer of 1989 and passed them along to several friends. Should I ever come down with a life-threatening medical diagnosis, I am taking Dr. Norman Cousins’ advice on laughter and re-reading these books.

8. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Ah! Read this one in sixth grade. Carried it around with me everywhere – parks, baseball fields, down to the local brook, in the trees in my backyard. Read it everywhere, but mostly out-of-doors in the spring-day sun. The adventures of a homeless warren of anthropomorphic rabbits with all its (barely understood) geopolitical analogies pulled me in for the couple of weeks it took to journey through the 500-page book. No other work created such a real world for me, save Tolkien. Re-read it about two years ago and discovered it stands the test of time.

7. “The Wall”, by Jean-Paul Sartre

A long short-story (or a short novella), “The Wall” absolutely terrified me reading it as an undergraduate student. The first work that brought the inescapable fact of my mortality, my eventual, inescapable death at some point in the future, home to me. Three men, captured during the Spanish Civil War and none necessarily guilty, are awaiting execution by firing squad the following morning. What thoughts run through men’s minds at a time like this? Sartre masterfully dissects the cold, sweaty fear of impending death in the light of how one might have or should have lived. A literal shock to my system.

Runner-up: “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, by Leo Tolstoy, read around the same time.

6. The Bicentennial Man, by Isaac Asimov

One of the first works of science fiction I’ve read, given to me by my parents (part of the Asimov “Five-Pack” I got one Christmas morning), perhaps the best selection of his short stories. The ending of the titular tale choked me up. All the other stories are good and memorable. I read a lot of Asimov as a kid, at least ten, maybe more, of his short story collections and novels, and it’s probably because of him I write science fiction to this day. A prolific writer of over 500 books of fiction and nonfiction, at least one Asimov should be read by every child by age 10.

5. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

If Asimov planted the love of science fiction within me, Bradbury nurtured and pruned it. My literary master! I’d like to flatter myself and hope that my writing has a hint of the poeticism contained in each and every one of his works. No better spinner of allusory exposition – just one deceptively simply Bradburian phrase could paint a picture paragraphs long in the hands of lesser writers. Every short story in the Chronicles, arguably his most famous output, is a lesson in creating masterpieces. I have a copy of this book autographed by Bradbury himself, given to me by the Mrs. on the eve of our wedding.

4. The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis

Read this right after reading the Bible cover-to-cover during my conversion in 1992 – and this solidified and perfected the utter change in my life back then. No longer an idiot, no longer actively self-destructive, it helped me become a better person. Written in the form of a dialogue between you and Christ, and more often than not, as long sermons spoken by Christ directly at you. Short and potent. If the Bible took that lead vest off of my chest, the Imitation gently took my hand and helped me rise from the ground.

While compiling this list I realized that I had reach each and every one of these important books before the age of 25. This somewhat disconcerted me. I am now closing in on 50 in a couple of years. Have I changed so substantially? Or have I read all the books appointed to me that matter? Is there anything else out there that I need to seek out?