The year in books: a reader’s perspective

When taking notes out of this year’s calendar to put them into next year’s calendar, I got to thinking about the books I read this year. I list them in my pocket calendar when I finish them, as a reminder to me.

There weren’t that many this year… until I took into account the many books I edited, proofread, and otherwise read in my publishing career (for many of those, see the lists at But reading a book for work isn’t really the same as the books I chose to read in my copious (ha!) free tie. So what else did I read this year?

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold – the latest installment in the Vorkosigan saga. It didn’t thrill me as much as the previous volumes, but I still enjoyed it.

The Essential Lenny Bruce edited by John Cohen – a paperback collection of his routines and acts; as much as I knew his name, I don’t think I’d ever actually heard/read his work before.

Write It When I’m Gone by Thomas M. DeFrank – a series of interviews the author did with Gerald Ford after he’d retired from the Presidency. Some interesting stuff.

Arkwright by Allen Steele – science fiction. A very good science fiction novel. Made me feel nostalgia for a time I never knew, and people I only knew much later in their lives. But it also made me feel both sad and hopeful for our distant future. Highly recommended.

Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West – former Chief Usher of the White House writes about his interactions with the First Ladies and Presidential families he served, from the Roosevelts to the Nixons.

Updraft by Fran Wilde – science fiction. Lovely imagery.

Altered States of the Union edited by Glenn Hauman – alternate history anthology. My story is the first in the book, but the others are worth reading, too.

The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan – Fascinating look at how the countries of the world came to be, from a geographer’s point of view, which lead (in his thesis) inevitably to the rise of the United States. He then considers the near future of the world, basing a lot of the change to come on the eventual decrepitude and death of the Bretton Woods agreement. Fascinating theorizing for the political scientist and the science fiction writer in me. Highly recommended.

Through Five Administrations by Col. William H. Crook – he was one of Abraham Lincoln’s body guards, and wound up working in the White House for fifty years. These are his reminiscences of his interactions with the Presidents and their families through the Chester Arthur administration. Similar concept to Upstairs at the White House (see above). After reading it, I decided it needed a new edition, and published it under the Gray Rabbit Publications imprint.

General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence by John S.D. Eisenhower – President Eisenhower’s son tells stories of how Ike became the person he was, through his relations with several generals and heads of state before and during World War II.

Steampunk Charity Bazaar in Massachusetts this weekend

charitybazaarbannerIt occurs to me that I ought to “warn” my New England-based (and specifically Massachusettsian) friends that I’ll be up there this weekend. I’ll be at the Steampunk Charity Bazaar for Warmer Winters all day Saturday in Boxboro with a table full of books, and from what I’ve been reading, there will be other fascinating things to see and buy as well. Unlike a typical science fiction convention dealers’ room, books will not be the majority item on display, so a) there will be many more interesting things for you to look at, and b) my books will hopefully stand out from the crowd a bit more. In addition to the Fantastic Books line of books, I’ll also have a selection of books that I’ve written or contributed to as a writer. Hope to see some of you there!

Mensa election petition season

This one is for my fellow Mensans:

Welcome to round one of Mensa election season: the petitioning process. Since we have done away with the concept of a Nominating Committee, all potential candidates for AMC offices must get signatures on petitions in order to run. This year, I am one of those potential candidates. Many of you probably already know me from my many years of membership and activity in Region 1. In past years, I was President (LocSec) and Editor of Greater New York Mensa, I’ve chaired an RG, and served in many other roles requiring smaller time commitments. During the last few years, I’ve been working a little more quietly for the Region, first as Regional Ombudsman, and currently as Assistant RVC. Our current RVC, Lisa Maxwell, is now petitioning to run for Secretary, and I am petitioning to succeed her as RVC (Regional Vice Chairman). At this point, I’m asking for your support (if you’re a member in Region 1) by “signing” my petition at this link. After the deadline for petitions (February 1st), I’ll be urging you to renew your membership before the end of March, so that you can vote in the election, which starts in mid-April. Thanks for your consideration, and your support.

Future convention plans

I’m thinking of upcoming conventions and appearances. Thinking that there’s a real dearth at this time of year. After Philcon, a week and a half ago (which, as Philcons go, was average: a good time socially, a bad time commercially), I’ve got a one-day event in two weeks (The Steampunk Charity Bazaar in Boxborough, Massachusetts [see below for grumble on that town]). Then nothing until Arisia in mid-January in Boston (January 13-15). That’s followed by a gap of another month, before Gimmerdark (February 3-5 in Princeton, NJ), Boskone (February 17-19 in Boston, MA), Heliosphere (March 10-12 in Tarrytown, NY), Albacon (March 31-April 2 in Albany, NY), Lunacon (April 7-9 in Tarrytown, NY), and the Steampunk World’s Fair (May 5-7 in Piscataway, NJ). So I’m thinking of adding another one right in the middle, right in the same place: Dark Side of the Con, March 17-19, also in Piscataway, NJ.

With all of that work planned, I’ve also got Mensa events in Rhode Island in mid-January, and New Jersey at the beginning of March. But looking at this list, it tells me that I need to find conventions in other places: I’ve got three in eastern Massachusetts, two in Tarrytown, three in central New Jersey…

Oh, and that Boxborough grumble? We just found out that the town of Boxborough tries to charge a transient vendor license fee of $15. That’s in addition to requiring vendors to charge sales tax, and the money the vendors are paying to the convention/hotel for the space, and buying food in the town, and a hotel room in the town… This is the first time I’ve run into such naked financial opportunism on the backs of people doing business in the town and with town-based businesses. But since we were only told of the fee this weekend, and the show is in two weeks, we’ll be sucking it up and paying… this time. But I probably won’t be returning to Boxborough in the future.

Philcon weekend

This weekend, I’ll be in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for the latest iteration of Philcon. As per usual, I’ll be spending the daylight hours tethered to the Fantastic Books table in the dealers’ room. But if you’ll be there, you’ll also be able to catch me on a few programming items: Friday at 11pm in Crystal Ballroom Two, it’s “Eye of Argon Interactive” with Michael A Ventrella, Peter Prellwitz, Hildy Silverman, and Bethlynne Prellwitz. Saturday at noon in Plaza Two is the panel “What To Do When Real Science Outpaces Your Current SF Project” with John Skylar, Phil Giunta, Mike McPhail, Jane Fancher, and David Walton. Saturday at 11pm in Crystal Ballroom Two (again) will be “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” with Peter Prellwitz, Hildy Silverman, Tee Morris, and Michael A. Ventrella. Hope to see some of you there!

This year’s re-election

united_states_capitol_west_front_edit2Here’s a post-election analysis that hasn’t yet been bruited about, in the wake of the louder commentary on the Presidential election:

What do you think of the job Congress has been doing? If you’re like four in five Americans, you were not happy with the legislative branch of our government. Polls from most polling organizations taken over the past two seasons report Congressional job approval ratings from eleven percent to a high of 18% (meaning more than 80% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

So what did we do about it? In the elections of 2016, we voted out 3% of our Representatives and 2% of our Senators. In other words, we decided to re-elect, keep in office, rehire, more than 97% of the people we said were doing such a poor job. That’s why we are perennially unhappy with our government, and why Congress doesn’t bother to change what they’re doing. We can keep saying we don’t like what they’re doing, but if we keep re-electing them, they have no reason to change what they do or how they do it.

The actual numbers:

There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives. In 2016, 43 Representatives chose not to seek re-election, 5 Representatives lost their bids for re-election in primary elections, and 8 Representatives were defeated in their bids for re-election in the general election. In other words, 87% of the members of the House of Representatives will be returning to their seats in the next Congress. And of those who wanted to return, 96.7% were re-elected.

There are 100 seats in the Senate. In 2016, 34 of those seats were up for re-election. 5 Senators chose not to seek re-election. 29 ran for re-election, and 27 of them won re-election.

Some Congressional approval ratings come from polls conducted by Gallup (18% approve, 79% disapprove; October 5-9, 2016); The Economist (11% approve, 67% disapprove; November 4-7, 2016); CBS News / The New York Times (15% approve, 76% disapprove; October 28-November 1, 2016); Associated Press (14% approve, 86% disapprove; October 20-24, 2016); Fox News (18% approve, 79% disapprove; September 27-29, 2016).

Through Five Administrations, and today?

1515410145From the department of “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same… and Sometimes Not So Much”:

Gray Rabbit Publications has just published a new edition William H. Crook’s memoir from a century ago, Through Five Administrations (with an introduction by me). Crook worked in the White House for half a century, and in this book, he reminisces about the administrations of Presidents Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur. Many of his comments and thoughts seemed oddly prescient, especially in light of the current election season, and our present view of the government in general.

From a road trip Crook took with Abraham Lincoln toward the end of the Civil War: “Correspondence had been held for Mr. Lincoln’s attention during the seventeen days of absence.” Sure sounds like what we’d do today, right?

But consider that, in 1865, after three-quarters of a century of Presidents, “Andrew Johnson was a hard-working and businesslike man. Except for an hour or so in the afternoon and at meal-times, he rarely left his desk until midnight. He immediately went to work to organize an executive office, which had never been done before. This was imperative, because of the mass of details caused by the end of the war.” And “for the first time in the history of the White House, records of the office were kept. There had never been anything before but lists of appointments.”

“Mr. Johnson had an unfortunate propensity for coining phrases which could be used to ridicule him.” That sort of thing would never happen today, would it?

Talking about the disagreements over Reconstruction after the Civil War: “There was one difficulty, growing out of the division between the President and Congress, which I believe no other chief executive has ever had to contend against. It was virtually impossible for Mr. Johnson to have his appointments to office confirmed, unless the men happened to be in high favor with Congress.” Need I say more?

Never before have the two leading candidates for the Presidency had such high negative poll numbers. But that doesn’t mean we were always wildly in favor of the people we elected. For instance, Crook was there for “the election of 1872, in which General Grant won rather by the weakness of his adversary than by his own strength.”

Following the election of 1880, Crook writes “There was nothing of the tragedy of disappointed hopes that sometimes makes the departure of a President hard to contemplate. For General Hayes did not believe in second terms, had not coveted one for himself, and was only too glad to retire into private life. The welcome given General and Mrs. Garfield by the retiring White House family was more than the conventional, decent exercise of courtesy. It was marked by real warmth, for the Garfield and the Hayes families were friends.” How often do we see that happening in modern times?

Talking about the appointed staff in the White House, Crook notes of the Garfield administration: “with one exception, there were no changes in the executive office. In fact, even when the spoils system has held unquestioned sway over other Government offices, Civil-Service Reform has usually been observed in the personnel of the President’s own office. And that in itself is an interesting point, since the chief appointing power has realized that efficiency can be obtained only where appointments and removals have been separated from party strife.” Sure sounds like today, doesn’t it?

Speaking trip to Massachusetts

This past weekend was Boston Mensa’s regional gathering, known as Wicked Good. As always, a good time with people I know and people I met. This time, I was also an invited speaker on the program. I presented “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: Calling Them Exceptional is Understatement” to a very full room (every seat was full, and there were people sitting on the floor). Considering that there were several other program items at the same time, and I was contending with the water park in the hotel which hosted the gathering, getting one-quarter of the attendees to come listen to me was a very gratifying turnout. (And as a reminder: I’m available to speak to your group, too.)

Sunday evening, after leaving the hotel, I visited a friend in Brookline who showed me my latest book, Ranking the Vice Presidents, which he’d borrowed from the library (photo attached). My own library here in Brooklyn has it available only as an ebook, so it was a neat surprise to see my physical book in library livery!


Attempted identity theft?

Here’s a new one to me: I just heard from my publisher that someone has requested access to my Amazon author page with the e-mail address What’s strange is that I used to own that account. I gave it up a bunch of years ago. Now, it seems, someone else has access to it, and is trying to use it. If you hear from that address, please know that it is not me using it.