The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen

Today I am joining Charlie Martin and Sarah Hoyt in attempting a 13 Weeks Blogging Self-Improvement Program. I invite others to join me and assist in the continued development of what we should call The Charlie Martin 13 Weeks Method. (Has a nice alliterative ring to it, methinks.) Back in February Charlie laid out his approach:

By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.

  1. Decide there’s something you want to change.
  2. Find ways to measure your progress.
  3. Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.
  4. Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.

So here’s my 1-2-3-4 for The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen:

1. The problem that I’d like to change is the one that Sarah identified in her PJ Lifestyle article yesterday: being buried in books for research. Over the past year I’ve tried to figure out how to organize the various subjects that I want to study in order to best make sense of them and find the connections across the disciplines. I want to read more books and do a better job of staying organized with the ideas and research that I find in them for my future writing and editing projects. I want to continue to explore connections across disciplines, reading both novels and a wide variety of nonfiction, both very serious philosophy and absurd satire.

2. I will continue to share the most interesting nuggets of my research in one daily PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf post that features an excerpt. Additional snapshots from my research will appear at my Instagram and Twitter accounts which can be followed here and here.

3. I will only create seven piles of books, one for each day, and then base each day’s reading on the titles from that pile. I won’t have to think about which books I’ll read each day. I’ll just draw from each pile. Each day will be based on 1-3 authors and 1-4 related subjects that I want to juxtapose together. This will not be a hard rule that I can only read from that day’s pile. If a book on another subject has caught my enthusiasm then I can still read it after dong the day’s necessary reading.

But I need to find at least two excerpts worth Instagramming and at least one of them should appear as a PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection to inspire debate and discussion. (That’s the purpose of those posts — for the regular readers who have complained, asking why I don’t take a few paragraphs to spell out my opinion of each excerpt offered. They appear because I am more interested in hearing reader feedback on them than pontificating my own ideas.) These seven piles will then flow into the six categories that I created in my original Counterculture Conservative book list from back in October. The seventh (and last) category I plan to add will be based on my list of the The 15 Best Books for Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology. (This will be the basis for Friday’s  systematic exploration of evil ideas.)

4. I will create a calendar on a page of my journal broken up into 13 weeks and at the beginning of each day I will notate which page I am on in the books that I am reading associated with that day. I will photograph this calendar and blog about it each week, noting and analyzing my results on Tuesdays (the PJ Lifestyle day focused on writing, media, and technology). At the end of the 13 weeks I will see the progress I made on each author and subject. Then I will decide how to adjust each day’s reading focus, maybe taking a break from an author for a bit or adding another writer whose ideas are worth juxtaposing with the other thinkers of the day.

So what will the reading subjects be for the seven days of this “first season,” as Charlie calls it, of the The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen? I’m doubling down on the authors and subjects of previous self-improvement plans, but focusing some plans and expanding others. As always, your recommendations for additional books and authors that I need to read are sincerely appreciated. Please leave suggestions in the comments or email me.

And publishers, authors and publicists: any and all paperback/hardback books received by mail will be photographed and blogged about. (And e-books that are especially interesting may also be featured. But actual books are of course more photogenic.)

Mondays: Read Biographies and Memoirs of Extraordinary Individuals

First 13 Week Focus: Walt Disney

Back in October, I opened up my Counterculture Conservative book list with a section devoted to memoirs of interesting, inspiring people. I’ve decided to expand this section to also include biographies, a book genre that I’ll want to explore writing someday. To begin to understand the difference between good and bad biographical writing I’ve decided to research the life, art, and ideas of Walt Disney, making a point to compare and contrast each biography of him I can find. When I began exploring this task a few weeks ago I checked out several Disney biographies from the library in case Leonard Mosley’s Disney’s World (which I owned — a nice Half Price Books find from the dollar shelf) proved a let-down. It has not — I’ve really enjoyed it and am 117 pages in, about to start chapter 10, which starts in 1928. When I’m finished with it then I’ll move on to a book more hostile to Disney, Richard Schickel’s The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art, and Commerce of Walt DisneyAnd I should probably check out more supplemental Disney history books from the library. Any suggestions?

Teaming with me in researching Disney and blogging about books on him is my friend Chris Queen. Check out his article on Jim Korkis’s new book Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories and please let me know what kinds of articles about Disney you’re interested in seeing him write at PJ Lifestyle.

Tuesdays: Study Media and Technology

First 13 Week Focus: All of Glenn Reynolds’s and Douglas Rushkoff‘s Books and Articles

This summer I’ll celebrate my four-year anniversary as a full-time New Media troublemaker, with July marking two years as an editor at PJ Media. That’s really not very long and I don’t regard myself as any kind of internet or web publishing “expert,” but that has not stopped those in college and just beginning a writing career in the blogosphere from seeking my advice.

All I can do is promote the methods that have worked for me. And in trying to understand and visualize how the twin forces of media and technology operate to shape humanity, Douglas Rushkoff’s and Glenn Reynolds’s ideas have been very useful for me in my practical work as an editor, writer, and blogger for New Media publications. If you take seriously your career creating media then you’ll strive to understand their insights and learn how to use the tools presented in their books, articles, and blogging. Part V of my Counterculture Conservative book list highlighted several of Rushkoff’s books and in future editions will collect other useful media and tech manifestos like Army of Davids and Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail until the definitive canon of 21st century New Media Theory is assembled.

These ideas should go along well with the two writers whose articles currently publish on Tuesdays: Kathy Shaidle’s Encouragement Toward A New Media Career and Sarah Hoyt’s Your Novel In 13 Weeks program.

Wednesday: Study Art and Counterculture

First 13 Week Focus: Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrodinger’s Cat and Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae

I’ve really been enjoying reading something silly every Wednesday. The last three months on Wednesdays at PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf I’ve been exploring the work of countercultural satirist Robert Anton Wilson, a thinker who had a strong influence on me. In exploring his work I’m hoping to understand better the 1960s counterculture, whose zeitgeist he both shaped and reflected. I want to understand what countercultures are, how they work, when they succeed, and how they fail.

I think one often misunderstood aspect of ’60s counterculture central to Wilson’s work is a revival of primitive goddess worship. (He was a former Playboy editor and authored books like Ishtar Rising: Or, Why the Goddess Went to Hell and What to Expect Now that She’s Returning and Sex, Drugs, and Magick. Wilson also popularized the joke religion Discordianism, the worship of Eris, goddess of chaos and confusion.) For another approach and different style of this destructive goddess-worshiping culture I’ve decided to also start reading Camille Paglia’s survey of the subject of Paganism’s reinvention in art

Part IV of the Counterculture Conservative book list collected titles on American counterculture from the founding to the present, and most of the books explored on this day will feed into that category. My thesis: America is a nation founded by counterculturalists for counterculturalists. We are a nation in which the best cultures eventually rise to the top until they become universally accepted. The four suits of the Tarot cards  — which relate to the four 13 Weeks Rules that Charlie intuited — hidden in our architecture make the point visually. Here’s an excerpt from James Wasserman’s The Secrets of Masonic Washington:

Within the Judeo-Christian, Americanist tradition we have room for goddess worship as well. They’ve become our abstract symbols of goodness: the Statue of Liberty, Blind Justice, and the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol. I analyzed these symbols in the context of the Black Widow in a discussion of the religious icons of The Avengers film.

Of course our Countercultural Libertarian Utopia overseen by the goddesses of freedom needs potent polemicists to fight on the intellectual and cultural battlegrounds. Thursdays will focus on balancing two conflicting ideologies which transformed the twentieth century…

Thursday: Study the Conservative Movement

First 13 Week Focus: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Whittaker Chambers’s Witness

Current Page counts on my Kindle:

Atlas Shrugged: 94 of 1168

Witness: 33 out of 799

I started out the year just reading Atlas Shrugged on Thursdays. In the back of my mind, though I knew that to really grasp Rand I needed to understand someone who had a very different experience of Communism which inspired a competing strain of conservative thought. I’m going to read Atlas Shrugged and Witness at the same time. When I’m done I hope they can be a springboard to a broader investigation into understanding the nature of this abstraction we call “the conservative movement,” this oddball gathering of activists, writers, intellectuals, and politicians in Post-World War II America.

Rand and Chambers both wrote in many genres, but one that they can be understood as masters of is the conservative polemic. Part III of the Counterculture Conservative book list will collect the most exemplary examples of the genre in an attempt to determine how to engage in it most effectively.

For Fridays we examine the ideas opposing those on Thursday.

Friday: Study Evil Ideas

First 13 Week Focus: Start with Marxism as explained by Leszek Kolakowski and Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa

I’ve decided that it’s important to read Kolakowski in tandem with PJ Media columnist Ion Mihai Pacepa to emphasize the connection between the creation of Marxist ideas and how revolutionaries and dictators then put those ideas into practice.

I’ve already begun a collection of books on this subject, in this article published just before the election: “The 15 Best Books For Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology.” In the next update of the list I’ll incorporate these titles and others into a section exploring the various hateful, racist, antisemitic, and illiberal ideas threatening free societies today.

Saturday: Study Math, Science, Philosophy, and Hermeticism Holistically

First 13 Week Focus: All of Howard Bloom’s Books and a Study of the Western Mystery Tradition Beginning With Jacob Slavenburg’s The Hermetic Link

This past weekend my wife April and I met and had dinner with Howard Bloom. (He was in town to give a speech and sign books last week at the University of Southern California.) It was our first time meeting after years of virtual friendship.

On the Counterculture Conservative book list I concluded with a final section featuring Howard’s four mind-blowing books melding history, philosophy, and science into optimistic manifestos. I’m going to begin rereading all of them and featuring excerpts on Saturdays. Alongside Howard’s books I’m also going to begin a more focused study of the religious-philosophical system that I’ve experimented with over the last year and a half, Hermeticism.

Over dinner at Off Vine one of the subjects that I explained to Howard was how his approach to science in The God Problem, particularly his “Five Heresies,” runs parallel with the same Renaissance Hermetic philosophy explored by Isaac Newton and other originators of science.

In future articles I intend to explain how these five ideas connect with the four suits of the Tarot and the major arcana — here’s a hint, via an image included in the last installment of my self-improvement series:

The future is going to require us all to be engaged with and understand the technological and scientific worlds. We can’t just use computers, we have to understand how they work and what they are actually capable of accomplishing. I’m only going to be able to really come to grasp math and science through engaging with the history, philosophies, and personalities of the men and women who created them. Howard’s books are a great place to start the research in this direction.

And as I come to have a better grasping of science and biology then I’ll continue with figuring which diet is the best — the previous three months’ Saturday preoccupation. I’m content with the plant-based diet that I’ve developed for now but eventually I hope to revisit the diet question more thoroughly.

There’s another important current of Western thought that I’ve saved a day’s book reading to focus on….

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Sunday: Read the Bible and Study the History of Judeo-Christian Civilization

First 13 Week Focus: The Old Testament and all of Paul Johnson’s Books

On part II of the Countercultural Conservative book list I made a case for the real origin of counterculture: the Bible. For many years now I’ve embraced the idea articulated by Ken “R.U. Sirius” Goffman’s Counterculture Through the Ages that the Biblical patriarch Abraham is the original counterculturalist.

When does a counterculture begin? When you refuse to worship somebody else’s idols and fight to be free to worship and wrestle with God on your own terms. To understand the role the Bible has played in liberating the Jewish, Christian, and American people throughout history I’m going to focus on reading the histories of Paul Johnson alongside an Old Testament-focused Bible study.

Would any readers like to suggest which Old Testament book would be most relevant toward understanding the problems of today? Or do any readers have any other suggestions on how to modify this program which I plan to start officially next week?

Updated: My friend Michelle Horstman gave me the idea for which Old Testament book I should start with first: Job. Here’s Job 1:1-12

1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.

And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters.

His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.

And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.

And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before theLord, and Satan came also among them.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered theLord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?

10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.

11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

12 And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.