15 November 2016


I went skydiving a few weeks ago.

I’m an author, so naturally I wrote about it.

The narrative is visceral, like you’re experiencing it all along with me. In fact, one of my readers thought it was so vivid, he said, “I feel like I’ve actually been skydiving now.”

If you want, you can now buy it on Amazon for $2.99.

Thanks for being a reader!

-- J

10 November 2016

BOOK REPORT: Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa Randall

Dark matter is a type of matter.

It’s not dark in color. And it’s not evil.

It’s actually more like transparent matter, meaning it doesn’t interact with light or anything else on the electromagnetic spectrum. At least not in a way that is strong enough for us to detect. At least not yet. So dark matter kind of goes on its merry way, ignoring us. In fact, odds are that you’ve had a few particles of this transparent matter pass right through you sometime in the last hour. Yep, it’s true. Dark matter is crazy stuff.

But dark matter does have mass. It’s a real substance.

In fact, about 27% of the total mass and energy in the universe is dark matter. So nearly a third, right? Which doesn’t seem like too huge of a number. But guess what percentage ordinary matter takes up? You know, ordinary matter, like carbon atoms and H2o and the other stuff we can touch… Ordinary matter is only 5% of the universe! That’s means our whole planet is a pretty unusual occurrence when you glance around space.

So if we can’t see dark matter using light or infrared or Superman vision, then how do we know it’s even there?

Imagine someone tossed a backpack and you tried to catch it, but it ripped out of your grip and crashed into the floor so hard it broke the concrete. Your natural reaction would be, “What’s in your backpack?”

This same thing is going on in the universe. Galaxies twirl around themselves and interact with each other in a way that suggest there’s something heavy that we can’t see. So scientists are asking the universe, “What’s in your backpack?”

They’re not sure what it is, but they know a few things about it, like that there’s a lot of it and that it doesn’t interact with light. So they decided to call this mysterious thing dark matter. It’s just like the thing hidden inside the bag—we see its effects, but we haven’t gotten a good look at it yet.

This is what Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs is about.

Want to know my favorite part of the whole book?

The author, Lisa Randall, speculates on dark matter and dark energy, which leads to her wondering about dark light and dark life. In other words, she, a famous particle physicist and an atheist, believes there could be a type of life with actual mass that is right next to us but undetectable! This, to me, sounds exactly like she’s describing the spiritual realm from Avatar: the Last Airbender. A famous scientist is saying this is possible! Amazing.

I have to say that had I read this book before writing ECKSDOT, the story might have turned out different. (But don’t worry: I have no regrets.)

In conclusion, this is an interesting book. Oh, and aside from dark matter, it gets into comets and meteoroids and the Kuiper Belt, which sounds cool but wasn’t quite Stephen Hawking good.

Still, a fascinating read.

P.S. Dr. Randall reminds me of Ellie Arroway from my favorite book/movie CONTACT.

04 November 2016

BOOK REPORT: Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farmboy

This was a fun, quick read.

The beginning is told from the perspective of Princess Leia—the opening scene on the rebel ship and the droids taking a secret message in search of Ben Kenobi. Then the viewpoint switches to Han Solo, and you see his surprise when a strange old man chops off somebody’s arm in a bar. This perspective continues through the whole Death Star tractor-beam and rescue of the princess part, Act II, so you get to see lots of Han’s attitude and get a better understanding of why he’s so concerned with money (Jabba!). The last section, the Death Star trench run, is told from Luke’s perspective. The movie favors Luke’s perspective throughout, so it’s cool to get more depth from these other angles.

The author digs deeper into a couple of things that get skimmed over in the movie. For example, Leia’s whole home planet gets destroyed in the movie, and we only see her mourn for a couple seconds and then it’s never mentioned again. In this book version, this is a lingering theme, which seems more true to human character. The same is true of Bigg’s death. Although I still think Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are a little underplayed.

I have the movie of A New Hope memorized, which made me appreciate this retelling. I can imagine the film could be pretty awesome if it were rebooted. That’s not to say it might not also be dumb, but I do think the story could grow with some added creativity and interpretation.

I’d recommend this book to any young readers who love Star Wars but don’t read very often.

27 October 2016

BOOK REPORT: Cryptonomicon

Tim Ferriss recommended Cryptonomicon.

I was expecting a thriller. Something like Dan Brown with more tech.

Turns out it was quite different.

Mainly it surprised me by its tone. I expected a business-like narrative, gray suits and red ties. Instead, it’s hilarious, filled with wryness (“dry, mocking humor”), much of which is from the narrator, but a lot is from the characters as well. It actually reminded me of Mark Twain, sort of an “I’m cleverer than all this and all of you.” I found myself laughing aloud as I went, quite often. Really, props to Stephenson for his wit. 

I was also duly impressed with how he weaves together his plots. One plot follows a U.S. Marine during WWII as he discovers Nazi treasure in a U-Boat. Another arc follows this Marine’s Japanese counterpart/enemy. Another storyline follows Alan Turing and a few other brilliant code-makers and breakers (have you seen The Imitation Game?). And a last takes place in the modern world, deals with internet cryptography, and collects the pieces lefts by the other (historically earlier) timelines. These plotlines all play out simultaneously. I felt ungrounded and lost in the first quarter of the book, not knowing who to empathize with and relate to. But once I gained a footing, I really liked the weaving.

But despite the impressive plotting and clever diction, I quit listening right around 50%, which was a little too far already. Why? It was too crass. Too many base and sexual topics. Oh, and it was sprinkled with strong language.

Tim Ferriss doesn’t like to apologize for the rough language on his podcast, so he probably won’t understand this critique. Sidenote: this isn’t the first time I’ve been underwhelmed by his fiction tips (Zorba the Greek!). I guess we’re not quite aligned on what we like. It’s not that I find it offensive, Tim, and I’m not making a moral judgement against you. I’m just saying I’d rather talk about something else. It’s the same with bathroom functions. Yes, humans use the restroom frequently, but that’s a detail I’m glad to skip over in a book. Thank you very much.

Aside from that, this was a great book. Hats off to Neal Stephenson.

If you’re a sensitive reader looking for a better option, read Catch-22.

By the way, I love titles, and that’s partly how Cryptonomicon caught my attention. But it’s one of those you have no idea what it means till you’ve read it, so I’ll explain. In this story, the Cryptonomicon is a book (or rather a collection of papers) on cryptography that the protagonists both use and compile as they go.

There you have it.

* * *

FYI to my readers, this is the 27th book I’ve read this year. (Yes, I’m still counting it, since I got through around 300 pages worth.)

Here’s what’s coming next, a group of sci-fi-ish titles to help me prepare for STARCHILD. I’d love to have you read along with me!

  • Star Wars: A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farmboy 
  • Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs
  • Issaac Asimov’s Foundation
  • Einstein’s Relativity
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God 

19 October 2016


Seven different people recommended The Name of the Wind to me.

That never happens.

Which inevitably led me to high expectations.

I haven’t read a ton of fantasy. I love Lord of the Rings. I’ve also read Game of Thrones and tons of Brandon Sanderson. Aside from that, I’m a little unfamiliar with the genre. Oh, I wrote one too.

Anyways. My reading history and all the raving reviews made me expect a sweeping epic about the battle between good and evil. The beginning of the book starts in this direction. There’s some terror on the road, which leads villagers in a small inn to telling stories around a hearthstone. It reminded me of Tristram and Diablo. But the initial setting is simply a frame for the actual story. Kvothe, the main character, starts relating the tale of his life, beginning with his boyhood.

And that story is a more mundane drama. I don’t mean that as an insult, just as the opposite of an epic. (In fact, I rather like compelling stories about mundane, real-life problems.) Kvothe’s main conflicts deal with earning and spending money, social battles with an arrogant bully, and winning the heart of a potential girlfriend. Mundane.

It’s also a relatively slow, meandering narrative. Almost like a D&D campaign, with one conflict rolling along into another without a strong central crux. (I read that Patrick Rothfuss is into D&D, by the way.) All in all, you spend 600 pages reading, and you’ve really just gotten through act I of a much larger story.

That said, it’s still a pretty enjoyable book.

For example, when Kvothe defends himself in front of the nine sages on the university council (something akin to Harry Potter at Hogwarts), I’d just arrived at work and had to keep listening to know how the scene ended. That doesn’t happen to me often.

So, yes, I liked it. And I’m excited to read the sequel. But, just so you know, it’s not on my top 10 or anything.

Oh, and I liked the magic system, how it had particular rules, and how the characters cared to learn those rules and put them to their advantage. (That’s one thing that bothers me about Harry Potter—that these kids have nearly limitless power at their fingertips, so easy to grasp, yet they treat it like it’s a boring history lecture; it would be another thing if it were more difficult than simply saying a magic word.)

A couple small things bugged me, like the fact that no one had heard of “the Common Drakus” before. This creature is too extraordinary and living too close to humans to have been anything less that the stuff of popular legend. Denna and Kvothe’s relationship seemed a little weird to me too, that their only problem is that they never communicate. I hate finding that in stories. It’s frustrating. But maybe it’s more true to life than I’d like to admit.

The Name of the Wind is a good book. A fun book.

I think you will like it.

27 September 2016

BOOK REPORT: Crucible of Doubt by Fiona and Terryl Givens

My buddy Tom bought me this book for my birthday. The Crucible of Doubt gathers philosophy, poetry, and reason together into a treatise for those who doubt their faith in God. It is written by the Mormon couple Fiona and Terryl Givens. They cite classic literature throughout to support their perspective; in lieu of that, I’ll share with you four of those:

My hosanna has come through the great crucible of doubt.
—Fyodor Dostoevsky

 “When I am grateful, I tend toward a higher mental (and spiritual) state. I take things—people, order, air, roundness, everything—less for granted. Hence I notice things otherwise invisible to me. It is as if I have a sixth sense, taking in more context, more reality.”
— Philip Barlow

“Even if there be no hereafter, I would live my time believing in a grand thing that ought to be true if it is not. And if these be not truths, then is the loftiest part of our nature a waste. Let me hold by the better than the actual, and fall into nothingness off the same precipice with Jesus and Paul and a thousand more, who were lovely in their lives, and with their death make even the nothingness into which they have passed like the garden of the Lord. I will go further, and say I would rather die forevermore believing as Jesus believed, than live forevermore believing as those that deny Him.
— George MacDonald

Our Creator would never have made such lovely days and have given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above and beyond all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal.”
— Nathaniel Hawthorne

20 September 2016

BOOK REPORT: Happiness by Matthieu Riccard

Matthieu Ricard, a Frenchman, earned a Ph.D. in molecular genetics—so his origins are based firmly in science and intellect. When he began searching for a missing piece, he found answers in Buddhism.

Happiness is a scientific look at obtaining the supreme emotion, which he defines as follows:

“By happiness I mean here a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind. This is not a mere pleasurable feeling, a fleeting emotion, or a mood, but an optimal state of being. Happiness is also a way of interpreting the world, since while it may be difficult to change the world, it is always possible to change the way we look at it.” 

He includes parables from the buddhist tradition and personal stories. Here’s one that reminded me of Avatar Aang:

“I remember one afternoon as I was sitting on the steps of our monastery in Nepal. The monsoon storms had turned the courtyard into an expanse of muddy water and we had set out a path of bricks to serve as stepping-stones. A friend of mine came to the edge of the water, surveyed the scene with a look of disgust, and complained about every single brick as she made her way across. When she got to me, she rolled her eyes and said, ‘Yuck! What if I’d fallen into that filthy muck? Everything’s so dirty in this country!’ Since I knew her well, I prudently nodded, hoping to offer her some comfort through my mute sympathy. A few minutes later, Rapha√®le, another friend of mine, came to the path through the swamp. ‘Hup, hup, hup!’ she sang as she hopped, reaching dry land with the cry ‘What fun!’ Her eyes sparkling with joy, she added: ‘The great thing about the monsoon is that there’s no dust.’ Two people, two ways of looking at things; six billion human beings, six billion worlds.”

One of my favorite metaphors was this: Imagine the sea roiling and enraged with giant waves. Now dive beneath that surface and discover that underneath the water the sound and fury and motion have all been stilled. That’s the inner peace that Po from Kung Fu Panda was looking for, the deeper stillness that exists even during immense storms.

By the way, as of this writing, I have meditated for 10-15 minutes for 227 consecutive days. (This was inspired by The Happiness Advantage and The Power of Now, two of my favorite books.) Mostly I do breathing and presence exercises. But this book helped me understand compassion meditation better. If you want to know more, I plan to write an essay about meditation at some point, as soon as I reach Nirvana. In the meantime, here’s the foundational principle: To my understanding, all meditation rests on meta-consciousness, that is, being aware of what you’re thinking about. Again, I don’t expect you to deeply grasp it in this review, but here’s a preview from a master:

“Buddhism... stresses enhanced awareness of the formation of thoughts, which allows for the immediate identification of an angry thought as it arises, and for its deconstruction the next instant, the way a picture drawn on the surface of water melts away as it is sketched.”

I really like Buddhism. It has taught me a lot of cool concepts, for example, the perspective on self-control:

“If a sailor looses the tiller and lets the sails flap in the wind and the boat drift wherever the currents take it, it is not called freedom—it is called drifting. Freedom here means taking the helm and sailing toward the chosen destination.”

Okay, that’s all I got. Thanks for reading!

If you have friends who will like these book reports, send them here: http://theinformant.jwashburn.com

14 September 2016

BOOK REPORT: Tom Sawyer (plus a crazy story from my childhood)

This is a true story.

When I was a kid, our neighbor’s cat died.

My little brother and I found it freshly expired. (I promise we didn’t kill it.)

I was about 10 years old, which means my brother must’ve been 6. That made him the perfect sidekick. I told him to call me Tom, and I called him Huck. When Mitch was around, we called him Joe Thatcher, but Joe wasn’t around for this one.

We didn’t want to touch the dead cat, so we got a plastic bread-bag and stuffed the fluffy corpse inside. And we felt awfully lucky to have found it—because we’d read Tom Sawyer.

We made a plan to sneak out at midnight to use the dead cat, only we hadn’t yet made a ladder for sneaking out the bedroom window. It would’ve been easy enough to just walk out the back door, only that wouldn’t have been proper, and we wanted to do things proper.

Over the next few days, we built a ladder out of a couple sapling trunks and baling string, thanks to what we’d learned about lashing in Cub scouts. It was pretty wobbly, but at least it was tall enough.

Putting the ladder against our window meant going to the side-yard, which had enough trees and shrubs that it never got much sunlight. Think Mirkwood.

And crawling between the brick wall and the unruly junipers meant entering an alleyway of spiderwebs. Also, any time we touched the junipers, stuff would fall down the backs of our shirt necks. We squinted and braved our way forward, using a stick to clear our path. Then we deposited the ladder in its place below our bedroom window. We also pulled the screen off.

I promise, this all really happened.

Incidentally, our bedroom had a window in the back-yard too, which was completely clear of foliage. But, again, that was too easy. It wouldn’t be proper.

My brother and I slept on bunk beds. I had the top. And it was the perfect dock for climbing down and out the window. We stayed awake, talking quietly so mom and dad wouldn’t come shush us and give us a talking to. At a quarter to midnight, we crawled outside into the night. The moon wasn’t full, but it was bright.

We ran down through the front yard, across the street, and into the cow pasture where we’d left the cat in its plastic bag behind the shed.

“Oh, gross!” I said when I smelt it.

As we approached, we realized it wasn’t a bag of fluff anymore. It’d had gained a layer of juice. You can image our faces.

We jabbed a long stick at the bag till the end caught. When we lifted the bag, the cat didn’t flop around anymore like it used to. It stayed in the exact same shape, stiff as a board. We carried it about 20 feet from the shed to roughly the same spot dad had buried a dead calf not long before. We dug a shallow grave and put it in.

Even if we’d had a ripe cat, we hadn’t planned beyond midnight, so we decided to head back inside.

We climbed our wiggly ladder and crawled into our beds, giddy about having been out so late. We didn’t feel bad about how things went down either.

We’d probably waited too long to do anything with the cat’s spirit anyway.

* * *

If you understand that passage, then I suppose you’ve already read and loved Tom Sawyer. If you haven’t read it, well, that’s the sort of escapade you’re in for. There’s murder and romance and other intrigues. Mostly it’s a solid character novel. 

I’ve probably read Tom Sawyer four times, which includes the times my parents read it to us. The most recent was just this year. This book really shaped my childhood. (Sometime I’ll tell you about baking knifes into pies and digging under foundations to rescue prisoners.)

I’ll quote just one passage—so you’ll know what a dead cat’s good for:

“Why,” said Huck, “you take your cat and go and get in the graveyard ‘long about midnight when somebody that was wicked has been buried; and when it’s midnight a devil will come, or maybe two or three, but you can’t see ‘em, you can only hear something like the wind, or maybe hear ‘em talk; and when they’re taking that feller away, you heave your cat after ‘em and say, ‘Devil follow corpse, cat follow devil, warts follow cat, I’m done with ye!’ That’ll fetch ANY wart.” 
“Sounds right,” said Tom. “D’you ever try it, Huck?” 
“No, but old Mother Hopkins told me.”  
“Well, I reckon it’s so, then. Becuz they say she’s a witch.” 

08 September 2016

New book release: MY 7-DAY FAST

I made a goal to not eat any food for seven days.

I’m serious. No food for a whole week.

Why would anybody do that? Well, I answer that question in an essay I wrote about it.

People have been surprised when they read the essay. They say things like this:

“I loved reading this! It was an intense page turner which doesn’t happen in non-fiction for me very often. It is also full of really useful health concepts in an easy-to-understand format that still has me thinking about it long after finishing. I plan to read it a second time!” — A. J. 

Several people told me they opened the book planning to just read a couple pages, but they got hooked and had to finish. (It’s about 30 pages long.)

You can buy MY 7-DAY FAST for $2.99. Or, email me with your promise to post an honest review, and I’ll send you a review copy for FREE.

Thank you for being a reader! Can’t wait to hear what you think!


25 August 2016

BOOK REPORT: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Imagine there’s this ant. Tiny little ant.

No, an ant isn’t small enough. Imagine something smaller. An egyptian mite. Super tiny. Have you seen those things? They’re right at the edge of my visual range. Like pixels but in real life.

Imagine this teenie-tiny little mite weighs so much that his bulk makes him sink right into the earth. And then all the earth’s matter starts to collapse inward on top of him into the hole he’s creating.

And imagine this mite radiates energy, so much energy that he’s white hot, like he’d melt your face off. Or he’s as hot as a nuclear explosion that happened three feet away from you. Or as hot as the sun, which is a whole collection of nuclear bombs in one.

Now imagine this mite is so dense that when light particles attempted to bounce off his red exoskeleton (which is what photons do to just about everything) the light gets sucked in by so much gravity that it never comes back out, turning this guy perceptibly invisible. Sayonara light.

These mites do exist. There’s one at the center of our galaxy. (It’s called a black hole, even though it’s white hot.) Only I under-exaggerated all of his characteristics. He’s actually much heavier, much, much hotter, and much, much, much smaller.

That’s a lot of mite packed into such a small space.

* * *

I wrote that bit above, but it’s based on principles I learned from A Brief History of Time (or re-learned, since this isn’t my first Hawking rodeo). Incidentally, I read A Briefer History of Time directly after, not realizing that it’s basically a second edition of the original book, with a few things updated here and there. But this book is heavy enough that two readings back-to-back is actually a good way to do it. If you only read one, I recommend the Briefer version. 

Hawking was born exactly 300 years to the day after the death of Galileo. That’s one fun fact, which Hawking sprinkles throughout his cosmic narrative—like his being late for free plane ride because of rain. His personal voice makes the science a lot more fun. (And my master’s thesis, Look Your Reader in the Eye, which has a fantastic title, is about that very topic.)

Just three more tidbits and I’ll leave you be.

First, did you know that the substance of our universe is mostly matter and energy that’s completely transparent and unobservable? It’s called dark matter and dark energy. Check this out:

16 August 2016

BOOK REPORT: The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute

TL;DR: The Anatomy of Peace is about getting your mindset right toward yourself and other people. It's about a problem that we all have, a central problem, which is actually very hard to recognize and resolve. But I consider it the Holy Grail, the greatest quest we can chase as mortals.

I read The Anatomy of Peace every summer to celebrate my birthday. I've done this for the last 7 years or so. And I always invite my friends to join me. It's kind of a rare thing, but occasionally I have a friend who accept the invitation, which I consider the summit of birthday gifts.

I hope the fact that I read it yearly says something to you, because I don't have time to do it justice today. This is at the top of my top-ten non-fiction books. It inspired Chapter 73 in ECKSDOT. (where Nate confronts Rudge). It also inspired a lot of themes in SONG OF LOCKE, like how the sylves and elves see or don't see each other.

Here's a five minute video that will give you an idea of its concepts.

And next year, I'll invite you to read it with me :-) 

09 August 2016

BOOK REPORT: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

TL;DR: I read this because I’m hooked on the musical. An excellent biography about the ten-dollar founding father and the building of America. Made me realize our nation is a miracle.

If you love the Hamilton musical, read this:

I couldn’t help but underline words that I heard in the play. It was like playing HAMILTON BINGO. (There are a lot more than these, but I won’t bore you here.)

“Hamilton carried a heavy dread of [OH!] anarchy and disorder that always struggled with his no less active love of liberty.”

“He... soon made his first friend: a fashionable tailor with the splendid name of Hercules Mulligan [UP IN IT; LOVIN’ IT].”

“President Cooper also looked askance [HE’S PENNILESS] at the political protests mounted nearby.”

“Thus, Hamilton’s mission was [THE SITUATION IS] fraught with a multitude of perils.”

“Though he did not endorse Gates [OUTRAGE] outright, Adams fretted that idolatry of Washington might end in military rule.”

“Tens of thousands of onlookers gaped in amazement as the shattered British troops marched out of Yorktown and, to the tune of an old English ballad, “The World Turned Upside Down,” moved between parallel rows of handsomely outfitted French soldiers and battered, ragged American troops.”

“Hamilton inhabited two diametrically opposed [FOES] worlds.”

“Adams’s wrath against Hamilton was understandable, but he immediately stooped to personal insults and called Hamilton a ‘Creole bastard.’ ”

Burr is said to have remarked, “Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.”

Penned by Hamilton: “Adieu best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me. Ever yours, A H”

If you love the founding fathers, read this:

A passage where Chernow describes Washington’s heroism:

America’s idolatry of George Washington may have truly begun at the battle of Monmouth. One of America’s most accomplished horsemen, Washington at first rode a white charger, given to him by William Livingston, now governor of New Jersey, in honor of his recrossing of the Delaware. This beautiful horse dropped dead from the heat, and Washington instantly switched to a chestnut mare. By sheer force of will, he stopped the retreating soldiers, rallied them, then reversed them. “Stand fast, my boys, and receive your enemy,” he shouted. “The southern troops are advancing to support you.” Washington’s steady presence had a sedative effect on the flying men.

Two bold quotes from Jefferson:

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing… and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Hamilton’s words on government debt:

“[I] ardently [wish] to see it incorporated as a fundamental maxim in the system of public credit of the United States that the creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of extinguishment.”

“[Progressive accumulation of debt] is perhaps the NATURAL DISEASE of all Governments. And it is not easy to conceive anything more likely than this to lead to great and convulsive revolutions of Empire.”

“To attach full confidence to an institution of this nature, it appears to be an essential ingredient in its structure that [a federal bank] shall be under a private not a public direction, under the guidance of individual interest, not of public policy.” In short, he was a libertarian, ha ha.

Fisher Ames added an insight on well-meaning people who don’t understand economics: “A gentleman may therefore propose the worst of measures with the best intentions.”

Chernow’s words on our two-party government:

“The Federalists saw themselves as saving America from anarchy, while Republicans believed they were rescuing America from counterrevolution.”

“Where Hamilton looked at the world through a dark filter and had a better sense of human limitations, Jefferson viewed the world through a rose-colored prism and had a better sense of human potentialities. Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed in democracy, but Hamilton tended to be more suspicious of the governed and Jefferson of the governors.”

I find myself clinging to both of these perspectives.

On Hamilton’s Christian faith:

“For Hamilton, religion formed the basis of all law and morality, and he thought the world would be a hellish place without it… [In his later years,] he experienced a resurgence of his youthful fervor, prayed daily, and scribbled many notes in the margin of the family Bible.” — Chernow

Hamilton believed in a happy afterlife for the virtuous that would offer “far more substantial bliss than can ever be found in this checkered, this ever varying, scene!”

“I have examined carefully the evidence of the Christian religion,” Hamilton told one friend, “and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity, I should rather abruptly give my verdict in its favor.” To Eliza, he said, “I have studied [Christianity] and I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.”

02 August 2016

BOOK REPORT: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (Part 2)


There was just so much I loved about Les Miserables. That first book report was the essentials.

Below are some side characters and tangents I wanted to comment on. Also, I’ve condensed and then quoted some really long passages that I just thought were amazing. So give these a read if you don’t have time to read the whole novel. And give these a re-read if you’ve already read the book. (That’s sort of why I’m posting them here, so I can refresh my own memory down the road.)

Now for part 2 of my Les Miserables book report:


I love the narrator’s voice. He’s almost a character in his own right.

He says things like, “I’ve forgotten the name,” which makes him into a real person. Or things like, “He did not see them again, and throughout the remainder of this sad history, neither shall we.” It’s as if we’re hearing the story from our grandfather while sitting around the hearth.

He’s humorous as well, with descriptions that add both character and humor: “Madame Victurnien was fifty-six years old and wore a mask of old age over her mask of ugliness.” Or “...Her husband, a knave of some calibre, a ruffian, educated almost to the extent of grammar...”

And often the narrator waxes eloquent while pontificating on a point:

“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only. The rest is only the rest, and comes afterwards. Nothing is more real than these great shocks which two souls give each other in exchanging this spark.


The narrator said one phrase, which I loved, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether it had inspired the daemons in Phil Pullman’s His Dark Materials:

“It is our conviction that if souls were visible to the eye we should distinctly see this strange fact that each individual of the human species corresponds to some one of the species of the animal creation; and we should clearly recognise the truth, hardly perceived by thinkers, that, from the oyster to the eagle, from the swine to the tiger, all animals are in man, and that each of them is in a man; sometimes even, several of them at a time. Animals are nothing but the forms of our virtues and vices wandering before our eyes, the visible phantoms of our souls. God shows them to us to make us reflect.”


To me, Gavroche is one of the lost boys, straight out of Peter Pan. And one of the most endearing features of his character is that he carries a pistol with a broken hammer—just like a kid pretending to be a grown up.

“Little folks are good for something then! That is very lucky! I will go! Meantime, trust the little folks, distrust the big.” — Gavroche


I loved this speech by Monsieur Gillenormand at the wedding feast. I think you will too:

“Listen to me; I am going to give you a piece of advice: Adore one another…
“The philosopher’s say, ‘Moderate your joys.’ I say, ‘Give them the rein. Be enamoured like devils. Be rabid…
“Can you love each other too much? Can you please each other too much?
“Can you enchant each other too much, charm each other too much? Can you be too much alive? Can you be too happy?...
“Live boldly for one another, my-love one another, make us die with rage that we cannot do as much, idolatrise each other...
“So act that, when you are with each other, there shall be nothing wanting, and that Cosette may be the sun to Marius, and that Marius may be the universe to Cosette. Cosette, let your fine weather be the smile of your husband: Marius! let your rain be the tears of your wife. And may it never rain in your household. You have filched the good number in the lottery, a love-match; you have the highest prize, take good care of it, put it under lock and key, don’t squander it, worship each other, and snap your fingers at the rest.
“Be a religion to each other. Every one has his own way of worshipping God. Zounds! the best way to worship God is to love your wife. I love you! that is my catechism. Whoever loves is orthodox.”


This is a passage from the narrator at the close of the wedding festivities:

“There was tumult, then silence. The bride and groom disappeared.
“A little after midnight the Gillenormand house became a temple. Here we stop.
“Upon the threshold of wedding-nights stands an angel smiling, his finger on his lip. The soul enters into contemplation before this sanctuary, in which is held the celebration of love. There must be gleams of light above those houses. The joy which they contain must escape in light through the stones of the walls, and shine dimly into the darkness. It is impossible that this sacred festival of destiny should not send a celestial radiation to the infinite.
“Love is the sublime crucible in which is consummated the fusion of man and woman; the one being, the triple being, the final being, the human trinity springs from it.
“This birth of two souls into one must be an emotion for space. The lover is priest; the rapt maiden is affrighted. Something of this joy goes to God. Where there is really marriage, that is where there is love, the ideal is mingled with it. A nuptial bed makes a halo in the darkness. Were it given to the eye of flesh to perceive the fearful and enchanting sights of the superior life, it is probable that we should see the forms of night, the winged strangers, the blue travellers of the invisible, bending, a throng of shadowy heads, over the luminous house, pleased, blessing, showing to one another the sweetly startled maiden bride, and wearing the reflection of the human felicity upon their divine countenances.
“If, at that supreme hour, the wedded pair, bewildered with pleasure, and believing themselves alone, were to listen, they would hear in their chamber a rustling of confused wings.
“Perfect happiness implies the solidarity of the angels.
“That little obscure alcove has for its ceiling the whole heavens. When two mouths, made sacred by love, draw near each other to create, it is impossible that above that ineffable kiss there should not be a thrill in the immense mystery of the stars.
“These are the true felicities. No joy beyond these joys.
“Love is the only ecstasy, everything else weeps.
“To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life. To love is a consummation.”


Enjolras is a man of ideals and heart—a caring youth, willing to make nearly any sacrifice to bring forth a greater good. At one point, the rebels must take a sniper shot at a cannon gunner, and this heart-wrenching dialog ensues:

“He is at most twenty-five years old; he might be your brother.”
“He is,” said Enjolras.
“Yes,” said Combeferre, “and mine also. Well, don’t let us kill him.”
“Let me alone. We must do what we must.” And a tear rolled slowly down Enjolras’ marble cheek. At the same time he pressed the trigger of his carbine.
The flash leaped forth. The artillery-man turned twice round, his arms stretched out before him, and his head raised as if to drink the air, then he fell over on his side upon the gun, and lay there motionless. His back could be seen, from the centre of which a stream of blood gushed upwards. The ball had entered his breast and passed through his body. He was dead.


And, last, here’s a large chunk of the battle speech given by Enjolras:

The situation of all, in this hour of death and in this inexorable place, found its resultant and summit in the supreme melancholy of Enjolras.
Enjolras had within himself the plenitude of revolution; he was incomplete notwithstanding, as much as the absolute can be...
He was standing on the paving-stone steps, his elbow upon the muzzle of his carbine. He was thinking; he started, as at the passing of a gust; places where death is have such tripodal effects. There came from his eyes, full of the interior sight, a kind of stifled fire. Suddenly he raised his head, his fair hair waved backwards like that of the angel upon his sombre car of stars, it was the mane of a startled lion flaming with a halo, and Enjolras exclaimed:
“Citizens, do you picture to yourselves the future? The streets of the cities flooded with light... to all, labour, for all, law, over all, peace, no more bloodshed, no more war… a dawn of truth, corresponding with the dawn of the day...
“Listen to me, then, Feuilly, valiant working-man, man of the people, man of the peoples, I venerate thee...
“Thou art going to die here; that is, to triumph...
“Citizens, whatever may happen to-day, through our defeat as well as through our victory, we are going to effect a revolution. Just as conflagrations light up the whole city, revolutions light up the whole human race...
“From the political point of view, there is but one single principle: the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of myself over myself is called Liberty...
“If liberty is the summit, equality is the base...
“Equality, citizens, is not all vegetation on a level, a society of big spears of grass and little oaks; a neighbourhood of jealousies emasculating each other; it is, civilly, all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights...
“We might almost say: there will be no events more. Men will be happy. The human race will fulfil its law as the terrestrial globe fulfils its; harmony will be re-established between the soul and the star; the soul will gravitate about the truth like the star about the light…
“Yes, instruction! Light! Light! all comes from light, and all returns to it...
“Friends, the hour in which we live, and in which I speak to you, is a gloomy hour, but of such is the terrible price of the future. A revolution is a toll-gate. Oh! the human race shall be delivered, uplifted, and consoled! We affirm it on this barricade. Whence shall arise the shout of love, if it be not from the summit of sacrifice?
“Here day embraces night, and says: I will die with thee and thou shalt be born again with me...
“This agony and this immortality are to mingle and compose our death. Brothers, he who dies here dies in the radiance of the future, and we are entering a grave illuminated by the dawn.”
Enjolras broke off rather than ceased, his lips moved noiselessly, as if he were continuing to speak to himself, and they looked at him with attention, endeavouring still to hear. There was no applause; but they whispered for a long time. Speech being breath, the rustling of intellects resembles the rustling of leaves.

26 July 2016

BOOK REPORT: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Long time no see! It’s because this book took me so long to read.

TL;DR: Man, this is such a story! Sometimes I think it must not have come from a mortal but some higher place.


You’ll find Les Miserables on lists of the longest novels ever. In fact, it’s the longest book I’ve ever read, at 655,478 words. That’s five SONG OF LOCKEs! Five! Insane! I’ve had readers complain that Locke was too long! If you combine all the books and essays I’ve published, it’s still not as long as Les Miserables!

Like many of you, I’ve been meaning to read this forever, but it seemed like such a chore. When I was a kid, I could never read long books. And even still… But now audio helps a bit. (This one I “read” partly in audio and partly in the ebook.)

I read the Wilbour translation. He uses the words like janitress (a female janitor), which seems a precise translation. I love this. We Americans are unfortunately abandoning our gender-based nouns. Incidentally, I like to use words like photographress and paintress too.

You’ll hear people complaining about the chapters where Hugo goes on and on about the sewers or Waterloo, and that’s a fair critique. As I started, the first seven chapters were about the Bishop’s house—his chairs, his locks on the doors, the paintings on his wall, and I was like, “Oh, no.” With so little plot and so much exposition, I had a tough time focusing. But they were short chapters (which is how I like to write too), and so I felt like I was progressing quickly. Around chapter 10 came a brief subplot about a dying atheist, and I finally felt engaged with the narrative. After that it was all downhill. Except for the sewers. And Waterloo.

Mostly I love this book because it’s about seeing people as people, seeing the good in people through the anguish and strife, and loving them for their humanity, and then making sacrifices in order to honor that love. 

This phrase in particular summed it up for me:

“If there is anything more poignant than a body agonising for want of bread, it is a soul which is dying of hunger for light.”

In this case, I think light is more than knowledge (which is the typical metaphor). I think he’s talking about warmth and love. It is one of many lines that really struck me.

For the rest of my book report, I’d like to focus on characters, mostly with quotes, but with a few commentaries of my own as well. Here goes.


First we meet the Bishop.

When I watched the Liam Neeson and Hugh Jackman movies, I came to the conclusion that the Bishop had told a noble lie in order to save Valjean from prison. As great as that act would be, it turns out the Bishop’s heart was so pure he had already gifted the silver, and, in fact, all that he had, to Valjean:

“You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome. And do not thank me; do not tell me that I take you into my house. This is the home of no man, except him who needs an asylum. I tell you, who are a traveler, that you are more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours.” — Bishop Myriel, a.k.a. Monseigneur Bienvenu


I have a brother who has the name Jean, and what a character to share a name with!

It’s through Valjean’s trials that we see a distinctly Christian narrative. For example, the narrator says God attends the moment when Valjean makes his choice between being a demon in paradise or an angel in hell:

“Alas! what he wanted to keep out of doors had entered; what he wanted to render blind was looking upon him. His conscience. His conscience—that is to say, God.”

Valjean is a man who, in the end, is “transfigured into Christ.”

As he tries to get to the courthouse to incriminate himself and save an innocent, he is tormented both physically and spiritually every step along the way. Even though he’s unsure he wants to go through with it, he presses on, because “his highest duty was not towards himself.” And I find these dilemmas interesting—because all he has to do is stand still, do nothing, and the tide will turn in his favor. But, he feels it will be to the detriment of his soul. So he sticks to his motto:

“The highest justice is conscience.” — Jean Valjean


Javier is truly a villain. Ironically, I struggled to see his humanity.

He wasn’t just short sighted by nature, but kept his mind closed on purpose, stubbornly ignorant of the suffering of others, which was spotlighted so overwhelmingly at Fantine’s deathbed. In that moment, “Jean Valjean put his hand on that of Javert which held him, and opened it as he would have opened the hand of a child; then he said: ‘You have killed this woman.’ ”

Javier felt that his lack of pity was justified by his rightness with the law, and so he remained blind to the higher justice that Valjean could see:

“Without suspecting it, Javert, in his fear-inspiring happiness, was pitiable, like every ignorant man who wins a triumph. Nothing could be more painful and terrible than this face, which revealed what we may call all the evil of good.”

He does the “right thing” for the wrong reason. Which is why I love the contrast of the nun who lies (a “wrong thing”) for the right reason:

“She lied. Two lies in succession, one upon another, without hesitation, quickly, as if she were an adept in it. ‘Your pardon!’ said Javert, and he withdrew, bowing reverently. Oh, holy maiden! for many years thou hast been no more in this world; thou hast joined the sisters, the virgins, and thy brethren, the angels, in glory; may this falsehood be remembered to thee in Paradise.”


Fantine’s story is so painful. Really. My soul ached as I read it.

My tribute to her is brief, and hopefully thus more poignant:

“God is kind.” — Fantine, at the end


I love Marius. I love his passionate perspectives—on life, on rebellion, and even on debt:

“Marius had never given up for a single day. He had undergone everything, in the shape of privation; he had done everything, except get into debt. He gave himself this credit, that he had never owed a sou to anybody. For him a debt was the beginning of slavery. He felt even that a creditor is worse than a master; for a master owns only your person, a creditor owns your dignity and can belabour that. Rather than borrow, he did not eat.”

But mostly I love the way he sees Cosette:

“Sometimes, beautiful as was Cosette, Marius closed his eyes before her. With closed eyes is the best way of looking at the soul.” — Les Miserables 

31 May 2016

New book for sale: I'M JERRY SEINFELD by J Washburn

I have an announcement to make: My latest book is out!

It's called I'M JERRY SEINFELD: AN ESSAY ON COMEDY. Here's the synopsis: 

Don’t read this book if you’re fat. Or if you hate reading. Or if you hate Jerry Seinfeld. Or me. Or fat people. Or nudity. And definitely don’t read it if you liked my other books. Or if you’ve had enough funny business. Or if you’d rather have a 99-cent hamburger. Did I mention fat? Come on, George, you’re such a cheapskate.

It's not really like anything else I've written. That makes me scared to share it with the world, but, hey, that's what I do. My beta readers gave amazing feedback. Now it's less offensive with more consistent flow. It's about making your life better through comedy, and reading it might give you a lasting insight or two.

Thanks for being a reader! Looking forward to reading your reviews.

-- J