Have you ever had a bad day? What are some of the things that happen that make us say to ourselves: This day could have gone a lot better if only this hadn’t happened?

I have written in a journal for much of my life. In other words, I have a lot of notebooks and logs filled with lined paper sitting on random shelves throughout the house, and some have even been tucked into boxes in the garage or closet. For some unknown reason, I took one off a 3-shelf bookcase in my office this morning and thumbed randomly through the pages.

The entry for the 28th day of September in the year 2011 had just two words. “Today sucked.”

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That was it. No explanation. No description. No context. Something must have happened to me where I came to the conclusion that it was so terrible it didn’t even deserve to be written down. Since I didn’t record my thoughts, I will never know. I will not have the foresight to prevent it from happening again. If those same events occur, I can do nothing to alter the course of events.

Perhaps I had a slight cold and everything I put in my mouth tasted of nothing. Perhaps my favorite team lost to the degree that even as a spectator and a fan, I was embarrassed. Perhaps I didn’t get a pay raise or a promotion. Perhaps I had done something that I shouldn’t have.

Whatever it was, that day almost ten years ago sucked. Speaking of bad days, my first reading selection for the month of June was Adrift by W. Michael Gear, the fifth in the Donovan series. Don’t take that the wrong way. The book and the series of which it is the latest entry are downright phenomenal. The planet Donovan is not a pleasure cruise. Everything on the planet is trying to kill the scientists, explorers, and opportunists from Earth that are trying to colonize it. In this book, we get to see what terrors populate the oceans of the planet—and to say they are alarming is a gross understatement.

Book cover

This year I have been trying to expand my reading experience. One classic, one non-fiction, and one book by an author I’ve not read before each month. The classic I chose was Robert Heinlein’s 1955 novel Tunnel in the Sky. Forty years before the movie Stargate, Heinlein wrote about gates taking a traveler instantaneously across light years. A bunch of high school and college students get stranded on a distant planet after a supernova screws up the mathematics. It reminded me of William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies. Only these young people were quite a bit more inclined to not destroy themselves in the process.

There were two passages that made me wonder if Heinlein had a strong opinion about the direction the education system was taking. The first: “From the ignoramuses we get for recruits I’ve reached the conclusion that this new-fangled ‘functional education’ has abolished studying in favor of developing their cute little personalities.” The second has implications in my expressed dissatisfaction with societal obsession for second-hand knowledge: “When you haven’t data, guessing is illogical.”

Book cover.

My non-fiction selection for June was The Knight in History by Frances Gies. A thoroughly researched and finely written look at the impact of the knight in cultural, political, and philosophical development of Western society. The concept of knighthood and chivalry was ideal. The reality was something different. Ever since I was old enough to read about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, I have been fascinated with the ideal of knights.

Book cover.

After reading a lot of history, I realized that the perception is often a gloss over the truth that can make it more palatable. This rings true in everything and not just about knights and knighthood. One passage that stood out to me was discussed by Geis from Chrétien de Troyes’s Le Roman de Perceval ou le conte du Graal.

“When envy and covetousness came into the world and might began to triumph over right, it became necessary to appoint defenders for the weak against the strong, and they were called knights.”

Currently, I am about a quarter of the way through this month’s selection for an author I’ve never read before. I chose Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. The subtitle is “A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was.” On the back, it is suggested that “it should have been!”

Book cover.

I am enjoying it. It does not read like your traditional epic fantasy. But there is magic and demons and plagues and deceit and honor and love and greed. All the elements necessary for a good story. The narrator is Lu Yu. That is his given name, but since he is his father’s tenth son and quite strong, he is simply called Number Ten Ox. I look forward to his adventures.

Take care. And I hope today doesn’t suck.