Sunday, January 1, 2017

216: My Year in Books

My name is John and I like to read.

A lot.

As in, I really like to read and I really read a lot. Last year, according to my tally, I read a surprising 132 books. That's up from 123 in 2015 and the highest number I have read in a given year, at least as an adult. And that doesn't even count the thousands of articles, comic books, comic strips, short stories and related ephemera that I consumed over the year.

How the hell do I read so much? Easy -- I have a tendency to pick very short books, like graphic novels, which comprised the bulk of my reading once again this year. I would love to take more deep dives into novels or whatever, but I don't always have time for that. That means that I have (no exaggeration) hundreds and hundreds of novels on my bookshelves and in my Kindle waiting to be read.

I'll get to them all one of these days.

(Cue me in another decade or two, looking like Burgess Meredith in "The Twilight Zone"...)

Anyway, here a a few recommendations (and one non-recommendation) from this year's list.

Best novels: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill and JOYLAND by Joe Hill's dad, Stephen King. That's one talented family.

Best nonfiction book: THE MADHOUSE EFFECT by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles. An essential examination of the science of climate change and the industry devoted to denying it.

Best graphic novel: MURDER BY REMOTE CONTROL by Janwillem van de Wetering & Paul Kirchner. Boy, that's a truly weird book, luckily rescued from obscurity and brought back into print this year.

Best art book: EYE TO EYE,  collection of photographs by the mysterious Vivian Maier (subject of the great documentary, "Finding Vivian Maier"). I think this is already out of print due to fights over Maier's copyrights and estate, but it's worth trying to track down a copy.

Worst book of the year: Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee, Peter David & Colleen Doran. I'll admit that I love Stan Lee, but this was biography by way of publicist. Sublimely awful.

It's January 1 as I post this blog, so if you'll excuse me, I think I'll stop writing and start making some headway on this year's list of books.

2016 in Articles

Okay, as 2016 turns into 2017 I find myself struck with two powerful revelations.

A) I am really, really bad at updating this blog.


B) I am really, really happy about the writing that I did during this past year.

I wrote and published 236 articles in 2016 -- that's down from 248 in 2015 -- covering as endangered species, climate change, new technologies, science careers, comic books and other topics. Most of those articles were written for Scientific American, TakePart and various IEEE publications, which kept me pretty busy, but I also wrote for PBS's Nature, Audubon, Sierra, Hakai, Slate, Vice/Motherboard and several trade publications. I'm happy to say that I didn't take a single assignment just for the money. I enjoyed working on everything and feel that the work I did this past year not only mattered but helped to add to the conversation on many important topics.

As I usually do at this point, here's a list of 20 of my favorite articles from the past year, in the order that they were published:

  1. The Surprising (and Mostly Legal) Trade in "Mermaid Ivory"
  2. How Do You Save an Elephant’s Tusk? Ask a Materials Engineer
  3. Endangered Hawaiian Bird Immortalized In Space
  4. What Happened When I Pushed Myself to Interview More Women
  5. Drones' New Mission: Save the Forests
  6. Preaching Against Extinction
  7. Turtle Voyeurs
  8. Wildlife Tourism Faces Dark Days—but Revenue Soars
  9. Why People Keep Taking Deadly Selfies With Animals
  10. Firefly Populations Are Blinking Out
  11. Scientists’ New Research Tool: Pok√©mon Go  
  12. Is It Ethical to Kill Poachers?
  13. Snails Are Going Extinct: Here's Why That Matters
  14. The Amazing Biodiversity within an Elephant's Footprint
  15. A New Weapon in the War Against Climate Change Denial: Laughter
  16. How to Craft a Winning Elevator Speech
  17. Snow Leopard Conservation Gets Boost from New Tech
  18. How Do You Stop a Marauding Bull Elephant Named Trump? Send in the Drones
  19. Vote for Biodiversity
  20. How High Schoolers’ Hacks Fixed a Whale Snot-Collecting Drone
(That's a pretty good list, but there were a lot of other gems in the mix. You can find links to everything that I published last year here.)

In addition to all of the above I also appeared on several radio shows and podcasts, had my work translated into Spanish, did some blogging here and there, tweeted a lot, and wrote dozens of ideas for gag cartoons that I will get around to drawing one of these days.

One more note about this year's articles: you may recall my discussion earlier this year about trying to achieve gender parity in my sources. Here's how it all broke down. I interviewed a total of 331 in 2016. 197 of them were men (59.5%), 134 were women (40.5%). That's not quite the 50-50 I had hoped for, but it's still pretty good (and much better than most journalists, especially in the sciences).

Well, that's the year that was. 2017 is bound to hold all kinds of exciting challenges and opportunities, so I (for one) look forward to what comes out of my keyboard in the months ahead.

For now, though, thank you for reading. As always, I couldn't do any of this without my friends and readers who make all of this possible.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Latest sketchbook

I finished another sketchbook this morning! I keep these nice little pocket-sized sketchbooks on my desk and devote a couple of minutes to it each day. I allow just a minute or two per page, which is a nice, freeing exercise.

Someday soon I'll get back to finished drawings, but in the meantime here are a few favorite pages from this most recent sketchbook:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Funny-Book Maker (a poem from the archives)


By John R. Platt

The comic-book artist
Got lost in his work
Black lines
Inked on white paper
Over and over and over

Two pages of art a day
Then three
Then five
Then ten
He no longer slept

He called his editor:
"Send more scripts!"

He neglected his health
His friends stopped calling
His wife left him
He didn't care
Only the stories mattered

Then, one day,
He ran out of ink
"No time to get supplies,"
He thought,
And reached for his Xacto knife

The found him two weeks later
Drained and dry
Sad and alone
But surrounded
By the best work of his career

It never saw print.

(One of a series of "Bad Endings" poems I have written over the years. This was originally published in January 2006 in BARE BONE 8, Raw Dog Screaming Press. Copyright 2006, 2016 John R. Platt) 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Debtor's Prison (a poem)

Black eyes, magic shadows
Presaging a change in
Cosmic ambivalence

The devil's due his debts
From those who despair

Red ink fills the diagrams
Of our flesh,
Tattoos of justice unknown,

Eventualities sing
The choir of loss

And we pray:

Kill me with those black,
Black eyes.

Okay, some backstory here. I wrote this quite a few years ago after an editor friend of mine complained that very few of the poems submitted to his magazine made any damned sense. So I sent him this one, which very much on purpose makes very little sense.

He was amused, but not enough to pay me to publish it.

Oh well. I actually like this poem, no matter what it does or does not mean. I'm sharing it here for the first time.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

First sketchbook of 2016

I keep a tiny little sketchbook by my desk. Every day I try to fill up a page. These aren't intended to be finished drawings, but they sure are fun, and a nice break from the type type type that normally takes place at my desk.

Anyway, I just finished the latest sketchbook. Here are some of my favorite pages.

Hopefully I'll get back to completing some fully inked drawings at some point this year!

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015: My Year in Books

Good lord, I read a lot of books in 2015.

How many? Try 123. That's the highest number that I've read in years and a full 23 books more than I read in 2014. Wow.

Of course, the majority of this year's books (once again) were graphic novels. There are a few pretty good reasons for that. First off is the incredible Portland library system: they stock so many graphic novels that I have wanted to read for a long time -- along with quite a few books that I never even knew existed. Second, I spend most of my days reading and writing articles, so turning to a visual medium is a nice change of pace for my evenings. Finally, even though I read a lot, my reading schedule is a bit unpredictable. I'd rather get in and out of a book (or comic, or article, or poem, or short story, or whatever) when I know I can finish it than start a book and not know when I'm going to be able to pick it up again.

Looking back, I'm actually a bit disappointed in this number. I wanted to read even more books this year -- especially novels -- but that wasn't in the cards. Too much work, too much stress, too many responsibilities.... but oh well, I still knocked quite a few volumes off the "to be read" pile.

Even though I didn't get to every book that I wanted to, I managed to read some amazing books this year. Here are a few of the standouts:

Best Fiction Book: North American Lake Monsters, a stunning short-story collection by Nathan Ballingrud

Best Non-Fiction Book: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, a wonderful memoir/history book/cultural study by Jennifer 8. Lee

Best Graphic Novel: The Sculptor, Scott McCloud's amazing opus is a work of rare genius (runner-up: March: Book Two, an important piece of first-person history by John Lewis and his artistic collaborators)

Best Art Book: Nextinction by Ralph Steadman and Ceri Levy, a true feast for the eyes and a blow to the soul

Well, that's that. On to 2016. I have a few days off from work (a rarity, let me tell you), so maybe I'll get a head-start on this year's list. I have a few shelves of unread books staring at me from the bookshelf next to my computer, so I have plenty of options to choose from.

As for you, here's to a year of great books, no matter how many you read!