Brooks on Books: What are You Reading?

When visiting family or eating with friends (or interviewing job candidates), I often ask “what are you reading?” I find books or other long form writing a better source of conversational kindling than discussing the weather, recent doctor visits or the op-ed pages. A discussion starting with books and authors can lead anywhere. 

For example, my Aunt and I regularly exchange book ideas. A lover of horses and Native American culture, she introduced me to Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police mysteries featuring police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee. (So far, I’ve read Dance Hall for the Dead and The Ghostway.) This led to discussions about Navajo artists and my Aunt’s earrings, which helped me discover the Native American artist Frances Jones and a lovely bracelet for my wife for our anniversary. This series of links, connected by books, occurred over a ten-year period.

My Mom and Dad belong to book clubs (Mom and her friends drink tea when discussing their books; Dad’s crew drinks wine). Over the years, both sent me books they’ve read and enjoyed. Dad, a Vietnam Veteran, sent me a copy of Beyond Survival by former POW Gerald Coffee. The book recounts how Coffee and his fellow prisoners of war supported each other and communicated with a secret code tapped on walls between cells. (Sometime, after a difficult day, I flip through this book for perspective and appreciation.) The book strengthened an interest in reporting and fiction from Vietnam, including my favorite, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a book of linked short stories related to the Vietnam War.

Books connect us. This goes beyond required high school reading and Bible study, both of which offer their own foundational literacy. When someone uses the word “tesseract” or “grok” in a sentence, I feel a flush of joy and follow-up later to ask when they read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or Richard Heinlein’s A Stranger in a Strange Land. The book-based connections help us share memories (and travel through space and time). 

So, what are you reading? I welcome your comments and recommendations.

This post is dedicated to my Dad. Happy Birthday, Captain!

Brooks on Books: Recommendations on Recommending

Books have been a hugely important part of my life. As a kid, when Mom took us to the mall, I loved going to B. Dalton bookstores and Waldenbooks. [I’d get so excited that, within ten minutes of walking the aisles, I’d need to pee.]

For my twelfth birthday in Cockeysville, Maryland, my parents hosted a group of my friends for roller skating and pizza at Skateland. Most of my friends gave me books as gifts. We had a leaning stack on the table that included favorites such as “Catch Me if You Can” by Frank Abagnale, “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, and “The Stand” by Steven King.

Some older kids walked by and Mom heard them say, “shoot, that kid must really like books!” 

To this day, I still have most of those books, and I enjoy swapping favorite book titles with others. When people ask me for book recommendations, I have found myself following an informal set of rules. 

First, I only consider recommending books that I’ve read. Would you write a recommendation for a person you’ve never met? Would you recommend a restaurant you’ve never eaten at? Yet, on dozens of occasions, I’ve fielded suggestions anointed with “I’ve heard that it’s great…it’s supposed to be good…” Anyone can look up the best seller list.

Second, I recommend books that I’ve reread (or would read again). Which books do I actively revisit, for whatever reasons? For me, this includes a novel I read last year, “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. Recently, I spoke with a woman who had read the book and we spent a joyous few minutes sharing our love of the book. A colleague of mine overheard this and said, “I really need to read that book.” [I loaned it to her.] Another friend of mine, a retired professor, said he cried the day he read the last page because the book ended, and he wanted it to last longer. 

Finally, I recommend absorbing page turners. Like a great movie or concert, a satisfying mystery or adventure takes you on a little trip. When I read “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Steig Larsson, it carried me right through the night. A gripping thriller.

What books do you recommend? Why? I welcome your comments below.

6th Edition of “Forest Finance Simplified” Now Available!

Forisk Press recently published the 6th Edition of the Forest Finance Simplified book by Dr. Brooks Mendell

Forest Finance Simplified distills forest finance themes into a question-and-answer format for those who want an accessible reference or introduction to forest management decision-making and timber investments. This handbook succinctly helps readers do the following:

  • Identify and communicate key financial issues for a given forestry or timberland investment;
  • Differentiate and explain the pros and cons of traditional approaches to financial analysis;
  • Analyze, rank and benchmark the value and performance of forest management activities and timberland investments; and
  • Avoid common errors associated with forest investment decisions.

The 6th Edition includes additional content on comparing timberland investment vehicles, benchmarking timberland investment performance, making forest management decisions, and evaluating the use of leverage for timber investments.

The book is available here.

Aunt Fanny Publishes a Book on Timberland Investing

I woke up, on schedule, at 4:14 in the morning, rolled over and switched off the alarm before it chimed. At 4:15, the phone buzzed.

“Good morning, Nephew!” said Aunt Fanny.  “You up?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I said, swinging my legs over the side of the bed and slipping my feet into the cool fleece of the moccasins on the floor.

“You pick up your mail yesterday?” asked Aunt Fanny.

“No, Ma’am,” I responded while standing up.

“Didn’t think so,” said Aunt Fanny. “I was expecting a call that didn’t come.”  Then she hung up.

Curious, I pulled on a pair of jeans and sweatshirt to walk outside.  Inside the mailbox, I found a padded envelope.  Back in the house, I started the coffee pot and sat down at the kitchen table.  Inside the envelope was a book with a yellow sticky note.  The sticky note included a message in Aunt Fanny’s clear handwriting that said:

Behold my book, Nephew!  
And thanks for letting me take your picture.  
Love, Aunt Fanny

The book, “Aunt Fanny Learns Forestry: Managing Timberland as an Investment”, featured a picture of her forest on the over and a picture of me on the back walking through the woods.  When did she pull out a camera?  Once again, Aunt Fanny caught me by surprise…

About the Book

Aunt Fanny Learns Forestry” has three sections.  In the first, Aunt Fanny gets to know her forest and learns forest investment concepts.  In the second, Aunty Fanny implements a forest management plan.  In the third section, Aunt Fanny considers another forest investment. The book includes supplementary resources, checklists, and recommended articles and websites that offer additional information on related topics. The book serves any investor, from individual to institution, interested in a tight and entertaining tutorial for prioritizing what matters and what does not when managing their timber assets as an investment.

This is Brooks Mendell’s sixth book. His grandmother, the late Frances Collat Mendell, inspired the character of Aunt Fanny. She is sharp, loves salty jokes, wants to learn and enjoys making a little money. However, her recently inherited forestland remains a bit of a mystery to her. This brief book, with drawings by forester and taxidermist Max Lang, follows Aunt Fanny through her learning of the key concepts and ideas needed to manage her forest as an investment.