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Books from Q1 2018

I’ve been reading more than writing  so far this year.  I  tend to go in bursts like that – lots of writing, lots of reading, lots of Netflix, repeat. I’m not sure why, it just happens.

So far this year, I’ve read 18 books, a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I’m putting together notes on what I’ve read so I can come back to them and so they might be useful to others. I guess they’re sort of lazy mini-reviews. None of these are affiliate links, because I don’t care.

1. “The Fifth Season” – N.K. Jemisin

This is book one in “The Broken Earth” trilogy and is the first book of the author’s I have read. The story takes place in a fantasy future-Earth setting – think Shannara, but not shitty. I enjoyed Jemisin’s style and perspective. Her world is logically consistent and filled with truthful subtext.

2. “Made to Stick” – Chip Heath & Dan Heath

It’s a book that has made all sorts of lists and is very much in the vein of “could have been a blog post instead of a book.” If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” you can skip this one

3. “The Heart of What Was Lost” – Tad Williams

This is probably the shortest book Tad Williams has ever written, although “Child of an Ancient City” may tie it. I’m too lazy to check. It’s effectively a long prologue that ties Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” trilogy (or quadrilogy if you read it in paperback) together with his new “The Last King of Osten Ard” series. I enjoyed the brevity, and that there were a limited number of subplots, which is rare for Williams.

4.  “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” – Cal Newport

Another “on all the lists” and “could have been a blog post” book. It was significantly better than “Made to Stick” in that it broke more original ground and is better written. The basic premise is “Don’t follow your dreams. Get really good at something and opportunities will present themselves.”

5. “The Water Knife” – Paulo Bacigalupi

I enjoyed Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl” and hoped to enjoy this. It’s not as good as that book, but the story is compellingly told. The almost gleeful descriptions of torture and abuse that bothered me in “The Windup Girl” are cranked up to the point that it gets in the way of the story and you start to worry about the author (and yourself) a little bit. I probably won’t read his next book.

6. “The Witchwood Crown” – Tad Williams

Related to item 3 above. Williams has gotten so much better over the years. His pacing is still molasses slow-build up to frenetic chaos, but he’s done a better job of culling boring subplots and characters. That’s not to say this doesn’t sprawl, but his writing feels more purposeful.

7. “The Industries of the Future” – Alan Ross

The curse of knowledge ruined this book for me. It is likely a very solid layman’s primer for near-term technological trends. But, being in the industry, my response to the info presented was “yep, and…?” That’s no dig at the author, I’m just not the target audience.

8. “Strange Dogs” – James S.A. Corey

This is marketed as a novella but is barely that at 81 pages. It’s a solid aside set in the Expanse universe and serves as an acceptable fix to carry oneself over until the next release in that series. It sets up a premise that could be its own set of novels but that’s a lot of things in the Expanse series, which is expansive.

9. “Homo Deus” – Yuval Noah Harari

I seriously have to stop picking books off of lists. Given that I remember literally nothing about this book, it was apparently unremarkable.

10. “The Obelisk Gate” – N.K. Jemisin

Book 2 in the “Broken Earth” series. If you liked book 1, you should read it if. If you didn’t, you shouldn’t.

11. “The Stone Sky” – N.K. Jemisin

Finishes the “Broken Earth” series. It left me thinking a lot about coded language as well as motherhood and mother-daughter things that are completely foreign to me and that I will likely never fully understand. Thus is the power of reading books by authors who aren’t hetero white men.

12. “Antifragile” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I’m very interested in anti-fragility and resiliency, so this book was fun for me. It fed into a lot of ideas I’ve been thinking about related to chaos engineering. Taleb’s ideas are powerful and feel so uncomfortably true that it’s easy to look past what appears to be massive ego and condescension towards his peers. I actually like this book better than his “The Black Swan”, but that may just be because it lines up well with current thoughts.

13. “Borne” – Jeff VanderMeer

Magical realism tends to go one of two ways for me. 1. This is fucking stupid. 2. This is amazing. This book was the latter. The  setting of the story is a post-apocalyptic city inhabited by a giant flying bear. It’s completely bonkers but works wonderfully and inspires me a little in a “this is the kind of book I want to write” way.

14. “Other Minds” – Peter Godfrey-Smith

This is a book about a possible theory of mind and sentience for cephalopods. I would summarize it with “Octopodes are super smart in ways that are completely foreign to us.” I’d given up on eating octopus a few years ago after watching videos of them using tools and this made that decision concrete for me (in addition to expanding that food-ban to squid). I probably need to be careful reading similar books as I may end up not being comfortable eating anything.

15. “Dreams From My Father” – Barack Obama

Given our current situation, this book made me both sad and grateful. One thing it really hammered home for me was how broad and open Obama’s world view is, more so than any president we’ve ever had. Similar to other black American memoirs I’ve read, there is much I couldn’t truly understand but is still ugly and painful.

16. “The City & The City”  – China Mieville

This is the least weird of Mieville’s books I’ve read. I think he wrote it for his mother or some such. I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as “Embassytown” or “Perdido Street Station”, but it was good.

17. “WTF?” – Tim O’Reilly

I normally struggle a bit with “future” books, but O’Reilly has good credentials and writes with an authority that lends weight to his vision. Some of the first chapters felt a bit “look at me! I invented the internet!”, which is related to the previous statement. All in all, his is a compassionate take on a potential path for the future of work and business. I wished more startups would heed his advice.

18. “Vacationland” – John Hodgeman

To be honest, this is the first book of Hodgeman’s that I’ve actually liked. His fake trivia books hinted at something more interesting, but never really got there for me. This book is conversational storytelling and succeeds as such. It’s definitely in the vein of “NPR humor”, so your mileage may vary depending on your appetite for that.