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Reading

Here is a list of the books I’ve read. Starting in 2022, the list is complete. Prior to that, I’ve added books from memory, so details may be missing.

2024

All Systems Red
By Martha Wells

All Systems Red is the first novella in the Murderbot Diaries, the journal of a part-organic, part-robot SecUnit charged with protecting a team of researchers surveying an unknown planet even though it would much rather be watching soap operas. This was really entertaining and mixed some funny story with real questions of the personhood of this construct. I think the audio format was great for this and the narrator, Kevin R. Free, gave an excellent performance. I’ll probably aim for the audio versions of the rest of the series depending on what I can get from the library.

Braiding Sweetgrass
By Robin Wall Kimmerer

The author is a Potawatomi woman and ecologist. In Braiding Sweetgrass she gives us a collection of essays that are equal parts history, ecology, and personal stories. She presents a worldview that combines Indigenous teaching on the relationship between humanity and the rest of the natural world with Western scientific thought. This book teaches the importance of reciprocity with nature and gratitude for the many gifts our world gives us. Her writing is beautiful and thought provoking and I would recommend this book to everyone. As an aside, the physical book was printed on recycled paper and it feels really nice in my hands.

Paved Paradise
By Henry Grabar

Paved Paradise starts with a simple premise: every car trip starts and ends in a parking space. From there, the author discusses the history of automobile-driven design and how finding places to put all of those cars has driven the last century of design in the US. This book is fantastic and really highlights how utterly unhinged it is that there are so many parking spaces for every car in the US and most of them sit empty. It highlights the social and political forces that drive the parking-based design and steps people are taking to take back cities from cars. I’d highly recommend this book.

Starter Villain
By John Scalzi

A former journalist finds out his rich uncle has passed away and left him the businesses, both legitimate and not. He’s thrown into the deep end of villainy and has to figure out how to survive. This book is hilarious and a quick read. I’d definitely recommend it.

2023

A Wizard of Earthsea
By Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea is the origin story of a young wizard. As I had heard before reading, the prose is fantastic. The author perfectly captures the voice of telling a folk tale, which was very enjoyable. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I’d hoped. I didn’t get drawn into the world or connect much with the events of the story.

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism
By Safiya Umoja Noble

There are many resources talking about the various societal ills fueld by big tech, but this is the first I’ve read looking at it from a Black feminist perspective. It details how systemic racism is replicated online and how search and information retrieval systems, primarily Google Search, are not objective, neutral pieces of technology. This was very interesting and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the place of tech companies in society.

Book Lovers
By Emily Henry

I don’t normally read romance, but I like to add some variety and my wife said I would enjoy this one. It takes the Hallmark style trope of someone going from the big city to visit a small town and falling in love, leaving the partner behind and taking the perspective of the partner left in the city. It’s really funny, which I enjoyed.

Children of Dune
By Frank Herbert

Children of Dune shows us Arrakis after Paul Muad’Dib. I loved it. It’s even more complex than the first book and it was fascinating to read. I’ve heard many people say the books after this get weird, but I think it starts with this one. The exploration of the twins’ ancient consciousness is pretty out there. I’m not going to read the next few books immediately because I want to read other things but I’m really happy to have read the first three and will probably pick up the others at some point.

City of Light
By Will Wight

City of Light wraps up the Traveler’s Gate trilogy nicely. The problem set up in The Crimson Vault comes to the forefront and we get to see the characters we’ve been following since the first book figure out how to deal with it. There was a lot of good action in this one. The trilogy isn’t my favorite, but overall I think it was worth reading.

Creating Short Fiction
By Damon Knight

I’ve been dabbling in writing fiction this year and this was a good introduction to the process of writing short stories. It gave me a lot to think about and try to apply surrounding story structures and the writing process. The exercises in the book look useful, although I haven’t attempted any of them yet.

Dark One: Forgotten
By Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells

This is an audio drama, which was a new format for me. It is set up like a true crime podcast, in which a college student is investigating a cold-case murder of a woman nobody can remember. I enjoyed both the story and the audio drama format.

Dune
By Frank Herbert

Dune is a sci-fi classic of a feudal dispute over a desert planet known as the only source of a valuable psychedelic drug. It took me a while to read because I went on a vacation in the middle and didn’t take it with me, but it was so worth the wait. The depth of the world and peoples in Dune are amazing and I loved the attention to detail in the cultural and ecological aspects of the book. The style of political drama with most of the violence off-screen even though there’s a war going on is great. I’ll definitely be reading the next few books in the series.

Dune Messiah
By Frank Herbert

The sequel to Dune takes a massive departure from the tone of the first book. In the first book it’s easy to see Paul as the hero, but after 12 years of an interstellar jihad he seems powerless to stop, it’s difficult to see him in a positive light. The main plot is a conspiracy to dethrone Paul, mixed with Paul’s concerning visions of the future. I think this was every bit as good as the first one and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng

I read this because of how much I enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere, but didn’t get into it very much. It was worth finishing, but I found the writing frustrating because of how quickly she changed perspectives and didn’t find the plot and character development as compelling. The ending seemed to come out of nowhere and fell flat for me.

House of Blades
By Will Wight

House of Blades is the first book in Will Wight’s trilogy The Traveler’s Gate, along with The Crimson Vault and City of Light. (Note: I’m writing the reviews for the whole trilogy at once, so I’m comfortable being a little more harsh about the first book given I still read the other two and liked them.)

The world and magic are really interesting, but as a self-contained story, this book is not very good. Most of the book is introducing characters and worldbuilding, with a bland plot tying it together. Several of the characters (including ones I liked in the subsequent books) are pretty obnoxious and behave in nonsensical ways to drive the plot. It does have some good parts: the magic system where individuals can call powers from outside territories into the world is really intreresting, and it does a good job of setting up the story for the next two books. Despite this not being very good on its own, I would recommend it to get into the rest of the story.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids
By Jancee Dunn

My partner and I don’t have kids, but we’d like to so I figured I’d read this to prepare for the future. The author recognizes the ways her relationship with her husband wasn’t working after they had a child and they go on a journey to fix those problems. The book looks at the ways both men and women reinforce traditional gender roles, how relationship dynamics change after having kids, and strategies for addressing the rampant lack of men contributing to their households. Although the title indicates a book for new (or expecting) mothers, this should be required reading for new dads too to help them get in the right mindset for a positive relationship.

How to Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
By Ben Aldridge

Confronted with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks, the author decides to confront these by completing challenges that put him in uncomfortable situations to train his mind to push through adversity. The book discusses some elements of Buddhism, Stoicism, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a guide for how to handle difficult situations. The narrative was interesting but I skimmed a lot of the challenges because I had no interest in attempting them. I took a cold shower last night, but don’t think I’ll be attempting more.

Iron Widow
By Xiran Jay Zhao

There was a lot of hype for Iron Widow and it absolutely lives up to it. It tells the story of a girl rebelling against a deeply sexist society in the middle of a mecha war in which the male pilots are heroes and girls are continually sacrificed to keep the mechs running. The characters are interesting, there are strong anti-sexist and anti-capitalist themes, and the battle scenes were entertaining without drawing attention from the horrors of the system the main character fights against. I noticed some similarities to The Hunger Games, but didn’t think that detracted from the book overall.

Lassoing the Sun
By Mark Woods

The author is a newspaper writer who gets a grant to take a year off and write about his experience with America’s national parks. He spends a few weeks in a different park each month, all while processing his mother’s terminal diagnosis and death. This book was both a love letter to the national park system and a look into his experience processing the loss of his parents. I really enjoyed this one.

Little Fires Everywhere
By Celeste Ng

This is a great story looking at life in an idyllic American suburb when things aren’t so great. It touches on a lot of issues and handles them in a compelling way. The themes are all there without getting in the way of an interesting plot.

Looking for Alaska
By John Green

I wanted to spread out the John Green more, but my hold from the library came up sooner than expected so I read this shortly after Paper Towns. Looking for Alaska follows a group of students at a boarding school in Alabama. Like many other coming of age novels it touches on relationships between teenagers (romantic and other). Grief is a major focus of the second half of the book and I think it’s presented well. I’m happy I read these books in the order I did. I enjoyed Paper Towns, but if I hadn’t read it first I would have been annoyed because it feels like a worse retelling of Looking for Alaska.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics
By Dan Harris

This book serves as an introduction to meditation with a frame story of ABC journalist Dan Harris, meditation teacher Jeff Warren, and the team at 10% Happier going on a national tour trying to introduce meditation to the masses. It focuses on benefits of meditation and addressing barriers individuals face in establishing a regular practice. It was helpful in recognizing meditation doesn’t need to be a big deal to be beneficial. The example meditations were useful. I picked this up because I’ve been having trouble focusing my thoughts and keeping my mind from racing when I’m going to sleep. Ive just started meditation while reading the book, so I’ll see if I find benefits moving forward.

Nine Perfect Strangers
By Liane Moriarty

This one really didn’t land for me. The start is extremely slow because there are so many characters to introduce and you’re halfway through the book before anything really happens. The middle section of the book has some interesting plot and character development that slightly redeems it, but the main plot just ends like the author didn’t feel like coming up with an ending. I thought the book would be over at that point, but there were still 30 pages of followup on the characters that didn’t relate to anything else in the story.

On Writing Well
By William Zinsser

This is a good introduction to the craft of writing non-fiction. There’s a lot of good advice on language use in general and Zinsser’s writing style is very entertaining. There are a few chapters specific to different types of writing that didn’t apply to me, but were still worth reading.

Orconomics
By J. Zachary Pike

Orconomics is a fantasy satire set in a DnD type world, where a whole economy popped up surrounding adventurers fighting monsters and bringing back loot. It’s a funny criticism of big business and racist structures in society. It wasn’t as good as I’d hoped from the description and comments I’d seen on Reddit, but I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to reading the second book of the trilogy.

Paper Towns
By John Green

I decided to read more of John Green’s books after loving The Fault in Our Stars. I read this in one sitting in a few hours and enjoyed it. The story is entertaining and I spent a decent amount of the book chuckling at how dumb teenagers can be. Green says the book is a deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girl trope but I don’t feel like it actually achieves that. It’s certainly not an egregious example of the trope because the girl in question has some depth, but the narrator has the personality of a paper bag, which really doesn’t help the author’s case. I still think it was worth reading, but it’s not great.

Racing to the Finish
By Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Ryan McGee

Former NASCAR driver turned commentator Dale Earnhard Jr. tells the story of the end of his driving career with a focus on his experience with concussions. He explains the crashes that caused the concussions, the symptoms he experienced, and his recovery with Dr. Micky Collins and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. The level of detail is incredible, including daily notes he took on what he did and what symptoms he felt. This was a fascinating read and I think would appeal to a much broader audience than just NASCAR fans.

Shock Wave
By Clive Cussler

Another installment of the many adventures of nautical Indiana Jones. This was a fun one. It’s also the second of Cussler’s books centered around how awful the diamond industry is, so I’m getting the impression this guy really didn’t like diamonds. This one did stand out a bit from the rest of Cussler’s books in that there’s some interesting character stuff with the protagonist that makes him seem a little more human than normal.

Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity
By Charles Duhigg

I picked this up because I had wanted to read something about productivity and my library hold on another book hadn’t come up yet. The book is a series of stories about people and organizations who are exceptionally productive. The first few chapters dealt with psychological safety in the workplace, which was pretty interesting, but the later chapters didn’t seem to have much to do with the earlier ones and I didn’t find the stories as compelling. I wouldn’t recommend this one.

The $100 Startup
By Chris Guillebeau

I think I’ve read this before, but I’ve had business on the mind recently so I decided to go through it again. The main point of the book is starting a business doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s some practical advice for finding ideas that can make money and getting them started without much initial investment. Most of the book is spent on examples of people who have built successful businesses this way which are interesting to read even if I won’t put any of it into practice.

The 12 Week Year
By Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington

This book sounded promising. The basic premise is increasing productivity by reframing a year as 12 weeks. Setting goals in a yearlong span can make it too easy to think you have so much time and you end up with a strong push at the end of the year to meet goals. A shorter timeframe for gives you that deadline to push for and helps you set goals and timing in shorter, more manageable groups. Then they go on to talk about the usual things in productivity: having a vision, measuring progress, and relying on discipline instead of motivation.

I haven’t DNF’d a book in a very long time but I had to here. The writing style was too “self-help” for my taste and there was too much telling the reader how great and groundbreaking this method is without any evidence of actual success. I gave up about halfway through.

The City of Dusk
By Tara Sim

The City of Dusk is the first book in a fantasy trilogy with an interesting combination of magic systems and good characters. In a world where four houses of the descendents of four gods are vying for the favor of an heirless king, the heirs of each house are trying to save their dying world. I really enjoyed this one, although some parts of the writing were frustrating, namely some cursing just for the sake of cursing. I’m looking forward to the second book of the trilogy coming out in August.

The Crimson Vault
By Will Wight

The Crimson Vault continues the trilogy from House of Blades. There’s an immediately noticeable improvement in the writing from the first book, which pulled me into the world. The story continues directly from the events of the first book and sets up a much larger struggle than the characters initially realized they were involved in. It’s ambiguous who’s in the right in this conflict, which I enjoyed. The characters improve a ton from the first book, which made it much easier to root for them. I found the pacing of the book odd, because there were spots in the middle of the story that felt like they could be the end of the book. I almost think it would’ve been better if most of the content of the first book was condensed into this one and the cutoffs for the three books were in different places.

The Fault in Our Stars
By John Green

Despite being in middle and high school when most of John Green’s books came out, I’ve never read any of them. After seeing how interesting he is as a person on social media, I wanted to try his writing out so I started with The Fault in Our Stars.

This book hurts. It’s about kids with cancer, so you know it’s going to hurt going in, but it still hurts. It’s vaguely philosophical, but in the kind of outlandish way teenagers think. The story is a beautiful attempt to distill the experience of being in love into a few months of extremely difficult life experience. Reading this is painful, but it’s a good kind of pain.

The Hero of Ages
By Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages is the final book in Mistborn Era 1 and I really enjoyed it. I read the first two books in 2020 and 2021, but never finished the triology. The ending was fantastically written and wrapped the series very well. I missed a ton of foreshadowing, even in the first two books.

The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

The Road is a post-apocalyptic story of a father and son travelling in search of a safer place to live. It details their experience along the road through a series of vignettes. The writing style is interesting and difficult to get into. There are no chapter breaks, no quotation marks, and very few dialogue tags, making it somewhat difficult to follow. Once I got used to the style though, his descriptions are incredible. McCarthy is able to impart visceral reactions to the world the characters find themselves living in. There’s a lot to think about in this book, but I was somewhat frustrated with the end. Without spoilers, I’ll say there is a decent chunk of foreshadowing that isn’t satisfied in my opinion. This book is very different from what I normally read, but I liked it.

The Way of Kings
By Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings is the first book in the Stormlight Archive. Knowing it’s the first book in a long series, I was ok with it starting pretty slow. Overall, I enjoyed it but I think it meandered a bit too much and it wasn’t very clear where it was going. It could’ve been shorter. I enjoyed the world and characters and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Warbreaker
By Brandon Sanderson

A princess is sent to an enemy kingdom to marry their king in order to fulfill a decades old treaty. She and others are working to prevent a war between the two nations that many consider inevitable. This one was very enjoyable. The magic system was a bit confusing at first, but I ended up enjoying it, and the plot and characters were really interesting.

Writing an Interpreter in Go
By Thorsten Ball

I bought this in early 2022 after I started a new job working in Go becaues I wanted to read something to try to learn more about writing Go, but didn’t reach much of it until now. I think the book is great. The author implements an interpreter for a programming language from scratch and does a good job of explaining basics of how programming languages work. Each part of the code is tested, which helped me think more about effective unit testing. I hadn’t thought much about programming languages in a while, so I learned a lot. I might have to pick up the second book, which implements a compiler for the same language.

You Deserve a Tech Union
By Ethan Marcotte

Full review as as standalone post.

2022

Bringing Nature Home
By Douglas W. Tallamy

It’s difficult to understate how large of an effect this book had on me. It completely changed the way I look at nature, suburban development, and gardening. I’ll post a full review of this one at some point.

Clutter: An Untidy History
By Jennifer Howard

Clutter is a history of cluttered houses spawned by the author’s experience cleaning out her mother’s house. It goes through the beginnings of a societal attachment to stuff, present-day obsession with decluttering and organization, and the environmental impacts of constant consumption. It was pretty good, but I found it somewhat repetitive and not as engaging as I had hoped.

Corsair
By Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul

This book combines Cussler’s usual nautical theme with modern geopolitics and counterterrorism. It’s interesting how he mixes fictional leaders with fictionalizations of real-life leaders. Descriptions of some of the fictional events in Libya prompted me to read more about real events. I enjoy all of Cussler’s books, but this one seemed better than most.

Designing Your Life
By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Two Stanford design professors present a book version of a popular elective class about applying design principles to planning your life and executing that plan. The idea boils down to improving your life by monitoring what things are positive in your life, thinking broadly about possibilities to get you those things, prototyping those plans in a low-stakes manner, and continual progress. The authors present exercises in each chapter to help you execute this process. It was a really interesting read and I think the mindset is helpful even though I doubt I’ll do any of the exercises.

Golden Buddha
By Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo

The first of the Oregon Files series has every bit of ridiculous action I’d come to expect from reading some of the later installments. I found some of the mystery difficult to follow, but it was overall a good read.

I'm Glad My Mom Died
By Jeanette McCurdy

Jeanette McCurdy’s memior is an excellent and horrifying look at her life with an abusive mother who forced her into acting and supporting their family. It’s really interesting and she narrated the audiobook herself, which I always enjoy.

Pass Your Amateur Radio General Class Test
By Craig Buck

All the questions for the license exams for FCC amateur radio licenses are public, which makes studying for the tests fairly simple. You can try to learn the information thoroughly or just memorize the answers. Craig’s study guide books take an interesting approach. He says to avoid reading the questions and answers together because there are three wrong answers for every right one. Instead, he goes through descriptions of the concepts using wording similar to the questions and bolds sentences that are an answer to a question. This was a great start since it helped familiarize me with the wording of the correct answers as I was learning.

Raise the Titanic!
By Clive Cussler

The only known source of an ultra-rare mineral needed for an ambitious military project is found to have gone down with the Titanic, prompting a search for the wreckage and a massive effort to raise the ship from the sea floor. This book was pretty interesting, although I kept having to remind myself that it was published before the wreck was discovered so many of the details are guesses that didn’t line up with the eventual discovery. The ending didn’t live up to what I expected from the rest of the book.

The Man Who Died Twice
By Richard Osman

The sequel to The Thursday Murder Club has the same group of characters in another interesting mystery. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first one, but it was still good.

The Mediterranean Caper
By Clive Cussler

When I started this one, it seemed a lot different than most of Clive Cussler’s work that I’d read before. I realized this came from a few things: it was the first of his books I’d read that didn’t have a co-author and it was the first book he published. I don’t remember the famous Dirk Pitt being as much of a self-absorbed chauvinist as he appears in this one, but maybe the character was refined over time or his behavior was more acceptable in 1973.

The Thursday Murder Club
By Richard Osman

This book is a fun murder mystery set in a retirement community in England. Told through the perspective of a group of the community residents, Osman perfectly captures the way I’d expect English retirees to talk and act.

Thinking in Bets
By Annie Duke

A professional poker player explains common traps people fall into when making decisions and how thinking of uncertainty and decision making as a betting process can help people make better decisions. I love poker, so this was a great setting for me, but the poker analogies are general enough to be approachable if poker isn’t your thing.

This is How They Tell Me the World Ends
By Nicole Perlroth

Full review as a standalone post

2021

The Well of Ascension
By Brandon Sanderson

2020

Mistborn: The Final Empire
By Brandon Sanderson