What follows is stuff I’ve been reading lately, in somewhat modified reverse-chronological order:
December 2017/January 2018:
- (Listening now) Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) – Yes, I am attempting to “read” a 32-hour-long audiobook. Faulkner called this the best novel ever written. Thus far, I can attest that it is absorbing.
- Moby Dick (Herman Melville) – This was my first attempt at doing the audiobook thing. I have vanishingly little time for leisure reading, but find that following along with an audiobook more easily fits my lifestyle. Moby Dick was remarkable, and probably even easier to consume in audiobook format than in text, due to the somewhat antiquated language. Melville famously wanders off into these long essays on the “whale fishery” that a 21-st century audience knows to be full of errors, but I found them fascinating. A classic like this requires some amount of “explainer” reading to support it, I found, but I really enjoyed delving into the classic story.
- New York 2140 (Kim Stanley Robinson) – KSR is one of the best sci-fi writers out there, and I draw a lot of inspiration from his example. This is his take on the emerging genre of climate change speculative fiction, in which sea levels have risen 50 feet and most of NYC is flooded. Fascinating so far.
- Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse Book 1) (James Corey) – The first book in The Expanse series was recommended by some friends, and – wow. The writing itself is not superlative but the story is terrific, and I found myself picking this up over and over again over the last few (very busy) months. There are seven books in this series, and I honestly don’t know if I have the stamina/attention span to make it through all of them, but #1 was outstanding. (This book is not super long, and I blame her for it taking me over two months to finish.)
- The Circle (Dave Eggers) – We get it, Dave – you don’t like Facebook. Actually, for all the eye-rolls this book got in tech circles, I found it pretty decent, if not up to par with his past books like “Staggering Genius” or “What is the What.” There are some thoughtful parts in this book about how internet and socially-mediated interactions change us as people and how we see ourselves, and I found that valuable. (It inspired a blog post of my own that I’m still brewing.) But it placed that discussion in a fairly Black Mirror-ish setting that took away from the main point.
- Remote: Office Not Required (Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson) – I’ve long been a strong advocate of remote working. I worked remotely for nearly five years and experienced both of the good and bad parts. Fried and Hansson are both co-founders of Basecamp (nee 37signals), one of the best and most-admired software companies around, which works on a totally distributed model. “Remote” lays out a case for why remote working is a smart move for both companies and employees, and describes how firms create a remote working culture. I intend to blog on this topic eventually, because I think it’s really important, but suffice to say that I think this represents a big future for “work,” and that most existing firms today are probably incapable of adapting to it.
- Perennial Seller (Ryan Holiday) – Since I finished The Second Transit, I’ve been trying to learn more about the creative process and how successful creators do their best work. Holiday has sort of that “marketing guru” brand, but I actually found his book interesting and worthwhile. It has less to do with the creative process itself than it does marketing one’s work, which I was reminded was really a critical part of that very process. One of Holiday’s messages that resonated with me is the importance of doing the work, and taking the time and care to do it well; and when you’re finished, to start on the next thing. A body of work > a solitary act of genius.
- Going After Cacciato (Tim O’Brien) – Another in my “read more fiction” jag, I was reminded of this classic on a long backpacking trip with some buddies. O’Brien is better known for “The Things They Carried,” which is also extraordinary book about the Vietnam War. “Cacciato” explores themes of obligation versus choice, freedom and the meaning of courage. It’s a fun read, but also a deeply introspective one that once made a teenage Blair think deeply about the things we owe to others versus to ourselves. It still hit the mark today.
- Hit Makers (Derek Thompson) – Derek writes great stuff at The Atlantic and his topic here – the science of “virality” and how things become popular – interests me. He pretty well debunks the concept of stuff going “viral” in this book and shows how content creators rely on curated audiences by “dark broadcasters” to reach new consumers. He also discusses the content-specific factors that lead to that earworm-y quality that certain pieces of media gain.
- It (Stephen King) – I’ve been trying to read more fiction lately, and I am totally not above the pulp variety. What else do you say about It? It’s a classic. I had seen the movie (which they’re redoing!), but had never read the book until now. It’s pretty twisted, and demonstrates why King is a master.
- Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy) – this was a challenging read at times, thrilling in others. McCarthy is one of those authors whose command of the language is grand, and deep, and evocative, in a way that occasionally made me think of Marquez (who, of course, I’ve only read in English). This is a really violent book. Blood Meridian is famously popular among men, perhaps for this reason, and probably also because it colors ultra-violence in the setting of stubborn male survivalism. As a amateur/wannabe writer, McCarthy is an inspiration.
- The Complacent Class (Tyler Cowen) – I immediately went out and bought my father-in-law a copy of this book after finishing it. Cowen has something of a trilogy going on in his lamentations on the Great Slowdown of American politics, economy and society at large. This book basically lays out the case that America (mostly in the era of Baby Boomer dominance) has become so risk-averse that our country’s supposed and vaunted dynamism and drive have become eclipsed by settling for comfort. Technology aids this process by allowing us to self-curate our own media bubbles like never before (news, music, TV and more), such that we are rarely disturbed by encounters with anything new or unfamiliar. After some reflection, I am somewhat more sanguine about our situation than Cowen, but broadly agree with him in fundamental ways.