Dec 26, 2015

A Year of Reading In Review

According to Goodreads, I finished reading 41 books for a total of 15,048 pages.  When you add in tweets, news articles, emails and chat logs, 2015 marks the year that I have read the most, in sheer volume.

I graphed a quick histogram of publication dates for the books that I read.  About half were from 2014. There's a nice curve off into the past of obsolescence.

I included all books that I read some portion of in the past 12 months.  Unfinished books were not counted in the page total above.  Below I've listed the books and given a short opinion synopsis. They're loosely ordered by time of year read. I've given them a rating based on how much I enjoyed the book.

Spring (January to April)

Georgia O'Keefe: Art and Letters, Jack Cowart 1990

The artwork in this book is astounding.  I bought this book knowing little to nothing about Georgia O'Keefe and walked away completely floored.  She was far far far ahead of her time.  I learned so much about this brilliant artist just thru close perusal of the printed works in this tome. I haven't had the heart to finish the letters -- I'm afraid of what I'll find.  Maybe I'll get to it before the year is done though, as a nice bookend.


Gone Girl, (audio book) Gillian Flynn 2014

I was enthralled from the get go, did not see the ending coming. Holy shit this is a good book.


How to Talk so Children Will Listen and Listen so Children Will Talk, Adele Farber & Elaine Mazlish 1999

Another contender for best book of the year.  This book lays out patterns for interacting with your kids, walking through the usual way of responding to children and outlining some ways to really bring your relationship forward, to help raise independent, self aware children.  I don't have children, but this book is a gold mine for helping with any kind of relationship that's based on communication.  It's so good I'm reading it again.


Embedded Android, Karim Yaghmour 2013

In depth look at the AOSP, with an eye toward building your own ROM. A good introduction to the code base and some common modifications. Although outdated, likely the most comprehensive book on the topic.


Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman 2004

Fanciful set of short stories that are supposedly dreams Einstein had. I don't really remember it much, so I'm rating it low for being unmemorable.


The Americans, Robert Frank 1958

Photojournal of mid-America in the 50's with a foreword by Jack Kerouac.  Good, but in an age of Instagram, seems par for the course


The Code Book, Simon Singh 1999

A history of encryption. Must read for these modern times. It put a lot of today's encryption news into a broader, historical context.


Norwegian Wood, Murakami 2000

Fictional story of loss, love and coming of age in Japan. Good, deep and real. Heartbreakingly sad too.


Linux Device Drivers 3rd Edition, Jonathan Corbet 2005

Wow this book taught me so many things about kerneks, locks, multi threaded constructs and strategies, debugging, proc files, what a device driver is, etc. I haven't actually done much with this knowledge but it makes me feel a hundred times smarter than before I read it. And I wish I knew more C. The 3rd edition was a bit out of date, I'd recommend getting the newly published 4th edition. May be free online?


Outsiders, Howard Becker 1963

A sociological treatise on the social mechanisms of 'deviance', this book is much dated. The terms and constructs that Becker investigates are no longer much relevant to our day and age, however his theory of labeling holds up alright, if not totally relevant to today's gender politics.


Art Worlds, Howard Becker 1982

A sociologist's deconstruction of the Art World of the 80's. It was groundbreaking at its time for considering all actors in the world, up to and including the parking attendants at the opera. I found the scope too broad, however, in that the book at times lacked a clear purpose. Overall, a decent survey of art world mechanics in the 80's. The Epilogue, however, was totally fascinating. It's an interview (2008?) between Becker and Alain Pessin detailing the differences between Becker and Bourdieu's philosophy of sociological divisions. A+


What About Mozart? What About Murder?, Howard Becker 2014

Becker writes a manual detailing his process for distilling sociologically interesting phenomena. It's a fascinating overview of his life's work and gives a window into the origination of the insights that drove some of his most well known works.


Paws to Consider: Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family, Sarah Wilson & Brian Kilcommons 1999

An overview of different breeds and their characteristics.  It does a good job of breaking down dog breeds by living situation.


Summer (May to August)

The Boy Kings, Kate Losse 2012

First person account of the first few years of Facebook. Brilliant, insightful and damning. Losse's account makes one take a hard look at the motivations behind Facebook and our relationship to it.


Watchmen, Alan Moore 1987

Entertaining, highly dated graphic novel about a band of amateur super heroes.


The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera 1981

One of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors of all time. I was afraid it would have aged in the 5 years since I last read it, but nope - it was as delightful as ever.


The Option of Urbanism, Christopher B. Leinberger 2007

An argument for the Urbanism that Jane Jacobs espouses in Death & Life, but repackaged in terms that real estate developers may find more palatable. A few interesting stats on current trends in urban development and reasons why it's difficult to build new kinds of housing (spoiler: money).


The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro 1974

In this masterpiece of a biography, Caro deeply investigates the origins, actions, and motivations of New York's most powerful man: Robert Moses. The portrait Caro paints explains much of the political climate that was (and probably still is) NYC during the majority of the 20th century. A must read for anyone interested in the politics of urban spaces, New York City power mechanics, or successful project management.


Gomorrah, Roberto Saviano 2006

Saviano uses his hometown connections to infiltrate and then lay bare the practices, guess, and business acumen of Sicily's gangster families. It's an unsettling book in it's veracity and the implications for global capitalism. Also, I now wonder who runs trash collection in my own city. The publication of this book got its author placed under police protection. He's still under protection.  As interesting as it is, it was a difficult read, both because the cast of characters was large and the quality of writing (or translation?)/was less than clear.


Rick Steves' Italy 2015, Rick Steves 2014
Rick Steves' Croatia & Slovenia, Rick Steves 2014

I used these for a two week trip in Europe this summer. Really useful but became old hat really quickly. Or maybe all tourist places are the same...? I wouldn't not recommend them, but I found I much prefer reading novels / memoirs based in the place I'm visiting than guidebooks. The maps were invaluable, however.


By Blood, Ellen Ulan 2012

Novel written from the perspective of a meddling peeping Tom, and his unintended spying on a neighboring psychologist and her patient. The plot gets increasingly erratic, and plunges in a variety of ways. It felt a bit like the TV series Lost - lots of intrigue but not neatly tied up or given any amount of weight.


The Bug, Ellen Ullman 2013

The premise for this book really hit home, but the execution of it wasn't the home run I wanted it to be. It's the story of a man, a software bug, and his descent into madness behind it.


Orientalism, Edward Said 1978

This book takes a critical eye to the West's attitudes and portrayal of the 'Orient', both in classical works, state treaties, and academic organization. A great and bold book. The style was a bit more academic than I'm used to, which is to say I struggled to stay engaged with the text. I did find a number of editing errors though, which I wrote in to the editor about, which makes me wonder if I'm not the first to have the same trouble. ;)


Yes Please, Amy Poehler 2014: 7/10
H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald 2014: 6/10

Two books for today: H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald and Yes Please by one Amy Poehler.  I've been wanting to read H for months and was beyond thrilled when the Heathrow airport had it on the shelf.  Amy Poehler's book was a chance encounter -- and at "buy one get one half off" hard to pass up.

Amy's book was delightful, though quite par for the course in the self-deprecating, life-celebratory memoir category.  Definitely worthwhile.

The Hawk book, also a memoir, was far more ascetic and personalized.  Well written, with a clear story arc than Poehler's, but lacking some of the jolting wit.  They're not fair comparisons, but it's hard to keep from making what with their temporal proximity and categorical similarity.  The images in hawk are so vivid that it's not a book I feel I'll read again -- the mental portrait I have of the author and her hawk have been indelibly inscribed on my memory.

Fall (Sept to Dec)

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Peter Van Buren 2011

First person account of the bureaucratic limbo that the Iraq reconstruction project was. Read The Economy of Cities and then read this and weep at the ineptitude of our hegemonic aspirations.


Once Upon a Time in the North, Phillip Pullman 2008

Lovely short book on the origin story of His Dark Materials' Lee Scoresby.


Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, 2012-2015

The elaborate, encompassing life story of Elena and Lila, childhood friends, and the mafia run neighborhood they grew up in. So well written as to be criminal. Deep, well-crafted, insightful in the way only great literature can be. I loved the ending. I loved the beginning. The characters were real, their relationships vivid, and unrelentingly human.


Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin 2015

Great first hand account of one woman's transformation and infiltration of the clans of motherhood that live in New York City's Upper East Side. Very much a city book, in that the audience for this is mostly city dwellers.


In Cold Blood, Truman Capote 1965

Fast paced in-depth report of a cold blooded killing in western Kansas. A+


Don't Shoot the Dog!, Karen Pryor 2006

Fabulous, insightful book explaining the nuts and bolts of training anything. Best dog training book I've read so far. It gave me the courage to clicker train my puppy and a framework for teaching her commands. The stories and anecdotes from Karen's decades of training experience are A+.


The Emporer of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee 2010

Another great historical book, this time telling the story of cancer, both medically and politically. I learned a lot about chemotherapy and the history of cancer treatments. I feel much more capable of talking to and about cancer treatment and survivors experiences now. Sadly, probably a must read for our day and age.


The Other End of the Leash, Patricia B McConnell 2002

Purporting to be a manual to interspecies communication woes, it's more of a memoir. There's a few nuggets of wisdom buried within but it didn't live up to my expectations.


Nickle and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich 2002

A journalist spends 3 months working a variety of minimum wage jobs and writes about them. Groundbreaking when it was published, now a fairly common theme it seems.


The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs 1969

Out of everything I read this year, this book takes the prize for most original thinking. Full of fascinating mental exercises and compelling argument, it lays down the foundation for an entirely new way of thinking about economies. This book introduces Jacob's theory of economic expansion, inlmport replacement, a theory which Jacobs herself marks as her most revolutionary. Fascinating, eye opening, and *compelling*, if I could only recommend one book, this would be it.


Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs 2004

Last book written by Jacobs before her death. It's a warning for all the ways our society and economy are showing signs of decay. Insightful, but not as cohesive as her other works.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot 2011

This is the story of medical miracle, and erasure. It deeply questions the ethics of the tissue market and the rights of patients to their own cells. Skloot does some remarkable storytelling and journalism, though her journey into the lives of the existing Lacks felt at times too personal.


90% of Everything, Rose George 2013

This was good companion reading for the 2nd season of The Wire. In depth, first person narrative opace container shipping industry. Good, quick read told in a journalist's style. The narrative was well constructed. I learned a lot about ships.


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers 2001

The autobiographical work of the few years following his parents' early demise and early 20's in SF. This book is a fluid, compelling piece of self-conscious, self-absorbed emotive word flinging. I got into it tho, so props to Mr. Eggers. I got out as fast as I could as well. It's a smart book, but too smart for it's own good. The self-referentiality and self-loathing is over done, ruins what could have been a great personal narrative, a memoir if you will, if it hadn't gotten lost in the marrow of itself (Mr. Eggers' marrow, specifically) along the way.

More than anything, the entire exercise felt tired, unenlightened and fell flat. Perhaps the shitty lives of privileged people are increasingly uninteresting to me. Perhaps I'm just over hyper-masculine word shitting that gets packaged and sold as Genius. Perhaps I'm just over 'literature'.

This is not the last book that I will read this year, but it is the last book of 'literature' on my list. It may very well be the last book of 'literature' that I read for a good, long while.


Works in Progress, more or less:

The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, G.-B. Duchenne de Boulonge 1862/1990

A marvelous, pioneering book documenting the map of human facial muscles, with loads of photos from real live human subjects. I haven't finished it yet, but the existence of this sort of a work for so many years really makes me wonder what else has been relegated to the pre-digital past.


The Reasoned Schemer, Daniel P. Friedman, William E. Byrd, & Oleg Kiselyov 2005

Workbook that derives logic based programming constructs from a functional foundation. With cute food analogies to boot! I haven't finished it yet, but the first 6 chapters have already proven useful.


Alone Together, Sherry Turkle 2011

I haven't finished this, I'm merely at the introduction, but already a fascinating look at how we are shaped by technology, especially young people. The writing style it a bit cloying though - I'm not sure how far I'm going to make it. This is the last in a trilogy.


The Wikileaks Files: the World According to US Empire, Assorted 2015

I had much hope for this book, but was sorely disappointed by the quality of writing and lack of coherency in its arguments. (I haven't made it thru Part I yet). Interesting premise of attempting to synthesize and draw conclusions from the WikiLeak cables, and I dare say I learned a thing or too, but it's much hard work to read, more than it needs to be, really


The Food Lab, J. Kenji Lopez 2015

A friend of mine called this book the Joy of Cooking for Millennials. With a sharp eye to detail and chock full of data and *science*, she may not be much wrong. Well written, though at times the organization of recipes and flow between feels disjointed. Maybe it's not meant to be read cover to cover? Also not nearly as comprehensive in the breadth of recipes as Joy. There is a lot to learn here though. The originality of the recipes Kenji does provide are more than enough to keep a cook busy for a long while.


*subject to change

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