- Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. A family is shattered by a school fire, and the critically injured mother battles to protect her kids and uncover the truth around the events. Great story about the relationship between a woman and her family, tested by extreme events. The voice used in the story is a little confusing at times — I read the Kindle version, I wonder if the printed version used typography to better set apart the actions and thoughts of various characters.
- Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin. Great detective tale featuring an abrasive self-destructive sleuth. I should read more in the series.
- The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi. Another great detective character and story. In both this tale and the Rankin, the leads care about justice and to hell with the rules. But they go about it totally different ways. The Rankin character is a blunt rusty knife, the Zouroudi character is a judo master. Fun stuff.
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Fascinating but challenging read about life in the Mumbai slums. Challenging because the lives depicted are so brutal, the culture so corrupt. I’m left wrung out, and having no idea how to do anything about.
- The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham. Well written and pretty crisp, a nice coverage of what the phrase “the rule of law” means, its history, and implications for today. Worthwhile.
- Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. Eh. Teenage boys can be creeps, I don’t need a whole novel pointing this out over and over and over again.
- Ghostman by Roger Hobbs. Excellent thriller about a world-class thief trying to thread the needle between rival criminal organizations and law enforcement. Great character. I’d read more featuring.
- Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. I don’t read many popular business books, they are all so repetitive and derivative. This book wasn’t terrible — the authors aren’t trying to sell you on their thesis, but are giving you a compendium of tools for thinking about business models
- The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. Excellent story about a young ethnic Chinese woman in Malaya during and after WWII. The intertwining of many cultures, the horrific treatment of groups by the rulers of the moment, and how everyone coped and survived. A window into a part of the world and its history of which I have been largely ignorant.
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Two teenage cancer sufferers find love amidst their tragedy. Not an easy read but will grab you. Apparently under production as a movie.
- Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry. Eh. Super tough government agent violently unravels a conspiracy involving aliens. Not very original.
- The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham. High quality fantasy. Not quite as bold as Game of Thrones but pretty darn good with compelling characters and a bit lighter tone than Game of Thrones.
- The Double Game by Dan Fespeman. Held my attention but the motivations of main character seemed like nonsense.
- Alys, Always by Harriet Lane. A young woman witnesses a tragic accident and is then drawn into the family of the victim. Or insinuates herself into the family. I thought the tale was a little underdeveloped as either a suspense novel or as a character study, so just ok.
- Dhalgren by Samuel Delany. I read this years ago on my first sweep through the SF canon. I was probably too young and didn’t understand it. Now I am older and I still am at sea, it is just weird shit. I am just too linear I think. Or too linear at this moment in my life.
- Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus. Purportedly one of Germany’s most popular mystery writers — but I suspect Germans have better taste than this. Stilted dialogue, choppy language — a product of bad translation? Whatever, I gave up 40% of the way in. Blech.
- The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman. Strong reviews, but just seems kind of pointless. The lives of wastrels in the mid1900s, as they bounce around but never quite engage with the events of the day. If the message is “most of us will live pointless lives and leave no footprint on the world”, well, ok. But who needs to read this?
- Fade to Black by Francis Knight. Blade runner-inspired fantasy set in a noirish city, with of course plots and corruption mixed in. Solid.
On the heels of “B&N’s rumored step back from the Nook”:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/business/media/barnes-noble-weighs-its-nook-losses.html, I bet he is “more forlorn than ever”:http://theludwigs.com/2010/04/the-nook-dude-at-the-barnesnobles-looked-forlorn-today/.
This was an easy one to predict. Competing in consumer hardware against Apple (and Samsung), and with an undifferentiated product relative to the Kindle? The Nook was born with 2.5 strikes against it. Maybe there were ways that B&N could have succeeded — a device that made the retail experience better? That authors or publishers liked better than alternatives? — but competing head-to-head on hardware specs was doomed from the get-go. A lot of shareholder money wasted in direct spend on the Nook, and in opportunity cost as B&N chased this pipe dream and failed to innovate in their core business.
It will still be interesting to watch AMZN in this market. They will not be able to compete with Apple, Samsung on mainstream tablets. But they don’t necessarily need to, they can still be the best online retailer without making their own devices.
* “A Memory Of Light”:amazon by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. This series finally comes to end, about 6 books too late. Good to get to closure on the tale but I can’t recommend starting the series. The first 3-4 books were excellent but then the series meandered far too long.
* “Storm Prey”:amazon by John Sandford. A fine detective tale — a team commits a robbery at a hospital pharmacy and then have a falling out, with deaths resulting everywhere. No new ground broken here but a fun ride. An aside — I only picked this book up because it was on the “2 for $8″ hardback table at the local B&N. The only B&N purchase I’ve made in like 6 months, and I am their core market. There is no path to recovery for B&N.
* “Explosive Eighteen”:amazon by Janet Evanovich. My other $4 hardback. It is probably a mistake to pick up the 18th book in a series — my guess is that the high point of the series was probably back somewhere around book 4 or 5. Still, a lot of people must like these books since there are now 18. I thought it was trite, formulaic. Felt like the author spent a single afternoon writing it. I’m glad I spent only $4.
* “O Jerusalem”:amazon by Laurie R. King. I’ve only read a few of King’s Mary Russell series, they have all been very very good, as is this one. Wish I’d read another of these instead of the Evanovich.
* “A Manuscript of Ashes”:amazon by Antonio Munoz Molina. Tried to go highbrow but, well, boring.
* “Going Clear”:amazon by Lawrence Wright. A tough look at Scientology. The author does a nice job of letting the evidence speak for itself. If even a fraction of the accounts of abuse are true, the church has some serious issues to face. The public figures who are adherents probably should step up and make sure their church practices are reformed.
* “The Big Truck That Went By”:amazon by Jonathan M. Katz. Recent history of Haiti and recovery efforts after the devastating earthquake there. Much damning evidence about the effectiveness of charities, about the US’s role, about the UN’s role. The author makes a compelling case that we should give much more aid directly to Haitian institutions and much less to outside institutions (including any US government or UN institution). Sobering.
I am pushing myself a little this month.
* “Real World Haskell”:amazon by O’Sullivan, Goerzen, Stewart. Functional languages have always seemed like a research toy to me. But some of the smartest guys I know are using the concepts at least in commercial products, and “this post from John Carmack last year”:http://www.altdevblogaday.com/2012/04/26/functional-programming-in-c/ has stuck with me. So I pretty randomly grabbed this book, I could have just as well grabbed a book on Clojure or Erlang. Makes my head hurt but that is probably a good sign. UPDATE: well, Haskell is interesting, but we really need a functional language with great readability. Some of the decisions the Haskell designers made create nearly unreadable code; maintenance seems like it would be a disaster.
* “Vaccines”:amazon by Plotkin and Orenstein.This one is a total brain buster for me. But I am trying to get smarter about one of our portfolio companies, “Paxvax”:http://paxvax.com, and they tell me this is the text. I am pretty much lost three chapters in. Again probably a good sign.
* “The Machinery of Life”:amazon by David Goodsell. I have a reasonable understanding of atoms and electrons and electron-based chemistry, particularly for semiconductor materials. I have never really understood biochemistry — protein chemistry, DNA, etc. I love this book because it builds up from atoms to proteins and other biochem molecules, and has tons of great pictures. It does gloss over some steps and I’d love understand the electronics of protein folding, transcription, and other processes, but still this is a great book. Buy the physical edition, the pictures are absolutely critical.
* “The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date”:amazon by Samuel Arbesman. An engaging discussion about the rate of change in the things we think we know. Not prescriptive, but an important paradigm to keep in mind.
* “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything”:amazon by Joshua Foer. I found this book to be unbelievable and strangely depressing. I don’t doubt that these extreme memory techniques work or that these memory athletes exist. But the characters seemed almost farcical, and the use to which they put their memories seem such a waste. I gave up on the book, I wouldn’t be shocked to find out some parts of it were exaggerated.
* “Black List”:amazon by Brad Thor. Eh. A treasonous cabal plans an apocalyptic cyber-attack on the US. Pretty standard suspense tale, some interesting characters left completely undeveloped, pretty standard plotting.
* “The Quantum Thief”:amazon by Hannu Rajamiemi. Very nice tale of distant future with terribly advanced nano/cyber systems. Difficult to tell where humanity leaves off and technology begins.
* “Stone Arabia”:amazon by Dana Spiotta. Odd tale of a grown woman and her brother struggling with mortality, relevance, and their own identities. Can’t say I loved it but there was some draw.
and some nonfiction:
* “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder”:amazon by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black Swan was better structured, but this is an interesting follow-on and has kept the material fresh. If you haven’t read one of Taleb’s books, you must. You may not buy it all but it is a very valuable point of view.
A handful of airplane reads:
* “Up Against It”:amazon by M. J. Locke. YA SF, set in the asteroid belt. Nice technical treatment of asteroid belt life and some interesting political plotting, but tissue paper thin characters for the most part.
* “Red Hook Road”:amazon by Ayelet Waldman. In a Maine coastal town, a wedding day turns to tragedy, and the families involved wrestle with that tragedy through the years. For a book that features a horrific tragedy in the first chapter, I found it a little hard to engage, but eventually a couple of the characters hooked me.
* “A Very Simple Crime”:amazon by Grant Jerkins. Very quick tale of murder, and since damn near every character is a psychopath or insane or otherwise deeply disturbed, it is hard to sort out who is really guilty.
* “Spiral”:amazon by Paul McEuen. Teeny robot drones combined with fungal-based bioweapons! Some fun concepts but the story devolves into the classic madman-taking-over-the-world pattern. Not bad but pretty forgetful.
* “Swordspoint”:amazon by Ellen Kushner. An evocative fantasy about a master swordsman and assassin. Nice language but the story itself kind of bored me and I gave up.
* “Before I Go To Sleep”:amazon by S. J. Watson. An amnesiac struggles to regain her memories and her life, and slowly realizes that those closest to her may have been using her amnesia for their own ends. Very compelling mystery tale.
And then some meatier choices:
* “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution”:amazon by Chris Anderson. Very nice quick walk through of the maker revolution — personalities, tools, markets, business models, applications, etc. Enjoyable tho at times a bit overstated.
* “Hellhound On His Trail”:amazon by Hampton Sides. The story of last days of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the chase after his assassin. Very good telling of a piece of critical American history. Despite having lived during the time, and having been in DC during some of the riots, my knowledge of the details of the event (and the emotional impact it had on the nation) was very slim.
* “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand”:amazon by Helen Simonson. An aging British major finds love unexpectedly across race and class boundaries. Awkwardness, tragedy, loss, redemption all ensue. An excellent tale.
* “The Blade Itself: The First Law: Book One”:amazon by Joe Abercrombie, and the two following books in the series. Does a great job of creating empathy for an unloveable set of main characters — a torturer, a foppish young swordfighter, two savage killers, an amoral wizard, a drunkard.
* “Gone Girl”:amazon by Gillian Flynn. Twisty and fun tale about a missing woman and her husband, the leading suspect. Lots of twists and turns.
* “The Art of Racing in the Rain”:amazon by Garth Stein. A story featuring a dying dog dying, a dying spouse, and a terrible custody battle is going to be a downer. But a couple of really interesting characters and some redemption at the end manage to lighten the tale just enough.
* “The White Tiger”:amazon by Aravind Adiga. Very engaging novel set in modern India, provides a lot of insight into the many cultures and contradictions of the nation.
* “A Wanted Man”:amazon by Lee Child. Reacher novels are always fun, looking forward to the movie. The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense but that is not why one reads Reacher.
* “Bloodmoney”:amazon by David Ignatius. Now this plot makes a lot of sense and one can totally imagine that some form of this chicanery has taken place. Good characters and good pace.
* “The Quantum Universe”:amazon by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. An attempt to explain quantum mechanics. Some good elements but the authors wed themselves to an analogy using clocks that I think just confuses the matter. I gave up 30% in.
* “Disrupting Class”:amazon by Clayton Christensen, Curtis Johnson, Michael Horn. Like most nonfiction books, this should be a pamphlet. Good stuff but overly drawn out. Kids have different types of IQ and learning styles, technology can be used to create custom targeted learning experiences.
* “The Snow Whale”:amazon by John Minichillo. Don’t know why I picked this up, exactly the kind of satirical farce I hate. Gave up on, blah.
* “The Master and his Emissary”:amazon by Iain McGilchrist. Get your pith helmet and machete, this is a deep jungle to fight your way thru. Deep exploration of brain function, psychology, philosophy, history, art, culture. The sections on philosophy just about killed me (which given the thesis I find very intriguing and perhaps even a bit concerning.). Fascinating but set aside a long time to read and ponder. I don’t buy the arguments completely but an interesting and well-detailed articulation of a theory of human culture and how it relates to brain function. One area where the argument rings hollow to me is the discussion of modern music. The author attempts to support his core argument with evidence of the emotionless nature of modern classical music, but gives only one sentence to jazz and completely ignores the music that people actually listen to, pop and rock. I don’t think removing this one support point damages his argument, but it does make me wonder about the overall quality of the argument. But still, a very well thought out discussion and worth reading and thinking about.
* “The Prophet”:amazon by Michael Koryta. Needed some light fare to recover from the previous slog. A solid mystery set in smalltown northern Ohio with some character complexity. Fun but not remarkable.
* “Where’d you go, Bernadette”:amazon by Maria Semple. OK at first this seemed like light farce and I kind of hated it. I stuck with it just for the Seattle setting but thought “Wow, if you are not in the Seattle/Microsoft network, you will get nothing out of this.” And then the book took a left turn when Bernadette opened up and revealed herself, and became a terrific tale of self discovery, of a mother and a daughter, of love, loss, and reunion. Really enjoyed it, it has been optioned for a movie, hope they pull this one together.
* “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”:amazon by Michael Chabon. I’ve always wondered what would have happened had Israel lost their 1948 war of independence, and all the Jewish refugees had moved to exile in Sitka, Alaska. OK no I never wondered that. But Chabon does a great job of creating that world as a setting for a detective novel. Another good one from him.
* “The Islanders”:amazon by Christopher Priest. This author is popular in Britain but has never found much of a following here. I don’t think this book will push him over the edge. A strange travelogue/history/mystery about a world of islands, and the people that try to connect with one another during their lives. I was never quite sure what the author was really trying to do. I wonder if Brits as island dwellers resonant with this material in a way that Americans never will.
* “Thirteen Reasons Why”:amazon by Jay Asher. I like to dip into YA fiction now and then, some great stories and series have risen from these beginnings. This book, however, is utter crap, despite some glowing recommendations. Serious matters but trite treatment, awful characters, terrible dialog, just garbage. Don’t pollute your mind or your kid’s mind with this.
* “Forgotten”:amazon by Cat Patrick. This, on the other hand, is a nicely written tale of a young woman with a strange mental/neurological problem, digging into the events of her life that have left her this way. Compelling characters, fun read.
* “Paper Towns”:amazon by John Green. And another excellent YA choice. On the eve of high school graduation, a student disappears leaving behind mysterious clues, and her friend tries to puzzle out the mystery. Not a simple mystery tho, but a deeply introspective and sometimes literary examination of himself, his missing friend, and their true natures.
* “The Disappearing Spoon”:amazon by Sam Kean. Breezy walk through all the elements and their quirks, along with the back stories of their discovery and the quirky, sometimes petty scientists involved.
* “Whiter Shades of Pale”:amazon by Christian Lander. If you like Portlandia, you’ll probably chuckle at this.
* “Kill Decision”:amazon by Daniel Suarez. Guy writes a solid thriller with great short term technology extrapolation. I assume he will write a followup to this, there is certainly a very dystopian tale to write.
* “Blackout”:amazon by Mira Grant. The first book in this post-zombie-apocalypse series was awesome, complicated characters and no storybook endings. But in this, the third book, I feel like the author chickened out and went for the happy ending and single dimensional villains. Still fun but could have been more…
* “Forty Stories”:amazon by Donald Barthelme. There is an de Kooning on the cover of this book, and that serves as a hint to the type of stories you will find in here. I’m not sure there is a writing genre called Abstract Expressionism but these stories sure seem to fit the bill — patchworks of elements that seem to form coherent wholes but I’m never quite sure of the intent.
* “Massive”:amazon by Ian Sample. “Soul of a New Machine”-style telling of the chase after the Higgs. Not very technical, more about the people and personalities. OK but I’d like a little more science content.
* “Arguably”:amazon by Christopher Hitchens. Well, after reading this, I am embarrassed to claim that I review books, or even read them. Hitchens knew how to deeply read, and man could he completely eviscerate an author. A full book of these essays is a bit much to wade thru, this is powerful stuff.
* “Herzog”:amazon by Saul Bellow. This is a struggle. We all have our inexplicable neuroses, but wandering thru the depths of one character’s particular bag of irrational introspection just isn’t that compelling.
* Contrast with “Disgrace”:amazon by J. M. Coetzee. This story of an aging man struggling with his irrelevance grabs you from the first paragraph and holds you all the way through. I tore through this.
* “The Same River Twice”:amazon by Ted Mooney. A film maker and his wife are caught up in events that seem strangely like a film, while he is making a cinema verite film of their lives. Actual events drive the movie narrative, and the movie narrative drives actual events, an interesting interplay.
* “The Liar’s Lullaby”:amazon by Meg Gardiner. Unreadably bad. How has this author and this character been able to sustain a series? I gave up 20 pages in, it read like a particularly bad episode of Law & Order. Worst book I’ve picked up in a while.
* “Parrot and Olivier in America”:amazon by Peter Carey. I really wanted to like this book, and it seems well written with a unique voice, but the style just didn’t pull me in, I had trouble sustaining interest. The book gets good reviews, this is probably my failing.
* “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood.”:amazon. Loving this book. I remember when I took my first course as an undergrad on information theory and learned about the interplay of information, entropy, energy, etc. It was perspective altering, and this book brought it all back. A great book.
* “The Lean Startup”:amazon by Eric Ries. I’m way late to this one, but an excellent book.
* “Heroes Die”:amazon by Matthew Woodring Stover. Very very good tale of a future extreme capitalist dystopia and a parallel world used as a source of entertainment. Caine, the protagonist, is an actor caught up in the system, starting to realize how corrupt it all is, and fighting for the respect and love of his partner. Good stuff.
* “Redshirts”:amazon by John Scalzi. Cute if you grew up on Star Trek reruns, but not sure it is much beyond that.
* “The Drop”:amazon by Michael Connelly. One of his Bosch series of detective novels. Solid, good character, some interesting LA politics, but not groundbreaking.
* “The Dispatcher”:amazon by Ryan David Jahn. A 911 dispatcher takes a call, which turns out to be his long missing daughter. And then the thrill ride starts.
* “The Stupidest Angel”:amazon by Christopher Moore. I’m not usually a fan of farce but this was pretty fun. A sweet Christmas tale, turns into a “Death at a Funeral”-style romp, and then zombies show up.
* “Wrong Man Running”:amazon by Alan Hruska. A man finds himself under suspicion for a series of horrific crimes committed on all the women around him. And since he suffers from frequent blackouts, he may well be guilty. Or not. The main character has some ridiculous blind spots but still entertaining.
In order of increasing strangeness.
* “A confusion of princes”:amazon by Garth Nix. YA space opera, kind of reminiscent of the tales of my youth or even back to John Carter books.
* “By the Blood of Heroes”:amazon by Joseph Nassise. WWI and zombies. First in a series. Acceptable but there are better zombie books.
* “Immobility”:amazon by Brian Evenson. A nearly invulnerable amnesiac wakes up in a post apocalyptic wasteland and tries to deal with the remnants of humanity. Hint: no one is really his friend.
* “The Sorcerer’s House”:amazon by Gene Wolfe. I last read a Wolfe book maybe 20 years ago and at that time thought “wow he is weird”. Well he still is.
* “1Q84″:amazon by Haruki Murakami. Childhood sweethearts reunite after 20 years of separation. Oh and she is an assassin, he is involved in a fraud, they’re fighting against a religious cult, some very strange supernatural creatures who might be good or incredibly evil are pulling strings, there is an extra moon in the sky, soulless doppelgängers are wandering around, and other strange shit.
* “All I Did Was Shoot My Man”:amazon by Walter Mosley. Great characters, but story felt a little slapdash.
* “The Keeper of Lost Causes”:amazon by Jussi Adler-Olsen. Part of the now flood of Scandinavian author mysteries. A good disturbing tale and a character with promise. But something is off in the book, dialog seems particularly colorless and flat — few idioms, simple structure. I doubt Danes as a society are colorless and flat. It is possible the author chose this style for the protagonist who is somewhat repressed. But I am wondering if it might just be a poor translation. Knowing no Danish, there is no way for me to verify.
* “You Lost Me There”:amazon by Rosecrans Baldwin. An introverted scientist finally comes to terms with his wife’s passing and his inability to really connect. Very compelling.
* “Surface Detail”:amazon by Iain M. Banks. Another of his books set in his Culture universe, this time concerned with virtual environments and their abuse. I find the Culture series to be always entertaining.
* “The Alteration”:amazon by Kingsley Amis. First of his I’ve read, a boy deals with his fate in an alternative world where the Reformation and Renaissance never really happened. An ugly world in many ways. “Alteration” is at play on many levels here.