Ben Crowder

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Favorite books in 2022

My favorite reads last year, in the order I read them (and I won’t go into detail on these because I’ve already written about them in earlier posts):

Nonfiction

  • The Golden Thread, by Kassia St. Clair
  • The Cubans, by Anthony DePalma
  • The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber & David Wengrow
  • Stretching the Heavens, by Terryl L. Givens
  • This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein
  • The Invention of Nature, by Andrea Wulf
  • The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Plantagenets, by Dan Jones
  • How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith
  • Human Errors, by Nathan H. Lents
  • I Wish I’d Been There, edited by Byron Hollinshead
  • Extra Life, by Steven Johnson

Fiction

  • Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark
  • Network Effect, by Martha Wells
  • The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Hands of the Emperor, by Victoria Goddard
  • Babel, by R. F. Kuang
  • Ogres, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Minor prefatory note: I’ve updated the reading page with a slight redesign and (for 2022 reads) the year of publication.

Recent nonfiction reads

  • I Wish I’d Been There, edited by Byron Hollinshead. Historians talking about the parts of American history they wish they could go back in time to see. Really enjoyed this, and now I’ve got a whole bunch more parts of history I want to read up on.
  • Extra Life, by Steven Johnson. Such a fascinating book. Strongly recommended. (Also, those milk deaths in Manhattan — yikes.) I especially loved the corrective focus on larger networks and activism, which this quote from the book summarizes nicely:

In an age that so often conflates innovation with entrepreneurial risk taking and the creative power of the free market, the history of life expectancy offers an important corrective: the most fundamental and inarguable form of progress we have experienced over the past few centuries has not come from big corporations or start-ups. It has come, instead, from activists struggling for reform; from university-based scientists sharing their findings open-source style; and from nonprofit agencies spreading new scientific breakthroughs in low-income countries around the world.

Recent fiction reads

  • Petty Treasons, by Victoria Goddard. A novella, and a prequel to The Hands of the Emperor. The second-person POV was a little bit harder to read for some reason (which wasn’t the case with Ogres below). Nice to return to the world, though, and to see some of the retold events from a different perspective.
  • The Mountain in the Sea, by Ray Nayler. This had a bit of an Arrival vibe. Overall, I liked it, but it wasn’t as perfect a fit for me as I’d hoped it might be. Still interesting, though.
  • Inside Man, by K. J. Parker. A novella. Enjoyed it. The central conceit of this subseries of novellas is fun. (Well, it would be utterly horrifying in real life, but as a fictional exploration it’s fun.)
  • The Expert System’s Champion, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. A novella, takes place ten years after The Expert System’s Brother. The second half was much more interesting for me than the first half (which I struggled with, not sure why).
  • The Law, by Jim Butcher. A novella, takes place after Battle Ground. Fun to return to that world (though acknowledging that as usual with the Dresden Files, there are male-gazy parts I could very much do without).
  • Ogres, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Another novella. Yes, yes, it was to pad my numbers. I do really like novellas, though, and I wish more books were shorter. This was my favorite Tchaikovsky read so far. That final twist!

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Reading stats for 2022

I see this recap as a way to be at least a little more conscious of how and what I’m reading. (Some things are easier to see in the aggregate.) Also cf. last year’s stats.

In 2022 I read an even 100 books, a number I achieved largely because I stacked the end with novellas. I have no shame. There were also 37 books I decided not to finish. (Those abandoned books are, however, included in the count of 36,440 pages that I read, to provide a slightly more accurate picture.)

Of the 100 that endured to the end:

  • 55% were fiction and 45% were nonfiction
  • Of the fiction, and acknowledging that genre boundaries aren’t always clear cut, the genres were: 53% fantasy (29 books), 35% science fiction (19), 7% horror (4), 4% classics (2), and 1% general fiction (1)
  • 39% of the 100 had at least one female author, 61% did not
  • 14% were written before 2010 (9% were before 2000 and 4% before 1900)
  • A whopping 54% were written in the last three years (18 from 2020, 19 from 2021, 17 from 2022)
  • The earliest book I read in 2022 was written around A.D. 731 (go Bede), roughly thirteen hundred years earlier

After looking at this, I’ve got a microresolution to get myself to read more old books this new year, so that I’m not skewing quite so much toward the hyper-recent.


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Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker is finally available as an ebook! (On the Kindle store, anyway. I haven’t checked other places.)

Recent nonfiction reads

  • Terry Pratchett, by Rob Wilkins. Quite liked this one. The end is sad, but that’s usually the case with full-life biographies. Probably about time to read another Discworld novel.
  • Chokepoint Capitalism, by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow. Maddening. I really, really do not like big, hungry capitalism, and I hope we as a society can push things back to a healthier level. Job guarantees sound amazing.
  • Human Errors, by Nathan H. Lents. So fascinating! I jabbered about this book to my wife and coworkers ad nauseam — the RLN, throat structure, wrist bones, DNA copy rates, sickle-cell disease, retinal wiring, I’ll stop now. For me the takeaway that I think I’ll remember most was that animals in the wild are constantly on the edge of starvation and so we’re evolutionarily wired to eat as if it’s our last meal before winter, which also leads to it being really easy to gain weight but really hard to lose it.

Recent fiction reads

  • I tried to read China Miéville’s The City & the City, but the central conceit — two cities interleaved in the same space where each city’s residents straight up ignore the other city — just wasn’t doing it for me. Probably because I went into it expecting there to be a magical/supernatural reason people couldn’t see the other city (a ghost city of sorts that occasionally leaks through).
  • The Expert System’s Brother, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. A novella. Enjoyed it, and looking forward to the sequel. And to the rest of Tchaikovsky’s books (including City of Last Chances, which came out today, I believe).
  • The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle. A novella. Quite liked it. A bit graphic at the end, which reminded me that this was horror and not just dark fantasy, and that horror isn’t my thing most of the time.
  • A Mirror Mended, by Alix E. Harrow. A novella. Really liked the variations and folktaleishness.

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In the Image of Our Heavenly Parents: A Couple’s Guide to Creating a More Divine Marriage, released today, edited by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, with illustrations by yours truly.

Title page of the book
Table of contents page
Doctrinal foundation page
Chapter illustration

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Grief hit a little bit harder the past few weeks and made reading more difficult.

Recent nonfiction reads

  • The Anna Karenina Fix, by Viv Groskop. A short, enjoyable survey of Russian lit. The part that stuck with me most: “[Ann Patchett] describes reading Anna Karenina at the age of twenty-one and believing that Anna and Vronsky were the most charming, romantic people in the world and that Kitty and Levin the most boring, pathetic people in the world. She writes, ‘Last year I turned 49, and I read the book again. This time, I loved Levin and Kitty… Anna and Vronsky bored me.’ As we get older, she concludes, ‘we gravitate towards the quieter, kinder plotlines, and find them to be richer than we had originally understood them to be’.” I feel like I’m getting to that point, where I’m more interested in quieter, kinder plotlines.
  • Out of the Software Crisis, by Baldur Bjarnason. A bit more prescriptive than I was in the mood for. I also haven’t run into a lot of the programming culture he describes. That said, I did find a couple of the ideas interesting: first, programming as a branch of design rather than engineering — more like filmmaking than bridge building. I’m still thinking on this and haven’t yet decided whether I agree. Second, programming as pop culture, with a neverending stream of faddish new technologies. This one resonates with me. It’s exhausting. The older I get, the better “use boring technology” sounds.

Recent fiction reads

  • Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Some parts have not aged well at all, and there are definitely some cringey bits, but ignoring all that, overall I liked it. (This in spite of cyberpunk not being an aesthetic I really care for.) Interesting ideas, and the linguistic angle appealed to me.
  • The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik, third book in the Scholomance trilogy. Not as good for me as the first two — in fact, I almost gave up a third of the way in, and then again two-thirds in. I struggled with the voice, which surprisingly started grating on me for some reason. But I still liked some of the reveals later in the book.

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Recent nonfiction reads

  • Karachi Vice, by Samira Shackle, about contemporary Pakistan. Really good, liked it a lot. It’s frustrating that villages there still don’t have good access to water, and that the rich continue to tread upon the poor.
  • How the Word Is Passed, by Clint Smith, about slavery. Really, really good. Strongly recommended. I haven’t read many books about slavery (yet), but this one very much opened my eyes — not only to what happened in the past but also to what’s still happening even now (like in Angola, the prison in Louisiana). Heartbreaking. This was also the book that woke me up to the fact that several of my ancestors from Virginia and North Carolina were slave owners. I’d been aware of that before (one of them is buried at Blandford Cemetery, which one of the book’s chapters is about), but back then it didn’t hold any emotional meaning for me. Now it does. I’m still coming to terms with it — with knowing some of my ancestors were complicit in an enormous crime against humanity. This’ll take some time to process.

Recent fiction reads

  • Babel, by R. F. Kuang. Liked it a lot! More dark academia, please. The way the book addressed British colonization, too, was direct and pervasive and I really liked it. Also enjoyed the magic system and the linguistics.
  • The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu. This paired well with Babel. Lots of tragic Asian history interwoven throughout. Some stories were better than others, as is always the case. There was one story that had a father committing suicide that was a little bit harder to read. (That said, fictional depictions of parents dying don’t seem to affect me nearly as much as film depictions.)
  • Nona the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir. What a bonkers book. I didn’t know what was happening most of the time, but I also didn’t particularly mind because I liked the voice so much. (After finishing the book, I found an explanation on Reddit that made everything make a lot more sense. In hindsight, it would have helped if I’d read summaries of Gideon and Harrow before starting on Nona.) Looking forward to Alecto.

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I’ve started adding short reviews to the reading log, to make the page a little more useful. Just the 2022 reads so far, but I plan to keep going back as far as I can.


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Reading — Prints 2.9

As anticipated in issue 2.4, Kobo announced the Clara 2E, with a Carta 1200 screen. I haven’t been reading as much on my Kobo lately, though, so I don’t know if I’ll get one.

Recent nonfiction reads

  • In the Land of Invented Languages, by Akira Okrent. Enjoyed this. Conlangs don’t actually interest me all that much — there are so many natural languages to learn instead — but they’re still fun to read about. The bit about thesaurus organization was fascinating. Quite interesting throughout.
  • The Infiltrator, by Robert Mazur. Whew. This was perhaps a bit more intense than I wanted, though thankfully not really violent at all. So, so glad that I did not a choose a career path that led to going undercover for anything.

Recent fiction reads

  • Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett. While there were some earthy bits I could have done without, in general I liked this. The magic system reminded me of writing software, which I liked, and things definitely got interesting at the end.
  • The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole. A bit silly, and sadly not scary at all. (Which apparently is what I wanted from it.)
  • Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. Delightfully funny at first — loved the satire — but then there wasn’t nearly as much humor in the second half. Or if there was, I missed it. I did, however, come across the word rhodomontade for the first time.

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Reading — Prints 2.8

A good month for reading — pretty sure I’ll hit 5,000 pages by the end, at the rate I’m going. (Not that quantity matters more than quality, to be clear.)

Recent nonfiction reads

  • Clementine, by Sofia Purnell. A biography of Clementine Churchill, Winston’s wife. This was a somewhat draining book — sad family life perpetuated across three generations (so much bad parenting and dysfunctional marriage and adultery!), not to mention the weight of two world wars — but I’m glad I read it. Before this, for example, I don’t think I’d read much WWII history from the British perspective. Eye-opening. Also, I came across “rumbustious” for the first time ever. What a lovely word.
  • Here Is Real Magic, by Nate Staniforth. Quite liked this. I didn’t expect half the book to be a bit of an India travelogue, but it turned out to be a nice surprise. (India and Brazil have been in my mind a lot lately as places I’d like to travel to someday.)

Recent fiction reads

  • The Hands of the Emperor, by Victoria Goddard. I initially heard about this via Alexandra Rowland’s post and figured I’d give it a try. Ended up loving it, enough so that I immediately bought all of Goddard’s other books. It’s cozy fantasy — more calm, less action — and I initially thought it was going to be too relaxed for me, but the stellar character work sucked me in before long. There’s also enough magic to make it interesting to me (I struggle with completely mundane fiction), though the magic is not at all the point of the book. Reading about Cliopher kept reminding me (in some ways) of my time as ward executive secretary and ward clerk over the years. Fond memories. Looking forward to reading the rest of the books (of which there are many, and they’re multiplying quickly!).
  • A Practical Guide to Conquering the World, by K. J. Parker. Final installment in the Siege trilogy. This one didn’t click as much for me as the others did, sadly. Not entirely sure why, but I suspect I had trouble suspending disbelief with the central conceit. (Which confuses me a little, because it’s basically the same conceit as in the first two books.) The archery nerdery was fun, though.

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