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Booknotes 3.12

Nonfiction

  • A Midwife’s Tale, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, published 1990. It’s about the diary and life of Martha Ballard, a midwife living in Maine in the late 1700s and early 1800s. I really liked it. Loads of interesting details about life in that time and place.

Fiction

  • The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion volume 3, by Beth Brower, historical fiction, published 2020. The series continues to delight. I’m enjoying the character development, too.
  • The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, by Ken Liu, sf&f, published 2020, read for book group. Overall, I liked The Paper Menagerie more. Also wasn’t quite in the mood for a short story collection, which no doubt skewed my reading (and was no fault of the book). That said, I liked the title story a lot, and the uploaded-consciousness stories were interesting.
  • The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion volume 4, by Beth Brower, historical fiction, published 2021. So good. Humor seasoned with sorrow. A solid deepening of several different parts of the story, and more connections coming together, too, which I loved.

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Booknotes 3.11

Nonfiction

  • The Education of an Idealist, by Samantha Power, published 2019. A memoir of serving in the Obama administration and as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Really good, right up my alley, liked it a lot.
  • Confessions of an LDS Sex Researcher, by Cameron Staley, published 2024. Not my usual fare, but the juxtaposition of sex lab researcher + member of the Church was intriguing. Good book. It might make more conservative readers uncomfortable, but I think it’s the kind of discomfort that helps you become a better person.

Fiction

  • The Hallowed Hunt, by Lois McMaster Bujold, fantasy, published 2005. Third book in the initial World of the Five Gods trilogy. So good — easily as compelling as Curse and Paladin. Great twist in the middle, too, and whew, that ending hit kind of hard for me. I love the portrayal of religion in this series, and I’m glad I still have a decent amount of Bujold left to read for the first time (looking forward to the Penric novellas!).
  • The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion volume 1, by Beth Brower, historical fiction (I guess? I’m not great at labeling genres), published 2019. A friend recommended these a while back and my wife read them and has been telling all her friends, who’ve all gone on to read and love them, and I decided it was time to stop missing out. Glad I did: this was delightful. Loved it, particularly the voice. Very much looking forward to reading the rest.
  • The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion volume 2, by Beth Brower, historical fiction, published 2019. I don’t often binge read these days — I like to space series out so they last longer — but I couldn’t help myself. (I also need to get caught up with my wife so we can talk about the series sans spoilers.) Witty and again delightful.

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Booknotes 3.10

Nonfiction

  • The Disappearing Spoon, by Sam Kean (2010), about the periodic table. Enjoyed the heck out of it. Fascinating throughout, with lots of interesting history about the discovery of various elements and other tidbits.
  • Beauty Sick, by Renee Engeln (2017). An important corrective to my mental model, with what seems like good advice on what to do and what not to do.
  • A Molecule Away from Madness, by Sara Manning Peskin (2022), about cognitive neurology. Also fascinating and hard for me to put down. Maybe not as great for my hypochondria, though. But still very much worth reading.

Fiction

  • Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2019, science fiction), second in the Children of Time trilogy. It’s been five years since I read the first one, so my memory’s a bit fuzzy, but I think I liked this one about the same. Looking forward to Children of Memory. (And Tchaikovsky remains one of my favorite writers. I’m delighted that he’s so prolific.)

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Booknotes 3.9

Nonfiction

  • New York Burning, by Jill Lepore (2005), about several fires set in New York City in 1741 and the accusations and trials that followed. (Sound similar to Salem? Yes, yes it does.) A bit slow going at times, but overall interesting and worth it. The first appendix, about the database Lepore built, was particularly interesting. Also, I didn’t know that the name of Fly Market came from the Dutch vly, “valley” after getting squished.
  • Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, by Katherine Rundell (2019). A lovely little book, and what an amazing title and cover. Rundell also wrote Super-Infinite, the John Donne biography I recently read.

Fiction

  • The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare (1632, play). Read it for book group. A bit too silly for me (to be honest, I still don’t know whether I like Shakespeare or not), but there was some fun wordplay.
  • The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi, by Shannon Chakraborty (2023, fantasy). A bit earthy, but otherwise really liked it. Loved the medieval Indian Ocean setting, and the older protagonist. Looking forward to the sequels. (And at some point I need to go back and finish Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy.)
  • In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire (2019, fantasy). Wayward Children book 4. As always, I loved the dark fairy tale feeling, with strong, heady undercurrents of danger and bittersweetness. The voice feels perfect for these types of tales. Also, I’d completely forgotten about the Mushroom Planet books! I loved those as a kid.

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Booknotes 3.8

Nonfiction

  • A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, by Bartolomé de las Casas (1552). Essentially a catalog of the awful horrors the Spaniards inflicted on Native Americans, some witnessed firsthand and others related secondhand to las Casas by priests in other provinces. Brutal and bleak, but I’m glad I read it.
  • Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre (2007). A history of Edward Chapman, a double agent for Britain and Germany during WWII. My main takeaway, as is always the case when I read books about espionage: I am so not cut out to be a spy. Anyway, this book was interesting enough but felt like it lacked a bit of pop and zing, which I apparently crave when reading spy history. Still worth reading, though. I have most of the rest of Macintyre’s books and plan to read them.

Fiction

  • I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (1948, general fiction). Absolutely delightful. Loved it. The voice is so good and the book is funny and charming and I just really, really liked it. More books like this, please. (Recommendations very welcome.)
  • The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie (2011, fantasy), second of the First Law standalones. Dang, that man can write. It’s an extremely violent, visceral, and fairly earthy book, so there’s your strong caveat, but aside from all that I really, really liked it. (Quite a bit more than I liked Best Served Cold, by the way.) It’s a very well crafted novel, in my view — surprising plot twists, characters doing interesting and unexpected things (while staying in character), compelling voices (with zing! with pop!), and wry, funny prose with hardly a sentence out of place. The POV hopping during the first part of the battle was quite effective, too. Also, war: awful.

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Bookshelf in 2024

In writing my /uses page, I realized it’s been a little while since I last showed what my Bookshelf app looks like. Time for an update. (What is Bookshelf, you ask? A web app I wrote to track my reading.)

Here’s the current state, and note that I took this screenshot last night, so the monthly stats are for February:

bookshelf-2024.png

I forgot to mention this back in 2020, but the app started in late 2011 as Bookkeeper. A few years later I rewrote it in Python (Django) and renamed it (because o-o k-k e-e). I’m pretty happy with its current incarnation and use it every day except Sundays. My brain likes those stats. It really does. I’m sure I’d still read a lot even without them, but boy, the stats certainly motivate me to spend more time reading. (Well, some days more than others.)

Notes:

  • Top left is monthly stats (genre breakdown, pages read, books read this month to date, average pages per day, and how far into the month we are).
  • Top right is yearly stats.
  • The bar chart tracks how many pages I’ve read over the past couple weeks, with each color representing a different genre (red is nonfiction, green is fantasy, blue is science fiction, brown is general fiction, etc.). The page count gets brighter the closer I get to my goal of 100 pages per day. And yes, the dashed gray dividers are one pixel off. I need to fix that.
  • For each book, I have some metadata under the title and author: percentage completed, number of pages I’ve read so far (included because in ebook land most books don’t start on page 1), number of days I’ve been reading the book, how many days are left at my current rate, how many pages per day I’m averaging so far, how many pages I’ve read today (this is used as my current rate if it’s greater than my average pages per day, and this is red if it’s lower than my average pages per day, as motivation to maintain my rate for each book), and how many pages are left.
  • The part at the right of each book row is the current page and how long it’s been since I last read that book (which also affects the background color). I tap the page number to enter whatever page I’m on. If it’s a book in Libby, by the way, I tag the book that way when adding it and it’ll adjust how it counts the pages (it takes around three Libby screens to get to a page the way I’m counting it).
  • The very faint ellipsis button in the lower right opens a menu with links to add books, search, see previous reads, and see stats for previous years.

tl;dr I’m nerdier than you thought.


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Booknotes 3.7

Nonfiction

  • Becoming, by Michelle Obama (2018). So good. Loved it. Very human and down to earth, and an enjoyable read throughout. Easily one of my favorites this year.
  • No Ordinary Assignment, by Jane Ferguson (2023). Also really good, though more harrowing in places (the Yazidi genocide, etc.). A strong reminder of why journalism is important — and of how awful war is.

Fiction

  • And Put Away Childish Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2023, fantasy). Grown-up Narnia of sorts, set during Covid. Really liked the first half, less sure about the second half. Read it in a single day.
  • Lone Women, by Victor LaValle (2023, horror). I don’t know — I wanted it to be something different. (I don’t want to spoil anything.) Still interesting, though.
  • The Cunning Man, by D. J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey (2019, fantasy/horror). Folk fantasy is something I don’t come across as often. Liked that part of it, though I think I would have liked it more if it hadn’t had any Mormon connection at all.

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Booknotes 3.6

Nonfiction

  • Chip War, by Chris Miller (2022), about semiconductors. A fascinating read, particularly (for me) the history of the early days of semiconductors. Learned a lot.

Fiction

  • Blackwing, by Ed McDonald (2017, fantasy). Maybe a tad too edgelord grimdark and crass for me. Trying to be sophisticated but failing, perhaps; I’m not sure. The voice grated on me a bit, too, though not enough to stop me from reading. And oh how I wish fantasy novels would stop overusing capitalization. (In this book, for example, darlings and spinners didn’t need to be capitalized.) Hi, this is me being obnoxiously pedantic. Anyway, I have no idea if I’ll keep reading the series.
  • System Collapse, by Martha Wells (2023, science fiction). Latest entry in the Murderbot series. Loved the voice as usual. I also continue to enjoy the archaeological(ish) part of the worldbuilding. Looking forward to however many more of these there are.
  • A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire (2010, fantasy). The second October Daye novel. It had been long enough since I read the first that I remembered almost nothing, but this was easy to pick up. Basically a murder mystery. Enjoyed it, even though I picked up on one of the twists pretty early on.

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Booknotes 3.5

Nonfiction

  • Super-Infinite, by Katherine Rundell (2022), a biography of John Donne. Quite good. I think biographies might be my favorite genre of nonfiction. (Recommendations welcome!)

Fiction

  • The Tyranny of Faith, by Richard Swan (2023, fantasy). Second in the Empire of the Wolf series. I rather liked it, though it was darker and more like horror than the first. Looking forward to the third, which comes out Tuesday.
  • Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (2014, science fiction). I don’t normally like post-apocalyptic all that much, as I’ve mentioned before, but this was good! (The flashbacks kept it from feeling overly dreary, I think.) While Covid was (and is) bad, books like this remind me how much worse it could have been. There’s your chipper thought for the day.
  • A Study in Drowning, by Ava Reid (2023, fantasy). Generally liked it, particularly the atmosphere and the literary research, though I didn’t care much for the earthy bits and or the parts that got a tad too intense for me. And now I want to read a fantasy book that’s all about architecture and constructing buildings.

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Booknotes 3.4

Nonfiction

  • Number Go Up, by Zeke Faux (2023). Crypto culture is a big bucket of crazy. Quote from the book: “From the beginning, I thought that crypto was pretty dumb. And it turned out to be even dumber than I imagined.” Yup. Good read.

Fiction

  • Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett (1989, fantasy). Enjoyed it. I’m struggling to come up with anything more to say about it.
  • Murder at Spindle Manor, by Morgan Stang (2022, fantasy). Darker and more disturbing than I was expecting, and boy do things get cray cray. (Agatha Christie this is not.) Good writing. Liked it, looking forward to Murder on the Lamplight Express.
  • Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, by Cho Nam-Joo (2016, fiction). I read it for book group. A short read, basically one sitting. I wish things were more equal (sexism is frustrating), but I’m glad we’ve seen some progress in some areas and can’t wait for more. On an unimportant note, the frame story — which had nothing to do with the rest of the book (unless I’m too dense to get it, which is entirely likely; as is no doubt all too clear to anyone who reads these paltry reviews, literary criticism is not my forte) — intrigued me and I want to read a speculative fiction extension of that.

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