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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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I’ve been playing around with making EPUBs look more like print:

Two book pages. At left is a page from a digital PDF. At right is the same page but modified to look less digital.

Why the madness: ebooks feel kind of sterile to me, and I’m intrigued by the idea of giving them a more analog feel.

The experiment is still early on (I’ve only automated the first step so far), but at this point the process involves:

  1. Turning the EPUB into a PDF (concatenating each file in the EPUB into a single HTML file, setting some print CSS rules, and printing from HTML to PDF in a browser)
  2. Turning each page into an image (at left in the above image)
  3. Eroding/dilating the image to simulate ink spread
  4. Adding a very slight ripple
  5. Blurring the next page, flipping it backwards, and compositing it at a low opacity
  6. Adding some paper texture (at right in the above image)
  7. Compiling all the page images back into a PDF

Other notes:

  • This does mean larger file sizes, but not prohibitively so. (For me, anyway.)
  • Right now I’m experimenting with doing this statically, in PDF but I imagine most if not all of it could be done dynamically in-browser. (filter: blur(0.25px) contrast(3) in CSS applied twice to text can give a roughly similar effect to erosion/dilation, for example.)
  • The current erosion/dilation method is acceptable, but I feel like there’s more room for improvement here.
  • A shortcut to doing the full process is to export a blurred backwards page image, composite it onto the paper texture, and then use that as the background image on each page. You lose the variety, but it’s probably not noticeable.

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Booknotes 3.3

Nonfiction

  • SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard (2015). Quite good, learned a lot. In particular, I really liked the historiographical aspect, where she talks about the historical evidence (or lack thereof) for various things. Also, I want to note for posterity that I don’t think about Rome other than when I’m reading books about it.
  • What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World, by Sara Hendren (2020), about disability and the design of the world around us (think curb cuts for wheelchairs). Good book, worth reading. Several different angles on disability, including mental health. This book made me want to be a designer again.

Fiction

  • Made Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2019, fantasy). Liked it a lot, especially the overall feel. I wouldn’t mind seeing more in this universe.
  • Mightier than the Sword, by K. J. Parker (2017, fantasy). Also liked it a lot. Classic Parker, with faux antiquity and wit.
  • Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree (2022, fantasy). I don’t drink coffee (don’t even like the smell of it), but this was an enjoyable, cozy read. Especially liked the mundane bits like the carpentry and adding new items to the menu.

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Favorite books in 2023

My favorite reads this year, in the order I read them:

Nonfiction

  • The Perfectionists, by Simon Winchester
  • The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder
  • First, by Evan Thomas
  • All the President’s Men, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  • The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard
  • Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Convictions, by John Kroger
  • Indigenous Continent, by Pekka Hämäläinen
  • When the Heavens Went on Sale, by Ashlee Vance
  • Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood, by W. Paul Reeve
  • Leadership, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Avid Reader, by Robert Gottlieb
  • Ways of Being, by James Bridle
  • In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

Fiction

  • Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Justice of Kings, by Richard Swan
  • The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
  • Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
  • The Will of the Many, by James Islington
  • In the Woods, by Tana French
  • Blood Over Bright Haven, by M. L. Wang
  • Cage of Souls, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Memories of Ice, by Steven Erikson
  • The Return of Fitzroy Angursell, by Victoria Goddard
  • Chosen, by Benedict Jacka
  • Made Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Booknotes 3.2

Nonfiction

  • Inside the Publishing Revolution: The Adobe Story, by Pamela Pfiffner (2003). I don’t particularly care about Adobe as it is now, but it was interesting reading the history of PostScript, digital typefaces, Illustrator, Photoshop, PDF, PageMaker, and InDesign. Particularly how uncertain PDF’s future was then, compared to how ubiquitous it has become.
  • In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson (2011). About Berlin in 1933–1934 (roughly). I read it for book group. Fascinating book, compelling and interesting throughout. I wasn’t well versed in that time period, so the Night of the Long Knives came as a bit of a shock. Whew. The potential parallels to today are admittedly frightening. Looking forward to reading Larson’s other books. (I’ve also read Isaac’s Storm.)

Fiction

  • Whispers Under Ground, by Ben Aaronovitch (2012, fantasy). Gritty, but other than that I liked it. Quite funny (much more than I remembered the series being), and I also enjoyed the London slang and the worldbuilding. Looking forward to the rest.
  • Priest of Bones, by Peter McLean (2018, fantasy). Quite gritty. Outside of that, though, I liked it, tragic though it is (in my view, anyway). Interested to see where the series arc goes.

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Booknotes 3.1

Nonfiction

  • Writing into the Dark, by Dean Wesley Smith (2015). A reread (though apparently I never added it to my reading log). Some useful techniques. While I want to be an outliner, lately I only seem to be able to finish stories when I write them into the dark this way (cycling, etc.).
  • Reflections on the Psalms, by C. S. Lewis (1958). One of the few by CSL that I’d never read before. Short and fairly interesting. There’s a bit near the end about wanting a more clearly defined, systematic, nigh mathematical theology, but that maybe that’s not what’s best for us, and that what we really need is a Personality instead (Christ). Also liked this: “For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”
  • Biomimicry, by Janine Benyus (1997). A fascinating book, lots of interesting ideas, similar in some respects to Ways of Being. Quite liked it. Found myself wondering how many of these innovations have gone mainstream since 1997 and I’ve just not been aware of them. Also, I had no idea 3D printing started so early.

Fiction

  • Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (2018, fantasy). Novella, Wayward Children book 3. Some earthy bits, but outside of that there’s great worldbuilding and great writing. The dark fairy tale vibe is right up my alley, too.
  • Chosen, by Benedict Jacka (2013, fantasy). Alex Verus book 4. I’m enjoying the series more and more as I get further into it. At this point it feels kind of like Dresden but without the awkward parts.

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The Return of Fitzroy Angursell, by Victoria Goddard (2020, fantasy). Oh my goodness, I loved this. So, so good, and tremendously satisfying. It ties together several threads from The Hands of the Emperor in a delightful, rewarding way. (Also glad I happened to read Stargazy Pie before this, though I’m sure it would have been fine either way.) Looking forward to reading all the rest of Goddard’s many books.


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