I haven’t done a great job at consistency in titling these reading posts, which isn’t the end of the world but I do want them to be titled henceforth, so we’re going to leave the unnumbered masses behind us and resurrect the Booknotes series, starting season 2. I’ll be using the #recent-reads tag as the throughline for all of these types of posts, though.
- Chatter, by Ethan Kross. This was a useful read. I’ve been using the distanced self-talk idea since reading the book and it does seem like it works, for what it’s worth. Apparently we talk to ourselves at rates as high as 4,000 wpm. (If I could harness that and redirect its output to my laptop or phone, I could write a novel in…half an hour. Ha. Back in reality, answering what I imagine would be the next question: no, I have no interest in using AI to write fiction. Or in reading fiction written by AI for that matter.) the author says we spend a third to a half of our waking life mentally not in the present, which seemed startling at first but upon reflection made sense. Frequent time travelers, us lot.
- Red Famine, by Anne Applebaum, about the 1930s Holodomor in Ukraine. The last third is where it gets especially bleak and so, so tragic. Now I understand why doing genealogy in certain parts of Ukraine is basically impossible. The book is horrifying, too — especially the parts about adults cannibalizing their own children. It’s an important book and I’m glad I read it because I didn’t know anything about the famine beforehand, but goodness, make sure you read something happy after this.
- The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks. Interesting ideas (the post-scarcity culture, the games, the central conceit), good writing. One gross part. That twist at the very end, though!
- A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, by Becky Chambers. Cozy and philosophical. Some parts I could have done without (true of almost all contemporary novels I read), but overall I liked it.
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!
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.