Reading List: Q2 2022
I’ve moved all of my content over to this newsletter, including my quarterly summaries of what I’m reading (and why). This is my tenth year of keeping a reading list: I like to chronicle what I’ve read and how I’ve reacted, mostly to share my thinking about my thinking. People often ask me how I find books and authors, or what prompts me to “binge read” an entire author’s oeuvre. Here you go.
Books are listed in the order in which I’ve finished them, which may not reflect my reading order - I sometimes have two books going at once if one is more technical or business focused and I need to season it with sci-fi or fiction. Things that truly resonate with me get longer treatments.
It was a busy quarter of work and home projects, so my usual bedtime reading habit took a hit with a week or two where I read basically nothing.
1 “Laserwriter II,” fiction/technology, Tamara Shopsin, finished January 1
One of Wired’s books to read in 2021, I let it open the new year in a wonderful, quirky, nostalgic way. Having grown up with microcomputing magazines and early Apple products, Shopsin’s book captures the joy and discovery of the right to repair and the rightful ethos of customer care. I had pleasant memories of cleaning printers in my early days at Sun Microsystems, and discovering the sole Mac we had at our startup (which I used after hours solely for the copy of Microsoft Excel that it ran so flawlessly).
2 “Termination Shock,” sci-fi, Neal Stephenson, finished January 28
I’ll ask politely, maybe for the 2nd time in a decade: Is anyone capable of editing him? Climate change, ungoverned billionaires (a theme this quarter), and national interest run into “royal are just like us” B plots and the well-written martial arts scenes from “Baroque Cycle.” Starting off with a great scientific and political premise about addressing climate change and unilateral government action, the book bobs and weaves for several hundred pages and then just ends: lots of loose threads, and motivations left literally unframed.
3 “Harlem Shuffle,” fiction, Colson Whitehead, finished February 12
Whitehead crafts tales from the simplest., deepest woven threads in our American history. He pulls, unravels, and rewinds those threads into a storyline that reflects the modern human condition of the have-nots. Harlem Shuffle is a tale of revenge, of straddling the lines between right and wrong, family and loyalty to other families, seen through the rising tides of racial tension that have continued through the fifty years since the story’s setting.
“Ritchie Boy Secrets,” history, Beverly Driver Eddy, did not finish.
For the second time in a few months, I put down a book after spending more than three weeks trying to get through it. I found this in a story that ran in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and decided it was worth a shot. It was more exposition than plot, and if you love WWII history you’ll find the research superbly done.
4 “Anxious People,” fiction, Frederik Backman finished March 11
A book of lies, literally, that unravels itself in time and intent until you fully grasp the genesis and intent of the mis- and half-truths. I really like his writing style.
5 “Quantum of Nightmare,” sci-fi, Charles Stross, finished March 14
Scooby Doo meets Mary Poppins, but in a soul-sucking and definitely real monsters mashup, with the cast of characters from the last “Laundry Files” book. Like the horror remake and send up of “The Banana Splits,” it’s fun and moves with the pace of the his early novels. Set in the world++ to Bob Howard and Mo, and free from their characters, Stross remains the master of remixing styles and creative twists.
6 “Greetings Fom Bury Park,” Sarfraz Manzoor, finished march 15
Source for the silver screen’s “Blinded By The Light” and like all Springsteen related books it’s required reading for this Freehold boy. A story about religion, music, and true names. While Manzoor writes about love and religion and rebellion, his ability to find meaning in Springsteen’s songs an ocean and a generation or two away is striking; reading this book reminded me of a night in late 1980, sitting in the common room at college and hearing a friend play through “Born To Run” on a badly tuned piano, striking emotion out of every note as if I’d never heard that anthemic side of the album before.
7 “The Kaiju Preservation Society,” sci-fi, John Scalzi, finished March 16
A standalone (perhaps) detour from the next Scalzi universe and lacking the heart punch that punctuates much of his work, Scalzi explains in the notes how he wrote this as an excursion from his regularly planned book main sequence. I’m glad he did: I laughed out loud so many times I was annoying people on the beach. On the next beach over. It’s a novel that our post-Covid, “what are we doing to this Earth,” cult-of-billion dollar worshipping selves need right this very minute. Armed with amazingly deep cultural references that are both plot device and hilarious (especially the call out to the Murderbot series, nicely done), Scalzi shines light on those deserving our attention and derision.
8 “A Visit From The Goon Squad,” fiction, Jennifer Egan, finished March 17
I’m a full decade late to the Jennifer Egan party, and along with grunge, early hip-hop and the cast of “Friends” I feel I missed some important piece of pop culture that I must consume on fast forward. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel (which drops first week of Q2), because I enjoyed this so much it was a straight-through read. Peter Frame’s “Rock Family Trees” was a staple of my 1980s musical education - the cross links, the back stories, the musical heritage that seeped through the hard vinyl of each new release, and “Goon Squad” is the long form rock family tree narrative. It’s a semi-reverse chronology full of dark stories and personal pain and mild redemption, as much as a rock star and surrounding entourage deserve.
9 “The Escapement,” Lavie Tidhar, sci-fi, finished March 19
China Mieville’s Bas Lag human mashups, Salvador Dali’s malleability of time, Robin Williams imagining heaven and hell and Cirque Du Soleil after one too many large fruity drinks on the strip, with a healthy dose of Wild West poker playing thrown in….I loved this book. It was as strange and challenging as anything Tidhar has written, and he captures some future (or past) human condition in a delightful weird way.
10. “The Every,” Dave Eggers, fiction, finished March 27
A follow up to “The Circle,” Eggers takes on Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple in a political and anti-tech monopoly book that is the sad, hopeless alternative to Monica Byrne’s “The Actual Star.” What if the panopticon really did exist just to make California companies rich(er), and what if everyone who was a user went along with whatever outrageous privacy and personal space invading schemes were concocted? Somewhere about ⅔ of the way through Eggers lost my interest, and I felt the big reveals were most of a “you guessed it so let’s tie off this thread” while leaving a few of the more open questions left for the reader’s guide at the end.