I love reading, I’ve always loved reading. Besides building a semblance of literacy, reading a good book can be uplifting and engaging in the exact way that the day job usually isn’t. I’m obviously not talking about my own day job — most people wish they could have my job. Anyway, with that questionable assertion out of the way, on to the topic at hand.
For the past couple years, I’ve enrolled myself in the Goodreads reading challenge. Basically, you decide how many books you’re going to read during the year, and as you mark books read, Goodreads tracks your progress for you. You can see my current 2017 challenge progress here, and the list of what I read in 2016 is here.
A quick aside on this challenge: a lot of people sign up for 100 books or whatever, and they may actually read them, but it’s impossible to do if you’re not retired or working part-time without other responsibilities unless you’re reading cheap novels that lend themselves handily to speed-reading. I’ll admit some of the books I read are easy reads, but a lot of them aren’t.
Regardless of my weasel-words about the way I engage in the reading challenge, I may as well give you a very partial1 book report now so that you can benefit as well (or suffer along, depending on the book). Here are a few highlights and lowlights from my past couple of years of reading:
Right now North Korea is in the news for obvious reasons, and this touching book by Hyeonseo Lee provides a clear insight into what it is like to live there, as well as the incredible hardships people endured trying to break free of it. This autobiography will jangle your nerves and leave you tense at times, so be prepared. If what you want is something soothing and mindless, look elsewhere.
If you can read this without being completely amazed at Hyeonseo’s courage, intelligence, and freaking strength of will, you probably qualify as a sociopath.
Pros: A fascinating real life story about an amazing woman. Very stressful and emotionally difficult.
Cons: Very stressful and emotionally difficult.
Sleeping Giants does conjure up a bit of Pacific Rim, but boy, is this one inventive and thoroughly enjoyable piece of science fiction. Sylvain Neuvel brings the fun and creativity that a tale of giant, alien-produced robots should have, and manages to quiet the doubts and questions that also naturally arise when considering such grandiose themes.
Pros: Giant robots who appear for no reason and destroy things.
Cons: Some weird psychology and personal interactions.
I’m a sucker for dystopian novels, if by dystopian you mean visions of the future in which nation states have collapsed into seemingly arbitrary other nation states. This may largely be because I’m convinced this will happen to my own country if it continues down the path it’s on, but that’s a rant none of us really want me to get into right now.
Infomocracy portrays a world that definitely fits into this category, but it’s a bit unique from your typical Gibson or Stephenson brand of dystopia. Micro-democracies rule the day, and it’s a bit confusing and a bit hard to put aside the notion that any sort of real democracy would cover so much of the planet. Aside from that, it feels a bit like homework at times trying to get up to speed with the exact political nature of this world and the jobs the main characters are trying to do.
Still, it pays off in the end because Malka Ann Older does make you care about the people whose stories are being told, and it does spark the imagination to hop you view of a future post-nation state world outside the lines painted by the established cyberpunk scribes.
I will definitely read her next book in this series, Null States, and that should tell you a lot about this book.
Pros: Unique and imaginative look at the post-nation state world.
Cons: Feels a bit like homework early on.
Nick Bilton offers a compelling account of the downfall of Ross Ulbricht, the 26 year old man who convinced himself that he was improving the world by unleashing the Silk Road on it. If you’re wondering how a seemingly polite, mild-mannered, thoughtful young programmer can convince himself that he’s on the right path while ordering hits on underlings and providing a means for the sale of drugs, guns, and worse, American Kingpin will go quite a way towards explaining the compartmentalization that’s possible when you want to do bad but still feel good about yourself.
The story of Silk Road and the man behind it captured the imagination in 2013 when Ross was arrested, and this book published in May of 2017 reignites and amplifies the drama behind the scenes of the world’s largest dark market. Fascinating read.
Pros: A fascinating true story that just needs an intelligent and interested author, which it has.
Cons: Hard to read about the self-absorbed jackass known as Ross Ulbricht without getting angry at times.
So close and yet so far… this book made me a bit sad. I really wanted to be able to transport the author back in time so he could re-evaluate his decision making process just a bit. This story hits the mark in humorously examining some of the complications of time travel and the regulations enacted in order to try to remedy them. The main character is funny and likable, and the situations he finds himself in smack of whimsy. But — and there’s a big but — there is also a completely unnecessary main plot that feels more like a side plot revolving around the physical nature of the universe and the bizarre creatures who snack upon it.
Yes. Strange creatures are snacking on the universe. You’ve been warned.
Anyway, this is probably worth a read even with the distracting and frankly annoying plot regarding the end of the universe, but I can’t recommend it nearly as highly as I would if the author hadn’t given in to whatever impulses began snacking on his better senses while he was drinking his dinner.
Pros: Funny, whimsical, and bizarre.
Cons: Funny, whimsical, and bizarre.
- Partial as in incomplete, not partial as in overly emotionally invested. ↩