January, 2011

Jan 11


As part of the move to a new house, we’ve got about thirty boxes of books in the basement right now; everything we had, boxed up. That’s maybe 1,000 or 1,500 books; and that’s after we gave away a few hundred each year to the Sunnyvale Library. Lots of books. And they’re heavy.

I used to think that I really loved books — with the advent of the Kindle and iPad, what I’ve discovered is that it’s not so much the books that I loved as the reading. So my relationship with books is changing.

On the one hand, I really like the physical reminders of what I’ve read and the works that have most meaningfully shaped my thinking over the years. It’s neat to walk by a bookshelf and have the spines of the books remind me of my UX work in school, or my interest in various histories, or even some of the fiction I read when I was a kid. And I like that other people can get a glimpse into my background that way, not to mention that it’s always great to hand someone a book after a dinner together. (Increasingly, as SPL gets older and able to read, I’m hoping to share some of my favorite books from childhood, too.)

On the other hand, they’re heavy. And a hassle to move around. And they take a lot of space. And when they’re in my bookshelves, they’re not really very useful to people who haven’t read them yet, like they might be if they lived in a library instead.

And, increasingly, they’re showing an out-of-date picture of what books & writing influence me. The past 200 or so books I’ve read have all been electronic (with maybe half a dozen exceptions), so the most contemporary view of what influences me is probably on my blog or my Kindle account. Not totally satisfying.

So as I unpack all the books (I saved them to the end, basically), I’ve got to figure out what to do with them all. I’m going to try to give away about half of them. We’ll see how I do on that, but I figure they’ll do more people more good if we give them to a library.

As I go box by box, though, I’m realizing that I have no good mental model on which books to keep and which to get rid of. Keep all the coffee table books? Get rid of all the random history books? Keep books by people I know? Get rid of things that are mostly text, better to read by Kindle? Keep things that SPL might like as a kid? I don’t really know, and it’s interesting emotionally.

So far, though, here’s what I’m keeping:

  • Books that have sentimental value & were given to me by people I care about
  • Books that have changed the way I see the world
  • Books I think SPL & I might like reading together in the next 10 years or so
  • Old and/or unique books
  • About 2/3 of our coffee table books that are about interesting topics
  • Books that make me smile when I look at them, for whatever reasons
  • Books I want to read right now

What I’m trying to give away:

  • Books that I can’t believe I really liked (there’s some Ayn Rand in there, for example, not all of it, but books like Anthem)
  • Books that I think I kind of, sort of, probably want to read at some point in the future
  • Books on things that have finite shelf lives (on technology, for example)
  • Everything else

So we’ll see how it goes. About 8 boxes in now, and pretty muddled in my thinking on it still. Have had some of these books my whole adult life.

Jan 11

The Bed of Procrustes, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Pretty much as advertised on the cover of the book — a very short set of hundreds of one and two sentence aphorisms. Some which sound wise and are. Others which sound wise but are not. Some which sound dumb and are. Taleb’s other work has been very influential for me — but this book appears to just be a bunch of provocative ideas that are mostly flash, no real substance. Disappointing and not worth it.

Jan 11

The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

2nd book in the trilogy (the final book hasn’t been published yet). Read it in spite of misgivings — only liked the first a little bit, and it pretty much met expectations. Not great fun, a little confused, less interesting mythologies, some convenient inventions. Anyway, not really recommended.

Jan 11

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

New epic-ish fantasy book that’s gotten a lot of positive reviews. Some interesting, sorta unique mythological elements in it, good for vacation reading, but not a hugely enthusiastic recommendation from me.

Jan 11

My favorite books of 2010

Each year I look back on the books I’ve read and highlight a few of my favorites. Looking back on 2010, it looks like I read fewer books than in the previous years, and was less excited about the ones I did read. Not sure I read any truly great books this year. (Although I did read a truly horrible book, from one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Lethem: Chronic City.)

All that said, here are the books I read in 2010 for the first time that I liked best:

Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Sorkin — great, detailed account of the meltdown of the financial sector. I think not as readable as Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, which I’m in the middle of, but very interesting.

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi — great, original science fiction of a very believable and bleak future. Wasn’t perfect, but very good.

Room, very hard book to read, but probably the most original, thoughtful voice in fiction I read this year. On a lot of folks’ Top of 2010 lists.

Four Fish, by Paul Greenberg — a detailed look at human relationships with the four main types of fish we consume voraciously. Everyone should read this one.

The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins — a really terrific young adult series that I devoured in about a week. Reminded me a lot of The Running Man, and was extremely readable.

So those are my five for 2010. (What were yours??) Looking forward to great stuff in 2011. 🙂