No pizza for me

[Dec 22, 2019]

I set a goal to read 40 books in 2019. I didn’t hit it.

I did come a lot closer than I thought I would though, ending up at 30 books, with two in progress as I write this, one of which I might finish by the end of the year. Some notes on what helped me read way more this year than the year before:

  1. I set a goal.
  2. I kept track of everything in Notion. I created a kanban board, and whenever I find something that looks interesting, it goes in the “want to read” column. This makes finding something to read at the library, or when I’m just looking to pick up something new much easier.
  3. I generally read a non-fiction and fiction book at the same time. Not concurrently, but I might be reading the fiction book on the weekends and non-fiction on the train.
  4. The bulk of my reading came from weekends when I woke up, made coffee, picked up a book and started reading with no distractions in between. Having physical books (when possible) and forgetting internet connected devices existed made that even easier.

Started and didn’t finish

  1. You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero This book is terrible.
  2. Michael Chabon’s the Escapist: Pulse-Pounding Thrills by Michael Chabon. I liked the idea of this, the “found” tales of a fake historical comic book superhero, but couldn’t get in to any of the actual stories.
  3. Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World by Joseph Menn. Back cover made it seem interesting….
  4. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. This was one in a huge stack of books that went to the beach house this Summer. Read a bunch of the others, just never got around to finishing this.

Started and will probably finish someday

  1. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I feel like 100% of the point of this book is in the title, but maybe I’ll revisit some day and be proven wrong.
  2. Rubik by Elizabeth Tan. I only got a few pages in (library due dates!) but I have it still in the “try again” column in the kanban board I track my reading on.
  3. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath. Just found some other non-fiction books that were more interesting and kept throwing this one in the backlog.

Alright, let’s move on to the books I actually read.

Read but wouldn’t recommend

This is, fortunately, a relatively short list.

  1. Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames. I think the critical responses to this book (read any comment on Goodreads) are a bit overblown, but it’s fundamentally pitched as being about living a frugal lifestyle when it’s really about making choices that matter to you with your money. Framed differently, I still wouldn’t recommend it, but I’d feel less like I wasted my time reading it.

Graphic Novels

I’m not sure these need to be separated out, but these ones all have pictures with the words.

  1. Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan. I ❤️ everything Brian K. Vaughan does.
  2. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui.
  3. oh no by Alex Norris. This book is 1 joke for 100 pages but I loved it all 100 times.

Read but I suggest you just read the Wikipedia entry instead

All of these are perfectly good books, but they’re a lot of words around a main point that’s maybe a five paragraph essay.

  1. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. Checklists = good.
  2. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. Choice = hard.
  3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher. Most of this is obvious but definitely read the Wikipedia on BANTA.

There’s a few books in this category that I started but have not finished nor given up on (Code Complete by Steve McConnell being the big one), a lot of work related books I read in very short sessions when I’m looking for something specifically relevant to what I’m doing.

  1. Inclusive Front-End Design Patterns by Heydon Pickering.

Read and enjoyed, non-fiction

  1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
  2. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. I definitely didn’t need to read both, but my wife had them both on hold at the library at different times so why not. If you were going to read one, I’d go with Deep Work.
  3. It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by D. Michael Abrashoff. I’m usually not crazy about military related stories, but Abrashoff writes well and even if you’re not interested in the managerial aspects there’s some interesting anecdotes about how people learn and succeed in the jobs they’re given.
  4. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris.
  5. It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness by Sylvia Boorstein. Two books primarily about meditation. 10% Happier was close to the “just read the Wikipedia” article section but it feels weird to put books about meditation in the “instant gratification” bucket.
  6. How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe. Long format XKCD.
  7. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. I found this book utterly fascinating. As someone who has a higher than normal amount of health related anxiety, the idea that your whole body and mind can fall apart and you can come back from it is… literally mind-blowing.
  8. The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. This book is interesting because it’s really three stories with a central thread, and they’re all quite interesting. If you’re primarily interested in the titular city, you will probably leave disappointed, if you just go with it there's a lot to learn about artifact smuggling, the end of civilizations, and global warming and the spread of infectious diseases.
  9. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
  10. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon. Austin Kleon does something right, and the short, fun format means these might reappear in the 2020 list.

Read and enjoyed, fiction

  1. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Good book, but I think if the moon was crashing into the Earth you could survive inside the library bound edition of it.
  2. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Another “let me get my lectern” monster. I read it digitally. While both of these have lots of words, Sanderson is the better world builder. I don’t know if this series will ever actually be finished, but I’m currently reading Words of Radiance so I’m excited to see how far it goes.
  3. The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. Maybe not a surprising read on a site called builtwith.coffee. A super interesting look at the roots of coffee and starting a business in a war torn country.
  4. The Parade by Dave Eggers. I read this book in one sitting, it had a nervous tension that made me want to keep going to find out what was going to happen next.
  5. The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett. Not my favorite of the Discworld series, but I’m working my way through them. I may have made a mistake by reading them in “best” order.
  6. Vicious (Villains, #1) by V.E. Schwab. Fun, quick read, can see myself going back to read the next book in the series in 2020.
  7. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I read this right after finishing God of War and I was mostly impressed at how much the game stayed true to the source material.

Read and Loved

  1. Neuromancer
  2. Count Zero
  3. Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson. Read them all back to back. I got hooked on Gibson’s writing style a quarter way through Neuromancer and couldn’t stop.
  4. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. A slave boy, inadvertently freed by John Brown, travels with him dressed as a girl and bestowed the name Onion. Things only get stranger from there, but this book is an amazing take on “the truth is stranger than fiction”, it’s the real events that surround Brown’s life that seem insane, while Onion just tries to make it by, swept up in Brown’s storm.
  5. Circe by Madeline Miller. The idea of taking someone most people know as a minor character in the Odyssey and turning them into the main character is brilliant, and the writing in this book is beautiful, turning the Greek “tragedy of a god as metaphor” into something entirely human.

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