Bookshelf

  1. Cover of Childhood's End

    Childhood's End

    by Arthur C. Clarke
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    Childhood's End

    by Arthur C. Clarke
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    Incredibly ambitious in scope and ideas, especially for time. Immensely readable, as all of Clarke’s novels are. There’s just a bit of hoakiness in the climax that brings it down somewhat in my estimation.

  2. Cover of That Affair Next Door

    That Affair Next Door

    by Anna Katharine Green
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    That Affair Next Door

    by Anna Katharine Green
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    A really solid mystery novel from the end of the 19th century. A compelling character, a confounding mystery, and some great twists. I’m really enjoying the books in the Library of Congress’ series of forgotten crime literature.

  3. Cover of I, Claudius

    I, Claudius

    by Robert Graves
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    I, Claudius

    by Robert Graves
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    A wonderful historical novel! Graves manages to take the messy lives of four Roman Emperors and somehow make them narratively satisfying without sacrificing fidelity to the source material. More than that, the narrative voice he provides Claudius is rich, lively, and compelling. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

  4. Cover of 2001: A Space Odyssey

    2001: A Space Odyssey

    by Arthur C. Clarke
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    2001: A Space Odyssey

    by Arthur C. Clarke
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    The Stanley Kubrik film – written simultaneously and in tandem with the book – is so iconic and looms so large on my mind that the experience of reading the novel is important to separate, far more so than any other source material I’ve ever read.

    The thing that really stands out is that Clarke and Kubrik, though telling the very same story, are interested in completely different things. Clarke is interested in science and possibility and the wonder of the universe. Kubrik, on the other hand, is interested in psyche and mystery and creating images and effects that strike something primal in the viewer. One story, two purposes.

    I look forward to reading the sequel novels, where the film won’t dominate my mind so thoroughly and they’ll have a chance at being experienced on their own merits.

  5. Cover of The Things We Make

    The Things We Make

    by Bill Hammack
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Things We Make

    by Bill Hammack
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    This book has a fairly simple point to make–that engineering follows a unique and practical method distinct from its reputation as applied science. You could argue that the point could be made just as well in a shorter format, and books that could be pared down to article length are typically one of my pet peaves.

    But the way this is written, with many examples drawn from the history of engineering and invention, is just so enjoyable to me that I can find no fault. And the core premise, though simple, is actually a pretty meaningful one for how we think about discovery and problems solving.

  6. Cover of Babel-17

    Babel-17

    by Samuel R. Delany
    ★ ★ ★

    Babel-17

    by Samuel R. Delany
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    This book was a bit of a disappointment to me. I probably expected too much, because it was a Hugo Award nominee, because Jo Walton gave it high praise, and because an endorsement quote in the front matter called Delaney scifi’s Melville. I expected all that, and what I got was a fairly tepid space opera with a plot in need of tightening.

  7. Cover of Snails and Monkey Tails

    Snails and Monkey Tails

    by Michael Arndt
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    Snails and Monkey Tails

    by Michael Arndt
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    A short little book that’s filled with some great typographic and linguistic facts, all presented in fun and creative design. I think I’ll pick up a copy in print for my office bookshelf.

  8. Cover of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

    Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

    by Kory Stamper
    ★ ★ ★

    Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries

    by Kory Stamper
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    There is a lot of really interesting stuff here for language nerds like me. From how dictionary definitions are structured and divided into senses and subsenses, how meanings are divined from piles of reference quotations, and how dictionaries are treated as authoritative arbiters of what is correct and true, there’s plenty to chew on here. It’s a shame, though, that the writing indulges in the quipy style that is so trendy right now.

  9. Cover of The Big Sleep

    The Big Sleep

    by Raymond Chandler
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Big Sleep

    by Raymond Chandler
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    The Big Sleep is such an ur-example of the hardboiled detective genre that it’s hard to read it without a wash of associations and connections that cloud your reading experience. The dry, wry narration style has been cribbed and riffed on as voiceovers in everything from other detective novels to Veronica Mars to The Animaniacs. And then there’s the iconic film adaptation by Howard Hawks starring Humphrey Bogart.

    It’s that last one that sticks in my head the most as I read. I suppose that for me Bogart will always be Philip Marlowe–and that’s not a bad thing! It’s been long enough since I last saw the movie that I only retained a general impression of the plot and scenes, but they come rushing back as I read the same events on the page.

    But for all the ways it’s impossible to read this book with truly fresh eyes, it’s still really good. For me, the exploration of civilization’s unseemly underbelly through the actions of a seemingly Machiavellian, but ultimately morally centered hero is a great setup. The characters are complex. The language is sharp. I can’t wait to read the next in the series.

  10. Cover of Rocannon's World

    Rocannon's World

    by Ursula K. Le Guin
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Rocannon's World

    by Ursula K. Le Guin
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Ursula LeGuin’s first novels is in some ways a simple book. But all the subtleties that made her the writer she was were there from the start–the psychological and anthropological depth, the lyrical, starkly evocative prose, and the wabi sabi sense of the sorrow and beauty of impermanence and imperfection.

  11. Cover of Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works

    Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works

    by Erik Spiekermann
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works

    by Erik Spiekermann
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    A really solid broad overview of Typography, written in an approachable style with plenty of character. There are a few things in this edition that are already slightly outdated (like the explanation of the need for pixel fonts), but I still think I might adopt it as a secondary text for my typography class.

  12. Cover of Babel

    Babel

    by R. F Kuang
    ★ ★

    Babel

    by R. F Kuang
    ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

    This is an ambitious book. Kuang set out to examine the nature of language and translation, confront colonialism and empire, and tell an epic tale of complicity, change, and revolution. A book like this wants to make an impact.

    I love all the ideas here, but the execution is quite clumsy. Protagonists’ motivations are often unjustified, the plot points seem to lurch forward without feeling earned, and many characters are underdrawn to the point of being complete cyphers. There are moments of poignancy and even occasional brilliance, and I hope that Kuang’s craft will grow to match her ambition, but this one shoots rather wide of the mark.

  13. Cover of The Martian Chronicles

    The Martian Chronicles

    by Ray Bradbury
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Martian Chronicles

    by Ray Bradbury
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    Bradbury’ science fiction was never about science or technology. He’s a master of nostalgia, of the dual American myths of frontiers and small towns, and of the darkly ironic twist. In The Martian Chronicles, he threads together a series of short stories that explore the taking and taming of a new land, the genocide of a race, and the impulses that drive us to spoil what might have been wonderful. This is very much a book of the early 1950s, but it is also a book that shines a mirror back on the ideals and attitudes that took shape in those years and loom so heavy in the American psyche to this day.

    The scope is grand, the humor is gallows, and the prose is remarkable.

  14. Cover of The Boat of a Million Years

    The Boat of a Million Years

    by Poul Anderson
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Boat of a Million Years

    by Poul Anderson
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    This is an epic, sprawling work that spans time and space. The historical settings are written with love and deep knowledge, and you can tell that Anderson has a historian’s appreciation of the tapestry of human affairs and the patterns that emerge. This is the kind of writing that really speaks to my own passions and interests.

    Unfortunately, once the plot makes it to the present (or rather Anderson’s present at the time of writing) the story mostly runs out of gas. The lesson seems to be that with all the time and opportunities for wisdom that an immortal life would grant, all you end up caring about is shacking up and deciding where to have babies. Blech.

    The first acts are enough to push this novel to a high rating for me, but what a disappointment in the end.

  15. Cover of The Turn of the Screw

    The Turn of the Screw

    by Henry James
    ★ ★ ★

    The Turn of the Screw

    by Henry James
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    Moody, gothic, filled with creepy children, The Turn of The Screw was a great read for the Halloween season. James’ winding, labyrinthine sentences are a perfect compliment to the paranoid disorientation of the narrator.

  16. Cover of Guns of the Dawn

    Guns of the Dawn

    by Adrian Tchaikovsky
    ★ ★ ★

    Guns of the Dawn

    by Adrian Tchaikovsky
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    Like all of the Tchaikovsky I’ve read so far, the plot carries you along and keeps you engaged all the way through. And also like all of the Tchaikovsky I’ve read so far, the central feat of prestidigitation is to take all the protagonist’s assumptions and flip them on their heads. But, to some degree, the trick doesn’t work quite so well in this novel because the audience sees through the hero’s illusions pretty early on. The novel still works, but you don’t get the sting of wonder when the truth is revealed.

  17. Cover of The Coddling of the American Mind

    The Coddling of the American Mind

    by Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff
    ★ ★

    The Coddling of the American Mind

    by Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff
    ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

    If not for my book club, I wouldn’t read a book with such an inflammatory title, but we’d previously read Haidt’s previous book The Righteous Mind and found it pretty interesting. This one doesn’t at all live up to that precedent.

    The basic point is unarguable–by over-protecting children, we make them vulnerable to fragility and likely to have extreme reactions to disagreement–but the authors seem to be more interested in clutching their pearls about kids these days and in cherry-picking scandalous sounding exemplars than in asking deeper questions about why young people feel the way they do or how the situation might be more nuanced than it seems at first glance. It leaves me with a strong urge to dismiss it with a shrug and an “okay, boomer.”

  18. Cover of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

    by Robert Heinlein
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

    by Robert Heinlein
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    Heinlein’s characters like to sit around and talk about ideas, which I love. In this book, however, there’s a bit of dissonance between the armchair philosophy and the stakes of what the characters are planning; they just don’t seem worried enough as they plan the revolution over glasses of vodka. But the revolution does come, and the danger arrives with it.

    Even in the really talky bits, this book is a page turner.

  19. Cover of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

    by John le Carré
    ★ ★ ★

    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

    by John le Carré
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    A solid deconstruction of spycraft and the cold war.

  20. Cover of Embassytown

    Embassytown

    by China Miéville
    ★ ★

    Embassytown

    by China Miéville
    ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

    DNF

    There are some really interesting ideas, images, and scenarios in this book, but I never connected with the characters or the plot. And when faced with an expiring library loan, I found that I wasn’t invested enough to check it out again to finish reading it.

  21. Cover of Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words

    Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words

    by Bill Bryson
    ★ ★ ★

    Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words

    by Bill Bryson
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    TIt may be more telling about me than about the book that I often found myself mentally quibbling with small points of usage or grammar over and over again as I read this.

  22. Cover of Deep Work

    Deep Work

    by Cal Newport
    ★ ★ ★

    Deep Work

    by Cal Newport
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    There’s some good advice in here. I’m definitely giving some of a it a try.

  23. Cover of Spiderlight

    Spiderlight

    by Adrian Tchaikovsky
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    Spiderlight

    by Adrian Tchaikovsky
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    A unique and very readable deconstruction of high fantasy good-versus-evil tropes. Only, I wonder if it might be even stronger without the arch humor that underlies the tone.

  24. Cover of Moby Dick or, the Whale

    Moby Dick or, the Whale

    by Herman Melvile
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Moby Dick or, the Whale

    by Herman Melvile
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    A monumental work in scale, prose, psychological depth, and artistic merit. Shakespearean in its use of language. Profoundly serious in its themes and yet very funny. Still groundbreaking in its structure and form more than a century and a half later.