Bookshelf

  1. Currently Reading:
    Cover of Eloquent JavaScript

    Eloquent JavaScript

    by Marijn Haverbeke
  2. Currently Reading:
    Cover of Lonesome Dove

    Lonesome Dove

    by Larry McMurtry
  3. Currently Reading:
    Cover of Universal Principles of Typography

    Universal Principles of Typography

    by Elliot Jay Stocks
  4. Currently Reading:
    Cover of Farewell, My Lovely

    Farewell, My Lovely

    by Raymond Chandler
  5. Cover of The Creative Act

    The Creative Act

    by Rick Rubin
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Creative Act

    by Rick Rubin
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    I’ve read a lot of books that give advice on my various creative pursuits, but I think this one does the best job of any of them when it comes to truly capturing my experience as a creative person. The book is filled with simple, clear perspective for the internal struggles that I’ve faced a million times over, and I believe I shall reference it for years to come.

    In a few places, Rubin gets a bit too woowoo spiritual for my taste, but in most places where he talks about things like energy and universal source, I can choose to take it as metaphor for the complex intangibles of inspiration.

  6. Cover of Class

    Class

    by Stephanie Land

    Class

    by Stephanie Land
    ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

    I don’t typically read memoirs, but the college where I teach handed this one out at an all-hands event as a way for us to better understand some of the challenges our students face. On that score, I’m pretty disappointed. Sure, here and there Land makes a few decent points about the hurdles and indignities of living in poverty, but it’s hardly the focus of the story.

    But if I was looking for focus, I was quite mistaken; there is none. The chapters meander between the random occurrences of her life, and any hints of theme that manage to flit by are often contradicted in the next turn. And Land’s depiction of scraping through college as an underemployed single mother is sullied in its heroism by the depiction of her poor choices and general immaturity. (So much so, that the part of me that’s very close with my own impoverished childhood finds itself wildly speculating that Land is some sort of plant meant to convince readers that the poor really are what the right wants us to believe.)

    Still, there might be something redeeming if the prose were beautiful or her ability to draw a scene arresting, but it’s all very casual and unadorned.

    I hope the next memoir I pick up will be better.

  7. Cover of I, Robot

    I, Robot

    by Isaac Asimov
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    I, Robot

    by Isaac Asimov
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Each story is like a little puzzle that seems at first almost simple but holds a lot of big ideas about technology, logical reasoning, and unintended consequences. Asimov’s characters are very 1950s, but within that scope they are quite entertaining, especially the two beleaguered robot troubleshooters who play off of riff on each other as they rack their brains to overcome each new problem they face. True comfort reading.

  8. Cover of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

    Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

    by Samuel R. Delany
    ★ ★

    Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

    by Samuel R. Delany
    ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

    This book has a lot of ideas, many of them particularly progressive for the 1980s, in which the novel was penned. And I respect that, I really do. But the storytelling is meanderingly awkward, the prose is often hard to follow, and the character motivations are just bad. I’ll be honest, I quit reading when the “liberated” sexual politics of the book lead to actions that were perplexing at best and terribly exploitative if we’re honest about it. Yuck.

  9. Cover of The Thin Man

    The Thin Man

    by Dashiell Hammett
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Thin Man

    by Dashiell Hammett
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    Nick and Nora Charles are a charming (and surprisingly progressive in their relationship) couple of protagonists, which is why the film adaptation of The Thin Man spawned several sequels and even a TV show, not to mention lent their names to a style of cocktail glass.

    Comparing this to Dashiell Hammett’s only other novel, The Maltese Falcon, it’s interesting how it is so much more lighthearted in tone, and yet so similar in its hard-boiled oeuvre at the same time. Without at all reading like a parody, it manages to place a pair of rye bon vivants right in the middle of a corrupt and morally grey noir world. Nicely done.

  10. Cover of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    by Victor Hugo
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    by Victor Hugo
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    This novel is epic, complex, humorous, and full of character. And tragic, very, very tragic. Hugo excels at depicting the ways in which we project our own needs and desires onto other people, and especially how that can become obsession. Occasionally, the book escalates into true melodrama, but not enough to detract from the scale of its achievement.

  11. 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.

  12. Cover of The Wager

    The Wager

    by David Grann
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Wager

    by David Grann
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    As he proved in Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann can really make history come to life so that it reads like a novel. Part of it is that he’s a fantastic writer with great prose, but part of it is that he finds stories that make your jaw drop, repeatedly.

    The Wager does just that. It’s hard to believe what these sailors went through, what they survived, and the choices they made. You sit on the edge of your seat, holding your breath for what might come next, terrified and hopeful. It’s exhilarating, harrowing, and a lot of fun.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.