Year by the Books

Table of Contents



Total Pages Turned this Year: 16,425

Average Book Length: 315.865 pages


Favorite Non-Fiction: An Eternal Golden Braid

Favorite Fiction: The entire Sandman Series.. wait was I allowed to pick ten?

Most-Read Author: Neil Gaiman. I just kept going back to him

Truth or Lies

Fiction: 34

Non-Fiction: 18

52 Books In A Year [100%]


The Art of Learning

author: Josh Waitzkin

CLOSED: [2017-01-30 Mon 08:34]

Josh writes an excellent and instructive story on his journey through chess grandmastery into his "deep study" (i.e. mastery) of Tai Chi Chuan. He's got a big work ethic, and that backs all of his ideas. I fear that this is crucial to most of his ideas functionality, and he downplays this a bit. Even so, for the high-performer his insights are useful and practical.

The first is that a learner ought to have an iterative style of development. That is, they should believe that their ability in a field is and can be grown. Out of this one minute detail, everything flows.

He discussed the idea of a soft zone as well: a zone that accepts imperfections and acts more like a blade of grass than a twig. Basically, this is his way of describing his practical experience with using mental flexibility to advantage. The soft zone can be used to accept environment variables and channel them as creative inspiration. This is an interesting notion and throughout the book, Josh does not attempt to push down natural emotion or external factors but always to flow with it. Once, Josh used an earthquake that happened during one of his chess matches to help him focus. If to be believed, that is incredible.

Smaller Circles was a concept that he developed about refining a technique by slowly(!) reducing the fat from the movement. Distilling it until it retains the power without all of the fluff. Punches are a good example of this, as great punchers do not telegraph their movements but rather have extremely efficient attacks. I question the applicability of this in knowledge work though..

Slowing down Time was another term that he defined in the book. Here he discussed how to allow your unconscious to take on most of the work within a technique and use the conscious mind to work on very specific things. Naturally, a key component is having the technique down pat. In this way it is possible to see much more detail. Josh discusses the way that this also helped him appreciate life more. When he's so zeroed in, he sees beauty in "the banal". I have to say that I really enjoyed this description and would like to attain it.

Josh discusses "dirty" players and how he learned to deal with them. He says that "dirty players were my greatest teachers". In Josh's final tourney in Taiwan, ther was extreme cheating and Josh's ability to stay above it is incredible.

Overall, it seems like Josh has a Robert-Pirsig-style. Actually, Josh even references RP's ZATAOMM in his own book! He believes in intuition and personal expression when mastering something. He believes strongly in letting things go when training.

Definitely a book to reread one day.

Lion's Commentary on Unix

author: John Lions

CLOSED: [2017-03-06 Mon 10:55]

High quality C code building a high quality system, with high quality commentary that guides you through it. What's not to love!

My perspective is one as somebody who does not have OS design as a primary interest. There were a lot of tricks and tips to be gained however, and the thoughtfulness of the system is a good reminder and hallmark for design. I gave a talk on this book, which can be found here:

From that presentation: "Lions’ uses a few different techniques to explain code.

  • Following Code-Branches for use-cases (initialization)
  • Exploring Functions from different callers (sched, sleep, etc)
  • Exploring Files (malloc.c)
  • Exploring big ideas (process) Finally, he breaks up and chunks the code into topics. This makes the system organized and easy to conceptually hold in your mind."

    This book helped my understanding of OS's and C. It's a reminder of what good documentation can do.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

author: Gerald Sussman and Hal Abelson

CLOSED: [2017-01-06 Fri 11:33]

I really only picked this up to start learning some Lisp, but it turned out to be one of, if not the best CS book I've ever read. Not only was the subject matter intensely interesting, but the authors had carefully and cleverly laid out all of the material. Amazing work. It made me think differently about computer languages.

The book uses Scheme as its language to study with. Scheme is a really interesting language, academically. I tried to use it later on in competitions, but its flexibility and implementability are also weaknesses. It's been forked so many times that there is limited library support for any one language variant.

I vastly prefer the syntax of Scheme to Common Lisp, but alas…

Surely You Must Be Joking

author: Richard Feynman

CLOSED: [2017-03-09 Thu 20:16]

This is a highly lovable account of RF's life. His writing is conversational and unpretentious. The whole thing bleeds honesty, curiosity, and a non-conformity that is peculiarly resilient to academia. RF has this cool prankster, nonconforming streak that runs through him. He is always up to some adventure or another, saying yes to opportunities, and just being curious and raising hackles as he goes.

His honesty seems to come from his background in science. To him, things are the way they are– subjective frou frou and social cues are not his strong suit. His learning style seems completely self directed, and he always likes problems to be concrete. He avoids the abstract when learning, loving to think of real examples. He comes off as almost egoless when learning.

He is a hopeless case of roving passion and curiosity, and his life seems to be strung together by various fancies that struck him. He got into a lot of mischief just by investigating or saying yes to new things, like volunteering to be hypnotized, becoming a professor, drawing life studies of people, etc.

The final chapter of the book, on science and pseudoscience, discusses an important point about the integrity of science, what its pitfalls are and how to avoid them, and what pseudosciences are lacking. In it, he describes several common culture staples that appear to be scientific, but by his judging are not. He loathes the imprecise and any whiffs of charlatan that he can find. I don't think he'd stay sane in the modern Internet.

There are a lot of takeaways from the book, some really great things about his character, but I think my favorite is that RF is a brilliant example of a guy who didn't just do one thing. He played drums in Brazilian samba bands, he spoke several languages approximately, he picked locks to nuclear secrets during WWII, he sold art, and he won a Nobel prize in physics. He lived a multifaceted life, launching himself headlong into each activity with serious earnest.

This was an inspiring book, to be sure.

Surreal Numbers

author: Donald Knuth

CLOSED: [2017-01-05 Thu 02:05]

A short read < 150 pages, but mathematically much more rigorous that I had initially anticipated. The book explores the topic of Surreal Numbers, originally "discovered" by John Conway. The plotline and dialogue is fairly contrived–it's easy to see that the author is using the characters dialogues to drive forwards, although their voices do improve slightly over time.

Knuth lets his love for mathematics really shine through in this book and discusses the way Math is essentially an aphrodisiac for him. (cringe). Anyways, the book is useful and intended to demonstrate the creative nature of "discovering" new mathematics and how a few simple rules can beget new rules and ultimately come out with a pretty amazing system. For that, this book was impressive indeed. Out of the concept of sets and 2 relatively concise rules, all numbers flow forth. Neat!!

Deep Work

author: Cal Newport

CLOSED: [2017-08-13 Sun 22:11]

A worthwhile read on the importance of deep work, and why it's so effective. It made me feel considerably better about being such a curmudgeon about technology, social networks, etc. Cal makes a case that by ignoring these things, distrusting low common-denominator distractions, and by following deep work relentlessly–it is possible to achieve much, much better results.

Additionally, I found his term of "Knowledge Workers" to be super apropos, referring to the class of workers that includes software engineers.

Now that I'm at Google, I have to say that this book is highly relevant. There is great pressure to constantly be online and responding to emails, against which CN is high-pitched in his warnings. I think it'll be a good time to begin implementing some of the practical tips for keeping in the zone.

Naked Statistics

author: Charles Wheelan

CLOSED: [2017-04-04 Tue 00:50]

I approached this book with the goal of briefing myself back with Statistics, after earlier in my college career having passed the Statistics requirement but failed to learn a single thing permanently. Thus I asked Rob for a book that would engage me and show me the "why" of Statistics more than the "how".

This book reminded me a lot of Feynman's approach to teaching/learning. The author broke down the information into digestible chunks, giving clear reasons for why things like variance, regression analysis, Central Limit Theorems are needed, and nevertheless managed to really get into some nitty gritty as well. He stayed clear of any serious math, but it was an excellent survey of statistics, and perfect for somebody like me that needs a reason for all the numbers.

It's a good book for learning statistics, since it chunks the information with examples that you'll remember and keep with you for a while. It was also intellectually satisfying to a layman like myself.

Effective C++

author: Scott Meyers

CLOSED: [2017-12-17 Sun 22:30]

Effective C++, a pretty solid book to take the intermediate to expert stages.

It was really interesting to read this as a companion to the Style Guides that Google offers. (See for a publicly facing version of this.)

The Google Style Guide codifies a lot of the lessons in this book, but usually strays away from Scott Meyer's more rambunctious or clever workarounds with C++ wizardry. One example of this at play is the prescriptions based upon the types of inheritance.

Private Inheritance is banned in the Google style guide, preferring the method of composition, which does as well in most cases. In Effective C++ though, the prescription is a little less severe, mentioning that while, yes composition should be mostly used, multiple inheritance is useful when used judiciously.

Whenever there is a feature that is overly clever or an exception to the rule, the style guide bans it, preferring to minimize the number of things that developer's need to keep track of and limiting the language's set of features as a result. The more I read, the more I'm convinced of the GSG's foresight. One of the big downsides of C++ is it's complexity. It's difficult to grok code when there are so many rules and sub-rules and exceptions. The C++ language can remind one of the legal system or tax code.

I definitely enjoyed the book. When dealing with a teeming page of rules, it's helpful to mull over the reasons onself, firstly because then you can remember what they were and secondly because it helps you defend your style.

Modern C++

author: Scott Meyers

CLOSED: [2017-11-19 Sun 17:17]

Man, C++ is disgustingly byzantine and baroque. As I learn the language more completely, and I begin to see the arc of the language and its development overtime, I'm increasingly feeling revolted about many of its features. It can do pretty much everything, but there are many dark corners of legal C++ that would have me wondering whether it was C++ or some unknowable Egyptian language. The language is a patchwork of languages, or, if you're feeling generous, a "federation" of languages.

At the same time, it's so popular and pretty darn efficient in a pro's hands, so I can understand the continued use…Still. Still. Might be worth the 10x hit to never have to deal with the "template" system.

Overall, another winner book by Scott. He does a good job explaining why certain keywords or modifiers are needed, which greatly increases the ability to spot when they should be used.


author: Carl Sagan

CLOSED: [2017-11-19 Sun 17:48]

Cosmos. "We are made of star stuff…"

First off, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book, because while I enjoy and follow his tour of the scientific galaxy, I just plain disagree with many of his conclusions on things. He's something of a curmudgeon, as am I I suppose, but he has aimed his blame at religion and dogma. If it weren't for religions, he espouses, the public would be much more up to date. They wouldn't go looking for easy answers or be left in ignorance, the public would follow rational, scientific inquiry and understand its importance to society. Cultures would have advanced beyond their current state, unhindered by the religious shackles that entrap so many. This is not the core message, but its a clear and explicit one, perhaps not so urgent in its clip, but weaved thoroughly into the book.

I don't agree. Its ironic, because again, I do agree with many of his points, following even his lamentations towards the state of public opinion and focus, but I see other powers to be culprits. Today, it seems largely that technology can be blamed. Though perhaps the "uneducated masses" have been around and will be around forever. Of course, having seen that he previously misaimed his cantankerous frown, I am probably misaiming as well.

Anyways, a few themes and ideas that I enjoyed.

His unabashed amazement and meticulous storytelling of scientific history. He chronicles a few historically significant scientific societies like the Ionians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the modern state of affairs. Its clear that this book was written at the time that nuclear holocaust was eclipsing everything else in the zeitgeist, when it hung in the air, blotting out any light from any subject. Sagan sees the advent of weapons with the power of total destruction as a major obstacle that we will have to overcome. It's funny, when you think about it for any length of time, things become very bleak. There are way too many hands on way too many buttons that could eliminate massive chunks of the earth. And chances are, if they did, America would be one of the targets, postured as it is, presenting its chest to the world. We'll see how that goes. It's still horrifying to think about and to pay any mind too, but I think that most people have buried it in a cultural-wide do-not-open file. It's a bit like the chances of a car wreck. A civilization's car wreck..

Also, I found the evidence around Big Bang interesting. At least of of the points is that we see too many red shifted stars. Red-shifted due to the Doppler Effect, which indicates that almost all the stars are moving away from us. Similarly, the majority of those stars are shifting away from each other. The idea that the BB wasn't a typical explosion helped greatly.

Interestingly, Sagan's ideas around alien life, Mars, and space in general is hopeful. He's something of an optimist. Albeit one that determinedly shuns any stories that have a tinge of mythology. However, where there are ambiguities in the natural world, he usually imputes a hopeful and beautifully rich world. He'll follow whatever the evidence shows, but at his core, he wants to believe.

Out on the Wire

author: Jessica Abel

CLOSED: [2017-12-03 Sun 12:54]

A lot of insights about the craft of podcasts and radio journalism, with a pretty great arc about storytelling and editing as well. The look into the way that podcasts are created allows for their success with stories to be better understood and emulated. For my part, I would like to carry many of the ideas into my edits of Coffee Break and future podcast ambitions.

One of the items that the radio uses to good effect is silence, to make pregnant pauses that allow the reader to focus on what was just said or to listen up to what a single voice is about to say. They also use a technique called "signposting" to help the audience understand a confusing, important, or complex topic. They explicitly or implicitly tell the audience that "hey listen up this is worth it".

Two great ideas from the book

  • "German Forests" : the phenomenon/place when you're so deep in a story, idea, or project that you become lost and unsure of the way out. This captures a lot of the anxiety that I get when I'm deep in an idea, and I really enjoy this phrase to capture it. In the radio industry, it's used when a journalist is deep in the weeds of a story.
  • "I had to read this book to be able to write it." : Jessica Abel in the epilogue, talking about how she used the techniques that she was learning about in the research to write and shape the book. I find that this is such a true and natural way of describing why the iterative process is so vital.

Rendering in Pen and Ink

author: Arthur Guptill

CLOSED: [2017-12-03 Sun 10:44]

This book was published originally in 1937, so it's stood the test of a handful of decades. Pen and ink techniques don't change much, but the age of the book stood out in the formatting of the book. Modern drawing books use a pretty even split between drawings and written instructions, whereas this book used about 80/20 written instructions to drawings. However, the drawings that are provided as examples are pulled from a very mixed list of artists.

The book does an extensive description of the entire process of inking, leaving no detail uncovered. It still tries to accomodate the idea of "finding one's voice", though it attributes this largely to the unique mix of techniques gathered from all of the different sources that one will seek to emulate through the course of drawing.

Despite the fact that this book was largely directed to be a study for architects-to-be, it's worth the study by artists with other ambitions. It's a bit structure heavy though, in it's examples, preferring building drawings to other styles. It all comes from the same place though, and the architect must develop the same fundamental skills as the artist.

Some of the main benefits I got from this book

  • A sense of confidence about the lines that I create during practice.
  • A ton of new techniques and master-class examples of them. This was one of the largest benefits, just a really healthy diet of amazing ink work to study and analyze. Cross-hatching, stippling, line-work, implied edges, etc.
  • A better sense of what makes a composition good. This is something that never stops arriving, like wisdom with age, but in the book the author specifically analyzes several drawings and discusses the aspects that makes their composition work well.
  • Inspiration for new drawings! This is something that you can always use more of.

Finally, I really enjoyed the methodical breakdown of the creative aspects of drawing. This book basically tries to describe the path to creativity, and it's interesting to read something like the "Steps to be creative".

"How to notice things you don't notice".

"How to grab smoke".

Similar to Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, which describes how to find The Way– First you must not seek to find The Way. It's unfindable for those trying to find it.

This haiku describes Lao Tzu

This sentence is a lie and

think of Jumbo Shrimp

On Lisp

author: Paul Graham

CLOSED: [2017-11-19 Sun 21:24]

On Lisp is a pretty good "medium-strength" Common Lisp primer. it focuses on macros in the language, which are used to change code the reader actually sees at run-time. The distinction at run-time and compile-time is interesting, because in Lisp, Compile-time will see a completely different set of lisp instructions that Run-time. There were some other features of lisp and common lisp-specifically that he talked about, but it focused the most on the usage of macros, which PG saw as the most distinguishing feature of the language. One of the non-macro ideas that I did think was quite enlightening was the discussion of how using CL(Common Lisp) in a non-functional way will make the rest of the language harder to use, because most of the facilities of the language were built around functional programming. Additionally, I now understand the distinction between a 1-Lisp and a 2-lisp, a distinction that is painfully clear because it makes functions more difficult to pass around and call. In Scheme, it's unmentionably easy. To call the function "anything" in scheme, you would write:


In Common Lisp it's



The CLOS was another hint of interest though I only saw a glimpse of why it is "so powerful". The main reason seems to be its ability to define functions and dispatch based on multiple types. This is kindof true for statically typed langs, but then the function is dispatched at compile-time. And in most duck langs, the dispatch can only be done based upon the first parameter. Thus, the CLOS system seems to be a little more sophisticated, and there is a good deal of hoopla made about it.

Oh and macros are pretty cool. Pretty dang cool. Learning how to write them was really enlightening, because there definitely is a pattern to writing them. They're not as flexible as functions can be, so it's worth learning the proper way to use them

Foxes and Hedgehogs

author: Isaiah Berlin

CLOSED: [2017-05-09 Tue 10:41]

A wonderfully insightful and impressive essay about the Russian author Tolstoy.

The prose is so precise and detailed. IB describes ideas with such accuracy and clarity, and he does an excellent job weaving something of a story around Tolstoy's work. It's a writing style that leaves impressions.

I'll leave this here, the essay still largely understated..ah and one final quote by IB, on why he downplays the force of ideas in culture: "As for the importance which historians of culture attach to ideas, doubtless all men are liable to exaggerate the importance of their own wares: ideas are the commodity in which intellectuals deal - to a cobbler there’s nothing like leather - the professors merely tend to magnify their personal activities into the central ‘force’ that rules the world."

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

author: Douglas Hofstadter

CLOSED: [2017-10-08 Sun 12:11]

GEB is perhaps the greatest book I've read. Or at least it goes into the pantheon, that special place where the competitors are so elevated beyond the scope of normal prose, so unprecedented in their impact and originality and skill, that they refuse comparison with each other.

It really makes you wonder, as does The Sandman, at the other trails uncharted.

Normally, books are well within the ken of experience. Yes, they drift in and out of unexplored thoughts, at least good ones do, but the trails that they track are familiar. The stories they tell are comfortable and recognizable. The human behind the pen, deft though it might be, is relatable. For books like GEB and the Sandman, there is an alien world in them. So full of life, detail, and originality, that they pull you out of the known. They make your brain crackle with life. Having been given new, beautiful territory, the brain, in my experience, delights in exploring all of the nooks, crannies, and parallels in the author's world. Symmetries abound in them, so many that one's eyes get large as the web is taken in at once rather than individually.

Indeed, I spent more time thinking about the content of this book or related themes more than any other book. Every shower or spare moment I had would see me fleeing into closed eye meditation on the ideas of consciousness and how it might be introduced into formal systems.

GEB is bursting with references and parallels. It has enough connections between its many chapters that sometimes the mind is left spinning in the armchair.

GEB really goes beyond my experience. I've just never read a book like it. The structure of the book is original. He uses fables to prime the reader before introducing technical subjects. Worth reading just to see the form of that book at work.

Half Empty

author: David Rakoff

CLOSED: [2017-09-18 Mon 19:33]

David Rakoff is…something remarkable to talk with(read). He's the wittiest friend you ever knew, clever and cutting and always proffering just the right world. He's incisive. He makes me want to stop being so damn boring in my brain and start using some real English. He's also lived something of a tragic life. He's too smart and wide-eyed to think he's got it the worst…but yet he must face down the terrible facts of his life panning out in opposite ways than he planned. Cancer, medical issues, family issues, homosexuality issues, being single issues, etc.

The writing is excellent. On a level with few other authors, and he's able to bring the David Foster Wallace lexicon to a writing style that seems just so damn smart. He writes in the first person, like he's talking to you, and his topics can turn really personal. His descriptions of film, writing, and people makes one feel childish and tongue-tied, unable to express life as richly as you have witnessed it to be. His reflections on life are arresting. They just stop you in your tracks. Listen to him talk about "medical corridors, where a bomb just went off"

Favorite moments include his description of the turn of the century, his description of writing, and his writing about the cancer when he was going through terrible times. Like somehow half of the book could be highlighted.

Theft by Finding

author: David Sedaris

CLOSED: [2017-12-19 Tue 13:26]

Theft by Finding is a collection of DS's journal entries over the course of a couple decades. It's a schmorgishborg of weird moments, life events, travel, and gripes. Oh and random stuff too!

Right off the bat, I definitely enjoyed his other books more, and if I had to introduce somebody to the writer, this is not the one I would pass along. David Sedaris has always been a writer that revels in "people stories", preferring a real story abut the weirdos on the subway to a metaphorical story or a dive into the fanciful. His stories usually stay right on top of the facts too, never drifting too far into the revelations or beliefs of the author. Finally, his stories are handpicked to be the most absurd, unbelievable. This book mostly follows those lines, but because they're journal entries, they're not nearly as cleaned up, as lined up, and they're not consistent in length or quality.

The book is structured chronologically, so you start off somewhere in his twenties or so and find the last page to be an arbitrary tear-out of his journal closing 2002. Later, upon visiting a public reading of his, he mentioned that there was a sequel which picked up at 2003. So that explains it, but nevertheless the book's ending seemed only to further push my feeling that the book didn't have any weight to it. Although it was competently written and, edited for length, it didn't have as much reflection as I would have like to get out of something resembling an auto-biography.

That said, due to the format, the book really gave a sense of his life, one that cannot be properly retained in the usual retrospective glance that blessed, aged people make. It felt raw and mostly unpretentious, which I don't think I would be capable of even if I had kept notes along the way.

Some of my favorite entries described his early days working at IHOP, which gave neverending gripes, characters, and unbelievable stories. Overall, this book does challenge a review, because it's difficult to describe the overall effect of it. The sum of the experience is a really wide account of someone's couple decades on the planet. All of the moments and movements through his life defy a clean description. Many entries are inconsequential, contradictory, or somewhat random. But that's what a life is like. That's what David's life was like.

Tao Te Ching

author: Lao Tzu

CLOSED: [2017-11-11 Sat 10:41]

Tao Te Ching was a short read, mostly like a poetry book. There were some accompanying footnotes, some of which I read and some of which I skipped. The original text was more interesting anyways. There are a few themes of the book: juxtaposition, humility, lowness being greater than highness, and The Way.

It's difficult to sum up poetry, because poetry is already dense and a book of it often covers more ground in weird paths than full books do. That said, there were a few particular notes I enjoyed. One is the idea that contrast defines values. Lights create dark, short creates tall, etc. That's all well-known enough, but then the book launches into a corollary that I thought was pretty good. They still judge the values. The above is often taken to mean that you "need" both values. You need pain to enjoy health. You need evil to define good. Lao Tzu disagrees. He longs for the day when goodness is not noticed. He longs for the day when righteousness is not mentioned, because this is the day that unrighteousness is no longer common. It's an interesting idea, and it gives color to that very enigmatic naming of Genesis' two trees. The tree of Life and the tree of death? Nope. The tree of life(good so far) and the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (say again?). According to this new perspective on contrast, this makes sense though.

Additionally, I quite enjoyed his musings on humility, lowliness, and desire. It's so anti-American, so anti-commerce, anti-fame-seeking, anti-ambitious it seems to burn in the all-American air around it. It provides a small voice against the chant towards More. In some ways, it gives contrast to those things, making them seem stark and knowable.


Lila: An Inquiry into Moral Values

author: Robert Pirsig

CLOSED: [2017-07-20 Thu 00:19]

This is a loose sequel to Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I would summarize this book as a less edited, more honest look into the author's life. It is compelling and insightful in some areas, but it was easier to see the holes in some his arguments.

Mr. Pirsig tries to define Quality in this book. It's seriously ambitious, but he makes a go of trying to (somewhat casually) define a brand-new metaphysics that demotes the subject-object view of the world and puts his idea of "Quality" at the top.

He's extraordinarily sure-footed, and as soon as he makes a step forward, he seems convinced of its truth. He is often convinced by the way he's already going(set out to prove Quality), or the truthiness of a statement, which might ignore some obvious counter-arguments. Now, admittedly it might be challenging to contend with all of the possible counters to a reimagination of metaphysics, but nevertheless the lack of debate or admission of some difficult holes makes the book seem myopic or biased at times.

It's nevertheless got many extremely interesting views, and it's worth taking the time to sort the baby from the bathwater. The Baby, in this case, is his view on "philisophology", "insanity", and a philisophical argument against relativity and value-free anthropology(/everything else with its refusal to discuss ethics or values in an objective way.).

Story of Your Life and Others

author: Ted Chiang

CLOSED: [2017-01-03 Tue 13:42]

This was one of the greatest short story books that I've read in a while. The strength was largely due to the originality of all of the stories. Each story felt very different and had compelling, unique premises. I respect the processes and enjoyed the Story Notes at the end of the book to be reminded of where he got those amazing ideas. It's a whirlwind tour of where short stories can take you.

The Martian

author: Ray Bradbury

CLOSED: [2017-02-11 Sat 17:18]

It covered a series of short stories about the explorations of Mars from Earth. The Martians that Ray invents are vivid, collossal bits of fancy that defies modern willingness to believe that something that amazing could be in our spacial backyard. Proper science fiction, perhaps bolstered by a lack of "facts"?

A few especially cool moments in the book:

  • Insanity being "contagious" because of the Martian's telepathy, and the resulting story of the 2nd expedition being put in a mental institution because they assumed that the Earth astronauts were figments of a single astronaut's imagination.
  • A man standing outside of his hot dog shop, smelling the smell of relish and onions and broiled beef weiners as he looks up with expecatation towards the heaven, scanning the sky for the lighting glow of flaring thrusters from incoming rockets bearing more colonizing humans to Mars, when instead he sees Earth go up in flames as the first atomic missiles are launched on Earth.
  • The discussion of space as an anaesthetic that is as good as time. How what is happening on Earth is as far away as anything that is happening a world away on Earth. Space works like time in that it can heal and numb one to horrors that happen away from you.

Ray doesn't seem to trust humanity's inner nature and our natural predilections to machines, science, etc. He believes in a Quality and a melding of science with art. Or so it seems. Keeping the magic within the technical. Several times, Ray seems to exalt and dance within the Martian culture and towns, while seeing ours as young and rash. Too busy running forwards to see what we're running towards.

Sandman Series, An Overview

author: Neil Gaiman

CLOSED: [2017-05-08 Mon 11:12]

A review to sum up the books and give some small treatment to the whole body of works.

The best comic series and maybe the best book series I've ever read. There are many things that could be said, but they've been written in the prologues to all of the books. 11/10 stars. Unforgettable. Keep on the bookshelf and in my hands forever.

The next read-through must include a chapter-by-chapter review. There is just too much to summarize.

A few thoughts about the last books though.

  • Constant Contradiction

There's something incredible about the stories and characters, because they live amidst such contradictions. Their goals and actions, their priorities, their way of talking…it's beautiful, funny, and a good reminder to us as people and (me as a writer of how to write better stories). Good stories and good people carry contradictions.

  • Foxes and Hedgehogs In the Sandman, a storyteller says "My people have, of old, divided the world into two kinds of people: hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs know one big thing. Foxes know lots of little things. …"

    Books are like this. Often, fiction functions as a fox or a hedgehog. This series is an hedgehox.

    Incidentally, this is what eventually put me onto the whole Isaiah Berlin trip.

    • Musings about Muses

    There is a common definition of muses that is peddled in Business books. This would be the idea that all creativity is borne from within, not brought from without. Essentially, that creativity is just your subconscious at work, mulling and stirring your Life experiences, until it brings forth a cocktail that was inspired by them.

    Neil Gaiman and Stephen King both seem to disagree. They've personified their Muses, thinking that their inspiration comes from outside of themselves. This distinction might not seem like much, but I suspect that it does actually impact the direction in which creativity is likely to flow. If creativity comes from within, you'll expect ideas that are sanely sitting within one's stirring subconscious. If you think the real magic dust comes from outside of you, you'll be looking for anything. Sometimes, with stories like these, the originality strikes a singular question within me that asks "WHERE DID HE COME UP WITH THAT FROM????" Many great writers and artists talk about ideas coming into their head fully formed, or a story being dictated to them. It's an old story, told a hundred ways. I wonder if this is where a lot of the good stuff comes from.

[Sandman #1] Preludes & Nocturnes

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #2] The Doll's House

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #3] Dream Country

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #4] Season of Mists

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #5] A Game of You

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #6] Fables & Reflections

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #7] Brief Lives

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #8] Worlds' End

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #9] The Kindly Ones

author: Neil Gaiman

[Sandman #10] The Wake

author: Neil Gaiman


author: Alan Moore

CLOSED: [2017-04-01 Sat 12:44]

This was a remarkably good read. I really dove into it headlong, and I was able to lose myself within the story and mystery, despite my having watched the movie remake previously. Still, the comic(a sturdy book in size) was thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring.

After reading it I found myself in a rapturous glow where ideas came to me in sudden clarity. There was something about the work and its characters with fantastic responsibility to the world, that really spoke to me.

One of the big takeaways from the books was that dealing with the world successfully requires great imagination, and with proper imagination and vision, you can lead, conquer, thrive, or change in the world. It's something that takes seeing though. It's not enough to say "Imagine more". It takes a proper vision, perhaps from fiction like this, to see like this.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

author: J.K. Rowling

CLOSED: [2017-04-04 Tue 00:58]

Easy, quick read by JK. It's more of an encyclopedia than a novel, which was initially confusing, but after watching the movie, it became pretty clear that the book was a companion to the screenplay, not the inspiration for it. This is an interesting difference from the usual way that the Harry Potter series came about, but I'll admit that the movie didn't suffer too much as a result. It's interesting to see JK choose this route though, since it seems like she's making a value decision on which of the two mediums is her greater legacy. It's pretty clear that she's choosing cinema as her HP legacy, and not books.

More on the text, the book did have some fun bits in the beginning and end trying to sell the idea that the "fiction" book was just a slapped on title to confuse Muggles, and that the book was taken indeed quite seriously by wizards.

[The Foundation #1] The Foundation and Empire

author: Issac Asimov

CLOSED: [2017-07-20 Thu 01:24]

This book, #2 in the series, focused upon The Mule who was an anomaly in the psycho-history game.

Asimov does a good job again, breaking expectations on how the world is going to turn out. The Mule is a really interesting character, and there are a few terrific twists in the storyline. I don't think this book quite managed to match the glow of the first book, but it's a decent sequel

[The Foundation #2] Second Foundation

author: Issac Asimov

CLOSED: [2017-09-03 Sun 17:47]

Finally, we get a glimpse at who is in the "Second Foundation".

They're the ultimate chessmasters, able to see fifty moves ahead with perfect statistical calculations. Issac Asimov imagines that if the world could be properly described in calculations, the future could effectively be known. The Second Foundation is a group of people dedicated to that cause, outliving Seldon and carrying on his plan. There's a pretty interesting dilemma that Asimov tackles, which is how do you prevent people who know that there lives are "fated" to turn out well, from getting complacent or lazy? Pretty fun stuff.

Also created a hand gesture to replicate what is done in The Second Foundation to mean "I understand where you're going with the current line of talking". Stephen and I use this all the time now.

Slade House

author: David Mitchell

CLOSED: [2017-04-20 Thu 09:50]

Recommended by Stephen King, it was a short novel that covered a supernatural house and the killer twins within it. Stylistically, it was well done, and multiple point first-person tales really sold the story. My favorite part was that I kept being surprised by the fates of the characters, and the winners of particular battles, even as I was trying to predict what would happen

[The Wheel of Time #1] Eye Of the World

author: Robert Jordan

CLOSED: [2017-08-13 Sun 23:02]

Robert Jordan is a fantastic fantasy writer. He spins worlds wide and complex…with vivid detail.

He is great at making characters "walk through doors" (coming from the old saying that the hardest thing to write about is a character walking through a door). It occurs to me now that when writing an epic, where characters are walking pretty much the entire time, it's probably an important aspect of writing for that genre. Gotta make them walk a long way and make that walking interesting. He is great at moving characters, building suspense and worlds.

This book gave me the chills several times. I'm impressed by the pace and movement of the storyline.

[The Wheel of Time #2] The Great Hunt

author: Robert Jordan

CLOSED: [2017-09-30 Sat 21:02]

A pretty solid follow-up to the first book. Rand al'Thor continues along his destiny-filled quest. There is plenty of action and mayhem that is stirred up in his wake, and I'm enjoying following an increasingly powerful hero that is less feckless.

The characters are pretty 3D, and their internal motivations often cause them to crash together. The prose continues to be pretty solid, although nothing super special. The interesting thing is that in both books, Rand has "beaten" the final boss…but if this book was any indication, book 3 will have the same battle come again. The Wheel Turns….

Rare Book of Cunning Device

author: Ben Aaronovitch

CLOSED: [2017-07-05 Wed 17:11]

Easy read… A fun audiobook that only takes a quick sprint to listen to. I enjoy books about books..go figure.

Norse Mythology

author: Neil Gaiman

CLOSED: [2017-07-03 Mon 17:47]

An excellent bit of writing by NG, and it's an awesome intro into Norse myths. NG has one of my favorite writing styles, and I enjoy his myth-weaving the most. He's really in his element as something of a bard, passing down or modifying stories that have a backbone.

Thor, Loki, Odin, and the many other Norse gods have never been so awesome. They each are so different from the Hollywood depictions. Instead of a golden-haired, ripped, blue-eyed model, Thor in this book is a gruff, rude, massive god with a temper and somewhat dull wits. And Loki, while quite powerful, is not all-powerful. He's not always in control. He doesn't always get his way.

Finally, the world around the gods really takes shape in the books. The giant serpent that surrounds the world, the flaming giant in another world, the underworld sister…all of this is excellently treated here. Finally, there is Ragnarok…the end of all, when Fenrir the Giant Wolf will eat the world. What is fascinating about Raganarok is that because of the idiosyncrasies of Norse myths, it is constantly brought up in the mind. It's not only in the storyteller's minds, it's in the listeners' minds AND it's in the characters' minds as well! Odin has foreseen it, so the characters often try to prevent it. But the characters, the listenrers and the storyteller know that nothing will change it. Ragnarok is coming.

Marvel 1602

author: Neil Gaiman

CLOSED: [2017-09-03 Sun 16:38]

Neil Gaiman does decently well here. Not anywhere near the Sandman series, but I didn't expect it to be. This was an easy comic book read, better and denser than most, but still…

The Incal

author: Alexandro Jodorowsky, Moebius

CLOSED: [2017-09-11 Mon 21:55]

Impressively imaginative, lacking decent dialogue. It's clear that the authors didn't focus much on the dialogue. Similarly, the story line is a little far-fetched. When the story jumps too far away into imagination, the reader can sometimes be left stranded upon the last edge of reality that they're unwilling to leave. For instance, our heroes are in an alien room, aboard an alien spaceship…sure. but when the "light" from their souls join together as one and become some greater entity, this is where I'm left behind, watching the authors cavorting around some idea that I'm unwilling or uneager to entertain.

The focus of the hero's journeys were weighted towards the psychological journey. this focus upon the psychological makes me believe that the main writer has experimented with psychadelics or their ilk. The art is quite beautiful in places though, especially the color work and the imaginative depiction of creatures. The color work….wow.

[Peter's Line Almanac #1 & #2]

author: Peter Deligdisch

CLOSED: [2017-10-08 Sun 13:02]

PeterDraw's YT channel is full of his personality, but I think that his books might summarize it more completely. The books are full of his sketches and occasional poems or writings. Happily, his writing in the book fits in well with his drawing style. His drawings almost always defy the mind's attempts to find the inspiration. The art is abstract, and any attempt to bring it to earth is thwarthed by the utter glib dancing lines, that sometimes flow where your eyes expect them to, but often don't. Sometimes, he pulls in some concrete forms, like an arm, or the structure of a head, but he rarely leaves it whole. He usually cuts it up in odd ways that pull it back into his abstract wonderscapes. One quality of his art is that it seems to be judgment free. It feels very…honest and unedited. He feels like the kind of artist that would never dream of criticizing art, his own or others.

What If?

author: Randall Munroe

CLOSED: [2017-09-30 Sat 22:52]

Super fun read by Randall Munroe. Compelling and hilarious in the way that only xkcd is.

I really enjoyed his way of treating internet questions with seriousness and trying to get the most enjoying answer possible out of them. He interprets the question in a way that uses better, grander, or less grand assumptions. ''Additionally, there's a really amusing use of footnotes in the book. The footnotes are often used as subtle jokes or sarcasm, etc. It's a really good way to insert parentheticals that play on the idea of "official" information coming from the footnotes.

Finally, there was some interesting and useful info that came out of it. Munroe has a really practical approach to physics and problem solving, and instructive to hear about the way that he approaches problems. It's often useful to just realize that a certain class of problems are actually approachable using methods that I already have but do not often use.

Good one!

The World of Edena

author: Moebius

CLOSED: [2017-10-20 Fri 10:24]

Incredibly well drawn. The story is …a bit weird, but the art!!!!!! Ach the art! A lot to learn. Many successful American comic artists claim to draw from his style as well, and after reading–no wonder.


author: V.E. Schwab

CLOSED: [2017-10-08 Sun 12:24]

Vicious is a delightful read. A little novel that packs a good story. It's similar to "The OA" (TV show) in it's subject matter, but it does a much better and cooler job of exploring the theme. One of my favorite pieces of the book is Victor's penchant for marking up his parents', who are famous therapists and related-authors, books with a Sharpie. He marks over almost everything, leaving only a few words remaining, making the books say what he wants them to. It's a nice idea and metaphorically resonant.

Good YA fiction, good story, fun read

Sufficiently Advanced Magic

author: Andrew Rowe

CLOSED: [2017-12-31 Sun 14:36]

This book's premise is quite interesting. The world has magic in it, but to get a magical ability, one must be "judged" in a Tower by going through a series of difficult tests. MC's brother went missing in the tower, and it's MC's goal to find him. MC prepared most of his life to enter the Tower. There are a lot of nifty details that really flesh out the world into a place that is grippingly awesome.

Unfortunately, this book was a terribly executed, compelling storyline. The author has potential and his ideas were good, but the book's complete lack of editing destroyed its promise. (Self publishing, yuck. I should've turned back with B&N didn't carry it) For example… Notably, in this book characters blink. They blink a lot. Thankfully, Mr. Author comments upon each instance to keep the breathless reader in the loop. I think there were about thirty identical sentences, "I blinked". There are also MANY mentions of stuff like this: "Sarah scratched her chin.", "I itched my nose". Really. One out of every five sentences in this book could've been stricken and the book would've carried the exact same plot. It's a bold 220k-word masterclass in "How to pad out a story". I would've finished NANOWRIMO with his attitude. I didn't realize you could punch up your word count with random non-sequiters.

Also, the entire book is told through the perspective of a neurotic, obnoxiously paranoid main character. That's fine during the first few chapters, since usually books start with a flawed heroes and after being dragged through a tribulation, the character has changed for the better. In MC's case, his overthinking is an obvious flaw that would be addressed in a tower full of monsters and traps. Nope. Throughout the book, his tendency to overthink things is encouraged and never challenged. Ugh.

Finally, Mr. Author gives a daring slap to reader's face when he decides that the feckless MC, who is self-implied asexual and never gives any indication of any interest to anybody romantically, decides to date a guy-friend that has asked him out. Where does this lead? Nowhere. The book sets up this useless "meh" response to a question about his sexuality and then the date never happens, the characters never get close, and nothing ever comes of it. Which…sure. BUT WHY. This book doesn't advertise anything of the kind, and then 70% in, some random event happens that signals to the reader that the MC might have a surprising romantic interest, but then this random event never comes up again. Useless. Like so much of this book.

Had fun hating on it though.

Slaughterhouse Five

author: Kurt Vonegut

CLOSED: [2017-12-14 Thu 20:52]

A book about the fire-bombing in Dresden during WW II, although much of it is done from an extremely personal POV, with only the mildest attempts to extrapolate to larger forces. I think this is very intentional, to show war as an inexplicable and stupid thing.

The book exemplifies the senselessness of war. Vonnegut does this with the expression "So it goes", which he uses every time there is any death mentioned. Any time that a single family member or a million civilians come up as casualties, the statement is followed with "So it goes".

The senselessness of war theme also comes up with the bird. The bird at the end, the only speaking witness to the brutal bombs of Dresden, they sum up KV's feelings on war. 'Poo-too-tweet'–describing the meaningless continuation of life, that follows war or life. It can't comment on the horrible circumstance, so it just carries on.

Part of my takeaway is that the magnitude of the pain and loss that is borne by war cannot be held or passed on the backs of such tender small things as words. If anything, they can only offer a passing sketch.

Humans are great at analyzing. It seems to be a natural function of the mind, and drawing lessons from previous experience is a primary exercise in education. However, there are topics and systems which baffle with their complexity. Any attempt to divide up and draw conclusions are oversimplified way beyond reasonable error. There's just no way to fully count the cost of war. There seems to be no way to properly reckon that.

Counting Descent

author: Clint Smith

CLOSED: [2017-10-13 Fri 23:02]

A nice slim poetry book. I think it's a bit overhyped(totally subjective to my experience before reading), but it's worthwhile. It muses on racial issues mainly, but there is a good bit here beyond that. The style is original and there were several phrases that gave me pause.

"It is the irony of a ship burning

at sea, surrounded by

the very thing that could

save us "


author: Stephen King

CLOSED: [2017-10-22 Sun 12:20]

Stephen King, to me, has mastered many authorial skills, and weaves them together to great effect. His writing, though it does have a character it's own(more on this later), is multi-styled and found to be lacking in very little.

Dialogue, different perspectives, vignettes, internal monologues, metaphors, and strong characters are all used to effectively convey the plotline.

And oh boy the plotline. I recall being told in a writing class once to steer clear of flashbacks. They ruin good writing and no good ever comes from 'em. This book is about half-flashbacks! That's 500–count 'em–500 freaking, flashing pages. They're treated with a washlike effect, blurring the sections where a character is about to flashback. The transition is clear, but there's not as many hard cuts. Anyways it's pretty effective here.

IT, capitalized here for clarity, surprised me with its strength. I had somehow kept the genre of "Stephen King Horror" shelved in my mind in a category with RL Stine. Cheap thrills. No substance. An obvious mistake, considering that I've been pretty consistently happy or thrilled by King's work. Although, even he describes some of his horror books as pulp fiction–I'll hide behind that, but IT is a clearly one of his more serious works. It occurred to me while reading that really good horror isn't about the grand monsters. Not really about the clown's face, all stuck up with lipstick and teeth. In the writing medium, what gets me going seems to be the subtle things. The small sensory events that just manage to ping on your Something's Wrong radar. A sneaking flick of wind that creaks the door closed behind you. Music where it shouldn't be. A smile from a stranger. A slight drip of water in the house. Etc.

There's a really good range of horror scenarios in the book, an almost intentional move to show the diversity. One thing that I consistently reappraise is the way King weaves in the supernatural into the natural. In Star Wars, or LoTR, or many other fiction books where magic is around, it's always more or less built into the world and visible. So it's given as a sort of preamble, or worked into the first few paragraphs that this world has mitochloridians and the force and lightsabers, etc. In this world there are hobbits. In this world the human race has blahbla. Superheroes exist in this one! etc.

In IT, you're given a pretty normal world, one with a slightly higher rate of psycho clowns, sure, but you recognize the town and country you're in. Then, you're slowly dipped further and further into a world where there are maddening truths and furtive monsters. You don't see anything on the way in.

Zen and the Art of Writing

author: Ray Bradbury

CLOSED: [2017-12-14 Thu 21:19]

Ahh, my dear friend. Ray Bradbury. I'm really feeling like I'm in the nascent stages of a "regular" now, sitting down with a book as though reordering "the usual" drink from the usual bartender. I'm not quite known by the staff yet, but I've started to pick up the patterns by which their lives twist and move.

Meta books are fun. I'm increasingly interested in meta-processes–when the eye begins watching the brush flow and brings it onto the paper, brush creating brush, an artist sent to the page, to hold the frozen brush and give a sense of what the creator thinks his life is like.

RB is made for short stories. The man is a locomotive powered by inspiration, and the train doesn't move an inch without it. This seems to account for why he's always found his home in sprints, essays or stories that he can get out in a single fury. Even some of his books, like this one and The Martian, are really a themed collection of essays, chapters that are only held together by a paper spine.

That being said, he manages to have an insatiable appetite for writing. He writes at least 1,000 words every day, and he had been consistently hitting that mark 7 days a week since the age of 15. His love for the craft shines in this book as well as all of his others, and he provides a happy contrast to the usual cautionary tale told about how "anything can become your J O B" and how when faced by deadlines and difficulty, the love fades in place of a plodding existence and work that is just the same as any other.

Not so says Ray!

"Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together. "

The Call of Cthulu

author: H.P. Lovecraft

CLOSED: [2017-12-31 Sun 17:52]

A short story by the Prehistoric Behemoth of Scary Stories. The dark, seeping author whose toil is marked by coalescing, gooping letters that writhe and contort in wriggling, sick sentences that make mortal men recoil and retch. Lovecraftian sentences loom. They have shadows that lay long in the soul.

I wish there was more in this book. I think if it was written today, there could be several follow up stories built around it.

Lovecraft has an abstract style that uses the romantic values of words to really get at you.

Where I keep things…


Figure 1: all going on in emacs

I capture everything with org mode, especially using org-capture. The outlining is perfect for varying detail and structured editing

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