January 31, 2017

Books Read: January 2017

books

One unfortunate side effect of reading a lot is that I don’t always remember everything I read. I’ve tried using services like Goodreads and LibraryThing to track my reading, but I always forget to actually add books to my catalogue. And I hate relying on third-party services to track things like that.

So, I’m going to start tracking my reading habits here, on my own website. Every month, I’ll post a recap of the books I’ve read and a few comments on each.

Here’s what I read in January:

Searching for Bobby Fischer

by Fred Waitzkin - Grab a copy

I’ve seen the movie like a dozen times (one of my favorites when I was growing up) but had never read the book. While the movie is a decent adaptation and dramatization of the father/son story from the book, it lacks all of the fascinating insider accounts of the chess world. Their trip to Russia and ensuing paranoia around the KGB was thrilling to read, as were all of the character portraits of the sad, funny, and sometimes insane personalities that populate the chess world. Bonus points: reading this prompted me to teach my 8-year-old how to play chess. She’s getting pretty good.

The Art of Learning

by Josh Waitzkin - Grab a copy

I followed up Fred Waitzkin’s book with his son Josh’s. Josh is the child chess prodigy that was the focus of Searching for Bobby Fischer. It was interesting reading Josh’s accounts of the same events from that time period and learning about how he thinks about problem solving, translating the lessons he learned in the chess world to the competitive world of Tai Chi push hands. While it was an enjoyable read, it was a lot less practical than I expected. Lots of interesting stories, fewer lessons that could be directly applied to my own life. Still worth the read, though.

Booklife

by Jeff Vandermeer - Grab a copy

This was a surprise pick from the library shelves. I’d previously read and loved Jeff Vandermeer’s The Southern Reach trilogy, but didn’t realize he’d written a craft book. While slightly outdated (it was written in 2009), it was still an eminently practical guide to the lifestyle and work required of a serious writer.

Mindfulness for Mere Mortals

by Patrick Rhone - Grab a copy

The first of two books I read from Patrick, this one was a good introduction to mindfulness and meditation. What I enjoyed most is that he talked about more than just simple meditation practices (e.g. focusing on your breathing) and gave examples of how mindfulness can be worked into your daily life. Definitely recommended reading.

Some Thoughts About Writing

by Patrick Rhone - Grab a copy

And the second book from Patrick, this time on writing. Although I found it to be very basic (it’s a quick read), it was good at inciting some motivation for writing and had some good advice for getting over fears and getting down to the business of publishing.

On Bullshit

Harry G. Frankfurt - Grab a copy

This quick philosophical treatise is perfect for the current political climate. It’s a cheeky look at what defines bullshit and how bullshitters can be more dangerous than blatant liars. It’s a little dense at times (it’s philosophy after all) but was an enjoyable read with a good payoff at the end.

The World Inside

Robert Silverberg - Grab a copy

I didn’t know what to expect going into this sci-fi novel from Robert Silverberg. The premise seemed interesting but I found the execution lacking. It was highly predictable throughout and seemed more like an excuse for the author to write openly about potentially taboo sex acts at the expense of a compelling story and characters.

Waking Up

Sam Harris - Grab a copy

I was really excited to start this book, as I had enjoyed the episodes of Tim Ferriss’ podcast that featured the author, but found it hard to enjoy. It’s a very dense mix of neuroscience and philosophy that was difficult to wade through at times and lacked any real, practical advice on starting and maintaining a useful meditation practice that couldn’t be picked up elsewhere online. While I love the stance of using science to tackle spirituality and wholeheartedly agree with Sam Harris’ views on religion and its dangers, I feel like his points could have been made more concisely, allowing for a more brief and entertaining book.

The Zen Habit’s Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness

Leo Babauta - Grab a copy

Another quick introduction to mindfulness and meditation, this time from the proprietor of the always excellent Zen Habits, Leo Babauta. I really enjoyed this book. Although it didn’t reveal much that I haven’t already been practicing, his chapters on dealing with the problems and struggles most will face with meditation were encouraging and reassuring.

The Magic Words

Cheryl B. Klein - Grab a copy

This is absolutely one of the better craft books I’ve read on writing for children and young adults (and I’ve read more than a few). Cheryl looks at everything from the lens of an editor, which is invaluable for writers seeking publication. And there’s solid advice on everything from character development to plot points, emotional arcs, and even publishing mixed in. Highly recommended to anyone interested in writing for younger readers.

Death’s End

Cixin Liu - Grab a copy

I’ve been waiting to read this one for a long time. I absolutely loved both The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, and found the final chapter in Cixin Liu’s sci-fi epic just as fascinating as the first two books. There are some huge ideas in this book, a few of which truly boggled my mind. It was also amazing how he managed to mix in characters that span all three books even though the series technically takes place over millions of years. The ending left me wanting something more substantial, but all-in-all, it’s a great conclusion to one of my favorite sci-fi series.

The Fellowship for Alien Detection

Kevin Emerson - Grab a copy

This middle grade novel was a decent adventure read with tinges of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was up my alley. However, I feel like the ending was a bit rushed and wrapped up too nicely. It makes sense for the age group, but there were some deeper themes hinted at throughout the book that could have been developed further for a more satisfying ending.

Thrill Me

Benjamin Percy - Grab a copy

Hands-down my favorite book of the month. Thrill Me is a book on the craft of fiction writing that turned out to be not only wildly entertaining, but also one of the most practical books on writing I’ve ever read. Benjamin Percy fills each chapter with plenty of examples illustrating his points and he reveals some now obvious truths about writing compelling fiction which I would never have noticed otherwise. I checked this one out from the library, but it’s so good that I’m planning on buying my own copy so that I can reread it every year.


That’s it for this month. Thirteen books in a month sounds like a good start to the year. Check back next month to see how February compares…