Tag Archives: Reading2019

Toll

If you read my thoughts on the first book in the Kestrel series, “Changer” you’ll have a good idea of my thinking about the second, “Toll.”

It’s an entertaining, light read. I think that’s the intention, so I don’t mean that as a back-handed compliment.

Compared with last time, the MacGuffin didn’t bother me as much. What jarred were the constant info-dumps.

“[Barcelona is] the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union. Within Spain, it is second only to Madrid. But globally, it does not appear in the first ninety.”

I didn’t choose to read Wikipedia! There are even discussions about climate change and Brexit, which I’m not sure is a good idea. The former, at least, is relevant to the story-line (if a bit preachy) but the latter stands only to date the book.

Anyway, none of that is really a big problem. After “Guns, Germs and Steel” I needed something less strenuous and this totally hit the spot.

Guns, Germs and Steel

Jared Diamond’s door-stop of a book has been on my to-read list for quite some time. Maybe not quite since it was released over twenty years ago but probably not far from it.

The gist is pretty much there in the title: in the last 13,000 years, the most successful societies used guns, germs and steel to conquer others. Why, for example, was it Europeans who had world-wide empires rather than Africans or Americans or Chinese?

The ideas are laid out in the first few chapters and the rest are used to justify it.

In that sense it’s a very academic work. It’s very, very thorough, perhaps too thorough for a “pop science” book. It could have been half the length without losing any significant ideas.

Like much academic text, the writing could have been better; there were quite a few awkward sentences. But it was clear and the anecdotes livened it up, meaning it wasn’t just a very long paper.

I was aware that some sentences made me cringe a little. I wondered if it had dated badly or just that it’s difficult to write about race without sounding at least a little politically incorrect. Worrying that I’m too PC, I’m practically a liberal caricature.

Having said that, I did enjoy it and I’m glad I finished it. There’s some thought-provoking ideas and answers to questions you maybe didn’t even consider previously and, ultimately, that’s why I read these kinds of book. But I think my next read will be a lighter, fiction book!

Armada

Having read “Ready Player One” and seen the film recently, picking Ernest Cline’s next book, “Armada” was an easy choice. “Ready Player One” wasn’t my favourite book, but it was an entertaining read and that’s what I was looking for this time.

It pretty much exactly met those expectations. It’s well written and easy to read. There are all the retro-references you’d expect in a Cline book. The story moves along at a reasonable clip. The characters mostly make sense, though they could have been better developed.

My main problem is that the twists are so well sign-posted that they barely qualify. I suppose that just adds to the “easy to read” quality?

It’s not going to make you see the world differently or amaze you with new insight into the human condition. But not every book needs to do that. As a little light reading it totally hits the spot.

Fuzzy Nation

After reading quite a few non-fiction books I decided that this time I would pick a novel. Having read “Red Shirts” a couple of years ago, I randomly selected another John Scalzi book, “Fuzzy Nation.”

The history of this is a little unusual: it’s not an entirely original story. It’s based on an older story by H. Beam Piper called “Little Fuzzy.” (“Think of this as a ‘reboot’ of the Fuzzy universe, not unlike the recent J. J. Abrams ‘reboot’ of the Star Trek film series (but hopefully with better science.)”) Not having read that, I can’t compare but I did enjoy this one.

The story revolves around Holloway, a surveyor of a remote planet who finds both a huge seam of sunstones (beautiful, rare) and a race of small, fuzzy creatures who may be sentient (in which case they’d own the sunstones). Holloway is a self-professed asshole and disbarred lawyer, which provides some humour and a dynamic with other characters.

It’s neither long nor complicated, but it’s easy and fun to read; a bit of a page-turner.

It’s not as good as “Red Shirts” but it’s entertaining and worth your time.

The Incomplete Book of Running

After all my fun with Couch to 5K and the Parkrun, The Incomplete Book of Running, about Peter Sagal‘s running experiences, looked like it might strike a chord.

One thing that didn’t strike a chord was the author. I guess if you’re American and listen to NPR and Wait wait… don’t tell me! you might know what you’re letting yourself in for. But I’m British and am more likely to be listening to The News Quiz on Radio 4. I don’t think that this missing knowledge affected my enjoyment of the book, though.

Anyway, his experience didn’t exactly mirror mine. He’d flirted with running earlier in life and got into running longer distances later. The book starts with him running the Boston marathon. I’m still at the point where 5km feels like a long distance and I barely did any exercise beyond walking previously. Still, there were enough parallels that I didn’t feel lost and the writing was easy and accessible.

It’s more about stories and anecdotes than running hints and tips, but it still covers a lot of ground, from training to motivation to the benefits and downsides.

There were certainly some bit where I wasn’t entirely sure if it was funny or just, sadly, true:

The problem with being a midlife-crisis runner is that once you start, you’re already in decline.

Then, towards the end, was this important passage:

The differences between running as a lifestyle and “jogging” as exercise are many and much debated, but the key one is this: You “jog” as necessary exercise, something to endure. You run with the expectation that this outing, today, will be the day when it all comes together.

I’ve not really thought about it before, but I’ve never been quite sure how to describe what I do. “Running” feels optimistic; the speed I go is hardly running. Then again, “jogging” conjures up some of the worst stereotypes, the bright Lycra, the headband.

That paragraph seals the deal: I run. I do do it for exercise, but I wouldn’t say that I endure it. If it wasn’t fun — or at least give a sense of achievement after I finish — I wouldn’t do it, I’d find some other form of exercise.

Overall, it’s hardly essential reading but if you like him from his radio programmes, you might get a kick out this book. For me, it was worth it as a way of figuring out my vocabulary.

ReWork

The gist of “ReWork” is that anyone can be an entrepreneur but you don’t have to follow the Silicon Valley tradition of seeking venture funding and providing foosball tables. If you do things right — different — you can make a sustainable business in a more traditional, bootstrapped way, and you don’t have to continually grow to be considered a success.

Many of the “lessons,” however, apply to almost any knowledge work. They subscribe to a less-is-more philosophy, and the book follows that example by being a quick read. Like the less-is-more outlook, that doesn’t make it bad, only very targeted.

If you’re looking for a complete framework for running your business, this isn’t it. (But then you’re probably not the kind of person who is likely to start a business I guess.) Instead, it’s a collection of related vignettes touching on varied aspects, from funding to focus to culture.

Much of the advice is so obvious that you wonder why more people don’t do it. But the fact that people don’t is exactly why their business (was 37signals, now Basecamp) has been a success and that writing about how it works doesn’t give away any “secret sauce.” It’s not that people don’t know the “secrets.” It’s more that people don’t have the discipline to stick to the programme.

Overall, there’s a lot of good material in here. If you own or work for a small company where you can potentially put the advice into practice, it’s probably worth a read.