It was a difficult month for reading for me! I had to actively remind myself: “Hey, you have books to read, why don't you let go of that shiny screen and grab your e-reader”?
I just felt I was reading slower than I used to. That knee jerk reaction to stop reading and check something on my phone instead showed up a lot. I'll keep on working on my reading focus.
The Outside (The Outside #1) by Ada Hoffmann, 401p: I enjoyed the word building. I wanted to keep reading to find out what the Outside was. And I wanted to know more about the AI Gods. I realized in the middle of the book that it had inspiration from Lovecraft with all the Outside creatures and the “outside madness” condition. It was creepy to think that Artificial Intelligent quantum computers, that were created by humans, came up with a technological religious authoritarian system to control humans.
A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1) by Arkady Martine, 454p: This one had a Dune feel to it. Planets, Space Stations, alien threats, Artificial Intelligence running an entire City, neurological implants, a murder mystery and political intrigues. The pace was slower than I'm used to but it managed to keep me interested enough to pick up the book at every opportunity I had. It's heavy on world building but it is executed in a very clever way through the eyes of the protagonist Mahit Dzmare. She goes to the City at the heart of the Empire of Teixcalaan as an Ambassador to her original home, the Lsel Station. Teixcalaan's culture and language is heavily influenced by poetry being a sophisticated place with lots of social norms. This book has that intellectual appeal without being boring.
How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism by Cory Doctorow, 146p. This a free book available on Medium. Interesting discussion on the status of Big Tech disputing the assumption that tech companies can and will regulate themselves to fix the Internet. Can we fix Big Tech companies that dominate our Internet or can we fix it by ourselves, free of the Big Tech influence? One of the main points discussed by the author is monopoly. His point is: Monopoly enables mass scale surveillance. Food for thought.
“Surveillance capitalism is the result of monopoly. Monopoly is the cause, and surveillance capitalism and its negative outcomes are the effects of monopoly”. — Cory Doctorow
Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5) by Martha Wells, 346p: Such a delight to be back inside the mind of this cyborg. Sarcastic but righteous, Murderbot is a fantastic character and we get to experience its thought process all the time. Status updates, Simultaneous parallel dialogues with humans and AI's, Performance Reliability Ratings. And also, how not to like ART, the transport ship AI that loves talking to human teenagers?
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, 260p: Dystopian YA with Indigenous people protagonists in the area where today is Canada. It is a climate change dystopia focusing on this group of Indigenous people who are being hunted. After the climate change cataclysm people lost their ability to dream, but Indigenous people were still able to do it, so they are chased for it. It uses real world facts like the atrocities committed against the Indigenous population to basically remove children form their culture to make them assimilate the “Canadian” one (from around 1876 to 1970's). With this horrifying background and a devastated world the book is extremely emotional. It was a hard read at times with dark moments. But it is also hopeful showing the power of resilience and community.
I was happy to have finished “The Innovators”. I started listening to this book back in April and I stopped several times to take notes. It's an encyclopedia of our digital technology development. Then I wanted light reads, the types you have fun and are not expecting grandiose conflicts. I'm more and more interested in reading about the art of writing. I started with “Writing down the bones”. Lighthearted and inspiring!
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson, 542p: Excellent compilation of the history of digital technology. It starts in the 1800's, which Ada Lovelace and Babbage, going through Vacuum Tubes, Capacitors, Alan Turing, Grace Hopper, John von Neumann, the breakthrough invention of transistors, Bell Labs, Intel, Texas Instruments, Hacker culture, Video Games, Xerox, ARPANet, BBS, the Altair 8800 computer, Internet, Blogs, Wikipedia, Microsoft, Apple, Google. It is a detailed exploration of how innovation is driven by collaboration and all advances are built on top of the past experiences. There is no one genius creator, innovation is most vibrant where there is room for idea sharing between communities. And the Internet allowed for a new level of collaborative process, the author calls it “the collective wisdom of crowds”. I loved that he closes with a reflection on Ada Lovelace's ideas of integrating Arts and Humanities with Math and Physics, resulting in what she called “Poetical Science”. A must read to understand where we are and how we got here.
Kenobi (Star Wars) by John Jackson Miller, 401p: A look into how Obi-Wan Kenobi was known as Ben in Tatooine. He only wants to be left alone (so that nobody realises he's a Jedi) but he keeps getting tangled into local affairs. It was interesting to get know a little bit about the sand people and the constant tension with the farmers. It covers a short period of his time there when he basically helps dissolve local grievances. Kinda like “A day in the life” of Ben Kenobi.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, 225p: I heard about this book when I was researching about a technique called free writing. This author developed this “writing practice” method in which you set a timer and free write whatever is in your mind, nonstop, flow-of-consciousness style. The book is a compilation of fun small essays about writing and how to develop a writing practice. It's light and amusing!
Finder (Finder Chronicles, #1) by Suzanne Palmer, 400p: Space adventures of Fergus Ferguson, a finder. He just wants to find a ship and bring it back to the owner, but he ends up entangled in local affairs. Fun, light space adventure. Excellent to sit back and relax.
This was a non-fiction month. Although I started reading a fiction book (Kenobi by John Jackson Miller), all the books I finished were non-fiction. I was into productivity and delighted with Scott Adams writings during the first weeks then got to this awesome commentary from the 80's about our current cultural moment with “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. We just have to replace “TV” with “anything we consume on the Internet right now” to make this book 100% relevant!
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams, 248p: Such an enjoyable read! I love the Dilbert comics and it was interesting to get into the head of Scott Adams. He talks about his failures and also his recipe to live well. So it's part memoir part recommendations on how to live a good life. And we get to know that he had to overcome significant obstacles to success in his life. But he persisted and that makes for an inspiring story. He makes good points, summarizing the main areas of focus to succeed, even if you are failing miserably. Like the importance of having a system, not goals. And taking care of our personal energy: exercise, diet, and sleep are essential. Not all his recommendations are applicable to everybody (and he makes it very clear in the book) but reading about his struggles and his plans to live better got me thinking about my own habits. Savvy and fun read.
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman, 208p: Yeah, Huxley was right. I thought this book would feel totally outdated because it was written in the 80's. Quite the contrary! We just have to replace “TV” with “anything we consume on the Internet right now” to make this book current. It is a thought provoking analysis of our Information Age and how media formats can shape our culture. It gives a clear distinction between the typographic era, when information was written, and the “show business” model we have today with lots of images, short messages and barely no reflection. Highly recommended!
The end a long fantasy saga, some Scottish historical fiction and an average productivity book.
The Pride of Lions (Scotland Trilogy Book 1) by Marsha Canham, 212p: It's a rich historical fiction set in Scotland in the 18th century. Kinda like Outlander but without time travel. It's well done in terms of world building with lots of historical references regarding the Jacobite rising of 1745. It's an exciting book and the rhythm is good. There was one thing that caused me uneasiness in this book: the prevalence of a raping theme. I know it's historical and you can argue that that's how things were back then, but it's a fictional romance novel and I expected less of it. For example, even though it's not explicit, the “male hero” (Alexander) clearly uses the implicit idea of rape to frighten the heroine (Catherine). Every men on the road that encounters Catherine (or any women for that matter) thinks about “taking advantage” of her. So maybe the setting was too historical/realistic for me?
The Lady of the Lake (The Witcher, #5) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 560p: The last book of The Witcher saga! I loved the first half of the book with its parallel universes and the fact that the story of The Witcher is viewed as a type of “distant land fairy tale”. One thing that this author can do is create complex characters, meaning, no one is ever lawful good, everybody is chaotic (neutral, good or evil). Themes like misogyny, slavery and racial discrimination are all present in the story. Everybody is looking for Ciri because of her extraordinary powers. Elves can be as evil as humans and sorceresses. Ciri is on her own quest to escape what everybody think is her destiny. I think the story is brilliantly written, with varying points of view, snippets of Dandelion's memoir “Half a Century of Poetry”, a huge battle being described through its actual combatants suffering and the healers in a war field hospital. But people die. Lots of characters die. And that's what makes this series “dark fantasy” in my opinion. It has the feel of a fairy tale without the happy ending. Or maybe the ending is happy depending on how you interpret it. Excellent series overall with rich world building and interesting characters. It was a nice ride!
Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less by Michael Hyatt , 256p: I was curious to read this book to know a little a bit more about focus. I already use GTD as my productivity system and it's clear that some sections are a GTD derivative with a different name. I was a little bit annoyed that I had to go to the author's website to take the initial assessment, leave my e-mail and then I started receiving all these promotional e-mails to buy his planner. That threw me off a little bit. But the message in the book is not unlike any other good productivity system: eliminate non essentials, group similar tasks for efficiency, eliminate distractions and use time blocking to focus.
I re-read two excellent productivity books that made me go back to basics and rethink my whole system. I can say it was a productive month! And I finished the fourth book in The Witcher series, which is excellent!
Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life by David Allen, 286p: It's the second time I read this book. The last time was 6 years ago. It's a great if you're already familiar with the GTD method since it connects the 5 steps workflow (capture, clarify, organize, reflect, engage) to the higher horizons (projects, areas of focus, goals, vision, purpose & principles). So it's the glue between Control and Perspective. I loved re-reading it. It gave me some powerful insights and a deeper understanding of the GTD processes and how it can evolve over time.
New Hope for Sciatica: End Your Pain Now with Solutions Even Your Doctor Won't Tell You About by Duncan McCollum D.C., 125p: It's more about the how healing works in 3 parts: physical, chemical and mental. One cannot work without the other. So it gives a high level overview of all the things that might be the cause of the pain. And it's complicated! It creates awareness about underlying factors causing/worsening the pain, but it's all about contacting a professional. So, there are no practical answers in this book, it talks about a few strategies but without diving in them too deep. For example: a diet with less inflammatory food suggesting ketogenic meals and intermittent fasting but it doesn't explain how that can be done.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, 287p: This was my second read and more than ever I was convinced that we need to decide to do deep work and that means breaking many habits of today's life. From finding space and time to concentrate to eliminating all that distracts us, the author shows reasons and evidence for all the strategies presented. And the message is simple, albeit not as easy as it seems: disconnect! Simple as that. This one is MUST READ for today's work life.
The Tower of the Swallow (The Witcher, #4) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 448p: So this book picks up right where the previous left, which ended in a little bit of a cliffhanger. I loved the writing style using different timelines, jumping back and forth, and varying points of view. It gets confusing sometimes but in the end everything clicks together. And the plot focus is Ciri, the last third of the book we don't even hear about The Witcher anymore. There is lots of violence in this book, people getting killed, tortured, injured in a myriad of ways. I think it's one of the darkest books in the series so far, and Ciri's story is definitely harsh and cruel. I caught myself cringing a few times. Now, it's the first time I ever saw a sword fighting scene on a frozen lake on ice skates! There are some great new characters, like the hermit Vysogota on the good guy side and the spine-chilling bounty hunter Bonhart, on the villain side. As always, I can't wait to check out the next book in the series.
June was a tough month! I don't know, the ongoing pandemic, the immense amount of accumulated work that suddenly appeared on my plate, Black Lives Matter protests... I just needed some comfort reading, so that's when I turn to steampunk and sci-fi romances.
Heart of Steel (Iron Seas, #2) by Meljean Brook : Steampunk alternate Victorian era in a world with dirigibles, nanoagents, mechanical flesh, zombies. I think I still like the first book better. However, this one has a strong lead female character who is an experienced badass captain of an Airship. Yasmeen, captain of Lady Corsair, and Archimedes Fox, adventurer, go out on a journey to search for a treasured sketch from Leonardo da Vinci. There is also revenge but that wasn't too clear to me. Good fighting sequences with zombies, but in the end, I didn't get who/what they were fighting against really.
Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal : The premise here is: we are also responsible for being addicted to technology so the author discusses some tactics to make us less prone to use it mindlessly. But, I don't think it is for everyone. There are some drastic measures that I think might work for some. I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.
Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion, #1) by Jessie Mihalik: I enjoyed this space-opera! Lots of adventures: boarding ships, cracking security codes and locks, dealing with smugglers, discussing ship layouts, sending encrypted messages and blending in a crowded port to avoid being recognized. The two main characters, Lady Ada and Loch, were equally strong and I liked that they were both highly skilled at their areas of expertise. And rescues! It happens a lot and for the most part the rescuing is done by Lady Ada (as opposed to the male hero always rescuing the damsel in distress). It had that old Star Wars feel but without aliens. Fun!