Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone, 480p: This is a very imaginative book and it pushes boundaries between sci-fi and fantasy. I think it's a fantasy disguised as sci-fi. There are cool elements like the order of the cyborg monks, the pilots of Orn, The Cloud, and Zang, the Pirate Queen (who was my favorite character). There were some downsides that kept me from enjoying it more, like: the overuse of metaphors/imagery: descriptions were too abstract most of the time for my brain to picture locations and even character appearance; some incomprehensible action scenes: I had difficulty visualizing and understanding what was happening; there were no clear rules for the world: what were the limits of space travel? how things and people could change sizes and shapes? I couldn't see a sense of threat in the story. Nobody seemed to be in real danger because everyone was so overpowerful, including The Empress. So, I feel like I should have been enjoying it more than I have. The premise was cool, but I felt it was overdone and got lost in the abstract world too much.
Summer Knight (The Dresden Files #4) by Jim Butcher, 379p: Serious things happening in the Faerie land between the Summer and the Winter court. We get to know more about the White Council and the other wizards. Someone (that we were sure was dead) is not dead! It's nice to see that the writing on this book feels more mature, and Harry Dresden continues to grow as a strong wizard. He's more powerful than we are led to believe in the first books. It's a really good series and one that I'll keep on reading.
Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf, 272p: Do we read more deeply with physical books? That's one of the conclusions of this book, and I wasn't so convinced by it. I think reading on a mobile device, a tablet, or on a computer is totally different from reading using an e-reader with e-ink technology. The author discusses research that pointed out the importance of the “physicality” of books, the shape, the visual sense of how many pages there are in the book, and how all those cues are important for reading. There are interesting discussions on how technological native children will develop their reading skills. Are they going to be able to read long books? And get a deep understanding of the contents and ideas? Or the way they consume digital information will make them shallow readers? As an avid e-reader myself, I don't think there is a difference between reading a physical book and an e-book in terms of the level of understanding. The environment and distractions around me are a better indicator of how much I'm engaged in the reading. This book started a good discussion about the future of reading. And how our brains might change or adapt to different mediums.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, 188p (AUDIO): Lovely memoir with an inspiring take on exercise, specifically, a running life. This book was insightful and fun but it also talks about the downsides of his running life. His failures and pains. And what happens in his mind when he runs:
“The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky.”
I like to run, but I'm not what Murakami would consider a “serious runner” who runs 6 miles a day, 6 days a week. Maybe someday I'll get there. The goal is to keep on moving, bit by bit every day.
I started listening to audiobooks this month. I still prefer reading fiction the old-fashion way using my eyes (with a slight touch of technology with an e-reader) but I’m okay listening to non-fiction. Especially now that I started using my public library to listen to books. I had fun with Harry Dresden and powered through the honker that is Dragonfly Falling. All worth it!
Grave Peril (The Dresden Files #3) by Jim Butcher, 378p: Stakes are higher for Harry Dresden on this book. Innocent people die, more than I've seen in previous books. Overly powerful ghost demons, sorcerers, and vampires. We learn there are 3 types of vampires in this world and what are their differences. They ended up being way more powerful than I thought. Harry Dresden also shows some wicked powers. It's pure action fun, with supernatural stuff going on.
Adventures in Opting Out: A Field Guide to Leading an Intentional Life by Cait Flanders, 272p: This was a perfect book to consume in audio form. I listened to it in the mornings and I enjoyed its friendly tone. It made me feel good about my life choices because it touches on how it is important for us to build our own unique lives, without caring about “societal norms”. Each one of us will choose a different path, and that's okay. I liked it because it is a memoir filled with hiking references. It's beautifully written and such a feel-good read.
Dragonfly Falling (Shadows of the Apt #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky, 689p: Lots of things going on in this book because the War has come and the main characters are all scattered in different cities trying to defend themselves from the Wasp Empire advance. It's rich with battle scenes and military strategy discussions. And I was not bored by it. Thalric continues to be that complex lawful-evil character turned lawful-neutral. Totho makes a sacrifice that is probably changing his alignment. It's war and people die. All the characters go through the process of growing up, caught in a reality that is much harsher and more violent than they've ever imagined. They are not students anymore, it's the real deal.
Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris, 144p: This is very meta. We are conscious. But what does it mean? How does it feel to be conscious? Why do we feel we are conscious? Are trees conscious as well? What about rocks? What about atoms? What is the hard problem of consciousness? It's a book full of interesting questions. Perfect for a wandering mind.
To get out of a reading slump I focused this month on reading some light romance novels. And it worked! I read 3 non-fiction books, and one of them was extremely helpful to me: The Getting Things Done Workbook.
The Duke and I (Bridgertons #1) by Julia Quinn, 384p: I was curious to read this book because of the Netflix series. I haven't watched the show but I've heard some blurbs about it. And, I had fun reading it, for the most part. I thought the build-up romance was well done in the beginning. I enjoyed the funny dialogues between the two main protagonists. But there was something weird about the female main character. Daphne was portrayed as being smart for the local regency standards. We hear her saying that she was raised with 4 brothers, so she knew everything about rakes and swear words. She's in her 20's, and then we find out that she didn't know how babies are made? And she didn't have a clue what happens to “consummate a marriage”? That threw me off a little bit, suddenly she wasn't as smart as I'd thought.
And the conundrum of the Duke, Simon, falling for her and not wanting to marry her because of his issues with siring heirs that was also related to his issues with his late father... anyway.
I prefer historical romance when the characters break with the status quo of the time. When they question cultural norms. And in this one the female character, Daphne, achieves her dream of marrying and having a family, changing the Duke's opinion about being a father. They live happily ever after. The end. So, I was enjoying it in the beginning but then it turned to be bleh in the end
A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole, 360p: Light and fun romance, with a smart black woman working in STEM research. I had to use my suspension of disbelief to accept the male character being a spoiled rich prince with a good heart (and not an asshole). It has that “fairy tale” feel to it when some things are too good to be true. But, hey, it's fantasy, and it made me smile.
Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style by Carson Tate, 304p: This book brings various productivity strategies based on what the author calls personal productivity styles. There is a questionnaire to help us identify what is our primary style. There are tips on how to write emails, how to manage emails, meeting strategies, task management, note-taking tips. But the core of getting organized is very similar to what is presented in David Allen's “Getting Things Done” method. The good-old “capture, clarify, organize, do”. Some things I think were overgeneralized according to the productivity style, like linking a person's style to how she decorates her office.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil, 254p: Excellent discussion on how the use of algorithms is affecting our education system, how likely are we to be hired, how much we pay for insurance and mortgages. These models have become black boxes that nobody knows exactly how they work but are considered reliable. What few people realize is that these algorithms are reinforcing discrimination and have biases built in them. So, instead of a fair objective system to evaluate whatever (loan approvals, credit scores, job candidates, school teacher's performance, etc), we have opaque models being applied everywhere that cannot be disputed or even understood. It's scary to think that our future life decisions will rely on algorithms.
The Getting Things Done Workbook by David Allen & Brandon Hall, 224p: This book was on my radar for a couple of months and this month I felt I needed a GTD refresher so I picked it up. I loved it! It's totally action-oriented: perfect for people who have already read the Getting Things Done original book. I enjoyed how it presented the 10 Moves going through all the 5 Steps in order. I learned a lot from it! I realized I was overcomplicating my system and the exercises put me back on track.
This month I abandoned a book. I started reading it, I thought it was not too interesting but I insisted until I got to 40%. Then I gave up. Life is too short. It was actually one of my local Book Club picks. It was the first time I attended a book club meeting without having finished a book. And it was fine! A couple of other participants couldn't finish it either, so I didn't feel that bad. That being said, I read three books this month. And all of them were exactly what I needed: fun!
Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2) by Jim Butcher: This book is extremely fast-paced. It's non-stop and Harry Dresden shows himself as a guy with extreme endurance. He really gets beat up on this one, but he always gets up in the end. It has the two best potion recipes of all times: the Stimulant “Pick me up” potion (base liquid is coffee) and the Blending potion, to make him imperceptible to a werewolf. I had fun!
The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency, #1) by John Scalzi, 336p: I love a space opera, especially when it's character-driven. Lots of snarky dialogues, great characters and worldbuilding that is not boring. I was pleasantly surprised by all the strong female characters. Kiva Lagos is awesome if you don't mind all the swearing. I could see lots of parallels from the Interdependency world with ours. It's that same old story: one family or group of people creates some myth/prophecy about the world in which skewed power relations are defined to justify the maintenance of the said world/society. This book is rich with political intrigue, commercial embargoes, power succession and environmental changes. I enjoyed the ride and I want to spend more time with the characters, so I'll read the next one.
Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age by Annalee Newitz, 304p: Fascinating to know how data archeology is helping us understand a little bit more about our ancient history. This book explores four sites: Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman town of Pompeii in Italy, Angkor in Cambodia and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia in the U.S. The book brings history to life by trying to imagine what was it like to be a regular citizen of these places: labourers, women, immigrants, slaves. Super entertaining and informative.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, 464p: I didn't need to be convinced that God is a delusion, but it was interesting to follow scientific logic to analyze religion and its inconsistencies. Dawkins builds up the God Hypothesis and my favourite part of the book is then he presents the spectrum of probabilities about the existence of God, ranging from 1 to 7, including for example “Strong Theist”, “Impartial Agnostic” all the way to “Strong Atheist”. I considered myself an agnostic but after reading this book I realized I am “De-facto Atheist ” according to the Dawkins spectrum: “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.” It is an extremely provoking read. But worth the ride.
Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt, #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky, 625p: After I understood that the “bug people” were actually humanoid and not animal-like, everything made more sense. They are men and women belonging to different groups like ants, beetles, wasps, butterflies, mantis, dragonflies, etc... Each of these groups has different abilities and characteristics. It's exceptional world-building with that good-old Dungeons and Dragons feel. I couldn't put this book down. It's very engaging and I cared about all the characters, even the evil ones. Strong female characters, cool fight scenes, perfect rhythm. I loved it! I will continue reading the series.
A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload by Cal Newport, 320p: The concept of the hyperactive hive mind workflow makes sense. It gave me some awareness of this workflow and I can probably adopt one or two minor strategies to deal with it. I don't think any of the major strategies, like office hours or having shared boards at work would work for me, it would require an upper management radical shift at my workplace.
Also, it has become clear to me the importance of having clear defined workflows. Cal Newport defines that knowledge work as the combination of two components: work execution and workflow. So workflows that require us to be constantly checking a feed or inbox is inefficient and make us miserable. A better way of working is to have fewer ad hoc, unscheduled, asynchronous conversations. In summary, the book brings suggestions on how to use email very strategically if not at all. It's an interesting discussion. I loved the first part of the book about the history of email.
The Fold (Threshold #2) by Peter Clines, 386p: This was an enjoyable read. It starts with a mystery, the main character has to uncover what is going on with this secret DARPA project involving a teleportation device. But nobody tells him how it works so we follow along with his exceptional visual memory skills trying to find patterns and explanations for some odd phenomena. [It's all very sci-fi/mystery and then the book turns into a sort of horror tale with monsters from other dimensions. Entertaining!
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.