Once again, I’m at the beginning of a new year, writing a post which isn’t scheduled to publish till a year hence. Physically, I’m starting this year in my winged chair, in Majorna. I haven’t made any drastic new years promises more than the usual ones of dressing a bit better and getting more fit, but perhaps I ought to make a concerted effort to have some more ambitions with my reading. Looking through the last two years reading lists (2020 & 2021) there’s a lot of stuff there that I’ve read either as a distraction or to keep updated on the geek scene – and there’s nothing wrong with that as reasons go – but perhaps I would benefit from actually challenging my mind just a tad bit more? A muscle not used atrophies, and much the same goes for ones brain – and my brain is seriously starved for exercise.
With that, let’s setup the headings and categories, and let’s see where I end up!
Ed. Michael E. Porter, James E. Heppelmann: HBR 10 must reads on AI, Analytics and the New Machine Age. It’s wise to follow Chomskys advice to read the business press to find out what is really going on in the world, and this anthology of ten pieces is an interesting example of this. I’m reading this while considering a change in career, and looking at AI as one possible field to get into. Seeing the topic from the business perspective is helpful in thinking through my decision. Also, the essays are short, written as they are for busy folk with little time for fluff.
Johan Fyrk: Svartjobbsfabriken. Based on a series of articles in the union magazine Byggnadsarbetaren, chronicling how organized crime is behind exploitation of foreign workers in Sweden, cooking the books and using illegal labour in both large governmental building projects, as well as projects for well-off Swedes looking to save on costs. Disturbing facts and interesting read, albeit not very surprising: Those who have, want more, and they don’t care how they get it, etc.
Michael Ely: Centauri dawn. A novelization based on one of the better Sid Meier games, Alpha Centauri. In the novel, just as in the game, seven fractions colonize a new planet, and their priorities bring conflicts to a head. Surprisingly fun read, and I do enjoy the worldbuilding that goes into computer games – I can create my own headcanon for each playthrough.
Blake Crouch: Recursion. A great story about love, regret and time travel. Nicely written and an exiting story which leans on the people rather than the technology. The first third of the book is confusing in a good way, you don’t really understand what is happening but it’s compelling enough that you keep going. Well done!
Tim Maughan: Infinite Detail. A polemic against FAANG and capitalism in the shape of a post-catastrophy world where a young girl helps grieving people reconnect with their dead friends and relatives. Convincing setting and partially a call-to-arms against the technoutopianism we’re surrounded by.
Seth Dickinson: The Traitor Baru Cormorant. A young girl is plucked from her family by an expanding hegemony, taught their ways and customs, and put to work administering another province. She seeks vengeance for her ravaged homeland and plotting ensues. Well written and occasionally brutal – what and whom do we betray to reach our goals, and how does it change us?
Blake Crouch: Dark Matter. A man is kidnapped by an unknown assailant, drugged and showed into a box. He wakes up in a parallel universe which is similar to his own, and now has to manage his own sanity as well as a multiworld world. Interesting twist on a familiar story.
Arkady Martine: A desolation called place. A sequel to A Memory Called Empire and not as good but still good enough. The world building is great, but the characters have a bit too much plot armor and the empire is oddly lax in discipline for being an interstellar hegemony.
Jonathan Courthey: The Workshopper Playbook. A short read where the author (and CEO of AJ&Smart) gives a hypothetical example of a short workshop, as well as evangelizing the job of meeting facilitation – or workshopping. Clear and easy to follow, and inspires me to taking down notes on workshop exercises.
Ryan Holiday: Ego is the enemy. A modern take on the necessity of being honest and humble – a self-help book for the ambitious startup founder. It would benefit being cut by 80%, forcing stringent arguments instead of relying on cherry-picked anecdotes as filler, but there’s a kernel of usefulness in it all: our egos often become limiting factors of our fulfillment, and poison the wells of ambition and self-awareness.
N.K.Jamesin: Emergency Skin. A short story about a future human from a space colony going to Earth to bring back necessary cell samples. It’s a fun read in the context of how we exalt successful tech billionaires and the reductionist dog-eat-dog worldview.
Isabell fall: I sexually identify as an Apache helicopter. A short story about how sexual identity can be weaponised. Good read and an interesting premise (reminds me of a scifi story where people bonded with cats as battle-pilots, forgot where I read that one) which drew much attention due to the perceived mocking of trans-folks in the title (apache-helicopter is a shitpost meme-gender). The publisher removed the story and it later reappeared under a different title, and the author – herself a non-out MTF trans person writing under a pen-name – decided to stay in the closet due to the negative attention and attacks on her person…
Erika Hall: Just enough research. Part of my voluntary reading for the UX-design course I’m taking. Well written and to the point. I read the first edition, but ordered the updated second edition in order to do a closer read once I’m further along the studies.
John Lanchester: The Wall. In a bleak future there is the Wall and Defenders guarding the Wall against the Others, who will try to get from the sea over the Wall. Should that happen, the Defenders who failed to stop them will themselves be put to sea. A short novel about a late-anthropocene Britain where we follow one Defender as he does his tour of duty on the Wall. Bleak and well written (and very poignant in Sweden where the
racist shitheals nationalist Swedish Democrats just became the second largest party in the country)
Don Norman: The desing of everyday things (2nd edition). A classic in the field of design and often referenced in other books I’m reading while studying. Some of the parts seem a bit speculative – as if the author is more concerned with the symmetry of his graphs than the arguments they present – but that might just be my ignorance showing. I’ve taken a bunch of notes, and will have to reread it once I’m further along my studies.
Harvard Business Review: The Year in Tech, 2022. The HBR antologies are useful primers on issues, and it’s especially useful in a meta way: If you’re working with reasonably ambitious managers, chances are that they try to stay ahead of trends, and they might have read the HBR guides to do so. And now so have you. So even if the topics aren’t that revolutionary, they provide a buisiness perspective on them, and might tell of things to come. The essay by Maëlle Gavet on the end of the Silicon Valley gold rush, as well as LeBron L. Bartons being Black in tech, are both worth a read on their own.
Abby Covert: How to make sense of any mess. Not so much a book as a thicker pamphlet with a step by step suggestions for how to navigate uncertain research and design situations – or any situation which requires you to make decisions – with practical lists and charts. I’m gonna copy some of the stuff onto a Miro board or something, cause I think they have a “tips från coachen” quality to them.
Peter Hollins: Mental Models. A short and useful book on different thinking patterns – mental models if you will – and how to apply them. I took notes and will try to use them more rigurously. The 30-70% rule is interesting, where you act when you have at least 30% of required information, but no more than 70%. Seems handy, let’s see if it’s actually useful! This whole mental models thing is interesting when I try to map what I’m already doing after many years of trial and error, and what I’m still struggling with.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher & Eric A. Meyer: Design for real life. Another A List Apart publication, this time about inclusive design. It’s well timed since we’re reading about doing user journeys and testing at school right now, and their suggestion to “design for crisis” is both practical and reasonable. Good read, can recommend!
Paul Tremblay: The Cabin at the End of the World. It wasn’t until I wanted to write this up that I saw that this book is more recent than the movie The Cabin in the Woods – the underlying themes are alike, and with such similar names, I had assumed that the book had inspired the movie. Which it didn’t, it seems. Anywho, the book is a short tense story of four people showing up by a cabin in the middle of nowhere, forcing the family which is renting the place to make a terrible choice, or face even more terrible consequences. It’s unsettling and tense.
Sam Ladner: Practical Ethnography. A great primer for ethnographers who are moving into the private sector. It’s full of hand-on suggestions for academics who might be fearful of what they will have to compromise when they move into the commercial arena. What’s interesting for my purposes though – since I’m not an academic – is that Ladner pairs down the ethnographical practice into what is useful for me as a UX Researcher with little regard for academic rigor. Well written as well, which is a boon!
Adam Wathan & Steve Schoger: Refactoring UI. If feel a bit silly to add this book to the reading list since it’s more of an illustrated guide to a very prescriptive design rule-set, but whatever. It’s short, to the point, and crystal clear – I think I’ll have great use of this once we start prototyping and doing UI:s at school this spring.
Books listened to
Tyler Hamilton: The secret race. A candid tell-it-all from a world class cyclist who doped for a bunch of years before he got caught. He was on the same team as Lance Armstrong, so he has plenty to say about Lance and his steadfast denials (until the Oprah interview in 2013), but there’s plenty of damning information on just about everyone in the cycling world. Fascinating read – I was unaware of how much goes into racing, especially the big tours, and with the complication of evading doping controls it makes for a worthwhile listen.
William Gibson: Neuromancer. Reading these as a teenager I was fascinated with the world Gibson painted, with more gobbledygook than you can shake a Tessier-Ashpool AI-Core Rastafarian Hitachi cyberdeck at. The story itself is a mess, and I’d forgotten that they end up in space – which feels like a dismantling of golden age scifi romanticism – but this book presaged and created so much of what now are cyberpunk tropes, that the mess is forgiven.
William Gibson: Count Zero. Seven years after Neuromancer, it’s one book told through three storylines which merge toward the end – a disposition which Gibson would keep to in most later books – and tells a tight story of AI’s and Voodoo gods in cyberspace, and the people entangled in their scheming. One story has a discgraced art dealer trying to find the creator of some fascinating art pieces, and it’s always difficult to describe something sublime only through the reaction of the character – she’s moved by the haunting beauty of the object – and my acceptance of the characters motivation can only go so far.
Books given up on
Samantha Downing: My lovely wife. Suspense novel about a serial killing married couple, told in first person by the husband. I’m not sure if the narrator is ment to be dumb or if the writing is poor, but imagine if Homer Simpson was Dexter. I’ve seen it recommended because the twist was supposed to be great, but I gave up halfway and checked out the twist on wikipedia, and it was as stupid as the characters.
Blake Crouch: Pines. Too poor writing to motivate me past the first few chapters.
Herman Melville: Moby Dick. It’s just to laborious to read. I’m an hour into this and really don’t care enough about Ishmael to continue – 200 years ago people were still romanticizing a frontier that no longer existed, increasing their appreciation of this book, perhaps? Nevertheless, it feels nice to cross a classic off my list – I’m done with Moby Dick in this lifetime, and it’s an odd feeling.
James Clear: Atomic Habits. The book came recommended from a friend when we were discussing ambition and goal-setting, but I gave up after thirty pages. The metaphors and anectodes are poorly strung together and counterarguments are strawmanned. I’d recommend the Bullet Journal by Ryder Carrol instead, which in passing makes better arguments concerning productivity than Atomic Habits.
Devora Zack: Networking for people who hate networking. It’s a book presenting itself as a “field guide for introverts” which would be super useful for me as I’m trying to get into a new field, but more than halfway through it still hasn’t offered more than assurances that “it’s ok to be an introvert” and self deprecating jokes. The dichotomy intro/extrovert is an alluring one, but it’s not useful enough to spin out to a book, apparently…
Samanta Schweblin: Little eyes. People buy robotic companions – Kentukis – which are linked up with random human operators, and the link is a one-time activation; if the operator loses interest, the Kentuki becomes useless. People across the world become fascinated by the experience and reach out for the limited but real human interaction it offers. Really unconvincing world building and flat characters – after a tense first chapter it all dissolves into random nonsensical vignettes.