Reading 2017

Updated 15 Sep 2018

Top books this year

Viewed Sideways: Writings on Culture and Style in Contemporary Japan, by Donald Richie (5/5)
Some beautiful vignettes into Japanese culture. Why are Japanese TV commercials so insane? Explained.

Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, by Fuchsia Dunlop (5/5)
Everything a cookbook should be: beautiful photos of every recipe, simple instructions, authentic flavours. Even a pictorial glossary of ingredients to help shopping. If you own only one Chinese cookbook, this should be it.

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer (5/5)
Timeless, and timely, observations. I wonder how small a group this scales down to?

All the rest

Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull (3/5)
Interesting history of Pixar, especially the chain of inventions required to get to being able to make Toy Story. Not as much general advice on creative-process as I expected.

The One Sentence Persuasion Course, by Blair Warren (3/5)
A great lens for the world.

The Man with the Golden Typewriter, by Fergus Fleming (3/5)
I liked some of the backstory on the Bond novels, but overall I found all the letters too disconnected from each other or any particular context, kept losing the thread when I came back to this.

I Hate Plot, by Snakes (3/5)
Some very personal stories, written in a very personal voice. They didn’t connect with me, but they grew on me.

Professor Frisby’s Mostly Adequate Guide to Functional Programming, by Brian Lonsdorf (4/5)
Very approachable introduction, clarified quite a few things for me. I found his video series more engaging, although it doesn’t go into as much detail as this book. Would be nice if the book was updated with ES6 syntax.

Oishinbo, Volume 6 - The Joy of Rice, by Tetsu Kariya (3/5)
As formulaic as all the others. But I’m inspired by some of the onigiri choices.

Oishinbo, Volume 5 - Vegetables, by Tetsu Kariya (2/5)
This one was quite fragmented and dull.

Dove, by Robin Lee Graham (3/5)
A very wholesome story. Not terribly inspiring.

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, by Fuchsia Dunlop (3/5)
Enjoyable and informative overall. The first half (arriving in China, learning to cook) flowed much better, and the second half (food security issues, becoming disenchanted with China) had a really different tone that didn’t work for me. But maybe these sections mirrored her changing attitude quite authentically.

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too, by Jomny Sun (4/5)
it is goob. it is very art.

Unwritten Laws of Engineering: Revised and Updated Edition, by W.J. King (4/5)
Wise and timeless advice. Not only for engineers.

Nexus, by Ramez Naam (2/5)
One of those sci-fi “fantasy” novels, where the protagonist is naive but smarter, faster and morally better than everyone else. Basically a weak action movie.

The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (4/5)
Alien contact as an allegory for the Cultural Revolution?

Cool Code, Bro: Brogrammers, Geek Anxiety and the New Tech Elite, by Nick Parish (3/5)
More interesting than I expected – the author doesn’t offer any opinions or insights, but quotes a lot of people who seem to have done deeper, nuanced writing on the topic, which I may go read. I will say that this strikes me as an especially American problem; I have trouble recognizing it in the cultures I’ve experienced.

Fake It Make It: How to Make an App Prototype in 3 Hours, by Amir Khella (2/5)
Meh. We were doing this circa 2000 with PPT… (ie, the approach is good but nothing new). Get a book like ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ for some real substance.

The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier (3/5)
Fairly basic, but with a few essential points such as the Drama Triangle and triggering people to reflect so they learn.

Early Retirement Extreme, by Jacob Lund Fisker (1/5)
Some of the initial philosophy was good, then it got repetitive, and then the practical advice was downright silly (eg, you don’t need a stove, just use a camping stove) and self-contradictory.

Magic Vocabulary Builder for Mandarin Chinese, by Zhou Xiaogeng (2/5)
Consists of very brief explanations of the features of Chinese morphology, followed by lists of words that illustrate the point (eg, suffixes, reduplication, noun-verb word formation). Typesetting is very amateur, with sections split across a page from their heading, extra line breaks, etc. You can probably find your own word lists using Pleco. In the end, no magic.

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, by Jonathan Wilson (3/5)
An interesting but long-winded explanation of the evolution of systems, sometimes based on a philosophy of play, sometimes in response to an opponent’s system. It had way too much historical detail for me – really hard to find the meat while plowing through the specifics, names and dates of individual games from 50-80 years ago.

地心游记 (Journey to the Center of the Earth) Mandarin Graded Reader, by Jules Verne (4/5)
Another good one in the series. The stories are intrinsically dull though (simple and repetitive) so it’s definitely for practice and not for enjoyment of the reading.

A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young (3/5)
It a good description of the ingredients, but hardly a technique that could be followed.

Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents, by Ellen Ullman (3/5)
The trait of solving the system, rather than the user’s problem, is very familiar. Ultimately not a whole lot to this book.

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, by Simon Schama (3/5)
Loved some of them, abandoned others. Had to look up a bunch of words. Perhaps a little too clever.

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past), by Liu Cixin (3/5)
I really enjoyed The Three-Body Problem, and the first half of this, but it fell flat for me after that. The holes in the premise start to show through, and the plot rushes to some conclusion in a really simplistic way, without any tension.

As One Is: To Free the Mind from All Condition, by Jiddu Krishnamurti (4/5)
Very simple, but of course not easy. Can you see what conditioning means? I recommend you read this a bit at a time, because it does feel repetitive (as it’s a series of talks, transcribed).

Manage Your Day-to-Day, by Jocelyn K. Glei (3/5)
The value in this book is that it reminds you of things you probably already know, but maybe aren’t doing. The content is pretty shallow, more of a pamphlet advertising the designers, but if it leads you off somewhere then it’s still worth it.

Getting Results the Agile Way, by J.D. Meier (4/5)
A mix of Stephen Covey, Getting Things Done, and agile development. Some people complain it’s repetitive, but I think it’s more iterative – you can skim to the parts that resonate for you, and then read deeper, and some points will be reiterated there.

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders (3/5)
An interesting, and quite light, introduction to all the things going on in our gut. It almost certainly has a bigger effect on us than we have believed previously.


You can also check out everything I've been reading on Goodreads.