Previous reading list posts
A few items that rocked my world with respect to reading:
Borrowing eBooks from my local libraries
I’ve been a Kindle user for about 9 years now. Sometime in the past 5 years, I discovered that it was possible to borrow eBooks from your local library, but the user experience left a lot to be desired. The selection of eBooks available for borrowing via Overdrive was not that impressive, and the experience of downloading a DRM-protected ePub or Kindle book to your computer, then copying it over to your Kindle was clunky and not very user-friendly.
How far we’ve come today…
As I recently rediscovered, the Overdrive system has gotten a lot smoother, better integrated with library systems and with Amazon, and has an impressive collection of new-ish books. The selection of books available to borrow still depends on which library systems you have access to. From having moved recently, I had library cards from where I lived before and where I now live. On top of that, the LA Public Library system kindly provides a library card to all California residents who brave LA traffic and visit a branch in person. All put together, this gives me access to quite a wealth of popular and recent books.
The Libby app by Overdrive
The same Overdrive system that lets you borrow library books has also launched a differently skinned app called Libby. The Libby app connects to any libraries you have cards for via the same Overdrive platform, so if you are looking to only borrow eBooks, you can go through either Overdrive or Libby, but the different thing here is the experience of borrowing audiobooks. With Libby, it gives you a list of all available audiobooks by library, and borrowing an audiobook is as easy as clicking ‘Borrow’ and the book will immediately start buffering / streaming through your phone. The app also makes samples available if you’d rather not commit to borrowing the book.
Fire HD 10
Amazon has had this on sale on and off for $99 + taxes - if you find such a deal, get it! With the fairly easy to execute Google Play sideload trick, you not only have the wealth of Amazon apps but also the vast world of Android apps on Google Play, including Netflix, Google Drive/Calendar/Mail, Microsoft’s Office 365 apps etc.
Fire HD also comes with a 6-month complementary membership to Washington Post, and a $5/year subscription to Wired magazine.
The experience of reading on the old gen Kindle was amazing - since the basic “paperwhite” Kindles aren’t backlit, there is no strain on the eyes from the tablet. The Fire HD 10 is backlit, but it has multiple options on making the screen darker (white-text-on-black background) on dimming the tablet for ‘night mode’
I was specifically looking for a tablet that could do a decent job of letting me doodle / draw wireframes/mockups/brainstorm charts without me having to invest $700-$900 for a complete iPad Pro + Pencil ecosystem, and I’m happy to report that Fire 10 HD by itself is enough for some basic level of doodling.
One word of warning - for a $100 tablet, you get what you pay for with the screen - it is not very strong and cracks easily. Put a case or screen protector on the Fire 10 HD the moment you get it.
I’ve had a Goodreads account for over 6 years now. I have seen Goodreads get acquired by Amazon, seen them get through various controversies over giving preferential treatment to author accounts, and primarily being too lazy to delete the account, I kept it open and sporadically updated my lists of books I’d like to read.
A couple of years ago, Goodreads helpfully started scanning my lists of ‘Want to Read’ books, looking up sales on the Kindle versions of those books on Amazon.com and sending me email digests of Goodreads Deals i.e. ‘We found a great deal for an ebook on your Want to Read shelf!’. Well, wow. I’ve probably purchased at least one book every few emails, if not more. At $2 - $4 a book, I’m getting a real deal on bestselling books and I can keep my reading “pile” full of books that I actually want to read.
Books Read in 2017
1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini (1984)
I loved this book! The concepts of persuasion outlined in this book are timeless, even if in some cases, the examples aren’t - case in point, I don’t know of anyone who refers to “confidence-men” anymore. Although the use cases are sometimes stuck in the 80s, the author’s underlying message is powerful and worth absorbing.
2. Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel (2010)
This book hit a lot of relevant notes for me - travel, entrepreneurship, innovation, challenges of communicating new technology. What I didn’t realize, and now have a new appreciation for, is the connection between accurate timekeeping and navigating the seas.
3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Dystopian and disturbing. The writing was great, the book was a page-turner and the main character’s inner life felt authentic. It’s the sort of book that stayed with me, even as I wondered how truly ‘futuristic’ or ‘dystopian’ this world really was when women still have so far to go and so much to change to feel truly equal.
4. To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History by Lawrence Levy
Pixar recently released Coco, which I absolutely loved and recommend as an example of what authentic ethnic storytelling should look like. News also came out regarding a pattern of alleged misconduct by John Lasseter, the Chief Creative Officer at Pixar. ‘To Pixar and Beyond’ serves as an interesting point-in-time capture of Lawrence Levy’s recollections of his time at Pixar - starting just before Toy Story was released, and ending around the time Disney fully acquired Pixar and captures the passion and work culture and loyalty to Pixar that could arguably result in both of the above pieces of news.
5. On Writing: A Memoir Of the Craft by Stephen King
I hope to read this book at least once every few years. Stephen King writes about his writing process, his advice to new writers, and about his writing career - drugs, alcohol and all. This isn’t a textbook about writing, but neither is it just a memoir. The advice and the memories all weave together seamlessly and it’s more layered than it appears at first read. I don’t know that I came away with very concrete writing advice beyond ‘don’t use adverbs’, but I was certainly inspired by King’s no-excuse attitude towards writing.
6. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K.Rowling
Having re-read the original Harry Potter books multiple times, I was a little hesitant to read this since it seemed too different to be a continuation of the original story - i.e. it’s a play, it’s not really about Harry and friends and it’s set in a different time. But after reading it, I can reassure you that this certainly inhabits the world of Harry Potter, and it was certainly lovely to hang out with the characters, both new and old, one more time. I wasn’t wild about the play format and the story did seem to move quicker because of the requirement for the characters to be doing / saying something (they can’t just think, that would be quite boring on stage). At the same time, I was quite amazed at the amount of magical activity that happens in the book as I couldn’t envision how that would be performed on stage. Good book and worth a read for the Harry Potter fan.
7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Loved this story! At the recommendation of a friend, I had read American Gods a while ago and was impressed by the scale and genius of it but didn’t really love the characters or the story. This felt exactly the opposite. It starts as a small, intimate story about a child in a graveyard and becomes so much more eventually. The characters stay with you, the story is heartwarming and grand and heroic. I first heard of this book on Tim Ferriss’s podcast - he recommends the audiobook version narrated by Gaiman himself and highlights this book as a starting point for those who usually only read non-fiction and are looking to dip their toes in the water with fiction.
Books started in 2017
8. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Ever wanted to get fully thought out, scientifically precise answers to questions like “What would happen if the earth stopped spinning?” or “What happens if everyone in the world gathers in one place and jumps together?” or “How big does a laser pointer have to be to heat the moon?”. No? Well, don’t be so sure. I’m halfway through this book and thoroughly enjoying the thoroughly researched scenarios that I never gave a thought to before now.
9. Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Similar to the above but more galactic and comprehensive, and more patiently explained by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Enjoying this so far.
10. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
So far, it has been a sprawling portrait of one woman as she silently bears life on the plantation. The eBook expired before I could finish it, but I will definitely re-borrow when I have some time to dedicate to the book.
Books I abandoned
1. No ordinary time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt : the home front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin (1994)
Slightly demoralizing to read how separate of a life Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt lived during FDR’s pivotal presidency before and during WW2. Definitely want to learn more but this is too stark and intimate of a look behind the scenes.
2. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (2011)
The previous book I read and liked in this genre was the The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal by Desmond Morris. The tone in ‘Naked Ape’ is lighter and the book is more fast-paced than Sapiens, so I may need to adjust my expectations of Sapiens before getting back to it.
3. Open by Andre Agassi (2009)
The opening chapters of the book are riveting - Agassi gives a live play-by-play of what it feels like the morning of a big match, just before it, during it and after it. I was halfway through the book and into his phase of life when he is busy rebelling and fighting the establishment. I might still get back to it - the book is well written and Agassi serves up insightful anecdotes in the making of a greatest of all time athlete.
4. Overwatch: A Thriller (The Logan West Thrillers) by Matthew Betley (2016)
Not the style of writing I like to read.