Books Read in 2013

2013 was a milestone year; 23 years after it started and 6 years after his death, Robert Jordan's 14-tome epic, Wheel of Time, was complete. I did not start reading the books until around 1998, but I was quite satisfied by the way Brandon Sanderson ended the series. Beyond A Memory of Light, I also wanted to read more of the great, well-known books. I really enjoyed The Godfather, arguably more than I liked the first two movies. I decided to read Snow Crash since people keep saying how good Neal Stephenson is. I was left un-wowed and, when I checked my list later, found out I had read it years before and just did not remember it. It may be that cyberpunk is just not for me. I attempted a reread of The Sword of Truth, but got bogged down in Goodkind's writing style in the middle of the fifth book; I think I may have outgrown that series since I tried reading his new book this year as well and quit within the first 50 pages.

I thought The Difference Engine and The Algebraist were quite good; both were new authors for me. Confessions of Nat Turner was another Pulitzer winner and definitely deserved it; there was one scene towards the end of the book where Turner is wandering around an empty plantation and the descriptions are so powerful I could almost see, hear, and smell the setting — simply amazing. After rewatching Doctor Who's The Unicorn and the Wasp, I decided that I needed to give Agatha Christie a shot, so I read Murder on the Orient Express; I am sad to say that I did not really enjoy it. I felt like the scenario was too contrived and was a bit irritated that there was no way to figure out who dun it; too many of the clues revealed in the end came from current events in Poirot's head that were not explicitly mentioned during the story before the reveal. Maybe I would enjoy another book more; I will have to try another Christie mystery in the future.

I could keep going about the rest of the books on the list, but I really only have a couple more that I want to point out. First, if you read one book this year, make it All Quiet on the Western Front. I read it as part of my “learn about World War I” education this year and it was fantastic. I have never seen the movie, but the book gives you a raw, first-person experience that “War is Hell”1. I highly recommend it and I believe that I will nominate it as my Book of the Year.

Finally, I want to mention Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga. I was very conflicted over this story. On the one hand, there was a decent plot squirreled away there inside of thousands of pages. On the other hand, Hamilton's way of writing women bothered me greatly. The women were all written as overly-sexualized, shallow creatures that, on multiple occasions, were used by the men in the story as playthings and then discarded; they seemed to be written more as Hamilton's fantasy than as real characters. If the men had been written that way as well, I would have written it off as the way the society is his universe was built, but that was not the case. Honestly, that characterization ruined what was otherwise a decent story. I cannot recommend the Commonwealth Saga to anyone.

  1. Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World. by Bruce Schneier
  2. A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, #14) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
  3. Astray by Emma Donoghue
  4. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  5. The Honor of the Queen (Honor Harrington, #2) by David Weber
  6. Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by Simon Singh
  7. Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Solutions by Gayle Laakmann McDowell
  8. The Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington, #3) by David Weber
  9. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  10. Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson, #7) by Patricia Briggs
  11. Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art by Steve McConnell
  12. Wizard's First Rule (Sword of Truth, #1) by Terry Goodkind
  13. Stone of Tears (Sword of Truth, #2) by Terry Goodkind
  14. Blood of the Fold (Sword of Truth, #3) by Terry Goodkind
  15. Temple of the Winds (Sword of Truth, #4) by Terry Goodkind
  16. Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse, #13) by Charlaine Harris
  17. The First 90 Days, Updated and Expanded: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins
  18. Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert
  19. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
  20. The Difference Engine by William Gibson
  21. The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks
  22. The Art of the Metaobject Protocol by Gregor Kiczales
  23. The Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  24. The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner
  25. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi
  26. Principles of Statistics (Dover Books on Mathematics) by M.G. Bulmer
  27. The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
  28. Sisterhood of Dune (Schools of Dune, #1) by Brian Herbert
  29. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
  30. Pandora's Star (Commonwealth Saga, #1) by Peter F. Hamilton
  31. Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #10) by Agatha Christie
  32. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  33. My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall
  34. Judas Unchained (Commonwealth Saga, #2) by Peter F. Hamilton
  35. Foundation (Foundation, #1) by Isaac Asimov
  36. Empire: A Very Short Introduction by Stephen Howe
  37. Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2) by Isaac Asimov
  38. Second Foundation (Foundation, #3) by Isaac Asimov
  39. The Shining (The Shining, #1) by Stephen King
  40. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman
  41. Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2) by Stephen King
  42. Joyland by Stephen King
  43. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  44. The Magicians (The Magicians, #1) by Lev Grossman
  45. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  46. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
  47. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  48. The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #4) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  49. Bambi by Felix Salten
  50. Surreal Numbers by Donald E. Knuth
  51. Geolocation Techniques: Principles and Applications by Camillo Gentile
  52. Learning From Data: A Short Course by Yaser S. Abu-Mostafa
  53. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

1. William Tecumseh Sherman

Books in 2012: Better late than never

As I sat down to go through my books for this year, I realized I never reviewed my books from last year. Oh well, better late than never.

Last year, several themes ran through my reading list. One of the themes came out of a desire to read highly renowned books. As such, you will see several Pulitzer Award winners on the list, as well as several books that were famous movies or miniseries, but are stories I had never read. I also read several kid's books this year and read the first Honor Harrington book, which is now one of my favorite series (I read more of them this year).

  1. On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1) by David Weber
  2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  3. Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
  4. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
  5. Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
  6. The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins
  7. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  8. The Kitchen Table Investor: Low Risk, Low-Maintenance Wealth-Building Strategies For Working Families by John F. Wasik
  9. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
  10. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives) by Christopher Hitchens
  11. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
  12. Hondo by Louis L'Amour
  13. Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas by Dale Carpenter
  14. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins
  15. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) by Suzanne Collins
  16. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3) by Suzanne Collins
  17. Learn You a Haskell for Great Good! by Miran Lipova?a
  18. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
  19. The Giver (The Giver Quartet, #1) by Lois Lowry
  20. Room by Emma Donoghue
  21. Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
  22. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  23. Sarah, Plain and Tall (Sarah, Plain and Tall, #1) by Patricia MacLachlan
  24. Pro Git (Expert's Voice in Software Development) by Scott Chacon
  25. Working Stiff (Revivalist, #1) by Rachel Caine
  26. Poltergeist (Greywalker, #2) by Kat Richardson
  27. Underground (Greywalker, #3) by Kat Richardson
  28. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  29. Redshirts by John Scalzi
  30. The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau
  31. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
  32. Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse, #12) by Charlaine Harris
  33. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
  34. American Gods (American Gods, #1) by Neil Gaiman
  35. A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons
  36. Vanished (Greywalker, #4) by Kat Richardson
  37. Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
  38. The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
  39. Cold Days (The Dresden Files, #14) by Jim Butcher
  40. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman
  41. Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Fowler)) by David Farley
  42. Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  43. A river runs through it by Norman Maclean

To sum things up, I wanted to choose a book of the year. It was harder to choose than I thought it would be. Before I reveal my book of 2012, the first runner up is Alex Haley's Roots. This was an amazing story that was famously adapted into a pair of miniseries in the late '70s. I watched the miniseries before reading the book, but that did not take away from its sprawling, epic nature. However, as much as I liked it, Roots had a hard contender in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, my 2012 Book of the Year. It was the first even vaguely Western book I had ever read and will probably be one of those books that I read over and over again through the years. The best books are the ones where the characters come alive and I argued back at Gus just as much as Call did while I was reading it. I have since watched the miniseries that followed it and, while I enjoyed it, it did not hold a candle to the 1985 Pulitzer winner.

 

Breaking the Build

For work, I am reading a book called Continuous Delivery. Its tagline is “Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation.” I am reading it so that I can apply its principles both for software projects at work and software projects at home. Lately, I have been seeing ways that I can apply it in real life. For instance, the book has a chapter on Continuous Integration, of which there exists a companion book as well as numerous other texts on the subject. The first role of Continuous Integration is “Thou shalt not break the build.” For every change that is made, there should be tests that make sure that a regression has not occurred. How can I apply this rule in real life, though?

Last week, I had worked enough hours that I came home and decided to finally deal with the mess that was my dresser and closet. Both were overflowing; I didn't wear most of it and, when input my clothes up, I just crammed them wherever I could, regardless of where they went or whether there was room to put them where they were being shoved. So, I took out every piece of clothing I owned, touched them all, and determined whether I wanted to keep them, given them away, or just get rid of them. It took two hours, but I finally got the mess under control. Now, to apply Continuous Integration to this problem, I need to define some tests that I check every day.

Here are the tests I came up with, in the form of a check list:

  • Ensure that the top of the dresser is clear
  • Ensure that the top of the cedar chest is clear
  • Ensure that there is adequate spacing between hanging clothes so I can see what is there
  • When opening drawers to remove clothes, ensure that the remaining clothes are neatly folded

These basic tests that I mentally check every time I go in our room or closet have helped me, in the last week, make sure that the clean up I did last week does not suffer a regression. If, like this morning, I discover something on the dresser, I consider the build to be broken and revert the change (I removed the offending article and worked to make sure that the problem was fixed). Over time, I hope that incremental changes like this will help make sure that the master bedroom and closet are neat and tidy. Then, I can tackle the other rooms in the house. The keys to make sure that problems are taken care of as soon as they occur, just like in Continuous Integration.

 

The Neverending Story

As an adult, I cannot believe I have never read this endearing book that was the inspiration for one of my favorite movies as a child. The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, goes far beyond the plot of the movie, whose end occurs around half-way through the book. The book is much darker than the movie ever thought about being. I have had a hard time deciding how much to talk about here; on one hand, the English translation of the book is 29 years old. On the other hand, how many of my contemporaries have actually read the book versus just thinking they know the story since they have seen the movie?

In the book, Ende covers the nature of the Nothing, what happens to the Fantasticans (I actually like the name Fantasians much better) when they are taken by the Nothing, and how the Nothing affects the real world. The scene with Gmork, where all of this is explained, could not be more different than it was in the movie since the brief spurt of action found in the movie is not present. Once Ende gets beyond the end of the movie, he starts to explore the idea of what happens when you allow yourself to get too wrapped up in fantasy and who you wish you can be and begin to forget who you really are.

if you loved The Neverending Story as a child, I highly recommend reading this book as an adult. Be prepared for your conception of Fantasia to be forever altered, though.

Tired of Children’s Media

With Emily now a bit older than four years old, I have gotten extremely tired of reading children’s books to her. Now, this does not mean that I am tired of reading to her. While stories like the Berenstain Bears, Curious George, and the Golden Books are fantastic compared to most of the children’s books that have been written, I have read all of the ones we own to Emily (and that is a lot of those books). So, starting this week, I have decided to rebel. Over Christmas, we brought back a lot of Ashley’s old story books from her parent’s house. This included ten or so of the Great Illustrated Classics. So, this week, I picked up Heidi and began to read it to Emily. At first, I was a little worried about how she would deal with that, because my daughter is very opinionated, especially with regards to the story she listens to at bedtime. However, she seems to really be enjoying Heidi so far. We are reading 3–4 chapters a night, with each chapter being 10–15 pages each, with illustrations every other page. Once we get through the classics we have, I may look at introducing her to Nancy Drew, since Ashley and her Mom have collected virtually every Nancy Drew known to man and we have them all stashed in Emily’s room.

I also have a goal to get Emily off of her Disney movie obsession. We have watched about half of My Fair Lady and she likes that so far, so I am going to let her watch the original movie version starring Rex Harrison. After we finish reading Heidi, I am going to show her the Shirley Temple version of the movie. This won’t break her of the Mouse, but it will expose her to other classic films that will not drive me nuts to watch.