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Books Read 2011

My goal when making this list last year was to read more books in 2011. While I did a fair bit of online reading in 2011, I was able to cut back and really up my time with books. I’m a bit sad that only one technical book made the list, and it was only half-read. I’m in the middle of several technical, or “deep,” books. When I make the list for 2012 it will probably appear that I was a heavy technical reader. In reality it will have just taken me a couple years to get through them.

To the list…

The Call of the Wild, Jack London

For some reason I had never read this before. It was fantastic and I plan to read more Jack London. Once I got to the middle of the book the chapters started flying by. I grew up with dogs, but haven’t been a dog person as an adult. This book definitely brought back some memories for me. I was surprised how attached I became to a non-anthropomorphized animal character.

The Passionate Programmer, Chad Fowler

I was a bit surprised by how much corporate advice is in this book, though I probably shouldn’t have been. I guess I just wasn’t familiar with the details of Fowler’s background. This is an excellent book for anyone in the corporate programming/IT gig. Even for me, I highlighted a ton of text.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

I definitely read this 20 (or more) years too late. The characters are such symbols that they have hardly a mite of backstory. The great themes feel a little overwrought given the shallow development of the characters. I’m guessing I would have liked this alright in fifth grade or so, but reading it today was an exercise in filling up my nerd stats sheet.

Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

I found the book interesting, but not entirely convincing. The examples are hand-picked and not as universal as portrayed. Having children, I really did find it interesting how older children are generally treated as “advanced” in school and sports, leading to a sort of repression of skills for those that happened to be born later in the school year.

Classic Baseball, Walter Iooss Jr.

This is kind of cheating as Classic Baseball is by-in-large a book of photography. But if you’re a baseball fan you’ll just drool over these photos. Great action shots, great moments.

Poke the Box, Seth Godin

A nearly empty book of 84 pages. Godin comes up with an obtuse metaphor for starting (Poke the Box!) and then twists it 15 different ways. He never settles on a solid thesis. Along the way he mangles the language, puts way too much emphasis on failure and way too little emphasis on quality. I’ve liked Godin books in the past, but this one read like a rushed series of blog posts mashed together. Some fault falls on the editing since ideas contradict each other within a few pages. Laying out the contradictions 20-30 pages apart would have pulled the wool over the eyes a lot more effectively.

To get my full review, find the book I wrote in as part of The Domino Project. A simple review does no justice to my dislike of this book. My inline comments capture the mood as I was reading it.

Baseball Bafflers, Fastball Makov

Another one of those baseball trivia books. How many of these have I read? I can’t count. It was a gift, so I read it.

Lonely Avenue, Nick Hornby

Four short stories by Nick Hornby were included in this deluxe edition of the collaborative album by Hornby and Ben Folds. Each short story is outstanding. It’s amazing to me that I’ve never read a Hornby book before. I’ll be sure to remedy that soon.

The Power of Less, Leo Babauta

This book reads like a book written by a blog author using a lot of his existing blog content to fill the pages. You know the drill. Odd repetition of ideas across chapters is a sure sign. At least he didn’t outright contradict himself like some books I know. Anyway, it was to be expected since Babauta writes the popular blog zen habits.

To me it read like a calmer version of Getting Things Done. A lot of the same ideas are included, but in a less pragmatic and more holistic way. I do wonder what the relationship is between Babauta and Getting Things Done. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was where he started his journey.

I particularly liked his angle on nutrition, exercise and forming habits. It’s a powerful idea to start forming habits with activities that are so simple it’s almost funny. For instance, exercise 5 minutes per day for a week, then add 5 minutes each week until a month has passed. You should have a habit by then, even though you’re just getting to 20 minutes of exercise per day. I like it.

The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown

One more Dan Brown book, “read” over 6 months via the car stereo. This is really the perfect format for Brown books. You don’t think too hard about it and just let the craziness wash over you. My wife and I kind of rolled our eyes at times through the book, but we were reasonably entertained. Seventeen hours of entertainment.

Fantasyland, Sam Walker

I just started playing rotisserie baseball in 2011 after having played fantasy football for years. A few years ago I gave up fantasy football because I spent too much time on the game. I also kind of dislike football on general principle. I love baseball, however, and anything that adds to my enjoyment of the game seems worthwhile to me. In moderation.

Moderation is not the story in Fantasyland. Sam Walker spends tens of thousands of dollars trying to crack the nut that is Tout Wars, an invite-only, expert rotisserie league. The story starts slowly, but as a rotisserie player myself I was pretty engrossed by the middle and read quickly to the end. Great book for anyone with a strong interest in rotisserie baseball.

The Man Who Killed His Brother, Stephen R. Donaldson

My favorite fantasy-turned-sci-fi-turned-fantasy author is Stephen R. Donaldson. Years ago when I learned he wrote some hard-boiled detective novels under a pseudonym, of course I bought them. Set them on my self.

I finally read the first book in the series and it was pretty decent. This book was written in 1980. Donaldson is not as skilled at building a world of human mystery as he is at building an entirely new world out of nothing. The mystery has been done better by many an author. But I’m encouraged that he figures it out in the later books. Character development is outstanding as always with Donaldson. His depiction of Mick Axebrewder, a drunk coming off the sauce, is what I imagine to be spot on.

The Greedy Bastard Diary, Eric Idle

Back when Eric Idle came through Minneapolis on his last tour, a friend of mine worked as an usher at Pantages Theater. As a massive Python fan since childhood, he was excited as could be. So when I saw this book, a memoir written while on the road on that same tour, for $2 at a library sale I had to gobble it up.

It’s a fast, surprisingly touching read. Idle does his share of name dropping, but I still got the sense that he is a decent, down-to-earth sort of guy. He shared some spectacular details about his marriage and his deep friendship with George Harrison. Yes, that George Harrison.

Still, you gotta be a pretty big Python fan to enjoy this. I did. And then I passed it on to my friend.

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

What can I say? Just a spectacular book. Full of the imagery, depth of character, and themes that you might expect from this Nobel Prize winner. The story is complicated yet down-home and it just barrels on until the end. Beautifully written.

Masters of Doom, David Kushner

For someone who grew up gaming around the time of the Doom arrival, this book was greatly interesting. The development of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake was a roller coaster ride of can-do, pizza and Ferraris. The insights into business and technology innovation were nice, though not extremely frequent.

The Pleasure of My Company, Steve Martin

I thought the main character and his mental … hurdles were consistent. Really, Martin wrote quite well here. Yet I wasn’t ever fully invested or interested in the main character. Kind of similar to my reaction to ho-hum character study movies. The small bits of humor didn’t translate for me. I liked the book, but didn’t love it.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Richard Feynman

I think you can gauge my response here.

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

This is my first Neal Stephenson (listened on audio). I quite enjoyed it, though perhaps not to the degree I expected. The general idea and the intriguing near-future sci-fi predictive nature of the book was pretty awesome. Most of the action was well described. I enjoyed visualizing it.

I tend to like historical philosophical connections made in a book, but I do prefer the connections to be light. This tome got a bit deep into the philosophical side, interrupting the overall flow of the book. But overall, I very much liked it.

The Android’s Dream, John Scalzi

This was a good Scalzi. I didn’t love it, but a quick read and great for a vacation. Humor abounds right from the get-go as a murder-by-fart is planned. Seriously. You know you’re not in for a high-minded adventure, and you’re fine with it.

Switch, Chip & Dan Heath

Lots of interesting anecdotes. The charts in the back of the book could be useful as reminders. I don’t think this is a world-changer, but might be a good skim when looking to make some big changes.

Home Game, Michael Lewis

The stories were spot on given my experience at fatherhood, which mirrors Lewis’s: three kids, same ages, first two daughters, etc. Father territory only, however.

Paul Rand, Steven Heller

I was reminded of being back in school reading this book. The representations of Rand’s work were quite good. I really enjoyed looking at all he accomplished. But the reading side of this book really was a trudge. I don’t think I wrote down a single note from the entire text.

Agent to the Stars, John Scalzi

I’m lazy and I like a good pulp science fiction book. Scalzi is my go-to guy for this genre. This was his first book, edited a bit from the original manuscript. I think it shows that it is his first book, but the wit and science (but not too much science) is there. Ultimately each of his books feel like adaptations from a screenplay. It would really surprise me if a bevy of them are not eventually found onscreen.

Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, Why the Lucky Stiff

I don’t know if I should mark this as read. I’ve gotten half way through the book and I’ve given up. It’s just not my cup of tea. I’m not a Ruby beginner, so nothing to gain there. (I do hope no one has considered the examples to be good form. Some are very poor.) The “story” is completely impossible for me to follow. I’ve enjoyed my share of absurd, dark humor, but this one didn’t work for me. I’m taking a risk because perhaps it all makes sense in the end.

Taking nothing away from Why. He is much respected and my silly opinion on this one bit of his legacy should not diminish others’ thoughts on him in any way.

Books read with children

The kids are getting older and the book reading is getting more interesting. So I include them here in list form.