Monday, June 7, 2021

Third 10 Books I Read in 2021

 Reading Period: May 18 - June 23

1. Neuromancer, by William Gibson


    The original cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer is a 1984 novel well ahead of it's time. William coins terms like "cyberspace" and "the matrix" in this book, and pits artificial intelligences against humanity. The read was interesting, as it is clearly the initial domino leading to thousands of mimics in literature, television, and video games. Unfortunately, it is too outdated to be worth the read. No fault to William, but as time has passed, the universes we can explore with current science fiction are much more compelling.

2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King


    The best writing guide on the market, written by an obviously qualified master of the craft. The book starts out of an autobiography, transitions to writing tips, and finishes with Stephen's commentary on the writing process as a whole. Definitely worth the read, even if you are never planning on writing a novel.

3. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry


    I read this 900 page monster is less than a week, it was that brilliant. Granted I was on vacation and not doing much else, but still, a wonderful book. The characters are engaging, the storytelling is masterful, and before you know it you've spent your non-reading time daydreaming about driving cattle from Texas to Montana. 

    This epic adventure carries the personalities of a dozen characters, but the two central cowboys are  Capitan Call and Gus McCrae. After beating a man to the brink of death, the Capitan merely states to the crowd of onlookers "I hate a man that talks rude. I won't tolerate it." Gus has too many great quotes to count, but one that stuck with me was "the earth is mostly just a boneyard. But pretty in the sunlight." This is a hilarious, beautiful, heartbreaking book that I would put at the top of my recommendation list.

4. Night, by Elie Wiesel


    This short book chronicles Elie Wiesel's time spent in the Auschwitz concentration camp. This book is horrifying, a first hand account at the worst humanity has to offer. Babies are burned alive, a son kills his father for a crust of bread, and Elie's entire family is killed. An important read, but also a brutal and worrying one.

5. The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy


    I read this novella in order to determine if War and Peace would be worth the effort. Leo is no doubt a brilliant writer, and this was a great story about suffering and death. There are some slivers of optimism that can be taken away from this book, and my dislike of these parts made me realize I am becoming way to cynical and pessimistic. Still, this is an authentic, frightening, and meaningful take on death.

6. Python for Data Analysis, by Wes McKinney


    This is an extensive guide to pandas (a Python package for data analysis) written by the creator Wes McKinney. This book isn't well structured and a bit all over the place, and even after reading the whole thing I don't think I learned anything new. If you are completely new to Python or data analysis, I'd recommend sticking with the online documentation or learning through projects. There was one quick chapter on applications for finance that was worth the read, Wes could have written a useful book about that.

7. Web Scraping with Python, by Ryan Mitchell


    Easily the best Python book I've ever read. Extremely well written, concise, and entertaining. Running the pre-defined scripts feels like magic. Ryan wasn't joking when she said web scraping takes very little effort and looks extremely impressive. I particularly enjoyed the tangential items Ryan includes throughout the guide: image recognition, natural language processing, and the legality/ethics of web scraping. Even if you have no programming experience, I would still highly recommend this book. The abilities of a proficient web scraper are just too cool to pass up.

8. The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton


    This is a book with a crazy amount of insight, most of it extremely useful and interesting. However, as I moved along the chapters, I started realize that the book is right on the edge of greatness, but it just doesn't cut it. I'm not completely certain why this is the case. Alain does have a tendency to talk a lot but say very little, and criticisms of  pompousness or overgeneralization are probably valid. I think what didn't sit well with me was the  discussion of infidelity and secret keeping. Alain seems to have some very strange beliefs on this topic. Honesty is less important in Alain's world (he should read "Lying"), and unfortunately it creates some sense of justified moral ambiguity for certain plot points. Without spoiling the plot, I will say Alain is stretching to rationalize selfish behavior and most competent readers will find the attempt laughable.

    I've highlighted more of this book than any other book I've read. Paraphrasing, Alain believes love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm. People know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it might continue. There are no soul mates, no perfect marriages. There can only ever be a "good enough" marriage, and everyone has major flaws. Recognizing that you have major flaws and are very hard to live with is needed for your marriage to work. Having similar tastes to a partner is not important, what is important is finding someone who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace. I would be interested in reflecting on these ideas in 30 years, and seeing how much my view on the book as a whole has changed.

9. Be Prepared, a Practical Handbook for New Dads, by Gary Greenberg


   My reason for reading this book is on part due to a quote from the previous book A Course of Love, where Alain de Botton is describing the ignorance of the main character asking his girlfriend to marry:

 "He has never read any books on the institution; he has in the last decade never spent more than ten minutes with a child; he has never cynically interrogated a married couple let alone spoken in depth with a divorced one and would be at a loss to explain why the majority of marriages fail, save from the general idiocy or lack of imagination of their participants.

    Upon reading this, I thought oh, he's also describing me. I've read a previous book on marriage, but the part about never spending more than ten minutes with a child rings true. How am I convinced that I want to have children if I am entirely clueless about the subject? Reading this book was an attempt to expand my knowledge of the subject, and at least get a feel for what fatherhood is like. Gary explains in great detail the requirements of raising a child through their first year of life. This was a funny, easy to read, and enlightening book. Gary makes the tough, gross, thankless job of early fatherhood into a fun and understandable project. Also, this book is a great gift idea I will be getting my friends once they start having kids.

10. The Pragmatic Programmer, by Andy Hunt


    This was a fairly easy read that I learned a lot from. The approaches taught in this book mirror the approaches I have found extremely valuable on my own. Kaizen is the first important principle of programming: continuous improvement every day. My best projects have been slowly chipped away at over time, and these daily optimizations have created some really cool functionality. The second important principle is orthogonality. This principle focuses on independent functions, DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself), and an overall focus on flexibility. It is interesting that a lot of common knowledge,  such as premature optimization is the root of all evil, are things I had to learn the hard way on my own. Reading a book like this will help you avoid these common traps, and learn how to code the right way the first time. Overall, I would say this was worth the read. It is a bit dated (1999), but I think the concepts still translate well today.

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