I re-read Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (July 12, 2020)
Revisited this collection of Richard Feynman's eclectic adventures, and found them more inspiring than ever -- though parts demand a charitable eye
Make my protagonists amazing and incompetent (May 26, 2020)
Thoughts on how a tragically awful adventurer can provide the soul of a truly gripping adventure novel.
I read Mojolicious Web Clients (March 3, 2020)
Thoughts on the new book by brian d foy about the Mojolicious web toolkit, and about Mojo's role in the Perl ecosystem.
Our Mathematical Universe and the eternal now (January 19, 2020)
An excellent recent work of popular cosmology accidentally gives fresh insight on concepts certain Eastern religions have taught for centuries.
I read Going into Town (November 4, 2019)
I took both delight and great comfort from Roz Chast's newcomer-oriented guide to New York City.
I read Under the Knife (July 19, 2019)
Enjoyed these true stories of historically significant operations, told charmingly if unflinchingly by the surgeon Arnold van de Laar.
I read Plokhy’s Chernobyl (July 1, 2019)
Notes on Serhii Plokhy's dry but enlightening account of the nuclear disaster, and its role in ending the USSR.
I read Ruined by Design (May 23, 2019)
Thoughts on Mike Monteiro's 2019 polemical book, which insists in fiery terms that the design field start asserting its own, independent responsibility for the power it wields today.
I read Ways of Seeing (May 8, 2019)
Read and enjoyed this 1972 print adaptation of John Berger's landmark TV series that advocated the consideration of cultural context when studying artwork.
I read Little Teeth (April 14, 2019)
I enjoyed this low-key but hilarious comic book about queer-poly funny animals in the Pacific Northwest experiencing drama.
Lords of Chaos and Varg Vikernes (January 16, 2019)
Sometimes we find spooky parallels between ourselves and people we have absolutely no reason to admire.
Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff’s horror (January 13, 2019)
Thoughts on Heathcliff's stunning transformation from a laughably impotent gothic villain into a shockingly cruel monster.
Wuthering Heights: Lockwood’s reality (January 5, 2019)
Lockwood, the unflappable tourist, travels with alarming freedom across the boundaries of his own novel's narrative layers.
Wuthering Heights: Cathy’s freedom (December 29, 2018)
Some hopeful thoughts about the ultimate fate of Wuthering Heights' youngest surviving residents.
I am reading Wuthering Heights (and works adjacent) (December 18, 2018)
Not even halfway into Emily Brontë's classic novel of horrible people skulking about the moors, and I feel overwhelmed by all the related treasures I've discovered.
I read The Death of Expertise (December 8, 2018)
Lots of strained apocalyptic complaint about Kids Today, with a dash of worryingly apt perspective relevant to modern crises, and a soupçon of actionable advice.
I read Paradox (October 4, 2018)
My thoughts on Margaret Cuonzo's short and interesting survey of logical paradoxes, and how to dispel them.
Rejecting the “Post-web era” while embracing The Future (August 31, 2018)
My response to Nick Montfort's recent article asserting that the era of the open web as the main platform for digital writing has forever passed.
I read The Book of the New Sun (and re-read From Hell) (July 21, 2018)
I found Gene Wolfe's epic SF novel from the early 1980s a rewarding read, despite (and, okay, partially because of) its somewhat dated presentation of female characters.
I read The Overneath (March 27, 2018)
Peter S. Beagle's latest collection of short fantasies. I liked it.
I read The River of Consciousness (February 2, 2018)
I read and enjoyed this final collection of popular-science essays by Oliver Sacks, the great neurologist and author.
I read Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey (January 24, 2018)
My thoughts on this new translation of Homer's epic, the first of any Odyssey rendering I've read in its entirety.
I read Consciousness Explained (November 25, 2017)
My thoughts on this seminal Daniel Dennett treatise on how a mind might emerge from a pandemonium of individually mindless neurological processes.
I read American Flagg!: Hard Times (October 15, 2017)
Howard Chaykin's Reagan-era comix chronicle imagining a near-future United States in dire trouble.
I read The Weirdness, despite everything (October 7, 2017)
I read this 2014 novel by Jeremy P. Bushnell as a tiny act of defiance against myself, and can report that I showed myself up.
I read Haunted Futures (August 23, 2017)
This new short-story collection serves as the first fiction I’ve read, speculative or otherwise, published after 2016. Its editor, Salomé Jones, describes in its preface how she challenged writers to interpret the title “Haunted Futures” into short SF stories, then collected the cream here. And while many of the results are ghost stories, it is the specter of our current era that haunts every tale most thoroughly.
I read The Teeth of the Comb (August 2, 2017)
One line in my notes for this book reads “Syrian Robot Chicken ”. Please believe me when I say I feel the appropriate level of remorse over this. But, I also can’t deny how I rather consistently hallucinated bursts of channel-change static between Osama Alomar’s dozens of surreal micro-fictions, particularly when a cluster of tweet-length morality fables stumbled directly into a three-page love story or war allegory without any hint of segue. Well, I liked it!
I read The Library at Mount Char (June 4, 2017)
I began to think of this novel as Neil Gaiman’s Shitty Endless shortly after beginning to read it. It bore the tag proudly right through to the end. I rather liked it.
I read David Ferry’s Gilgamesh (May 28, 2017)
Found this one on a remaindered-books table beneath The Strand during my most recent Manhattan trip. I’d never read the Epic of Gilgamesh in any format other than Wikipedia summaries before, so it seemed an apt purchase for the train ride home. Ferry’s work reads as smoothly as its cover-copy promises. Through it I found the epic to resemble, more than anything else, a thoroughly relatable black comedy focusing on ol’ Gil’s larger-than-life cluelessness: Derek Zoolander as demigod, too thrillingly stupid to know the futility of seeking immortality.
I read Ancillary Justice (April 13, 2017)
A sideways sort of Pinocchio story. One Esk, narrator and protagonist, is a “real boy” from the very first page onward, but considers herself a sub-human puppet until the friends she grudgingly collects break the good/bad news to her in the end. She has every objective reason to hold this fallacy, given her uniquely science-fictional predicament. Just the same, her plight feels like a very human struggle with personal-identity confusion, plugged into a spacefaring superhero adventure for flavor.
I read The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (February 20, 2017)
I didn’t recognize this delightful novella by Kij Johnson as Lovecraft homage until nearly the end, when I looked up the name of a strange creature mentioned within, and discovered its original appearance in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. From there, surprised, I learned of all the connections between the two century-separated stories. Johnson does not mean to deceive; she names the original work in her book’s acknowledgements, and makes clear her motivation for setting the story in the older book’s world. She writes of a desire to “make adult sense” of a personally formative work she loved as a child, in spite of its transparent racism and its utter lack of female characters.
I read The Underground Railroad (February 16, 2017)
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad presents its prologue and opening act as straight historical fiction, introducing us to young Cora, born on an antebellum Georgia cotton plantation, the daughter of its only successful escapee. After years of enduring the plantation’s dehumanizing tortures and privations, she embraces her inherited inevitability, stealing off with two other slaves to a rumored safe-house. And here, the novel plays with divergence: the Underground Railroad of Cora’s world exists as a literal subway line, coal-fired locomotives groaning through vast, dark tunnels. The abolitionists risking their lives to act as this railroad’s station agents feel modeled on history, while the stations beneath their homes, and the engineers manning the trains, exist in a surreal half-reality that reminded me of the “Red Room” dream sequences from Twin Peaks.
I skimmed Micrographia (February 5, 2017)
The first chapter of Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes, which I read late last year, reviews the start of humanity’s study of microorganisms, made possible with inventions like Leeuwenhoek’s microscope. These new technologies inspired the naturalists of the day, such as Robert Hooke, who dove hungrily into this new science of looking very closely at tiny things. Yong relates how Hooke gave a series of celebrated lectures on the topic for the Royal Society, which he later collected into a book titled Micrographia; the author noted in particular its beautiful and groundbreaking illustrations, drawn by Hooke himself.
I read I Contain Multitudes (December 27, 2016)
Charlie Stross has a reputation among science fiction authors as one of that community’s most outspoken critics of interplanetary travel. Any dreams about humans permanently colonizing any world but Earth, he maintains, foolishly ignores how every part and process of our bodies has evolved for complete interdependence with every aspect our home planet, well beyond obvious stuff like gravity and oxygen. You can’t just pop a plexiglas bubble on your head and fly to the stars like a cartoon spaceman; bereft of the only environment nature designed it for, your body will fail in short order. Literal extensions of the planet they evolved on, fragile humans simply cannot live anywhere but here.
I read the Fragments of Heraclitus (November 30, 2016)
I read it twice, in fact: first as an elegant little volume translated by the American poet Brooks Haxton, and then again on Wikisource, based on a 1912 translation and maintained by the website’s omninonymous hivemind.
I read _Time Travel: A History_
(November 27, 2016)
Last year I read, and wrote about, William Gibson’s The Peripheral. It remains my favorite recent science-fiction novel, not least because of its surprising and elegant implementation of time travel. It happens to agree with a treatise on good fictional time travel that I posted to my LiveJournal four years ago, but I am quite willing to accept that Gibson independently came to the same conclusions as I for this novel.
I read The Noble Hustle (November 17, 2016)
A couple of months ago I found myself fallen back in love with Poker, and especially zero-sum tournament-style play as one can find in console-based implementations such as Prominence Poker on the PlayStation. I wrote at the time how it inspired me to try my hand with writing some poker-playing computer programs. I had to put that exercise on ice in the face of more pressing projects, but my interest stayed strong enough to have me wander one day into my local public library’s stacks, seeking its single shelf of books on card games. While I found a copy of the seminal Positively Fifth Street there, I instead borrowed Colson Whitehead’s The Noble Hustle because it was short, and recent (from 2014), and I liked the funny cover design.
I read Roadside Picnic and I saw Stalker (October 15, 2016)
“The inspiration for the film Stalker and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games”, read the front-cover copy of the recent edition of Roadside Picnic I read — a fresher translation from the Strugatsky brothers’ original Russian, apparently, than the one last published in the U.S. some decades ago. The idea to read it came to mind quite obliquely a couple of months ago, following a path including but not limited to my learning of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films via the video game The Witness earlier this this year.
I read 1491 (October 11, 2016)
I think I heard about this book on a podcast some time ago? I knew its précis: recent anthropological studies suggest that Native Americans lived all over this continent in vast numbers in the centuries before Columbus, scarcely resembling the image of here-and-there villages of tribesmen that both the author and I grew up with. (In the book’s introduction, Charles Mann describes his motivation for writing in the disgusted disappointment he felt when discovering his sons’ history textbooks filled with the same outdated falsehoods about pre-Columbian civilization that he’d been taught.)
I read: Ruins
(September 12, 2016)
Graphic novel by Peter Kuper, discovered by my partner at Newport Public Library. A swift and pleasant read, with a thin story but a lush depiction of finding oneself falling in love with an initially foreign culture, ever deeper, by layers.
I read: Ecclesiastes
(August 31, 2016)
Last week, sitting on my bed, I noticed a spectrum on the wall as the sun shone through a flaw in the opposite window. Involuntarily I recalled what layman’s knowledge I have of such phenomena — the different wavelengths of visible light, paired with tone-memories of high school science classes. An eyeblink later, I gasped to fight back tears as these thoughts gave way to a leaden sense of all human endeavor’s ultimate futility, crashing over me and pressing me flat.
I read: The Imitation Game
(August 14, 2016)
At the time of this writing I do not know how this comic book by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis relates to the film of the same title, and the same subject matter — a (somewhat fictionalized) biography of Alan Turing. The comic has a copyright date of 2016, which seems to preclude the possibility that latter adapts the former. I see that the words “comic” and “graphic” do not appear on the film’s Wikipedia page, and the book made no acknowledgment in the other direction. I avoid contaminating my thoughts about media I blog about here until the blogging’s done, so I’ll leave it as a curious coincidence for now.
I read: two Warren Ellis novels
(August 8, 2016)
I enjoyed Warren Ellis’s Normal, read as a series of four two-dollar ebooks. Something like modern Lovecraft without the literal monsters: the protagonist and most of the other characters reside in a sanitarium for professional futurists who have contracted a condition known as “abyss gaze”, presented as an inevitable consequence of deeply understanding the fragility of human civilization.
Now reading: How Not to Die
(April 17, 2016)
Partway through reading How Not to Die by Michael Greger and Gene Stone, which feels like a natural followup to my reading and enjoying Spring Chicken last year. Where that book provided an excellent high-level survey of our current best knowledge about human health and longevity, this book examines the same topic specifically through the lens of food.
I read: The Brain Electric
(February 1, 2016)
From “The Brain Electric” by @malcolmgay, a defense of why I get weird about other people using my phone or laptop. pic.twitter.com/n30BWQZRId — Jason McIntosh (@JmacDotOrg) January 8, 2016
I read: Trigger Warning
(January 25, 2016)
This collection of recent short fiction by Neil Gaiman contains at least one fairy-tale story that I loved, loved while reading it. It holds another story that I found perfectly charming at the time but now remember as warmly bittersweet due to the coincidental passing of its subject, casting him as a glorious and terrible space-tyrant at the end of his reign. It felt good to read Gaiman again, and to let at least some of this collection brace me with fresh and vigorous awe. It had been a long time.
I read: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene
(December 23, 2015)
In the epilogue of Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections at the End of a Civilization, author Roy Scranton reveals himself as a philosophical determinist, one for whom the acceptance of a wholly material universe necessarily pairs with a total rejection of free will, whether spiritual or physical. The future, as he describes it, is as just as real, fixed, and linear as the past; what its events lack in visibility they make up for with total inevitability, everything playing out exactly as fated since the Big Bang.
I read: The Peripheral
(December 6, 2015)
This post spoils plot elements of this novel — which, I shall note here, I enjoyed very much.
I read: Cockpit Confidential
(November 29, 2015)
Since my last post I have traveled a great deal, including four plane flights. As with all plane flights, an untrusting reptile brain prevents me from sleep, work, or even reading while aloft. I can only shrug helplessly at the well-meaning seat-back preflight loops’ exhortations to sit back and relax and get my any-major-credit-card ready for the snack cart, and feel envy at everyone for whom the very concept of a travel pillow isn’t a weird joke.
I read: Invisible Cities
(October 24, 2015)
Here we have the first Calvino I have actually finished. A friend, on learning of my interest in interactive narratives, recommended If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler to me many years ago, but I don’t recall traveling very far into it myself. Sometime after that I added a copy of Mr. Palomar to my personal library, where it has since sat very patiently. Invisible Cities I first heard of in 2008 as a key inspiration for Jonathan Blow’s Braid, and then last month, while reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s mammoth The Emperor of All Maladies, I saw it explicitly invoked and cited. At least a decade had passed since my last attempt to penetrate any Calvino, so I thought: very well, let’s try this one.
Thinking back on “The Hacker’s Diet” (October 21, 2015)
It’s been around ten days since I started counting calories via food-diary software. My aim, as stated before, less involves “losing weight” than it does pulling my LDL “bad cholesterol” down to a safer level. I have never before this month attempted to quantify my day-to-day caloric intake, much less journal and analyze it. A week and change doesn’t give me enough data to talk about its effects on my body, but I can start to write about other things that this practice brings to mind.
I read: The Emperor of All Maladies
(September 24, 2015)
Knowing nothing of this 2010 book when I picked it up (other than bells rung by its evocative title, likely from my hearing earlier this year about its recent adaptation into a documentary film ), I didn’t expect author Siddhartha Mukherjee to frame his “Biography of Cancer” with a first-person recollection of his residency among the oncologists at Harvard Medical School in the first years of the twenty-first century — exactly when I too worked there, a bioinformatics programmer helping cell biologists work towards broadly similar cancer-eradication goals.
Some followup regarding “aha! Insight” (July 23, 2015)
After I shared my thoughts about Martin Gardner’s aha! Insight earlier this month, Tikitu de Jager wrote me with some interesting clarifications and corrections about this unusual book.
I read: Pullman’s Grimms’ Fairy Tales
(July 20, 2015)
I have brought up _Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version_ several times in recent conversation, each time following up with a blurted _but it’s not what you think!_ In my own mind, the notion of “modern retellings of the Grimms’ fairy tales by fantasy author Philip Pullman” immediately brings to mind: OK, so like, Hansel and Gretel, _only steampunk_, right? Snow White, except she’s a vampire hunter against the backdrop of World War I, surely?
I read: aha! Insight
(July 9, 2015)
For a book that, to the best of my knowledge, has never seen a reprint after its initial 1978 publication, Martin Gardner’s aha! Insight does seem unusual for how it popped up in my life repeatedly but obliquely before I finally read it cover to cover a couple of months ago. I first heard of it from a childhood friend, likely one of the first book recommendations I’d ever received. Once per decade or so since then I’d happen to find myself in the presence of a copy, able to flip through it curiously, but never with the opportunity to actually read it, much less obtain it for myself.
I read: Spring Chicken
(May 23, 2015)
Several years ago, during the height of resveratrol ’s time in the limelight as a possible cure-all for aging and all its ill effects, I wrote about my own experimentation with it (on one of this blog’s previous incarnations). I reread that old article today expecting facepalm-worthy naiveté, but I instead found my past self’s attitude worthy of a bit more credit than that:
I read: Freedom Evolves
(May 8, 2015)
Bought this in a bookstore in New York in January 2011, I believe, preparing for a bus trip back to Boston after an overnight jaunt marred by misplacing my phone’s charger. With a dying battery, I couldn’t read any of my beloved ebooks, so I huffed and scowled and bought one of these neanderthal bound-pulp bricks to entertain myself on the road. I put it away as soon as I returned home, and there it sat until my recent efforts to read more books, contemporary with my starting this blog last December. While I worked through my self-assigned reading list, I also turned my attention back to my own small library, particularly the titles I hadn’t read yet.
I read: Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon
(April 11, 2015)
Requested this collection of the first five issues of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comic book (plus a story from Young Avengers for salt) via public interlibrary loan — a comic-book first for me. Motivation came from my partner’s newly kindled love for all things Marvel via the MCU, and my recollection of praise for this volume when it first appeared in 2013, as well as my loving the stylish cover art.
I read: _Poorcraft_
(March 25, 2015)
I purchased Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less as a DRM-free, five-dollar PDF after a friend posted one of its panels on Twitter. I fell instantly in love with Diana Nock’s artwork, with rubbery, noodly characters influenced as much by pre-war American animation as by the cartoons of our post- Spongebob present.
I read: Practices of an Agile Developer
(March 15, 2015)
By “I read” I mean “I finished the final chapter of, 14 months after starting,” and I should really go back to the start of Subramaniam and Hunt’s Practices of an Agile Developer and read it all over again. Sounds like a grim Sisyphean chore when I put it that way, but in fact I quite look forward to it: I purchased the book as a PDF, and as I slowly worked my way through it (via GoodReader on my iPad) I studded it cover to cover with my own notes and highlights. Between these personal defacements and the fact that I’ve had more than a year to gradually apply the book’s guidance to my own work, I want to see where in my own processes I know that I’ve improved, and where both the authors and my past self would probably agree I still have a long ways to go.
I read: Schild’s Ladder
(March 14, 2015)
Picked this up from the library on impulse after an article at Boing Boing made me curious about Greg Egan’s work. Not on my reading list, but I succumbed to convincing myself that I deserved an indulgent hard sci-fi treat after successfully reading a much broader range of books than my past habits have dictated.
I read: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet
(March 5, 2015)
I read Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet at age eight or nine: the first novel I can remember reading under my own power. I believe that I had borrowed it from the the Cohasset Public Library, but I can’t recall how I happened to choose it. I like to think that a cool grown-up suggested it to me, either directly or through a recommended-reading shelf. I do remember how completely it entranced me, though, and so I reread the book this past week for the very first time since then with this memory, plus that of a few distinct plot details.
I read: Open City
(March 1, 2015)
Thoughts on the novel Open City by Teju Cole. (I liked it, but maybe for the wrong reasons.)
An accidentally diverse reading list (February 22, 2015)
As I read Prisoner’s Dilemma last month, while also two-thirds of the way through the Southern Reach trilogy, I thought of how I couldn’t remember the last time I read a book by either a woman or a person of color. Specifically, I recall seeing the small stacks of books on the two nightstands in the bedroom, with mine bearing all men’s names and that of my partner (enjoying an extended jaunt through urban fantasy) showing only women’s, and how this observation frustrated me.
I read: The Southern Reach trilogy
(February 12, 2015)
This recent series by Jeff VanderMeer came to my attention via a friend who I don’t normally associate with prose recommendations, SF or otherwise. Visiting his apartment in the days before this year’s MIT Mystery Hunt, I spotted these three small, strikingly illustrated softcover volumes on his coffee table, and he corrected my dismissive misconception that the series sets up Yet Another Post-Apocalypse story. Intrigued, I requested the first book from the library, where it arrived just in time for the holiday weekend.
I read: Prisoner’s Dilemma
(February 8, 2015)
Requested Prisoner’s Dilemma by William Poundstone (1992) from the library after someone on the BoingBoing forums mentioned it, in context of the very early Cold War. I enjoyed it and learned a lot, even though I did not find its two major topics to gel as well as the author had intended.