I made it through 29 books in 2018, which is a personal best. 30 - 60 minutes a day and the occassion weekend (reading is a great way to procrastinate).

If you want one surefire way to improve your mind and become more successful in life… it’s regularly reading books.


I’ve been meaning to read Annihilation for a while, and finally got around to it after watching the moving. Both the movie and the book do a great job creating a strange kind of mood. Really an excellent example of creating atmosphere. This book was a lot of fun to read. It kind of reminds me of the early seasons of Lost where a lot of “mysteries” were introduced. The book and the movie were different enough that I enjoyed each in its own right, which is pretty tough to do.

Artemis was a lot of fun. Plenty of competence porn but had more of an underlying story than The Martian. I’m glad to see Andy Weir spreading out a bit.

Both The Book of Strange New Things and Binti put non-traditional sci-fi characters into outer space: one is a Christian missionary and the other is from a small African village. The Book of Strange New Things creates a crazy kind of mood–generally similar to Annihilation but not really. Both books seemed a little more realistic and grounded by focusing on under-represented character types.


Separate section from Sci-Fi. I always find it annoying when these two get lumped together. Both Good Omens and American Gods were fun reads but neither made much of a lasting impact on me.

I’m fairly new to Terry Pratchett (I read The Color of Magic last year). I don’t usually like “funny” stories, but I’ve enjoyed both Terry and Douglas Adams. Probably more Discworld in my future.

These were the first Neil Gaiman books I’ve read. Enjoyed both, so I’ll probably read more at some point.


I finally got around to reading Steve Jobs. I’ve already heard so much about Jobs, so I was skeptical that I’d want to sit through a whole book mythologizing him. I was wrong. Loved it. There’s a lot of human nature and tech industry history in there. Two of my favorite subjects.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Barbarian Days. A solid memoir that got me into an adventuring spirit. Read it while in vacation in Hawaii to get into a theme. The last two are also solid memoirs. Some health issues in the family and the death of a pet kept My Father’s Wake on my mind in the second half of the year. I’m always on the fence about memoirs, because I really don’t want to hear some blowhard describe why they’re so awesome. These three were all by professional writers and were probably a little more reflective that those by more famous people.


Professor Frisby’s Mostly Adequate Guide to Functional Programming was an excellent introduction to pure functional concepts, especially algebraic types and flatmap. Pure functional programming has a fairly steep learning curve, but I think that’s mainly due to the mathematical & academic approach of the community. This book is really accessible and helped me grok the power of the pure “framework”. I read this one to prepare for LambdaConf, and it did a great job of familiarizing me with the fundamentals.

Resilient Web Design gives a great high-level overview to how to approach web design. Compiles a lot of the ideas I’ve picked up over the years. I’m eagerly waiting for an opportunity to recommend this to someone.

I found Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned really compelling. Traditional Machine Learning approaches are good for optimizing once you are in the right area, but you also need to explore the larger space of ideas if you want to find a novel approach. You have to break out of the local optima. Unfortunately, I struggled to actually implement the concepts in a Kaggle competition. The scope of a competition might be too well-defined to take advantage of an evolutionary approach. Not sure where or how to use these ideas. I’ll keep them in the back of my mind.

Different Cultures

Books are a great way to explore different viewpoints and cultures. Movies give you a more targeted viewpoint, but–similar to driving a car vs riding a bike–books do a better job of letting you “take in the scenery”. Two of these The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and The Great Passage are Japanese. I didn’t expect many cultural differences, but there were plenty of minor things that made both books interesting beyond the narratives themselves. Same thing with Alif the Unseen, which is based in the Middle East… in this case the cultural setting–including a heavy emphasis on Arab monsters and myths–make a pretty silly “hacker” story worth reading.


  • Hawkeye, Volume 1 by Matt Fraction (Writer), David Aja (Artist, #1-3), Javier Pulido (Artist, #4-5), Matt Hollingsworth (Color Artist), Chris Eliopoulos (Letterer), Alan Davis (Penciler)
  • Bitch Planet, Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Goodreads Author) (Writer), Taki Soma (Illustrator), Valentine De Landro (Artist), Robert Wilson IV (Artist)

I started working comic book compilations into my reading list a few years ago (starting with The Planetary Omnibus). I get a pretty good hit rate, because I only bother things that come highly recommended. True to form, Hawkeye was excellent. Bitch Planet was solid and had some good world building, but it’s a current series so volume 1 doesn’t include as much material as one would get from “omnibus” sized tomes.

Short Form

Started meditating regularly at the end of the year. Anything by Thich Nhat Hanh is worth reading. I pretty much read How to Sit straight through, which is the wrong way to do it. It’s a lot of short thoughts. Better to read a few and really think about what they mean and how to apply them, but I frequently loose interest when I string books out that long. I’ll probably split the difference and re-read this in a year or two.

I’m a huge fan of Reza’s web comic, Poorly Drawn Lines. There is a nice sarcasm in there that really fits my taste. Comics for a Strange World is a lot of fun.

Just Okay

I just didn’t take away anything meaningful from The Master and Margarita. Might catch something on a re-read, but I didn’t enjoy the book enough to bother with that any time soon.

Philip K. Dick is all about ideas–not strong narrative. Ubik was entertaining enough, but it felt dated and the story was only so-so. Similarly, the characters in Consider Phlebas felt a little dated. Banks’ Culture series is well regarded, so I might still try The Player of Games.

Series I Won’t Continue

I really like hard-boiled detective novels. Maybe that’s why I read two in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s series. Neither was bad. In a similar way. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. was a bit of a disappointment. I’m a big Neal Stephenson fan, but I wasn’t feeling this one.