Three books that changed my mind in the past three months

I’ve been trying to read more.

Books.

Not just staring at my phone.

Unless there’s a book on it!

I read a decent percentage of Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle that way.

A few years ago.

I didn’t finish the last book.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend a ton of time staring into a block of glass that’s permanently fused to your hand, as long as there’s a book on the screen.

But yeah, I’m trying to get back to books.

Six years ago I asked for book recommendations on Twitter, and revisited those more recently to provide a progress report.

These days I have a tall backlog of books in my To Read pile on Goodreads.

They come from the year-end lists, at places like NPR, sure, but also in email newsletters that I don’t remember signing up for.

If you read Robin Sloan’s books, or John Darnielle’s, maybe you signed up for a newsletter from Farrar, Straus and Giroux? I guess I did. Their list of “Favorite Books” of 2017 isn’t just a best-of-the-year list, it includes books they came back to last year, or read for the first time, or just wanted to share again.

It’s a good list. And thorough.

In 2017, according to the stuff I logged on Goodreads, I only finished around 20 books. And a few of those were Daredevil comic anthologies. And one of them was a Star Wars novel. (Canon, though. Or Legends, or whatever it’s called now.)

That’s not enough.

I set a higher goal for 2018, and immediately started the year by reading a cookbook.

That doesn’t sound too intellectual, right? But no, really, the Momofuku cookbook is something else. Yes, recipes. Yes, food from David Chang’s restaurants, but for someone who usually scrolls straight through all the preamble when I’m just looking for a different gluten-free waffles recipe on a tight Saturday morning deadline, I was completely drawn in by all the prose around the recipes, not just explaining the methods and techniques, but also the story of his restaurants (as of a bunch of years ago when this was published, so it’s only the first two or three) and moreso, of his cooking.

You should read it.

Even the section on hams.

So it’s a cookbook, and I’ve been making stuff from it, but the big thing it’s inspiring me to do?

Oh goodness for lack of a better term, to “take it and turn it.”

To improvise more. To change the recipe, or the project plan, or the life goal, by some increment that makes it exponentially more a reflection of me than some objective idea.

Ugh, I already mentioned Robin.

OK, so all his stuff is good, and you should subscribe to his newsletter, too, and you should throw your 89 cents, or whatever, at anything he offers you for 89 cents.

I read Sourdough last fall, mostly in airports on a short trip to Chicago.

It’s… about… bread.

Sort of.

You should read it if you like magic realism. And bread. And San Francisco — well, liking it is optional, but some familiarity with it will help. (I don’t think I like San Francisco anymore.)

Like a sourdough starter, Robin’s book will reflect your own ambitions.

Yes, sourdough starter can do that. Apparently.

Is it cheating to recommend a book wherein you know the author since Kindergarten? No. No, it is not. Roben’s prose in Hotel Scarface is a delight, as it was when we took Dr. Lavin’s AP English class together, senior year of high school.

So it’s a fast, fun, titillating read. About the cocaine business. Extra points if you grew up in or around Miami, as we did. Double extra points if it makes you wonder how much cocaine-related revenue funded Dade County Public Schools.

But the most impressive thing to me? He spent 20 years on this. I won’t spoil the backstory, but Roben has been reporting this out for-flipping-ever.

What’s your 20-year project?

No pressure.

An update on the reading list you assigned me in March 2012

Storify is over. I’m old enough to remember working for a startup that built tools to curate social media posts into news articles before Storify did a much, much better job of it. 😉

I remember hearing about the idea for Storify from Burt Herman at ONA in San Francisco in 2009, which of course seems like a thousand years ago now. I had the chance to congratulate him on the acquisition by Livefyre a few years later, and raised my eyebrows from afar when Adobe picked them up and rolled pieces of it into their own suite of marketing products.

So today, I had to check. Do I have any Storifys (Storifies?) worth saving?

I found one of the most important Twitter threads of my recent life, from 2012, where I asked for some fiction reading recommendations, preserved in a nice clean Storify.

Y’all came through!

I’m going to recreate the Storify here, using the modern technology now available to us all in 2017 which will surely never become outdated.

Embedded tweets. And my comments below each tweet.

I enjoyed this one, then switched to Neuromancer and read the first two of those. I’ll come back to these, maybe at the beach sometime.

I ended up reading the first 2.05 books of the Baroque Cycle. It took a minute. Still haven’t picked up Cryptonomicon, but I will. Snow Crash looks light, though!

I read it once.

This ended up being the most important book to me on this list. It was wildly ahead of its time on AR/VR, the future of interfaces, fake news (!), self-driving cars, gaming, guilds, and maybe a dozen other things. I. Think. About. It. All. The. Time. Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End.

I tried Kavalier and Clay. Didn’t work for me.

I have library-stalked Universal Baseball Association continuously but never stepped up and ordered a copy for myself. I really need to read this one, because dice baseball.

Max Barry ended up being one of my favorite beach-read authors. Jennifer Government, Lexicon (oooooooh Lexicon), and Machine Man so far.

I have no idea who that is, so I assumed I assumed Hartnett was trolling me with some 16th century poet or something. [NARRATOR: He wasn’t.]

No thank you.

And I’m putting this one on my to-read list now.

Oh, man. I loved this book. And I hated it. I loved the parts I hated. I felt guilty about the parts that I loved. It’s amazing and you should read it.

My wife gave this one five stars on Goodreads, so I should probably read it.

I feel like The Underground Railroad might have made this one a moot point.

Assuming for a minute that Joel wasn’t trolling me with a book that starts with a suicide attempt after I said “nothing too depressing” twice, this could be fun.

Sounds dark. Maybe I can handle it now.

I’m not reading about circus elephants unless they’re stomping everyone and running free, Danya.

Now I have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Dan Sinker’s book making me angry?

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Well, no, of course not.

In fact, the Epic Quest makes me happy every time I pick it up. I’ve caught myself pages deep, on the couch with my four-year-old who is impatiently reminding me that she has a book of her own in mind, and hey, why is there a duck on your book, and then I snap out of it and Quaxelrod heads back to the end table, where he sits perched atop an unfinished Clay Shirky tome that is infinitely more relevant to my day job.

Anyway, the funny thing is, I don’t curse on Twitter. Or if I used to, I don’t now. I keep it clean. Maybe an “effing” from time to time, which is a word I never speak away from a keyboard. Ever.

But reading in my imagination’s flavor of @mayoremanuel‘s voice has led me into the habit of narrating mundane things like my honestly-not-bad-lately commute in a similar, profane fashion.

And now I’m trying to decide if it’s therapeutic or sociopathic.

But I’m not trying that hard.

Generation gap

So I’ve been reading this book my Dad sent me a few weeks ago.

It’s not that impressive so far (about 100 pages in).  The mentions in the title of MySpace and YouTube seem to have been tacked on in order to sell books, fittingly enough, and the authors make their political alignments clear from the start.

But what I am enjoying are the bits of theory about political re-alignment based on generational changes.

For example, generations are broken down into types:  Civic and Idealistic are two of them.

The Baby Boomers (read as: aging editors, j-school faculty, columnists, and older reporters) are an Idealistic generation, the book tells us.

The Millenials (read as: the young interns and fresh-faced multitaskers causing all sorts of ruckuses in your newsrooms with their blogging and whatnot) are a Civic generation.

The Idealists came of age in the 1960s.  They focus on morals – right and wrong, black and white.  That concentration of resources on debatable and subjective issues (like, say, objectivity) make for a slow moving government (or news organization).  Voters become disillusioned, participation drops, and authority figures are not looked upon kindly.

A Civic generation, on the other hand, like the current Millenials (born between around 1980 and 1994 or so, depending on which reference you consult) or the G.I. Generation, is more pragmatic.  They use new communication technologies to get things done.  They’re committed to political involvement, believe in the system, and participate in great numbers.

(An aside: I’m old enough to qualify for Generation X, the disconnected, disaffected grunge-listeners that fell in between these sexier re-alignment cycles.)

All this is just to say that I do believe age has something to do with innovation, especially when it comes to the news business.

I alluded to some persistent “generational frustration” the other day when I was declaring my independence from a generalization, and then the post wandered away from that notion a bit.

But I’ll say this: I’m excited to see where this Civic generation takes news.

It’s not going to be the same place that the previous generation took it.  This generation’s news will look more like the work of Holovaty and Sites than Woodward and Bernstein, because they’re simply not the same people.

The influences are different, the reasoning is different, the thought process and the toolset are different.  And so is the audience, if we can still call them that for a fleeting moment before the familiar models of storyteller and listener completely and finally break down.

Further reading: