What I’m Reading, August 2015

Books books books. This month I passed 2014’s total of 121 books and am still going. 150 by the end of the year? Maybe?

Minus all the Baby-Sitters Club books, here’s what I’ve been reading in August.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson: This book was beautiful. The story centers around an unmarried 30-something woman in the 1960s, and her dreams explore what could have happened in her life. Then the dreams start affecting her real life. My only complaint is that it just… well, ended. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of ambiguous endings, which may be why I was disappointed in the ending. Ambiguous ending or not, this book grabbed my attention from beginning to end. (4/5)

In Between by Jenny B. Jones: This was a free download on Amazon awhile back, so I went ahead and grabbed it. The book sat on my Kindle app for who knows how long until I finally started it one night… and finished it before going to sleep. The main character has a strong voice that kept me turning the page and the rest of the cast was well-developed (even if Frances was a little annoying sometimes, and I say that as the kid who was in every club and super academic). While this book could be categorized as Christian fiction, the Christian aspect of it wasn’t overbearing or preachy. Heck, the main character isn’t that into Jesus. Overall the author did a good job at showing that everyone has problems regardless of their faith (or lack thereof) while putting together a strong story. (4/5)

Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy D. Wilson: I listened to this book while working and doing various other things. First, I get what the author was conveying–that we can redirect the stories we tell about ourselves–and he did a decent job of that. He just kept making this point over and over again. The beginning and end were strong, but the middle was the rest of the book, rehashed. (3/5)

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson: This book was about the unintended consequences of technologies that seem small to us now but were world-changing when they were invented and later popularized. As much as I curse time zones now, for instance, learning the history behind it made me appreciate them a lot more. The other technologies, such as artificial light and refrigeration, were similar in their unintended consequences, all of which were fascinating to learn about. (4/5)

Tilly Lake’s Road Trip by Francis Potts: First off, I know the author. In fact, a couple of the small details in the plot came from me, like the bit about having a website to watch beautiful women eat. About the book, though. Yes. Tilly Lake’s husband is found dead on April first, so she takes the money, buys a Firebird, and hires a guy to drive her around England. It’s a fun story, one that teaches Tilly about herself and her identity as much as it makes the reader think. While this book isn’t perfect, it’s light-hearted and delightfully weird. (4/5)

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I loved To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. Despite all the controversy surrounding this book and Harper Lee’s estate, I looked forward to the book as a curiosity but by no means expected it to be the masterpiece that Mockingbird was. This book was no Mockingbird, but it stood out in its own right. I wish there were more story to go along with the many flashbacks, but since Harper Lee is nearly 90 years old and this manuscript was just found, this is as good as we’re gonna get. One more thing: This book says Jean Louise (Scout) went to a women’s college in Georgia. She was a Scottie, right? 😀 (4/5)

Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern: I listened to this book. It’s a good thing I listened over a weekend because laughing every other minute at work while working on serious stuff would not have ended well. This book will make you laugh on one page and cringe on the next, but it’s definitely more laugh-inducing thanks to Justin Halpern’s writing style and (in my case) the audiobook voice effects. (4/5)

My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel: While I have some anxiety beyond normal levels myself, it’s not formally diagnosed and is (usually) not debilitating. (It’s also really weird compared to most folks I know with anxiety. Example: Strangers? Fine. People I already know well? Oh gods, what if I say something and they hate me forever. But that’s a separate post.) This book does a good job of balancing the history and science of anxiety with the author’s personal history with the disorder, so no matter which aspect you’re interested in, you’ll get something out of this book. (4/5)

On Basilisk Station by David Weber: The prose was solid and the main character kicked butt, but I just couldn’t get into this book. I found myself skimming the talking and thoughts a lot and therefore found myself missing important information that would come back later. Maybe I’m not a military scifi person. (3/5)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: Everyone I know who has read this book happened to like it, and their judgment was solid here. The storytelling style of going back and forth between time periods Before and After works well here, and it gave me insight into more of the characters, who all grabbed my attention. While this book is a little slow to get going, it’s well-written and grabbed my attention quickly. (4/5)

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug: If you do anything with web design at all, you need to read this book. I’m still spotting things I see in this book on websites everywhere (or even spotting sites that actively did not abide by these principles). A lot of the book is common sense for those knowledgeable on usability and will have you saying “I knew that”, but the book offers straightforward ways to make your site more usable. I’ll be referring back to this book. (5/5)

Interactive Project Management: Pixels, People, and Process by Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker: I have a lot of downtime at work and spent a lot of last week reading industry books as a result. This book takes the reader through all the ins and outs of project management, from discussion to launch, while maintaining a friendly voice and not dumbing anything down. While I enjoyed it, I’m pretty sure I never want to be a project manager. (4/5)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: I remember my middle school years being tough, and I didn’t have the problems August Pullman had in this book. August, the main character, is in fifth grade, has craniofacial anomalies, and is going to school for the first time. I found myself rooting for almost all the characters in this book, hoping everything would be okay in the end. The characters had distinct voices displayed in the chapters they narrate, and overall, this was a good and mostly lighthearted read. (4/5)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz: I’ve read (well, listened to) quite a few books on business and management over the past few months, but this is the first one targeted toward executives. As a venture capitalist and former CEO himself, Ben Horowitz offers processes and advice to the hard questions, like when should you fire someone, how to do it, and what to do when smart people are bad employees. While I won’t be applying most of this book to my life immediately (or possibly ever), it was a good peek into the mind of an executive. (4/5)

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Laia lives with her grandparents and brother, barely surviving. Elias is a soldier about to graduate and is planning on deserting the Empire. When Laia is sent to spy on the commandant and Elias is forced not to desert, they meet and discover they’re not what they seem on the outside. This book is wonderful, and after the first few chapters, I was hooked. The prose, the connections between the characters, and the worldbuilding are excellent. 4.5 stars, rounded up. (5/5)

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle: The premise of this book was that we expect more than technology than from each other. While this isn’t a bad premise, this book presents only one side of the story. It doesn’t share the positive consequences of technology and socializing with tech, nor does it doesn’t share the stories of communities that wouldn’t be together if not for tech. This book is determined to say tech is terrible and tearing us apart, and that’s not entirely true. (3/5)

On running

Whenever fitness and health come up, most people assume that since I’m tall and thin, I must automatically be in good shape. These people clearly haven’t seen me try to run from zombies or take a flight of stairs to my apartment with groceries weighing down my back and hands, but the misconception remains nonetheless. There’s an underlying assumption in our society: thin people are all gorgeous and in the best shape, and anyone who isn’t supermodel thin is a lazy being whose main hobbies include sitting on the couch and watching Netflix while enjoying a Costco-sized bag of chips.

While I won’t deny my interest in sitting around and eating chips (particularly salt and pepper kettle chips–pass them over), this assumption is certainly not true. People’s exercise and fitness habits are as diverse as humanity itself, and that’s not getting into how genetics like to screw with our bodies. And my fitness habits involved me sitting in front of my computer, tapping out key after key in an attempt to make something. If exercising my wrists and fingers contributed to overall fitness, I’d be a younger Jane Fonda.

Unfortunately, finger exercise doesn’t count. When some of my friends started working on their fitness over the last year, the friendly peer pressure rubbed off on me, much like it does during NaNoWriMo with talk of higher word count goals and one more word war before bed. I can walk like no one’s business, but my dislike of walking without a destination makes me put off going for a walk for the sake of fitness alone. Why go on a walk if I’m just going to turn around and come back? I reasoned with myself that this line of thinking made no sense. If I had to run for any reason, I was screwed.

My newfound adventures in fitness started sometime in late March. I was returning home from somewhere and approached the top of a hill. Then I started walking down the hill faster and faster, letting gravity take its course. My fast walk turned into a gentle jog, one that I maintained when the hill turned to a flat surface. I jogged most of the 2km back home and wasn’t as exhausted as anticipated. Hot sweaty mess? Definitely. Hot sweaty mess so exhausted that I wanted to flop into bed without a shower? Not quite. My fitness standards are low, but they’re not that low. Continue reading

My Quest to Read the Full Baby-Sitters Club Series

Ask anyone who knew me as a kid, and they’ll tell you I read everything. From picture books to medical books to the back of the cereal box, I read anything that had words formed into sentences and then looked for more words.

So it’s no surprise that weeks into second grade, I had already finished all the picture books and board books in Mrs. Mills’s classroom. Luckily, I didn’t have to resign myself to rereading, for Mrs. Mills noticed this and added a collection of chapter books for me (and eventually the other kids) in the beanbag corner.

Just as I did with the picture books, I devoured the chapter books. Amelia Bedelia. Little House on the Prairie. Boxcar Children. But the series that stuck with me the most was the Baby-Sitters Club.

I still remember my first BSC book–Dawn and the Older Boy, book 37 of a series that eventually spanned over a hundred books. I had zero interest in boys at the time (and wouldn’t for at least four more years), but this book drew me in, and I immediately started reading more books in the series, even rereading them until the covers were beaten and they barely resembled books.

I remember liking Karen Brewer, even though adult me now sees her for the spoiled rich brat that she is. But during my childhood, Karen reminded me of the special snowflake that I thought I was. In fact, it was because of Karen Brewer that I drove everyone nuts by S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G everything during my spelling bee years.

Years passed, and my Baby-Sitters Club books eventually found their way to a used bookstore before a move. Despite saying farewell to be beaten BSC books, my love of all things BSC remained. I read a few more BSC books per year to add to the total, never seriously considering the possibility of finishing the series off…until this year. I made a spreadsheet recently documenting all the Baby-Sitters Club and Baby-Sitters Little Sister books, along with the Super Specials and Mysteries and the other related spinoffs (California Diaries and The Kids In Ms. Colman’s Class, for instance). After reading eight more books in July, 205 books stand between me and finishing the full series. Considering how quickly I can read a BSC or BSLS book, that’s not many at all. Thanks to a combination of ebooks and the local library, I could finish all the books in the next year or two with some extra effort.

While the books don’t have to be read in chronological order, I plan on maintaining some semblance of order with the reading. What this means is I’ll try to stay at roughly the same chronological order within each series, at least when it comes to things like major character additions or farewells. But I’ll try not to sweat the small details, like where the Kids in Ms. Colman’s Class books stand within the greater chronological order. There is one big rule, and one alone: I plan on reading the remaining Friends Forever books last for closure’s sake.

Let’s do it. Anyone with me?

What I’m Reading, July 2015

One day I’ll post these in a timely manner. My attempt to do so this time is why there are several books that haven’t been reviewed yet. They’ll go in the August update, but for now, here’s what I read in July.

The Silence by Nathaniel Ewert-Kroker: First, I know the author. That said, I did enjoy this book. It’s a fun story that writers in particular will appreciate. (4/5)

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh: This book is about half stories from the Hyperbole and a Half blog, half new stories. While I wasn’t really into a few of the stories, the rest made me laugh and feel so hard that this book was a treat. (4/5)

Manifest by Beth Dolgner: First, I’ve met the author. (She’s my friend’s roommate’s friend.) This story of a young science-loving girl was fun to read. I particularly like how the relationship developed with the love interest–realistic for a couple of steampunk science nerds in the 1800s. (4/5)

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: I had this book on my to-read list for awhile, and it didn’t disappoint. Albertalli does a great job of capturing the teenage voice, and reading the story of a gay teenager that wasn’t all negative was a great change. I finished the book on a Thursday and I was still eating Oreos and listening to Elliott Smith on Saturday. (4/5)

The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku: I listened to this book, which was all about the human brain, what we’ve discovered so far, and how things that sound like science fiction (telepathy) aren’t really all that unrealistic. All in all a fascinating listen. (4/5)

Viral Airwaves by Claudie Arseneault: Again, I’ve met the author. (Detecting a theme here?) This story features a unassuming young man who really likes his ramen and hot air balloons. He then finds himself going on an adventure to expose the conspiracy that drove his father away. I found myself losing track of things at some points, but that’s more due to my short attention span than the story itself. (4/5)

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings: As a geography wonk myself, I enjoyed reading this book. The author’s humor and ability to weave you through a tale of nerds and maps doesn’t hurt either. Now all I need is for my library system to carry the rest of his books as digital audiobooks. (4/5)

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris: I listened to this book, which details Sega’s rise and decline in the video game market. The story is mostly told through the eyes of Tom Kalinske, the CEO of Sega during much of the 90s. From there the story goes on to tell about the Sega vs. Nintendo (and eventually Sony) story. While I liked learning about all the little things that went into Sega’s rise, many of the characters were portrayed as business-hungry jerks, which put me off and almost made me quit altogether. (3/5)

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris: I mostly listened to this book because it was short and I was waiting on another audiobook. I’m an atheist and ex-Christian, so this short book was of particular interest. I agreed with a lot of the points made, particularly about the often-twisted morality in conservative believers, and Harris makes these points well. However, many of the people who need to hear these things aren’t going to hear them. All in all, this was a strong read that I wish were around during my early teen years. (4/5)

Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls by Jane Lindskold: I bought this book at a used bookstore in Charleston, intrigued by the title and the back cover. While this book does a good job at keeping my attention in the beginning and end, it lost me in the middle, leaving me to piece together what had happened. I enjoyed the premise and the main storyline, but many elements left me baffled, and not curiously so. (3/5)

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: This book is beautiful. A diverse cast, a story that kept me interested from the beginning, and strong writing and characters. This book is more of a 4.5 book than a 4, but unfortunately half-stars aren’t allowed on GR. Go read it. (4/5)

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson: I listened to this book, an essay collection on librarians. As with most essay collections, the quality varied widely. From social activism to Second Life, this collection provided a glimpse into the world of librarians that even bibliophilic me did not expect. (4/5)

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis: I was a huge baseball fan in the 90s and early 2000s. That combined with my love of math made this book a fascinating read. If you’re a baseball fan, or even just interested in applying stats to unexpected areas, you’ll like this book. (4/5)

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Continuing on the know-the-author theme, I met Maggie Stiefvater at a signing in Atlanta last year (and met a Tuscaloosa ML!). This book took awhile to get into, but the characters (especially Puck) and the way the story tied the beginning and end together made up for anything I found slow or lagging. (4/5)

I also read eight Baby-Sitters Club and Baby-Sitters Little Sister books this month, all on my quest to complete the series. This puts me at 100 total books read in 2015 and just over 200 books to completing all the BSC and BSLS books.

Is it NaNo yet? No? What about now?

Well, is it NaNoWriMo yet? Here’s an answer.

It started with a tweet, as many ideas do.

I’m not sure what prompted me to look for Is It Christmas? besides a train of thought possibly resembling this.

“Hey, Camp NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow.”
“Wouldn’t a countdown site be neat?”
“Hey, what about that Is It Christmas site? Except Is It NaNo Yet?”
“Forkable code! Victory!”

With the open source code in hand, I got to work modifying the Is It Christmas code, building it at home and at a programming group (and a little at work… shh). The main challenge was creating a countdown timer so visitors could see how far away NaNoWriMo was (or how long until NaNoWriMo ended). I registered IsItNaNoYet.com and threw the code up on Github with its project pages feature. And thus, Is It NaNo Yet was born, and you can find out just how far NaNoWriMo is.

So… Is it November yet? What about now?

What I’m Reading, June 2015

I know, I know, I’m super late at posting this. If you’re lucky you’ll get July’s book reviews by the end of the month. Don’t hold your breath, though. Enough intro, on to the books.

Manga! I read several manga volumes over Memorial Day weekend. I’m not going to rate them here.

Baby-Sitters Club: I’m on a quest to read the whole series (which will get its own post eventually), and I read a few of these books over the last couple of months. I’m not assigning ratings to them either because most of them are just okay, but they hold a lot of nostalgia value for me.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel: I listened to this one. While there were some parts of this book that I disagree with, Peter Thiel does a good job of explaining everything he discusses. It’s not perfect, and some parts could be fleshed out more, but if you want a good guide to building something totally new, this is your book. (4/5)

Redwall by Brian Jacques: I didn’t grow up with much fantasy, which is why I’m trying to catch up now. This book is part of those efforts. And honestly? I couldn’t keep myself focused on the story. It wasn’t a bad story, but there was a lot going on all the time and I had a hard time telling everything apart. I probably would have liked this as a kid, though. (3/5)

The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau: I loved The $100 Startup, so I had high hopes for this one. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, my main complaint was that I already knew a lot of the stuff in the book, but that’s the point of self-help-esque books: they tell you things you already know and then you forget to act on them later. (4/5)

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: I tried so hard to like this book, knowing that lots of my Goodreads friends love it. But in the end… I didn’t like this story. Almost nothing grabbed my interest in the first couple of hundred pages and the gods aspect of the story felt flat and boring. There are about a hundred pages later in the book where things actually happen, but for the most part this book was pretty dull. (3/5)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: A mom disappears and her kid pieces emails, bank statements, and more together to figure out where she went. This book was delightfully messed up and more than it seems on the surface, but I can’t say more without spoilers. If you like messed up characters and semireliable narrators, you’ll like this one. (4/5)

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn: Remember my love of messed-up characters? This book fits the bill perfectly. A reporter goes back to her small hometown to investigate a murder and gets tangled up in lots of things. The main character was complex and flawed. The story kept moving at a steady clip, and boy was I not ready for the twist at the end. Zooming through this book in an afternoon was totally worth it. (5/5)

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: I tried to like this book, but in the end so many of the characters were alike. Interesting premise (though come on, polyamory has been a thing for years!) but didn’t grab my attention enough to grab the second book. (3/5)

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval: I listened to this book. While it took awhile to get into, I finally found myself enjoying the history and other tales of the workplace. (4/5)

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: I tried to like this book, but in the end it came off as preachy to me and honestly I don’t see why so many people have called this book lifechanging. Most of the lessons were obvious, the characters were boring, and this could have been told much better. (2/5)

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxanne Gay: I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. Some of the essays had me screaming “Yes! YES!” out loud (which gets you weird looks when you’re out running, by the way). Others rambled without settling on a central point. Still, it was interesting to hear bite-sized perspectives on feminism. (3/5)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Another one I wasn’t sure about at first. It took some time, but in the end the story and its lovely prose grabbed me enough to forgive some of the flaws. (4/5)

Crusher by Niall Leonard: This book was kind of boring to me. The prose was clunky, the characters were dull and one-sided, and a lot of the story left me asking why… but not in the “what’s happening next” way, more like the “why is this happening because it makes no sense” way. (2/5)

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh: The CEO of Zappos wrote this book, and it’s often cited as an excellent guide to company culture and service. It’s one part memoir, one part company culture guide. What this book does well, it does very well–explaining how Zappos got to where it did. However, a lot of this book also left me annoyed at the characters in this story. Still, I didn’t actively dislike it, and the book does enough well for me to get something out of it. (3/5)

What I’m Reading, May 2015

Golden Son by Pierce Brown: I was really looking forward to this book after Red Rising, but the sequel fell flat. Sure, there was plenty of action, but most of the book was political talking talking talking. When a big chunk of a book is dialogue, the characters need to be easy to tell apart. Not the case here, and Brown complicates this by not using speaker tags regularly. I hear this is a trilogy, but despite the cliffhanger ending, I can’t bring myself to care about the third book. (3/5)

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper: This book was delightfully messed up. The writing is raw and emotional, and all the characters have distinct stories that made me feel for them, which meant I zoomed through this book in an afternoon. If I ever write a book about my messed-up family, I can only hope to tell the story as well as this one. (4/5)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I’m a sucker for World War II stories, especially set in France, which meant I really liked this book. The story was complex and moving, the characters were multidimensional and interesting, and the plot grabbed me from the beginning. The story was slow in a few parts, but overall this book was very well done. (4/5)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin: This book was… okay. I enjoyed reading the narrator’s story at parts, but the flow of the story annoyed me. I couldn’t bring myself to care at some points, wondering when the story would get to the point. This just in: I strongly prefer plot-driven stories than character-driven stories like this one. (3/5)

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan: I liked the overall story; think Victorian era with dragons. The main character and narrator is a dragon naturalist in a time when women were not generally encouraged to do much more beyond marry well. This book is the first in a series, and since it’s a life story told in a series, I suspect the good stuff is yet to come. I’d read a sequel. (4/5)

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt: This is the first audiobook I completed reading, and it was an excellent first choice. The book is easy to follow and read by the author. He explains the concepts of moral psychology in great detail, but not so much detail that you feel bogged down. Everything is easy to follow while still remaining research-centric. This book needs to be required reading for everyone who thinks they’re right when it comes to religion or politics. (5/5)

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: I really liked this book overall. It moved slowly in parts, but overall it explained how we think in a way that’s understandable to everyone. I won’t tihnk about thinking the same way again. (4/5)

Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers: This book was a lot of fun. It covers every stage of alcohol, from the yeast to the hangover. Each chapter got its own storyline that made the science of that stage into something entertaining and educational. And while the chapters were dense, they were easy to digest and understand… without the hangover. (4/5)

Blackout by Mira Grant: I finished the second book in the series and made grabby hands for the third book. Book three did not disappoint. Holy crap. My main complaint was that the book just… ended without much in the way of wrapup. I was all set to give this book an easy five and then it ended and I wasn’t sure what to make of that ending. The entire series is worth reading, so go read them. (4/5)

Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed by Alexis Ohanian: This book is one part memoir by a founder of Reddit, one part telling the stories of making without waiting on someone to give you permission. I enjoyed reading it, even though the book left me wondering what the focus really was. P.S. Alexis, I still haven’t finished editing my book yet. (4/5)

Vicious by V.E. Schwab: I wanted to like this. I tried really hard to like it, but in the end it fell flat. By the time the characters and story were developed enough for me to care about them, the story was already half over. I loved another of her books, so this may be a case of liking the YA books more than the adult books. (3/5)

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick: I listened to this book, and while it was more technical in places, the history was still easy to follow. My main gripe was that the audiobook was read at a lower volume than was comfortable to listen to while running, which was complicated by my crappy headphones. (4/5)

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell: This book was delightful. The plot was simple, the characters were delightful, and the story was believable and real. The 1999 references in the setting were well-done without being over the top. (4/5)

What’s next? I’m not sure. My to-read stack is growing, and some manga has made its way to the pile as well. I’m not sure how I should count those books, even though I’ve already reached my 2015 reading goal… in May. Time to go for last year’s total again.

Attention, Audiobooks, and Me

Confession: I am terrible at doing nothing. Or to be more accurate, I’m terrible at doing only one thing at once.

This doesn’t mean I’m always multitasking, having my mind on Twitter and IRC and whatever I’m working on all at once; in fact, the opposite is true. Our brains were’t meant for multitasking, and switching between these tasks all day, every day, means that instead of doing all the things, I find myself getting very little done. If I don’t respond to something during the standard workday, now you know why; if I let myself lose focus on one thing, it takes a long time to get back in the sweet spot of getting things done while not beating myself up for doing other things during the day.

This need to maximize my getting things done means that I don’t do games or movies or TV shows or Youtube videos well. I have to devote all my attention to these things in order to follow what’s happening. But still, the guilt creeps in. When I’m devoting all my attention to one of these activities, especially lately, I think: What ELSE could I be doing? Can’t I take on something else to maximize productivity and therefore feel less guilty about all that time I do spend browsing the Internet or chatting with people or playing casual phone games? This isn’t from lack of trying. I’ve tried doing other things while watching a movie or show, but eating a meal is about as complex as this multitasking activity gets. Interestingly, I don’t feel this way about reading books, probably because I can listen to soft music while reading and because I truly enjoy books.

Why do I bring this up? I started running last month. The idea of running or walking without a destination in mind is simultaneously fun and guilt-inducing. Why am I wandering around? Sure, these activities are helping me get into shape, but isn’t there something else I can be doing too? What about listening to something besides the same songs on my phone? The guilt and antsiness don’t show up (or at least, don’t show up as much) if I’m walking with a destination in mind. But when I’m wandering or just going on a run (where the destination is the same spot I left), the antsiness creeps in. Can I be doing more right now? Why do I complain about not having enough time for everything if I’m just going on a run with no destination in mind, with nothing new to consume?

This feeling isn’t unique to running. I experience the same feelings to a lesser extent while doing chores around the house, but the ability to stream new songs without using mobile data mostly alleviates the guilt. Music is the obvious solution here, and I have a small collection of tunes on my phone for this purpose. But lately the tunes have become repetitive, despite containing many of my favorites. I needed something new.

Audiobooks were the next solution. My brain doesn’t process spoken works of fiction well, so I was hesitant at first. A couple of months ago I brought an audiobook on a road trip for a friend’s wedding, and I had no idea what was going on at all. Something about Disney World and being immortal, but the back cover could have told me that.

Nonfiction was a different beast, I told myself. Nonfiction books are practically designed to be read in chunks. Especially if the nonfiction dealt with light topics that don’t require analysis after every paragraph, I could probably listen to and process a work of nonfiction. So I went back to my local library’s audiobook selection, selected a book on moral psychology (The Righteous Mind), and then hit play while cleaning the house on Saturday monring.

And you know what? It worked great. I was already familiar with some of the experiments in the book, but even the new findings were easy to take in and process while doing an activity that didn’t require all of my focus. I took the audiobook out on a walk yesterday afternoon and took in everything fine there too, despite missing a few parts when a car zoomed past.

I haven’t finished the current audiobook yet, but so far it looks like nonfiction audiobooks and I are going to get along just fine.

(Side note: if Baby-Sitters Club audiobooks are a thing, let me know because my familiarity with the storyline and the short book lengths would make these audiobooks just right.)

What I’m Reading, March and April 2015

Better late than never, right? Since it’s been awhile since I’ve posted a new review post, here are some more short reviews. (Okay, the real reason you’re getting six-word-ish reviews for most of these is because I was eating a delicious ham and apple sandwich and killing time while writing most of this post.)


The Trouble with Goodbye by Sarra Cannon: This series is a new adult and different from Demons but I still enjoyed it. (4/5)

Red Rising by Pierce Brown: Some WTF elements and unneeded scenes, but I liked it enough to check out the sequel. (4/5)

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: This tickled my French and WW2 nerdery, and even though it dragged along in parts, I zoomed right through the book. (4/5)

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald: Love love love. If you have any interest at all in privacy issues, this is the book for you to read. I recommend reading a physical copy or on a large ereader because there are many images with text in them to read. (5/5)

Dataclysm: Who We Are by Christian Rudder: This book is written very casually, which helps the layperson with no mathematical knowledge pick up on the topics very quickly. Rudder brushed over a few topics, but overall this is an enlightening read. (4/5)

Deadline by Mira Grant: Oh. My. Goodness. This book was fast-paced and well-written and I need the third book NOW. (5/5)

The Martian by Andy Weir: Great voice for the story, well-written, and the technical stuff isn’t so technical that a layperson can’t follow along. (5/5)

Cress by Marissa Meyer: Finally read the third book! The first book is still my favorite of the three so far, but this one holds its own. Can’t wait for the fourth book. (4/5)

The Maze Runner by James Dashner: Despite so many friends liking this book, I couldn’t get into it at all. It dragged along and left me asking why, but not the good kind of why that keeps you turning hte page. It was more like a “Why on earth is this happening” why. No plans to check out the rest of the series. (2/5)

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein: I liked many of the points and analysis the author brought up on trans* and gender issues. However, the reason this book gets a 3 instead of a 4 is because the book rambles a lot. There were parts where I had trouble following the author’s train of thought and wondering if there was one in the first place. Still, I might check out her other work if it’s written in a different format; I’ve heard good things about My Gender Workbook. (3/5)

Godspeed by February Grace: Disclosure–I follow the author on Twitter. This is a beautiful story with love, steampunk, and mysteries. (4/5)

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: I tried to like this book, but I only cared about the historial aspect of the orphan trains because the present-day element wasn’t well developed at all. The relationship that was supposed to be built between the two main characters was shaky and ill-established at best, and the story suffered for it. (3/5)

Mistborn: The Final Empre by Brandon Sanderson: The first half is slow, but I’m glad I stuck with this story because the second half was jam-packed with action and relatable characters. Reading the second book is going to happen. (4/5)

Where She Went by Gayle Forman: This book is told from Adam’s point of view and takes place about three years after If I Stay. And as much as I liked the first book, this one is even fuller of raw emotion and romance, hitting me straight in the romantic feelings. (5/5)

What’s next: Golden Son by Pierce Brown. This is the sequel to Red Rising, and I’m about two chapters in now. I haven’t had much of a chance to sit down and read, but that’ll happen in the next few days, especially given my current book stack.

Why I don’t reread books

A few months ago I read an article in The Guardian that pointed out a somber fact: I’m roughly a third of the way through all the books I’ll ever read. Considering I’m in my late twenties and am about a third of the way through my life, this really hits home the fact that I’m going to read finitely many books.

When I was a kid, I would reread books all the time. I’m not sure where or why this habit began; after all, I had access to a school library, a county library, a church library, and of course my own book collection on a regular basis. But despite all these wonderful places to obtain new books, I still found myself rereading many of the same books over and over again. Books were my friends, something I could turn to in during a time when I didn’t have too many friends. If I chose to read a new book, I might not like it. That didn’t stop me from reading, but in a way it stopped me from grabbing something completely new.

But over the years, something changed. I started making new friends who like books as much as I do, friends who read more voraciously and more variety than I ever read in my childhood. These were the friends who devoured the Sweet Valley Twins and Terry Pratchett and Brian Jacques and Tolkien and so many other authors I never read as a kid… all because of my desire to reread the same books. (Though I’m probably not missing much with the Sweet Valley Twins.) I ended my accidental book fast and found myself on Goodreads in search of more things to read, only to realize I had no idea how to discover books. Even though I love bookstore and library shelves, browsing a physical shelf overwhelms me because of the sheer number of books. Which ones are good? Which ones aren’t? Did I just skip the novel that will change my life? So I’ve started relying on online browsing and friends to curate my tastes a little more in the hopes that I can use one book as a jumping ground for something completely new. For the most part, this has worked, but I still have a long way to go.

Now, in fairness, my tastes in books have changed since childhood. I didn’t read too much science fiction and fantasy as a kid, and many of my current friends gravitated toward those genres even then. But there are still many books outside those genres that I had access to back then but just never got around to reading, instead clinging to my dog-eared paperback friends. It’s time to change that.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 559 books as of this writing. I’ve abandoned about six more that I can remember, a surprisingly low number. This number doesn’t include all the books I’ve ever read, although I’ve tried to add books from my childhood as they return to my memory. Assuming I don’t remember titles for half the books from my childhood (a conservative estimate considering how quickly I’ve gone through some books), let’s say I’ve read 1200 books so far. This is a reasonable assumption and roughly on par for what the author of that Guardian article has read so far.

If I continue reading over a hundred books a year every year, I can read far more than 2,000 more books during the rest of my life. And I’m going to make those books count.