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Books of 2018

Continuing on my lists of books for 2016 and 2017, here are the books I read in 2018, presented in ascending order of completion date.

I think my favourites this year were Braiding Sweetgrass, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, and The Invention of the White Race, Volumes One and Two.

An Introduction to Poetry, X. J. Kennedy

An old textbook of one of my aunts that I found at my grandparents’ house. I found it quite educational & greatly enjoyed it; it really helped me learn how to appreciate poetry, something I’ve wanted to be able to do for a while.

Men At Arms, Terry Pratchet (re-read)

Funny, quick read.

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (re-read)

Very funny, enjoyed it more this time.

Blindsight, Peter Watts (re-read)

I’d read it in school, for an elective on science fiction, but I got more out of it this time. Real creepy and interesting.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson

Very short; interesting, but not much there.

Malagash, Joey Comeau

Short, engaging, resonant.

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin

Awesome, wish I had read it as a kid.

The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin

Sequel to the above. Short, fun.

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Marla Rilke

Overwrought, not interesting. Didn’t finish.

Frankenstein, Marry Shelley

Very good! So different from pop culture version.

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson

Woof. Explains a lot about America. Pretty wild read, especially as someone too young to have experienced that era of politics personally.

The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno

Finally finished (it was on last year’s list, but I hadn’t finished it at the time). Amazing, made me reconsider my worldview. A quote that I liked:

Thinking, where it is not merely a highly specialized piece of professional equipment in this or that branch of that division of labor, is suspect as an old-fashioned luxury: “armchair thinking”. It is supposed to “produce” something. The more superfluous physical labor is made by the development of technology, the more enthusiastically it is set up as a model for mental work, which most not be tempted, however, to draw any awkward conclusions.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson (re-read)

Hadn’t read in a while, especially the latter half. Very funny, less depressing than Campaign Trail ’72.

Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

Life-changing, massively inspiring. Highly recommended.

On Writing, Stephen King

Very good exegesis on how he writes fiction. Inspiring, informative.

Lady Midnight, Cassandra Clare

Fantasy romp. Enjoyable evolution of the genre, liked the author.

The Invention of the White Race: Volume 1, Theodore W. Allen

Very interesting history/study.

The one slightly vexing thing with this is that it’s two volumes, but the Toronto Public Library’s website shows it as one item, which resulted in me only being able to put a hold on the first volume & had to find a library that had volume two & go there in person. Luckily there was a branch close by that had a copy!

The Invention of the White Race: Volume 2, Theodore W. Allen

Fantastic continuation, great analysis. I’ve been recommending these two books to a bunch of people, it is a very good explanation of how racism is an explicit invention in order to protect the interests the ruling & monied classes.

The Guardian of All Things, Michael S. Malone

Fine. History of “artificial memory” – reading, computers, etc. Fun read.

The Future of Humanity, Michio Kaku

Interesting; the author seems out of his element for some stuff, but great in his bailiwick. I don’t necessarily buy everything he claims, but it is nice to read something that presupposes we’ll be alive in a few decades.

Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien (re-read)

Read in two days, fun as always.

The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien (re-read)

Had to keep going.

The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien (re-read)

Finishing the trilogy.

Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville

Very interesting both historically & explaining current America.

I wrote about this previously.

Creative Selection, Jen Kocienda

About Apple’s software development process, from a dev’s perspective. A very nice gift from a student at the iOS bootcamp I teach at.

The Chapo Guide to Revolution, Chapo Trap House

Funny, surprisingly good primer on American politics.

The Algorithm Design Manual, Steven Skiena

Great read, super useful. Want to buy a copy. The second half is a good reference of algorithms to use for various types of problems, which is a nice reference, but the first half is even better: It is a more narrative explanation of various techniques of problem-solving, including some real-world applications of the various algorithms discussed. Both an entertaining read & extremely educational.

The Square and The Tower, Niall Ferguson

Ugh. Rambling, way too long, seemingly unedited.

I was a little leery right off the bat, when it was clear that the author was from a very different end of the political spectrum from myself (big fan of Kissinger), but there were also a bunch of bizarre parentheticals that drastically lowered my opinion of the author – e.g. mentioning that “silicon networks”/“AI” might outpace us (ignoring the fact that all the things “AI”s do is what humans program them to do!), a casual mention of “miscegenation” (a term I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone that wasn’t a maniac use), and some incredibly asinine comment about how the fact that poor communities value strong network links over weak ones (e.g. close friends & family over acquaintances) is somehow an indication that strong links keeps people poor.

Beyond even that, the book was just rambling, had a bunch of virtually unrelated topics, pretty much just to say “this is a network” or “this is a hierarchy” without any sort of further analysis or relation to the other things discussed. It felt like he skimmed a Wikipedia article on graph theory and decided to use that as a basis to write about anything he could think of, with a veneer of “networks” to make them appear relevant. The whole book could’ve been just the introduction and last chapter.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy, R. Shea & R.A. Wilson (re-read)

Funny, surprisingly relevant?

Studies in Critical Philosophy, Herbert Marcuse

Challenging, very interesting. I’m trying to read more challenging works in general and philosophy in particular and this hit both of those marks. I saw an interview of him by Bryan Magee that I found very interesting & I’ve been finding his writings really interesting and surprisingly approachable as a layman (compared to his contemporaries, at least).

Seven Fallen Feathers, Tanya Talaga

Brutal, depressing, important book about the repercussions of the systemic racism towards Indigenous youth in Canada in general and in Thunder Bay particularly. Took me months to finish because it was so emotionally hard to read.

Ten Days That Shook the World, John Reed

Awesome history of the Soviet revolution, by an American journalist who was in Saint Petersburg/Petrograd at the time. Recommended on the Revolutions podcast, I found it especially interesting after hearing about so many failed revolutions to see how one that actually worked happened. My favourite quote:

Not by compromise with the propertied classes, or with the other political leaders; not by conciliating the old Government mechanism, did the Bolsheviki conquer the power. Nor by the organized violence of a small clique. If the masses all over Russia had not been ready for insurrection it must have failed. The only reason for Bolshevik success lay in their accomplishing the vast and simple desires of the most profound strata of the people, calling them to the work of tearing down and destroying the old, and afterwards, in the smoke of falling ruins, cooperating with them to erect the framework of the new.

Stormy Weather, Carl Hiaasen

Fun novel, well-plotted.

Mindful Thoughts for City Dwellers, Lucy Anna Scott

Nice little book about happy aspects of urban life.