Tag Archives: lists

My Best Reads of 2019

Now that 2019 is officially in the record books, I present my list of best reads of 2019. Keep in mind that this is not a list of books published in 2019. Some of the books on my list are books published in 2019, others published decades earlier. It is, simply, a list of the books I most enjoyed in the last year.

A few stats on my reading from last year:

  • I read 113 books, for a total of 43,820 pages.
  • 80 books were nonfiction, 43 were fiction.
  • The longest book I read was 882 pages.
  • The average length of a book in 2019 was 387 pages.
  • On average, I finished one book every 3-1/4 days; that’s a little over 2 book per week on average.
  • Here is the list of everything I’ve read since 1996. What I read in 2019 begins with #849 on the list.

And now, the best books I read in 2019 in the order that I read them.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games are Made by Jason Schreier

As someone who manages software projects, I’m occasionally interested in how it is done in the real world. I’ve always been fascinated by the construction of video games, even if I am not an avid player, so this book was a perfect mix. It portrayed an array of games and game companies, including Witcher by CD Projekt Red. It was because of this book that, in January 2019, I took the rare move of buying Witcher 3 and playing it, and moreover, winning it and its add-ons. It supplanted the Ultima games as my favorite.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintrye

This real life story of double-agents and spies was fascinating. It was like The Americans, but nonfiction, and like a good thriller, it kept me reading, virtually unable to put the book down.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King

I watched Mister Rogers as a kid, and I was delighted by this biography by Maxwell King. I read it while in Pittsburgh for work, so I had a sense of the place where Rogers grew up and where he created much of his art.

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley

I’ve read most of the books about the Apollo program and the lead-up to it, so I was excited to see something new. This book took a different approach than many of the other more technical books I’ve read. Brinkley tells the political story of the moon race, with fascinating insights into all aspects of the project from the selection of James Webb to run NASA and much more.

No Cheering in the Pressbox by Jerome Holtzman

This is an old sports classic, but it was new to me, and it was probably my favorite book of 2019. Holtzman collected a kind of oral history from sportdwriters going back to the early 20th century, and published a collection of interviews with those writers that were a fascinating look at the job of sportswriting, and the evolution of that job. It was reading this book that I realized the job of sportswriter (in the 20th century) seemed like the ideal job.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I often enjoy books on books. I came across Hanff’s wonderful epistolary book at time when I was struggling to find what to read next. I pulled out my copy of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die and went through it page, by page, until I came to this book. It sounded fascinating, a New York bibliophile writing to a London bookshop for recommendations and orders, and the friendship that evolved in the letters across the pond.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

I don’t read much science fiction anymore, but I’d been hearing good things about Mary’s book, and Mary is one of those writers I trust, so I decided to give this one a try. What a treat! It is an alternate history of the space program, and it is extremely well done. First and foremost, Mary tells a great story, which is always the primary consideration for me. She narrates the audiobook, and anyone who knows Mary knows what a talented voice actor she is. This book was pure fun, and I’ve had the sequel queued up for some time now. I’m looking to read it later this year.

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

I enjoyed the Longmire TV series, and decided to give the original Craig Johnson novels a try. I started at the beginning and was hooked. Although I list only The Cold Dish here, I actually read all 15 books in the series, as well as the short fiction featuring Walt Longmire. I fell in love with the books, the characters, the style in which they are written. George Guidall narrates the audiobook, and he has become Walt Longmire to me, more than Robert Taylor ever was. These books redefined what a character novel could be.

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger

I forget how I became aware of Iger’s book, but I was a little skeptical when I started it. It sounded more like a self-help book, but turned out to be a rather remarkable memoir of Iger, who started in a lowly job with ABC and worked his way up to the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. As someone who has worked for the some company for 25 years, I was impressed by this, and Iger’s story was a fascinating one.


A few other notes on what I read in 2019:

The most intellectually challenging book I read was The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. This stretched me to my limits and I’m still not sure I understood all of what Jaynes was saying in that book. But sometimes, I need to push myself, and this was one of those times.

My biggest disappointment this year was Blue Moon by Lee Child, the latest Jack Reacher installment. I’ve enjoyed all of the Reacher books to date, and had been looking forward to this one since it was announced. But the book itself fell flat for me, seeming almost a caricature of Reacher. In part, I think this was do to the extraordinary character and storytelling ability of Craig Johnson with his Longmire books. I got spoiled by Longmire in between Reacher books.

With the first half of 2020, I should finish the 1,000th book I’ve read since 1996. I wonder what that book will end up being? It’s impossible to predict, what with the butterfly effect of reading fluttering its wings.

Not the Best Books of 2019

With less than 20 days remaining in the year, I debated writing my “best reads of 2019” post, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. This is not the best books of 2019. Best-of-the-year posts start as early as November, and it is a bitter disappointment to books born and read in the last 30-45 days of the year. Books born in the late months of the year get overlooked on best-of lists because of their birthdate. Review editors want the lists in time for the holiday shopping season. It doesn’t seem fair to me and I won’t condone such behavior by participating in it. My “Best of 2019” list will come out after the new year has been put to bed.

Instead, I looked at the stacks of books, physical and virtual, patiently awaiting my attention. I decided to list the books I plan to read before the decade is over and the roaring twenties begin.

Let’s start with what I am reading at the moment: Disney’s Land: Walt Disney and the Invention of the Amusment Park That Changed the World by Richard Snow.

I recently read An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson. This is the first volume of a trilogy that describes the liberation of Europe in the Second World War. After the current book, I’ll likely start on The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 and follow that up with The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 both by Atkinson.

Earlier this year, I picked up a copy of Ballpark: Baseball in the American City by Paul Goldberger. The book looks beautiful, almost textbook quality, and looks fascinating. It should also provide a lighter fare from the battles of Europe.

Ballpark: Baseball in the American City

Sticking with the baseball theme, I’ve been wanting to read Jane Leavy’s biography of Babe Ruth, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created, for some time now. Add that to the list.

Finally, if I can manage it, I want to tackle H. W. Brands’s latest book, Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West.

That’s a lot of reading to squeeze into the last 20 days of the year, but I’ll be on vacation for the last 10 days or so and will have more time than usual. The Atkinson books are long, so realistically, I might only manage to make it through those books before the year is out.

I present this list with the usual caveats, especially recalling to you the butterfly effect of reading which more often than not has its way with me.

And I see as I complete this that my monthly Audible credits have arrived, which means I can begin to scout out what books I will read in 2020. The first book I read in the 2010s was C. M. Kornbluth by Mark Rich. I wonder what the first read in the new decade will be?

15 use cases comparing e-books to traditional books: an illustrated list

I’ve now been reading e-books for more than 2-1/2 years. For the 37 years prior to that, I read paper books exclusively. For a while now, I’ve been meaning to compare the two forms of book in some reasonable and understandable way, but I was hard pressed to come up with a format for such a comparison. Then it dawned on me: use cases!

By day, I am a software developer and creating use cases is an important part of the construction and testing process. A use case is used to describe a real-world use of how the product in question might be used. So I came up with a number of use cases for e-books to see how they compare with traditional books. 10 of these use cases demonstrate (I think) how e-books are superior to traditional books. The remaining use cases demonstrate areas in which traditional books still have an edge over e-books.

My e-book reader, for the purposes of this exercise is my iPad 2, using the Kindle App for iPad. I’m sure I didn’t capture every possible use case, but these are the ones I seem to deal with most frequently.

1. Finding a book on the bookshelf

Depending on how many books you have, and how organized you are, this can be a fairly daunting task for traditional books. Here is an picture of me illustrating the use case by searching for a book on my shelves:

IMAGE_86E3BC4E-A4AB-4B42-BBEC-7FF6CD2AACC5.JPG

I used to have my books organized alphabetically by author, and then chronologically within the author. That fell by the wayside the last time I moved. While they are arranged alphabetically by author, they are completely random within a given author. That may not sound like trouble, but for someone who has several hundred Isaac Asimov books, for instance, it can make any one book tricky to find.

Continue reading 15 use cases comparing e-books to traditional books: an illustrated list

Goodreads, LibraryThing and my official reading list

I’ve gotten an unusual number of friend requests on Goodreads recently and so I thought I’d take a moment to clarify a few things about my various book and reading lists in the social networks arena.

Yes, I am on Goodreads, and the list of books that I have read can be found there. I am also a Goodreads author. However, I am generally behind in updating Goodreads and so there are some gaps. Still, most of what I have read can be found there and so it might be useful, especially if you are using some of its “similar to” functionality. I’ll try to be better about keeping it up-to-date. If you are on Goodreads, feel free to friend me there.

Yes, I am also on LibraryThing, but my library is more than a year out-of-date at this point, and I don’t foresee any time in the immediate future where I will be able to remedy that. Keep that in mind if you are browsing my books there.

Here is the official list of books I’ve read since 1996. This list is always up-to-date within a day or two of completing a book. There are some things you should know about this list:

  • Only books which I actually finish end up on this list. There are many book in which I don’t finish and if I don’t finish them, they don’t get a number and don’t go on the list.
  • If I read a book more than once it will appear on the list more than once and get a second (or third, or fourth) number. This is because the list is a historical reference for me, not just a listing of the unique books that I have read.
  • Short stories, and magazine reading does not go on the list, EXCEPT:
  • Recently, I have been adding issues of Astounding Science Fiction that I have been reading for my Vacation in the Golden Age to the list. This is because I read the entire issue cover-to-cover and because each issue is about as long as a typical novel. Besides, its my list and my rules.
  • Bold items on the list are particular favorites of mine.
  • Blue items on the list are books that I read in e-book format, most often either on my Kindle, or the Kindle app for the iPad.
In any case, if you are looking for the official list of what I have read, this is the list you should be looking at.

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Life on Mars

I’ve been enjoying Life on Mars on ABC.  I may have mentioned somewhere that I was puzzled by a few things–like why Sam doesn’t "prove" he’s from the future by making a specific prediction.  But it seems that, for now, the writers are avoiding the issue.  Nevertheless, I enjoy the show.  One thing I really like about the show is the music.  Unlike most shows these days, Life on Mars is not making use of the latest hits by Dido or The Fray (or any other CW-like music).  Instead, because the events take place in 1973, they are using some good classic rock from that time period.  In other words, the music has been great!

I’ve been working on putting together a playlist of the songs that they’ve used so far.  Here’s my list:

  • Everything I Own (Bread)
  • Reeling in the Years (Steely Dan)
  • Life on Mars (David Bowie)
  • Spaceman (Harry Nilsson)
  • Sweet Lucy (The Propositions)
  • We’re an American Band (Grand Funk Railroad)
  • Going to Make a Time Machine (The Majestic Arrows)
  • Tuesday’s Dead (Cat Stevens)
  • Wild in the Streets (Garland Jefferys)
  • I’m Gonna Keep on Loving You (Kool Blues)
  • He Keeps You (Boscoe)
  • Anywhere In Glory (The Mighty Indiana Travelers)
  • Everybody is a Star (Sly & the Family Stone)
  • Black and White (Three Dog Night)
  • Mother and Child Reunion (Paul Simon)
  • Rock and Roll (The Velvet Underground)
  • Bang a Gong (T. Rex)
  • Lucky Lady (Jones Brothers)
  • 20th Century Man (The Kinks)
  • Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress (The Hollies)
  • Long Promised Road (Beach Boys)
  • Sweet Cherry Wine (Tommy James and the Shondells)
  • I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (The Turtles)
  • Just a Little Lovin’ (Dusty Springfield) 
  • Reflections of My Life (Marmalade)
  • All the Way to Memphis (Mott the Hoopie)
  • Get Down (Gilbert O’Sullivan)
  • I am a Rock (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • Ground Zero (Chris Cornell)
  • Signs (Five Man Electric Band)
  • Baba O’Reily (The Who)
  • Little Willy (The Sweet)
  • Out of Time (The Rolling Stones)

There you have it.  Now isn’t that a cool play list?

Roll out the barrel

What’s on tap today:

  • Produce massive list of reports for 3 PM meeting
  • Adding logging to the Visitor application
  • Try, try try to finish up Rainbows End
  • Read part one of Rob Sawyer’s "Wake" in ANALOG
  • Read Paul Levinson’s story in ANALOG
  • Begin work on week 4 assignment for the writer’s workshop
  • Take suits to cleaners
  • Pick up stuff from Kelly’s cleaner
  • Narrow our "first dance" song down to five possibles
  • Switch payment account for Bally’s
  • Mail off voter registration for Virginia

Otherwise, it’s just your usual, quite and dull Monday morning here in the Nation’s Capital.

My highest rated authors

Since I’m talking about books so much this morning, I figured I post something I’ve been meaning to look at for some time now: my highest rated authors. The data comes from my reading lists, which I have kept since January 1, 1996. In order to generate the following data, I filtered it for fiction only, and only those authors for which I had read, and rated 5 or more books.

For fellow database nerds, my exact SQL query was:

SELECT Author1, COUNT(Rating), AVG(Rating)
FROM ReadingList
WHERE Fiction = ‘y’
GROUP BY Author1
HAVING COUNT(Rating) >= 5
ORDER BY 3 DESC

I rate the books I read on a scale of 1-5 stars.

Here are the (relatively unsurprising) results for fiction authors:

Author Books Read Avg Rating
Asimov, Isaac 43 3.7907
Sawyer, Robert J. 7 3.7143
Haldeman, Joe 10 3.5000
Bear, Greg 5 3.4000
Bradbury, Ray 9 3.3333
Anthony, Piers 10 3.3000
Malzberg, Barry N. 23 3.2609
Clarke, Arthur C. 7 3.1429
Clancy, Tom. 7 3.1429
Heinlein, Robert A. 8 3.0000

It’s a little embarrassing to find Clarke and Clancy tied for 8th place. I feel like I enjoy Clarke’s stuff more than Clancy. I read Clancy’s "Jack Ryan" novels in a whirlwind vacation week in the summer of 2000 and haven’t returned to them since. I keep reading Clarke, but at least one of his books, The Fountains of Paradise, underwhelmed me. As for Piers Anthony: I read a lot of PA growing up, before I ever kept my lists. At one point, I went back and reread the first 10 books of the Xanth series. I think this was late 1999. That’s why he shows up on the list. His score might have been higher if I included stuff from before the list like Macroscope or Tarot.

It would seem that I can’t produce a list of highest rated fiction authors without showing the list of highest-rated non-fiction authors. If we go based on the same criteria, the list looks like this:

Author Books Read Avg Rating
Asimov, Isaac 71 3.8028
Sagan, Carl 6 3.6667
Rooney, Andy 5 3.6000
Ambrose, Stephen E. 6 3.3333

So there you have it.  Isaac Asimov takes top position for both categories.  In the fiction category, most of my favorite authors make the list.  A few are missing, probably because I’ve read less than 5 books each (Bester and Kornbluth, for instance.)

Anyone else have similar data?

10 places to eat before you die

I came across this list today. Of the ten places, I’ve only eaten at one of them,Cantler’s near Annapolis, Maryland. I did eat in Naples, Italy, but never tried the pizza.

Why isn’t In-n-Out on the list?

Issues resolved with Goodreads

I finally got my reading list fixed on Goodreads. My profile is available here.

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If you were stuck on a desert island…

…for twenty years and all you had for entertainment were the complete works of ten authors, who would those authors be. (I came across this interesting question on Phil Farmer’s website.)

My answers, in alphabetical order:

  1. Isaac Asimov
  2. Alfred Bester
  3. Ray Bradbury
  4. Arthur C. Clarke
  5. Will Durant
  6. Harlan Ellison
  7. Barry N. Malzberg
  8. Carl Sagan
  9. John Steinbeck
  10. Mark Twain

Fortunately, for me, this list would prove to be on the order of 800-900 books, ranging the gamut from literature, science fiction, history, science, etc.

What would your list be?