Book Reviews


goodreads but better. greatreads


2022


something to do with paying attention -- david foster wallace

An excerpt from the unfinished The Pale King, which I've read about 100 pages of, republished as a novella. Riveting and incredible. How can we live in the world in which we find ourselves? DFW seems to have gotten much farther on this question than most. Reading this cemented the idea in me that I made the write decision to pursue software engineering and not writing, first because I fully believe myself incapable of writing anything even remotely this good, and second because this book itself finds a sort of honor and reverence in a career that is so mind-numbingly boring and full of bureaucracy (IRS accounting) to the point of absurdity. I found the 'climax' about the death of the narrator's father so moving that I was moved to tears in Propsect park. What struck me was how (mild spoilers) his father is killed by a combination of highly improbably banal events, four of which I will list: 1. The narrator sleeping in that morning 2. The narrator "sulking" behind his father as he rushed ahead of him (described in incredible detail) 3. poorly-conceived state-level tax policy that year 4. overlooked engineering faults on the CTA. The story elevates the daily, mind-numbing toil and "tedium" (used often) of daily life into a single event which dramatically and improbably kills the narrator's father. And then, over the next few years, another series of incredibly improbably events leads the narrator to become one of the "1 in 10,000" people who, somehow, consider a career at the IRS to be their personal calling. Just read this it's so good


tomorrow sex will be good again — katherine angel

Picked this up after flipping through it at a bookstore and mostly read it on the train. Extremely good.


I thought the part about how viagra was marketed and used not for male pleasure but male “performance” was interesting


Dune

I read this, but I have so much to say about it that I don't think I can put it all here. Maybe I'll write something at the end of the series


Starting forth

Forth is a great programming language



The Utopia of Rules

Very meandering book, not entirely sure what the main "thesis" was. An analysis of bureaucracy and how it is pervasive in not just public but private life. Got me thinking about the stultifying aspects of bureaucracy in my daily life, and how bureaucracy exists to dominate and control. Graeber makes the good point that our political imagination since the 70s has been almost nonexistent, and that computing / technology doesn't really serve the imagination, but is primarily used and designed for filling out forms.


fungirl by elizabeth pich

This was a graphic novel released by a local publisher. It was very funny and well done.


Atomic Habits

I read this based on a recommendation from my work's internal slack's "career club" channel. I rarely read this kind of self help book. I thought it was OK but a lot of the observations were a bit cliche, like things borrowed from other books in this genre. I'm not entirely sure why it is as popular as it is. I also don't really feel like it has much of a coherent "system" as much as books like e.g. "getting things done" (which I also read). Maybe that's good. Inspired me to start to develop some positive habits though, which I am working on, and maybe will track on flounder


Nietzsche -- The Anti-Christ

This was mostly kind of boring relative to the other Nietzsche I've read. Mostly about 19th century Christianity. I thought the insights on Buddhism were good.


2021


The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-first Century by Amia Srinivasan


A collection of essays exploring difficult contemporary questions regarding sex and feminism, named after its titular essay, which originally asked the question, regarding incels, does anyone have a right to sex? Her answer is, of course, no, but along the way, she asks pointed questions about the politics around who and what we desire.


Jaron Lanier "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now"


A bit kooky, but I agree with the arguments. Reads kind of like RMS's blog. In some ways, he feels like an "insider's outsider", like Thomas Piketty or (that guy who writes for newsweek)


Nadia Eghbal "Working in Public"


An insightful and thorough investigation into open source. I don't agree with all her conclusions: she seems bound within the existing structural framework of Big Tech -- as one would expect from a member of the Ford Foundation. But overall it was a good read, and inspired me to think about my relationship with open source.



alex.flounder.online/