March 12, 2016

2015: My Year in Reading

Well, 3 months into 2016, I finally got around to updating and closing out my 2015 reading list. I ended up reading 36 books in 2015 which is a new personal best (over my previous consecutive records of 33 in 2014 and 2013), although I didn't take on any brutal challenge reads last year like I have in other years. Cough Infinite Jest cough Gödel, Escher, Bach. Excuse me.

Here are a few of my top picks:

CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP: Michael Crichton

2015 marked the year where I, being classically late to the party, read Crichton for the first time. I've seen several movies derived from his books (Sphere, Jurassic Park, Congo); while movies like Sphere and Congo traumatized me as a young person, reading the books as an adult was fantastic and I couldn't put them down. Sure, they aren't the most challenging, but they are highly enjoyable and I deliberately paced myself as to not read all of Crichton's stuff within a few months (there's only so much available now, you know?). Andromeda Strain was also great, which lead me into a non-fiction spiral about virology that I still haven't come out of (more on this later).

Oh and I did the math: If there were hypothetically unlimited Michael Crichton books available (a man can dream), and I maintained my historical Crichton Reading Velocity (CRV), I'd read 66 Crichton books per year.

DELICIOUS BRAIN FOOD

I devoured What If? by Randall Munroe. It's from the guy who created the witty and intelligent web comic http://xkcd.com and is based off his What If? blog, tagged as "Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions". Every chapter in this book was remarkably interesting and I'm definitely going to reread this one in the future.

MORE DELICIOUS BRAIN FOOD

I got to meet Col. Chris Hadfield at one of his book signing event a few years ago, and I finally got around to reading his book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth which is full of great examples of how to be a good human, professional, and especially an engineer.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari was un-put-downable and the best thing I can do is to re-read it because one reading is simply not enough.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing is the true account of a guy who lead a crew to Antarctica in 1914 and managed to keep them all alive for months after disaster strikes in unimaginably challenging circumstances. I hope to be 1/100th as wise (and badass) as this guy someday.

VIRUSES ARE SPOOKY

Robert Preston has written some gripping books about the horrors of viruses like Ebola (The Hot Zone) and Smallpox (The Demon in the Freezer). I was fascinated reading about these topics and ended up getting into some less-dramatic but more science-based reading on viruses this year, so in retrospect: read the Preston books if you're into the extreme end of viruses (perhaps overly-dramatic) and check out something like Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quamman if you want to get something even better and more based in science. It's hard to put this stuff down.

(Postscript, 2021: 👀)

NO THANKS

There were a few books I didn't enjoy last year:

American Sniper by Chris Kyle. I know, I know, if I say I didn't like this book then I'm not patriotic or something, but there's only so much "kill them all and let {deity} sort them out" I can take.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. It's probably time I admit to myself that I like movies based on PKD's stuff much more than I like his original material. I had a hard time keeping my eyes open on this one.

EXCELLENT SCIENCE FICTION

The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey continues to bring me great joy and I can't get enough of these.

The Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame) continues to produce un-put-downable murder/mystery books.

And last but not least, one of my favorite authors Neal Stephenson published a massive science fiction epic Seveneves which begins with the moon literally blowing up.


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