2018 in Books

As I’ve done the past few years, I participated in Goodreads’s annual reading challenge. Having exceeded last year’s goal and finishing at 19, I set my 2018 book goal at 20 books.

I wound up reading almost 30, coming in just short at 29 books.

A few quick reflections on my reading challenge this year:

  • I felt a lot faster finishing books this year, in large part because I was not reading the A Song of Fire and Ice series this year, having finished that last year. It took me weeks to finish each of those books with the scant amount of reading time I had, so the quantity of books I read last year took a toll because I read several 1,000+ page books.
    • The longest book I read last year was 1,177 pages, whereas the longest book I read this year was 818 pages.
  • That being said, I sped through my first five books and then really felt my decrease in velocity when I hit that 818-pager.
    • It typically takes me a few days to about 3 weeks to finish a book, given that I read almost exclusively on my commute to and from work. It took me almost 3 months to finish this year’s behemoth.
  • I enjoyed reading a lot more mindfully this year. There were days when I would steal away for a quick walk outside to clear my head during the workday, or take lunch by myself on a nearby bench, with my Kindle in tow to get some sunshine and reading done.
  • I much preferred the mindful reading to what I find myself doing often, which is walking to and from the subway while reading. This is, admittedly, not a very safe practice.
    • But! While doing this in DC one day, I walked past a friend who was doing the exact same thing! She was the one who looked up from her book to recognize me, but I felt so validated seeing her with her open Kindle in hand, too.
  • With the end of the Blogging for Books program, I didn’t feel as much of the obligation getting through books I didn’t enjoy but was reading for review this year.

Here are the books I finished reading in 2018:

Collage of book covers
The covers of the 29 books I read in 2018

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The Comic Book Story of Video Games | review

The gaming industry produced over $100 billion in revenue this past year, and that number is only going to go up. Within any of our lifetimes, whether your first game was Angry Birds or Pong, the progression of video games has been astounding. The Comic Book Story of Video Games is an incredibly informative graphic novel that tells the incredible story of the electronic gaming revolution.

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This graphic novel starts with the history of video, which is the actual logical place to start the history of video games! Don’t be deceived by the fun drawings and the inclusion of video game characters through this history (it’s a fun Easter egg to spot them!), but this was actually a fairly technical background on the technology behind video and gaming! I loved learning so, so much about the technological innovation that went into bringing video games to life.

I also really loved learning about the context of some of the biggest games in history. What was the historical context for Pong and Pac-man and Pokemon? What technological advances were necessary for each of those games to come out? What made Microsoft come out with XBox? What is the highest-selling console of all time? How did console gaming finally take off to begin with?

These questions and more are answered in this fun read, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a tiny bit of interest in video games and technology.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

2017 in Books

My books resolution last year was 15 books, and I used Goodreads to track my progress with that resolution as I have the past few years. I was reading very long and hefty books this year, which was sometimes very frustrating with hitting a certain number of books (versus pages, I guess) because the 14th book I started reading this year was super dense and fairly technical. I loved the book but it was frustrating to read for hours and only have progressed 2% further than when I started that day. If I hadn’t started other books before finishing it, I would never have hit my goal of 15. I also read most of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, aka the Game of Thrones books, which are very, very long. The longest book I read this year, according to my Goodreads Year in Books, was A Storm of Swords at 1,177 pages. For reference, the average number of pages of the books I read this year was less than 500.

Without further ado, here are the books I read this year:

2017 in Books

  • In Other Words – Jhumpa Lahiri
  • A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin
  • Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby – Sandi Metz
  • The Inkblots – Damion Searls
  • A Feast of Crows – George R. R. Martin
  • A Dance with Dragons – George R. R. Martin
  • China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan
  • Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
  • The New York Times: Footsteps
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
  • Rich People Problems – Kevin Kwan
  • Modern Lovers – Emma Straub
  • Spark Joy – Marie Kondo
  • Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
  • everyone’s an aliebn when ur a aliebn too – jomny sun
  • The Comic Book Story of Video Games Jonathan Hennessey & Jack McGowan (review coming soon!)
  • Turtles All the Way Down – John Green
  • The Pragmatic Programmer – Andrew Hunt & David Thomas
  • The Gene – Siddhartha Mukherjee

I already have some titles loaded on my Kindle Paperwhite and I’m very excited to get reading this year! Here’s hoping I can make good progress with some easier to manage books and avoid pedantic fictions that make me so nervous about checking out new fiction titles…

Do you have any book recommendations for me going into 2018? Read anything good last year that you’d suggest? New titles, classics? Fiction, non-fiction?

What’s your reading look like? What are your 2018 reading goals?

Previous years: 2016

The New York Times: Footsteps

If you enjoy dreaming of visiting the places whose beauty and spirits inspire some of literature’s great authors, you may love The New York Times‘s “Footsteps” column. Their newest book is a collection of a few of these columns, if you want to keep a physical copy of these little bursts of literary travel to flip through. After all, it makes sense that someone who wants to see the physical spaces that inspired stories we have only lived in our imaginations might relish the physicality of flipping the pages of this book.

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I’ll admit that The New York Times: Footsteps was not the best book for me to read during my subway ride. Normally, I think anthologies of short stories are good for my commute, as I only get about 15 minutes each way (20-25 minutes if I decide to read while I walk!) and it can be very frustrating to have to break up my reading time if I’m reading a very addictive book. (You don’t want to put it down!)

Additionally, I found that this wasn’t as enjoyable for me to read because:

  1. I wasn’t familiar with all of the authors referenced throughout.
  2. I wasn’t familiar with all of the destinations referenced throughout.
  3. The differences in writing style sometimes felt a bit disjointed.

The columns I enjoyed most were, of course, about authors whose work I am familiar with and/or with travel destinations I am familiar with. Columns about a place I haven’t heard of that inspired a poem I’ve never read were difficult for me to feel any connection to. That being said, some of the columnists used their words to craft a beautiful image of a destination that drew me in, and/or they were able to describe a piece of literature in such a compelling way that I want to read an author for the first time.

I’d recommend having a look at the list of authors and destinations and seeing if any are of interest to you. I love the idea of retracing the footsteps that inspired a piece of literature or an entire body of work and looking at that destination through this lens.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

The Inkblots (2017)

I enrolled in college as a psychology major, not because it was a way to be undecided without bring actually undecided but because I really enjoyed psychology. While I didn’t take psychology in high school, I self-studied for the AP Psychology exam and got a 5 because I absolutely devoured the material. My dad works in psychology and is the person who exposed me to the field. As a result, I’ve long had a deep interest in the workings of the human mind and the rigorous scientific study of it. (The scientific method is your best friend, folks!)

The Rorschach test is pretty famous. You probably know it as the symmetrical ink blot that shrinks show to people, drawing conclusions about their mental state based on what these crazies see in the amorphous shapes. You may even know the name from the character in The Watchmen, whose mask shows a symmetrical, always-changing pattern of black shapes.

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This guy right here.

Author Damion Searls set out to write The Inkblots:Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing because there was no definitive Rorschach biography, despite the huge impact that his inkblots have had on psychology and pop culture. I’ve known about the Rorschach for a long time, primarily as a pop psych test that is fun to do and fun to get results from, but ultimately not that reliable. I learned that this perception of the inkblot test comes not from the original test that Hermann Rorschach spent his life developing but from generations of people not giving the test correctly and letting politics get in the way of psychology.

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The first half of the book is a great biography of Hermann Rorschach. First of all, look at him: he looks like a combination of Karl Urban and Brad Pitt and he lived during the golden age of psychology. His contemporaries were Freud and Jung, two of the biggest names in psychology to this day, and wrote letters to Tolstoy. He was just this extraordinarily brilliant mind who placed high value on art and the human part of the human mind. While many psychologists and psychiatrists of the time saw patients as just patients, Rorschach never lost sight of the humanity of his work. Born into a family of artists, he was extremely in tune with how art affected people and how perceptions reflected the condition of the mind.

Honestly, it was really inspiring to read about this man who was likely a genius and definitely ahead of his time with his approaches to the study of the mind, interacting with patients, and using art for therapy. Searls paints a very flattering portrait of Rorschach as a man who was raised at the juncture of an artistic family and Russian thought, a man whose brilliance was only magnified by his great compassion for the minds who needed his help the most, a man who was able to see patterns and draw conclusions that would not be confirmed until decades later when science was able to catch up.

It was a bit of a shock when he passed away halfway through the book, to say the least. By that point, I had become so attached to Hermann Rorschach, his loving family, his patients and his colleagues, and of course, the inkblots that were the culmination of all the experiences of his life (as highlighted by the book). Turning the page and finding that Dr. Rorschach had suddenly died hit hard, and as a reader, I was left scrambling to pick up the pieces while the inkblot test remained in motion, just as the world was left trying to figure out what to make of the inkblots before Rorschach was able to publish about them.

If you thought Rorschach’s biography was fascinating, the timeline of the Rorschach inkblots as they relate to psychology over the decades was incredible. I have been really enjoying these non-fiction books where I can explore a field over time, like cellular biology and quantum physics, and The Inkblots is no exception. Learning about how the Rorschach test became a test, was changed in execution and perception as it traveled from one practitioner to another, from one clinic to another, from lecture hall to student, and back around again… The politics that surrounded the 10 inkblots as different camps emerged in the attempt to uncover the best way to utilize the Rorschach, how best to help patients, how best to get accurate results.

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Card I of the Rorschach inkblots. What do you see?

I closed this book with an enormous newfound respect for Hermann Rorschach, whose brilliant mind was tragically taken from the world with his early death at a time when he was poised to change it drastically. I also took away a new respect for the Rorschach inkblots in their design and original intent and execution. The inkblots seem very random, but in fact, Rorschach agonized over perfecting their abstract forms. And he got incredible results showing those inkblots to patients and to other clinicians, who were seeing the same amazing results. It’s just that, over time, as people were not trained properly in how to administer the inkblots, the reliability of the test went way down, and so did the esteem of these humble inkblots.

I highly, highly recommend this book if you are a lover of science, psychology, art, and the nexus of the 3.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.