Vivek Haldar

Good reads of 2012

This was the year I got a Kindle. Not even the fancy one, just the basic Wifi model. What can I say, sometimes I am a late adopter. Later in the year, the Kindle was replaced with a Nexus 7 with the Kindle app on it, which, of course, had all my books and highlights preserved.

And I chomped through more books this year than probably the last five. The physicality of books, sensuous and nostalgic as it was, was actually holding me back from reading. People who lament the death of the physical book due to the onslaught of e-readers, I’m sorry, but you have zero sympathy from me. The book might by dying, but it is the greatest time ever for reading.

So here are some of my more memorable things I read in 2012.

Fiction: Very little of what I read was fiction. I found some short stories online which were “sent to the Kindle” (or the Pocket app) for clean reading. The ones which stand out:

  1. “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu: An absolutely heartbreaking short story about a boy born in America of immigrant parents, whose culture and ways seem alien to him. I can see why it swept all three of SF’s major awards: Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy.
  2. “Mr. Penumbra‚Äôs 24-Hour Bookstore”, by Robin Sloan: the short story that the author later expanded into a novel. All I will say is that it is the story of a bibliophile’s adventure.
  3. “Microserfs”, by Douglas Coupland: a short story that is more than a decade old, published in Wired back in the day. I re-read it again recently, and it brought back not just the story itself, but also who and where I was at the time I first read it. Nostalgia is heady. An unadorned portrait of a lonely hacker looking for solace in machines, and maybe, people. I know this will ring true to many of us.

Non-fiction: Looking back, almost all of it was about the nature of modern work in one way or another. This is a topic that has drawn me in. I think it started a few years ago when I read Matt Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soulcraft”.

  1. “The New American Dream”, by Penelope Trunk: Using interestingness as a sniff-test for where to go in life and career, and how to strive for that ever elusive work-life balance. I bought this book simply because I’m a long-time reader of the author’s blog, and a fan of her voice. And it turned out to be a great read.
  2. “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, by Cal Newport: Another book I bought right away because of the author’s blog. (Do you see a pattern here? These days, I don’t even consider buying a book if the author doesn’t have a long trail of words online.) Makes the case for “follow your passion” being bad advice, and that you have to get good first before you get good work.
  3. “The Computer Boys Take Over”, by Nathan Ensmenger: Delves into the history of programming computers as a craft and a profession. Many current issues about the profession of programming have deep historical roots, and this book gave me a lot of perspective. (My review.)