Summer books

Summer time to me means time to read books. The kind of fun, fascinating books that my studies don’t always include. And I’ve read a fair few books this summer, presented here in chronological order as I’ve read them:

Robert M Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I liked this. There is just so much interesting insight in this book. But I thought that there were too many themes going on all at once, and the actual points on zen and motorcycle maintenance were drowned out by metaphysical considerations. I’d like to remix parts of the book and make a long essay that contains those points in a more clear cut fashion.

Charlie Stross: The Atrocity Archives
A guilty pleasure. It’s not really a very good book. But as a fast-paced science fiction horror story, it’s good fun. Recommended for anyone who can’t resist the prospect of fictional dimension-hopping Cthulhu-worshipping nazis.

Bill Bryson: The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid
This is the first I’ve read by Bill Bryson, but it’s actually really funny. Some of his observations about growing up in 1950s America illuminate the mindset of the baby boomer generation quite cleverly, and it’s an easy, friendly, good-humoured read which will remind you of all those long summers you spent doing absolutely nothing as a kid.

David Graeber: Towards an Anthropology of Value
A serious exploration of the concept of value. I really liked the first, theoretical half which does well to define value and explore its role in various societies, and, having just read “Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, those points seemed even more relevant. Unfortunately, the second half of the book is a tour de force of ethnographic presentations which do not build on the first chapters as well as I had hoped, and rather appeared as separate essays thrown in, but without following the exact same project that was hinted at initially.

Stieg Larsson: M├Žnd, der hader kvinder
This was recommended to me by my mother, since one the characters is a hacker. But there is very, very little hacking in it. Most of all, it is a fairly typical crime fiction novel where the main characters appear to be unable to do wrong, and if they do. They are simply victims of deliberately unfortunate circumstances.

Eric von Hippel: Democratizing Innovation
This was a fairly short book. And having done fieldwork in open source communities, I knew much of what von Hippel is talking about already. But it is good book to read to get an idea of how to present user-based innovation to others in various businesses. Which hopefully will be relevant to me in my job hunt.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow sun
Beautifully written, and well told story of Biafra. Slightly too long, I think, but perhaps it feels that because of all of the suffering which unfolds in the later chapters. People don’t seem to stay happy for long. Adichie seems to be channeling the stories, feelings and memories of her whole family, and because of this, it becomes a very earnest and alive description of African life. If you plan to read it, make sure to get hold of an African cook book to try out some of the West African dishes mentioned in the book, such as Chin Chin, Jollof rice and much more.

Frank McCourt: Teacher Man
A high school teacher’s memoirs of 30 years as a teacher in New York high schools. A personal, witty and very, very well-written book. With some bits of interesting insight on teaching. For instance:

In all my years at Stuyvesant only one parent, a mother, asked if her son was enjoying school. I said yes. He seemed to be enjoying himself. She smiled, stood up, said, Thank you, and left. One parent in all those years.

That’s all the books so far. I suspect people will note the absence of Harry Potter on this list, but I don’t really like the Harry Potter books. I suspect it’s because I grew up reading the books which inspired J.K. Rowling, such as The Wizard of Earth Sea, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings, and when I read the first Harry Potter book, I just found it slightly shallow and unimaginative compared to those, older books. I’ve seen little to change my mind since, despite my brother and sister continuing to rave about the books.

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