Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

Being Mortal

Book Notes

Read this book.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Aside from the fact that Atul Gawande's writing is wonderful and engaging, the topic of end-of-life care is too important not to read about it, especially when you're young enough to be able to do something about it. Saving for retirement is not enough. Thinking about this and preparing can't be stressed enough. Having read it, I am no-way-no-how going to move my mom or my dad or Eric or anyone elder and well-established whom I need to care for, from their homes when they are older.

I can seriously hope that if I'm faced with "do this procedure, get maybe 3 more years of questionable-quality life" vs "don't do this procedure, get maybe 1 more year of quality life" I have the strength and wisdom to choose the latter.

Read. This. Book. I mean it. I'll buy a copy, I mean it so much.

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

Book Notes

When at Webstock (holy f---, once again, an amazing conference) this year, Liz Danzico gave a great talk about giving up, quitting, and how, "... sometimes, the middle is the end" in projects. The talk was engaging and struck close to my heart in many ways. One of the many books she referenced and drew from was The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (affiliate link). With a title like that, heck yes, I bought a copy before the conference was over.

The book has 9 sections, ranging from the cult of positive thinking to stoicism to embracing insecurity to the folly of focusing on goals to accepting death as a way of life to negative capability. Each section / chapter has a central theme, some story or author adventure, and a suggestion on how this different way of not-embracing positive thinking has helped others and can help the reader in leading a better life (for their definition of better).

Having read a number of studies about how positive thinking doesn't really work in many cases, as it's essentially sticking your head in the sand about reality, and that visualizing achieving your goals causes your brain to reward you for already having achieved them reducing your desire to continue to pursue them, I was eager to read this book.

It did not disappoint.

There's immediate advice that I took to heart, much of it about stoicism and meditating, along with embracing insecurity and letting go of the belief we can control things. I've been seeing the world as it is, and less through my emotions, opinions and history. I've taken the few minutes, not always as long as I'd like, to listen to my breathing and calm myself. I've been trying to go outside of my comfort zone every day for the last couple months ("An adventure!"), and have experiences I would normally never consider. And, I've been accepting that things happen, whether from the actions of other people, entropy or whatever.

I highly recommend this book. I bought the audio version to listen to when I'm doing non-concentrating activities around the house (dishes, cooking, riding the bus). It's one of very few audiobooks I listen to 1x speed, instead of my usual 1.5x speed, it's that well read and written.

Along with The Happiness Hypothesis (also an affiliate link), this book goes into the "will read again, likely once a year" category, for finding balance.

World War Z

Book Notes

Having read Mira Grant's Feed Trilogy, er, Newsflesh trilogy, with Feed, Deadline and Blackout, I have to say, I'm enjoying zombie apocalypse books more than I expected to enjoy them. Those three are great, if you want a good zombie series. With the movie World War Z out, I thought, well, hey, let's read the book.

And to my surprise, I enjoyed the book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War a lot. More than I was expecting to enjoy it.

The book is a collection of interviews, as told to a reporter who published them when he realized they wouldn't be included in a report about the zombie apocalypse. The interviews go from the first responders for patient zero, through denial and folly of what was happening, through the eventual figuring out how things work, to recovery. The writing style is quick and enjoyable, yet the interviews are in different voices, something often hard to do with a writing structure with many people speaking. I liked how the stories tied in, with some interviews referencing other interviewees and some interviewees reinterviewed years later.

For a quick zombie book, this one is great. Worth all the positive reviews it received.

First Grave on the Right

Book Notes

I'm not sure why I purchased this book. I think I wanted more of the Anita Blake series, but Anita Blake from the first two books, not from the crap that came later in the third through whatever books. This one, The First Grave on the Right, seemed to fit the bill: female protagonist with supernatural powers (can't get more super than being the Grim Reaper) with a bit of mystery or crime drama and plot points. Yeah, sounded like it could work.

Imagine my disappointment when the book opens with a sex scene. I really thought I wouldn't get another vampire crappy erotica book.

Fortunately, this book wasn't all erotica, which was great. Wasn't any vampires either. Yay!

There was a lot of sass, and not the Sass kind, a bit of humour, a number of zinger one-liners, some mystery and an entertaining reader (since I listened to the audiobook). The sass became tiresome a few times, with the main character, Charley Davidson, coming across more as a spoiled, whiny brat than a functioning private investigator with the abilities of not-dying and talking with ghosts. There seemed little unfinished at the end of the book, no tantalizing question that would lure the reader to read another book in the series (and apparently it's an ongoing series, six books).

It was an amusing fast read. I'd say, play the book at 1.5 speed on the audiobook for best effect, and worth a discounted Kindle or Audible read.

Predictably Irrational

Book Notes

I tried reading Predictably Irrational (affiliate link) about a year ago. I made it about half way through before other books captured my attention. I restarted it at the beginning last week and read through it rapidly. Totally worth reading it. I recommend it highly.

The basic premise of Predictably Irrational is exactly what the title is: people don't act rationally with a lot of things, yet that irrational behavior is somewhat predictable. The book is a gentle introduction to behavioral economics, which doesn't believe that people act completely rational when making decisions about their economic well-being (that rationality being a fundamental belief in most economic models people know about). The book explains that people do a lot of odd things, describes experiments that address the odd things, and gives the outcomes, explanations, and interpretations of the results.

There are immediate applications of the explanations, both from an offense (I'm trying to sell you something) and a defense (I'm trying not to be hoodwinked into buying something I don't really need / want) perspective. The chapter on Free! is great, as well as the section on how we overvalue what we own more than if we don't own it; which explains why, say, people selling an item (car, house, thingy) always want more than the non-owners are willing to pay. We all suck at making decisions when we're sexually aroused, and oddly how price affects the effectiveness of placebos.

I'm glad I read it twice. While I absolutely don't act rationally with a lot of financial items (hello, house next door to Dad), I recognize more frequently now when I'm not. I also notice when I'm being influenced by some of the techniques and observations presented in the book. This self-awareness is fantastic.

So, yeah, highly recommended.

Pragmatic Guide to Sass

Book Notes


Pragmatic Guide to Sass, by Hampton Catlin and Michael Lintorn Catlin
128 pages
Published: 2011-12-16
ISBN: 978-1-93435-684-5

When I was first becoming a professional programmer, I worked with a consultant who, despite being newer to the language and IDE I was using, was able to teach me some new syntax and features. When I asked how he knew these things, he pulled out an intermediate book on the language and commented, "You find a lot of new tricks reading the manual cover to cover."

In that vein, I picked up the Pragmatic Bookshelf's Pragmatic Guide to Sass by Hampton Catlin and Michael Lintorn Catlin. It is a relatively short read at 126 pages, made shorter by the function reference that starts at page 107, and the Haml introduction at page 114

The book is a fast read, made up of tasks and Sass solutions. The basics of the concepts are introduced: variables, imports, mixin, extend, math operators, @each and @if, along with a number of conventions that would surprise anyone who didn't know about them. I'm thinking of the underscore-prefixed file name convention for Sass files that are not standalone after compiling (partial imports) with that comment.

The book is a couple years out of date, and could be updated to include new Sass and Compass features such as namespacing and possibly defining custome sass functions.

As a introduction book, which this book describes itself as, it works. As a refresher book, which this book describes itself as, it works less well. It skims over some of the whys one would use a feature, in favor of how one uses a feature, and doesn't contrast features much. As an introduction, this could be okay for most designers or developers. I prefer the whys, even if only in a sidebar.

This book was good for what it is, an introduction, but left me wanting far more.

Pages