2008-11-14 21:10 in /books/completed
I’m a huge fan of Norman’s previous book The Design of Everyday Things and I highly recommend it to anyone who builds things, physical or virtual. This book takes on some of the aspects of design beyond the functional or behavior, and discusses the other aspects of why people are attracted to certain objects. It’s quite interesting for the first 2/3s of the book or so, but then takes a strange hard left into a discussion of robots and why robots will need to have emotions too. Very strange. But, I would still recommend reading the earlier parts of the book.
2008-01-13 11:30 in /books/completed
In case anyone was wondering, I did finish the last book of the trilogy about two months ago, and just never got around to writing about it.
I was initially a little put off by the shift in literary style in this book. While the first two books are written in a straightforward, typical fantasy style, this book employs some more sophisticated techniques. Reading the books in quick succession, this is something of an abrupt change, although given that the books were originally intended for children, and released years apart, it may be somewhat appropriate.
My only real complaint about the book was the horribly clichéd mechanism by which the multiverse is saved. I was satisfied with the level of explanation of the metaphysics, and books with well-developed xeno-biology always get a thumbs up from me. The ending is bittersweet, and vastly better than a happily-ever-after end would have been. If they do finish out the trilogy in movies, I hope they don’t punk out on the ending.
Speaking of which, I saw the Golden Compass movie last week. I was fairly unsatisfied. The character development is nearly non-existent, and the plot moves along at a breakneck pace that leaves almost every scene feeling incomplete. There are some small deviations from the book early on that didn’t bother me too much, but the scrambling of events at the end was just upsetting, particularly since it creates two sizable plot holes. First, you can’t dogsled from Norway to Svalbard (although I grant that many viewers won’t notice this); and, second, it seems implausible that Iorek wouldn’t bring reinforcements to Bolvangar with the ordering of events in the movies.
2007-09-15 15:39 in /books/completed
The book is volume 2 in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, started by “The Golden Compass”. While I read it pretty voraciously, I didn’t find it as engaging as the first book. It suffers from the typical shortcoming of the middle book in trilogies. Most of what happens in this book is setting up for the climax to come in book 3, and while there’s the beginning of the explanation of some of the mysteries of the first book, it doesn’t achieve the same sense of wonderment.
2007-09-15 15:39 in /books/completed
This book has been highly recommended by a number of friends, and I finally got a chance to pick it up and start reading. I definitely recommend it myself as a fun, engaging piece of fantasy. Although intended as children’s literature, it has enough substance to satisfy an adult. Although you’ll probably be drawn to read it quickly, it’s worth paying attention as you go as there’s a fair bit early on which is referenced again later in the book.
2007-09-15 15:39 in /books/completed
I’ve flipped through this book in stores a few times previously, and a month or two ago I finally picked up a copy. It’s a series of 1-3 page essays by various scientists, writers, and philosophers answering the question, “What do you believe is true even though you can’t prove it?”.
Overall, I think the book is worthwhile, although it seems that you could read most or all of the essays online at The World Question Center (for some reason, in a complete different order from the book, though.) Occasionally it gets a bit repetitive as the editor has chosen to group similar answers together, and occasionally an answer seems overly specific to the author’s personal research or just seems to miss the point of the exercise entirely. For example, one has to wonder if Freeman Dyson falls into this category or if he was just feeling ornery when he wrote his disappointingly uninteresting response.
Personally, the most interesting essay for me came from Susan Blackmore, perhaps because I might have been inclined to give the opposite answer. That is, although I can’t prove it, and all my understanding of science argues to the contrary, I believe in free will. However, after reading her essay, I had to contemplate whether I really believe in free will, or merely want to believe it. At some point, I’ll have to think and write more on this subject.
I’ll probably hang onto this book for a while so I can re-read parts of it. Although you can read it fairly quickly, you could also spend years dissecting each of the essays in turn. For that, I think this is a book worth having around.
2007-02-06 18:10 in /books/completed
As promised, I did get the graphic novel from the library, and read it in a couple days while I was travelling. It’s not really a fair comparison, but visually the movie won out for me. Which is to say, that the movie excellently captures the feel of book and draws the viewer in to a degree that the comic just can’t hope to compete with.
The rearrangements of some parts of the plot didn’t bother me, nor the updating of the apocalyptic mechanism. I did find interesting the subtle shift in V’s philosophy, though. In the movie, he’s an anti-totalitarian freedom fighter; in the comic, he’s an anarchist, who just happens to be fighting a totalitarian regime. It’s a small difference, but significant in the ultimate meaning of the work.
2007-02-06 14:20 in /books/completed
Wow... I looked at the receipt I was using as a bookmark and discovered I bought this book about 2 years ago, and it’s been in my “current” reading list almost all the time since. It’s somewhat embarrassing, really. What happened was that I started reading the book and the first three intro chapters were no problem. Then I got to chapter 4 and he started talking about how you should set aside 2 whole days to bootstrap yourself into the process; and that just wasn’t happening. And, so the book sat, taunting me, until a couple months ago when I realized I needed some sort of organization system if I was going to succeed with my 101 in 1001 program. So, I cracked the book back open, downloaded some software, and got on it. I didn’t do a complete collection process as he suggests, but I got my office and my email pretty much under control in about half a day each.
Since then, I’ve finished reading the book, and gotten most of the system worked into my life. I’m definitely not perfect about it, but things seem vastly more in control than before. My biggest hurdle is still procrastination. This week, I’ve been forcing myself to get a couple minor things done each day, even if I’m feeling burnt (and, I’ve been feeling pretty burnt lately). I’ll probably write more later about they tools I’m using, once it stabilizes a little more.
2006-12-26 17:00 in /books
I’ve devoted a shelf of my bookcase to my backlog of books, and I entered them all into my reading list queue. I had to tweak the config to display them all (15 of them), but now you and I can see them over on the sidebar.
About 6 of the books are ones that I started reading at some point, but never finished, or that I’ve read bits and pieces of, but not completely. There’s a couple that I acquired more-or-less accidentally and it’s possible that I might decide that I’d rather just get rid of them rather than reading them.
At any rate, having now catalogued the extent of the problem, I can be a little more organized about doing something about it.
2006-12-19 23:10 in /books/completed
I’ve been wanting to re-read the Miles Vorkosigan books for a while, but kept getting deterred by the fact that they repackaged them all since I originally read them. Finally I took enough time to figure out what the new order is, and grabbed the first one(*) to read while I was travelling a couple weeks ago.
Bujold is one of my favorite authors, and it was fun to revisit this character. These books could easily be mistaken for simple space opera, given how entertaining and quick to read they are, but there’s really much more going on here. Bujold’s talent is in creating complex, coherent universes; and the narrative here is layered on top of a richly developed background of planetary and interplanetary history and politics. Because of this, I might have actually enjoyed reading them a second time even more than the first, as I picked up on some of the details that I missed at first.
(*) Strictly speaking, Cordelia’s Honor is earlier in the chronology of the story, but this book is really the place to start with the series.
2006-01-20 08:19 in /books
Now that I have a longer commute, I’m spending a lot more time listening to the radio; maybe 1.5 hours a day instead of 20 or 30 minutes. And one thing I’ve discovered is that NPR gets pretty repetitive pretty quickly. In fact, if I time things wrong I’ll end up listening to the identical segments going home that I heard on the way to work.
In an attempt to improve the situation, I took a trip to the books-on-tape section of the library and found a couple things to try.
The first was Two Plays for Voices by Neil Gaiman. I’d read the comic version of one of the stories (“Murder Mysteries”) previously but it was interesting to see how my memory had shifted some things around. (I checked the book later and it matched the radio play pretty closely.) The other play, “Snow Glass Apples”, was new to me and a real delight.
My second attempt was Faster by James Gleick, and while I am generally a fan of Gleick’s books, I gave up on this one somewhere in the middle of cassette 3 of 8. Partially this was the fault of the medium and my car. If my attention went to other things (hey, driving, imagine that) for a moment, it was too awkward to back up and re-listen to a section, so I usually didn’t. Also, these tapes seemed pretty beat up and kept triggering the auto-reverse. But, I might have gotten over all that if the book were more engaging. Instead, it just reads like a laundry list of gripes and mostly uninsightful observations about that crazy modern world we live in. The chapters don’t tend to reach conclusions individually, but they also don’t seem to build on one another. Maybe something on tape 8 wraps it all together, but I didn’t have the patience to find out. (Maybe that makes me a victim of what he’s complaining about, but ironically the style of the book seems to be just another example — rapid fire, just-the-facts delivery without any moments of careful consideration, so I guess I’m not the only one.)
That was all before the holidays. I ought to make another trip to the library, now that I have a better idea of what sort of books are likely to work well for me. I also considered the audiobooks from the iTunes Store, but $20 for a DRMed book that I probably will only listen to once isn’t tempting me.