A Book For All Seasons 2015: Winter Roundup

Realized I really hate blogging, so I thought I’d take a shortcut and do shorter writeups in a single post.

Combinatorial Logic & Functional Programming: An Introduction to Functional Programming Through Lambda Calculus

The first third was the best – a mind-spinning look at stuff like the formal specification of recursion using lambda calculus. Love it. This was my primary interest in grad school, and the work I do today still dabbles in elements of this. The middle third was a too-basic look at the definition of data structures and related algorithms using recursive functions, and the final third was the implementation of the middle third’s content in ML and LISP.

Productivity: Getting Things Done

This was a reread from years ago. At that time, the main thing I picked up was on the collection piece – for about a decade now, I have always carried a Moleskine Cahier & Pentel Twist-Erase in my shirt pocket. I haven’t quite gotten to Inbox Zero, but I have a processing process. Pretty close to the “mind like water” state. Also, I have taken select group projects and moved them to a Next Action approach (which is easy to do when you don’t have a lot of time for development – one flaw with this approach is that you risk not identifying enough work to keep folks busy). The main thing I’ve gotten from this reread is a need to focus on organization and review – I need to keep dormant items off of my main task list and put them in a place where I can effectively review them periodically. Steps are already in motion!

Pragmatic Bookshelf: The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development

A minor problem with this book is that the author too often draws analogies to his career as a jazz musician. I do not think that that background is meaningful to readers. Analogies are best used to connect the familiar with the unfamiliar, and he’s working backwards here. A major problem with this book is that it shifts all over the place, from folks who come to work just not giving a damn (who likely aren’t reading this book in the first place!) to folks trying to land new jobs via self-promotion (the recent Career Tools podcast “Bad Career Advice: Start a Blog” – shares my take on it). There are a lot of good truths here that will take honest introspection to get the most out of, and even where the chapters ring false, there is good stuff in the exercises at the end of each one to really push oneself.

Victorian Gothic Novels: The Monk

Really bad guy who does really bad things to really good people gets his comeuppance: Straight-up justice porn. But of course I love the dialog of the era, and this one had an interesting story-within-a-story narrative structure. As pointed out in the introduction, the book has actual supernatural elements whereas most books of the time hinge on misinterpretations and wild imaginations.

Wonderland Quartet: A Garden of Earthly Delights

A story of a girl from a family of migrant farmhands who strives to do something different with her life. Not wanting to spoil the book, I’ll just say that it seems that the main theme is “having” versus “doing” with respect to The American Dream; not entirely “money can’t buy happiness”, but along those lines. I didn’t care for the book much – although it certainly is effective in creating vivid settings – but that final paragraph rang out to the Sylvia Plath fan in me and is making me reconsider the whole book.

Elmore Leonard: The Bounty Hunters

A reread from last year. My words from then (which still hold): “Westerns are great. Elmore Leonard is great. Didn’t know he started his career out by writing westerns… but this one is as bad-ass as you would expect the pairing to be. It was a helluva page-turner. The plot – a stud and his homies try to play several groups of villainous characters against each other – seems like something Tarantino could work with. I hope the category remains this engaging, and I’m curious to see whether he evolves to introduce an anti-hero element to his protagonists.

Wonder Woman [The New 52]: Blood

This take really milks the Greek Mythology angle, taking a very Sandman-like approach to the collection of various gods. It was interesting – I really like the takes on Hades and Poseidon – but the story didn’t really pull me in and it had the typical comic book way-of-speaking – heavy on repartee – that I cannot stand.

A Book for All Seasons: 2015

I made it a quarter-and-a-half into 2014 before I fell behind reading. Too many large books. I also fell behind in blogging.

This year, I am cutting down to six categories, and dropping History as a topic. There will be some re-reads from last year.

 

Winter

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Combinatorial Logic & Functional Programming

An Introduction to Functional Programming Through Lambda Calculus

     
Productivity Getting Things Done      
Pragmatic Bookshelf

The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development

     
Joyce Carol Oates: Wonderland Quartet A Garden of Earthly Delights      
Victorian Gothic Novels The Monk      
Elmore Leonard
The Bounty Hunters
     
Wonder Woman
(The New 52)
Vol. 1: Blood      

Combinatorial Logic & Functional Programming– A refresher of my graduate school focus area, and related to my current work project. This category will end with me revisiting one of my very favorite books from my youth.

Productivity – First of two professional development categories. Gotta get more stuff done… including the reading.

Pragmatic Bookshelf – Second of two professional development categories, this time focusing on my trade: Software Development / Project Management

Victorian Gothic Novels – A follow-on to my 2012 category “Northanger Abbey”.

Wonderland Quartet –  Starting with the earliest “easy to find” Joyce Carol Oates’ novels.

Elmore Leonard – Will start with the earliest novels I can get my hands on… which are more Westerns than the slimy underground crime settings for which we know him.

Wonder Woman (The New 52) –  New Addition in March. FWIW, I’m not a comic book guy. Just some easy reading to see what DC Comics did with this much-hyped campaign.

A Book for All Seasons: The Essential Guide to Rhetoric

http://www.amazon.com/Essential-Guide-Rhetoric-William-Keith/dp/0312472390/

 516zgg2BtBnL1_thumb1     Winter entry for “Rhetoric”

A tiny book that I was hoping to be more about the building blocks of rhetoric and less of “here’s what it’s about and why you should study it”. While it’s more of an introduction to a phantom larger text than the quick reference I would hope it would be, it’s quite appropriate for the Winter appetizer slot for the category.

A Book for All Seasons: The Mysteries of Udolpho

http://www.amazon.com/Mysteries-Udolpho-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140437592/

 516zgg2BtBnL1_thumb1     Winter entry for “Victorian Gothic Novels”

The literary equivalent of walking up and down the same stretch of beach for 10 hours straight; works for me, but most will hate it. The same descriptions of the Pyrenees and the “verdure” (fun drinking game there, every time that word appears) over and over, the protagonist always fainting at any hint of surprise, the beaus’ desperate sputtering when feelings are not reciprocated (MAN UP!): all the details of the book conspire to chase away the reader.

The plot follows a French young lady who is at point whisked away to Italy. All sorts of wonderful and horrible things happen to her. Mysteries get stacked on top of each other several deep, getting popped in not quite LIFO order. All of the horror elements rely on superstition, naiveté, and misinterpretation; the realest terror in this tale is the ever-present implied threat of rape, which I suppose folks got off on back then. Things wrap up tidily in the end, of course, but it’s really about the journey through beautiful landscapes and poetry, driven by the narrator’s love of the pastoral lifestyle.

A Book for All Seasons: The Glorious Cause

The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States)

http://www.amazon.com/Glorious-Cause-American-Revolution-1763-1789/dp/019531588X/

 516zgg2BtBnL1_thumb1     Winter entry for “Oxford History of the United States

The book about the American Revolutionary period was a bit too academic for my liking, with a lot of speculation on motivations and such, whereas I was hoping for a greater portion of narrative.

The first quarter or so of the book focused on pre-Revolutionary relations (e.g., Boston Tea Party) between the homeland and the colony; this was easily the best part of the book, with political factions on both sides of the pond working against each other to deal with the foreign threat.

The middle two quarters focused on the war itself; lots of dry orders-of-battle and such (thanks to wargaming the period, I was able to follow much of the action, especially Brandywine Creek), with a highlight being a telling description of the conditions the soldiers had to  live in (although the likes of Valley Forge are well known).

The last quarter of the book focused on America ramping up Federalism and the challenge of setting up government in the face of post-war adrenaline and a lingering anti-establishment sentiment. A great set-up for the next book in the series…

A Book for All Seasons: The Dreams in the Witch House

http://www.amazon.com/Dreams-Witch-House-Stories-Classics/dp/0142437956/

 516zgg2BtBnL1_thumb1     Winter entry for “Arkham Horror”

I’ve been reading ghost stories and short horror my whole life. Lovecraft was a late discovery, yet an instant favorite. Time to read ‘em all…

This collection has a large chunk of his dreamy and alien world stuff (but he only did so much of that, so there’s still some “doom comes to Earth” as well). Even “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” – a ridiculously descriptive novella of a man walking through his dream world with a “no place like home” ending ripped from Oz – works for me. My favorite story here is  one I’ve read before,“The Nameless City”, which is similar to the final tale “The Shadow Out of Time” in that it evocatively describes another intelligent race that preceded humans yet still exists.

Not for everyone (especially those sensitive to unflattering racial portrayals), but the totally fantastical reveries within get me every time.

A Book for All Seasons: The Bounty Hunters

http://www.amazon.com/The-Bounty-Hunters-Elmore-Leonard/dp/0380822253/

 51Gaf6pLC3L[1]    Winter entry for “Elmore Leonard”

Westerns are great. Elmore Leonard is great. Didn’t know he started his career out by writing westerns… but this one is as bad-ass as you would expect the pairing to be. It was a helluva page-turner. The plot – a stud and his homies try to play several groups of villainous characters against each other – seems like something Tarantino could work with. I hope the category remains this engaging, and I’m curious to see whether he evolves to introduce an anti-hero element to his protagonists.