sex robots and vegan meat by jenny kleeman

“sex robots and vegan meat” will sit on the shelf for my favourite non-fiction books. i often complain about non-fiction books that are 200 pages too long. well, this one is a happy exception.

jenny kleeman provided detailed reporting on several major innovative promises in the key areas of a human’s life: birth, food, sex, and death. if all of these promises get fulfiled, the future will be quite a ride – birth via external womb and diy 3d printed suicide capsules being the starkest examples.

most importantly, author examines these trends from the women-centric point of view, which is still a rarity in tech reporting of any kind.

if you read the verge or ars technica, try this book for a fresh perspective.

bad feminist by roxane gay

“bad feminist” is a collection of essays on modern day feminism written by a woman with a very non-mainstream point of view. why non-mainstream? well, roxane gay is a lesbian woman of colour with succeful writing career and academic background.

it’s a slow book. i took long pauses between essays, needing time to process. roxane gay shares her stories full of nuance. the battle path is clearly visible, but she doesn’t paint herself a victim. it takes a lot of wisdom and talent to do so.

p.s. this is one of my favourite covers

strange planet by nathan w. pyle

“strange planet” is a book that first started as web comic, so i’m fairly confident you’ve seen these pale blue aliens before. but on a slim chance you haven’t, comics feature antropomorphic aliens who go about their ordinary (and very human) lives, but use hilariously formal and roundabout language, such as hydration cylinder1 or plant liquid partially digested by insects and then stolen2.

it’s a cute little book to page through when you need some help to smile.

can’t say anything about sequels though, as i am sceptical about them as a concept.

  1. glass of water
  2. honey

prosper’s demon by k. j. parker

despite the proverb “don’t judge the book by its cover”, i’m sure every book person have had this experience many times – you see the cover and realise that you absolutely must have this book. it happened to me when i saw “prosper’s demon” in some listicle about best 2020 book covers.

i still have only vague idea about the author, not having read anything else (i plan to fix this next year), but if the rest of writing is even two-thirds as stylish as this novelette, i will have great time.

if you decide to read this book, don’t expect much plot, but worry not, you will be generously compensated with style and character study. just look at the opening paragraph:

“I woke to find her lying next to me, quite dead, with her throat torn out. The pillow was shiny and sodden with blood, like low-lying pasture after a week of heavy rain. The taste in my mouth was familiar, revolting, and unmistakable. I spat into my cupped hand: bright red. Oh, for crying out loud, I thought. Here we go again.”

the state of affairs by esther perel

i picked this book upon seeing an interesting review in the guardian (back when books section was worth checking).

have to admit that my expectations were coloured by the fact that esther perel is a psychologist, living and working in usa. so i expected some level of moralisation since the subject of the book is romantic infidelity, but this was a good lesson on recognising your own bias. dr perel wrote based on her professional experience and research, which was more international than i expected, and does an admirable job of not casting judgement either way.

while it was an interesting and educational read, i am drawing a blank on whom to recommend it to.

loveless by alice oseman

“loveless” is a coming-of-age story, combining tried and tested tropes of the genre with new perspective.

there is a young heroine going for the adventure of first year in university, comedic relief friend, another friend is in the knight’s armour. but don’t yawn yet.

it is not the main heroine who will get the romantic plotline, but sidekick. it is not the knight in shining armour who saves the damsel, but she herself does the job, and figures out what exactly made her different, and how to cope with that.

i couldn’t help but really like this bunch of clueless teenagers, who had the life i was never able to get. Alice Oseman writing style is so warm and empathetic, it felt like an old friend telling me a story over a cup of tea.

in his own write by john lennon

“in his own write” is a proof that famous people’s writing has always been in demand regardless of the quality. current bookshop windows full of celebrity memoirs is nothing new.

i can’t imagine these poems and stories getting published, if it weren’t for the name of the author. therefore, my recommendation is to skip this book, unless you are doing a deep research on John Lennon.

the body by bill bryson

quite a few people recommended bryson’s books to me before, so when i had been browsing train station bookshop in vienna and saw a new book from him, it was a quick purchase.

if you are squeamish, proceed with caution. it’s a book about anatomy, and some potentially repulsive details are inevitable. but with the exception of final chapters on disease in general and cancer specifically, this is an entertaining and educational read. bryson’s tone is charming, humorous, reminding me of archetypal uncle who’s only too happy to explain whatever is his current field of interest.

bryson does not limit the narrative with only facts about human body, expanding into history of biology and medicine, which makes it interesting even if you are quite familiar with the subject already.

klara and the sun by kazuo ishiguro

this book might have just replaced “never let me go” as my favourite work of kazuo ishiguro (also, rare instance where i totally get why he got the nobel prize).

the title is wonderfully descriptive and equally confusing. the sense of confusion and puzzlement stayed with me for the most of the novel, and it was very enjoyable. klara is an extremely unreliable narrator, leaving the reader second-guessing every line. and the resolution is a masterful execution of an open ending concept.

if you like soft sci-fi and have even passing interest in artificial intelligence, consider reading “klara and the sun”.

the handmaid’s tale by margaret atwood

undisputable classic.

heavy but essential read. awfully scary too. recent years showed me how easy it is to erase all equality progress, so gilead was terrifying in it’s authenticity. i could imagine book events unfolding in real life way too easily.

so, be careful if you pick this book as the next thing to read. make sure you have someone to hug. ideally, don’t read in winter.

all about yves by yves rees

it is so rare that i can identify with a book this much. i guess now i know why.

“all about yves” is an autobiographic story of transition. yves rees started life as straight cis-gender woman, and at the age of thirty arrived at the realisation why that skin never sat right.

yves posesses the talent of articulating those overwhelming emotions, thoughts, and questions swirling in one’s head when they realise they are not a woman. so many things felt as if taken straight out of my head.

a truly novel feeling for me.

i’m now on a quest to get hold of more memoirs by trans and non-binary writers. if you have any recommendations, please do share!

(here i presume majority of the readers of this blog know me personally and can send me a text/dm)

everybody lies by seth stephens-davidowitz

this was another piece of assigned reading for the data course, but unlike “the signal and the noise” it didn’t instill deep antipathy in me.

“everybody lies: what internet can tell us about who we really are” is a non-fiction about things a data scientist can do with information we all collectively fill internet with, aimed at wider audience. a terminally online person won’t find any shocking relevations from mr stephens-davidowitz, but i absolutely can see the usefulness for people less connected (the ones, who probably don’t have triple-digit number of logins saved in their password manager of choice).

parts i and ii are mostly a primer on statistics intersperced with amusing and/or alarming factoids about human nature. but it’s the part iii, titled “big data: handle with care”, that makes the book worthwhile of your attention. i liked how author concisely spelled out major problems of giving too much power to data-driven decisions.

like many books published after 2016, this one too shows the trauma of 2016 usa presidential election. i wish it didn’t, yet totally understand where it’s coming from.

if you are deep into the weeds of data science, this book will be redundant for you. if you are not, then give it a try. if anything, it will give you material for some small talk at the next social gathering (whenever that happens…)

ducks, newburyport by lucy ellmann

“ducks, newburyport” was my 2021 doorstopper. as always, i picked it up at random, lured in by the blurb on the cover. lesson number one – do not trust book opinions from cosmopolitan. the only other book i hated so much was “war and peace”.

“ducks” excelled at making me feel suffocated, angry, and dumbfounded all at the same time. the protagonist was written as incredibly infuriating person. she is dim with occasional flashes of some intelligent thought, but mostly it’s jumbled sludge of utter mediocrity. all this time i tried to parse whether lucy ellmann was intentional with such portrayal, or it was accidental. i was not successful.

parts about the lioness were the only relief in the form of proper grammar, structure, and narrative amidst the rest of the word vomit. juxtaposed against the most uncoherent stream of consciousness they looked like some genius prose. but when re-read in isolation, the illusion doesn’t hold up.

to summarise, “ducks, newburyport” made me feel like a duck who has to waddle through metric ton of mud to get a billfull of edible grass. and even that tiny bit is not tasty and barely nutricious.

if you treasure your time, do not ever spend it on this book.

how charts lie by alberto cairo

picked this book up from a youtube video of all places. not that youtube is not a place where valuable information can be found, but i rarely open it expecting to update to-read list.

the timing was really fortunate – i was in the middle of data course, and getting hands on a well edited book about data visualisation was useful. i might be nearly perfect reader for ‘how charts lie’, as someone working with graphs, but on a data scientist or analyst level.

cairo’s style is good balance between informative without being dry, entertaining without going off topic, and easily understandable without being watered down (that’s my most frequent complaint about non-fiction).

check this book out if you want sensible advice on how to improve your charts for work, studies, and personal nerdery. and also if you want to get minor 🤯 upon seeing connected scatter plot.

how to do nothing by jenny odell

“how to do nothing: resisting the attention economy” is a highly praised book, and the publisher made it very clear via blurbs on both front and back covers. (side note: is jia tolentino really so high profile to put her quote on the front?)

if you dread another self-help book with a checklist at the end, i have good news for you – there nothing like that behind the flowery cover. this book rather belongs in the section of modern philosophy. author is not trying to give the reader prepackaged and easy-to-digest ideas, but hands them a cookbook, if you allow me this tired methaphor.

i appreciated the way jenny odell quoted and referenced greek classics – giving the necessary exposition but without overexplaining. as someone who has surface level familiarity with the subject, i got a nice refresher and a prompt to return to philosophy in my reading.

who would i recommend this book to? to my every terminally online friend (waves at #productivity) who pondered at least once “is this whole internet thing making me a worse human?”

the midnight bargain by c. l. polk

first book this year that i put aside unfinished, bowing out after four chapters.

the midnignt bargain is set in the vaguely victorian world where magic exists and women are banned from it. the protagonist is a debutante under pressure to get married well. surprise-surprise, she doesn’t want to be a wife, but wants to pursue a magical career instead.

i liked the fabula when i heard it (for the life of me, can’t remember when and where exactly), but the execution left me cold. four chapters out of twenty two, 82 pages out 369, 22%. that’s enough of a chance for a book that hasn’t been recommended by someone trusted.

why i dropped the book? the writing felt repetitive, implementation of fantasy jane austen world didn’t grab me, and attempts to ratchet up the tension of the plot were too obvious for my taste. moreover, the protagonist’s outrage about gender discrimination felt too on the nose.

i won’t recommend this book. for good romance you’d be better of rereading Austen, for good fantasy – the list is endless.

the signal and the noise by nate silver

while observations and main thesis of the book are sound, useful, and insightful, the tone of the author is borderline obnoxious.

why on earth does he need to give short description of their looks nearly every time he introduces a person? how is that relevant? instead of lightening up the text, or whatever was his goal, book starts looking like a random mash of scientific paper and badly written RPF fanfic.

the tone of the author at times overshadowed the factual content. my copy of the book has several notes, such as “really?”, “ugh”, “this is ageism”, et cetera, most accompanied with exclamation marks.

the book would benefit from re-editing with consideration of evolved norms on what is considered appropriate in a serious non-fiction work.

pachinko by min jin lee

i was peeved at the publisher’s decision to put a major spoiler on the back-of-the-cover blurb, so no spoilers in this opinion.

pachinko is a family saga of three generations – classic approach. what makes it different is the setting, so unusual for anglophone readers – korea and japan. mostly japan. i think this is the first fiction book where i get to see this country through the eyes of a non-japanese person. and let me tell you, it’s not a flattering view, which has been a surprise in itself.

i absolutely recommend this book if you are:

  • not scared by books longer than 350 pages (don’t worry, this is a page-turner)
  • want to learn about moving from Korea to Japan in 30’s of of previous century
  • want to get curious about that historic period (i totally went on a wikipedia rabbit hole afterwards)
  • and just want read astonishingly well-written book.

five out of five from me.