This year, I’ve decided to log, and share with anyone who’s interested, the books I read. I’ll tweet them using the hashtag #AYearOfBooks, and periodically collect them here. Now, I’ll forgive you if you don’t care (in which case, you’ve probably already clicked away). Actually, I expect most folks won’t care. But for those who are still here: why?
A goodly few of my colleagues on Twitter track paper reading, often with the rather ambitious #365papers hashtag. It’s interesting to get a look at their reading, but a similar effort from me would be pretty strange – there would be sudden bursts of 25 papers a day while I’m actively writing a proposal or a paper*, interspersed with long periods of dormancy when I’m hardly reading anything at all. And in any case, only folks working on very similar things might be interested in my academic reading.
So #AYearOfBooks will focus on my non-academic reading. I read a lot – it’s one of my can’t-live-without-it hobbies. And I think that’s important – not what I read, necessarily, but the idea that a scientist can maintain hobby activities (part of a healthy work-life balance) and enjoy non-academic reading. I’m a fan of initiatives that show scientists as the regular human beings that they are: #ActualLivingScientist and the lot. My doing #AYearOfBooks should be seen as something in that vein (although if as a bonus, you pick up a few reading suggestions, that’s great).
I suspect you’ll see all sorts of things on my list, and that’s pretty much the point. A quick search on Twitter for the related hashtag #52books** yields a subtle tang of performance. It’s suspicious just how many people announce that they’ve just finished Anna Karenina or the memoir of a societally disadvantaged human-rights activist, and how few mention that they’ve just finished the latest John Grisham – or for that matter, an old well-thumbed one. Not that we shouldn’t read those first two, of course; but I’m unrepentant about reading for enjoyment and escape as much as for edification. You can do that too, and nobody should judge you for it. Over the year to come, I’m sure you’ll find some gems in my list, and you’ll likely find some junk. I’ll let you decide which is which; one of the wonderful things about reading for pleasure is that we don’t all agree on that.
Starting off my 2020 list: Rosewater (Tade Thompson, 2016)***. This is a science-fiction novel (first in a trilogy) that’s both conventional (aliens-set-down-a-base-on-earth-and-puzzle-us) and unconventional (they set down the base in Nigeria, not the White House lawn, for starters). The hero, Kaaro, is intriguing: an ex-criminal with psychic skills working for a branch of the secret police. An antihero of sorts, I guess, but one in pursuit – probably – of some good. Rosewater is an interesting read from a fresh voice in SF; but I found myself a bit unsatisfied, wanting more about the aliens and less secret-police skulduggery. [The story of the aliens did come; it just took 300 pages to get to it.] Will I read the other books in the trilogy? Probably, because the voice and setting are so interesting. (As an aside: am I the only one who finds novels written in the present tense a little annoying, with an unnecessary, frenetic. air of urgency?)
So, that’s one down, and some indeterminate number to go. Welcome to my year of books.
© Stephen Heard January 6, 2020
Image: Books, Artem Beliaikin, CC0 via pexels.com
*^You’re right, I’m not reading 25 papers in a day with full attention. One of the reasons we use the AIMRaD format in scientific writing is that it makes summary and targeted reading very efficient. In a sense, scientific papers fractally embed their own Cliff Notes.
**^I’m using #AYearOfBooks rather than #52books because I don’t care in the slightest about the count for the year. It’s a diary, not a challenge. I do know myself and my hankering for data well enough to realize that if I use a hashtag with a number in it, the year’s reading will become gamified and it won’t be the same thing; I won’t be able to help it. I often harness this psychological quirk in pursuit of productivity – I’m a sucker for a quantified daily goal – but I don’t want that to infect my reading for pleasure.
***^I’m going to provide Amazon links to each book. That’s not because I’m pushing for you to buy them there (or anywhere); in fact, I strongly recommend you use your local public library instead. However, it’s one fairly universal way to point folks to a little more information (especially, the ability to sample a chapter or so). (Note that I participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. That means if you follow one of my Amazon links and then buy something, your origin here will be tracked only for the purpose of paying me a pittance with no effect on pricing for you (and I won’t know who you are). If you’d like to know more about a book without being tracked, you can search on Goodreads, visit an online or bricks-and-mortar bookseller directly, or best of all – and here I go on this one again – support your local public library by finding the book there.)