2019 Reading List

2019 was the year that I made a concerted effort to start reading whole books again. In college, it’s relatively easy to lapse as a reader as you struggle to keep up with schoolwork. Entering the work world full time, it’s easy to get sucked into only reading “the trades,” such as they are.

I thought it might be fun to share a bit about what I read this year. Here’s my best attempt at/recollection of chronological order with shout outs to those that recommended each book to me:

Curse of Bigness - Tim Wu

Wu explores anti-trust in the modern economy and tries to lay out a case for a new regulatory and legal regime to promote competition. It’s a quick read and a good primer on the issue but not exactly riveting literature. 

Fifth Risk - Michael Lewis

If you like Michael Lewis you know the drill and you’ll like this. If you’ve never read Michael Lewis, you’ll still probably like series of vignettes on the random parts of our government that handle massively complex tasks and make the world actually work. As usual, Lewis is entertaining and breezy. Given as a gift by my mother.

Ivory Pearl - Jean-Patrick Manchette

Really fun mystery novel set in the ruins of WW2 in Cuba and Europe. In the ultimate cliffhanger, Manchette died before he could finish it. Recommended by Chris and Andy on The Watch podcast.

We Are the Nerds - Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

This in-depth look at the creation and history of Reddit is a good read if you like this sort of thing but it’s just way too long. It would have been better as a longform magazine feature than a 5 page tome. Heard about it from Bradley Tusk.

Snow Crash - Neil Stephenson

Snow Crash is basically The Matrix before The Matrix but way better. It’s got levels, man. At the surface, it’s a cyberpunk mystery adventure. One level down it’s a terrifying picture of a post-internet, late capitalist economy. Beyond that it’s a rich exploration of language and memetic culture and faith. Stephenson is a science fiction maestro and pulls from a tremendous variety of different arenas to build this world and make it feel real. Thanks to Reggie and Christopher Mims for repeatedly pumping this book.

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

Gaiman gets mystical and uses belief in contemporary society along with high fantasy tropes as a vessel to write a hardboiled mystery novel. This book is just a good time. Can’t say the same for the Amazon adaptation. I picked up American Gods in an airport on my way to SF after plowing through Snow Crash much faster than anticipated. Shout out Hudson News!

Gone World - Tom Sweterlitsch

Really killer, thrilling mystery novel in a sci-fi setting. Gone World is super eerie and atmospheric. It follows a detective and she investigates murders across multiple timelines (possible futures and the past), kind of like a near-future version of True Detective with some Minority Report mixed in for good measure. It’s creepy as shit and one of the more compelling time travel mechanics I’ve encountered. Henry Bradley recommended to me and I super strongly endorse it for you. 

Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer

This short sci-fi horror novel will make you confused and scared of trees. The movie, which got me to read the book, is better.

Severance - Ling Ma

Severance is all about millennials’ sense of loss, listlessness, and regret. It tracks the main character across two timelines - working in publishing in NY and trekking across the US as one of a handful of survivors after a viral epidemic. The virus itself triggers a kind of death by nostalgia and the novel is generally focused on the perils looking backward as felt by the main character, who immigrated from China to the US as a little girl. I was recommended this one by an actor in a creepy face mask as a part of a Verizon commercial that went to air over the summer… So that’s weird.

I was dubbed over though, which hurts.

Super Pumped - Mike Isaac

As I make an effort to not just read books but to read fiction specifically, this one stands out as the one of the only BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY books I read in 2019. Though Super Pumped didn’t break any new ground for me, it was kind of crazy to back and revisit Uber’s insanity all at once. It’s easy to forget how much Uber dominated the headlines and for how long. Mike is a great reporter but he’s either not a great writer or the book was just so rushed that he didn’t have the time to be. Super Pumped? More like super formulaic! It deals heavily in great men of history/business tropes and makes a pretty naked effort to force everyone into archetypal characters/arks. Frankly, if you’d enjoy reading it you probably already have.

Seveneves - Neil Stephenson

Remember how much I said I liked Snow Crash? Well Seveneves is even better. Across 600+ pages of techno-babble and minutia, Stephenson chronicles humanity’s race against the clock to launch itself into space in the face of an impending meteorological apocolypse that will render the earth uninhabitable for thousands of years. Where the book really shines however is when he jumps forward 10,000 years forward to humans’ efforts to recolonize the planet. All of the tiny details along the way - the science and engineering and politics that Stephenson lays out in often excruciating detail - become key character elements in the future timeline. Stephenson tracks how these decisions made in moments of crisis ripple out across thousands of years. Everything matters. This is the best book I read this year.

Dancing Bear - James Crumley

This is a fun, hardboiled detective thriller about an environmental conspiracy and drug dealers and Haliburton played out across the mid- and pacific northwest. I still don’t necessarily get what actually happened but the boozing and drugs and sex and sense of danger are a good time. Thanks to Bob Greenlee for giving me this after I complained about leaving my book (the sequel to Annihilation) on the flight to SF.

The Wall - John Lanchester

In The Wall, climate change has made much of the world uninhabitable (sensing a theme yet?). The UK has built a seawall around itself to keep out both the rising seawater and the waves of climate refugees seeking safety. The main characters are soldiers tasked with manning the titular wall and stopping those refugees “the Others” from breaking through. It’s fucking intense and it’s timely. The Wall pairs really nicely with Severance but I think it’s generally better. Like Ling Ma, Lanchester explores the disconnect between parents and children millennials but this time through the prism of climate change and the broken world we are set to inherit. Thanks to Henry Bradley for recommending this one as well. You’re on a roll.

Story of Your Life (and Others) - Ted Chiang

This collection of short science fiction stories runs the gamut of topics and themes. Though the collection is most famous for the titular Story of Your Life, which was adapted into Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, that wasn’t even one of the standouts (the movie was better). I was going to try to name the standout short stories but found the list would include almost all of them. It’s generally hard to find a single through line but it’s evident that he’s supremely curious. He’s just as compelling on neurology as he is on ad-tech. But I think the stories are at their best when exploring the intersection between science, science fiction, and divinity. It’s well worth your time.

Thanks to Zak Kukoff for telling me about this.

2020

Right now I’m reading a collection of short stories by HP Lovecraft. After that, I plan on revisiting some of the best authors I read in 2019, namely Ted Chiang and Neil Stephenson. There’s a few non-fiction books I want to check out as well including Because Internet and Bob Iger’s The Ride of a Lifetime. I usually have a hard time with BUSINESS books and I read enough tech news as is. Overall, I want to keep sticking mainly to fiction and probably mainly to science fiction within that but I am very open to suggestions now or later.