Books Read During 2016

Hillbilly Elegy
by J.D. Vance
Dec-2016
J.D. Vance was born into a poor, "white trash," Kentucky family and rose above it all, serving in the Marines, attending Ohio State University, and going on to graduate from Yale Law School. I found this book fascinating, and I loved the way it was written. There's been some press around this book relating its story to Trump's win in the recent election. But I saw it as being more of an in-depth analysis of the working class in this country - why it's so difficult for that social strata to get ahead, and what it really takes for someone to break the cycle. I especially liked that Vance seems to have a nuanced take on the solution - it partly lands on public policy, but it's got a lot to do with personal responsibility too. A very thought provoking read. 

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How to Solve It
by George Polya
Nov-2016
My boss did something that will endear me to just about anyone: he handed me two books to read, and this was one of them. George Polya was a math professor, and he methodically explains a problem solving approach we plan to leverage on our team at the office. 

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Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions
by Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths
Nov-2016
If you ever wanted to get a taste of the topics and types of thinking it takes to study computer science, this is the book for you. If you have a tendency to be type A and just want to live as efficiently as possible, you might also enjoy this book. Despite the authors' efforts, it tends to sometimes be a bit dry. But thinking about big O, and sorting, and probabilities, and being logical and efficient is kinda cool (& geeky). I liked it in small doses. 

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Girl in a Band
by Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon was in the band Sonic Youth. I'm not sure whether I've ever heard Sonic Youth, and truthfully after reading this book I'm not sure I want to. When a band's sound is described as "dissonant" that doesn't make me want to listen. One song being dissonant I can handle. But the overall band? No thank you. This was one of those rambling, not well written biographies. About the only part I even remotely liked was when she described the background for some of the songs. And not having heard any of the songs, even those fell a bit flat for me. Probably a good read if you were a Sonic Youth fan, but for me Carrie Brownstein's Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl was a far better girl-in-a-punk-band book. 

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Beyond the Pale
by Ken Grossman
Sep-2016
This is the story of Sierra Nevada Brewing by one of the founders and owners. Like so many books of this type the story is fascinating, but not necessarily well written. Nevertheless I enjoyed the book (although it took me a long time to get through it). Kudos go to Ken Grossman for all of the sweat equity he put into building a true microbrewery that makes an exceptional brew. 

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Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert Heinlein
Sep-2016
I had never read this, and Steve suggested it to me. I'm more into fantasy than sci-fi, but I did like it. A human raised on Mars travels back to post WW III earth in an era where religion holds tremendous political power. This book's plot is really a commentary on social discourse, and since it was published in the early 1960's it's got a lot to say. 

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Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
by Dan Lyons
Sep-2016
This is a tell-all expose of life at HubSpot, by a journalist in his early fifties who (somewhat unexpectedly) gets laid off from his job at Newsweek. It's a little bit about trying to land on your feet after being thrown a career curveball, but mostly about the dysfunctional atmosphere of his position at HubSpot, as well as the lack of any true foundation many tech start-ups are based on. One of level, this book is extremely funny - I laughed out loud several times. On another, it's very disturbing to think that a company can be run in such an inept fashion, and that so many venture capitalists make million and even billion dollar decisions that completely defy logic.  

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Eleven Hours
by Pamela Erens
Sep-2016
Book reviewer Maureen Corrigan gave this a thumbs up so I gave it a try. At only ~175 pages, it's more of a long short story than a book that details eleven hours of childbirth for Lore Tannenbaum and her nurse Frankline who is also pregnant. But there's a whole back story packed into those 175 pages as the author recounts the present story. And I have to say that when I got to the last 10-20 pages I had to keep reading to find out what happened. 

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Unremarried Widow
by Artis Henderson
Aug-2016
Now this was a good book. While only in her 20's, the author loses her husband of four months to a helicopter crash in Iraq. She recounts their courtship, how she struggled to be a military spouse, and how she ultimately comes to terms with her grief by fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer. 

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Love, Loss, and What We Ate
by Padma Lakshmi
Aug-2016
A memoir by the model, actress, and cast member of the show Top Chef. I had no clue who she was prior to reading this, but somewhere I heard it was good so I took it out of the library. She did have a bit of a tramp phase, and I did wonder about her taste in men, but she did lead an interesting life travelling all over the world 

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Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges
by Amy Cuddy
Jul-2016
Apparently this book was inspired by the author's TED talk, plus I heard her interviewed and figured I'd give it a try. For me, this book would have been better if it had been a long essay. There were a ton of studies cited that I found a bit boring. But the author makes the point in nearly 300 lengthy pages why the way we carry ourselves physically and the self-confidence we have dictates how we are viewed by the people around us. 

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Hold Still
by Sally Mann
Jul-2016
This book was recommended in our library system's Book Page magazine so I checked it out and it was really good. Sally Mann is a full-fledged baby boomer, who came of age in the 1960's. A southerner (from Virginia), she discovered photography while studying at Putnam in Vermont. This book is filled with photos and great family stories. Warning: the chapter Sublime End is not for the faint of heart (being about "the body farm" on University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility).  

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Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife
by Barbara Bradley Hagerty
Jul-2016
This books defines middle age as roughly 40-65 years and I highly, highly recommend anyone in that age group read this book. It presents arguments for why the "midlife crisis" is a myth, and then goes on to analyze various aspects of life (e.g. marriage, work, friends, crises) through a mid-life lens. And the news is good - IF you step out of your comfort zone, and don't let yourself stay in a rut. Autopilot is bad. And friends are extremely important. Keep up those friendships! I found this book a great resource to assess some of the decisions I've made over the past few years. Mostly I've done pretty well, and of course I always have a little more work to do in order to keep living a meaningful life. 

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The Price of Salt
by Patricia Highsmith
Jun-2016
This is the book on which the highly acclaimed 2015 film Carol was based (which is why I decided to read it). Set in the 1950's, the story is about the start of a relationship between two women. They smoke a lot of cigarettes, drink a lot of booze, clash with the men in their lives, and (spoiler alert) eventually decide to stay together.  

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M Train
by Patti Smith
Jun-2016
Patti Smith drinks a LOT of coffee and recounts tales - both funny & poignant - related to her membership in the Continental Drift Club (related to the explorer Alfred Wegener), her late husband Fred Sonic Smith, watching detective shows, taking pictures with her Polaroid camera, and purchasing a beach bungalow in Rockaway just before Hurricane Sandy hits. I wish I got all the literary (& movie) references, but even though I didn't I still really liked this book. 

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I Know How She Does It
by Laura Vanderkam
Jun-2016
Subtitle: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time. Does it mean anything that I dozed off at one point while reading this book?? Who knows. But it was interesting to think about the author's premise that thinking about our time in terms of the 168 hours we have per week, rather than per day, allows us to plan better, and make the best use of those hours. 

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Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
by Sarah Vowell
May-2016
If you want a humorous & sarcastic take on the Marquis de Lafayette and his role in the Revolutionary War, this is the book for you. Sarah Vowell has a wonderful witty take on American history. And she is very funny: "I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything; and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates." In the same vein as The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Assassination Vacation she makes history an entertaining read. 

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Just Kids
by Patti Smith
May-2016

I want to read Patti Smith's book M Train which came out last year, but I figured I'd read Just Kids first. Full disclaimer: I admire Patti Smith, but I am not a fan of her music. I've given Horses lots of tries, and I just can't get into. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's very sad, chronicling her friendship with Robert Maplethorpe, only broken when Robert dies. "We promised that we'd never leave one another again, until we both knew we were ready to stand on our own. And this vow, through everything we were yet to go through, we kept." And several years later, after Robert has an affair with a man, Smith writes,  "Robert and I still kept our vow. Neither would leave the other. I never saw him through the lens of his sexuality. My picture of him remained intact. He was the artist of my life." I love that line: He was the artist of my life.

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When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
Feb-2016
Warning: this is a very, very sad book. Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with terminal cancer in his 30's, just on the verge of completing his residency. He also loved literature ("Books became my closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world"), and always wanted to be an author. And so, he wrote this beautiful book about life and mortality, with a beautiful afterword by his wife Lucy. 

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Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime
by Scott Simon
Jan-2016
Scott Simon, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, writes a memoir about his mother as she is in the hospital on her deathbed. She sounded like quite a character - but a classy character - and things weren't always easy for her. Parts of this were quite poignant, and funny too - not a bad book (but not a great one either). 

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