Book Log #21: What If?

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Monroe [Hardcover, Amazon]

I bought this for my son to take to camp about a year ago. Once he finished, I picked it up and started reading it in snatches.

Randall Monroe is a very smart guy. That’s evident from his breakout webcomic, xkcd, but his What If? online series seals the deal. What’s more, he has that even less frequently seen talent of being able to explain the complex in a straightforward and entertaining way.

I had an objection to one of his hypotheticals early on, but I have since forgotten what it was. I should learn to be like Fermat, scrawling notes in the margins.

Regardless, this is a great and entertaining book, that, at times, made me laugh out loud, and others, think quite hard.

It seems a little unfair to add this to my “books read in 2016”, since I only read about 50% this year, but honestly, I’m making my way through Dickens’ Bleak House, and it is a monster of a novel. I come close to giving it up at times, and then a chapter comes along that reengages me. The Penguin Classics version of this book is 1036 pages. Really it should count as 2-3 books, so I’m going to claim the full What If? as a compromise.

Books Read/Weeks Elapsed Ratio: 21/12 = 1.66

Book Log #20: The Monopolists

The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon [Little Shop of Stories, $17.00?]

Quite a fascinating piece of non-fiction reporting, recommended by a Little Shop of Stories employee.

Monopoly, like Risk, is one of the games I kind of feel bad about winning. Running everybody else out of business or violently overthrowing a nation doesn’t have the feel-good win of, say, winning a footrace or a basketball game, for some reason.

I guess that feeling has its roots in the true inventor of the game, Lizzie Magie, a turn of the (last) century activist who was trying to advocate for a single-tax system, which (and I’m not really clear on how) would help prevent wealth inequalities.

The rest of the story is full of interesting twists and turns, and a view into a different era, where board games were gaining popularity thanks to the advent of greater leisure time.

Well written and interesting, definitely worth the time.

Book Log #19: The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped In An IKEA Wardrobe

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped In An IKEA Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas [Paperback, Little Shop of Stories, $17]

Recommended by the staff at LSOS, this is a short, but entertaining romp of a novel. The blurb on the cover describes it as a “comic strip of a novel”, and that seems appropriate.

An Indian Fakir contrives to go to France to buy an IKEA nail bed (I’m not sure if it’s naive to assume that doesn’t exist or that it does), and the situation gets away from him.

Full of coincidences, but that’s okay. Well-written, even though translated from French.

Worth a read, but perhaps $17 was a bit much. I read it in my 2 hour flight from Phoenix to Sacramento. A two hour movie costs $10. Usually, I expect the hours of entertainment/cost ratio of a (non-graphic) novel to be much higher than a movie. But, oh well.

Books to Weeks ratio: 19/12 = 1.6

Book Log #18: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell [Amazon, Kindle, $11.99]

Actually, I read this before Station Eleven, book log #17. As I mentioned in that log, the two both have a slow reveal of multiple interconnecting storylines.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It has a fugue pattern, changing from story to story, and then returning to the stories in reverse order in the latter half of the book. I really enjoyed the first part of the fugue, but was less enthused about the return trip. I’m not sure why. The storylines were all interesting.

Glad I read it, though. Great characters, great writing.

52 Books/Year Update: 18 books, 10 weeks. 1.8 ratio, targeting > 1.0.

In Hornby style, here’s what’s on deck:

  • The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners, 2nd Edition by Warren and Carter Sande
  • Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein
  • What If? by Randall Munroe
  • The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped In An IKEA Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas
  • No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
  • A Blink of the Screen, Collected Short Fiction by Terry Pratchett

Book Log #17: Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [Kindle, Amazon, $11.99]

This was recommended by my friend Curt, who always gives good recs. This book was no exception.

One might describe it as a pre-and-post-apocalyptic novel, but that does it a disservice. It’s really just a riveting story, well told. Jumping back and forth in time, the characters stories come out in tantalizing small chunks. In a way, it reminds me of Cloud Atlas‘ slow reveal.

Just a very engaging novel, without too much focus on the apocalyptic background, but just enough to get in some interesting insights on the effects of the event.