Despite a tendency to fall asleep and drop the book on my face, I love to read and try to mix it up between genres. I thought it’d be fun to keep a list of the good ones here — the really exceptional ones I’ll cover with a full post, but if it’s on the list then IMNSHO it’s worth your time. Please share your own recommendations too, so that I never run out of good reads, and don’t miss the links at the bottom to previous years!
A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
The story of SOE, OSS and CIA agent Virginia Hall, winner of the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (man does that sound British) for her awe-inspiring work in France during WW2... read more
Chokepoint Capitalism by Giblin & Doctorow
Cory Doctorow is one of my favorite novelists (read Walkaway!); he's also a wonky dude who thinks a lot about economics and individual freedom. Chokepoint Capitalism is a thought-provoking (if not page-turning) look at the many ways in which corporations cement themselves as exclusive or near-exclusive middlemen between creators and their audiences --- and from that position squeeze an astonishing amount of value out of the exchange.
The topic is absolutely fascinating. And while I think the authors unfairly discount a lot of real innovation that has helped companies achieve their dominant position, they 100% prove their case that without exception the end result is broken for creators and the rest of us too. It's the classic monopoly / anti-trust story, but again and again reinforced rather than corrected by our current system. I'll definitely spend some more time on this; it's worth a longer assessment and review. But for the time being --- read the book yourself and bring an open mind --- important stuff.
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Foundryside is set in a world where technology is based not on physics but on "scriving" --- the application of runes and symbols to objects to "convince" them to change their reality, like making wheels turn by telling them they are always rolling downhill. It's a fun premise (a bit reminiscent of The Warded Man, one of the best series of all time) and while it is "magic," it's magic with rules, which keeps it interesting and thoughtful. The characters are great and the mysteries keep getting more intricate --- I'll definitely be back for the rest of the series.
Orlando People by Alexander Kane
Lara and I (and Copper the dog) recently road-tripped to California and back. On the way down we listened to Killers of a Certain Age which is an amusing adventure-comedy about four retirement-age female assassins who end up having to kill their ex-bosses. It was entertaining, but on the way back we listened to Orlando People and it was fantastic. Especially as an audiobook --- the narrator is spectacular. Good enough that we're now making our way through the next in the series!
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
My most recent Wondrium course is Native Peoples of North America. It's really well put-together and engaging, but also a pretty tough reality-check. Of course it's no newsflash that the United States treated Native America shamefully, but the sheer tidal wave of dishonor detailed in these lectures is frankly overwhelming. I've spent a lot of time thinking about how the world might be different had we simply said "enough" in the late 1800s and started honoring the treaties we made. Pastwatch is not that story; but it is a similar exploration --- how would the world look if Columbus had taken a different path? Card's scenario is compelling, impressively-researched, and fun. Thumbs up!
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Becky Chambers is the remarkable creator of Monk and Robot (A Psalm for the Wild Built and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy) ... if you haven't read those, stop reading this now and go fix that! A Closed and Common Orbit is book #2 of her other series "The Wayfarers." --- intertwined stories of a woman and an artificial intelligence figuring out how to live in the world. Chambers is frankly a genius at building worlds where folks have figured out how to embrace and celebrate differences, living together in ways that give me just a little hope for the real world. I dig it.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
The story of Bletchley Park is amazing top to bottom --- WWII could have played out very differently if not for that nerdfest of women and men (including Kate Middleton's grandma!) working together to break Axis ciphers. The Rose Code is a really well put-together novel about three women from very different backgrounds working at Bletchley. Their perspectives make a nice complement to the more "famous" folks like Alan Turing. The historical setting is engaging and really well researched; the plot just screams to an incredible climax in the last few chapters. Thanks for the recommendation, Kellie!
Never by Ken Follett
I've always known Ken Follett as the Pillars of the Earth guy, but apparently he's written more than just that! Never is a modern-day, world-ranging story that follows seemingly-disparate threads as they edge slowly but surely towards global catastrophe. At first I thought it seemed like fun but forgettable airport bookstore thriller stuff. But as the storylines accelerated into the second half, the book became absolutely compelling. Two big themes: (1) how illusive our ideas of personal "power" really are; and (2) how we can find joy and love in the world despite that. A great read.
River of the Gods by Candice Millard
Apparently folks in mid-1800s Britain were obsessed with finding the source of the Nile river. Some fascinating stuff, but also a bit of a slog. Most of the book is taken up with accounts of the total asshats the British explorers were, both to each other and to everyone they encountered on expeditions and at home. Also, they seemed to be constantly sick with malaria or whatever, and had to be carried in hammocks by their guides --- does that even count?