on the shore of the ultimate sea

Book List

Here’s a list of the books I’ve completed reading this year. I’m interested in keeping track not only for internal knowledge auditing but also for passing along tips and giving thanks for great recommendations.

Generally when I run dry (or don’t want to return to any of the half-finished volumes I have going at any given time) up-and-comers arrive from following various paths; tips from friends and colleagues and things I read about. My Amazon wishlist tends to be a good holding tank of things that I’m looking forward to, but probably the real reason I’m making this list is my library habits accelerated in 2008, and once you give a book back without the physical artifact you’re less likely to return to its themes. The New York Public Library’s deep catalog can be really optimized with a Firefox/Internet Explorer plugin called LibX, which you can download here. With LibX, you can highlight text, right click it and execute a search of the library’s database. From there, it’s just a matter of refining your search, and requesting the item. I’d suggest storing your barcode number and pin so you don’t have to fill it in each time. After that, you just choose the library you want it delivered to and the request is placed. It’s basically Netflix for books, but you don’t have to pay a monthly subscription fee.

In Order of Completion, From January

The World Without Us, Alan Weisman

Emergence, Steven Johnson

Thanks, N.B.!

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Richard P. Feynman

The Forever War, Dexter Filkins (I’m not sure we’ll get a Dispatches outta this one but Filkins takes a crack.)

Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger

By the time you get to my age and read books like this you feel like you already know what’s gonna happen, just because these themes seem to have propagated through everything.

Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky

The classic, revisited for perspective.

The Numerati, Stephen Baker

I wanted to like this, but it contains very little insight and is merely a series of case studies you’ll be relatively familiar with if you have more than a passing interest in applied math.

Wild: An Elemental Journey, Jay Griffifths

A truly tremendous book, read it and get back in touch with the wilderness.


Forty Stories, Donald Barthelme

A really unique collection; the only similarity I could find among some of these was that they were completely different from the others. Barthelme sometimes seems to veer in a different direction at every sentence but ties things together to create worthwhile stories.

The Journalist and the Murder, Janet Malcolm

This should be required reading for journalists; it’s an ideal instruction manual about relationships to sources. At many points in it Malcolm touched on stuff I’ve encountered and common-sensed my way out of, but it’s good to see others encountering similar problems.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower

Good stories, but sort of flimsy; one-note characters encounter dismal scenarios. At worst (like the title story) its low-rent Saunders. I’d be interested to read Tower’s longer stuff.

Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, Neil Strauss

I haven’t read The Game and don’t want to, but when Strauss turned to apocalypse preparation, a topic near to my heart, I had to pick this one up. He makes a good effort but ultimately loads it down with cheese. Hopefully mouth-breathing pickup artists who followed Strauss’ doctrine before will pick this one up and race toward Darwin Award victories messing with guns and skinning goats and attempting many of the things Strauss runs through in here. Strauss went for it full-on in following many avenues, though, so I won’t begrudge him the $20 I paid for two days of mildly entertaining reading. I was a bit surprised there wasn’t more about computer security–at 430+ pages it still felt like Strauss left stuff out.


Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

If you spend around a hundred thousand dollars on a private kindergarten-thru-college education and don’t have to read this you’ve been shorted. That something this masterful and moving can be acquired for the price of a McDonald’s value meal is staggering.

Rogue Male, Geoffrey Household

Along with Anna K. this is another ‘Where have you been all my life?’ book. An epic tale of courage, bravery and ideals. Track it down.

How Fiction Works, James Wood

I hate critical theory, but this was fairly tolerable and had some amusing bits.


Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

About halfway through this I remembered I’d read it in high or middle school.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, Roger Deakin

Great book on the love affair one can have with a good tree (in the strange way it manifests itself as chairs or produces fruit or shades your porch). It’s difficult to describe. Take a look here for a preview. On my next trip to the UK I’m going to try to pick up Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, which for some reason isn’t sold in the US.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami

This one was to fire me up for my latest quest; Murakami is so methodical and driven you can’t help but be inspired.


Cocaine Nights, J.G. Ballard

Later Ballard, not his best. Super-Cannes was the second of this corrupt coast pair and is better in a variety of ways.