I've always been an avid, if slow, reader. To my great surprise, I ended up studying literature (along with CS) for my undergrad degree, which enriched my world in ways that are impossible to quantify and I'd read a lot more now if it wasn't for other responsibilities. I'm using this page to simply track what I'm reading and any thoughts about the books. I try to update it every once in a while...

In Progress

Completed Reads

The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafón

It is beyond my modest skill as a reader and writer to do justice to The Shadow of the Wind. Like a Russian doll, it was a tragic and beautiful series of stories within stories, though to me a rabbit warren might be a more apt description, as I found that I got lost in the different stories that Ruiz Zafón so deftly weaved together with characters seeming to meld together as I read.

I actually put the book down about halfway through, having got lost in the story and a little bored, but a couple weeks ago I picked it back up and as I got back into it I could barely put it down. Though I'm reading a translation, the prose is simply beautiful. It's rich and textured and as I read I could almost feel the grittiness of the world Ruiz Zafón paints. If you read about Ruiz Zafón, he's most often compared to his countryman Cervantes, which is, of course, no small comparison. But he reminds me more of Gabriel García Márquez with the depth and texture of his writing and the subtle magical realism that always seems to be lurking in the background.

The story itself is both sad and sweet with betrayal, Shakespeare-esqe loves, crumbling families, slow burning vengeance, friendships of a depth I wish I understood, and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I can't recommend this book highly enough, but it's not for the faint of hear, and you need patience and you need to enjoy stories with both depth and complexity.

The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics (Audio)
Tim Harford

I bought The Data Detective after listening to an episode of Harford's podcast, Cautionary Tales (side note: very enjoyable podcast), where he read a selection from the book. He'd hooked me immediately. In The Data Detective Harford, an economist and journalist, dives into the value, dangers, and history of statistics and big data, bringing in events and narratives (current and historical) to elucidate the points he's making,

It was a great listen. He dives into how easily the average person can misunderstand data that's presented to them, how the media can, intentionally or unintentionally, misrepresent data, and how scientists, companies, and governments can, again intentionally or unintentionally, misrepresent and misuse data. On the flip side, he explores the great value big data and statistics can create when looked at critically and objectively and when the base, underlying assumptions and datasets are made clear. The writing is excellent and Harford skillfully brings the reader (or listener) through challenging, multi-dimensional issues with balance and clarity.

I'd highly recommend The Data Detective for anyone interested in data privacy, big data (ex: Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.), statistics, and even government policy in relation to data [mis]use.

The Tower of Fools (Hussite Trilogy, Book 1)
Andrzej Sapkowski

I love Sapkowski's stories and storytelling, and The Tower of Fools only supports that feeling. This one is a much bigger novel than any of the Witcher series novels (almost 600 pages), but it moves quickly and nimbly through a fun, if light, story based in the early 1400s in what is now primarily eastern Poland, overlapping into the Czech Republic and Germany. Like the Witcher books, there are too many slavic names, places, and history for me to keep track of, and the story moves quickly. But despite that, it's a wonderfully fun read. A world of magic and demons is persistently haunting the periphery of the story, influencing bits all along the way. The characters are fun (if a bit underdeveloped for a 600-page tome) and it was a bit hard to track some of the reasoning behind the decisions and motivations of each of the troupe of heroes, but nonetheless, it's a well-written, good read and I'm looking forward to the English translation of Warriors of God, the next installment in the Hussite Trilogy. This is a great gift for someone who likes historical fantasy and myth. It's a great summer or vacation read.

Tyll: A Novel
Daniel Kehlmann (Author), Ross Benjamin (Translator)

I'm actually 3/4 of the way through Tyll, but I put it down and I'm not sure when or if I'll finish it up. The story is based "on the folkloristic tales about Till Eulenspiegel, a jester that was the subject of a chapbook in 16th century Germany" (Wikipedia). The novel is well-written and I loved diving into a realm of folklore and history that I have hardly any exposure to. The story was dark but the writing was lucid and rich.

The challenge I had was that the sections of the novel (of which there were seven) were not temporal, each being it's own novella to a great degree--and you could certainly read each section independently and feel that you'd just read a fully encapsulated story without the need to continue, which is essentially what I did after the fifth section. The sections jump around in time and narrative voice, some focusing on the character of Tyll and others only seeming to have a tangental relationship with him. It may be that tying together a truly folkloric subject clashed too much with the way the novel was structured for me, where I was expecting a more traditional narrative. Part of me very much wanted to finish the story, as the writing was rich and fluid and the subject matter was fresh ground to me, but it lost me along the way.

I think someone who loves folklore and historical fiction will enjoy this book quite a bit, but they'll probably need to want more depth and complexity that a straight plot and traditional storytelling structure.

The Witcher Book 3 (Baptism of Fire)
Andrzej Sapkowski

Everything I've read thus far (short stories and novels) in the Witcher series is great fun! As I've alluded to previously, Sapkowski's story-telling is refreshing in a genre overpopulated with mediocre fare and I won't cover things I talked about in my previous review here.

In my opinion, one of Sapkowski's great talents is presenting the challenges of racism, hate, and other prescient culture issues in a way that is a lynchpin to the story and is baked in to the world he creates and he does it in a way that presents these issues in a very real way, where there isn't a clear right and wrong, where the history of the different sides informs the current tensions, and where individuals are torn between their own opposing values, desires, and fears. He does this all in a way that isn't overtly blunt melodramatic, whereas in much writing today I find writers adding such themes to a story as clearly extraneous material, ultimately irrelevant to the story, plot, and even to the characters.

I found that Baptism of Fire was a little simpler to follow than the previous books in the trilogy. We're on an adventure with our main characters while the world is in the throes of a massive war. There are riots, benevolent dwarves wrestling with their own fallibility, a megalomaniacal village priest, a vegetarian vampire, raging battles, love and loss, compassion and redemption.

Ultimately, this is a great series of books for anyone who loves the fantasy genre, is a Tolkien fan, or just likes a good, fun story.

The Witcher Book 1 (Blood of Elves)
Andrzej Sapkowski

So I had started watching the Netflix Witcher series when it came out, and I liked the potential of it, but the story was a bit lost on me. It was as if the series writers were trying to squeeze too much in to a short series and I gradually lost interest and didn't finish the season. Then I read a couple tidbits about the books (and the following the books had developed), so decided to pick up the Witcher short stories over the summer. They were great. After finishing the short stories, I immediately picked up the novel trilogy.

The first novel in the trilogy, Blood of Elves, was excellent. The story and world-building was fresh and Sapkowski brought new life and a unique vision to a world of elves, dwarves, humans, folklore, and magic on a grand scale. It's so hard to find truly well-written fantasy and Sapkowski takes us on an adventure through a magical world roiling with racism, hints of genocide, terrorism, political intrigue, magical creatures, assassins, and more stuff I can't recall at the moment. It's a very well-crafted story and was a great read. I'd recommend it for anyone who read Lord of the Rings as a kid or who likes gritty fantasy-type stuff.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Clayborne Carson

I believe Dr. King is one of the most important, heroic figures in our modern history. His character, compassion, empathy, eloquence, and wisdom are, in my opinion, unparalleled in American history and he's certainly one of the people I most admire. It's impossible not to see the parallels between the challenges he faced during his lifetime and in today's national and global events, yet we lack leaders, nationally and internationally, with even a few of the qualities of Dr. King

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., published in 2001, should be required reading in high school, college, and graduate school around the world. It contains letters, essays, speeches, and other writing from early in his adult life to the very end and I could not help but feel the pain of our collective loss as I read through the book. It is heartbreaking, yet at the same time awe-inspiring and humbling and caused me to reflect on the character of the life I'm living and also how we, as a collective community, are handling the challenges we face today. I wish everyone could read, or at least listen to, this book. A bonus of the audio book version is that it contains a lot of the live recordings of Dr. King...in listening to them, it seems clear that we've lost the gift of oration today...

The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova

My brother recommended The Historian to me. It's basically a modern Dracula story and it's really well done. Kostova tells a complex story, narrated through multiple timelines and points of view (much of the story in the mode of letters read by the narrator) and she does a very enjoyable job tying everything together. It's a fun, modern detective story weaving through the world of Dracula (this is NOT a vampire story, but rather a Dracula story). It was a great, fun read, great writing, not too deep, but a complex story. It got a little slow at parts, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

This is a great book for someone who enjoys complex stories and realistic monster stories.

The Plague
Albert Camus

I've always wanted to read Camus and as the Covid-driven social isolation escalated, I pulled The Plague off our shelf. And it was so goddamned good. I'd never ready any Camus before and I had no idea what I was missing. I've found the Nobel winners can be hit-or-miss in terms of actual non-academic readability but Camus' prose was so fluid I found it hard to put the book down at night. The story he tells, along his his portrayal of the human struggle, is both tragic and beautiful and the surface subject matter is, of course, prescient. For reasons I can't quite put my finger on, he reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

This is a great book for someone who loves literature that explores the human condition.

Hyperion & The Fall of Hyperion
Dan Simmons

So these two books were bizarre and awesome. But they're only really for people with certain tastes, and you really have to read both to get the story sorted out. But I loved them. Simmons studied literature and was an elementary school teacher before he became a full-time author and his love of the literary world is woven into the fabric of these stories. The format of Hyperion is based on The Canterbury Tales, with different characters in the story telling their stories to each other, each in their own chapter, while on a space-pilgrimage, and one of the key characters in the broader world he's created is John Keats, or, rather, some kind of ghost of Keats, so to speak. Through the story, he challenges the reader with indirect questions about religion, humanity, technology, and all kinds of philosophical ideas. But it's also just a damned good story if you don't want to think about these things. All that said, it's a challenge to get through the first book and keep track of what's going on, but if you do, it's a great reward. And the pure creativity and quality of world-building Simmons achieves is a rare find. It actually brings Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to mind, strangely enough -- very, very different, but at it's core it challenges the reader to reflect on what it means to be human.

This is a great book for any big sci-fi fan or possibly someone interested in technology, religion, and philosophy. It's not for someone who needs to understand everything going on...

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. was a great, fun read. I like a lot of Neal Stephenson's work but he has a tendency to slide into overly intellectualized details (I've tried to get through the first book of the Baroque Cycle twice now and just got bored...) and Nicole Galland's talents reign that in quite a bit and the result is a very fun, fast-moving story about time travel, witchcraft, and government corruption (of sorts). They established the story and hooked me in within the first few paragraphs, to such a skillful extent that I went back and reread the first few pages three or four times just to see how well they get the story going so quickly. I've recommended this book to anyone who just loves to read. And it's one of those books that you can only do justice by reading (the audio book won't do it justice). The story is simply insane, but it's so well written that you'll completely suspend disbelief without any effort whatsoever. It's smart, funny, moves quickly, and is very well-written.

I'd give this to anyone who just loves to read; someone who wants a good, well-written story but wants something light and fun too.

The Pillars of the Earth
Ken Follett

I didn't finish Pillars...I've put it down and I don't know if I'll get back to it. It's a good story, definitely dark, but relatively well-written and fun to read. Follett keeps things moving well and the world he's created is rich and complete. The thing is, I just couldn't get into the story...It didn't hold me enough. I may pick it up again but it's just not what I'm looking for right now...

I think it'd be a great beach/vacation read.