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18 Nov 2019
The best books I read in 2018

Sorry for the delay! I’m just barely slipping this in before I have to start working on my 2019 list, whoops!

Series[eseseseses…] I loved reading in 2018

  • Prisoners of Peace by Erin Bow - Children of world leaders are raised as hostages by an AI to ensure world peace. Obviously war and rebellion come. (For Molly: there’s at least one scene I’d tag with #entrailsfromchandeliers for you.)
  • The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone - Everyone recommended these to me for years, because they’re fantasy novels about law and magic. I bounced off hard the first time I tried one a few years back, but when I went back to the series last year, I fell in love. I think I needed to get further away from lawyering before I could truly appreciate these.
  • The Brothers Sinister by Courtney Milan - I was promised romance novels that tackle a wide range of heavy issues while still remaining fairly light and fun but somehow not too glib, and these delivered.
  • The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce - The ultimate reread, of course. The Alanna books meant the world to me as a kid!
  • The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones - Another fantasy YA reread from my childhood, which I loved back then and continue to love now.

Other scifi and fantasy I loved reading in 2018

  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor - Creepy, fucked up fantasy novel - magic and gods and abuse.
  • The Daevabad Trilogy #1: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty - Somewhat antihero protagonist has healing powers, discovers she’s maybe part djinn, gets taken to djinn city full of dangerous politics.
  • Lexicon by Max Barry - Gory, words and persuasion and manipulation, really quite interesting and fun in a bloody sorta way.
  • Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi - It was such a pleasure to read about an engineer who’s also an autistic woman of color.
  • Way Station by Clifford D. Simak - Reread - such classic scifi, from back when it was closer to Dunsany.
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke - Also a reread, also very much a classic for good reason.

Other YA I loved reading in 2018

  • American Panda by Gloria Chao - YA romance, sure, but what hit me really hard here was the ongoing theme of dealing with perfectionist critical immigrant parents, and complicating sibling relationships when dealing with parental emotional abuse.
  • Dumplin' by Julie Murphy - Fat protagonist who isn’t focused on getting thin, lots of Dolly fandom. Really charming, and the movie was pretty fun too.
  • The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee - Monkey King inspired YA novel! Really fun brain candy.

Other books I loved reading in 2018 that related to gender, race, and class

  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See - I love both Lisa See and puer tea generally, so I was absolutely the target audience here.
  • The Neapolitan Novels #3: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante - I’ve been continuing to slowly work my way through this series. It stays astonishingly strong.
  • Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex - And the Truths They Reveal by Lux Alptraum - Disclaimer, Lux is a good friend of mine. She’s also a great author! In a lot of ways, this felt like an expanded summary of many of the conversations we’ve had over tea, which made it extra fun for me.
  • Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - Pretty dark for Rowell. Poverty, abusive stepfather.
  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang - Female mathematician on the autism spectrum hires a male prostitute to teach her how to kiss &c. Super cute romance!

Other non-fiction I loved reading in 2018

  • Alibaba’s World: How a Remarkable Chinese Company is Changing the Face of Global Business by Porter Erisman
  • Where India Goes by Diane Coffey and Dean Spears - On toilet usage in India, of course.
  • Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect by Jonice Webb, PhD - The title sounds dire, but it’s more generally full of useful advice on how we can take better care of ourselves.
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee - The kosher peking duck bit was of course my favorite.
  • Stiff and Grunt by Mary Roach - Basically everything she’s ever written is fantastic and fun, light but full of super interesting tidbits.
  • Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Carolina Fraser

Total number of books read in 2018: 185

24 Feb 2018
The best books I read in 2017

This is the latest I’ve ever put out my best-books-of-the-year post! Sorry for the delay, folks. But I think the books I’m recommending here are worth the wait.

Books I loved reading in 2017 that portrayed a very real NYC

  • New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson - This is exactly what I needed - really captures the spirit of my hometown, kinda financy, dealing with climate change head on, but offering a view of a possible future where my beloved city survives despite dramatic flooding and the rise of the midtown intertidal zone.
  • A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky - A gorgeous urban fantasy novel that takes place in a very real NYC. Highly recommend to all New Yorkers who love this filthy mess we live in.
  • The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin - Lovely novella about cities as entities in themselves.
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older - My favorite book of his so far! Very accurate NYC, poc protagonists, white villains, magic with history, healthy queer relationship, lots of great stuff going on in here.
  • Giving Good Weight by John McPhee - Some great essays! I loved the NYC greenmarkets one best, of course.

Books I loved reading in 2017 that focused on grandparents

  • My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman - Broke my heart into a zillion little pieces, and it was worth it.
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - The protagonist is sort of like an older, grumpier Dave. (Dave saw himself in the character when he read it too, without any priming! Also I like his description of this one as grandfather fanfic and the other one as grandmother fanfic.) Just beautiful.
  • The Property by Rutu Modan - A graphic novel about a Holocaust survivor who returns to Poland to retrieve her old real estate. Hit home for me, of course. (My survivor grandmother had very strong feelings about the house in Hungary that was stolen from her.)

Books I loved reading in 2017 that focused on siblings or sibling-like friends

  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - Incredible novel about two girls in 19th century China, in a small Hunan village, who grow up close like sisters. Visceral descriptions of foot-binding, isolation, failures of communication, and speaking past each other. The sort of novel that made me think hard about relationship troubles I’ve had in my own life and the difficulty of really seeing where people are coming from and meeting them where they are.
  • Shanghai Girls by Lisa See - Two sisters in Shanghai in the 1930’s. Sort of flapper-feeling. Their father tells them they’re poor and he has to sell them as brides. They get out of it, then escape towards their husbands when the Japanese bomb Shanghai. Fascinating look at what immigration to California was like, and the relationship between the sisters is difficult and intense and feels very real.
  • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante - These books are so overhyped, I expected to not be into them, but the depictions of personal growth and complicated friendships across different means and perspectives really are great. I don’t remember which book in particular, but there was some excellent stuff about adolescent difficulties with friends you maybe felt threatened by or maybe better than or maybe both.
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - Gorgeous, gorgeous novel about twins and the love and resentment between them, queerness and love and complicated romantic relationships, art and relationships with oneself and with one’s art.

Books I loved reading in 2017 that related to gender, race, and class

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman - I needed this like water. The ending is a bit weak, but the descriptions of various women’s dawning realization that they’re now the more physically dangerous ones, yes yes yes.
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - Fantastic novel about a family of Korean immigrants living in Japan. Totally different set of racial tensions than I’m used to.
  • And I Darken by Kiersten White - YA. I loved having a protagonist who was unapologetically aware that she was ugly but unbothered by it, who was cruel sometimes but not purely evil or purely good, who got mired in politics over her head.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik - At a glance it looks like a standard fantasy novel, dragon comes and steals a girl, but it’s largely about a girl growing into an adult woman and how she approaches magic and her world, how it can be great without being the same as what the more experienced men tell her it should be.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - Novel about two half-sisters born in Ghana, one sold into slavery, one married off to a slaver. Follows the impact down through the generations of their descendants. A very familiar sense to me, of what it means when family history is lost. I’d never even really considered the other side of that before, what it could be like if it had been retained.
  • Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue - Story of a Cameroonian couple in NYC, trying to make ends meet and deal with the legal immigration system, their life entangled with the husband’s employer’s finance career right before and during the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly - It’s almost boring to recommend this, after the movie was such a hit with everyone I know. Book really was great too, though.

Other books I loved reading in 2017 that touched strongly on themes of abuse

  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin - The last book of her mindblowingly spectacular The Broken Earth trilogy. All the trigger warnings, all the feels, and the strongest of recommendations. To me, these books are about family and generational trauma and systemic trauma, how we hurt each other and how we survive each other. Oh, and they’re great fantasy novels with an interesting world. This book is the rare example of a trilogy that ends as strongly as it began.
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson - Gutwrenchingly good fantasy novel. Themes of colonialism and complicity.
  • The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins - Really vivid horrifying stuff, in a fantasy novel that reads like literature and was anything but light. Abuse, family, power, and plotting for change.
  • The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham - A fantasy novel series where one of the protagonists is a young female banker! Turns out of my favorite genres is something I could frame as economic/financial speculative fiction. The series also gets into some horrifyingly realistic themes of dealing with a “nice guy” who thinks he deserves you but is also a monster. I loved all 5 books in this series, but as seems to be my pattern with Daniel Abraham, I think the second was my favorite.
  • A Leaf in the Bitter Wind by Ting-Xing Ye - Vivid, painful memoir of the cultural revolution.

Other intense fiction I loved reading in 2017

  • Unsong by Scott Alexander - I was pretty much the target audience for this, a rationalist novel about morality and halacha. But it has some really troubling problematic aspects, too - eg all of Mexico is made of drugs. I have a lot of complicated feelings about this, but it’s definitely worth the read.
  • An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King - I picked this up by sheer luck at the bookstore, and it was great! Explores a China where as a repercussion of selecting for males, they have too many, so they end up with policies permitting women to have multiple husbands and strict laws against homosexuality. I love explorations of alternative family configurations!
  • On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis - Immediately post-apocalyptic story of survival with an autistic woc hero and her complicated relationships.
  • The Last One by Alexandra Oliva - A plague hits and wipes out most of the population while a survivalist reality show is being filmed. The contestants don’t all realize it’s not all part of the game.
  • Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders - The title story is one of my favorite short stories of all time. You can also read it online here.

Other light fiction I loved reading in 2017

  • Flora Mackintosh and the Hungarian Affair by Anna Reader - A sophisticated schoolgirl’s adventure. Sort of a classic romp, but now with Hungarians so of course it’s great.
  • Oglaf compilations by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne - These were a reread of compilations of one of my favorite filthy webcomics (NSFW).
  • git commit murder by Michael Warren Lucas - Super cute nerd mystery. Reminded me of Bimbos of the Death Sun (an old murder mystery set in a scifi convention).

Other non-fiction I loved reading in 2017

Total number of books read in 2017: 158

05 Jan 2017
The best books I read in 2016

I read a lot of amazing books this year, but looking back it seems that most of them were very dark and emotionally difficult. I recommend them nonetheless. (Actually, I read so many good books last year that this list doesn’t contain all of them! I had to trim it down to the best of the best to keep it manageably short.)

In 2016, I discovered Will McIntosh…

  • Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh - McIntosh takes an absurd premise (“bridesicles” - pretty young women who die get cryogenically frozen and woken up for short “dates” where they try to seduce creepy old guys into paying for their bodies to be repaired so they can “marry” them) and manages to turn it into a really thoughtful, interesting, totally brilliant novel.
  • Defenders by Will McIntosh - Again, a kind of ridiculous premise from which he manages to extract a really thoughtful, interesting, human novel. Complete with mind-reading aliens and genetic engineering. But mostly humanity. When scifi is done right it’s always a portrait of today, and he does it right.
  • Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh - Fucked me up but good. I shouldn’t have read this right after the election - it’s a nightmare of a modern apocalypse tale. I kind of loved it, kind of regret having read it. Hit me right in the sweet spot of horror and disgust and terror. Just some bad timing.

…and N.K. Jemisin

  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin - The best book I read all year. Shattering, heartbreaking, incredible. All the trigger warnings. Many of my friends who have kids have said they couldn’t bear to read this book. But if you can, I strongly recommend that you do. It will hurt. It will be worth it.
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin - Sequal to The Fifth Season. God these books rip me up inside. These are the must-reads of the year.
  • The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin - She’s getting very good at building interesting cultures and belief systems! This was not as good as the above two, but still really great. It’s sequel was also good, but somewhat less so, and this one can stand alone.

Other fiction I loved reading in 2016 that focused on slavery

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - Made me want to throw up in the right ways. Fantastical (what if it literally was a railroad underground?) without being silly.
  • Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters - Alternate history where slavery is still legal in 4 states, and our protagonist is a black man who helps hunt down escaped slaves.
  • Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdex - A novel about enslaved black women who go on a disturbingly-portrayed-as-quasi-romantic retreat every summer with the men who have enslaved them, and the deterrents to attempted escape.

Books I loved reading in 2016 that related to finance and/or economics

  • Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears - A financial murder mystery, as delightfully thorough and intricate as Pears tends to be.
  • Red Plenty by Francis Spufford - This was a great read, I just wish it was written by someone with more clue about reality. Taken as a novel, though, I enjoyed reading the tale of the attempt of creating a planned economy.
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis - This is probably old news to most of you, but I only just saw the movie and read the book fairly recently. The story of what went wrong with mortgage-backed securities, really engagingly told.
  • When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein - I love reading post-mortems. You learn so much from them.
  • Who Gets What - and Why by Alvin E. Roth - Really cool exploration of marketplace and auction theory!

Other fiction I loved reading in 2016

  • The Instructions by Adam Levin - A juvenile delinquent Yeshivah kid who might be the moshiach. So nostalgic!
  • Hush by Eishes Chayil (aka Judy Brown) - A novel of child abuse in the Chasidic community in Brooklyn. Hit horrifically close to home.
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa - An amnesiac mathematician; a housekeeper and her son who discover a love of learning math.
  • The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson - Controlling, fucked up parents more in love with their art than their children, hilarious and sad, siblings trying to recover and be there for each other and get by.
  • Seveneves by Neal Stephenson - My favorite Stephenson in ages! Though the first 2/3 felt like a totally different book than the last bit, and way better. If you stop reading at that point you’ll probably be happiest.
  • The Lightning-Struck Heart by TJ Klune - omgomgomg hilarious gay romance with adhd and a unicorn and this is totally this year’s I-probably-shouldn’t-publicly-admit-to-having-read-this-but-it’s-just-that-good winner.
  • Caucasia by Danzy Senna - Two sisters, one who looks more black, one who looks more white, and the differences in their lives.
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison - “She was the third beer. Not the first one, which the throat receives with almost tearful gratitude; nor the second, that confirms and extends the pleasure of the first. But the third, the one you drink because it’s there, because it cant hurt, and because what difference does it make?”

Books that taught me how to do something (or do it better!) in 2016

  • Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner - Fantastically helpful and exactly what I needed as I started learning Hungarian at last! Focus on the sounds, the music, the visuals, avoid translating word for word. His companion website has been really useful, too.
  • 5-Minute Sketching: Architecture: Super-quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings by Liz Steel - Yay, useful tips!
  • Sketching People: an urban sketcher’s manual to drawing figures and faces by Lynne Chapman - Useful, but even moreso, so pretty!
  • Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach by Col. Dandridge M. Malone, U.S.A. (Ret.) - Useful when thinking about management, team leadership, and dealing with people generally.
  • Real World OCaml: Functional Programming for the Masses by Yaron Minsky, Anil Madhavapeddy, & Jason Hickey - I learned so many things! Good thing, since now I program in OCaml professionally. ~.^
  • The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore - The lesson here was largely about actively deciding either to do $thing, or deciding not to, but not letting yourself just passively feel forced into it (and thus end up avoiding it). This indirectly led to me experimenting with a minimal bullet journal (-ish) system, which I’ve found extremely helpful at work.

Non-fiction I loved reading in 2016 that related to race, gender, and/or class

  • What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet - Practical advice and overviews of some relevant research. If you want to increase gender diversity but are not sure how, this book has concrete suggestions on what to experiment with.
  • Pedigree: how elite students get elite jobs by Lauren A. Rivera - This should be required reading freshman year of high school.
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond - Reading this while thinking about maybe trying to buy property with a second apartment to rent out was very weird and disturbing.
  • Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City by Michael Woodsworth - I wish I could’ve voted for Shirley Chisholm.
  • The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates - There’s nothing I can say about this that you haven’t heard before.
  • The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammed Ali - I loved this and I loved him. He wouldn’t have given a flying fuck about me, and that’s just fine.

Other non-fiction I loved reading in 2016

  • The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neil Strauss - By the guy who wrote The Game! What a strange fascinating memoir. It was such a weird feeling, to find myself agreeing with so much that Neil Strauss wrote here.
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande - On our fucked up elder care system. Not my favorite of his books, but the one I needed to read last year. Apparently if you give old people pets they live longer!

Books I loved re-reading in 2016

  • The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt - Apparently I’m re-reading this every year now? Yeah, okay. That seems about right.
  • Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney - Still my favorite of his books.

Total number of censored favorites not appearing in this post: 5
Total number of books read in 2016: 152

30 Jun 2016
Sketches from Chiang Mai

As I was saying, I spent about 3 weeks alone in Chiang Mai, Thailand last December. I just posted my sketches from the previous week in Singapore, and now here are the Thailand sketches! Honestly they’re mostly a bunch of wats.

An ink and watercolor sketch of Wat Khuan Khama
Wat Khuan Khama (near some of the best khao soi in town, Khao Soi Khun Yai)
An ink and watercolor sketch of Wat Fa Ham
Wat Fa Ham (near the other best khao soi in town, Khao Soi Lam Duan)
An ink and watercolor sketch of a songthaew, which is a kind of red truck that functions as sort of a cross between a bus and a taxi in Thailand.
I got around mostly by songthaew. You hail these little red trucks and tell them where you want to go, and if you’re lucky they say sure and name a price. It’s usually ~20 baht anywhere in the old city, and more if you want to go further afield. This is a pretty great deal as compared to how much you’d otherwise pay for a tuk-tuk.
An ink sketch of a tuk-tuk, which is sort of like a Thai taxi
If you can’t catch a songthaew, you take a tuk-tuk. On the plus side, it’s just you and therefore goes exactly where you want with no side-trips to drop off other passengers. On the down side, it’s an order of magnitude more expensive.
An ink and watercolor sketch of a mug of tea and a temple
Bird’s Nest cafe was practically around the corner from where I was staying, so of course I spent lots of time there. Great tea, and a view of yet another lovely wat
An ink and watercolor sketch of Wat Pha Bong
Wat Pha Bong
An ink and watercolor sketch of Wat Pha Bong
Another take on Wat Pha Bong
An ink and watercolor sketch of a child playing the drums
There were a few kids playing music and accepting donations near the big Saturday night market.
An ink and watercolor sketch of Wat Fa Ham
I wish I could remember where this wat was.
An ink sketch of a temple
Or this one.
An ink and watercolor sketch of a woman cooking under a large vent
I kept going back to this lady, since she was willing to serve me food that was actually moderately spicy.
An ink and watercolor sketch of fish

29 Jun 2016
Sketches from Singapore

I went traveling alone last December, spending about a week in Singapore followed by three weeks in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (And then Dave met up with me for a week and a half in Taiwan at the end, but I didn’t do much sketching there since I was with him.)

I tweeted my sketches as I went, but since it was such a fantastic trip I really wanted to gather my favorites together in one place here as well. (I’ll post my Thailand sketches separately, soon!)

An ink and watercolor sketch of Abdul Gafoor Mosque in Singapore
Abdul Gafoor Mosque was just a few blocks away from my hotel!
An ink and watercolor sketch of a walking path I stumbled across in Singapore
Just a charming walking path I stumbled across.
An ink and watercolor sketch of a very nice stranger's motorcycle in Singapore
A very nice strangers stood quietly watching me sketch this motorcycle for a long while, then apologetically interrupted me and told me that he had to leave. I was super confused at first - I hadn’t realized it was his bike I’d been sketching the whole time!
An ink and watercolor sketch of clothing hanging by HDB (public housing) in Everton Park, Singapore
A friend of mine insisted that I had to visit HDB (public housing) while I was there, so I got to sketch laundry drying in Everton Park.
An ink and watercolor sketch of a small red shrine in Maxwell Food Centre in Singapore
These small shrines were ~everywhere.
An ink and watercolor sketch of some pao (steamed buns) I ate in Singapore
I was obsessed with the coffee lotus buns at this one place over by Cassia Crescent.
Another ink and watercolor sketch of some more pao (steamed buns) I ate in Singapore
So obsessed. I should make bao more often now that I’m home!
An ink and watercolor sketch of dirty dishes
Since my Singapore trip was so food-focused, I feel I ought to end with these dirty dishes and birds that kept trying to eat them clean!