2020 Book “Reviews” – Part One

As I had mentioned in my “2020 Reading List” post, I wanted to try to write some small reviews or thoughts about the books I’ve read throughout the year.

UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record – Leslie Kean
A collection of interesting stories/events/etc from reliable witnesses. It was written with a lot of passion and dedication to the truth with no reliance on “little green men” being the answer. I recommend this for anyone interested in the topic of UFOs or maybe those who still think they are a thing of science fiction.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy – Jenny Odell
To be straight forward, I felt like this was a waste of time to read. It feels more like the author’s journal over the course of her discovering how to deal with the “Attention Economy” rather than a guide or tutorial. Reading it to completion is one way to “do nothing”.

Woke: A Guide to Social Justice – Titania McGrath
It may not need to be said, but this is 100% satire. While it can be hilarious at times, providing tons of good “lines”, some of the “filler” is just ridiculous statements lacking a lot of thought. It is very short and worth hour or two read.

Animal Farm – George Orwell
I really should have read this a long time ago, as it was an assigned reading in high school. I didn’t want to read, what I thought, was a children’s book and just read the Sparknotes on it. Well, I’m making up for it now. It was an interesting quick read but felt lacking in effort or quality compared to the other George Orwell works I’ve read. I feel that it is one of the important books, alongside books like “1984”, “Lord of the Flies”, and “Fahrenheit 451”.

The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
My first thought when I finished this was “What did I just read?” It felt like someone’s anxiety ridden fever dream. That someone, in this story, is Gregor. A man who is overworking himself to near death in attempt to keep his “poor” family financially stable. However, in this book, death comes in the form of being transformed into a beetle. While that, in any other story, could be a spoiler, this is page one stuff. It is clear that the author is very familiar with anxious thoughts, as this story is example after example of over-analyzing each situation and Gregor’s constant concern with his family’s financial well being. While this is a short read, I think there are plenty of other books that tell the story just as well and in a much more interesting, modern, and realistic way.

Notes from Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Well, this is a roller coaster. A roller coaster that makes you feel like you learned something afterward. I am impressed with the perspective (that may not be the right word) that this story is told from, which I think is what I am supposed to get out of it. I do feel like I need to read it again. With how short it is, I don’t see that being a problem.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Jordan Peterson
I enjoyed this book. While reading it, my internal “voice” would somehow slip into the authors voice, which was hilarious and great at the same time. If you haven’t heard Jordan Peterson talk, do listen to a talk or two of his and I’m sure you will experience the same thing. While parts of it get a little heavy on religious subjects, it never feels preachy or like someone is trying to convert me. Although some chapters feel like they are meandering far away from the “topic” of the chapter, they find its way back once you finally see the bigger picture. Overall, its really good.

Count Zero – William Gibson
I LOVED IT. I loved it just like I loved Neuromancer. William Gibson is great world-weaver. Although there are three distinct stories told through this book, they feel more like tools used to flesh out an amazing cyberpunk world. This is the second of three books in the Sprawl trilogy and it saddens me that I am almost done with them. Mona Lisa Overdrive is next and the reading that will be bittersweet.

The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware – bunnie
An interesting collection of adventures in the world of electronics manufacturing and the supply chain involved. It sometimes feels like a a collections of blog posts, but that is because it sort of is. Regardless, it gives a very good view inside the world of producing electronics via Chinese factories and everything related to that process. I would recommend this to anyone who has interest in PCB/electronics manufacturing or anyone who know who bunnie is.

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties – Tom O’Neill
Tin foil hat time. The author starts this book with solid facts indicating some shady stuff happened during the Charles Manson/Manson Family trials. It slowly turns into some almost unbelievable theories on secret CIA projects and how they could be the “cause” of (or at least a major contributor to) the insanity that was the Manson Family. I really enjoyed this book, even if some may see it as crazy conspiracy theories. The facts that are revealed about what the CIA used to do (and probably still do) is where the “crazy” is. The information that Tom finds about how the Manson Family story was twisted to fit one lawyer’s narrative is eye opening. Just because someone ends up with the right answer, it doesn’t mean they got there the right way.

Mona Lisa Overdrive – William Gibson
Just as I predicted, bittersweet. I loved it, as I knew I would. This wraps up the Sprawl Trilogy, connecting many dots from the second book (Count Zero) with a few appearances from the first book’s (Neuromancer) cast. As with all of the Trilogy, the multiple story lines all come together at the end. However, while randomly thinking about what I read, I start to realize small connected details I missed when reading. Without spoiling much, the overarching story of the trilogy, with each story line being orchestrated to achieve one major goal, is awesome. I am going to miss this trilogy.

A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
At first, this seemed like a it was going to be somewhat of a “film noir” kind of cop story. However, it slowly turned into a drug-crazed recalling of the life of a group of addicts, including all the delusion and paranoia you can imagine. A little over halfway through the book, I honestly started to get somewhat confused with what was going on. Then, without trying to spoil much, a scene in which a cop reviews some surveillance footage came to the same conclusion as I did cleared that up. “WHAT is happening here?” I felt a little better then. It spirals into a bit more chaos from that point and ends with an all too real “well damn, that sucks” kind of ending. Some of the lingo/slang makes it feel somewhat dated. We have changed a lot since the 70s. But, the story is all too relatable. Don’t do drugs kids.

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
I felt like I should have read this in high-school. Judging by the depth and length of the Wikipedia article, I think I am right in feeling that way. Even though it was probably not intended to be, it seems to be a book used for teaching literature classes. While there is humor in the commentary of the stories told throughout the book, I don’t know if it hasn’t aged well or I am just not into it. I’m glad I have read it finally, but I feel like its potential impact didn’t land.

LSD My Problem Child – Albert Hofmann
This was an extremely interesting read. Albert Hofmann walks the reader through his discoveries of some of the most powerful psychedelics, some of which I was not aware of him finding, his view on the usefulness of them, and hand picked anecdotes of the positive and negative impacts they have made. While his passion and respect for the substances is made clear, it is done in a very modest way, which I’m sure is testament to his personality and intelligence. I was ready for a little more of a chaotic story, but I’m glad it wasn’t.

I’ve been writing these throughout the year as I finish reading each book. I decided that I would finally post this since it is about half way through the year. I’ll do another post at the end of the year with the rest of what I have read. I realized that I was making a pretty big dent in my list early on, so I have been adding more and just reading new things that I stumble upon.