James Williams


Books I Read in 2013

My friend Will Norris recently posted his reading list from 2013. That caused me to look through my GoodReads account and see what I plowed through in 2013. How I wish there it synced automatically with Google Books and Kindle but that's a story for another day. I was struck at how few books I read compared to a certain bibliophile I know but happy that I enjoyed them all. I read a good deal of programming books but am restricting this list to fiction and non-fiction.

Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners, Michael Erard. Since starting to learn French in middle school, I've always romanticized the idea of being a polyglot. Babel No More is a series of case studies through the ages exploring the lives of famous ancient and contemporary polyglots.

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language, Arika Okrent. Also in the polygot sphere, Okrent talks about the languages themselves. Esperanto, Klingon, and Na'vi are the constructed languages or conlangs you may have heard about. One of the interesting conlangs I read about was Láadan which was created under the hypothesis that natural languages are cater more to the male POV and forms of expression. It has required modifiers on each sentence to indicate if it was a statement, question, exclamation, and the amount of certainity. Okrent notes that it's meant to avoid the common male-female argument over "I said this but I meant that." The book explores the lives of some of the language creators and many are downright kooky. But on the other hand your average Joe doesn't usually decide to create a new language.

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, Michael D. Sellers. Until reading this book on a whim, I hadn't realized much of modern science fiction has been influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom series including comics, novels, and the films of Stephen King, James Cameron, and George Lucas. Gods of Hollywood chronicles the development hell under which John Carter existed, the many missteps by Disney, and the inability for John Carter to exit from the shadows of the works that lifted elements from it. Reading this made we want to read the Barsoom series. IMHO the best kind of book gives you another to read.

Double Down: Game Change 2012, Mark Halperin, John Heilemann. I'm somewhat of a politics junkie so this reads somewhat like a pile of tabloids with off-the-record and on-background campaign trail revelations. Not as juicy as the first one because seriously, who can top the Palin trainwreck but a fun read nonetheless.

The Straight-A Conspiracy: A Student's Secret Guide to Ending the Stress of High School and Totally Ruling the World, Hunter Maats, Katie O'Brien. The premise is the idea that people are born smart is bunk and how preceived notions about intelligence causes people to make decisions about how they view the world. It was written in sort of self-help style for high school students but I found it to be affirm the usefulness of some techniques I developed on my own as well as providing some of the science about why it worked.

Une forme de vie, Amélie Nothomb. The book centers on the relationship between a Belgian writer and an American soldier on active duty in Iraq through letters. The soldier becomes more and more obese due to the stresses of war and almost turns his obesity into somewhat of an art project. Short but fairly odd and in French.

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Rachel Maddow. Drift posits that because of private contractors and other modernities of war, the costs of war hit fewer Americans overall how it is easier to go to war when Americans are so insulated from the true human and financial costs.