My 2015 in Books

This is the second year that I’ve kept a list of all the books I’ve finished, sharing that list on New Year’s Eve once I’ve realized that I won’t finish anything else before midnight.  I’ve read plus-or-minus 56 books this year (the +/- will make sense if you read on), not counting re-reads or partial reads.

As I noted in last year’s list, I was inspired to do this by my friend David Daniel, who keeps a list of the books he wants to read with him at all time. 

2015 was a complex, challenging, exciting year for the Berens Family, as we spent the first half of the year living in Norway, moving back to Oregon over the summer.  Looking back at where my head was and correlated that to where my body was geographically helps to make sense of the year in intriguing ways— not unlike when I look into my sent-and-received email when I need to figure out what the heck I was doing on a given day.

You’ll see that I’m eclectic in my reading: lots of non-fiction, science fiction, media and marketing, with a new-this-year focus on behavioral economics. 

Here’s the list:

1. Hurwitz, Gregg.  Trust No One. Finished 1/9/15.  

I’d enjoyed Hurwitz’s “Crime Writer” book a few years back, but I don’t remember when this one made it into my iBooks on the iPad.  Perhaps it was a free volume somewhere along the lines.  A terrific thriller, fast paced with an interesting and flawed protagonist in Nick Horrigan.

2. Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. Finished 1/22/15.

Fantastic, smart, insightful. I’ll need to read it again to gather my thoughts into order.  I don’t say that often… although I think I felt the same way after finishing the Carse book Finite and Infinite Games

Levitan’s work on the significance of physical environments in an evermore digital world is not to be missed by any digital thinker.  It felt weird to read this book on the iPad, since one thrust of its argument is to be careful about digitization.

3. Sansom, C.J.  Lamentation. (Book 6 in the Matthew Shardlake series.) Finished 1/24/15.

Terrific book, as all the Shardlake novels are.  This one marked a major transition in the series as it moves from the reign of Henry VIII to young King Edward and with an eye towards Queen Elizabeth 1. 

4. Thomas, Rob & Jennifer Graham.  Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell. (Book 2 in the Veronica Mars novels.) Finished 2/1/15.

Finished this during the flight back from London to Bergen after my iMedia UK “Data-Fuelled Marketing” keynote and subsequent hangout with my buddy Kevin M. Ryan in Amsterdam.  It’s in no way a surprise that Thomas, who created Veronica Mars, nails the sensibility and rhythms of the show and movie.  The only surprise is how much I loved both this book and the first one that I read last year: it’s like watching a long episode of the show.

5. Jones, October.  Texts From Dog.  Finished 2/6/15.

Dogless since the death of beloved Dexter in October of 2013, when my son happened across the hilarious Texts from Dog site we decided that we must support the creator, October Jones, by buying the book for my birthday.  If you’ve ever had a dog, then this prolonged fantasy of what a dog would text if he only had thumbs will bring a smile to your face.  The fact that it’s utterly profane as well makes the experience even better.

6. Aaronovitch, Ben.  Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant/Rivers of London Book #5). Finished 2/8/15.

Delightful fantasy novels written by a Doctor Who alumnus writer.  I imagine that #6 must be coming-real-soon. 

7. Harris, Sam.  Waking Up: Searching for spirituality without religion. Finished 2/13/15.

Way back in graduate school, my friend David Brewer told me about Richard Rorty’s Contingency, Irony and Solidarity and said that reading that book helped him to figure out his personal politics.  Likewise, this magnificent book by Sam Harris helped me to figure out my own sense of spirituality.  It’s a fascinating, bracing, personal, helpful work about mindfulness, who we are and who we aren’t, and how to live in the world.  One of the most important books of my year.

8. Hornby, Nick.  Funny Girl.  Finished 2/14/15.

Hornby is always good, and the nice this about this book is that it takes him back into the 1960s, away from his usual modern milieu.  An enjoyable, fast read.

9. McCloud, Scott.  The Sculptor.  Finished 2/15/15.  (Graphic novel, but at 488 pages it counts!)

I used to teach McCloud’s Understanding Comics as a writing text, and like all McCloud fans have been waiting for years for his next fictional work. This doesn’t disappoint: it’s a masterpiece of comics writing, brilliantly fusing words and pictures in a moving story about art, passion and life.

10. Sillitoe, Peter.  The Guide to Shakespearean London Theatres.  Finished 2/17/15.

A short, handy and fact-filled guide to the theaters of Shakespeare’s London that I zipped through as I was preparing a talk about Shakespeare for the iMedia UK team.

11. Nadel, Barbara.  A Passion for Killing.  Finished 2/22/15.  

An Inspector Ikmen and Inspector Suleyman mystery, set in Turkey.  Nothing exceptional here, but a quick and well-crafted read.  I wasn’t moved to read any more in the series, but didn’t regret reading this one, which is #9 in a series.

12. Nourbakhsh, Illah Reza.  Robot Futures Finished 3/2/15.

Smart meditation about how robotics will change our lives in the startlingly near future by a Carnegie Mellon roboticist. The book veers away from robotics towards the end — or expands the definition of robotics in ways I found unhelpful — but the first 3/4 were smart and clarifying.

13. Berger, Jonah.  Contagious: why things catch on Started & finished 3/7/15.

It’s rare that I can finish a non-fiction book in one day, but Berger is a fine writer explaining his research with clarity and gusto.  If you’re interested in what works and what doesn’t in advertising, then don’t miss this.

14. Dolan, Paul.  Happiness by Design: Finding pleasure and purpose in everyday life.  Finished 3/16/15.

Remarkable.  I’ve continued to think about this book at least weekly since reading it — along with Harris (and Kahneman, coming up next) one of my tops for 2015 — and I don’t know why this isn’t being read in every book club in the English speaking world.  A fascinating combination of economics and psychology. 

15. Kahneman, Daniel.  Thinking Fast and Slow.  Finished 4/11/15.

At last, at last!  I have too much to say about this book in this compendium, so please see my blog post: Daniel Kahneman kicks my ass, or Reading Fast and Slow.” 

16. Schrage, Michael.  Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? Finished 4/18/15.

A short, impressive book that pivots the reader’s understanding of the project of a business from asking a consumer to “buy this thing” to asking that consumer to “become this person.”  It’s one of those exercises that will help any business going through a strategy session or major transition.

17. Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero. (Heroes of Olympus #1.) Finished 4/21/15.

I promised my son that I’d catch up on the Percy Jackson novels, and this was the first of the second series.  Terrific YA fiction.  Riordan is prolific and always good. 

18. Sterling, Bruce, ed.  Twelve Tomorrows 2014: MIT Technology Review Annual SF Anthology.  Finished 4/22/15.

The always-strong, always-provocative anthology of SF stories from MIT’s Technology Review— I never miss it.

19. Riordan, Rick.  The Son of Neptune.  (Heroes of Olympus #2.)  Finished 4/25/15. 

20. Sicart, Miguel.  Play Matters.  Finished 5/3/15.

Play has been a notion increasingly on my mind as key to why some technologies proliferate and some don’t. 

Play is different than the popular term gamification, and Sicart’s brief but well-written book teases out the differences nicely.  “Designing for play means creating a setting weather than a system, a stage rather than a world, a model rather than a puzzle. Whatever is created has to be open, flexible, and malleable to allow players to appropriate, express, act and interact, make, and become part of the form itself” (90).

21. Wright, Helen S.  A Matter of Oaths Finished 5/13/15.

Steve Patrizi linked to a list of great SciFi that included Wright’s 1990, sadly out of print, but delightfully free on her website space opera.  Ahead of its time in its gender politics with gay characters, the Locus review is right when it suggests that this is an entire series crammed into one novel, but it’s still great fun.

22. Gibbs, Stuart.  Spy School.  Finished 5/15/15.

Another in a series that I read with my son: this is Austin Powers for middle schoolers.  Great fun, and we’ve enjoyed the whole trilogy.  I hope Gibbs writes more!

23. Delany, Samuel R.  The Einstein Intersection. Finished 5/17/15.

When I asked my friend Joseph Carrabis who his favorite science fiction authors are, Delany topped his list.  I can see why: this 1967 book is fascinating and hard to describe since it is told from the POV of aliens who have inhabited a far-future dead Earth and are attempting to live out human lives reconstructed from what the species left behind.  Smart, deep, moving, esoteric and memorable. 

24. Macleod, Ken.  The Cassini Division. 5/19/15.

Published in 2000, this was an interesting, unplanned juxtaposition with Delany, since it deals with what happens to the normal humans left behind when some members of our species become post-human.  A sci-fi version of HBO’s “The Leftovers” series that talks about what happens to the rest of us post-Rapture.  Interesting, well written. 

25. Gibbs, Stuart.  Spy Camp  (Spy School #2).  Finished 5/24/15.

26. Bujold, Lois McMaster.  Ethan of Athos.  Finished 5/31/15. (A reread technically but I didn’t remember most of it for some reason.)

Bujold, as I’ve said many times, is my favorite living science fiction writer, and one of my favorite writers ever.  This book is set in a cul-de-sac off the main path of her award-winning Vorkosigan universe, and it asks the question “what would an all-male society do to make babies?”  Not a great introduction to the Vorkosigan books, but a great independent read.

27. Sharp, Byron.  How Brands Grow: what marketers don’t know.  Finished 6/3/15. 

When two friends in two countries (Carol Phillips in the US and Michael Bayler in the UK) independently raved about this book, I had to get it.  It’s hands down the smartest marketing book I’ve ever read, and one that delightfully punctures through a lot of market mumbo jumbo.  Sharp is brilliant, incisive and sometimes wince-inducingly mean in his footnotes.  Will keep thinking on this one, and I’m thrilled that a sequel has just come out!

28. Baker, Kage.  In the Garden of Iden (A Novel of The Company #1).  Finished 6/11/15.

A crazy time-travel story where a mega-corporation recruits orphans throughout time and turns them into immortals to do their bidding, secretly taking control of all civilization.  Imagine the Time Lords of Doctor Who, only without conscience.  The protagonist is a woman named Mendoza, whose first adventure is in pre-Shakespearean Elizabethan England.  A speedy, fun read… enjoyable enough that I read the second one as well, and may go onto the others some day.

29. Asaro, Catharine.  Undercity.  Finished 6/21/15.  

A new murder mystery series set in a prequel time to Asaro’s terrific Skolian Empire series.  Science Fiction and Mystery often don’t mesh well, but they do here.  This is a less soapy, more SF version of J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series (Robb is a pseudonym for romance novelist Nora Roberts).

Note: this novel includes “City of Cries,” a novella that I read in 2013.

30. Thaler, Richard.  Misbehaving: the Making of Behavioral Economics.  Finished 6/24/15.

Behavioral Economics fascinates me, and Thaler has been at ground zero for the birth and development of this new academic discipline.  He’s an insightful and hilarious writer, and so this is not to be missed if you’re interested in these matters.  It was a lucky chance that I got to read this and Kahneman within just a few weeks of each other.

31. Baker, Kage.  Sky Coyote (A Novel of The Company #2).  Finished 6/29/15.

32. Lee, Sharon & Steve Miller.  Dragon in Exile. (Liaden Universe.) Finished 7/3/15.

A robust new entry in Lee and Millers wide-spanning Liaden Universe SF series.  There is simply no way that a new reader will understand what’s going on in this book if she or he hasn’t read a half dozen other books, short stories and chapbooks, but I’ve read most of them and think they’re terrific space opera.  Start by heading over to this page on the authors’ website if you’re looking for a new series.

33. Wolff, Michael.  Television is the New Television: the Unexpected Triumph of Old Media in the Digital Age.  Finished 7/7/15.  

This book frustrated and puzzled me: see this post for details

34. Wilson, G. Willow & Adrian Alphona.  Ms. Marvel: No Normal.  (Trade paperback of issues 1-5.)  Finished 7/7/15.

and…

Wilson, G. Willow & Adrian Alphona.  Ms. Marvel: Generation Why.  (Trade paperback of issues 6-10.)  Finished 7/23/15.

and…

Wilson, G. Willow & Adrian Alphona.  Ms. Marvel: Crushed (Trade paperback of issues 12-15 & S.H.I.E.D. #2.)  Finished 11/23/15.

Ordinarily, I don’t include comics in this list, but Ms. Marvel is remarkable: a 16 year old Pakistani-American who get superpowers while still going to high school in Jersey City.  It evokes memories of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the best possible way, although it’s much different.  Counting all of these as one book: a must if you have teenagers in the house.

35. Bujold, Lois McMaster.  Penric’s Demon.  Finished 7/22/15.

Bujold is Just. So. Good.  This is a short work in her “Five Gods” fantasy series, but you don’t need to have read any of the other works in that series to enjoy this yarn about what happens when a ne’er do well second son of a minor aristocratic family accidentally becomes possessed by a powerful demon.

36. Lambert, Craig.  Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day. Finished 7/26/15.

I first bumped into the notion of Shadow Work in Levitin’s Information Overload (Book #2 this year), and thought it was a compelling notion.  Lambert’s is a more exhaustive (although not exhausting) treatise on how our DIY culture expects us to do things ourselves that other people used to help us accomplish.  Worthwhile, although unless you’re fascinated with this sort of thing the passage in Levitin that covers Shadow Work will serve.

37. Gibbs, Stuart.  Evil Spy School.  (Spy School #3).  Finished 7/31/15.

38. Corey, James S.A.  Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse Book 1).  Finished August 9, 2015.

Terrific space opera, now a TV series on SyFy.  The book is mammoth, and therefore daunting (there are six of them each around 600 pages), but well-crafted, briskly plotted and enjoyable.  It’s the kind of commitment that Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series was a few years back: worth it, but not if you’re in a rush.

39. Moore, Geoffrey A.  Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. (3rd Edition). Finished 8/13/15.

Recently-updated classic work about technology adoption written from a B2B marketing point of view but applicable elsewhere.

40. Cline, Ernest.  Armada: a novel.  Finished 8/24/15.

Disappointing, particularly after Cline’s interesting debut Ready Player One.  Armada is too disappointing even to write a snarky review.  Don’t bother.  It’s a lesser version of the movie Pixels.

41. Scalzi, John. The End of All Things (#6 in the Old Man’s War series). Finished 8/26/15.  

Great read, but only if you’re already devoted to the series, which I am. 

42. Yancey, Rick.  The 5th Wave.  Finished 8/30/15.

Recommended by my friend Brian David Johnson, who told me it was dark.  He wasn’t kidding!  The most disturbing thing about this book is that it’s intended for the YA crowd.  The plot is horrifyingly dark, with a teen girl losing everything as humanity’s darkest hour arrives.  I am in shock that they’ve made a soon-to-be-released movie of this, although after the success of the atrocious Hunger Games series I suppose anything is possible.

43. Leckie, Ann.  Ancillary Justice.  Finished 9/10/15.  

Once again from that list shared by Steve Patrizi, the conceit of this book is remarkable: a human body formerly animated as a Borg-like drone member of a hive mind that helped to crew a starship has been sundered from her vessel, and now must make her way as an individual.  Far future space opera: I loved this book so much that I had to let it sit for a couple of weeks, but then I inhaled the second and third.

44. Lagercrantz, David.  The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4).  Finished 9/14/15.

A perfectly adequate continuation of the Steig Larsson “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, which peaked with #1.  This is one of those books that will only be enjoyable if you read it when it first comes out, so I grabbed it and read it immediately. 

45. Taleb, Nassim Nicholas.  Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder Finished 9/23/15.

Brilliant, fascinating, frustrating.  I needed a buddy to make it though this complex book, and fortunately had one in John Willshire.  I don’t know if this is a compliment or an insult, but having just finished Antifragile I feel that I won’t truly understand it until I read it again.

46. Leckie, Ann.  Ancillary Sword.  (Sequel to Ancillary Justice.)  Finished 9/27/15.

47. Leckie, Ann.  Ancillary Mercy (3rd in the Ancillary Justice trilogy.)  Finished 10/8/15.

I wish there were more coming in this series, but I think she’s done.

48. Selznick, Brian.  The Marvels Finished 10/21/15.

Beautiful, theatrical, lyrical and secretly complicated: Selznick’s hybrid graphic and prose works continue to impress and delight me. The Marvels is his most structurally ambitious work to date: two stories overlap each other. At first, they seem to have no point of contact, but then — Cloud Atlas-like — they do.  The interlocking surprises of the last third of the book kept me reading later into the night than I’d planned.  At nearly 700 pages it’s an amazingly quick read since most of those pages are single-page illustrations.

49. FitzGerald, John D.  The Great Brain.  Finished early November. 

Childhood re-read that I grabbed out of the library for my son, and then read myself when he wasn’t interested. I’ll try again to get him to read it. It’s good.

50. Hoffman, Bob.  Marketers Are From Mars: Consumers Are From New Jersey.  Finished 11/6/2015.

Terrific, bracing, laugh-out-loud reality check on the BS of marketing and advertising— recommended by Renny Gleeson and Brian Wieser

51. Riordan, Rick.  The Mark of Athena. (Heroes of Olympus: Book 3).  Finished 11/8/2015.  

Enjoyable installment. There are just so many characters that it is hard to engage emotionally with any of them, but it is action-packed and fun.  I can’t keep up with my son’s reading these days.  

52. Allison, John.  Bad Machinery: The Case of the Team Spirit.  Finished 11/15/15.  

Collected web comic of this British series.  Six kids in high middle or lower high school… kind of like the Trixie Belden gang, only British.  Recommended by Karen Hohndel.  Pretty good, although I’m not on fire to read another as I’m decades past the target audience.

53. Dunstall, S. K.   Linesman.  Finished 11/17/15.

First in a terrific new space opera series recommend by Karen Hohndel.  I inhaled it and look forward to the release of #2 in February.  Not a lot of science fiction deals with class engagingly, but this book does.  It reminds me slightly of Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy in that regard.

54. Carr, Nicholas.  The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us. Finished 11/25/15.  

An accidental companion to the Nourbakhsh book on robotics and to Levitin’s Organized Mind from earlier this year, Carr is an insightful critic of the advantages and disadvantages of our digital lives.  This is a nice followup to his earlier book The Shallows, and is required reading if you’re thinking through how connected experiences will change human life.

55. Hidalgo, César.  Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies.  Finished 12/10/15.  

An eccentric take on how our tight information density is what makes Earth and its inhabitants different than the rest of the universe.  The book is truly interdisciplinary, mixing “information theory, physics, sociology, and economics.”  It sometimes made me think of the work of Jane Jacobs and also that of Steven Berin Johnson on environments. 

Hidalgo is acute about how the physicality of objects differs from narratives about objects, and I love his notion of balance of imagination as opposed to balance of trade.  On the other hand, when he starts talking about “personbytes” (how much information individuals possess) as an actual metric the argument spirals into nonsense.  I also consistently wondered why the book didn’t engage deeply with how digital technologies change information and human relationships to it, but I am in touch with how much that’s me projecting my own obsessions onto the book.

56. Card, Orson Scott.  Gatefather (Mithermages Book #3 of 3).  Finished 12/18/15.  

I’d read the first two (Lost Gate & Gate Thief) a year or so ago.  When I saw that this one had come out I realized that I couldn’t remember most of Gate Thief, so I reread #1 and #2 before jumping into #3.  It’s a solid, interesting fantasy series… although as with other pieces of Card’s work there’s an ongoing problem of characters getting powered up to godlike levels as the series continues.  Here, the ratcheting up of power levels across the dramatis personae means that the series gets decreasingly interesting by the end.  I’m also leery of Scott’s lily white, hetro-only world view.  

That’s the list for 2015.  A pile of books awaits me in 2016: I’m in the middle of Michael Polanyi’s classic The Tacit Dimension, so expect that in first or second position next year.  I’m also midway through Rachel Bach’s “Honor’s Knight,” the sequel to “Fortune’s Pawn” that I read late in 2014.

Thanks for making it this far!

[Cross-posted over on Medium.]

Comment here and have it link to Facebook!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *