Book Recap: 2019

A year’s worth of reading and no book blog posts? Well, better late than never! In addition to my new parent selections, here are a few of the books I read this year:

Team Human

Douglas Rushkoff

Team Human

Team Human is a podcast and now a book which I read around the time of his visit to the Ottawa Writersfest. It’s well worth a read and captures the main thesis that even more technology won’t solve our problems so long as we keep treating problems as unconnected; but as humans we’re fully equipped to form communities and launch a modern renaissance that respects humanity - if only we would recognize and choose to do so. Probably the most important book of 2019, in my opinion!

Lana and Lilly Wachowski

Cáel M. Keegan

Lana and Lilly Wachowski

A dense academic book within a series on Contemporary Film Directors, this text looks at the Wachowskis oeuvre through a trans* lens, giving a whole new meaning to The Matrix, one of my favourite movies. It also leads an insightful reading into Sense8, probably my favourite TV show in recent memory. This book introduced me to Bound, the Wachowskis’ first major film, which is excellent and worth watching if you haven’t already seen it.

At the end of the book is a simply terrific interview with Lana Wachowski.

CMK: “[…] A lot of your work seems to be very concerned with the idea of moving through space and time differently.”

Lana Wachowski: “It’s an opposing narrative. The dominant cultural narrative is that things are static. There’s a foundational myth about America, about identity, about heteronormativity. […] “This is the way it is.” This is even the concept of normalcy. Normalcy is non-moving. It’s a fixed idea. All of my narratives are an assault against this idea.”

[…]

CMK: “Would you describe yourself as utopian, then?”

Lana Wachowski: “Obviously I would resist any label…but I think the making of art is inherently optimistic.”

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work

A manual for setting a calm work environment.

If it’s constantly crazy at work, we have two words for you: Fuck that. And two more: Enough already.

At the heart of it all is an unhealthy obsession with rapid growth. Towering, unrealistic expectations drag people down.

It’s time for companies to stop asking their employees to breathlessly chase ever-higher, ever-more artificial targets set by ego, not need. It’s time to stop celebrating this way of working.

A few topics that really resonated with me:

People should be missing out. Most people should be missing out on most things most of the time. […] JOMO! The joy of missing out.

The person making the pitch has presumably put a lot of time, thought, and energy into gathering their thoughts and presenting them clearly to an audience. But the rest of the people in the room are asked to react. Not absorb, not think it over, not consider - just react. Knee-jerk it. That’s no way to treat fragile new ideas.

We don’t want reactions. We don’t want first impressions. We don’t want knee-jerks. We want considered feedback. Read it over. Read it twice, three times even. Sleep on it. Take your time to gather and present your thoughts - just like the person who pitched the original idea took their time to gather and present theirs. That’s how you go deep on an idea.

All subject matter experts at Basecamp now publish office hours. […] This might seem inefficient at first glance. Bureaucratic, even. But we’ve seen otherwise. Office hours have been a big hit at Basecamp. It turns out that waiting is no big deal most of the time. But the time and control regained by our experts is a huge deal.

A company is like software. It has to be usable, it has to be useful. And it probably also has bugs, places where the company crashes because of bad organizational design or cultural oversights. When you start to think of your company as a product, all sorts of new possibilities for improvement emerge. When you realize the way you work is malleable, you can start molding something new, something better.

Prediction Machines

Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, Avi Goldfarb

Prediction Machines

Written by three economists, Prediction Machines takes the “mystery” out of AI by re-casting it within an economic framework and simply treating it as cheaper prediction, and then following the consequences of seeing it that way.

I didn’t love this book but I don’t have much argument with the premise.

Love After the End

Various authors (2019)

Love After the End

A sci-fi anthology of short stories about Two-Spirit utopias and dystopias, a follow-up to Love Beyond Body, Space & Time.

How do you survive a perfect world?

In a perfect world, how do you grow?

In an imperfect world, how do you resist?

[…] Imagine the future of our people after the end of colonization. Read stories of survival and love lost and found, across all bodies and genders.

I ordered this book through a Kickstarter campaign. The introduction by Joshua Whitehead was a beautiful way to set the context for the reader (probably my favourite part of the book actually, which is not taking anything away from the stories but more a statement on how great of an introduction it was).

My favourite stories were Darcie Little Badger’s Story for a Bottle, jaye simpson’s The Ark of the Turtle’s Back, and Adam Garnet Jones’ The New World. Highly recommend!

Permanent Record

Edward Snowden

Permanent Record

I am halfway through reading Snowden’s autobiography. It’s a great read thus far, but I’m only just getting to the famous parts of his story. When you know the ending, it’s tempting to look back and pick out only the events that supported the outcome (which is of course a common bias). I feel as though that’s what Snowden has done with his memoir when describing his early days; probably a more rounded story would be a bit more nuanced, but hey he’s writing for an audience after all. And it’s all very interesting stuff. Looking forward to the second half.

Democracy May Not Exist But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone

Astra Taylor

Democracy May Not Exist

I’m only a few chapters into this one and I need to re-request it from the library again to finish it. This is an eye-opening book about how the public doesn’t have a good idea of what democracy is (although we think we do) and how it’s really more about straight up conflicting principles (eg. equality versus freedom) and how the tensions between these principles are perpetually at play and continuously needing resolution through community. Put in another form: democracy is more of a verb than a noun. I discovered this book through the Team Human podcast, and I’m really looking forward to completing it.