Wednesday, 2 February 2011

What I'm reading now

Once upon a time, when the Sparknotes message boards still existed* they had one called "what we're reading now" where people were supposed to write ongoing reviews of the books they were currently reading. What always surprised me what the number of people who were reading one book at a time! So, here's a list of the books that I currently haven't finished, but do intend to finish (it's probably incomplete, as it only includes ones that are by the side of my bed right now).

A Week in December - Sebastian Faulks
One of those "small world" type novels, small snatches of the lives of a variety of people living in London in late 2007. Fairly well-observed, and it's probably going somewhere. I can't imagine feeling as much for the characters in this as I did for the characters in Birdsong, but you can't expect anyone to write Birdsong twice. One serious gripe: the kids have accounts on YourPlace where they get "jabbed" by their friends who can post messages on their "doormats"; there is a virtual world called Parallax where the inhabitants refer to the real word as TL and trade in Vajos; there's a major bank about to collapse called "Allied National" and the lead singer of Girls from Behind is one of the leads on a reality show called It's Madness. It's slightly jarring living in this parallel world... even Al Qaeda has been given a different name. This make suspension of disbelief slightly harder, and I've pretty much no idea why you would choose to do it.

The News Where You Are - Catherine O'Flynn
Another novel set in the modern world (for some reason that's the only sort of novel I've been able to get into lately). To be honest, I've only read the first dozen or so pages. Has a fairly light touch, and I think it'll be an easy-going distraction. I doubt very much it will be any more than that, but I'm willing to be surprised.

Bridge The Silver Way - David Silver
A collection of bridge stories. My favourite books of bridge stories are the Chthonic books by Daniel Kleinmann. Unfortunately, there are no more of them for me to read, so I'm trying some others. These are readable, but not spectacularly good. I wouldn't recommend them.

The Time Paradox - Philip Zimbardo
This has been in the pile for a while. It's a book about time by the guy who did the Stanford Prison Experiment, and who has since done a lot of work on the psychology of time. It seems interesting, and seems to agree with . I want to know the contents of this book, but for some reason am struggling to actually read it. Will get there eventually.

The 4-Hour Body - Tim Ferris
Having read the 4-hour work week, agreed with most of it and subsequently ignored the vast majority of its advice, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one. Fully of various reasonably well-researched tips and tricks about diet, exercise, sleep, etc. A lot of the things in this actually seem more actionable without going to too much effort than those in his previous book. I'll no doubt be playing with a few of them over the next few months. If any of them seem interesting/worthwhile/dangerous I'll probably blog about them at some point.

God is Not Great - Christopher Hitchens
Got this for Christmas, have been dipping in and out of it recently. Hitchens intellect is scary, he's a proper old-school Oxford academic (I just looked up to check that he actually did go to Oxford - I've no idea if I'd ever known that for certain before, it just feels as though he did). It's fun to read just for the sheer amount of stuff the man knows - his impressive takedown of the idea that Kosher food laws are in some way hygiene-related is the last chapter I read. Basically, I'm just basking in erudition. I'm sure I'll learn a few things too.

Priceless - William Poundstone
Yet another popular book about behavioural psychology. Extremely well-written, refers to several experiments and theories that I've never heard of, and gives the best intuitive explanation of Prospect Theory I've ever seen. I have actually finished this book, but I keep dipping into it because it was, simply, the best book I've read on one of my favourite subjects. Well-written, well-explained, well-researched, the chapters are a nice length to dip in and out of. I'm trying to think of something I didn't like about this book, but I'm struggling. I sort of which I'd decided to give the books in this post star ratings, so I could give this 6 out of 5.

Causality - Judea Pearl
After I wrote my post on Simpson's Paradox on Less Wrong, I decided I really should learn more about the theory of causality that I casually reference at the end. Partly because I kinda feel I should, but also because it just seems awesome. It's actual mathematics though, not exactly bedtime reading, although it hasn't been too tough so far.

Expert Political Judgement - Philip Tetlock
Tetlock's study is pretty famous. He basically concludes that "foxes" do better at predicting political events than "hedgehogs". To quote wikipedia: foxes "draw on a wide variety of experiences and believe the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea" hedgehogs "view the world through the lens of a single defining idea". I'm not sure how much more there is to get out of reading the whole book than what I just wrote in the paragraph above, but I've started so I'll finish. I've also promised Jess a summary - does that count? Or do I need to do it more detail?

So, there you go. There are no doubt others lying around that aren't in this pile next to my laptop. The pile is usually about this big. I can't understand how some people can read one book at once - what do you do when you're not in the mood for that one? (I sometimes even struggle to decide on one book to take on the Tube...). If I remember, this may become an occasional series.

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